Home > The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)

The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)
Author: L.J. Smith

PREFACE

Before someone dies, their blood races, pounding through their veins, filled with everything that makes them human—adrenaline, fear, the desire to live. It’s a sound like no other, a sound I used to listen for eagerly, in anticipation of the kill. But the pounding that echoed in my ears now wasn’t caused by a human heart. It lacked that frantic sensation that made blood so irresistible. It was mine … and my brother’s.

We had both been at the very edge of death, again, and were now fleeing back to London.

The London I’d seen was a city of deceit and destruction, where innocent lives were lost, and blood ran through the streets like water. And now, Damon and I were headed there to stop it. I only hoped the price wouldn’t be too high.

Mere hours earlier, I had been attacked and left for dead by Samuel, a truly cunning and vindictive vampire. Damon had saved me. It had seemed like a miracle when my brother burst into the cottage and dragged me to safety just before the entire structure burst into flames.

But I stopped believing in miracles a long time ago. What it had been was luck. And now I needed luck on my side more than ever. Relying on instinct wasn’t enough. My instincts had failed me countless times, always leading to someone’s death. And if they failed me again, I knew that the ensuing death would be my own. All I could do was throw myself into the battle against evil and hope that my luck hadn’t run out.

1

The train whistle pierced the silence of the carriage, startling me out of my reverie. I sat up, suddenly alert. We were in a first-class cabin, surrounded by every comfort imaginable. A plate of untouched sandwiches sat on the table between two plush red velvet benches, and a pile of newspapers was stacked beside them. Outside the window, the scenery rolled by, lush and full of life, the fields occasionally dotted with herds of cattle. It was hard to reconcile the calm and beauty of my surroundings with the horror and confusion in my mind.

Cora sat across from me, a small, leather-bound Bible lying open in her lap. She stared out the window, unblinking, as if the world outside could offer her the answers I couldn’t. Cora, an innocent human girl wrapped up in the vampire world through no fault of her own, had just witnessed her sister turn into one of the bloodthirsty demons she feared.

Just one week ago, my life was as pleasant—I would hesitate to say as good—as I could have hoped. After all, being at the mercy of my cravings tempered simple pleasures like golden-hued sunsets and Sunday night dinners. But my life was peaceful. And, after years of running from my enemies and my own guilt, peace was perfection.

A week ago, I’d been employed at Abbott Manor where, as the groundskeeper, my biggest concern was whether the pasture fence needed repairing.

A week ago, I’d been sitting in a comfortable red-velvet chair in the Abbotts’ sitting room, a glass of brandy on the table next to me and a book of Shakespeare in my lap. Even though I’d have to feed on the blood of a squirrel or sparrow to be satiated, I was enjoying the scent of a roast being prepared by the family’s housekeeper, Mrs. Duckworth.

A week ago, I’d watched as Oliver Abbott ran indoors, trailed by his older brother, Luke. They were both filthy from playing in the forest. But instead of scolding them, their mother, Gertrude, had leaned down and picked up one of the orange maple leaves they’d traipsed in with them.

“Beautiful! Isn’t fall enchanting?” Gertrude had exclaimed in delight, examining the leaf as if it were a precious jewel.

My heart twisted. Now, because of Samuel, Oliver’s little body was buried under the leaves, drained of blood. Gertrude and the rest of the Abbott family—their father, George, Luke, and the youngest, Emma—had been spared, but I could only imagine the terror in which they now lived. Samuel had compelled them to believe I had been the one to kidnap and kill Oliver. It was his attempt to even a score I wasn’t aware existed—I still wasn’t sure how it came to be.

I squeezed my eyes shut. Damon had just left the carriage, most likely feeding on a fellow passenger. Ordinarily, I didn’t like my brother’s insistence on feeding on humans. But now, I was thankful for the quiet. We’d fled the farm several hours before and I was only just beginning to relax. My shoulders dropped and my heart had stopped hammering against my rib cage. For now, we were safe. But I knew London would be a different story.

I glanced at the Bible, still open on Cora’s lap. It had been well read by someone; the cover was frayed and the pages were dotted with smudges. But there was nothing in the Bible that could help her—or any of us in this car of the damned.

In the distance, I heard footsteps coming down the aisle. My heart quickened. I sat up, ready to defend myself against whoever came around the corner: Samuel, Henry, some other vampire minion I had yet to encounter. I could feel Cora tense beside me, her eyes growing wide with fear. A hand reached around to pull the curtain of the carriage open. I recognized the ornate lapis lazuli ring that matched my own, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was Damon returning, his eyes wild and bloodshot.

“Look at this!” he sputtered, waving a newspaper in front of my face.

I took the paper from his hand and read the headline: JACK THE RIPPER IDENTIFIED BY EYEWITNESS. Below the block letters was an illustration of Damon. I quickly scanned the first few lines: Society man discovered to be unholy killer. Man about town Damon DeSangue has been positively identified in relation to the Miller’s Court murder last week.

The train lurched toward London, the city that would now believe Damon was Jack the Ripper. We were like mice on our way into a snake pit.

“May I see?” Cora asked, holding out her hand expectantly.

Damon ignored her. “They could have run a better picture of me, at the very least. That illustration doesn’t do me justice at all,” he said sulkily as he settled onto the bench next to me and crumpled the paper into a ball. But I could see his hands shaking—the faintest of tremors, so subtle, they would be invisible to the human eye. This wasn’t the confident Damon I knew.

Cora rifled through the papers lying next to our untouched breakfast trays.

“We’re only a few miles outside London,” I said, looking at Damon. “What will we do when we get there?” For all we knew, we’d be apprehended as soon as the train arrived at Paddington Station.

“Well,” Damon said, throwing the wadded-up newspaper to the ground and stomping on it for good measure. “I’ve heard the British Museum is exquisite. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.”

“This is serious, Damon. They’re looking for you. And once they find you…” I shuddered, thinking of what would happen if the Metropolitan Police found Damon.

“I know it’s serious. But what am I supposed to do? Hide for eternity because I’m being framed for a crime I didn’t commit? Samuel needs to pay. Besides, I’m not afraid of the police. I may have a few tricks up my sleeve.”

“You’re in this one, too,” Cora said quietly, holding up the front page of the London Gazette. This article had no illustration, only a headline: JACK THE RIPPER DISCOVERED, STILL ON THE LOOSE.

Damon grabbed the paper and quickly scanned it. He turned to me. “The press has labeled me a nobleman. I look like a pauper now, so I doubt anyone will recognize me,” he said as if to convince himself. Lacing his fingers together, he smoothed back his hair, then rested his head in his palms as if he was a sunbather at the beach.

It was true: He didn’t look at all like a member of London’s elite. His shirt was torn and dirty. His eyes were tired and bloodshot, and he had the shadow of a beard covering his chin. But he still looked like Damon. His hair was dark and thick, falling in a wavy line over his strong eyebrows, and his mouth was set in his usual half-sneer.

Catching me looking at him, Damon arched an eyebrow. “I know you’re thinking something. Why don’t you just say it?” he asked.

“We shouldn’t be going to London,” I said flatly. After all, Damon was a wanted man in the city—a weak, friendless wanted man at that. We had no idea how many other vampires were allied with Samuel. His brother, Henry, was one for certain, but we could only guess how far Samuel’s reach extended. He certainly must have had friends in high places to frame Damon in the media.

“Not go to London?” Damon spat. “And do what? Live in the forest and wait until we’re found? No. I need revenge. Aren’t you concerned about your little friend, Violet?” he added, knowing that was exactly why I was after Samuel in the first place.

I looked at Cora, desperately rummaging through the papers as though one of them contained a map to safety. Her blue eyes were wide with fright, and I was struck by how well she’d held herself together after last night’s events. She’d been brave in the hours before sunrise, when we’d been hiding in the woods and waiting for the search party to pass, despite the fact that her sister had just been turned into a demon. Now, I could only imagine the thoughts swimming in her head.

“I want to rescue Violet. I do,” I said, hoping that Cora could sense my sincerity. “But we need a sound plan. We don’t know what we’re up against.”

Even as I said it, I knew Damon would never agree. When he wanted something—romance, Champagne, blood—he wanted it now. And the same applied to revenge.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cora set her jaw. “We have to go to London. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t try to save my sister,” Cora said, her voice rising on the word save. She folded the paper with a crisp smack and pointed to another illustration. I flinched, expecting to see Damon. But instead, it was a drawing of Samuel, his chin held high and his hand raised in a poised, political wave.

“Let me see that,” Damon said, snatching the paper from Cora’s grasp.

“‘Samuel Mortimer, the hopeful London councilor, vows to keep the city streets safe. “I’ll kill the Ripper with my bare hands if I have to,” Mortimer promises, to cheers of approval,’” Damon read from the text. “I’d like to see him try.”

I winced. Samuel Mortimer, derived from the French word for dead. Of course. And neither I nor Damon had realized it, even though Damon was so proud of calling himself Count DeSangue. Count of Blood. It had probably been Samuel’s first clue to Damon’s true nature.

I shook my head. What other hints had we missed? Hadn’t I fallen into Samuel’s trap, too? I’d believed Damon was the Ripper.

“Promise you won’t do anything until Violet’s safe,” Cora said. “And then, yes, kill him. Just don’t let Violet be a pawn.”

I didn’t want to make Cora a promise I couldn’t keep. I wasn’t even confident that Damon and I could defeat Samuel, but I knew Damon wouldn’t pass up any opportunity to try. I wanted to tell her to run away from all of this, as far as she could. Go to Paris, change her name, and try to forget the past. But she wouldn’t. Violet was her sister. Cora was bound to her, just as I was bound to my brother.

I gave Cora a slight nod, and for her, it seemed to be enough. I rubbed my eyes, trying to wake myself up. I felt as though I was drunk, or trapped in a dream. Everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours had taken on a hazy quality, as though I had dreamt the events, not lived them. But this was real.

The fields outside were becoming fewer and farther between, and the air had taken on a grayish, murky quality. Whether I liked it or not, we were nearing the city. In the distance, a flock of swallows flew in the opposite direction of the train, toward the open country and the sea beyond it.

“Don’t worry. We’ll find Violet,” I said hollowly. I hoped I could teach Violet the ways of drinking animal blood, of quenching cravings, of living with a constant hunger, the way Lexi had taught me. I hoped it wouldn’t be too late.

A grandfatherly conductor with wiry gray hair pulled back the curtain and walked into the cabin. He tipped his hat and smiled kindly at Cora. I wondered what we looked like to him: three siblings on an outing? Two young lovers and a chaperone? I took comfort in knowing that in his wildest dreams, he’d have no way of guessing our true natures.

“London, next stop!” he announced, his look growing suspicious as he noticed Damon’s bloodstained shirt. This wasn’t the conductor we had compelled to obtain our first-class carriage car, and I could tell from the way he pursed his lips that he was seconds away from asking to see our tickets.

Damon turned toward him and arched an eyebrow. “Thank you,” he said in a low voice. A small smile appeared on his face as his mind melded with the conductor’s. In seconds, the conductor was completely under Damon’s spell.

I watched, impressed by how easily Damon could compel, even when he was wounded and half starved. When I compelled, I was often left with a headache and a sour taste in my mouth. Damon seemed to suffer no such side effects.

“You’ll leave us alone from now on. We’ve shown you our tickets. You never saw us,” Damon said, his words smooth and even.

Cora watched Damon, clearly curious as to why the conductor was hanging on his every word. She opened her mouth and I started to shake my head, worried she’d break the compulsion. But she only whispered to Damon: “Have him give you his hat.”

Damon glanced at her, bemused. “And I need your hat,” Damon said in the same smooth tone he’d been using the whole time.

“Of course, sir,” the conductor said, handing it over.

“And the jacket,” Cora urged, raising an eyebrow.

“The jacket, too,” Damon said. I watched, impressed. It was as if Cora were compelling Damon.

“Very well,” the conductor said, shrugging off his dusty gray uniform coat and neatly placing it on the seat next to Damon. He shuffled out of the coach in his shirtsleeves, the curtain falling closed behind him.

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