Home > The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(11)

The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(11)
Author: L.J. Smith

“You did?” I asked, impressed.

Cora nodded. “I tried to be so quiet. I know how you and Damon hear things that normal humans don’t. I’ve noticed it,” she said, smiling to herself. “I notice a lot of things,” she added. “But they never looked back. They brought the girls down to a room next to the laundry. There are a lot of rooms down there, a long hallway of doors. I’m not sure where they lead.”

I nodded, encouraging Cora to continue her story. I could feel the anticipation; we were onto something here, getting closer to Samuel. Despite the horrors she was describing, I was excited.

“They took the girls into one of the rooms, what looked like an office, and they started feeding. But it wasn’t like the time you ate that rat. That seemed all right. This … they’d sink their teeth deep into the girl’s neck. I could see blood drip down their backs as they drank. At first I almost screamed. But then…”

“What?” I asked. I laced my fingers in hers and gave her hand a small squeeze. It was so small and fragile, and made me feel as if I were holding a baby sparrow.

“Samuel would lean down and whisper to them. Almost as if he were being sweet on them. But Henry…” Her face hardened. “Henry had no mercy. Would say that screaming wouldn’t do anything, and this was all they deserved. That no one would care if they died and he was doing them a favor. It was terrible to watch. Because all I could think was, what if he was had been doing that to my sister?”

“He’s not. Violet’s a vampire. She can look out for herself now.” It was cold comfort, but it was something.

Cora nodded. “I know. But I couldn’t watch anymore. I thought, it would be just my luck, and so stupid, if I were to get caught. I’d be no use to Violet after that.”

I squeezed her hand again. That was the problem we all faced: We were in this together. And although death might be easier, we needed to survive, for each other.

“This morning, the girls were back in their beds. I tried to talk to Clare at breakfast, but Sister Benedict yelled at me. She rapped my fingers. I hadn’t gotten that type of punishment since school,” Cora said wryly. She loosened my grasp and showed me the back of her hand. Indeed, a faint bluish bruise was spreading across the white skin. I winced.

“It’s all right,” Cora said. “I’ve learned my lesson. We’re supposed to devote breakfast to silent prayer. And it’s not that bad. Some of the girls are nice. There’s one, Elizabeth, who used to work at a tavern even worse than the Ten Bells. And Cathy’s been kind enough to show me around. I’ll be all right, Stefan,” Cora said.

I wanted so badly to believe her. No, I needed to believe her. I thought of Samuel, his ratlike face buried deep in the neck of one of these girls, and felt my stomach twist with a sense of renewed hatred. He would pay for his actions. He had to.

Cora reached up to tuck her hair behind her ears. In that gesture, I noticed the chain of her vervain charm move, hidden beneath her dress. And suddenly, the kernel of a plan began to form in my mind.

“So you all eat breakfast at the same time?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” Cora said. “Sister Benedict makes us. We have fifteen minutes for meals, in between prayers and work.”

In the distance, the chapel bell began to chime. One, two…

“I should…” Cora said, her eyes flicking to the church in concern. The service would be getting out soon, and Cora needed to rejoin the line of the girls back without anyone realizing she’d been missing.

“I brought this for you,” I said, holding out the still-warm bag of pastries.

“Oh, Stefan!” Cora said, her face breaking into a wide smile. She was so pleased at such a small gesture that I felt ashamed I hadn’t done more. She deserved gold and diamonds for what she was doing. And instead, she was exclaiming over a bit of bread as though it were the greatest of treasures. Once we vanquished Samuel, I’d get her anything her heart desired. That was a promise.

“Would you like one?” she said, offering the bag to me.

I picked one out and took a small bite. The bread stuck to the roof of my mouth like glue, tasteless. I had no enjoyment for human food, but I wanted to have a small moment of normalcy with Cora.

“Mmm,” Cora said contentedly. “They feed us gruel. This is good. Thanks for thinking of me.”

“Of course,” I said. Then, hesitantly: “You’re all I’ve been thinking of.” In a different world, the sentence would have been a precursor to a declaration of love. Instead, I hurried on. “Listen, I have a plan. You know your necklace?”

“Of course,” Cora said, reaching into her smock and pulling it out. It glinted in the sun: a tiny ray of hope amid a swirl of darkness.

“The vervain works in a few ways. First, it makes it impossible for vampires to compel you, but it does more than that. It’s poisonous and burns us. Even touching the charm is hard for me.” The pealing of the bells stopped, and I knew I had only minutes to refine my idea.

“But the worst is when vervain catches a vampire unawares. When I was a human, my father dosed me with vervain. I didn’t know. I was in love with a girl…”

“Katherine?” Cora asked pointedly.

“Yes,” I said. Cora certainly did notice everything. “And Katherine was a vampire. My father was suspicious of her, so he decided to create a test. He slipped vervain into my drink. And as soon as Katherine sank her teeth into me, she sprang back in agony. She was writhing on the floor and foaming at the mouth. And then…”

“He knew,” Cora said simply.

“Yes. And so did everyone else. But what’s important was her reaction. She was in agony. Vervain is like poison— it renders us helpless. So if we could only dose some of the girls with vervain, and wait for Samuel to drink, then…”

“You and Damon will be able to attack,” Cora said quietly, twisting the necklace back and forth in her fingers. In the distance, I could hear Sister Benedict’s voice.

“No talking!” she was saying. “Contemplate what you learned in church.”

“You need to go. Damon and I will find more vervain and come up with a way for you to distribute it. Same time tomorrow?” I asked.

Cora nodded, clutching at the charm.

“Good. Stay safe. And know that I’m thinking about you,” I said, brushing my lips gently against her cheek. Her skin felt ice cold.

“Good-bye!” Cora said, rushing toward the street so she could slip back in line. She had a high flush in her cheeks, and I knew our plan had galvanized her. And it would work. It had to. After all, if it had worked against Katherine, then it would certainly work on such a bloodthirsty duo as Henry and Samuel.

I stood up and stretched. The rain showed no signs of relenting, but the gloomy weather no longer matched my mood. Instead, I felt alive and ready to take on anyone. And that included vampires.

10

I practically flew back to the tunnel, knocking into pedestrians and coachmen along the way. At one point I stopped, catching sight of a broadsheet posted outside a bank.

CRIMINAL MOST FOUL! proclaimed the headline above the now-familiar etching of Damon’s face. Soon, these posters would come down and Damon would be able to roam the streets of London as a free man. But for now, I was worried about him leaving the tunnel even for a moment.

“Bloody awful, don’t you think?” I turned to find a man standing next to me, staring at the broadsheet.

“I suppose so,” I said stiffly.

“Won’t be for long. We’ve got all of London looking for him. Thinks he’s a fancy man about town, but then gets his jollies from ripping apart them girls. Terrible.”

“I suppose no one is ever really what they seem,” I said uncomfortably. “If you’ll excuse me.” I backed away, picking up my pace until I lost sight of him.

I reached the tunnel and climbed down the ladder into the darkness. “Damon!” I called, not bothering to be cautious.

“Good day, brother,” Damon said, nodding at me from his perch on the ledge. He was playing a game of solitaire, slapping each card down violently. I knew he was angry about being stuck belowground. But that wasn’t my problem. I was sick of tiptoeing around Damon’s moods.

“I saw Cora,” I said.

“Oh? And how is she?” he asked politely, as though he were inquiring about a long-lost cousin.

“They’re using them for blood. Samuel and Henry are feeding on the girls,” I said. I swung myself onto the ledge so I was sitting next to my brother.

“Really?” Damon’s eyes widened. “That’s their blood supply. That’s brilliant,” he said.

“It’s awful!” I retorted.

“Right. Of course it is. But just think. No hunting, and so many girls available that they don’t feed enough to kill them. I hate to say it, but Samuel knows what he’s doing,” Damon said grudgingly. “If they weren’t trying to kill me, I would probably join them.”

I grimaced. I knew Damon wasn’t saying it to shock me—he actually would have.

“I think I have a plan to catch them,” I said quietly, almost afraid to voice the idea. I knew it could work. But I didn’t want to see Damon’s sneer or listen to him list all the reasons the plan wouldn’t work, all the ways it could go wrong.

“Really? Does it involve you sacrificing yourself? Now that’s a plan I could get behind,” Damon quipped.

“Vervain,” I said simply. “Cora can sneak some in, and she’ll dose the girls at breakfast. Then, when Samuel feeds, he’ll be poisoned, and we’ll be able to attack.”

“Vervain,” Damon repeated thoughtfully. “That’s not bad, brother.”

“It grows everywhere back home. But here…” I remembered how hard it had been to try to cultivate vervain in the limestone-rich English soil. It wasn’t something that grew naturally. I’d nurtured a tiny patch on the grounds of Abbott Manor, but it had required near constant diligence. Back in the States, it had been awful to walk through a field only to suddenly feel dozens of stings around my ankles. The vervain I gave to Violet, which Cora now wore, was from San Francisco—crumbly and dried, like a pressed flower.

“We don’t need to grow it. Brother, you need to stop thinking like a farmer. We’re in London, where money can get you anything. We can still find it,” Damon said mysteriously.

“Where?” I asked.

“Wherever there’s a city of vampires, there are antidotes. Do you think the war between us and Samuel is the only one brewing in our world?” Damon asked with a twisted grin. “Come. We’re going to the Emporium,” Damon said. He pulled on a hat to disguise his face. Now that his angular cheekbones, shock of dark hair, and piercing eyes were covered, he didn’t look like the man on the broadsheet. He looked like just another Londoner shielding himself from the rain.

Without saying a word, I followed him.

Soon, I realized there were parts of London far worse than Whitechapel. Whitechapel had reminded me of some of the slums of New York City, communities we’d only passed through in a coach. But these areas were even more decrepit. Stray cats yowled in the alleyways, and boarded-up windows faced the streets below. It was impossible to tell whether any of the homes were inhabited. I hoped not.

“How do you know this part of town?” I asked. It was nothing like the elegant blocks Damon usually frequented.

“Unfortunately, I lived in this hellhole,” Damon said, grimacing. “You’re not the only one who’s had to slum it, brother.”

“You lived here?” I repeated in disbelief, picking my way over a pile of garbage and broken crates.

“You do what you have to do. Obviously, I prefer feather beds and champagne, but those aren’t always available. Besides, the darkness suits me. No one looks at you, no one cares if people go missing. It’s real life, brother,” Damon continued as we walked down the winding alleyway. The passage was so narrow that only one person could fit at a time.

“When did you arrive in London, anyway?” I asked. I realized I had no idea what Damon had done for the past twenty years. Of course, he had no idea what I’d done either, but I didn’t think he was particularly interested. Those twenty years had passed like a summer. Lexi and I had toured the country; we’d had long conversations and had occasionally taken odd jobs to pad our pockets. What had Damon seen?

“I’ve been here for a while. I knew the States couldn’t contain me. I had to seek adventure elsewhere,” Damon said cryptically. He stopped in front of the door of a house similar to all the other derelict residences on the streets.

He raised his fist and rapped three times.

“Who’s there?” A low, croaky voice called from the other side.

“Damon DeSangue,” Damon said in a flawless Italian accent.

The door creaked open and a tiny, wizened man stepped out. He was missing an eye, and the other was oozing a milky white substance. It was difficult to tell his age, or if he was even human.

“James!” Damon said warmly, reaching down to shake his hand.

“Damon! You’ve been gone far too long. I trust you’re not getting into trouble?” James asked, raising the white tufted eyebrow above his sightless eye socket. Suddenly, his remaining eye landed on me. “Who’s this?” he asked suspiciously.

“This is Stefan,” Damon said. “My brother. Also a vampire. Stefan, this is James, a friend to England’s creatures of the night.”

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