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

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

Damon smirked. “Stefan saves the day. What a brilliant idea. ‘We need to find him.’ Well, that’s what I was trying to do.”

“You can’t just run around London hoping you’ll run into him!” I fumed. That was Damon’s problem: He acted on impulse, rarely considering consequences. It was a trait that worked when besting humans. But Samuel was a vampire and stronger than both of us combined. Our only hope was to outwit him. “We have to be strategic. Maybe it’s good he’s in the spotlight,” I said, thinking out loud. “It means he has to work that much harder to hide certain things.”

“He’s good at hiding things,” Cora said softly, fingering the vervain charm around her neck.

“Do you remember anything else about Samuel?” I asked urgently.

“Think I didn’t already ask her that, brother?” Damon interjected. “She doesn’t remember anything. She only recalls the warehouse parties. I was the one in his inner circle.”

“I can speak for myself, thank you!” Cora interjected. But when she didn’t continue, it was clear she didn’t have any further information on our enemy.

Damon’s lip curled as he pivoted toward me. I could see sparks from the fire reflected in his pupils. “Let’s pay him a visit,” Damon said.

“Pay him a visit,” I repeated flatly. “Just show up on his front steps? When you’re a wanted criminal? Have you forgotten that we have to be invited into a home by its owner? I doubt Samuel will extend the courtesy.” It was one of the many things that differentiated us from mortals: In order to enter a residence, a vampire had to be asked to cross the threshold. It was a small restriction, but one that meant some places were still safe from monsters like us.

“Thank you for the etiquette lesson, brother. But I don’t need to go inside. All I need is to speak with Samuel, man to man. Or, should I say, vampire to vampire,” Damon explained. “I’m done playing cat and mouse. And I’m not going to leave London without a fight,” Damon said, clenching and unclenching his fists.

“A fight to the death?” I asked pointedly. In New Orleans, when Damon and I had been forced to battle each other underneath a circus tent, our fight had been billed as such. We’d only been saved when Callie started a fire that brought the tent down. Did Damon truly have such a short memory?

“Yes, a fight to the death,” Damon repeated, seemingly oblivious to my allusion. “But a proper one. No surprises, no using humans, no games. Just the two of us against each other. I’m going to go to his door and get the answers. And then, I’m going to destroy him.”

“Let me get this straight. You’re going to head to his house and invite him to fight? He didn’t exactly offer the same courtesy when he tried to kill me,” I said incredulously. It was dramatic and over the top and so Damon. But while a duel was romantic, he didn’t have a chance of winning. Not in his state. I tried to imagine the way Damon’s plan would play out. Samuel may not anticipate us ringing his doorbell as though we were guests. He could be caught unawares, in front of people who didn’t know his secret, and he’d be forced to keep his cover. After all, I doubted he’d stake us in a roomful of London’s political elite, nor could he compel them all simultaneously. Still, the plan was rife with problems. I knew I couldn’t talk Damon out of it, so the best I could do was be there when it fell apart.

“Yes, let’s go. But answers first, duel later,” I said wryly. I wasn’t surprised he’d gotten on Samuel’s bad side. The question wasn’t what he had done, it was what he’d done this time.

“You gentlemen have fun on your fact-finding mission,” Cora said. “I’ll head to the Ten Bells. With Samuel occupied, it’ll be the safest time to ask if any of the girls have seen Violet.”

I didn’t like the idea of Cora going off on her own, unprotected. But she was right; it was safer for her to be in Whitechapel than to come with us to confront Samuel. The look of determination on her face warned me not to argue.

“Fine,” I said after a moment. “I’ll go out for supplies. I’ll be back soon.” I walked down the tunnel without a backward glance, my footsteps echoing against the packed dirt. Every move I made caused a wave of scurrying rats, and I wondered if they knew how futile their frantic search for safety was. Were they oblivious to the fact that if someone really wanted to, they could be killed in an instant? Or, in their tiny minds, did they think of themselves the way I was beginning to think of myself—as a walking target, simply awaiting the moment of my doom?

A few hours later, I arrived back at the tunnel, my arms laden down with two suits, several shirts, a pink silk dress, and a lavish petticoat. I’d returned to Harrods, where Violet and I had shopped to replace our torn and dirty clothes so we could blend in as best as we could. As soon as I’d entered the store, several salesmen had gathered around me eagerly, like vultures feeding on a carcass. By the time I had finished shopping, I was so drained from compelling the crowd of salespeople that I hardly even knew what I was carrying.

As soon as I had my goods, I’d made a hasty exit, intent on feeding. Eventually I’d found a malnourished pigeon on a deserted street, but was still famished after draining its blood.

The sound of laughter echoed in the tunnel.

“Hello?” I called curiously.

A response ricocheted back to me. “Back so soon, brother?”

I turned the corner and saw Damon and Cora, sitting opposite the fire from each other. Cora had an animated expression on her face, and her eyes were gleaming.

“I brought clothes for you,” I said, placing the clothing— hundreds of pounds’ worth of finery, which I’d gotten for free—in piles on the dusty ground.

“Thanks,” Damon said. He leaned over and began picking through the piles, finally pulling out a black wool cloak. I’d thought it might help him to blend into the night. He straightened up and tossed the rich fabric around his shoulders. “You outdid yourself. This cloak makes me look like one of Gallagher’s finest magicians. Don’t you agree?”

I smiled tightly. It was an apt description of the outfit. Gallagher’s was the terrible circus where, as vampires, Damon and I had been held captive and forced to fight each other. We were the only authentic acts. Everything else, from the tattooed woman to the conjoined twins, had been the result of two-bit trickery.

“You don’t look bad, brother,” I said.

“No, he doesn’t.” Cora smiled appreciatively. “Well, I’m off to the Ten Bells, before either of you can stop me. I’ll have you know that I don’t need a man or a vampire to protect me,” Cora said, standing up and flouncing down the tunnel into the darkness.

“Now, there’s a girl you wouldn’t have met in Mystic Falls,” Damon murmured, clearly impressed by her independence.

“Probably because no girls like that would have wanted to meet you. They’d have had the good sense to stay away,” I shot back, even as I wondered what Damon meant. Was Cora becoming a romantic interest for Damon? There was no way that could end well.

“Their loss,” Damon said easily. He threw the hood of the cloak over his head, concealing his face. “Anyway, brother, let’s focus on the task at hand. It’s a lovely day for a family hunt, wouldn’t you say?”

5

I’d gotten used to my life stretching in front of me, as vast as an endless ocean. But in the past two weeks, my worldview had constricted. Now, working our way through the alleyways and darkened streets of London, all that mattered were the next few minutes and hours. Would we kill Samuel? Would Samuel kill us? How would he react to discovering I wasn’t a pile of ashes back at Abbott Manor? And were we about to enter into a death match with the undead?

Damon seemed to hope so. In fact, he was treating the entire ordeal as if we were soldiers going into battle, and it was his duty to muster the troops. The only time his mood seemed to lift was when he described the ways he wanted to destroy Samuel.

Eventually, I tuned him out, allowing him to continue his monologue about whether he’d stake or burn Samuel, or both.

Damon and I hurried along empty streets toward Samuel’s Montague Street home, darting this way and that to avoid any suspicious glances. Not like there were many. In our new outfits, with the bloodstains finally washed off our skin, we looked like two wealthy young men enjoying everything London had to offer. We certainly didn’t look like hungry creatures of the night, about to do business with the devil.

We turned onto Montague in silence, walking under the hazy gaslights dotting the street. Down the block, carriages were rolling up to a large, well-kept house blocked from the view of pedestrians by an ivy-covered fence.

I turned to Damon, but he was distracted, leering at a stylish woman leaning tipsily on the arm of her companion. She was wearing a blue dress that left her lily-white neck exposed and vulnerable.

Damon arched a dark eyebrow. “Lady Ainsley,” he explained as he watched her carry on with a man who was clearly not the Lord Ainsley I had met. “Not as faithful to her husband as he’d hope.”

I turned to Damon in the darkness, a revelation forming in my mind. “Do you think that’s why Samuel’s angry? Jealousy?”

“Did I take one of his women, you mean?” Damon asked. “I didn’t take anyone. They were all more than happy to go with me.”

Lady Ainsley and her escort turned and walked up the gaslit path toward the house.

“Well? Let’s go,” I said, gesturing at their retreating backs.

“Yes,” Damon agreed, but he seemed lost in thought. I wondered how many of the women at the party he’d known, how many business deals he had struck with their husbands. Samuel could be holding a grudge for dozens of reasons. Damon always went after what he wanted, not caring who was in his way. Fallout was inevitable when it came to Damon’s conquests, and unfortunately I wasn’t stranger to getting wrapped up in it.

“Penny for your thoughts, brother?” Damon asked, easily catching up to me.

“You don’t have any money,” I joked. “All you have is the cloak on your back, and I was the one who stole that for you.”

“True. But I have other ways of making you talk.”

“I was thinking that you make enemies more easily than friends,” I said as we made our way toward Samuel’s home.

I surveyed the expansive grounds. From the street, it looked more like a park than a private home. The four- story Georgian mansion dwarfed the redbrick houses on either side. A main path, lit up by candles, led to the front door. Several smaller dirt paths wound around the house and through groves of maple and elm trees. I shook my head in disbelief. How was it that Samuel could be a vampire, could kill at will, and still live here, with the respect and admiration of humans? Meanwhile, I’d spent the past two decades trying to do the right thing, surviving on whatever scraps I could find, always afraid to get too close or ask for too much.

My mind drifted to our estate back in Virginia. It had been called Veritas, Latin for “truth.” My father had named it, adamant that a man’s primary purpose in life was to search for truth and fight deception. Maybe it was a path that worked for humans. But for a vampire, seeking the truth often meant unwittingly causing death. If I’d left the Jack the Ripper murders alone, Oliver would be alive. Violet would be human. But Cora would still be enslaved by Samuel, and countless more girls might have died. Damon would have been framed by Samuel and might have been hung by the police. No matter what path we’d taken, people would have perished. It was just a question of who.

I sneaked a glance at Damon. He, too, was staring up at the house, his jaw tight.

“Well, this is it,” Damon said, walking closer to the iron gates. “Moment of truth. You can either be a coward and run back to your little human girlfriend, or you can follow me. It’s your choice.”

“I’m not your enemy, Damon,” I said. “Samuel is. Remember that.”

Silently, we followed an elderly couple up the winding path to the large oak doors of the Mortimer mansion. The woman in front of us was clad in a glittering red dress, while her husband was wearing a tuxedo. It was impossible to tell whether they were royalty or vampires, and I realized that, if we were let in, the entire evening would play out like a macabre costume party, with none of us knowing the demons from the humans.

The door was opened by a well-dressed butler just as the elderly couple reached the entrance. “Lord and Lady Broad,” the man said, inclining his head slightly. The butler ushered them in. I craned my neck, trying to get a glimpse inside the lavish marble foyer.

And then I spotted Violet. She looked nothing like the half-dead girl I’d last seen in Ivinghoe. She was wearing a green velvet dress, and her hair was pinned in an elaborate mass of curls. Her lips were bright red, and her eyes seemed wider than ever. She was beautiful—but I’d already known that. What startled me was the way she carried herself, shoulders thrown back, chin lifted. Gone was the aura of a fragile fawn in a forest. Now, she seemed like a lioness— beautiful, graceful, and wholly confident in her Power. Even as she sipped champagne and smiled politely at her conversation partner, her eyes were scanning the crowd. I wondered who—or what—she was looking for.

Damon stepped into the triangle of light from the open door, pulling at his collar to reveal his face. His jaw was set, determined, and his eyes were lit with passionate rage.

“I’m Damon Salvatore,” he announced himself, dropping his sobriquet. “And I need to speak to Samuel. Alone.”

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