Home > The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(12)

The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(12)
Author: L.J. Smith

Drink human blood.

Ever since Cora had said it, I couldn’t stop thinking it. If Cora, a human girl, could imagine—no, encourage—me to feed on humans, what was holding me back? It was my true nature. I was a vampire.

A rustle in the bushes caused me to whirl around. It was a woman, laughingly leading a man through the trees. Her sleeve exposed a milky-white shoulder. Their clothing was faded, but clean, and I imagined they were both servants at one of the large houses surrounding the park.

Unbidden, blood rushed to my gums and my fangs elongated. It would be so easy. I wouldn’t even have to kil . I could compel. I could approach them saying that I was lost and looking for directions. Then, I’d quickly attack, drink, and leave.

“Freddy!” The girl grabbed the boy’s arm tightly. “Did you hear something?”

Al I heard was the quickening of the girl’s blood.

“Just a squirrel, most likely. Besides, I’m here to keep you safe. Give me a kiss?” the man asked.

“Let’s go,” the girl said nervously. She guided him by the hand back through the gates, their feet crunching on the fal leaves.

I could have run after them. I would have enjoyed the hunt, in fact. But that extra step—needing to take that action

—stopped me from making a huge mistake. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Couldn’t give in to that desire. Not now.

I trained my eyes on the ground, but I was no longer in the mood to hunt. Final y, I grabbed a squirrel from a nearby branch, drained it, and threw the carcass to the ground. I kicked a few leaves over it and wished that I had someone to share my hopes and fears with. In a city of a mil ion heartbeats, I was on my own.

10

“Ready for the big day, brother?” Damon asked as he tweaked a bow tie around his neck.

I pul ed out my pocket watch. Three o’clock.

“Where are you going?” I asked. Damon wasn’t supposed to go to Samuel’s until six thirty, and I wasn’t due to meet the witches for the praesidium spel until five.

“An errand,” Damon said. “I’l be back.”

“Don’t get arrested again,” I said sulkily. He was stil a wanted man.

“Can I come?” Cora piped up from the corner. She’d been quiet ever since the coven meeting.

“Of course.” Damon gave her a crooked smile. “In fact, I think you should. I intend to spend the afternoon doing some house hunting. Cora, you can help. I think it’s important to get a woman’s opinion on real estate.”

“You’re looking for a house?” Was he insane? Did he realize what we were up against?

“Yes,” Damon said simply. “And once I find one, Cora can stay there for the night, and we’l come back and meet her afterward. It’s the safest thing.”

“How are you going to get a house?” Cora asked.

Damon shrugged. “Foreclosures, houses up for sale.

There are ways for a vampire to live in luxury without having to be invited in.”

“Is that…legal?”

Damon chuckled. “In case you haven’t realized, we’ve been operating outside the law for quite some time, Cora m’dear.”

“I know,” Cora said quickly. “I just meant with the vice…

the vinc…the spel between you and Lady Alice. Doesn’t that mean no more lying?”

“No lying to them. Anyone else is fair game. And besides, I don’t think of compel ing as lying. It’s just strongly suggesting. Witches know it’s what we do.” Cora nodded. “I just don’t want them to be angry with us.

They seem scary.”

“Cora, I’m offended!” Damon said in mock horror. “Do you mean we’re not as terrifying as we think we are?” Cora smiled. “In your case, your bark is worse than your bite,” she said. “And I think your brother might be the opposite. I’ve seen the way he goes after a rat.” It was good-natured teasing, but I felt my shoulders tense al the same. Even Cora recognized the way I craved blood wasn’t normal. I was glad I’d resisted the urge to feed on the humans in Hyde Park.

“Wel , as long as Cora’s somewhere safe,” I hedged. As if Damon needed my permission to do anything. I hadn’t thought of what Cora would do as we carried out our plan.

The longer she stayed with us, the less I saw her as a human who needed protecting. As much as I hated to admit it, Damon was right. No matter how tough Cora was, she was stil a human, and we needed to make special provisions for her.

“Thanks for your permission, brother,” Damon said as

“Thanks for your permission, brother,” Damon said as he headed toward the exit of the tunnel, Cora trailing behind him.

“Remember to bring a stake. And be on time!” I pressed.

I watched my brother retreat as a familiar splinter of doubt lodged its way into my stomach.

Stop it, I said to myself. It was a good idea: Cora needed to hide somewhere safer than Mil er’s Court or the tunnel. And if Damon wanted a home in London to use after we vanquished Samuel, why, that was his prerogative. I couldn’t wait to get out of the city, but Damon never could resist being at the center of the action.

I scrambled up the ladder into the sunlight, then walked toward the bridge above the tunnel. A coach was waiting outside a townhouse a few meters down the road. I glanced at the dark horse pawing the cobblestones. As a child, whenever I felt confused, angry, or upset, I’d ride my horse, Mezzanotte, into the forest. With each clip-clop of her hooves, my thoughts would unwind and my brain would relax. The horse in front of me was nothing like Mezzanotte.

It had a patchy black coat and tangled mane.

And yet…

I stared into the coachman’s watery eyes.

“I need that horse,” I said firmly.

He complacently untied the horse from the carriage. “Al right, gov’nor,” he said, passing me the reins.

I hopped into the saddle.

“Hi, girl,” I whispered into her flea-bitten neck. I gently cracked the whip the coachman had given me and took off through the maze of London streets. I wasn’t sure where I was going, only that I needed to clear my head.

I ended up riding the horse to Hampstead Heath. From there, I had a view of al of London. The city looked beautiful and elegant, with its limestone buildings reaching toward the sky.

I closed my eyes, a vision forming in my mind of a crumbled city, cloudy with smoke, its streets awash with blood and bodies. That’s what would happen if Samuel took over. I knew it.

A memory drifted back to me, as sharp and clear as though it had just happened yesterday:

My father and I were in the cool, dark woods just beyond our Mystic Fal s property. He’d brought Damon and I there to tel us his fear: that the Civil War had awakened vampires, that they could smel blood, and that they’d infiltrated the town. Damon had gotten angry at what he’d cal ed my father’s “insane ranting” and stormed off. I had listened.

We are on the side of what is right and good. It is kill or be killed. Do you understand me, boy? This is the war you’re being drafted to fight. Right here. It was my father’s voice, so distinct and resolute that he could have been standing right next to me.

Twenty years and countless deaths later, the words were stil true. I was my father’s son, and I knew it was my legacy to save this city from almost certain destruction.

I didn’t have any time to waste. Kicking the horse’s flank, I didn’t have any time to waste. Kicking the horse’s flank, I rode into Hyde Park, deep into the brambles. I had hunting to do.

Once I was satiated with the blood of two foxes and three badgers, I jumped back on the horse and made my way to the East End. The sun was rapidly slipping below the horizon, and I already knew I was running late to meet the witches.

I hitched the horse in front of Mil er’s Court. In an emergency, we could use it for a quick getaway. I knocked on the door. When I didn’t hear an answer, I pushed my way in, stake in hand. I’d fashioned it from an oak branch I’d found on the ground in the park. I liked it. It was elegant, yet powerful. It would do the job. We’d decided it would make the most sense for Damon to have the first opportunity to strike Samuel. After al , he’d be right next to him. But if he failed, I’d be ready.

I stopped short as soon as I walked in the door. Had I entered the wrong house? The stairs had righted themselves, a banister now hung securely along the side, and the wal s were freshly painted. But the low chanting coming from upstairs assured me that I was in the right place. I hurried up to the second floor and found the witches preparing for the spel .

Lady Alice, clad in a silvery robe, glided down the stairs.

“Stefan, are you ready?”

“I am,” I breathed. Her gardenia-and-jasmine scent assaulted my nostrils, but I didn’t feel the same need to feed as I had two nights before. The only blood I wanted was Samuel’s. My father had been right about something was Samuel’s. My father had been right about something else, too: War had awakened the vampire—the angry, destructive force—within me. I was ready for battle.

A blazing fire burned in the circle at the center of the room. Next to the fire sat a bench, surrounded by dozens of tal , tapered candles. It looked almost like an altar. On top of it lay Mary Jane, her dark hair loose around her head and topped with a wreath made of intertwined lilac and foxglove. Mary Jane’s friends weren’t here, which was for the best. Better for them to be elsewhere, just in case our plan didn’t go smoothly.

Lavinia hobbled over to me. She was the only other witch from the coven in attendance, and she wore a silver robe like Lady Alice’s. “Come here, vampire. Sit down,” she said, escorting me to the corner of the room. “Only witches can take part in this.”

I wordlessly took my seat as the witches crowded closer to Mary Jane, holding hands to form a ring around her.

From them came one low, plaintive note.

The tuneless chant continued until the entire room reverberated. And then the noise abruptly stopped. Lavinia and Lady Alice stepped up to the altar and knelt down, bending their heads so low their foreheads touched the ground.

I glanced around uncomfortably, unsure of whether I too was supposed to bow. But I stayed seated, afraid that even a tiny move would disrupt the energy flowing through the room.

On the bench, Mary Jane’s eyes were open, but she didn’t blink. I wondered if she was in a trance as Lavinia didn’t blink. I wondered if she was in a trance as Lavinia opened her mouth and began chanting actual words, rather than sounds.

“Munimentum, vampiro, eternal…”

The phrase sounded like it was in Latin, a language I’d studied in school, but she was speaking far too quickly for me to understand. As the spel continued, I could see Mary Jane’s skin begin to glow as her veins pulsed. I held my breath, trying to send my own Power to the work being done in the middle of the room.

The col ection of candles flickered brighter, and the smoke rising from the flames formed a faint blue ring that hovered around the witches.

“Eterna quite,” Lavinia said, then clapped three times.

The room plunged into darkness as al the candles blew out, as though hit by an enormous gust of wind. And then, just as quickly, the candles relit as if by their own accord.

Mary Jane sat up and blinked her eyes.

“Thank you.” She turned toward me and smiled. I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination, but her skin seemed brighter and her eyes more luminous than ever. But would that be enough protection against Samuel, a monster who seemed to suck light away?

The witches parted, and Mary Jane daintily stepped off the makeshift altar.

“I’m ready,” she said in a clear voice, gazing straight at me.

“Good.” I nodded. “Now we wait. When Samuel comes, everyone stays here except Mary Jane. If anything should go wrong, Damon wil be downstairs to protect her.”

“It won’t go wrong. And al Stefan needs to do is kil Seaver. Let us worry about Samuel,” Lavinia said. “Don’t play the hero,” she added, glaring at me sharply.

“I trust Stefan,” Mary Jane said. “And I trust Alice.” She turned toward Lady Alice and embraced her.

“Thank you,” Lady Alice said, and I could see tears shimmering in her eyes as she pul ed away.

“I’l be fine,” Mary Jane assured her. “I feel strong, ready.

That’s why I insist no one come downstairs, even if I scream. No one can deviate from the plan.”

“Are you sure?” Lady Alice fretted. “The praesidium spel can only be used on one member of a coven at a time, so that the recipient is receiving al the energy from the others.

But I can perform an absconditus spel on myself. It would al ow me to hide in plain sight, so I’d be right there with you.

You wouldn’t be alone.”

“No.” Mary Jane shook her head. “You’ve done enough.

And I want to be alone for this. I’m ready and protected. And Jemima wil have al the others in the al ey to attack if everything goes awry.”

“It won’t,” I said. I turned to fol ow her down the stairs when Lady Alice pul ed me back by the crook of my elbow.

“A word?” she asked.

“Yes?”

“Thank you for saving Mary Jane. I didn’t have a chance to say it before. I was too shocked at seeing Mary Jane after al those years, surrounded by vampires. But I know that you’re not the worst.”

Coming from Lady Alice, it was high praise.

“Thank you,” I said, uncomfortably avoiding her gaze. I glanced at the fire, hoping to see an image of the future, but al I could see were dancing orange and red flames. Maybe Lady Alice’s magic saw something I didn’t. Maybe I could be a good man, once Samuel was gone and London was no longer my prison.

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