Home > The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(14)

The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(14)
Author: L.J. Smith

“Whatever it takes,” I repeated. I pushed my bruised, battered body to my feet and fol owed Damon to the door of the house. But I knew no change in location would make any damn bit of difference.

11

Damon opened the door and I staggered into the house in Bedford Square. It was warm, dark, and quiet. I found a smal guest room; the bed was made up with a thick wool blanket and I fel into it gladly.

I woke to the sun streaming through the window. Despite the cheerful surroundings, my stomach plummeted as I remembered the terrible night. But I gathered my courage.

Somehow, we would find a way to defeat Samuel and avenge Mary Jane’s death. We had to.

I quickly went to the closet and pul ed out a starched shirt and pair of trousers. For a stranger’s clothing, they fit fairly wel . I made my way down a curving oak staircase to the downstairs parlor. The house may have been smal for Damon’s taste, but it was elegantly decorated with antique cherrywood furniture and intricately woven oriental carpets.

The wal s were covered with ornate patterned wal paper and gilt mirrors, and delicate crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings. I’d frequently found myself in abandoned houses before—no matter where in the world we were, Lexi had a knack for discovering dilapidated houses and making them home—but this was in pristine condition.

Damon had done wel .

Downstairs, Cora was relaxing in a wingback chair. She was wearing a green velvet dress far too large for her tiny frame. Her copper hair was lustrous and she looked alert, but the dark shadows under her eyes betrayed her anxiety.

Damon must have told her about what had happened with Samuel. A newspaper was open in her lap, but her eyes were darting frantical y across the page, and I could tel she wasn’t reading so much as desperately scanning for anything about what had happened in the East End the night before.

“Look at this,” Cora said flatly, not bothering to say hel o.

She pointed to an article.

“Did you go outside by yourself to get that?” I asked hoarsely.

Cora didn’t answer, but pointed her finger at the article.

JACK THE RIPPER KILLS AGAIN!

I continued reading. Mary Jane’s discarded body had been found by a rent col ector in the Mil er’s Court flat. Of course, neither Samuel nor the witches were mentioned. I continued to read.

Dr. Thomas Bond and Dr. George Philips examined the body, and discovered that unlike the other Ripper victims, this one was missing a heart.

An inquest is being held in Shoreditch. Anyone who was in the vicinity of Miller’s Court the night of November 8th is urged to go to the police immediately with any information.

“This doesn’t say anything we don’t already know,” I said, pushing the paper away.

“Keep reading,” Cora said, pointing to a paragraph a third of the way down the page. I skimmed the text.

Sources are confident the killings were not the work of previous suspect Damon de Sangue.

Scotland Yard is now narrowing its focus on the Duke of Clarence, seen near several crime scenes and currently presumed missing. If anyone sees the Duke, or has any intelligence as to the Ripper’s identity, they are to immediately to speak with either Scotland Yard or the Metropolitan Police.

“At least Damon’s free now. But Samuel has Mary Jane’s heart,” Cora said in a smal voice. “How could the life of someone as innocent as Mary Jane lead to harm? It doesn’t make sense.”

“I know.” I thought of the brave way Mary Jane had faced Samuel. I thought of how she so easily befriended Damon and me, despite the fact that vampires and witches were supposed to be mortal enemies.

Maybe her stubbornness had been the weak spot that had kil ed her. She was one more victim to add to the far-too-long list of people whose deaths I’d been responsible for.

“It was my fault,” I said final y. “I should have thought of what could have gone wrong. I should have kil ed Seaver first. If I’d just stuck with the plan, Samuel would have been trapped.” I sighed heavily.

“Stop it!” Cora snapped. “Do you know how often you blame yourself? Damon was in trouble, and he needed your help. It’s not your fault, and the more you say it, the more you’l believe it. The more I’ll believe it. Just…stop. Al right?”

“Al right,” I echoed. But deep down, I knew I’d done it because I had wanted to kil Samuel. I’d wanted to feel my stake puncturing his chest. But I didn’t explain that to Cora. I couldn’t bear to see disappointment in her eyes.

Luckily, just then Damon walked down the curved staircase, wearing a blue smoking jacket trimmed in white fur. “What’s al the racket?”

“The Ripper made the papers again,” I said dryly, smoothing the broadsheet and passing it to Damon.

He perched on the end of the low-slung cherrywood chair in the corner. Soon, a smile spread across his face as he shoved the paper aside.

“Wel , looks like I’l be able to reintroduce myself to society. It’l be nice to be a free man after being a wanted man for so long. I’m ready to resume my life of luxury.” I stared at my brother. Could he possibly be serious?

“What about Samuel?” I asked.

“What about Samuel?” Damon echoed, perfectly mocking my inflection. “You know, brother, I was thinking last night that maybe you’ve been right al along. Maybe we do leave the country with our tails between our legs. We had a plan. We had Power. We had witches. And we had numbers on our side. And yet, Samuel and his Asylum goon overtook us.”

“You could have warned us he was bringing reinforcements.”

reinforcements.”

“I didn’t know. Seaver must have been tailing us. And why did it matter? You were supposed to kil him if he came. I saw you when I was fighting with Samuel. You were right behind him. You could have stabbed him in the back, then tried to help me. Ever think of that, brother?”

“Shut up!” Cora yel ed as she shot to her feet and angrily placed her hands on her hips. “I won’t listen to you two bicker! If this continues, I’l leave,” she said, her eyes flashing.

Damon and I reflexively looked at Cora, then at each other. If Cora left, we’d be alone together. And that wouldn’t work. Cora was like a mediator: We needed her to work effectively. If she wasn’t there, either we’d argue our way to inaction, or our al iance would self-destruct.

“Don’t leave,” I said to Cora. “But I think we can al agree we need a new perspective on the situation. We al want to kil Samuel. But we don’t know how to do that. I think we should talk to James and see what he thinks. We can’t do this alone.”

“And what if James decides he’s done with vampires and stakes you? I’ve known him a long time. He’s fickle,” Damon countered.

“I’m wil ing to take the risk,” I said quietly.

“Are you?” Damon asked. “You know what your problem is? You think too much. You don’t act, and that’s dangerous.

And until you stop torturing yourself with your conscience, we can’t work together.”

“I don’t think you can blame me for thinking too much based on what happened last night. And that’s why I need to see James. To find out how strong Samuel real y is.

Maybe James wil know of a weakness in his new powers.”

“Whatever you say. I’m too hungry to fight. Go do your detective work. I’l be breakfasting at Bailey’s Hotel. I can’t possibly think until I’ve had a good meal.” I blanched, knowing that Damon’s idea of a good meal meant an attractive woman. “Fine.”

It was the same old story: When Damon was near death, he was my brother, the man I’d do anything for—including risking my own life. But when he was wel , his barrage of caustic comments chipped away at my goodwil .

As soon as he left, Cora turned to face me. A smal smile played on her lips.

“What?” I asked, ready for another round of insults.

“Nothing real y.” She shook her head. “It’s just that together, you and Damon complete each other. You think, and he’s al about action. But instead of appreciating what the other has, you fight about it.”

I nodded but didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to talk about our brotherly relationship. I wanted to figure out if there was any way to stop Samuel. But I was worried it was impossible. Not without a force greater than ourselves.

“Let’s see James,” I said gruffly.

Cora nodded, and together we walked out of the house and made our way to James’s Emporium. The sun was shining brightly, and the cold snap had receded. In fact, men were walking the streets with their jackets over their arms, and people were sunning themselves on the steps of Trafalgar Square. Stil , everywhere we walked, we heard snatches of conversation:

“Kil ed in her bed…”

“Heart torn out as if she were attacked by an animal…”

“I’m tel ing you, no one is safe.”

“What’s America like?” Cora asked quietly as we zigzagged our way through the crowded sidewalks of Fleet Street.

“Big,” I said, knowing that Cora was mostly asking to distract me from the chatter around us. “You’d like it.” I thought of Cora, stepping off a steamer boat and into a world where she wouldn’t be assaulted by memories of Violet on a daily basis. I thought of the Irish neighborhoods that had sprung up in Boston and New York and San Francisco. She’d definitely find a home.

Maybe Cora should go to America. At least that way, I wouldn’t have to worry about her being next on the list of my accidental victims. “Do you want to go?” I asked gently.

She sighed. “I don’t know. If I left, I’d never see my family again. They don’t even know Violet’s dead. I’ve been trying to decide if I should tel them or let them think that she just got…too busy to write.”

“Would they believe that?” I asked skeptical y.

Cora smiled wanly. “They would. They always said that London would change us. They’d think that if we were happy, then they’d done their job. I think they’d rather imagine Violet had become a snob, not wanting to introduce her parents to her posh new friends, than find out she was dead. They’d never believe she’d been turned into a vampire and kil ed by her own sister. I don’t even believe that,” Cora said sadly.

“They only wanted you to be happy?” I asked in disbelief, thinking back to my own father. At this point, he’d been dead for longer than Cora had been alive, and yet no matter how far I was from his grave or how many years passed, I couldn’t escape his voice. Salvatore men fight, even if it’s to the death. After al , that’s what he’d done.

He’d shot me, his own son.

“Yes,” Cora sighed. “They wouldn’t be able to live if they knew what happened to Violet. They would blame themselves for letting her go. And then if they knew I wasn’t there to take care of her…that I was the one who kil ed her…” Cora’s voice shook.

I gently rested my hand on her arm. “Look at me,” I said, stopping in the street as pedestrians streamed around us. I gazed into her deep blue eyes. “You haven’t done anything wrong. And what happened to that whole speech about not blaming yourself? If none of the events are my fault, then they’re definitely not yours. Is that a deal?” The corners of Cora’s lips twisted, but she didn’t smile. “I know. It’s just hard.”

I nodded. There were no words of wisdom I could give her, nor were there any to console her. We’re in it together?

At least you have me? I was sure being reminded she was bound to a vampire would offer little comfort.

Soon, we reached the Emporium. I rang the doorbel and stepped back. For the first time, I noticed that the door was decorated with a chain of blue flowers. It was clearly a charm, but against what?

James opened the door and looked up at us from his height of only three feet.

“Hel o,” I said, glancing down and noticing that a few red boils had popped, blooming like roses on his pockmarked skin. As always, his one eye was red and watery, while the place where his other eye should have been was a cavernous, empty socket.

“You’re stil alive, vampire. And you’ve managed to get your girl back. Impressive,” James said as he hustled us into the shop. “So sit down. Have some tea. Tel me what you’ve been doing.” Without looking at me, James began fussing at the tiny stove in the corner of the room. I glanced around the shelves crammed ful of jars of blinking eyebal s, beating hearts, and two-headed mice. There had to be something to protect us from Samuel.

“We need to talk to you about last night,” Cora said smoothly, causing James to turn from the stove, a tin mug in each of his hands.

“Earl Grey for you both. What do you mean, ‘last night’?” he asked, squinting his one eye at Cora. He shuffled toward us, upsetting a fat cat that was lazing in his path.

The cat hissed and darted under the table, where it lazily flicked its tail back and forth against my ankle.

“Samuel attacked again. And this time, he did more than kil ,” Cora said.

At this, James slammed the two metal mugs down on the table so forceful y that the wooden table leg began to buckle.

“Damn it!” James said. He grabbed a jar ful of dead turtles from a nearby shelf, pul ed one out, and placed it under the uneven leg to keep it steady. “Quit speaking in riddles, girl! Do I look like that fool Ephraim? Now, tel the whole story, and start from the beginning.”

“Yes sir!” Cora gulped. “Stefan and Damon met a girl, Mary Jane, who turned out to be a purebred witch. And they realized that Samuel wanted her heart. So…”

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