Home > The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(2)

The Compelled (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #6)(2)
Author: L.J. Smith

I tried to escape, but Seaver started chanting and al of a sudden, I was completely trapped.” Cora’s lower lip wobbled as tears spil ed down her cheeks. She wiped them away with the back of her hand and set her mouth in a firm line.

“He must have used some sort of spel ,” I said slowly. I remembered how smal and helpless Cora had looked in that room in the Magdalene Asylum. She must have been terrified.

“We need to see Ephraim,” I decided. The only thing I knew for certain was that if Samuel had witches under his control, we’d need a way to counter their spel s.

“No!” Cora yel ed. “Not Ephraim. I had a bad feeling about him. His locator spel may have taken us to Violet, but what if that was a trap he set up with Samuel? What if he’s been working for Samuel al along? We know Ephraim used to do jobs for the highest bidder—who’s to say he ever stopped? We can’t trust him,” Cora said, setting her jaw. “We need to come up with another plan.”

“Wel , we need someone on our side who can perform magic. Otherwise, Samuel wil always have that advantage over us,” I said. I stood up and paced back and forth, wil ing my mind to come up with a clever way to ensnare Samuel and free my brother. But I stil felt weak and shaky and utterly unable to concentrate. The rat’s blood had only taken the edge off my hunger.

“I think you should drink real blood,” Cora said quietly, as if she could read my mind. “Like your brother. Like Samuel.

It would make you strong enough to fight him, right? It would make the fight even, like you said.” Her eyes glittered like diamonds in the darkness.

“I can’t!” I exploded in frustration, unleashing al the tension I’d been holding in. My voice echoed off the wal s of the tunnel, sending rodents skittering to unknown hiding spots. A few nights before, I would’ve heard the far-off moans and heartbeats of other tunnel dwel ers. Tonight, there were none, and I was glad they’d moved on. The sound of blood rushing against veins would be far too tempting. I took a steadying breath. “I can’t control myself,” I continued more calmly. “When Damon feeds, he’s smarter and faster. When I feed, al I want is more blood. I can’t think logical y or rational y. Al I can think of is how I’l hunt my next meal. I’m a beast on blood, Cora.”

Cora opened her mouth as if to say something, then thought the better of it. “Al right. But Stefan,” she said, grabbing my wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. “This is war, and I won’t have you lose on principle.”

“What do you mean?” I tugged my wrist away gently and peered at her. “It’s more than principle—it’s survival. I don’t drink human blood.”

“I know you don’t. Al I meant was that I’l do whatever it takes to stop Samuel from kil ing more innocent people.

And I hope you’l do the same. Maybe drinking human blood would be different for you now. Maybe you could try.”

“I can’t,” I said firmly. “You don’t know what blood does to me. And I don’t want you to find out.”

Cora looked at me indignantly, but I didn’t want to pursue the subject any further. “We should get some sleep,” I said. I settled on the hard ground on the opposite side of the tunnel. I heard her shaky breathing, but I couldn’t tel if she was shivering or crying. I didn’t ask.

I closed my eyes and pressed my hand to my forehead, a gesture that did nothing to ease the relentless pounding in my skul . Cora’s suggestion echoed in my mind: Drink human blood.

Could I? I hadn’t in twenty years, not since I was in New Orleans, where I’d sometimes drank the blood of four, five, ten humans a day with little thought to the consequences. I often dreamt of it, the moment when I was bent over a victim, smel ing the rushing, liquid iron, knowing it was about to run down my throat. Sometimes the liquid was bitter, like strong, black coffee. Sometimes it was sweet, with traces of honey and oranges. It used to be a private, perverse game of mine: to guess the taste before the blood touched my tongue. But no matter what the flavor, the result was the same: With human blood in me, I was stronger, faster.

And ruthless.

In a way, Cora was right. In the short term, blood could be the fuel to power me to rescue Damon. But in the long run, it would destroy me. And as much as I needed to save Damon, I needed to save myself, too.

I reached into the darkness and al owed my hand to graze Cora’s slim fingers. She took it and gently squeezed.

“I know you’l find a way to save Damon,” Cora said. “…

with or without blood.”

It was meant to be reassuring, but I knew from the hesitancy in Cora’s voice that she was simply trying to make me feel better. She didn’t real y believe it—which only made me feel worse.

I turned to face Cora.

“I promise, if I need to drink blood, I wil . You have my word.”

Relief flickered in her large eyes. “Thank you,” she said.

I didn’t fal asleep for a long time after that. I could sense from Cora’s slow, deep breathing that the evening of terror had taken its tol . She was resting, exhausted, her face in calm repose. Meanwhile, my brain was reeling.

Damon, I whispered into the darkness.

Nothing.

2

The next day, I left the tunnel, tel ing Cora I needed to do some errands. Cora didn’t offer to join me, and I wondered if she thought I was off to hunt human blood. If so, I let her believe it. But instead, al I did was joylessly kil a squirrel, feeling weak even as the blood hit my tongue. Human blood would make me feel sharp, alive. This only made me feel more despair.

Darkness had fal en when I returned to the tunnel. Cora climbed out to join me, and the two of us headed toward the Asylum. We knew Samuel often stopped there at the end of the day. If we could catch a glimpse of him as he exited, then fol ow him, we hoped he’d lead us to Damon. We were armed with stakes, but they provided minimal comfort. My stake was jammed in the shaft of my boot and poked my skin every few steps. It didn’t make me feel any safer. At this point, stakes were as commonplace to us as guns were to hunters heading into the woods. But having a gun didn’t guarantee a hunter couldn’t be kil ed.

The crisp fal air smel ed like burning leaves, and, unlike the East End, this part of town was fil ed with wel -dressed men and women, strol ing from dining clubs to the theater to their fancy hotels. I didn’t mind the crowds. Having to navigate through the masses and around horse-drawn carriages took my mind off the task at hand.

Gradual y, the crowds thinned out and the smel of il icit fires made with newspaper kindling replaced the aroma of roasted chestnuts. The streets were empty, but the slums surrounding them were ful , and I could sense eyes watching us suspiciously behind plateglass windows as we walked up High Street, the main thoroughfare of Whitechapel. From there, we turned onto Crispin Street and soon arrived at the Magdalene Asylum. The stone edifice towered, churchlike, over the now-empty Spitalfields Market. Cora’s attention was focused on the padlock on the heavy iron gates surrounding the building. The only sign that anyone inhabited the Asylum was a lone candle flickering in an upper window. It was only a little past eight o’clock, but unlike the rest of London, the street and building were as quiet as a tomb. It was, after al , only two blocks away from Mitre Square, the location of Jack the Ripper’s most recent kil s.

Ever

since

then,

the Whitechapel Vigilance

Committee had urged residents of the East End to stay indoors. Clearly, they were taking the request seriously.

“I hope they’re al right,” Cora said quietly, and I knew she was thinking of the girls she’d met when she’d infiltrated the Asylum. Al young and down on their luck, they’d seen the organization as a chance to get back on their feet. When they’d entered the Asylum, how could they possibly have known their blood would be used to feed monsters or that their benefactor would handpick them to be slain on the streets?

Behind us, I heard the sound of leaves crunching. I turned, ready to face whatever new danger was headed our way, but it was only a watchman, swinging his nightstick in one hand and holding a lantern in the other.

Don’t come over here, I wil ed, focusing my Power on him. He moved toward me, and for half a second, our eyes locked. Turn. Go back where you came from. He paused, but didn’t shine the light our way. Instead, he pivoted on his heel and walked back in the opposite direction.

“Did something happen?” Cora whispered sharply as she noticed my cocked head.

“Shh!” I motioned for her to be quiet until the footfal s faded. Cora didn’t have the same ultra-honed senses I had and was oblivious to our near miss.

Before I could explain what I’d seen, the front door of the Asylum opened and Samuel strode out into the darkness, an attaché case under his arm and a silk top hat on his head. I stiffened as Cora grabbed my arm. I pul ed her up the street behind a hedgerow, but Samuel didn’t look toward us. To anyone passing him on the street, he was simply the future London councilor, out doing charity work for the poor. They would think him admirable, I reflected in disgust. He turned down the flint path toward the curb and up the street, in the direction of the barren Spitalfields Market. As soon as he did, a coach veered toward him.

Clearly, the driver was confident he could col ect a generous fare from this wel -dressed man.

“Here, sir! Happy to take you wherever you want!” the cab driver cal ed across the square. Samuel nodded once, then hopped into the cab.

“Let’s go,” I hissed to Cora, grabbing her arm and breaking into a run. Together we sprinted behind the coach as it clopped its way through the stal s surrounding the seedy market, heading deeper into Whitechapel. I was ten feet away, then five, and was about to catch up when I realized Cora was no longer on my arm.

I turned around and saw her doubled over, her hands on her knees, in front of the Lamb and Sickle public house.

She had attracted the attention of a few patrons lurking in the doorway, who’d stopped their round of singing to gape at her.

“I’m sorry. I just can’t run anymore,” Cora panted, her face red and slicked with sweat. “You go on ahead.”

“No need to run, girl,” one man said as he lecherously stumbled toward her. “You can relax in my arms.” I turned to him and bared my fangs menacingly. He let go of Cora and backed away, his face white with fright.

“Al right, no need to get nasty. Just having a bit of fun,” he said slowly, holding up his hands and walking away.

“Go on! I’l meet you later. I know the barman here. He’l take care of me. I’l be fine,” Cora urged with the same fierceness I’d seen last night.

“Are you sure?” I didn’t want to leave Cora, but I couldn’t lose Samuel. I glanced around. The Ten Bel s was nearby.

Cora did know the area, and she had a stake hidden in the folds of her skirt. I knew as wel as she did that a stake would also do a perfectly fine job incapacitating a human threat. Stil …

“Yes!” Cora hissed. “I’l meet you back at the tunnel.” I nodded and surged ahead at vampire speed, but the busy street beyond the market was crowded with coaches, and I no longer knew which one held Samuel.

I was about to cut my losses and head back to the pub to col ect Cora when I spotted a figure stealing down a dark al ey. I narrowed my eyes. The form was moving far more quickly than any human. Samuel. And worse, he was carrying a girl in his arms. The girl was clawing at Samuel’s shoulder, forcing him to stop and adjust his hold every few feet. I couldn’t believe she was stil conscious. Many of Samuel’s victims fainted from fright, or were kil ed immediately. But now, he seemed to be taking care not to jostle the girl, holding her as careful y as a wolf would bring its prey back to the pack.

My heart clenched and I broke into a run when I realized he was headed for the warehouses near the Thames. I hadn’t been there since the terrible night when Samuel had turned Violet into a vampire. Why was he taking a human girl there now? He had Damon; he didn’t need to frame him for any more Jack the Ripper murders. He had a steady supply of blood from the girls in the Asylum. So what could he possibly want with this girl?

I fol owed the streak of Samuel’s shadow along the brick buildings that led to the pier, but soon lost his trail. Farther down the pier, I could hear the sound of bottles breaking, but I knew that wasn’t Samuel. The piers were lawless after dark, fil ed with lost souls—syphilitic soldiers, pickpockets, and gamblers desperate to make money by any means necessary—people who couldn’t even scrape together the few coins required to live in a lodging house.

I cocked my head, trying to catch the scent of blood or the sounds of terrified, uneven breathing when I sensed someone close by. I turned. It was a toothless drunk, his breath sour with the stench of whiskey. A knife shone in his hand.

“New boy,” he leered, pul ing back the knife as though ready to plunge it into my abdomen.

I lunged toward him, pushing him onto his back. His knife clattered on the dock next to him. I set my boot down on his chest and leaned in close.

“Don’t,” I hissed, as I felt my fangs growing from behind my gums. This was blood for the taking. I could drink, and be ready to face Samuel as a true vampire.

I was about to take a delicious, forbidden sip when I heard a sound. I whirled around. But it wasn’t the girl, or Samuel. It was only two more drunks, leaning against each other for support.

I roughly kicked the man. “Get up and run away,” I snarled.

He sprang to his feet and raced down the pier. I shoved the knife in my boot and angrily kicked a spray of rocks into the Thames. They landed with uneven splashes.

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