The Hunters: Destiny Rising
Chapter 4

 L.J. Smith

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:

Elena didn't tell anyone about the girl they'd found in the woods. Elena and Stefan had shaken the girl and poured cool water on her face, trying to wake her up without having to take her to the hospital. Blood had pooled through the bandages they'd put on the girl's wounds - Damon had bitten too deeply, Stefan said - and finally Stefan had fed her blood from his own wrist, grimacing, to help her heal. He didn't feel right doing that, Elena knew: the exchange of blood was too intimate, meant love to Stefan, but what else could they do? They couldn't let her die.
When the girl finally regained consciousness, Stefan Influenced her to forget what had happened, and he and Elena helped her back to her sorority house. By the time they'd left her, near dawn, she'd been flushed and giggling, sure that she'd just been out too late drinking on a fabulous night.
Back in her dorm room, Elena had tried to sleep, but she'd been too worked up. She tossed and turned under her clean cotton sheets, remembering the frustration in Stefan's eyes as he told her, Damon did this, and the suppressed flash of panic she'd seen when he said, We have to keep this a secret.
She'd known Damon still fed off humans, although she usually managed not to think about it. But he hadn't done any real harm, not for a long time. Now he used his Power to convince pretty girls to give him their blood willingly, and then left them with nothing but a vague memory of an evening spent with a charming and mysterious man with an Italian accent. If that. Sometimes they just had a hole in their memory.
And, sure, it was wrong. Elena knew that, even if Damon didn't. The girls weren't in their right minds. He fed on them, and they never really understood. Elena was sure that if it happened to her, or Bonnie, or anyone she cared about, she would have been outraged and disgusted. But she'd been able to ignore the facts when the end result - Damon satisfied, his victims seemingly unscathed - appeared to be so benign.
But this time he clearly hadn't bothered to be careful with the girl, or to make it easy on her. She'd been bleeding alone in the woods, and when she'd finally woken, she had been screaming. Elena shuddered at the memory, sick with guilt.
Was this the reality she'd been ignoring? Maybe Damon had been attacking people all this time and hiding it from her, and the idea of the woozy, unaware, and happy victim was a lie. Or maybe there had been a change, and it was Elena's fault. Had Damon done this in a rage, because Elena had chosen Stefan?
Elena tried once more to reach Damon, but when it rang through to voice mail, she pushed the "end call" button on her phone. She'd been calling Damon on and off all morning and had left a couple of messages already, but he hadn't picked up or called her back.
"Was that Stefan?" Bonnie asked, coming out of the bathroom toweling off her hair. Red strands curled wildly over her face in all directions. "Is he on his way?"
"Everybody should be here any minute," Elena answered, not correcting Bonnie's assumption. They had decided to meet today to start planning their defense against the Vitale vampires, and to try to figure out how to stop them before they could resurrect Klaus.
And soon, everyone (except Damon) was there: Meredith sitting on her bed, gray eyes alert as she carefully sharpened a hunting knife; Matt, still looking pale, hunched over in Elena's desk chair; Bonnie and Zander cuddled together on Bonnie's bed, adorably happy with the flush of new love despite the seriousness of the situation. As Elena looked over at them, Zander murmured something in Bonnie's ear and she blushed.
Stefan joined Elena on her bed, taking her hand in his. Still, after a year, Elena felt a jolt of excitement move from her fingertips straight to her heart. Elena stared at him for a moment, looking for some indication of how upset he'd been the night before, a clue about whether he'd managed to talk to Damon yet, but there was nothing.
"Okay, everybody," Meredith said, running her thumb along the sharpened blade of her knife. "We know that Ethan is hiding - "
"Wait," Elena said. "There's something I need to tell all of you." Stefan's eyes snapped to hers, hard and bright, and she realized she had been wrong about him being calm. The secret about Damon had him tightly strung.
"Um," she said, feeling uncharacteristically nervous. She remembered how they had all felt about the cold, didactic Guardians they had met in the Dark Dimensions, the ones who had stripped her of her Powers (painfully - she couldn't forget how much it had hurt when they cut her Wings) and who had refused to bring Damon back from death. But she pushed her jaw out proudly, stubbornly, and kept going.
"I just found out that I'm a Guardian," she said flatly.
There was a blank silence.
Finally, Zander broke it. "A guardian of what?" he asked tentatively, glancing to Bonnie for clarification.
Bonnie, frowning, waved one hand in the air in a grand, encompassing gesture. "Of everything, really," she said vaguely. "If Elena means a Guardian Guardian." She looked at Elena for confirmation, and Elena nodded. "They're these awful women - at least they look like women - who are meant to keep things running in the universe the way they're supposed to. I don't really understand how Elena could be one, though. They don't live here. It's an alternate-dimension kind of thing. They're not really people, I don't think." She turned to Elena, her face open and confused. "What do you mean, Elena?" she asked.
Elena looked away from her, staring at the wall. The skin on her face felt like it was too tight, and her eyes were burning. "James - my history professor - knew my parents when they were in college. He was really close to them," she told her friends, forcing herself to keep it together. "He told me that they agreed to have a child who would be a Guardian on Earth. He said I was supposed to be trained by the Guardians when I was twelve, but my parents didn't want to hand me over." Her voice shook a little, and she stared very hard at the Matisse print she had hung above her bed. Pressing her shoulder against Stefan's, she took comfort in the solidity of his body next to hers, and didn't look at anyone.
Then Meredith was next to her, and her narrow hand took hold of Elena's. In a moment, Bonnie had squeezed herself onto the bed as well and was gazing at Elena with wide, sympathetic brown eyes.
"We're on your side, you know that, Elena," Meredith said calmly, and Bonnie nodded.
"Velociraptor sisterhood, right?" she said, and Elena cracked a tiny smile at their old private joke. "If the Guardians take on one of us, they take on all of us. Even though they're pretty scary. We'll fend them off."
Elena gave a short, half-hysterical laugh. "Thanks," she said. "Really. But I don't think there's any way to get out of this. I don't even know what it means exactly, being a Guardian on Earth."
"Then that's the first thing to find out," Meredith said sensibly. "Alaric's coming up to visit this weekend. He might know something, or at least be able to discover what the story is on Earthly Guardians." Meredith's more-or-less fiance, Alaric, was working on a doctorate in paranormal studies, and the various contacts he had often came in handy.
"We will figure something out, Elena," Bonnie promised.
Elena blinked back tears. Bonnie and Meredith had drawn closer to her, shutting everyone out for a moment, even though Stefan was still strong beside her. She could always rely on the three of them coming together when one of them was threatened. They'd been watching out for one another since the worst thing they had to worry about was elementary school bullies and mean teachers.
Stefan pulled her closer against him. From their seats, Matt and Zander were watching her with almost identical expressions of sympathy and concern. Meredith was right: Elena wasn't alone. She let out a breath, and her shoulders loosened, releasing some of the misery she'd been holding since James had told her the secret of her birth.
"I'm glad Alaric's coming. And it's a good idea to ask him what he can find out. Maybe James can tell us more, too," Elena said. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, thinking. "Actually, he'd better be able to tell us something. He's known about this since before I was born. He's had about twenty years to find out something useful." Then she clapped her hands once, and tried to push all her fears aside. "For now, though, we need to focus on Ethan and the vampires." Elena felt her old self coming back to the surface, forceful and energetic and ready to make plans.
Stefan squeezed Elena's knee as he climbed off the bed. "Tonight is our last chance to stop Ethan," he said, standing in the middle of the room and looking at them all seriously. His face was shadowed and intense, his normally leaf-green eyes dark. "Tomorrow is the equinox, when the separation between the realms of the living and the dead is at its weakest. That's when they'll try and resurrect Klaus. Meredith, what's our weapons situation?"
Meredith rose, too, and opened her closet, pulling out her various bags of weapons: her special hunter's stave with its spikes of materials from silver to ash to tiny hypodermic needles, made to affect all the different creatures a hunter might fight; an assortment of knives of various sizes, from a long silver dagger to a thin, practical boot knife, all razor-sharp; staffs and throwing stars and machetes and maces and a number of things Elena couldn't even begin to guess at the names for.
"Wow," said Zander, who had rolled onto his stomach on Bonnie's bed to watch her. He looked at Meredith with new respect and a bit of trepidation. "You're like a one-woman army."
Meredith flushed slightly. "It might be overkill," she said, "but I like to be prepared." She pulled out a wooden trunk from her closet. "And I have this. Alaric helped me gather it all before school started." She opened the box with a half-apologetic glance at Stefan, who flinched and stepped backward, away from the trunk. Elena craned to see. It looked like some kind of plant in there, filling the box to the brim.
Oh. The box was crammed full of vervain. There was probably enough there to incapacitate a whole colony of vampires, if they could only figure out a way to rub it on them, or get them to eat it. At the very least, they'd all be able to protect themselves from being Influenced.
"Good," Stefan said briskly, recovering from his instinctive reaction to the vervain. "That should come in handy. Now, Matt, what can you tell us about the underground tunnels?"
Elena felt a little pulse of pride run through her as Stefan turned to Matt, quickly getting him to sketch out on paper what he remembered and what he had heard about the Vitales' safe house and network of tunnels. Stefan was nodding and asking questions, gently nudging Matt's memory, encouraging him to share even the smallest detail. Matt's eyes widened, his voice gaining strength as Stefan's questions continued, as if Matt was beginning to piece together the bigger picture in a new way.
Stefan had changed. When he had first come to Fell's Church, he had been so quiet and distant, reluctant to make any kind of mark on the humans who surrounded him. He had felt, Elena knew, like he was diseased, like he couldn't be among mortals without spreading death and despair.
Now he had the quality of a natural leader. As if he felt Elena's eyes on him, Stefan glanced up at her, his lips forming a small, private smile just for her. She knew this change in Stefan was due to her and to all that had happened in the past year. Surely, whatever Damon had done - even if he was sinking into violence again because of Elena - here in Stefan was something that she could be uncomplicatedly proud of?
"Couldn't we do something with all that vervain?" Bonnie asked suddenly. "Like, burn it, or make it a gas somehow and fill the tunnels with its smoke? If we blocked the other exits, all the vampires would go into the house. We could trap them and burn the house down, or at least get to all of them at once."
"That's a good idea, Bonnie," Stefan said. Zander agreed enthusiastically and Bonnie's face lit up with pleasure. It was funny, Elena thought, that they were all used to thinking of Bonnie as sort of the junior member of the group, the one who needed to be protected, and she really wasn't; she hadn't been for a long time.
"What other resources do we have?" Stefan asked thoughtfully, pacing back and forth across the room.
"I could get the guys to help out," Zander suggested. "We've been after the Vitale vampires for a while. We won't be as strong as we would be if it were the right lunar phase, and not all ten of us can transition without the full moon. But we work pretty well together . . ." His voice trailed off. "If you want us," he added. "I know you don't all feel comfortable with werewolves, and, to be honest, we're not usually big fans of vampires. No offense." He looked from Stefan to Meredith, who still held the knife against her leg.
Meredith, of course, was the one most likely to object to bringing a Pack of werewolves into their group. Bonnie had assured them that Zander's Pack was different than the werewolves they'd met before - that they were good, more like guard dogs than wild animals. But Meredith had been raised to hunt monsters.
Now she nodded slowly to Zander, though, and said only, "We can use all the help we can get." Bonnie and Meredith locked eyes across the room and Bonnie's lips tipped up in a tiny, satisfied smile.
"Speaking of 'all the help we can get,'" Meredith said. "Where's Damon?" She looked from Elena to Stefan when they didn't immediately answer. "This is one time when we can really use him. You should call him and get him in on the plan." Her expression was sympathetic but determined, and Elena realized that Meredith thought they were hesitating because Elena had almost-dated Damon while she and Stefan had been apart. If only Meredith knew the truth, she thought, but she can't ever know. Stefan and I need to keep Damon safe.
"Maybe you could call him, Elena?" Bonnie asked tentatively.
Elena's and Stefan's eyes met. Stefan's face was blank and controlled again, and Elena couldn't see the tiniest crack in his armor as he cut in, smoothly and casually, "No, I'll call Damon. I need to talk to him, anyway."
Elena bit her lip and nodded. She wanted to see Damon for herself - she was desperate to see him, to know what was wrong with him, wanting to fix it - but he wasn't taking her calls. Maybe what Damon needed right now from Elena was space. She hoped that Stefan, at least, could get through to him.