The Hunters: Destiny Rising
Chapter 5

 L.J. Smith

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When Stefan knocked on the door of Damon's apartment, Damon opened it almost immediately, glared at Stefan, and tried to slam the door shut in his face.
"Stop," Stefan said, inserting his shoulder in the doorway. "You must have been able to sense that it was me."
"I knew you'd keep knocking or find a way in if I didn't answer," Damon said fiercely. "So I'm answering. Now go away."
Damon looked wrecked. Nothing could take away from the elegance of his features, but they were tense and drawn, the skin over his cheekbones white with strain. His lips were pale, his dark eyes bloodshot, and his usually sleek black hair disarranged. Stefan ignored his words and leaned closer, trying to make his brother meet his eyes.
"Damon," he said. "I found the girl in the woods last night."
Anyone who hadn't known Damon as long and as well as Stefan had - and so anyone except Stefan - would have missed the split second of stillness before Damon's face settled into cool disdain. "Have you come to preach to me, baby brother?" he asked. "I'm afraid I don't have the time just now, but perhaps another day? Next week sometime?"
He slid his eyes over Stefan, then glanced away dismissively. Just like that, Stefan felt like a child again, back home all those centuries ago, and his daring, charming, despicable, infuriating older brother was putting him in his place.
"She was still alive," Stefan said steadily. "I took her home. She's all right."
Damon shrugged. "How nice for you. Always the parfait knight."
Stefan's hand shot out and gripped Damon's arm. "Dammit, Damon," he said, frustrated, "stop playing with me. I came to tell you that you have to be careful. If you had killed that girl, it would have caught up with you."
Damon blinked at him. "That's it?" he asked, his voice the smallest bit less hostile. "You want me to be careful? Don't you have an overwhelming urge to scold me, little brother? Threaten me, maybe?"
Stefan sighed and slumped against the doorframe, his urgency sucked away. "Would scolding you do any good, Damon?" he asked. "Or threatening you? It's never worked before. I just don't want you to kill anyone. You're my brother, and we need each other."
Damon's face tightened again, and Stefan reconsidered his words. Sometimes talking to Damon was like walking through a minefield. "I need you, anyway," he said. "You saved my life. Which, in case you didn't notice, you've done a lot this past year."
Damon leaned against the opposite side of the doorframe and studied Stefan, his face thoughtful, but remained silent. Wishing he knew what Damon was thinking, Stefan sent a questing tendril of Power toward his brother, trying to catch his mood, but Damon merely sneered, easily shutting him out.
Stefan bowed his head and kneaded the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Was it always going to be like this, for the next long centuries together? "Look," he said. "There's enough going on with the other vampires on campus without you starting to hunt again. Ethan's still alive, and he's planning to try to bring back Klaus tomorrow night."
Damon's frown deepened for a moment, then smoothed out. His face could have been carved from stone.
"We can't stop him without you," Stefan continued, his mouth dry.
Damon's night-dark eyes gave nothing away and then he flashed his briefest, most brilliant smile. "Sorry," he said. "I'm not interested."
"What?" Stefan felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach. He had expected Damon's defensiveness and sarcasm. But after Damon had saved him from Ethan, the last thing he had expected was indifference.
Damon shrugged, straightening up and adjusting his clothes, brushing an imagined speck of dust from the front of his black shirt. "I've had enough," he said, his tone casual. "Meddling in the affairs of your pet humans has gone stale for me. If Ethan brings back Klaus, then he can deal with him. I doubt it'll go well for him."
"Klaus will remember that you attacked him," Stefan said. "He'll be after you."
Cocking one eyebrow, Damon smiled again, a quick, savage baring of his white teeth. "I doubt I'll be his first priority, little brother," he said.
And it was true, Stefan remembered. In that hideous last battle with Klaus, Damon had stabbed the Old One with white ash, keeping him from striking the final blow against Stefan. But he hadn't been responsible for Klaus's death. Stefan had engineered the fight against Klaus, had done his best to kill him. But, in the end, he had failed, too. It was Elena, bringing an army of the dead against the Original vampire, who had killed him.
"Elena," Stefan said desperately. "Elena needs you."
He was positive that would do it, that Damon's armor would crack. Damon always came through for Elena. But this time Damon's lip curled in a sneer. "I'm sure you can handle things," he said lightly, his voice brittle. "Elena's well-being is your responsibility now, not mine."
"Damon - "
"No." Damon held up a warning hand. "I told you. I'm done." And with one quick motion, he slammed the door in Stefan's face.
Stefan rested his forehead against the door, feeling defeated.
"Damon," he said again. He knew Damon could hear him, but there was only silence from inside the apartment. Slowly, he backed away from the door. It would be best not to push Damon, not when he was in this mood.
In this mood, Damon might do anything.
"I'm so glad you came to see me, Elena," Professor Campbell said. "I was worried about you after" - he glanced around surreptitiously and lowered his voice, although they were alone in his office - "our last talk." He peered at her cautiously, his usually inquisitive and rather smug face clouded with uncertainty.
"I'm sorry I ran off like that, James," Elena told him, staring down into the cup of sweet, milky coffee he had given her. "It's just . . . when you told me I was a Guardian and the truth about what happened to my parents, I needed some time to think. Last summer, I met a few Guardians. They were powerful, but so inhuman."
She still couldn't accept that she was supposed to become like them. The whole idea was so big and horrifying that her mind kept scuttling away from it, focusing on solid and immediate concerns like the vampires on campus instead.
Elena's hands shook a little, making the coffee swirl and eddy. She carefully steadied her cup.
James patted her gently on the shoulder. "Well, I have been doing some research, and I think I have good news," he said.
"I could use good news," she said softly, almost pleadingly. "I don't really understand what a human Guardian would be like. Would I be different than a Celestial Guardian?"
James smiled for the first time since she had walked into his office. "After we spoke," he said, "I started to contact all my old colleagues who have studied mythology or magic, anyone who I thought might know something about the Guardians."
Now that he had information to impart, James lost his tentativeness and seemed to expand, his shoulders relaxing as he hooked his thumbs into his suit vest. "Legend has it," he said, his voice taking on its lecturing tone, "that human Guardians are rare, but there are always two or three in the world. Generally, their parents are recruited in the same way the Guardians recruited your parents, and then the children are handed over to the Guardians for training as they enter adolescence."
Elena closed her eyes for a moment, wincing. She couldn't imagine being given to the Guardians and losing her human life so young. But if she had been, her mother and father would still be alive.
"When the human Guardians reach young adulthood - about your age, Elena," James continued, "they're stationed where there are high concentrations of ley lines and, therefore, large amounts of supernatural activity."
"Like here," Elena said. "And Fell's Church."
James nodded. "The evidence shows pretty strongly that the Guardians recruit prospective parents from ley line - heavy places," he said. "So the human Guardians can stay near their homes."
"But what are the human Guardians for?" Elena asked. "What am I supposed to do?" She realized she was gripping her cup so tightly she might break it, so she put it down on James's desk and held on to the arms of her chair instead.
"The role of the human Guardians is to protect the innocent from the supernatural on Earth," James said. "They maintain balance. And it seems that the Guardians develop different powers depending on what is needed where they live. So we won't know what your exact powers are until they begin to form."
"Protecting the innocent, I can handle," Elena said. She gave James a shaky smile. She wasn't so sure about "maintaining balance." In her opinion, the Guardians of the Celestial Court had been so obsessed with balance and order that they had forgotten about the innocent. Or perhaps the innocent were only the concern of the Guardians on Earth. But if that was true, wouldn't someone have looked out for her parents?
James smiled back. "That's what I thought. And," he said, with an air of having saved the best for last, "my colleague has located one of the other Guardians on Earth." He pulled a sheet of paper from a folder on his desk and passed it to her.
It was a printout of a color photograph, a little grainy. In it, a dark-haired man, maybe a year or two older than Elena, smiled at the camera. His brown eyes were narrowed in the sun's glare and his teeth were bright white against his tan skin.
"His name is Andres Montez, and he's a human Guardian who lives in Costa Rica. My sources didn't have a lot of personal information about him, but they're going to try contacting him. I'm hoping he'll be willing to come to Dalcrest to teach you what he knows." James hesitated, then added, "Although, as a Guardian, I imagine he probably already knows all about you."
Elena traced Andres's face in the picture. Did she want to meet another Guardian? Those dark eyes seemed kind, though.
"It would be good to talk to someone who could tell me what to expect," she told James, looking up. "Thank you for finding him."
James nodded. "I'll let you know as soon as I can get him here," he said.
Despite the news that there was someone else out there like her, someone who might understand, Elena's stomach lurched and she felt like she was falling, spiraling down into something deep and dark and unknown. Would Andres be able to tell her what she most needed to know? Would she still be Elena once her fate caught up with her?