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Origins (Chapter 27)

I ran out onto the lawn. Fire was everywhere, and I noticed that the servants' quarters had burst into flames. Right now, the main house looked safe, but who knew how long that would last? I saw glimpses of flames in the woods, and a large group converged around the police wagon. But all I cared about was finding Damon. Finally, I spotted a figure wearing a blue coat, sprinting toward the pond. I turned on my heel and followed him through the field. "Stefan!" I heard my name and stopped, looking about wildly. "Over here!" I turned and saw Jonathan Gilbert, his eyes wild, standing at the edge of the forest, a bow and arrow in one hand, his compass in the other. Jonathan looked down at his invention almost in disbelief. "There's a vampire in the forest. My compass is pointing, but I need help with a lookout."

"Jonathan!" I yelled, panting. "I can't … I have to find …"

Suddenly, I saw a flash of white from the forest. Jonathan turned and raised his bow to his shoulder. "Who goes there?" he called, his voice ringing like a clarion bell. Instantly, he released the arrow. I saw the beginning of its arc as it flung into the darkness. Then we heard a scream, followed by a thud.

Jonathan ran into the forest, and I heard a long, low moan. "Jonathan!" I called wildly, then stopped short. I saw Jonathan kneeling over a prone figure. He turned up to me, his eyes shining with tears.

"It's Pearl," he said dully.

There was an arrow stuck under her shoulder. She moaned, and her eyes fluttered under her lids.

"Pearl!" Jonathan said, angrily this time, as he roughly yanked out the arrow. I turned in horror, not wanting to watch.

Instead, I ran with all my might toward the pond, hoping against hope that Damon was still there.

"Damon?" I called tentatively, as I picked my way around tree roots. My eyes took a moment to adjust to the wooded darkness and relative quiet of the forest. I saw a figure perched on a felled tree branch. "Damon?" I called quietly.

The figure turned around, and I gasped. Damon's face was white, and his dark hair was sticking to his forehead. The gash at his temple was bordered by crusted blood, and the whites of his eyes were cloudy.

"Y coward," he hissed, drawing his knife

ou from his pocket.

"No." I held my hands up and took a step back. "Don't hurt me."

"Don't hurt me!" he mocked in a high-pitched voice. "I knew you'd tell Father eventually. I just don't know why Katherine trusted you with her secret. Why she believed you wouldn't turn her in. Why she loved you." His voice broke on the word love, and he dropped the knife. His face crumpled in anguish, and he didn't look dangerous or hateful. He looked broken.

"Damon, no. No. No." I kept repeating the word as my mind whirled. Had Katherine loved me? I remembered the moments she'd stare at me, her hands on my shoulders. You must love me, Stefan. Tell me we'll be together forever. You have my heart. I'd always felt the same woozy, heady sensation running through my limbs and up to my brain, wanting to do anything for her. But now, when I thought of her true nature, all I could do was shudder. "She didn't love me," I said finally. She'd compelled me, and she made me hurt everyone I loved. I felt hatred rise up from the depth of my soul, and I wanted to lead the charge against Katherine.

Until I looked at my brother.

Damon rested his head in his hands, staring at the ground. It was then that I realized: Damon loved Katherine. He loved her despite, or maybe because of, her dark side. When I'd seen Katherine lying bound on the floor, foaming at the mouth, I'd felt a stomach-turning revulsion. But Damon's love for Katherine transcended her current state. Damon loved Katherine so much that he'd accept the vampire side of her, instead of pretending it didn't exist. And in order to be truly happy, Damon needed to be with her. Now I understood. I needed to save Katherine to save Damon.

In the distance, wails and cries filled the gunpowder-scented air. "Damon. Damon." I repeated his name, each time with an increasing urgency. He looked up, and I saw tears in his eyes, threatening to spill out. Not since Mother died had I seen Damon cry.

"I'll help you save her. I know you love her. I will help." I kept repeating the word help, as if it were some sort of charm. Please, I pleaded in my mind as I looked at Damon's eyes. There was a moment of silence. Finally, Damon offered an almost imperceptible nod.

"Okay," he said in a ragged voice, clasping my wrist and dragging me to the edge of the forest.

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