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Origins (Chapter 34)

I watched in satisfaction as Damon lustily drank, his tentative sips becoming gulps as he held his face down to Alice's neck. As Alice's nearly lifeless body grew white, a healthy flush rose in Damon's cheeks.

As Damon drank the last drops of Alice's blood, I took a few steps outside the shack. I glanced around in wonder. Just last night, the area had seemed desolate, but now I realized that it teemed with life–the scent of animals in the forest, the flap of birds overhead, the sound of Damon's and my heartbeats. This spot–this whole world–was full of possibility.

My ring glimmered in the moonlight, and I brought it to my lips. Katherine had given me eternal life. Father always had told us to find our power, to find our place in the world. And I had, though Father hadn't been able to accept it.

I took a deep breath, and the coppery scent of blood filled my nostrils. I turned as Damon stepped out from the shack. He seemed taller and stronger than even a few moments ago. I noticed that he had a matching ring on his middle finger.

"How do you feel?" I asked, waiting for him to see everything I saw.

Damon turned away from me and walked toward the water. He knelt down and cupped the liquid to his mouth, washing away the remnants of blood on his lips.

I crouched next to him at the edge of the pond.

"Isn't it amazing?" I asked. "It's a whole new world, and it's ours. Forever!" I said, giddy. Damon and I would never have to grow older. Never have to die.

"Y ou're right," Damon said slowly, as if he were speaking in an unfamiliar language.

"We'll explore it together. Just think. We can go to Europe, explore the world, get away from Virginia and memories…." I touched his shoulder.

Damon turned to face me, his eyes wide. I stepped back, suddenly fearful. There was something different about him, a foreignness in his dark eyes.

"Are you happy now, brother?" Damon snorted derisively.

I took a step toward him. "Y ou'd rather be dead than have this whole world for the taking? Y ou should be thanking me!"

Fury flashed in his eyes. "Thanking you? I never asked you to make my life a hell from which I can't escape," he said, spitting each word into the pond. Suddenly he pulled me into a hug with such strength that I gasped. "But hear this, brother," he hissed in my ear. "Though we will be together for an eternity, I will make an eternity of misery for you." With that, he released me from his grip and sprinted into the dark forest.

As his form disappeared into the black shadows of the trees, a single crow rose from the woods. It let out a plaintive shriek, and then it was gone.

Suddenly, in a world that mere moments ago had teemed with possibility, I was utterly alone. EPILOGUE

October 1864

When I try to reconstruct that moment when I succumbed to my Power and destroyed my relationship with Damon, I imagine a split second of silence. In that second, Damon turned around, our eyes connected, and we made peace. But there was no silence, nor would there ever be again. Now I constantly hear the rustling of animals in the forest, the quickening of breath that occurs when any being knows danger is near, the pitter-patter-pause of a heart stopping. I also hear my thoughts, tumbling and colliding against each other like ocean waves.

If only I hadn't been weak when Katherine stared into my eyes. If only I hadn't gone back to see Father. If only I hadn't made Damon drink. But I did. The fallout of those choices is a mantle that only grows darker and more nuanced with age. And I must live with the consequences of my misdeeds for eternity. LUSTING AFTER MORE OF

STEFAN'S DIARIES?

TURN THE PAGE FOR A SNEAK PEEK OF BLOODLUST, COMING

JANUARY 2011. 1

It was October. The leaves on the trees in the cemetery had turned a decayed brown, and a cold breeze had whistled in, replacing the stifling heat of Virginia summer. Not that I much felt it. As a vampire, the only temperature my body registered was that of the hot blood from my latest victim coiling through my veins. I stood beneath the limbs of a large oak, a light mist swirling around my ankles, my shirt and hands sticky with the fresh blood of the girl I carried in my arms. My brother, Damon, lay prone at the base of the tree, his black eyes staring blankly up at me.

It had been days since I'd last forced him to feed. His body had taken on a chalky texture, blood vessels twisting darkly under his skin like cracks. Even now, as I dropped the nearly dead girl at his feet, I had to drape his right arm across her stomach to keep him from rolling over onto his back. Were it not for the blood that had purpled her dress, they would have looked like two lovers holding each other.

"I hate you with everything I am," he whispered into her ear, though I knew his words were meant for me. She stirred but didn't open her eyes.

"Y need your strength," I said. "Drink."

He breathed in and his shoulders went limp. The metallic scent of her blood hung heavy in the air around us.

"That isn't strength," he said, his eyes fluttering shut. "It's weakness."

"Stefan …"

This from the girl, Clementine Haverford, who reached a trembling hand out to me, her own sweet blood glistening like a silk glove around her fingers. Last summer, Clementine and I kissed in the shadows of the Wickery Bridge after one of the games Damon had dreamed up for us. She'd allowed my hand to graze the bodice of her blue muslin dress. I kneeled down and tucked a few loose strands of hair behind her ear. A voice somewhere in my mind told me that I should feel regret over taking her life, but I felt nothing.

"You're a monster," Damon said, keeping his lips as far as possible from the blood that seeped from Clementine's neck.

"Forever is a long time to deny what you are," I told him.

From where we crouched in the hemlock grove, I could see my old neighbors milling around stone grave markers in the very center of the cemetery. My heightened vampire senses allowed me to pick through the crowd of townspeople. Honoria Fells sniffed into a lace handkerchief. Sheriff Forbes kept his hand on his holster. Jonathan Gilbert cleared his throat and flicked open a pocket watch. My head throbbed with every whisper, like the world was breathing secrets directly into my eardrums.

Mayor Lockwood stood separate from the others, eulogizing our father, Giuseppe Salvatore –the man who had killed me and Damon, his only family, in cold blood. Father believed vampires to be utterly, unredeemably evil, and so he condemned us to death for trying to save Katherine Pierce, the vampire with whom we'd both fallen in love–the vampire who'd changed us to be like her.

Lockwood's voice sliced through the raindrops that had just begun to fall. "We come together today to say farewell to one of Mystic Falls' greatest sons, Giuseppe Salvatore, a man for whom town and family always came before self."

They stood before a gaping hole in the earth. Father would be wearing the suit he wore to church on Sundays, the black one. With the wide lapels that came together just at the point where I'd accidentally cut him open when he came at me with a stake. I could just make out the winged figure above him, the angel statue that marked my mother's final resting place. Two empty plots lay just beyond, where Damon and I should have been buried.

"It shan't be possible to picture this hero's life," Lockwood continued, "but in a portrait in which Giuseppe is flanked by his two fallen sons, heroes of the Battle of Willow Creek." Damon let out a low, rattling scoff. "The portrait he paints," he muttered, "should contain the muzzle flash of Father's rifle." He rubbed the place where Father's bullet had ripped through his chest only a week earlier.

Mayor Lockwood looked out over his congregation. "A menace has descended on Mystic Falls, and only a brave few have risen to the challenge of protecting all that we hold dear. Jonathan, Giuseppe, and I stood shoulder to shoulder against the threat. Now we must heed Giuseppe's last words as a call to arms."

Lockwood's voice dragged with it the scent of smoky, blackened wood from the destroyed church on the opposite side of the cemetery. He was talking, ostensibly, about the groups of Union and Confederate soldiers who had been nipping about our part of Virginia for months, but there was no mistaking that he really meant vampires. Vampires like the ones Damon and I had been shot trying to free, like the ones Damon and I had become.

"I could do it," I told Damon. "I could run out there and tear out all of their throats before they knew it."

"What's stopping you, brother?" he hissed. I knew his encouragement came only from the possibility of me dying in the act.

I held my breath and listened to Damon's panting, to the droning lies rising from Father's plot, and to some kind of clicking, like a watch or a fingernail tapping against a mausoleum wall. I wasn't used to the rawness of my senses; the world gave me so much more as a vampire than it had as a human.

"Come," I said, putting an arm around him. "Let's get one last look at Mystic Falls' finest citizens."

He didn't say anything but leaned into me, allowing me to hold him up as we moved from Clementine's bleeding body toward the grave site. We were just at a mausoleum a hundred yards from Father's grave when Lockwood introduced Gilbert to recite a prayer.

Gilbert licked his lips. As he read some prayer or another out loud, I noticed the clicking once more. It picked up in speed as we neared the crowd.

The clicking was now a steady, insistent rattle –and it seemed to be coming directly from Jonathan's hand. Then, with my mother's wings stretched wide behind him, Jonathan Gilbert consulted the clicking object in his palm.

My blood ran cold. The compass. Jonathan had created a compass that, rather than pointing north, identified vampires.

Suddenly, Jonathan looked up. His eyes locked on Damon and me instantly.

"Demon!" He let out an unholy shriek and pointed in our direction.

"I think he means us, brother," Damon said with a short laugh.

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