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The Craving (Chapter 27)

There was nothing to indicate the passage of hours inside the windowless vault – not the barest suggestion of sunlight ever made its way under its doors. Days melted into weeks, maybe months. It felt as if an eternity had passed, and yet another stretched out endlessly before us.

Lexi and I had stopped talking. Not out of anger or hopelessness, but just because we couldn't anymore. We didn't have enough strength to force ourselves to scream when we heard someone approach, much less get up and fight the stone that kept us buried. There was no more strength to fight the darkness, no strength to stand up. If I'd still required my heart to survive, I'm not sure I'd have had the strength to keep blood pumping through my veins.

We lay silently next to each other. If anyone ever found us, a hundred years from then, we would look pathetic, like a sister and brother in some horrible fairy tale trapped in a witch's basement.

Each passing second drained me of my Power. My eyes no longer parsed the darkness. The silence was absolute as sounds from the outside world faded into oblivion. All that I had left was my sense of touch – the feel of Lexi's waxy hand, the rough wood of the battered coffin next to me, the cool metal band of my useless ring.

I felt almost human again, in the worst possible way. And as my Power retreated painfully, so with it went my immortality. I had never noticed its continual presence until it began to disappear, leaving meat and bone, brain and fluids, and taking away all that was supernatural about me with it.

Except for my hunger.

My vampire side reacted to starvation. My teeth ached and burned with need so badly that I would have shed tears if I'd had any. Blood weaseled its way into my every thought. I dreamed of how it had beaded up, jewel-like, on Callie's finger when she'd cut herself. How smoky my childhood crush, Clementine Haverford, had tasted going down. How, as my father lay dying on the floor of his study, his blood had spread out around him like greedy, searching fingers, staining everything in sight a dark, delicious red.

In the end, everything comes back to blood. Vampires are nothing but hunger personified, designed expressly for the purpose of stealing blood from our victims. Our eyes compel them to trust us, our fangs rip open their veins, and our mouths drain them of their very life source.

Blood…

Blood…

Blood…

Blood…

The word whispered to me over and over, like a song caught in one's head, filling every crevice of my brain and coating each memory with its tantalizing scent.

And then a very familiar voice began to talk to me.

"Hello, Stefan."

"Katherine?" I croaked, barely able to get the words out.

I managed to turn my head just enough to see her sprawled voluptuously on a set of silk pillow cushions. She looked exactly as she had the night of the massacre, before they took her away and killed her. Beautiful and partially undressed, her pouty lips giving me a knowing smile.

"Are you… alive?"

"Shhhh," she said, leaning over to stroke my cheek. "You don't look well."

I closed my eyes as her intoxicating scent of lemon and ginger swept over me, so familiar and so real that I swooned. She must have fed recently because the heat from her skin burned in the cold tomb.

"I wish I could help you," she whispered, her lips close to mine.

"Your. Fault," I managed to breathe.

"Oh, Stefan," she scolded. "You may not have been as willing as your brother, but you didn't precisely object to my… ministrations."

As if to emphasize her words, she leaned over and pressed her soft lips to my cheek. Again… and again… dragging them down my parched neck. Very, very delicately, she teased me, letting the tips of her fangs just puncture my skin.

I moaned. My head spun.

"But. You. Burned," I rasped. "I saw the church."

"Do you wish me dead?" she asked, fire in her eyes. "Do you want me to burn, to collapse to the ground in a pile of ashes, simply because you can't have me all to yourself?"

"No!" I protested, trying to push her off my neck. "Because you made me a monster…"

Her laugh was light and melodic, like the wind chimes Mother had hung on the front porch of Veritas. "Monster? Really, Stefan, one day you will remember what you knew to be true back in New Orleans – that what I have given you is a gift, not a curse."

"You're as mad… as… Klaus…."

She sat back, alarm etching lines around her amber eyes. Her lower lip wobbled. "How do you know about K – ? "

The crypt doors exploded into a thousand shards of stone and wood, as though shot through with a cannon.

I covered my face, the light burning my eyes like acid. When I opened them again, Katherine was gone, and a blurry figure garbed in black wavered in the jagged doorway, haloed by the punishing light.

"Klaus?" Lexi whispered in a terrified voice, clutching my hand.

"Sorry to disappoint," came a wry voice.

"Damon!" I struggled to sit up.

"Stefan, don't you think it's time you stopped just waiting around for your big brother to come and rescue you?"

Without ceremony he reached in, grabbed my wrist, and flung me out of the crypt. I flew into the opposite wall and fell down into a heap on the marble floor. Damon was gentler with Lexi, though not by much. Another weightless corpse, she flopped against me, legs askew.

Dust and shrapnel floated around us like fog. I blinked at the nondescript walls, trying to get my bearings.

"Here," Damon said, holding out a silver flask. "You're going to need it to escape."

I put my lips against the mouth of the vessel. Blood. Sweet, sweet, blood…

A voice in the back of my mind shouted that it was human blood, but I silenced it with a splash of heady liquid. I drank deeply, desperately, groaning when Damon grabbed the flask away from me.

"Save some for the lady," he said.

Lexi drank greedily as well. Blood dripped down her chin and around her lips as she sucked hard and silently. Her skin, which had been drawn, pale and wrinkled as an old woman's, filled out and became pink and puffy.

"Thanks, sailor," she breathed. "I needed that."

Like a lamp filling a cellar with heat and light, I felt my own Power radiate through my limbs, returning my senses to what they were, imbuing my body with strength that I hadn't experienced since before I started eating only animals.

As my vision cleared, I gasped. Behind Damon, a black-haired woman stood with one hand to her temple, the other gripped into a fist at her side. Her eyes were closed and her body shook with the slightest of tremors. It looked like she was in deep pain, being held in place while unknown tortures were applied to her mind and body.

Margaret.

And she wasn't alone. There was a prone figure in front of her, writhing in pain, and I realized with a jolt that Margaret wasn't being tortured – she was the one inflicting pain in another. In Lucius.

In the super-vampire, so Powerful, yet still only a foot soldier of Klaus, the demon directly descended from hell. Lucius had murdered an entire family, captured me with ease, and caught Lexi like a troublesome mouse. The monster had his head in his hands and was screaming, terrible screams that seemed to send reverberations through the very chapel.

"Is that Margaret?" I asked, dumbfounded.

Damon pulled me up, propelled me toward the door.

"We can't leave her!"

"She'll be fine!"

"But – "

"Questions later. Running now."

And so, with one last look at the woman who had brought Hell itself to its knees, I ran away from the site of my imprisonment and out into moonlight.

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