Origins (Page 43)

The sight changed me, changed everything. I took off my hat and knelt down roughly, praying to God or whoever would listen to please save them. I remembered Anna’s kitten-like cries, the dull fear in Pearl’s eyes. Y they couldn’t live here, but

es, why did Father have to condone this brutal treatment? No one deserved to die like this, not even monsters. Why couldn’t it be enough to simply run them out of town?

Damon knelt down, and I rushed toward his side. Katherine was lying on her back, ropes binding her arms and legs. The ropes must have been covered with vervain, because there were terrible burns on the patches of skin that touched the twine. A leather mask covered her face, and her hair was matted with dried blood.

I stood back, not wanting to touch her or even look at her, as Damon set to work untying the muzzle. Once she was free, I couldn’t help but notice her teeth, her fangs, her true nature, obvious in a way I’d never seen before. But Damon was gazing at her as if in a trance. He gently brushed the hair off her face and slowly leaned in to kiss her lips.

"Thank you," said Katherine simply. That was it. And watching them, the way Katherine’s fingers stroked Damon’s hair, the way Damon cried into her collarbone, I knew that this was true love. As they continued to gaze into each other’s eyes, I pulled my knife out of my pocket and gently tried to cut the ropes that bound her. I worked slowly and carefully, knowing that any additional contact with the ropes would cause her even more pain.

"Hurry!" Damon whispered, sitting on his heels as he watched me work.

I freed one arm, then another. Katherine sighed shakily, shrugging her shoulders up and down as if to make sure they still worked.

"Help!" cried a pale, thin woman I didn’t recognize. She was huddled in the very back of the wagon.

"We’ll be back," I said, lying through my teeth. We wouldn’t be back. Damon and Katherine had to escape, and I had to … well, I had to help them.

"Stefan?" Katherine said weakly as she struggled to her feet. Damon instantly rushed to her side and supported her fragile body.

Just then, I heard footfalls near the wagon.

"Escape!" one of the guards called. "We need backup. There’s been a breach in the wagon!"

"Run!" I called, pushing Damon and Katherine in the opposite direction of the guard. "No escape! All clear!" I shouted into the darkness, hoping that people would believe me as I hopped off the wagon.

I saw the explosion of gunpowder before I heard the shot. A loud wail rent the night air, followed quickly by another booming shot. Heart in my throat, I ran around the wagon, already knowing what I’d see.

"Damon!" I cried. He lay on the ground, blood oozing from his gut. Yanking off my shirt, I put the linen on the wound to stanch the bleeding. I knew it was no use, but still I held the fabric to his chest. "Don’t shut your eyes, brother. Stay with me."

"No … Katherine. Save her …," Damon rasped, his head flopping toward the damp ground. I glanced, wild-eyed, from the truck to the woods. The two guards were sprinting back, Jonathan Gilbert behind them.

I stood up, and instantly my body was met with the explosive, piercing, agonizing hit of a bullet. I felt my chest exploding, felt the cool night air whoosh past my body as I fell back, onto my brother. I opened my eyes and looked up at the moon, and then everything faded to black.

Chapter 29

When I next opened my eyes, I knew I was dead. But this death wasn’t the death of my nightmares, with black nothingness all around. Instead, I could smell the faraway scent of a fire, feel rough earth beneath my body, could feel my hands resting by my sides. I didn’t feel pain. I didn’t feel anything. The blackness enveloped me in a way that was almost comforting. Was this what hell was? If so, it was nothing like the horror and mayhem of last night. It was quiet, peaceful.

I tentatively moved my arm, surprised when my hand touched straw. I pushed myself up to a sitting position, surprised that I still had a body, surprised that nothing hurt. I looked around and realized that I wasn’t suspended in nothingness. To my left were the rough-hewn slats of a wall of a dark shack. If I squinted, I could see sky between the cracks. I was somewhere, but where? My hand fluttered to my chest. I remembered the shot ringing out, the sound of my body thudding to the ground, the way I was prodded with boots and sticks. The way my heart had stopped beating and there had been a cheer that rose up before everything was quiet. I was dead. So then …

"Hello?" I called hoarsely.

"Stefan," a woman’s voice said. I felt a hand behind my back. I realized I was wearing a simple, faded, blue cotton shirt and tan linen pants, clothes I didn’t recognize as my own. And though they were old, they were clean. I struggled to stand, but the small, yet surprisingly strong, hand held me down by my shoulder. "Y ou’ve had a long night."

I blinked, and as my eyes adjusted to the light, I realized that the voice belonged to Emily.

"Y ou’re alive," I said in wonderment.

She laughed, a low, lazy chuckle. "I should be saying that to you. How are you feeling?" she asked, bringing a tin cup of water to my lips.

I drank, allowing the cool liquid to trickle down my throat. I’d never tasted anything so pure, so good. I touched my neck where Katherine had bit me. It felt clean and smooth. I hastily yanked the shirt open, popping several buttons in the process. My chest was smooth, no hint of a bullet wound.

"Keep drinking," Emily clucked in a way a mother might do to her child.

"Damon?" I asked roughly.

"He’s out there." Emily pointed her chin to the door. I followed her gaze outside, where I saw a shadowy figure sitting by the water’s edge. "He’s recovering, just as you are."