Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(17)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(17)
Author: L.J. Smith

Tonight, the only ones who might block our path would be monsters.

Once we got to the train station, I used the last few coins in my pocket to pay for our tickets to Ivinghoe. We caught the first train out of the city, and I should have felt relief. But I didn't. Because I had no idea when Violet was going to die. Al I hoped was that I could get her safely to my cabin.

"Stefan?" Violet asked as her fingers, as light as the brush of a hummingbird's wing, glided across my arm.

"Yes?" I replied, pul ing my gaze away from the window. Instead of looking like she was at death's door, Violet had a flush in her cheeks and her eyes were bright. We'd been on the train for nearly an hour and were now on the outskirts of London's sprawl. Even a touch of country air was doing wonders for Violet. But it wouldn't save her.

"I feel better," Violet whispered hopeful y, obviously thinking the same thing that I had. "Do you think I might live?"

"No," I said sadly. I didn't want to be cal ous, but it would be even crueler to fil her with false hope. No matter how she felt or how she looked, Violet's fate was sealed.

"Oh," she said quietly, pressing her lips together and staring out at the greenery passing by the window. The compartment we were seated in was identical to the one I had sat in when I came to London. A silver tea-service tray lay between us, with china plates piled high with scones and sandwiches. It was stil very early, and the train was almost deserted. Violet had alternated between dozing and taking dainty bites of one of the scones. I'd spent the majority of the journey staring out the window. The scenery was lush and green, and total y at odds with the darkness of my mood.

"Once the transition starts, there's no cure," I repeated patiently.

"Except if I drink human blood," Violet corrected.

"That's not a cure," I said grimly.

"I know," Violet said quietly before staring far off into the distance.

"If I could go back and do it al over again, I would have chosen death," I said. I put my hand on top of hers to comfort her.

"There's so much I haven't seen and haven't done," Violet said sadly. "I was never onstage, I never had children . . . I've never even been in love." I continued to stroke her smal hand. There was nothing I could say.

Violet whimpered and al owed her head to rest against my shoulder. "I'm so cold," she whispered.

"I know. I know," I said. I stroked her hair, wishing I could make her death easier. It would be, I told myself. Once we were back at the Manor and away from danger. I wanted her to find solace in the quiet of my cabin and peaceful y slip away. She'd had a hard life. Maybe the afterlife would be better for her.

Violet's breathing steadied, and she fel asleep. I glanced out the window. The sky seemed clearer the farther we got from London. I heard a faint noise, but it wasn't coming from my mind. It was coming from outside.

"Yes?" I cal ed sharply, assuming it was a porter arriving with more scones or another selection of papers.

But no one answered. The scratching noise was persistent, louder than just a stowaway rat.

I heard another noise, as if the train had hit a large animal. But the train kept rol ing. I glanced out the window and a long, low growl I didn't quite recognize as my own escaped my lips.

There, peering upside down through the window, was Samuel's brother, Henry. His face was pressed to the glass, and his golden-blond hair was blowing in the wind.

We locked eyes, and for one wild moment I thought he'd come to see Violet, an eager beau's overtures gone too far. But then I noticed his elongated canines, his bloodshot eyes, and I slowly understood. Henry was a vampire. And Henry wasn't eagerly looking for Violet. He was hunting

- for us.

I slammed the blue damask curtains of the window shut and looked around madly for any escape. But of course there was none. I felt my heart harden. This was Damon's doing. It had to be. Because why else would Henry be here? Even as children, he'd goad the Giffin boys into throwing rocks at a passing train or letting the chickens loose during a barbeque. That way, he wouldn't risk punishment. Now, he was doing the same thing, except with a cadre of vampires.

I had to protect Violet. I couldn't let Henry grab Violet and force her to feed. I couldn't have her turn into a vampire against her wishes. I hastily stole to the caboose and climbed the rickety ladder to the top of the iron train. The wind pelted dirt and pebbles into my face, and the soot and fumes whirling around my head made it almost impossible to see anything.

"Henry!" I cal ed, steadying myself on the steam pipe poking from the top of the train. I crouched low, ready for a fight.

Nothing. The train continued to chug forward. A sliver of doubt crept through my brain. Had it been some sort of vision? A paranoid hal ucination?

A cry of outrage sounded behind me.

Before I could turn, I felt a weight on my back, fol owed by cold hands sliding around my neck. I gasped and tried to writhe free from the grip. I was locked in a chokehold, Henry's arm tight around my windpipe. I groaned, trying to fight him off while keeping my balance.

"Are you ready to die?" Henry whispered in my ear. His impeccable accent was perfectly modulated, and his breath was hot against my neck.

Once again, he applied pressure to my throat.

Die. The word echoed in my head. I'd forgotten what it was like to be hunted. But now, I was captured. And if I didn't do something, I would die.

And Violet would be worse than dead. I had to do something. I had to . . .

Stay still. A voice - Lexi's? My own? - screamed instruction in my head, even though it was counterintuitive to my being's every instinct. My arm twitched beneath Henry's grasp. Stay still! the voice insisted.

"Frightened? And you thought I was just little Henry. One of Damon's foppish friends, of no importance and no interest to a big, strong American vampire like yourself. Aren't I right, chum?" Henry asked sarcastical y, pul ing me closer. He was clearly going to try to break my neck, and from there, he'd be able to stake me or burn me, or do whatever he wanted. Or he could simply throw me off the train, where I'd be finished off soon enough. A dozen scenarios, each worse than the last, whirled through my mind.

"What? You're not going to speak to me?" Henry asked, goading me. I stared at the ground whooshing below me, pul ing every ounce of strength from the corners of my being. I thought of Cal ie, the death I hadn't avenged. I thought of Violet, about to be next.

"This ends now!" I yel ed, spinning around, fists ready. I was larger than him, but I knew from the pressure of his arm against my throat that he was stronger than me. I'd have to be faster and smarter.

"Is this the way you want to do this?" Henry half-growled, lunging toward me. I sidestepped him, and my foot began to slip off the train. I reached out, clinging to the steam pipe, as Henry swung his fist. Flesh connected to my temple and for a moment, al I saw were stars.

Henry's low, smooth laugh yanked me out of my fog of pain.

I pretended to totter as though in danger of losing my grip. I wanted to catch Henry unaware. And then I reached back and swung.

Blood gushed from Henry's lip and I stepped back, surveying my work in satisfaction.

"Not as easy as you thought it'd be, is it?" I asked in disgust. Damon had probably told his posse I always avoided conflict, even to my own peril.

Wel , not anymore. I was done with Damon's games.

Henry retreated a few meters, rubbing his wound and attempting to regain his balance. The wound was fast disappearing, and I knew I needed to act quickly.

I bent my knees, hoping my instincts from decades of jumping with horses would help me. It was al about looking where you were going, and never, ever looking away. I glanced at a smal metal dent in the center of the car a few meters away, and jumped.

My body careened through space as I heard Henry growl below me. I didn't look, concentrating on that tiny imperfection on the train's exterior until my feet hit the metal with a thud. Then I whirled around and lunged, aiming toward his face, giving him a punch with as much strength as I could muster. My fist connected with his flesh. He stood, his body weaving on one leg, suspended in midair like a dancer awaiting his next cue, before he tumbled off the train. His body landed in a heap on the ground, growing smal er in my view as the train sped on.

"See you in hel ," I murmured. To anyone else, it would be a curse. But for me, it was a promise.

I climbed down the rickety ladder and stepped onto the caboose car, hoping against hope that no conductor or policeman would be waiting for me. I was weak and shaky, covered with blood and soot.

I picked my way back to the cabin, relieved that no one stopped me on my way. Violet was stil sleeping, her breathing shal ow and occasional y interrupted by a gasp, although whether or not that was from pain or a dream, only she knew.

I couldn't sit. Instead, I paced like a wild animal, desperate to do something. So Damon had enlisted Henry to do his dirty work. The question was, were there others? I had the strength to fight off one, but could I fight off several? And would we be able to hide from them for long enough, at least to al ow Violet to die in peace?

The train whistle blew, and Violet stirred in my lap. We'd arrived at the tiny Ivinghoe station.

"Wake up," I said, gently rousing her. My temple throbbed, and the wound was slow to heal, a true sign that I was quickly losing strength.

"Stefan," she said sleepily before opening her eyes. "What happened?" She gasped as she took in my appearance.

"We're being fol owed," I said tersely, glancing past Violet toward my reflection in the window. I looked awful. I looked like I'd been caught in a war. Which, I suppose was more or less what I'd found myself in. "By Henry," I clarified grimly.

"Henry!" Violet gasped again, her face turning pale. "What do you mean?

"He's a vampire, too. Damon has a lot of very powerful friends. But I got rid of him," I explained. I knew it sounded like I'd kil ed him, and I fervently wished that had been the case. But I had a feeling I'd simply wounded him, and if so, I knew he'd be quick to return. The train whistle blew as we rol ed into the train station. "Come with me," I said brusquely.

Violet struggled to her feet and fol owed me down the narrow aisle of the train car.

"Sir?" a conductor cal ed from behind us. I whirled around, noticing the split second that it took him to see the blood on my hands, the grime and soot al over my clothes.

One more time, I said to myself, locking eyes with him. Just because compel ing had become routine over the past few days did not mean it took any less effort. I forced myself to stand stil . "You never saw us," I said as the train came to a stop, its brakes squealing.

Violet held my hand tightly and stepped behind me, as though she were a frightened animal being protected by a larger, stronger member of the pack.

I continued to look in the conductor's watery, sleepy eyes. "We're leaving now. And when you pass through the carriage, you won't remember us," I said, walking down the three steps toward the platform. The conductor trailed behind us, leaning over the steps as if unsure whether or not to hop off the train and ask us more questions. I continued to stare.

"I never saw . . ." I heard the conductor agree, before the whistle blew and the train whirred away, heading deeper into the country.

"What happened?" Violet asked, hands on her h*ps as dust from the departing train whipped around us. She stil seemed woozy and was staggering as though drunk.

"It's a power vampires have. I can make people do my bidding. I don't like to do it, but it can come in handy." I hoped I wouldn't have to do any compel ing on our three-mile journey back to the manor. Who knew if Mrs. Todd at the post office or Mr. Evans at the general store were peeking out from behind their curtains, wondering what Stefan the groundskeeper was possibly doing with a crying, pale, sick girl. "But we're here, in Ivinghoe. You're safe."

Violet shook her head. "I'm not safe," she said, her voice low and faint. "I'm dying." I saw her flinch and realized that the sun must be agonizing to her. Red splotches were dotting her arms and legs, and her face was slicked with sweat. I glanced helplessly at my lapis-lazuli ring, wishing there was something I could do. But I needed to be wearing the ring at al times.

"Let's go," I said, hooking my arm in hers and crossing to the shady side of the street. It wasn't much relief, but it was something. Then, together, we trudged up the winding path to Abbott Manor.

Chapter Fifteen

By the time we reached the path that led to the Abbott's back garden, my mind had cleared. The woods were beautiful, dark, wild, and mysterious.

One of the local legends was that long ago, fairies had settled the land and made it their home, hiding in the ample oak tree trunks and looking out for the forest life. Of course, I didn't believe the tale. I'd been through the woods and captured and kil ed enough animals to know there were no benevolent creatures protecting the forest. Or if there were, then they had better things to do than save an errant squirrel or rabbit that was caught in the clenches of a vampire's fangs. Stil , the story comforted me, if only because it proved that humans could stil believe in good, even when so much evil lived in their midst.

We walked toward the clearing, where the sprawling three-story brick manor house rose up on the crest of a hil .

"Here we are," I said, gesturing to the vast expanse, as if I were a king showing off my land to my subject.

"It's nice," Violet said, a smal smile creeping onto her pale lips. "Green. It reminds me of home." I heard the dog bark and I startled. I knew that most likely Luke or Oliver would be nearby, and I didn't want them to see Violet. There would be too many questions I didn't think I could answer. Hastily, I swept Violet into my arms and into my tiny cottage. Safely inside, I had her sit at my rickety kitchen table. I quickly changed my shirt, washed my face, and ran water through my hair. In the mirror, I saw Violet eyeing me inquisitively.

   
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