Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(12)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(12)
Author: L.J. Smith

I'd lost her.

I glanced around, trying to get my bearings. Even though the tavern had been bustling, the rest of the area seemed desolate. It reminded me a bit of some of the towns I'd seen when I'd taken a train from New Orleans to New York City - places so decimated by the war that no one was left.

I walked through the maze of streets, unsure of where I was going. I wanted to find Violet. I had some money from my wages, and I was sure I could settle the price of a rooming house for her. But how could I find her in an unfamiliar city with streets and al eys that seemed to number in the mil ions? It was impossible.

After a few moments, I came to a park. Or rather, I came to a patch of greenery that at one point might have been a park. Now, the grass was yel owed, the trees were sickly, paint was peeling from the wrought-iron benches, and none of the gas lamps were lit. I shivered. If this was Dutfield Park, then it was the ideal place for a murder.

I tilted my head. I could hear heartbeats - of rabbits, and squirrels, and even a fox - but then I heard it: ba-da-bump, ba-da-bump.

"Violet!" I cal ed, my voice cracking. I easily jumped over the peeling fence and ran toward the woods in the center of the park. "Violet!" I cal ed again, the ba-da-bump getting closer.

And then, a shriek pierced the air, fol owed by deafening silence.

"Violet!" I yel ed, my fangs bulging. I pelted through the trees as if my feet were running on air, not gravel, expecting to see Damon feasting on Violet's neck. Damon, turning toward me with blood dripping down his chin. Damon arching his eyebrow and greeting me with the one word that made my brain almost explode with anger . . .

"Help!" a girl's voice screamed.

"Violet!" I cal ed, tearing through the trees, in one direction, then another, listening wildly for the ba-da-bump, ba-da-bump of her heart. And then I saw her, standing shakily near a dark streetlight. Her face was as white as her apron, but she was alive. There was no blood.

"Violet?" I asked, slowing down to a walk. My feet crunched against the dry underbrush. The path in the woods had obviously, in happier times, been designed for a Sunday afternoon strol . A smal brick building, most likely a groundskeeper's cottage, long since abandoned, stood at the crest of a gentle hil . Violet was staring at it, her mouth formed into an O of horror.

I fol owed her gaze, the sliver of the moon providing just enough light that I could see red letters written on the side of the building, each oxidized character standing out against the muted brick as if it were il uminated from behind by candlelight: SALVATORE - I SHALL HAVE MY REVENGE

I glanced at the words, feeling as though the wind had been knocked out of me. This was a chal enge, as real as if I'd been dealt a blow by an unseen hand. Someone was after us. And that someone wasn't Damon. Worse stil , what if Damon was the one in trouble? I wouldn't put it past my brother to find himself at the center of a deadly vampire disagreement. After al , that's what had happened in New York.

I blinked. I'd only seen a gruesome message like that once in my infinite lifetime - at the Sutherlands' in New York, when Lucius, Klaus's minion, was fulfil ing the Original's desire for vengeance against me and my brother. Twenty years ago, we'd just narrowly escaped him. Could he be back for more?

If Klaus had returned, I owed it to my brother to warn him. Suddenly everything - my terrifying dreams, my unsettled feelings - made sense.

Damon was in trouble. And like it or not, I'd heard the message and come running. No matter what, my connection to the murder was no longer just a hunch - I was a part of this now. There was no going back.

"Help! Anyone!" Violet shrieked. She was starting to panic, her eyes wide.

I ran toward her and clapped my hand over her mouth to keep her from crying out again. I may have been hunting Damon, but now I was being hunted. Together, we were just two foxes, desperately darting through the city, unsure whether the hunter in charge of our fates was in front of us or behind us or lying in wait, ready to strike when we least expected it.

Chapter Five

I n that moment, staring at the bloody message, time stood still. Or rather, time flew backward, back twenty years and across the ocean, until I was in the formal drawing room of the Sutherlands' Central Park mansion, surrounded by carnage, gazing at a similarly garish, violent message.

Damon had been by my side back then, and it was at that moment I realized that the two of us were truly just babes in the woods, boys masquerading as monsters. When we saw the message written in the Sutherlands' blood, we'd finally grasped that evil beyond our imaginations existed.

And it had only gotten worse. When Lucius, the minion of Klaus, had found and captured Damon and me, he'd entombed us in a mausoleum as if we were buried alive, heedless of our cries. Klaus and his ilk were Originals, creatures straight from hell who didn't even have the smallest memory of human kindness, and, as such, there was no end to their evil. And now one of them was after me.

But for a moment, I felt something else inside me. It was a flickering sensation, so subtle and foreign I barely noticed it. Until I realized what it was. It was hope.

This time, I wasn't unprepared. I was older, wiser, stronger. I could stop them.

I would make sure of that.

"Violet!" I said sharply, my hand stil firm against her mouth. She stared at me with wild, unseeing eyes.

"I'm Stefan. From the bar. You can trust me. You have to trust me," I said urgently. The edge of the park was only a hundred yards away. It would only take a few seconds to get out using vampire speed. I felt unsafe here. I didn't feel much safer in London's claustrophobic streets, but at least there, with pedestrians nearby, the kil er would be less likely to strike. "We need to leave." She took a deep breath, but continued to struggle against my grip. "Violet, listen to me," I said, summoning my Power. I heard a snap of a twig in the forest and I jumped. We had no time. Klaus could be anywhere. "Violet, trust me. You wil be quiet, and you wil listen to me. Is that understood?"

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