Origins (Chapter 23)
The words floated through the open window, chant-like. I crept to the window and creaked open the shutter. Outside, across the pond, there were flashes of fire, and I even heard the sound of rifles firing. Dark bodies moved en masse, like a swarm of locusts descending upon a cotton field.
I began to make out more and more words from the angry roar of the crowd. There had to be at least fifty men in attendance. Fifty drunken, angry, murderous men. I grabbed Katherine's shoulder and began shaking her hard.
"Wake up!" I whispered urgently.
She sat up with a start. The whites of her eyes looked huge, and there were shadows beneath her eye sockets. "What is it? Is everything okay?" Her fingers fluttered to her necklace.
"No, it's not okay," I whispered. "The brigade is out. They're searching for vampires. They're on the main road right now." I pointed out the window.
The yelling and shouts were getting closer. The fire blazed in the night, flames reaching toward the night sky like red daggers. Fear shot through me. This wasn't supposed to be happening–not yet.
Katherine slipped out of bed, tucking the white quilt around her body, and closed the shutters with a bang. "Y father," she said, her voice hard.
I shook my head. It couldn't be. "The siege is set for next week, and Father is not the type to deviate from an established plan."
"Stefan!" Katherine said sharply. "Y ou promised you would do something. Y have to ou stop this. These men don't know what they're fighting, and they don't know how dangerous this is. If they keep doing this, people will get hurt."
"Dangerous?" I asked, rubbing my temple. I suddenly had a pounding headache. The shouting grew quieter now; it seemed the mob was pressing forward–or perhaps dispersing. I wondered if this was more a protest spurred by liquid courage than an actual siege.
"Not from me, but from whoever has launched these attacks." Katherine's eyes met mine. "If the townspeople know what's safe for them, what's best for them, they'd stop the hunt. They'd allow us to resolve things. They'd allow us to find the source of the attacks."
I sat on the edge of the bed and rested my elbows against my knees, staring down at the worn wooden floorboards in dismay, as if I could find some sort of answer, some sort of way to stop what already seemed to be happening.
Katherine took my face in her hands. "I am entirely at your mercy. I need you to protect me. Please, Stefan."
"I know, Katherine!" I said half-hysterically. "But what if it's too late? They have the brigade, they have their suspicions, they even have an invention designed to find vampires."
"What?" Katherine reared back. "An invention? Y didn't tell me that," she said, her voice taking
ou on a note of accusation.
A hard lump settled in my chest as I explained Jonathan's device. How had I failed to mention it to Katherine? Would she ever forgive me?
"Jonathan Gilbert." Katherine's face twisted in contempt. "So that fool thinks he can just hunt us down? Like animals?"
I recoiled. I'd never heard Katherine use that harsh tone.
"I'm sorry," Katherine said in a more composed voice, as if she'd sensed the flicker of fear in my heart. "I'm sorry. It's just … you simply can't imagine what it's like to be hunted."
"The voices seem to be quieting." I peeked through the shutters. The mob was indeed beginning to disperse, the flames becoming shaky dots in the inky black night. The danger was seemingly gone.
For now at least. But by next week, they'd have Jonathan's invention. They'd have a list of vampires. And they'd find every single last one of them.
"Thank goodness." Katherine sank down onto the bed, pale as I'd ever seen her. A lone tear fell from her eye and trickled down her alabaster skin. I reached to wipe it away with my index finger, then gently touched my tongue to my skin, an echo of what I'd done at the Founders Ball. I sucked my finger, finding that her tears tasted salty. Human.
I pulled her to me, wrapping her in a tight embrace. I'm not sure how long we sat there, together. But as the faint light of the morning came through the windows, I stood up.
"I will stop it, Katherine. I will protect you to the death. I swear it."