The Fury (Chapter Thirteen)

"You think we're supposed to-look inside?" Matt said.

"I don't know," Elena said miserably. She didn't want to see what was inside that tomb now any more than she had when Tyler had suggested opening it to vandalize it. "Maybe we won't be able to get it open," she added. "Tyler and Dick couldn't. It started to slide only when I leaned on it."

"Lean on it now; maybe there's some sort of hidden spring mechanism," Alaric suggested, and when Elena did, with no results, he said, "All right, let's all get a grip, and brace ourselves-like this. Come on, now-"

From his crouch, he looked up at Damon, who was standing motionless next to the tomb, looking faintly amused. "Excuse me," Damon said, and Alaric stepped back, frowning. Damon and Stefan each gripped an end of the stone lid and lifted.

The lid came away, making a grinding sound as Damon and Stefan slid it to the ground on one side of the tomb.

Elena couldn't bring herself to move closer.

Instead, fighting nausea, she concentrated on Stefan's expression. It would tell her what was to be found in there. Pictures crashed through her mind, of parchment-colored mummified bodies, of rotting corpses, of grinning skulls. If Stefan looked horrified or sickened, disgusted…

But as Stefan looked into the open tomb, his face registered only disconcerted surprise.

Elena couldn't stand it any longer. "What is it?"

He gave her a crooked smile and said with a glance at Bonnie, "Come and see."

Elena inched up to the tomb and looked down. Then her head flew up, and she regarded Stefan in astonishment.

"What is it?"

"I don't know," he replied. He turned to Meredith and Alaric. "Does either of you have a flashlight? Or some rope?"

After a look inside the stone box, they both headed for their cars. Elena remained where she was, staring down, straining her night vision. She still couldn't believe it.

The tomb was not a tomb, but a doorway.

Now she understood why she had felt a cold wind blow from it when it had shifted beneath her hand that night. She was looking down into a kind of vault or cellar in the ground. She could see only one wall, the one that dropped straight down below her, and that one had iron rungs driven into the stone, like a ladder.

"Here you go," Meredith said to Stefan, returning. "Alaric's got a flashlight, and here's mine. And here's the rope Elena put in my car when we went looking for you."

The narrow beam of Meredith's flashlight swept the dark room below. "I can't see very far inside, but it looks empty," Stefan said. "I'll go down first."

Bonnie hadn't moved. She was still standing there with that utterly abstracted expression on her face, as if she saw nothing around her. Without a word, she swung a leg over the edge of the tomb, twisted, and began to descend.

"Whoa," said Stefan. He tucked the flashlight in his jacket pocket, put a hand on the tomb's foot, and jumped.

Elena had no time to enjoy Alaric's expression; she leaned down and shouted, "Are you okay?"

"Fine." The flashlight winked at her from below. "Bonnie will be all right, too. The rungs go all the way down. Better bring the rope anyway."

Elena looked at Matt, who was closest. His blue eyes met hers with helplessness and a certain resignation, and he nodded. She took a deep breath and put a hand on the foot of the tomb as Stefan had. Another hand suddenly clamped on her wrist.

"I've just thought of something," Meredith said grimly. "What if Bonnie's entity is the Other Power?"

"I thought of that a long time ago," Elena said. She patted Meredith's hand, pried it off, and jumped.

She stood up into Stefan's supporting arm and looked around. "My God…"

It was a strange place. The walls were faced with stone. They were smooth and almost polished-looking. Driven into them at intervals were iron candelabra, some of which had the remains of wax candles in them. Elena could not see the other end of the room, but the flashlight showed a wrought-iron gate quite close, like the gate in some churches used to screen off an altar.

Bonnie was just reaching the bottom of the rung ladder. She waited silently while the others descended, first Matt, then Meredith, then Alaric with the other flashlight.

Elena looked up. "Damon?"

She could see his silhouette against the lighter black rectangle that was the tomb's opening to the sky. "Well?"

"Are you with us?" she asked. Not "Are you coming with us?" She knew he would understand the difference.

She waited five heartbeats in the silence that followed. Six, seven, eight…

There was a rush of air, and Damon landed neatly. But he didn't look at Elena. His eyes were oddly distant, and she could read nothing in his face.

"It's a crypt," Alaric was saying in wonder, as his flashlight scythed through the darkness. "An underground chamber beneath a church, used as a burial place. They're usually built under larger churches."

Bonnie walked straight up to the scrolled gate and placed one small white hand on it, opening it. It swung away from her.

Bonnie walked straight up to the scrolled gate and placed one small white hand on it, opening it. It swung away from her.

Bonnie stopped.

This is it, thought Elena, her breath catching in her throat. Oh, my God, this is it; this is really it. She had the sudden intense sensation of being in the middle of a lucid dream, one where she knew she was dreaming but couldn't change anything or wake up. Her muscles deadlocked.

She could smell fear from the others, and she could feel the sharp edge of it from Stefan beside her. His flashlight skimmed over objects beyond Bonnie, but at first Elena's eyes could make no sense of them. She saw angles, planes, contours, and then something leaped into focus. A dead-white face, hanging grotesquely sideways …

The scream never got out of her throat. It was only a statue, and the features were familiar. They were the same as on the lid of the tomb above. This tomb was the twin of the one they had come through. Except that this one had been ravaged, the stone lid broken in two and flung against the wall of the crypt. Something was scattered about the floor like fragile ivory sticks. Bits of marble, Elena told her brain desperately; it's only marble, bits of marble.

They were human bones, splintered and crushed.

Bonnie turned around.

Her heart-shaped face swung as if those fixed blank eyes were surveying the group. She ended directly facing Elena.

Then, with a shudder, she stumbled and pitched violently forward like a marionette whose strings have been cut.

Elena barely caught her, half falling herself. "Bonnie? Bonnie?" The brown eyes that looked up at her, dilated and disoriented, were Bonnie's own frightened eyes. "But what happened?" Elena demanded. "Where did it go?"

"I am here."

Above the plundered tomb, a hazy light was showing. No, not a light, Elena thought. She was sensing it with her eyes, but it was not light in the normal spectrum. This was something stranger than infrared or ultraviolet, something human senses had not been built to see. It was being revealed to her, forced on her brain, by some outside Power.

"The Other Power," she whispered, her blood freezing.

"No, Elena."

The voice was not sound, in the same way that the vision was not light. It was quiet as star shine, and sad. It reminded her of something.

"I've been waiting for you," Honoria Fell's voice said softly. "Here I can speak to you at last in my own form, and not through Bonnie's lips. Listen to me. Your time is short, and the danger is very great."

Elena found her tongue. "But what is this room? Why did you bring us here?"

"You asked me to. I couldn't show you until you asked. This is your battleground."

"I don't understand."

"This crypt was built for me by the people of Fell's Church. A resting place for my body. A secret place for one who had secret powers in life. Like Bonnie, I knew things no one else could know. I saw things no one else could see."

"You were psychic," Bonnie whispered huskily.

"In those days, they called it witchery. But I never used my powers for harm, and when I died they built me this monument so that my husband and I could lie in peace. But then, after many years, our peace was disturbed."

The eldritch light ebbed and flowed, Honoria's form wavering. "Another Power came to Fell's Church, full of hatred and destruction. It defiled my resting place and scattered my bones. It made its home here. It went out to work evil against my town. I woke.

"I have tried to warn you against it from the beginning, Elena. It lives here below the graveyard. It has been waiting for you, watching you. Sometimes in the form of an owl-"

An owl. Elena's mind raced ahead. An owl, like the owl she had seen nesting in the belfry of the church. Like the owl that had been in the barn, like the owl in the black locust tree by her house.

White owl… hunting bird… flesh eater… she thought. And then she remembered great white wings that seemed to stretch to the horizon on either side. A great bird made of mist or snow, coming after her, focused on her, full of bloodlust and animal hate…

"No!" she cried, memory engulfing her.

She felt Stefan's hands on her shoulders, his fingers digging in almost painfully. It brought her back to reality. Honoria Fell was still speaking.

"And you, Stefan, it has been watching you. It hated you before it hated Elena. It has been tormenting you and playing with you like a cat with a mouse. It hates those you love. It is full of poisoned love itself."

Elena looked involuntarily behind her. She saw Meredith, Alaric, and Matt standing frozen. Bonnie and Stefan were next to her. But Damon… where was Damon?

"The Snow Dance!" Meredith said sharply.

"Yes. And this time they will kill until the last of them is killed."

"We have to warn those people," Matt said. "Everyone at that dance-"

"You will never be safe until the mind that controls them is destroyed. The killing will go on. You must destroy the Power that hates; that is why I have brought you here."

There was another flux in the light; it seemed to be receding. "You have the courage, if you can find it. Be strong. This is the only help I can give you."

"Wait-please-" Elena began.

The voice continued relentlessly, taking no heed of her. "Bonnie, you have a choice. Your secret powers are a responsibility. They are also a gift, and one that can be taken away. Do you choose to relinquish them?"

"I-" Bonnie shook her head, frightened. "I don't know. I need time…"

"There is no time. Choose." The light was dwindling, caving in on itself.

Bonnie's eyes were bewildered and uncertain as she searched Elena's face for help. "It's your choice," Elena whispered. "You have to decide for yourself."

Slowly, the uncertainty left Bonnie's face, and she nodded. She stood away from Elena, without support, turning back to the light. "I'll keep them," she said huskily. "I'll deal with them somehow. My grandmother did."

There was a flicker of something like amusement from the light. "You've chosen wisely. May you use them as well. This is the last time I will speak to you." "But-"

"I have earned my rest. The fight is yours." And the glow faded, like the last embers of a dying fire.

With it gone, Elena could feel the pressure all around her. Something was going to happen. Some crushing force was coming toward them, or hanging over them. "Stefan-"

Stefan felt it too; she could tell. "Come on," Bonnie said, her voice panicked.

"We have to get out of here."

"We have to get to the dance," Matt gasped. His face was white. "We have to help them-"

"Fire," cried Bonnie, looking startled, as if the thought had just come to her. "Fire won't kill them, but it will hold them off-"

"Alaric." Stefan spoke with the ring of command. "You go back. Take the others; do what you can. I'll stay-"

"I think we all should leave!" Alaric shouted. He had to shout to be heard over the deafening noise surrounding them.

His weaving flashlight showed Elena something she hadn't noticed before. In the wall next to her was a gaping hole, as if the stone facing had been ripped away. And beyond was a tunnel into the raw earth, black and endless.

Where does it go? Elena wondered, but the thought was lost among the tumult of her fear. White owl… hunting bird… flesh eater… crow, she thought, and suddenly she knew with blinding clarity what she was afraid of.

"Where's Damon?" she screamed, dragging Stefan around as she turned, looking.

"Where's Damon?"

"Get out!" cried Bonnie, her voice shrill with terror. She threw herself toward the gate just as the sound split the darkness.

It was a snarl, but not a dog's snarl. It could never be mistaken for that. It was so much deeper, heavier, more resonant. It was a huge sound, and it reeked of the jungle, of the hunting bloodlust. It reverberated in Elena's chest, jarred her bones.

It paralyzed her.

The sound came again, hungry and savage, but somehow almost lazy. That confident. And with it came heavy footfalls from the tunnel.

Bonnie was trying to scream, making only a thin whistling sound. In the blackness of the tunnel, something was coming. A shape that moved with a rangy feline swing. Elena recognized the snarl now. It was the sound of the largest of the hunting cats, larger than a lion. The tiger's eyes showed yellow as it reached the end of the tunnel.

And then everything happened at once.

Elena felt Stefan try to pull her backward to get her out of the way. But her own petrified muscles were a hindrance to him, and she knew that it was too late.

The tiger's leap was grace itself, powerful muscles launching it into the air. In that instant, she saw it as if caught in the light of a flashbulb, and her mind noted the lean shining flanks and the supple backbone. But her voice screamed out on its own.

"Damon, no!"

It was only as the black wolf sprang out of the darkness to meet it that she realized the tiger was white.

The great cat's rush was thrown off by the wolf, and Elena felt Stefan wrench her out of the way, pulling her sideways to safety. Her muscles had melted like snowflakes, and she yielded numbly as he put her against the wall. The lid of the tomb was between her and the snarling white shape now, but the gate was on the other side of the fight.

It was an impossible match. The black wolf, vicious and aggressive though it might be, didn't stand a chance. One swipe of the tiger's huge claws laid the wolf's shoulder open to the bone. Its jaws snarled open as it tried to get a bone-cracking grip on the wolf's neck.

But then Stefan was there, training the blaze of the flashlight into the cat's eyes, thrusting the wounded wolf out of the way. Elena wished she could scream, wished she could do something to release this rushing ache inside her. She didn't understand; she didn't understand anything. Stefan was in danger. But she couldn't move.

"Get out!" Stefan was shouting to the others. "Do it now; get out!"

Faster than any human, he darted out of the way of a white paw, keeping the light in the tiger's eyes. Meredith was on the other side of the gate now. Matt was half carrying and half dragging Bonnie. Alaric was through.

The tiger lunged and the gate crashed shut. Stefan fell to the side, slipping as he tried to scramble up again.

"We won't leave you-" Alaric cried.

"Go!" shouted Stefan. "Get to the dance; do what you can! Go!"

The wolf was attacking again, despite the bleeding wounds in its head, and its shoulder where muscle and tendon lay exposed and shining. The tiger fought back. The animal sounds rose to a volume that Elena couldn't stand. Meredith and the others were gone; Alaric's flashlight had disappeared.

"Stefan!" she screamed, seeing him poised to jump into the fight again.

If he died, she would die, too. And if she had to die, she wanted it to be with him.

The paralysis left her, and she stumbled toward him, sobbing, reaching out to clutch him tightly. She felt his arm around her as he held her with his body between her and the noise and violence. But she was stubborn, as stubborn as he was. She twisted, and then they faced it together.

The wolf was down. It was lying on its back, and although its fur was too dark to show the blood, a red pool gathered beneath it. The white cat stood above it, jaws gaping inches from the vulnerable black throat.

But the death-dealing bite to the neck didn't come. Instead the tiger raised its head to look at Stefan and Elena.

But the death-dealing bite to the neck didn't come. Instead the tiger raised its head to look at Stefan and Elena.

The whiskers were straight and slender, like silver wires. Its fur was pure white, striped with faint marks like unburnished gold. White and gold, she thought, remembering the owl in the barn. And that stirred another memory… of something she'd seen… or something she'd heard about…

With a heavy swipe, the cat sent the flashlight flying out of Stefan's hand. Elena heard him hiss in pain, but she could no longer see anything in the blackness. Where there was no light at all, even a hunter was blind. Clinging to him, she waited for the pain of the killing blow.

But suddenly her head was reeling; it was full of gray and spinning fog and she couldn't hold on to Stefan. She couldn't think; she couldn't speak. The floor seemed to be dropping away from her. Dimly, she realized that Power was being used against her, that it was overwhelming her mind.

She felt Stefan's body giving, slumping, falling away from her, and she could no longer resist the fog. She fell forever and never knew when she hit the ground.