Disclaimers: Elena Gilbert, Stefan Salvatore and any othe r names you recognize from the books, along with the Vampire Diaries I - IV belong to L.J. Smith. Everything else is mine. No harm intended or money made from this fic.
Date posted: 1 October 2005 (On Time!)
(See bottom of page for author's notes)
(14 October 1993)
Silence crashed around him.
Stefan lay still, waiting to see if bedlam would resume. After a few moments, he stood up, gingerly, afraid to disturb the sudden peace.
There was no sign of the Old One.
Dusk had settled, the flaming colors of the forest washing out to hues of grey.
Thought of how the others fared closed his throat. :He can't have killed them all!:
Shrugging off cold fear at that possibility, he started forward and winced. Human or vampire, the bombardment of needles still hurt. Jaw set, he yanked out the five wood shards in his shoulder and arm, grateful that that was the extent of the damage he sustained.
Even though he was no longer a vampire, five-hundred-year-old instincts die hard, and goosebumps formed as he stared at a sharp tip beside him. Resolute, he placed one foot carefully among the spikes, and then another, wrapping his fingers around one balance. He made his way forward painstakingly, looking for signs of the vampires and Samar. The fading light and the waist-high stakes obscured his line of sight.
His tentative call was answered by a low groan.
Torturously slow, he made his way to the source of the sound, and fought horror at the sight that awaited him.
"Tristan," he acknowledge in hushed tones.
The vampire was pinned, one spike through his left shoulder, another through his right hip. Needles had sliced through his shirt and jeans, lacing lines of angry red across his face. The scratches would normally have closed by now, except that they had been made with wood.
"Some... hunt," Tristan gasped out sourly.
Stefan came closer and knelt beside him. "Not satisfied?" he asked, cautious. It seemed that, even close to death, the vampire held his cagey brashness.
Tristan's face twisted bitterly. "Hadn't even... gotten started."
"Ah..." Stefan searched for something to say. "It's not over yet," he settled on, knowing it was an empty platitude.
Tristan choked and coughed, a line of red running down from his nostril. Only the curve of his lips told Stefan that he had tried to laugh.
Stefan sat down, finding as comfortable a position as he could. He thought of searching for the others, but it seemed wrong to leave Tristan here like that. Breaking the awkward pause, Stefan asked delicately, "Can I help?" He indicated the needles with a stark nod.
The muscle at Tristan's jaw jumped.
Stefan looked away and braced for a scalding reply.
The ex-vampire darted a furtive glance at him but Tristan had averted his eyes.
He had to shift slightly to better position himself for the task. As quickly as possible, Stefan plucked the splinters out of the vampire's flesh.
Tristan hissed, baring fangs but endured wordlessly until Stefan was done.
Stefan eyed the two spikes impaling the vampire. "Would you-"
Stefan grasped the spike where it protruded from the other's hip. The wood was a slick with blood. Forcing his mind away from that fact, Stefan bent the spike sharply, snapping it off.
Stefan repeated the process with the other spike, eliciting another suppressed sound from the vampire. He didn't ask this time, merely slid his hand under the vampire's back and helped him sit up, the rest of the stake sliding out of his shoulder agonizingly.
Sweat beaded on the vampire's brow and a vein stood out in his forehead.
Maneuvering him away was tricky since they could not move too much around the other spike without causing more damage to the vampire.
Stefan's jaw was clenched so hard that it hurt as he levered the lanky vampire off the second spike.
Finally, Tristan lay on the ground, bleeding, eyes closed and breath harsh, but free from his wooden bonds.
Stefan sat beside him, one hand resting on an upraised knee. Taking away the wood seemed to have helped; the vampire's breathing was easing.
Without opening his eyes, Tristan opened his mouth and murmured, "Thank you."
Stefan glanced at him, wondering if he had heard right. "You're welcome." He lifted the wrist that was on his knee. "Do you think this will help?" he asked, holding out his hand towards the vampire.
Tristan's eyes snapped to the proffered wrist, then to Stefan's face. His lips twisted and he closed his eyes again. "No."
Stefan withdrew his hand.
"You're all right, Salvatore."
The ex-vampire blinked, unsure how to respond. He settled for nodding, although Tristan couldn't see him.
"Let's go look for the others," Tristan said suddenly.
Stefan looked him carefully. "Can you move?"
"Yeah. I need to make sure Morris took care of Samar. And besides, that Old One is still out there. It's not over yet," Tristan threw his words back at him with a snort. Stefan smiled faintly.
Tristan struggled to sit up unassisted. Perhaps wisely, Stefan let him try for a moment before moving in to support him.
Helping the vampire stand was awkward going, having to move around his thorny temper. Finally, they were both on their feet, with the Tristan's right arm around Stefan's shoulders.
They had taken two steps in what they felt was the direction Leon and Samar had been, when a movement off to their left made them stop.
Stefan squinted into the half-dark.
The figure moved closer, close enough for Stefan to make out his face. He opened his mouth to fling an accusation, but his vision tumbled into multicolored oblivion.
Leon emerged slowly to consciousness with his mouth fastened to a wrist. The situation was novel enough to jolt him back to full awareness.
He opened his eyes to Samar's frantic, tear-streaked face.
She stared at him.
It took him another moment to realize whose wrist he was sucking on and he let go immediately. "Samar!" he gasped. "Wh-"
"It was all I could think of doing to wake you!" she cried, and collapsed onto his chest, shuddering.
Memory returned even as his hands grasped her shaking shoulders. Horror froze him for a long moment, incapacitating him. He fought it off and urged her to sit up with gentle pressure on her arms. Then, he struggled to rise, wincing as the movement tore open the healing scabs on his back. She helped him but awkwardly, brushing the wounds by accident and making him wince more.
He turned, supporting himself on one hand, to look behind him. It was a futile exercise; nothing of that nightmarish dell could be seen from where he sat.
"The others?" he asked, faintly.
She shook her head, mouth set in a hard line but eyes betraying her anguish.
He shook his head in denial and cast out with his mind. And searched again. And again.
He slumped slightly and Samar, who had been watching him like a hawk, correctly interpreted the sign of defeat and crept close, blindly seeking comfort.
Leon curled an arm around her shoulders. The move pure instinct, unthinking. He was numb.
They had known that they faced a fearsome foe, but had any of them been prepared for it to end like this? No, he thought not.
He didn't know how long they sat there like that, but eventually, as the light of day faded, he shook himself and collected his thoughts.
The Old One was still around. He and Samar were sitting ducks out there. With the others gone, there was no reason to continue this hunt. He had to look to Samar's safety now.
He started to call Jerrick, but was distracted by the sound of someone approaching.
Cued by his sudden stiffening, Samar looked up. She squinted, getting to her feet. "Who's there?" she demanded, voice harsh with tension.
"Stefan." And he came close enough for the vampire to make out his face.
Samar broke into an uncharacteristic shout of joy and ran to him. She grabbed hold of his sweater. "Did you see..." she started to ask breathlessly, trailing off.
"No sign of Makoe, but Tristan..."
Leon held his breath. Tristan had been hurt before the Old One had unleashed the forest on them. Could he have managed to escape, even disadvantaged as he was?
Stefan sighed, making Samar's hands clench harder on his clothes. "He's hurt... but I gave him some blood. He'll be all right."
Samar's hands went limp, resting against Stefan's chest. She bowed her head, but it was in relief, not grief or defeat. Leon heard her mutter, "That idiot." Heard the suppressed emotion behind the reflective insult.
So that left only Makoe unaccounted for. Leon felt his own relief seep in. Of all of them, Makoe was the one he was least worried about. The dark vampire was the strongest member of the hunt.
Samar exhaled loudly. "Okay. So now what do we do?"
"We go on."
Leon's head snapped around, elated.
Makoe joined them in the gathering gloom. He was shirtless, the scars of recent wounds faintly red against his skin.
"The hunt continues."
Leon's happiness ebbed. Go on? After what the Old One had flung at them? Who knew what the immortal would do next?
"Makoe, I don't think-"
The dark vampire lifted his gun and fired. But not at Leon.
Time slowed for the phlegmatic vampire as he turned to look at Samar. No... he wouldn't have... why would he...?
Samar stood stock still, her eyes showing white.
Behind her, Stefan faced Makoe calmly despite the bullet wound in his chest. "Very good."
He blurred, becoming shadowy and indistinct. A specter.
:Samar!: Leon cried warning, lunging to his feet.
She started to turn, movements jerky with shock.
The dark shape threw itself at her, trailing ribbons of blackness, and seemed to sink into her.
The girl's body jerked once as if electrocuted, and her lips parted. Her eyes went wide and vacant.
Leon didn't remember running but he was suddenly in front of Samar, grasping her shoulder and shaking her. "Samar? Samar!"
He reached with his mind but only encountered a barrier like a blank, impenetrable wall. Leon let go, slowly, and stepped back.
The hazel eyes focused on him, then shifted to Makoe. "Come," she said simply and turned.
Leon exchanged a glance with Makoe as the dark vampire drew abreast with him.
:What do we do? We aren't as Powerful as he is. Our weapons are worse than useless. He's taken over Samar and we don't even know if Tristan and Stefan are alive. How are we going to fight him?: Leon's telepathy was not placid now. It was laced with bitterness and clawing fear.
:With our wits,: Makoe said shortly. :If that is not too much to ask.:
:What's the point?:
The cold grey eyes slid towards him. :I understand that your priorities have changed of late, Morris,: he said bitingly. :If the hunt so unimportant to you, think on this instead: What if unmaking the Old One traps Samar in her current condition?:
Leon glared at his hunt-brother. He didn't like to think about it, but that was a possibility, one he had not considered in his frenzy to end this ordeal.
They followed Samar - or the specter controlling Samar's body - wordlessly to where the line of trees fell away and they found themselves at the bottom of a grassy knoll.
A figure, tall and shrouded in green from head to toe, stood waiting on the side of the flat expanse. At his feet, two bodies sprawled, graceless and unconscious. Leon recognized Stefan's sweater and then he realized that the other, blood-covered form was Tristan.
Alarm zinged through him.
:Not yet.: There was no mistaking that crisp reply. The Old One turned his face, hidden in a deep, shadowed hood, towards them.
The fine hairs on Leon's neck prickled at having his thought picked up so easily.
Samar walked on to stand beside and slightly behind the immortal. There was no recognition, nor any other reaction, to her brother's broken and bloody body two feet in front of her.
Leon sensed, or perhaps only imagined, the Old One's awareness circling them like a malevolent bird of prey.
:So, imperfect offspring of my perfect brethren, here we stand, at the end. Now, I will kill you and be free.:
:Are you so certain that killing us will free you? There may be other hunters waiting to take our place,: Makoe responded as coolly as ever.
The mindvoice deepened, pressing on their minds as if testing. :Let us suppose what you say is true. What, then, do you propose, flawed one?:
:We will end this, if you will give us one final trial, and you will release your hold on her.: A tilt of the head indicated Samar.
:You have already shown your capability - or lack thereof.: The mindvoice had sharpened with derision.
Leon felt a mental blow hit him with almost physical force, shoving him back. A second strike danced down his nerves, skimming the borders of pain and robbing him of control over his body.
:Neither of you have enough ability to even tempt me to play your tiresome little game.:
Leon landed on his back, breath knocked out of him and stealing the hiss of pain from landing on his half-healed wounds. His vision greyed momentarily and he blinked away the odd spots of light that danced before his eyes, a sensation reminiscent of when one has blood rush to one's head. Craning his neck, Leon saw Makoe standing with feet spread and body tensed as if resisting a strong wind.
:Power is not only measured in strength. And, tiresome though the game may be, we are the only ones who can end it,: Makoe replied, mindvoice sounding strained.
The attack ceased abruptly. Stillness coiled malevolent around them, like a snake about to strike.
Makoe straightened his shoulders imperceptibly. Leon braced for another attack.
A sudden gust ripped down the knoll, rustling leaves. It tugged at the Old One's robe-
Lifting it completely and tumbling it end over end across the forest floor.
It was empty.
Leon sat up abruptly, watching the robe disappear into the gloom beneath the trees.
:Perhaps not all of you are bereft of wits.:
Leon jumped. Apparently, the Old One's presence required no physical form. Or perhaps he was the wind...
:Very well, vampire. One trial of immortal ability, one chance to test yourselves against me, and it will be of my choosing.:
The air seemed electrified. Leon felt a gathering of Power, like the half-sensed roiling of a storm.
:Let us begin, that we may end,: the Old One intoned, with almost ritualistic formality.
A feminine cry drew Leon's attention.
"Tristan!" Samar was kneeling beside her brother, frantic hands on his shoulders.
Leon scrambled to his feet and went to her.
"What happened? What's going on?" she asked, twisted her head around to look at him as he crouched beside her. "All I remember is Makoe shooting, and then-" her eyes went to Stefan's still form.
"It was the Old One. Or if not, then, one of his creatures," he explained. His eyes shifted to Tristan, taking in the two gaping wounds in his shoulder and hip, and the myriad finer lines lacing his body.
"He alive!" she said exclaimed with obvious relief, one hand moving to the pulse at his neck to reassure herself of her claim.
"Stefan, too," Leon added, making out the faint rise and fall of the ex-vampire's chest. He curled a comforting hand around Samar's shoulders and looked back at Makoe.
The cold vampire had not moved. Following the line of his gaze, Leon watched the line of trees at the spot where that uncanny wind had tossed the green robe into the woods.
In the shadows, shapes moved, half seen. Many shapes. One by one, they coalesced and emerged from beneath the trees and could be identified. They gathered beneath an oak: red foxes, skunks, coyotes, raccoons, badgers. There were elk, with their quiet step and their regal antlers, and shy deer. Birds alighted on the evergreen boughs overhead: a red-tailed hawk stood out among the smaller avian species. A crow appeared with a raucous cry and settled well away from the hawk. It turned its head to rest one gimlet eye on the vampires and humans. Tiny hummingbirds whizzed past overhead. A bear lumbered into view and stood on its hind legs briefly, sniffing the air. It let out a low growl before settling back on all fours. It, too, gaze unerringly at the vampires.
:Can you find me among these?: came the taunt.
Find him? Leon stared, bemused.
Makoe shifted his stance slightly, crossing his arms. His expression was as blank as ever, but Leon suspected that he might be displeased. Or maybe disappointed.
Leon suppressed a sigh. Well, the trial was up to the Old One to decide. They could either forgo it and end the hunt all the more quickly. Then again, finding the Old One would not exactly be a piece of cake.
:We should know better than to expect to find an Old One who is masking his presence.: The cold vampire's comment at the beginning of that hunt echoed ironically in Leon's mind.
Samar, apparently not hearing the Old One, watched the assembled animals with unease.
Leon squeezed her shoulder in reassurance. He felt Makoe's mind sweep forward and added his consciousness to the search. There was a spark, a hint of Power. Leon pursued it but it darted away, like a fish to be hidden among the rest of the school. Tens of minds impinged on him, varying in texture and tone. Lost, the mild vampire shook his head.
:Is this a trick question?: Leon asked Makoe. All the creatures seemed to have that touch of other about them.
:Perhaps.: Not the most reassuring answer.
:You take this challenge; mind games were always your forte, anyway,: Leon told his hunt-mate.
:Fine. Now shut up so I can concentrate.:
Ooh, testy. Leon gave a tight, humourless grin.
With deliberate steps, Makoe drew closer to that eerily quiet gathering. He stopped in front of the red foxes. Seconds ticked by. He reached out, palm down, as one may pat one's dog. His hand hovered in midair, while Leon and Samar watched anxiously.
There was a young fox cub with its tail curled daintily around its legs. It watched Makoe with all the wariness of a wild thing. It shrunk against the vixen as Makoe's hand hovered over it. Makoe bent and lay his palm lightly on its head.
:This one,: Makoe said.
Leon licked his lips and swallowed, his mouth suddenly feeling dry as dust.
All was still for a breathless second. Then, the vixen snarled, showing teeth in curious likeness of a vampire. :Wrong!:
As one, the animals attacked.
Leon was running towards Makoe without being conscious of moving. Only when he put his back to the dark vampire did he realize that Samar had followed him.
:Samar!: he roared in her mind before he caught himself. Rash as her action was, sending her back to Tristan now would probably be more dangerous than keeping her here with him. He pulled out his gun and started shooting, as did Makoe.
Samar drew a knife but refrained from throwing them, slashing instead at the small creatures that hurled themselves at her.
This is crazy, Leon thought, batting aside a hummingbird. The tiny creature zipped past his defensive hand and dove for his face. He grabbed it, desperately, and squeezed. Makoe had caught a coyote and had sunk his fangs into it. Leon looked down as small claws dug into his leg: a skunk.
The vampire kicked away with a strength born of sudden fright.
:We can't keep this up,: he told the others, spotting more birds winging their way towards them.
:No,: Makoe agreed :Nor are we meant to. This is a test of Power.:
:What?: How did this translate to a test of Power?
The bear was lumbering towards them, rearing up on its hind legs. The hawk screamed high overhead.
:I have an idea. I'm going to need all the Power we both have.:
The bear was almost on top of them, and the hawk could be seen plummeting towards them.
Leon let down his mental defenses enough to 'clasp' Makoe's 'hand' and felt the cold darkness of his friend envelop him. Leon felt like a modest stream flowing into a gushing river.
He didn't know what Makoe was doing, but he felt a welling up, a building of some force, half-sensed as if through a paper screen. The bear let out a furious roar, just as Makoe let go.
It was like a bomb had been set off.
It rippled outward in a growing circle. Animals fell and lay still as it swept over them. In the wake of that burst of Power, the world was quiet. Leon found himself also on the ground, collapsed and drained of energy.
He stayed there, grateful for the peace of the moment.
It didn't last long.
With a rumbling felt with no physical sensor, Power crashed over them, twice as strong as what they had released.
Only Makoe's timely instruction allowed Leon to keep from being overwhelmed - and even then, only barely.
"What the hell?" Leon choked out when the wave had passed, not trusting his mindvoice. He felt like he was going to fly apart, brimming with Power and barely able to contain it. It was a precarious sensation, like he could lose control at any moment...
:He turned it back on us.:
:The Power we unleashed. It was turned back on us by the barrier.:
"Leon?" Samar shook his shoulder, scowling down at him anxiously.
He blinked at her, feeling like an owl.
:Wits, have you?:
It was the Old One, taunting them. Leon looked around, distracted.
"Leon? Say something!"
On the floor beside him, furred and feathered forms were stirring fitfully.
Leon tried to form a warning, but his tongue felt too large for his mouth. Well, he had all this Power; maybe he could just blast them again...
"Makoe! The animals! Makoe!"
Leon looked over, distracted again. The dark vampire ignored Samar's shouts. He was staring at the trees. Maybe he was feeling some of what Leon was feeling too. After all, he was the most Powerful member of the hunt. And if Leon had absorbed so much Power - twice as much as he had released - then Makoe must have...
With a flare of red feathers, the hawk took to the air. It circled overhead as the bear lumbered to its feet, swaying unsteadily and looking as drunken as Leon felt. It growled, short little noises, as it continued its interrupted charge - albeit more slowly - towards the vampires.
Leon, with Samar's help, managed to stand. "I'll blast them," Leon told her, almost casually.
Makoe raised his hand, still holding his gun.
"No, Makoe, I'll do it. I'm good for it. I won't even need my gun." Makoe shot.
It was only then that Leon realized that he was aiming for the trees. The phlegmatic vampire started to say that Makoe must be even more off-the-mark than he was, but he didn't get the chance.
The bullet sped towards the oak tree. Just before it embedded itself into the bark, a spectral figure surged out of the trunk and caught the bullet in an outreached hand.
It settled in front of the tree, green robes falling gracefully around it.
Leon blinked and found himself lying on the ground on the other side of the clearing. He rolled over and sat up. A couple of steps in front of him was Makoe, feet spread and right hand aiming the gun unerringly at where the green-shrouded figure stood in front of an oak tree.
Beside the Old One, Samar gave a cry and fell to the ground beside her brother. "Tristan!"
:And so you passed the trial. Are you satisfied?:
Makoe lowered his gun but did not seem inclined to answer immediately.
It had all been an illusion. The animals, the Power bomb and the rebound - none of it had been real.
It had felt real, Leon thought wonderingly. His lips twitched at the memory of himself drunk on Power and he shook himself. Now was not the time to think about that. He hesitated for only a brief second, before going to Samar.
She had Tristan's shoulders in a death grip. "What's going on?" she hissed when he knelt beside her. "I'll tell you later. It's over now," he said. He looked at Tristan. "Is he-"
"Alive!" she said firmly, and for a moment, Leon could have sworn that she almost thumped her brother on the chest just to let him know he had better live up to her claim.
:Satisfied, no.: Leon looked up to see the silent confrontation between the two Powerful beings.
Makoe paused after the bald answer. :But honored all the same, to have had the chance to face you.: He bowed stiffly at the waist.
Elena and Madelene appeared beside them, the blonde girl reaching for Stefan, and the healer bending over Tristan.
Before Leon or Samar could say anything, the Old One asked:It is over, then?:
Makoe seemed to have trouble answering. Finally, he looked away and bit out. :It is.:
The simple pronouncement galvanized the immortal into movement. He lifted his face to the sky, arms outstretched in supplication. His mindvoice was no longer malevolent or sinuous. Instead, it rung with fierce joy. :Elena!:
Beside him, Samar gasped.
The Old One's hood slide off his head, revealing a face they had all come to know well.
Perhaps he lost consciousness, but Stefan rather thought not; he was fully aware of himself, although his senses told him nothing - no sight but darkness, no sound but silence, no sensation of touch at all.
Out of this nothingness, came a sense that belonged to no human. Wordless meaning formed in his mind and his sight was dazzled by a kaleidoscope of shifting images.
:In the beginning, they were seven and they were Power.:
An image came to him; seven bright figures standing in a circle, equidistance from each other.
:A pact was made, such that no outside force could ever weaken their power. It would take one of them to break the pact, a thing that would never happen for they were all selfish beings, jealous in their Power.:
A shining line extended from each of the seven, joining in the middle of the circle like the axes of a wheel. The center pulsed, then exploded into a ball of light. Blank whiteness washed away all images.
Stefan's mind filled with visions of individuals shrouded in Power.
The first was a dark and powerful man. He stood above a battlefield, watching imperiously. A light in his eyes and a faint twist of his lips betrayed his relish at the bloodbath around him.
The second drifted like a ghost, leaving lifeless bodies in its wake. A deep cowl hid his face, but not the liquid grace of his every motion, nor the chilling apathy in the white fingers and the blood-soaked cloak.
The third was the antithesis of the other two and shocked Stefan. He was surrounded by many adoring faces, human and vampiric alike. But what caught Stefan off guard was the seemingly genuine joy and love he exhibited in return.
Stefan expected the scene to change, to show a most heart-rending betrayal. But the silent parade moved on without tragedy.
The fourth was someone he recognized all too easily. Electric blue eyes with that fanatic light in them, crafty smile edged with malice. The man was leaning over a cowering girl. He let out a soundless laugh, looking as if he was enjoying himself immensely.
The image shifted again to a man enthroned in an armchair. The room was luxurious, with all the trappings of great wealth and the power that comes with it. The man's face was in shadow; all that was visible were his eyes - glittering yellow as a tiger's as it sights its prey - and his sculpted lips curled in a cold, cruel smile. There was a blaze of fire, then the scene darkened and died.
The sixth figure was shown in quiet serenity, at odds with all Stefan knew of the Old Ones. This one, too, Stefan could recognize. He sat atop a mountain, wrapped in a slate blue cloth, almost blending into the gray fog that clung to him, save the dark hair that flowed like liquid night down his back. A passing cloud hid the austere figure, then drifted away to reveal a young tree clinging to bare rock where an Old One had sat a moment ago. A dove alighted on the tree's branches as that image too dimmed to darkness.
Stefan waited for the final Old One to be revealed. He wondered about this seventh Power. Why had he betrayed his fellows?
Instead of an image, the Old One seemed to have heard his thoughts. A voice sounded in the nothingness, at once impossibly close and unimaginably far off.
:Mortal, you cannot know. To have your very essence violated, twisted, your every instinct turned against you, inflicting pain. You long for death but it is beyond your reach, bound as you are to a pact of Power that has become a curse. Even vampires have the choice of ending their life in sunlight or by the stake. Not so an Old One. Every moment of your existence wears on you. It drives you mad, drives you to do anything to end it.
:That is how this series of events have come to pass. The downfall of the Brethren. I have been its instrument.:
What happened? Stefan asks silently. Even now, I don't understand.
:You wish my tale?: The mental voice was so weary that hearing it was enough to sap Stefan's strength, but there was impatience there as well.
Yes, Stefan replied simply.
A shadowy figure moved in his mind's eye. The figure was disorienting to see; an Old One's aura of Power encased him, but it was significantly dimmer. Veins of green and brown ran through the blood-red.
:I singled her out for prey, that accursed day. She was a witch, I could tell, but that had never made a difference to me before. Unfortunately, for me, she was a very strong witch. Perhaps the strongest there is and ever was. Strong enough to face me. Strong enough to bind our fates together.: There was a drawn out silence at that point. Finally, the seventh continued his tale.
:I fought. I tried to drain her, but it was like trying to drain myself. I could feel my Power seeping away. I left. Distance did nothing to her curse. Worse, I discovered that I had her gifts, had lost a measure of my own.: The spectral figure seemed to grimace. :Awareness of Nature was acutely uncomfortable, for one who opposes her order.
:I tracked down my little witch, discovered that she now had those abilities I had lost. She claimed that it could not be undone, no matter how I tried to coerce her. I kept a watch over her while I sought a way to reverse the curse. I never managed to, though I tried for years. And then she died.: Another extended pause.
:In the moment of her death, I felt the curse recoil on me. My Power returned, but so did the rest of hers. The curse doubled; my dual awareness cut me both ways. Before, it was merely a disconcerting condition; now, it was implacable conflict locked within me. I sought an end. On the Solstice a year ago, I struck a bargain with Nature; the eradication of all my kind in exchange for my own oblivion.
:Nature chose her envoy; I was told to seek out the returned human Elena. The rest, you know,: the seventh - the last, the only - Old One finished.
:And now, we finish this.:
Stefan tumbled back to awareness of his body. He lay still a moment after opening his eyes, orienting himself. Cool hands touched his shoulders, raising him up; Elena. He smiled into her worried eyes, and she responded with a slight curve of her own lips.
Stefan looked around. They were no longer in that field of spikes, but on a rolling green slope. Beside him, Tristan was unconscious, his wounds still red and angry. Maddy was attending to him. Samar and Leon also knelt beside the vampire, but their attention was captured elsewhere.
Stefan turned his head to see the man with his hands thrown wide and his face to the sky. He felt no surprise at the realization of the Old One's true identity; the knowledge only completed the inkling that had begun yesterday when he had stood embracing Elena in the woods and the mild man they had called a witch came seeking her.
Elena's hands slipped of his shoulders. She cast him one last glance before stepping past him. In that glance, he saw in her expression both trepidation for an unknown future, and relief at finally bringing this to a close.
Jerrick - the Old One - lowered his hands and turned to her.
No further signal was needed.
Their eyes locked fast, Elena stepped forward. "Ohnerast Eilif," she pronounced his Name in a tone both firm as stone, yet forceful as a gale wind. Ohnerast Eilif, the immortal without rest. "E'yem kreesh a'tere."
His expression was dignified and bland, but somehow, Stefan sensed that it was a flimsy façade over desperate need. "N'sa makut nemue d'eth," the lyric phrase flowed from his lips, ending with a sigh. He bowed his head, an incongruously humble image.
Elena stopped just out of arms' length before him and held out a hand to him. "Tana e'yl lyenir. Ethir mot a kish'te." Her voice was surprisingly gentle as she said this.
Stefan wondered what the words meant.
Light began to emanate from the Old One, barely noticeable at first, then growing into an aura. It swathed Ohnerast Eilif, obscuring him from sight. Stefan's now-human eyes watched the dizzying sight of what seemed a whirlwind of light; textured, bright and dark, but all light, ever moving, gaining speed as it spun.
Like a skein of thread being unwound, the whirlwind shrunk as it spun, becoming thinner and thinner, until at least it disappeared altogether, like a wisp of smoke.
Stefan remembered Shiva's unmaking and started towards Elena in concern; there were no Turned with which to disperse the Old One's Power...
He was nearly knocked over by an unseen ripple of Power flowing outward from where Ohnerast Eilif had stood. Following the wave, Stefan was dizzied by the sensation of the ground shifting beneath him. Glancing aside, he knew that Samar and Leon had felt it too.
The leaves rustled in the forest behind them. Stefan thought he heard a woman's sigh , the sound hollow, ghostly.
He blinked once in surprise but the sound was gone. Or perhaps was never there.
Feeling decidedly thrown off balance, he braced himself for any other odd occurrences, but seconds ticked by and there was only stillness.
The tableau was broken when Elena stirred. In the aftermath of the unmaking and the upheavals that followed, she had been sitting quietly on the ground, her legs folded beneath her, with her hands clasped in her lap.
He stumbled to her side, and crouched beside her, taking her hand between his own.
Tristan was conscious, disoriented and disgruntled. Samar's acid remarks did not help his temperament. Leon steered clear of the sibling spat although he held onto Samar's wrist to keep her from going too near her brother.
Maddy had stepped away, her task as healer done and her unruffled composure in tact. Stefan thought he read a hint of sadness in the slump of her shoulders and Stefan wondered if it could possibly be for Jerrick.
Makoe also stood apart, arms crossed and expression more closed than usual. Stefan wondered what had happened after Jerrick had come upon him and Tristan in the dell of spikes.
Elena squeezed his hand, calling his attention to her. She lifted her face to him, eyes shining and moist. "It's done. I'm free. We're free," she whispered, in wonder.
Realization hit him. They were free...
Free to pursue their own life, with no obligations to anyone, any larger cause. They had paid their dues, had bought this freedom with blood and more. A subconscious sense of stasis, of waiting for something to happen suddenly lifted.
His fingers tightened on hers. He lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to the back of her palm. "Ti amo, Elena Gilbert," was all he could say. All there was left to say.
All that needed to be said.
Old Onee's speech translation:
E'yem kreesh a'tere. - Your time has come.
N'sa makut nemue d'eth. - It's a good night to stop.
Tana e'yl lyenir. Ethir mot a kish'te. - Receive your reward. Rest and be at peace.
To: bonbons, msulez
Subject: Yes, I'm still alive...
Date: Sun, 18 Oct 1993 13:01:15 -0800
Dear Bonnie, Meredith,
Yes, I'm still alive...although... it's a really long story. But I'm alive and well and so is Stefan. And that counts for a lot. In fact, that's all that counts.
So what's this long story that's kept me AWOL for the last five months? It's... really too complicated (not to mention crazy and not the kind of thing I like to have down in writing, if you know what I mean?) to explain here.
I have some good news though; Stefan and I should be making a trip down to D.C. next week - I think we need a bit of a change of scene after everything that's been going on the past few months here. Anyway, I'm hoping we can swing by good ol' Virginia (or something) for a night (or more, if at all possible) and we can catch up? I'll explain -- everything then.
I hope the months have been kind to you both. I look forward to seeing you soon.
PS. Stefan proposed! We're getting married in December. You're both invited, of course! Will you be my bridesmaids? We can go shopping for my trousseau when we meet up. And Bonnie, if you think you're excited, imagine how I feel?
This author's note got so long that I decided to put it on my LJ instead to spare those of you who'd rather not hear my introspective ramblings! (If you turn out to be a glutton for punishment, you can skip the rest of this and go straight to the the full author's notes - the link is in my profile since they won't let me post it in the chapter.)
Phew! I made it. I actually, really made it. Well, folks. It's been a long journey. Three years and one month, and 193 000 words! I like to think it was worth it. :o)
Where do we go from here?
1. I'll be posting a gallery of pictures of the characters but not yet. Watch my LiveJournal (see my profile) for news on that or drop me an email/comment with your email address.
2. I've set up a short poll if you'd like to take a couple of minutes to do it. (see my profile)
3. There will be no sequel (and I really hope I don't eat my words). The Vampire Diaries has all the closure I could want and I'm content to leave it at that.
4. There may be a one-shot Damon fic (completely unrelated to Leaf) in the near future. Wish me luck:o)
I want to give lots of thanks to you readers for feedback and support. Especially to Eleia and Kichiko for taking the time to drop me a note, for being supportive and patient. And thank you, everyone who has EVER dropped me a comment / email. It is much appreciated and cherished!
I still welcome comments and feedback of any sort, even though it's the last chapter. I still like to hear from y'all, even questions, if there are any (like you don't get/agree with the ending, for instance.)
Thanks for reading!