Don't own the characters. Never will. Everything else is of my own creation.




Part I


Caroline hears her mother's shrieks for mercy long before the door bursts open and the Collectors' frames fill the doorway. They are dressed casually, easily forgettable except for the distinguishing red arm bands that encircle their upper left arms; a telling black crow is stitched perfectly on the outward turned end of each band, marking them for what they are.

Dread pools in the pit of her stomach—she has been found out.

The first of the two Collectors' steps forward. He's a handsome man with gentle eyes and an easy aura. "Lady Forbes?" he inquires, his voice is oddly soothing for someone who's here to take her away from everything she has ever loved.

"Please," Caroline begins, finding her courage suddenly, "Lady Forbes is my mother. Miss Forbes will do just fine," she finishes, thankful when her voice doesn't tremble.

As if on cue, her mother enters the house, fear etched into her brow. "No—please—don't take my baby—she, she's all I have!"

The other Collector grabs her mother harshly by the shoulder, preventing her from advancing further. "This doesn't concern you Elizabeth Forbes," the second Collector says, tone apathetic, cold and increasingly unnerving.

Caroline swallows the lump in her throat and holds her mother's gaze. "It's okay, Mama. It'll be okay."

"Miss Forbes," the Collector closest to her says, "there have been whispers that you may possess magic." He pauses, brown eyes locking with hers. She sees sympathy in their depths; almost as if he wishes he were wrong and that the whispers were just idle gossip.


"It would be unwise to lie to us, Caroline," the Collector at the door says, smirking. Caroline frowns at his blatant use of her Christian name.

She glares openly.

"Stefan," the first Collector says suddenly, "Stefan Salvatore." He extends his hand in greeting; she simply stares at his up turned palm and makes no attempt to grab it. His smile falters. "And this," he gestures to the Collector standing in the doorway, holding her mother with an iron grip, "is my brother Damon. We mean you no harm."

Damon rolls his eyes and slumps against the doorframe. "Could you hurry this along Stefan? I haven't got all day."

Stefan holds Caroline's gaze. "It's rumored you possess light magic—which is very rare. Is there any truth to it?"

Caroline stares at him for a long while and then, without a word, holds out her hand, palm up. A small orb of light forms there, swirling brightly and filling with an assortment of colors. It is bright and beautiful and she thinks it ironic that it symbolizes her undoing.

Damon whistles. "I'll be damned."

Stefan frowns. "I see," he says quietly. He looks to Caroline and his eyes have gone hard, detached. "I assume you will come willingly?"

Caroline looks to her mother. "She will be unharmed?"

"Of course."

"You give me your word?"

Stefan's gaze never wavers. "I give you my word."

He takes her by the arm then and leads her out of the house. Caroline cannot muster the courage to look at her mother as she walks away. She only looks forward—her life will never be the same. She will be taken to a secure location where the full extent of her powers will be evaluated before she's to be auctioned off and wed to the highest bidder.

After all, magic can only be passed down the bloodline by the mother; no matter how powerful the father might be. This has led the government to take extraordinary measures in keeping the elite and wealthy happy. The lower class is cattle to be culled; their wishes hardly matter.

The carriage sits idly at the edge of the cobblestone road. As Caroline walks towards it, Stefan opens the carriage door and allows Caroline to step up and inside quickly, the door latching shut behind her. Only once inside does she see her; there is a woman sitting opposite of her and she is beautiful in every sense of the word. Her hair is long and chestnut colored, the perfect tone to compliment her soulful eyes; even if they are somber in resignation.

She smiles tiredly at Caroline. "Elena," she greets.

Caroline attempts to smile back, but fails. "Caroline," she whispers, her own name almost getting caught in her throat.

Elena reaches forward and clasps Caroline's hand in hers. "We are stronger than this," she says with such conviction Caroline wants to believe her. "We will be okay."

"We will be okay," Caroline repeats, squeezing Elena's hand in return.

She keeps Elena's hand in hers for just a moment longer before she pulls away. The carriage starts to move with a lurch and she knows they are well on their way. She takes the time to wonder how this came to be. She had been quiet about her powers since the moment they manifested two years ago. The only person besides her mother she had dared to tell was Matt.

Surely Matt had not betrayed her?

"Caroline," Elena says, breaking through her depressing thoughts. "It will do you no good to think of such sad things."

Caroline blinks, clearly startled. "How…?"

"You have a beautiful soul—and a strong one; therefore your emotions are more heightened to me than most." Elena sighs softly. "My magic is the gift to feel what others feel. And in return, I can give freely happiness and joy to anyone I wish, except myself. It is more of a curse than anything, really."

"Oh," Caroline breathes. She sees the sadness in Elena's eyes then—the utter loneliness. And she wants to make it better. She wants to make this sad, lonely girl who is so much like herself, smile. "Your magic isn't a curse," she says before she can stop herself, "it's compassion beyond what anyone could ever hope to imitate. Surely you are an extraordinary person to be able to handle such a thing."

Elena blushes and shakes her head. "Even kind people have evil thoughts," she says lightly but a ghost of a real smile dances on the edge of her lips. "But thank you, Caroline."

Caroline smiles then, too. A real smile. "Watch!"

Eagerly, Caroline holds out both of her hands, palms up. Two orbs, one pink and the other green appear over each of her hands, slowly breathing life into small figures. She hums a low, soft tune and the two figures of light begin to dance, swirling about each other before being absorbed into one bright, beautiful light and fading.

"Your magic is light," Elena exhales, "how beautiful."

She smiles.

The rest of the carriage ride is spent in companionable silence.




The boarding house is huge—by far the fanciest and most expansive building she has ever entered. Paintings hang high on the foyer walls and the stairwell leading to the second floor has exquisitely carved banisters. At her side, Elena looks equally impressed.

"Miss Forbes? Lady Gilbert?"

Stefan's voice jars her slightly.


Her life is no longer her own.

It's Elena who speaks in a tone that is unusually cold. "Yes, Lord Salvatore?"

Caroline almost misses it, the way Stefan winces at the use of his proper title. She looks to Elena in wonder, but her peer is looking forward now, face set in stony determination.

"Lady Bennett will see the both of you," he says. "She will assess your abilities and your marital worth. After which, you will be escorted to your chambers. You are the last two to arrive in time for the Spring Ball."

"Ball?" Caroline asks. She hopes her girlish excitement isn't shining through. She has always wanted to attend a ball—and, well, if she has to spend the rest of her life married to a man she doesn't love she might as well have a little fun.

Stefan smiles fondly at her. "It is to show you off your potential. Many prominent men will be present."

"And when will we be sold off like cattle?" Elena snaps suddenly, words stinging like acid.

Stefan's features darken. "The bidding takes place at Midnight."

Caroline bites her lip. The tension between the two of them is thick enough to cut with a dagger.

She thanks the heavens when Damon rounds the corner and scowls at them. "What are they still doing here?" He asks, quirking a brow. At Stefan's silence, he sighs. "Well, since you're too busy brooding, brother, I'll just have to take them myself." He smirks at Elena and Caroline. "Ladies?"

Elena starts after him without much prompting and Caroline follows suit.

Damon leads them through a maze of hallways, each one more beautiful than the last. After walking for what feels like a century they finally stop in front of a large mahogany door. Damon straightens himself and plasters on the silliest smile Caroline thinks she has ever seen. He lifts his arm to knock, but the door creaks open before he can.

"Come in," a voice calls.

As they enter, Caroline spots her almost immediately. The woman before them is exotic in her beauty, cinnamon colored skin and hair tinted the color of coffee. The room smells of spring and daises and sunlight. At once, Caroline feels at home. She sees Elena visibly relax as well.

The woman fixes her gaze on them; it is expectantly warm. "Caroline, Elena," she greets. "Please, have a seat." She gestures to two embroidered chairs placed at the center of the room. "I am Lady Bennett, Bonnie, if you prefer." She smiles, grabbing a tea pot off the table positioned in front of the chairs. She pours two cups and sets them across from each chair.

Both girls slide into the chairs, eagerly helping themselves to the refreshments.

"Odd," Bonnie murmurs as she turns to face Damon with a knowing glint in her eye. "I was expecting three."

All of a sudden, Damon's face sours.

Bonnie laughs. "Don't be so hard on yourself. Katherine is a slippery one."

Elena gasps, dropping her teacup in shock.

Damon looks too her, his eyes narrowing. He opens his mouth to say something, but Bonnie cuts him off. "I think it's time you leave, Damon," Bonnie says, her smile thin and meaningful.

"Whatever you say, witch." And then he is gone. The door shuts with a slam.

Bonnie waits a beat, eyes narrowing. When she turns to face them, her attention is on Elena, not Caroline. "It was foolish to sacrifice yourself for such a selfish sister." Her features soften. "But rest assured, I have no intention of aiding in her capture." She takes a sip of her tea and grins as she sets her teacup back down. "Though your inner strength will serve you well."

Elena's shoulders relax only slightly.

"But you, Caroline, you will need to be careful."

"What?" Caroline's heart quickens.

"You have the power of light; the ability to bring it to places where it has never been before. But it's not just your magic that is full of light, it is your whole existence. You could melt the coldest of hearts, if you so choose. However, there are those who would hate you for bringing the light where it does not belong. So you must be careful."

Caroline blushes. "Why are you telling us this?"

"Because," Bonnie begins, taking a seat opposite of them, "I am a witch. My magic is a virtue of mother earth—yet I need assistance. Spells and brews to help me to my goals. It's my job to protect precious beings such as yourselves. You are pure magic—you just feel and want and urge and the magic comes to you. There are people—creatures—out there that mean you harm."

"Creatures?" Caroline prods curiously.

"Vampires," Elena supplies.

Bonnie takes a sip of her tea. "Apparently, your blood is quite… addicting."

Caroline pales. "But… I thought vampires were just a myth."

"Myths often originate from truth," Bonnie muses as she bends slightly to dig into a small pouch on her hip. "You both need be careful of what men take an interest in you at the Spring Ball."

She pulls out a bracelet and necklace "Wear these. They are made with vervain—it will protect you from compulsion, but will do little else."

Caroline gladly takes the bracelet and slips it on over her wrist. She stares at if a moment. "Thank you…," she whispers.

Elena just as eagerly slips the necklace around her neck.

"You two shall always have a friend in me," Bonnie whispers as she reaches forward to clasp both of their hands in hers.

"And you in us," Elena replies.

"Now," Bonnie stands, "I shall lead you to your chambers. You will be dressed tomorrow morning and briefed over proper etiquette. I wish you both the best of luck."

Caroline stands, Elena at her side. They both follow Bonnie out of the room and to their respective chambers.

Neither manage to sleep a wink.




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