Après moi, le deluge
Be afraid of the cold, they'll inherit your blood
It had been two days since Caroline and Elena had come back from the Witch's cottage only to be greeted by a small crowd of a few of their neighbors and the head Council members. They had been there only to whisk Elena away into the Council building leaving Caroline alone with the basket and her mother.
"Go straight home," her mother had told her not even making eye contact. She was focused on the leaving crowd. "Speak of what you just saw to no one."
There was no need for the warning. Caroline had no idea what she had just witnessed. What's more, no one ever thought to ask Caroline for information of the Council's actions despite her mother's position in it. She assumed blissful ignorance. Besides that cryptic warning Elizabeth failed to tell Caroline to wash up or eat dinner once she got home. Again there was no need. Caroline already knew the drill. It wouldn't be the first time she would eat a cold dinner of stale bread and cheese alone in their kitchen. Many a night Caroline had fallen asleep to an empty house. Elizabeth had not even said goodbye before she turned curtly to follow the rest of the Council members to the main building.
Caroline had not seen Elena since but she understood why. Apparently the reason the Council had taken Elena that day was to inform her that her Aunt Jenna had come to the village. Jenna was Miranda Gilbert's sister and there had always been talk of her coming to the village to take custody of the Gilbert sibling but for some reason or another the idea had never come to fruition until recently. Caroline was happy for her friend. With Matt by her side and her Aunt Jenna taking over the household duties, Elena's life was falling into place again.
There had been one other command her mother had given her though it did not come until the next morning. Elizabeth had arrived home the morning after their return just in time to see Caroline preparing hot oatmeal for breakfast. It was the only thing they had in the house.
"You are not to leave the village again," Elizabeth said startling her daughter enough to make her drop her bowl and the ladle, "no one will be leaving the village for a while."
Caroline hadn't seen or heard her come in. The bowl remained intact unfortunately the ladle had met a far more inconvenient fate.
"But what about the basket for the witches, who will take it?" she replied grimacing at the pot of bubbling oats.
The ladle had slipped below the lip of the pot and had begun to skin into the thick hot substance and now Caroline was faced with the task of fishing it out. Over the last few years Caroline's mother had more than once commanded her not to leave the village and at times it had kept her from accompanying Elena on her trip to the Witch's cottage. Of course Caroline had been disgruntled about her inability to accompany Elena if only because she wanted to escape the boredom of the village. However she had learned to simply wait out whatever paranoia had taken over the council and by association of her mother as well. That was for the best.
"That was never your responsibility," Elizabeth said as she moved into the only other room in the house, a medium square space that held their personal items and beds.
"Well when can I leave again?" She said trying to work out a way to retrieve the ladle with out burning herself. "The Witch was going to show me how to make an all purpose balm for cuts and stuff."
Elizabeth never responded. As Caroline began to fish the ladle out with two spoons she heard the front door slam. Elizabeth was gone again.
She should have expected that. Elizabeth never really ever took much interest in Caroline's hobbies or Caroline for that matter. It was to be expected. After Bill had left there were certain responsibilities left unmanned and Elizabeth, though she wasn't expected to, stepped up. As a result she had very little time to spare her daughter's fancies.
Family dynamics aside, the fact remained that Caroline was not to visit the witches again until further notice. Of course Caroline was not happy with the situation if only because of the boredom that she would have to endure. Caroline's responsibilities in the village were few. By the time she was twelve everyone had realized that at the practical things she was useless. She was a pretty thing to be sure and entertaining too but it was the general consensus that Caroline spent far too much time with her head in the clouds. Too often while she was supposed to be helping in the stables or taking part in the harvest had Caroline been caught daydreaming or wandering off. Eventually people just learned to leave her to her own devices.
And that is how two long days after her last visit to the Witch's cottage, Caroline found herself sitting alone at the well that sat in the far Eastern corner of the village. The Eastern Well was a relic from the days before the Path and had only been put into the boundary line for its sentimental value. People hardly ever used it for water. Though Caroline knew for a fact that Brandon Harris and Penelope Moore used it on Sunday nights for less than holy purposes. She steered clear of the place on Sunday. The Eastern Well was ideal for less than noble dealings. It could not even be seen from the village as it sat on the bottom of a dirt slope surrounded by pine. A perfect hiding place for a young girl to brood over the events (in Caroline's case, the lack thereof) of her life.
Midday had yet to pass and Caroline sighed. Time had a cruel way of changing its pace when it was most inconvenient. It could move so quickly when she was dancing and twirling in the sun, in the grass out in front of the Witch's cottage. Time could dart forward and away from her grasp like grasshoppers from leaf to leaf until all she was left with were a few sparse seconds to bid farewell to such pleasurable moments that would turn to nostalgic memory. Time, however, could also move at a snail's pace.
She didn't know why she even came to Eastern Well. All there was to do was to stare at Village boundary line and brood. She felt like the great thinkers and philosophers that the Witch had spoken of in her stories and lessons. But those men and women were patrons of great cities of great civilizations. Caroline was only a girl in a village in the middle of a forest that no one gave two wits about. Besides those intellectuals were only ever met with tragedy. Alchemists lost their homes and families for the sake of science. Poets fell down into ruin. For all their admirable minds and invaluable contributions to thought, they could not figure out a way to avoid their tragic fates.
Another sigh escaped her lips. She was waiting, perhaps for some prince or a great traveler of the world who could whisk her away. She glanced up into the trees ahead and she could have sworn she saw something move amongst the underbrush and pine. There was bright flash. From the corner of her eye she saw it dart to the left. Her heart skipped a beat. All her concentration was on that spot just waiting, waiting for something to happen, anything at all. Caroline just wanted something to happen.
"You're looking pretty lonely all the way out here," came voice from behind her and her concentration was snapped in two.
Again she sighed. It was that sort of day. She knew who it was. Even after three years of ignoring each other and the trials of puberty and teen angst, Caroline could recognize her childhood friend's voice even as the first syllable were only just passing through his lips. Sure enough after a few seconds, the figure of Tyler Lockwood entered her peripheral vision. Though she did not offer him a seat he took one anyway besides her on the lip of the well.
"Yeah that seems to be my middle name these days," Caroline responded not at all concerned with just how bitter she sounded.
She heard Tyler scoff at her remark. He used to answer her bitter words with comfort and understanding. There was once fondness between them, genuine affection. It seemed to have been replaced with irritation and intolerance.
"You wear it well," he replied fiddling with a piece of grass he plucked from the weeds that grew around the stone well. "I hear the other boys talk. They think you're mysterious. I, of course, know better."
It was Caroline's turn to scoff.
"And what would you know about me, Tyler Lockwood?" She stood up from her seat on the lip of the well. "If I recall correctly you and I have barely exchanged more than the bare pleasantries these past three years."
Caroline was not at all in the mood to deal with his insufferable attitude. Rising from her seat on the lip of the well, she placed her hands on her hips and turned her back to the wood. The glare she fixed the young Lockwood would have killed him if such things were possible. It nearly rivaled her mother's. Her cheeks had already grown red with anger, a curse of her fair skin.
"Maybe so but I still remember the airheaded, shallow little girl you were. Too caught up in your stories and fairytales to notice a thing. Not even three years could not make a dent in such idiocy."
Caroline's eyes went as big as saucers. She wanted to strangle the asshole. In an instant her hand was drawn back and folded into a fist. She swung at him as hard as she could, aiming for his cheek. Caroline had never been one for fights but her vision was perfect. Her aim was true but Tyler was faster.
She had expected Tyler to catch her wrist. He was a young man much faster and stronger than she would ever be. However she did not expect him to spin her around push her up against the sharp corner of the lip of the well. It all happened so fast that she did not even have time to scream. Instead her terror dribbled out of the corner of her mouth as a sound caught between a gasp and a squeal. The sharp gray stones of the ledge of the well opening cut into her back as she kicked her legs trying desperately to place them against something solid.
The well to her back yawned open widely. A sound like a moan rose up from the dark hole as though a beast lived below waiting to swallow her whole. She chanced a glance backward. An endless abyss glared back at her and she almost swallowed her own tongue from the terror that overtook her. In the sunlight she saw a spark of the water's surface down below but the shadow of the well swallowed the spark whole leaving nothing but blackness again. She would have fallen in head first and broken her neck if it had not been for Tyler's hands gripping tightly her delicate wrists.
"Let me up," she whispered her breathing faint with fear. "Let me UP."
When he made no move to set her free, Caroline screeched. Her arms went wild. She twisted her body around like a mad woman. For all her struggling she only managed to push herself further into the well. She jerked when she felt her head dip down below the lip of the well.
"LET ME UP!" She screamed at him so scared that she could not control the cracking of her voice.
Her legs kicked at the open air. Then she screamed and then again and again. The sound was almost unnaturally loud and shrill. That snapped Tyler out of his trance. He pulled her back from the mouth of the well so fast that her head snapped forward causing her jaw to clamp down. The sharp edge of her teeth caught her lip and broke the soft skin there.
As soon as her feet touched the ground she swung at him. When she was completely free of his grasp she ran around to the other side of the well. The copper taste of blood filled her mouth and she wiped at the red running down her chin. Even with the well between them Caroline did not feel safe.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she screamed a bit of spit and blood flew from her mouth. Caroline quickly wiped at her mouth again. "Have you lost your mind? I should strangle you for that."
Tyler was still for a moment. He stared into the darkness of the well. His breathing was labored though he was not the one whose life was just in danger. A smirk formed on his face he fancied he could see its reflection down in the water below but there was only darkness down there, only the abyss. Caroline backed away further ready to make a run for it.
"Come on, Caroline don't be such a stick in the mud," he said putting his hands up, the universal sign of peace but there was no tranquility in his gaze. There was madness; there was murder. "We used to play games like that all the time when we were kids."
Caroline shook her head backing away.
"Never like that, Tyler. It was never like that."
She felt the overwhelming need to run but he would catch her. Faster, stronger, her only hope was to back away slowly. Then it occurred to Caroline that this was Tyler Lockwood. He was not some stranger in the wood or some mystical beast stalking the nights of the full moon. She'd known him her whole life. He used to be her friend.
He may have finally noticed just how terrified Caroline was because his smirk melted away. He dropped his hands and frowned. A look of confusion crowded over his features like he had only just realized that he could have killed her. Then he sighed. It was that sort of day.
"You're welcome to try, strangling me that is," he said circling around the well so that he was standing just a little ways before her, "but I think you'll find that I'm harder to kill than you'd guess."
Each time he got closer Caroline backed away.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean you-you cow-headed asshole!"
Tyler doubled over with laughter. Caroline backed away further so that she was already half way up the hill that would lead up the village. When he suddenly straightened back up Caroline was about to make a run for it but she saw his expression. He looked like Tyler again. He looked like her friend.
"Nothing, nothing at all. I didn't come here to make mortal enemies of us."
"No," he said turning away to laugh again but regained his composure quickly, "your mother asked me to come get you. There's a going to be a village meeting at midday. Everyone's required to come."
Caroline looked him over. With his dark cheeks flushed and eyes watering he looked like the Tyler she used to know. She nodded. Satisfied with her answer Tyler returned her nod and began to leave. Caroline edged away from him as he passed by her on his way back to the village.
"What happened to us, Tyler?" she asked her arms wrapped around her middle. "We used to be friends."
Tyler did not turn to face her. He couldn't bring himself to do so because he knew the sight that would be waiting for him. Caroline, with her yellow hair and blue eyes demanding the truth, he never learned to lie to her face. He didn't want her to know that he was just as confused, just as surprised by the state of their relationship if it could be called that anymore.
"Time, Caroline," he replied, "it's just time. Changes us all. You shouldn't be out here on your own. Tonight's the full moon."
And with that he continued on towards the village.
Caroline hated the tone he took as if he was so much smarter than her, so much better. Tyler was barely a year older than Caroline and yet he had the nerve to talk like he'd seen so much. She wanted to tell him to shut his mouth. Time doesn't change what they had. They made promises and vows of friendship, of loyalty. Maybe they were just children back then, naïve and too young to understand the way the world worked, but Caroline still honored those vows. Perhaps that meant Caroline was still a child herself but she'd rather be that than whatever Tyler had become.
As he walked away she kept her eyes trained on his retreating back. She didn't trust him. When he was gone from her sight she went back to the well. It was still morning. Midday had yet to pass. She would head back in an hour or so but until then she would wait. Perhaps a prince would save her, a beautiful man with sunlight caught in his hair and the sea in his eyes. She would wait.
Village Meetings were a rare event. They were never about good things. Always the Council called Village Meetings in the face of a great tragedy or great terror. There was never good news when it came to Village Meeting. In fact Caroline could safely say that nobody liked them except for maybe the head of the Council, Richard Lockwood. He was the sort of man who liked to exert his power and enjoyed sound of his own voice even if he was announcing their doom. But mostly everyone hated Village Meetings.
The Main Hall was the largest structure by far amongst the cluster of houses and buildings. It was a long building with a pointed roof and was mostly empty inside. Sitting at alone at the Eastern side of the village it loomed over all who passed in front of its steps. It had been erected maybe twenty years back before Caroline was even born but it had held sturdy through those two decades. Unlike the houses that were much shorter and either made from carefully laid stone or clay the Main Building was tall and made of wood from the forest beyond the village borders. At one end of the interior was a platform that was raised a few feet from the ground that spanned all the way across the width of the building.
It was there that Richard Lockwood took his place before the crowd. On either side of him was a large men, Council members no doubt. They stood with their back straight hands at their sides. On their left hips they wore a wood baton. Village Meetings because of their upsetting nature could at times get unruly.
"Thank you all for coming," Lockwood said, "as I'm sure you all have figured out this meeting was called to discuss a very serious matter."
Caroline kept near to the back of the crowd. Mostly likely they were heading towards the front their father and husband. Standing on her tippy-toes she scanned the crowd as best as she could for Elena. The two girls often rode out Village Meetings together being that both of them were alone. She spotted her friend further up front. Caroline as about to call to her but stopped. Standing on either side of her was Jenna and Elena's brother, Jeremy. Just a little ways off to the right stood Matt. Every so often she saw the blond youth steal a glance left. They looked like a family.
"You should start wearing a cloak."
A heavy hand fell upon her shoulder. She looked up and found none other than Mason Lockwood. Immediately Caroline wrinkled her nose at the sight. An attribute to her youth, Caroline needed someone to blame for all the hell she and Elena had been put through the past three years. Their lives had been perfectly normal before he arrived in the village. After that everything went wrong. Glancing down at his hand upon her shoulder, Caroline's upper lip twitched. He didn't seem to notice her abhorrence at his touch.
"Winter is close and it gets colder at night," he said smiling kindly.
Caroline did not return his smile and shrugged his hand off.
I'll try to remember that," she said crossing her arms over her chest, "thank you for your concern."
There was no logical reason for Caroline to hate Mason Lockwood. He hadn't told Tyler to stop talking to her. Mason did not tear Grayson Gilbert to shreds in the middle of the forest. In fact Mason wasn't even there when the dragged Grayson's body back. Caroline moved through crowd to get a better view of the platform.
The Lockwood family had always had a strange hold over the people of the village. Always they produced the strongest boys and the most vicious and confident girls. They exuded a certain air of power. Such endowment and fortune attracted people to them. It was because of this magnetism that the Lockwood family had headed the village Council for generations. They had power and Richard Lockwood wielded that power to his advantage.
He looked out over the crowd. Over a hundred people were waiting for him to speak. He smiled widely being sure to show his straight clean teeth. Caroline was immediately reminded of another smile, another man waiting for in the forest. She thought of hair flashing gold in the mid morning light and pink lips of sin. She realized that this was the smile of a man who knew he would win.
"I propose we absolve the alliance our village has with the witches."
Shit hit the fan. In an instant people began to shout protests. A few even spouted curse words. Mothers covered their children's ears and the older people just shook their heads.
"Have you lost your mind, Lockwood?" called a large man from the crowd his deep voice breaking from the crowd. "We've kept alliance with the witches since before this village was little more than a few clay huts baking in the sun!"
He was a man called Jonathan Baker. His family had not been one of the founding families but Baker was still an old name amongst the people. There seemed to be some support for his statement. A few people echoed his sentiment. Caroline saw Richard's eyes flash dangerously she felt sick at the sight. It was the same look Tyler had given her just hours before.
Richard put his hands up asking for the people to quiet. There was no silence at his gesture. Standing stiffly in the corner to Lockwood's left Elizabeth noticed the crowd growing restless. The guards glanced over at her but she only shook her head. She was more than capable of dealing with this. More and more people began to shout not only at Richard but at each other as well. Though no one had yet to get physical it was the beginnings of a riot. Stone faced as always, Elizabeth took action.
"Quiet!" Elizabeth shouted but the people paid no attention.
Her eyes narrowed at the continued chaos. She walked over to one of the guards and grabbed his baton. Rising the baton high above her head, Elizabeth brought it down as hard a she could upon the platform. Three times she struck the platform causing three loud booms to follow. The people hushed. The look on her face made it very clear that the next person to step out of line would regret it. No one could deny that Elizabeth was a fearful woman. She had survived utter humiliation at abandonment of her husband. She had supported and raised her daughter on her own and had eventually become a major power holder in the village. Not even Carol Lockwood, Richard's wife, had the sway that Elizabeth had on the people. As for Caroline she was just happy to see her mother. Elizabeth had not returned home since yesterday. Once there was complete silence, Elizabeth looked to Richard. He nodded curtly in thanks.
"For three years we have been terrorized by a monster of the forest and for three years they have stayed their hand. Over and over again the Council and I have asked them for their aid but they continue to refuse."
Richard continued his speech. The faces of the people turned grim. If the witches had abandoned them then there would be no hope.
"But people do not despair. This is the beginning of a new era. Time changes all things and we can no longer wait idly for the witches to save us. We owe them nothing. We must move forward."
A look around told Caroline that a few people were beginning to see Richard's point but of course Jonathan had to speak his opinion.
"Why is a rabid animal any business of the witch's," Jonathan Baker was the first to speak again, "why have you and your men not killed the damned thing already? Why should we break an alliance generations old because you can't do your job?"
A few other men shouted in agreement but a glare from Elizabeth silenced them. There would not be another uprising. Richard shot her a glance and between them they agreed. It was time to tell the people the truth or at least the Council-approved version of the truth.
"Friends and Neighbors," he said not even bothering to acknowledge Baker's comment, "I think it is time that we come to terms with the fact that it is no natural thing that terrorizes us."
"What are ya suggesting?" Jonathan Baker replied suddenly convinced he was the village voice, "it is some spectre? Do you really expect us to believe such horseshit? It has been over a hundred years since we've even spoken of such things. Fairytales and witches are who have the power in the forest to make enemies of them would be foolish."
Jonathan may have had a point there but as soon as he had made light of the danger of the forest he had lost his support. His personal opinion had proved to be an unpopular one and had been the cause of his downfall. Of course they believed in spectres and demons and monsters. The people of Path knew monsters existed. In the shade of the pine or in the shadow cast by the full moon, evil was a perquisite to life.
"It is not a spectre that terrorizes us," Richard said.
"Then give us a name, a face for the terror that haunts us."
The corner of Richard's mouth twitched as he repressed a smile. He could tell Jonathan was losing his nerve. He looked out at the people, his people and knew that they too were being swayed to his cause.
Caroline's eyes were on Elena. The girl had lost the most of all of them to the beast. Surely she deserved a name. Elena already knew it, the Witch had made sure of that but she deserved to have it spoken aloud. She deserved that at least.
"We do not wish to make enemies of our former allies only to break ties with dead weight. I assure you that there are spectres and ghouls that haunt the night. We have know this all along," he said, "however we are not haunted, we have been under attack for three years. If it is a name you want. I will give it to you."
His words had drawn Caroline's attention and she looked away from her friend. Everyone held the same breath. Even Caroline bit the inside of her cheek. Then a soft warmth fell over Caroline's hand. She looked and found Elena standing besides her. Elena's eyes were wide and focused straight ahead, her expression as placid and unreadable as ever.
Immediately the people of the village were in an uproar. From besides her she heard a woman break out into tears. Some had outright left the building pulling their children along behind them, muttering curses or denial. But in all the commotion Caroline's gaze never strayed from Elena.
That night, darkness came into the village like a thief. It crawled up and over the roots of the trees and sank its teeth into the sky. Great clouds obscured any light from the stars from cutting through the darkness and shining down upon the people of this little village. Like castaways in a sea of trees filled with monsters too horrible to dream of, the people of the village crawled into their beds. They curled up around their loved ones and prayed.
Caroline, however, was not in bed. She had no one to curl around or with. She did not pray. The fire before her burned brightly cutting shapes across the room. She pulled her legs up and pressed her knees into her chest. There was only one good chair in the Forbes household. It had belonged to her father before he left. Her mother would not even look at it so the large cushioned chair fell to Caroline.
"Once upon a time there was a small fire," she said reciting from memory a story the Witch had taught her, "barely greater than a single flame. This fire fell in love with a woman from the sea for fire back in those days had hearts and dreams just as we do. They did however still lack limbs."
She was afraid. Of course she was as all children are in the nighttime. Even beneath her thick wool blanket with the fire breathing warmth upon her face Caroline shivered. Falling asleep alone was not a novel occurrence for Caroline especially on a full moon. In the last three years it had become routine for the Council members to hold a meeting on the night of the full moon. Elizabeth, being one of the highest-ranking Council members, was required to attend. More often than not Elizabeth would come home in the morning to find her daughter strewn out across her father's green felt chair, hair a mess and sleeping like the dead.
"But fire dances not at all like the sea and burn very differently," Caroline mumbled her eyes growing heavy. "They cannot hug and what is love without the pressing of lovers' lips in the pale moonlight?"
Her vision went in and out. Sometimes the fire before her took on a face and nose and mouth. She could see the lady from the sea, her hair white like sea foam and limbs moving fluid through the air. Then the stone fireplace and dark walls of the Forbes house would appear again. There was no magic fire or sea woman. Again Caroline picked up the story her own words nudging her gently to sleep and they would have if not for a sudden know upon the window.
tap tap tap
It was the sound of thin knuckles upon glass. Startled from her place between dreams and the waking world Caroline stood up from her chair. She glanced around and nearly had a heart attack when she saw a dark face at her window. Two hands clapped over her mouth as she swallowed her scream. It was Bonnie.
"What the hell are you doing out there?" Caroline said.
In the dim light Caroline could not see the way Bonnie rolled her eyes. The Witch's apprentice could not hear a word Caroline was saying and yet the blond girl continued to babble. The look on her face told Bonnie that Caroline was less than pleased at her sudden arrival.
"Are you crazy?" Caroline ranted on, "Do you know what tonight it is? How much trouble I'd be in if anyone sa- how much trouble you'd be in –"
TAP TAP TAP
The sound of Bonnie rapping loudly upon her window cut short Caroline's raving. Caroline was about to yell at Bonnie for interrupting her when she noticed the apprentice pointing to the right. It took her only a moment to realize that Bonnie was asking to be let in. How strange it was that she did not simply knock upon the door like any other person. Caroline could only assume that witches had their own ways and reasons well enough for them.
Bonnie disappeared from the window and Caroline made her way to the door. Sure enough as soon as she had opened the door Caroline stood face to face with the Witch's apprentice. Being a well-mannered young girl, Caroline began to invite her friend in but stopped abruptly biting down on her syllables. She took a step back from the threshold and motioned for her to cross. Bonnie smiled.
"You're a lot smarter than anyone gives you credit for," she said as she stepped over the threshold easily. Caroline scoffed.
"I'll take that as a compliment."
Bonnie removed her dark cloak putting it neatly on the rack besides the door. Now that her cloak was off Caroline could see that Bonnie had been carrying on her person a small pouch. It was just as dark as Bonnie's robes but there seemed to be an iridescent quality to it. The light from the fire ran through the dark fabric making blue, purple and red dance upon it.
"What are you doing out here this late at night and on full moon?" Caroline hissed, "do you know how dangerous that is? You – you could have been –"
Bonnie silenced her with the wave of her hand very much like the Witch. She searched for the table and placed her bag upon it. Now fully in the light Caroline could see that the pouch was not iridescent at all. It seemed the quality was only a figure of her imagination. Caroline frowned.
"Don't worry," Bonnie said shaking Caroline from her confusion of the qualities of the pouch, "it may be dark but it is yet moonrise."
"Don't cut me off," Caroline said pouting like a child.
"Oh enough, it isn't me you should worry about," Bonnie said. "Have you already forgotten I'm a big bad witch? No silly werewolf would dare try me."
Caroline rolled her eyes but grimaced at the thought of her friend wandering through the forest at night. It was not only werewolves Caroline feared.
"Have you been using the paste in the jar?" Bonnie asked and then added quickly, "The Witch wanted to know."
Caroline only nodded then something occurred to her. She found it strange that she had never wondered this before.
"Bonnie why does the Witch have only a title and no name?"
Bonnie looked at her strangely. She tilted her head to the side her free hair slanting with the motion. Bonnie turned away to her pouch before answering the question.
"Names have great power in particular they mark beginnings and ends," she mumbled so softly that Caroline could barely hear it, "the witches of the Path have no end. Death is only an illusion we are a part of nature forever. One day I too will have to give up my name."
Caroline could hear the sadness in the apprentice's admission though she did not quite understand it. Though she supposed it must be a sad thing to give up one's name to only be a part of something larger that stretches beyond infinity. It must be elating as well.
"Not to be rude, Bonnie," Caroline said. "But why are you here?"
Surely the young witch would not risk attack for petty reasons. Bonnie was not one for trivial pursuits.
"It couldn't be any other night," Bonnie replied quickly, "Caroline are you willing to grant us, the Witch and me, a boon."
Bonnie turned around and in her hand was a flask. Caroline realized that it was the same flask from three years ago that once held the medicine the Witch had made for Elena all those years ago. Confused, Caroline looked to Bonnie for some explanation from. The look on the other girl's face told Caroline that they had been less than truthful with her all those years ago.
"That wasn't an elixir for coughs was it?" Caroline said to which Bonnie could only shake her head 'no'.
"There's only so much I can tell you. You should know by now that the Truth is costly and this Truth I'm afraid you and I cannot afford," Bonnie said.
Caroline could see just how uncomfortable the Apprentice felt. Bonnie was not very keen on making boons. They always turned out to be far more costly than expected and what you asked for always turned sour in the end. Bonnie had grown fond of the blond girl, though perhaps not as much as the Witch had, and she could safely consider Caroline her friend. However, Bonnie did not enjoy being in debt to anyone.
"Well what can you tell me?" Caroline motioned for Bonnie to take a seat at the table.
"Not much, only that our goal is to protect both Elena and the people of this village. From what, I cannot say."
Silence fell upon them. Bonnie waited patiently as Caroline considered her choice.
"I'm not going to lie, Caroline," Bonnie could not meet her eyes as she spoke. Instead she began to smooth out her dress, her thin graceful hands fluttering about.
"We have enemies in this village. Some have yet to reveal themselves and some have always made themselves known. You'll be in danger if you do this for us."
At the word "enemies" Caroline sucked in a sharp breath. She wanted to tell Bonnie about the Council, about the village meeting. However the words would not come.
"Why did you not just go to Elena directly?" Caroline asked instead.
"They'll be watching her."
Caroline didn't need any clarification on who 'they' were. The past two days the Council had been keeping a close eye on Elena. Never did she see the girl alone. Often times either Logan Fell or some other Council lackey was always hanging around. If Bonnie knew this then perhaps she did not need her warning.
"But this will help? I mean," Caroline sighed and searched for the right words, "it will protect us, all of us? You and the Witch too?"
Bonnie's eyes softened. She nodded, her lips holding a smile. Guilt racked the young apprentice. She knew the danger that she was putting the other girl in but she was not quite sure Caroline understood.
"Then I'll do it."
And for the next ten minutes Bonnie explained that Elena needed to consume about a fourth of the liquid inside the flask once a week. It was best for this to be done in secret. Not even Elena should know of it. And then as soon as her instruction was done, Bonnie began to leave. She gathered her pouch and put on her coat.
"It's getting colder," Caroline said as she watched the other girl wrap herself up in her dark cloak. Under the dark cover of night she would be almost invisible.
Bonnie looked the other girl over. She had noticed that no one else was in the house though she had spotted two beds in the other room. The look on Caroline's face told Bonnie the story of her solitude. Loneliness, it seemed, was a curse that would not spare even little girls. The apprentice stepped over the threshold but turned back to her friend before she began her trek back home.
"A word of advice," she said. "Deals made in the dark can only be settled in darkness."
There was no way to tell why she had felt the need to give Caroline those cryptic words of caution. Bonnie had always had been particularly gifted at clairvoyance. Even before her formal training had begun Bonnie had been something of prodigy at intuition. So when those words came to her suddenly she knew that they were meant for Caroline. She only worried why.
Caroline was confused by Bonnie's words but committed them to memory. If there was anything she had learned in the last few year it was that words of a witch had power. They had meaning and weight. Bonnie offered Caroline a reassuring smile before turning to leave. However, before Bonnie could get too far however Caroline called out to her.
"Bonnie! Be careful don't like you know get – don't – don't die or whatever. All right?"
Bonnie grinned back at her, a wicked smile winking brightly in the dark.
"You're a good friend, Caroline."
"I know." Caroline said with as much cheek as she could muster.
The effect fell flat. Caroline could not help but continue to worry. She waited at the door leaning against the frame until Bonnie disappeared into the darkness. Even when the witch had evaporated into the darkness Caroline lingered at her doorstep. She recalled the words of the stranger. Though it had been only two days ago it felt like an age ago, an age of terror and loneliness.
Isn't it a strange feeling to be so lonely and still want nothing more than to be alone?
It was stranger still to be surrounded by neighbors and friends and not see a face among them who would offer a young girl comfort and company on a cold night. As Caroline turned from the empty sight of her friend disappearing into the night something strange caught her eye. It was a boy lingering at the village boundary. Upon closer inspection Caroline realized that the boy was Tyler Lockwood.
"Tyler?" She whispered as he stepped over the village boundary into the forest beyond.
She didn't even remember to close the door on her way out.
Caroline found it hard to keep up. Labored breath gave birth to small plumes of gossamer mist before her face obscuring what little she could see. Mason had been right. Winter was very close and night had begun to fall quicker and darker than before. The moon could not keep up. Whatever light the stars had to offer was hidden behind great curtains of black clouds. She could barely see her hand before her face let alone Tyler who was far ahead of her.
As she followed behind him Caroline wanted nothing more than to call out to Tyler, drag him back to the village and slap him straight across his damned face but she was too afraid to even make a sound. The night seemed to quiet and surely the smallest sound, even a whimper or fear would echo out to any beast or monster hoping to get a taste of their blood. Tyler, she knew, had been out with the men and women during the hunt. He had been training amongst them especially Mason.
However while walking through the wood he hinted at no experience. His feet beat heavily against the ground creating muted cracks as twigs and dry leaves gave way beneath the weight of his heavy boots. It was because of those sounds alone that Caroline was able to even find her way in the dark.
They walked on for another ten minutes, one in silent terror the other in grim determination. After what seemed to Caroline like an eternity, some light peaked out from behind the clouds. The full moon winked at them from up in the sky. Caroline could finally see Tyler about twenty feet ahead of her. She began to run towards him but stopped. They had come to some kind of slope that jutted into the air from the forest floor. Cut into cliff face that fell sharply from the slope's side was a cavern where a small spot of orange glowed.
Cast in silver light, Tyler moved slowly like a spectre up to the cave and entered. A terrifying thought occurred to Caroline. All the stories she knew of ghosts and spirits leading people to their doom came suddenly to her mind. She realized that she had made a grave mistake. Frozen with fear, Caroline considered her options.
Already the clouds were moving, obscuring the light of the moon that had only just begun to creep up into the sky. The forest grew dimmer and dimmer. The gray world was turning to black and Caroline knew she'd never find her way back on her own in the dark.
Shaking like a leaf she pushed herself forward. More than ever she felt the cold. She opened her mouth to call out louder but silence strangled the sound into a whimper. There was a soft rustle of leaves and Caroline snapped left towards the sound. There was nothing but silver light and trees. She moved faster. Left foot then the right, when she got there the stone ledge was like ice on her bare feet.
"Tyler?" she said but the fear chopped up the name, "Tyler, please. I'm scared."
She took another step forward. A sharp stone caught her foot but she didn't notice the pain. It was too cold and her feet had gone numb.
"Tyler," she said again now only a couple feet from the opening of the cave.
She was shaking now. So violently that she was sure she would fall off that ledge and to her death. The moon had sunk into the cloud. The orange firelight dancing at her toes was the only illumination left. Her lip trembled, breath going shallow. There was a crack like twigs snapping underfoot.
She stepped into the light and saw what darkness can do.
Someone screamed. She wasn't sure who because there was no time to care. Her knees hit the ground. She got up and ran further. Hot breath hit the air. The frosted mist of it came and then melted into the air around her flustered face. A branch caught her cheek and sliced into the soft flesh. She paused to grip her face. It was her undoing.
Suddenly there was a heavy weight on her back. It knocked the wind from her and pinned her to the ground.
"Tyler, Tyler," Caroline sobbed finally losing all sense and reason. She could care less who heard now. Death seemed a certainty. "What was that thing? What was it? It was a werewolf wasn't it? We have to tell them, everyone. We have to warn them."
"Shut up!" Tyler hissed clamping a hand over her mouth.
She continued to cry. Her tears, spittle and snot ran down onto his rough hand.
"You can't tell anyone about him," Tyler said.
The tears stopped. The snot remained. At her suddenly silence Tyler removed his hand half relieved and half confused.
"Him?" she choked on the pronoun. Her pause was deafening. "My god he's Mason. It's Mason. We have to warn the villagers. We have to go to your fath-"
The words died on her lips as a smack echoed out into the forest. The clouds swirled again as if god had plunged his hand into the liquid sky. The light of the moon shone down dimly through a thin curtain of clouds. Her cheek was red.
"You can't tell anyone," he hissed, "I swear, you tell anyone I'll - I'll kill you myself."
"Tyler," Caroline whispered sounding more heartbroken than scared.
"You can't tell anyone Caroline," Tyler said, "swear to me you won't tell."
It was then that Caroline realized that Tyler was a child. For all his wise talk of time and adult things Tyler was still just a child whose father never loved him. The curve of his eyes caught the silver light and Caroline saw tears there. Tears that matched her own.
"I swear," she whispered tears filling her eyes.
She wouldn't say it but Tyler could feel her accusations. How could you? How could you betray me like this? You've betrayed us all. But he would be wrong. Caroline understood better than anyone. Convinced she would not breathe a word of what she saw to anyone, Tyler stood to let her up. He offered her a helping hand but she would not have it. Instead she pulled herself up by gripping the bark of a tree with her fingers. Pulling herself up she glared holes into the ground.
"I'll walk you back to the village," he said and before she could scorn him with a refusal he continued, "the Beast won't hurt another Lockwood. We're pack. Its safest this way."
He gave her no time to process that information. Grabbing her hand roughly he led her back to the village. As soon as they crossed over the village boundary Caroline pulled her hand away. She refused to look at him. Tyler could not face the sight of her also. They parted ways each one never looking back.
For a month Caroline remained silent about both her secrets. The days passed in blur. Every week Caroline would invite Elena over for breakfast or for company and always she would get the girl to drink or eat at least one thing. Of course she saw her friend at other times as well though she was always flanked either by Jenna or Matt. Then of course there was Logan Fell, one of the Council's lackeys, slinking around in the background.
In no time at all the night before the next full moon arrived finding Caroline again alone in her own home. She did not curl up onto her father's chair. Instead she seated herself at the kitchen table. The old wood of her straight-backed chair creaked as she shifted her weight trying to find a comfortable position.
Caroline was confident that no one knew anything was different. Two secrets sat deadly on her shoulders but she was sure she had worn them well. Her eyes began to droop. The light from the fire danced in shapes across the room. They looked like words to her dreary mind. She fancied she could almost make out a word, then a sentence, then a whole story. There was a knock.
Immediately her eyes shot to the widow directly across from her. She had expected to she a dark face there peering in a look of fond irritation twisting her mouth into a cross been a frown and grin. The window was empty. Again a knock sounded and she realized that someone was at her door. When she opened the door, Caroline was surprised to find Elena standing on her doorstep.
"Elena," Caroline said surprised to see not Bonnie but Elena at her door, "what are you doing here?"
"Were you expecting someone else?"
Yes, actually she would have even expected Tyler before Elena. With the full moon being only a night away she had expected the youngest Lockwood to come by if only to repeat his threat.
"No, of course not I- what are you doing here?"
"I knew that you'd be alone. The Council is holing up at the Lockwood house doing whatever it is that they do and I thought you might need a friend tonight."
Silence fell between them. It had been a while since Caroline and Elena had a sleepovers. Jeremy had become Elena's first obligation after her parents died and she didn't feel right leaving him home alone. Elena's youth had died and so Caroline had tried her best to smother her own.
"I know something's been bothering you lately," Elena said shifting uncomfortably under Caroline's gaze. " And its okay if you can't talk about it and I've been so caught in Aunt Jenna and just everything I haven't even bothered to ask."
Caroline was about to answer but Elena continued on.
"Aunt Jenna says I have to be home on the night of the full moon but I thought I'd come because…because I've been a terrible friend. I thought I start trying to make it up," Elena said blurting the words out so quick Caroline could hardly keep up.
Elena inhaled deeply as soon as she finished her speech. At Caroline's silence, took a breath again more than ready to start another apologetic rant but Caroline cut her off. Her thin pale arms were tangled tightly around Elena's shoulders. When Elena managed to get some air into her lungs, Elena laughed.
"Does this mean I can come in?"
"Oh! Yeah! Of course," Caroline said jumping back laughing.
Elena eagerly stepped out of the cold into the warm house. That night Caroline fell asleep in her own bed. There were no whispered stories from her lonely lips lulling her to sleep. With her friend curled up besides her, giggling about something or other sleep came to her easily.
Breath. Hot. It comes in plumes of white moisture forming small clouds in the air before the wolf's snout. The Beast pulls back its lips. Teeth. Anger. Revenge. The jaw drops and snaps up but there is no sound. Again and the world flashes red, tilting on its axis. She looks up into the blue sky. It curves, bending around her as if to pull her into an embrace.
The world is round.
She is a beating heart, flushed cheeks, sweaty palms. Bare feet in the snow.
The Beast is close. It is far. Then closer again but always directly in front. Always silent. She takes a step back. Then another.
Don't worry, sweetheart. He can only hurt you in the dark.
She knows the voice but the name eludes her. He is red as well. Between his teeth, dried under his nails, dripping into his eyes and all down his hair. The sunlight looks wrong on him. His skin is pale and almost blue. His lips are chapped. He hasn't breathed in a while.
Though if you want my advice, he smiles the skin of his lips cracking and then he's red there too, I'd take care of him while you have the chance, before he decides you're too much of a liability. Never trust a mutt, love.
Her eyes snap to him.
But he's gone. In the snow. In the light. With the Beast.
Ah yes, the Beast. It snarls again snapping at her. She wonders why the snow doesn't feel cold.
The dead are colder than snow.
Then she takes a step forward. Another, another. They are red. Then she's running. In the sun. In the snow. Towards the Beast.
Her hand draws back. She aims for the heart.
Caroline gasped. Warmth crowded over her. The heat was suffocating and she pushed at it but found that it was the soft cotton of her blanket embracing her. The smell of sweat and peppermint leaves tickled her nose. Elena's hair had fallen over Caroline's face. The other girl's cheek was pressed against Caroline's shoulder.
"Elena," Caroline whispered placing a gossamer touch upon the other girl's cheek.
Elena mumbled something then turned away. Light filtered in through the window just above her bed. The moon shined brightly against the black satin of the sky. Though obscured by trees and clouds the moon cut through to the two girls bathing them in cold pale light.
"Elena," Caroline said raising her voice ever so slightly then shook Elena's shoulder.
"Mmm, what is it Caroline," she mumbled, "'m sleeping."
"I had a dream."
"That's nice," Elena murmured falling slowly again in to sleep.
"If you knew who the werewolf was would you kill them?"
"What?" Elena sat up, "what are you talking about?"
Caroline sat up as well leaning all her weight upon her hands.
"The werewolf," she hissed suddenly afraid that someone could be listening, "the one who has been terrorizing us the one who –"
Killed your father and ruined your family forever.
Caroline could not bring herself to utter the words. That would have been cruel. Elena did not reply but Caroline felt her tense. Perhaps she should have stopped there. If she had only bit her tongue and gone back to sleep she might have saved herself some trouble. But the questions burned at the back of her throat. She was certain if she did not ask she would die of the fire burning in her gut.
"Even if he had a family, if he was loved would you still kill him? If you had the chance, the strength, would you?"
Elena answered her without hesitation.
There was a dangerous energy in the village the day of the full moon. After three years of terrified stalemate there seemed to be a breaking in the cycle. The Council, against the suggestion of Richard Lockwood, had gathered together a group of the strongest, fastest, most skilled hunters. At twilight they would head out into the woods and seek out the werewolf. If they found him in human form they would bring him in to face justice before the Council. If he or she was found in wolf form, they would have no choice but to kill it.
As for Caroline, she was infected with a different kind of energy. All throughout the day she had fidgeted and could not stay still for even a full minute. In the morning after Elena had bid her farewell Caroline had gone over to her mother's side of the bedroom. There, beneath the folds of cushions and blankets hardly ever used or slept in she found her mother's hunting blade. When Caroline was only ten, Elizabeth had showed her the exact space the knife was hidden.
"One day you'll need this knife," Elizabeth had said making quick work of the sheets and cushion of her bed, pulling them aside to reveal the spotless blade."It may save your life. It may save the life of someone more important than yourself. Never forget it is there."
After she had extracted the blade from her mother's sheets, Caroline had stripped a piece of cloth from them and fastened it to her leg. She spent the rest of the day going about her routine with the cool metal of her mother's knife pressed into the soft flesh of her right thigh. Every moment, every movement she was aware of the weapon and what it meant. She was going to murder Mason Lockwood.
When the sun began to fall deep into the horizon people gathered to see the hunters off. Caroline noticed that neither Tyler nor Mason were amongst the farewell group. Night came, the hunting group disappeared behind the trees and all the people disbursed. They went home to eat dinner with their families, to lay in bed and dream.
Caroline would not be joining them. As the last light of day trickled down from the sky Caroline crossed over the boundary of the village. She slipped into the forest without a sound.
It took Caroline longer than she expected to find her way even more so in the dark. Night came fast. She found it difficult to remember the direction and find any trail that Tyler might have taken. She was no hunter, just a girl with a knife strapped to her thigh. As the light went from the world great clouds began to move across the sky. Caroline kept low to the ground.
She knew when she finally had come to the right place. The cavern was a jagged gash in the face of a steep cliff that followed the side of a slope. It cut into the side about ten feet up or so from the ground. A shelf curved down from the cavern leading safely to the ground but Caroline couldn't afford to take it. If she was going to take down a grown man she would need to take him by surprise.
A fire had been lit in the cave. She squinted and saw, pressed darkly into the orange light, the shadow of a man. She could only assume it was Mason. Pressing herself low to the ground, Caroline made her way towards the slope. She took her time. Her hands shook and her teeth chattered. She had left her cloak behind. It would have only held her down, her shoes as well. Crawling on the forest floor, it occurred to Caroline that she must have looked like a feral child.
She stalked up the ledge, pushing her back into the stonewall. The blood was pounding so loud in her ears. Though she tried to keep her breathing steady and soundless but by the time she reached the mouth of the cave her heartbeat was wild and her breath uneven and loud. He had his back to her.
"Are the hunters distracted?" he said the low sound of his voice startling her.
She had no reply. Then suddenly the clouds shifted in the sky and silver light poured over her. He began to turn and Caroline leaped forward. It was a miracle he had even fallen over under her weight. She was not stick thin but she was still young and still much smaller than he. At first he looked confused, horrified even by the blond monster that had attacked him. He even struggled but then he recognized her. Beneath the dirt on her face and the twigs and leaves in her hair, she was Caroline. His lips wrapped around the shape of her name but no sound was made. He went still and looked almost grateful as she reached for the knife at her thigh.
"I'm sorry," she whispered raising her the blade above her head.
The blade was almost to his throat when a scream tore through the air. Caroline felt herself hit the cold stone floor. The knife was knocked from her hand. The next thing she knew her back was pressed into the cavern wall, orange light painting her skin.
"What the fuck, Caroline," Tyler shouted into her face bits of spit flying from his mouth onto her face, "what the fuck are you doing?"
"What are you doing?" she screamed back hysterical with her guilt and fury.
She had almost killed a monster. She had almost killed a man.
"He's killed people, Tyler. He killed Elena's father. He ruined our lives!"
When he turned his face away, she lost all sense. She began to twist and wind her body. Again and again she screamed out her accusations. The air began to stuck to the back of her throat and she was reduced to choking on her sobs.
What had they become? Were they monsters too? All the while Mason remained quiet. Back still pressed into the ground he made no move to get up.
"I know, I know," Tyler mumbled over and over his voice breaking down until it was nothing more than a low moan, "but he's my family, Care. He's the only one who still wants me. He's the only one who cares."
She wanted to tell him that she was supposed to be his family. She had spent the first twelve years of her life pledging loyalty to him and she had made good on her word. She could have been anything he needed if he had only let her. She could have been anyone's family, Elena, Matt's, even the monsters from the witches' stories. She would have given them everything if only they'd want her. But she said nothing. She let Tyler drop her to the ground as he put his hands over his face. Crying, he admitted everything.
"I tried to go to the witches," Tyler said. "They wouldn't help me. They said there was nothing they could do and if there was they wouldn't."
She watched him fall to his knees. Her friend curled into himself. Something glinted at the corner of her eye. It was her mother's knife. She looked from the knife back to her friend then down at her own torn and bloody dress. They were only children. Keeping secrets and attempting murder, they were too young for this. Behind them Mason was still on the ground but now his eyes were on the sky. The moon was rising.
"They'll help me," Caroline said, "I granted them a boon. They owe me."
She caught his eyes with her own. Eyes ringed red and nose dripping he looked like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Mason screamed. The sound of bones cracking filled the air and Tyler immediately grabbed hold of Caroline. He rushed her down the cliff ledge. Stumbling together, they almost fell to the ground.
"Where are we going?" Caroline cried trying her best to keep up with Tyler's pace.
"We have to get you back to the village or back to the path," he replied out of breath.
Her leg caught a raised tree root and she hit the ground. Her wrist was pulled free from his hand during the fall. When he reached out to grab it again she swatted him away.
"We can't leave him," she said, "there are people out there. He'll tear them to shreds."
"There's nothing we can do!" Tyler shouted going in to grab her arm.
Caroline evaded his grip.
"How much time do we have left?" Her breath came out in great white puffs of mist obscuring her face from Tyler's view.
He couldn't see the crazy idea forming in her mind.
"What?" he replied.
"How much time?" she shouted stepping forward to grip his shoulders tightly.
Tyler's mind went over all the times he'd witnessed the change. There was no solid number. The transformation had begun to take less and less time. There was no way to tell how long they had for sure.
"Which way is north?" Caroline asked and then Tyler realized what she planned to do.
She was going to make a run for it. If she could reach the witches in time then they could save the hunters. They could save everyone. One golden opportunity to erase all their sins, they had one chance.
"I can try to help him keep off the transformation," Tyler offered. "He won't hurt me. North is that way."
She nodded curtly then turned to run but he stopped her. A cloud eclipsed the light of the moon casting them into the dark. She could not even see his face in front of her.
"Thank you, Caroline," came whisper from the dark and then his hand was gone from her arm and she was alone.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark slowly but Caroline ran as fast as she could. The moon would not break away from the clouds. She was so cold but Caroline kept moving forward. Sharp stones and broken twigs dug into the soft flesh of her feet. Branches and thorns cut at her but she kept going. Nothing could stop her except for an unexpected depression of the ground that caught her by surprise.
Caroline hit the dirt hard. The curve of her forehead clipped a boulder directly ahead making the world spin. When it stopped there was light again and a man was standing above her.
"Now how did I know we'd meet again, sweetheart?"
He was a much different creature in the dark of night. In the sunshine he had looked ethereal like a seraph but now he looked like the Devil himself. His broad noble features that had once hypnotized her were now harsh. Still he was handsome and the curl of his smile hinted at charm but she could see clearly now that he was no natural man. Shadow cut into his face sharpening his cheekbones and deepening the shadows around his eyes. The pink of his lips looked nearly red and she could have sworn his eyes flashed yellow. Again he was dressed finely like some kind of gentleman or lord. Around his shoulders was a heavy cloak.
"Oh no, no please," she said and her terror only seemed to please him, "you can't - no I have to – I"
Remembering herself Caroline went silent. Tyler was still out there. It would do him no good if she went and babbled about him to some other monster. Caroline struggled backwards but her head still felt light. Her movements made the world tilt every which way. In a flash he was crouched down before her. She hadn't even seen him move.
"Have to what, love?" he asked smiling sweetly at her. "What are you running from?"
Caroline held her silence. His smile turned sour. A grim violence darkened the expression on his face. His generous mouth was pulled into a frown. His hand took hold of her face forcing her to look into his eyes.
For a long moment Caroline was frozen. She considered her options. She still might have time. If she could escape this man, monster or whatever he was then she might still be able to get to the witches in time. Whatever game he wanted to play she needed to win.
"To," she whimpered, "I'm running towards something."
He tilted his head. For a second Caroline was certain he would not believe her. His grip tightened and she knew if he wanted he could crush her jaw. His looked away then back to her and smiled.
"Is that so?"
His hands left her face in a slow graceful motion. The rough skin of his fingertips slipped down her face making Caroline shiver. He curled a finger down beneath her chin and smiled at her like he was pleased.
"The Witch's cottage just north of my village," Caroline answered feeling her skin go warm.
He laughed. It was a cruel sound.
"The witches? I'm afraid you've been running in the exactly wrong direction," he said. "It will take you hours now just to find your way back before moonrise."
Hours. Caroline did not have hours. She had a little over thirty minutes at best when she started out. There was no way she'd make it in time to get help. Mason would turn and the hunters would find him. Or he would find them, either way one of them would die tonight.
The stranger watched her take the news. He could see the wheels turning in her pretty little head. A range of emotion played across her face and he took the time to savor and taste all of them. Fear gave way to despair then turned to realization.
"Are you a werewolf too?" she asked wide eyes looking up at him from the ground.
She felt dizzy at the thought but she began to rise to her feet. Her knees wobbled and she was certain she would fall again but the stranger caught her. Leaning in far too close for comfort he grinned at her as if they had just shared a private joke though she had no idea what it could be.
"Oh sweetheart, they don't have a word for what I am," he said lowly into her ear, "But I'll tell you what I'm not, uncharitable."
He let her go so swiftly she had to grab hold of the tree just behind her to steady herself. Like a vulture he watched as she began to inspect whatever damage she had sustained. Touching her forehead gingerly then running her hands over her dress and hair trying to straighten out both. Ah, she still had the nerve to be vain! She looked quite more the mess than she had when first met her. He watched the blood drip down for the cut on her forehead. Soaking into to the soft blond line of her eyebrow, it was almost teasing him.
"What do you mean?"
"I can get you there, to the Witch's cottage in almost no time at all," he drawled the words slipping past his lips lazily, "but in return I want something of equal value."
She almost laughed in his face. Dirty, tired and bleeding, Caroline was more than discontent with her situation. She saw the corner of his mouth twitch when she scoffed softly. There was absolutely nothing she could give him. She didn't even have her knife. It was still in that godforsaken cave.
"I have nothing."
He smiled at her naivety. How sweet it must be to know such ignorance.
"Everyone has something to offer, love," he said then paused mulling over his options.
He motions for her to come closer. When she took only a tiny step away from the tree trunk she smirked.
"Closer, sweetheart," he said and Caroline had no choice but to step forward.
He watched her intently, her cheeks burning at his attentions. The pink looked pretty on her pale cheeks though he thought she'd look better in red. After a few seconds of deliberation, a smile slipped easily over his lips. He found what he wanted.
"Your heart," he said.
"What?" Caroline said her cheeks flushing pink.
He almost laughed but kept to his smile. How sweet, she thought he meant her love.
"Yes," he drawled circling her, "I could just reach in and pluck it out. Monsters love to feast upon the hearts of pretty little girls like yourself. Didn't anyone ever tell you that?"
Caroline felt sick at his words but she swallowed it down.
Perhaps it was a defect of her birth. Loyalty seemed to be in her blood; it had seeped into her skin while she cooked in her mother's womb. William had abandoned them both but they had yet to abandon him. Her mother may have refused to look at or sit in his chair but she never threw it out. More than just a couple of men had offered to take Elizabeth's hand but she had refused them all. She kept Williams name and made sure to keep it clean. Only death would part them. Elizabeth still honored the vows she made to William. Now Caroline would honor the loyalty she had pledged to Tyler all those years ago. Even in the face of death she would not abandon him. And Caroline was certain that she was staring into the face of the man that would end her life.
"Just my heart?" she asked.
"Just the one," he replied.
She could hear the blood pounding in her ear. What she didn't know was he could hear it too. Such sweet music.
He smiled triumphant.
"Close your eyes, sweetheart and count to fifteen."
He wrapped his arms around her then there was a rush of air. Caroline squeezed her eyes shut and began to count aloud. She was inclined to speaking. Not always an endearing trait but it fit her well. Just as she started to say fifteen, he placed her onto the ground. She opened her eyes and gasped. Immediately she began to run towards the familiar sight but stopped. She glanced back at him as if asking for permission. What a polite little thing.
"Go ahead, love," he said, "I'll wait for you out here."
She nodded slowly her gaze lingering. Then she was off crossing over onto the path then into the clay hut. Almost immediately he could hear the voices of the Witch and her apprentice worrying over the girl. The Witch especially seemed to fawn over her. Then suddenly he heard the girl cut them off. She demanded payment for a boon she had granted them. Then all was silent.
He half expected them to kill his girl before he could even get a piece but instead the Witch ordered her apprentice to gather some fennel, monkshood and a few other things. Then there was a slam and the Witch stepped through her door. He backed into the shadows as the Witch scanned the forest. She knew he was there. Then the apprentice was besides her.
"There are monsters about, dear heart," the Witch said leaning down to place her hands either side of his girl's face. "Stay here."
He smirked. The girl didn't answer to witches anymore.
Then in a swirl of dark robes the two witches disappeared from sight. His girl then stepped over the threshold. The light of the moon shined down on her unobstructed by trees and clouds and for the first time he got a good look at her. Her face was comely and still round with youth. She was still very much a child but he could see the potential for beauty. Her hair though a tangled, dirty mess was a bright yellow color like sunshine or marigolds. She looked out of place in the silver light of the full moon. She was no creature of the night. Her kind belonged to the morning, to midday, to the color and warmth of daylight. She belonged to him now at least her heart did.
He stepped out of the shadows. When she did not come to him immediately he called to her.
"Come along, sweetheart," he said, "time to pay your dues."
She hesitated. Looking around at her surroundings, she seemed to be saying goodbye. Then she hobbled towards him. The adrenaline had run dry and now her poor raw feet could barely carry her to him. As soon as she was off the path he took hold of her making sure she could not run.
"If you had stayed on the path," he told her honestly, "I'd never be able to get to you. I am unable to enter or tread there."
The girl nodded more tired than scared now. He didn't appreciate that. After all the effort he had put in to being terrifying she should be terrified. It was only the polite thing to do.
"I figured," she said stone-faced but he could detect just the slightest bit of bitterness, "but I made a deal with you and I guess killing me isn't the worst you could do."
But the girl refused to answer him. Such a stubborn little thing. Even when she was staring into the face of death she had the nerve to hold her tongue.
"What I want to know is how a lovely little girl like you got mixed up with werewolves in the first place? Running with the wrong crowd lately, sweetheart?"
She looked away and pouted as if to say 'get on with it'.
"All business and no play will make you a dull girl," he teased but she would not crack.
She tried to lean away from him but he wrapped his arms around her tighter. She sighed. It was a delicate sound.
"You know it's bad manners to be so scornful," he murmured, "I could tear your throat out and leave you to gurgle back your own blood until you drowned in it. Don't you think it's only polite to show a little respect?"
"You've already got my heart and you want my respect too?" she mumbled and he laughed outright.
This time the sound was not so horrible. Caroline almost found it pleasing to her ears. Then he returned to himself. He smiled down at her. He always seemed to be smiling. He must be a man quite satisfied with himself, Caroling thought. Though now being able to see him close up she realized that the smile did not quite reach his eyes.
"Well love," he said, "I believe it's that time."
He pulled back his hand curling his fingers like they were claws. Caroline snapped her eyes shut and held her breath. Instinctively she leaned away from him. She began to count back from a hundred hoping it would all be over soon when she felt cool fingers brush the top of her ear. He tucked a strand of yellow hair behind her ear.
"What's your name?"
Confused by his question Caroline took a moment to respond. She had to let out the breath she had been holding first.
"Caroline," she whispered as if it were a secret.
Names have power, Caroline remembered Bonnie telling her, they mark beginnings and ends.
He nodded like he had known that was it all along, like she had answered correctly.
"Caroline," he spoke her name reverently rolling the syllables over his tongue as if to taste each one. "You're a rare breed, Caroline. It would be a crime to let you go to waste."
He released her suddenly and she stumbled backward.
"I've changed my mind," he said placing his hands behind his back. "Instead of your heart I'll have a favor. I'll grant you a boon."
"A boon?" she asked breathlessly.
She was going to live.
"Yes a boon for you heart, though I think I'll wait to have it repaid," he said. "However, I will return for it. Perhaps not tomorrow or the next day or even in twenty years but mark my words. I will return and you will pay your debt."
Caroline only nodded too weary to care for his threat. All she wanted was to lie down and sleep for days. She could not even be properly excited that everything had seemingly worked out perfectly despite the debt now hanging over her head. The witches had gone to Tyler. She had escaped certain doom but again Bonnie's words from before came to her.
Deals made in the dark must be settled in darkness.
Looking up at the man before her. It occurred to her that she had not even his name and now she was making deals with him for her heart. Another deal made in the dark and Caroline couldn't help but wonder what dark purpose it would serve. She wondered if she would survive it.
"Why you look absolutely exhausted, love," he said suddenly his brow tightening into a wrinkle across his forehead.
A frown formed on his lips. Caroline realized that this was his look of concern. It looked wrong, unnatural. He was not really concerned. He was playing at concerned.
"What's your name?" she said.
She would at least have the name of her would be murderer. They were partners now, bound together by their boon.
"There's no need to for you to know, love."
"I've told you mine and you've already threatened my life twice," she replied unwilling to let it go, "it's only polite."
He raised an eyebrow at her nerve. That seemed to be something she had in abundance. He did not say a word but the silent threat was obvious. However Caroline would not back down. He had already threatened her with death, pain, violence. If he did decide to take her life then he would have at least saved her the trouble of having to pay him back.
"Klaus," he replied.
"Klaus," she repeated back to him and he nodded smiling.
She half expected him to pat her on the head and give her a treat.
"Best be off love," he said far too chipper for a man who had almost just ripped out the heart of a young girl, "I'm sure there will be people wondering where you are."
No one was waiting for her. She almost told him that but held her silence. There was no need to give him anything more of herself. Instead she simply nodded and turned from him. She was about to head back towards the path but was stopped by the weight of two hands upon her shoulder. Klaus had placed his cloak around her and smiled at the sight. He knew she'd look good in red.
"It's cold out," he said when her eyes slipped over to him questioning his action. "We don't want you to freeze to death out there. I'd never get my favor then."
Caroline frowned. It was a fine cloak better than anything she owned. However she did not like the idea of accepting things from him. She had the oddest feeling that anything he offered, common courtesy included, had a price. Then suddenly he inhaled deeply, his eyes shut briefly then snapped back open. He smiled like he had a secret.
"Off you go, then," he said pushing her forward towards the path, "do hurry though, love. There's something I think you'll want to see."
She questioned him again with her eyes but he shook his head. Placing his hands behind his back again, he motioned for her to go with a tilting of his head. Caroline glared at him for a second not trusting a word he said. When it seemed he would not speak another word she began to hobble towards the path glancing back at him every few seconds to make sure he kept his distance. Klaus waited patiently for her to run along. All the while he kept that pleasant smile on his face. It was very nearly encouraging. When she finally did reach the familiar marked earth of the path, Caroline had the oddest feeling that she should say goodbye. So she raised her hand and waved. He did not return it but bowed ever so slightly. Perhaps he truly was some sort of gentleman.
"Goodbye, Caroline," he said. "until we meet again."
Then he was gone. All traces of him were reduced to a smudge of blue and golden hair then nothing but empty air. Caroline lingered on for just a moment longer inhaling deeply. The rush of oxygen into her lungs was almost painful but lovely at the same time. She was alive.
Her feet began to move forward. She was homeward bound but something nagged at the back of her mind. It was what he had said. There was something waiting for her at the village, something she needed to see. As her thoughts ran down that dangerous track her pace began to pick up. Faster and faster until she was running again the back of Klaus's cloak billowed out behind her. She kept going until she thought her heart would burst. She ran. She ran and then when she finally saw the tops of the houses of her village she ran even faster. She didn't stop until she found herself in the center of it.
There was nothing. All the lights had been turned out and not a soul was awake. She briefly considered forgetting all about Klaus's words and Klaus entirely. Her eyes swept through the village once more. There was nothing. She began to turn in the direction of her house but stopped. Her breath caught at the sight of him, Tyler standing just outside of the barrier. He was red stain upon the dark forest.
"Tyler, Tyler, my god what happened to you?" she cried too loud.
A few windows lit up but Caroline could not bring herself to care. He was covered in blood. Great tears rolled down her face when she reached him. She searched him out for injury her hands flittering over his arms and face. She mumbled apologies and consolation all the while chocking on the thick saliva gathering at the back of her throat making her hiccup. When she found no damage, it dawned on her what had happened.
"Oh god what have you done?" Caroline whispered. "What have you done?"
He looked up at her. The color of his eyes shifted from brown to bright yellow.
"I killed it," he said, "I killed the wolf.