We were flung back into the tree, Bonnie and I. Wood and shrapnel pattered against tree trunks in front of us. Acrid black smoke and flames whose heat no tree trunk could stop billowed upwards towards the now grey and cloudy sky. Birds twittered. The world sloped in wrong ways and a roaring sound filled my ears. Something very much like blood leaked down the side of my face. I lay back against the tree trunk, eyes frozen wide with horror. My mind spun.
I though the scream was in my mind, but I could see a black blur streak into the flames- Damon. Scarlet blots clung to my vision, and no matter how many times I blinked, I couldn’t get rid of them.
Where was Bonnie?
Dazed, I groped around for my glasses, and my hand found something sharp. Blood spurted out ad stained the earth-covered glass, now in pieces at my feet. Unsteadily, I gripped the tree trunk and stood up, looking around in panic, the green world around me filled with the violence of the flames. Small woodland animals scurried by, not paying any attention to me. And I saw Bonnie, running towards the house, her talisman gripped in her raised hand; the flames started to die down in a definite path. Another white streak of light followed the path and disappeared into the smouldering embers. The fire on the other side continued to rage as wildly as ever.
Tears seeped down through the soot, earth and blood coating my face and I couldn’t seem to hear or think anything.
I thought I imagined the faint rustle behind me.
I heard the house explode before I had completed my loop to its back.
For a second, my heart felt alive again- as though its uneven, tense thumping had suddenly, painfully, stopped. I whirled around and just stood on the fallen tree trunk, gaping, as the smoke and flames leapt up into the sky in front of me.
Then I was racing through the forest, my mind echoing with one word.
No, no, no…
The wind whipped away my tears and my dread fuelled my speed, as with a final burst, I skidded to a stop, a few feet from the burning house.
Bonnie was running towards me, hands outstretched, forcing a path through the fire, and Caroline disappeared through the leaping flames within the bowels of the house. I looked around wildly, panting, searching for a lone dark-clad knight somewhere nearby, but of course I couldn’t find him. I looked back at the fire, sure Damon had forced his way in somewhere- I looked back at the forest- the green blur dazzled me- and was about to jump into the fire, when all of a sudden-
Everything was quiet.
The sound of my breath filled the air and my throat was dry. I couldn’t seem to focus, but in that split second, I was sure something had changed.
What was it?
And then there was a crashing sound from within the house. The burning timber on the farther side had finally given way, and it crumbled to dust, the all-devouring flames leaping towards me. Bonnie was straining, white, about to fall to her feet, a thick red stream flowing from her nose and coming faster every second, and all I could think was, my friends were tapped in that hell hole somewhere. Damon, Stefan and Caroline were all in there somewhere, unable to walk out, unable to breathe, about to die-
I raced to the house and threw the door open.
The flames punched into my face and the smoke rushed up to swallow me. The heat would kill me within seconds. Even outside, in the open, it was burning hot. I plunged in.
It was hell, right there. The heat and the smoke attacked me, and I was likely to choke to death before getting burnt, because, as I very quickly discovered, vampires do need to breathe. It won’t kill us, of course. But it will paralyse us for long enough for the fire to do its job. But maybe that would be a blessing. Maybe I would die right here, with my friends, rather than live any longer on the borrowed time I’ve lived on since Wickery Bridge.
My eyes were on fire, almost literally. My tears ran down my neck. I stepped into the fire.
And collided straight with a dark-clad knight, clawing his way out of the house, supporting a limp form by his shoulder, tears streaking down his soot-covered face. The smoke went into my head and I stumbled forward and caught hold of its other arm, and together, we pulled Damon’s brother into the relief of the cool green shade of the forest.
Tears still ran down my face and I had to stop for a minute to make my hands stop trembling. Damon threw Stefan’s prone form down on the grass.
“Be careful! He just-“
“Caroline’s still in there.”
She was kneeling next to Stefan, cradling his head in her lap. Her hair fell in a smooth brown cascade to her shoulders and when she looked up, I saw the softness of her brown eyes. Time or danger had not made me immune to her beauty.
It took a minute for her horror to register.
I was already running back to the house, but it was now an inferno, with whirlpools of fire spitting out of it. I couldn’t even get closer than a foot. I reached out my hand and it blistered in the heat. My mind whirled as I frantically searched for any signs of a blonde head, tangled by dirt and blackened with soot, a white hand in the red-
That was when I noticed the small opening by the house- a trap door. The side door we went through had become a portal to hell, but this particular pool of blackness was not yet tainted by the fire. Skidding to a halt beside it, I realized that there had been a wooden staircase there. With that burnt up, there was nothing else to devour. The fire had moved away elsewhere.
Without a thought, I rushed in.
The small conscious part of my mind screamed questions at me.
What was I doing? Why was I going back in? My brother was safe, Elena was out there, and yet-
The half- choked hoarse shriek came from right behind me and a white hand blackened with soot clutched my shoulder. I spun around and there she was, hands covered in burns, crying. I caught hold of her and dragged her out, leaping out into the trap door, as the timber on this side finally burnt out and Bonnie, with a cry, fell in a heap to the forest floor. The whole structure crashed down into the pool of blackness. The glare of the fire made me stagger backwards.
We stood there and panted, Elena frozen white with shock, Caroline sobbing, Stefan and Bonnie both unconscious. For my part, my hand burned and my head was exploding with pain, but hey, I was alive. Or, you know. Whatever.
Man, this caring and loving part was getting on my nerves.
I looked around for a black head, with glasses and freckles and a permanent tan that had nothing to do with the sun and everything to do with her Indian heritage. She was, after all, the one who helped us rescue my brother.
I looked around a second time, moving in to take stock. It didn’t make a difference.
“Where the hell is Sophia?”
My eyes raked the surrounding forest. I turned to face Elena.
“Where is she? Since, you know, you saw Bonnie was busy, and you weren’t with us, I kind of automatically assumed you were with her, which obviously is not the case-“ I added, spotting Elena’s confused expression, “where”- I spread my arms out, “Is she?”
“She’s… not here?” Elena stood up, looking around with a perplexed eye, “I just.. .I thought- that’s not why I fell behind. I thought I saw- a black-“
My heart leapt. Fear bubbled in my throat and I clamped down on it, instead raising an eyebrow at her. “A what?”
“It’s them,” she whispered, her eyes meeting mine, and I knew she was right, “the empoussai. They must have her. The black cloak- that I saw… It was one of them.”