Meredith sat down on the knee-high wall of the ruined church. "You said it was going to be dangerous, Stefan, but you didn't say you were going to let him strangle me."
"I'm sorry. I was hoping he'd give some more information, especially after he admitted to being there when Sue died. But I shouldn't have waited."
"I haven't admitted anything! You can't prove anything," Tyler said. The animal whine was back in his voice, but on the walk up his face and body had returned to normal. Or rather, they'd returned to human, Meredith thought. The swelling and bruises and dried blood weren't normal.
"This isn't a court of law, Tyler," she said. "Your father can't help you now."
"But if it were, we'd have a pretty good case," Stefan added. "Enough to put you away on conspiracy to commit murder, I think."
"That's if somebody doesn't melt down their grandma's teaspoons to make a silver bullet," Matt put in.
Tyler looked from one to another of them. "I won't tell you anything."
"Tyler, you know what you are? You're a bully," Bonnie said. "And bullies always talk."
"You don't mind pinning a girl down and threatening her," said Matt, "but when her friends turn up, you're scared spitless."
Tyler just glared at all of them.
"Well, if you don't want to talk, I guess I'll have to," Stefan said. He leaned down and picked up the thick book he'd gotten from the library. One foot on the lip of the tomb, he rested the book on his knee and opened it. In that moment, Meredith thought, he looked frighteningly like Damon.
"This is a book by Gervase of Tilbury, Tyler," he said. "It was written around the year 1210 a.d. One of the things it talks about is werewolves."
"You can't prove anything! You don't have any evidence-"
"Shut up, Tyler!" Stefan looked at him. "I don't need to prove it. I can see it, even now. Have you forgotten what I am?" There was a silence, and then Stefan went on. "When I got here a few days ago, there was a mystery. A girl was dead. But who killed her? And why? All the clues I could see seemed contradictory.
"It wasn't an ordinary killing, not some human psycho off the street. I had the word of somebody I trusted on that-and independent evidence, too. An ordinary killer can't work a Ouija board by telekinesis. An ordinary killer can't cause fuses to blow in a power plant hundreds of miles away.
"No, this was somebody with tremendous physical and psychic power. From everything Vickie told me, it sounded like a vampire.
"And there was another thing. You were in that house, Tyler. You made the mistake of grabbing Bonnie that night, and then you made the mistake of shooting off your mouth the next day, saying things you couldn't have known unless you were there.
"So what did we have? A seasoned vampire, a vicious killer with Power to spare? Or a high school bully who couldn't organize a trip to the toilet without falling over his own feet? Which? The evidence pointed both ways, and I couldn't make up my mind.
"Then I went to see Sue's body myself. And there it was, the biggest mystery of all. A cut here." Stefan's finger sketched a sharp line down from his collarbone. "Typical, traditional cut-made by vampires to share their own blood. But Sue wasn't a vampire, and she didn't make that cut herself. Someone made it for her as she lay there dying on the ground."
Meredith shut her eyes, and she heard Bonnie swallow hard beside her. She put out a hand and found Bonnie's and held tight, but she went on listening. Stefan had not gone into this kind of detail in his explanation to them before.
"Vampires don't need to cut their victims like that; they use their teeth," Stefan said. His upper lip lifted slightly to show his own teeth. "But if a vampire wanted to draw blood for somebody else to drink, he might cut instead of biting. If a vampire wanted to give someone else the first and only taste, he might do that.
"And that started me thinking about blood. Blood is important, you see. For vampires, it gives life, Power. It's all we need for survival, and there are times when needing it drives us crazy. But it's good for other things, too. For instance... initiation.
"Initiation and Power. Now I was thinking about those two things, putting them together with what I'd seen of you, Tyler, when I was in Fell's Church before. Little things I hadn't really focused on. But I remembered something Elena had told me about your family history, and I decided to check it out in Honoria Fell's journal."
Stefan lifted a piece of paper from between the pages of the book he held. "And there it was, in Honoria's handwriting. I Xeroxed the page so I could read it to you. The Smallwoods' little family secret-if you can read between the lines."
Looking down at the paper, he read:
"November 12. Candles made, flax spun. We are short on cornmeal and salt, but we will get through the winter. Last night an alarm; wolves attacked Jacob Smallwood as he returned from the forest. I treated the wound with whortleberry and sallow bark, but it is deep and I am afraid. After coming home I cast the runes. I have told no one but Thomas the results.
"December 20. Wolf trouble at the Smallwoods' again. We heard the screams a few minutes ago, and Thomas said it was time. He made the bullets yesterday. He has loaded his rifle and we will walk over. If we are spared, I will write again.
"December 21. Went over to Smallwoods' last night. Jacob sorely afflicted. Wolf killed.
"We will bury Jacob in the little graveyard at the foot of the hill. May his soul find peace in death.
"In the official history of Fell's Church," Stefan said, "that's been interpreted to mean that Thomas Fell and his wife went over to the Smallwoods' to find Jacob Smallwood being attacked by a wolf again, and that the wolf killed him. But that's wrong. What it really says is not that the wolf killed Jacob Smallwood but that Jacob Smallwood, the wolf, was killed."
Stefan shut the book. "He was a werewolf, your great-great-great-whatever grandfather, Tyler. He got that way by being attacked by a werewolf himself. And he passed his werewolf virus on to the son who was born eight and a half months after he died. Just the way your father passed it on to you."
"I always knew there was something about you, Tyler," Bonnie said, and Meredith opened her eyes. "I never could tell what it was, but at the back of my mind something was telling me you were creepy."
"We used to make jokes about it," Meredith said, her voice still husky. "About your 'animal magnetism and your big white teeth. We just never knew how close to the mark we were."
"Sometimes psychics can sense that kind of thing," Stefan conceded.
"Sometimes even ordinary people can. I should have seen it, but I was preoccupied. Still, that's no excuse. And obviously somebody else-the psychic killer-saw it right away. Didn't he, Tyler? A man wearing an old raincoat came to you. He was tall, with blond hair and blue eyes, and he made some kind of a deal with you. In exchange for-something-he'd show you how to reclaim your heritage. How to become a real werewolf.
"Because according to Gervase of Tilbury"-Stefan tapped the book on his knee -"a werewolf who hasn't been bitten himself needs to be initiated. That means you can have the werewolf virus all your life but never even know it because it's never activated. Generations of Smallwoods have lived and died, but the virus was dormant in them because they didn't know the secret of waking it up. But the man in the raincoat knew. He knew that you have to kill and taste fresh blood. After that, at the first full moon you can change." Stefan glanced up, and Meredith followed his gaze to the white disk of the moon in the sky. It looked clean and two dimensional now, no longer a sullen red globe.
"Very clever," said Meredith, and Matt said, "No kidding." Bonnie wet her finger and marked an imaginary 1 on an invisible Scoreboard.
"I knew you wouldn't be able to resist following one of the girls here if you thought she'd be alone," said Stefan. "You'd think that the graveyard was the perfect place to kill; you'd have complete privacy. And I knew you wouldn't be able to resist bragging about what you'd done. I was hoping you'd tell Meredith more about the other killer, the one who actually threw Sue out the window, the one who cut her so you could drink fresh blood. The vampire, Tyler. Who is he? Where is he hiding?"
Tyler's look of venomous hatred changed to a sneer. "You think I'd tell you that? He's my friend."
"He is not your friend, Tyler. He's using you. And he's a murderer."
"Don't get in any deeper, Tyler," Matt added.
"You're already an accessory. Tonight you tried to kill Meredith. Pretty soon you're not going to be able to go back even if you want to. Be smart and stop this now. Tell us what you know."
Tyler bared his teeth. "I'm not telling you anything. How're you going to make me?"
The others exchanged glances. The atmosphere changed, became charged with tension as they all turned back to Tyler.
"You really don't understand, do you?" Meredith said quietly. "Tyler, you helped kill Sue. She died for an obscene ritual so that you could change into that thing I saw. You were planning to kill me, and Vickie and Bonnie too, I'm sure. Do you think we have any pity for you? Do you think we brought you up here to be nice to you?"
There was a silence. The sneer was fading from Tyler's lips. He looked from one face to another.
They were all implacable. Even Bonnie's small face was unforgiving.
"Gervase of Tilbury mentions one interesting thing," Stefan said, almost pleasantly. "There's a cure for werewolves besides the traditional silver bullet. Listen." By moonlight, he read from the book on his knee. "It is commonly reported and held by grave and worthy doctors that if a werewolf be shorn of one of his members, he shall surely recover his original body. Gervase goes on to tell the story of Raimbaud of Auvergne, a werewolf who was cured when a carpenter cut off one of his hind paws. Of course, that was probably hideously painful, but the story goes that Raimbaud thanked the carpenter 'for ridding him forever of the accursed and damnable form.' " Stefan raised his head. "Now, I'm thinking that if Tyler won't help us with information, the least we can do is make sure he doesn't go out and kill again. What do the rest of you say?"
"All we have to do is relieve him of one of his members," Bonnie agreed.
"I can think of one right off," Meredith said under her breath.
Tyler's eyes were starting to bulge. Under the dirt and blood his normally ruddy face had gone pale. "You're bluffing!"
"Get the ax, Matt," said Stefan. "Meredith, you take off one of his shoes."
Tyler kicked when she did, aiming for her face. Matt came and got his head in a hammer-lock. "Don't make it any worse on yourself, Tyler."
The bare foot Meredith exposed was big, the sole as sweaty as Tyler's palms. Coarse hair sprouted from the toes. It made Meredith's skin crawl.
"Let's get this over with," she said.
"You're joking!" Tyler howled, thrashing so that Bonnie had to come and grab his other leg and kneel on it. "You can't do this! You can't!"
"Keep him still," Stefan said. Working together, they stretched Tyler out, his head locked in Matt's arm, his legs spread and pinned by the girls. Making sure Tyler could see what he was doing, Stefan balanced a branch perhaps two inches thick on the lip of the tomb. He raised the ax and then brought it down hard, severing the stick with one blow.
"It's sharp enough," he said. "Meredith, roll his pants leg up. Then tie some of that cord just above his ankle as tight as you can for a tourniquet. Otherwise he'll bleed out."
"You can't do this!" Tyler was screaming. "You can't dooooooo this!"
"Scream all you want, Tyler. Up here, nobody's going to hear you, right?" Stefan said.
"You're no better than I am!" Tyler yelled in a spray of spittle. "You're a killer too!"
"I know exactly what I am," Stefan said. "Believe me, Tyler. I know. Is everybody ready? Good. Hold on to him; he's going to jump when I do it."
Tyler's screams weren't even words anymore.
Matt was holding him so that he could see Stefan kneel and take aim, hefting the ax blade above Tyler's ankle to gauge force and distance.
"Now," said Stefan, raising the ax high.
"No! No! I'll talk to you! I'll talk!" shrieked Tyler.
Stefan glanced at him. "Too late," he said, and brought the ax down.
It rebounded off the stone floor with a clang and a spark, but the noise was drowned by Tyler's screaming. It seemed to take Tyler several minutes to realize that the blade hadn't touched his foot. He paused for breath only when he choked, and turned wild, bulging eyes on Stefan.
Little whimpers were coming from Tyler's throat and there was foam on his lips. "I don't know his name," he gasped out. "But he looks like you said. And you're right; he's a vampire, man! I saw him drain a ten-point buck while it was still kicking. He lied to me," Tyler added, the whine creeping back into his voice. "He told me I'd be stronger than anybody, as strong as him. He said I could have any girl I wanted, any way I wanted. The creep lied."
"He told you that you could kill and get away with it," Stefan said.
"He said I could do Caroline that night. She had it coming after the way she ditched me. I wanted to make her beg-but she got out of the house somehow. I could have Caroline and Vickie, he said. All he wanted was Bonnie and Meredith." "But you just tried to kill Meredith."
"That was now. Things are different now, stupid. He said it was all right." "Why?" Meredith asked Stefan in an undertone.
"Maybe because you'd served your purpose," he said. "You'd brought me here."
Then he went on, "All right, Tyler, show us you're cooperating. Tell us how we can get this guy."
"Get him? You're nuts!" Tyler burst into ugly laughter, and Matt tightened the arm around his throat. "Hey, choke me all you want; it's still the truth. He told me he's one of the Old Ones, one of the Originals, whatever that means. He said he's been making vampires since before the pyramids. He said he's made a bargain with the devil. You could stick a stake in his heart and it wouldn't do anything. You can't kill him." The laughter became uncontrolled.
"Where's he hiding, Tyler?" Stefan rapped out. "Every vampire needs a place to sleep. Where is it?"
"He'd kill me if I told you that. He'd eat me, man. God, if I told you what he did to that buck before it died..." Tyler's laughter was turning into something like sobs.
"Then you'd better help us destroy him before he can find you, hadn't you? What's his weak point? How's he vulnerable?"
"God, that poor buck..." Tyler was blubbering.
"What about Sue? Did you cry over her?" Stefan said sharply. He picked up the ax. "I think," he said, "that you're wasting our time."
The ax lifted.
"No! No! I'll talk to you; I'll tell you something. Look, there's one kind of wood that can hurt him-not kill him, but hurt him. He admitted that but didn't tell me what it was! I swear to you that's the truth!"
"Not good enough, Tyler," said Stefan.
"For God's sake-I'll tell you where he's going tonight. If you get over there fast enough, maybe you can stop him."
"What do you mean, where he's going tonight? Talk fast, Tyler!"
"He's going to Vickie's, okay? He said tonight we get one each. That's helpful, isn't it? If you hurry, maybe you can get there!"
Stefan had frozen, and Meredith felt her heart racing. Vickie. They hadn't even thought about an attack on Vickie.
"Damon's guarding her," Matt said. "Right, Stefan? Right?"
"He's supposed to be," Stefan said. "I left him there at dusk. If something happened, he should have called me..."
"You guys," Bonnie whispered. Her eyes were big and her lips were trembling. "I think we'd better get over there now."
They stared at her a moment and then everyone was moving. The ax clanged on the floor as Stefan dropped it.
"Hey, you can't leave me like this! I can't drive! He's gonna come back for me! Come back and untie my hands!" Tyler shrieked. None of them answered.
They ran all the way down the hill and piled into Meredith's car. Meredith took off speeding, rounding corners dangerously fast and gliding through stop signs, but there was a part of her that didn't want to get to Vickie's house. That wanted to turn around and drive the other way.
I'm calm; I'm the one who's always calm, she thought. But that was on the outside. Meredith knew very well how calm you could look on the outside when inside everything was breaking up.
They rounded the last corner onto Birch Street and Meredith hit the brakes.
"Oh, God!" Bonnie cried from the backseat. "No! No!"
"Quick," Stefan said. "There may still be a chance." He wrenched open the door
and was out even before the car had stopped. But in back, Bonnie was sobbing.