People were rushing past Elena on all sides, buffeting and banging against her, so she flattened herself against a tree. The noise was overwhelming - shouts and groans and bodies slamming together.
Klaus's army was too big, but her friends were holding their own. Stefan, his face a mask of fury, was grappling with a slim, fair-haired girl. When Elena caught a glimpse of the girl's face, her heart seemed to stop for a second. Katherine.
Elena had seen Katherine die, seen lines of fire crack her face open as she screamed. How could she be here? Katherine raised a hand and scratched at Stefan's face, her fingers bent into claws, and he twisted her arm viciously, snarling and knocking her to the ground, where they were lost to Elena's view.
Meredith was sparring with a handsome, dark-haired guy whose face was vaguely familiar to Elena. They were evenly matched, each blocking the other's blows with deadly speed and efficiency. Meredith looked tense and serious, without the gleeful expression she often had in battle.
Matt and Chloe had squared off against a female vampire, Chloe shielding Matt with her body and yanking the vampire's head back, trying to turn her so that Matt could stake her through the heart. The vampire snarled and twisted in Chloe's hands.
A wild howl came from one side of the clearing, making the hair on the back of Elena's neck stand up on end, and her eyes shot to the horizon: the sun was hanging low and a full moon had just risen. The rest of the werewolves had changed as they fought, and now the vampires who had been battling them in human form fell back as the Pack leaped eagerly upon them. Zander and Shay, who was easily identifiable by the reddish tint of her fur, pulled a vampire down together, their heavy bodies pinning him as they tore at his flesh.
Bonnie and Alaric were chanting in Latin, their voices steady but strained. Beside Elena, she could hear Andres muttering softly in Spanish. She glanced at him, and his aura was so clear she could see it without even trying: a circle the color of beech leaves in spring was spreading out from him, touching on their allies in the fight. She realized that like Bonnie and Alaric, Andres was using all the Power he could call on to protect her friends.
They were fighting hard, but there were so many of the vampires, at least twenty. Both men and women of different races and ethnicities, but all young, all beautiful. All with a certain mad savagery in their expression that echoed Klaus's. Their faces were wild with hate and with anticipation. They wanted to fight, Elena could tell, wanted to kill. One, a golden-haired boy who looked younger than Elena herself, high-school age maybe, wrestled a werewolf to the ground laughing, his face smeared with blood.
Katherine is here. The words repeated in Elena's brain as if they had significance beyond the fact that Klaus had resurrected her oldest enemy. Katherine was here . . . and Ethan had used the blood of the vampires Klaus had made to resurrect him.
Klaus had been calling upon old friends. With a sickening twist, Elena wondered: Could these all be vampires Klaus had turned, all gathered together like some kind of vicious tribe, some kind of family? And had Klaus used their blood to resurrect Katherine, to raise his most beloved child as he had been raised?
Through the brutally battling crowd, Klaus was coming toward her, his face gleeful. He was so handsome, she thought irrelevantly, and so terrifying. His ice-blue eyes were wide, and his golden skin glowed in the moonlight. His allies - his children - moved out of his way so that his path was effortless. Something shone in his hand. With a chill, Elena realized that he held an unsheathed dagger.
Elena couldn't move. She felt as if she were in a dream as Klaus came closer and closer, smiling and gliding easily through the crowd, until he was so close she could smell the coppery scent of blood on him. He took her arm rather gently, and his smile grew wider. He held her effortlessly still with his Power, and as she slid her eyes to the side, she saw Andres, his mouth open in horror, and realized Klaus was holding him still as well. Stefan, too, was fighting against Klaus's Power, desperate to reach Elena before it was too late.
"Hello, pretty one," Klaus said, his voice soft and intimate. "I think the time has come, don't you? I'm ready to taste you."
The dagger's blade flashed in the setting sunlight as he raised it to her neck. Elena, with the sharp focus of terror, saw its hilt gleaming with runes and patterns. From below the blade, a curious wry-faced beast, something like a lizard, grinned at her cruelly. And then she couldn't see the dagger anymore, because Klaus had pressed it to her throat.
Stefan, Elena thought. She could see him across the clearing, his face frozen in despair. Even though she was becoming a Guardian, she'd always thought things would work out so that she could be that normal, happy girl with him. His heart would break without her, she realized, and she had just a moment of pure sorrow for him and for what they could have had together.
She felt the freezing cold blade cross her throat, and then the heat of flowing blood. Klaus leaned closer, his breath cool and rank, then suddenly pulled back. The blood had stopped, Elena realized. And she couldn't feel the pain anymore. She was healing almost as fast as Klaus could cut her.
Klaus's blade couldn't kill her. Was this because she was a Guardian? she wondered dazedly.
Klaus growled in fury and slashed at her neck again. Elena felt a shock of pain, but again, the wound seemed to heal. The others were seeing what was going on now, although Klaus's Power must have been holding them at bay. Elena met Stefan's horrified eyes as Klaus shoved her away from him.
"Your magician and witch have found a way to protect you, have they?" Klaus sneered. He glowered at Bonnie and Alaric, who both took an automatic step backward, their faces white with fear, and then he turned back to Elena. "Don't worry, pretty one, it won't stop me from having you." His voice dropped to an insinuating whisper and he reached out with one finger to trace the line of Elena's upper lip. He smiled, but his eyes were furious. "I'll figure out a way around whatever they've done, believe me."
He raised his voice again, looking slowly around the clearing. "We like it here, my children and I," he announced. "All the fresh, young blood - it's a continual feast." A ragged cheer came from some of the vampires. He smiled again, his sharp, white canines gleaming in the last rays of the setting sun, and his hand tightened around Elena's jaw, dragging her forward. "In the end," he said, his voice low and intimate, "not one of your friends will survive us."
Klaus turned away, striding across the clearing. As he passed the Pack, frozen still and silent by his Power, he grabbed up the closest wolf in one smooth, quick move - Chad, Elena realized, recognizing his wiry frame and the white blaze at his throat - and threw him easily into a tree. Elena heard Chad's bones crack and then the wolf collapsed limply at the bottom of the tree, motionless.
Klaus grinned and lightning cracked across the sky. "He's only the first. I'll see you all soon." He sauntered slowly and carelessly into the woods. His vampires melted into the night after him. As Klaus's army vanished, Elena felt his Power release her at last, and she slumped to her knees. The Pack, the first to spring back into motion, raced to Chad's side.
Gazing across the clearing, Elena saw Stefan. He was pale and still, and as their eyes met, Elena saw a mirror of her own fear.