Elena moved fast. She couldn't stop, couldn't think about what might be happening to Andres, or that they might be too late. She had to stay cool, stay focused. She pulled out her phone and called the others, filling them in on the situation and telling them to prepare for a fight and meet her in a clearing in the woods just on the edge of campus.
"We're taking the battle to Klaus," she told Damon, shoving her phone briskly back into her bag. "This time, we're going to win."
They stopped by Elena's room to drop off her schoolbag and, by the time they reached the clearing, the others had already gathered. Bonnie and Alaric were looking through a spell book together, while Stefan, Meredith, Zander, and Shay talked tactics on the other side of the clearing. Zander's eyes, Elena noticed, glanced in Bonnie's direction, but she was focused on her book. Everyone else was busily sharpening stakes or organizing weapons.
Silence fell over the clearing when Elena entered with Damon. Meredith's hand tightened on her stave, and Matt drew Chloe a little closer to him, protectively.
Elena was looking at Stefan, who stepped forward, his mouth grim.
"Damon saved me from Klaus," she announced, loud enough so everyone could hear. "He's fighting for us now."
Stefan and Damon stared at each other from opposite sides of the clearing. After a moment, Stefan nodded awkwardly. "Thank you," he said.
Damon shrugged. "I tried to stay away," he said, "but I guess you can't manage without me." Stefan's mouth tugged up into a reluctant half smile, and then the brothers turned away from each other, Damon wandering over toward Bonnie and Alaric while Stefan came to Elena.
"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked her, running his hands lightly over her shoulders as if to reassure himself that she wasn't obviously injured.
"I'm fine," Elena answered, and kissed him. Stefan pulled her closer and she leaned into his embrace, taking comfort in the strength of his arms around her. "Andres held Klaus off, Stefan. He was so brave, and he told Damon to get me away. They saved me." She swallowed back a sob. "We can't let Klaus kill him."
"We won't," Stefan promised, his mouth against her hair. "We'll get there in time."
Elena sniffed back her tears. "You can't know that."
"We'll do our best," Stefan told her. "It will have to be good enough."
The sun was low in the sky, and afternoon sunlight spread across the grass between the trees. Elena spent the next few minutes sharpening stakes. They didn't have wood from the blessed tree, but ordinary white ash would at least hurt Klaus. And any wood would kill his vampire descendants.
"All right," Stefan said at last, calling everyone together. "I think we're as ready as we're going to be." Elena looked around at the gathered group: Meredith and Alaric, hand in hand, looking strong and ready for anything. Bonnie, her cheeks flushed and her curls going in every direction, but sticking her chin out defiantly. Matt and Chloe, pale but determined. Zander, still human-form for now, shooting wistful, confused glances at Bonnie, flanked by Shay and the other werewolves, an empty space among them.
Damon stood alone on the other side of the circle, watching Elena. When Stefan cleared his throat, preparing to speak, Damon shifted his eyes to watch his brother instead. He looked, Elena thought, resigned. Not happy, but not angry anymore.
Stefan smiled softly at Elena beside him and looked around at rest of the group. "We'll find Andres," he said. "Today we're going to rescue him, and we're going to kill Klaus and his vampires. We're a team now, all of us. No one - none of us here, and no one else on this campus or in this town - will be safe as long as Klaus and his followers are alive. We've already seen what they are capable of. They killed James, who was kind and knowledgeable. They killed Chad, who was smart and loyal." The werewolves shifted angrily, and Stefan went on. "They've attacked innocent people across this campus and across this town in the last few weeks, and before that, the vampires in Klaus's army slaughtered the innocent all over the world. We have to do what we can. We're the only ones who can fend off the darkness, because we're the only ones here who know the truth." His eyes caught on Damon's and they held each other's gaze for a long moment until Damon finally glanced away, fiddling with the cuff of his jacket. "It's time for us to take a stand," Stefan said.
There was a murmur of agreement, and everyone was turning to one another, picking up their weapons and gathering themselves, ready to fight. Elena grabbed Stefan in a tight, hard hug, her heart bursting with love. He tried so hard to take care of everyone.
"Are you ready, Elena?" Stefan asked her, and she let him go and nodded, wiping a hand quickly across her eyes.
Breathing deeply, she reached deep inside herself, thinking protection, thinking evil, trying to trigger her Power in the way Andres had taught her.
When she opened her eyes, she felt a strong, almost undeniable pull, jerking her toward Damon. Unable to stop herself, she stepped forward before she felt Stefan's hand on her arm, restraining her.
"No," he breathed. "You must find Klaus."
Elena nodded, avoiding Damon's startled eyes. The pull to Damon was intense: she tried to ignore it, but she knew it was her Guardian task calling to her. Closing her eyes again, she breathed and concentrated on Klaus. Images flew in rapid succession across her mind: his cold, brutal kiss, his laughter as he kicked his feet at the top of the elevator, the way he had thrown Chad's poor wrecked body across the clearing.
This time, when she opened her eyes, the dark tug inside her was leading out of the clearing, away from Damon, and she felt like she could almost taste the thick, black, noxious fog of Klaus's aura.
Elena headed where her Power led her, and her friends followed, walking close together. As they went, Zander and Shay and the other werewolves who could change without the moon transformed, loping along beside the humans with their ears cocked for any sounds of attack, their mouths open to catch the scents the wind carried.
They skirted around the edge of campus, sticking to the trees and trying to stay out of sight. Elena expected her Power to lead them farther into the woods, toward where they had fought Klaus before, but instead it tugged her back onto the campus.
At the back of the campus lay the old stables. As they approached, the miasma of darkness seemed to be pulling her along toward the building, and an equal darkness was gathering overhead. Black clouds were hovering over the stables, low and threatening. Zander cocked his ears forward, his tail stiffening, and one of the human-form werewolves - Marcus, Elena thought - tilted his head as if he were listening.
"Zander says that's not a natural storm brewing," Marcus said apprehensively.
"No," Elena said. "Klaus can handle lightning." The werewolves stared at her in alarm for a moment, their shaggy heads going up, ears erect, then refocused their attention on the door to the stables, looking even warier than before.
"He knows we're coming," Stefan said tensely. "That's what the storm clouds are showing. He's ready for us. Bonnie, Alaric, to the sides. Stay clear of the fighting, but keep casting as many spells as you can. Damon, Meredith, Chloe, I want you with me in the first wave. Zander, whatever you think best for the Pack. Matt and Elena, take weapons but hang back."
Elena nodded. Part of her wanted to rebel against being kept in the rear while her friends were in battle, but it made sense. She and Matt were strong, but not as strong as vampires or werewolves, and not as well able to protect themselves and others as the magic-users. If she was supposed to kill Damon, she assumed some magic fighting Powers would show up eventually, but she didn't know how handy aura-reading and tracking would be now that they'd found Klaus.
As they reached the door, there was a beat of hesitation.
"For God's sake," Damon said scornfully. "They already know we're out here." Slamming one elegant Italian-made boot into the center of the stable doors, he kicked them wide open.
It was only because of the speed of his vampiric reflexes that Damon survived at all. As soon as the doors opened, a heavy pointed beam that had been carefully rigged on top of them slammed down. Damon was able to twitch automatically aside just enough so that the blow caught him in the shoulder, propelling him backward and out the door, rather than through the chest. Clutching his shoulder, he folded over and fell into the dirt.
Automatically, Elena ran forward, only half-aware of Matt keeping pace beside her. The others, the fighters, were streaming through the doors: Meredith with her stave swinging, Stefan's face twisted with fury, werewolves leaping into the fray.
With Matt's help, Elena pulled Damon out of the way and felt at his chest, checking his injury. The beam had pierced his shoulder, leaving a gaping wound that both Elena's fists could have fit inside. The ground below him was already black and swampy with blood.
"It looks pretty bad," Matt said.
"Won't kill me," Damon gasped, clutching at the wound with one hand as if he could pull its edges back together. "Get back to the fight, you idiots."
"It could kill you if anyone passes by with a stake," Elena snapped. "You can't defend yourself like this." The pull of her Power toward Damon was making her itch again. He's defenseless, something inside her said. Finish him.
She felt a presence behind her and turned hurriedly as Stefan, back out of the fight, knelt in the bloody mud beside his brother, running his eyes over him clinically. They exchanged a long glance, and Elena knew they were communicating silently.
"Here," Stefan said. He bit neatly at his own wrist and held it to his brother's mouth. Damon eyed him, then drank deeply, his throat working.
"Thanks," he said at last. "Save me some vampires. I'll be there in a second." He lay back, breathing deeply. Elena could see that the wound was already knitting itself together, new flesh and muscle raw beneath the torn skin.
Stefan whirled and ran back to the stable, Matt behind him. Elena bent over Damon in the mud and waited until he pushed himself wearily up on his elbows, then to his feet.
"Ugh," he said. "I'm not at my best now, princess. But they've ruined my jacket, and that gives me a reason to fight." He shot her a pale echo of his usual brilliant smile.
"Well, since you've come all this way," Elena answered, keeping her voice light with difficulty. She resisted the urge to support him toward the stables, and by the time they reached the doors, he was walking strongly.
Inside, it looked like hell. Damon swore and slipped past her, throwing himself into the battle.
Her friends were fighting hard; she could see that at a glance. Meredith was engaged in a near-dance of thrust and parry with an olive-skinned, quick-footed vampire who could only be her twin brother. Bonnie and Alaric stood at opposite corners of the stable, their arms raised above their heads, chanting loudly, raising some sort of protective spell over their allies. Andres was here, too, she saw, tied and slung carelessly beside one wall, but he was pressing his bound hands into the earth and raising a green swell of protective Power as well.
Werewolves wove throughout the crowd, fighting together, human-form and wolf-form, as a Pack. Damon, Stefan, and even Chloe grappled with vampires, while Matt quickly staked Chloe's opponent from behind.
Suddenly, Elena's mind cleared. She'd been hanging back as Stefan had ordered, used to being the fragile one, less of a fighter than the others. But she couldn't be killed by the supernatural now.
Clutching her stake tightly, Elena threw herself into the battle, exhilarated. Her Power tugged at her, and she looked to see Damon wrestling with one of Klaus's vampires, his teeth bared and bloody. Her Power urged her to attack him, and she clamped down on her emotions. Not Damon, she told herself sternly.
A dark-skinned vampire swung her around by the shoulder, his face gleeful, and tried to sink his fangs into her neck. With a stroke of luck and speed, Elena shoved the stake into his chest.
At her first push, it didn't go deep enough to reach the vampire's heart. For a second, both Elena and the vampire stared down at the stake halfway into his chest, and then Elena gathered her strength and slammed it home. The vampire crumpled to the ground, looking pale and somehow smaller. Elena, savagely triumphant, looked around for her next opponent.
But there were so many vampires. And, in the center of everything, his face alight with glee, was Klaus. A few feet away from him, Stefan staked his opponent and charged toward Klaus, fangs bared.
Klaus raised his hands above his head to an opening in the ruined roof and, with a crash of thunder, lightning struck. Klaus laughed and aimed it toward Stefan, but Bonnie, fast as lightning herself, threw up her hands and shouted in Latin. The bolt changed direction in midair, hitting one of the old stalls and blowing its door off. The stall began to burn merrily. Klaus shouted, a high screech of rage, and shoved his hands up, blasting Stefan off his feet.
Elena screamed and tried to run to Stefan, but there was too much in the way, too many struggling fighters. Why couldn't she release more of her Powers? She could feel them there, beneath those locked doors in her mind, and she knew she'd be stronger if she could just reach them.
Her Power itched at her, and Elena involuntarily glanced away from where Stefan had fallen, to see Damon rip the throat out of his opponent.
In a flash, Elena understood. "Damon!" she called, and he was instantly at her side, wiping blood from his mouth on the back of his sleeve.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Fight me," Elena said, and he stared at her, bewildered. "Fight me!" she said again. "That is how I unlock my Power."
Damon frowned. Then he nodded, and hit her in the arm. It wasn't a hard hit, certainly not by Damon's standards, but it hurt and jolted her backward.
Something inside Elena broke wide open, and Power rushed into her. Suddenly, she knew how to do this. She was full of Power now, ready to unleash, and it was all focused on Damon. Not him, she told her Power again. Not Damon. With what felt like a huge physical effort, she tore her attention away from him, back toward Klaus and Stefan.
She waved a hand and one of the beams from the hayloft came free, and she slammed it toward Klaus, knocking him backward as Stefan scrambled up.
There was a thin squeal, barely audible over the now louder crackle of the flames, and Elena wheeled to see Bonnie in the grasp of one of Klaus's vampires, kicking furiously at him as she struggled. His hand was clamped over her mouth to prevent her from casting any spells.
With a pulse of fury, Elena shoved a jagged board through the vampire's chest and watched him fall lifeless to the ground.
Klaus was on his feet again now. Stefan had been tackled by another of Klaus's descendants, and nearer to her, Damon struggled with a huge, red-haired, brutal-looking vampire. A Viking, thought Elena. Klaus was calling lightning all around him, and the air was thick with dark, choking smoke.
No, Elena thought, and walked toward Klaus, pushing the fire ahead of her. She had to keep it away from her friends, keep it tight around Klaus himself.
The flames were all around her now. Looking back, though, she could see the air was clearer where her friends fought, and it looked like they might be winning. As she watched, Meredith pressed her stave against her brother's heart, and he said something to her. They were too far away and the flames were too loud for Elena to hear his words, but Meredith's face twisted into the saddest smile as she rammed the stave through his heart.
Elena coughed and coughed again. It was hard to catch her breath amid all this smoke, and her eyes were stinging. She used her mind to shove the flames closer to Klaus. It was so tiring, though, this new Power of hers, and she was so dizzy. She could feel the Power draining out of her now that it was no longer focused on Damon, and she tried to cling to it. Elena hacked and wheezed again. Klaus was glaring at her, reaching for her, and his filthy hands, splattered with ash and mud and blood, brushed her arm.
She gathered the last of her energy and poured her strength into her new Power, forcing the flames higher between her friends and Klaus's vampires, forcing them apart, forcing her friends backward, away from the end of the stable where she faced Klaus. Around Klaus and Elena, the fire roared.
"Elena! Elena!" She could hear their voices shouting, and she caught sight of Stefan's agonized face just before the walls collapsed on top of her and Klaus, bringing them down.