Previously, in Trials and Tribulations:
Elena raised an eyebrow. “And what do you suggest?”
“A truce.” Klaus said simply. “Between me and my family, and you and yours.”
“You think he means it?” Damon asked.
“He seemed genuine enough.” Elena said slowly. “And Rebekah seemed to think he wasn’t going to kill me – she said she’d see me at school.”
“I think he’s honest about the truce.” Katherine offered. “It’s letting me go I don’t buy.”
Katherine nodded. “I’m not sorry that I killed you.”
Caroline tilted her head, thinking for a second. “Honestly, Katherine, neither am I.”
“Jeremy’s right.” Katherine said, raising her voice a little so the others could hear her. “But Klaus gave me some blood. I’m fine.”
Damon stared at her, not entirely sure he hadn’t imagined the words that had just left her mouth. “I … Klaus saved you?”
“Yeah.” Katherine gave him a smile that seemed to wobble slightly. “Guess he meant it when he said he was letting me go.”
“I think it would be better if we went back to just being friends. It’s not you, it’s me. Okay, it is you as well, but in a nice way.”
“Very good.” Tyler said, his smile broadening into a grin. “That’s the easiest relationship break-up I’ve ever been through.”
“Me too.” Caroline agreed, breathing a sigh of relief. “And hopefully we can carry on without things being awkward.”
“Given you started teasing me about other girls before we actually ended it,” Tyler said dryly, “I shouldn’t think that’ll be too difficult.” He smirked. “You’ve never given me a straight answer, you know. What is going on with Klaus?”
Caroline took a gulp of coffee, wishing it was something stronger. “Don’t ask.”
“We’d be delighted to attend, Elena.” Elijah told her with a smile. “Would you like us to pass Rebekah’s on to her?”
Klaus smirked. “Haven’t you heard, Elijah? Our baby sister is one of Elena’s bridesmaids.”
Elijah was silent for a few seconds. “How the hell did that happen?”
“Unfortunately, I have need to leave Mystic Falls for a while.”
“Oh.” Caroline said quietly, inwardly scolding her stomach for turning over at his words. “Why?”
“Over a century ago, my father forced me to leave my home in New Orleans.” Klaus answered. “It was the last time my siblings and I were together peacefully …”
“And when you daggered Kol.” Caroline finished. “Rebekah told me the story. You blamed Kol’s actions for luring your father there in the first place.”
“It was my city, Caroline.” Klaus continued, neither confirming nor denying his sister’s words. “I ruled it.”
“Knowing you, you still do.” Caroline said slowly. “So … rebellion?”
Klaus smiled, almost coldly, although she knew that wasn’t aimed at her. “Smart girl. There are a few witches plotting against me. I need to … deal with them.”
Caroline sighed. “Let me guess. It’s not witches.”
Elijah’s lips twitched. “No, it is not. The ringleader appears to be an old protégé of Niklaus’s – Marcel – and my sources suggest that he has in his possession a white oak stake.”
“We need a plan, guys.”
“Yeah, or you guys are screwed.” Jeremy said, frowning.
Damon sighed. “What are you talking about, Baby Gilbert?”
Jeremy’s scowl deepened at the nickname, but he elaborated anyway. “The bloodline curse? If Klaus dies, you all die too, right?”
“First of all,” Bonnie said, “Rebekah, call Elijah and Kol and tell them to stay away from New Orleans. As much as I hate to admit it, Damon and Katherine are right – this is going to take a subtle touch.”
Rebekah looked up at her with hope glimmering in her eyes. “Bonnie?”
“I have a plan.” Bonnie confirmed. “And it just might work …”
“Welcome to New Orleans, and the crown jewel of the Crescent City, the French Quarter. Jazz and jambalaya, romance, poetry … not to mention the things that go bump in the night.”
The crowd tittered appreciatively, one more so than the others, feeling certain that their guide, like herself, knew only too well that those legends were not just legends.
“Monsters that feed off human blood, vengeful spirits of the dead, and my personal favourite – the witches.”
Oh, yeah, she definitely knows.
Glancing down the street, Caroline slipped out of the tour group and into the throngs of people milling around.
She felt his presence before she saw him, a man out of the corner of her eye. She did not acknowledge him, nor did she confront him, making her way back to the Hotel Royale, letting herself into her suite with a soft sigh.
Her shoes landed with a thud in the corner and she wandered across the room to lean on the balcony fence, gazing out over a city in turmoil. “What have you learned?”
“Marcel suspects nothing.” Her shadow answered. “Only a small circle of his crew have daylight rings, so the majority are confined to a few sanctuaries until the sun goes down. They feed only on tourists, some kind of arrangement they have with the locals. There are no werewolves anywhere near this city and the witches are not allowed to practice magic.”
Caroline turned her back on the vista to survey the hybrid before her. “What do you mean; they’re not allowed to practice magic? How does he stop them?”
“I don’t know.” He admitted. “But one died tonight. Jane-Anne Devereaux. Her body was found in the middle of the street, in the place they call the Cauldron. Marcel and his guys came and took it, so her sister couldn’t bury the body. Apparently they practice ancestral magic, which means …”
“I know what it means.” Caroline interrupted. “Bonnie told me about it. If they don’t bury her body, her sister will never be at peace.” She turned back to the bright lights of New Orleans. “Once we have him, locate her body and bring it to me.”
Caroline took a deep breath. “Yes.” She said, after a few moments. “Tell me about the wolves. What happened to them?”
“They were run out of town twenty or so years ago.” He answered. “I heard rumours, before, of a powerful clan – two clans – who lived outside New Orleans, but whatever happened to them, they’re gone now. The bayou’s empty. We checked.”
Caroline nodded thoughtfully.
While it had been agreed that her friends could not accompany her on this trip, she’d had no intention of walking into a potential war by herself.
Klaus’s hybrids, once his temporary death had broken the sire bond, had formed their own pack near Mystic Falls and it was they she had turned to for help.
It had gone … Well, about as well as could be expected really.
None of them wanted anything to do with Klaus now the sire bond was broken, even when she informed them of the bloodline curse tying their lives to his.
In fact many seemed to feel that dying was a small price to pay to rid the world of Klaus for good.
Caroline had not attempted to dissuade them, feeling it akin to suicide, but a small number – about ten – had followed her to New Orleans, finding her at the airport in Louisiana.
Furious with Klaus they may have been, suicidal they were not.
They had made it abundantly clear, however, that they would not take Klaus’s orders.
Not this time.
Still, she would cross that bridge when she came to it.
In the meantime, she wasn’t Klaus, and for a group of people who resented the sire bond, they seemed almost desperate for some kind of leadership or mission.
“So Marcel has the whole French Quarter under his command.” Caroline concluded softly. “The wolves gone, the witches powerless, the humans letting him run riot, and the vampires in a never-ending party. Why go after Klaus now?”
“I don’t think he did.”
This second voice caused Caroline to step back inside, closing the shutters behind her. In contrast to Adrian, who had been in his forties when he turned, Jeanette was young, barely older than Caroline herself.
Sometimes, she marvelled at the fact that they were listening to her, but then she remembered that they probably didn’t know for sure how old she was.
After all, Rebekah looked no older than Caroline. Looks, especially when it came to vampires, could be deceiving.
“What do you know, Jeanette?”
“It’s not a sure thing.” Jeanette warned. “But I’ve heard things. Marcel’s nervous about Klaus’s return. That’s why the stake’s in circulation again.”
Caroline frowned. “But if Marcel didn’t lure Klaus back to kill him, then who did?”
“Maybe whoever your source was?” Adrian suggested.
“Elijah was my source.” Caroline murmured. “But maybe …” She pulled out her phone and dialled Rebekah’s number.
“Have you found him?”
“Hello to you too.” Caroline greeted. “Not yet. Or rather, I know where he is, but I haven’t approached him yet. I’m still figuring out what’s going on. I need Elijah’s number.”
“No need.” Rebekah said. “He’s right here.”
Caroline grimaced. “Caroline, Elijah, please. How did you learn of Marcel and the stake?”
“Why do you ask?”
Caroline sighed. “Because my intel suggests that Marcel didn’t lure Klaus here, that he’s worried about Klaus being here. Who was your source?”
“A witch.” Elijah answered. “By the name of Jane-Anne Devereaux.”
Caroline closed her eyes. “Great. She was killed tonight for using magic.”
“For using magic?” Elijah repeated.
“Long story.” Caroline said darkly. “I’ve got it in hand. I think.”
“Well, that is comforting. I don’t suppose you can tell us of this plan?”
“Not at the moment.” Caroline said, her hand caressing the weapon lying on her nightstand. “In time.” She hung up the phone, turning once more to her companions. “In which case, we definitely need to procure Jane-Anne’s body. Her sister may be able to give us answers, but we need a peace offering.”
“Do you think she lured Klaus here to kill Marcel?” Adrian asked.
Caroline smiled slightly. “If she did, then she was a fool. We all know Klaus hates being backed into a corner. Any idea when Marcel has this planned for?”
“Not yet.” Jeanette admitted. “They think we’re nightwalkers. They can see we don’t have daylight rings, but we’re not even close to being accepted. As far as they’re concerned, we’re just passing through. As long as we keep to the rules, they aren’t worried, but we could be anyone.”
“We need someone on the inside.” Caroline murmured. “But how?”
“I might have a way.” Jeanette said. “There’s a bloodletting tonight, at the compound.”
“Bloodletting?” Caroline repeated.
Jeanette nodded. “Every so often, the vampires disperse, invite tourists to this big party. As soon as the clock strikes midnight, it becomes an all-you-can-eat buffet. No one dies, they get fed vampire blood, compelled to forget and sent on their way.”
Caroline raised an eyebrow. “And Klaus will be there?”
“Not tonight.” Jeanette answered. “At least, he’s not invited.”
“When has that ever stopped him?” Adrian muttered.
Jeanette gave him a small smile. “But that’s a lot of tourists wandering around New Orleans with vampire blood in their systems. Drunk. Disoriented. Anaemic. Not difficult for one of them to meet with an accident. If we can get there before anyone else does, we might stand a chance of getting a man on the inside.”
Caroline gnawed on her lower lip. “Alright.” She said finally. “Stake it out. Keep an eye on as many of those tourists as you can. Marcel will have people at the morgue, he’ll have some way of distinguishing his guests, so we need to get to them before the authorities. Natural causes, only, alright? Take it from someone who knows, if we turn someone, they will turn against us.”
It was a long shot.
But the long shot, amazingly, paid off.
Just before two am, Adrian returned, the body of a young man slung over his shoulder.
“Young.” Caroline commented. “Is this the best we could find?”
“The night’s still young.” Adrian said, dumping the boy on her bed. “Besides, how old were you when you turned again?”
“Seventeen.” Caroline allowed.
“Well, he looks older than seventeen.” Adrian pointed out. “And Marcel has a rule about harming kids.”
“At least he draws a line.” Caroline muttered, brushing boy’s hair from his face. “How did he die?”
“Bit too much to drink, bit too much blood loss, stumbled and fell down a flight of stairs.” Adrian answered,
Caroline’s hand traveled down the side of his face to … “Broken neck.” She concluded. “Quick, at least.” She sat back in the chair beside the bed, reaching for her book. “Thank you, Adrian. See if you can figure out where Klaus is hiding, would you?”
He nodded and vanished as quickly as he’d appeared.
And an hour later, a new vampire awoke gasping on her silk sheets.
Marking her place, Caroline set her book aside, reaching out to him. “It’s alright. Don’t be afraid.”
“Who are you?!” He demanded. “Where am I?! What’s going on?! I …” His hand flew to his neck suddenly, scrambling to find evidence of the bites that had undoubtedly marred his skin earlier in the evening.
“Calm down!” Caroline said sharply.
He fell silent, watching her warily.
Caroline moved to sit on the mattress, tucking her feet up under herself, taking his hands. “What’s your name?”
“Josh.” He answered.
“Josh,” she said, smiling, “I’m Caroline. And I’m really sorry to have to tell you this, but you died tonight.”
Josh laughed shakily. “What do you mean, I died tonight? I’m here, aren’t I? Awake? Alive?”
Caroline glanced at the clock and grimaced. “Listen, Josh, we don’t have much time. You remember what happened tonight? With the vampires?”
Josh nodded, shivering, and Caroline moved a hand to his shoulder, rubbing it gently.
“It’s alright.” She said softly. “They gave you vampire blood to heal you. My guys say you fell down a flight of steps.”
“I remember that.” Josh whispered. “My neck …”
“It broke.” Caroline confirmed. “You died with vampire blood in your system. That leaves you with a choice. You can drink human blood and become a vampire, or you can die for good. Hey!” She cupped his face as he turned away, devastation filling his eyes, and forced him to look at her. “I get it. It’s terrifying. When I woke up, I had no way of knowing. I acted on instinct.”
Josh watched, in horrified fascination, as the veins on her face began to darken, blood filling her eyes as her fangs appeared. “So you’re … you’re one of them?”
Caroline smiled, letting her face relax again. “Not exactly. Let me explain.”
For the next few minutes, Josh was silent while Caroline filled him in on Marcel’s regime and what she had learned.
“You want me to feed.” He guessed, when she paused for breath. “You said I had a choice.”
“You do.” Caroline said firmly. “I do want you to feed. Need you to, in fact, you’re my only hope – but I will not force you. I had that choice taken from me. I will not take it from you as well.”
Josh nodded, his jaw setting. “What do you need me to do?”
“I need to you to go to Marcel.” Caroline answered. “Tell him that you woke up and couldn’t control the hunger – that you attacked someone. One of my guys will take care of that. Marcel will dispatch someone to take care of the damage. You died in a fairly isolated place – it’s not unlikely that you’d wake before the authorities found you. He’ll explain things and take you in. That’s what he does with new nightwalkers. As soon as you find out when they’re going to kill an Original, you call me, text me, I don’t care. Just tell me.”
Josh took a deep shaky breath. “I am totally out of my league.” He warned her. “I’m just a club kid who came looking for a good time.”
“I’m just a cheerleader who wanted to be Prom Queen.” Caroline retorted with a smile. “Newsflash: I totally was. Seriously, though, Josh, you have a choice. But do this, and I swear I will help you. I will make sure you can walk in the sun, I will help you control the bloodlust. My family have a habit of hanging on to the people who help us.”
Josh nodded once again, resolve settling in his face. “What do I need to do?”
Caroline smiled and crossed the room to the mini-fridge, extracting one of the blood bags that she’d packed. “In an ideal world, I’d teach you control before you go, but we don’t have time.” She said apologetically. “That’ll have to come later. You need to get to the compound before the sun rises.”
Caroline would be lying if she said she didn’t spend the next few hours in a state of nervous anxiety.
There was every chance that Marcel would reject Josh, would make him work for it.
They didn’t even know what Marcel did with tourists who accidentally transitioned.
Just as Caroline was about to snap and search for Josh, drag him out of the mess she’d dumped him into, her phone buzzed on the nightstand and she snatched it up.
The number was unknown, but the message was undeniable.
It’s happening tonight. Guy called Thomas has the stake. Big gathering at the compound, 10pm. J.