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The Hunters: Phantom Chapter 25

elena

Matt swung his gaze in horror between Bonnie’s prone figure, the name on the floor, and Elena’s pale face. After a few shocked minutes, Elena spun and left the room. Stefan and Matt fol owed her as Meredith and the others moved to Bonnie’s side.

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Out in the hal way, Elena pounced on Stefan. “You were supposed to look after them. If you had been here, Bonnie would have had some protection.”

Matt, trailing Stefan out of Bonnie’s bedroom, balked. Elena’s teeth were bared, her dark blue eyes flashed, and she and Stefan both looked furious.

“It wasn’t Stefan’s fault, Elena,” Matt protested gently.

“Alaric and Mrs. Flowers had set magical protections. Nothing ought to have been able to get in. Even if Stefan had been here, he wouldn’t have been in Bonnie’s room with her al night.”

“He should have been, if that’s what it took to protect her,” Elena said bitterly. Her face was tight with anger as she looked at Stefan.

Even as Matt stood up for Stefan, he couldn’t suppress a glow of satisfaction at seeing trouble between Elena and Stefan at last. It’s about time Elena realized Stefan isn’t perfect, the worst part of him said gleeful y. Mrs. Flowers and Alaric hurried out of the room, breaking the tension between Elena and Stefan. Mrs. Flowers shook her head. “It seems that Bonnie was very foolishly trying to contact the dead, but I don’t see how she could have done this to herself. This must be the result of whatever has been endangering you. Meredith is going to stay by Bonnie’s bedside for the time being while we investigate.”

Matt glanced at Elena and Stefan. “I thought you said that Caleb was out of the picture.”

“I thought he was!” Stefan said as they al headed downstairs. “Maybe this is something he started before we fought.”

Alaric frowned. “If that’s true and it’s stil going, Caleb himself might not be able to stop it. Even if he died, that wouldn’t interrupt a self-perpetuating curse.”

Elena strode out to the hal and ripped into the first of the trash bags, her jaw set. “We need to figure out what he did.”

She dug out a stack of notebooks and shoved them into the others’ hands. “Look for the actual steps of a spel . If we know how he did it, maybe Alaric or Mrs. Flowers can figure out how to reverse it.”

“The spel book Bonnie was using is one of mine,” Mrs. Flowers said. “Nothing in it should have had this effect on her, but I’l examine it just in case.”

They each took a notebook and a pile of papers and spread out around the kitchen table.

“There are diagrams in mine,” Stefan said after a minute.

“There’s a pentagram, but I don’t think it’s the same as the one we saw on the floor.”

Alaric took the notebook and peered at it, then shook his head. “I’m not an expert, but that looks like part of a standard protection spel .”

The notebook in front of Matt was mostly scribbled notes. Tanner first death? it asked. Halloween? Elena, Bonnie, Meredith, Matt, Tyler, Stefan all present. He could hear Meredith’s feet upstairs, restlessly pacing by Bonnie’s bedside, and the words blurred before him. He scrubbed the back of his fist against his eyes before he could embarrass himself by crying. This was useless. And even if there was something helpful in here, he would never recognize it.

“Does it strike you guys as weird,” Elena asked, “that Celia was the first one affected by whatever this evil is?

There wasn’t anything about her in the shed. And she never met Tyler, let alone Caleb. If Caleb was trying to get revenge on us for Tyler’s disappearance, why would he attack Celia first? Or at al , real y.”

That was a real y good point, Matt thought, and he was about to say so when he spotted Mrs. Flowers. She was standing stick-straight, staring off past his left ear and nodding slightly. “Do you real y think so?” she said softly.

“Oh, that does make a difference. Yes, I see. Thank you.”

By the time she had finished and her eyes snapped back to focus on them, the others had also noticed her one-sided conversation and grown silent, watching her.

“Does your mother know what happened to Bonnie?”

Matt asked her eagerly. He had stayed in Fel ‘s Church fighting the kitsune with Mrs. Flowers when his friends had traveled to the Dark Dimension, and their time as comrades in arms had made him familiar with Mrs. Flowers’s casual exchanges with the spirit realm. If Mrs. Flowers’s mother had interrupted their conversation, she probably had something useful and important to say.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Flowers, smiling at him. “Yes, indeed, Mama was very helpful.” Her face grew serious as she glanced around. “Mama was able to sense the thing that took Bonnie’s spirit. Once it had entered the house, she could observe it, although she was powerless to fight it herself. She’s upset that she wasn’t able to save Bonnie. She’s quite fond of her.”

“Is Bonnie going to be okay?” Matt asked, over the others’ questions of, “So what is it?” and “It’s a demon or something, then, not a curse?”

Mrs. Flowers looked at Matt first. “We may be able to save Bonnie. We wil certainly try. But we wil have to defeat the thing that took her. And the rest of you are stil very much in danger.”

She looked around at them al . “It’s a phantom.”

There was a little pause.

“What’s a phantom?” Elena asked. “Do you mean a ghost?”

“A phantom, of course,” Stefan said quietly, shaking his head like he couldn’t believe the idea hadn’t occurred to him earlier. “There was a town I heard of once back in Italy many years ago, where they said a phantom stalked the streets of Umbria. It wasn’t a ghost, but a being created by strong emotions. The story was that a man became so enraged at his unfaithful lover that he kil ed her and her paramour, and then himself. And these actions released something, a being made out of their emotions. One by one people living nearby went mad. They did terrible things.”

Stefan looked shaken to his core.

“Is that what we’re facing? Some kind of demon created out of anger that wil drive people mad?” Elena turned to Mrs. Flowers imploringly. “Because frankly I think this town has had enough of that.”

“It can’t happen again,” Matt said. He was also looking at Mrs. Flowers. She was the only one who had seen the neardestruction of Fel ‘s Church with him. The others had been there for the beginning, sure, but when things got real y awful, when they were at their worst, the girls and the vampires had been off in the Dark Dimension, fighting their own battles to fix it.

Mrs. Flowers met his eyes and nodded firmly, like she was making a pledge. “It won’t,” she said. “Stefan, what you’re describing probably was a rage phantom, but it sounds like the popular explanation of what was going on wasn’t quite accurate. According to Mama, phantoms feed on emotions like vampires do on blood. The stronger an emotion is, the better fed and more active they are. They’re attracted to people or communities that already have these strong emotions, and they create almost a feedback loop, encouraging and nurturing thoughts that wil make the emotion stronger so that they can continue to feed. They’re quite psychical y powerful, but they can survive only as long as their victims keep feeding them.”

Elena was listening careful y. “But what about Bonnie?”

She looked at Stefan. “In this town in Umbria, did people fal into comas because of the phantom?”

Stefan shook his head. “Not that I ever heard of,” he said.

“Maybe that’s where Caleb comes in.”

“I’l cal Celia,” said Alaric. “This wil help focus her research. If anyone has any material at al on this, it’l be Dr. Beltram.”

“Could your mother tel what kind of phantom it was?”

Stefan asked Mrs. Flowers. “If we know what emotion it feeds on, we could cut off its supply.”

“She didn’t know,” she said. “And she doesn’t know how to defeat a phantom either. And there’s one more thing we should take into consideration: Bonnie’s got a lot of innate psychic power of her own. If the phantom has taken her, it’s probably tapped into that.”

Matt nodded, fol owing her train of thought. “And if that’s so,” he finished grimly, “then this thing is only going to get stronger and more dangerous.”