Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Telling ( Chapter 28 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Twilight and its three and two half sequels are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. This story is fanfiction based on characters, settings and concepts from Twilight, its three sequels and the first half of Midnight Sun, all of which are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. No party other than the submitting author may alter this work in any way other than font size and other reasonable accommodations to formatting.
This chapter took so crazy long for two reasons: One, I was working on more than one chapter. Two, one of my jobs picked up steam to the point where I'd have to keep so late that I started typing my dreams into the computer. Take it as a sign of dedication. Forget those wimpy pro authors; Twifans keep typing even when their hands feel like they've been set on fire.

"When she included Maggie, for instance, Liam was very territorial." -Carlisle, Breaking Dawn
Her eyes flickered back to mine, deep-orange red and dark with thoughts I couldn't see.

"Will it work?" she asked.

I turned it over in my hands and the light gleamed off the smooth glass casing and perfectly molded surgical steel. The needle gauge was thicker than I would have liked, but at least it was strong enough to reach a human heart.

"I think so," I said. "There's no reason why it shouldn't."

I couldn't read her thoughts, but it had already fallen across her face like a shadow. For us, there was nothing bright about hope. It seemed so simple to watch her purse her lips, see the delicate muscles tighten underneath her unmarked skin. She was really very expressive now that I knew what to look for.

"And if it doesn't work," I said carefully, "or if Aro doesn't allow it, I'll do it the old-fashioned way. I won't lose control again." I meant it, and she could tell that I meant it. For all that I didn't mourn Gianna, I did wish that I'd thought of the syringe sooner. It might have headed a few things off.

Her blood-amber eyes watched me carefully. She wasn't convinced. I tried not to conclude too much from that. After all, I'd given her many reasons to doubt me, and the stakes were high.

"Besides, even if this one doesn't turn out the way you did, this will mean that Aro can have any human he likes turned by any vampire he likes. He won't have to restrict himself to the few of us who can hold back," I added. "Maybe that will keep him interested long enough." Who knew? He might even want to turn new vampires using his own venom, create a new Volterra with an army of his own offspring and toss the rest of us out. I tried not to laugh. Crazy dreams were all that were keeping me sane these days. Crazy dreams and her.

"It might interest Aro, but Caius wants his newborn army," Bella said shrewdly. Understanding the tripled balance of motives and desires that set the pace and direction of our lives was one of the main challenges of living in Volterra, one that Bella was slowly mastering.

"He'll have it," I said quietly, thinking about all that would entail. Better Caius than some random coven that cared for nothing but conquest and blood, but better no one at all than Caius.

She was giving me one of her small, tense smiles, but I knew I would be able to perform my duties. After all, I wasn't trying to do it alone any more.

"Bella, this is how it works," I said, putting the syringe down and taking her by the shoulders. She'd told me how she liked the sound of my voice in her early days: soothing, she'd said, like a balm around the unpleasant truths I had to say. "We all leave our human lives behind, and we make the best of things from where we are."

She nodded again, wrapping her fingers around my wrist and the flickering light of calm in my mind went out. I was used to the gesture. I expected it, anticipated the steady pressure against my skin. It should have been soothing to me too, and perhaps it was, a bit, but for some reason, she always made me remember how much I hated being the masters' catspaw.

It was a good thing, I'd decided. When I wasn't around Bella, I was in denial. And, in Volterra, that was a dangerous state of mind. Life was more irritating when I remembered all the things that had gone wrong, but at least I could see it for what it was.

"They'll want you back at the library soon," I said quietly. Bella was still working early evening in Volterra. Higher-ranking vampires could use this time to roam about the city, mixing with the human crowds that would not be present in the dead of night. I offered her my arm and she took it. This was the way I'd been taught to walk with a lady, long ago. It wasn't specifically a romantic pose—I'd done the same with Esme, Rosalie and Renata—but the more the other vampires here saw us together, the better. And I liked walking with her this way. It brought back memories, good ones, from more than one part of my life.

"How can I help?" she asked.

I'd known she would ask and I had my answer ready. "I'd like you to be there," I said, "like last time." I swallowed, remembering. I'd simply meant that I wanted her there to drag me away from Felix if he tried to smash me into the flagstones again, but the other event of that day still hovered in my mind, expanded to legendary scale by the halo lens of my fractured memory. It was too easy to think of it, and too hard to remind myself that there wasn't anything to it. She was a bloodthirsty creature, and she was only becoming a more controlled one.

She nodded. "Then I will be," she said.

If the masters let you, I almost prompted, but I held my tongue. Bella had been born into free times. She'd been a citizen, not a subject. The idea of having a master chafed her worse than it chafed me. Pressing the issue would only make her feel defiant, and it wouldn't do for us to fight about it again, not when I had nothing new to say.

"Which one did they pick out?" she asked me. She was still agitated. Why wouldn't she be?

I nodded. "Her name is Caroly," I said. "The one who used to be a journalist up north." So much of what the Volturi did involved hunting information, and the nature of information was changing all the time. Aro and Marcus had decided that the best way to keep abreast of things was to hire humans out of the information industries to work for us, but there was always a risk. People who were in the business of revealing the truth weren't always the best at keeping secrets.

"I would've thought he'd've gone for one of the lab techs this time," she said, "all things considered."

I'd been sent with Felix to interview Caroly when she'd first come to us. Felix had used his charm and presence and I'd stayed in the shadows, quietly listening to her thoughts. In part, I'd been meant to evaluate her for Aro's project, but there had also been the chance that she would need to be eliminated before she wrote the story of a lifetime.

But we'd been lucky. Caroly hadn't cared much one way or the other for news work as I had once understood it. This was far closer to the yellow journalism of my childhood, dressed up behind login screens and video clips. Her editors were interested in sales, in making the news sensational and entertaining beneath a veneer of plausible professionalism. She believed in nothing and no one. We were safe.

"I don't think Jane likes Caroly, though. She snapped at Alec after I told the masters about her."

"She did?" Bella asked carefully. Good. She should be careful when she spoke of Jane. There was no telling what would get back to Aro's ears.

I nodded. "You and Renata were downstairs with Marcell at the time," I said. "I suppose he must have tried her patience." Or Caroly had. The human had of course not been present for our report, but Jane had met her before. I remembered Jane picturing her neat, blond-framed face and thinking some rather unpleasant names.

"Do you think that Jane will give Caroly trouble if..." Bella frowned, probably looking for the words.

"If Caroly joins the family?" I asked.

"That's even creepier than how I was going to say it, but yes."

"Jane didn't haze you," I pointed out.

"Jane's little secret weapon doesn't work on me," Bella said, tapping one temple with her free hand.

"That is true," I acknowledged. Bella was looking at me oddly, as if she'd expected me to say something else.

"My point is that you got the heck beaten out of you on a daily basis, but I basically got left alone," she finally went on. "Is it a guy thing?"

"I don't know," I admitted. "I've only caught scattered thoughts about what it's like to be a newcomer here. I suspect that it was less because I was male and more because I was an outsider."

"So am I," Bella pointed out.

"Not the way I was," I said. "You've never been a member of any other coven—to their eyes, the time you spent with my family doesn't count. None of your human life does. Besides, I suspect that you are being hazed."

"I would've noticed," she says.

"Oh?" I asked. "Has Heidi made any overtures to you? Has Adrienne? Have any of them except Renata?" I asked.

"In the library..."

"In the library everyone is working. Did any of the women here say anything that wasn't strictly related to what you were doing?"

She made a small noise in the back of her throat and looked away. "Huh."

"Well have you tried talking to any of them?" I prodded.

She shook her head. "Why would I want to do that?"

Because we're going to be here a long time, I thought, but I'd said it out loud too many times already. If it hadn't sunk in, then it wasn't going to, at least not through badgering.

"You haven't been accepted here, Bella," I said. "You might not find that personally hurtful, but it's the truth."

"I don't mind," she said, looking ahead. I really should have corrected her, but she had so much on her mind.

"It's a bit late to worry about first impressions. If anything, you should keep doing what you're doing."

"But I'm not doing anything."

"Exactly. You're acting like you don't care whether or not they like you."

"I don't."

"Good," I said. "It's fairly important, and I doubt you could fake it."

She narrowed her eyes at me. I held up my hands in what I hoped would be interpreted as a placating gesture. "It shows that you aren't sycophantic. It shows that you aren't going to break and beg for their approval. Knowing Heidi, she'll see that as a challenge once she notices it—the good kind of challenge. It means that she will come to you. And Adrienne won't want to be outdone, so she won't be far behind."

"And then I should let her help me with something?" she asked. I couldn't help but smile that she'd remembered my earlier advice. "But nothing too big?"

"And nothing too menial," I pointed out. "Don't ask Heidi to fetch you something down from a shelf. Ask her something that she'd have to show off a bit to do."

Bella pursed her lips. "Like what?"

"You've spent more time around her than I have," I pointed out. And I avoided Heidi's thoughts. She spent too much time on her work.

Bella frowned, thinking.

"You have time to think of something," I reminded her. "It will probably be a while before anything comes of it. Remember, we're vampires," I pointed out. "We're slow to change."

"Caius seems to think quickly on his feet," Bella said quietly.

I closed my eyes. "We're doing all that we can do about that," I told her. It was the only thing to say.

She bit down hard on her lip, her voice breaking. "But can't we just tell them—"

Oh God, not again. I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the stairwell. I sat her down on the steps and closed the door firmly behind us. Voices would carry in here, even whispered voices, but at least she was out of sight.

"Bella you have to keep calm. You can't let people hear you talking like that." The more unhappy she looked, the more people would be watching her to see if she made any trouble. And she was Bella; sooner or later, she was going to make trouble.

"They're my parents," she said as her shoulders shook. "Can't we tell them?"

"Bella, we've been through this," I said as gently as I could. "I've done all I could to dissuade the Masters. The truth is, from Aro's perspective, it is a good idea. Your father's thoughts were always harder for me to read than most people's. If your silence really is what made you so calm then it makes sense for him to wonder if it's hereditary."

"Wait, you..." she was staring at me now. "You didn't say how they— How did they find out that Charlie's thoughts were..." She looked away. "Oh God," she said, pulling her knees in to her chest as her whole body shook. "O-oh G-God..." I put my hand on her arm and she slapped me away.

"For God's sake, Bella, I didn't tell Aro to do it."

"But you thought him to do it!" she hissed.

"I can't help it!" I called back. "By God, Bella, I don't want him to—" I pressed my lips together, pushed myself to my feet and ran through twenty Russian verbs before speaking again. She already knew I couldn't help it. And it would be foolish, not to mention insensitive, to expect an apology. A girl was allowed to act a little irrational she learned that there were bloodsucking overlords who wanted both her parents dead, and I was the only one she could lash out at. There was nothing I could say, so I said nothing.

"I could warn them," she breathed.

I shook my head, "Bella, you know why you can't."

"We wouldn't have to say anything bad," she said from far back in her throat, hands tracing a helpless elegance in the air. "We wouldn't tell them the secret, just that they had to run away, change their names."

"It's disloyalty, Bella. It's punished severely here."

"With what?" she asked me. "An arm? An eye? I can do that."

"Don't be childish," I snapped. I could picture it, too vividly. Aro did not need a Bella Swan who had both eyes, arms, legs or anything else, and he had many memories of mutilations, for all that he did not relish them the way Caius did. They'd been reserved for only the worst offenses. The masters preferred to keep their servants intact. And then Jane had joined the guard and given them a white-hot alternative.

"Besides, they'd find them anyway," I said, the words leaving my throat like dust.

She looked away, voice turning bitter. "Demetri," she said. "All comes down to him, doesn't it?"

I nodded. "Demetri." Whatever kept her from defiance. She'd made me promise not to get myself killed, hadn't she? My damned beautiful hypocrite.

It was cruel. I had to be the most twisted wretch on the face of the planet, but I couldn't take my eyes off her when she was like this. I'd learned that in the days since I'd told her about Aro's little brainwave about Charlie and Renee. Completely absorbed in something far away, with the welfare of people on another continent, she was like the deep vibration of a bell being struck, the part that humans heard with their bones instead of their ears. This problem was wrong but somehow that meant that she felt right ...and that made me feel wrong.

"We stick to the plan," I told her firmly.

"I know," she said.

"First this," I said, touching the outside of my cloak, where the syringe was hidden. "Midnight tonight, we find out if delivering venom this way makes any difference." I told her. "Aro is a scientist. He won't change more than one variable at a time."

She stared straight into the wall, as if she couldn't hear me but still so impossibly real that she seemed to make the walls behind her seem far off.

"And we will keep thinking of new things to try," I told her, "things that are less risky than kidnapping an American police chief. Aro won't go for Charlie if we give him an easier way."

Bella closed her eyes. "Scheherazade ran out of stories eventually," she said. "And something tells me that this evil sultan isn't going to have a change of heart."

"Well," I said, sitting down next to her, "he had a change of heart one version of the story." She turned to look at me, almost resting her chin on her shoulder.

"What are you getting at?" she asked.

"In the other version, some say the older version, the beautiful woman kept telling the Sultan stories and more stories, each more fascinating than the last." I tried not to think of how tired the poor woman must have been, even if she'd never lived, being that interesting without end. But Bella was watching me and her dark eyes were finally calm. I couldn't stop now. "And the Sultan listened every night. And her stories were so subtle and vivid that he hardly felt the time passing.

"Scheherazade told the sultan stories until he died, unrepentant, after a long life," I told her.
Bella didn't seem to react. I noticed that I was holding my breath. "The Volturi don't think about time the way that humans or younger vampires do," I said. "If we can keep them distracted long enough, Charlie and Renee will be safe until they're beyond Aro or Caius's reach." It was a perfect plan. Because, by definition, it could not work unless the masters were happy, we could not be punished for it.

She scowled into the steps at her feet, but there was no fire behind it. She looked calmer, but still so defeated. I should have hated it but I didn't. If we were defeated then we got to live.

"This is how it works," I said.

"I know."

"This is how we protect them."

"I know."

"They'll have long, happy lives."

She didn't answer.

"Besides," I said, with a cheerfulness that didn't sound nearly as insincere as it was. "Caroly might be everything they hope for."

I stood next to her as she breathed in and out. She'd be late to the library. That was rare enough to be noticed, but it would cause us less trouble than if she showed up so agitated that she fired off an email telling Charlie to pack up and move to Utah.

"All right," she said at last. "Let's go."

"How long is your shift?" I asked, even though I already knew.

"Just four hours," she said. "I switched one of mine for two of Randall's so that know."

I nodded. Small favors here and there. She'd owe Randall a favor for taking her shift so that she could be with me when I turned Caroly. Of course, it would help if she had a reasonable explanation, a Volturi-sensible excuse for being late... I shook my head to clear it. It was time to focus.

I opened the stairwell door and let her precede me out into the hallway. She'd long since accepted that she couldn't stop me from making these gestures and sometimes even refrained from rolling her eyes at what she called my pre-feminist behavior. (She'd told me that she was perfectly capable of opening doors herself. I'd told her that that wasn't the point.)

I saw her to the library. The hours slipped by and I could feel my agitation growing. I hadn't been given any particular duties in the time leading up to the ...well I supposed ceremony was the wrong word. Deliberate turnings were rare. Marcell had drawn a large crowd because of the practical and unfortunately correct assumption that I would need someone to stop me from draining him dry. I could vaguely remember Felix knocking me across the flagstones. I could remember what had happened after that far more clearly, but the memory was hardly more pleasant through the mirror of my current thoughts.

Pacing wasn't as satisfying as it had been. What I really needed was a long run through a few hundred miles of empty woodland, a good wrestling match with Emmett, a good fight with Rosalie. I might as well have wished for the stones of Volterra to dissolve away, and all the rest of the world too.

Around eleven, Rolfe came to fetch me. The master had some last-minute specifications. He told me what Aro had in mind and I had to admit that it would probably work. There was no sense in letting the girl suffer, after all.

At eleven forty-five, I heard the practiced cadence of her footsteps against the floor. She was getting better at this, at walking at a human pace. She was even managing to fake a hurry. I could remember that being the hardest part for Rosalie to learn.

She looked me in the eye and gave a little smile but didn't say anything. I wasn't in much of a mood for talking, anyway.

Remember the discipline, I thought it but decided not to say it. By now, she knew.

Ready? the look in her eyes seemed to ask.

No, I didn't answer. I didn't want to do this. I didn't want to do this or think about why, not any of the reasons.

One heartbeat, pounding away like a steady drumbeat. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought the whole room was empty except for her.

I held Bella's hand and pushed open the door. It was too much like it had been, back in the spring, stumbling into the Volturi's presence with Bella at my side, only one beating heart between us.

Bella released my hand and let me walk past her while she remained near the edge of the room. In the same movement, she reached behind her head and raised the hood of her cloak so that she became a light gray stone in the growing wall of bodies between Caroly and any exit.

We waited as the others walked in, hoods raised, shades of gray filling the room like a billowing cloud. Caroly did't have a hair out of place, but she looked like nothing so much as a bird caught in the slipstream. Her weight was shifting from one foot to another, only slightly, but her nerves might as well have been showing right through her pale, Teutonic skin.

The masters came in last, flanked by their guards. Jane. Adrienne. Dora. Renata.

"Well, my dear ones," Aro said, rubbing his hands together. "I trust we're all more than interested in the proceeding about to take place. Our young servant here has volunteered to be the first in our little experiment."

Experiment? I heard Caroly think loudly, though the word "servant" had drawn her attention as well. I thought they were making me a vampire. Thoughts of the various legends ran through her head. She saw herself emerging as some intermediate creature, a Renfield, a hunchbacked revenant, something less than human, a supernatural slave.

Jane was by Aro's right hand, but Felix and Demetri were here as well. If Felix was hoping he'd be able to fracture my occipital bone again, he was managing not to show it.

I saw the girl's throat flex as she swallowed. Her mouth had gone dry. She'd meant to say something now, had planned a short speech, but all I could see in her thoughts were the first words she'd rehearsed, "Thank you," repeating over and over like a broken record. It was a moment before I realized that she actually was trying to speak, but her tongue was caught between her teeth, half stuck out as she tried to form the sounds.

I stepped forward until I was only a few feet away from her, as Aro meant me to. I gave the girl a gentle smile and then looked at Aro.

"I—" she managed. "I—"

I changed my mind. She was thinking. The finality of it all. The coldness of it all. She could tell that she was prey, and she was reacting to that. She remembered a Zurich garden in the springtime, full of light. She wanted so much to be back there now.

I don't want to do this any more, she was trying to say. I changed my mind.

"You don't get to," I whispered. "None of us do."

She pushed her lips together but they were still shaking.

"Don't look scared," I said. "It'll go better for you if you seem brave."

I know. And I could see it in her mind: The insane group mentality of this place made sense to her. She could see through the dynamics of rank and dominance as clearly as I could see the levels of gray in our cloaks.

So that was why Aro wanted her.

I held out the needle so that she could see it. Caroly nodded and moved to push back the sleeve on her left arm. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open against the ridiculousness of it all. There was no reason not to get this over with quickly.

I shook my head. "Not that way," I admitted. I looked over her shoulder and made eye contact with Rolfe, whose lip twitched in a quarter of a grin.

Her brow creased in confusion. "N-no? Then w—"

A tenth of a second later, the needle was sticking out of her chest. The hem of Rolfe's cloak swayed back and forth against the flagstones as he appeared behind her, supporting her with his hands against her shoulder blades. It was just like we'd planned, too quick for her to move and botch it. He kept her upright as I slowly pushed the plunger down, injecting my venom straight into a human heart as her mouth gaped like a fish just pulled off the hook.

Caroly's arms moved stiffly, hands seeking the sliver of metal that I'd slipped between her upper ribs, but Rolfe held those still as well. She sagged against his grip, and I moved with her, keeping the flow steady, steady, marking her heartbeat in my hearing. In the corner of my eye, I saw Aro sit forward in his chair and place a hand on Jane's waiting shoulder, watching intently.

Rolfe and I lowered her to the floor between gasps. Her thoughts were't much help, but from the way she was tensing and untensing her legs, the venom was spreading quickly—very quickly. Aro seemed intrigued. Of course, he'd see it all again through my eyes, human thoughts and all. I knelt down next to her and carefully pulled the syringe free. A drop of blood welled up at the injection site.

Usually, vampire venom sealed the site of the bite, but it was usually delivered through nothing but skin. I grabbed a wad of Caroly's shirt and pressed it hard over the puncture. The scent in the air kept growing stronger, but not as fast. Eventually, it plateaued and I let go.

I looked up and met Aro's eyes.

Is it working, young Edward?

The girl's thoughts were a mess of pain, flashing bright like the glare off the roof of a car at midday. I nodded.

Aro sat back again and motioned to Caius, who shrugged.

"Well, my dear ones. That was hardly as titillating as some others we've seen, but the purpose is to bring a new member into this family, not entertainment."

Caroly had rolled onto her side, legs curling up into the fetal position. The skirt she'd worn was short and had ridden up, revealing an undignified stretch of pantyhose.

Meaty haunches, Adrienne began her silent tally of Caroly's appearance, making educated guesses here and there about which traits would be muted by her transformation.

I'd thought Gianna deserved to die. Gianna had watched the human prey file in year after year. Gianna had been willing to abandon her human family and the responsibilities that came with it, and she'd done it all eagerly. Caroly was just ...a bit rotten. She was self-centered and heartless, and she was getting an education.

I looked over at Aro. He was wondering why she wasn't screaming. Most of them did but some of them didn't. Bella hadn't. I realized suddenly that I didn't know anything about what had happened to Marcell immediately after his turning. I caught Aro's eye and tried to put the question into my own.

Yes, you can go, he thought.

I felt my cloak swirl around me as I turned and moved toward the door. I did not look back.

Bella's hand found mine on the way.

"That was anticlimactic," she said quietly.

"Not for her it wasn't," I answered.

Bella paused for a moment. "Do you want to go to the roof garden?" she asked.

"I want to go anywhere." The street. The roof. Siberia. Anywhere without that girl's voice.

"I've been thinking," she said.

"I approve," I answered.

I could picture her narrowing her eyes at me, but I didn't turn my head. Not until we were well away from the others, at least.

"You said that Aro can hide things from you, his thoughts," she went on.

"Anyone can hide thoughts from me," I said. This was starting to sound like a puzzle. Good. I needed something to distract me from what was going on back there. It was almost as bad as a feast day. "Most people have to make a study of it, though." I pointed to the side of my head. "Aro had a cheat sheet."

"So maybe he didn't tell you all of why he wanted those people. I mean these ones in particular."

I shrugged. "It's possible. He was concentrating pretty hard on his plan, though. If there were something he was hiding from me, I probably would have caught a piece of it sooner or later. What do you think is going on?"

"Well, Caroly and Marcell were turned with your venom," she prompted.

"Yes, so?" I asked. It bothered me, of course. It wasn't quite like having children, but I did feel some responsibility for my newborns, and being ordered to forego it didn't mean that I was willing to. Being unwilling to didn't mean I was allowed not to.

"Well that means they're sort of Carlisle's, aren't they?"

I stopped.

"You said that Aro was interested in Carlisle. Maybe this isn't really about you. Maybe it's not really about calm newborn soldiers—not for Aro, anyway," she corrected. Caius would want his army no matter what. "Maybe that's why he wants you. You've said yourself that your gift doesn't bring much more to the Volturi than his does."

"I was being modest," I murmured. Aro had found a dozen ways to use me... But he had found them. After I was already here.

I shook my head. "Aro is covetous," I admitted. I doubted I could be punished for saying it flat-out. It was no more than he'd admit himself. "He already thinks he understands Carlisle. He wants to take things away from him."

She had a point... Aro was fixated on Carlisle, but...

Of course.

She was hoping he wouldn't go after them. She was making herself believe that something else was going on so that she could be less worried about Charlie and Renee.

"Do you think I'm right?" she asked. There it was again, dark in those blood-amber eyes.

"I guess it's possible," I said.

She gave a tight little smile and pushed open the door to the stairwell.

"I'm supposed to do that," I said, and I managed not to sound indignant.

"I got here first," she said.

There was no sense in false hope, I supposed as we made our way to Sulpicia's garden ...not unless false hope kept her from doing something stupid and rebellious. As much as I'd liked Renee when I met her, as much as I ...well... I suppose I would have liked Charlie if he hadn't thought about shooting me all the time, their safety wasn't as important to me as hers was.

I closed my eyes.

Renee would hate to be a vampire. Even if she survived the process, all the hiding and rules would press down on her flighty spirit. And that was only if she didn't slip up and step outside for a walk to snap photos at the cattedralle one nice, sunny day. No, Renee wouldn't last long.

Charlie, on the other hand. Even apart form his elusive thoughts, I had to admit that Charles Swan was a better candidate than most. He had a steady, serious mind that was capable of focusing on one thing to the exclusion of others. Charlie might make it. He wouldn't like it of course. He'd been a police chief, a leader of men (technically a small, rotating number of male and female officers and deputies) for so long that taking orders from the masters would grate on him worse than it did on Bella. And then there were the pictures. A man who kept a framed photo of the ex who'd left him sixteen years earlier, hung it in a place of honor, was not someone who could watch whole centuries pass with ease. He would hold on to the past. It could be damaging to humans. In vampires, it was mental suicide. To be immortal meant to watch things pass away, customs, languages, people, even places.

"Well that wasn't so bad," she said at last.

The summer flowers were still in bloom, some of them. It was nearly October, and the warm months lasted a long time in Italy. No, it hadn't been so bad. Not like it had been with Marcell.

"Anticlimactic," I repeated. The word felt like smooth, sharp stones in my mouth. I liked the coolness, but I knew I could crack my teeth on it.

"I sometimes wonder if Sulpicia ever came here to relax," she said. Distracting. Yes, I wanted distracting.

"I don't know," I wondered aloud. Why growing flowers? Cut flowers would have been just as visually stimulating without any earth or fertilizers to mar their scent. "Maybe she wanted to build something, something that would change over time, even if it would die back every year."

Bella gave a half-smile. "Actually a lot of these are perennials. Renata's practically got a Ph.D. in this stuff."

"Aro build a world order. His wife built a garden."

"And she doesn't even do that any more."

I shook my head. "It's not like that with Carlisle and Esme."

"Isn't it?" she asked. "She builds things that won't last forever and he saves the world."

"Aro doesn't save the world, and Esme doesn't only build gardens," I managed not to snap. I knew what she was doing. I'd asked her to do it. "Esme designs buildings for people to use. They're pretty but they work. And Carlisle doesn't..."

"Doesn't pack her away in a tower to keep her out of his business?" she asked.

She wasn't serious. I could see it on her face. She was teasing me, calling me out of my sullenness, and she was right to do it.

"That's not why the wives stay in the tower," I said.

"Really?" she asked. "Because it looks like they never go anywhere."

"They don't," I admitted, "but their confinement is voluntary, mostly," I amended. Aro avoided thinking of Sulpicia around me. Frankly, I preferred it that way. "I think it makes them feel safe."

"From what?" she asked. "Renata started telling me about the Children of the Moon. Is there really a vampire boogeyman?" she asked, sounding almost like a child wanting a campfire story.

Well I would rather be at a campfire in the Arizona desert than here in Volterra. I would rather be a dried-up old man or a spinster camp counselor telling a story than myself at this moment. She was kind, my newborn Bella. She was so kind.

"The Volturi have enemies," I said.

"Of course they do," she answered.

"Well the last major challenge to their power was hundreds of years ago, by a large coven based in Romania."

"Romania?" she asked carefully. I could almost see the wheels ticking in her head. "The son of the dragon?" she asked.

Showoff. Two could play at that game. "Vlad Tepes was completely human," I answered with a smile. "But I wouldn't be surprised if these fellows inspired some of the legends that would later collect around the name 'Dracula.'"

"Did drinking blood make them younger?" she asked. "Could they turn into bats and wolves and mist?"

"No," I answered, "but if you met them you'd understand how they'd prompt someone like Stoker to say that they could. Caius's memories of them in particular..." I allowed myself to shudder. It was cathartic. Telling this story, taking all the sense of it and putting it in order, that would be cathartic too.

"Not everyone liked obeying the Volturi's law," I began, "but for thousands of years, our kind has had no choice. Keep the secret or be destroyed."

"And there were vampires who wanted to go public?" she asked.

"Not really," I answered. "One or two here and there but the only coven that ever seriously made a play for the Volturi's place in our world was the Romanians."

Bella's eyes grew wide. "They tried to take down the Volturi?" she asked.

"More like take their place, but yes," I answered. "There have only been a few covens of anything like this size in our history. Most large groups of vampires eventually fall to infighting. Some can hold things together for a decade or a century, but if they aren't destroyed from the outside, they're destroyed from within."

Bella nodded, listening intently. It was having the intended effect—helping me focus.

"A group of Romanian vampires managed to build a large, talented coven and keep it together for hundreds of years." I closed my eyes, trying to take the snatches and scraps of thoughts and memories that I'd collected and knit them into a cohesive shape. "Caius wanted to destroy them, but Marcus argued that there was no reason so long as they kept the law. Aro saw that them as a possible threat, but for reasons that escape me, he did not want to make the first move.

"Eventually, the Romanians made a play for power here. I saw you reading about European history," I said, "you may have noticed that the fifteen-hundreds were not exactly the most stable part of Italy's timeline." I raised an eyebrow. That had been Stefan's doing, mostly. "The Romanians were subtle, very skilled at working behind the scenes. And this was one of their plans: destabilize the Volturi's core territory and distract them long enough to attack the coven itself."

"Did it work?" she asked quietly.

I sighed. For a second, just a second... "We're sitting here, aren't we?" I asked. "Their plan backfired," I said. "An unstable Italy only made Caius keep his strongest fighters close. It only made Marcus overhaul the compound's defenses. They did not specifically know the attack was coming, but they were ready for it nonetheless.

"The coup failed," I said, "but if they had waited longer or attacked with a larger force, who knows?"

"And we'd be stuck in Rumania instead of Italy," Bella muttered sullenly.

"More likely we'd both be dead," I added. "Their leaders, Stefan and Vladmir, had a reputation for brutality that Caius couldn't match on his best day." And Caius had only gotten more paranoid since.

"That's a little hard to believe."

I shrugged. "That's the story."

There was a sound from many floors beneath us. Bella was halfway to her feet before I stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

"Jane?" she asked.

I shook my head. "I'm surprised Caroly lasted this long, actually."

"Is she down in the cell? The one I was in?"

"Marcell is still there. They have more than one."

She settled back, closing her eyes as a breeze kicked up from somewhere in the city.

"What will they do with her once she's turned, do you think?"

I gave a half-smile. Aro loved to run through possibilities. Caius did as well, but I spent less time around him. "If all works as planned, she'll be cannon fodder. Demetri and Felix will teach her to fight, teach her the discipline, and she'll go out on missions like we do—at least that's what Caius wants."

"Is he at odds with Aro again?"

"Not at odds," I said. "Aro is a bit concerned about the effect this would have on the community. The newborn wars are a big part of our history. Only the vampire children and perhaps the Children of the Moon frighten people more. The idea of a calm newborn army is going to shake things up."

"Enough so that someone might attack like the Romanians did?" Bella asked.

"I don't know," I said, wondering why it hadn't occurred to me. Maybe that was why the Romanians had been so much on Aro's mind. I'd thought it was the news from Budapest. "Organization is rare for us, Bella. We're not social creatures the way humans are. Even things like the newborn wars in Mexico and Central America are unusual."

She pursed her lips, thinking about something that I couldn't see. And I loved that I couldn't see it.

"It all comes down to Chelsea, doesn't it?" she asked. "The Volturi's power is their ability to work together, and she makes that possible."

I shook my head, rolling sideways as I leaned back against the roof access. "Chelsea's gift helps, but before that, it was Marcus," I explained. "His eye for personalities, for the connections between beings..." I tried to think of how to explain it. "Most buildings that are made out of stone or brick—like this one—they use cement or some other kind of mortar. Chelsea is like cement.

"Well there is another way to build a stone house," I went on, "and that is to find exactly the right rock with exactly the right shape and, without polishing or changing it, lay it against other rocks so that the angles form the shape you want. It's called drystone."

Bella frowned. "Does anyone actually do that?"

"Not any more. Some monks in Ireland built their cells that way. They're not very big and they don't look like much, but many of them are still standing."

"Hm," Bella responded.

"Chelsea has her gift," I finished. "And Marcus has his, but he also has the skill and patience to put it to use." Or he had, before Chelsea had taken over his duties and left him to fall into boredom.

"Maybe turning people is like that," Bella suggested. "Maybe you need the exact right person to bite the exact right human."

"That's possible," I said. It was possible. She was right. And if she was right then there was no point going after Charlie and Renee ...unless Aro wanted to make certain that it wasn't genetic, which he would.

Well, I needed something to think about...

"What else do you think it might be?" I asked. My brain could conjure up every horrific possibility with regard to what could go wrong, and it looked as though Bella's worked the same way. Maybe we could turn them both round, think of what might be put right. I'd done it before.

Bella looked to the side. "It's got to be something that I have that Marcell doesn't," she started, voice like a quivering fishing line. "Maybe I'm a girl?"

"You're definitely a girl," I answered.

"Shut up," she said. "I grew up in Phoenix. It might be something in the water."

I frowned, trying to think of any member of the Volturi was from the Southwest. Even so, it wouldn't be too hard to pluck some Arizona tourist out of Heidi's net the next time a feast day came around.

"I went from someplace very sunny and then spent a year in Washington," she said. "I was reading that biochemistry book, and they got to that. Maybe it's a vitamin thing."

I winced, remembering the cod liver oil I'd been force-fed as a child to prevent rickets. Never mind that Chicago hadn't had London's smog problems. It had been by far my least favorite British fashion.

"We might be able to try that," I said. And the evening passed slowly, as we planned out stories to tell the king.
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