As soon as we walked into the round, turret-like room, one of the vampires inside- a man with slick black hair and papery-looking skin- called out Alec’s name, sounding supremely unconcerned.
The effect was instantaneous. I felt Edward slip from my grip and watched, horrified, as her tumbled to the ground like a discarded puppet. On my other side, Alice did the same. I reached down and shook Edward’s shoulder, tears starting to prick in my eyes. “Edward? Edward, wake up!”
“It won’t do you any good,” Alec said mildly. “He can’t hear you.”
I whirled around to face him. “What did you do to them?!”
“Do not worry, dear Bella,” said the papery-skinned man. His voice was so soft and fluttery. “Your companions are merely… anesthetized. It is standard operating procedure for our trials.”
“Trial? But he hasn’t broken any rules!”
Jane gave an ugly snort and the man chuckled lightly. “We have but three laws, my darling Bella. No vampire is permitted to change a child under the age of ten years old; no vampire is permitted to form armies of newborn vampires; and, most importantly, no vampire is permitted to reveal themselves to humans. And yet here you stand.” He glided across the room. “Luckily, your kind are easily fixable problems.” I shuddered as he brushed his cold hand against my cheek. His face lit up. “Ah! So you are resistant to my power as well as to Edward and young Alec!” He looked at Jane. “My dear, if you would test my theory?”
Jane looked at me, her eyes gleaming, but when nothing happened she let out a small snarl.
The man was delighted, however. “Chelsea, if you would be so kind as to go next? And if she is unsuccessful, Corin, I think you should go next.”
Standing in a beam of light from a high window were two women in summery dresses. One, a short woman with brown hair who must have been Chelsea, crossed the room to me and peered directly in my eyes. She moved her hand as if trying to brush away a spider web. Apparently unsuccessful, she backed away and motioned for the other woman- a tall, muscular blonde- to attempt next.
The blonde smiled at me. “If you feel the urge to laugh giddily, please do indulge it. It makes things much easier.” She stared at me for a long, awkward minute until sighing. “How irritating,” she remarked.
The papery-skinned man was still delighted. “Well, I suppose I know how we must proceed. Try to hold still, dear Bella. It will make this much easier.”
And then he lunged at my throat.
My whole world was fire.
Every inch of me burned. I could feel it in my skin and in my brain and in my hair and in eyes. It didn’t stop. I didn’t think it would ever stop. I realized that, despite what I’d thought when Edward had left, I’d never truly wanted to die before. Now it was all I could dream about.
Sometimes I was aware there was someone else there. It was hard, at first, to hear over the pounding of blood in my ears and the harsh wailing sound I thought might have been coming from my own mouth. As time went on though and my brain seemed to painfully expand, my hearing improved.
“It’s all right, Isabella. It’s not your fault he didn’t love you. You’re still special. When you’re ready, you’ll be one of us. Aro loves you already. Everyone in the Guard loves you. Jane has been a bit more difficult, but she’ll come around. Everyone comes around for me.”
“You’re gonna be so pretty, Isabella. So much more beautiful than those whores at your school. They’ll bow before you like the worms they are.”
“Edward never would’ve changed you. You bored him; he told you that himself when he shattered your heart. Well, he was wrong; Aro saw that. Aro changed you because you’re special. You owe him everything. Aro loves you and you should love him.”
During one visit she squeezed my hand. The cold of her skin against my burning palm felt so good that, when she let go, I sobbed, trying to claw after her. She pushed me back onto the bed I had been laid on.
“Not yet, Isabella. Just a few more hours.” Her cold lips touched my cheek and I gasped from the momentary relief. She laughed softly and left again.
I got thirsty… so thirsty. Soon I didn’t even want to die anymore, just wanted to drink, to feel wetness sliding down my throat, thick and hot and gushing and red…
The burning intensified in my chest. My heart beat so fast it was like it was trying to escape the pain. Suddenly I felt coldness, just barely, in the tips of my fingers. It hurt too, stinging like I was being poked with needles, and I latched on to it. I could handle anything except the burning.
“It’s almost over, Isabella. You’re almost perfect. You’ll finally be a vampire, the way you were always meant to be. And you won’t need Edward anymore. You won’t need Jake. All you need is Aro and the Guard and yourself…” she paused. “And me. You love me, Isabella, you love me so much, I’m your best friend and I stayed with you this whole time, I helped you. You love me.”
The heat had retracted from my hands and feet, leaving them bitterly cold, but it wasn’t better, it was worse, my heart beat so much fast and what if it never stops what if she’s lying-
A cool hand pressed against the bare skin of my chest. I had torn my clothes off what felt like a lifetime ago, vainly trying to get away from the mounting heat inside my body. Now, I arced up into the cool palm. “Say you love me, Isabella,” the woman said. “Tell me you love me.”
“Kill me! Kill me kill me kill me I can’t take it anymore-“ I babbled.
The hand left my skin and I screamed in agony, thrashing around to get it back, to get some relief, any relief.
“Say you love me. Say it.”
“I love you! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I love you, please-“
The hand settled back on my chest and I felt a spasm in the pit of my stomach as the small relief flooded through me once more
“Good. I’d say you have about, hm, twenty minutes left. Would you like to count with me?”
“Yes,” I choked out. “Anything. I’ll do anything.”
We reached 1206 when my heart finally beat its last beat.
I opened my eyes. Chelsea was standing above me. When I looked at the rest of the room I saw my ripped up clothes laying in a pile in the corner, along with the torn remains of the mattress they had laid me on. The black metal door to the plain stone room we sat in was shut. Chelsea removed her hand from my chest and walked over to the door, knocking twice.
“I figured you’d be hungry. I had Alec pick you up something special. Don’t worry the large portions- you are a newborn after all,” she said brightly.
The door opened and Alec tossed five unconscious women. All of them were blondes, each looking to be in around their late teens. My throat flared as the scent of them wafted through my nose and, without waiting for Chelsea’s permission, I dug in.
They let me see Alice after I finished my dinner. She had red eyes too. When I told her we matched now she’d laughed and hugged me tight.
I was summarily dressed in a dark gray pantsuit Alice had chosen for me, and Chelsea washed the excess blood out of my hair. When that was done, the three of us sat down on a couch and flipped through a large photo album of every unmated male that had ever worked with the Volturi. Chelsea was a bit cagey when I asked what the purpose was- I didn’t particularly care why, since I trusted her so much, but Alice explained to me anyway that, because vampires mated instantly and for life by way of sight, they were trying to find my soulmate.
“What about…” I paused, searching for the name amidst my dim human memories. “Edward. What about him?”
Chelsea patted my knee. “Aro, Caius and Marcus have ordered his execution for breaking the law and for disrespecting the Court. You should’ve seen the fit he threw when he woke up and realized we were turning you!” She shook her head embarrassedly. “What an awful faux pas. At any rate, Aro has agreed to a stay of execution in case you really wanted to keep him alive, but…” she trailed off awkwardly.
“He’s a shitty asshole and nobody here likes him,” Alice filled in.
That didn’t seem right to me. I’d had such strong feelings toward him while I was a human, surely he couldn’t have been so obnoxious. But, then again, I had been human and weak, no more fit to make a decision of love than the meal I’d taken earlier. I went back to looking through the photo album. Three more turns of the page was all it took before I gasped, clutching onto Chelsea’s arm. “Oh,” I said breathlessly, staring at his face. “Him. It’s him.”
Chelsea shrugged and read off the name and description underneath the picture. “Toshiro. He gave testimony about an immortal child in Fukuyama, Japan, in 1720. He immigrated to England in the 1950s for a change of scenery and dropped by Volterra to pay his respects. Not the worst pick.” She ruffled my hair. “I’ll go see to it that Demetri picks him up.”
“Thank you so much, Chelsea,” I gushed. “Not just for this, but for everything. And please, thank Aro too. You guys really have changed my life.”
Chelsea smiled warmly. “I know.”
I walked into Aro’s chambers without knocking. He didn’t look up from the book he was reading.
“Hello, my Kopela,” he greeted. I sprawled down on his white leather sofa across from the matching armchair he sat in. I offered him one of my hands, but he shook his head. “Tell me what you wish at your own leisure, Doro.”
I smiled, delighted. “Thank you.” I rolled over and let my head hang off the couch, looking at him upside down. “Well, I do believe Isabella is firmly ensconced on our side. It’s been a while since I got to do some old-fashioned manipulation, I rather enjoyed the challenge. Additionally, Afton’s suggestion of finding her a new mate went remarkably well. Although I do think Felix is a bit disappointed she didn’t fall for him.” I shrugged. “I don’t even think she’s that hot.”
“I wouldn’t be the best person to judge the ‘hotness’ of a woman,” Aro said, his lips twitching.
I stifled a laugh. “You know, if you didn’t kill Edward and let his coven come to Volterra to retrieve him instead, I could make it very hard for Carlisle to leave,” I suggested.
His eyes sparkled. “But don’t you think Caius would be jealous?”
I shrugged. “I could make him not be jealous.”
“Why do you keep us around, Chelsea? You could rule our world yourself with just a thought.”
I laughed. “Because all the foolish rebels want to kill you. And who knows? Maybe someday they’ll succeed. Meanwhile, I’ll stay in the background, wrapping my web around the whole wide world.” I smiled, my fingers twitching at the connection between the two of us. I spun it just the slightest bit stronger, pulled it just the slightest bit tighter. “But you already know all that, don’t you?”
Aro merely smiled at me. We spent the rest of the afternoon in companionable silence, him reading and I spinning.