Finally finding the perfect parking space, Alice hopped gracefully out of the yellow Porsche and into the sea of people dressed in red, opening the back door and tugging Eliana out with her.
“Come on, we don’t have long,” Alice said impatiently as she grabbed her by the hand and dragged her through the centre of Volterra.
Eliana was so focused on keeping up with Alice’s quick steps and not getting left behind that she didn’t even argue back. Her shoes scuffed along the pavement as the sun beat down on their heads, not that it bothered Alice at all since she had a scarf over her head.
Eliana, however, was human, and therefore found the stifling heat very uncomfortable to say the least, especially with that many bodies crammed so close together. She’d already experienced a little motion sickness in the car journey there, so the baking heat really wasn’t helping.
Eventually, they reached the clock tower at the other side of the square. Alice unlocked and shoved open the heavy-looking wooden door.
“Come on, guys.” Alice stepped through and removed her scarf, Eliana following along just behind. “It’s a festival. You wouldn’t want to make a scene.”
Eliana wasn’t entirely sure what she’d just wandered into, but she was very much certain that she wanted to turn around and leave, right there and then. As well as Bella and Edward just beside her, there were now two more vampires in front of them, these two being tall and intimidating men who regarded her with their red eyes as if she was food. In fairness, she was food to them.
The tallest one raised an eyebrow at her before turning his gaze back to Alice. “We wouldn’t.”
Another figure was approaching from down the corridor, although fortunately this one was much shorter. She pushed the hood of her black cloak off her head, revealing her honey blonde hair and startling red eyes.
“Jane,” Edward muttered.
Eliana’s eyebrows furrowed together. “Jane? Who’s Jane-?”
“Shush,” Alice interrupted quietly.
Jane smirked at her evilly for a moment. “Aro sent me to see what was taking so long. Bring both humans,” she ordered.
The girl, who couldn’t have been physically older than 13, spun on her heel and started back down the hall. Edward followed first, with Bella clinging to his arm. Bella glanced back between Alice and Eliana, as if asking for help, but the latter simply shrugged.
“Just do as she says,” Alice whispered to her. “And Eli, stick with me. Don’t draw attention to yourself.”
Nodding her head, Eliana took Alice’s arm and walked closely to her. They passed the other two vampires, who only intimidated her further, causing her to hide her face in Alice’s shoulder.
They were led through the castle that was the Volturi headquarters. When Alice had mentioned the Volturi, Eliana hadn’t quite been expecting this much grandeur and, well . . . this many immortals in one place.
One short elevator ride later—which she spent squished between Alice and the shorter male vampire behind her—the group exited into a lobby, with a very human receptionist at the main desk who stood up to greet them.
“She’s more . . . alive than I would’ve expected,” Eliana whispered, causing the taller guy behind her to chuckle quietly.
“Is she human?” Bella asked Edward.
“Yes,” he replied.
There was a pause. “Does she know?”
“Yes,” he said again.
“So much for making conversation,” Eliana muttered, knowing he could hear her even if Bella couldn’t.
“Then why would . . .” Bella trailed off. Eliana sighed, realising how slow her friend was sometimes. “She wants to be . . .”
“And so she will be,” the guy she’d been squished into the elevator with added.
Jane hummed a laugh, as if the thought humoured her. “Or dessert.”
Eliana scrunched up her face in distaste.
As they approached the grand set of doors at the end of the room, Eliana couldn’t help but feel an unsettling sensation within her stomach. Assuming it was just the dodgy food she’d bought on the plane, she shook off the feeling and followed Alice through the doors.
The interior was just as grand as the rest of the building. Daylight shone in through windows high above their heads, and the perimeter of the circular room was decorated with marble pillars. At the opposite end of the room was a dais, on top of which were three thrones. Eliana kept her head down, standing hidden behind Alice in fear of what was to come.
“Sister,” A boy with striking similarities to Jane stood near the other end of the room, “they send you out to get one and you bring back two—and appetisers. Such a clever girl.”
“What a happy surprise!”
The voice instantly sent Eliana’s heart racing, but she had no idea why. Was that a vampire trait she’d never been told about? Giving humans heart attacks by merely speaking?
“Bella is alive after all. Isn’t that wonderful?” She heard the man approach but didn’t dare to look up from where she was standing just behind Alice like a scared child. “I love a happy ending.” He sighed. “They are so rare.”
There was quiet for a moment as Eliana continued to stare at the marble floor beneath her feet. Goddamn it, even the floors looked like they cost a fortune. They probably did.
“La tua cantante,” the man said after a moment. “Her blood appeals to you so much. It makes me thirsty. How can you stand to be so close to her?”
“It’s not without difficulty,” Edward replied stiffly.
He laughed to himself, even his laugh sounding perfectly melodic. “Yes, I can see that.”
“Aro can read every thought I’ve ever had with one touch,” Edward told Bella, and Eliana in the process, “and now you know everything, so get on with it.”
Everything went still and quiet for a moment. Eliana still didn’t dare to look up at any of the people around her—she didn’t want to have to look at their deep red eyes. Even just the thought unsettled her.
“Although it appears you have brought another companion along with you.” The sudden close proximity of Aro’s voice made Eliana jolt slightly. “How delightful.”
“She doesn’t concern you,” Edward insisted. “She has nothing to do with this.”
It was now becoming clear to Eliana that everyone was talking about her. She subtly tightened her grip on Alice, knowing it may just be the last time she did so before she’d be drained alive.
“Do not fear us, young one.” Aro took a few steps back, now standing a few feet away from her.
Alice was pulled to the side before Eliana could avoid the situation any further. Now completely exposed, she took a deep breath, twirling one of her rings around her finger, and took several shaky steps forward.
She glanced up just enough to see that Aro had his hand outstretched towards her. Slightly unsure of herself, Eliana began to extend her arm forward before he suddenly caught her hand and yanked her closer. His eyes remained closed, her thoughts . . . apparently being processed by him.
It was only then that she glanced up at his face. Like every other vampire she’d ever met, he was unsettlingly attractive. Everything about him seemed to be flawless, from his ruler-straight black hair that flowed down to his shoulders, to his pale, almost white, skin.
Then his eyes opened once more. Eliana’s blue eyes locked onto his crimson ones and she felt an unexplainable sting in her chest. Wincing slightly, she broke eye contact again, averting her gaze to the side so that she wouldn’t have to look at him for any longer. Internally, she attempted to dismiss that as indigestion. There was no way . . . no, it was just the food.
Before Aro could say anything, the man occupying the throne furthest on the left began to approach them. Eliana took a hesitant step back, crossing her arms defensively over her chest.
The man brushed his hand against Aro’s before turning around towards the other end of the room once more. Eliana could feel Aro staring at her, and it took every effort within her body to stop herself from turning around and running straight out of the room screaming.
“Come, my dear, no need to be so shy,” he said happily, as if the entire life-threatening situation was something to feel joyous about. “There is no reason to fear us.”
Eliana gulped, still looking away. “I’m considered part of your diet, so I beg to differ,” she replied quietly. As far as she was concerned, if she was going to die, she might as well die with sarcastic retorts as her last few words.
“Aro, they know too much,” the man on the throne on the right snapped, as if he’d been waiting to say that for a few minutes. “They are liabilities.”
She finally plucked up the courage to glance up, her gaze instantly falling on the man on the left. He was considerably taller than Aro, otherwise quite similar in appearance, but instead with dark brown hair that wasn’t quite as straight as his but rather had a faint wave pattern to it.
But again, it was the eyes, that piercing shade of crimson that again sent a shockwave through her chest, but this time it was considerably more painful than before. She quietly whimpered in pain, her face showing clear discomfort. She bit her lip to prevent any further reaction. She was embarrassing herself enough as it was.
Then her eyes moved to the other man, the one that seemed to consider her a liability. His hair was a white blond colour, slightly shorter in length than Aro’s. His face was contorted into an angry sneer, yet his eyes were identical to the others’.
This time, the force Eliana felt was extremely painful, so much unexplainably more so than before. She couldn’t help the cry of pain that left her lips as she clasped a hand over her chest. There was no reason for her to be in this much pain, surely. Vampires couldn’t kill from a distance . . . right?
“Eli!” Bella darted forward, only to be restrained by Edward.
Her head was feeling light. People say the room feels like it’s spinning before you faint, but it truly did for her. Unable to focus on anything, she felt a faint tear form in the corner of her eye as her eyelids closed themselves and her limbs weakened.
Her legs gave way beneath her, but while she waited to make impact with the ground, it never happened. Someone had caught her, just as she felt another teardrop escape her closed eye.
She could’ve sworn she heard a voice, but she wasn’t entirely sure. That was when everything faded out, like she was being forced to fall asleep. Every sense disappeared as she slipped into unconsciousness.
Aro was crouched to the ground, supporting the weight of his new mate while she slumped back against his knees. She was so weak in her current state, only just being held up by his arm wrapped around her.
Bella was still being held back out of the way by Edward while Alice watched the scene unfold slightly anxiously. Even though the seer knew exactly what would happen, seeing her friend unconscious like that definitely made her feel uncomfortable nonetheless.
“Please, j-just don’t hurt her, just leave her alone,.” Bella’s voice weakened and trembled through her sentence.
Edward leaned into Bella’s ear. “They won’t hurt her, I promise,” he murmured reassuringly, and he seemed pretty certain of it as well. Not that that was of much comfort to her, anyway.
Caius appeared beside Aro and Eliana, joined by Marcus. The girl was definitely alive since her faint, slow heartbeat could be heard by every immortal in the room, yet her unresponsiveness concerned them.
“Is she . . .?” Caius trailed off.
Their conversation was so quiet that even the other immortals in the room were unable to hear, and anyone who could would have to be able to speak and understand Ancient Greek and Italian to understand. “Vero amore,” Aro replied.
Apparently not needing any further information, Caius scooped her small, limp form out of Aro’s arms gently and nodded to his brothers as they dashed out of the room in a blur.
Bella glanced around confusedly before the three of them were ushered out of the room, following the kings. Bella continued to grip onto Edward for dear life as they were led down the maze of stone corridors.
“Where are we going?” Bella asked quietly.
Edward kept his gaze fixed on the hallways in front of them but smirked in anyway. “You will see,” he responded.
Once they made it to the room, followed by Alec, Felix, and Demetri, Bella realised that this was really a bedroom, a very grand one at that. Caius delicately placed Eliana down on the bed.
“Why are we in here?” Bella whispered to Edward.
Aro turned around to the pair with a forced smile. “Edward, why don’t you take young Isabella here to the lobby with you? Demetri will escort you both.”
Edward, who had just read Aro’s mind and could see he didn’t want Bella to find out about the mate bond quite yet, agreed with an understanding nod and led Bella back out of the room again. Of course, Bella was understandably reluctant to leave her very vulnerable human friend with the Volturi of all people, but she knew she had no other choice but to follow.
Alice stood at the foot of the bed, out of the way, while Aro pulled the plush duvet over Eliana’s still body. Curiously, he took her warm hand and saw into her thoughts as he did earlier, yet there was nothing new. He found that this was common in people who are unconscious, but it unnerved him regardless.
“Aro?” Caius questioned what he may have seen.
Aro took an unnecessary deep breath. “Felix, Alec, you may attend the feeding. Heidi will be arriving shortly. Alice, my dear, would you mind staying in here with Eliana? There are some matters my brothers and I must discuss.”
Alice beamed and nodded as the three leaders stepped out of the room and travelled down the many corridors in a blur to Aro’s office. Once they entered, Caius slammed the door shut behind them and Aro leant back against the front of his desk as he usually did.
“Aro, what did you-”
“Nothing, I saw nothing,” Aro interrupted. “She is unconscious, brother. You know my gift does not work in these situations.”
Caius sat down on the plush velvet sofa facing his desk with his head in his hands. “This cannot be. I was convinced this was another one of the Cullens’ infuriating games.”
“Likewise, but we have full evidence. Three millennia of patiently waiting, and our love has finally arrived,” Aro sighed dreamily.
Caius rolled his eyes at his brother’s perpetual sentimentality.
Marcus said nothing but simply sat glumly on the other end of the sofa to Caius. He was staring off into the distance at nothing in particular in complete silence, as he virtually always did, but this time he seemed to be thinking about something in particular, a faint purpose to his thoughts.
“Brother?” Aro extended his hand out for Marcus to take.
Marcus sighed heavily and placed his hand in his brothers awaiting one. Once Aro had finished catching up on Marcus’ thoughts, he turned to him with a frown.
“Marcus, brother,” Aro’s voice was soft, “you of all people know how long we have waited for this day to come, for this young girl to arrive in our lives. Would you genuinely be willing to lose grasp of such an opportunity? This is your true mate, our one and only.”
Marcus didn’t respond but Aro knew he was listening. Since the tragic passing of Didyme, Marcus had always been incredibly distant. He rarely contributed in trials, and that trial with Edward and Bella happened to be one of few rare occasions in which he did utter a single opinion on the matter, in fact.
“It is too late for regrets now, my brother. The bond has formed, she is now ours.” Aro paused to sigh. “Marcus, I have watched you act as a shell of a being, an empty shell that made no effort to show emotion or thought. Only this girl—Eliana—can truly restore you once more. Such a wonderful young girl, with a small element of each of our personalities within her, strangely enough. Quiet and kind, hot-headed and sarcastic, smart and, at times, manipulative. I could never imagine a better match for the three of us. Oh, and she is so sweet and innocent—there is so much she has yet to experience.”
Caius cocked his head to the side confusedly, and even Marcus appeared to turn his head subtly in his direction. Surely he was not saying—no, it couldn’t be. A girl as attractive as her, even by immortal standards, in today’s society . . .
“Yes, my brothers, that is exactly what I am saying.” Aro grinned, able to read the expressions on their faces easily after so many years. “The males of her age in her life often paid little attention to her, more interested in the women willing to give themselves away whenever asked. Very few times have I met a young woman of her age from her generation so . . . pure and innocent of body and mind.”
“Do you mean . . .” Caius was trying to think of a way to phrase his sentence without being too blunt. He vaguely mimed with his hands, not that it made what he was trying to convey any clearer. “. . . She has not even . . . no touching? No . . . Has she ever kissed someone before?”
Aro shook his head. “Entirely innocent, brother. When she first saw Bella and Edward together, she longed to be in a relationship similar. She technically has a ‘boyfriend’, Noah,” Caius snarled at that but Marcus didn’t visibly react, although deep down he wasn’t fond of the thought of her with someone else either, “although they have never done anything of the sort. Easier compared to friends rather than lovers.”
“What do you suggest we do now?” Caius asked.
Aro paused for a moment in thought. “This is not something that can easily be kept from her. I recommend we inform her sooner rather than later. We now have evidence that she can feel the bonds that tie her to us, so I get the feeling that keeping her in the dark will only worsen her symptoms. I suppose,” He sighed, “all we can do now is wait.”