Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
Everything was wrong. Out of context.
It was the cornices I was supposed to be worried about. Cornices and flames. Not Marc. And yet, he had suddenly become the most dangerous thing in my world. I just wasn't sure how. Or why.
His dark hair flopped over of his pale blue eyes. It was a face I thought I knew, the face of a friend, but I'd been wrong.
He smiled a too-wide smile that made my skin want to crawl off my back. Who the fuck was he? My mind raced, trying to find an answer, a connection, some clue from the past eight months that would explain the last thirty seconds. But I came up empty.
Was this something to do with Marion? Or was this about the Volturi?
I couldn't even consider that possibility and I pushed it quickly from my thoughts.
Marc's eyes were excited as they focused on the silver crescent on my wrist and he reached for me. My shock and confusion were quickly shifting to fear and panic but some deep instinct told me to act normally.
Stay calm, it said. Stay calm and pretend you don't know what he's talking about.
"This scar?" I moved my hand out of reach as casually as I could, hoping he wouldn't see how I shook. "Dog bite. I was only three or four when it happened, I don't remember much about it. Only what my Mom told me."
There was a flicker of something in his eyes. Confusion? Fear, maybe? His lips thinned and he licked at them.
"Never seen a dog bite like that," he said.
"Depends on the dog. Look, we have to go and I really need that coffee."
"Why are you so eager to get out of here?"
"I'll tell you over the coffee. Come on."
I made to move past him, but he blocked me and I dropped my phone again.
Falling end over end, it seemed to move in slow motion and as it hit the floor I could see Edward's number still on the screen, ready and waiting to be called. Help was just a single click away. I watched my hand reaching, fingers curling, ready to pull it back into my grasp. And then everything sped up as Marc beat me to it. My lifeline was snatched from me, switched off, and stowed in his pocket before I could even blink.
My heart dropped to my toes.
"I know it's not a dog bite," he said quietly. "So, you going to tell me the truth?"
"What truth?" I tried to look annoyed instead of scared. "Look, I don't know what you're talking about but I'm leaving." I had to get outside. Out on the street where there were cars and people and safety. Outside in fresh air and sunshine where I could think clearly. I started heading for the door again.
This time Marc didn't block me.
Instead, he pulled out a gun. Hand steady, eyes bright, he pointed it at me.
"Just in case," he said.
He was weirdly calm and that was almost as scary as the gun.
"Um, Marc..." I backed away. "What..."
"I know, it's a shock. You thought we were friends but now things have changed. Well, for you they've changed, not for me, but you're smart, you'll catch up pretty quickly. And we both know a vampire left that scar on your arm but if you won't tell me about it, that's okay. I'll find out once you meet Aro."
Oh, my God.
This was about the Volturi.
My nightmare had just become reality and horror pulsed through me, filling my veins with ice, stealing my breath.
"Do you know about the Volturi?" He watched me closely. "I've always wondered. By the look on your face I think you do."
"Yeah, you do. You definitely know," Marc smiled again. "You're a terrible liar."
Fear was threatening to consume me, but I pushed it back. Fear would get me nowhere. I had to plan. I had to find a way to get out of here and warn Edward.
Of course, the gun complicated things.
"What's this all about?" I asked. "How are you...I don't understand..." None of this made sense.
"Why don't you tell me?" Marc wandered around the room; cocky and confident. Smug, even. "We could start with Marion Tinsley. How much do you know about her? And what spooked you a while ago?" He looked up at the ceilings. "Something changed, you went from excited to freaked out in about two seconds flat." His gaze came back to me. "That's why I've acted now, because you looked like you were about to bolt. Originally we were going to take a drive after the coffee."
I was wondering about way more than why he'd acted now, and Alice's vision had slipped a long way down my list of priorities. I was too busy trying to understand; trying to figure out how to play this, as I backed further away from him.
"Is there a secret message in the ceiling?" He grinned. "The cornices are pretty awful. Anyway, doesn't matter. Aro will know once he touches you. I'm guessing you know about his tactile telepathy?"
I hugged myself, wishing I had a can of Charlie's pepper spray in my bag as I ignored his question for one of my own.
"Where were we going to drive to?"
Marc was wandering round the room again, rolling his shoulders like his skin was too tight for him. "We've rented a property out at Dural for a few days. Acreage. Nice place." He tugged his phone from his pocket. "Take a seat," he said and now a note of uncertainty crept into his voice. "We might be here for a while."
I folded myself awkwardly onto the floor and watched him as he texted. It did take a while. For maybe fifteen minutes his phone pinged over and over as he messaged with someone – back and forth.
He held the phone in one hand, the other drooping slightly with the weight of the gun while his mind was focused elsewhere.
I wondered if there was something I could hit him with but there was only my leather satchel bag and somehow I didn't think that would do the job. It would maybe give him a bruise at best.
The door was only a few feet away though and that gave me another idea. If I could just get outside and scream my lungs out Marc would be sure to run the other way. There were always people walking up and down. Attention would be the last thing he'd want.
He was angled slightly away from me, his head down, bowed low over the phone screen. I looked from him to the door and back again. It would only take a shuffle and a lunge, a pull on the handle and I'd be free. And I'd be a moving target, giving him only a small chance of hitting me. I took a slow breath, shifted slightly to my left, and Marc's head came up. So did the gun.
"If you think I won't use this," he said, "you're wrong. I will. Not to kill you, just to stop you getting away." He cocked his head. "I'll take your knee cap out with one shot."
I swallowed hard.
"People would hear."
"They'll think it's a car back firing."
"You'd take the risk?"
"Yep," he nodded. "You're my ticket to immortality and I'm not giving that up."
At last, some information. A precious puzzle piece.
"You want to be a vampire?"
"Oh yeah," he said as his phone pinged again. He frowned at the screen. "They're coming here." He shoved the phone away and began pacing. "Not ideal, but they want you contained. They're worried I could lose you if we move from here, now that you know what's going on."
His earlier cockiness had faded, he seemed unsettled now. Nervous.
"What is going on, Marc?"
"I think you know." He stopped and stared down at me. "And Aro's very interested in meeting you because of it."
"Because of what?"
"Because of who. Marion."
Another puzzle piece clicked into place. Whatever they wanted Marion for, they must think I'm involved with it too. Shit. My anxiety went up a notch, if that was even possible.
"I don't know anything about her," I said.
"We'll see," Marc murmured.
He sighed heavily, pushed his hair back again, and resumed pacing. I watched as he strode back and forth, tapping the gun against his thigh.
Outside, daylight was fading. Shadows were creeping across the floor. My watch said it was almost five o'clock. Edward would be here in an hour. He'd walk right into this and that couldn't happen.
My anxiety became a thinly-veiled anguish.
"I'll go with you," I said quickly. "I'll go quietly. To meet Aro."
I had to get away from here, and if it meant agreeing to go the Volturi, I'd do it. And once I was outside...screaming was still the plan.
Marc's eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"Why so eager?"
"I...don't want anyone else caught up in this. The neighbours next door, upstairs."
"There's no-one here," he said. "Isn't going to be anyone here. Beryl's gone out, there's still 'do not cross' tape across the entry to the upstairs." He shrugged. "Just us."
"Still risky," I said. "Beryl could come back..."
"Vampires can be very discreet, Bella." He smiled a knowing smile. "I'm sure you're aware of that. They can be in and out without anybody knowing. Especially when you have a shadowy lane out the back, behind your building."
I could taste the panic, like poison, on my tongue. It was bitter and choking and I couldn't swallow past it.
"Please, I'll go with you. I promise I won't try to get away."
Marc's gaze narrowed then lowered himself onto the floor opposite me, legs crossed, gun resting on his thigh.
"No, I don't think we'll go anywhere. I've got my instructions and I'm going to follow them." He cocked his head. "You really are a mystery," he said and his eyes fell on my wrist again. I jerked my sleeve down, covering it.
"I could say the same about you," I snapped. "Who are you?"
He shrugged. "Soon it won't matter who I am. I'll be someone new." His eyes were excited again.
I turned away.
Silence stretched between us. My gaze was fixed on the door, heart pounding as I tried to control my panic, and think. Had Alice seen what was happening? Was Edward already on his way? Oh my God, what if he was?
I had to get out of here. Now.
I gnawed on my thumbnail.
What if I called Marc's bluff about the kneecaps and just got up and ran? Or could I climb out the bathroom window? I hadn't even seen the new bathroom yet, I didn't know if the window was big enough for an escape, but it was worth a try - I'd just tell him I needed to use the...
"Did it hurt?" Marc's voice broke through my thoughts and I jumped.
"Did it hurt?" He gestured at my wrist. "I've heard it does."
Somehow, through the terror and turmoil of my thoughts, his question managed to surprise me. How could he know about Aro's gift, but not about the agony of the change?
"Um, yeah," I nodded. "It hurt. Dog bites usually do."
He smirked and looked towards the window, his foot tapping out a jagged rhythm against the floor.
"Whatever," he said. "I know it'll be worth it in the end. Especially when I'm part of the Volturi Guard."
There was such pride in his voice now, and when he looked at me there was expectation in his eyes. Like he was waiting for me to be impressed.
Something clicked in my brain, I thought I was starting to understand and in a blinding moment of clarity I realised that maybe the way to save Edward wasn't by running, but by getting Marc to talk.
I shifted, turning towards him.
"Um, so, you want to be part of the Guard?"
He smiled, my interest obviously pleasing him.
"That's the plan," he said.
"And that's why you're here now, doing this?"
"It's part of it."
"Marion's part of it too?"
He nodded and stood up. He seemed distracted now, restless, as he wandered over to the kitchen and started opening cupboards and drawers.
"Did you choose the paint colours?" he asked.
"Tiles are nice."
"I haven't really looked yet."
"Huh! Builders have left you some presents." From the cupboard next to the stove he took a packet of screws and a large tin of paint thinners and set them on the counter. "Not very professional," he said. "Leaving their stuff behind."
He licked his lips again, then turned on the tap and drank directly from the stream of water.
"Why's Marion so important?" I asked as I watched him, wondering if he'd answer. I was surprised when he did.
"Two reasons." He wiped his mouth on his sleeve as he straightened. "She could be a threat, or she could be the most valuable asset the Volturi's ever had. Aro's just has to find out which one it is."
"And he's trusted you to with that job."
That look of pride was back, but then Marc's face fell slightly.
"Do you know where she is?" he asked.
"No," I lied.
"What do you know about her?"
He studied me closely, then looked away.
"Will it be a problem for you with Aro? That Marion got away?"
"It's a nuisance," he said. "But I have you, and that makes up for a lot."
Marc pulled back the blinds and looked out the kitchen window, checking the alleyway, it seemed.
"You know, I had no idea you were involved with the Volturi." I was hoping to stroke his ego before I asked the question that burned on my tongue. "You've kept that well hidden. Aro obviously chose the right person for the job."
Shit, was that too obvious?
Apparently not, because the shit-eating grin was back.
"It was hard," he said. "Trying not to give myself away. That's why I never mentioned your scar, I didn't want to put you on alert. And now you've proven that you do know what I'm talking about." The smirk made a return, too. Somehow I managed a smile.
"I guess there's no point hiding it from you anymore, is there?"
"Nope," he said. "So, you want to tell me your story?"
I lowered my eyes, tracing lines on the timber floor with my finger, following the pattern of the wood grain.
"Maybe. But before I do..." I looked up, made eye contact and held his gaze. "My boyfriend's supposed to be meeting me here at six, and I'm guessing the less humans mixed up in this, the better. Right?"
Marc's eyes narrowed as he studied me closely but he didn't speak.
"He, er, believes the dog bite story." I shrugged a shoulder. "Let me call him. I'll tell him you didn't show so I'm going shopping and then I'll meet him back at his place later. Or I'll text him if you don't want me to talk to him. You can even type the message. Please." It felt like my heart had stopped. My whole world was suspended while I waited for Marc's answer. "Come on. I fixed your database for you."
He actually chuckled at that.
"You're right," he said. "I don't need any extra humans involved. So text him." He pulled my phone from his pocket and my relief was so sweet, it almost hurt. Edward was safe. He'd go home to the beach and wait for me and...
I wouldn't think beyond that just now. The main thing was to keep him out of this.
"And I was meeting a friend later." Alice. I had to cover her as well in case she'd seen something. "Can I text her too? Tell her not to worry?"
"Sure. Better to keep the humans away. The boyfriend...is he the old friend you went to the Hunter Valley with after I cancelled on you?"
"Yeah." I held out my hand for the phone, so thankful I'd never mentioned Edward by name.
"I didn't realise it was serious." Marc cocked his head. "I never thought to ask, what's his name?"
"Yeah? Anthony? Not Edward Masen?"
It felt like I'd been punched. The air whooshed out of me and I had to gasp hard to get a new lungful.
"I'm smarter than that, Bella." Marc slipped my phone away again and his smile was brilliant, victorious. "You wanna hear how smart I am?"
I nodded dumbly, because despite the almost overwhelming urge to scream while I went running for the door, I knew I needed to hear this. As far as Marc knew, Edward was still just my human boyfriend. Or had that just changed?
"You've been spying on me?"
He considered. "Sort of. It's really an incredible story. You wanna hear it?" He was still grinning, and so pleased with himself that his words came tumbling out so fast I could barely keep up.
"Marion had been eluding the Volturi for years, by the time they'd track her down somewhere, she was on the move again. Always sunny countries, too, and that made it so much harder for them to get to her. But Aro trusted me to find her here, in Sydney."
"Be...because you're Australian?"
"Yep. Local knowledge, human, I was the man for the job. It was like it was meant to happen. Destiny, maybe. Me arriving in Volterra right when they needed someone. And it wasn't too hard to track her to the job at the museum, only took a few weeks, and after that I thought it would probably only take a month to find out what I could, watch who she hung out with, where she went."
"Why?" My voice came out as a croak. "Why bother with all that?"
"To get the full picture. Aro'd see it all in her memories anyway once we got her back to Italy, but it was better to find out as much as I could while she was still here. If there were others who needed to be eliminated, the sooner we knew about it, the better."
"By others, you mean..."
"People who might be helping her." He gave me a pointed look and my already racing heart jolted into overdrive
"You mean me? No, no, no, you've got everything wrong. Marc, you have to listen, I don't know anything about Marion."
I went to stand but he waved me back into place with the gun.
"My job was to make sure no stone was unturned, no loose ends." He continued on, ignoring me. "And it shouldn't have taken long, except there was a construction job going on at the museum. That fancy ceiling." He smiled smugly.
"One of the engineers was different. Most people wouldn't even notice, but I'd been around vampires long enough to pick up on a few things, like the way he'd turn his head sometimes, and the way he walked. It wasn't vampire-smooth, but it wasn't quite your average human, either. His reflexes were sharper. And he had a glare that would make any vampire proud."
Oh dear God, no, he couldn't know about Edward being a vampire. Could he?
The shiver than snaked along my spine was sharp, like I was being sliced open and ice poured into the wound. I hugged myself hard, as if that might stop me falling apart.
"The first time I saw him I was curious, so I came back again. And then a third time. That third time he was wearing a hard hat and when he took it off he ruffled his hair." Marc demonstrated, running his fingers over the top and up the back of his head. "I was looking for it by then, and I saw it. The scar. It was faint, but it was there. That was just over a year ago. His name was Edward Masen, and I was pretty sure that he wasn't as human as he seemed to be."
My world span and I felt sick. I bit hard into my lip to stop the nausea and tears burned my eyes. This happened before I'd even arrived in Australia.
It was Edward he'd wanted all along.
Marc was talking again, his voice a distant mumble that was barely registering through the turmoil in my mind, but I made myself focus. I needed to focus, because there might be something in his words that I could use.
"So I started to keep watch on him," Marc continued. "I contacted Italy, told Aro what I'd seen and to say that he was interested is an understatement. He gave me more time to poke around so I found myself a job, somewhere to live, tried applying for work at the museum..." He shrugged again. "I was hanging out there a lot in my spare time so I'd change my appearance...a suit one day, dressed like a tourist the next. Glasses. No glasses. Hair brushed back. Hair parted on the side. I don't think he ever noticed, except once. He stared straight at me. Like he was trying to see inside me." He frowned. "Like he could read my mind."
I gasped softly, my hand flying to my mouth.
"What?" Marc asked.
When I shook my head he shrugged and kept talking.
"I was pretty sure he suspected something so I cut down the visits for a while."
I couldn't believe this. None of it seemed real and if I shut my eyes I could almost convince myself that I was caught in some horrible nightmare. I pressed my forehead to my knees as tears fell down my cheeks.
"Anyway..." Marc's voice brought me back to my sickening reality. "A few months later I met you and you reached out to shake my hand and boom! There was that scar." He started chuckling and I looked up. "Jackpot! It couldn't be a coincidence and there was going to be a special place for me in Volterra. Of course, I had to prove my theories, Aro doesn't stand for maybes or mistakes. I had to be sure. You didn't seem to know about each other, and that's why I never asked you about your scar, I didn't want to put you on alert while I was trying to find out what was going on. And it's obvious you haven't been a vampire, you don't have the moves, but that's as far as I got. You've been tough to crack."
Was this like drowning? I wondered as another wave of fear and panic crashed over me and I gasped for air. My heart had been pounding so hard for so long, my chest hurt, but somehow I managed a question.
"Is that why you asked me to fix your database? To see me react to his name?"
"What?" The shock on Marc's face confused me. "No. That was because I'd stuffed up the data base, but...are you saying he's in the database? He's a customer at Thunder Road?" Marc shook his head and huffed a laugh. "I didn't know. Wow, that's crazy. Must have been before I worked there. Damn that could have made my job a lot easier if I'd known." He rubbed his hand over his face. "Not that it matters now. It was the night at the museum that sealed the deal though."
He glanced at the windows and checked the time on his phone.
"I took you to the launch of the new wing because I wanted to see your reaction when you saw him. But he didn't show. I got my reaction though, when you saw his picture in that presentation. It was obvious you knew him, and in some significant sort of way, so I invited you to the Hunter Valley. I was going to pump you for information over wine and cheese, but when I reported back the new info to Volterra, I got called in."
"You weren't sick that week when you cancelled."
"Nope. Fast trip to Italy."
"And now Aro's seen everything you've seen?"
"Yep." He grinned a fresh grin. "Marion. Edward. You. And even though it looks like Marion's got away again, Aro's very, very interested in your boyfriend. That's why they've all come, because this could be huge, and we don't know how far it reaches. Humans who've been vampires. Human's who've survived vampire bites. People in league with Marion. There's something big going on."
For a long moment I stared at him. Stared into his too-bright eyes and the gut-churning fear that shook my body began to harden into a throbbing hatred. And with that hatred came clarity, and I found a new voice.
"You're doing all this to be a vampire?" Edward had talked about people like this. Vampire wanna-be's.
"Pretty much." Marc nodded. "I've always been drawn to the myths. Always thought there was some truth in them. I spent a lot of years following whispers, and rumours, and stories. Eventually they led me to Volterra."
"You want the speed and the strength?"
"And the immortality. But I've found out it's more than that. It's about keeping the world in balance, that's the big thing. I just get to be fast and strong and immortal while I do it."
He wasn't making sense.
"Keeping the world in balance? What the fuck is that about?"
He blinked. "I doubt you'd understand, given the people you hang out with."
I shook my head, there was obviously something I was missing. I was also pretty sure he was just Aro's pawn, even if he didn't realise it.
"Look, Marc, I don't know what you've been told, but what makes you think Aro will change you? I thought he only surrounded himself with gifted people." I tried to remember what Edward had said, and the names Alice had listed. "They all have special abilities, don't they? Aro with his tactile telepathy, Demetri can track anyone anywhere..."
"You do know more," Marc whispered, his eyes gleaming. "A lot more. I knew it. I knew I was on the right track. Aro didn't recognise you when he saw you in my memories, but you obviously know people who know the Volturi. Oh, this is bigger than I thought and it's going to get me in so good with them."
"Really? What, you think he's going to make you his right hand man? Second in charge? You'd better think again because I can promise you, this isn't going to end well."
"You don't know what you're talking about!"
"Oh? I thought you'd just decided that I know a lot more than I was talking about. And that's how I know you're in as much danger as me."
His eyes narrowed, suddenly wary. My words had obviously struck a nerve, he moved uncomfortably, frowning. I could feel a subtle shift in power and I seized on it.
"Aro's a collector, Marc. He likes to gather people with talents he can use. What have you got to offer? What human ability do you have that he'll want to enhance and keep around for eternity?"
He didn't answer. Instead his lips pulled tight and he stared down at the gun.
"I've discovered you and Edward, that'll stand for something."
"And after that?"
"You don't know..."
"Oh, I think I do."
I was bluffing, but my anger was keeping me going. And as Marc's bravado began to falter beneath my glare, I began to see things in a different light.
"Did Heidi find you wandering in the square?"
His head snapped back to me, eyes surprised. "How did you know..."
"That's how it works, isn't it? Heidi goes fishing, she reels you in. Any other time you'd just be dinner, but they needed an Australian and they decided they could use you."
My heart was pounding, not with fear but with anticipation. My anger was leading me in the right direction; there was hesitation in Marc's face and if I played things right, I'd be out of here very soon and Marc would disappear too.
"How many humans live in the castle? It's not many, is it? You. Marco Marretti..."
His eyes widened as the name fell from my lips.
"Is that a requirement?" I asked. "To be called Marc?"
My heart clenched, I'd pushed too far. I didn't want him angry. Just doubting and scared.
I glanced away, towards the windows where the light was fading, and tried a more sympathetic route.
"I don't think it's going to end the way you want." My voice was softer now. Gentle. I looked back at Marc and there was fresh determination in his eyes.
"I'm about to offer Aro the biggest discovery of his very long life. I think this is going to end exactly how I want."
"And you'll kill Edward and me to get it."
He frowned, blinking. He opened his mouth, and shut it again. Then he shook his head.
"You think we're in on some plot with Marion? Say we were, you'd send me to my death? Or did Aro tell you he'd rehabilitate us? Or put us in vampire jail?"
"He said there are ways of dealing with..."
"Oh, I'm sure he did."
"You would swear your loyalty to him."
"Oh, for fucks sake!"
I stood up, and this time he didn't stop me. He was taller than me but I met him, eye-to-eye.
"But what about you, Marc? I don't know what sort of threat Marion is supposed to be, but what do you think Aro will do to you when he reads my mind, or Edward's, and sees we have no connection to her? When he sees we're no threat to him. Because that's what he'll see. And he'll know you wasted his time and brought him here on a wild goose chase."
"You still survived a vampire bite," he said. "Edward has still been a vampire, Aro saw him in my thoughts and agreed. And you said yourself, Aro collects people. He'll probably..."
"What? Adopt us?"
"I don't..." He shook his head again.
"Have you actually thought all this through, Marc? Do you know there are vampire laws? And number one is humans can't know. You think Aro's going to let us live?"
"I'll talk to him."
"And you think he's going to listen to you? You think he cares what you think? Or what you want?"
"He's trusted me with..."
"You're a means to an end, Marc! That's all you are! And when he's got what he wants, then you just become a human who knows too much. He'll snap your neck or drain you dry!"
He started pacing again, heavy stomping steps as he criss-crossed the room. I cocked my head, watching him closely.
"Bloody hell," I whispered. "How did you get involved with all this? Did Aro welcome you with open arms when you rocked up to the castle?"
He smiled, suddenly smug now.
"Actually, he was very welcoming, yes. Charming, even. And when he shook my hand he knew I'd been searching, knew what I wanted. He asked if I'd consider helping them with a project, in return for immortality and a place with them. Then he told me about Marion."
"And what is it about Marion? What?"
He wasn't going to answer. His mouth was set, jaw hard. He was obviously in over his head, and I needed to try a different approach.
"Marc, please, I'm trying to help you. Look, lets get out of here." I gestured to the door, to the outside world. "Lets go before they get here and then we can talk."
"No," he said, calmly. "You tell me I can't trust Aro, but how do I know I can trust you?"
That pulled me up short. It seemed vampires weren't the only ones capable of whiplash-inducing mood changes.
"Me? I...of course you can trust me."
"Yeah? And how do I know you're not mixed up with Marion and the Romanian's, too?"
"What? What are you..."
"You going to play dumb again? I think we're past that now, aren't we?"
"Marc, I have no clue what you're talking about."
"Yeah? Really?" He raised a skeptical brow. "You're not part of the Romanian coven's plan to overthrow the Volturi?"
"What? No! What have they told you?"
"Everything." He was pacing again but it was different now, his steps faster, head up, blazing eyes on mine. "Do you have any idea what would happen if the Romanians came back into power?"
Oh my God, Edward had mentioned something about this.
"And you think Marion...Marc, you can't be serious."
"There's some connection," Marc snapped. "Between her and them. And Aro thinks she has a gift. She got away from Heidi, and no-one gets away from Heidi. But somehow Marion convinced her to let her go, even though they'd made it inside the castle doors."
For a fleeting second I was back in the museum, finding myself at the exit of the Viking exhibition without even realising the tour was over.
"Marc, please listen to me, it's not..."
"She's persuasive as a human," Marc went on, clearly not listening. "Aro saw it in Heidi's thoughts. As a vampire that ability would be enhanced. She could make people do anything she wanted them. If the Romanian's aren't using her to regain power, then Aro can use her to maintain his."
All this was making my head spin, and I tried hard to keep up with everything Marc was telling me.
"Marc, I don't think the Romanians are trying to..."
"No? You don't? Then let me give you a history lesson." He began circling me and I turned slowly, following him, keeping watch on him and the gun.
"Stefan and Vladimir, the coven leaders, didn't believe in concealing their existence." Marc's voice was confident again, smooth - an expert warming to his subject. Or perhaps just a follower parroting the thoughts of his leader. I wasn't sure yet which one it was.
"They had their own version of a Guard," Marc continued, still circling. "And they ruled over humans and vampires. For thousands of miles around they were known, and feared. And they liked it that way. They were ruthless. Cruel. Demanding slave labour and human sacrifices. But the Volturi stopped all that. They overthrew them, even though their own members were few. Aro's smart, you see. He saw the potential in the gifts of those he kept close, while the Romanian's valued brute strength, but when it came down to it, physical strength meant nothing and the Romanian Guard were helpless. The Volturi defeated them, and destroyed most of their coven." He shrugged. "The Volturi have been the ruling vampire power ever since. They keep things in check. They eliminate rogue vampires and sometimes the humans that help them. They have rules to keep humans safe. No more slavery. No more human sacrifices. Can you imagine if the Romanians had been allowed to continue?" He shook his head ruefully. "The world is a better place because of the Volturi."
My mouth fell open. This was what he believed?
"Marc, that's not..."
He stopped circling. "You do know the history, don't you?"
"Yes." Edward had told me just two days before. It seemed so long ago now, standing in his living room with the sea crashing in the background. More than anything I wanted to be back there right now. I wanted to hear the waves and feel them roll over my feet while Edward held me in his arms and we planned dinner together. "Yes, I know the history."
"Then you should understand," Marc said. "You say you're not involved with Marion, so if that's true would you really want a return to those times? Humans would be little more than cattle. Can you not see how important the Volturi are?"
I shook my head. "I see what you're saying, but they've twisted things, Marc. They've made it sound like they're the heroes, but they're not."
He shrugged. "We'll see," he said, and resumed circling."Aro still keeps a close watch on them. Vladimir and Stefan survived the original battle, and they've made a few attempts to regroup over the centuries, but each time they'd fail. It's possible they're trying again now, though. And Marion might be part of a new strategy. Maybe you are, too. And Edward. The three of you, and maybe there are more of you, could be a first step towards another grab at power. Maybe you're gathering information. Recruiting. Looking for others who'd be interested in join..."
"I'm a fucking scientist, Marc! And Edward's a bloody engineer! Marion's a historian, we're not some supernatural HR department! We're not plotting together to overthrow Aro!" I dragged my hands through my hair. "How do you even know if Marion has a connection with Romania?"
"She told Heidi she was on holidays from the University of Bucharest, coming to see some of the places she'd read about in her research." There was a glint of something in his eye. "Heidi puts people at ease, they talk to her," he said. "It's her gift."
"But that's all Marion said to her?"
"It was enough for Aro," Marc was defensive again. "Her interaction with Heidi made him suspicious."
"Paranoid, if you ask me."
"I didn't ask."
This was fucking ridiculous.
"So tell me, if Marion was a spy for Stefan and Vladimir, why would she be so open about where she was from and what she was doing? Because that doesn't make sense."
Doubt flashed quickly across Marc's features, giving me a faint spark of hope. He rolled his shoulders.
"Maybe," he said. "Maybe not. But whatever Marion is, and whatever you are, we'll find out. It can't be a coincidence that you're all here in Sydney together. But the Romanian's won't get far, the Volturi will keep control, and I'm going to be part of it." He puffed out his chest, chin up, so proud of himself. I groaned and dropped my head into my hands.
"Seriously? You think you're going to be some sort of vampire super hero? Save the world with fangs and a cape!"
"They don't have fa..."
"I know they don't have fangs!" I sucked in a breath, my chest pumping hard. "Trust me, Marc, you won't be saving the world."
"If it weren't for the Volturi, vampires would be going around killing humans..."
"And you think they don't? Stop circling me! You're like a fucking shark!" I took a step towards him, noting the surprise in his eyes. He actually took a step back. "How do you think vampires feed? Do you know?"
"Of course I know!"
"And you're okay with that? Killing humans to feed yourself?"
"It doesn't have to be that way."
My jaw dropped, my words coming out as a whisper. "What did he tell you? That you can take a sip and let them go? Or did he say that they bring in blood from a slaughter house?"
He shook his head and turned away.
"Or are you just blocking it out? Marc, what do you think Heidi does out there in the square in Volterra? What happens to the tourists she puts at ease. Have you seen?"
He was frowning now, I could see his profile in the pale late-afternoon light, and he stayed silent, ignoring my question.
"Either you don't know, or you don't want to know. But I can tell you it's not a field trip to see the castle."
"You don't know what you're talk..."
"They're fucking dinner, Marc! Entree, main course, and dessert!"
"It's not like that! There are...ways around it."
He shook his head. "That information comes later," he mumbled. "Aro will tell me just before he changes me."
"Oh Marc..." I rubbed my hands over my face. "You can't be this stupid. You can't be."
He gave a derisive laugh and his mood had shifted once more.
"That's meant as an insult, right? Except you're so way off with that assessment, Bella, it barely even registers. You think Aro would trust me with something like this if I..."
"I think I've already made it clear what I think about Aro and his motives." I looked at him through my fingers. "You said you lived with them. How long were you at Volterra?"
He squared his shoulders. "Five weeks."
"And what did you do there? Who did you see?"
He blinked and looked away. At first I thought he mightn't answer. But I also knew he'd be eager to boast.
"Aro. I saw him a few times. Marcus and Caius, too. They explained the history, their role in the world, the situation with Marion. Demetri, because he's the tracker and he gave me the information he had on her." He glanced down at his feet. "Heidi. I spent a lot of time with Heidi."
"Because she kept you feeling calm and at ease, am I right?"
"That's not why," he murmured. "It was different with me."
He stopped and cleared his throat.
"It just was."
Was he blushing? Oh my God, was he in love with her?
"Marco Marretti..." he went on quickly. "He's human, as you know. He fixed me up with cash and a mobile phone and booked flights. Gianna, she's the receptionist. She's human."
"They have a receptionist?"
"For when the tourists come in."
I shook my head again.
"So you can see," Marc continued. "They have humans working with them, they're not the animals you try to make me think they are. I had a beautiful room, great food. I played chess with Aro." He puffed his chest again. "There's an amazing library, I spent a lot of time in there."
"Okay, so they showed you a very civilised side of themselves. Did they let you out of the castle at any stage? Go out and look around? Fresh air and sunshine?"
"There was no need for me to leave. But they have a courtyard. That's where I learned what happens when they go in the sun." His eyes took on an awed expression.
"Forget the glitter Marc, have you seen how a vampire attacks their prey?"
His face dropped.
"Have you?" he demanded, and his voice was defiant now.
"I've seen enough."
The time for discussion back and forth was over. I needed to go for the jugular and get myself out of here.
"It's not two tiny pin pricks on the neck, if that's what you're imagining." I pulled up my sleeve and thrust my wrist close to his face. His eyes widened as he focused on the silver crescent. "It's not exactly discreet. Not neat and tidy." I lowered my arm. "And you've seen Edward's scar. Neither his, nor mine, were done in a normal hunt. Neither were done to feed. Both were in controlled situations." I thought of James' cold eyes as he'd bitten into me. It had been so different to Jasper's frenzied attack.
"They glossed over that, didn't they, Marc? They played chess and were the perfect hosts and told you old stories about victories and battles won against the bad guys. But they didn't tell you about their most fundamental driving force."
Marc was frowning, I could see the faintest chink in his armour, and my voice was steady and strong as I went in for the kill.
"When a vampire hunts, when they feed, it's like a frenzy, and it's almost impossible for them to stop. They don't have fangs, but their teeth are sharp, perfect for ripping and tearing. And they want their victims to be terrified because the adrenalin sweetens the blood, so they need the chase. They might toy with the human, play with them like a cat with a mouse, but then when playtime is over..." Now I drew on a long-ago cafeteria conversation with Edward. "Have you ever seen a bear attack on one of those wildlife shows? If you have, then you should be able to visualise what I'm talking about."
He was shaking his head again, but I kept going.
"That's why they've kept those details from you so far, because Aro knows it would scare the shit out of you if you knew the truth, and then they'd have to kill you and they wouldn't have someone to find Marion for them. Aro is evil, Marc. And he's using you. He wants you to be evil, too."
"I know there are vampires out there like that!" He snapped. "But not all of them. And it's the Volturi's job to keep them under control. To keep the human population safe."
I actually laughed. "Then why kill humans who find out about vampires? Wouldn't that be a bit hypocritical, if they want to keep them safe?"
He looked away, clearly unable to answer.
"I won't be safe if you hand me over to Aro. He'll find out I have nothing to do with the Romanians but he'll kill me anyway because I know about his world. How is that keeping me safe?"
Marc ducked his head, shuffled his feet.
"You don't want to look past the surface, do you? You don't want to examine all the contradictions? All the faults in his arguments. Because you want to be a super-hero." There was obviously a back-story here that I didn't have time to get into right now.
"You don't understand," Marc murmured.
"I do understand. I wish I didn't, but I do." I'd seen too much, I knew too much. And a new anger rose in me now. A fury that built and burned. "This won't end well for either of us, Marc but if you won't save yourself, then I'm going to save myself because, fuck it, after eight years and everything I've been through I deserve my happily ever after. And I am this close to it, so in the words of my friend Beryl, Aro can bugger off! Now, I'm not asking you to let me go, I'm just going. If you're smart, you'll go too."
I could see him wavering, then he looked sharply at the door.
"Too late," he said. "They're here."
A/N: Next chapter – tomorrow. It was actually the second part of this chapter but it got too long, so I've cut it in half and it's ready to go : )
Lot of information in this chapter and it took me ages to get to a point where it didn't sound like a Q&A. It's unbeta'd too, so any mistakes are mine. If it's too confusing, that's my fault too : )
Apologies for the delay in getting this posted. When I said it would be up "hopefully within the week", I really was hopeful, however, a situation came up unexpectedly at work that required my attention, so for about ten days my writing time was limited to sneaky lunch-breaks and a sleepy hour before bed.