WINNER of the Indies First Time Writer Challenge Judges Selection for Best Canon
2010 Eddies Nominee For Best Short Fiction
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, but it owns a part of me. This story is DARK, VIOLENT and contains religious themes that some readers may find objectionable. It is rated M for a reason, if you are under 18, please respect the guidelines of this site.
In case you aren't aware: According to Stephenie Meyer's website, Jane and Alec were saved by Aro and the Volturi from burning at the stake for witchcraft. I used that piece of information to create this story.
I can quite easily recall the putrid stench of horse manure and rotting refuse that always tainted the air of the Volterra Square in those days. I can clearly recollect the distinct scent of burning pitch as the cypress wood blazed under me with creaking groans. Even more so, I can hear the echo of the screaming, faceless mob whipped into an ignorant frenzy encouraged by their Church. But above all else, I can remember feeling the hellish inferno of hungry, lapping flames that savored the taste of my bare toes and legs with greedy expectation, hissing cruelly while the smoke swirled relentlessly around my head.
I can recall all of this, despite the veil of obscure dark human memory and a seemingly endless universe of time.
The sky was hidden by an ominous cool mist. If it would simply rain in earnest I would be granted a reprieve, if only for a few hours. I dreaded the short minutes of agony that I knew awaited me. And yet I was relying on an oath. A pledge made to me, and one that I returned devoutly. I would have promised anything to save Alec, to save myself.
It had begun as the day of my doom and before the sun set, I would be reborn.
Practically all of the loathsome villagers crowded the square, their careworn faces dirty and their rags filthy with the usual grime that defined the stinking peasantry. They had all assembled to eagerly participate in the demise of the reputedly evil twins. The maddened mob collectively relished the spectacle of my brother, Alec, and I tied to the stake in the center of the square above a massive pile of dry tinder. And for all their lowly ranking, they appraised us with superior condescension, convinced that our banishment to Hell was near.
The mob was eager. These peasants had been stripped of all humanity and compassion and clamored excitedly for more wood. The Church had brainwashed them, and like mindless sheep they obeyed with absolute unquestioning acquiescence. They shrieked with frenzied enthusiasm, enraptured with the imminence of our gruesome death. Their cheers were the only sound I could discern over the loud crackling of the tinder quickly burning to ash beneath my feet.
"WITCHES!" One somehow managed to scream louder than the others.
"Heretics!" They spat with hatred. It was a word I'd grown exceedingly impatient with as of late.
"Murderess!" They shrieked at me. I merely pushed my chin out in defiance.
Hypocritical heathens, every last one of them. I scowled as I peered out at them through the increasingly thick smoke. Retribution would come. Especially to Sister Isabella, whom I spied standing off to the side, her soft white hands clasped together reverently while her pale drawn lips moved in a hurried and fervent silent prayer for our souls. It was because of her contemptuous ignorant suspicions that Alec and I were tied to that stake, her fault that we had been convicted of crimes we didn't even know the meaning of.
She'd always hated us, me in particular, and I vowed to myself that if he made good on his promise, I'd come back for her.
The flames climbed higher, flirting with the tattered hem of the flimsy broadcloth rag they had attired me in. The sickening smell of burning hair wafted to my nose, and I retched uncontrollably. The smoke stung my eyes; I cast them to the heavens in search of relief, and threw one last, desperate and silent prayer to the God that had forsaken me long ago. Their God. I glowered and returned my eyes to the crowd. I needed to see, I had to watch for him.
I scanned the horde through the haze frantically, the flames finally causing a delayed sense of panic as I coughed and choked with every breath I drew. Time was running out and he had promised.
Finally my frantic gaze fixed upon his face. He stood on the fringe of the crowd, his pale arms crossed over his chest and the hood of his black cloak drawn up to shield him from the damp air. He was flanked by two very large and pallid men. He was watching, waiting for his moment.
The smoke was increasing rapidly, swirling around Alec and me in an angry vortex that whipped my brown hair around my face and into my mouth. Alec began coughing violently. Blindly, I grasped for his hand tied to the stake between us but couldn't find it.
"Alec!" I screamed, but got no answering reply. I wrenched my head trying in vain to see him, but I was tied too tightly to the sturdy wooden pole and my torso was unable to move.
The flames leapt higher, fueled by the horrid garment I wore. The ropes around my ankles burned through and fell away, pulling pieces of my cracked blackened flesh away with them.
I wanted to scream as pain had finally taken over my senses, but I had solemnly vowed to remain silent. I refused to give these insolent dregs the satisfaction of voicing my suffering. I refused to be their entertainment. Nor would I give them the vindication of begging for mercy either. Mercy was coming for me, but not from their God.
I looked out into the crowd, and my eyes flew to his.
Out of Time…Out of Time… my mind repeated hysterically, hopelessly wishing that he would be able to hear me.
Smoke engulfed me.
I couldn't breathe. I gasped for air, but the flames reached down into my throat and stole the oxygen from every frantic breath I attempted to draw. Burning soot seared my lungs instead, and I was choking.
It will be over soon, he will come, he will come, he had promised. I repeated the mantra over and over while the flames lapped up my legs in excruciating randomness.
I glanced at Heaven in contempt and gasped a desperate raking last breath before I feebly succumbed to asphyxiation.
I'd kept my promise to myself. I never did scream.
I was still burning. I could feel my bones being slowly incinerated. But I knew this was not the pathetic bonfire they had roasted me upon. This could only be the work of Satan himself. Excruciating agony unlike anything imaginable seared every part of me. It was an inescapable black void of torment that blocked out all of my senses. I was burning, and he hadn't come.
He'd failed me.
He'd failed us.
And I was in Hell.
After an eternity, the burning began to change. Still mind numbingly intolerable, but I had somehow gained the ability to distract myself with other thoughts in a futile attempt to block out some portion of the pain.
Through a foggy haze, I recalled the day I was first introduced to him.
Sister Isabella had found me on that stormy day at the abbey's well behind the cathedral. Near the garden shed, I had come upon a tiny black kitten with white paws and a bedraggled white tipped tail. I picked him up and held him to my chest, cooing to him and softly stroking his head. He didn't like my petting him and made his displeasure known with an injurious swipe across my nose. So I carried him toward the well, where I intended to teach him a lesson for his insolence.
"Jane!" Sister Isabella screeched in shocked distress when she saw me leaning over the side of the well, my arms extended over the deep pit and the kitten struggling to break free from my grip. I pulled my arms back and released the kitten to the ground at once. It bounded quickly away and into a nearby shrub.
"Yes Sister?" I asked sweetly.
Her eyes narrowed. "What were you doing?"
"Fetching a drink of water." I smiled angelically and cast my eyes down at the cobbled path.
She examined me skeptically with her beady rat eyes and her fat sallow cheeks trembled.
"Come," she muttered, abruptly spinning on her heel and returning in the direction from whence she came. I followed silently behind her.
Inside the cathedral it was very dim; the light coming from the tall white candles illuminated the alter in an ethereal golden glow. Two men sat in the front pew. The first was very regal, in a flowing black robe that set off his pale skin and his face was framed by long, straight, black hair.
The other man was not as pale, but still had a sickly cast to his tawny complexion. His deep brown hair was shorter, and his robe was a shade of dark grey.
Their heads turned to look at us when the creak of the cathedral door's iron hinges announced our arrival. The good Sister pushed me between the shoulders when my courage failed and I stopped just inside.
The one in black smiled. They both had red eyes, like rubies glistening in the candle light, and I was instantly reminded of the ancient Stregoni legends.
"Come here, my child," the one in black murmured with a voice like soft singing.
I walked forward; intrigued not only by their uncommon beauty, but also to see if they truly were the men from stories I'd been told. Sister Isabella was close at my side, her hand protectively resting on my shoulder.
"Jane, this is Signore Aro and Signore Eleazar," she began. "Unfortunately, Signore Aro's health prevents him from attending Mass, and yet he is a devout patron of the Church and a pious servant of Christ. He insists on meeting all the orphans that stay at the abbey," she explained with unmistakable reverence.
I curtsied as I'd been taught. "How do you do, Signore?" I said meekly.
He unexpectedly took my hand in his. It was cold and smooth, like the weather worn headstones in the cemetery behind the Abbey where I liked to sit. His eyes glazed over for a moment and then he smiled.
"How long have you been here at the convent, Jane?" he questioned.
"But a few days, Signore."
"And what is your age?" he asked gently, while his eyes burned with curiosity.
"She is but a maid, not yet fifteen, Signore," Sister Isabella replied for me. Signore Aro shot her a look of annoyed contempt and she stepped back nervously. I smiled at him, wishing I too were able to inspire the same kind of fear in her.
"Have you any family Jane, aside from your brother?" he continued.
"None, Signore. Our mother died in childbirth. Our father -" I began.
"I know of your father," he murmured with significance, and my narrowed eyes shot from the floor to his.
I didn't offer a reply.
"Would you do me the honor of introducing me to your brother, Jane?" he requested after a moment with sweetly perfected manners.
I grimaced sadly at him before answering, "He is unwell, Signore," I whispered.
He looked at Sister Isabella with concern. "Oh?"
"Yes," she confirmed nervously. "But he is recovering."
"In that case, perhaps I shall introduce myself," he eyed the Sister expectantly as he touched the hand of the other man. They rose in unison and waited for the Sister to take them to Alec.
He looked at me. "It was delightful to have met you, Jane," Signore Aro simpered.
"Remain here," Sister Isabella ordered me before leading them away toward a side door behind the altar.
As they departed I caught a few of the words that passed between them, words like "badly bruised" and "broken ribs." I sobbed and fumed at the same time, hating my father just as much as I always had, even though he couldn't hurt us anymore.
The burning continued. I was being slaughtered into innumerable pieces, those pieces were then spitted and set to roast, spinning slowly and tortuously over thousands of tiny fires. Glowing red hot nails were being pounded into my organs with the force of a blacksmith's hammer. My head swam at the same time that it seemed to expand.
And incrementally, my senses began to return.
I could hear voices.
His voice in particular.
Was it possible that I wasn't dead, that he had saved me?
"How are they faring?" I heard him ask. The sound was so clear and crisp I could discern his lips moving against his teeth as he spoke.
He'd said they.
Alec had been saved.
He hadn't failed us.
This was my rebirth.
At hearing his voice, I knew the end of the agony was within reach, and yet, amazingly, there was still more to be endured. And while I laid there and suffered on, I recalled the oath I had made to him, the oath that would be my duty from this day until the very ending of time.
He returned to the church late one evening with Signore Eleazar and requested my presence again.
The good Sister fetched me from the cemetery where I was sitting next to my favorite headstone in the graveyard, the one with the angels carved on it.
"Jane, why are you here in the dark, sitting in the dirt?" she muttered and pulled me roughly to my feet, spinning me around so that my back was to her. She tugged and swatted at my frock to brush the offending dirt away. I ignored her question.
"Signore Aro has come to see you, and you must oblige him with any request he may ask of you."
"Why?" I asked apathetically. Why should I care about Signore Aro?
"Do not question me," she huffed with annoyed impatience, "The Signore has taken a liking to you," -she almost shuddered at the notion -"and you mustn't disappoint him."
I quickly decided that I could be obliging to the Signore, if he could help Alec and me escape the Sisters, Isabella in particular. She was always watching me now, suspicious because of the talk that I had overheard the groundskeeper spreading like a vile pestilence.
She led the way to the cathedral for my audience with Signore Aro. After presenting me before him, he dismissed the good Sister with a bored wave of his hand and turned his exquisite scarlet eyes on me.
He took my hand and led me to the empty space on the pew beside him.
"Come and sit with me, Jane. I wish to speak with you." The pleasant drone of his voice laced with the divine scent of his breath was extraordinarily soothing.
Once I was seated he continued, "I met your brother and-"
"Oh," I cried anxiously. "Is he better? They won't let me visit him."
"Do not interrupt your elders, dearest," he scolded gently. "Yes, he is convalescing, but not yet well enough for visitors. His injuries were quite severe," he explained.
My cheeks burned and my eyes fell to the floor. I remembered the last time our father had beaten Alec. Beaten him so badly that I was convinced Alec wouldn't be able to pull himself out the miserable black hole his mind had created to protect itself. The sight of Alec curled up wretchedly on his cot, unresponsive and utterly defeated strengthened my resolve to act. The day after the beating, I took it upon myself to end all of our suffering.
Father needed help gathering kindling in the woods. I followed behind him silently, like a proper child should, as he had beaten me for not doing prior. We were crossing the clear shallow stream that divided the golden wheat field from the Cypress wooded hills. The stones that lined the stream were green with slick algae and Father, being a portly man, lost his footing and slipped into the water.
I didn't hesitate to seize my opportunity.
I bent over and picked up a heavy rock. He tried to stand, but his short little legs couldn't get his wormy body in balance, and he fell again into the water with an enormous splash. I laughed as his hat fell off and started to float away. He glowered at me. Finally he managed to get one foot under him.
I chose my footing carefully as I came up to him. Behind my back, my fingers twitched with anticipation as they held the rock at the ready.
He extended his hand to me, requesting my help to stand.
I put out my empty hand halfway, and grinned before I lifted my foot into the air and kicked his knee in with all the strength in me. He screamed out in agony and I sneered, my fingers resolutely clutching the cold wet stone in my grasp.
He fell back into the water bellowing like a stuck pig and clutched at his knee.
I came up in front of him and smiled. "Goodbye, Father," I said pleasantly.
I raised my crude weapon high over my head and struck him soundly in the skull above his ear.
Exhilaration coursed through me. I reveled in the completely foreign and deliciously elicit sensation that began to tingle deep inside me. The sight of his fear-stricken eyes, wild with uncomprehending panic and betrayal as he tried to crawl away, dragging his injured leg like a dead cat while blood tricked down his neck, was intoxicating.
He didn't get far.
I didn't let him.
I followed him lightly as he feebly attempted to escape me. I came up behind him, raised my weapon and bashed his skull again and again, until the stream ran red with his blood and little white bits of his brain floated gently down the stream.
Once the deed was done, I dropped the bloodstained stone into the water. I was out of breath and trembling with absolute euphoria. At last, I had become the powerful one as I reaped my vengeance upon my lifelong tormentor.
I stood above him and watched his florid face fade to a sickly ashen color while his head oozed, turning the water pink for several feet downstream. The sight was morbidly fascinating, and I took a step forward to examine my handiwork more closely. With a curious finger I felt the jagged broken edge of his skull. It was sharp where the bone had fractured and broken away, leaving a hole the size of an egg. I ventured my finger further and gave his brain a curious prod. It was soft and warm and disgustingly enthralling as it squished against my finger.
I extracted my finger dripping with blood and brought it to my nose. The scent was metallic and repulsive and yet, curiosity made me bring my finger to my lips and lick cautiously. My face soured; it tasted as bad as it smelled.
I rinsed my finger in clear water and then stood with a sigh of satisfaction as I looked at the dead corpse of my father. I'd tell Alec that he fell and hit his head. Everyone would believe that, no one would suspect that a girl of my size could cause the demise of a man of his stature.
I heard a low dark chuckle beside me and it was only then that I remembered where I was, and that my hand was still encased in Signore Aro's.
I quickly pulled it away from his grasp.
"There is talk, Jane. People know," he whispered. "I cannot blame you, seeing as how poor Alec's condition was quite serious." He gave me a knowing look.
"But Signore, I've done nothing wrong," I pleaded innocently.
"A hole in the skull that large is not the result of one slipping on wet river stones," he cooed, and I turned to him in amazement. He knew.
"What is going to happen to us?" I asked terrified of what his reply would be. If he knew the truth of what I had done, then other adults must know as well.
"I cannot say, but I would like for you and Alec to become part of my family," he offered with sincerity.
"Do you know of my family, Jane?" He asked, and his red eyes bored into mine, causing a thrill of fear to wash through me. Whispers and rumors of the Stregoni were rampant around Volterra. Some said the Stregoni were kind, dedicated to the church and giving to the poor. But Father had told Alec and me stories of those who had gone missing in the woods, taken by the red eyed Stregoni. I had always thought Father was simply trying to frighten us.
I knew that the only monsters that existed were the human kind.
"Yes," I replied meekly.
"And if you are a part of my family, you must also become like the Stregoni," he explained carefully.
That was the least of my concerns.
"You won't punish me for what I've done?" I whispered. I stared at the floor, unable to meet his gaze.
"No, no punishment," he promised.
I smiled genuinely at him. This was quite unexpected, but welcome.
"Yes, Signore, we'd like that very much." I accepted his offer with earnest gratitude.
"Excellent," he exclaimed and then lowered his voice. "There are a few requirements I ask of my family, Jane. Most importantly and above all, you must be loyal. The family always comes before anything or anyone else. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Signore," I replied readily.
"Secondly, you must always do as I say."
This request was much more difficult to agree too. But Sister Isabella had told me to be obedient to him and, really, what other choice did I have? The Sisters were growing suspicious of me.
"Yes, Signore," I agreed somewhat reluctantly, which elicited another quiet laugh.
"I will come for you soon, when the correct time has come," he said.
I eyed him doubtfully.
"I promise, Jane, I will free you from the rat-eyed Sister," he whispered conspiratorially and winked at me. I couldn't hold back a giggle that he thought the same thing I had about her beady black eyes.
He and Signore Eleazar then rose gracefully and exited the church. I stared after him in consternation. He'd better keep his promise.
Over the days that followed, I noticed that my freedoms became more and more restricted. My play was confined to the courtyard, where a close eye could be kept on me. I was not allowed to play in the cemetery or sit by the angels any more. I was not allowed to visit the well or the cathedral. And I became bored very quickly.
The abbey, like most of Europe at that time, was besieged by rats and mice. There were never enough predators to eliminate the vermin, so I decided to help. The rodents were stealing grain and vegetables from the abbey's kitchen and garden, and I hoped that doing this good deed might absolve my character in the eyes of the Sisters.
I had devised a trap and caught several of the little brown field mice and a few rats, making them my prisoners in an old discarded wooden crate I had found behind the kitchen. The tedium of my confinement had convinced me that today, my prisoners would face their sentence.
I went to my room and retrieved a candle, a match, and my prison containing its inmates.
Gathering all my implements, I took them and the crate to the courtyard and deposited them in a dark corner where the bricks were cool and moist.
Quickly I dashed to the stable, knowing I was breaking the rules by leaving the courtyard, and grabbed a large handful of hay. I raced back to my dark little corner, arranged the hay neatly around the crate, and lit my candle.
At first I was intent on setting the hay ablaze and burning the criminal mice alive, but as I led the candle over the top of the crate, a large droplet of wax fell between the slats and landed on the furry back of one of the mice.
It screamed out in unexpected pain.
I smiled, and to my surprise, that strange, foreign tingle that I'd felt at the stream that day returned to my center. The feeling was not as powerful as before, but there, nonetheless.
So I let the wax drip through the cracks of the crate's lid and made sure each of my inmates received his share of the scalding wax.
I wanted to hear each individual scream.
And when they did, the tingle deepened, expanded, and spread its warm electric fingers throughout my body.
I moved the candle toward the dry yellow hay and let the flame catch. I blew gently, urging the flames to spread all around the base of the crate. The rodents screamed louder, reacting instinctively to the smell of smoke as they clamored violently to escape and scratched their little claws feverishly at the wood.
I watched in fascination, mesmerized by their panicked paws desperately reaching between the slats and their red eyes rolling in fear.
A tiny little moan of ecstasy escaped me.
Then, out of nowhere, I felt a hard heavy hand strike me across the back of my head. I doubled forward from the force of it and fell into the ground; my face only inches from the miniature inferno.
"JANE!" Sister Isabella yelled and yanked me violently to my feet by the collar of my frock.
Another of the Sisters extinguished the fire with a bucket of water while Sister Isabella dragged me across the courtyard and toward the cellar where they kept the wine for the sacrament. I pleaded with her that I was only trying to help, that I just wanted to get rid of the thieving rodents.
She refused to listen. Her face was a mask of indignation as she gripped my arm tightly.
"They are also God's creatures," she retorted tersely.
"They are vermin, vermin who eat our grain and nest in our beds," I argued vehemently.
"That does not mean that you can torture them to death by burning them alive," she spat while pushing me into the cellar. Before she shut me in, she turned to glare at me in disgust.
"You are a very cruel, mean-spirited little girl, Jane therefore I can only conclude that you have been bewitched," she exclaimed with cold superiority, and shut the heavy wooden door. The iron key turned in the lock with a final metallic clink, and I was once more alone.
My nightmare began then. Sister Isabella had spoken the word that would be my death knell.
I was stripped of all my possessions, even my clothes were taken from me, and I was left in that miserable damp cellar with nothing more than a flimsy black broadcloth rag to wrap around me. For days I waited in the blackness hoping for some sign that I would be released. If Satan had appeared in my little black hole to offer me freedom in exchange for my soul, I would have happily agreed. I would have agreed to anything in order to escape that wretched cell.
Days passed and no one came to check on me, no food and hardly any water were brought to me, and I had absolutely no word of Alec.
My ignorance was my torture.
Eventually she came for me, and her beady rat-eyes watched me with mistrusting hatred.
She didn't speak as she opened the heavy door to the cellar, but she had a set of heavy shackles at the ready. Another Sister came to bind my wrists and ankles in the iron cuffs while I seethed with bitter hatred and glared at Isabella.
"You are to appear before the Bishop," she said coldly.
"Why?" I demanded.
"You are accused of incantation, diabolism, and murder. You are to stand trial."
Fear clutched me instantly. I wasn't sure what incantation and diabolism were, but I was well aware that being convicted of murder would result in the strictest of punishments. They would kill me, and Alec would be left alone.
"And what of Alec?" I asked frantically. I could face my consequences, but he was innocent of everything.
"He will stand trial with you, Jane," she replied and sneered as she watched my face whiten to ash.
"You will live to regret this, Sister," I said and smiled blackly at her. If her death would be my final act on this Earth, I would see to it that she suffered beyond anything that Satan could contrive.
Mercifully, the burning changed again and began to slowly recede from my limbs in a retreat toward my chest. I felt a thunderous pounding, like an iron battering ram slamming into me. Frantically it raged, faster and impossibly louder. I thrashed about as the pain reverberated throughout my body. And then, with one last agonizing pulsation, my heart ceased to beat.
I opened my eyes, and saw the world as it truly was. Colors were richer, more intense than my memory recalled, and every object was clearly defined. It was dim; the only light came from a single candle on the bedside table, but the dark did not hinder my sight in the least. I had awoken in a lavish bedchamber, upon a dark green velvet coverlet spread over a very large and exquisitely carved bed. Tapestries depicting sunny colorful landscape scenes adorned the ancient stone walls. The furniture was sparse, but luxurious. An ornate chest of drawers occupied one corner of the room. A small writing desk and matching chair were placed facing a massive stone fireplace, which dominated one wall of the room.
But what demanded my attention were not my surroundings or even my seemingly enhanced vision. It was an aroma.
The most delectable and irresistible aroma I had ever encountered.
It called to me above all others, and my parched throat erupted in flames. A thick, viscous fluid began to flow in my mouth and down my throat, but it did nothing to assuage my maddening thirst.
I simply had to find it, I absolutely must devour it.
I sprang from the bed and crouched low beside it; unsure of what to expect next, but determined to find the source of my throat's torment. The scent was close, so very close. A low growl rumbled deep within me, and I took a wary step toward the door to better track the scent.
I hadn't noticed Signore Aro watching me.
He stood near the entrance, and had two others with him. One, a woman, stood directly behind him and was lightly touching his shoulder. The other was a brute of a man with black hair who watched me warily, clearly not impressed with my diminutive size. I did not like the look of him as he stared condescendingly at me.
I eyed him suspiciously and growled a warning.
He stumbled awkwardly and reached for his head. Signore Aro caught his elbow.
"Felix?" he asked with concern and took his hand. Signore Aro shuddered and then looked back to me. His eyes held a mixture of knowing pride and shocked surprise while his lips slowly turned up into an oddly gratified smile.
He approached me slowly, the woman followed closely behind to keep her contact with him. The one called Felix wisely remained where he was and wore an idiotic look of confusion. I shifted my position and crouched lower to the floor.
"Dearest Jane," Signore Aro began sweetly. "There is nothing to fret over. No one is going to hurt you," he soothed, putting his hand out to me.
My only response was a low growl of impatience.
He retracted his hand. "You promised to be loyal, Jane, and to always obey me," he reminded me sternly.
My scowl deepened, but I repressed my growl.
He chuckled darkly. "Good girl."
"Where am I?" I questioned and jumped at the sound of my voice, unsure if the musical tinkling that had come from my mouth was actually me.
"In my home. In your home, Jane."
I should have expected that reply. "Why does my throat burn?" I asked fingering my neck with my hand while I swallowed more thick fluid.
"You are thirsty. Your thirst causes venom to flow in your mouth. I told you that you would become like the Stregoni, Jane. The legends are true, we are blood-drinkers," he answered.
I should have been bothered by his explanation, but the mention of blood only served to fuel the flow of venom. I swallowed hard and my attention switched focus again.
"Where is Alec?" I asked, my mind suddenly recalling his existence.
"He is nearby and doing well."
"I want to see him," I insisted.
"That is not possible, Jane. You are both too new to this life, and you could hurt each other. You don't want that, do you?" He asked with raised brows.
"No," I spat in agitation while my eyes flickered nervously around the room. It was impossible to concentrate on anything while my throat burned so badly.
Signore seemed to sense my discomfort.
"Ah, but you are thirsty, there is plenty of time later to relate details. Come."
"Yes, Signore Aro," I replied dutifully. He looked at me with gratification.
"You are to call me Master now, dearest Jane."
I bowed my head and followed him to wherever he may lead me.
I'm positive that I didn't need to be led through the dark, damp tunnels encrusted with dripping nitre to find the maddening aroma singing to me, making my throat erupt in a thirst so powerful I wasn't sure if anything could satiate it. Yet, I followed my Master and his entourage through countless dark ancient stone hallways. My attention was constantly distracted by each new scent and sight I encountered, but finally, after what seemed like an endless labyrinth of passages and doors, the scent became impossibly stronger.
We had come to a hallway paneled with wood on both sides. Ahead of me, I could see an enormous set of gilt double doors at the end of the passage, but I was not led to them. Instead, Felix slid a section of the hall's wall paneling to the side and revealed an unremarkable thick wooden door. I stepped through it and found myself in a round, high ceilinged, stone antechamber. Three immense, brightly lit candelabras illuminated the room and reflected the candlelight off the polish of several dark wooden chairs placed throughout.
But all of this was completely insignificant. The only matter of importance was that this room was the source of the heavenly perfume, and the cause of my throat's fiery torment.
Two humans cowered on the blackened stone floor, clutching each other in terror even in their nakedness. The intoxicating scent of their blood mingled with their fear as they whispered frantic prayers to their Lord and Savior, made my throat erupt anew.
I twitched to make my attack.
"For you, Jane," my Master instructed and waved his hand in indication that I could begin. He then receded into the shadows of the room.
Instinct overtook me. I lurched forward in one lithe spring and took the auburn haired woman closest to me. She screamed and tried to cling to the other one, but I pulled her to me, marveling in the strength I now possessed, and gripped her hair roughly. I ended her screams with a soft gurgle as I tilted her head back and devoured her creamy freckled neck. Her frantic heart forced the warm nectar into my mouth in quick, pulsing, ebbs and the raging fire in my throat subsided with each delicious swallow.
But I was still incredibly aware of the other one that Master had brought for me, a man, old and scrawny, with the tan leathered skin of a shepherd.
One human would definitely not suffice on this night.
I watched him while I sucked and pulled at her neck, drawing every last drop from her. I released her corpse with a thud and began to stalk him. He crawled away from me, but his bare feet slipping on the bloodied floor hindered him. I laughed as I pursued him until he was trapped against the wall.
There was no escape.
I cocked my head and examined him skeptically.
"You don't look fresh," I said as I prodded his ribs with my finger.
He began to pray again.
I sighed in exasperation.
"He cannot save you," I said, shaking my head.
His lips quivered. And for a brief moment, a cloudy memory of my father's quivering lips as he tried to escape me that day at the stream flashed in my mind. My body remembered too, remembered how it had exhilarated me.
And while I looked upon this withered old man sniveling wretchedly before me, all my hate and loathing for my father surfaced, and I glowered at him.
He let out a horrid tortured scream and writhed desperately on the cold stone floor at my feet.
I felt the tingle begin.
I glowered at him again. The pitch of his screams rose higher and I concentrated my baleful glare on him, allowing all my hatred to flow through my gaze.
The tingle throbbed delightfully as it spread throughout my body, even to the very tips of my fingers. I kept my gaze fixed intently upon my prey, the hate surging and flowing freely while my prey begged for mercy, begged for me to grant him his death.
His desperate terrified pleading was my complete undoing.
I could wait no longer. I pounced forward and pulled him to me, taking a fistful of his hair in my hand and forcing his head back with a snap that nearly broke it. His neck throbbed rapidly from the frightened trilling beat of his heart. He closed his eyes and began to mumble a final prayer; I moved my mouth to his ear and whispered sweetly.
"I told you, he cannot save you," I murmured, my lips hovering over his wildly pulsating jugular. I sank my teeth into his wrinkled neck and drained him of every warm, succulent drop.
As his limp corpse fell from my grasp I rose and surveyed my first prey with satisfaction.
I heard my Master laughing softly.
"Come with me, Jane," he commanded as he emerged from the shadows and moved toward the door.
My Master led me out and back into the ancient stone hall and toward the gilt doors I had noticed before. Felix stayed behind me as we passed through and into an ornate white marble audience chamber. In the center of the room was a raised platform where three exquisite Romanesque thrones of black lacquer and gold sat. Two of the thrones were occupied; one by a man whose dark hair and pallid skin resembled Master Aro's. In the other, sat a man who also possessed the same pale complexion, but his crown was covered by thick white hair and he wore a rather annoyed expression as we entered the chamber. The center throne of the trio was vacant.
"Caius, Marcus. This is my Jane," my Master said as he turned to me. The note of possessive pride in his tone did not escape my notice.
I inclined my head toward them slightly in acknowledgement. I hadn't been told to pledge any allegiance to anyone but Master Aro.
"You did not inform us that she was so young, Aro," Caius quipped with obvious vexation.
"Her age is irrelevant Caius; her gift is too valuable and would have gone to waste had she been killed. I had no choice."
"But the Law cannot be manipulated to suit individual circumstances, can it, Aro?" Marcus interjected.
"And what of her twin brother?" Caius continued, "He has shown no aptitude for any special talent, despite Eleazar's presentiment. He should never have been turned. Instead, he should have been left to roast on the stake, as was his fate," he argued.
My rage erupted uncontrollably then. I could not stand idly by and allow my brother's life to be considered with so little value.
I snarled viciously and glared at him with menacing hatred. He suddenly fell off his throne shrieking and convulsing in anguish.
Aro rushed to his side and touched his head for the briefest of moments, then pulled his hand back almost instantly as if he'd touched a red hot andiron.
"Enough Jane," Master said.
But I didn't hear him. My attention was completely consumed by Caius suffering in front of me. I wasn't sure what was causing it, but I was thoroughly enjoying it, nonetheless.
Silently, I dared him to tempt me further so that I'd be justified in attacking him. No one would hurt Alec, I wouldn't let anyone.
"ENOUGH JANE!" And my head snapped to meet my Master's eyes. Caius's screams ceased instantly. Surprisingly, my Master chuckled.
"It is as Eleazar foresaw. Do you doubt now, Caius?" Master Aro questioned.
"I retract nothing," Caius replied bitterly as he stood unsteadily and took to his seat.
"Oh? Shall I allow her to continue?"
"Come, let's have it Aro. What magic does this one hold?" Marcus pressed with an impatient wave toward me.
Master Aro glided toward me then, "With her look," he whispered as he raised his hand and softly brushed my cheek, "she will bring men to their knees," he finished with reverence.
My life, or rather, my existence, began then.
Master Aro explained to me what I had become. I learned of my immortality and virtually unlimited strength, although I was told my strength would decrease somewhat with time. Master Aro also explained that I would never age, perpetually a maid and never a woman. This would become my only regret in my new life.
I had become a Stregoni, but that was only a legend. In reality, I had become a member of a much more secret and powerful family, the Volturi family.
The Volturi upheld the laws of our kind. Without these laws in place, we could be exposed and the humans would overpower us, destroying us all. Master Aro, Master Caius, and Master Marcus (I was eventually ordered to call them each Master, much to my annoyance) judged those who were accused of disregard for our laws. Occasionally, Master Aro would summon me to the audience chamber to assist.
My duty was to convince the accused to be more cooperative. This duty became my greatest joy, and I was able to quickly refine my skills, much to Master Aro's delight.
When I wasn't performing my duty, I spent my time roaming the halls of my home. Being new to this life, I was sequestered to the confines of the castle until I was in control of my thirst and able to restrain myself. Being in the streets would be too tempting for a newborn such as myself, and hunting was forbidden within the city walls. So I was forced to remain content with exploring the endless corridors and catacombs that wove a complicated labyrinth below the castle. The castle and I got to be very well acquainted.
I dined well, feeding several times a day on what was served to me in the turret. And although my thirst was quenched, there was no sport in it, and my predator instincts craved the challenge of tracking my prey. I wanted to hunt, and I knew who would be the first to feel my teeth against their skin.
I hadn't forgotten the vow of vengeance I'd made while burning at the stake. I was well aware that by carrying it out, I would be violating one of the laws I had been sworn to uphold. Hunting within the city's walls was strictly forbidden. Not to mention Master Aro had expressly requested that I stay within the castle. I decided that retribution was worth any consequences I would face.
I prepared one evening by gorging myself on three humans in the hope of making those I might encounter on the street less appealing. I then excused myself to retire to my chamber where I hastily changed my clothes and donned my dark hooded cloak.
I made my way inconspicuously through the castle corridors; the sight of me wandering was nothing new to those I passed. I knew where the door leading to the street was, having finally located it last night. As I approached the door, the scent of horse manure confirmed that the street was just on the other side. I steeled myself against the other, far more appealing, aromas I could sense and slipped out the door, closing it silently behind me.
The open street was relatively quiet. Being unsure of myself, I had waited until the hour had grown late before venturing out. But I was quite familiar with the layout of the city and knew that where I had emerged was close to the abbey. I drew up my hood and casually walked toward the cathedral.
Some of the scents were much more difficult to ignore than others, but I forced myself to remain focused on my objective. Nothing would be served if I allowed my need to overtake me, and I acted rashly and stupidly. I wound my way through the dark and mostly deserted streets of Volterra, being careful to stay in the shadows as much as possible so as not to attract any attention.
Soon I came to the high wall of the abbey courtyard. It was nothing to jump over it in one swift and graceful leap. I then surveyed the courtyard and examined the line of second story windows, trying to recall which was hers through my dim human memories. After a moment's thought, I remembered, and I leapt through it and into her room with silent ease.
She slept soundly in her tiny bed, her nightgown twisted around her legs and one arm thrown over her head. The moonlight filtered in, casting her face in a ghastly glow, much like the deathly pallor of a long dead corpse.
Soon enough, I thought with pleasure.
I crept silently toward her. If I had still had a pulse, it would have been racing with the anticipation of wreaking my vengeance upon her.
I leaned over her and readied myself; the scent of her blood was a rather disgusting mixture of camphor and chrysanthemums. Her foul breath blew into my face and I turned my head in disgust. Her lip quivered as she drew her next breath. In a moment, it would quiver in fear, and then it would be over.
And then it would be over, I mused.
It suddenly seemed like much too easy and peaceful a death for her.
I'd been so enthralled with the idea of hunting for the first time that I hadn't seen the full potential of my plan until now.
I quickly scanned the room for something hard and heavy. A candlestick would do, I thought as I swiped one off the dresser and removed the candle from it. This would be difficult, I was still learning the extent of my new strength, and I didn't want to kill her…Yet.
I tapped her head with the blunt pewter candlestick and waited. She didn't stir and I wasn't sure if I had knocked her unconscious as was my intention, or if I hadn't used enough strength in my blow. I picked up her hand by the wrist and let it fall. It hit the mattress with a lifeless thud and she still did not stir. I assumed it was safe to proceed.
I grabbed her by both wrists and pulled her into a sitting position with her feet on the floor. I then knelt in front of her and slung her limp body over my right shoulder. Her weight was nothing as I stood and considered my routes for escaping undetected. I had to be quick and get her back before she revived. I decided the window was my best option, from there I'd find the nearest drain.
I jumped from her second story window to the courtyard below and the noise of my landing echoed against the stone walls. I quickly hid in the shadows in case someone had heard me. After I was sure I hadn't been seen, I ran past the graveyard and to the open street. Sister Isabella's head bobbed unnaturally behind me as I ran.
I scanned the gutters of the street looking for a drain that would lead me underground. I saw one close by, several feet down and across the street. I stayed concealed in the shadows and moved as quickly as I could with my burden.
I made it undetected and set the Sister down so that I could open the iron grate covering the hole. I then dropped her into the tunnel feet first. After moment I heard a thump. She had landed.
I followed and almost landed on top of her. She had revived, and her face was distorted in confused pain as she looked down at her leg, bent at an unnatural angle. She looked up at me in shocked surprise.
"Jane?" She whispered, unbelieving, as she squinted in the darkness and examined me. My only reply was a swift blow to her head with the back of my hand and she slumped into unconsciousness again.
I had to work quickly.
I picked her up again and took a moment to get my bearings. I was close to the castle, near the tunnels that linked to the catacombs under the Cathedral. If I went to my right, I should come upon the passageway I had in mind.
Hastily, I made my way to the less frequented parts of the catacombs, worried that the Sister would wake before I could secure her. I knew of exactly the right place to carry out my revenge. The stench was almost unbearable. Not only were the tunnels littered with vermin droppings and dead rats, but also close by was the pit where the Volturi discarded the corpses of those we fed from. Their rotting flesh fouled the air and contaminated the shallow water that submerged the floor ankle high.
I was searching for one particularly old passage that came to a dead end. It was narrow and littered with the bones of the dead that had been buried there centuries before. The walls on both sides were pocked with rectangular burial niches and a few of the skeletons still remained intact. At the end of the passage, mounted to the wall with a massive iron ring, was a set of ancient iron shackles.
I set the Sister down roughly and stripped her of her nightgown. Her broken leg dangled grotesquely as I positioned her hands over her head and into the iron cuffs. Once secured, I stepped back and admired my achievement with a satisfied smile. This was going to be so much more enjoyable than simply drinking her blood. But there were a few things I needed in order to carry out my scheme.
I carefully made my way back to my chamber. Eagerly I opened the door and entered, my eyes already looking for the items I sought. I found one, a silver bowl, sitting atop my desk. The other item, I realized suddenly, might be more difficult to procure. I needed a blade of some sort, yet cutlery and weapons were implements the Volturi had no use for, and were therefore generally not to be found in the castle. I growled in frustration.
"Whatever is the matter, dear one?" I heard my Master inquire from a darkly shadowed corner of my chamber. So involved was I that I hadn't noticed his scent in the air or seen him standing in the corner when I'd entered.
He came forward and extended his hand. It was an action I had come to understand well and I placed my hand in his. He bent over our joined hands and made ready to kiss the top of mine, but instead I felt his gentle touch transform into a pulverizing grip. I quickly broke free from him, owing to my newborn strength, and cast my eyes down to the floor. A nibbling fear began to chew at me.
"I never told you that I also have a gift, Jane," he began in his usual overly polite tone.
"Oh?" I replied and the nibbling became an insistent gnawing.
"Yes. I know what is in your mind," he elaborated. My eyes flew to his in panic. "You broke the law Jane," he continued sadly.
"But Master, surely you know why! I wasn't hunting in the city; I was only hunting her," I pleaded desperately. I had seen enough in my short time with the Volturi to know what happened to those who disobeyed the laws.
"I won't venture into public again," I promised emphatically, "I only want what is rightfully mine to claim, my revenge." I defended myself and clutched at the sleeve of his black satin robe as I sank to my knees before him in contrition.
It seemed like several minutes passed before I felt his hand reach under my chin and tilt my face up to look at him.
"Ah Jane, I find myself powerless to deny you. But this must be our secret. If Caius and Marcus were to discover the truth, I would not be able to save you from their anger," he warned.
"Thank you, my Master," I whispered with genuine gratitude and stood up.
"Go and be quick about it," he said and handed me a small, narrow silver object sheathed in leather. A dagger, I realized upon closer inspection, intricately filigreed and mounted with many deep red garnets. I smiled as I quickly took it from him. He had seen what I was in need of.
"Let no one see or hear her," he advised before he bowed his head and exited my chamber.
I hurriedly went to gather my implements. I fumbled in my desk for an unused candle and some matches, and once located, stuffed them in my cloak along with the silver bowl and my Master's dagger.
I made my way back down to my captive. As I approached, I could hear her hysterical screams all the way down the corridor. That would never do. If she keeps on, everyone will hear her. I should have brought something to gag her fat mouth, I realized with annoyance.
As I turned the corner and entered the passage, I took a moment to savor the sight of her misery. It was pitch black in the tunnel and I was able to see only because of my extraordinary sight. Sister Isabella had no such advantage and her panic was multiplied by the fact that she couldn't see what was coming for her. I watched her from several feet away, her head turning frantically in the direction of some noise, either real or imagined. Her eyes were wild with absolute terror. Her voice broke repeatedly as she sobbed, helpless and hopeless, all while frantically trying to pull her hands out of the iron cuffs. She tried so hard that she mutilated the flesh around her wrists and rivulets of blood were slowly trickling down her arms to her shoulders.
It was time to make my presence known.
"I always knew that we would meet again, Sister," I said sweetly as I struck a match and lit the candle. My ruby eyes settled on her horrified face.
She let out a long, blood curdling scream of all consuming terror that echoed down the passageways and through the catacombs.
In response, I felt the tingle begin to emerge deep within me.
I approached her with the candle in hand and walked toward one of the empty niches in the wall. I carefully tilted the candle and let a few drops of wax fall onto the stone; I then pressed the butt end of the candle into the wax so that it would stand upright and illuminate the passage.
I wanted to make sure she would be able to see me.
"Jane, release me at once!" She cried angrily.
"You are in no position to make requests, Sister. As it is, I'm afraid your pleas will fall on deaf ears," I said as I calmly extracted my bowl and dagger from my cloak and laid them next to the candle. I then removed my cloak and folded it carefully before laying it in the niche as well.
"You cannot be real. You were killed, burned at the stake…" She babbled senselessly, trying to use reason to explain how I could possibly be standing in front of her.
"Not real?" I asked and took the dagger and bowl from the niche. I walked to her, unsheathed the dagger and knelt at her foot. With a slow deliberate movement, I effortlessly sliced through the soft white flesh above her ankle.
"Did that feel real?" I asked sweetly, "Or not?"
She screamed again.
"If you don't keep quiet Sister, I shall be forced to make it so you cannot scream at all," I said as I positioned the bowl beneath her foot to catch her crimson liquid and put the dagger back next to the candle.
"What…are you….Jane?" She managed to spit out between pathetic sobs and hitched breaths.
"I am your death, Sister. Aren't I pretty?" I asked and spun around for her viewing pleasure. She shuddered and stared at the wall.
Slowly the bowl at her foot filled with her blood. I made sure she was watching as I picked it up brought it to my lips.
I smiled wickedly and winked at her. She bit her lip in horror. I placed my lips on the bowl's rim and tilted it back. Her warm blood cascaded down my throat and it was nearly impossible to suppress my newborn urge to simply devour her then as I pulled the emptied bowl away from my lips. That would be such a waste, and I forced myself to remain in control of my need.
I returned the bowl to her foot so it could fill again, and stood before her.
"I insist that our time together today be special, Sister," I said. "There are so many things I want to share with you. Since we parted, I have learned much," I cooed.
Her lip began to quiver in fear and I smiled as the lovely tingling spread. I had only just begun.
For hours, I toyed with her.
I carved her flesh with my Master's dagger. Several tiny incisions I placed all over her naked body. The cuts weren't so deep that she would bleed to death, but still deep enough to be painful. I drank from them all, catching the blood with the bowl and savoring the taste, not of her blood so much as the delectable flavor of her total and absolute fear of me.
I burned her with the candle wax. It was ridiculous and childish, but I wanted her to scream like the mice that had sealed my fate the day she'd caught me burning them. I held the flame to her flesh and watched the fine hairs singe and burn with tiny wisps of brown smoke, watched the angry red burns appear all over her legs, just like mine had when she had me burned at the stake.
After a long while, her screams and protests started to quiet and I knew she was becoming weak from loss of blood.
It was time to progress to my next device.
I took the dagger and ran the very tip of it across her right cheek.
"Stay awake, Sister. I've saved my most valuable lesson for last," I murmured near her ear.
Her glossy, exhausted eyes rolled to meet mine.
"I haven't heard you pray once, Sister. I confess I find myself surprised, you were such a pious Bride of Christ," I sneered.
She made no answer.
"Nor have I heard you beg, which truly disappoints me." I continued cruelly, "I so wanted to hear you beg for your life."
She spat at me.
"That was most unwise, Sister," I tisked, shaking my head.
It was then that I unleashed my full fury on her. I dredged up every horrible memory from my human life. The endless beatings and abuse at the hand of my father. My short time at the abbey and how the Sisters had hated me from the start. The horrible trial where I didn't even understand what I was accused of. The unparalleled terror of being burned alive.
Specific scenes played themselves in my mind. My father's rough heavy hand dragging me out from under my bed by my hair when I'd run from his leather strap. Alec with a bloodied eye, rocking miserably on his bed while his mind consumed him. The random faces of the mob that screamed enthusiastically for my death. The look of condescension on Isabella's face as my verdict and sentence were read.
My rage and hate and bitter resentment exploded within me, and I turned my baleful glare on her.
She screamed so loudly it actually hurt my ears. She thrashed wildly against the stone wall, her back arching out as if I were ripping her beating heart straight from her chest. Her legs jerked in uncontrolled spasms and her screeching rose in pitch as she writhed in complete agony.
Rage wasn't the only thing that had overtaken me. Sister Isabella's screams had inspired the deep tingle to grow and flourish.
Every thrash thrilled me, every garbled cry of despair excited me further.
I didn't relent. I continued to stare at her, sending her shockwave after shockwave of unimaginable pain. And as her screams grew more desperate, my pleasure only multiplied, fed by her torment and I reached my breaking point.
The frantic pounding of her heart suddenly ceased, fear finally forcing it to drum its last beat. The instant her heart stopped, the tingling in my center erupted into a shockwave of intense pleasure that rippled and shot through my body like an emblazoned meteor. I growled in pure ecstasy before burying my teeth in the cooling flesh of her neck. With each swallow, my pleasure deepened and vibrated, warmed and tingled, revitalized my strength and satisfied my revenge.
She was dead.
I was the powerful one.
And I was, at last, complete.
Nitre: Term for Potassium Nitrate
Diabolism: Action aided or caused by the devil; sorcery; witchcraft.
Incantation: Magic; sorcery
I'd like to thank the Indie Twific Awards for honoring me with the award for Best Canon. To read more of the fantastic entries go here www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/community/The_Indies_First_Time_Writer_Challenge/74097/99/0/1/
Beta love x infinity for LightStarDusting and the PTB team.
I have begun posting the continuation of this story. It's called Creating Alec and can be found on my profile.
For something completely different, please check out the collab I wrote with LightStarDusting called I'll Be Seeing You, and it's sequel, My Girl Friday. The links can be found on my profile. :)
I was VERY humbled to be nominated for an Eddie for Best Short Fiction. Thank you to the wonderful anonymous person who nominated me.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed it (or if not :) ) please leave me a comment. I'm beginning to worry that I have put many of you in therapy, and I'd hate to have that on my conscious.
Love for each and every one of you.