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The Twilight Twenty-Five
Pen name: Legna989
The ancients were centered among us, hands clasped and bodies positioned in their familiar triangular configuration. Though no command had been given, I began searching out the most vulnerable bonds within the enemy ranks. I knew instinctively that Jane and Alec were beginning their assaults as well. We had all learned the steps of this dance long ago. It was almost boring.
The mated pairs were obvious; I ignored them, knowing I would not be able to affect them no matter how strong my power, and focused on the two coven leaders near the front. Carlisle I knew from his brief stay in Volterra, and Tanya was known to all the Volturi because of her sire's crime. Aro had told me that Carlisle and Tanya were close; perhaps their similar, perplexing dietary choices created their common ground. I breathed in deeply, seeking the taste of their bond in the crisp air.
Confused, I considered the possibility that Aro had been mistaken. No, I thought, he read the telepath's thoughts; he would know.
I exhaled sharply, drawing Afton's attention.
"Chelsea?" he prodded, eyebrow raised.
I shook my head, ignoring my mate and turning my focus to Tanya and Katrina. They had shared the same coven for a millennium. Their bond was surely strong enough for me to sense, but not so strong that it couldn't be broken.
Another deep breath, and still nothing.
A perturbed growl escaped me at the same time Jane loosed a frustrated shriek. I turned sharply to see Alec restraining her.
Afton took my hand, drawing my attention. "What's going on?"
"I can't sense any of their bonds," I murmured. "And I'm guessing that Jane's power is ineffective as well."
"None?" Afton asked incredulously. "What does that mean?"
I couldn't answer as we all expectantly watched Alec's mist creep forward. The anticipation on both sides was electric, all but the ancients coiled and ready.
A flurry of snow blew through the space between the two sides, the flakes swirling ineffectually through the mist.
"What the-" Afton began as tremors rocked the ground beneath us. He stepped closer to me when the earth wailed in protest, a narrow crevice appearing in the center of the clearing. Even the ancients could not ignore such sorcery, and Caius and Aro stared wide-eyed at the space that had opened.
Alec's mist, deceptively benign-looking, continued to float toward our enemies. No one spoke.
Suddenly, the mist appeared to hit a wall. We watched as it crept upward and around, spreading like blood over an inverted bowl.
"Impossible," Afton breathed as I gasped.
I heard the Egyptian's congratulatory cheer. "Well done, Bella!"
My gaze automatically shifted to Aro, who nodded almost imperceptibly as the other side began to shift and strategize.
I had already begun seeking out the flavors of those I knew Aro would want to recruit. The Egyptian, the Amazon, Katrina, Edward and his mate. I focused on each of them in turn, but the only flavors I could discern were those of my brethren.
My frustration must have been apparent, because Afton gripped my hand more tightly and asked, "Still nothing?"
"Nothing," I muttered in reply. In more than eight hundred years with the Volturi, I had never failed them. Existing bonds were sometimes difficult for me to break, but my power to create and reinforce bonds had always been strong. It had even manifested when I was human, although I didn't recognize it as a special power then.
I remembered very little of my human life. I didn't even remember my human name. I have a few brilliant memories, but most of what I believed to be true about my life was told to me by Aro. Centuries of study and research have helped me piece together a few other things.
I joined the Volturi in 1189, only a few days after I was born into this new life. My first clear memory was of Aro's benevolent face looking down on me as I was held on my knees before him by three of the guard and he clasped his hand with Eleazar's.
"What is your name, child?" he asked.
I couldn't answer him. I knew I must have had a name, but my mind was blank. I cried out as the guard on my right twisted my arm painfully, a faint sound of screeching metal accompanying his movement.
"Peace," Aro admonished the guard before turning back to me. "What were you called, dear one?"
I said the only thing that came to mind. "Shadchan."
Aro and Eleazar exchanged a bemused look.
"Is that what you were? A matchmaker?" Eleazar asked.
A memory from my human life came unbidden at his words.
"If you please, shadchan, I present to you my daughter, Esther." The man gestured to the young woman standing just behind him and his wife.
She was young, but not too young, and obviously nervous. Her dark eyes shifted between the floor and my face, as if she were afraid to look too long at me.
"Esther," I said, and her eyes snapped to mine. I held her gaze as I asked about her likes and dislikes, the expectations she had for a husband, what she believed would be expected of her as a wife. As she spoke, an image came to my mind—that of the young man who tutored my younger brothers.
"I think I can make a match for Esther," I told her father when I finally broke her gaze. "Do you know Josce, the teacher?"
Esther's father nodded. "I know who he is."
"Shall I set a bashow?"
Esther's father and mother exchanged a brief look before he turned back to me. "Yes."
"Matchmaker," I said to Eleazar.
"But you must have had a name," Aro insisted.
I looked at him blankly. He was right; I must have had a name, of course. But I could not recall it, whatever it was.
Aro reached his hand out toward me, and I flinched. The hands securing me to the ground tightened as Aro touched my cheek. He held it there for a long moment and then withdrew.
"It matters not, I suppose," Aro said on a sigh. He turned to Eleazar. "You're certain of her talent?"
Eleazar nodded. "Even more so now. She must have had some latent talent as a human, given her vocation."
Aro clapped delightedly. "This is most excellent! My dear, you have caused a bit of trouble here over the past few days, which would ordinarily mean your end," he told me. "However, it is clear that you could not have been responsible for all of the destruction wrought."
My mind was reeling. I had only the vaguest impressions of the days preceding his arrival—images of pain and blood and unrelenting thirst—and I could not grasp what it was he wanted from me. I was assaulted with another memory as I contemplated what he meant when he spoke of destruction.
King Richard's coronation was held that day. Our people had been banned from attending, but some of the prominent money lenders had arrived at the banquet with gifts, hoping to curry favor with the new king. Public sentiment had long since turned against our people, and our emissaries were met with barbs and insults. They were not the worst horrors to befall our people that night.
As they fled the banquet hall, they were set upon by monsters. We could hear the screams and see the fires blazing as we cowered in our homes.
"Do they hate us so?" my mother cried as my father secured the wooden bar across the door.
My father turned to us, fear evident in his wide eyes. "I- I do not think it is the Christians doing this."
"Then who?" my mother asked, horrified.
"The children of Lilith," my father whispered.
"Impossible!" my mother gasped, then turned to me. "Go! Go wake your brothers. You must flee!"
I ran to the rear of the house, where our sleeping quarters were located, my mind racing. I knew my brothers had not likely slept through the cacophony of terror surrounding us, but I had no idea what I would tell them. I did not know where we would go, or what would happen to our parents.
So engrossed was I in my thoughts that it took me a moment to register what I was seeing as I stood at their bedsides.
They were each held in what might have been a tender embrace, faces I could not see buried in their necks. Those holding them were not lilim, not demons, I thought. They were people, perhaps come to deliver us.
Then they raised their gazes to me, and the startling red of their eyes and the blood of my brothers on their lips drew a scream from me that was abruptly stifled when the female set upon me in the blink of an eye.
"Hush," she soothed. Her icy breath tickled my ear for only a moment before I felt the sharp sting of pain just below it when her teeth cut through my skin. I could not cry out; I could not move. I felt my heart speed up and my breath came in pants as a burning sensation began to spread from my neck up into my head and down into my shoulder and arm.
I vaguely registered falling to the floor as she hissed and threw me away from her at some distraction I could not identify. I tried to lift myself from the floor, but my limbs would not cooperate. The air was thick with smoke and cloying perfume, stinging my nose and eyes. I saw her turn back to me just as a burning piece of thatch from our roof came crashing down between us. Sparks and cinder exploded upward and outward, blocking her from my view.
The burning was spreading through my entire body. I was sure I was on fire, but the only flames were around me. My body remained untouched. I could see my brothers' beds aflame, and could see the crumpled form of my father near the doorway. I dragged myself toward him, my limbs heavy.
"Papa!" I choked out, my words lost to the roaring and crackling of the fire consuming our home.
I reached him what seemed like ages later, only to find his eyes glazed over and his neck bent at an unnatural angle.
"Papa," I cried out again, although I knew he would not respond. Another piece of thatch, larger than before, fell into the room, spraying ash and embers and setting my father's shoe on fire. I tried to drag him away from the burning, but I could barely move myself, and I knew he was beyond saving.
"I'm sorry, Papa," I whispered before I crawled toward the now-open door. I peered through the thick smoke, eyes stinging and watering, looking in vain for my mother.
The idea of leaving my family behind was almost too much to bear. I knew my brothers and father were dead, but my mother's fate was unknown. The instinct to survive kept me moving, out of our burning home, across the road, and toward the river. The burning intensified with every movement, and all I could think about was getting to water, even though there were no visible flames to douse. The last thing I remembered was collapsing under a dock, the stench of fish and sewage mingling with the acrid smell of bodies and buildings burning.
"Destruction," I breathed as I came out of my memory and met Aro's eyes once more.
"That is why we are here. An entire section of the city burned to the ground in a rather foolish attempt to cover up indiscriminate killing. And turning, apparently," Aro mused, a wry smile quirking his lips.
"As if it were not bad enough that we have had to concoct an elaborate story to explain the havoc wrought the night of the coronation," began the vampire holding my head, who I later learned was Caius, "we have abandoned newborns to deal with as well!"
"Yes, brother, it is quite an inconvenience," Aro said. "But perhaps not without reward."
Caius scoffed. "It was one thing to attribute the mass killings to anti-Jewish sentiment brought to a head by the coronation. It is quite another to explain the careless feeding of a frenzied newborn days later!"
Aro inclined his head at Caius. "She has left us with quite a mess with which to contend," he conceded. "Still…"
"The others were destroyed," Caius argued.
"The others brought us no benefit," Aro countered. "It would be a pity to waste such talent, no matter how reckless her feeding these past few days."
The mention of feeding brought on a surge of thirst and another memory.
I awoke some days later to the painfully loud sound of a boat's hull clapping against the dock's piling. Although my eyes were still closed, I could identify the sound clearly, along with several others: the slapping of the water against the boat and the dock; the lapping of the river along its banks; the tread of boots on the dock above me; the shouting of the fishmongers; the clip-clop of hoofbeats on the cobblestone street; the clanging of metal on metal from the blacksmith's shop that I knew was several blocks away.
I opened my eyes and thought I must be dreaming. The world was brighter than it had ever been, despite the fact that I was curled up underneath the dock, away from the sunlight that would surely blind me were I to venture out of my hiding place. I could count every grain in the wood of the dock above my head, identify every pore and crack in the limestone of the piling behind me. The light reflected off the water in a prism of colors I had never before seen.
The smells around me were overwhelming. Fish, sewage, creosote, baking bread, tanning leather, overturned earth, lamp oil… they all blended together and yet were completely distinct and identifiable.
Above all the sounds, above all the smells, one thing broke through, taking over all conscious thought and driving me out of the shadows at last. I was momentarily distracted by the effect of the sunlight on my skin—reflecting, prismatic… glittering—but the thump-thump driving me suddenly increased in pace and the salty-sweet nectar calling me became tinged with adrenaline, and before I could think it, I was on the boat lashed to the dock, my teeth cutting through skin and my mouth pulling at the only relief for the fire in my throat.
I had drained three boatmen before I even realized what I was doing.
Horrified, I fled the boat and took to the shadows once more. For the next few days, I avoided sunlight, my shimmering skin a reminder of the monster I had become. I somehow knew not to stay in one place, and found myself moving westward through London, keeping close to the river. I was horrified by my feeding, but unable to resist quenching the burn that persisted in my throat.
I was stalking my next meal when the Volturi found me. As strong as I knew I was, they outnumbered me. I hissed and crouched defensively when they cornered me, but I was no match for their swift and practiced maneuvers.
And so I found myself kneeling before Aro, Caius and two others restraining me, although I had long since stopped struggling, listening instead to the discussion of my fate.
"Talent?" I choked out.
"Talent, yes," Aro replied. "Eleazar—who is also skilled—assures me that you can influence bonds between people. That is why you were a matchmaker in your human life."
"Am I not human now?" I asked, even though I knew I was not.
Aro laughed lightly. "No, sweetling. You have overcome the limitations of humanity. If you join us, we can teach you how transcendent your new life can be."
I nodded, still unsure about to what I was agreeing, but somehow instinctively knowing that it was my best option. My only option.
"What shall we call her, Master?" Eleazar asked. "We cannot call her 'shadchan.'"
"No, that will not do," Aro agreed. "We shall call her 'Chelsea,' since that is where we have found her to welcome her into her new life."
Aro reached for my hand as the two guard members released my arms. Caius kept a hand on my shoulder even as I stood, a reminder of his authority.
"Welcome, daughter, Chelsea of the Volturi," Aro said with a broad smile as he grasped my hand.
Since that time, Volterra has been my home. I learned to harness and use my power after my newborn phase passed and I developed more control. I became a valuable member of the guard, traveling with them whenever they ventured out to enforce the law. My talent proved useful in convincing other gifted vampires to join us.
I continued to seek a way through the newborn's shield, to no avail. I breathed an unnecessary sigh of relief when it became apparent that the shield was physically penetrable.
In the end, though, it all proved moot. We departed the clearing without vanquishing our enemy, all conflict seemingly resolved, and with a new target in mind. I could tell that Aro still coveted Edward and his mate, and above all, the seer. I wondered how long it would be before we visited them again.
I never doubted my bond to the Volturi. It has never been influenced—my power could not bind me to others, nor them to me—and yet my loyalty was unwavering. Aro had called me "daughter" all those centuries ago, and though I did not love him as a child would love a parent, I did think of him as a father of sorts. He spared me. He saved me from the terror and confusion of my new life. He gave me my name.
With the Volturi, I found a home. I found brothers and sisters. I found my mate.
I found the ties that truly bind.
ElleCC worked her beta magic as always, improving this as only she could.
The result of the Indie Twific Awards are in. Check out all of the winners at www(dot)theindietwificawards(dot)com, including one of my favorite stories, Dark Games and Twisted Minds by katinki. Congratulations to all of the honorees and many thanks to hmonster4 and gustariana for creating such a fantastic way to showcase underappreciated talent.