AN: I know I said Forksnumbers would be next, but I haven't been able to think of anything other than this story, so here we are. Lots of thank yous to go out (though I know I'll forget someone): to my awesome beta, nicnicd, for being awesome; to Twisherry for listening to every detail of this story a million times and never complaining; to Katinki for the insight and handholding and being an inspiration; to my sister, cheezitsyomom, for helping me sort this out; to my twilighted beta, Kherisma; to Feisty and KiyaRaven for the opera advice; to PemberlyRose for the translating services; to caren for being my dolcezza and for the musical advice; to Patsy Robinson and CatonSpeed for the amazing graphics; to Saranic for being my official prereader; and to you, for reading.

Disclaimer: All copyright and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. No infringement is intended. Translation: Not mine.

il Sensale – Chapter 1: Prologue (What's in It for Me?)

"So we have an arrangement?"

Pressing his hands together, he circled me like the predator he was—the predator we all were. Thoughts full of appraisals and devious plans flew through his mind so quickly I could barely register them. Then again, it was understandable; he was trying to keep me out.

No matter though. I heard them all as if I were the one making them.

"Your terms," he murmured in a low tone, his calculating gaze flashing to mine. "Repeat them."

He knew the terms. He also knew he was going to accept them—that much was readily available to me in his mind. He just wanted to force me to explain again, to show that he was the one in control. There was no need—we both already knew that.

"In exchange for my sister's freedom, I will agree to…" I paused, thinking of the most diplomatic word to use in this situation. "…observe the other contestants and report my findings back to you."

"Freedom?" He hissed, his rage at my choice of words obvious. "How dare you imply…"

Bowing my head toward him as a sign of deference, I interrupted. "No implication was made, Aro. I was under the impression that a signature on this contract was, in effect, submitting yourself, albeit willingly, to the service of the Volturi—for life."

His eyes narrowed to slits as he regarded me. His thoughts continued to rush by in flashes, until a serene expression overtook his features as Puccini's Tosca began to play softly in his mind.

"You are correct, Edward. The participants of the Challenge enter with the intention of giving their life in service to the Volturi. To give up one's life…"

He stopped, closing his eyes as the music continued to play in his thoughts. I watched him warily as he circled the room. I didn't want him to touch me, not now when I was so close...

"So beautiful," he whispered, clearly affected by the notes as they reached their crescendo. A small smile appeared as he stood up straight and clapped his hands together. "Your sister is no different. She would die for me, for all of us; she would give her own life to protect The Cause."

My jaw tightened as I clenched my fists at my side. He was trying to bait me, but I wasn't going to fall for it. I was there to protect my sister, and I wasn't leaving until I had what I wanted, no matter what the cost. "I'm aware of my sister's allegiance, Aro, as well as her belief in The Cause. I'm not refuting that—I'm simply offering you my services in exchange for her safety during the Challenge and her freedom when this war is over."

"Why are you doing this, Edward? If you don't share her aspirations, surely you…"

"She's my sister! I would do anything to protect her."

Suddenly, his eyes widened as a picture flashed through his mind: a stunning woman with striking features, skin pale and beautiful, smiling as she laughed. It was gone as quickly as it came, masked again by the haunting music.

Remaining completely still, I made no indication that the woman's face had registered important in his thoughts. There was no logic to pretending I hadn't, not when Aro was aware of how my talent worked. Still, though, I just knew that it was absolutely necessary not to reveal that I noticed her.

I found it increasingly difficult to cover my bases with him. With one touch, he would know all of my secrets, every thought that I had ever had. His talent was much more powerful than mine, so very malignant to my plans.

"Why should I agree to this? The Guard is practically impenetrable now. The Challenge will no doubt bring invaluable new additions to the Guard, including your sister, who has already pledged her life to me. I certainly have no need of you."

Shaking my head, I looked him in the eye and told him exactly why he needed me. "Practically isn't good enough. You don't know that you can trust the contestants, or anyone else who will be there, for that matter. Everyone knows your powers, Aro, but you have to touch them to invoke them. Why show that weakness? No one, apart from my sister and the Cullens, know what I'm capable of—and no one has to know. I'm the onlyperson capable of doing this for you." Pausing for impact, I arranged my next words into those that would guarantee his acceptance of my offer. "Just think about it—you'll be omniscient and no one will be the wiser."

His eyes glazed over for a moment before he closed them. He hummed the next part of the opera aloud in his increased effort to block me from his thoughts. "You will report back to me every thought that every person there is having?" he questioned, enunciating the words as he considered them.

"No. Not mine and not my sister's, of course." I stopped, waiting for some response from him. When he said nothing, I continued, "I won't detail every person's every thought—I'm not a machine. But everything that's important, everything that you need to know to win this war, once and for all, will be at your fingertips."

He turned from me, the volume of the notes rising and drowning out his other thoughts as he walked back toward his seat. "I don't need you, Edward, or anyone else. We have truth on our side—our cause is great enough to ensure that we are the victors." He waved his hand at me as if dismissing me.

"You're a collector, Aro. You won't be able to stand it if you don't have her in your Guard. Either of us. There are no others with our powers, and you know it." I took a breath, leveling my stare to look him directly in the eye. "You know I'll figure out a way to get her out of this no matter what. I won't stop until I do."

His mouth spread wide in a maniacal grin. "And you'll allow me to collect you, Edward?"

"I am a man of my word, Aro. I will pledge allegiance to you and do everything in my power to help you win your war. When it's done, so are we."

"Your only condition to this arrangement is that both you and Alice are free when the war is over."

"No, aside from her freedom and ensuring her safety during the Challenge, there is one other condition. Our thoughts are our own, and you must guarantee that. If you touch either of us from this point forward, the deal is off and both of us go free."

He sat, still as a stone, for minutes that seemed to drag. The downside of immortality: time had no meaning, especially to the ruling class. I would have to wait until he saw fit to answer.

Finally, he stood and held his hand out to me in a gesture of implied acceptance. "It seems we have an arrangement."

End AN: So, yeah. This is the prologue, and we'll catch up to this point in chapter 5 (I think). I'm going to do something a little different with il Sensale. You've got questions? The characters have answers! Each week, you can fill out this form: bit (dot) ly /iSquestion and ask almost any character any question that you want. I'll pick one and post it (along with the answer) on my blog at www (dot) kassiah (dot) com on Tuesday night at 7pm CST. See? It's like reality tv. Sort of. As usual, there's some extra stuffs on my blog—check it out if you want to. I can't wait to see what ya'll think about this. See you next week!