A/N: This is my entry for the Pre-Twilight Round of The Canon Tour. Many thanks to Melolabel, SerendipitousMC, and SqueakyZorro who pinch hit and beta'd this for me. As usual Stephenie owns Twilight, I just love her vamps ;-)
I recently won an Emerging Swan Award for My Brother's Wife and I want to thank you for nominating and voting for me. It's my first ever award of this kind, and I'm still gobsmacked! Thanks!
Enough for now, more below. . . .
Carlisle was adrift with no shore in sight. The ocean of eternity stretched out before him as far as his eye could see. The world surrounding him was crude, rough, illiterate, and uneducated. Everyone he'd known as a human had died decades ago. It wasn't safe to mingle with humans, and others of his kind he found barbaric and repulsive. He was as alone as a man can be and still be alive.
It was a loneliness that ripped at his heart and tore at his soul, slowly destroying him with wails of lament.
I have to find something. . . there must be more to life than this barren existence! Please Father, guide me. Reveal yourself to me in some way! I need companionship, a purpose. A way to spend this existence and use my knowledge in service to others. . . .
He continued to pray fervently for help and guidance, as he was at his wit's end – not wanting to go on as he had but knowing death at his own hand was an impossibility.
This was not the first time he'd prayed such and would not be the last. His faith had been sorely tested as the decades had passed with no response, and this was his most impassioned prayer yet. He was completely desperate and it echoed in his heart, his mind, his soul as never before.
As dawn began to lighten the sky outside the chapel, he rose in silence and fled through the darkness of the surrounding woods to the small, damp cave he'd called home for nearly thirty years, to wait out the sun that would mark him for what he was – vampire.
— ✦✧✦ —
When the light of day faded from the sky, Carlisle rose and headed toward the nearest village, deciding that even some closeness to others was better than another night alone. While he had recently tried studying at a university some distance away at night, before long, several people had become suspicious of him and he'd had to flee. He'd managed to slip away with a small handful of books, but they'd long since been committed to memory.
He was quite some distance from his abode, and the moon was high as he slipped into the outskirts of the small market town. He inhaled the odors of unwashed bodies, excrement, rotting produce, and animals that marked human habitation, while his ears heard the snorts and snores of deep sleep.
On his third breath, Carlisle caught a hint of something in the air and froze.
Another. Another was near.
This was dangerous and he immediately retreated to a nearby treetop, knowing they would scent him, too, but hoping they'd pass through and leave him be.
Before long, he heard voices in the distance – too low for human hearing, but as clear as if they stood at his side. They were upwind, moving quickly, and hadn't yet caught his scent in the air.
"I want to make this quick. I don't like being away from Alec," a high-pitched girl's voice whined.
"And I don't want to go back to face Aro without completing the task. Do you?" A deep male voice answered.
"No, of course not. I just don't want to linger, Felix."
"I have no more desire to remain outside the castle walls than you do, Jane." A third voice piped up.
"Ah, yes, Heidi waits for you, doesn't she?" Jane's voice was now cutting and cruel.
Carlisle became completely immobile. He was clearly outnumbered. At least three vampires traveled together, the largest group he'd encountered outside the city walls of London, his home from a lifetime ago.
Jane hissed just then. "Someone is here! I thought you said this way was clear, Demetri!"
"It must be someone I've not met. The tenor of this mind is unknown to me. . . ."
"Wait here, I'll flush them out."
A silence followed as Carlisle dared not even breathe. Suddenly, the tree he was hiding in began to shake violently. Carlisle looked down and saw the largest vampire he'd ever seen grasping the trunk as if it were a toy.
"Stop, please. I'm a man of peace."
The shaking stopped, but the giant did not remove his hands from the tree. "What is your business here?"
"I. . . I live nearby. . . ."
"You lie. No one lives anywhere for long and this territory is not claimed."
"I've. . . I've been here for nearly thirty years." he stuttered. "A few others have wandered this way, yes. I have avoided them. I'm sorry, I do not understand – what is it you mean by 'claimed?'"
"Thirty years is but a grain of salt in time. It is nothing. To remain, you must make your claim with the rulers of our kind."
"Rulers? But where? Whom? I have never heard of such a thing!"
"Blasphemous heretic! The Volturi are our ruling leaders." Felix's eyes narrowed. "Who is your maker? I demand to be presented to him at once!"
"I do not know my maker. I woke to this life alone and have been alone since that day. I have been lucky enough to avoid others of our kind until this very moment. They are barbarous. . . ."
"You speak as a man of letters. Come down immediately, or I shall bring you down myself."
"There is no need for violence, friend. I will climb down in peace, but I ask that from you as well. I mean no harm."
Carlisle jumped down and landed softly a defensibly safe distance away.
"I am Carlisle of Wight, Clan of Cullen." He remained wary and tense, prepared for a fight, but he did not show this outwardly lest he provoke the other that was nearly twice his size.
"I am Felix of Brescia. Member of the Guard, 3rd Rank. What is your age?"
"I am not sure. In this life? Perhaps 40 years."
"You are still young then. I am over 500 years in this life. Do not test or tempt me if you value your life." He turned his head and spoke over his shoulder. "Jane, Demetri, it is safe now. Reveal yourselves."
Two shrouded figures appeared at his side. A tiny hooded form that barely reached Felix's waist stood to his left, and a taller, slimmer young man with his hood thrown back took the place on the giant's right. All three moved in unison closer to Carlisle.
"Your eyes are yellow. Explain this."
"I. . . what? My eyes are blue." Carlisle looked closer at the large man's face. "Your eyes are red. How has this come to be?"
"We are vampire, as are you. Our eyes are normal. Yours are not. No vampire has blue eyes. Have you not looked at your reflection in a looking glass or still waters?"
"No. Vanity is abhorrent to me, and I do not wish to see what I have become."
The small form shifted restlessly. "Felix, be done with your toy. I wish to move on."
"Will you join us and return to Volterra when our task is complete, or are you ready to meet the true death?"
"You give me poor choices with little knowledge. What and where is Volterra?"
"Volterra is our homeland and castle. It is a long distance east. I think my King would be most interested to meet you. He will know the reason for your strange eyes; he is a learned man." Both men were looking at him as if he were a newly discovered insect under a magnifying glass.
"Has he books and letters?"
"Yes, more than most universities; an extensive art collection, as well."
"Then yes, I would be most honored to journey with you."
"Let us go, then," the high female voice commanded, and they set off together at once.
— ✦✧✦ —
Before dawn, they reached a large town to the north, surrounding a castle. Skirting the town itself, their destination was a farm. The smell of human blood was thick in the air, but the Volturi members didn't hesitate or slow in their approach.
At the edge of the farmyard, they halted.
"Carlisle, remain here." Felix directed with a warning look.
"Demetri?" Jane asked.
"He is inside." The three moved closer to the hovel.
The hulking vampire flung the farmhouse door open, ripping it from its hinges, disappeared and reappeared dragging something behind him before Carlisle had blinked once. Felix dropped a filthy, bedraggled creature clutching a baby to his lips at Jane's feet.
"Who is your maker?"
The vampire didn't stop drinking to answer. After only a few seconds of silence, he flung the baby from his grip and began shrieking in agony. As quickly as it began, it stopped.
"Speak, or there'll be more."
"Where is he? Did he not teach you our ways?"
"He. . . I. . . I killed him within a fortnight."
"Are there others?"
"No. I killed them all. They wanted what was mine." He began screaming and writhing again as Jane stepped back.
"Felix, be done with it. Demetri, clean up this mess." Jane returned to Carlisle's side and smiled angelically at him.
Felix reached down and lifted the wretch by the front of his neck, choking off his screams. While holding him aloft as he thrashed, Felix began tearing him apart joint by joint starting with his fingers. Each piece he tossed casually through the open doorway.
Demetri collected the various remains of an entire human family, pitching them haphazardly through the door as well.
Carlisle stood frozen in utter horror as he watched the two guardsmen indifferently complete their tasks. He abhorred violence of any kind, and it was clear that Jane and Felix enjoyed the terror and pain they inflicted on their victims. Carlisle hid his distaste carefully, lest he encounter the same fate.
Felix added several armloads of hay as Demetri set the house afire. An odd purple smoke and sweet smell rose into the air along with the odor of burning human flesh. As soon as the pyre was reduced to smoldering ash, the four began the return trip to Volterra as quickly as their feet would carry them.
There was no conversation, no witty banter. Only a word or two passed amongst them the entire journey. Before long, Carlisle realized that while they served together in this guard, they were not true friends, with few if any warm feelings between them.
Perhaps it is not possible for there to be true friendship or love between our kind. Carlisle shook his head to clear it of such unhappy thoughts and focused instead on his traveling companions.
The men clearly deferred to Jane on most matters as she was wont to use her gift at the drop of a hat to get her way. Jane and Demetri were subtly cowed by Felix's great size, strength, and speed, knowing he could kill them in less than the blink of an eye. Jane and Felix knew there was no place on Earth where Demetri could not find them. They were banded together by the unconscious fear of the power of each other and their unified commitment in service to the Volturi and all that that entailed.
Carlisle was utterly fascinated by their interactions and attitudes towards each other. He was looking forward to the reportedly refined company of others of his kind immensely, as well as the access to books and knowledge contained within the castle walls. But he shuddered to think of the violence he'd seen and hoped it was an anomaly.
Before he expected, there was a collective sigh as a walled city appeared before them through the trees, perched high upon a hilltop.
"Home." Jane breathed as she began running faster, still keeping to the shadows.
"Volterra?" Carlisle asked.
"Yes, the stronghold of our kind," Demetri answered.
The walls were burnished yellow in the fading daylight, the land around the citadel green and lush. The city gates were open and a flood of human activity flowed in and out.
"Humans live here?"
"Yes, of course. We must hide our existence at all cost. Humans provide a facade as well as a meal," Felix said.
"The Volturi have carefully cultivated the humans that reside here to be docile and comfortable with our presence. Our feedstock is culled from the surrounding lands," Jane added.
"We wish to keep the population stable as well as healthy and strong. Our people are grateful as there is no sickness or weakness in Volterra. We were untouched by the Black Death." Demetri preened slightly as he spoke.
"Impressive." Carlisle murmured, not knowing what else to say as they reached a side entrance into the city.
Here, the shadows were already deep, and they slipped undetected through the opening. The cobbled streets were narrow and empty of life, everyone apparently at the market in the city square.
Demetri led them through the winding streets to a latticed iron gate that was shut and locked tightly. Producing a key, he ushered them through the opening quickly before securing it behind them.
"I will go ahead and gather everyone in the receiving hall." Jane sped away before anyone could answer her.
His cloak fluttering behind him as he darted up a stone stairway in the opposite direction, Demetri departed without a word.
Felix sighed. "This way." He led Carlisle through yet another ancient stone passageway directly in front of them. Felix hunched over and wound his way swiftly through the low, arched tunnel. Their path was lit by just a few flaming sconces, and a pervasive dampness, which reeked of mold and mildew, filled Carlisle's senses.
They emerged from the crypt-like corridor into a well-lit hallway lined with beautiful tapestries and large paintings. The air here was drier, with little odor of dampness but a strong odor of blood.
Turning right, Felix stepped up to a monumental pair of doors that dwarfed even his giant size.
"The time has come. Are you ready?"
Carlisle could only nod before standing to his full height and straightening his shoulders.
The huge doors swung open silently at Felix's touch, and the grand receiving room came into view.
The walls were rounded, and it was clear this was one of the castle turrets. The archers' slits high up on the walls allowed the sun's last rays to penetrate the approaching darkness. Many torches around the walls and a chandelier overhead provided ample illumination.
Directly in front of them was a raised dais with three ornately carved thrones upon it; only the center one was occupied. A handful of faceless guards stood evenly spaced around the room.
Felix preceded Carlisle into the room, stopping several feet away from the edge of the rostrum and bowing his head before speaking.
"It is done, m'lord."
"Excellent, Felix. Jane has informed me that you did an exemplary job. Thank you for your service."
At the mention of her name, Jane appeared, accompanied by a boy only slightly larger than she. They assumed a protective stance to the right and behind the enthroned vampire.
"But who have we here?" The vampire's dark crimson eyes focused on Carlisle with intense curiosity.
"My Lord, King Aro Aurillac, please allow me to present to you Carlisle of Wight, clan of Cullen." Felix extended his arm with a flourish, and Carlisle bowed formally.
"Carlisle of Wight, what brings you to my castle?"
"I have heard that you have a vast library of books and art. I should like to study here if it please your Majesty."
"Come closer, boy. Jane tells me you are but forty years in this life. Is that correct?"
"And that you've had no contact with others of our kind and know not your maker."
"That is true, your Majesty." Carlisle stepped up to the edge of the platform and finally braved making eye contact with the man before him.
"I see now what Jane told me about your unusual eyes. . . ." Aro trailed off as he reached out his hand and caressed Carlisle's cheek. He paused his movement briefly as his eyes bored into Carlisle's with an unsettling, piercing gaze.
"Ah, a simple answer, one that denies your true nature." Aro murmured to Carlisle. Looking up, he spoke to the room at large, "This man feeds from animals only. That is why his eyes are of golden hue. He carries no gift and is not a threat to our kind."
Turning to Felix he said, "Thank you for bringing Carlisle to us. He is a most intriguing specimen, and I look forward to a long and fruitful friendship." His lips curled into his version of a smile.
"Carlisle, you are welcome to stay here and study as long as you wish. I'm sorry, I have no place for you in my guard as you have no skill useful to me, so I cannot offer you the full benefits of membership. You and I will have frequent conversations to encourage your studies and entertain my mind. Our only rule here is there will be no feeding within the walls of the city outside of this room. Do you agree?"
"Yes, your Majesty. I am most grateful for your hospitality." Carlisle bowed his head once more.
Aro made a dismissive gesture as if this were nothing. "Helena?"
The most beautiful woman Carlisle had ever seen appeared from the same entranceway Jane had used earlier.
Her voice is like that of a songbird, such an enchanting sound.
"Please see that our guest is settled in. I expect you to make him feel welcome and tend to his every need." With the tone of his voice, Aro left no doubt as to the meaning of his words.
"As you wish, sire." She bowed deeply to the ancient one, and as her eyes shifted to Carlisle's, a seductive smile gently graced her lips.
Hmmm. There are clearly many pleasures of mind and body in this palace. I think I'll stay for quite some time to come. . . .
A/N: Hello again. Please stop by The Canon Tour's profile at /u/3041014/thecanontour to read the entries for subsequent rounds (including mine!)
I am currently behind in review replies. Please accept my apologies. I will get to them one day soon...
Also, as some of you may know, I'm running a very personal fundraising campaign on my author's blog (http: / / mostlyalurker. blogspot. com/2011/08/mal-leo-need-your-help-for-their-hea. html remove spaces). It's not easy asking for assistance, and I'm doing my best. Please stop by when you can to see what's up, and I'd be really grateful if you would consider spreading the word to forums, blogs, groups, facebook, and twitter if and when you visit those places. Thank you!