This is an outtake that should be inserted around Chapter 4 of Crimson Edward. It was originally included in the Fandom Fights Texas Wildfires.

A huge debt of thanks to my fabulous beta, Mr. Bigg, and to those who supported the cause to help those affected by the wildfires. Ysar deserves a big thank you for asking me to participate.


Test

"Master wants to see you."

I looked up from my journal to see Jane's small form at the door. Her annoyance of being reduced to errand boy was obvious, she stood at the door with the pained, bored expression she wore whenever she wasn't hurting people.

"I'll be right there," I said, returning to finish my entry.

She paused at the heavy door. "He's waiting now," she said, letting impatience seep into her voice. I had no time for this; I was on the brink of discovery.

"Then, tell him I'll be right there, Jane, please."

She turned on her heel with a huff, pulling the big door closed behind her. I regretted making her angry, but I needed to finish this entry before I went to see Aro.

"…it is alterable, depending on the degree and force of impacts to its structure. The few samples I've gathered here show different viscosity and strength. Other characteristics could be studied, although the actual chemical and physical makeup of the substance may be of less importance than its affect on its hosts. Certainly, we have encountered minor physical manifestations due to inertia, but this requires more study."

I closed the journal and tied its leather bindings, and glanced around the room. There was no sense hiding the notes – anyone who wanted it would simply take it. Volterra offered no locked doors and little in the way of privacy. I simply did not want the journal to become procured by a person of idle endeavors. They might lose it to obscurity, alter or damage the contents, or refuse to return it. I shrugged and shoved the tome into my vest.

My time here was long by human standards, but by vampire standards, my stay was but brief. The walls to the great hall were ancient by the vampire's mark of time, and hung slick with the scent of fascination and fear. How many people had come here in hopes of beauty, out of curiosity, or by overwhelming bad luck, only to be torn asunder and consumed? I shuddered inwardly, transferring my gaze to the floor as I hung my head and quickened my pace.

"Carlisle, my friend." Aro was up from his throne, flowing towards me in his unearthly manner. I reflexively held out my hand, and he took it in both of his. "Ah. Interesting. And still journaling, I see." I said nothing, waiting. Though Aro could read every thought I'd ever had in a single touch, I knew him well enough to know that some thoughts were more appealing to him than others. he replayed and savored those entertaining memories while still in contact with the thought's originator. Rapt, he held my hand for a moment longer, then dropped it as he turned to face his brothers.

"It seems our good friend,Carlisle, is making some startling conclusions, brothers," he crooned, his voice melodic as he considered what he'd seen. Caius watched Aro as he floated up the steps; Marcus seemed only dimly aware that Aro had spoken. As he ascended slowly to his throne, he pulled the brocade robe around him and motioned to his right and left. "Won't you tell my good brothers what you've found?"

"The results are extremely preliminary, because the sample size is so restricted. But yes, I have found that some acute conditions impact the consistency of the venom."

"Go on,Carlisle," Aro encouraged, turning to gaze to the brother on his left. Caius's eyes were intense, eager, and trained on me. I fidgeted some under the scrutiny.

"Prolonged periods of activity or inactivity seem to induce changes in it as well, although the long-term affects on the host and the symptoms are as yet unclear." I shifted my stance, uncomfortable, trying to decipher Caius and Aro's expressions. They turned to each other, and looked into each other's eyes. Several moments passed, their bodies inhumanly still and eyes locked, before Aro spoke again.

"So, my dear friend, what will it take to continue your study? More… samples?"

I flinched at the words; more samples meant more victims, both human and vampire. "I was hoping to study without destroying the sample bodies. Perhaps a painless, voluntary contribution?"

Aro looked amused. "Carlisle, I never seem to tire of your quaint ways." He chuckled lowly. "If that will please you, then, of course, painless and voluntary." Though the smile still held on Aro's lips, Caius flung himself backwards in his chair. Clearly, my request had dashed some unspoken hope of his. "How do we achieve this?"

"I could take oral samples from the Volturi guard as they experience states of, uh," I choked on the words. Suddenly, I felt voyeuristic and perverted.

Aro interjected, sensing my discomfort. "Just say it and have it out,Carlisle. You're amongst friends here."

"Yes, well," I hedged, taking a deep, unnecessary breath. "The venom needs to be under some influence: arousal, agitation, immobility. By comparing the samples, perhaps further conclusions can be drawn."

"I believe we can accommodate you there," Aro said. "Felix, Demetri." The tracker and his hulking counterpart approached the dais from the sides of the hall, crossing their arms across their chests and bowing shallowly before Aro. "Find vials, and as you make your patrols, collect samples for our guest." He motioned to me lavishly. The two men wore masks of utter devotion, then let that façade drop as they turned back to their posts. Their expressions spoke their annoyance to do the bidding of a guest. "There. All nice and tranquil."

I bowed my head in gratitude, keeping my eyes to the marble floor as I spoke. "My lord, one other request?"

"Surely, this method of collection is suitable?" Aro sing-song voice had a strong edge to it, his limits of generosity pushed near his limit.

"You are too kind and generous, Aro. Felix and Demetri's contributions are most welcomed," I backpedaled. "I merely wished to, I had hoped… Perhaps one of my lords might contribute to the samples?"

A low hiss splintered the air. Aro stretched his arm across the expanse to his left, restraining Caius as he strained forward in his throne, objecting. "Why,Carlisle? What do we provide?" His voice was even, but the edge slipped forward again in his question, a threat cloaked in politeness and gentility.

"My lord. You are wise and powerful. As is only right and fitting, your food comes to you, and requires no stealth or struggle upon consumption. I thought perhaps, this too should be examined."

Aro relaxed his position, settling back into his chair. "Marcus is least mobile of us all," he said, turning to his brother. "A little sample for science, Marcus?"

Marcus tipped his head to a nod, his face impassive and expressionless. Aro regarded him for a moment, inclining his head to the side, then slowly returning his gaze to me. His plastic smile slithering back into position. "There. I believe you are set, my friend. You may go."

"Thank you, my lord." I bowed, moving back toward the door, my head still inclined. When my foot reached the resistance of the wood, I turned and fled the room, anxious to be away.

~o0O0o~

I sat in my room, staring at the intricacies of the tapestry hanging from the wall. The warp and woof of the wool betrayed the weaver; no mere craftsperson had created this; this was made by an artist.

What sort of artist was I? I had no special talent, no hidden aptitude, nothing that would speak of me when I was gone, except for the strangeness of denying my very nature. Would the refusal of human blood mark my existence? I hardly thought so, given that to begin with, few knew of my existence at all. I pondered the texture and balance of the adornment, when a soft rap pattered against the door.

I rose from my chair, suspicious of the sound. I'd grown accustomed to the utter lack of privacy here in the subterranean stronghold of the Volturi, so this apparent respect of my space spoke of secrecy and possibly deceit.

The heavy door swung open as I braced myself for my visitor. I gasped in astonishment as I beheld his countenance, "Marcus?"

He said nothing, his passive expression still painted with ennui. He turned to me slowly, extending his hand. In his palm laid a small, stoppered vial, filled with clear liquid. I reached forward and tentatively took the glass between my thumb and index finger. "Thank you," I replied, hoping to suppress the astonishment in my voice, to sound merely grateful.

He slowly swiveled his head, turning his gaze back down the corridor without a word. I watched as he seemed to float away, his disinterest in me pulling him away. Though I knew the story behind his pain, I shook my head, realizing I would never understand his motives.

I took the vial to my lab table, and, pulling the plume from the well, marked the cork stopper with an M. I set it next to the vial of my own venom, already marked with a C. Two samples down, two to go.

I pulled the ornate microscope to the front of the table and placed my eye to the lens. The slide of my venom showed the life within the fluid, still motile and active. I had placed the droplet of venom here over two weeks ago, and yet its properties had not changed or slowed. It was as if the agent itself was infinitely alive, which explained much. Our bodies remained animated after our death; we needed no air, no food, no water – only blood.

This concept had led to my first experiment – adding a drop of blood to the slide. I watched with fascination as the blood's iron color was absorbed and digested, the venom becoming more active and alive after the blood's consumption. Its properties were captivating to study. My methodology for examination had expanded then; most scientific study consisted of submitting the subject in question to the elements. Using this as my starting point, I had witnessed little affect to the substance by water and air, though it would not mix with soil and burst into flames when exposed to fire.

Comparison to venom from different specimens was needed now. The two samples already gathered were taken during calmness and repose without thirst; the two yet to come would be of a different stripe. I leaned back in my chair and contemplated what I would find.

~o0O0o~

Felix and Demetri stood smiling in the rotunda as Aro glided towards them. "See,Carlisle?" He lifted the vial from Felix's outstretched palm. "One in agitation," Felix bowed his head in agreement as Aro moved to Demetri. "One in arousal." Demetri mimicked the same bow as Aro moved away. "All nice and neat, nothing to witness, nothing to cause upset." I noticed one stopper was crimson as he handed them to me. "Red for arousal," he purred, holding the pronunciation of the last word as if he enjoyed the feel on his tongue. He laughed quietly as he appeared to float back up the steps to his throne, repeated "arousal" to himself.

"Thank you, Aro. This should give me plenty to examine."

"I worry about you, dear boy. You're always in your room, working. It's almost as if you don't care for our company," Aro observed as Cauis snickered.

"Please, my friend," I said, trying to placate Aro's fears. "Attribute this to my scientific nature, and not at all to your company. You know how single-minded I can be."

"Yes," Aro agreed, leaning his head to one side, resting his cheek against his thumb and index finger. "It worries me. I strive to be a good friend to you,Carlisle. Would a good friend allow you to wallow in this anti-social behavior? I think not.

"What should we do, what should we do?" His rhetorical question was menacing and ominous. I had inadvertently drawn attention to myself by my absence; being the center of Aro's attention was rarely a good thing. I said nothing, keeping my eyes downcast. I began to feel the actual weight of the vials in my hand.

"I know," he said brightly, as if the thought had just occurred to him. "A hunting trip! That's just the thing for you and I, a manly quest for food. What do you say, Carlisle?"

There was nothing to say. "As you wish, my lord."

"And please don't worry, my friend. I won't make you break your self-imposed diet. It will be… interesting, watching you feed. Perhaps you can learn as you watch me feed, as well."

I bowed, performing as expected, while my stomach clenched in dread. Of course, I had seen Aro feed in the nine years I'd been here, but this request, this was something different. He wanted my audience for reasons I could not fathom today.

It could not be good.

~o0O0o~

I fell back deeply into my hood. Though we moved like ghosts in our dark cloaks, I was uneasy about being seen on a moon-bright night like this. Aro seemed to be fearless; he walked with his hood back, his long brown hair shifting with the breeze. His skin shimmered palely in the moonlight, not so brightly to bring unwanted notice, but bringing a faint glow to face.

The good people of Volterra were asleep, snug in their beds, leaving the streets fairly empty. Here and there, raucous noise would spill out of a pub, and drunken citizens would stagger out. Aro seemed to have no interest in these people. "Alcohol taints the blood. Though sometimes amusing, I have a taste for something a little different tonight." We moved on in the night, two wraiths, silent except for the susurration of our cloaks.

"Ah." Aro's comment was a breath, a sigh, and I raised my eyes. A woman alone appeared beneath a street lamp, leaning, her blouse falling from her shoulders. "Sangre puttanesca," he breathed as he glided toward her. I shivered, and swallowed heavily; the idea of taking this woman's life was a sickening as bile in my throat.

"Sweet sister," Aro whispered when close to the woman. "Why do you stand alone? Surely, you can't be waiting for someone this late at night."

"I'm waiting for you, honey. Looking for a good time?"

"Oh yes, yes we are," he sang back to her. At the mention of the word "we" she turned to face us both.

"Two will be extra," she said, pushing herself erect. "Although neither of you are too bad on the eyes. I might be able to give you a discount." She inhaled deeply through her nose, lowering her chin and hunching her shoulders. "What do you have in mind, gorgeous?"

"Aren't you precious," Aro said. The sneer in his voice may have been undetectable to human ears, but I heard the sarcastic ring to his words. "Before we negotiate our price, could we have a peek at what our money will buy?"

I swallowed reflexively at Aro's words. Death was nearby for the woman, it was certain, but he was toying with her first. I felt sick, and confused. Why didn't he simply take her and feed?

The woman snorted. "You men, you're all alike." She untied her blouse to allow her ample breasts to cascade free of the fabric. "You like?"

Aro turned to me. "Well,Carlisle? Do you like these?" He moved extended an icy finger to her nipple, flicking it and then pinching with his thumb. "Mmm, warm, my dear. Very succulent." In a instant, his lips pursed around the nipple, and he made loud sucking sounds.

"Hey! Not for free," she shouted, backing away. "Money first, then suck."

Aro straightened and looked abashed. "I'm afraid, my dear one, I was unable to resist. Do forgive me. What do you say to these silver coins?" He held the money in his hand for her examination.

"That much money? I say I got two tits, boys, one for each of you. Help yourself." Her hands cupped her breasts, lifting them for us.

"Perhaps somewhere a bit more… Private?" He motioned to an alley in shadow, and she laughed.

"It's your money, baby. Whatever you say," she turned and strolled to the alley, her wide hips rolling as she moved. Aro's gaze slid from her retreating form to my face, his eyes alive and glistening in the moonlight.

"Come, dearCarlisle, let's see what she has to offer." The evidence of his arousal poked his cloak as he strode forward.

"What if someone sees, Aro?"

"My dear boy," he said in a half-mocking tone. "No one will see. No one cares about the likes of her." He grasped my arm and pulled me forward, slowly following her into the darkness.

She wasted no time. As we approached, she undid her bodice and let her blouse fall around her waist as she hiked her skirts and spread her legs. "Come and get me, boys," she said letting her head loll back against the brick building.

Aro licked his lips and pulled his cloak open. The woman made soft moaning sounds, touching herself and encouraging him forward. He reached forward, squeezing her breast softly. "Not so hard! God, your hands are like ice," she complained, then moaned again. Aro stood very close to her, breathing in her earthy scent and allowing her to touch him. As her hand slipped into his pants, he turned to me.

"Are you sure you won't join me, my friend? She certainly is ripe and juicy." He lifted her breast to his mouth, puckering his lips around her nipple.

I couldn't watch. This travesty of love was horrifying and disgusting, and I wanted to escape. I turned around, ready to flee back the path we'd made here, when Aro spoke.

"No, don't leave. This will only take a moment."

I remained in place, my head hanging. The noises of their union filled me with revulsion: Aro's false breathing, approximating excitement and lust, the woman's exclamation at the hardness of his penis. The sound of her skin slapping against his as he pummeled her were replaced with wet, pulpy tearing and grunting as he climaxed and bit into her flesh, sucking the life from her. Her last sound was a gasp of breath issued as she died. The smell of blood in the air would have been irresistible had I no awareness of how it was spilled. He pushed her away, letting her body slump to the ground, tearing her bodice from her dead form. He pulled his cloak away, and wiped himself with the dead woman's fabric. "That was tasty," he said, his voice ringing with false sincerity. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to try just a bit,Carlisle? There's still a bit left, and what's left is still warm."

"No," was all I could manage to croak out. The blood was tangy and rich, filling the air with an aroma that teased my senses. The scene been horrific and visceral, and though I had not eaten in a week, I could not stomach the idea of partaking in that bloodbath.

"Hm. I had hoped to tempt you," Aro said, mild chiding in his voice. "I see that your commitment to this aberrant lifestyle is deeper than I thought, my friend. Shall we wrestle you up a rabbit or two? A deer, or elk?"

"No, thank you, Aro. I'm not thirsty at the moment."

"Pity," he sighed longingly. "Ah, well. Let's dispose of the body, shall we? I believe the dirt is soft there, beneath those trees. We won't need dig very deep. Oh, and wait." He pulled a vial from his cloak, and pulled the stopper. The soft pop of the cork echoed in the night air as he forced venom into it. "Another sample for you. Perhaps less mobile than Felix and Demetri, but aroused and satiated – at least for the moment." He pushed the cork back into the vial and flipped towards me. "I am nothing if not a patron of scientific endeavor."

~o0O0o~

The memory of the night haunted me as I tested the vials. I focused on the slides in the microscope, meticulously comparing organisms and noting the findings, measuring like amounts for comparison, mixing drops with the different control media at my disposal – anything to suppress the memory.

It was not simply that Aro had fed on a human, nor was it that he had killed her as he plundered her sexually. That he required my audience, my witness, under the guise of trying to tempt and persuade me – this was disturbing. I knew then and there that my time here would be short. What other sadistic blood games had he planned to tempt me away from my path? Though he had been kind to me through the years, I knew that his evil heart would one day win out over that kindness, and I would become an easy target.

~o0O0o~

"Aro, thank you for seeing me today," I announced as I stood in the rotunda. Both brothers were in attendance: Caius sharp and sinister, at full attention, and Marcus, lost in some pastoral dream that pulled his thoughts afar, though his body held shape in his chair. "I've come to share some of my findings, if you will allow."

Aro cocked his head to the side, slowly sliding his lids closed and open in acquiescence. "Please, dear one, do proceed." His interest was negligible, preferring to twist and appraise his rings rather than meet my gaze.

I cleared my throat. Though the action was unnecessary, It gave me the moment to steel my nerves as I proceeded.

"The venom, as we know, acts as an accelerant to fire. Air, water and soil have no apparent effect."

Caius sneered. "This is what you've found? This is what we've waited for?"

"Calm, brother," Aro crooned. "I'm sure our good friend has more to tell us." He turned away from Caius, at last shifting his gaze to me. "Go on."

"The venom shows minute differences when subjected to emotional force. In states of arousal, it becomes active and more durable, holding its cellular structure more firmly. It is less vulnerable to attack the more active the substance becomes, taking on properties of indestructibility."

Aro's eyes glittered with interest; Caius leaned forward, suddenly fascinated in my dissertation.

"The cellular walls repel intrusion the higher the level of agitation or arousal, both having the same effect on the substance, though it is still highly vulnerable to open flame. And there was something else you may find of interest.

"The sample Marcus so graciously donated showed markedly less activity and motility on a cellular level; the next least motile was yours, Aro, followed with no difference in activity levels by the samples of Felix, Demetri, and myself."

I paused, allowing them to take this in. I was unsure what how much they understood and how much they already knew. Marcus's expression remained impassive and disconnected; Cauis was a bit confused. Aro's expression was eager and smiling, and I began to worry once more.

"Carlisle," he purred as he rose from his chair. He pushed back the sleeves of his robe as he descended the steps to where I stood, his hands outstretched. "Surely, you won't mind if I see for myself…" He reached forward, and I extended my hand reflexively.

His red eyes dimmed and became unfocused as he sifted through my thoughts. My head was empty of judgment, but I knew what he would see, and what I could not hide.

"I see my little outing had the opposite effect," he murmured as he held my hand in his. "Pity, really, but what can one do? You are as committed to your path as I am to mine." He dropped his hands. "Is there no way, nothing I could…?" He let the question die on his lips, having already seen the answer.

"I suppose you're right, dear friend," he announced as he returned to his throne. "Only time will tell, time and experience. I had hoped you would stay, but I see now that is no longer an option for you."

"But what of the findings?" Caius hissed.

"Inconclusive," Aro answered wanly, waving Caius's intensity aside, his gaze cool and his tone aloof. "More time and broader study is be leaving us to study other… avenues."

"Thank you, my friend." I bowed, stepping away from the dais.

"Do tell us what you find,Carlisle. The new world holds many new opportunities, does it not? Perhaps there you will find your way back to us, or discover I am not the monster you believe me to be." I opened my mouth to protest, and he held up his hand to silence me. "No, please. I know our friendship is sound, dearCarlisle, but our paths are quite convergent. You have shown me there is room in our mutual admiration for differences. Go, now, with my blessing. Return if you find your path has changed and leads you back to ours."

It was sheer force of will that measured my pace and resisted the urge to run. My will had been tested, my resolve challenged. Somehow, I had passed this inspection and allowed to live. And though I did not understand the reasons why this was so, I knew better than to test the limits of tolerance.

I returned to my room, collecting the few belongings I had. The thick glass vials had been corraded, eaten through, and the contents remained puddle on the melting table top. I pulled my handkerchief from my coat,, sopped up the liquid, and tossed it into the wastecan. I tossed the match to the remains, watching the flame jump high. As I closed the door, I realized with chagrin the appropriateness of this final act. I had been tested by fire, and now left hell behind me.


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