The waiting area of the Volturi quarters was always cold, like a walk in refrigerator. The cool air crept down my spine as I folded my arms across my chest in an attempt to warm myself. My blood ran mostly cold but nothing compared to the sinister chill that lingered in that place. I didn't let my mind drift through the possibilities of what it was they needed to keep so fresh, all I knew is that the place gave me the creeps and that I probably wasn't being paranoid.
The secretary, Wendy, as she had introduced herself, was staring at me from over her glasses as she walked away to alert Aro of our arrival. I had met my fair share over the years, they were always called simple names; Katie, Claire or Lucy. Names that sounded too nice to distract from the disturbing fact that they were knowingly lining themselves up for slaughter. Dad had told me about it years ago, how Aro would hand pick a human woman to serve in their quarters, a disturbed individual who was so desperate to be turned that they would walk their own kind down the halls in single file to their deaths. I shuddered at the thought of such horror.
"You o.k.?" Emmett nudged me gently in the side.
I looked up to meet him with false confidence, "Yeah, I'm good." I lied. I was far from good, we had left dad and Alice outside, mum and Jacob were wandering the woods playing cat and mouse and the heavy weight of this unknown secret was pulling me down into a foreboding sense of dread.
"Won't be long now." He assured me with a strained smile. Rosalie and Jasper were looking just as concerned, pacing from one spot to another with impatience.
Though the quarters gave me the chills, I had never been scared of the Volturi before. Mum and dad had obviously told me stories, tried to put a fear in me so that I would be cautious on my visits. Mum had shown me images of Jane paralysing people with pain, folding them over on themselves begging for mercy. But I had never seen that side to them, Aro had always been fond of me, he treated me as something very precious and the rest-followed suit. Jane had never hurt me, never so much as looked at me with dislike, she had always presented a friendly, gentle face to greet me on my visits and until now I had never felt course to worry or fear of their presence.
Today was different; the anticipation of the meeting had me on edge, I wanted to run in the opposite direction, anywhere but into that room. Mostly because I didn't know what was going on and I wasn't sure I wanted to find out.
"They're ready for you." Wendy informed us on her return, peering over her glasses once again to get our attention.
Jaspar, Emmett and Rosalie all stepped forwards to meet her before she raised her hand abruptly to still them. "I'm sorry, Aro would like me to escort Renesmee to meet with him, only Resnesmee."
They all turned to look at me as my knees buckled slightly beneath me.
"Sorry but that won't be happening!" Emmett threatened defensively. The tension built in seconds; Jaspar and Rosalie took aggressive positions either side of him and snarled menacingly.
I knew this would escalate out of control unless I stopped it, "It's fine." I spoke out, trying to make myself sound stronger than I felt. "Emmett, guys, it's fine. I'll go."
Rosalie turned to me desperately, "No Renesmee, your parents would never allow this."
"Trust me. I'll be alright. It's going to be o.k." I tried to convince her. "You guys wait here for me, if you hear anything distressing then you can come immediately to my rescue." I smiled weakly.
They seemed to be all looking to each other for an answer, none of them brave enough to give the go ahead. Finally Jaspar took charge as he narrowed in on Wendy. "If they touch one hair on her head, we'll have your head on a spit." He threatened.
Wendy stepped away slightly, "I can assure you, she will not be harmed." Then she gestured for me to follow her and started walking briskly back in the direction from which she had appeared. I turned quickly to give them all one last smile of encouragement and then scurried ahead quickly to catch up.
When we reached the giant solid doors she stopped abruptly and waited for a moment. The moment dragged and I was starting to regret my decision to hand myself to the Volturi alone without any protection. Was I wrong? Was I a lamb surrendering myself over to be thrown to the wolves? I could have tried to make a run for it, I was sure I could take out Wendy with little effort… Then a voice from within called out. "Let her in." Aro, I recognized his voice at once, it sounded how liquorish tasted; sweet and bitter all at once. As Wendy pulled open the doors I braced myself, but once I took one step inside the room at what was waiting for me, I felt all fear leave my body and relief immediately take its place.
In front on the stone steps were Jane and Alec, smiling calmly at me with welcoming eyes. To the left was Cauis and Marcus looking just an tranquil and in the center Aro, grinning madly with his arms reached out towards me.
"Rensemee my dear girl." He purred as I walked hesitantly into the centre of the room. Wendy had since retreated and I was left alone with my audience. "We have waited all year for this pleasure."
"You have grown." Jane observed fondly.
"She has." Aro Agreed, "She has grown to be a fine young woman since last summer."
"I have." I agreed simply smiling at them in response.
"You have." Jane confirmed and I giggled slightly despite myself. This was not the welcome I had expected; they all seemed happy to see me. "Yet you all look the same." I teased and Marcus and Cauis smiled in jest.
"Never changing." Marcus added playfully.
"How is your studying?" Alec asked evenly.
I faltered at the question, how did I answer without letting them know I had been pulled from school. "Fine." I replied sharply. "It's as expected, challenging but enjoyable."
"And your apatite? Your preference is still food over blood?" Alec continued.
"You can't beat a cheeseburger." I grinned. "Though the bloodlust is still there under the surface, I hunt every few months just in case."
"Interesting." He noted thoughtfully.
Aro spun his hand in a quick motion, gesturing for me to turn for him. I obliged and turned on the spot like a ballerina on a music box. He laughed giddily, "My you have indeed grown beautiful." He noted affectionately. I could see from the glint in his eye that he meant me no harm, I suddenly felt invincible and strong again in their presence. Like I had the years before.
"So why have you summoned me alone? Why the secrecy?" I asked boldly. "You know my family will worry themselves sick."
Aro's eyes darkened slightly, as he pulled his face away from me in distaste. "To protect you my love." He stated bluntly.
I raised an eyebrow in disbelief, "You do not think my family can protect me?"
Aro went to speak but Jane stopped him before I heard anything of it. "Let us not sour the visit so soon Aro." She suggested.
Aro held something back and changed the subjected swiftly. "How are your powers progressing?" He asked eagerly.
"Wonderfully." I didn't want to mention having used them to gain insight on my mother and boyfriends past relationship. "I mean I can pick out memories as clear as day, my senses get stronger and stronger. I can not only see now but feel and taste their thoughts."
Aro looked to the others like a proud father. "Marvellous. You must keep working on them, they will continue to grow more powerful."
I smiled sheepishly; I loved his praise and affection. He made me feel special. "I can show you something?" I offered happily.
Alec and Jane exchanged mysterious looks; they were always in some sort of private communication.
"You will be returning to us tomorrow my pet. You will show us then." Aro noted simply.
I furrowed my brow in hesitation, "Why am I coming back here tomorrow?"
"To give us your answer." Aro stated bluntly again. There was never an explanation in his explanations.
Now I really was lost. "What answer?"
Aro looked to the others for approval and after receiving nods from Marcus and Cauis he continued.
"Renesmee, you asked us if we think your family can protect you. But it is your family that you need protecting from."
The rest tensed at his words, Jane looked at Aro intensely. "Carefully Aro,"she warned him softly.
"Why would I need protecting from my own family?!" I laughed in bafflement.
Aro held his hand up to silence the room and then he walked slowly towards me. Stroking my hair to the side of my face affectionately once he reached me. "Renesmee, since the moment I met you I knew you were special; a rare gift to our kind, and ever since that moment you have been tainted and squandered by the mistakes of your family. "
His words were cruel and viscous; I became instantly defensive. Any fear I had previously felt for Aro had vanished as I shouted at him like he were my own parent. "That's not true! What are you talking about?!"
Marcus cut in defiantly, "Maybe we shouldn't upset her."
Aro snapped his head around fiercely, "I will not lie to her. She deserves to hear what needs to be said!" He hissed.
I stood back from him slightly; intimidated by his sudden change of mood. He turned back to me with intense purpose.
"I cannot stand by any more Renesmee. First they pair you off with that unworthy mutt. Betrothing you to that degenerate gene pool for all of eternity. Which of course I plan to eventually put an end to but to raise you with such animals is unforgivable. Then they lie to you, taint you with their constant betrayals and secrets. You are too important to be downtrodden by their endless failures."
"Stop!" I shouted angrily. "You don't know anything about my family or Jacob, he's good and pure!
"And what about James?" Aro asked dryly.
Suddenly I was frozen in place. James' name caught me off guard and my words were trapped in my throat. I stuttered and tripped on my words.
"James…James is…"I couldn't finish. How did they know about James? The chill returned to my body, was this why I was alone? Because they had found out about James and wanted me dead? Aro must have read the fear on my face.
"You thought we didn't know about him? I make it my business to know everything about you Renesmee." He appeared calm, not angry.
"You know about James?" My voice trembled.
"Of course. And what of him? Tell us about this James." He asked as if he wanted me to gossip with them, he opened out so that I could speak to the room. They all waited for my response.
"He's just a normal boy." It was all I would let myself say, I felt so protective of him that I didn't dare to tell them anything about him.
"Continue..." Aro pressed.
Why did they care about James? If they knew about him why weren't they mad? I had nearly turned him after all. "He's…kind and smart. He's normal." Why did I keep repeating that word? I guess that was really my favourite thing about him that he was normal. I smiled to myself without realising it.
Aro's eyes were on me like a hawk. "Yes he makes you happy. Good, Jane has been waiting eagerly for a worthy suitor to present himself to you." He grinned slyly as Jane gave me a knowing glance.
"James isn't a suitor, he's a victim." I admitted heavily.
"Ah yes of course, the fateful bite."
"Don't hurt him!" I pleaded, "Please, he's not a vampire, he's recovering! He knows nothing."
"Why would you think I would hurt him?" Aro mused.
Why wouldn't I think that? I thought to myself. "Dad said that if you found out, you would…"
He stopped me quickly; "How strange as your father had already informed me of the incident."
I looked at them all inquisitively; it felt as though they all knew something that I hadn't caught onto yet. "What? No. He couldn't have…"
"He wanted to postpone our little meeting, he said that you had hurt the boy, that you wouldn't leave his side and that we should wait until he had recovered. I gave my consent."
Confusion came over me like a mist, I couldn't think straight. The reason dad had brought me to Italy, had insisted upon it, was because he feared the Volturi would find out about James. It didn't make sense, they knew about James and they didn't seem to care.
Marcus saw my confliction; "We already knew of James long before the bite, we had been keeping a close eye on him."
"Why?" The word seemed to come out like a rasped breath.
"To see if he was the right choice for you. We could see he was of course human but he was also clever, quick and most importantly lonely. He was bored of his human existence and looking for something more. He sensed abnormality in you; it is what drew him to you. You liked him because he was normal and he liked you because you were different."
"Perfect match." Jane concluded.
"But I am Jacob's imprint. You know this."
"We were hoping the boy would distract you from the mutt. This ridiculous notion of an imprint seemed to have no effect on you from what we could gather, it runs weak if at all and as there are obviously few vampire alternatives for your fancy, except Alec here." Aro gestured towards Alec who shot him an evil glare as Jane laughed slightly at his expense. "I took you turning a young boy of your own liking as a preferred alternative to you mating with that spineless pup of yours. If you mixed with the wolf gene we would kill him and we didn't want to have to upset you."
The hatred between wolves and vampires was not new to me. In my curiosity I ignored the statement about them murdering my soul mate and moved onto my next thought. "You wanted me to turn James?"
"I insisted on it. I told Edward that James knew too much, that he would have to be turned of killed."
"No." I whimpered.
"He convinced me otherwise, assured me the boy knew nothing, that he could be saved and returned to his human life. I was sceptical but eventually allowed it. But I made it clear to him that the Volturi would prefer him to be turned."
The Volturi wanted me to turn James. Long before I even bit him. They wanted me to be with James so that I wouldn't be with Jake? Why would dad keep this from me? "Why wouldn't he tell me this? Why are we here if I could have been home with James while he recovered?"
Aro took great pleasure in revealing the next set of events. "It was Alice who came to us to seek help."
I looked up to him desperate for answers. "Alice?" I repeated as if I had heard him wrong.
"She came to Italy a couple of days ago desperate. She told me she needed the meeting to go ahead as planned, that you would be coming to Italy after all…she asked me to keep this from you. "
Alice had asked the Volturi to keep her visit from me? Why? "Why? Why would she do that? What did she want?"
"It is not for me to tell you such things, and in truth I am not certain. Though I am sure that is why they were not with you today, scared I would pluck it from their minds. I will not turn you against your family Renesmee but I can assure you the lies run thicker than the blood among them. I was sickened that she had asked me to deceive you. I would never stoop to such a thing."
Aro was telling me the truth. The Volturi, whom my family were consistently painting as the wrongful, were the only ones who had my back. "Please you are the only ones who I can trust right now. What do she say to you? What did she need help with?"
"Separating you from James. She wanted you to get as far away from James as possible. That's all I know."
Why? What would Alice gain from separating me from James? Was he really recovering? I felt a shudder run through my body, as I realized nothing I knew was real. James could be dead for all I knew. Did Jacob know about this as well? Had he been in on it? I had to believe he wasn't. No this was dad and Alice and no one else.
"They treat you like a mortal child, like a fool." Jane stated angrily, "They betray you."
No matter how mad I was at my family, I still couldn't bare to have them all speak against them. "I will talk to them, I'm sure that they will explain this all to me."
The next thing Aro said was so beyond my comprehension I stumbled back slightly in surprise.
"Join us here. Turn your backs to them all Renesmee. Take James for yourself, you can both live here, respected and treasured."
I wanted to laugh but the shock had left me sober. "I would never turn James! I will never leave my family."
They all appeared to be unconvinced. "You are not a child anymore Renesmee. I have let you grow and be raised by your family. Now you must break away from them. You will never gain their respect until you are no longer under their manipulation."
I was horrified, "Manipulation! They love me!"
I was hot tempered and they were completely serene. "Of course they love you. But I do not think they are best for you to be with right now."
"You're wrong. About everything. They're my family, I love Jacob and James would never be part of this world."
"Only because you have bared him from it, how do you know that he would not choose this life with you? Your own mother chose this life for love."
I suddenly wanted to leave all at once, their words hit too close to the heart. "Never I spat. I am betrothed to Jacob!"
"So they have told you but did you pick him for yourself? Or did you pick James?" Jane pushed softly.
"I love Jacob!" I retaliated aggressively.
"Or do you love James?" Aro fired back.
"Stop!" I screamed holding my hands to my ears. I couldn't bear to listen to anymore. "Please stop." I rephrased quietly and the room fell silent.
Aro took my hands away from me gently. "We do not say these things to harm you but to open your eyes to different possibilities. Don't let them blind you to one path."
I went to protest again but he placed a frozen finger on my lips. "Do not make your choices now in haste Renesmee. Think of your future and what you want for yourself, not what others have thrown upon you."
"We fear for you, your life is not in your own hands." Alec finished sternly. They were all of the same opinion, as they usually were.
"Why do you care so much about my future? What's so special about me?" I sighed, exhausted.
"Renesmee Cullen you are the only female of your kind. You are blessed with the vampire gifts; your abilities and you have our blood running through your veins, yet you are human, you breathe, grow and eat, you long for humanity. You are the most rare and precious thing to us. Your family have taught you to fear us but the truth is we would protect you with our lives."
The words almost made me tear up, the weight in his eyes, the stillness in the room; they all wanted to protect me, to claim me for them selves. It should have seemed barbaric but it didn't, I felt honoured. They had left me speechless.
Aro kissed me once on the cheek and then returned to his position on the steps. "Go now. Ask your questions, seek out the truth for yourself and then come to us again tomorrow with your choice. Helen!"
Helen opened the door and waited for me to exit. I stood rooted to the spot for a moment longer.
"Go Renesmee, we will be here tomorrow."
I nodded my head in understanding, though I understood nothing. I walked towards Wendy and followed her out of the room, my steps slow as I dragged behind her through the halls back towards where the others were waiting for me.
Did the Volturi really expect me to turn away from my family? From Jacob? Did they expect me to turn James into a vampire and become a member of the their guard? The idea was laughable. Though for some reason I wasn't laughing. Somewhere deep inside me something dormant was stirring, something I hadn't even known existed; doubt. Doubt of everything I had previously been certain of. I had been certain my family was my home, Jacob was my soul mate and James was history. So why did I have the feeling that this secret they were keeping from me, that was so important that even dad had conspired to trick me into leaving town, was so destructive it was about to tear everything I was certain of to shreds.
Aro was right; I needed answers and whatever it took, I was going to get them.