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 Post subject: I Know My Duty--TEEN (rating may change)
PostPosted: Sat Apr 04, 2009 11:34 am 
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This 'fic started out as a little piece of rage that I pounded into my keyboard all last winter. I'm not quite sure how it's going to go, but it's a bit of a departure from my usual pieces.

Does anyone know where I would be able to research crime and politics in feudal and early Renaissance Italy?

Anyway, here's the prologue and first chapter, already up on ffnet and Mediaminer. I am still accepting concrit and edits on both.


That being said, Twilight and its three and a half sequels are the property of Stephanie Meyer. This is canon universe. Deviation starts during New Moon.

PROLOGUE: "From Here"

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"That's dependent on his finding a way to force me to do his will. He knows me, and he knows how unlikely that is."
"...he also knows your weaknesses."


—Edward and Eleazar, Breaking Dawn
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She was alive.

My body twisted like an eel as it hit the stone floor at Aro's feet, but she was alive. Jane's gift flayed open my every nerve and put them all to the torch. If I hadn't been able to see myself through Alice's thoughts, I would have thought that Caius had given the order and I was being burned alive.

I tried to throw my mind out into the room, but the pain kept pulling me back. I only got flashes: Aro was greedy and curious. My talent and Bella's silence both fascinated him, but most of his focus was on Alice.

My teeth gnashed the stale air as my bones were crushed in place.

Jane's narrow, stunted mind was alive with envy. She didn't like that Master was so focused on his new guest.

My hands were clenching uselessly against the stones. If I'd had blood, it would have poured from my skin like sweat. If I'd had blood it would have boiled, burned me away and ended this.

Alice was afraid. She couldn't see Jane's thoughts and she couldn't see our fate for certain, but there was a decision coming. She had seen the futures that sprouted from Volterra, and she was afraid.

And half the other vampires in the room were thinking about the warm, sweet-scented human trapped in Alice's arms, and how good her blood would taste. Image after image of steel-strong hands and knifing teeth flashed through my head like some grotesque film. Instead of my life flashing before my eyes, I saw her struggling and bleeding out over and over through the eyes of people who liked it.

Far away, someone was shouting, "Stop! Stop it!"

With what little focus I retained, I gave myself a moment to realize why all this had happened.

It was my fault.

Oh if I had called Alice instead of Charlie or asked whose funeral he meant, I would be in Forks now, forgiven or not, but carelessness had never been my real problem. My biggest mistakes had been selfish ones. When I'd first made my case to the Volturi, Aro had asked to know my thoughts. I'd agreed. What would my secrets matter when I was dead? Only I hadn't realized just how many secrets I had, probably because most of them weren't mine. Just like with James a year earlier, I'd only drawn my enemy's attention to the prize—my sister and her visions, my Bella and her unsolvable puzzle of a mind.

I'd forgotten what I owed to my father and mother, to the sister who had come to save me, to the memory of the human girl I loved. Like now, with the hem of Aro's robe blurring in and out of focus as my arms and legs convulsed like a coyote in a trap, I'd been too wrapped up in my own pain to see straight.

"Jane," Aro said aloud. The agony ceased. I was on my feet before the echo of it left my muscles. I knew what I had to do now. Aro's mind was alive with curiosity. If Aro touched Alice, he would never let her leave, not to serve another coven. Most of the gathered vampires were drawn to Bella's scent. If this lasted much longer, one of them would find an excuse to claim her blood.

So I had to keep it from happening.

I had to get Alice away from Aro before he could come up with a plausible reason to ask my sister's thoughts. I had to get Bella away from the Volturi before any of them lost their control or their patience. And if I could leave with them ...good.

The next few minutes would determine if we all lived or died. I could not control the outcome, not alone, but I would not forget myself again.

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Chapter One: "Yes"


The last clear memory that I have of Forks is of standing in my father's living room with two of my best friends, making a decision. Alice wanted me to go to Volterra to save Edward and Jacob wanted, needed, begged me to stay. Two people. Two paths. Two ways my life could have gone.

It was one of those choices that doesn't feel like a choice. Sure, I was physically capable of not picking up my passport, not getting in that car and not getting on that plane, but it just wasn't in me. No matter what Edward had done to me, I couldn't let him die without even trying to help. I owed him that much. I owed his family that much. I owed myself that much.

I simply had to do it.




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"Stop!" I called out, struggling against Alice's arms. "Stop it!"

Edward was writhing on the floor in front of me, his mouth gaping as his eyes stared at nothing. I looked back at Jane. I don't know what I expected to see in her face. Concentration, maybe, like a fisherman with a fighting trout on the hook. If not that then anger or fear or something to match what was boiling up inside me at the sight of Edward in agony on the ground.

She was smiling. She was watching Edward with a mild, disinterested smile, like a woman stirring a batch of oatmeal.

"Jane," Aro said lightly, as if correcting a child.

Jane looked up at Aro and Edward went still. I held my breath.

Aro inclined his head toward Alice and me. I saw Jane's her bland expression falter as her eyes fell on Alice. The pieces fell together as I watched her lips press together. Jane had glared at Alice when she'd first walked in, and every time Aro spoke to her.

Aro meant me. But Jane was jealous of Alice. And he hadn't come out and said which of us he'd meant.

Behind me, I felt Alice's arms go slack. "Don't..." she murmured vacantly, but to who or about what I couldn't say. I didn't know what she'd seen, only what I was seeing.

The smile was back.

The world around me seemed to turn red. That Jane could do such things and look so calm! And to Alice, Alice! I felt rage explode in my chest. Hardly knowing what I was doing, I clenched my hands down on top of Alice's cold arms hard enough to bruise my palms, as if an inch of flesh and bone could make any difference.

And all of a sudden I could feel that she was there. Not see, not touch. I could feel her like a ray of light behind me. My breath caught in my lungs. Jane had to have gotten me after all. I had to have been hallucinating. I was really twitching on the ground, my brain firing up some vision to keep me sane.

Edward's head snapped around. "Alice!" he called out.

Nothing happened except that Jane frowned slightly. I could feel Alice grow tense again, waiting. Edward's face was still in panic. He was staring at Alice as if she were already dead. My heart hammered in my chest and I twisted to look at her face. Alice was tense, but not with pain. She looked back at me with her gold eyes full of fear and far away.

Jane snarled again, dark red eyes aimed at me this time. I flinched away from her. In my mind's eye, Alice's light died. At least her attention was on me this time.

"Alice!" Edward said again, in relief. "Alice, are you all—" he stopped. He looked from Alice to me and back. His eyes unfocused like a blind man's as he listened to something that I could not hear. Behind me, I felt Alice's head turn, but I couldn't see her expression, only Edward's. Something was dawning, sharp and dreadful behind his eyes.

Alice's hands gripped my arms, tight to the point of pain. I didn't care, just watching Edward's eyes, as if I could see through them to whatever reflected vision had taken over Alice's head.

"Ah," Aro's voice broke the silence in a way that made all the tiny hairs on my arms stand up. "Well that is interesting. Just to be sure," he said, addressing Jane, "you were aiming for young Alice, weren't you, dear one?"

"Yes, Master," she admitted with sullen anger, not taking her eyes off of me.

Edward eyes flicked to Aro. I felt my throat go dry at what I saw in them.

"And you couldn't hear her thoughts just then, could you, Edward?"

Edward didn't answer. Something had changed. Something had gone wrong. I watched the fight go out of Edward's posture, just like it had in the alley not even an hour earlier. Aro wasn't going to let us leave, at least not all of us. I closed my eyes in resolve. Alice and Edward hadn't broken the rules. He'd already said so. That only left one person.

When I opened my eyes again, I found Aro's gaze fixed on me. "Is that the first time you've done that, child?" he asked, something appraising in his tone.

"Done what?" I blurted. I hadn't done anything except freak out and almost die.

A long moment passed. I wonder how many wheels were turning in the head of this being who could carry so many lifetimes' worth of stolen thoughts.

Caius and Aro exchanged a knowing glance. "Well we can't let this go to waste, can we brother?" asked Aro. Caius raised an eyebrow and nodded balefully. Marcus looked on with dull interest.

"No," Edward said out loud. "She hasn't told our secret. She isn't going to. She's no threat—"

Aro held up one petrified hand in what might otherwise have been a comforting gesture. "Surely you meant well, young Edward," he said.

Edward was still shaking his head. "No," he said again, taking one sharp step toward Aro. "You and I both know that—"

Aro nodded to Jane. I felt a cry leave my throat as Edward collapsed back to the floor. "Edward!" I screamed. I lunged toward him, but Alice caught my arms again. "Edward!"

"That's enough, dear one," said Aro. He'd spoken to Jane but he was looking at me. "Has to be touching her subject, I suppose. Hardly unusual." I got the feeling that the comment was not directed at me. His cobwebbed eyes flicked this way and that. I knew that look, and I'd liked it much better when it had been Edward in the lunch room in Forks a thousand years before. Aro was trying to puzzle me out.

"Felix."

I had barely registered Caius's command before I was snatched away from Alice by something that gripped my arms so hard I was sure they would burst like rotten fruit. He jerked me across the room so fast that my head flopped to the side like a rag doll's. I heard a yelp, like a frightened puppy, but then I sealed my jaws, my lips, my throat. This man would not hear me scream, I resolved as I looked into the crimson-black eyes, too close, too close to me. Dibs, I could see in them. My breathing was coming too fast, making me lightheaded, but I set my teeth and raised my chin. Felix would never hear me scream.

Edward let out a snarl so deep I swore it could have shaken the building. "No," he swore darkly, making the word sound like the blackest curse ever made.

"You have committed a crime, Edward Cullen," said Caius. I couldn't take my eyes off Felix, but I could hear the smugness audible in his voice. "You have not kept our secret. The law is clear. You must face punishment—" I flinched in Felix's huge hands. "And the human's life is forfeit."

Was it over, then? My chest shook in a silent sob. Was Edward going to die? At least I wouldn't have to wait long.

"But..." Aro joined in. "...it is always such a shame to waste potential. And what this child displays," he paused, as if gesturing toward something, "is worth making certain exceptions—" Felix looked up as Aro addressed his last words to him. "...and taking certain risks."

What the heck was he talking about? I tried to push the fear out of my mind long enough to make sense of what was happening, but I was a deer in the headlights. I could only see the truck barreling down to snuff me out.

"He can't do it," Edward was growling back at Aro. "Felix doesn't have the kind of control for that." I pictured him, shaking with anger in my mind's eye. I still couldn't look away from Felix. "He doesn't even mean to! All he's thinking about is—" Edward cut off, grinding his teeth together.

"Come now, Edward, there's no need to impugn dear Felix," said Aro. "His control is as good as anyone's."

I barely heard him. I was staring at two thread-thin rings of red around perfect blackness. Felix was thirsty, thirsty and holding on to me like a farmer would hold a disobedient cat. The long silence stretched out around me and, without shifting his grip, Felix turned to watch Aro. I still couldn't pry my eyes off him, not even to look at Edward. Felix frowned, just barely, his gaze shifting from one place to another. I still couldn't look away.

My heart pounded, keeping time.

"And you'll let the girl go?" Edward asked. But he asked as if he already knew the answer.

"She knows too much," said Aro, as if he were commenting on the weather.

"And if I accept?" Edward asked quietly.

The message took a moment to sink in. Suddenly, I understood. Aro hadn't really been speaking to Edward. He was speaking to the crowd. Whatever Aro really meant, whatever Edward had really agreed to, none of us had been able to hear.

I started struggling in Felix's grip again. Marcus's eyes turned my way, and Felix gave a near-silent laugh, but there was no other change. It was like fighting a mountain. I shook my head, anger building like a bonfire in my chest. The room was still, but it was a lying stillness, as if we were all in a raft in fast water being buffeted by rocks on all sides and we'd just been released into the eddying stillness at the top of the waterfall. Any moment, it would all come crashing down.

Edward stared at Aro for what seemed like a long time and then, almost imperceptibly, he nodded.

"Felix," Aro said again, and I felt the iron arms release me. I stumbled, actually putting one hand to the floor as I fought with my abused ribcage. The world was going brown and I had to bring it back or I would not wake up again.

"Bella," Edward called quietly. His voice was calm, too calm. I looked up and saw that his features were composed, pain marring his eyes but nothing more. "Bella, come here," he said.

I stumbled to my feet and ran. He caught me before I could fall again.

He didn't look at me, turning his head to face Aro and Caius. "I would like to do this privately," he said. But Alice was already shaking her head, just barely. If I hadn't known her as well as I did, I'd have missed it.

"You do not choose the time and place of your punishment," Caius announced.

"Your duty," finished Aro, but whether he was correcting Caius or just adding to what he'd said, I didn't care. Edward seemed to want to hold me at arm's length, but I had my temple pressed against his chest, both arms around his waist. I knew how pathetic I must have looked next to Edward, like a dust bunny clinging to a designer suit, but I couldn't help it. I'd come to Italy to save him and he wasn't saved.

"And..." I felt Edward's eyes flick down to me. "...after?"

"Do not worry, young Edward," Aro answered with an indulgent nod toward Jane, "we have had newborns here before, though I must admit, it has been some time."

Newborns? New vampires...

I swallowed hard as I breathed Edward's scent into my lungs, forcing my breathing back into a normal pace. They meant to turn me. Aro wanted Edward to turn me. My fingers tightened on Edward's bare arm. I'd been ready for this months ago, I reminded myself. Hell, I'd been ready six hours ago on the plane from New York to Rome, but was I ready for it now?

"Are you certain that's wise, brother?" Caius was saying. "A newborn in Volterra? In the city itself?"

"Oh I'm certain we can all help keep little Bella from getting into too much trouble," Aro murmured back.

Behind us, someone gave a low chuckle. I felt Edward's arm twist me to one side as his upper body turned toward the sound with a deep snarl that I could feel rippling all the way to my bones.. Again the other vampires murmured disbelievingly at Edward, but Felix only smiled.

Marcus raised one smooth black eyebrow at Edward's anger, like a sleepy tiger watching to birds fight over a worm. He cast his bored cobwebbed eyes on Edward. "Why all this fuss?" he asked languidly. "Simply take her for a mate yourself."

I felt Edward flinch. As sick as this was, as much as it galled me for Marcus to speak of me that way, as if he had the right to speak of me that way, Edward's action still stung.

An eternal annoyance. I took a breath. At least I would have more than one lifetime to try to change his mind. Assuming, of course, that I could make it through the next ten minutes. Even with the purplish shadows beneath his hunger-dark eyes, I trusted Edward's control, but I didn't trust Caius and I didn't trust Aro. And I didn't need Edward's gift to know what was running through Felix's mind. It was one of two things and I didn't like either of them.

I turned to Alice, wishing that she could read minds too.

Am I going to make it? I tried to project with my eyes, but Alice only looked back at me, with the same sad, guilty look.

I could still feel Felix's hold on my arms like a shadow against my skin. I inhaled sharply, filling my lungs with Edward instead of him. "Thank you," I whispered. "I'm sorry."

His hands gripped my jaw, forcing my eyes his. They were black and thirsty, not the perfect honey-gold that I remembered. "This is not what I wanted for you," he hissed. "This is what I was trying to prevent. This is—" he closed his eyes, breathing deeply. "I lied," he said.

I stared back at him, not sure what he was talking about. The thick, electric air had grown heavy in my lungs.

I understood. I finally understood. I'd laughed with werewolves and their claw-scarred families. I'd known good vampires with bright gold eyes. I'd been hunted as prey. All of a sudden I was very aware of exactly where I was. My eyes fell on the drains in the floor ...and the marks where someone hadn't quite scrubbed the stains away. I swallowed hard, suddenly sure of what this room was used for, and all of Aro's smiling courtesy seemed to twist inside me.

I understood why Edward thought he was a monster.

"You're not like them," I whispered. "You're better than this."

His eyes were strangely empty. "No, Bella. You are."

"Young Edward," Caius called over Edward's left shoulder. "Do you mean to carry out your end of this or not?"

I was suddenly aware of eyes, dozens of eyes, red and waiting.

"Yes," said Edward, eyes still on me.

Over Edward's shoulder, I saw Caius tip his head questioningly. Something hung in the air.

"Yes, Master," Edward corrected himself.

The word ripped through me like iron. I started shaking my head, or I would have, if Edward hadn't held me still. No. No, I wasn't worth it. Edward had to go back. Edward and Alice both had to make it back. I opened my mouth to tell him it was all right, that he really could leave me here, that I was happier to have had these few minutes with him than a hundred gray years. I wanted to remind him what about Emmett and Alice and Carlisle and Esme. I couldn't make a sound.

"Close your eyes?" he whispered. "Bella, please close your eyes."

I couldn't obey. There were some things in this room I wanted to memorize. Alice, with her dark gold eyes full of secrets, her mouth fixed in dismay. And Edward. I hadn't had a chance to look at him, really look at him, since that one frightened flash in the alley. Closing my eyes was the last thing I wanted to do.

Behind him, I saw Jane standing quietly in her dark gray cloak, that same poison smile on her face.

I felt my hands tighten on his wrist, my heart pounding until my skin burned hot. They couldn't have him. They couldn't have him.

It came as suddenly as it had with Alice. I imagined I could feel Edward in front of me, from his skin to his unbeating heart, and he was alive and as brilliant than Alice had been. Even more, he was part of me.

"Bella," Edward said quietly, rubbing the pad of his thumb across my chin. "Close your eyes, Bella."

I did as he said. After all, I could still see him.

I closed my eyes and was immediately glad I had. It was easier to believe that no one was watching. The red-eyed vampires around us all disappeared. Felix, Aro, Caius, Jane... They were all gone. We were in a silent, empty room, and this wasn't about anyone but us. I concentrated on the space around us and then on the feel of Edward's cold hands on my face and his blazing life in my mind.

I heard Edward exhale. I felt him lean forward and press his forehead against mine for a long moment. His hands shifted to the back of my neck as he gently turned my face away, exposing my throat.

At first, it wasn't so bad.

I felt his cold lips touch my neck, and then his teeth swiftly cut through skin and tendon to slice open the nest of blood vessels at my pulse point. It hurt, and just knowing that I was bleeding out was enough to make my head go light, but it was nothing to having my leg broken. The shards of glass in my arm on my last birthday had been worse. I swayed but didn't fall.

I could still feel Edward's mouth at my throat, feel his tongue smoothing across the wound in my neck, stirring up a thousand conflicting feelings. He was killing me. He was saving me. He was taking my blood. I was giving it to him.

My fingers flexed on the back of his head as the moment wound down. Somewhere in my blood-starved brain, I knew this was an illusion, another hallucination from my dying neurons as they waved goodbye, but I swore I could feel the swirling dust motes in the air go still around us, spinning out my final seconds into a peaceful dream. My heart beat steadily and I felt myself flowing into him. Yes, I thought, take this life. Take this body. I trust you, my love. I'm already yours.

Edward's light flared and I felt him shudder in my arms, from pleasure or revulsion. Probably both, I thought.

And then I couldn't think any more.

My eyes snapped open as a gallon of congealed battery acid plowed through my veins. I could hear someone's strangled gasp and I was pretty sure it was mine. I knew exactly what was happening. I had wanted it to happen, but that didn't make the pain any less. I was on fire from the inside out. The room spun and my eyes met the arched, shadowed ceiling. Edward had lowered me to the ground. My moment of peace was gone. Edward was all business now, performing his duty like an unwilling bridegroom. His teeth pierced my neck again, the insides of my elbows, pushing more venom inside me. Through the haze, saw him hesitate at my left wrist before driving his teeth through the scar James had left there. I saw a drop of my blood on his lips as he rolled up the wet cuffs of my jeans to bite the pulse at my ankle.

My focus was already fading when Edward jerked his head away from my leg, snarling loudly at something outside my blurring field of vision.

I heard a low chuckle. Felix. "You missed a spot," he called darkly. "Want me to get it for you?"

Edward glared and turned his attention back to me, smoothing my jeans back down over my calf and taking my face in his hands. His cold skin should have felt good against the heat but didn't. "I'm sorry," he said. "Bella, I'm sorry. I'm sorry!"

For the second time that day, I tried to tell him that it was all right. But it wasn't all right. I tried to touch his face, his fingers, but my movements were too jerky. I tried to stop making the sounds I was making. I could see him flinch with each one. I forced my teeth closed, pulled my lips shut over them. But I couldn't stop making those sounds.

The burning intensified. This wasn't the same. Back in Phoenix, I'd felt as if my arm were on fire, but this time the flames were made of liquid, sliding and sucking and sticking to my insides. Maybe it was that James hadn't been trying to turn me. Maybe it was that he'd only bitten my hand and not my neck. Maybe Edward's venom was stronger. Maybe—

I heard my voice echo against the stone walls as the thick pain in my neck ate its way down my body. I clapped one blazing palm to my chest. Intellectually, I knew exactly what was going on. Edward's venom was creeping down through my veins to my heart. But intellectual me wasn't holding the reins. Emotional me had shoved her out of the saddle, and she was chanting fear, fear, fear of what would happen when the venom started pumping through every cell in my body.

It was all so goddamned slow.

"Bella?" I could barely hear Edward's voice. His perfect, velvet-soft voice. He was holding me, his cool arms lifting my back off the tiles. I blinked hard and saw Alice, stricken and still, one hand just barely touching my right shoe.

"This is not what I wanted for you," the voice breathed into my ears. "This is not what I wanted. I am so sorry, Bella." The room was starting to fade. For a second, I dared to hope that I was blacking out, but the fire scorching my insides was as clear and sharp as ever. It was burning everything else out of my sight, out of my memory.

There were more voices, some soft and some shouting. I didn't listen. I had to concentrate on something steady or else I would fly completely apart. From this angle, I could see the corner of Edward's jaw as he spoke, but there was a haze drifting down over everything. I fought it back, but I didn't know how long I could keep it up. I just watched his mouth move as he said things I couldn't make out to people I didn't remember.

There was a flow of air against the tiny hairs on my skin as his hold on me shifted and he stood up. Why wouldn't he put me down and back away? I was on fire, and fire could kill him. I didn't want him to die with me. Why didn't he put me down?

Alice was speaking. Alice was telling Edward something, insisting it. And then we were moving. I found myself staring upward through the haze as the ceiling of the little stone hallway rushed past me.

My eyes were still open, but I didn't understand all of what I was seeing. There were sneakers and cameras and a hundred strange, confused human faces. Some of them turned to stare and I could see they were afraid. I was an ember. I was burning to a cinder while they watched.

There was another sound, and I forced my eyes to focus on a new person standing in front of me. I saw a small figure with a rosary around her neck. I couldn't make out the details, but she moved carefully, like an old woman. She seemed worried and confused and she said something that I couldn't make out, but from her posture and the tilt of her wide, frightened eyes, I was sure she was asking if I was all right. Edward murmured something in response, and she reached out one cool hand to my wrist, gripping hard, as if she could anchor me with flesh and bone.

There was another voice, sweet and silky and awful. The old woman turned her head and followed.

Edward's face seemed hard, his eyes strangely empty as he watched her go.

I was sure that something important had just happened. I felt like the pain, the woman, the look in Edward's eyes was a warning, and that I would be able to avoid disaster if only I could make myself figure it all out. But the burning filled my brain and heart and bones and fingernails and the clues all floated like dislocated limbs in my blurring vision.

The feeling didn't last. When the screaming started, I knew it was too late.

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 Post subject: Re: I Know My Duty--TEEN (rating may change)
PostPosted: Sat Apr 04, 2009 1:29 pm 
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ohhhhhh....this is really good - i can't wait for more


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 Post subject: Re: I Know My Duty--TEEN (rating may change)
PostPosted: Sat Apr 04, 2009 9:57 pm 
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This was my rage last winter. It was a rough couple of months in a lot of ways and it felt good to poke and mangle some fictional characters. Some scenes are already written, but they don't connect just yet.

During the height of Inuyasha fandom, I would post new chapters on a bb, where my fellow ficwriters would rip it apart for me. I don't really have a resource like that with Twilight.

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 Post subject: Re: I Know My Duty--TEEN (rating may change)
PostPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2009 8:32 pm 
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Totally forgot anyone was reading this. Anywho, here's chapter two, but chapters one through eight are available both on ffnet and mediaminer.


"I am surprised by how it ...pleases me, his success in this unorthodox path he's chosen. I expected that he would waste, weaken with time. I'd scoffed at his plan to find others who would share his peculiar vision. Yet, somehow, I'm happy to be wrong." – Aro, New Moon

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The sounds coming from her throat weren't words. The ones coming from me barely qualified. I rocked back and forth, murmuring nonsense, her name, anything as I held her still-warm body against me.

I tried to take her all in. She'd changed over the past year. Her cheeks were thinner. There was a scar near her hairline that hadn't been there before. She was wearing the same shirt she'd had on the day they'd done blood typing and I'd carried her outside. Her eyes were a wild mix of pain and fear and other things buried underneath. I had never wanted so badly to know for sure what she was thinking, even knowing that there was no way that she could not blame me for her current pain. These were my Bella's last moments. Even if she remembered being human at all, the memories would be dulled. Had she forgiven me for all I'd done to her? Did any part of her love me still?

While Bella remained agonizingly silent, the thoughts of the other vampires in the room beat against my mind like rain against a rock, pounding away at me without leaving a mark. How long, how many centuries before they wore me smooth?

My God, he actually did it. I'd wondered what Master had in mind, setting up a botched turning right before the feast.

...flinched at the thought of mating her. At least we're not bringing a pervert into the ranks.

Smells fucking sweet. Alec or Demitri I could understand; they've earned a treat, but better to toss her round and give us each a taste than let this stripling freak have it all.

Can we just get the theatrics over with so we can eat? What is keeping Heidi?

...wasn't the human why he wanted to die in the first place?
Distracted as I was, I nearly started at the clarity of the thought. Demitri... What does Aro want with either of them? They're both trouble.

Skinny little scrap of a thing,
thought one of the one of the women to Demitri's right. She remembered me making my request to the elders this morning. At the time, she'd supposed that my human plaything must have been a great beauty. Through her mind's eye, I could see that Bella was plain and disheveled, sniveling like a drowned rat. And I was a fool, a strange, mad boy petting some wretched, dirty creature that had followed him home.

Yes, I was a fool, I thought, hands stroking uselessly down Bella's arms. Her eyes stayed focused on me, but there was no way to tell how much she was really seeing. Rosalie had stayed conscious the whole time, but Emmett had gone in and out. They'd both begged us to let them die...

Edward.

She would never say my name in her sleep again. I would never lie perfectly still beside her waiting for the rush of warmth when I heard it. I'd never wonder at the sunlight against her human skin or find out what she'd be like as a girl of nineteen or a woman of twenty-nine. It was all over.

Oh Edward...

I shook my head.

"Edward," Alice said out loud.

I looked up. My sister had one hand on Bella's shoe, as if she were afraid to touch any more of her. The gesture seemed too close, too intimate, but I couldn't tell her to stop, not with her neck bowed toward the floor and her shoulders shaking in time with Bella's cries.

You have to focus, she told me through the scattered rain of her own thoughts.

I stared back at her, not comprehending. Bella gave a lurch in my arms and I looked down again.
Edward,[i] Alice thought firmly, and I began to understand. The storm of thoughts in the room was affecting her as well. There were too many decisions being made and unmade as they watched our grotesque little scene. Her visions were changing, flickering like a strobe light on overload, and for one brief moment I shared them. Aro stood with Alice at his right hand and me at his left, Bella and a fourth vampire whom I did not recognize behind. There was something about the sight that reminded me of a pyramid with a square base, complete and stable, strong enough to weather the centuries. The vision shifted and I saw Jasper. He was somewhere far away and all alone.

My lips parted. I closed them again. I was sinking. I was sinking down into the earth. I tightened my grip on Bella's arm, rubbing her sleeve with my thumb. How many lives had I ruined by coming here?

"Amazing..." Aro all but clapped his hands together. "Such control. My dear ones, we are all blessed to have witnessed such a feat. Young Edward, you truly are your father's son, though I doubt even he could have done as you did."

I opened my mouth to answer just as Bella gave a stifled thrash in my arms. The tiny sound echoed in all the emptiness inside me, tearing me just as if it had come from my own throat. Her body had only started to change and it felt as if her soul were already fighting its way out, when a minute ago she'd been human and healthy and strong.

No, Carlisle could not have done it.

I let myself see through Aro's eyes. Through the prism of his curiosity, I was a rare thing, a precious thing: a vampire with a truly disciplined mind, the best he'd found since Demitri. Bella was a gnarled oyster that might be hiding a pearl or only sand, but he would pry her open just to be sure. Oh but Alice. Dear Alice. Alice was unique in all the world. Alice eclipsed us both. With Alice, it was as if the last piece of some confounding puzzle had turned up years after being given up for lost.

Aro saw me watching. To my surprise, I found that he liked that I could read him. Like a toddler learning to use a lightswitch, he was fascinated with the prospect of a follower who could do his will without a word. When he wondered if it would work on Alice, I couldn't help but turn my eyes toward her.

[i]What is it, Edward?
Alice asked me. What's he doing? I gently tensed the muscles in my shoulders, meaning that I would explain later. It was a code we'd worked out long ago.

Aro noticed this time. His lips spread in a delighted smile as he watched the interplay between Alice and me. A matched set, he thought, like Jane and Alec, already so in tune with each other. It had taken him, Caius and Marcus years to develop a similar rapport and here we were, ready-made.

So I waited. I watched the delighted amusement bloom in his mind as he realized what I was doing.

Is that how this is going to work, then?[i] His question was a little too clear. Aro's thoughts spelled out each word, like a luddite using a telephone or voice recorder for the first time.

I ducked my chin, so slightly that no one who didn't know what to look for would notice. Aro was curious and childlike, and I could guess that codes and secrets would appeal to him.

[i]How delightful,[i] he thought at me, [i]but it would look rather strange if you just got up and left the room, almost as if you were breaking your word and leaving us
—Beneath Aro's deliberate thoughts, I picked up the words "after I showed you mercy."— and I suppose dear Jane or Felix might overreact to that. Again, not deliberately, Aro thought of me shuddering under Jane's gift as Felix pulled the dregs of Bella's human blood from her body. Besides, it's only fitting to say this part out loud, don't you think?

"Well this is an unexpected joy, isn't it brothers?" Aro addressed Caius and Marcus. "Just hours ago, we debated the sad prospect of dispatching one of our number—" I noticed Felix's thoughts sour with disappointment. "—but instead we see our little family grow by leaps and bounds."

"Yes..." Caius agreed, but his skepticism was clear in his voice as he eyed Alice, Bella and me. Marcus was still watching with Off to my left, I heard Jane's mental snarl. She wasn't happy about having a new brother and sister, especially not ones that kept her master so interested. "But that's if she lives, brother," he finished.

"Oh I don't think we need to worry about that," said Aro. "Edward did quite a masterly job with dear Bella. Just listen to her heartbeat."

"Yes," Caius said pointedly, "that was rather what I meant." I stroked Bella's cheek with the backs of my fingers as Caius touched Aro's hand. "Heidi will be here with the feast any moment," he said as my mind filled with foreign images of an unfamiliar, pain-blinded human being ripped open by four vampires at once.

"Ah," Aro said quietly. "Yes, accidents do happen, don't they? Young Edward," he said to me in a louder voice, "perhaps you had best take our little Bella out of harm's way for the time being."

I nodded stiffly, gathering Bella in my arms as I rose to my feet.

"He's not going to stay and eat, Master?"

I turned, even though I already knew who'd interrupted.

"No Demitri," said Aro. " I think it might be better for Edward if he did not have to make too many changes at once, don't you?" I felt my shoulders go stiff.

"I see, Master," agreed Demitri. His thoughts were thick with suspicion, and not only of me. He was still wondering what Aro wanted with Bella and me. Demitri was proud of what he did, I saw, and the idea that someone would have to be forced to join the Volturi offended him. He didn't want to believe it.

Wait for us below, Aro told me. When the feast is over, you and I will discuss your duties further. His thoughts were like a soft cloth wrapped around a knife.

"Wait," Aro called. I stopped. I kept my expression as mild as I could as Aro motioned Felix forward. "We do not stand much on ceremony here," he said as he unfastened Felix's gray cloak, "but take this."

Welcome to the family, young Edward.

Aro stepped toward me and threw the garment around my shoulders, tying the cords below my throat. Bella was still moving fitfully in my arms, but she didn't seem to get in Aro's way. He stepped back, admiring his handiwork. "It suits you," he said with a smile.

I managed to stretch my lips in return. We were being watched, after all.

"Master," Demitri said in a low voice as I turned to leave. In my mind's eye, I could see Demitri cock his head toward us. "Do you want me to keep an eye on him?" he asked. Easier to keep him from running off now than to track him later. No sense making more work for myself... he thought.

"I don't think that will be necessary," I heard the answer as Alice and I made for the high double doors. It wasn't as if I was going to run away, Aro knew, not with Bella in such a state. The Saint Marcus's Day festival was hardly Mardi Gras. A man carrying a moaning, semiconscious teenaged girl would attract the attention of the police ...and a vampire using his abilities to avoid them would bring down the wrath of the Volturi.

I looked down at Bella as I turned to go. He'd seen the depth of my connection to her in my own mind and in Marcus's gift, and that the events of the past two days had put me far past risking her safety. She was my heart, Aro knew, and she anchored me to Volterra more surely than an iron chain.

Alice's hand on my elbow brought me back to myself. I could sense her apprehension as we passed through the high double doors. As soon as they closed behind us, we broke into a run.

"Not fast enough..." I heard her mutter.

The crowd reached us before we reached the vestibule, a gaggling throng of humans led by one vampire—Heidi. She turned to watch us, her eyes seeming eerie and detached through the scratched haze of her tinted lenses, but most of her concentration was on herding the sheep, who had only started to figure out that they weren't headed back to the meadow. Some of them stopped to look at us as we passed. One woman even stepped out of the crowd, taking three steps toward us as Heidi looked back in surprised annoyance. I couldn't understand her words, but I could read the meaning behind them: her own fear was breaking on the concern she felt for this young stranger.

Heidi called the woman back and I could hear the power in her voice and see it in her smile. Alice touched my arm. I did nothing.

This was the truth that Bella had never understood. Demitri and Caius and Laurent looked at Carlisle and me as if we were freaks and deviants because we were. Vampires were predators and murderers who loved the hunt or loved the kill and covens like our family existed because the rest of our kind permitted it. I watched Heidi's catch file obediently past me toward the end and I did not move one finger. It wasn't that I could do nothing; it was that it was my duty to do nothing.

More than killing prey, being a vampire meant killing your own compassion. I felt Bella's body go tense as the sounds of the Volturi's own Saint Marcus's Day celebration began behind us. I ran faster and I didn't even have to tell Alice to keep up.

We found our way back to the decorated reception area without incident and Alice practically dragged me toward one of the couches beside the wall where she immediately collapsed against me, embracing Bella tightly around the waist.

"Careful," I breathed in surprise.

"Oh Edward, I can't h-help it!" Alice's breath hitched. She remembered the blackness in her memory where her human life should have been. What if she doesn't know me?

"She'll know you," I promised. "You're unforgettable."

I squeezed Bella's hand, hoping she would squeeze back or look at me but the pain had made her vague. Her eyes were pointed at me, but the rest of her face was taut and unreadable. Alice squirmed into an upright position and took Bella's other hand. Bella seemed less focused now and her cries seemed quieter, though that might have been that we were in a room with rugs and upholstery instead of hard stone. I pressed my lips against her hair, closing my eyes against her human scent.

"How long do we have?" I whispered against Bella's skin.

"Just under an hour," Alice spoke as if the words gummed the back of her throat. "They like to linger."

I kissed the end of Bella's nose. I wanted her lips. I wanted to feel her softness against me one last time, but I'd long since lost the right.

Why is he wearing Felix's cloak? I looked up to see the young human receptionist watching us. Her thoughts were quizzical but her expression was blank as she gracefully stepped clear of her counter and came closer.

That was what she noticed? Not the girl moaning in pain or the agony on Alice's face or the gruesomeness walking past her in Heidi's wake. She noticed that I was wearing Felix's clothes.

I suddenly burned with hatred. A woman who could watch innocent people led to their deaths without batting an eye was permitted to keep her soul and her heartbeat while Bella shook with every breath. This shriveled harpy had a better chance at... I glared at Gianna, and I had to give her credit in that she did not shy away.

"Can I do anything for you?" she asked professionally.

I wanted to tell her to take a good look at Bella's sufferings and what they meant for her plans. I wanted to tell her that Aro had never, never turned a human servant and had no intention of turning her, that all the horrible things she'd done would buy her nothing.

I held Bella in my arms and kissed her hair, the top of her head, her nose, her fingers. Alice and I were trapped in Volterra. We were now the pride of Aro's morbid collection, sealing the present and the future to his will.

Now that the churning minds of the Volturi guard were otherwise occupied, Alice's vision came through clear. The Volturi would grow stronger. In our own coven, years would pass and Jasper would become more and more distant, eventually leaving on his own journey of self-destruction. Without a scout for the future, thoughts or moods of their human neighbors, Carlisle, Esme, Rose and Emmett's lives would turn dark and furtive

Alice looked meaningfully at me. I looked back. I knew what I had to do. It was only...

I took a deep breath and worked my arms under Bella's leg, ready to lift her up. Alice's vision changed again. It was shorter this time, I noted, watching Demitri and four others drag the three of us back before we even reached Rome.

Aro knew me as well as I knew myself. He knew every choice I'd ever made and it was well within his intellect to predict what I would do next. He thought he already had. I had watched him come to the conclusion. He had made only two mistakes this afternoon, perhaps in his entire life, and, so far, I hadn't been able to put them to work for us.

"Edward, please..." Alice said softly.

To fool Aro, I would have to do something very, very out of character.

"Yes, Gianna," I said. "There is something you can do for me."

"Of course, sir," she said calmly.

I placed a kiss on Bella's forehead.

I was trapped in Volterra, Alice saw. I was the new addition to Aro's morbid collection, sealing the present to his will. And he was angry with me for helping my other half get away. But I had done some fast talking and he couldn't send Demitri after her or Carlisle, not without showing more of his own character than he wished to reveal.

"Look after the young lady," I told Gianna as I lay Bella down and got to my feet. "I have to go."

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 Post subject: Re: I Know My Duty--TEEN (rating may change)
PostPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2009 8:44 pm 
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Oh thank you for posting more here. This is EXCELLENT :clap :clap :clap


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