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A Matter Of Time

Summary:
A TLYDF Recommendation, Nominated for Immortal Cookie Award, Won Best Imprint in the Silent Tear Awards Two weeks and the whole world can change. Caius and Jane led an insurrection against Aro and are making a mad power grab. Renegades from the wolf pack, unhappy with the treaty with the Cullens, are attacking vampires at every opportunity. Jacob and Renesmee are struggling with the paradox of imprinting. Edward, Bella and all the Cullens must come together to protect the world they've come to love. A tale of action, deceit, intrigue and sexual awakening.


Notes:
Stephanie Meyers owns all things Twilight. My thanks to all the wonderful people at PTB who helped with this story.


3. Chapter 3 A Visit With Vincenzo

Rating 4/5   Word Count 4965   Review this Chapter

Alice I loved flying into Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. What a crazy chaotic place. We got into Rome just as the sun was setting and the city began to sparkle as the lights came on. Jasper rented us a car, a sleek roadster, and we piled into it to hit several salons that Esme wanted to visit. From there, we would drive north to visit Florence, where there was a custom cabinetmaker Esme adored, and then up to the designer fashion houses of Milan and eventually on to Paris. Esme found several items she liked at the salons and we made arrangements to have the sideboard, dining room set and four poster bed shipped to the states. It was past midnight when we left the city behind us and pulled onto the autostrada.

We chatted merrily as the car sped through the night, our spirits high. Jaz was driving and the windows were open to the warm night. I sat in the back seat where I was studying several glossy magazines I’d picked up at the airport. We’d been traveling several hours when we passed the turn-off to Valdichiana/Bettolle/Sinaluga.

I knew that turn off. It led to Volterra. The last time I had been in Italy, it had been me and Bella in a stolen car racing to stop Edward from bringing the wrath of the Volturi upon himself. That was a close call. We had, all of us, just barely escaped with our freedom.

Our last brush with the Volturi had been just as nerve racking. Our stand-off with them in Forks had been terrifying and uncertain. With the help of our witnesses, and Bella’s unexpected gifts, we had been able to convince the Volturi to leave Forks. They reluctantly left without getting what they had come for, namely the special abilities of myself and other family members. I had kept an eye on possible futures for the Volturi since then and had been heartened to see the infighting and petty bickering happening within their ranks. My guess was that the more disruption there was from within, the less likely they would be to carry that disruption without.

This seemed a good time to check in on that situation, so I unfocused my eyes and let my mind wander into that odd state where time became unfixed and space an unrelated distraction.

I couldn’t understand what I saw. The halls of the Volturi castle stood empty and ruined, choked with wreckage and collapse. The audience hall and chamber where we had meet Aro and the others were in shambles, with parts of the roof open to the sky, large stones littering the floor. The anteroom where Edward, Bella and I had waited after our audience was a charred mess, the beautiful chandeliers and ornate furniture now just blackened lumps.

Where were the Volturi? There was no sign of anyone at all. The Volturi had been a constant in the vampire world for thousands of years. How could they just disappear? They were the most powerful group of vampires the world had ever seen, with threatening and incredible talents. What could cause this kind of destruction to this place, the most sacred of their sanctuaries?

“I don’t believe it,” I whispered. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“What is it, Alice?” Jasper asked concerned. His eyes bored into mine from the rearview mirror.

“Jasper, stop the car! We have to turn around. We have to go to Volterra.” I leaned over the front seat.

Esme’s face was drawn and frightened. She wanted to give Volterra a wide berth. “Volterra! Alice, what did you see?”

“The Volturi are gone. Their castle is a ruined mess. Something has happened to them, all of them.”

Esme and Jasper looked at each other in disbelief. I couldn’t have gotten a more stunned reaction if I’d said that the moon had left its place in the sky.

“Gone?” Esme asked.

“All of them?” Jasper glanced at me before pulling the car over to the shoulder of the road.

“It’s a ruin, everything is charred and burnt. There’s wreckage everywhere. Something incredibly big has happened. We have to go see!” I was insistent.

Esme was against the idea. “Do we really need to risk walking into that lions’ den? Do you think it was the Romanians?” Esme referred to a coven of Eastern bloc vampires that had hungered for hundreds of years for the fall of the Volturi.

I let my mind wander again. I could see the charred stones and the blackened hallways. They were now, in the immediate future. There was nothing I could see that would lead me to how they became that way. “I can’t see how it happened, but I know that’s what we’ll find.”

Jasper had stopped the car and turned to face me. “Alice, I don’t want to go strolling into an ambush. Is there any danger for us there? Would we be safe going?”

I closed my eyes again to try to concentrate. The past was closed to me. Looking forward into the future, that I could see. I saw Jasper and me leaving the castle, our heads together, discussing what we had seen. We were strolling through the Piazza without hurry.

“We’ll be fine. We find some information,” I answered.

Jasper and Esme still looked doubtful.

I needed to convince them. “Listen, whatever has destroyed the Volturi may not stop there. We need to find out whom or what could bring them down.”

At that, Jasper was convinced that we needed the information on what this possible new enemy could be. It took us longer to bring Esme around and then even longer to persuade her that one of us should stay behind in case something unexpected did crop up. She reluctantly allowed herself to be swayed by Jasper’s military logic.

We arrived in Volterra a few hours later. We found a hotel and booked a double suite. As we were paying cash in advance, the clerk was happy to rent us a room, even in the middle of the night. We spent the remaining hours before dawn discussing possible theories and mulling precautions as the sky gradually lightened. We were lucky; the morning forecast was for clouds with showers. Jasper and I grabbed an umbrella at the hotel gift shop and headed out into the drizzle. The streets were fairly empty as we made our way over to the large stone building that had once been the home of the Volturi. The boarded up windows and doorway made it look like it had been abandoned for decades.

I collared a passing deliveryman wheeling a handcart and in Italian, asked him what happened. I showed him a hundred lira note. He answered with much enthusiasm, his arms gesturing wildly. I asked him a few questions, before thanking him. He touched the visor of his cap and continued down the street.

“What did he say? I didn’t catch all of that.” Jasper asked me. His Italian wasn’t quite as fluent as mine.

“He says several weeks ago, there was a huge fire. The people are saying it must have been a gas explosion, the whole ground was shaking. It was in the middle of the night and the flames shot halfway up the sky. The firemen came, but they found no one inside. Some say they saw burning figures run from the building but no one hurt was found. Not everyone is unhappy to see the destruction. The ‘businessmen’ here were unpopular.”

Jasper eyed the building. I followed him as he turned the corner where a side of the building faced the alley. Some of the windows on the second floor had not been boarded over. He glanced around to make sure we were unwatched and with the grace of a cougar sprang from the ground to cling to the stone façade near the second story window. He punched a fist through the glass and reached into the window latch. The window swung open and he flipped effortlessly through it. A moment later, his honey-colored head popped up. He gestured from the open window. “Come on,” he whispered.

I jumped as well, landing neatly on the floor. The room we were in was remarkable for being so unremarkable. With slate blue carpeting and paneled walls, it resembled an executive office like one could see in any building in the world. The pictures on the wall were askew and the chair behind the desk was overturned, but otherwise the room looked amazingly normal.

The smell, however, was overpowering. The rank smell of burnt fabric and metal saturated the room. Jasper cautiously opened the door and the smell grew stronger.

We started down the hall, Jasper leading the way. This part of the castle had obviously been modernized and the tile floors and plaster walls were intact. We turned the corner to where a huge char mark blackened the walls and floor.

Jasper cautiously moved around it. “This isn’t a random fire. There was a fight.”

I reached for his hand. It was frightening to see the destruction, and to wonder what caused it. “The audience hall was upstairs,” I whispered. We found a stairwell and went up. As we penetrated deeper into the castle, the age of the building started to show as tile and plaster gave way to stone corridors. The audience hall was just as I had seen in my vision, char marks everywhere and holes punched through the roof. We descended stairs again and came to the anteroom where Bella, Edward and I had waited. The smell was the worst there as the carpet and walls were completely burned. Gianna’s desk was an unrecognizable lump.

We pushed deeper into the castle, no closer to any answers than when we first entered. It was obvious there had been many fires scattered throughout the building. The evidence of vampyric struggles was obvious as well, in the blasted stone walls and broken doors. But who had been fighting? And against whom? More importantly, who had won?

We were in the oldest, darkest portion of the castle, where the rooms looked to be residential. The stone corridors were dark and damp, the sconces on the wall bent into unrecognizable shapes. I shivered at the unreality of the place. Suddenly Jasper froze. I did likewise. We both were motionless, listening to the faint sounds of the vermin scurrying through the walls.

“Someone is near,” Jasper whispered, almost soundlessly. “I feel sadness, unbearable sadness.” His dark golden eyes, suddenly looking old and haunted, gestured to an open door down the corridor from us.

We crept down the hall silently. The open door hung crazily askew on its hinges. The room inside was fairly unmarked by fire, but the heavy, dark furniture was tossed around like an untidy child’s playthings. In the far corner, there was a scorched black cloak tossed into a pile.

Jasper stilled me with his hand while he cautiously crossed the room to the cloak. There came a rasping sound from the cloak. I clutched my neck in horror as I realized something was still alive in there, in a bundle much too small for such a thing.

Jasper flipped a corner of the cloak over and hissed in surprise. The ruined face of Marcus, one of the oldest vampires in the world, stared back at him with one eye.

One half of his head was a devastated wreck. Only one patch of his once lustrous black hair hung lankly from his ruined skull. His right arm and shoulder had been torn away and only his torso was intact, his legs ripped away. A jagged tear ran from his right rib cage down to his left hip where venom glistened on the remains of his body. His head turned towards me when I gasped at the sight.

“Marcus? Is that you?” I barely got the words out of my mouth.

“Si,” he answered faintly.

“What happened?” I asked in Italian.

“Traitors,” he sighed, almost unintelligible through the wreckage of his mouth

“I can’t believe what I see,” I whispered.

He closed his eye in pain. “Caius,” he mumbled. Jasper and I exchanged a startled glance. “Caius came to me, and told me it had been Aro.” Marcus opened his single eye and it was burning with fierceness. “Aro, all these years pretending to be my brother. It was Aro that murdered my Didyme. His own sister and my wife. He killed her. I challenged Aro then, in the hall. For once, Renata was not there.”

He took a ragged breath. “We started struggling. We didn’t hear the fight, until the last of the guard broke into the hall. Caius had turned Jane and Alec. The three of them had planned this rebellion. They kept it from me by never appearing together.”

“Marcus, where are the Volturi? Where is everyone?”

“Gone,” he murmured. “There was a new face. She threw fire and burnt them where they stood, trapped by Jane and Alec. Aro’s own, turned against him.” His devastated face twisted as fresh pain shot through him. “Only Felix, still loyal. He threw himself in front of the fire. For what?”

Jasper crouched down by Marcus. He’d followed enough of the conversation to ask “Where is Caius now?”

“I don’t know,” Marcus trailed off in English. Suddenly his only arm moved and his hand grabbed Jasper by the front of his shirt. I jumped back three feet, startled.

“You must find him. He has terrible plans. None of you are safe.” He groaned and his eye closed as he released Jasper’s shirt.

Jasper stood up and faced me, his face a despairing wreck and his eyes burning as Marcus’ emotions washed over him. “Alice, we could all be in danger,” he whispered.

“No, don’t leave me here!” Marcus cried out. “Please, I beg you, finish what they started. The pain is too much and I stopped caring to live centuries ago.” His eye flickered from me to Jasper, pleading.

He wanted to die? He’d lived for three thousand years. To kill something that old would be like taking a sledgehammer to an ancient Greek statue or taking down the pyramids. But then I remembered how I’d seen him in Forks, his apathy plain in every movement. Now he’d been betrayed by everyone he’d ever trusted.

Jasper looked around the room. “Alice, set the chair right.” He gestured toward an overstuffed wing chair that was overturned by the fireplace.

I did as he said while he gathered the remains of the cloak around Marcus’ devastated body and set him gently in the chair. Suddenly, I felt a wave of peace and calm wash over me, Jasper’s gift to Marcus.

Marcus kept his eyes closed as Jasper set him down. “Grazi,” he whispered softly.

Jasper grabbed the box of fireplace matches that sat on the mantel and struck one. He flicked his wrist and the chair was on fire. With a large whoosh, it burst into flame.

I stared, horrified. Jasper strode across the room to me and with his arms around my shoulders, led me back out into the hall.

“Oh, God, Jasper,” I cried softly. If I could have wept, I would have done so then. As it was, I could only wrap my arms around him and press my face into his chest.

He held me, and stroked my hair, murmuring until his gift made me reclaim my equilibrium. He pulled back to assess my face and said, “We need to leave, Alice. We have to go warn the others. We shouldn’t make Esme worry.”

“Of course,” I said, pulling myself together. “Last time we were here, we left through the lobby. This way.”

I led him down to the lobby, but there was no easy exit there. The city streets had started to fill with the morning traffic and it wouldn’t be wise to let anyone catch us leaving the building through the boarded up first floor doors and windows. However, we did get cell phone reception this close to the front of the building, so we called Esme to let her know we would be back at the hotel soon. The relief in her voice was palpable and she urged us to hurry back with any news. We went down a series of hallways that finally led through a gleaming kitchen to a back exit. It led out to an alley with trashcans, but was near the plaza.

Jasper held the door for me, when he stopped and raised his nose into the air. “Do you smell that?” he asked me.

I tasted the air. The garbage was certainly ripe, but there was a very faint undertone of something very familiar, but I couldn’t recall it.

“Smells like werewolf,” he said, “Quileute.”

“That can’t be right. What would they be doing here?” Pacific coast shape shifters, here in Italy? That didn’t make any sense.

“That is surprising.” Jasper’s face was grim. “This whole situation is making me nervous. We need to get back.”

We headed back to the hotel, trying to keep a human pace. We made it back, just ahead of the sunshine that broke through the clouds.

Esme was horrified as we related our conversation with Marcus. “Caius did this?” she asked incredulously.

Jasper was trying to make the puzzle pieces fit together. “Do you remember when they came to Forks, how Aro was obviously the one calling the shots? When Aro backed down, Caius was seething, frustrated and bitter. I am guessing this rebellion has been centuries in the making.”

Esme was nodding. “Carlisle had described Caius to me as a petty dictator, less married to the idea of justice than any of them. Power happy, he said.”

Jasper’s face was grim. “Marcus said that Jane and Alec were with Caius. He also said there was a new face, like a fire starter. They would be a formidable enemy.”

“Caius has no conscience.” Esme rose from her seat to stare out the window. The reflected sun set her skin to glimmering. “With the power of Jane and Alec to back him up, he will be ruthless. He won’t be concerned about following any Volturi morality.” She sighed and turned back to us. “What was it he said about Didyme?”

Marcus’ ruined face hung in front of my eyes. I shook my head to clear it. “He said that Caius told him Aro had killed her. That’s when Marcus challenged Aro.”

“Yes,” Esme murmured, “I imagine he would. Didyme was Marcus’ wife and Aro’s sister. It was never known how she died.”

“Why would Aro kill his own sister?” I wondered.

“Power,” Esme said. “The whole family was power hungry. I heard Didyme died about the time that she and Marcus were planning to start their own coven. Perhaps Aro felt Marcus wouldn’t leave without Didyme to accompany him.”

“All those wasted lives,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t know whether to be happy the Volturi are gone, or whether I wish they were still here.”

Jasper’s face was somber. “I think that whatever has risen to take the Volturi’s place will have us longing for their return.”

We spent the remainder of the day in the hotel room, waiting out the sun and discussing what we had seen. Esme called Carlisle, who was as shocked by the turn of events as we had been. He urged us to come home as soon as possible.

Jasper was pacing with anxiety and impatience. “I want to go back there, after the sun sets,” Jasper said, meaning the castle. “It’s our best chance of finding more about Caius, what he’s planning and where he’s gone. Still no luck, Alice?”

“No,” I said, frustrated and irritable. My vision was being no help; I couldn’t see Caius at all. I felt like I had been blinded. It was making me angry, and a little scared. It also pointed out how dependent I had become on using my abilities to see into the future. I stared at the television someone had turned on earlier, where the news was playing, but the sound was off.

Jasper was saying, “This time I want to check the offices, we may find more information. We know that Caius has Alec, Jane and at least one other. Who else do you think may have joined them?”

Esme took a breath to answer when I dove across the room, going for the television remote. I grabbed it and in a single movement, rolled and pointed the remote to turn the volume up. There on the screen, side by side, were grainy photos of Jasper’s and my faces. The angle of our faces made me think the camera had been above us, and the pictures were blurry as if they hadn’t been taken in enough light. I looked at the television, then back at Jasper and myself. Those pictures were taken today; we were wearing the same clothes.

The newscaster was saying “suspected terrorists who may have been involved in the destruction of Castle Volterra last week. Anyone with information on their whereabouts should contact Interpol at the number on the bottom of your screen.”

“Those pictures were taken today,” Jasper said, his face grim. I nodded. “In the lobby, of the castle, there must have been a camera.”

A vision flashed before my eyes. “We have to leave now, right now!” I could hear my voice rising. I could see the front desk manager and several uniformed policemen, crowded together, watching the floor numbers flash. “They’re coming up the elevator!”

Jasper was instantly at the door, checking the corridor. Esme grabbed her purse and we were flying down the hall into the stairwell. We ran so fast, the maid bending over her laundry cart wasn’t even aware that we passed, except for the sudden puff of wind. We were at the ground floor in seconds. Jasper opened the stairwell door and cautiously peered about. He gestured with his head to follow him.

To our left we could see the hall opening to the lobby. We went right, walking normally, following a young man in a white jacket as he whistled softly to himself, pushing a room service cart of dirty dishes. We followed him down several corridors until we saw a door leading to the street. Out we went. The sun was low in the sky and the alley was full of shadow. We started down the street, walking quickly, when at the far corner, we saw a marked police car go by. Jasper pulled us into a doorway.

“The car is that way?” Esme asked. Jasper nodded, his eyes scoping the street.

“Give me the keys,” Esme said. “They don’t have my picture.”

Jasper searched her face for a moment before dropping the keys in her hand. Esme started down the street, her purse dangling from her arm, her hair and hips swinging. She looked very much like a tourist with no more on her mind then the nearest trattoria.

A minute later, she pulled up next to us in the car. We jumped in the doors and Esme gunned the accelerator.

“How did they get our pictures so fast? Its like they were waiting for us.” I turned to look at Jasper in the back seat as Esme took a corner on two wheels.

“Obviously, the authorities put up a camera looking for intruders in the castle. They knew somebody would come,” Jasper said. “But terrorists? Is that how the battle was explained to the townspeople?”

“How will we get home?” Esme asked. “They’ll have those pictures at every airport and border crossing.” Even though we were innocent, there was no way we could let the authorities question us. Our supernatural nature would be apparent immediately, as soon as they touched us.

Jasper was thinking out loud. “Caius is frustrated and chafing under Aro’s more moderate rule. He turns the most powerful vampire loyalties to him, then knowing Marcus would erupt, tells Marcus that it was Aro who killed his wife. Marcus plays right into his hands, and a battle ensues. Many are killed. Caius abandons the castle, taking the winning side with him and goes out to do… what?”

I turned back to Jasper, my eyes wide. “Remember what Marcus said? We’re all in danger.”

“We need to contact the other covens, like Siobhan’s and Gerard’s.” Esme’s concern shone on her face. “They should know about this. Maybe they have some news. At the very least, they need to be warned about Caius.”

“Where are we headed, by the way?” I asked Esme as the city walls flashed by us.

“Well, north I guess,” Esme said. She grimaced. “I guess the visit to Vincenzo is out now.”

“Vincenzo the cabinetmaker?” I asked.

“Yes. Unless…” Esme trailed off.

“Unless?” Jasper asked from the back seat.

Esme turned to look at me, her eyes wide and shiny. “I have an idea.”

I used my future vision to see where we would be. “Esme, of course! That’s too funny.”

Jasper looked at me, perplexed. “Oh, Jaz,” I snickered, “you’re going to love this. You’re going home in comfort. Lestat’s gonna have nothing on you!”

We arrived in Florence not long after sunset. A quick stop into a dress shop and we were on our way. Esme got out of the car and turned to face me. “How do I look?” she said smiling, doing a pirouette for us.

She looked absolutely perfect for the grieving daughter part she was going to play. We’d put her in a long-sleeved black dress that nipped in at the waist and showed an ample amount of cleavage. It flared out gently at the hem which hit her just at the knee. She had on sheer black stockings and stiletto heels. Black leather gloves and a wide brimmed black hat with a veil gave her an air of mystery. She looked like a very sexy widow ala Sophia Loren. Vincenzo didn’t stand a chance.

“Absolutely perfect,” I said and I meant it. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”

She smiled, shrugged her shoulders, and gave the air a little claw swipe before disappearing around the corner to enter Vincenzo’s custom-made furniture store. It seems Vincenzo had a side business that Esme was taking advantage of.

A minute passed. I looked at Jasper. “I can’t stand it. I have to listen.”

We got out of the car and strolled over to the shop, leaning against the wall just outside the door. Jasper put his arms around me, and to passing eyes we were just a pair of lovers, taking a moment to profess our love. “Let me take advantage of this opportunity,” he said as he nibbled my earlobe.

“Jasper!” I giggled. He knew I was ticklish there. “I’m trying to listen!” I whispered. Still, I stretched my neck so his silky lips could kiss my jaw line.

I heard Esme saying, “…it was a terrible accident, both of them gone like that.” The sound of sniffling floated out on the air. Oh, Esme was playing this to the hilt. I heard Vincenzo and the young man with him just about falling over themselves to get her a hanky.

“Oh, you poor thing.” Vincenzo’s deep voice was full of sympathy. “Both parents gone in a flash.”

“Oh,” Esme wailed. “Vincenzo, you must help me.”

“Of course, senora,” he said. “Simply say how I can help and it will be done.” I could hear his heart beating faster. If I knew Esme, she was flashing a bit of leg about now. I’d bet that wasn’t just sympathy Vincenzo was feeling.

“Only your coffins will do. My parents loved Florence, and your work meant so much to them. It would mean so much to me if I could have them buried in at least a small part of Florence. I’m flying back tonight. Do you think we could ship them over to the US tonight so they can be there for the funeral?”

Here was the crux of our plan. Would Vincenzo take the bait? I heard a simple “Oh,” from Esme. She’d probably dropped her tissue, as an excuse to bend over and flash some cleavage.

Vincenzo was very taken with her. “Of course, we can do that for you. Come out to the workshop, you can pick out the ones you want.”

The worker whispered in Vincenzo’s ear, “Those were for the Sicilian order.”

“Psst,” Vincenzo shushed him.

“Oh, Vincenzo, you have no idea what a huge favor you are doing for me,” Esme continued as they moved to the back of the store.

Jasper continued holding me close as we leaned against the brick wall. “Esme. What a little minx,” he murmured against my throat. “Who knew she had it in her?”

“Oh, don’t let that Mom façade fool you,” I whispered into his ear. “She can toss bull with the best of them.”

Jasper lips moved up to my cheek and hair. “Well, she should be getting an Oscar for today. So, this is how we’re getting home?”

“Uh huh,” I whispered into his neck. “Once she’s decided which ones are best, she will distract them, we’ll zip into the coffins, they’ll crate them up and we’ll be in the states tomorrow afternoon. Think about it, Jasper! How else should vampires travel?”

Several couples walked by where we were standing, so Jasper took the opportunity to kiss me. “How about we travel together?” he murmured into my ear after they had passed.

“Can’t, love. Weight problems. Come on, we should head out around to the back of the store and get into position.”

He smiled as he let me pull him along by the hand. “Yes, Alice.”