The Epoch of Belief
Witness the journey of Tianna Sabbat from her upbringing as the spoiled daughter of an embassy official to the horror of Volterra and to a new life and love she never imagined existed. This story is not AU. It weaves in and out of the tale we all love.
1. Chapter 1: Volterra
Rating 0/5 Word Count 5740 Review this Chapter
“It was then that I first heard the babble of voices—loud, rough voices—coming from the antechamber…A large crowd was coming through the little door, filling the smaller stone chamber. Demetri motioned for us to make room. We pressed back against the cold wall to let them pass.”
--New Moon, Page 482
When my high school friends convinced me to go on a spring break trip through Italy, as was all the rage these years amongst young people my age, I made them promise that it would be a history-free trip. No ruins. No cathedrals. And definitely no castles. I hadn’t foreseen a problem, as neither Johanna nor Kelly were exactly history buffs.
This trip was to be full of club-hopping, lounging about on the Italian Riviera, and meeting dreamy European guys.
Which begs the question then, how exactly did we end up in what appeared to be an underground turret? I glanced over at Kelly, a tall, slender brunette with intense blue eyes. She had been my best friend since second grade. Seeing the scowl on my face, she just sighed and sent a look back that clearly said, Just Deal With It, Tianna.
I have no problem with history, but with four years of academia ahead of me as I head off to college, I had honestly hoped for a final Spring Break free of anything that took the concerted effort of more than a pair of neurons.
Looking over at Johanna, the third member of our trio, I saw she was at least pursuing goal #3: working the guy-front. Johanna was stockier than Kelly, not overweight, but very fit and muscular. She had long blond air that she kept in a tight braid that fell to the small of her back. She fit the softball-girl stereotype perfectly.
She was smiling and laughing at something that a tall, handsome boy was saying. I had to admit, Aaron was rather cute, and if it took taking a small break from the Milan nightlife to view the mysterious underground ruins of Volterra for her to get some quality time with him, I guess I could take one for the team. Besides, the day trip was free—the result of a random drawing of room numbers at our hotel in Milan.
I was snapped out of my reverie when we passed through a magnificent set of double doors. I glanced around to get my bearings. After entering at the base of a large clocktower on the ground level of Volterra, traveling down an elevator, and passing through a long, underground corridor for the past 15 minutes, we had entered a sort of antechamber. In front of us lay a circular room that appeared to be the top turret of an ancient castle, were it not 100 feet underground. Magnificent tapestries adorned the circular walls illuminated by a light from above, which I could not determine if it was natural or artificial. Three massive chairs were arranged at one end of the room. They almost appeared to be thrones to my eyes.
“How Medieval!” I heard one woman remark. I tended to agree. However, any further study of the chamber was stopped short by a movement in my peripheral vision.
We were no longer alone. A group of four was plastered against the wall to my left to make way for our 50-strong tour group. Three of them had strange cloaks that covered their faces, although I could see one was very tiny, not even five-feet tall while another was enormous. The fourth member was a girl, perhaps my age or a year or two younger, whose face was ashen as she looked at us, as if terrified. It was rather disturbing.
Our guide, Heidi, led us swiftly into the center of the room, towards a second, larger group of people who were quietly conversing. She began talking to a cloaked individual but I could not make much out of their conversation, other than that it involved some sort of fishing trip.
Looking at her again, I concluded for the nth time today that Heidi could stand to find a new profession. Our little tour had been much less a tour, and much more a guided rapid transit from Milan across the Italian peninsula to Volterra. Heidi was one of the strangest individuals that I had ever met. She was clearly not Italian, with her pale skin and deep red hair and I thus was unsure why she was leading a tour of Volterra. She was also drop-dead gorgeous, the kind of women who put people like me in my place. I’d always considered my softly tanned skin, courtesy of an Egyptian father and American mother, to accent my beauty, but against Heidi, I was just a street urchin. It was strange though. For someone as gorgeous as she, Heidi took much effort not to show any skin. She wore long, thick red tights and a tight-fitting vinyl top that left much to the imagination, but showed nothing. It must have been sweltering in the 80 degree heat on the surface in Volterra. Perhaps that was why she was in such a hurry to rush us into this underground castle, where the temperature was much more comfortable. Despite her considerable dress, Heidi was certainly no prude. She flirted openly with the male clients in our group, including Aaron, which undoubtedly irritated Johanna. I doubt any of the men even noticed the lack of factual information as they spent most of their time ogling Heidi’s assets.
One who did notice that something was amiss was a short, middle-aged woman who looked vaguely Hispanic. She made no effort to communicate with the rest of our tour group on the ride from Milan (I’m not even sure if she spoke English) and was now lagging behind the rest of the group. Glancing over at her, I saw she was staring into the center of the spacious room with a look of terror on her face, clutching a large rosary in her fist and mumbling indistinctly. Her wide-eyes left me decidedly uneasy.
As we moved further into the room, the crowd of about ten spread out and moved to the periphery, giving way to our group. I turned to express my growing concern to Johanna, but couldn’t find her as we had all suddenly become more tightly packed together. I could barely move my neck from side-to-side. It was almost as if we were being…herded.
Just as I was beginning to feel claustrophobic and was prepared to dig my elbow into the middle-aged man pressed closely behind me to get some breathing room, a ringing, melodic voice called out.
“Welcome, guests! Welcome to Volterra!”
The three cloaked figures that had been in deep conversation at the back of the room near the thrones had dispersed and now one of them with long, flowing black hair had addressed us. I did not know what to make of him. His skin, like Heidi’s, was unnaturally pale, but while hers appeared marble-hard, his was paper-thin as if he had tried to cover his face with old parchment. Despite his frail appearance, he glided towards us with a strong posture that defied his fragility.
“My brothers and I are delighted that you have come to join us today!” he said, gesturing to two other individuals who looked just as pale and withered as he.
“I am called Aro, and this is Caius and Marcus.” Both of them barely acknowledged us.
“And these are my dear ones, who all look so forward to meeting you.” Aro continued placidly, motioning to the others in the room, who had now encircled us.
One of our company, a man of about thirty, who I recognized as having a wife and a young son in the tour, stepped forward and addressed Aro.
“Wh-what are we doing here? I don’t recognize this place from the guidebook. What sort of tour is this?”
He was rather brave, in my mind. Despite Aro’s frail appearance, there was something decidedly sinister about the man.
Aro looked up, and sighed happily, as if he had been waiting and was glad the question had been asked. He walked up to the man with a friendly smile, and held out his hand, which looked just as frail as his face. The man from our tour paused, but then shook it.
“Yes, Jonathan. This room is certainly not in your book.” As he clasped the man’s hand, Aro’s eyes seemed to brighten from black to a dark maroon. “You and your friends have been selected for a most necessary and noble purpose: to sustain us. For you see, we are not inclined to hunt in our own city and dear Heidi does such a good job of bringing our prey here to us. For your sacrifice, we thank you.”
I was too stunned by his last comments to even wonder how he knew the stranger’s name.
Aro glanced towards our group seeking out a face, or faces, amongst the crowd. He hesitated, and a flash of what might have passed for regret crossed his papery face, before he turned back towards Jonathan.
“It is a pity about Claire and little Michael. You have my…condolences.”
What came next will be forever burned into my memory. Aro, without further pause, gripped the wrists of the man named Jonathan and suddenly he was flying through the air. A split second passed before he collided with a loud crack against the stone wall. Aro was instantly airborne, flying towards Jonathan as if gravity had ceased to be. Before Jonathan had a chance to raise his head, Aro had landed beside him and wrapped his hands around the man’s neck. Aro bent over as if to kiss his face, but suddenly bit down on Jonathan’s neck. There was a spray of red as Jonathan shook and struggled against Aro’s grip. His struggles became weaker as I realized, with horror, that Aro seemed to be drinking from the neck-wound. I felt bile rise in my throat and my vision became fuzzy.
My attention was drawn away from this sickening sight by the screams of a young woman who had detached herself from our group. She ran towards Aro and the dying man who could only be her husband, sobbing as tears flew behind her as she ran.
She didn’t make it halfway across the room before one of those on the periphery had launched himself through the air and knocked her to the ground, still screaming. He was a massive individual with blonde air cropped short in a military-style haircut. He violently twisted her around and bit down on her neck and her screams were suddenly cut short as her entire left side was stained red.
The rest of our group, frozen momentarily as they stared in horror at these two brutal, lightning-quick murders, now flew in every direction as the fight-or-flight instinct kicked in.
I ran without thinking, without seeing. I ran until I realized my feet were no longer in contact with the ground. I was flying through the air, having been so panicked as not to have even felt the hit that sent me skyward. Although my unintentional acrobatics seemed to last an eternity, I could tell gravity had kicked in as the stone floor approached with sudden swiftness. Fortunately, I landed on my back, but the recoil from the collision caused my head to fling back against the ground. I saw stars for a moment.
When my vision cleared, I wished it hadn’t. Standing above me with a decidedly predatory look in her eyes was Heidi. Despite her gleaming white teeth and terrifying smile, my gaze was immediately drawn to her eyes. I had noticed before that they had been an unnatural, violet color as if she was wearing a pair of those colored contacts that were all the rage a few years back. Although who would choose violet, I could not imagine. Her eyes were now the most intense red that I had ever seen. My mind immediately thought of the red-eye effect that you might see on poorly taken photographs. However, this was not a static color. The intensity and hue of her irises seemed to pulse about once every second as she stared down at me. It was almost as if they were matching the beat of my own heart. This was not a difficult comparison to make, as my heart was throbbing so loud it felt ready to break free from my rib cage.
Heidi continued to gaze into my eyes for another fraction of a second, as if she was relishing the terror that manifested itself on my face. Her pupils seemed to expand and her smile widened showing a full set of glistening white teeth that were so like tiny knives that their edges caught the light. Her neck bent down and I could feel her breath on my neck. I had seen how Jonathan and his wife Claire had been dispatched. I knew it was the end. I closed my eyes.
It is one of the greatest clichés of literature and film that says your life passes before your eyes right before you die, but it turns out Hollywood got something right after all.
I was born Tianna Ariadne Sabbat on January 22, 1986 at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC. My father worked as an ambassador at the Egyptian Embassy in the heart of the city while my mother, an American, was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Baltimore.
I lived a charmed life. As a young girl and teenager, I received whatever my heart desired, the perks of a father with international connections and a mother at the top of the corporate food chain, both of whom were easily manipulated with a smile. A true power daughter. I traveled extensively with my family on business trips and vacations, and on my own—I spent my sophomore year in Egypt studying archaeology and the legends of the ancient pharaohs with a barmy professor from the University of Cairo, with whom I still kept in touch.
I never lacked friends. During my early youth, I met many who were happy to hang out with me, provided they could do it at my house or at an embassy function. As a young girl, this did not bother me. I was just happy to have friends and admirers.
As I grew older, I began to develop my personality. I discovered that I was blessed with a useful, if subtle, talent: I could turn my personality on and off at will. If I wanted people to notice me, a simple smile with the force of will and I was suddenly the center of attention. And I certainly enjoyed that position. Likewise, if I was feeling down and just wanted to be left alone, people seemed to pass by me as if I didn’t exist.
As I matured, I became a very beautiful young woman, or so I’ve been told. My mixed heritage left me with skin that was not too dark, nor too light--almost a permanent tan. My hair was jet black and hung just below my shoulders in a graceful, wavy nature. My closet was larger than many of my classmate’s bedrooms and was fully stocked with designer shoes, clothing, purses, and hats. I spent on a whim, with my dad’s credit card of course, and was always up to date on the latest fashions.
I had no trouble with boys, of which there were many. I simply willed the ones in whom I was disinterested to leave me alone, and it was done. Those that I liked were naturally drawn to me. Nevertheless, by the spring semester of my senior year, I had not had a relationship that lasted more than three months. Yes, I might be able to draw men to me, but once we were dating, there was nothing holding us together and we seemed to drift apart just as quickly as we came together. This did not bother me, as I was convinced it was them, and not me.
I wasn’t a terrific student, nor was I a poor student. I put forth enough effort to earn acceptable grades, while leaving plenty of time to go out with my friends. The nation’s capital has far too much to offer—clubs, shopping, parties, anything that an 18 year-old girl could desire—to spend my time with only a textbook for company.
Nevertheless, it came as no surprise when just two months ago I received a letter accepting me to Harvard University. My parent’s influence could work wonders, although I imagine the family coffers were now a bit lighter while the Harvard endowment was equally heavier.
This seeming injustice did not bother me at the time. That is just the way things were and I was thankful that I was born into the situation I was.
Now, however, on the brink of death, I reconsidered. What had I accomplished? Had I done anything in my life? What would my epitaph say? “Here lies Tianna Sabbat, who lived on the largess of her parent’s fame and fortune. She lived a comfortable and happy life, but did nothing of remembrance during her short stay on this earth. She will be mourned by family and friends alike, but will be swiftly forgotten by the world.”
I was rather surprised that my depressing self-reflection had continued so long. Where was the sharp pain at my neck? The fuzzy drift into unconsciousness at my blood was drained? I opened my eyes a millimeter and saw Heidi still crouched above me, eyes still pulsing red. However, rather than the gleaming smile, her focus seemed to waver as her eyes turned away from mine to a position off to my right.
Glancing to the same spot, I saw a pool of blood spreading out from an unattended prone figure lying about 10 feet away. I realized dimly that it was the short, Hispanic woman who had looked so frightened as we had entered the room. Her rosary lie shattered at her side, with the strung wooden pearls rolling across the sloped floor. She was still alive, however, as she raised herself up on her elbows with a groan. Heidi’s attention wavered at the sight of the blood dripping from her abdomen. Suddenly, she flew off me, knocking the wind out of my gut. I heard her land softly a short distance away and could imagine the predatory look that poor woman was now receiving. I quickly turned away before I could see the end, but I still heard the garbled scream that was suddenly cut off.
Left momentarily unattended, I hesitated. From my past attempt, I knew blindly running was out of the question. I would be picked off immediately. I looked around. The nearest door was 50 feet away. There was no escape.
I wished I could just sink into the ground and become invisible, ignored by the monsters that were systematically slaughtering us. In my entire life, I had never wished for something with as much force as I wished to disappear from this human slaughterhouse. I felt my mind retreat into itself, almost as if I was leaving the physical world behind. I could still see, and hear, and feel, but I no longer felt attached to the place. I was a spectator to the massacre that was ongoing. My body was not truly there. I was clearly delusional.
My vision narrowed. I became blind to the screams and the bloodshed that surrounded me. I saw a wide column near the edge of the room supporting the ceiling above. My limbs began to move, as I half-ran, half-stumbled over to it. I was stunned that not one of those monsters had made a move for me. I crawled against the column and crouched, unmoving. It was silly, of course. Anybody with half of a good eye could see me, much less these super-freaks who could probably see through the walls themselves. But I stayed there, frozen, pretending with all of my might to be invisible. I just wanted to stay alive as long as possible.
And to my immense surprise, it seemed to be working. There were now more monsters than victims, yet none of them were coming after me. Instead, they were working together to bring down those remaining. I stifled a sob as I saw Kelly taken down from behind by two of them, as she was screaming and banging on the large double-doors we had entered scarcely 10 minutes earlier. I jerked my head to the side before I could see any more. I looked for Johanna, but did not see her until my gaze drifted to the floor and I glimpsed her unmistakable blonde braid and strong, athletic figure, lying at an unnatural angle in a small pool of blood.
I closed my eyes, begging to wake up from this nightmare. I do not know how long I lay there, but I was brought back by the sound of deafening silence. No more screams. I opened my eyes and saw the ten or so of them standing in the center of the room.
“Let us retire, dear ones,” calmly sang the one called Aro. “Gianna will arrange things here.”
The ten of them walked in formation towards a door at the back of the room, a mere yard from my column and hiding place. I irrationally studied their motion. While the movement was clearly organized and suggested military precision, they were not marching, so much as gliding, so graceful it was. It was a regimented glide, that’s what it was. Despite the slaughter that had just taken place, not a hair on their heads was out of place, not a stain on their shirts nor on their faces.
As they approached my position, I had no idea what to do. If I stayed where I was, they were certain to see me. If I ran, not that I knew where to run to, I would be picked off just as easily. Fear made the decision for me. I was too terrified to move, and thus sat frozen, half-crouched beside the old marble column as they approached.
Miraculously, nobody turned their eyes to me. They marched, in their regimented formation, out the door, which slammed shut in the now-empty room. The lights shut off and the room was plunged into darkness. I shuddered when I realized that I was in the world’s newest morgue, complete with the corpses of my two best friends. I stifled the gag reflex in my stomach and began to move about blindly around the perimeter of the room.
I vaguely recalled that the throne room had three doors, a massive set of double-doors that we had used to enter into the antechamber at the front of the room and two small doors off to the side of the thrones, one of which the group had just exited through. This meant that there had to be an exit somewhere opposite my current position. Rather than cutting through the massacre in the center of the room, I blindly hugged the wall going around the periphery.
After what seemed like ten minutes of wandering, my hands came in contact with what felt like large hinges jutting out from the wall. I fumbled further and yes! a handle. Throwing up a quick prayer, I turned the knob and the door creaked open. Faint light streamed in and I realized that I was in what appeared to be a sewer system. Rather than the typical dank and mildew, however, the pathway ahead was clean and dry, paved by ancient-looking stones. Spires of light, from what were probably holes in sewer caps, streamed down from above and provided sufficient light to illuminate the entire path. The tunnel continued on for an indeterminable distance and I could not see its end. As quietly as I could, I moved along the passage until I came to an old, but sturdy-looking ladder below one of the light sources. I scaled it quickly reaching a sewer cap. I tried to push it up, but either I was not strong enough or it had rusted shut after years of disuse.
I knew trying to jar it open it might call attention from whence I had just escaped, but I saw no choice. After all, they hadn’t noticed me when they walked a foot from my face. Perhaps they would also not hear the racket I was about to make. I hoped against hope this would be the case. I climbed down until I found a pile of loose stones along the ancient pathway. I grabbed one shaped like a pointed lemon and carefully climbed the ladder again. I wrapped my legs around the rungs to hold myself in place and grasped the stone in both hands. I carefully lowered it to waist level and, cringing, brought it quickly upwards until it collided with a dull gong against the sewer cap. Nothing happened. Again and again I tried, with the same result, until on my fifth try, I felt it give and a cloud of rusty flakes blew into my eyes and nose. Coughing, I dropped the rock and pushed gingerly up against the circular iron lid. It lifted free. I raised it and my head above the level of the ground and looked out into the streets of Volterra. I hoped nobody would look down and see the grungy, wide-eyed girl standing there. No one did.
I had emerged just off of the main square of Volterra at the mouth of a small side-street. It was still daylight, and the celebrations of St. Marcus’ Day were ongoing. The history of St. Marcus’ Day had been one of the few factual pieces of information that Heidi had provided, although her delivery was oddly sarcastic.
The city was awash in men, women, and children in red cloaks. I froze. I had no idea if these people were normal human beings or were in league with those unnatural murderers beneath the earth. I almost jumped back down into the tunnel out of fear, but the overwhelming desire to escape this nightmarish city overrode my terror and I struggled to climb out of the sewer. Nobody took any notice of me as I carefully placed the iron lid back in place and stood up in the sunlight.
I looked about, unsure of what to do now. Vehicles were forbidden in the city today, as I had learned during our little hike earlier that day from the parking lot into heart of Volterra. I was now standing in the central square, the Plaza de Priori, across from a large clock-tower. I knew the city gates were about three blocks to my south, but I could not bring myself to walk through the red-enshrouded multitudes. As I gazed left and right, my peripheral vision caught sight of a yellow car parked in the shadows at the fore of an alley. Were taxis allowed in the city? I wondered. I hugged the walls of the building and made my way over.
No, it was not a taxi, but a bright yellow sports car: a Porsche, by the red, black, and gold logo inscribed on the front of its hood. I cautiously approached the empty vehicle. While I was chauffeured to school each day and was thus definitely not a car person, even I had heard of the 911 Turbo. What sort of person would leave such a car unattended in a dark corner of the city? I glanced into the open window and my breath caught in my throat. And with the keys in the ignition?
Numb from what I had just experienced and with adrenaline still running thick in my veins, I opened the driver’s side door and jumped into the vehicle without another thought. I turned the keys and the car started. If the engine made a 300- horsepower growl that drove young boys crazy, I did not hear it. My attention was on the front gate to Volterra which I could now see about 200 feet straight ahead through the crowd. I tapped the gas and eased out carefully. Apparently the engine was rather loud because bystanders immediately jumped to the side and glared at me. As I crawled past, I look up at a man holding his son, who was probably about two. The boy turned to look at me, or more likely the car, and smiled. I saw with horror that he was wearing a set of plastic vampire teeth, which made sense because, as Heidi had said, St. Marcus was best known for vanquishing the vampires from Volterra.
As I continued my slow trek, the crowd began to thin and I was nearly to freedom until I saw a chubby guard with his back to me, busy blocking cars from entering the city. Hearing my engine from behind, he turned around and stared angrily at my slow approach. He started walking quickly towards me, before a second guard appeared and began rapidly conversing with him. The first guard shook his head but went back to his roadblock duty. The newcomer turned towards me with a small smile flashing across his face, touched his pocket, before waving me through the gate.
I was free. I sped down the large hill that stretched out before me. The feat of my own survival did not burn within me. I did not care that I was still breathing. I did not think about where I would go now. I did not consider the consequences of grand theft auto. I did not even think about what manner of creatures I had just escaped from or how I had managed the feat. All that mattered was that I get as far from Volterra as I could, as fast as possible. Fortunately, I did not even have to hit the gas as my car slid down the steep hill upon which Volterra was perched at pace that I could barely control. I focused my eyes on the road straight ahead and away from the mirrors. I never wanted to see Volterra again in my life.
About 30 minutes later, I reached the bottom of the hill and the Porsche slowed down as the ground flattened out. I hit the gas to accelerate, only to hear a painful grinding as the car’s internal workings protested. I tried again with a softer touch, only to hear the same tearing of metal. I looked at the fuel gage. Full. Oil. Full. Emergency break. Off. Only then did I see a third petal at my feet. A clutch. And a gearshift at my right hand.
Back home, I had never learned to drive any sort of vehicle, much less a manual sports car. But it couldn’t be that difficult. For want of a better idea, I tried shifting gears and mashing the clutch. This time, the car rebelled and came to a screeching stop, jerking me forward against my seat belt. The car limped to the side of the road where I gave up and turned it off.
During my ride down from Volterra, the skies had darkened and it was just past dusk. The adrenaline had left my system, and I felt an extreme weariness overtake me. Involuntarily, my mind flashed back to the past two hours. Aro, welcoming us. Heidi, crouched above me, her eyes on my jugular. The Hispanic woman whose slow death had saved my life. Kelly, tackled from behind as she tried desperately to escape. Johanna, lying motionless in a pool of her own blood. The silence of the chamber, a crypt.
Of everybody who had entered that room, I was the only one still breathing. Inexplicable. Miraculous. But I felt no relief. I had never struggled with self-esteem in my life, and never before had I felt such humility as I felt now. I was certain I was the least deserving to survive--the spoiled brat with a rich father. Kelly was class president and Valedictorian. She was off to Yale on scholarship, an honor which she had earned herself after long hours spent in the library and in the chemistry lab. Johanna had been accepted to UCLA on a softball scholarship and had been considered one of the top prospects in the nation. Hours and hours she spent at the gym and on the practice field, while I, Tianna Sabbat, frittered away the time matching outfits and socializing at wine and cheese parties. And the others in our group--I had not made any effort to get to know them, but I’m sure even their most minor accomplishments outshone my greatest.
Suddenly, I couldn’t bear to be trapped inside the car any longer. I wrenched my seat-belt off and threw open the door. The cool, evening air was refreshing, for a moment. My eyes were involuntarily drawn to the north. There, sitting peacefully on top of a rocky hill was Volterra. Despite my sickening aversion, I could not turn my eyes away. With the encroaching darkness, the city was now illuminated by large floodlights that highlighted the ancient city’s greatest buildings—the church and the clock tower. I could still see red-cloaked revelers dancing in the streets celebrating a man named Marcus, although this was likely a figment of my imagination given the distance. From here, my first thought was that the city looked beautiful, lit up like a giant beacon against the surrounding countryside. The buildings seemed to glow in the light, as if the city was made of pure gold.
In that moment, I hated myself. For the first time all day, my emotions, which, with the help of adrenaline, I had stuffed into some deep recess of my viscera, came flooding to the surface and I brought my head into my hands.
I looked down and saw that they were stained bright red—either from my blind wanderings against the blood-stained walls in the darkened throne room or from having touched one of the many corpses that now littered that room. I gagged, but there was nothing in my stomach. Tears stung at my eyes as I knelt down and lay back against a tire. I began sobbing uncontrollably.
To be continued…