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The Long Road Home: The Journey of Alice & Jasper

Summary:
This is the story of Alice and Jasper, before they met one another and after, up until they met the Cullens. It begins with Alice in the asylum. I have taken great pains to keep the story as in-canon as possible and remain true to the characters as they were created by Stephenie Meyer; I also have tried to be as historically accurate as I can. I hope you enjoy the story, and I welcome all feedback. Thank you for stopping by!


Notes:


3. Chapter 3: Detour

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Chapter 2: Detour

I love New York City in the morning .

There is an almost palpable feeling of excitement to the air, in the morning, as the New Yorkers begin their workdays. I watch them all. Businessmen in their suits and hats, clutching their briefcases as they dash in and out of the subway stations, on their way to their high-rise offices. Laborers in their dungarees, toting the tools of their trade, heads down and faces set with resignation to the coming day’s hard work. Newsboys on the corner, shouting out the headlines, imploring people to buy their stacks of folded newspapers. Women bustling by in their various styles, some in the newfangled short dresses, some in the more old-fashioned longer skirts, some towing children or lugging sacks of groceries or nothing at all, destinations unknown. Newcomers to the city, slack-jawed in amazement as they goggle upwards at the skyscrapers, something never seen anywhere before. All races, all classes, all kinds: it’s all here, in this huge, noisy, dirty, wonderful city.

I love to watch, to see everything flow by me, the hours rushing by, while I sit untouched by time.

The roads are horrible here, far too narrow now for all the traffic. Since Mr. Ford popularized his inexpensive assembly-line-built motor-cars a few years ago, New Yorkers, always on the cusp of the fashion trends, had bought more than a half-million automobiles, more than Paris or London, more than anywhere else in the world. The narrow streets of what used to be New Amsterdam were now clogged with backed-up cars, horse-drawn carts driven by frustrated men, bicycle messengers, and even brave pedestrians, dancing through the hodgepodge of obstacles.

Sidewalks were slowly being added, roads slowly being widened as old buildings were torn down to make room for the soaring skyscrapers that now were beginning to clutter the skyline, but it was not fast enough for anyone’s tastes. But then again, New Yorkers aren’t known for their patience.

I liked to sit in a little café I’d discovered a while back, when I first came to the city. Not that I eat, but it’s something that humans do: to sit at a table in a diner and order a cup of coffee and watch the passersby.

I never drank the coffee, though; I chose my favorite table wisely, next to both the wide front window and the potted plant, in the corner so I can see everything, outside and in. When I knew no one was looking I managed to pour the coffee into the plant, and no one was the wiser. It’s so easy to get away with it’s not even a challenge. I could probably even do it when someone was looking and still not get caught; I’m too fast for their weak eyes to catch.

What is a challenge is sitting among so many humans.

Although I loved to watch them, to listen to them, to see the stories of their brief, frantic lives flicker around them as they pass, it hurt me to be there, in the midst of them. It burns so, like an open flame blazing down my throat, to smell them, to smell their blood.

It makes me thirsty.

That’s why I had to do it, though. I sat there in the middle of a river of humanity and suffered from thirst. I must learn to control myself, I told myself, to be master over this thirst, so it doesn’t become my master. If that happens, everything I have built for myself, everything I have striven to do, collapses, and I become the monster I’ve refused to allow myself to be.

And if I’m the monster, I won’t find Jasper.

I know he’s out there somewhere. I know I’ll find him, and he’ll find me.

I woke from the burning darkness knowing nothing else but that, knowing that I should know more, but that I didn’t. I knew somehow that I had to be careful, not to let the overwhelming newborn bloodlust in me twist me into something that I can’t live with, that he can’t live with.

It’d been nine years since I became…who I am now. I’d fled Missouri and wandered aimlessly for a while, struggling with the thirst, killing in the darkness when I couldn’t stand it anymore, and afterward feeling hideously guilty for what I’d done. I’d eventually gained some measure of control over myself, though the thirst itself never went away, only died down to a dull roar I could ignore.

I hate killing humans. I know I was one, once: a human. I don’t remember what it was like. I don’t know how I changed from that to what I am now, but I still love humans, even though they are now technically my…prey. People.

I saw their lives flash before me, I saw their good choices and bad, I saw their failures and successes and joys and sorrows, so much crammed into such a fleeting span of years. I hated taking those pictures, those futures, away from people when I had to give in to my thirst. I always felt like there is a void left where that future should have been, and that I somehow had disrupted the pattern of the lives of others through my killing.

“More coffee, miss?”

The waitress’s voice jarred me from my reverie, even though I knew she was coming. I’d known it before she even crossed the room, coffeepot in hand. I saw a brief flicker of a picture as she made her decision to check on me.

She was a sweet girl, young, poor. She had a well-scrubbed honest face, but threadbare clothes and cheap shoes. She worked hard. Her feet hurt. But, it was better for her to have a job like this than working on the streets down in the red-light district. I saw that choice ahead in her future, and it made me sad.

I smiled brightly up at her, taking care to keep the brim of my hat shadowing my eyes. I had fed a few days ago, and my eyes were still quite bright. Bright red, that is.

“No thanks, Carolyn, I’m all done!” I covered the empty cup with my hand, just in case she tried to pour more in anyway. She’d been serving my coffee ever since I’d started coming to the diner about four years ago, nearly every day. I always left her a good tip, which made her puppyishly eager to give me excellent service. What that translated into were frequent unwanted coffee refills.

She smiled back, placing the bill on the table for me. Half a dollar, fifty cents.

I handed her a five note and closed her hand around it, forcing her to take it. She shivered from the touch of my cold hands: I mentally cursed myself for forgetting my gloves. “No change, ok?” I emphasized. She flushed pink, sputtered a little, eyes welling up a little. I knew she was really, truly grateful.

Poor girl.

Something bad was coming, coming soon; I’d been getting those feelings and pictures for quite some time by then, strengthening daily. I felt it, saw flickers of it, all around the city, over the heads of the people, especially those businessmen with their briefcases and self-important airs. Something to do with money. It would bring this proud city, this country, the whole world, even, to its knees. Soon.

In fact, it was already upon us; something had happened last week, on Thursday and Friday, and again yesterday, Monday, October 29, 1929…and it was building. The stock markets around the world had begun first fluctuating wildly the week before, and then began bottoming out yesterday, indicating that people were fearful of leaving their money with the companies they were investing in, and were trying to sell off their shares to bail out. This would cause companies to fail, causing people to lose their jobs. Many, many people were running to the banks, to pull out their money, in case the banks failed and took their hard-earned savings with it—and this would cause the banks to collapse, as they wouldn’t have anything to keep maintaining themselves once everyone had withdrawn their money.

Yesterday had been disastrous; the papers this morning proclaimed it “Black Monday.” It was still early, today was Tuesday, the 30th of October. I knew it would be known as “Black Tuesday,” and would be the beginning of a long, dark time for the human world.

I’d actually taken to dabbling it that kind of thing a bit, playing the markets; I had various ways of acquiring money, not all savory, but even I needed money occasionally, to avoid looking like a complete vagabond. So I’d managed to gather together a good chunk of cash and begun investing it in companies and futures that seemed promising.

I’d been making a nice little living from that dabbling: after all, when you can see the future, it helps predict when certain stocks will rise and fall in value, and which markets are most fruitful, and so on. I’d been honing my skills with both my visions and in my basic ability at speculation in the whole thing. It had been fun. I’d been able to start living well by human standards, renting a nice little studio near the park, buying lovely clothes and shoes, sponsoring local dance companies and artists…it was a very enjoyable existence.

However, I’d moved most of my money off the actual stock market and into gold a few months before, due to my premonitions. I knew that whatever was coming would have wiped out my nest egg, if I left it on the market, or even in one of the human banks, many of which would fail very soon.

People were already realizing it, even with their dull senses: those businessmen who passed the café every day had gone from looking self-assured and confident to looking terrified, ducking their heads and hurrying along as if fighting through a cold wind even on a sunny day.

I glanced up at Carolyn; her attention was diverted for a moment, staring down at the bill in her hand. I saw it very clearly, a flash as vivid as real life: this girl would lose her job soon, when the diner owner couldn’t afford to pay his bills and close the restaurant. Her mother was ill and her father wasn’t around, so Carolyn would lose her only source of income, the only source of income for her family. So would many, many other people. And then she would have to make that decision, whether to do things her mother had told her she must never do, to avoid starving to death.

I tried not to see what choice she would make. It might change, anyway; besides, I can’t judge them for their decisions. I’m not them. Not one of them anymore.

Carolyn stumbled away, eyes wide in shock. A four-dollar-and-fifty-cents tip would pay for her to eat for a few days. It would buy the shoes her little sister needed. She wouldn’t buy herself any, even though her feet ached so badly in the night she could barely sleep: I saw her slight limp, and I also had glimpsed her journal, before shame at invading her privacy had caused me to turn from that vision. I saw the decisions flash around her. It made me even sadder. Perhaps I should stop by her home late in the night, leave her more money. The prospect brightened my outlook considerably: how startled Carolyn would be, waking in the morning to find a brand new pair of shoes stuffed with money on her bedside table. How fun! I’d be Robin Hood, but much more stylish! I glanced over at her feet, decided what size would fit her, and started planning my purchase. Maybe I wouldn’t stop with shoes…

I gathered up my little purse and shrugged into my coat, slipped out the front door into the heavy foot traffic outside. The noise and the smell and the motion was dizzying at first; I saw every detail, every thread on every coat, heard every breath and heartbeat, smelled their breath and hair cream and skin and blood…

The thirst roared at me. It never went away.

I swallowed convulsively against the venom welling up in my mouth and pulled my coat tighter about me, even though I wasn’t cold. It was chilly outside, October in New York, with a good stiff breeze, but I didn’t feel cold anymore. I wore the coat and hat because everyone else did. To go out dressed like it was summertime would attract too much attention.

Besides, I liked clothes.

The fashions of these past nine years had been fun. I’d enjoyed watching the hemlines rise, loved the new details that the daring new designers like Chanel and Poirot brought to clothes. No more long dresses and sleeves and big feathery hats, thank god! I’d been no Gibson Girl of the 1910’s, all roses and cream and lacy flounces—I was, and always would be, a skinny little waif with short, spiky hair, the antithesis of the previous decade’s visions of feminine beauty.

Human women began to gain more independence as that decade had passed, especially after they gained the right to vote in the year that I had awakened, which I had realized was 1920 when I had gained the presence of mind to read a newspaper. They had expressed that newfound independence in many ways: their hair got shorter like the skirts, women started wearing makeup and being more free-spirited, riding in cars with men and dancing at all hours of the night…

New York was the center of it all. There was always something to do, something to see, something to listen to.

I had enjoyed becoming a flapper girl, I’d fit in well with that crowd. My hair was already short, since it had never grown any longer than it was the day I’d woken up, and it looked darling with a cloche hat pulled down snugly over it. My height and build was perfect for the short skirts and dresses that were all the rage…and heavens knows, since the current trend dictated a small bosom, I was right in line with that!

Beaded and fringed and sparkling, I’d danced in the smoky speakeasies without ever attracting the slightest attention for being anything but one of them...although I was always the best dancer.

I loved dancing.

Of course, in human circles I couldn’t dance with all my capabilities. I had to limit my speed, my flexibility, everything, to not betray my otherness. I did a mean jive, jitterbug, and quick-step, among others; I’d won a few dance contests, there were a dozen of them all over town on any given night, but I hadn’t allowed myself any more wins than that, or it would have made people too aware of me. And I couldn’t afford that. Getting too close, too involved, with the humans around me was dangerous. For them and for me.

Still, it was fun, haunting the nights with a totally innocent purpose for once. I would join the large crowds of raucous young men and women that thronged my favorite spots to dance and listen to music, but never the same ones as before, careful not to become more than an anonymous part of the bigger group.

Jazz was all the rage. I adored it. Sometimes I would head down into Harlem to listen to the singers wail and trumpet players blare and pianists pound the keys in a frenzy, pouring their passion from their instruments and themselves with such utter abandon. I loved Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. I could sit and listen to them for hours, carried away by the music.

I wished I could be that free. But it was more complicated than it seemed.

In my early wanderings, I had been completely free, unfettered, owing nothing to no one…but I had been so terribly lonely. The solitude and the guilt of my feedings had forced me back to civilization. I had chosen the biggest human city I could find, thinking that I could hide among its masses, blend in, and when I had to feed, perhaps it wouldn’t be noticed so easily. The tactic worked, but with a price: now, I was surrounded by them, by the smell of them and their blood, and it made it agonizing.

I knew I couldn’t make friends with anyone, it would be too difficult for me and too dangerous to them: I could only form the very shallowest of relationships with people, like with Carolyn the waitress. It helped ease the loneliness, at least. It wasn’t a perfect life, but it was good enough. I dealt with the thirst. It was worth the price, I realized, to be among people again, to feel almost alive.

Because I didn’t feel alive.

Perhaps it was, again, because I had no basis for comparison. I had no memories of my life before I had awakened. I knew I had to have had a life, before. I hadn’t just spontaneously appeared in the room in the basement of that burning building, fully-grown, from nothing. That was ridiculous. So, I had had a life before, but I had no idea what it had been like, or how I’d come to change from human into what I had become.

I looked, for the most part, like the humans around me, at least at first glance, but it wasn’t hard to figure out that I wasn’t one of them, if a close enough look was taken. My skin was hard and glittering, my eyes were red, I never aged, I was extremely strong and fast, my senses sharp and my reactions instantaneous. Not human at all.

Something had happened to change me. But what? What had caused the burning, the blackness, what had wiped away my past, and made me this?

I wended my way through the crowd of people clogging the sidewalk, heading for a shoe store near Park and Spruce Avenues that I’d been to several times. Even with my head down to keep the weak sunlight off my face, I was aware of everything going on around me, watchful, careful, though no one would have known it. It was something bone-deep in me, this instinct for self-preservation. I felt like I must always be on my guard, looking for threats, for danger, although I knew I was practically indestructible. Who should be on my guard against?

Others like me?

In all my wanderings, I had never yet seen another like me. There had to be others, though, it made no sense for me to be the only one like this. I knew they had to be out there, those others, but I had no idea where, and I was a bit afraid to seek them out. I knew that if I decided to look for them I would find them, given my ability to see things in the future—but I couldn’t be sure of their welcome for me, if I did find them. So I didn’t try.

The only ones I did want to find were the family I had seen in my vision, the day I had awakened. I had no idea how they were able to not drink human blood, why their eyes were different than mine. I knew I would find them one day, and they’d teach me what to do, how to change.

And I had to wait for Jasper, of course.

I felt his existence drawing me like a magnet, but I also had a vague feeling of wrongness, that the time wasn’t quite right…that I shouldn’t actively seek him for a while, as if something else needed to take place before it was wise to try. Perhaps he needed to do some things, experience something, learn something. Things that he had to do before he met me, before we met the other members of our family-to-be. Perhaps whatever the reason was would make it perfect for us when it was time. I kept tabs on him through my visions, making sure I never lost him. He would be wandering, lonely as a cloud…seeking me, too, although he didn’t realize it. It would happen, soon, but not soon enough for me!

You see, I’m a big believer in Fate. I’m lucky enough to be able to peek over her shoulder, get a glimpse of what She has in store. We’re good friends, Fate and I. She confides in me sometimes.

I smiled a little, pulled my hat down a bit tighter. My turn was coming soon, the corner I’d need to make to get to the shoe store.

Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with a vision. No, this was more than a vision. It was more real than real.

I reflexively shut my eyes, blocking everything out, even though I was in the middle of a swarm of people, all moving at various speeds in different directions. They broke around me like a river breaking around a stone, some cursing me in annoyance.

Someone was watching me. Someone…like me.

And they were very close by. Right now.

I managed to finally free myself of the vision and opened my eyes, glancing around for somewhere to go, to think in peace. I knew I had to get away from the throngs of people on Exchange Street and duck onto a side road. It was better to be out of that bustling, noisy…tasty-smelling…flood of people. I had to be free of them, to decide what to do.

I saw an alley on my right, between the National City Bank and The Merchants Exchange Bank, and headed toward it.

In the shadows of the bank, I relaxed a bit, and stopped to consider what I’d seen, to try to understand it, make some sense of it.

In my mind’s eye I saw red eyes. Like mine. But darker. I saw a mocking smile. I felt danger. I smelled a sweet smell I’d never smelled before, but that still felt as familiar as my own.

Because the scent was almost exactly like my own! Where was…he? No, not just one…a few of them! But not all of them were…dangerous…A big choice was coming for me. Huge. Monumental. But…how??

I leaned back against the brick wall of the National City Bank, closing my eyes for a moment to try to gain control. My throat was on fire with the smell of all the blood coursing through all those veins so nearby…And I was so frightened by what I had seen. I had to be careful, I didn’t know when--

“Are you all right, miss?”

The voice shocked me. I hadn’t heard anyone there, and that’s something not often done, to take me by surprise. My eyes flew open, seeking the voice, my body rigid as a stone in reaction to my stress.

He stood about twenty feet away, standing perfectly still, almost completely in the shadow of the fire escape. One hand was extended toward me, as if was trying to reassure me, to not startle me. As if he knew he would frighten me. He was dressed in perfectly normal clothes, a brown fitted suit coat and slacks of excellent, expensive fabric, shiny black patent-leather wingtip shoes peeping from beneath the well-tailored cuffs. He wore a stylish beige fedora hat with a black silk band, pulled down slightly in the front so it shadowed his brow well, almost entirely hiding his eyes. A darker mohair overcoat was slung casually over his other arm. A perfectly normal person, a prosperous businessman?

But he was like me. I knew it right away. My vision had come, and I wasn’t ready.

Although it was a very overcast morning, I could see his skin glimmer faintly, like mine. He was extraordinarily pale, like me, too, although his skin had a strange olive pallor, as if his skin tone had originally been darker, before…changing…into whatever I—we!—were. The angles of his face were smooth, perfect, as if chiseled from marble. He had a pair of kid gloves stuck into the left pocket of his jacket. My gloves were in mine as well; I’d forgotten to put them on in the café. It unnerved most humans to be touched by me, since my skin is so cold. I imagined he had the same predicament.

The wind shifted, kicking a stiff breeze into my face from behind him, and I was assailed with a sweet scent I had never smelled before, except from myself, the same smell as in my vision a few moments before. His scent was different from mine, more masculine, somehow, but the undertone was the same as mine, the same as the venom that welled in my mouth when I thirsted.

He smiled slightly, one eyebrow arching in question. He was quite beautiful, his dark hair brushing the top of his white collar; the length wasn’t really fashionable, but it suited him, somehow, and didn’t detract from the impact of his well-cut suit and cravat. I knew that his eyes were red, like mine, beneath the brim of that fedora. His teeth glittered as the grin widened.

“Well, beautiful, are you all right, or should I call someone for you, to come help?” Although the tone was slightly mocking, his voice was musical. Like I knew mine was. “You look a bit, hmmm, overwhelmed?” He dropped his outstretched hand as if he knew I wouldn’t take it.

I bit my lower lip in consternation, not knowing what to do. I was deeply afraid of this person, but at the same time I felt drawn toward him, if only because I had finally found someone else like me, here, in the flesh. Not from my visions of the future, but solidly real, standing before me. But there was also something else, something vague, which drew me to him…

I made my decision in a flash.

“No, no, that’s okay, sir,” I managed, somehow sounding breathless, even though I didn’t need to breath. “I was a little…overwhelmed, yes, but I think I’ll be fine. Thank you.”

He took a slow step forward, as if trying not to frighten me. I was glad for the caution. I felt as skittish as a hare, every nerve ending in my body vibrating in tension, waiting for the potential conflict that I knew could be coming. Dangerous! my instincts shrieked.

“Well, darling, don’t worry about me, I won’t bite. Not you, at least!” His laughter was like bells, but deep, manly. He came closer still, coming out of the shadow of the fire escape, a shaft of weak sunlight striking him, setting his skin ablaze with diamond-like shimmers. He was lovely.

What an odd tableau we made, standing there in the alley next to the bank, staring at each other, both still as statues.

Suddenly, he seemed to become aware of the sunlight striking him, and pulled back, as if afraid of it. But he beckoned to me, motioning for me to come closer to him. His head swiveled back and forth as he scanned both ends of the alley, making sure no one had seen us.

“Come now, come out of the sun, before you get us both in trouble, girl!” he commanded me, his voice harsh and authoritative.

Trouble? From who?

But for some reason I did as he told me, no matter how much my instincts screamed at me to stop. Compelled, I followed him as he retreated deeper and deeper into the shadows, until we were so far from the street I could barely hear the traffic on Exchange Street anymore.

Finally the stranger stopped and turned back to me, seeming more at ease.

“So, beautiful, what’re you doing here?” he asked casually. “Are you alone?”

It struck me that his question could be a dangerous one: was he trying to see if I had anyone to protect me, to help me, if something happened?

But I still answered. Again, why? Why do I owe him an answer?

“Yes, I’m alone, and I’ve been here for about five years.” It was as if the words were being pulled from me.

Surprise flickered across his stunning face. “Five years? In one place?” His tone was disbelieving, then became authoritative. “You shouldn’t do that, doll. It’s dangerous. You need to keep moving, if you’re going to keep them from figuring you out.”

I was confused. “Dangerous, how?”

He stared at me blankly for a moment, as if he couldn’t comprehend my question, as if I was a complete moron for even asking. He recovered quickly.

“Well, first of all, baby, you have to keep a low profile, you know? Rules are rules.” He sounded like he was trying to explain something to a child.

I felt a bit insulted. Irritated. I didn’t like being spoken to like that. I also didn’t like his way of speaking, like he was imitating the mannerisms of the humans with his slang and attitude. It didn’t sit well on him, like an ill-fitting coat.

I put my hands on my hips, lifting my chin defiantly. “Look, whoever you are, I have no idea what rules you’re talking about. No one has ever told me anything.” I stabbed an accusatory finger at him. “You’re the first of…our kind, whatever we are, I’ve ever met! And you show up here, in an alley, scaring me to death, talking about rules and telling me what to do? Who the hell are you?”

He was shocked by my attitude, eyes wide in disbelief. It was like no one had ever talked back to him before!

Then he was right in front of me, so close I could feel his breath against my face, but it wasn’t a pleasant intimacy. I felt violated, intimidated by his invasion of my space. I’m sure it was how he intended me to feel. I felt my body tense in ready response, as if I would spring at him, and it shocked me, how my body so easily took over, my instincts overwhelming my mind. A low hiss came from between my clenched teeth, to my surprise. He glared down at me; it was a long way down. I was a great deal shorter than him. I must have looked like a child before him.

“Look, girl, whoever you are, it doesn’t matter if anyone ever told you anything. Rules are rules. Keep away from the cattle, except to feed, and even then, be careful. Keep the secret. That’s it, period.” He made a slashing motion with one hand, as if what he had said were the last word.

I felt that odd compulsion again, an almost physical sensation, as if he were mentally leaning on me.

It struck me, then: he was doing that. Compelling me. It was like he was…pushing me, mentally. Trying to make me do what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to obey the rules, so I wanted to obey the rules, no matter how angry and frightened I was of him, or how much I resented his imperious demeanor.

I nodded quickly in assent. I’d do what he said. Ugh. I hated the idea.

He backed away again, but not as far this time, and seemed to relax a little. A small smile returned to his lips, curving up the corners slightly. He straightened his hat, and I could see his eyes now, a deep burgundy, several shades darker than my own. What did that mean?

As if he had not just threatened me implicitly moments before, he stuck out his hand. “And my name is Corin, by the way, dollface. Come on, let’s start again, shall we?”

I shook his hand woodenly. He wanted me to.

“Don’t call me that,” I managed, realizing how much his nicknames were adding to my irritation with him. “My name isn’t ‘dollface.’ It’s Alice.”

He seemed to taste my name, as if trying it out on his tongue. “Alice, hmm?” He let my hand go, a moment too slowly for my comfort, his fingertips lingering on the inside of my wrist, caressing my fingers as his slid away. I pulled my hand back and hid it in my pocket, resisting the urge to wipe it against the inside of the jacket and remove any traces of him from my skin. I didn’t like him touching me.

Corin looked at me for a long moment, speculating. “How old are you, Alice?” he asked quietly, tilting his head a bit to look at my eyes. I ducked my head, self-conscious.

“I don’t really know,” I finally replied. And I didn’t.

He shook his head slowly, as if not understanding me. “I don’t mean how old you are in human years, Alice. I mean, how long have you been immortal?” He sounded more patient this time, as if something made sense to him now that hadn’t before.

Immortal?

I thought for a moment. I knew I hadn’t aged a day in the past nine years, but hadn’t really considered the long-term implications of that. “I’m not really sure what you mean.”

Was that what I was, immortal? Immortal what?

Corin sighed, pushing his hands into his jacket pockets, seeming frustrated. “Kid, do you even know anything?”

He reached out and took my free hand, tucking it through his arm, turning us together to face down the alley again, away from Exchange Street. I allowed him to do that, still confused, even though everything in me cried out in disgust at being handled like that.

A flicker in my mind whispered that I would be all right if I went with him. I should, in fact. It would bring me to the decision I would have to make. It made me feel a bit better about allowing him to touch me, doing what he told me to do.

“Come on, kid, we have a lot to talk about,” he said, and off we went, into the deeper shadows.

A few hours later, in the well-appointed suite at the Ritz-Carlton that Corin had called “home away from home”, we were still talking. No light crept in through the thick drapes that were drawn completely across the windows, and no lights were on, but we saw each other perfectly with our ultra-sensitive eyes.

Well, he was mainly talking. I sat, for the most part, listening in rapt absorption as he told me all about himself. About us.

First, I had told him about what I remembered, of waking up from the agonizing dark hell in the basement of the burning building. I told him how I remembered absolutely nothing before that. I did not tell him about my visions, about Jasper, or the golden-eyed family I knew I would find someday. Caution held my tongue. Also, those things were private, far too intimate to share with this person I’d just met and knew nothing about. And didn’t like much at all, either.

Corin sat and listened to me quietly, his expression never changing, eyes focused intently on me. When I had finished telling him my brief tale, he nodded slowly, as if he had already known what I would say.

“So, you’re saying you have never met another of us, then?”

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.” What a thing to ask, when I had just spoken those same words a few minutes before!

“And you know nothing of your maker, then, correct?”

Again, I rolled my eyes, nodded assent.

He stroked his chin thoughtfully, finally releasing my eyes from his gaze, and stood up. He paced a bit, up and down the length of the Persian rug that lay on the suite’s sitting room floor, seeming lost in thought.

Finally, he turned, and began to tell me things.

“Alice, we have been around for as long as anyone can remember. Alongside the humans, but not like them. Of course, we all once were humans, at some point, we don’t know where that first transformation happened, perhaps a million years ago, or when, or why. We just always have been here. That’s all even the very oldest of us know.

“I’m not terribly old as we go. I’m a bit shy of a thousand years old. I was born in what is now called Ireland, in the year 944 AD. My family was dirt-poor Celtic peat farmers. We were called Black Irish, because we were darker than many of the others. We raised some sheep, managed to make end meet, barely. I never had shoes. I never went to school. We only went to Mass, and the priests told us about Heaven and Hell, and how we’d only escape Hell by doing what we were told. It made sense to me.”

His eyes took on a faraway look, as if he wasn’t seeing me anymore. His voice changed, too, as he spoke, lost the contrived modern phrases and hardness, softened, the vowels and consonants rounding and stretching, the words slurring together and clipped off in odd places, an accent I had heard traces of in the Irish immigrants that thronged the city. The ill-fitting coat of his contrived mannerisms slipped away, and the real person beneath felt right to me. I liked him just a bit more.

“When I was about sixteen, I was apprenticed to a farrier, the kind of blacksmith that repairs horseshoes and such. It was a good trade, I suppose; there would always be work, and you could cultivate a good clientele, even work for the local nobles if you were good at your work and gained a good reputation. I was a big lad, strong, good with my hands. And the horses always listened to me when I told them to be still, to lift their feet. Hell, almost anyone would do as I told them, come to think of it. Not just horses, people too.”

He smiled wryly, a million miles, a thousand years away, then continued.

“After a year or so of being an apprentice, my master received a commission to work on the estate of the Earl of County Cork, about twenty miles from our home. The Earl was English, and a great fanatic of the horses, and had heard my master was the best in the county, and wanted him on his personal staff.” Corin chuckled. “So, we went. I packed up my few things, and we set off, down the road to the Earl’s estate.

“It was late in the afternoon, but my master had a cousin who lived about midway between home and our destination, so he figured we could stop there, stay the night, and set out again the next morning.” He stopped, his face hardening in the grip of some unpleasant memory. His eyes cut to me, held me. “We should have not gone so late, Alice. We should have stayed home til the next morning.”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise at his harsh tone.

“It was well after sunset, but we still had three miles more to go, so my master said, ‘C’mon, lad, let’s get on, not much further, and it’s a soft bed and good stew for our bellies!’” Corin grunted derisively. “We’d just come around a tight bend in the road, and suddenly our horses spooked, like they’d stepped on a snake, though we saw naught.

“Then… it all happened so quickly I didn’t understand what was going on.

“My horse reared, threw me clear of the road, and took off back the way we’d come, screaming like it was being flayed alive. My master’s horse reared, too, but came too far back, and fell over, crushing my master beneath it. He’d gotten his foot tangled in the stirrup and couldn’t jump clear.”

He stopped his pacing beside the cold, empty fireplace, resting one hand on the smooth granite of the mantle. His eyes found the corner of the room, fixed there, seeing his memories but nothing else, his expression sad.

“I remember hearing my master scream, hearing his horse scream; I was trying to get up off the ground and go help, but when I’d hit the ground I’d landed on my back, and got all the wind knocked out of me. When I finally managed to get to my feet, my master’s screaming…changed. And I stopped in the bushes beside the road, trying to see, because those screams were…not right. Not like he was hurt. Like he was terrified. A big, strong ox of a man, terrified, shrieking like a little girl in the dark. Then, I heard something else, something like a snake hissing, or a lion growling, although I’d never heard either thing before. In Ireland there were no snakes or lions. But I knew what they were supposed to sound like.”

I clenched my fingers together tensely, enthralled by his voice, by the story. I could almost see it.

“I leaned forward and peeped through the bracken, trying to see what was going on, my blood running cold as I listened to those growlings, those hisses, the screams of my master, which had started dying down, and then went away altogether, died into gurgles like he was drowning…then nothing at all.

“It was a dark night, the moon was covered by clouds, so it was almost impossible to see anything. But then, like magic, the moon burst out of the clouds, and I saw what had happened.

“I saw my master, still lying beneath the horse, but he was perfectly still. I saw blood, everywhere, gleaming in the moonlight. And I saw someone crouching next to my master’s body, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. It was just his silhouette, too dark to see any details, until he straightened, and the moon hit him full in the face.

“I saw how pale he was, how…handsome, how strong, and I saw how his skin looked…strange. Opaque, but slightly shimmery in the moonlight. I knew, somehow, that he wasn’t human. He just stood too still, was too perfect.

“I didn’t think he could see me, but he turned and looked directly at me, where I crouched in the bracken bushes. I saw his eyes shine in the moon—they looked red. I was very, very afraid, even though I was technically a man grown, almost ready to set out on his own. I’m not ashamed of having been afraid of him, Alice.” Corin turned his head, looking at me again, his face sober. “It was the wise thing to do, to be afraid.”

He shoved his hands into his pockets, leaning back against the fireplace.

“As I said, I was frightened. I wanted to run, to hide somewhere else, but I knew he would catch me. I knew he would have no trouble with that, no matter how fast I could run, even if I caught my horse.

“Then he was there before me, pulling me out of the bushes, but I hadn’t even seen him move. He was so strong, so very strong, his hands crushed my upper arms, and they were so cold…I knew I was going to die, I didn’t care that the thornbushes scraped me, all I cared about was that I was going to die, and I didn’t want to.

“He pulled me free of the bracken and threw me down on the ground, near my master, then was on me again, so fast, I never saw him move. He growled like a lion, and opened his mouth, and I knew he was going to rip out my throat like a rabid dog. I lost all shame in that moment, Alice, I have to tell you, I started blubbering like a baby, and I begged him to not kill me, over and over again.

“And for some reason, he stopped, looking confused. He let me go, I fell back into the dust, sobbing with relief. I knew I wasn’t going to die.

“The creature spoke, and his voice was so different, I’d never heard anything like it, except perhaps the churchbells calling us to Mass on Sundays. He asked me how I’d done it.

“’Done what, sir?’ I asked him, stammering like an idiot.

“He stared at me, and I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Then he reached down again, and I near wet myself, thinking he was going to kill me anyway. But he just put me on my feet, then slung me up over his shoulder like a sack of grain, even though I was a good-sized lad, good muscles from working the forge bellows and swinging the hammer.

“Then, we were flying. Or so it seemed.

“We moved so fast my eyes watered, and I got dizzy. I had no idea what was coming. I knew he was running, but it was faster than any horse could ever go, faster than any bird, even. I was faint with fear still, and dread, not knowing what he was going to do with me.”

Corin pursed his lips in a small, ironic smile, then went on.

“After a few minutes we stopped, and he slung me down again with no kindness. I fell onto the ground and stayed where I was, paralyzed with fear.

“A few moments later, I heard another voice. This time it was a woman’s, and it was beautiful. Then I saw her, the one who spoke. She was standing a few feet from me, next to the man who had brought me. Or, whatever he was, I thought.

“The woman was huge, tall, built heavily like a man, but somehow she was even more beautiful than her voice. Regal. Like a queen, even though I’d never seen one before. She had the same pale, pale skin and red eyes like the man. She looked at me with great curiosity, as if I were some kind of oddity.

“’So, bairn, what might you be?’ she asked me, then turned to the man without waiting for an answer. ‘Well, Liam, what have you brought me here, then? A toy? Perhaps a wee snack?’

“The man, Liam, laughed very quietly, and he reached out to touch the woman’s hair, and I realized they were…together. Then he spoke, telling her how he’d killed my companion and had been intending to make off with me, too, til I begged him to not kill me…and he hadn’t. Liam didn’t know why he’d stopped, but he felt as if he should stop, so he did.

“Then the woman looked at me again with renewed interest, and she smiled. ‘So, my boyo, you can make even a hungry immortal stop in his tracks when he has the bloodlust, eh?’”

Corin tapped the shoe of his toe on the glossy marble floor, face deep in memory again.

“I didn’t know what to tell her, but I knew if I had any chance of living a moment more I had to say something. So I told her, stuttering nearly every word, how I could calm down the horses and make them obey, how I could make people do what I wanted.”

Corin laughed suddenly, looking a bit rueful. “I’d always thought the girls just thought me handsome, that’s why they were so willing. And I’d just thought I was good with words, to always be able to convince men to do what I wished, to get what I wanted. My life had been pretty easy, for the youngest son of a poor farmer. But it wasn’t because I was handsome, or charming, it turns out, although I still flatter myself to think I had a bit of both in the raw state.”

I giggled. I couldn’t help it. He grinned at me suggestively; I ducked my head in embarrassment, looking away until he started speaking again.

“The huge woman peered down at me, very intense, like she was searching me for something. ‘So, you can compel others to do your bidding, eh?’ She seemed to chew on that idea, mulling something over in her head for a moment, before clapping her hands together suddenly and grinning.

“’Well, we’ve been looking to add on to the coven, aye, my love?’ she said to Liam. The man seemed upset by her suggestion to…add on to the coven. I had no idea what that meant. He looked at me resentfully. I realized then, he was terribly jealous of his woman, didn’t want to share her attention with anyone.

“The woman seemed to realize what was going on, and she reached out and took his hands and kissed them. ‘Ach, my love, no one would ever replace you in my heart. But we could use another set of eyes and ears, my pet, and someone with his gift…Think about it, Liam, if it’s this strong as a human, this compulsion of his, think of how it might be as one of us!’ The idea seemed to thrill her. ‘Think of how easy it’ll be, to hunt with someone like this to help us! To be able to get the money we need, he can just tell them to give it to us, easy as that!’ She laughed.

“Liam frowned, shooting a bitter glance my way. I tried to shrink down into the dirt, be as invisible as possible. I remembered how he’d slashed my master’s throat, growling like a beast. My master’s blood was still on Liam’s tunic.

“’Aye, then, Siobhan, ye know I kin never go ‘gainst ye,’ he finally said, sighing. Siobhan clapped her hands again happily, like a girl, and she kissed him. That seemed to make him happy.

“Then she turned to me again, measuring me with her eyes again.

“’Well, me bucko, then ye’d best prepare for this. You’re goin’ ta be one of us now. Understand?’

“I didn’t. Not at all. How could I be like them?”

Corin paused, sighed. Looked pained by something he was remembering.

“I don’t like talking about the turning. It was like nothing I’d ever even considered before, that kind of pain. Worse than any imaginings of hell the priests had ever been able to conjure up. I wished for death. But it never came. I screamed. It didn’t help. I burned and burned and burned, til I was sure there was nothing left of me.

“I burned for a bit more than three days, they tell me. And when I woke from the pain, I had to struggle to remember my human life, because it was hazy, whereas my new eyes and brain were so much clearer and real. I spent a great deal of time making myself remember my old life, so I didn’t lose myself.”

I had to interrupt him. “But how were you…turned? That’s what I don’t understand!” I shouted, not wanting him to continue until I knew. He shook his head sadly.

“They bit me, Alice. They bit me, but not to tear my heart out, or to drink my blood. Mainly Siobhan, because Liam said he couldn’t handle more than one or two times. Their teeth, our teeth, are wicked sharp, and our mouths full of a venom which will eventually poison the entire human system, remaking it, transforming it into…this.” He held up his arm, the cuff of his jacket sleeve falling back to show his white wrist. It glimmered a bit in the dimness.

I knew what he said was true. I had known for a while that the sweet liquid that welled in my mouth when I thirsted and fed was poisonous. A few times I had taken someone to feed and had stopped, guilt-ridden, although it was almost impossible to stop. After a few moments, the people had begun to scream, begging me to kill them. And I had. It had been too simple, then, to overcome my remorse, when they begged me to slake my thirst with their lives.

I shuddered. Monster.

Corin went on.

“Siobhan was right: I did have a very potent ability, which became even more potent after being changed, becoming one of them. I could make almost anyone do anything I wanted them to. If they can hear me, they obey.” His mouth twisted in a sneer. “It makes things far too easy, but I suppose it’s better than not having any skills other than the ones which are standard with our current forms, eh?

“I stayed with Siobhan and Liam for about a hundred years. Although I grew very close to Siobhan, felt for her as if she was my mother, Liam never truly warmed to me. He valued me, valued what I brought to their little group, how it made things easier for them, but he never liked or truly trusted me.

“After a while, though, I felt the urge to leave. I was tired of Liam’s resentment, tired of being limited to such a small area, of having to be so very cautious when we fed. Ireland is small, you see, and the only rule that Siobhan told me I must never violate is to avoid discovery. Hunt at night, when humans can’t see how different we are. Only hunt circumspectly, don’t be flamboyant about it. Hide the evidence. Don’t get involved in human affairs, unless it’s absolutely necessary.

“I asked her why, since we were so much stronger, faster, better, than the humans. We could easily rule them, you know.” He shot a look in my direction, and I realized he’d intended that last comment directly for me. Then he continued, eyes growing distant again. “She never really answered me, just told me to obey her, that it was best. So I did, til I decided it was time to go out on my own.

“Siobhan begged me not to leave. If she could have wept, she would have. She told me I was like her son, the son she’d never been able to have, that it might kill her for me to leave. But I was determined, and I knew she was indestructible, anyway. I wanted to see the world, to explore. I was totally confident I could handle anything that came against me, and I really could. After all, I possessed super-human physical and mental abilities, I was immortal, indestructible, and I had my compulsion gift.

“So, after much drama, I managed to break free of Siobhan, and I struck out into the world on my own.

“I drifted for many, many years, all over Europe. This continent had only been discovered by the Vikings, and would have held no interest to me, anyway.

“Finally, in about the human year 1350, I was in Italy, in Tuscany, when I came across the scent of another of our kind. It had been a long time, I was beginning to wonder if we were a dying breed, or if I was being avoided by the others for some reason.

“I’d been alone for a while, and was actually starting to want some companionship. So I followed the scent.” Corin stopped again and smiled at me, his eyes sparkling with excitement.

“I began following the scent trail, and before long I realized that it wasn’t just one of us that I’d been following, but several. The paths came from all over the region and converged in a single point, the road leading up the hill to a city, a beautiful walled castle city, called Volterra.

“I hid along the side of the road until dark came, and then I crept up to the city gates. It wasn’t hard to get inside the walls. Once I was in the town itself, the scent of our kind was everywhere. The townspeople were all indoors, the streets practically deserted except for the occasional watchmen with their torches and halberds, patrolling. I got the feeling that the city was very well-controlled. It was deathly quiet there, the only noises the dripping of water in the gutters, the wind, and the muffled sounds from inside the houses, which were all shuttered tightly against the night.

“I made my way through the streets and eventually came upon the town square, which has a magnificent clock tower. It was shortly before ten o’clock; I haunted around the square for a bit, tracing the scent trails as they ran to and fro through the area, and was nearly startled out of my skin when the clock tolled the hour.”

Corin chuckled ruefully, shaking his head at the memory. “Amazing, how absorbed I was by my concentration on those others, that I allowed a clock to startle me!”

I laughed too. It was hard to imagine…but he had similarly startled me, earlier that day.

“I soon determined that the trails all ended at various sewer openings, as if the others had descended into the underbelly of the city. I had heard of this before: there were various of our kind living in the sewers in London, Paris, Rome, nearly every large city. Christianity and its superstitions had driven us all underground, haunting the nights like ghosts. I could only assume that the reason why had to do with the rules about keeping hidden that Siobhan had told me about years earlier, and once again, I wondered why.

“Why, when we are so powerful, when humans have no means to truly destroy us—because although they could burn us with fire, how could they catch and hold us? No iron bars or wooden cages can restrain us, no shackles can hold us, and no matter how many of them they are, they aren’t swift enough to catch us if we truly want to flee them. It made no sense to me, that we would hide from them, skulk in the sewers like ghouls or rats, when they are truly nothing more than cattle for us.

“Well, I got my answer soon enough!” His eyes widened at the thought.

“I stood there a moment, trying to decide whether I wanted to go down into the sewers to find them. You see, I dislike being dirty, and the idea of slogging along through filth to find the others wasn’t something I was exactly excited about. It also occurred to me that the others might not be friendly or welcoming to visitors: perhaps they wanted their privacy, and would be angry at my intrusion. Since others of our kind can kill us, I had to think twice about that, whether I wanted to risk myself for something like that.

“But I didn’t even have to decide; they came to me.

“I smelled her first, the stranger that appeared in archway of an alley off to my right.

“She was tiny, like a child. She wore a long, hooded cloak, of a color so dark it was almost black. Beneath it she wore the typical dress of the time period. She came toward me and lowered her hood, and I saw that she was beautiful, but that whoever had made her had done so when she was quite young, no more than fourteen or fifteen human years.

“While I stared at her, two others came to join her, much larger, very big men, also wearing the long hooded cloaks, but a bit lighter. They stood with her before me, arms crossed, waiting, watching.

“The girl studied me for a long time, then finally spoke.

“’Who are you, stranger, and why have you come to Volterra?’ she asked me. I got the feeling she was used to being answered to and obeyed, no matter her size.

“I looked at the two huge ones and decided I should answer, because I might not have time to compel them to leave me be before they managed to rip me to shreds if the girl so commanded them.

“I told her my name, where I had come from originally, and that I had simply come upon the others’ trails and decided to seek them out, not having seen others of our kind in so long. She seemed satisfied with my answer, and asked me if I would like to come and meet the other members of their coven.

“I was surprised, of course, at the way she casually mentioned so many others. I was told that our kind don’t live well with each other, our passions run too high, we become jealous and territorial, and that usually means that we are solitary or go in mated pairs or in groups no larger than three. I was very interested in seeing her ‘coven’, but cautious as well, as I hoped I wasn’t walking into some kind of trap.

“She motioned for me and the other two to follow her; we made our way through the city, passing a few times down drains into the sewers, but always emerging again. It was as if they were following a prescribed path, trying to make sure they eluded any potential followers. Eventually we came to a citadel, the castle with the tower I had seen from the plains below. The girl led us inside through a side entrance, then through a maze of halls and rooms, til we ascended a few steps to the tower hall itself.

“The hall seemed to encompass the entire height of the tower, the ceiling high above. It was a huge, round room, with a few throne-like chairs spaced along the curving walls, and I noticed a drain in the center of the floor, slightly sunken. I smelled fresh blood, and realized immediately that this was where they fed. It bothered me: was something horrible meant for me, that they brought me to a room where cattle were dispatched, to avoid causing a mess?

“Then I saw them.”

Corin stopped, his eyes closed as he seemed to be watching his memories play across the insides of his eyelids. I waited, breathless. Finally, he started again.

“They were clustered on the far side of the chamber, seven or eight of them. Five were old, older than anyone else I had ever seen, although I didn’t know how I understood that. They were basically the same as the rest, but their skin was…different, it had a texture that looked almost like paper, was more delicate than ours. And their eyes had a slight film over the redness, so they looked cloudy—but they saw me very clearly, I know. Of the old ones, there were three men: two dark-haired, one with white hair, then there were two women, both pale blonde; the women seemed timid, hovering behind the men, against the wall. They never spoke. There were a few others around them, hovering, as if they were…bodyguards, perhaps, I guessed then, and I was correct.

“One of the dark-haired men noticed me and crossed the room to get a closer look at me. He moved even more gracefully than the others of our kind I’d seen, and I got the impression that he was very old. He smiled at me and held out his arms, as if he was greeting a long-lost friend.”

Corin smiled fondly, as if he spoke of someone he held in great affection.

“He introduced himself as Aro, and said that the others were his companions, his brothers: the white haired one was called Caius, and the other dark one was Marcus. Neither greeted me; Caius merely stared at me for a moment before looking away as if he had something better to do, while Marcus barely seemed to see me, as if he was…completely and utterly bored.

“Aro introduced the females as their wives, Sulpicia and Athenodora; the women didn’t acknowledge the greeting. I found out later that they rarely speak, and that the only reason they had even descended from their tower rooms was because they had all just fed there, in that huge round room.

“The others, the bodyguards, were Renata and Santiago, according to Aro; they nodded at me. The huge men behind me, with the tiny female, were Felix and Demetri, then Jane. I had no idea that my fate would be bound up with theirs so closely, so soon thereafter.”

Despite his ominous-sounding words, Corin looked very happy.

“Aro looked me up and down, then offered me his hand, as if to shake. Although I didn’t normally use such human mannerisms, I took it, because I somehow knew that offending him by refusing wasn’t a good idea.

“Then…then, it was as if I could feel him inside my head, sifting through my thoughts and memories. It was unnerving, I almost pulled away; instead, I shouted, ‘Let go!’”

He grinned hugely, savoring the memory. “To Aro’s immense surprise at himself, he dropped my hand as if it were burning him. Then he stared at me, and his face…” Corin faltered, for the first time seeming unsure. “Well, I don’t know, it seemed at the time to be, I don’t know, perhaps, covetous is the best word. As if he had seen something, felt something, in me that he wanted.

“Aro clucked at me reprovingly, waving one finger before my nose. ‘Dear boy, I mean you no harm. That is simply my gift, the ability to read your thoughts, and I use it to assure myself and my brothers that no stranger means any harm to us, or to our dear ones here.’ Then he smiled broadly. ‘It appears, my friend, that you possess a gift even more powerful than my own, in a way. How delightful! Compulsion! Something I have never experienced before. Fascinating!’

“Aro turned toward the others across the room, calling out, ‘So, my brothers, what do you think? Perhaps we should invite young Corin to join us here?’ He looked back at me and smiled radiantly. ‘What think you, my son, would you like to stay here, among us? Assist us in maintaining the peace and sanity of our world?’”

I suppressed a shudder. Although Corin seemed almost entirely enamored of this Aro character, I could feel something behind his story, something…dark. Who were those creatures, who wanted to “maintain the peace and sanity”? By whose standards? And by whose authority? I disliked the idea of someone messing around in my mind, seeing things best left private.

“I wasn’t sure at first; after all, I’d just arrived there, and had no idea who these beings were, why they wanted me in the first place. That was when Aro explained it to me.”

Corin looked sharply at me for the first time in a while, catching my eye deliberately, making sure I was listening.

“You see, Alice, they are the ones who make it possible for us to live in peace. They had, long ago, done away with most of the ones who had been causing chaos among us and the mortals, the ones who inspired the name by which we commonly go by, vampires.”

I stared at him. I’d heard that word before. I’d heard of books and stories about them, undead creatures, drinkers of blood, who couldn’t withstand sunlight or crosses or garlic…Although I’d understood the similarity between that legendary creature and myself, regarding the blood-drinking and not aging, the resemblance stopped there. A successful play based on a popular book was still running on Broadway, with a figure called Count Dracula, a vampire, as the main character; rumor said it was to be turned into a moving picture soon. The name was on peoples’ lips all over the city, but vampires weren’t real. And I certainly wasn’t one!

He noticed my expression and laughed shortly. “So, you know the term, eh?” He shook his head. “We suppose that the Romanian scum, the ones whom my soon-to-be masters, the lords of Volterra, were the ones who inspired those bloodthirsty legends. They flaunted their immortality and their power, and made mortals bow to them. When they attacked my masters’ city around 500 AD—by humanity’s calendar—and killed my lord Marcus’s wife, Didyme, he went mad with grief. We still don’t know why the Romanians were so intent on destroying them, and why they would hurt Didyme, who apparently was the soul of beauty and kindness.

“But they did, and so my masters took their guard and slaughtered them all, except for two, the oldest, the most powerful. Those two hid and escaped punishment; we still hear from them occasionally, they love to try to stir up trouble.” Corin’s expression was disgusted, as if he was discussing something repulsive.

I wondered at that. How odd, that this man, who had been so emphatically advocating our kind’s domination of the world just a few minutes before, would now be so emphatically advocating the alternate position. How powerful were these creatures, these lord of Volterra? Had they…altered him? Done something to him akin to his own compulsion? I had to ask.

“But, Corin, why the change of heart?” I asked him hesitantly, almost afraid of the answer.

He looked at me strangely, as if I were insane.

“Alice, what other point of view makes sense?” he cried. “Aro explained it to me, and it was perfectly reasonable. Our kind cannot breed, we must make our new ones from humans, who are also our food. No matter how often we feed or create new ones from them, they naturally breed so rapidly that they will always outnumber us. And as weak as they are, they can be dangerous, and they are inventive and cunning. It is best for us to remain discreet, take our prey from among them quietly, and not stir up problems. We have enough issues among our own kind to have to be preoccupied with fighting the cattle as well!”

I considered that. It did make some sense. Except…

“What issues?”

He rolled his eyes. “You truly are almost a newborn still, aren’t you?” He shook his head again in disbelief at my ignorance. “I cannot fathom what your maker was thinking, to create you and leave you untaught that way. It’s unforgiveable.”

I bridled a bit at that; for some reason, I felt like my creation had been…important. To my maker, at least, regardless of why he or she didn’t stay to teach me. I did resent that abandonment, but still, they must have had a good reason…

“Alice, our kind is passionate, extremely strong, and very territorial. Territorial over where we feed, territorial about our companions and mates, territorial about the lands we claim, even as nomads. We have a great deal of difficulty co-existing with each other, it always turns into a dispute, which leads to death and destruction, and disruption of everything around us. If we were allowed to let our passions lead us, we would consume this world in a matter of years in the plague of wars between ourselves, and then there would be nothing left. So, someone must impose order, impose law.

“My masters are that law. They have made it possible for our kind to live in peace; an uneasy peace, which is challenged often by those resentful of their authority, but they, we, are strong enough to deal with anything that must be dealt with.” His chin lifted proudly.

I waited for him to go on, taken aback by his passion.

“Once Aro explained everything to me, and after I had met all of the others of their guard, I realized that it was nothing but pure logic for me to join myself with them. After all, my gift would help them so much, and their cause was worthy, and their companionship welcome. Somehow, they managed to exist together peacefully.” He looked pensive for a moment, considering. “Of course, Chelsea’s gift, which makes us all feel like a cohesive unit, strengthens our bonds to each other, so that helps a great deal, I imagine.

“I have been with them ever since. I have had the good fortune to become one of the central members of the guard. We are sent out whenever we get wind of a potential problem, such as rival covens making a spectacle of themselves, or others doing…aberrant things which cause problems for us all.” He shuddered, as if remembering something horrible.

I raised a questioning eyebrow.

His expression was almost sick. “A while ago, perhaps 1000 years ago as humans estimate time, there was a…plague of sorts. Our kind was…changing humans, humans not fit for changing, not suitable. We had to put a stop to it, because the…results…were uncontrollable, extremely dangerous. Aro tried to understand them, you must understand, but in the end…there was no choice. They had to be destroyed. All of them. That particular plague was before my time, but I have heard the stories from those who were there, and they are sickening.”

I stared at him, uncomprehending. “Unsuitable?”

Corin exhaled forcefully. “Yes, Alice. Unsuitable. There were some who were changing…children. Young human children, incapable of being able to control themselves, total slaves to their whims, wildly powerful and charismatic and beautiful. Eternal children, immortal children, who would never mature, frozen in the state of development at the time of their changing. Bloodthisty. Do you understand, how dangerous that would be, for everyone?”

Thinking about what I had observed of human children, during long afternoons in parks and museums and theaters, and I understood. Sweet, innocent…without restraint or conscience at their young ages…Such creatures could never be discreet. But it was still horrible to think of, their being destroyed. I tried to hide my revulsion.

“And also,” he continued rapidly, as if trying to change the subject, “We put down a great many uprisings in the south of these continents. There were great wars between covens, armies of newborns used against each other, so much destruction and chaos that mortal populations were decimated.” He looked at me proudly. “I helped, there. I made it possible, in many cases, to stop the chaos, single out the wrongdoer from the innocent, with as little death as possible. I have a purpose. WE have a purpose.” He nodded forcefully.

Somehow I knew his story was over. What now? I scrambled for something to say.

“So, why are you in New York? Any vampire wars here?” I threw out blindly.

He laughed, pushing his hands into his pockets, leaning back against the fireplace mantle again.

“No, actually, Alice. We’re here on a scouting mission,” he replied amiably, but his eyes held mine, magnetic. “We’ve been following you for quite some time, actually.”

I froze completely, terrified. Following me?

Corin caught my reaction immediately and burst out laughing, bell-like. “No, silly girl, not to hurt you or hunt you. You see, Alice, when we’re not meting out justice, we search out others of our kind who are…talented. Ones who might prove an asset to our group, who can assist us in keeping order.”

It didn’t even take me a second to consider the implicit offer and discard it. But how to say no, to a person who can simply tell you to change your mind?

“Why exactly would you want me?” I asked him, mystified.

“Because we need others with gifts. And we have someone with us here, Eleazar, who can get a feeling about the gifts of others, and another, Demetri, who can find anyone he seeks, as long as he has identified their…mind.” He absently brushed his dark, longish hair back from his perfect forehead, gazing at me, considering. Evaluating.

“Eleazar and I crossed your path near Central Park the day before yesterday. We followed you for a while…saw your little apartment…trailed you down into Harlem, to some jazz club…I don’t understand that music, but I suppose it’s compelling to some…Then again and again to your little diner…” Corin chuckled, as if amused by my habits, as if it were something juvenile, then he cocked one eyebrow quizzically at me, seeming confused by something. “What appeal does it hold for you, to play like that with that girl, that waitress? Like you’re toying with your food!” He tut-tutted at me like a father correcting a child; I bristled.

His expression turned condemning. “And you need to be more careful, Alice: what if she realized how very different you are? You can never truly become friends, become close, to one of them, don’t you realize that?”

I sighed. I did know that. It still didn’t make me want it any less. It was so hard, this waiting.

“Eleazar couldn’t tell what your gift was from such a distance, of course, but he sensed something very powerful about it, and would like to take a closer look at you.” He looked excited at the prospect of my being…examined. Ech. “I really think Aro would be very happy if we returned home with a new member for our family.”

What am I, a laboratory specimen? Or am I being drafted??

“He and Demetri are hunting now. They’ll be happy to know I found you, they’ll be back here soon, I imagine.” He smiled a cold, glittering smile.

My stomach tightened into a knot. I felt very, very cold and alone. And frightened.

What now??

I knew I couldn’t go with them. I had absolutely no desire to be some mindless follower of these lords of Volterra, these self-proclaimed keepers of “vampire” secrets. But how to resist, if they decided to have Corin compel me?

I concentrated for a moment on the future, on my future, straining to see any hint, any flash, of what I should or could do.

I saw myself, wearing a strange hooded robe, like the ones Corin had described his masters as wearing, dark, almost black. Standing at the side of the one Corin had called Aro, I knew to my bones that’s who it was, even though I’d never seen him before…and our hands were clasped. He smiled beatifically down at me, as if I was a pampered, favorite child. And I smiled back, fawningly, overjoyed with his approval, like a…like adog, licking it’s master’s hand.

I felt a current of disgust jolt through me. Never.

Was there nothing else? Was it decided? I struggled to force myself to see something, anything else. Anything would be better than that, cringing and servile at someone’s feet, obeying their whims…

Then suddenly, something else was there. Hard and fast and vivid, even stronger than the vision of myself and Aro.

I saw a man and a woman, both dark and beautiful, both immortals. I saw them in a place of wild forests and rolling arctic tundra. I saw them with others, other with…

Golden eyes??

I saw myself, wandering again, free as a bird, but not here in America anymore. I saw a beautiful city, full of lights and music and art. Free! My heart, if it still beat, would have leapt inside me, I knew.

All of this passed in moments; Corin didn’t seem to notice.

Then there was a commotion outside in the hallway: the suite door burst open so forcefully it slammed into the wall and bounced back, hitting the person who suddenly dashed inside. He didn’t seem to notice or care.

Him!

It was the man from the vision I’d just seen. Beautiful and pale, through his skin had an odd, olive cast to it. His features were noble, Castilian, devastatingly handsome.

His eyes were wide and almost crazed, his long dark hair escaping from the tail it was pulled back into. He held something in his arms, wrapped in dark fabric. What was it? A…child? A small adult? He clutched it to his chest protectively, as if it were so fragile the contents would break.

An arm slipped free of the wrapping, the hand grasping, slapping weakly against the man’s enclosing arm. Then a voice.

“Que estas haciendo, dejeme, dejeme en paz!”

It was a girl, a woman. The woman I’d seen with him? But that hand, the skin of it wasn’t right, it was still human. Her scent was lovely, delicious…and beginning to change. What was going on?

“Ay, Dios, el dolor! Parase este dolor, por favor, Jesucristo!” she shrieked, and began to thrash against the man’s restraining arms. His face twisted in anguish, and he glanced down at her, murmuring softly back to her in Spanish, begging her to be quiet, that it would be all right soon. She began sobbing against his chest, her fingers twisting the lapels of his suit jacket as if in agony.

Corin and I stared at them, frozen solid by surprise. He recovered first, dashing across the room in a flash, glaring at the man, then at the woman he held.

“Eleazar, what in the name of all that’s holy have you done?” he cried, his Irish accent creeping back into his voice.

Eleazar simply stared back at Corin, his expression utterly bereft.

“I couldn’t help myself, Corin, she was there, in the park…” He closed his eyes, remembering. His hushed voice was slightly accented, foreign. I was transfixed. “I was waiting for Demetri to come back, I’d finished hunting early, and was enjoying the afternoon, sitting beneath a tree…She was in the park, too, on a bench, reading a book. It was a biography of Santa Teresa de Avila, and it was in Spanish. That caught my eye. Teresa was the patron saint of my family…before.”

He shifted the woman in his arms, who had left off the shrieking but was still crying softly, kicking the suite’s door closed behind him. He carried her across the room and lay her down tenderly on a divan, pulling the wrapping away from her a bit. I realized it was a dark overcoat, similar to what Corin had had slung over his arm when we met. Modern camouflage while in America, since they couldn’t very well wear long hooded robes?

I saw her face then. It was the face of the woman I’d seen with him, in my vision. Her face would have been very pretty, even now, still human, if not twisted by agony. Blood stained her clothes, but I couldn’t see any wounds, couldn’t smell any fresh blood. Then it hit me.

He’d bitten her. To change her. She was burning, right now, in front of us. Burning, changing…becoming. One of us.

I watched her for a moment in horrified fascination. I hated seeing that pain. I remembered it very well, even though it had been nine years ago when I’d passed through it myself.

She was still crying, but silently now. Streams of tears coursed down her cheeks and into her long, dark hair; her lips, full and sensuous, trembled. She was praying. Saying the “Hail Mary,” in Spanish, soundlessly.

Eleazar crouched down next to her, stroking back the hair from her sweating forehead. He seemed totally enraptured by her, but it was obvious her pain was torturing him. What had happened?

Finally he turned back to Corin. “I swear, Corin, I meant no harm. I was just watching her. She was beautiful, even for a human. And I could see she was Spanish, like myself. I was just…appreciating her. She saw me, and she smiled. I knew she wanted to speak to me, as much as I wanted to…speak to her.

“Then the wind shifted…” he trailed off into an agonized whisper, swallowing convulsively. “And I caught her scent…” He squeezed his eyes shut in memory. “And I couldn’t help myself, Corin, I swear, I meant no harm! I’ve never felt anything like it!” His eyes flashed back open, his expression pleading. “It’s like Aro said, her blood, it sang to me! I had to!”

Corin sighed in disgust, running his hands through his hair in frustration. “So what now, Eleazar? Now we must wait here for another three days, waiting for her to finish her transition, and then must baby-sit a bloodthirsty newborn in a city of a million humans? What about our mission? Have you forgotten everything in your—your lust?

Eleazar lowered his head, dejected. “I am sorry, Corin. I had to. I had to have her. I am sorry,” he murmured, and I could hear tears he couldn’t shed in that beautiful voice. “Her name is Carmen.”

Ah yes. That was it. Carmen and Eleazar. And the other golden-eyed ones, far to the north. Not my golden-eyed ones, but ones like them, who knew them…were almost like family. Everything was fitting together. I saw it, almost heard the clicking as things fell into place neatly. These two would be part of our greater whole, someday.

Corin swore under his breath and strode away, throwing open the French doors to the terrace and going outside, into the cool October afternoon. The sky was cloudy, grey, hinting at rain to come. Corin leaned over the railing, staring moodily into the distance, his jaw clenched in anger.

For the first time, Eleazar noticed me. His burgundy eyes widened at the sight of me there, curled up in a huge armchair before the empty fireplace. His brows lifted in surprise and recognition dawned on his face. “You!” he whispered.

I nodded. “My name is Alice. And I know you’ve been following me.” I smiled in a way I hoped was encouraging, trying to put him at ease.

He nodded, biting his lip as he studied my face. He stared at me for a long time, but the entire time he kept stroking Carmen’s sweating, contorted face. It was as if he were trying to memorize my features, or…to read something in them.

Suddenly his eyes widened again, in shock. “Ay, caray, que poder que tienes!” he murmured. “Alice, you are very talented!”

I nodded slightly, getting up from my chair to come join him on the floor next to Carmen’s couch of pain. I reached up to touch her cheek. I could feel the heat of her blood moving beneath her lovely olive skin, could smell the venom burning through her veins. “So you can see it, then, what I can do?” I asked softly, meeting his eyes.

He nodded wordlessly. “You have no idea how much Aro and Caius will want you, Alice. You must come back with us, to Volterra.”

I shook my head violently. “Never.”

Eleazar looked confused. “But…why not? You could help us so much, could help us see where we are needed most, tell us when threats were emerging…You could help us do so much more good!”

I cut him off with a slash of my hand. “I won’t be anyone’s dog.” I held his eyes, trying to force as much meaning into a few words as possible, to make him understand. “And neither should you, Eleazar. You have Carmen now. You don’t need anyone like those…people. She’s all the good you need.”

He blinked, nonplussed, then glanced down at Carmen again. She moaned, low in her throat, her hands grasping again at the air, as if trying to fight off the pain. He took one of them between his own, then looked back up at me. I saw, then, the understanding beginning to dawn on his face.

“What have you seen?” he whispered, barely audible. He cut a glance toward where Corin stood on the terrace, still in his angry sulk. I doubted he heard us, or was paying any attention in any case.

I leaned closer to him, my lips inches from his ear, to keep my words between us as much as possible. “You two have another future, Eleazar. Another path.” I concentrated for a moment on my vision, trying to bring more detail to the front. “There are others like you, like me, who don’t like being…monsters. There’s another way, apparently. And if you take Carmen, and you go north…” I closed my eyes in concentration, trying to see without seeing. “Alaska, Eleazar. Go to Alaska. To…Denali. That’s where you’ll find your new home. Denali.”

Eleazar pulled back, his mouth slightly open in surprise. He looked…dazed. But happy. “How do you know, that I feel that way?” he asked softly.

I shrugged, grinning. “I don’t know that part, but I know that we’ll be great friends one day, you and Carmen and myself, and all of us. I’ve seen it coming.”

He looked down at Carmen, who was murmuring to herself in Spanish again. The “Our Father” this time. Pain crossed his face jaggedly. When he looked back at me he sighed, seeming drained. “So what now, then, Alice?” He looked again toward Corin, who had stepped back from the terrace railing and had crossed his arms across his chest, still staring blankly, angrily into space. “If I tell him about you…Alice, he’ll make you come with us. Make me help him make you come.”

I knew that. “So lie to him, Eleazar. It’s not that hard, you know. Corin’s not…Aro. He can’t read your mind.”

He considered it for a moment, doubtfully. Then he sighed again. “All right, Alice.” His dark red eyes locked on mine. “And I hope, for all of our sakes, that you’re right. I have been…tired of this lifestyle for quite some time. And I’m not entirely happy with how things are done, back in Italy.” His eyes hardened in something like anger.

A surge of hope washed over me. He would help me, and he and Carmen would leave the ones in Italy, those Volturi, and someday we’d all be friends. Family.

Eleazar got abruptly to his feet, reaching down gallantly to help me to my feet, although I didn’t need his help. He had obviously reached some kind of decision.

Click!

The black-robed future disappeared. Yes!

He glanced toward Corin, who had turned to face us. “Am I forgiven, old friend?” he asked, holding out his hands in supplication.

Corin cursed again and rolled his eyes. “Ah, shut up, you Spanish devil!” he spat, but a small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. Then he turned to me. “So, Eleazar, what do you think of my little Alice here?”

His Alice? This was worsening by the moment!

Eleazar cleared his throat, shrugged. “Well, Corin, she’s definitely talented, but nothing that Aro would find particularly interesting.” He glanced at me for a split second, then back at Corin. “It’s something like what they say Marcus’s wife, Didyme, could do. She makes people like her.” He grinned innocently at Corin. “Hadn’t you noticed it?”

The other man looked back at me, dumbfounded. “Is that it?” He shook his head, surprised. “I thought…maybe…she might be…right for me, or something.” He managed to look bashful, shifting to look elsewhere, at anything else but me.

As if! I almost shook from the force of the rage that swallowed me. As if I’d ever give that conceited, smarmy, lapdog a second thought! Jasper’s face hung in my mind like the sun. No one else but him.

Eleazar laughed at Corin’s discomfiture. “Well, friend, everyone makes mistakes.” He looked meaningfully at me, motioning toward the door with his eyes. “So, I suppose we don’t have much to show for this trip out, after all. Aro will be disappointed.”

Corin nodded absently, still staring at anything except me.

“So, do you want to go ahead and head back to Volterra, once Demetri arrives?” Eleazar asked, shifting so his body blocked mine as I started edging toward the door as quietly as I could manage.

The other man twisted his lips in consideration, looking at Eleazar. “What, and leave you here with…the girl?” He nodded toward Carmen, who huddled, trembling, on the couch. “And you follow afterward? Can you handle her by yourself? You know how Aro feels about newborns on the loose.”

Eleazar nodded confidently. “Of course, Corin.” He gazed down at Carmen, smiling gently. “She will love me, too, I know it. She will listen to me, and I won’t leave her alone for a moment. I will make sure she doesn’t do anything wrong.”

Corin nodded. “All right then, I suppose that’s—“

The door crashed open again, this time the doorknob striking the wall with such force it actually stuck in the plaster.

Another man, swarthy beneath the vampiric pallor like Eleazar, with longish dark hair like theirs, rushed in, his eyes also wild. What was going on?

“Look outside, the city’s going crazy!” he cried, running past us toward the terrace. We all trailed after him, even me, although I knew it was smarter to take advantage of the distraction and leave. But I couldn’t resist finding out what he was raving about.

It was true.

The streets below were boiling with people, the shouts and screams reaching us even that high—the suite Corin had taken in the Ritz-Carlton was just beneath the penthouse. I could make out the individuals’ faces even from that distance with my sharp eyes, could read fear and anger and confusion. I looked down the avenue and saw throngs of people crowding around the entrances of several prominent banks, enraged and frenzied, pounding on the doors. I could hear the tinkling of broken glass as they threw stones at the windows. I could hear police sirens in the distance, drawing closer.

It was happening everywhere. The things I’d seen, the buildup of tension I’d sensed, it was coming to a head, now. The banks were failing. The stock market had crashed, peoples’ savings, their lives, were spiraling down the drain. It was all starting here, now.

Suddenly, I heard screaming, but not from directly below—from the side. We all turned and stared.

Stared, horrified, as someone plunged over the side of a balcony wall, plummeting to their death. I ducked inside, sickened, to not hear the sound of their impact on the sidewalk tens of stories below. I did hear the screams of those who were standing nearby, when that poor man struck.

It wouldn’t be the first suicide. A broken, desperate man, who felt he had no other option, his life destroyed when his savings were swept away by the rushing tide of chaos, who had lost the fortunes of others, and was consumed by guilt. It would become legendary, these self-inflicted deaths, a scar on the city’s history forever.

I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to go, right then, while the others’ attention was fixed on the human drama below.

Sparing a glance for Carmen’s ashen face and trembling form, I slipped out, through the wide-open door, creeping down the hallway to the fire exit. I ran down the stairs like the wind, emerging into the street, on the other side of the building from the suite far above where Corin, Eleazar, and Demetri watched the street below.

I slipped into the surging, heaving sea of crazed humanity, disappearing.

I made my escape from the city that same night.

I had booked a passage on a steamer ship bound for Europe. After consulting a few travel magazines at the agency where I went to buy my ticket, I had realized that the lights and buildings I had seen in my vision were Paris. It seemed like my kind of city, full of fashion and fun—and hopefully worlds away from the chaotic sadness of New York. And also from the prying eyes of those who might try to find me.

I wondered what would happen with Eleazar and Carmen. After a few attempts at focusing my visions on them, I found it surprisingly simple to see their futures, although Carmen’s was still a bit hazy. Their futures were much easier to see, and much clearer than the human futures I’d watched; I speculated that it was because they were like me.

I saw Demetri and Corin return to Volterra, telling Aro that nothing special had happened, except that Eleazar had turned a human woman, convinced she was destined for him. Aro would smile benevolently, wishing Eleazar good fortune with his lady, hoping Eleazar would bring her to meet Aro soon. But I knew that wouldn’t happen. Eleazar couldn’t risk Aro seeing the lies he’d told Corin in his own thoughts; he and Carmen, once she had come out of the burning haze of transformation, would leave New York and strike out on their own, and eventually would go to Alaska, as I’d told him.

That, at least, was certain. I was fervently grateful that Corin didn’t mention me to Aro, to pique his curiosity. I got a vague sense that, sometime far in the future, he would eventually learn about me, and that I would even meet him. But not yet. Not for a long time. I shuddered at the thought.

I had cleared out my little apartment, bestowing my belongings on my neighbors, who would wake the next day in surprise to the stacks of furniture, books, victrola recordsat their doorsteps…everything material I’d accumulated in my years in New York. But I saved some things for someone else.

I still had one important thing to do, before I could begin my voyage.

In the covering dark of the night, I let myself into Carolyn’s bedroom by the unlocked window.

She lay, sleeping, curled up on her side, breathing slowly and steadily. Maybe she dreamed, but I didn’t know. She never stirred.

Ever so quietly, I placed the box of things on the floor at her bedside. Some of my favorite clothes and other pretty things that I’d noticed her coveting from afar during the years she’d been serving my coffee. Things that would make her smile, and become her. I was a bit shorter than her, but her build was as slight as my own, whipcord-thin with hunger. Everything would fit. Except shoes. Her feet were larger than mine.

Atop the box I placed a smaller one; inside it was a pair of shoes. They were lovely but sturdy. Her feet wouldn’t hurt anymore. And inside of the box, I tucked an envelope, fat and bulging with money. Also inside was a certificate of deposit with the Gold Reserve. I’d decided to make her the beneficiary of one of my accounts. Gold would always be good, even when paper money was useless.

Perhaps she’d be able to avoid that more…unsavory future after all.

I fled into the night, giggling as I lowered myself silently down the fire escape to the alley below.

I wished I could see her the next morning, when she awoke to find those things there. She would know who they were from, she’d seen those clothes on me before, and she would be so confused: how had I gotten into her room? She would look for me, every morning for the next few weeks til the diner closed down, waiting for me to come in, coffee pot ready.

But I’d never come back.

And now I stood on the deck of my ship, and the wind streamed past me, cool as a blessing, as the boat slowly pulled out of New York Harbor.

I looked up at Lady Liberty as we passed, her gleaming torch held aloft, her proud bronze face welcoming all comers to this country. But I was headed the other way. For shores unknown, futures barely glimpsed but eagerly anticipated. I could barely contain my excitement, could hardly keep my feet from dancing.

The sky sparkled with a million careless stars. I was free.

Free.