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Summary:
AKA The Greatest Story Ever Told, by the Greatest Historian of the World. Aro's lived, figuratively speaking, for three thousand years. Ever wonder what he's seen and done?


Notes:


10. Open Wounds

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3890   Review this Chapter

I hear thunder, I hear thunder.
Hark don't you? Hark don't you?
Pitter, patter raindrops,
Pitter, patter raindrops,
I'm wet through; so are you.

“Did you hear the thunderstorm last night?”

“The children couldn’t sleep. They spent half the night crying.”

“I heard it was an earthquake near Belverde.”

“What earthquake? It was demons fighting, that.”

“Demons?”

“Don’t listen to him. He’s crazy.”

“I saw them once! Pale and tall and only coming out at night.”

“You did?”

“Raving lunatic.”

I pulled my cloak tighter around myself, careful to keep every millimeter of skin covered. Despite the danger of being discovered, I loved spending early mornings in the market. I could listen to the daily gossip, sometimes learning interesting bits of news. That day, the humans were huddled into small, tight groups, eagerly exchanging any theories as to the war two nights before. It was always highly amusing to hear the stories steadily become wilder with each retelling. Like the story of Paris and Helen. Oh, how the historians would revolt upon learning Paris actually survived and stole Helen away from Troy, fleeing for Italy. Or that Lamia, condemned as a child-killing witch, actually saved the children and raised them as her own. That Gaius Julius Caesar’s ancestor was still alive if a bit embittered and Machiavelli’s teacher would read El Principe hundreds of years after the author’s death and be transported to those lessons in oratory and politics wherein said teacher’s greatest student was born.

Despite any negative opinions you may have of us, directly or indirectly, we’ve played an important role in history, human and vampire alike. The first step to our power was taken unconsciously, a mere response to a war that had engulfed us. Thanks to that simple trigger, we controlled one of the largest areas in the Italian peninsula. Volterra had attained the height of its human reign; it was the most important city in the Etruscan civilization. And as the Etruscans gained power, they began to ignore the tales of “demons.” Poor arrogant fools. Even then humans shunned those who dared speak of us “mythological” creatures.

I looked after the old man, vainly trying to convince the others he was speaking the truth. Finally, he shuffled away, defeated. I stood and followed him. He wandered down the smaller winding streets. When his heartbeat jumped, I guessed he’d realized I had been following.

Turning around quickly, his voice shook as he stammered, “I know what you think of me! But you don’t need to follow a poor old man and frighten him!”

Oh, I am good!

I stepped closer, settling into a deep shadow cast by the buildings. “I do apologize for startling you. It was not my intention. I’d listened to your discussion and something you spoke of interested me. However, I did not believe addressing it before that group would have been conducive to proper conversation.”

The old man’s eyes glazed over upon listening to my vocabulary. He caught the gist of it, however.

“I saw them, three of them.” He looked ecstatic to have a willing audience. “My daughter lives in Mensano and she lost a child to Lamia. The witch spirited my grandson away. I stayed with her and, three nights later, I saw three pale figures jumping over the city wall and then I couldn’t see them anymore.” He bent close and, in a conspiratorial whisper, said, “I think those demons can fly.”

I stifled the snicker threatening to escape me. “Let’s pray not, else nowhere will be safe,” I replied seriously. “And I am sorry for the loss of your grandson.” My words were sincere and I laid a sympathetic hand on his arm. I thanked him for his time and struck him dully on the back of his head. He immediately collapsed. I did not kill him. Rather, it served a double-purpose. On the one hand, it destroyed his short-term memory (obviously, I did not know it by that term at the time, but I had observed in humans a limited amnesia that erased all memories following a blow to the head) so he’d conveniently forget our encounter. On the other hand, it sent him reeling into unconsciousness. It was the least I could do; the child’s disappearance had not let him sleep a night through for weeks.

Gently grabbing him by his arms, I laid him upon the steps of a nearby house so no one would trip over him. Straightening, I meandered back to the market, looking for anything even remotely entertaining.

A play was being announced and I cheerfully strode to the area designated. A foot shot across my way, almost tripping me.

“Why are you avoiding me?” Like me, Lidia was cloaked, hers a beautiful, soft yellow. Unlike me, annoyance laced with hurt twisted her ethereal features.

“Am I?”

Lidia’s frown grew more pronounced in response. “Yes, you fool.”

“Forgive me if I hurt you, my dear. It was not my intention to avoid you.” Even though it was. “There is just an interesting play taking place today.” Translation: I’d rather watch our food play than head back to the palazzo. “And I am simply dying to see it.” Because if I returned home, either I would die or I would kill Adelina. “What could have made you think otherwise?” What indeed.

“What indeed.” Lidia crossed her arms before her.

Damn, I am good!

“Rather,” she continued acerbically, “I believe you are trying to avoid me. All of us, in fact, seeing as you’d rather watch a mediocre play interpreted by what will become your meal than be with us. It’s not as if you ought to fear for your life or Adelina’s. Do you honestly think I would let you kill her or her you?”

Damn it, she knew me too well.

Her features softened. “Come home, Aro. I miss you.”

“Don’t lie. All you miss is having a personal moving target.”

“Which means I do miss you.”

I rolled my eyes. “You are a pest.”

“You do love me!” she gushed.

“You have been around Adelina too long.” I placed a hand over her forehead, as if checking for a fever. “I always suspected, but that delusion proves you’re insane.”

She slapped my hand away, I shoved her and she tripped me.

Yes, Lidia and I were always very mature around one another.

The reason she was “missing” me—though I will argue from here until the end of the world that all she missed was someone against whom she could contest—was that, for the last two days, I had been avoiding my coven as much as possible. The day after the battle, I had not been in the best of possible moods and, knowing my temper, I felt it better to avoid them than risk getting angry. Not looking at Adelina meant being able to ignore painful thoughts, something I was happy about. Unfortunately, that had also meant avoiding Lidia who was trying to forge a relationship with Adelina. Despite our outward appearance of near-constant, vicious fighting, Lidia was my younger sister, one I loved to play with and taunt mercilessly. So, I took a deep breath and turned in the direction of the palazzo.

Lidia seized my arm. “Where are you going?”

I looked at her as if she had sprouted two heads. “Home,” I replied slowly, in case Caius had begun rubbing off on her.

“Why?”

Well, that answered my question as to whether she had been around Caius too long.

I blinked in response. “Why shouldn’t I? Isn’t that what you wanted me to do, return?”

“No,” she giggled, “though I’m delighted you’d do so just for me.”

I simpered mockingly.

“I just wanted to spend some time with you. Let’s go see this play.” Her eyes glinted mischievously. “We can mock it. You know you like making fools out of fools.”

Looking at her suddenly excited face, I couldn’t help it. I threw my head back and laughed. She grinned widely, pleased with my response. Already, I felt better than I had in a few days.

For the next couple of hours, we gleefully criticized the play. I surmised the play was a tragedy; I was too distracted by the horrid acting and Lidia standing up to teach the actors how to properly dramatize their own death to pay attention to the details. Watching a certain immortal woman dance toward the center, then stage her death left me holding my sides from laughter. If I could have cried, I would have. Then, the little witch had the gall to call me up to teach them how to project! Still laughing, I joined Lidia and the troupe of actors. Lidia had them all wrapped around her little finger, so they gladly welcomed me. Just one example of how endearing Lidia could be was that she could make friends with people who, five minutes before, she had been insulting. With Lidia in charge of body language and facial expressions, I handled projection, enunciation and intonation.

“Projection,” I began, “is extremely important and not only in the realm of acting. Projection is the ability to be heard without needing to yell. The audience must be able to hear you clearly, but you must not scream. Screaming damages your voice, not to mention you will not be understood well. So, let us begin with some vocalization exercises.”

“I don’t need them,” a short man with an exaggerated amount of eyebrows interrupted. “I can project.”

I arched an eyebrow. “Can you? Let us hear then.”

“TESSA, MY LOVE! OPEN THE DOOR!”

“What are you doing? I told you not to yell!” I snapped, uncovering my ears.

“I’M NOT! I’M PRO-JEC-TING!” he yelled, enunciating carefully.

I promptly slapped him with the script. “No, you are an i-di-ot,” I mocked him. His companions snickered.

A few hours later, they were acting beautifully, even for human standards. They begged us to remain for the show and Lidia and I obliged. The crowd, jeering them before, was now hushed in awe and slowly building as word reached others until the plaza was packed with people. Lidia and I sat in the honored platform, which was a bit higher than the others and made it easier to enjoy the play. By the end, most of the crowd had been reduced to tears. Lidia and I grinned at each other, delighted by the actors’ improvement. When it ended, at the magnificent finale, the troupe received a standing ovation. They ran to us, thanking us profusely and trying to give us a portion of their winnings. Lidia and I refused at first, but finally accepted a few coins to honor them. Amidst laughter and cheers, we bid farewell and Lidia and I headed home.

Halfway out of the plaza, Lidia’s face suddenly lit in a beatific smile and she veered away. Marcus leaned against a wall, smiling at her. As Lidia danced toward him, his arms opened and he grabbed her by the waist, lifting her easily off the ground. He twirled her, holding her tightly to him. Her silvered laughter brought a smile to all who heard her. Several men glared enviously at Marcus. For a very, very short moment, I had to admire how beautifully they seemed to complete each other. Still holding her to his side, Marcus mockingly glared at me.

“Un-be-lievable,” he drawled. “You abandon us to teach humans how to act. You are a constant surprise.”

“And a delight,” I quipped.

“No. I’ve yet to discover anything delightful about you.”

I rounded on Lidia. “Do you see how your mate treats me? Aren’t you going to defend me?”

“Not at all,” she replied brightly. Her smile was dazzling. “You’re not as pretty.”

While I scoffed, Marcus raised an eyebrow at Lidia. “That’s why you love me? Because of how I look?”

Lidia smiled mischievously. She trailed her fingers up his arm. “That…and a few other things.”

I mimed retching and Lidia picked up a rock—with her hands, surprisingly enough—and threw it at me.

As we headed back to the palazzo, my cheer began to fade. By the time Caius greeted us at the doors, I was in a foul mood.

“Caius, no.” Marcus frowned before Caius had even opened his mouth.

I shoved past him, but his voice followed me.

“Are we to keep catering to his childish whims?” Annoyance crept over Caius’ face, his voice colored darkly. “Marcus, you feed his absurd needs and it must stop.”

I shut the wide double doors on his ridicule and turned to face Adelina. Lidia had taken her to a famed tailor and had several gowns made. She wore a celestial blue dress with a double fold in the skirt. Her belt was edged in gold as was her jewelry and her pale hair was loose around her face, smooth and vacant of all expression. Her scarlet eyes followed me as I walked away from her.

“She haunts you, doesn’t she.” It was not a question. I paused, feeling Adelina’s eyes on my back. “Chiara. Did you love her?”

I whirled, gaping at her—unbelieving that she would question me as to that. She misunderstood my expression.

“It’s my ability,” she explained. “I learn the things that hurt you most and—”

“Learn how to destroy your victim utterly without ever laying a hand on them,” I finished bitterly. I felt a dark smile carve across my face. “Yes, I’m well acquainted with how your ability works.”

Adelina’s eyes widened, surprise spasming across her delicate features. “How can you? No one but Caius knows precisely what I can do.”

My laugh was cold; I drew one of the large coins the actors had given to Lidia and me from my pocket, mindlessly threading it through my fingers. “You were lied to. I do not simply know if someone is lying. I learn every thought you have ever had. So, I’ve known of your ability.”

Adelina stepped back hastily, one hand raised to her mouth. “You…know…every thought?” Horror colored her voice. At my brisk nod, her eyes lit in an indignant, hateful fire. “How dare you, you—you—” Words failed her in her anger. “My thoughts are my own!” she hissed dangerously. “What gives you the right to view them?”

“Why, you.” My eyes widened in faux innocence. “You held out your hand.”

Adelina’s look turned murderous. A soft, golden light immediately suffused her body.

I smiled sweetly at her, still playing with the coin.

I was ready for her illusion and recognized it immediately. The sudden loss of noise, the feeling of heaven and earth changing positions. And, what I’d been looking for: two scarlet moons crowning the sky, visible through the high windows. Still smiling, I looked down at my hand. It was open, the coin seemingly gone. I laughed and, taking my empty hand, I arched it back, hurling nothing at the point between and immediately below the two moons. A sudden short cry of pain shattered the silence and the illusion around me flickered and collapsed into nothing. My smile widening, I glanced at Adelina, who was holding a hand to her forehead in shock. The coin, bent, clattered to a stop on the tile.

How could a coin hurt her you ask? Throw anything hard enough and fast enough and it will hurt. Simple physics. As for how I could break her illusion, I’d been alive for five hundred years. I learn quickly, particularly when able to touch another. From touching her, I learned how to defeat her illusions.

“How could you—?” she gasped.

My lips twisted in a grotesque impersonation of a smile. “I have no desire to learn your mind. I will not touch you. Neither will you ever trick or torture me again. And now,” I inclined my head in a mocking bow, “if you will excuse me.”

As I continued to my bedroom, Adelina’s words rang in my mind.

She haunts you, doesn’t she.

Yes, Chiara haunted me. As did Leandro and Milena. My human family was a constant reminder of my failure, an unceasing sign of my inability to destroy the man who had ripped a life from me. My glee with finding Lidia, Marcus and Caius had driven Piero from my mind, but Adelina had brought his memory violently back into focus. I could no longer allow myself to be distracted.

Taking a satchel, I packed a spare set of robes and my money. I cast a look around the room, committing it to memory. Then, I walked out.

I stumbled upon Lidia on the staircase and she glanced at my set expression and the bag on my shoulder. A sudden realization crept onto her divine face, her gem-like eyes fearful.

“Where are you going?” Her voice was a soft bell, shy and unsure.

“I am leaving.”

“Why?” Distress colored her voice, softened it until it was but a quiet gasp. A sudden guilt infused me as I saw her heavenly features twist in pain. “You can’t go,” she whispered, voice breaking.

“I’ll send messages when I can.” I avoided her questions and stepped past her.

Distantly, I heard her run, a rustle of silk. “Marcus!” she screamed.

I ignored Caius and Adelina in the main room, Caius starting in surprise, Adelina’s look a mix of fright and unwilling respect.

I fled the city under cover of darkness. I waited momentarily, listening for the sounds of anyone following me. I expected Lidia to settle beside me, but it was Marcus instead. I was, however, not surprised.

Unlike Lidia, who would have latched onto my arm and begged me to tell her why I was leaving, Marcus did not speak. It’s a trait of his I have long admired. Raised like Anna in Asia Minor, they both are a mix of what you now call Western and Eastern influences. Unlike in the so-called Western world where all lulls in conversation are immediately filled and silence is deemed as awkward, Marcus and Anna understood the power of silence, how it could soothe, comfort and invite more information than questions.

“Silence does not give consent,” Anna would argue with me later. “Silence provides knowledge.”

“Questions are necessary to extract knowledge, more so than silence,” I would counter.

Anna would smile her slow, small smile, the one that made her carmine eyes darken and told me I’d lost.

“You’re wrong,” she would say simply. “Through questions, you receive only the information you want and, sometimes, not even that. Questions can be answered ambiguously. By observing and waiting patiently, however, you will find yourself in possession of the information you need.”

When she learned about my ability, she used it as one of her weapons, stating succinctly how I did not speak when I used it, but listened, asking nothing and learning everything.

The silence debate is one of the arguments—and they’re very few, I can assure you—in which I cannot defeat her. Even if she begs to differ.

And so it was with Marcus. He spoke not a word, but his figure was calm and tranquil and I soon found myself at ease. He did not question me or press me, but I began to speak, telling him of what had happened in the past two days. I will not reiterate what I told him as it is just a summation of what I’ve told you. I spoke to him of the effect Adelina’s illusion had wreaked upon me and the horrid reminder that Piero was still alive. I could not move on until that part of my life was finally dealt with and I either destroyed it or was destroyed by it.

When I finished, Marcus slowed to a halt and turned to face me. “Where shall we head first?”

I blinked. “Pardon?”

“Where do we begin to look?” Marcus paraphrased, his tone gentle. “You can’t imagine I would let you go alone?”

“And what about Lidia? Aren’t you her permanent accessory?”

“Are you suggesting I’m incapable of surviving half a day without her?”

“I’m suggesting no such thing. I’m sure I said it clearly.”

The corners of Marcus’ mouth twitched into a small smile. “Very well, you know my weakness. I’m still coming with you.”

“Why?” My tone was carefully neutral.

“I promised you once I would aid you in your search.” Marcus shrugged. “I would be remiss to renege on my pledge now.”

I felt very touched at that moment. Of all of us, Marcus was always the empathic soul, but I was still overcome by his willingness to leave Volterra to help me.

“Aro,” his tone was gentle, “come back. Lidia has contacts throughout Europe and Asia. We can track him from Volterra and, once we find him, we shall all come with you and help you in any way. But, for now, come home.”

I looked at him for a long time. “How soon is Lidia expected to be here?”

“In a few minutes.”

“She’s going to hit me if I don’t return with you, isn’t she?”

“Now, Aro, Lidia is a delicate soul, never violent.”

I arched an incredulous eyebrow.

Marcus smiled, raising hands as if to admit defeat. “Although with you, a different facet of her personality does tend to appear,” he acknowledged. “If only you didn’t irritate her so.”

I irritate her? Dear gods, you are blinded by her.”

“She is very beautiful.”

“You’re pathetic.”

Marcus only laughed. “Let’s go home, Aro.”

The trip to Volterra passed silently until we reached the outer wall.

“Aro?” Marcus began hesitantly.

“Hmm?”

“I feel I must speak to you about this now.”

I stopped. “What is it?”

“Do you remember that chess game you and Caius played where you made a bet?”

“Yes…”

“You lost the bet. I tried to talk to Caius, but all I could do was tone down the sign a bit. It was going to be massive.”

There was a pregnant pause.

I turned right back around, prepared to flee as fast as I could.

“Aro! You’ve returned!” I barely had time to turn when a red-haired whirlwind flew into me, slender hands wrapping tightly around my waist. My hands settled on her clothed shoulders, as if to push her away.

“Hello, Lidia.” I gasped. “Would you mind—?”

“Yes,” she quipped, refusing to let go. She looked up, her ruby eyes beseeching. “Don’t leave, Aro. Who will I hurt if you’re gone?”

“Caius,” I replied promptly.

Marcus snickered. “Oh, she did.”

“She did what?”

“Hit Caius.”

“You did?” I questioned the now sheepishly grinning vixen who had finally let go.

“It wasn’t the same.” She shook her head sadly. I held out my hand and she rested her palm on mine.

Immediately, the scene as I had left it unfurled in my mind: Caius insulting me and Lidia’s progressively deteriorating tolerance until—

“You made him run into a wall?”

“Then threw him out a window,” Lidia finished proudly. “Only I am allowed to insult, malign, abuse, criticize and otherwise make you feel inferior.”

I was amazed. “Striking Caius instead of me. I am stunned.”

“Oh, that reminds me!” Lidia, smiling sweetly, closed the distance between us—and slapped me. “That’s for making me think you were abandoning us, you idiot!” she snarled.

As Lidia glowered at me, Marcus clapped me on the shoulder. Sympathetically, he said, “You brought this upon yourself.”

Considering how his mate was present and not happy with me, I refrained from decking him.

Family. Laughing together, playing together, and beating one another. What fun.

Once she overcame her initial annoyance, Lidia sent word to her many contacts, asking for any knowledge about a vampire once known as Piero Acerbi. Solid leads began to appear, pinpointing a trail that had begun in southern Gaul—a region you now know as France—and trailed throughout southern Europe and Asia Minor.

As the months passed, Adelina was accepted by all as another member of the coven and Caius and I returned to our usual bantering.

I did have to wear the bloody idiot sign. Damn that Caius.

Volterra was prosperous and our coven grew stronger, wealthier and more powerful.

Of course, something bad was about to happen. And the most unlikely event of all heralded it. The Belverde coven leader had fallen in love.