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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:


11. Ante Bellum Part 1

Rating 5/5   Word Count 2510   Review this Chapter

The animals came in two by two;
Vive la compagnie!
The centipede with the kangaroo.
Vive la compagnie!

The last vestiges of fall died away, the mild winter shyly taking Italy for herself. Poor Demeter, losing her precious daughter once again.

I considered Persephone, trying to imagine how she must still feel. Did she despise Hades for feeding her the pomegranate seeds? Did she feel her skin crawl, revulsion rise like bile at her throat whenever she looked at him? Or had she come to care for him after so much time, this miserable God of the Dead? Could Persephone, beautiful and bright as spring, ever love Hades?

The story revolved in my mind as I gazed across the smooth expanse of the river. I selected a smooth stone from the pile at my feet and, with an expert flick of the wrist, watched it skip across the water’s surface, once, twice, five, eight times before sinking out of sight.

I shook my head, wondering how I had been brought to the river’s edge to ponder a failed—or perhaps not?—love story. Immediately, images of the past few weeks flashed across my mind.

As much as I’d like to skip to the truly exciting portions, this part must be told for your understanding. So, bear with me for a few moments more.

One full month had passed. Blessed peace.

Adelina avoided me most of the time. During the few times that we did find ourselves together, we gradually overcame our aversion to each other. Unlike Lidia who was exuberant and colorful, Adelina was quiet, more reserved in manner and expression. At one point, I even pitied her. Her past was the most horrifying I had ever encountered, her ability a double-edged sword. To learn the nightmares others possessed, she had to expose herself to them—endure them. Every time she looked upon someone’s horrors, she compared them to her own hauntings, knowing that they would never be equal. By realizing the others’ to be less, she was able to tolerate this abuse long enough to turn it onto her victim. After all, there truly is little worse than eighteen years spent locked in a small, windowless room, subjected to every abuse and every whim of a master and his son. Still, her ability took a huge mental toll on her— she never exposed herself unnecessarily. She attacked only when she felt endangered or when she was particularly infuriated.

My first rational conversation with Adelina occurred a week after one of Lidia’s contacts sent her a message that had me walking on air. He had known Piero when Piero lived in Byzantium (the original town of Byzantium, not the massive city which it would become). He had several human servants conscious of what he was, but only one other vampire with him—his mate. They had left Byzantium about two years before, but the contact promised to try and unearth where he had gone.

I was poring over a map of the Mediterranean area, trying to guess Piero’s most likely route when I heard the soft rustle of Adelina’s robes as she stepped inside the door, closing it gently behind her. Her steps made no sound as she glided towards my bent form, stopping just across from me. Her eyes swept across the map.

“Will you kill him when you find him?” Her tone clashed with her words. She could have been asking me if my robes were new or if I had seen Caius recently.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Lucky,” she said almost to herself. “I don’t have that luxury.” Her hands clenched shut, the knuckles showing absolutely white.

I knew why she did not have that luxury. I also knew she hated my even hinting at the knowledge I’d taken from her. I didn’t feel like fighting that morning; I was in too good a mood. “Why not Adelina?” I asked her, appearing curious.

“The turning killed him. The only satisfaction I have comes from surviving something he did not. But, it’s not the same. It’s nowhere near enough.”

Adelina’s fair face was calm. During those days when we had not patched things over yet, I was always surprised at how someone so hateful could be so stunningly beautiful. In one way, she was much more handsome than Lidia because Lidia’s beauty was so extreme it perturbed all who looked upon her too long. That day, I was also surprised at her steady tone. She was almost as good as me at hiding her true emotions. She could not, however, control the lines standing out in her hands, or the shaking that suffused her palms. Her hands were the only signs of the fury she still carried.

Trying to distract her, I mused off-handedly, “Hmm, well, I can let you do what you will to Piero provided I get the final blow.”

Adelina started in surprise. A vicious smile lit her face. “That sounds like it could be fun.” Her smile faded and she glanced at the floor for a long time. When she looked at me again, her smile was hesitant, as if unsure of me. “Truce?”

It was my turn to react in surprise. I could sense no insincerity in her voice. “Truce.” I smiled.

Adelina’s smile widened. I turned back to the map as she floated to the door.

“Oh Aro?” Adelina paused, looking back momentarily.

“Yes?”

“I feel I ought to warn you. Caius has finally made the sign.”

I didn’t understand for a moment. Then, it struck me. “No,” I gasped in horror.

“Good luck,” she said simply before closing the door.

I promptly called Caius a putrescent toe-rag in every language I knew. Damn him.

While peace had finally descended on our coven—relatively speaking—outside Volterra, a new war loomed, far different from the preceding one.

Lidia danced towards me a few weeks later, a mischievous smile lighting her face. “You will never guess what has happened.”

“Caius has finally learned basic sums.”

At the other side of the room, Caius raised his head from where he had been conversing with Adelina, one eyebrow arched. I smiled innocently at him.

“No, you know only a miracle from the gods could make Caius do such a thing,” Lidia replied glibly. I snickered at the look on Caius’ face.

“Aro, your sign is crooked. It makes you look even more like a hypocritical idiot,” he called. My snicker died a premature death. I scowled at him.

“Listen to me!” Lidia interrupted before Caius and I began an argument. “There is a new member in the Belverde coven. It seems as if the leader has taken her for a mate.”

“If that’s true, it raises their number again to three. Moreover, if she is Adriano’s mate, it would make him that much more protective,” Caius mused.

“Do the other covens know already?” Marcus had walked in to hear Lidia telling us of the new female.

“No,” Lidia replied, facing him. “We’re the first.”

“We’ll have to find some way to learn about her, see if she possesses any extraneous capabilities that could make her a threat to us.” Caius continued, thinking aloud. At his words, Caius, Marcus, Lidia and Adelina each turned to face me as one.

“Oh no. Last time I wanted to go, but you said Caius had to be the one. Why not send him?” I subtly shoved the sign under my sash, itching to rip it to pieces.

“Is the little boy annoyed he didn’t get his way?” Caius taunted.

“Yes, but the little boy will feel much better when he grabs this sign and shoves it—”

“Aro.” Marcus frowned. Lidia laughed and Adelina smiled. “There is no war council so you are best suited. Besides, you could return with a mate as well. That sign is quite attractive.”

Even Adelina snickered at my furious look.

We sent a message to Belverde, requesting an audience to offer our congratulations and meet the female. An enthusiastic yes was returned.

One evening, in the midst of preparations, I stumbled upon Lidia and Marcus, half-hidden in the shadows. I hurried away to grant them their privacy, but I heard something that drew me up short.

“Do you promise?” Lidia’s voice was low. I could feel the dazzling smile in her tone.

“Of course,” said Marcus and I could just see him brush a titian strand of hair away from Lidia’s face. “I told you I would plan the grandest wedding for you and I shall.”

I left them to avoid overhearing anymore. The prospect of a wedding bothered me. I knew Lidia was much more tied to her human past than anyone else; she still retained almost all her memories whereas the rest all suffered from varying degrees of memory loss. (If you must know, the order form most to least was Lidia, Caius, me, Marcus, Anna and Adelina, with the last two having done their utmost to forget as much as they could.) This loss led to an estrangement between our vampiric present and human past, which usually leads to our viewing you not as the creatures we once were, but as a separate species, one that we must feed upon to remain above our baser instincts. That was why the idea of a wedding, such a human notion, seemed strange, almost ridiculous. We do not require a superfluous binding ceremony. Vampires do not leave their mates. We cannot. And such a human ceremony seemed, well, stupid.

But, Lidia was always different. She held on to her human memories with such ferocity it was frightening. This closeness to humans was what had lead her to take measures to “humanize” our feeding habits, mainly kill the human quickly and without their noticing before feeding upon them.

I had no time to question them later, however. A mere three days before our meeting, the Belverde coven was annihilated. The female that had entered their ranks was a traitor. She had seduced Adriano to make it easy for her own coven to destroy them and take their territory. It had happened so quickly, we knew nothing about it until we received a missive specifying that there had been a change in power in Belverde and an invitation to meet with the new coven and to consider forging an allegiance to defend our common territory.

“It sounds like a trap,” Adelina stated matter-of-factly after she finished re-reading the note. It was only through Lidia’s contacts that we had learned of the Belverde coven’s true violent end. We weren’t surprised at the news—power often times changed hands so quickly it was almost ridiculous—but we had not heard of a coven destroyed so easily, especially one as strong as the Belverde had been.

“The other covens have also received similar messages.” Lidia sat beside Marcus, her delicate hand held in his. “If it is a trap, it is odd that they would invite all the powerful covens in the area. How can they hope to subdue them all?”

“It’s strange either way.” Caius massaged his right temple. “If we do not go and it proves to be an honest meeting to forge alliances, we may lose a lot of influence. Lidia said Lucca had already agreed to meet with them and Leo has had his eye on Volterra for a long time. We can’t afford to give Lucca any sort of advantage. On the other hand, if it is a trap, well, between Lidia and Adelina we have very little to fear, don’t we?” Caius smirked.

Marcus nodded slowly. “We’ll have to risk it,” he pronounced. “We’ll go, but keep a sharp eye out. At the first suspicious moment, we leave.”

By the time we arrived at Belverde five days later, the Lucca coven, along with several other powerful covens of the Italian peninsula, were assembled. Our hosts had not yet made an appearance. However, they had arranged for excellent entertainment. A young vampiress sang a soprano of unearthly beauty, accompanied by a small troupe of musicians. An area had been cleared for dancing. A heady din of laughter and gossip suffused the air.

I quietly observed the scene. There were four doors, but only two were large enough to prove troublesome to block. One led further into the palazzo while the other was the one through which we had entered. We remained close to this door, standing on a corner of a slightly elevated dais where the musicians were assembled and from where we had an excellent view of the room and its occupants. Leo was showing off to a group of interested vampires. From his movements, I had no doubt he was exaggerating his role in the past war. Keeping to themselves, the Roman coven kept glancing furtively around them. I couldn’t blame them for their paranoia; Rome was a no man’s land. A new coven took control what seemed like every other week. There was even a Greek coven, surprisingly enough; the men were sheer muscle and the two females weren’t far behind. I guessed them to be from Sparta.

“Stop fidgeting,” Lidia hissed at me, interrupting my reverie.

“It’s not my fault,” I snapped. “This wretched sign won’t stay under my sash.”

Caius actually had the gall to snicker.

Before I could tell him exactly what he could do to himself, a human male appeared opposite us before the second large door. The presence of a human stunned most of the vampires assembled into silence and the others hushed when he spoke. “Good evening to all assembled. I have the honor tonight of presenting to you my masters: Piero, Livius and Anna.”

A sudden cold suffused me.

Behind him, three figures appeared. Livius was scowling. He was dressed in expensive-looking clothing, but he looked more bitter and haggard than ever before. Next to him, in the middle, Piero smirked. His red eyes carefully traced over the crowd. His clothing and manner were a testament to his success after leaving Ticinum. A sharp hatred flooded my dead veins. Almost without meaning to, I glanced to his left at the last member of the coven, prepared to despise her for her affiliation with Piero.

If my heart had been beating, it would have stopped. Even so, I felt a sharp clenching feeling in my chest.

She wasn’t the most beautiful vampire I had seen. Adelina and Lidia outstripped her by far. But I had never before encountered such a seductive or commanding presence. The sole female before me was sheer temptation. She wore a white tunic of such fine material it was almost translucent and, while it covered her efficiently, it enticed the imagination. A gold belt emphasized her diminutive waist while the skirt clung to her, showcasing her firm legs while revealing nothing at the same time. Her long black curls were pulled away from her face with a series of golden circlets that made it seems as if it were a black cascade flowing down her back. A red mantle settled over her shoulders, richly embroidered with gold and rubies. Her only piece of jewelry was a set of triangular golden earrings. The gold, red and black contrasted beautifully with her pale skin and set off her rich crimson eyes. A small smile adorned her full lips.

An aching longing awoke within me as I beheld Anna for the first time. Instead of hating her as I wished, I wanted her as I’d never coveted anything before.