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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:


18. Persephone

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The King was in his counting house, r32;
Counting out his money; r32;
The Queen was in the parlorr32;
Eating bread and honey. r32;
The maid was in the garden, r32;
Hanging out the clothes. r32;
Along there came a big black birdr32;
And snipped off her nose!

A somber atmosphere descended over the palazzo.

Marcus maintained a paranoid watch over Volterra. Lidia looked after him each time he left to roam the city, but did not follow. She knew him—his very mood—better than she knew herself. He would want to be alone. She would bow her glorious head hopelessly.

Caius, meanwhile, became even more irascible than normal. He reached such an extreme that even Adelina could not stand him. Her mood wasn’t much better than his, snapping at anyone who dared even look at her wrong.

I varied between a despondency that sapped me of any willpower and a nervous energy that had me pacing from room to room. We awaited a response from Lidia’s numerous acquaintances, but did not hope.

It was on a slow day like any other when the door slammed open.

“Aro!” I turned at the sound of my name. Marcus sprinted toward me.

“What is it? I frowned. His face was too anxious for my comfort. Marcus held out his hand, palm facing upward.

A stroll through the city. A careful watch over its perimeter. A strange but familiar scent in the breeze. Dark curls disappearing around a large tree. A sense of foreboding.

I had to follow her.

I don’t mean you harm.” Anna clutched at the mantle clasped at her neck, her knuckles white. “I need to speak to Aro.”

No deceit showed in the cord of her relationship to Marcus, one almost as opaque as that of complete strangers.

Don’t worry. I’ll find him and bring him here.”

Before I could see the entire memory, I was running.

“Aro, wait!” Marcus called. I ignored him. Anna was back. She had returned. My glee, however, was tainted by the memory I had seen. I could not forget the faint tremble in the hands that clutched her mantle like a lifeline, or the glimmer of fear in her eyes.

She was just outside the wall, precisely where Marcus had left her. She did not appear to have moved at all. The breeze had died so not even a single strand of her hair swayed out of place.

“Anna! Anna, darling, what is happening?” I reached to pull her against me. She hastily stepped out of my way.

“Don’t,” she commanded.

“Love, what’s wrong?’ I tried to move closer, but she promptly jerked back

“Don’t call me ‘love’,” she snapped. “Listen to me.” She glared at me when I tried to speak again. “I came to put an end to our charade. We cannot maintain it any longer.”

I reeled back as if from a physical blow. “What happened? Did Piero realize—?” Hatred infused my dead veins as I wondered if he could have hurt her.

“No, he doesn’t know.” She shook her head quickly, her arms wrapped tightly around her torso.

“Then why—?”

“You need to leave.” Her gaze seized mine. “You all do.” She nodded to Marcus behind me; I hadn’t realized that he had followed. “You need to take what you need and run as far away from here as you can. You must trust me,” she continued before I could argue.

“But why do we need to leave?” Marcus’ voice was tranquil, his eyes intently trying to calm her.

Anna closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them, they were as distant as the stars. Her face became impassive. I could not read her anymore. “I’m sorry, but I can’t divulge that.”

“Then we won’t leave,” I replied stubbornly. ”This is our home. Without a good reason, we won’t abandon it.”

“My warning counts as nothing?”

“You won’t tell us why you’re warning us!” I was half-crazed at not being able to touch her.

“Anna,” Marcus interjected peacefully, “surely you can see why we would have trouble accepting a need to flee when we do not know what that need is.”

“I know,” she sighed. “But I cannot speak further. Cannot,” she emphasized. “Aro, please, I know how insane this sounds and I know you have no reason to trust me, but please.”

“No,” I replied shortly.

Her face twisted into a harsh grimace. At any other time it would have been amusing. “You are infuriating!” she half-screamed.

“And you are hysterical,” I observed dryly. Her shoulders quivered in anger,

“Gods! You—you—”

“I—I, what? Can’t think of anymore epithets, sweetheart?” I taunted. In a childish fit of rage, I wanted her to suffer as much as I had when she had simply vanished.

Anna bit her lower lip to avoid a retort. She turned to Marcus. “This is your final answer then?” Her voice was hard as ice.

Marcus nodded once. Anna’s head bowed in response, her hands clenched into tight fists at her side. Her shoulders shook.

“I’ve done what I can.” Her voice was so quiet I almost missed her words. When she glanced up, it was not that strange fear I saw, but pain. A sharp pain. “May the gods look kindly upon you then,” she whispered. This time, she stepped toward me.

Her kiss was as passionate as the first we shared, but there was an edge to it I did not recognize until I gleaned the thought that came with it.

Goodbye.

The language I speak accounts for the distinction between temporary and permanent farewells. Anna spoke the term signifying a permanent separation.

The Story that rushed forward made me stumble in surprise. Anna seized my moment’s pause to run and disappear amongst the trees.

“Anna!” I yelled. I began to run after her, but Marcus grabbed onto my arm.

“Wait! You can’t go after her!” Marcus held on tighter as I tried to fight him off.

“Piero is finally moving,” I snarled. “A Persian contingent awaits his orders. I’m saving her!” I threw him off me.

“She’s been using you, Aro! Just as you have been using her. She doesn’t love you.”

“I’m well aware of that,” I snapped.

“Are you?” Marcus replied coldly. “Sometimes, I wonder if you do.”

I turned my vision from the forest long enough to glare at his retreating form.

It turns out I was mistaken in thinking that no coven would dare to aid us. Lidia and her vast net of friends and allies did indeed come to our rescue.

The Latins, unlike the Etruscans, were brash, impulsive and eager for a fight. Long had they eyed the rich lands of the Etruscans, but been unable to take them from the already established covens. A chance to defeat a Persian contingent and secure some lands for themselves was the realization of a dream. Teaming up with an Etruscan coven was simply a part of the bargain.

We had our allies. Piero had returned. All that was needed was the spark.

I walked out of Volterra, traveling without destination. I needed to escape Marcus’ looks, Lidia’s worry, Caius’ irritation and Adelina’s scorn. I smiled bitterly. I could barely stand my coven. I wanted someone else.

I looked up when the lighting changed. I was in the copse of trees shielding Anna’s pond from view. How ironic that I would be led here. I turned my back on the pond, facing the widening river.

The last vestiges of fall were dying with each falling leaf. Demeter had lost her daughter yet again.

For a moment I considered Persephone, fresh as spring. Did she despise Hades for tying her to him? For taking her away from her old life, those empty joys?

Or had she, by some miracle, come to care for him, this miserable God of the Dead? Could Persephone, beautiful and bright and teasing as spring, love Hades?

Why am I thinking of a love story? I wondered, selecting a smooth stone from the ground and skipping it over the surface of the river. I picked up another stone and threw it, shattering the water’s smooth surface.

Caius scoffed at the Latins’ near-childish eagerness for war, but I understood them. I burned for a fight, an almost physical ache. Piero had destroyed my family; I never saw my daughter again. Now, he withheld Anna from me as his most precious possession. Despite her hatred of him, she remained loyal. She suspected, as I did, that it was the result of some ability, but she did not know the specifics. Therefore, neither did I. What could he possibly do that tied someone who despised him so to him? And more importantly, how could I draw him out of Belverde? The longer we waited, the more forces he would amass. A direct attack on the citadel was suicide. But what would make him abandon safety without question?

I grinned. Anna. Of course, Anna would draw him out. Anna was the only thing he wouldn’t bear to lose, especially to me. But she refused to be near me, refused to endanger me even as she refused to help me. I would have to force her to stand me again… but I could enjoy that.

I shook my head quickly. No, I needed to focus on how to find her, not seduce her. She wouldn’t leave Belverde; I knew that from her thoughts. How could I find her?

Will you storm the citadel, kidnap her and bring her here?

I smirked. Marcus did had his moments of brilliancy. If I succeeded, it would be a terrible blow to Piero’s ego. I couldn’t stifle my laugh as I imagined his face when he realized I had stolen Anna from his very grasp.