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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?


20. Disintermediation

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Birds of a feather flock together,
And so will pigs and swine;
Rats and mice will have their choice,
And so I will have mine.

After the initial shock, Lidia regained the power of speech first.

“Anna?” She stood gracefully, flitting over to Anna’s side in an instant. “Aro has always had a barbarous clothing taste. You must feel so uncomfortable in only this, dear. Come with me; I’ll find you a dress.”

And without further ado, she drew Anna close to her as if they were lifelong friends and lead her out of the room. Anna shot a startled look at me, but I could only nod in reassurance.

If anyone had a capacity for stunning others into silence greater than mine, it was Lidia. Ethereal looks aside.

After I regained some measure of control over my ability to reason, I appreciated Lidia’s quick thinking. Although I had no doubt that Lidia had snatched Anna away in order to clothe her properly (Lidia could not stand the sight of anyone wearing what she deemed “rags”— meaning anything that was not in fine taste or even finer quality), she had stolen Anna away so that Anna would not be witness to—or victim of—the incoming storm of an argument.

I didn’t have to wait long for it. Caius never disappoints.

“You imbecile!” That was actually the least he called me. The rest I’ve deemed much too crude to repeat in your presence. I’m afraid some censoring is necessary for the sake of being politically correct.

“You—you—” After several names and various adjectives shouted in all the languages he knew, Caius finally drew a blank.

“May I speak now?” I asked with faux innocence.

Caius sputtered in his fury.

Marcus stepped forward and squeezed Caius’ shoulders. “Calm, brother. Let me speak to him.” Marcus turned to face me and said dryly, “You are an idiot.”

“Try asinine toerag, beastly piece of filth, mindless pond scum and you still haven’t scratched the surface of his stupidity,” Adelina muttered to no one in particular.

“Yes, yes, we’ve all been assured of the fact multiple times.” I waved away Marcus’ statement and ignored Adelina’s.

“You do realize that you have damned us?” Marcus raised an eyebrow.

“Not if we send word quickly to the Latins and use them as pawns,” I hinted. “Then I’ve only damned the majority of them.”

“Contacting them will take time—”

“Then I suggest you begin,” I interrupted. “Piero must know already I’ve taken Anna. Renata’s screams could be heard outside the city walls.”

“You left witnesses?” Caius hissed, his eyes darkening further.

“Well, of course. How else could I assure that Piero knew without any doubt that I, Aro Deofilion, the man he turned, took his precious Anna?”

If Caius could have turned red with rage, he would have rivaled Lidia’s hair color.

“Now, if you will excuse me,” I continued cheerfully, “I must see to my hostage’s needs.”

“Your ‘hostage’ could try to kill us from here. She probably knows how to get in. How do we ensure she does not try to escape, or even hurt us?” Adelina snapped.

“Oh, she’ll be a good girl. Just ask Marcus.” I motioned to him. “Will she betray us?”

Marcus remained silent for a long time. “No,” he finally said. “Whatever she’s thinking only Aro knows. But she has no ill wish toward us. There is only fear…and hope.”

“Hope?” Caius repeated disbelievingly. I escaped while he was distracted and sought out my two favorite women. I found them in Lidia’s bedroom where Lidia had seated Anna on the lectus and was plaiting her long hair. Anna held very still, now dressed in a beautiful blue robe, a silver girdle encircling her waist. As Lidia weaved silver ribbons into Anna’s dark hair, she chattered about silly, safe subjects, mainly me.

“—I simply couldn’t stand for it. This little upstart believing himself more clever than me? He never dared cross me after that beating. Or, at least not in the same way. I tell you I will never forget the way all of his clothing simply ripped apart at once, leaving him stark naked in the middle of the palazzo…”

Anna choked out a laugh. Although still tense, she was visibly more relaxed, her ruby eyes glinting mischievously as she learned embarrassing stories about me. Indignant, I was prepared to interrupt when Lidia finished Anna’s plait and came around to sit beside her, taking both of Anna’s hands in hers.

“Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?”

Anna tensed again, her face turning smooth as marble.

“You may. But I may not answer,” she responded slowly.

Lidia laughed her silvery laugh. “I’m starting to see why Aro likes you,” she teased. Her voice turned serious as she continued. “Why are you not resisting?”

“Pardon?” Anna blinked.

“Aro did not bring you here against your will. You are not trying to return. Why?”

Anna looked away. “I don’t know,” she whispered after a moment. “Just…a feeling. A presentiment. That this is…right.” She stumbled slightly on her words, seeking the correct ones.

Lidia smiled kindly. “I hope it is. Aro would be heartbroken if he lost you.”

Anna’s eyes flickered to Lidia’s face, but she said nothing.

I cleared my throat. Anna started, but Lidia simply turned around, frowning. “Eavesdropping is very discourteous, you know.” She raised an eyebrow—and up I went too.

Anna gasped.

“And levitating others without permission or warning is acceptable?” I crossed my arms before my chest as my head slowly turned to face the floor.

“It’s preferable.” Lidia smiled widely—and dropped me. Luckily, she did not restrain my movement so I was able to quickly flip right side up and land on my feet.

Anna leaned ever so slightly away from Lidia.

“You are finished.” Lidia smiled at Anna. “And you look beautiful. I’ll take this as my leave.” She squeezed Anna’s hand very briefly and she floated away.

Anna watched her go and sighed. “Well?”

I knew what she was asking. “They like you.”

Anna scoffed. “And what happens now?”

“We wait.” I shrugged nonchalantly. Anna shook her head, turning her gaze onto the darkened sky.

As it turned out, we did not have to wait long. Hearing a slight commotion, I left Anna in Lidia’s room and walked out to the Great Hall. Livius had arrived on our doorstep. I was surprised when I saw him; he looked quite pleased with something.

“Oh, you must be an idiot, Aro,” he cackled. Yes, he was cackling. It wasn’t a pretty sound. “To be rude and not pay Lord Piero the respect he deserves was nearly intolerable. But to take his mate, oh ho, you just secured your own death!”

“I bid you remember that you are inside our city now,” Marcus interrupted, his face and tone dark. “We do not take kindly to threats nor insults here.”

Livius preened with arrogance. “Well, you will find that your preferences will have to change. Lord Piero demands the safe return of Lady Anna along with Aro Deofilion’s ashes. In return, he promises to not raze your city to the ground.”

“And under what authority does he make these demands?” Caius raised an eyebrow dryly, if such an action can even be considered “dry.”

“Under his own. That of the new King of Italy.”

There was a pregnant pause.

Despite our mostly (“mostly” being in the case of Caius and his mate) fine upbringing, my coven couldn’t control the sudden onslaught of smirks and snickers.

“He’s to unite Etruria, Latium, Sabini and the rest?” Caius laughed derisively. “There is not a man alive capable of uniting the whole of Italy under one rule. He is insane.”

“You will not speak ill of Lord Piero,” Livius intoned darkly.

“Ah, yes, of course. We would not wish to infuriate the almighty King of Italy and risk him tossing the Umbrians at us.” I have to admit, when not aimed at me, Adelina’s depths of scorn are inspired.

Livius looked just as furious as Caius had looked earlier. Except he was even uglier, if you can believe it.

“Livius,” Marcus addressed him. “Send your master this message. We do not respond to threats. If he wants something from us, he will have to come here and get it himself.”

“A no?” Livius asked and he sounded utterly shocked.

“Mmhmm,” Caius glared.

I caught Adelina’s eyes. She grinned viciously and stepped toward a torch a lamp hanging on a wall.

“Actually, if I may interrupt, I have a better message to send.” I stepped forward, smiling at Livius. Adelina then swung the lamp. It shattered upon contact with his body and the oil poured over his hair and clothing, catching flame. He screamed, turning around desperately and Adelina caught his eyes. He went deathly still and with a few deft movements I strode calmly forward, avoiding the flames on his burning body to dismember him. Adelina grabbed another lamp, which she tossed on the pieces of his body, allowing the pyre to grow.

“Who would have guessed? The rat makes for good incense.” Adelina nodded her head approvingly.

Marcus shook his head, sighing. “Well, I suppose that is one way of sending a message.”