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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:


4. Deofilion, Part 2

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Who's afraid of the big bad wolf ?
The big bad wolf
The big bad wolf
Who's afraid of the big bad wolf ?

He was so accustomed to me; he did not register my presence behind him. As a vampire, I knew he would be difficult to kill but I was not going to let that keep me from giving him what he deserved.

I dove at him, my teeth sinking into his shoulder. I had to apply more pressure than usual but I managed to tear through his skin. A strong jerk severed his arm from his shoulder.

He whirled around, one hand raised ready to retaliate but I was ready. I caught his arm and held on tightly; I then aimed for his neck.

His body writhed under me and I could feel more than hear the horrified growl vibrating from his chest. He struggled against me but I was stronger. I was also furious, which lent me a viciousness I did not know I possessed.

Slamming my jaw shut, I managed to tear through his neck. I quickly bit through the remaining hinge of skin that connected his head to his body.

With the head disconnected, it was easier to rip him into jagged pieces, my enire frame trembling with excitement.

Once I finished, I stepped back to examine what I had done.

“It suits you,” I said to the pieces that were once Livius.

Remembering that I needed to burn the pieces in order to destroy him completely, I gathered several dry branches and leaves and two stones. I organized the tinder amongst the gory mound and took the two stones in my hands. Holding them close to the tinder, I moved to strike them—

“We’re going hunting.” Livius’s frown was particularly endearing that evening. “You will be watching for others so stop daydreaming.”

I looked after him as he disappeared in the direction of the town with Fortunata. I felt my upper lip curl into a snarl.

Bastard interrupting my dream. Such a lovely one too.

His orders were unsurprising however. The only words he ever delivered to me were orders.

“Keep a lookout while we hunt.”

“Aro, we are leaving now. Come.”

“You may go hunt now, but return quickly.”

“I am speaking, hold your tongue.”

I tolerated that for four hundred years. Barely, but I did.

Surprised? No more than I am. I suppose it speaks volumes about my need for revenge. I have never been one who takes kindly to having my plans changed. Things are done as I say or they are done as I say. The only difference between the two options is that the second involves the dismemberment and subsequent burning of whoever dares question me.

I don’t consider myself cruel. I just don’t like those arrogant enough to believe they can defy me. That’s all.

Which means that, as I am sure you managed to infer from my reverie, Livius and I were the very best of friends.

No, not really. Don’t your people use sarcasm?

Well, that explains it.

To ensure our sarcasm-less friend understands, my relationship with Livius and Fortunata was estranged at best. Livius absolutely despised being told what to do, even in the form of a suggestion. Obviously, I would inject “suggestions” in every conversation while subtly questioning his leadership skills, his intelligence and his masculinity among other things.

I’m delighted to say he absolutely loathed me.

Fortunata was an utter disappointment. Unlike Anna, Adelina or even Lidia, she never questioned Livius, never challenged him. Everything he said she agreed with.

We would come upon other covens from time to time. One included a man with an angel’s face who would not stop looking at Fortunata. I am sure that if she could have blushed, she would have. Livius did not miss this. He promptly hissed at her not to look at him and ordered her to stand behind him. Had Marcus told Lidia that same thing, Lidia—who adored Marcus—would have laughed in his face. Adelina would have ignored Caius and, if pressed, slapped him. Anna would have cheerfully told me where exactly I should go and precisely what do with myself there. Fortunata, however, bowed her head, turned to stand behind Livius and apologized.

I stifled the urge to roll my eyes. Instead, I walked up to the two men and extended a hand in welcome. In Livius’s coven, I was expendable therefore I was the one to greet others. If he had known what I could do, I doubt he would have been so enthusiastic about throwing me into danger.

That’s the one weakness my power has. It requires an incredibly dangerous approximation to another who may or not be friendly. The only way I can be certain they pose no danger is to touch them, which is too close for my guard’s and my comfort.

This time, when I touched the one who approached me, his Story told of separating from their third member, another male, who had left to form his own coven with another vampire. Apparently, he had not been able to say goodbye because had been hunting. Poor thing. I swallowed both my nausea at the overly-sweet emotions and disappointment at the lack of information about Piero.

Behind me, Fortunata gasped. I turned and she motioned for me to come to her. Livius glared at me for a moment before turning to Fortunata. Leaving the bemused pair of strangers, I walked toward her.

“I recognize that scent!” she exclaimed. “It’s your friend’s!”

Remembering the third vampire’s face, I knew it was not Piero. Before I could stop him, Livius turned to the pair.

“Was there a third man traveling with you?”

The two vampires exchanged a glance.

“Yes,” answered the brown-haired one whose name I remebered from his story as Decimus. “But he left with another.”

“Do you remember who he left with? His name?” Livius seemed strangely excited at the prospect of getting rid of me. A brush against his shoulder proved me right.

“We never saw his face,” answered the blonde one. “But Dominicus did tell me his name. Pietro, I believe it was.”

My head snapped up. No…

“Do you know where they went?” I questioned the blonde. Belatedly, I remembered from Decimus’s story his name was Otho. Otho’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Why do you want to know?”

“It’s his friend,” Fortunata responded. I shot her a glare to make her hush but she did not even notice. “And he dearly wishes to meet him again. Could you tell us where they went?”

My fists clenched at my sides in an attempt to keep from wringing Fortunata’s slender neck. Idiot girl.

Otho smiled. “Important to you, then?” he grinned at me. I added him to the list of people I would kill at the first chance. At its head was Piero while Livius and Fortunata competed for second place. Perhaps not Fortunata so much. Her existence was more of a disappointment than a nuisance “What will you give me for such information?”

I stepped toward him but he immediately compensated by retreating a step. I tried again to have the scene repeat itself.

“Usually,” I began in an attempt to distract him so I could get close enough to touch him, “the price is equal to the value of the information. So, the best choice of humans in the village?”

“That’s all it’s worth to you?” he asked skeptically. “You want to know, I get the girl.”

Livius roared behind me but I quickly cut across him. “All right. You get her.”

“WHAT?!” Livius screamed. Several expletives followed. Fortunata gasped, staring at me as if she had never seen me before.

“But before you get her,” I continued, “could you answer one other question?”

“What is it?” Otho smirked.

“What exactly do you want with her? I mean, you certainly do not need a servant. From your unwashed state, I would wager that you have never even heard of the combination of water and soap.”

Otho’s smirk faded at my words. I pressed on. “An intellectual partner would be good but you need some sort of intellect to begin with else the poor girl will be jaded before you reach the mountains.”

Livius, Fortunata and Decimus gaped at me.

Now please note, boys and girls, that confidence is an important virtue. If you don’t have it, this is what happens. Otho was trembling with barely repressed anger. His eyes reflected the sharp heat of his fury. Perfect. Just one more then. “And as a mate she certainly would not work. You require certain…anatomical parts for that which you seem to lack. Tell me, were you born that way or were you made a eunuch while you were still human?”

With a roared oath, Otho launched himself at me. As a human, I had received excellent military training. It was a requirement for all upper-class sons. As a vampire, my ability was simply greater. I easily looped around him to grasp his shoulders. Using his momentum against him, I punched his spine with as much strength as I could muster. My fist landed cleanly against his vertebrae. The blow jarred me but I heard the clean break of bone as his head snapped back several degrees more than it should. The blow had also served another purpose; his Story receded neatly into my mind, granting me all the information I needed and more.

He was far from dead, of course, but disabling the head allowed me to tear into him much more easily than it would have been otherwise. Behind me, I could hear Livius and Fortunata fighting against Decimus.

Well, don’t sound so shocked and self-righteous. I told you I didn’t like people changing my plans didn’t I? I will do what I want. I may have to find alternative routes but the end result will be the same. I don’t lose.

Back to the story, Livius was absolutely livid.

Almost spitting in anger, he said—

Actually, I won’t repeat what he said. There are ladies present. Some form of decorum must be maintained.

The gist of his rant, however, was that I was no longer a part of his coven and he never wanted to see me again.

Would you look at that? We actually agreed on something! Isn’t that incredible?

Delighted, I said, “As you wish. I already have what I need. My greatest hopes go with you.”

Of course, I did not say my greatest hopes involved his particularly important body parts to be hacked off and burned, but I digress.

I bowed deeply to an irate Livius, kissed a shocked Fortunata’s hand (as I said, decorum must always be maintained) and took my leave.

I was racing through the Tuscan countryside, reveling in my newfound freedom and hope that I would soon find Piero. I was the happiest I had been in years so, obviously, something awful had to happen. Which it did.

Livius and Fortunata came running after me.

I smelled them in the breeze blowing at my back. I swore violently and deliberated between sneaking behind Livius and killing him for simple peace of mind. I quickly discarded the idea though. It wasn’t fair to disadvantage a person like that, particularly one already mentally disadvantaged.

I settled for waiting for them. Fortunata was the first one I saw.

“Wait, Aro!” she called.

I ground my teeth in frustration but strove to appear calm.

She stopped before me and beamed. “Now, Aro,” she began in a maternal sort of voice. I could feel a twitch build up in my left eye. “You didn’t actually believe we would just let you leave like that? We’re a coven; we have to stay together!”

“That’s right,” Livius agreed, stepping subtly behind her. Coward using Fortunata as a shield. He always used Fortunata or me to test any possible danger.

“You actually want me to remain in your coven?” I asked Livius with innocent surprise.

“Of course, we do,” he said. His words were slightly muffled, as if coming through gritted teeth. “Fortunata told you why. We’re a coven.”

“Oh, that is wonderful,” I replied jovially. “And here I believed you’d only followed because you found the large amounts of gold in Decimus’s pockets and the gold remaining in Otho’s pyre and had decided to come see if the third vampire had as much gold and take it from him, killing my friend and myself if needed so you could keep all the valuables to yourself.”

Livius’s face twitched but Fortunata’s expressed abject shock and horror before she quickly rearranged her features.

“Y-you don’t actually believe—” Fortunata began nervously.

“That you would betray me in such a manner? Of course not!” I cut across her. “You’re nowhere near that devious. That’s me.” Both stared at me, Fortunata terrified and Livius furious. “Shall we get going?” I grinned. “I’ve no idea how long they shall remain in Sarzana and I’d rather not miss them.”

I turned and continued south, practically bouncing with each step. I could feel Livius’s eyes boring a hole into my back. He seemed to realize that I would no longer follow his every order. I had followed his whims on the chance that he would deliver me to Piero. But now, for some reason he could not understand, I knew where to find Piero. Thus, he was no longer necessary and could easily be discarded if I felt like it. Those were his exact thoughts, actually. I gleaned them when I punched him but that happens later.

At the time, the three of us ran, pushing our limits in order to reach Sarzana before dawn. From the speed at which we were traveling, Fortunata’s and my hair whipped behind us like banners, the first a pale gold, the second darker than the night sky.

Despite our effort, we were only able to reach Terme, one hundred and twenty six kilometers too far from Sarzana.

“We’ll need to stay here,” Fortunata said, eyeing the softly pink horizon. “We can’t risk exposure by continuing to travel.” I couldn’t deny her observation even if it did irritate me. I allowed them to choose a small cottage built on the outskirts of the small town. While Livius and Fortunata happily feasted on the cottage’s former owners, I cursed my luck and prayed that the sun had also caught Piero in Sarzana, rendering him unable to leave.

“Aro?” I slowly turned my head. Fortunata smiled nervously at me as she held out a broken woman for me to take. “You need to feed,” she explained. “It’s not good to stay to long without blood; we won't be able to stay focused. And we still have a long run before us, may be more if they’ve moved. You’ll need your strength. Don’t worry,” she added quickly as I eyed the proffered meal. “I just snapped her neck recently. The blood is still warm.”

“Thank you, Fortunata,” I replied softly, reaching out to lift the body from her hands. Fortunata smiled at me before traipsing back to the other room where Livius watched us.

I’ll admit, there were times when Fortunata absolutely frustrated me with her submissiveness and naïveté. Howver, there were also others when she was endearingly sweet. With the sole exception of Carlisle, the friend I had told you about before, I have never met someone as gentle and kind as Fortunata. Certainly not among the natural kind of vampire where one needs to be selfish and cruel in order to survive.

I suppose you find it hard to believe that someone who feeds on humans could possibly be kind. Yet, a Story like Fortunata’s is hard to find. The vampire who turned her had not meant to do so. Driven mad by long days of unquenchable Thirst, he had finally snapped and attacked various people in Fortunata’s city. She and Livius were among them. Apparently, the vampire who turned them had not bothered to finish drinking from most of his meals; instead, he would drain them until the blood flow lessened then would move on to the next. This meant several humans left half-alive—and turning. Most were killed by their own people as they had been “tainted”. Livius was saved by his sister and Fortunata by her mother. Here is where the Story took an interesting and original twist: Fortunata had been three-months pregnant when she was turned.

How the mother and fetus survived the three days of turning, I am not sure. Nevertheless, at the end of the third day, Fortunata woke up to her new life as a vampire with her baby still inside her.

Once she realized what had happened, she fled, meeting Livius just outside the city’s border. Because of this, Fortunata must have never lost her maternal instinct, one that valued others’ lives before her own. The only other thing she had left of her old life was a golden bracelet she never took off. It had been supposed to be a necklace for the baby, but the baby never had a chance to be born.

We resumed travel when the sun was still a half-disk on the horizon. Keeping to the elongating shadows, we raced across the countryside.

About thirty kilometers away from Sarzana, we came across two scents, both the strong, sweet smell of a vampire male. The scents were beginning to fade; I guessed them to be two days old. Anxious and elated, we followed.

The trail led to a house on the outskirts of the town much like the one we had broken into. Then, the scent formed a new trail which wound away. This second trail was very strong, no more than an hour or two old, which meant we could overtake them.

Tossing care to the winds, we ran pell-mell until we finally saw two figures in the distance.

“Wait!” Fortunata cried and I saw the two vampires pause, turning to watch us. We slowed to a walk and approached carefully. As we came closer, I saw the one to the left was the third member of coven we’d killed, Dominicus. Discarding him mentally, I turned to the second—and felt as if someone had just delivered a punch to my stomach.

He wasn’t Piero.

Well acquainted with Fortunata’s lack of tact when it came to blurting questions, I quickly shushed her.

“He’s not the one I was looking for,” I explained in response to her scandalized look. Immediately her look softened.

“Aro,” she whispered, raising a hand to touch me sympathetically. I backed away from her. This failure, this disappointment…was excruciating for me. I’ve told you I do not like being wrong. I’d just devoted four hundred years to hunting a man down and I’d failed. It was worse having Fortunata and Livius as witnesses.

“I am sorry,” I told her. “I wasted much of your time. I appreciate your help, however, and you have my gratitude.” Fortunata looked as if she would be crying if she could. Even Livius was solemn. I turned to leave.

“Where did you get that necklace?”

Dominicus was pointing at Fortunata’s neck where a gold chain rested. A gold chain that had belonged to Decimus.

I swore violently under my breath, unsure whether to be furious at her, Livius or me for not noticing sooner. Fortunata closed her hand around the chain.

“Family heirloom,” she said clearly. I had to credit her; her voice was steady and sure. Nevertheless, there was a fine trembling to her hands that I’m sure neither vampire missed.

“Really,” Dominicus said. I did not believe the surprise which laced his words to be honest. “I noticed a seal upon the metal. The seal is very similar to that of an old coven member, Decimus. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?”

The scent! Accustomed to it, we no longer smelled it but they must have smelt Decimus’s and Otho’s scent on us. I quickly opened my mouth to explain we knew no one of such name, but had come across another coven recently.

Before I could attempt to establish peace, however, Livius snapped, “Of course not. We do not meddle with brutes.”

“Do you even possess the capacity to think?” I asked. Livius glared at me.

“We heard interesting news today,” Dominicus's companion, Pietro, spoke up. “A few how hours ago, we met a vampire who told us of a vicious fight he had witnessed between two covens. The victorious coven was composed of two males and a female whose descriptions match you. How ironic.”

It was then I realized I would not be able to save us. We would not be able to escape, certainly not without fighting for it.

Keep the element of surprise, Aro, my father had told me in one of our training sessions. Never use every weapon you have at the beginning and certainly not your strongest.

The only extra weapon I had was my power. If I could get close enough to touch one of them, I would immediately learn what their strengths were—and their weaknesses. To do that, though, I needed the element of surprise.

Fortunata asked them to forgive Livius; he did not know what he was saying.

There’s my opportunity.

I dove at Pietro but when my hand was centimeters away from his face, I froze. I couldn’t finish the blow; it felt as though I was about to kill an old, dear friend.

He grinned at me and slammed his fist into my jaw.

I fell several meters away, and rubbed my aching jaw. Certainly not the way I had planned, but I still gleaned his Story.

He ran towards me but I immediately stepped back, keeping a distance of five meters between us. He snarled, attempting to move closer but I would not let him.

You see, he had an extra power like me. In his case, he could keep opponents from attacking by making them feel as if he were someone important to them, more important than their own lives. His victims could not fight him as they would not wish to hurt him and he could then destroy them easily. However, those feelings did not last. His power only worked within a five-meter radius yet no one had ever lived through a fight with him before to learn this.

Except for me. Teasingly, I remained close but always just out of reach of his power. I hoped to anger him as I had with Otho and prompt him into making a mistake.

Snarling, he chased after me, but I was faster. As I ran, I threw all I could grab at him: uprooted trees, slabs of rock. He screamed in desperation and I roared back, feeling the cry climb from deep in my chest and radiate out, my mouth contorting into a feral snarl in order to accommodate the bellow.

I led him in a circle and finally found myself where I wanted. Directly behind me was Dominicus, straight ahead Pietro. When he dove for me now, I didn’t simply whisk off. Instead, I stepped carefully out of the way, pirouetting in place. This meant I remained within his reach and I could feel horror twist my insides as my hand aimed toward him. Yet, I had ascertained that I would not be able to stop. Instead, I struck him, sending him towards an already badly wounded Dominicus.

Or so I had hoped.

Shock insued as I watched him fly at Livius—and saw Fortunata run between them, taking the blow herself.

I have never, and I doubt I will ever, forget the scream that tore out of Fortunata’s throat that night. Despite the anguish inherent in that cry, I caught an almost victorious edge to it as she saved Livius. Then, Pietro was tearing into her and I was rooted to the place in shock, horrified to look on but unable to look away. I didn’t move until a small object fell before me, startling me.

On the short grass, Fortunata’s bracelet twinkled in the little daylight left, broken, the one that had originally been a necklace for a baby that was never born. I stooped to pick it up. The metal lay in my hand, a cool gold. A golden oval hung from the delicate chain. On it, a single word had been inscribed.

Live.

I closed my fist around it. An agonized roar escaped Livius before he ran to Pietro. As he turned to face Livius, Pietro forgot about me and I dove at his back. Hate fueled me and allowed me to escape into my barest instincts. As I let the animal take over, Pietro’s power lost effect. With no human emotion to manipulate, he could no longer stop me. Reacting on pure instinct, the blood I had ingested singing in my veins, Livius and I obliterated him, making pieces of the pieces. When I stood back, I noticed Dominicus trying to flee and jumped him, doing to him what I’d hoped to do to Piero.

“Fortunata,” came the broken whimper behind me. Livius knelt in the remains of Fortunata’s body, trembling with grief and anger. Before he had fled, Dominicus had managed to burn several pieces. She cold no longer be saved.

I took a step toward him and his eyes, almost completely drowned in black, accused me. “It’s your fault! You brought us here and now she’s dead! She’s dead! You killed her! I’ll kill you!”

He lunged at me but, in his despair, he wasn’t thinking correctly and as I held my hands up to resist, the heel of my palm landed squarely on his jaw, sending him reeling back. The strike made an odd, hollow sound when it landed that troubled me oddly.

Watching his broken figure, I opened my mouth and closed it. There was nothing I could say, nothing I could do. Instead, I opened my hand and tossed Fortunata’s bracelet so it landed before him. Without looking back, I left.

I had seen death closely for years, as a human and vampire. Until then, no death had disturbed me as much as Fortunata’s. It reached such a point that I did not kill any vampires, even those who attacked me first, until several years had already passed. Luckily, there were few who dared challenge me. The two coven’s ends were retold and magnified until my old human nickname “Deofilion” became infamous throughout Italy. Any whose paths I crossed made every conscious effort to stay away from me. This suited me perfectly. I took this time to try my hand at tracking, but I quickly abandoned it. All I had to go on for my search was a name which he may or may not have still been using.

Eventually, my wanderings led me full-circle, and I found myself one evening close to Sarzana. The memory was still painful and I would have left had it not been for the figure that stepped out of the trees.

The man must have been turned even later in life than me—surprising at the time. I was turned when I was thirty-seven and would have soon been considered old. This man by those standards was ancient, and thus I paused in order to talk to him.

He seemed to realize exactly who I was as he quickly gasped, “Please, do not hurt me!”

“I will not,” I said patiently. “I was wondering if you might be able to help me. I am looking for a vampire named Piero. Have you heard of him?”

“No,” he shook his head quickly, eyes wide. “But, I do know a new coven has formed at Volterra, a strong one. Perhaps he is there or those vampires may know of him.”

I thanked him and ran south. This was the first solid clue I had had in a long time. There was nothing left to my life; I certainly would not lose anything by heading where the old vampire told me.

Volterra, I wondered. What coven could that be?