The Ashen-Cloaked Child
Aro may not have been able to get Renesmee, but he was going to have a half-vampire in his guard. Somehow.
5. Welcome to the World
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The light was difficult to get used to. It was strange to have my eyes open, and no mucusy film before them, leaving them naked and vulnerable.
The rest of my body felt the same. I never got cold, but I hated the sensation of air on my skin, as well as that of the cold, wet cloth and the dry one I was subsequently swaddled in. These things bothered me, so I gave out a soft cry.
I was answered with a small bouncing movement, as if the person holding me was trying to imitate the motion I'd felt in the womb. Utilizing my new sense of vision, I discovered that was exactly what she was trying to do. How stupid. Did she think I could be fooled? I didn't like this stranger. She was too hard and cold, whereas the one who'd carried me inside her was soft and warm. Where was she? I wanted to see her.
It was difficult to turn my head. Before I entered the world, I had flesh and fluids to support me, and now nothing could help my neck support its weight. I used my nose to locate her, and cried again while I struggled to orient myself closer to her. But I was being carried further away – too far away. I escalated to a steady wail.
“He wants his mother!” I heard a voice say, and though I didn't completely understand language yet, I knew the voice was ordering precisely what I wanted.
I was set down on her chest, then, with hands hovering over me to ensure I retained my balance. My mother's eyes were closed and she was silent, unresponsive. All I heard was her steady heartbeat beneath where my hand rested.
At that moment, I saw everything. I saw my mother's whole life, as far as she could remember, and I learned a great deal in that single instant. The images were too much for me to think clearly, but I achieved a rough sense of what it meant to be alive, the difference between a mortal and an immortal, and what a father was. I learned that most beings were divided into males and females, and that mothers were females who carried babies, that fathers were the ones who put them there. I viewed her memories of where she had gotten me from, and who had put me there. His name was Aro. Her name was Gianna. My name she had not yet decided. I saw all the ones she had in mind, and chose one.
Julian, I thought. My name is Julian.
By then I had finished seeing her thoughts, which had faded to the black that was overtaking her mind now. I realized I was thirsty, and that she smelled good, and before I knew it I'd sunk my teeth into her.
She had a thought now – she was feeling a firey burn. I was too preoccupied with the taste of her blood to realize that I was causing her pain.
Too soon, I was picked up from her body and carried away from her. I was disappointed at first, then relieved. If I had continued feeding on her, then I would have killed her. Embarrassed, I rested my hand on the wrist of the woman who carried me. Her memories unfolded to me as well, at first rough and human, then pristine vampire ones – the clearest, most defined memories I'd ever heard. But the only thing I cared about was what she thought of what I'd just done. She felt a mixture of pity and disgust – a child sucking not on his mother's milk, but his mother's blood – but it made no sense to feel that way, not when draining away the life of a human usually meant nothing to her. My own shame, however, intensified greatly. At that moment I wanted nothing more than for her to forget what I'd done.
On my command, the memory was gone from her. She stopped for a moment, her hands trembling – I thought she might drop me – and then she merely continued on her way as though nothing had happened. When I read her thoughts again, I discovered that she only remembered removing me from my mother's womb, washing me clean, and taking me from the room. According to her, I had never touched Gianna.
I felt relieved, though removing her memory of the mishap did not erase the fact that I had done it. But at least I had not killed my mother, and for that I was grateful. She was my whole world up to that point, and I could not imagine life without her.
We entered another room at that point, and I remembered where she was taking me. My father, Aro, wanted to see me. I sifted through what I had learned of him. He was powerful, and he had sired me because he wanted to protect that power. Like me, he could hear the memories of others by touching them, but only he and I could do so. That meant we were gifted. Hmm. He didn't seem to be able to erase memories as I had just done. Did that mean I was, in one way at least, more powerful than he was?
“Is that him?” sounded an airy voice. Was this what my father was supposed to sound like?
I was placed in another set of arms then, and suddenly his face was leaning over mine. I saw my father, Aro, with my own eyes for the first time. He seemed anxious, excited, and mesmerized at the same time.
“Amazing,” he murmured, and one of his fingers touched my little hand. Millennia of memories and experiences unfolded before me, and I sucked in a deep breath as I struggled to comprehend it all. I learned that he did not merely have power – he had a passion for it. His similar passions for history and for novelties were lesser servants to that desire. Everything he was and everything he had ever been channeled into it. His alliance with his brothers was a product of power, as was his collecting a guard, siring me . . . and allowing my mother to live. This upset me – even now, he was set on letting her die from carrying me. . . .
But if it was so important to me, he would allow her to live.
I was pulled back to the present, realizing that he had already finished examining my presently short life and now was merely gauging my reaction to the eons of his. He laughed lightly because he found the situation so amusing.
I'm curious. . . . If you tried to remove one of my memories, would it work?
I doubted it, but I would try anyway. I searched for a memory that would be appropriate for me to remove, and I settled for the one of him promising his brothers to allow my mother's death. His lip twitched at that one – hadn't he already promised me her life?
No need to get so impertinent, little one.
I removed the memory, and as we'd both predicted, he regained it as soon as I did it. I could never remove anything from his mind.
It's good to know that for sure, though.
“Well?” asked Caius impatiently.
To be honest, I had forgotten the presence of Marcus and Caius in the room. It amused me that I knew the secrets Aro was keeping from them, something they were unable to do to him. It pleased me that I knew things they didn't, like the responsible party for Didyme's death –
Aro turned his head to frown at me. I gave you life. You keep my secrets.
Of course I would keep his secrets. What good would betraying my own father do me? If he ever decided I deserved punishment as his own sister did, I would earn it by something more deserving than being injudicious with my knowledge. In any case, I couldn't even talk yet. He had nothing to worry about.
So you understand that no one's position in the guard is permanent. Not even yours. There are rules you must obey, and punishment I must deliver, even to you. I wouldn't want to punish you though – I am already quite fond of you.
It was true, he did like me, in many ways. He liked that I would be useful to him in his game of power, that I was gifted and intelligent, and he might even like me as a son. I liked him, too. He had few scruples, if any, but he was pragmatic and, despite his age, energetic. The two of us were quite alike – I even looked a great deal like him already – and in these few minutes, we had formed a strong bond. With our gifts so very alike, we shared a clearer connection than any two people in history had ever had. I could hear this in Aro's tone as he addressed Marcus and Caius.
“Julian is a mind reader, brothers, but he can remove memories as well. He's an obliviator.” Oh, how Aro loved proving Marcus and Caius wrong.
“Julian?” asked Marcus blithely. “Did you pick that name?”
“No, Julian did. It was a name Gianna already liked.”
It seemed strange that Marcus would be intrigued by my name – did he know somebody by it?
No, it's just not one we thought Gianna would pick.
So they expected her to pick some fashionable human baby name, did they? I knew what they thought of her. Only Aro understood just how intelligent she was, but they also found her rather naïve. After comparing the memories I'd seen in my little life, I could see that it was true. Still, she was my mother, and I did not want her dead.
“He is eager to serve us, but he wants his mother alive,” Aro announced.
“You may not be doing her a favor, boy,” Caius grumbled.
Was that a yes?
“Save her, if you must,” Marcus sounded rather resigned.
Aro sighed. “Let's visit her, little one, and see what we can do for her.”
He left the room then, with me in his arms. Though he'd never admit it openly, I knew he was a little glad that she would live, if only for his own aesthetic pleasure – she would be rather lovely as an immortal.
He did not like being reminded of this, and so let go of my hand.
Hmp. That was so unfair. I had no way to communicate with my mouth yet – he was cutting me off by not reading my thoughts. Though to be honest, I had no need to talk to anyone at the moment. Still . . .
We entered my mother's room, and found the human woman Regina working on her. She had sewn up the incisions made by my birth, thereby keeping her from bleeding to death. According to Aro, the bite I had given her was assuredly changing her into a vampire now. I was glad my little mistake had turned to her benefit.
Then he ordered Regina from the room, because she was making me thirsty and he didn't want her either dead or changed into a vampire yet. He gave me to another vampire assigned with the task of feeding me and finding me some clothes. I was to be kept from my mother until she could control her thirst enough to be around me, which was fine by me, as long as she lived.
Fed and exhausted, I drifted off to sleep, comforted by the fact that Aro had every reason to keep his promise of letting her live – he knew that I would leave, once I was able, if he didn't.
In the past few hours that constituted my little life, I had gone from sitting ignorantly in my mother's womb to learning the dealings of one of the most powerful organizations in the world and saving my mother's life. I knew far more than any child my age ever had before, even those of my own species. With millennia of experience to draw upon, my life was looking to be very promising indeed.
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