Disclaimer: I own nothing but the original plot points and any original characters found herein. No copyright infringement intended.

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Chapter 2

The silence was thick between them as he led her through the maze of stone hallways in the bowels of the castle. The place was cold, its passages dimly lit, and she couldn't repress a shiver as her thoughts raced and circled.

That kiss…

She kept going back to the kiss he'd given her on the plane. It'd been unexpected considering she'd pretty much been fearing for her life at that moment. But, once their lips had met, once he'd plundered her mouth with a long and slow passion that had robbed her of breath and the ability to think, he'd ended it just as abruptly and calmly went back to his seat.

After she'd gotten over the initial shock, she had eventually fallen to sleep. But she'd been silent since waking; unable to escape the feeling that the course of her future had just cracked and shifted, like some mental tectonic plate. It left her feeling as if she was teetering on a precipice, the height of which was indiscernible.

She couldn't say the kiss in and of itself had made her feel that way. Rather it had been more like the punctuation at the end of a sentence spoken in a language she couldn't quite grasp.

And now, here she was, with no real clue of the outcome or if there would even be one to speak of. Perhaps he was just toying with her? Or perhaps he really had just wanted to shut her up and took the route that wouldn't result in him being in trouble for it later.

If that was the case, she decided, if she managed to live through meeting the head honchos, she was going to be offended by it.

"We have almost reached the throne room," he said when they stepped out of the elevator she hadn't even realized they'd taken. "When we enter, follow my lead and keep your answers concise and respectful."

"Okay."

He stopped at a heavy set of double doors and offered his right arm. She looped hers through it, feeling relieved at the offer of support as he smoothly pulled the massive door open. "Demetri," a young-looking brunet male greeted with a nod as they stepped into the cavernous room.

"Alec," Demetri replied, leaving the door for Alec to close as he led her to the center of the room. They were facing a daïs on which sat three occupied throne-like seats. Demetri smoothly bowed and after a second's hesitation, she followed suit.

"Ah, Demetri, another successful mission, I see."

"Yes, Master Aro."

The raven-haired central leader's red eyes glittered as they studied Bella, making her feel like a bug under glass.

"Welcome, my dear. Though I understand your presence is not entirely voluntary, it is my sincere hope that you grow to be comfortable here, nonetheless."

The slightest twitch from Demetri's arm shook her from her staring and she cleared her throat. "Thank you … M—Master Aro."

A slow, toothy smile spread on Aro's face making him seem, in Bella's opinion, even more sinister than he had before. "You learn quickly, child. That trait will serve you well here."

Silence fell and after an awkward moment and another twitch of Demetri's arm, Bella realized she was expected to give a response. "W-well, I kinda like living, in whatever capacity I can, M - Master."

He clapped and laughed and, to Bella, that was even worse than the smile, especially when he rose from his seat and approached.

Her grip on Demetri's arm tightened and from the corner of her eye she saw a tiny smirk quirk his lips though his gaze stayed fixed to the front even when Aro reached them.

The ancient's head canted curiously and she flinched as he reached out and cupped her cheek in one cold hand. "Interesting," he murmured as his thumb stroked the rise of her cheek. He dropped his hand and looked toward the side of the cavernous room where a group of cloaked vampires were waiting. "It seems your gift has not waned with time or your deplorable choice of diet, Eleazar. She is some sort of shield, and can block even me, which, I must say, is very fortunate for our mutual friends."

Confusion marred Bella's brow with a frown as she tried to recall if Edward had ever mentioned someone named Eleazar. It didn't ring any bells, and when the cloaked one dropped his cowl, despite the aching familiarity of his gold eyes, her confusion remained. She was sure she'd never seen or heard of him before.

With an athletic build, neatly styled, wavy black hair and chiseled features, he was handsome. If his name hadn't been enough of a clue, he also looked Hispanic as even through the vampire pallor, his previously olive complexion was apparent. Then he spoke, and his accent left no doubt. "My friends are safe then, Master? You will honor our agreement?"

Aro flapped a hand. "Yes, yes, though young Edward is still subject to punishment. There is just no getting around that."

Eleazar inclined his head. "Regrettable but understandable; I thank you for your concession, Master."

Bella was sure that, had Demetri been human, the grip she now had on his arm would've cut off blood flow. She was feeling a bit light-headed and her thoughts were in even greater turmoil than earlier.

What did this Eleazar guy have to do with Edward? And who were the friends he'd mentioned? From the mention of Edward, she could only guess it was the Cullens being discussed, but how did it all fit together?

Demetri had never shared how the Volturi had come to know of her existence. In fact, when he'd first contacted her and she'd asked the question, he'd refused to speak of it, stating in his blunt way that sharing information with 'marks' wasn't in his job description, the stoic ass…

But now here was this Eleazar guy and it sounded like he'd made some sort of deal with Aro over the whole mess. Was he truly friends with the Cullens, and if so, had he been the one to instigate all of this? Could he be the reason the Volturi had found her?

The questions were on the tip of her tongue, but when her lips parted to speak them, Demetri's hand covered hers where it clutched his arm, the gesture oddly comforting. "Don't," he said barely loud enough for her to hear, but she did and the words died in her throat.

Aside from being rather blunt in his dealings with her, he hadn't been all that bad (unless you count scaring the shit out of her on the plane before kissing her breathless), so she decided to trust him now. But later? If she got the chance, she was going to get some answers.

"Yes, well, Carlisle has always been rather dear to me, so it was an easy concession to make," Aro said dismissively as he turned back to Bella. "But now, back to you and this intriguing gift you possess, dear Isabella." He gestured to another, rather short, cloaked vampire who stepped forward and dropped their cowl.

It was a blonde girl and obviously quite young when turned. Her features were beautiful though, almost fae-like, with her high cheek bones and almond shaped eyes. Her beauty was only detracted from by the cruelty in her red gaze and the severe bun her hair was pulled into.

"Jane, dear, if you please…"

"Of course, Master," she said with obvious anticipation.

Bella's stomach dropped as Demetri wordlessly dropped his arm and stepped away from her side as the girl's cruel, red gaze swung toward her.

"Pain…"

The way the girl—Jane—said that one word was sensual, like a caress, a thing to be enjoyed. But Bella was sure it was meant to be anything but for anyone other than the one inflicting it. It was quite clear this vampire derived great pleasure from inflicting her gift on others and would have on this occasion too…if it had worked.

From the corner of her eye, Bella saw a small smirk form on Demetri's lips as the small blonde vampire scowled. "It's not working, Master."

Aro laughed and raised his clasped hands to his chin as he studied Bella with glittering eyes. "She confounds us all," he murmured with a smile. "Delightful. Yes, my dear, you shall be a great asset once you are turned." His gaze darted to Demetri who had stepped back to Bella's side. "Normally I would tell you to take her to the trainers in the lower levels but she is simply too valuable to risk in such a way. No, no, that just won't do," he muttered as he slowly paced in front of them.

Then he stopped and looked back at Demetri once again. "She knows you. You have a rapport with her…"

Bella watched as Demetri raised a dubious brow. "I would hardly define it as such, Master."

Aro waved airily. "It is more than anyone else here has with her, and there are no immediate duties hindering you… Yes, you shall do nicely."

Demetri's expression blanked but his tone was wary, "Master?"

Aro grinned as he declared, "I am placing her in your care. She shall reside in your quarters and you shall sire and train her."

"Respectfully, Master," Demetri hedged, "surely there is someone more suited to siring and training her. Someone she'd be more comfortable with? Another female? Jane, perhaps?"

Bella gaped at him and couldn't help but blurt, "Are you insane? No!"

Her protest was echoed by Jane, and Aro laughed as he glanced between the two glaring females and the stoic Tracker. "No, dear Demetri, as lovely as Jane is, she is entirely unsuited for the task. You, however, will do an admirable job, I am sure."

Bella knew Demetri wanted to sigh…or growl…maybe both. He did neither. Instead, he merely inclined his head and drawled, "As you wish."

Aro settled himself back in his throne and gave an airy wave. "Now that that's decided, you are dismissed. Go, get her settled and when you've set a date for her change, be sure to inform me. However, I give you full discretion over when the deed gets done. Take all the time you feel is necessary."

Demetri bowed and offered Bella his arm. She gladly took it and they left the cavernous, marble throne room. As they passed through the double entrance doors, Alec smirked and Demetri muttered, "You won't look so smug when I'm kicking your ass later."

Alec laughed and raised a brow. "Won't you be too busy?"

Demetri smirked as he led Bella past him and toward the elevator. "I'll make the time, you little shit."

They stepped into the elevator and as the door began to close Bella heard Alec. "You're joking, right, Dem? Please tell me you're jok—" The doors closed and they descended a floor, then stepped out into a hall that looked like it belonged in an upscale apartment building.

"This is the residence wing for the Elite Guards," he explained as they walked, their steps nearly soundless on the plush, tightly woven carpet.

"It's really nice," she said, "but isn't it kinda tough to get blood out of this carpet?"

He shot her an arch look as he stopped at a door and took out a key-card. "Yes, and that's why messy, out of control fledglings are kept in the underground levels of stone and sewer drains," he explained as he opened the door to a comfortably furnished apartment, complete with huge flat-screen TV and surround sound.

The sofa was one of those cushy sectional numbers in a chocolate brown toned micro-suede. It looked so comfortable and inviting, she had to resist the urge to take a running leap at it. But she wanted to…

The main decor was in creams and whites with brown accents, rugs, and furniture. On the walls were several framed abstract photographs printed in sepia tones with white matting and rich brown wood frames. It was all very masculine, yet warm and comfortable. To her surprise, she liked the space immensely.

Stepping closer to examine a large print of smoke curling from the profile of a pair of sensual lips, she was surprised to realize it truly was a photograph and not a print. The small brass plate riveted to the bottom of the frame told her the title of the piece - Departing Soul. "Who is the artist?" she murmured with a sidelong glance at him when he came to stand next to her.

"Do you like it?"

"Yes, they're all incredible but this one is exceptional, the way the curling, rising smoke is captured, the lighting, the tone… Who's the artist? Someone you know?"

"They are all mine, and this one," he nodded toward the photo on question, "is my favorite out of all I've done."

She looked back at the art. "I can see why. Who was the subject? Someone random, or…"

His lips curved at the corners. "She was a Russian whore, very beautiful, and very skilled at her craft. We had just finished. She decided to have a cigarette. The lighting was perfect, and I had my camera with me, so I took the shots." He turned his head and his red gaze locked with hers. "But she began asking questions. She knew I was different. So, in the end, I took her blood and life as well."

Bella's stomach dropped and she looked down as she muttered, "Oh… God." Then she felt his hand cup her face as he urged her to look at him, his thumb gentle as it glided over the apple of her cheek. "I am not human, uccellino (little bird)," he said as his lips brushed across her cheek to her ear. His breath was sweet and cool as he nuzzled and whispered, "something you seem to frequently disregard."

A shiver of fear or desire—she wasn't sure which—raced across her skin, leaving goosebumps in its wake as her breathing quickened. "You—you're messing with me, aren't you?" she managed to ask, though her tone was breathy.

She felt his lips curl into a smile against the tender flesh of her neck. "No, uccellino," he whispered, "why would I do that?" He placed a surprisingly warm, open-mouth kiss over her throbbing pulse and she closed her eyes and tilted her head while barely holding back a moan.

"Are—are you going to kill me now? she asked, not entirely sure she would mind it considering the boneless way he was making her feel.

He gently suckled her skin then laughed softly as he released her and stepped away.

She found herself frowning at the loss.

"No, little bird, at least not yet. Now, the bathroom is through that door," he said with a gesture as he crossed the room and began to pour a drink at the sideboard. "Go bathe and change into something decent. You need to eat so I'm taking you out."

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Till next time...