Chapter 2:

Entering the lion's den

Two days later, the city of Volterra rose to greet Anna, like an elaborate sandcastle. She inhaled the deliciously cool breeze, enjoying pungent foreign flowers, the distant salty sting of the ocean, and – ah!


The scent of their blood came over Anna in a wave of dizzying rapture. She wasn't thirsty, but the low fire in her throat was an uncontrollable reaction. Swallowing back venom, Anna winced at its sweet, metallic taste.

"I can't believe we're here!" Beth was too caught up in the view to notice Anna's discomfort. Her fear over what they were about to do had diminished considerably. She hoisted her rucksack on her back. "I've never been to Italy before, have you?"

"I cannot remember," Anna said, cleaning her sunglasses. They covered up most of her face against the bright sunshine.

Beth looked embarrassed behind her bandana. "Er, right. Come on, let's go. My feet are getting itchy."

They arrived in Italy almost two hours ago, greeted by a maliciously hot sun. It made Anna incredibly nervous. The humans were pigeons, and they were the lionesses creeping into the flock.

The streets of Volterra pulsed with human life and the girls had to gently fight their way through, leaving many shouting Italians in their wake. Despite her leather jacket and jeans, Anna was sure some of the more observant humans would catch a tell-tale sparkle of her skin, as she passed them.

Meanwhile, Beth seemed to take it all in her stride, impervious to the staring eyes around them. Anna couldn't blame the humans, really. Wearing thick, corded jeans and a blood-red turtleneck, Beth looked very intimidating - but it was the bandana covering her mouth and nose which made the humans gawp most of all. Beth looked like a highwaywoman with a taste for the macabre.

Shaded by wall-to-wall buildings, Volterra's narrow streets all led out into a small courtyard that was mercifully empty of humans. An enormous stone fountain had been erected there, its angels blithely spouting water from their eroded mouths.

The sun was hot on the back of Beth's head. "Well, this is it, isn't it?"

Anna nodded. "Antoine's photos do not do it justice."

The Volturi's headquarters regarded them with almost haughty suspicion. A prominent, circular roof was all that set it apart from the other ancient buildings surrounding it; in fact, they all looked tiny and inadequate in comparison.

Beth tugged her bandana down. Her lips were folded apprehensively over her teeth. "How about another cliché?"

Anna's mouth twitched. "Here goes nothing?"

"Perfect." Beth reached out to touch the Volturi's front door – only to yank her hand away, as if it had tried to bite her. "I can't do it!"

Anna sighed. "I can." Her knock seemed to echo into a void. Her fingers and toes tingled with anticipation as she waited.

Beth growled, impetuously shifting her weight. When the door finally opened, it made her jump.

A young man – Beth knew he was a vampire, like them, but she gasped all the same – was achingly beautiful, with olive skin and dark curls.

He asked in suspicious Italian, "Yes?"

Anna swallowed. That old, human shyness was creeping up again. Thankfully, Beth was there to save the day. "Ciao." She flashed her best, disarming smile. "Is this the Volturi residence?"

The man's expression didn't change. "It is. Who are you?"

"I'm Beth." Beth took off her sunglasses. The man's eyes widened at what hid behind them. "And this is my friend, Anna."

"What do you want here?"

Anna finally found her voice. "We need your Masters' help."

The man stared at her, surprised to hear such fluent Italian. "Is that so?"

"Yes, sir," Anna said, the words rolling eloquently off her tongue. "We come in the name of our coven. You must –"

He stepped aside, wordlessly permitting them to come in. Beth assumed it was probably because the humans would start to notice them otherwise.

Once the young man had shut the door behind them with a firm hand, he walked away. "Follow me."

Anna and Beth exchanged a dubious look, before doing as directed. Anna walked slowly, taking everything in. The sudden darkness pressed against them at all angles, and it made her desperately uncomfortable.

Beth seemed painfully skittish, twitching at every little noise, all bravado gone. Anna felt her friend's pain; she just knew how to hide it better.

"You say you are here… in the name of your coven?" The man's voice was hollow against stone walls. "Why?"

"They were unlawfully killed," Anna said. "Betrayed, by a man called Darius Tuono."

"I do not know that name."

"He came here not so long ago, saying that Antoine Jean had created an immortal child," Beth prompted sharply. "I hear that name is quite well-known here."

"It was," a female voice murmured from the shadows. Beth hissed in surprise, and the man's lip quirked.

"Ah, Jane. I wondered where you had been hiding."

"Jane" stepped into the dim light of the hall. She was small and blonde, with the angelic face of a twelve-year-old, except for her eyes. They were cold and impassive, glinting like rubies in the dark.

They have seen far too many unspeakable things, Anna thought, with a slight shiver. All the while, her palms were prickling. Both of these vampires had a power; in the presence of Jane, the pain had grown far worse.

"Who are these people, Demetri?" Jane's question was directed at him, though she stared at them. Beth squirmed as Anna gazed right back.

"We are the last of Antoine Jean's coven," she said softly.

Jane blinked slowly. "Really? How intriguing." She finally looked away, and Beth gave an audible side of relief. Demetri smiled again.

Our discomfort amuses him, Anna thought with weary disgust.

"Well, we mustn't keep the Masters waiting, must we?" And with that, Jane turned on her heel and followed Demetri down the corridor.

Beth gulped. "Creepy kid." The corridor led out into what looked like the lobby of a first-class hotel, and Beth's eyes boggled. "Are we…even in the same place?"

Anna kept her own surprise hidden – until her trainers began to squeak against the marble floor. She flinched under Jane's glare. "I'm sorry –"

The pain nicked her temple, as hard and hot as a burning needle. Anna gasped out of shock, clutching her head, only to discover it had gone as quickly as it had come.

Beth was alarmed. "Are you okay? What happened?"

"I don't know," Anna replied honestly. Then she saw Jane smirk. But thank you for revealing your gift so proudly.

The reception's floor was a giant marble chessboard, deceptively empty except for a young woman stationed at a desk next to a single lift. The only sound, apart from Anna's shoes, was the amplified clatter of the girl's manicure against her computer keyboard. As they passed the desk, the woman's smell wafted over to them.

Anna stiffened. Impossible! It mingled with an expensive-smelling perfume, but there was no doubt.

Beth smelled it too; her mouth fell open. "They have a – human as a receptionist?"

The woman glanced up from her computer and smiled politely at them. "Good afternoon!" she said in bright Italian.

Jane did not return the greeting, and neither did Anna as she tried to get a grip on herself. Beth gave the receptionist a cheery (if somewhat unnerved) wave.

"Good afternoon, Gianna," Demetri's smile was dazzling, and the girl practically swooned in her seat.

Incredible! Anna felt thoroughly shaken. She must know. How could she not?

Jane called for the lift, and the doors opened promptly with a soft whoosh. She must have seen the stunned look on their faces because she smiled.

It wasn't a friendly smile, either.

"Does she -?" Anna almost choked on the venom in her mouth.

Jane's eyebrows arched. "Know? Of course, she knows."

Beth blurted out. "But I thought humans aren't supposed to know about us."

"Well observed," Demetri smirked. "Gianna wishes to become one of us, but that is up to us to decide."

Beth gritted her teeth as the lift doors hissed shut. She heard Anna's small moan as it left Gianna's scent behind. "You…alright?"

Anna nodded guiltily and vowed to hunt again later.

The journey was short, but awkward. The only thing keeping the crushing silence at bay was the tinkling, classical music coming from some hidden speaker in one of the walls. When the lift eventually opened, Anna nearly ran out, breathing heavily. Claustrophobia, Beth thought. I'd almost forgotten.

Their eyes drank in the darkness, unveiling resplendent, mahogany-panelled walls. "Ooh, we've gone up in the world!" Beth whispered, in a terrible attempt to diffuse the tension rolling off Anna in waves. She could only smile a little, as Jane pushed open the doors.

To be continued...