Chapter 3:

An uncertain alliance

Aro, the leader of the Volturi, watched with great interest as Demetri and Jane brought two women into his hall.

"Holy shit!" The one who made the rude remark walked behind Jane, her eyes huge and incredulous.

But what's this? Aro had only ever seen eyes that colour in two rather particular vampire clans. It made a coil of disquiet twist inside him before he remembered: Tuono had told him of this one. Elizabeth was her name, and she was not acquainted with any of the Cullens.

The thought made Aro very glad indeed.

Caius leaned over in his throne. "Is that a Cullen?"

Aro tsked quietly. "No, brother. She is a child of Antoine Jean."

Caius' eyebrows raised a fraction. "And the other one?"

Ah. How could Aro have forgotten her? Both women were – what did they call it? – English roses, but there was something different about this one.

Anna. Tuono saw her through a haze of lust, likening her to a meekly mouse; in the flesh, Aro saw nothing mouse-like about Anna at all.

She gazed up at the domed ceiling with bright eyes delicately framed by thick lashes. Her hair spilled down her back in wild curls; in the shade, it was almost black, just like Aro's. His curiosity was piqued as Anna sighed and bowed her head. Balling up her fists, she looked to be in great pain.

Tuono had been persistent in the fact both she and Elizabeth were gifted, particularly Anna.

"We have messengers in our midst, Master Aro," Demetri announced.

"How exciting!" Remaining seated, Aro offered his hands to his servants. "Come." They came obediently to his side, their memories flowing into him like rushing streams. A frown bent the perfect surface of his forehead.

"What's he doing?" Beth whispered. "Reading their minds?" Anna didn't answer. Out of the corner of her eye, Beth saw her sister's impassive face. Anna's hands clenched tightly, her knuckles stuck out like ivory piano keys.

Dismissing his servants, Aro had seen enough. The phrase unlawfully killed flashed like a warning beacon in his mind, and he approached the women carefully. Demetri and Jane's memories told how they were wary of him, and rightly so.

Sure enough, both women tensed, like two does ready to flee, and yet, they did not run. They were brave. Aro admired that. "You are Elizabeth and Anna, of Monsieur Jean's coven?"

"Yes," Anna spoke softly.

"We were," Elizabeth spat with icy emphasis. She shook her fringe out of her strange eyes. "Until we watched our coven die, by your word."

Caius growled. "Your precious sire was nothing but a traitorous fool! He asked for death!"

Anna shook her head. "You cannot call him a fool when you know not the whole truth."

Aro was pleasantly surprised. "My, my!" For one so quiet, Anna certainly knew how to make herself heard, even as Caius's face contorted with rage.

"How dare -?"

"Calm yourself, Caius," Marcus murmured. It was the first time he had spoken. Furious, Caius breathed through his nose.

What a charming bloke, Beth thought with a smirk.

Nodding a quiet thank-you to Marcus, Aro smiled at the two women. "I must say, we are curious to learn how you hid so entirely up in that mountain."

"I'm sure you are," Beth grunted. Caius bristled at her tone, but said nothing.

"That is not important, sir," Anna answered Aro, who raised his eyebrows.

"Then what is, my dear?"

She did not hesitate. "We have come to prove Antoine Jean's innocence. Tuono told you Antoine had created an immortal child, and so he had." There was a quaver to Anna's voice, as the memory grated close to her heart. "Beth and I, we didn't understand it. A man so devoted to following our laws…"

"So, we smelt a rat," Beth cut in vehemently. "And we found Tuono's scent on the highest peak of the mountain, but…" Her face twisted with shame. "We lost him through water, and we haven't been able to find him since."

"I see." Aro paused.

It was Marcus who gave voice to the most prominent question. "You are certain this Tuono is to blame – where is your proof?"

A confused look passed between the two women. Evidently, they knew something the Volturi did not, and that was something Aro could not allow.

"May I see?" He opened his to Beth, who it eyed as if it were a vicious dog about to bite.

Anna's palms were now stippled with deep crescents from her fingernails. He is powerful…perhaps too powerful. I can't –

How bitter-sweet it was: her ability only presented her with the knowledge that Aro was gifted; to find out more, all she had to do was take what he offered.

"So, you think we're lying about Tuono," Beth deadpanned. She sighed and lifted her hand. Her fingernails were painted orange. "Go ahead, if you must – but you should know you're wasting valuable time when you could be helping us find him."

"For what purpose?" Marcus said. "It is not in the Volturi's nature to feed a young girls' thirst for vengeance."

"Darius Tuono is a dangerous man!" Beth snapped. "He is relentless, and his power –"

"Power?" Aro interrupted, astonished. "He is gifted?"

"Yes." Beth frowned like she had spoken the obvious. She prompted Aro by wiggling her fingers. "Look for yourself."

In so doing, Aro was immediately bombarded. Elizabeth Rachel Rhodes's memories flew like loose photographs from an album, vivid and startling in their clarity. She was still young, aged nineteen despite her seventeen-year-old body; with it was a temper easily stoked.

Oh, and Tuono was right. Elizabeth's glamour was still new to her.

But it was Anna who intrigued him most. Tempted through touch, our talents could become her playthings. A familiar hunger gnawed at Aro.

"I killed him, Beth. I MURDERED him."

It was an earlier memory. There was Anna, sat in a ball on the floor, her face wrought with self-loathing. Aro's intrigue flared, but he would not venture further. Not yet.

Both girls despised Darius Tuono and the closer Aro looked, the more he began to understand why. Like most females, Elizabeth had an uncanny gift for remembering things, right down to the slightest detail; this particular memory pierced Aro with its urgency.

Sixteen months ago, the odd little coven lived in a secluded part of Dartmoor, not far from the girls' current residence. Beth liked the quiet here, especially when Tuono wasn't around, as was the case then. She read a book about Shakespeare, comfortably cross-legged, in a room that was small and quirkily feminine.

Beth jumped as her door hit the wall with a crash, and Tuono blasted into the room.

Beth was all-too-accustomed to Tuono's all-too-dramatic entrances. Shit, what have I done now? Aro still felt her mounting fear, and fury at the new mark Tuono had made on her wall.

He wouldn't like it if I did that to his wall!

Aro was appalled as Tuono intruded into Beth's space. "Where is she?"

"Who?" In spite of her fear, a rush of malignant joy came with it

"Don't try to be smart," Tuono said softly. His eyes swept the room."Tell me where Anna is."

Beth took a breath, slowly uncrossing her legs as she fought the urge to run. She shut her book with deliberate care and placed it beside her. Carefully, carefully. "I don't know, Darius. But if Anna were ever to play hide-and-seek with you, I doubt she would hide here. I think my room's too small_"

Tuono's face was just inches from Beth's. "I said, don't try to be smart with me!" His breath was sweet, almost minty; it revolted her. Beth turned away.

"I told you. I. Don't. Know. Get out of my face."

Even as he stepped away, Tuono's eyes never stopped searching. He was calm again. "So, where is she?"

"Oh, for fuck's sake, Darius!" Beth squeaked. "She's probably out hunting. She'll – she'll be back, later."

"You're lying." He said it so quietly – so gently – Beth froze. Darius Tuono was never gentle. "You know where she is. Tell me. Now."

Beth reacted on instinct. "No!" She squeezed her eyes shut. "Just…leave Anna alone."

But Tuono forced Beth chin up, pushing her head back until something in her neck cracked. Beth sobbed helplessly; she could already feel his awful chill, pushing and probing its way into her mouth, teasing the truth out of her.

I wish I had Anna's gift!

"Well, brother?" Caius asked. "What have you learnt?"

Aro pressed his palms together, as if in prayer. "It appears we have been deceived," he said. "Darius Tuono is gifted with the ability to force others unto his whim. We were his puppets to dispose of his coven." Beth and Anna were unnerved by his bright smile. Despite himself, Aro was impressed by Darius' gall.

Caius, however, was not smiling. Pounding the arms of his throne, he snarled, "He shall die for this!"

This time, Marcus did not stop his temper. "He is a man of great cunning. He would not have done so without reason."

"Yes," Aro gazed at Anna. "And here, I fear, she is."

Anna swallowed. She felt as if she were being examined by a keen collector. She did not wish to hear Darius's disturbing plan pass through Aro's lips – a man she had just met - but Anna held her peace. The Volturi felt the sting of Darius' conceit; there was a chance they would help them after all.

Aro saw Anna's eyes – so magnificently large – were wary, her posture tensed to the point of discomfort; he was surprised by a sudden urge to comfort her, this poor child who wanted nothing more than to live in peace, despite the wound in her heart that refused to heal.

"Well?" Caius demanded. "What is the reason?"

Aro blinked, breaking the spell. "For young Anna."

"Tuono is delusional," Anna hissed; her insides clenched tight with shame, and Beth saw her sister tremble.

"Well," she said briskly. "Now, you know. What next?"

Aro's smile was a beautiful, hungry thing. "It seems… we have a vampire to hunt for."

To be continued...