Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights
The raging pounding of my heart terrified me. I knew it wasn’t possible that it could endure the speed at which it thumped for much longer. If it stopped, I would die. Its wild beating had been the only reassurance that I was still alive, if that’s what this state of torture was. It began to beat faster, like it was running away from me, trying to beat right out of my chest. I couldn’t possibly let it go. I needed my heart; it held all I had left of her inside of it.
My hands clawed at my chest, determined to hold on to it, to not let it get away. I felt fabric shredding between my fingers as my chest arched in a final staggering explosion of pain before my heart finally…died. Surrendering, its lonely, painful march finally over.
Disappointingly, death hadn’t brought me the relief I had so often wished for, so often dreamt of, when I was lost in my familiar black oblivion. I knew I was still conscious on some level, and therefore, still trapped in some plane of existence that kept me separated from her. That truth was far worse than anything I could possibly be facing now; it proved to me that Heaven was but a dream, and I’d learned that dreams were not to be trusted.
I gasped a desperate breath in shock, expecting the sensation of death to overcome me. Strangely, it didn’t, and I belatedly wondered how I was able to still breathe if my heart wasn’t beating. Then I realized that I could taste the air. A dozen flavors ran through my head; candle wax, soot from the fire that I could see glowing from the corner of the room, the earthy scent of old bricks and the heady aroma of something else I couldn’t quite place. It was strong and not too far away, and it teased me with memories of warm mutton. I sat up, absorbed by the possibility of finding the source of the scent and for the first time, took in my surroundings.
The room I found myself in was well appointed. The bed was ornately carved; a blue coverlet draped gracefully over the mattress. To my left, there was a dresser in the corner of the room. A writing desk and chair were facing the wall to my right. The cold, stone floor was covered with a plush Persian rug, and a blue upholstered chair sat near the fireplace. It seemed almost cozy, and it was certainly not what I expected Hell to look like.
The fact that I didn’t recognize my surroundings made me extremely uneasy. Nervous and incredibly alert, I looked around the room and tried to make sense of where I was. Something was…different, but I couldn’t quite place exactly what the difference was. For one thing, everything was crystal clear. I could see better than I had ever been able to in the past. My vision had never been perfect, and the richness of the colors I was seeing amazed me. In particular, the fire was fascinating; the angry red edges of the flames leapt and danced while the more solid and stoic blue flames tenaciously devoured the wood. There was another color, one I couldn’t place, that danced beneath the indigo blue; it shimmered with rainbow luminescence as the wood cracked and was consumed by their beauty. The heat radiating from the fireplace seemed too hot to me, which was odd. Fire was fire, its temperature relatively constant, so why wasn’t I able to feel comfortable standing so close to it? Its warmth should have been comforting, but my instincts were telling me to keep my distance from the flames.
I put my hand out before me, testing the distance at which the heat became too much to bear, and suddenly noticed the unnaturally pale color of my skin. I must have been much more ill than I had realized. Looking around the room, I saw a mirror on the dresser and moved toward it, curious as to what my face must look like. However, the closer I moved toward the mirror, the more my pace subconsciously slowed. Part of me screamed a warning, telling me not to look, and another, much larger part of me already knew that something was very, very wrong. I was halfway to the dresser, the voice becoming more insistent, more urgent. Conflict raged within me. My hand reached out reluctantly, driven by my mind demanding an explanation for the unexplainable situation I found myself in. Somehow, I knew part of that explanation would look back at me in the mirror. I forced my hand to move, and my fingers plucked the mirror up by its wooden handle. I closed my eyes and brought the mirror up before my face, bracing myself as I slowly lifted my lids.
Staring back at me, wide-eyed in the glowing firelight, were two brilliant and flaming crimson eyes set in a ghostly pale face that was too angular and perfect to be mine. The skin was so pale that the purple veins were clearly visible. Yet, there was something recognizable in the cheekbones set high and proud curve of the red lips. And the eyes, despite their horrifying color, spoke to me with a wisdom beyond their years. They silently whispered back to me the astonishment I felt as understanding began to dawn on me. My fingers relaxed in shock, and the mirror slipped from my hands, shattering around my feet. I knew what I was; what I had become. Comprehension crept over me and I shuddered with a sudden chill. My red eyes could only mean one thing, I had become the very legend I’d scoffed at.
Signore Aro entered the room, flanked by a small, brunette woman who was touching the Signore’s shoulder; the other was an imposing, dark-haired man. All wore long dark robes, but the Signore’s were the darkest.
“Alec,” Signore Aro cooed as he came forward. “Surely this is confusing and you must have many questions.”
I did have many questions, such as why did he look so much older to me now than before? And why did he reek of that delectable scent that inspired an immediate increase of bitter saliva in my mouth?
“Where is Jane?” I asked first. That was the most important question.
“She is here,” he said smoothly.
“May I see her?”
“Not at this time, no,” he replied calmly, inspiring a low impatient growl to rumble in my parched throat. The woman touching him nervously moved closer to his side.
“Why not?” I asked firmly.
“I sense hostility in you, young friend. That could be dangerous for you, and for Jane.”
“Did Jane know what fate was in store for her? Did she know you were turning us into this?” I accused with disgust.
“On the contrary Alec, your sister was fully aware of the truth. In fact, she has taken to her new life quite easily and with surprising…enthusiasm. Everyone here has free will,” he said, and I involuntarily hissed at what could only be a lie; I had been given no choice. No one asked if I agreed to an eternity of damnation as a sinner against the laws of nature, and therefore, God.
“I find that hard to believe,” I said, my distrust of him blatantly obvious in my tone.
“Do you?” he asked with piercing eyes fixed on mine.
My angry and disgusted gaze fell to the floor. The habit of automatically defending her was still hard to quell, it had become so second nature it required no active thought on my part. Yet, I was unable to ignore the facts I’d heard during the trial.
“Jane is a very capable addition to our family,” he murmured, his smug smile dripping with pride for Jane.
His full meaning was not lost on me; by capable, he meant murderous. His words slithered like a venomous serpent into my mind, filling it with a myriad of horrifying and grotesque images. Jane, reveling in what she now was. Jane, taking people in the woods like the Stregoni would. Jane, feeding off of what she used to be; a wolf slaying helpless rabbits in the forest. Signore Aro didn’t have to tell me she had taken to being a murderer with finesse. I learned at the trial, she’d had that capacity all along. I now understood that Jane’s heart was black long before it had stopped beating.
My lip quivered and I felt as though I could cry. Try as I might, it was difficult to blame Jane for who she was. She was my father’s daughter; he taught her no other way. Had we been born to different parents, Jane might have grown to be as innocent and righteous a maid as ever prayed to the blessed Virgin. But father robbed us both of our chance for innocence and normality.
A low chuckle from Signore Aro brought me from my thoughts, and as I watched a smile play about his thin lips, a suspicion began to grow in my mind. His pride in Jane was evident as he talked of her, like he was speaking of a newly acquired gem he’d been searching for. I saw no twinkle of love or genuine concern in his eye when he spoke of her, only acquisition.
“What is your real interest in my sister?” I questioned. It was difficult to hold the snarl in the back of my throat at bay.
“Your tone suggests something insidious, my dear boy.” I made no reply, and let him infer what he would.
He moved toward the chair near the fireplace and casually sat own, the women moved with him. “I simply couldn’t bear the thought of the two of you being sacrificed in the name of the Church. I saw no crime in your sister’s actions. I spoke with Jane and offered you a home with us. She was most grateful to accept my invitation.”
“I didn’t accept.”
He sighed and rose from the chair, coming to me and taking my hand. “Alec, in time, I know that you will be happy with us. Look to the future, for I sense you will be a great man among us. Jane was only protecting you; she loves you very much.”
I didn’t answer; I only stared dejectedly at the floor. In that moment, I was too overwhelmed to know my own feelings.
“Your thirst must be difficult to manage. If you’ll come with me, I’m sure we can make you more comfortable,” he suggested, gracefully changing the subject to a much more disturbing one.
“No thank you, ” I answered, revolted by the suggestion.
“In that case, young friend, I’ll leave you to your thoughts. Should you have need of anything, you have but to ask.” With that, he and his entourage departed the room.
I spent the days in sullen solitude. I refused to feed and kept myself jailed in my bedchamber. It was impossible for me to…nourish…myself the way those around me did. But no matter how I tried to distract myself, or ignore it, the aroma drove me to madness. After many days of denying myself and growing weakness, I finally relented. I requested a goblet be brought to me in my bedchamber.
It was Jane that brought me a large silver goblet, filled to the brim with the thick scarlet liquid. The scent was overwhelming as Jane brought it closer, but that didn’t help me forget where it camefrom. Jane sat beside me on the edge of the bed, her feet swinging gaily. She looked well, and more beautiful than before; she had the same sharp angular features and alabaster skin of everyone in the castle. She seemed to glow, and it was because she was happy and well cared for. Even the telltale vermillion eyes suited her.
She handed me the goblet. “Doesn’t it smell divine?”
“Yes,” I admitted with reluctance, and took the goblet from her with even greater reluctance. I felt as though once I drank it, there was no more hiding from the truth.
“Pretend it’s wine. I promise you’ll like it,” Jane encouraged. I grimaced at her and set the goblet down on the table beside the bed.
“I’ll try it later,” I promised half-heartedly.
“It’s much better when it’s warm.”
“Stop!” I yelled, covering my ears with my hands. Her attitude was too cavalier, too cold, too enthusiastic, just as Signore Aro had said.
She pulled my hands away from my ears and held them in her lap, tenderly stroking them to calm me. It was an old trick, and one that was having little effect. “Master Aro tells me you aren’t happy here. Why not?”
“He is our father now, Alec. We owe him our lives.”
“For my part, I’d prefer death.”
“How can you speak so?” Jane cried, jumping up in front of me. “We are immortal and rich,” she moved closer her voice dropping, “We can see like eagles and are as strong as giants.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “And I’m special, Alec.”
“What do you mean, special?”
“I can make people feel pain, and not even touch them!” Her eyes gleamed with enthusiasm.
“You take pride in such a talent?” I accused, not trying to hide my disappointment.
“We are respected among them, brother. Master Aro suspects you will have great gifts as well! You and I will be powerful, and together. Always. No one can hurt you anymore. I won’t let them.”
She spoke this last oath with a depth of conviction I’d never heard in her voice, and I ceased to be angry with her. With each lifeless breath I took, I exhaled some of my resentment at Jane for choosing my eternity for me. She was my sister, my only link to the past, and she had always been my companion in arms; deflecting and strategizing to save one another. We were survivors, and that’s all Jane knew. She was faced with an extraordinary situation, and she took extreme action to keep us alive. I couldn’t fault her logic; I only regretted its necessity.
Nor was I angry with Jane for killing our father. It would be hypocritical of me to blame her for something that I’d secretly prayed would happen naturally. In actuality, she’d done me a service; his murder was the only comfort I had. At least Cesca’s soul could rest at peace, even if mine never would. I would never have been happy living without Cesca, and Jane had no hand in her death. That was all my own doing.
I questioned all my past actions, wondering how things might have been. I berated myself for ever speaking to Cesca. If I’d kept my thoughts on my responsibilities instead of chasing after her, she might still be alive. Involving her in my life was a dream I had no right to pursue. It was the sin I would spend eternity repenting for. I felt as though being dammed to this Hell was my penance for it was I who’d disgraced Cesca’s virtue.
My eyes went to the elegant silver goblet an arm’s length away. Its contents had long since cooled, and I wondered if, in drinking it cold, I’d be forcing myself to suffer a little more for her sake. I took the goblet up and watched Jane’s eyes sparkle. There was no denying the intoxicating scent as I brought the challis to my lips. The darkest sins always taste sweetest, and as I drained the cup, I prayed to my beloved to commend my soul to God.