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The Twilight Saga 2: New Moon

The Twilight Saga 2: New Moon: Page 69

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I couldn't decide if his face was beautiful or not. I suppose the features were perfect. But he was as different from the vampires beside him as they were from me. His skin was translucently white, like onionskin, and it looked just as delicate��it stood in shocking contrast to the long black hair that framed his face. I felt a strange, horrifying urge to touch his cheek, to see if it was softer than Edward's or Alice's, or if it was powdery, like chalk. His eyes were red, the same as the others around him, but the color was clouded, milky; I wondered if his vision was affected by the haze.

He glided to Jane, took her face in his papery hands, kissed her lightly on her full lips, and then floated back a step.

"Yes, Master." Jane smiled; the expression made her look like an angelic child. "I brought him back alive, just as you wished."

"Ah, Jane." He smiled, too. "You are such a comfort to me."

He turned his misty eyes toward us, and the smile brightened��became ecstatic.

"And Alice and Bella, too!" he rejoiced, clapping his thin hands together. "This is a happy surprise! Wonderful!"

I stared in shock as he called our names informally, as if we were old friends dropping in for an unexpected visit.

He turned to our hulking escort. "Felix, be a dear and tell my brothers about our company. I'm sure they wouldn't want to miss this."

"Yes, Master." Felix nodded and disappeared back the way we had come.

"You see, Edward?" The strange vampire turned and smiled at Edward like a fond but scolding grandfather. "What did I tell you? Aren't you glad that I didn't give you what you wanted yesterday?"

"Yes, Aro, I am," he agreed, tightening his arm around my waist.

"I love a happy ending." Aro sighed. "They are so rare. But I want the whole story. How did this happen? Alice?" He turned to gaze at Alice with curious, misty eyes. "Your brother seemed to think you infallible, but apparently there was some mistake."

"Oh, I'm far from infallible." She flashed a dazzling smile. She looked perfectly at ease, except that her hands were balled into tight little fists. "As you can see today, I cause problems as often as I cure them."

"You're too modest," Aro chided. "I've seen some of your more amazing exploits, and I must admit I've never observed anything like your talent. Wonderful!"

Alice flickered a glance at Edward. Aro did not miss it.

"I'm sorry, we haven't been introduced properly at all, have we? It's just that I feel like I know you already, and I tend get ahead of myself. Your brother introduced us yesterday, in a peculiar way. You see, I share some of your brother's talent, only I am limited in a way that he is not." Aro shook his head; his tone was envious.

"And also exponentially more powerful," Edward added dryly. He looked at Alice as he swiftly explained. "Aro needs physical contact to hear your thoughts, but he hears much more than I do. You know I can only hear what's passing through your head in the moment. Aro hears every thought your mind has ever had."

Alice raised her delicate eyebrows, and Edward inclined his head.

Aro didn't miss that either.

"But to be able to hear from a distance��" Aro sighed, gesturing toward the two of them, and the exchange that had just taken place. "That would be so convenient."

Aro looked over our shoulders. All the other heads turned in the same direction, including Jane, Alec, and Demetri, who stood silently beside us.

I was the slowest to turn. Felix was back, and behind him floated two more black-robed men. Both looked very much like Aro, one even had the same flowing black hair. The other had a shock of snow-white hair��the same shade as his face��that brushed against his shoulders. Their faces had identical, paper-thin skin.

The trio from Carlisle's painting was complete, unchanged by the last three hundred years since it was painted.

"Marcus, Caius, look!" Aro crooned. "Bella is alive after all, and Alice is here with her! Isn't that wonderful?"

Neither of the other two looked as if wonderful would be their first choice of words. The dark-haired man seemed utterly bored, like he'd seen too many millennia of Aro's enthusiasm. The other's hice was sour under the snowy hair.

Their lack of interest did not curb Aro's enjoyment.

"Let us have the story," Aro almost sang in his feathery voice.

The white-haired ancient vampire drifted away, gliding toward one of the wooden thrones. The other paused beside Aro, and he reached his hand out, at first I thought to take Aro's hand. But he just touched Aro's palm briefly and then dropped his hand to his side. Aro raised one black brow. I wondered how his papery skin did not crumple in the effort.

Edward snorted very quietly, and Alice looked at him, curious.

"Thank you, Marcus," Aro said. "That's quite interesting."

I realized, a second late, that Marcus was letting Aro know his thoughts.

Marcus didn't look interested. He glided away from Aro to join the one who must be Caius, seated against the wall. Two of the attending vampires followed silently behind him��bodyguards, like I'd thought before. I could see that the two women in the sundresses had gone to stand beside Caius in the same manner. The idea of any vampire needing a guard was faintly ridiculous to me, but maybe the ancient ones were as frail as their skin suggested.

Aro was shaking his head. "Amazing,"' he said. "Absolutely amazing."

Alice's expression was frustrated. Edward turned to her and explained again in a swift, low voice. "Marcus sees relationships. He's surprised by the intensity of ours."

Aro smiled. "So convenient," he repeated to himself. Then he spoke to us. "It takes quite a bit to surprise Marcus, I can assure you."

I looked at Marcus's dead face, and I believed that.

"It's just so difficult to understand, even now," Aro mused, staring at Edward's arm wrapped around me. It was hard for me to follow Aro's chaotic train of thought. I struggled to keep up. "How can you stand so close to het like that?"

"It's not without effort," Edward answered calmly.

"Butstill��la tua cantante! What a waste!"

Edward chuckled once without humor. "I look at it more as a price."

Aro was skeptical. "A very high price."

"Opportunity cost."

Aro laughed. "If I hadn't smelled her through your memories, I wouldn't have believed the call of anyone's blood could be so strong. I've never felt anything like it myself. Most of us would trade much for such a gift, and yet you��"

"Waste it," Edward finished, his voice sarcastic now.

Aro laughed again. "Ah, how I miss my friend Carlisle! You remind me of him��only he was not so angry."

"Carlisle outshines me in many other ways as well."

"I certainly never thought to see Carlisle bested for self-control of all things, but you put him to shame."

"Hardly." Edward sounded impatient. As if he were tired of the preliminaries. It made me more afraid; I couldn't help but try to imagine what he expected would follow.

"I am gratified by his success," Aro mused. "Your memories of him are quite a gift for me, though they astonish me exceedingly. I am surprised by how it�� pleases me, his success in this unorthodox path he's chosen. I expected that he would waste, weaken with time.
I'd scoffed at his plan to find others who would share his peculiar vision. Yet, somehow, I'm happy to be wrong."

Edward didn't reply.

"But your restraint!" Aro sighed. "I did not know such strength was possible. To inure yourself against such a siren call, not just once but again and again��if I had not felt it myself, I would not have believed."

Edward gazed back at Aro's admiration with no expression. I knew his face well enough��time had not changed that��to guess at something seething beneath the surface. I fought to keep my breathing even.

"Just remembering how she appeals to you��" Aro chuckled. "It makes me thirsty."

Edward tensed.

"Don't be disturbed," Aro reassured him. "I mean her no harm. But I am so curious, about one thing in particular." He eyed me with bright interest. "May I?" he asked eagerly, lifting one hand.

"Ask her," Edward suggested in a flat voice.

"Of course, how rude of me!" Aro exclaimed. "Bella," he addressed me directly now. "I'm fascinated that you are the one exception to Edward's impressive talent��so very interesting that such a thing should occur! And I was wondering, since our talents are similar in many ways, if you would be so kind as to allow me to try��to see if you are an exception for me, as well?"

My eyes flashed up to Edward's face in terror. Despite Aro's overt politeness, I didn't believe I really had a choice. I was horrified at the thought of allowing him to touch me, and yet also perversely intrigued by the chance to feel his strange skin.

Edward nodded in encouragement��whether because he was sure Aro would not hurt me, or because there was no choice, I couldn't tell.

I turned back to Aro and raised my hand slowly in front of me.

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