I’ve only ever seen the parade on television, and that’s not really seeing it. On TV it’s all highly edited, a successive series of quick cuts to create story and enhance tension. There are even two separate broadcasts of the Morphing Games—one for the humans and one for the vampires. The vampire broadcast has an announcer speaking at speeds no human could understand, a backtrack of atonal music and references to languages not spoken by humans anymore. (This is part of my explore consequences of Vampires being super-smart. Obviously their society would be very different from our own.)
Those things led me to believe that vampires were all sophisticated killers, but after meeting Bree and Cynthia I’m revising my original thought: they’re just killers. Becoming a vampire doesn’t automatically make you debonair. Even Tanya, with all of her darlings, is jealous of Rosalie’s beauty. In some ways, vampires aren’t what I expected at all. (Super-human, just means super-fallible.)
The person I am most surprised by is also the person who best fits the archetype of what I thought a vampire should be: Edward. A rebel whose motivation isn’t just hatred of the government, but his own mistakes. He’s a creature like me, but utterly inhuman. Esme played at humanity, but he, with his cryptic questions and piercing gaze, doesn’t even pretend.
The memory of Edward is so strong that I’m surprised when I’m jolted at the shoulder by a petite girl with jet-black hair, her body lined in a skin-tight suite lined with tiny lightbulbs. She darts away from me before I can apologize. (Hey there Alice, how you doin’. Eww in retrospect I used lined twice in this sentence, sorry guyz. Confession it was edited in retroactively.)
The procession is an imitation of classic human parades, with each district getting their own moving platform, outfitted in whatever theme they’re portraying.
I was dressed by Esme in my armor, which while beautiful and sturdy—expecting it to crumple, I bruise my wrist after punching it—is also incredibly light. I’m able to easily maneuver inside the herd of floats that have congregated in the underground chamber waiting to get out. (I got the idea for Bella in armor when I made the banner. I love how visual and audio medium can inspire a story.)
Because the districts go out in order, Jasper and I are near the front of the line. So I have to maneuver through the rest of the floats before I reach mine. Unconsciously, I look for the small girl from District 6 with the red curls. I don’t find her, though I do see the District 6 float. It’s hard to miss; it’s blood-red, with metal chains of silver double-helixes surrounding it. District 6 is known for their experiments with genetics. (District 6 being genetics is an idea vaguely stolen from Aim My Arrows High.) I can’t imagine a twelve-year-old standing on it; it looks like a torture chamber. I don’t look at it long.
Next, I pass the District 3 float, which is a blinking imitation of a computer chip, housing a petite girl and a small boy. They almost blend into the float in their black jumpsuits decorated with tiny, blinking LEDs. On closer examination, I notice the same girl who bumped me in the shoulder is standing impatiently, shifting from foot to foot. She meets my appraisal with the curiosity of a little bird, (I describe things as bird like wayyy to much. It’s kind of a tic–erm I mean signature.) and I can see scrappy fear in her eyes. I turn around to find out what’s so frightening, but then I realize it’s me. She’s afraid of me.
I don’t know how I feel about that, so I soldier on through the crowd to our float. Our float is an idyllic depiction of a fairy-tale forest, which has nothing really to do with the urban sprawl of District 2, but who wants to see graffiti and sewers? Jasper stands on it, dressed in a simple black robe. I narrow my eyes, trying to discern the crest stitched below the collar. That can’t be what I think it is.
I hoist myself onto the float by grabbing the synthetic root of the one of the giant oaks. Our float is definitely the tallest, that’s for sure. Once up on the float, I allow my disbelief to show. The crest below his collar is the same ones the Volturi guard wear. It’s the crest of the Volterran Empire, and no one but the Volturi gaurd are allowed to wear it.
Let him see a little hatred, know that I disdain him just as much as he apparently disdains me. “Those are some morbid pajamas.” (oh bella u funny.)
He smiles that damn charming smile, as if I meant my comment sincerely. “My stylist and I decided that it would be best to deviate from tradition and not represent where I come from, but where I hope to be going.” (The characterization of Jasper being ambitious is shown through a couple of ways, the dismissing of her parents and then now his heritage. He really is the Capitol’s man through and through.)
“The Volturi Gaurd?”
In front of us the District 1 float, an imitation of a giant diamond, lurches unsteadily forward. (I had fun thinking of floats instead of outfits (I mean outfits too, but okay) Floats are so much more fun.)
“Where else?” He speaks as if this is the most plausible destination for a Prospective, when most of us actually end up in coffins, veins collapsed, drained of blood.
He must notice my somber mood because he smiles teasingly. “And what are you, a robot?” He pushes me lightly in the arm in what’s supposed to be a playful gesture, but I can smell trademark Hale scorn in his breath.
I toss my hair behind me as I stomp forward. I want the crowd to see me first. “I’m a knight.” (Whenever Bella says this I think of Ron Weasley.)
I’m angry at his insult to Esme’s costume. It’s not until I feel the anger that I realize that, unlike everyone else I’ve met so far associated with the Morphing Games, I actually like Esme in a way that isn’t tinged with terror.
Not too far away, I can hear the screams of the crowd applauding for District 1. I’m sure the Prospectives look even more beautiful in person than they do on TV. They have to in order to pull off ridiculous names like Aston Martin and Volvina. (Guys these two are my favorite characters kind of. Just for there names.)
We begin to move slowly forward, too, and I grab a tree branch for balance. Jasper, of course has no problem keeping his footing.
“Aren’t you worried about offending President Aro?” I gesture lamely to the robes. “Technically, to put the crest on anything not state-made is illegal.”
“The only way to stay alive is to be constantly on the offensive.” He shrugs. “I guess we’ll see how successful I am.” We’ve moved almost all the way into the light now, only four more seconds and millions of eyes will be trained on us, and about half that many cameras.
“You know, you don’t talk like you’re a kid, but you’re only what, sixteen?” I ask.
“You can’t come here if you’re a kid.” (Jasper is not a kid. In fact as we’ll see his relationship with the concept of childhood, and that he is not one will play an important role. Go search the EPOV for clues, it’s there.)
“You can this year.” I correct, trying not to sound too bitter about it. Even a statement of the facts can get you in trouble. If you’re not careful, facts can be some of the most dangerous things out there.
He looks like he’s about to say something, but all hints of introspection disappear once we pass through the awning and into the light of the street. Immediately, he turns to the crowd of vampires, and begins a measured wave. I move my hand, too, but it doesn’t have nearly the same effect on the crowd.
Up close, it’s hard to see how Jasper Hale’s wave is different from mine, but it gets twice the reaction. In frustration, I draw my sword and thrust it upward lamely, which draws some attention, but not a lot.
The truth is, I’m not really focused on the float or the games or even Jasper. I can’t take my eyes off the crowd. They sparkle, not subtly, but sending full blown refractory shards of light everywhere. (This was a problem I had with a city of Stephanie Meyer vamps in sunlight, sparkling.) With all of the vampires about I almost have to close my eyes. I wish I had sunglasses, but what knight wears sunglasses?
Quicker than I would have thought, we arrive at the main square of Volterra. It’s furbished in all white limestone and glinting copper, much like the Blood Bank. The smooth whirring of the wheels changes into a click-clack as the road underneath us turns from pavement to bricks.
In the center, there is a tall podium with a large screen above it. For the first time, I can see myself on camera and I’m surprised by how dashing I look. Esme has given volume to my normally limp hair, and pieces of the armor frame my face nicely. Realizing that this perhaps the one chance to get the camera’s attention before it undoubtedly rests on Jasper, I give my sword a long swipe through the air.
I don’t know what makes me do it, because the moment after the words leave my mouth I realize how stupid they are, but with my sword up in the air, I yell, “For Emily.”
I didn’t think the crowd could hear me over the sound of their chatter and clapping, but of course, having super hearing, they do. All eyes turn on me, and for a second I’m worried that they’re going to rush onto the float and tear me limb from limb.
Instead, they start clapping even louder. Next to me Jasper does nothing so bold as to grit his teeth to show his annoyance, but his waving slows a little.
Somewhere from the back someone has figured out the my name and has started a chant, “Swan! Swan! Swan!” One of the people out there chanting my name has to have enough money to be a sponsor.
Knots in in my muscles loosen, tension letting up at the idea of sponsors, but the tension doesn’t dissipate completely. If any of the other competitors are as serious as Jasper about an offensive strategy, I don’t stand a chance, because when it comes down to it, I’m not sure if I can kill. Oh, I mean, I know I have the ability, but I haven’t gotten in a serious physical fight with anyone since I hurt my brother.
Edward would’ve been certain to get me sponsors, but once he figures out that I’m not following his plan I’m sure he’ll retract all help. At least once I’m in the arena he won’t be able to touch me or persuade me. It’s a hard and fast rule that no one but the tributes are allowed in the arena.
All this adoration makes me sick. Even if I did volunteer, that doesn’t make me some kind of white knight, even if Esme dresses me up in armor, because what I volunteered to do isn’t go on a quest to fight a dragon or rescue a princess. No, I volunteered to kill people, to kill children.
If they knew that I wasn’t going to kill children, well they wouldn’t be cheering. They’d probably be trying me for treason.
As the other floats come the fervor dies down until finally President Aro takes the stage. He’s dressed in black robes much like Jasper’s, but if he sees the similarity he doesn’t acknowledge it.
Aro’s speech seems to go on for a long time; it’s littered with words so long I don’t understand them. Once or twice he slips into another language, one with trilled r’s and a rising and falling cadence. (Hello Italian!) The crowd understands it, but it makes no sense to me.
Normally once his speech finishes, each pair is led through a small, roped off area to the mansion on the right side of the square: the Prospective Palace. But after the applause Aro holds up a hand, which from where I’m standing, looks no bigger than a pale dot. “Citizens and future citizen!”
The fact that he doesn’t use the plural for future citizen makes me twitch. It’s just another reminder that only one of us will end up here in Volterra.
“This is no ordinary Morphing Games. As you all know, it’s the 100th anniversary of our now beloved pastime.” (It was a nice touch that Susan had it be the 74th hunger games, made it feel more real. But I went for more bombastic.)
The crowd shifts-expectant, almost uneasy. For the first time it occurs to me maybe there are other vampires like Edward and Esme, those who aren’t happy with the way things are, let alone the fact that now children are going to lose their lives.
“As has been revealed to you, we’ve brought innocence into the hallowed streets of Volterra. Brought hope. Perhaps in response to that hope, or perhaps because he simply is a man of whimsy who I will never fully understand, my good friend has returned as well. Let us all welcome Edward Cullen!”
And there is Edward Cullen, as if he has never been anywhere else, standing ramrod straight next to President Aro. Not acknowledging the crowd or anyone- not even me. The smooth lines of his dark Volturi robes contrast with the untamed mess on his head. Even from so far away, when I see him, I swallow to moisten my suddenly dry throat.
Whispers undercut (originally I used the word underlace here which according to my beta doesn’t exist. I vote it becomes a new word, all who are with me say aye!) the applause, only from the vampires though. None of the Prospectives, except for Jasper and me, have a clue who Edward is. I imagine Jasper’s probably angry that I have a mentor who’s close with the President.
Good. Angry people are people out of control, and as Edward demonstrated—I find a disturbing amount of my thoughts being about him—power is nothing without control. (I like Tactician!Bella she’ll be making more and more of an appearance as the story goes on. Gives it kind of an Enders Game feel.”
Except when I look at Jasper, he’s smirking, too.
“There’s a story I don’t think many of you here know about Edward-—” Aro begins in the measured storyteller’s cadence all Volterran politicians seem to use “—certainly our darling Prospectives don’t.” The way Aro says “darling” it becomes clear to me where the origins of Volterran slang come from.
“I hope you don’t mind if I share it, Edward?” Aro doesn’t even glance at Edward as he asks. “We have no secrets here, do we?”
President Aro’s gaze, even from far away, finds mine. I’m sure everyone feels like that. At least, that’s what I tell myself to keep from screaming at the way his beady crimson eyes bore into me.
“Once, long ago, before the Volterran Empire existed in its present form, I had a friend who was distinctive. He didn’t drink human blood. In fact, he watched and guarded over their frailty, and lived among them with a boy he called son. They came to me across the oceans and the sands to tell me of the tragedy in this continent, of the horrors we now know as the Time of Excess. The days of a thousand floods, a hundred earthquakes, and that one most deadly eruption.”
At this point, I’m distracted by a fact that I didn’t notice until recently, so focused was I on Edward and Aro. Behind Aro stands Rosalie. (Why is Rosalie on stage, hmm. I’ll give you a clue. Finnick O’dair.) This was why Jasper was smirking. Edward is not the only one close to President Aro, but how can Rosalie already be in the upper ranks? She only won last year. More importantly, are Rosalie and Edward associates, is Rosalie a part of the cause? The cause I’m only half-committed to.
“I had been living so long in selfishness and here were two beings who saw immortality for what it really was: an opportunity to help save humanity from itself.” Aro turns slightly, as if to smile at Edward, but it’s hard for me to discern details from so far away.
“I can testify with confidence that all of Volterra mourned the day Carlisle Cullen was thoughtlessly murdered by a newborn. Five recently turned humans struck out against a man only trying to help them. Of course, we had long known something had to be done about the newborn problem, but none of us quite understood the severity of the issue, let alone how to go about fixing it.”
None of the crowd seems surprised by this story, so maybe most of them knew about Edward Cullen while only the lowlies like Cynthia and Bree were oblivious.
I’m not sure how I feel. My eyes are glued to Edward, to his every motion. I don’t know what I expect to see. Do I think he’ll cry about the father that wasn’t his father? Of course not. For a second his eyes meet mine.
At first, despite the fiery color, they are impassive, but then for just a moment-no longer-his brow furrows slightly. If it weren’t completely insane, I would say he almost looks . . . apologetic.
“As the Morphing Games demonstrates, loss is the greatest teacher. (This is kind of a theme of the story. Loss is actually an awful teacher. It made Bella blind her brother and made Edward do well. . . you’ll see.) After Carlisle moved forth from this plane toward the next, inspiration bequeathed to Edward her greatest gift: an idea.” Aro brings up a hand in front of him, as if he could pluck an idea from inspiration’s invisible grasp.
Edward’s glare turns glacial once more before tearing away from me. I can’t help but want him to look at me again. It’s sick.
“Ah, Edward, how well grief taught him truth, for he came up with the most elegant solution to the newborn problem.” Aro continues. (I had fun writing Aro, he’s me at my most pretensions.)
Even though Aro is speaking, I can’t help but find myself unable to look away from Edward. There is something so noble about him. I can’t label it or understand it, really. Maybe it’s how square his shoulders are or how tall he stands. I’m so caught up in Edward that I almost miss the next words Aro says.
“What an elegant solution the Morphing Games were and what a brilliant man their founder: Edward Cullen.”
(And here’s where everyone shit bricks.
But guys, guys. It makes sense. Edward is just a reflection of Bella, but on a much larger scale. And he made his mistakes for a reason. Like Aro said loss is the greatest teacher . . .
of bad decision making. )