|The Wise Man and the Fool
Author: DasMervin PM
“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Aro heeded Napoleon’s words as the Cullens made their own fatal mistake—and intended to correct his own.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - Aro & Caius - Words: 6,681 - Reviews: 38 - Favs: 90 - Follows: 15 - Published: 03-23-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5837620
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: The Wise Man and the Fool
Canon: After Breaking Dawn
Word Count: 6,530
Summary: "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." Aro heeded Napoleon's words as the Cullens made their own fatal mistake—and intended to correct his own.
Author's Note: Just a one shot. What I think happened when the Volturi went back to Italy. The title comes from the quote, "Wise men profit more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise," by Cato the Elder.
It had been a very long time since Aro had felt the need to call his collection to the table. Far too long, he thought, as he traced a whorl in the smooth wood, waiting patiently for everyone to settle in their seats. They had never had a pressing need to do so, really—not since the Romanian scourge. Not even when Irina had come with news of a vampire child being harbored by the Cullens—they had simply made their decision in the main hall after listening to her and been done with it. No—calling the Volturi to order was a move he only made when there was a threat to be addressed. When something momentous had occurred that required all of the important members to gather and talk—and to plan.
Momentous indeed, he mused, folding his hands on the table and sweeping his eyes across the room. Felix and Demetri were seated beside one another, as they always did, glaring impotently at the table at large. Jane and Alec were together, Jane looking sulky and petulant and Alec doing his best to comfort her. Chelsea was sitting quietly with Afton, while Heidi conversed softly with Corin. The others were silent, waiting patiently for Aro to call them to order. Caius was seething in the seat at his right, but that was to be expected. Marcus said and did nothing—also expected. After enduring it for over a thousand years, Aro was finally beginning to find him quite tiring.
Santiago was the last to be seated near the end beside Sulpicia. Aro waited a moment before shifting in his seat and raising his hand, a simple movement that brought deafening silence to settle over the room.
Aro did not hesitate to begin. "I will not waste your time explaining why I called you to council—we all know," he said. "The summit in Washington has caused a certain… disquiet among our kind. It desperately needs to be dealt with—and quickly."
"I would not call that a summit or the results mere 'disquiet'," Caius bit out. "I would call it a debacle followed by humiliation." He leaned forward. "We have been all but ousted from our position, Aro! Our authority has been severely undermined, and we will be lucky to hold any sway over anybody once word of this fiasco reaches the rest of the vampire world!"
Aro listened patiently to the nervous and angry murmurs of agreement. "Humiliation, perhaps, Caius," he replied calmly. "But not a debacle. And most assuredly not defeat."
Caius stared at him incredulously. "Not defeat? We were soundly driven out! And we have absolutely nothing to show for it, I might add!"
"He's right," Felix growled. "They stood there and spat in our faces! None of our goals were accomplished!"
"We have lost, Master." Jane's snappish voice cut through. "I could not even touch them. That girl—"
"Enough." Aro's voice was soft yet sharp, and they stilled instantly. "There are many ways in which it was not defeat, but I am disappointed that none of you see the one that is most obvious." He steepled his fingers, sweeping the table with a piercing gaze. "We are all still alive."
"The same cannot be said for our dignity," muttered Demetri.
"Perhaps not yours," Aro said lightly. "But as for mine? It is quite intact."
"How can you say that?" Caius spat. "How can you even think it? They all but pulled our teeth!"
"But they didn't," Aro said firmly. "For all their power and posturing, they did nothing to harm us. They had the capabilities—more than enough power to wipe every single vampire standing on our side off of the face of this earth. Without even moving."
Discontented and uneasy murmurs filled the room. Aro spoke over them, "And they did not. They let us go. They let us return, whole and alive, to our homes."
"But they didn't need to even bother attacking us. They had us stymied," Heidi said dismissively.
"And they continue to have us stymied," Caius snarled. "That girl Alice can see us coming, Edward can hear us coming, and Bella Swan can stop us in our tracks! They've made themselves completely untouchable! I have no doubt that all of those covens that joined them did not miss that, Aro! Another challenge will follow—and another, and another!"
"And I sincerely hope it does," Aro said, raising his voice. "Because this single challenge has shown me not that we become toothless, as so many of you and the Cullens seem to believe. It is that we have become complacent."
The group fell into sullen silence. Aro continued. "We have not been truly challenged once since the Romanians. That was fifteen-hundred years ago. Far too long, as the summit proved. I am ashamed of myself—I, who have watched the march of human history and the collapse human empires for three thousand years, could not see the obvious! Only on that point is my dignity harmed, Demetri—because I made a decidedly human mistake. We all did. We deserved this humiliation."
Aro took in the confusion, sulking, and anger that his words instilled. He met each of their eyes deliberately, saving Caius for last, before leaning back in his chair and regarding the table as a whole again. "How many paltry human empires have we seen crumble and wither and die because they relied upon old fear to keep the new obedient? We were feared—but, I ask you, what have we done in the past five centuries that is worthy of fear?"
"It should not matter," Santiago countered. "We are immortal. The old still live to remember."
"On the contrary, Santiago," Aro said, raising one finger. "That makes us all the more deserving of this so-called 'defeat'. The old are indeed still living and able to remember why they feared us, and so they can see that what they once feared has become weak. When you have the old who see us growing soft and docile, and then the new, who have never seen us at our full strength and are full of pointless ideals that have not yet had time to fade—you invite dissent. You invite challenges. You invite rebellion."
Aro inhaled an unnecessary breath through his nose. "We have grown old and lazy—as much as it pains me to confess it, I believe the Romanians were correct. We have… how did they put it…" He smiled humorlessly. "Ah, yes. Petrified."
The oldest members gave low hisses at the mention of the still-living Romanians. "Vladimir and Stefan should have died with their empires," Corin spat.
"Quite," Aro said mildly. "I believe that was the first in our succession of errors—to allow them to live. They surrendered, and we gave quarter." Aro's eyes hardened. "I do not intend to make that mistake again. The Cullens and their rabble have proven that mercy has no place amongst vampires."
"Of course we will not make that mistake again," Caius sneered. "We will not have a chance to give quarter, for there is no possible way to launch another attack. The Cullens are invincible."
"Caius is right," Alec said, speaking for the first time. "They have defenses against all of our attacks—impenetrable defenses."
"How so?" Aro said, gesturing to the table at large. "Enlighten me."
Several members glanced at one another, and silence pervaded for another few moments. Felix was the first to break it.
"Their friends are far more widespread and numerous than we originally thought. For all his proselytizing, Carlisle is not so noble that he will not call upon the aid of a true vampire," he said.
"They have werewolves," Caius snarled. "Seventeen of the wretched animals. That we saw, that is. There might be countless others!" Aro did not miss the miniscule quaver in his voice.
"Many of their allies have extra abilities far more powerful than we counted on," Jane added quickly.
"Edward Cullen can read our minds and hear our plans—we can keep nothing secret," Sulpicia chimed in, adding to the sudden angry and frightened rush that Felix seemed to have started.
"Alice Cullen can see us coming if we try to launch another attack—we cannot catch them by surprise."
"Bella Swan can block all of our abilities."
"We do not know what other abilities their allies even have!"
"There are no weaknesses to their power, no loopholes we could exploit!"
"We do not have anything to use against them, no reason to launch an attack!"
"We cannot accuse them, we cannot track them, we cannot incapacitate them, we cannot surprise them, we cannot fight them!" Caius barked, slamming his hand on the table hard enough to crack the wood.
Aro looked at the split in the tabletop in annoyance; he was very fond of this table. He shot Caius a warning look before addressing the others. "All true. All very true, as we saw." He let his pause saturate the air. "As we stand now, that is."
"Where else can we stand, Aro?!" Caius shouted. "Your eternal optimism is what caused us to fall into this trap in the first place, so why you are continuing to indulge—"
"That is enough," Aro growled, standing up for the first time. Caius snapped his mouth shut, looking quite furious but staying silent. Aro did not sit back down, and did not stop staring stonily at Caius. "This is not optimism, Caius. You and every other vampire at this table—every vampire at the summit—every Cullen—have forgotten one critical detail." He reached forward and touched Caius's hand, brushing his fingertips across his skin with a feather-like stroke. Aro closed his eyes briefly at the sudden burst of Caius's mind into his, every familiar memory sweeping across him at the same time as the new thoughts new overpowered the old. One second later, he snapped his eyes back open and regarded the table.
"Me." He slowly sat back down, holding out his hand that had touched Caius's. "I shook hands with Edward Cullen—the one who has peered into the minds of every single vampire and wolf at the summit. He told me the names of every single vampire at the summit, how many there were, where they are from, where they are going, and every ability they have. Their intents, their motives, their connections, their relationships, their loyalties. And all of the same and more for their little wolf pack." He folded his fingers together, his thumbs pressed against one another. "He told me everything."
The sudden realization that swept the table was so great that it left nothing but shocked silence in its wake. Only now did Aro settle fully into his seat, amused by the mix of surprise and chagrin that danced across the faces of those around him.
As usual, Caius was the first to regain his composure, and thus his voice and his usual misgivings. "I find it hard to believe that Edward would miss such a glaring error in their defense," he said, sounding skeptical out of habit now.
"Why, my dear Caius?" Aro asked with a raised brow. He gestured to the table, keeping his gaze upon his comrade. "You did."
Caius scowled horribly, but Aro ignored him. "The fact remains that it was a serious flaw in their defense—and that Edward missed it. And I know that he missed it—" he raised his voice over Caius as he attempted to speak again, "—because I touched him ten months ago." Aro turned from Caius's pinched face to Renata's. "I cannot be blocked—you cannot hide a thought or memory from my fingertips—but this is not so with Edward Cullen, as you thought." There was a sudden straightening of backs around the table in interest, and Aro smiled. "The boy may have no secrets from me, but you are quite mistaken about us having no secrets from him. There are ways to keep certain thoughts from him."
"How is that possible?" Aro was pleased to hear the nasal whine receding from Jane's voice; she sounded more curious than incredulous now.
"Edward can hear surface thoughts. Only what one is thinking of at the forefront of their mind. As such, if one is thinking of books, music—or, perhaps, thousands of years of others' memories, collected and kept in one's mind?" A smirk curled Aro's lips. "Edward only heard from me what I wished him to hear."
"He should be so privileged—you tell us nothing," Caius groused, clearly feeling the fool—fitting, Aro thought.
"I had good reason to keep that to myself," Aro informed him easily. "I am the only one here with a perfect way to keep my thoughts hidden from him in a way that does not seem obvious." He fiddled with the cuff of his sleeve, running his fingers over the fine silk and delicate embroidery, his fingers meticulously tracing each stitch. "Ten months ago, I shook hands with Edward. And from that I learned that truly, he would have made an excellent member of our order then. Powerful, cunning, sly, clever—and exceedingly arrogant, thoroughly convinced of his own infallibility." Aro gave a short chuckle at the sour expressions of those around him. "The boy believes his power is foolproof. He believed it ten months ago, just as we believed the same of our own. Our key difference now is that we have learned from our overconfidence and we will not repeat that mistake—but he has not. As such he has grown complacent and soft, and in his arrogance, has dismissed us from his concerns, never once even considering that he has made a most grievous error in doing so."
Caius was grinding his teeth. "And just what error is that?"
Aro closed his eyes, replaying all of the information behind his lids. "That I am very well aware of the difference between a rout and a tactical retreat."
Even after three thousand years, watching his underlings become curious, excited, and confused all at the same time still pleased him. He allowed them their mutters and whispers at his announcement, listening to them hiss low words to one another.
"Tactical retreat? You plan to advance again?" Sulpicia asked softly, the first to speak directly to him, looking as disbelieving at the prospect as her brother. She and Caius really were so alike—equally limited.
He looked intently at his wife. "Oh yes. I have plans for all of the covens who participated in this little to-do—especially the Cullens," Aro said.
"I refuse to risk the lives of our members—or my own—if they have a group of highly trained and focused werewolves acting as watchdogs," Caius said flatly.
Aro resisted the childish urge to roll his eyes. "As would I—were they true werewolves. Those were not werewolves, Caius. Allow me to put your mind at ease on that point, since you were paying no attention to dear Carlisle. They are shape-shifters. It is true, I promise you," he said reassuringly over Caius's attempt at protest. "You will be very pleased to hear that the creatures that we met in Forks are significantly less powerful and, more importantly, less dangerous than a true werewolf. Their strength lies in their numbers and organization—in terms of the individual, they are much weaker, and as a consequence of their more rational minds, they are considerably less bloodthirsty. Their teeth can cut through our skin, but their claws cannot, and they leave no permanent damage. A vampire could repair any injuries wrought by a shape-shifter." Aro paused, allowing his eye to deliberately rest on Caius as the vampire instinctively drew his robe tighter around himself, but then continued on as if nothing had happened. "Finally, our abilities work on them. They are not so much animals that they are immune. The human is always there. They are vulnerable to us."
Caius relaxed slightly upon the deluge of information, and Aro barely suppressed a snort; truly, he grew more predictable with each decade. "I also must correct you on one other significant point—they are not, as you put it, 'watchdogs'. They have no loyalties to vampires. Quite the contrary; they rather despise us. In point of fact, these shape-shifters actually exist because we do—they were created to keep vampires off of their tribal land and away from their people."
"Created?" Demetri asked sharply.
"How they initially came to be has been lost to time, unfortunately," said Aro with genuine regret. "But any human with traces of a wolf line in them, if exposed to vampires, will thus turn into a wolf to defend their little clan. It's really quite fascinating. I would love to go back and study them—"
"Fascinating it may be," Heidi said loudly, bringing them back to the subject, "they do not hate all vampires. They clearly had some attachment to the Cullens."
"They did, but only to one of them—the halfbreed." Aro leaned back in his chair. Renesmee. "Through a rather strange and, frankly, confusing connection, they will defend that child to the death. All of them, even any that would not normally wish to. Their pack leader, Jacob Black, would see to that."
"That halfbreed," Caius hissed. "Everything at the summit revolved around that mule. Every single one of those wer—those animals protected her, and every single one of those vampires defended her. Why? Do you know that answer as well?" he growled, staring pointedly at Aro.
"I do," he answered effortlessly, enjoying Caius's frustration; he really was too easy. "Do you believe I was exaggerating when I said Edward told me everything? He told me everything he knew—and everything he didn't know." Aro couldn't help the smirk that slid across his face. "Or rather, he told me everything he knew, and I seem to have made a connection that he did not."
Aro's smile faded as he leaned his chin into his hand, looking inward at the memories not his own, sifting through them to find their connections. "Never once did Edward—or any other Cullen, for that matter—question the unwavering devotion the little halfbreed seems to inspire, nor the fact that the other one that they brought from South America did not command this same loyalty. I suppose it was their relief that they were acquiring allies that let them overlook it. Or perhaps it was three months of exposure to the child." He tapped his lip with one finger. "They believe that their child's ability is a merely a projection of her thoughts into the mind of another person through touch—a mental dialogue, if you will." He looked up at the expectant faces around him, and a small smile curved his mouth. "I believe that they are selling her quite short. She does not project her thoughts—she projects herself."
Only Chelsea straightened at that news, the realization dawning upon her immediately. The others merely looked rather confused.
"How do you mean?" Santiago asked. "She projects her personality onto those she touches?"
"In a way. At the summit, Renesmee wanted only to be safe and protected—and so all she touched did everything in their power to keep her safe and protected—particularly those with whom she had the most contact. She does not merely share what she is thinking. She shares what she is feeling, what she wants—what she is. And from what I gleaned from Edward, it seems that the more often she touches you, the more deeply ingrained that part of her becomes—until some part of you is her, and thus feels and wants what she wants." Aro gave a full smile to the most deceptively demure and underestimated member of his order. "Rather like you, Chelsea. Only tactile—directed only towards herself."
Chelsea nodded thoughtfully, meeting his gaze levelly.
Aro turned to Marcus. "You saw it, Marcus. Your ability was unaffected—what did you see?"
Marcus turned his head and stared apathetically at him. "The devotion towards the child was unwavering. It was also oddly intense and one-sided, all leading back to the child," he droned.
Caius hissed. "What are they attempting to do—use her to collect an army?"
Aro waved his hand dismissively. "Absolutely not. They are not even aware of the extent of her power. Nobody even considered there was more to her abilities than originally thought, not even when they were informed by the traitor Eleazar. He called it a 'strange magic'. It is not strange at all—but even after being told there is more to her, they are too besotted with the child to suppose that the 'love' she inspires is anything but pure, or are simply too foolish to see what is before them," he mused, but then snorted. "I rather believe it is the latter—even Renesmee is not fully aware of herself. She just assumes she always gets her way because every person who has thus come in contact with her has done nothing but tell her how wonderful she is," he said, sifting through the images and memories she had given to him.
"The halfbreed touched you."
Aro nodded once in concession to Chelsea's shrewd and pointed voice. "She did. However, I, unlike the others that she has touched, have rather more experience with being inundated with the feelings and desires of others—and thus know how to keep them under control." He favored them all with an admittedly smug smile. "How else would I have survived with this gift of mine?
"And said gift is what lead me to believe she has that ability," he went on. "Because I felt it happen, and I knew it for what it was." He contemplatively held up one of his own hands, pale and long fingered, turning it in the light. "But clearly, this effect she has is not instantaneous. I felt it come, and I felt it go once she released me. And I saw it in the minds and memories of those around Edward. Their slavish devotion was not immediate either… but after a month of repeated contact… well. You saw the results for yourselves.
"If nothing else," he offered, "the strength of her ability can be measured by her effect on her mother—Bella Swan cannot block her." He smiled thinly at the startled looks of those around him. "Aside from Jacob, Bella Swan is Renesmee's most devoted acolyte. From what I saw in Edward's mind, Bella was not at all interested in children, and certainly would not have been willing to risk her life for one—and yet upon the halfbreed's conception and awareness, she suddenly became obsessed with both." He shared a glance with Chelsea; the look in her eyes made it clear that she understood much better than the others. "I wonder if the child was not influencing her even then."
He paused again, staring at all of his comrades. "And now, you too can see, it was a tactical retreat on my part—I did not wish for any of you to have contact with her. It would not have been permanent, but you would have faltered."
Aro went silent for a moment, stroking the links of silver chain at his throat, letting his collection mutter amongst themselves as he mentally counted each metal loop for the thousandth time with his fingertips. He waited patiently for them to finish.
"Did all of the vampires and wolves at the summit have contact with the halfbreed?" Felix finally asked, sending the rest of the table into silence again.
"No. There were some that only allowed her touch briefly, simply to confirm the story, or felt it was not necessary—and those are the vampires I will be dealing with first," Aro replied, his voice hardening imperceptibly. His eyes narrowed. "They did not come to the summit just to defend a halfbreed."
Aro was not surprised when Caius audibly growled—for all his foolishness, his paranoia did provide him with the acumen to quickly spot a threat to his person. "That explains the Romanians," he hissed.
"Quite," Aro replied grimly. "A good portion of the vampires present were hoping for a battle—or, more specifically, for our ultimate demise. They had every intention of turning it into an attack instead of a trial, as it were." He snorted. "The Romanians were the rabble-rousers, however. They adore giving long, stirring speeches of how terrible we are. And pretending that their desire to attack is merely a matter of vengeance is admirable cover for their desire to seize control should we falter," Aro said, unable to prevent a slight sneer from creeping into his voice.
"Do they have intentions of rounding up the others and staging another attack?" Athenadora asked, her eyes wide.
Aro frowned. "That is one thing of which I am not sure. Edward saw nothing of it—their ideas may be too nebulous, or they may be too cowardly to attempt it without such a significant backing as was present in Forks. But," he said, shaking himself out of his speculative reverie, "it matters not; what does matter is they did not merely come forward to show us we were in error. The came forward to attack. That is insurrection and open rebellion—again." Aro smiled coldly. "We went to Forks to enforce vampire law. They were there to simply defy it—to defy us. I do not appreciate it, nor will I tolerate it. I have no intentions of giving them the chance to get the idea of attacking us again, Athenadora. They will be dealt with, and this time, it will be permanent."
There were a few grins and hisses of approval from around the table, but Caius was not one of them. "So, we rid ourselves of an already impotent threat that we should have cut off at the root before. Just how will that re-establish our position after this humiliation?" he demanded, his voice dour. "We will be doing nothing to show we have maintained our position—striking them will only serve as a reminder that in our lenience, we let them go in the first place! They will be dead, but the Cullens will still be blithely entrenched in their little wolf den in Forks, thumbing their noses at us as they uphold our law in the letter but mock us in their violation of its spirit!"
"On the contrary, Caius. In their arrogance and disdain for us, they have in fact violated both the letter and spirit of the law to allow for sufficient grounds to disband them." Aro twisted one of the rings on his fingers. "They believe that they are above such petty things as rules—living among humans, openly defying us, banding with known insurgents, exposing their true identity to humans multiple times without tying up the loose ends, not reporting and then allying themselves with the shape-shifters when they still believed them to be werewolves…" Aro trailed off, not watching the expressions on the faces of those present but instead tracing the patterns of the dark wood of his table with his eyes. He allowed it all to sink in before speaking again. "But really—why shouldn't they believe they are above the law? Until recently, we were perfectly content to allow them to bend—and even break—our laws."
Aro closed his eyes, heaving a needless sigh. "That is not correct. I mean to say… I have allowed it. Ten months ago, when Bella Swan was brought before us, a human who obviously knew too much, I should have heeded your words, Caius. You were very right; she should have been dealt with immediately and all three of them should not have been permitted to leave for breaking our most prominent law. My lapse in judgment has cost all of us."
Aro was pleased to see Caius was appeased by the concession; it had been a very long time since Aro had not dismissed Caius's concerns as mere paranoia. Of course, Aro usually had no reason to take his brother's ravings as anything more than unreasoning delusions of losing his position—or his life. Trust this be the moment that his insight finally reasserts itself after a millennia, he thought wryly. He tilted his head back and regarded the stone ceiling of the room, gathering his numerous and endless thoughts.
"Law is how we established ourselves," he began. "We joined together as we are to force some semblance of order upon our species. Vampires were chaotic and careless; we changed that, for we saw how quickly humans were multiplying and how their tiny lifespans were slowly but surely stretching. Weak humans are and powerful we may be, but there are billions upon billions of them—and they are clever, and they have technology. They would find a way to destroy us, even if it were to take sheer numbers to do so," Aro said sharply when he saw a few members of the table looking somewhat doubtful of the claim. "As long as we are hidden and as long as we are careful, humans will remain oblivious cattle and we will maintain everything that we have built here.
"Yes," he went on, keeping his voice deliberately easy. "In the case of the law, the Cullens are entirely vulnerable. But I am no longer interested in the law where they are concerned," he snapped suddenly, his voice no longer a caress but a whipcrack, and those around the table started accordingly. Leaning forward again and staring hard at his collection, he said, "Rabble-rousers and insurgents the Romanians may be, but the Cullens are the root of a much deeper problem. They are spreading the word that our laws and edicts are unfair and tyrannical. They are slandering our manner of living all while gathering their own wealth and status and entrenching themselves further. They are painting us as despots and putting themselves on pedestals—and because we are the ones with the unfortunate task of enforcing law, it seems that others are all too eager to listen to their grand rhetoric and take their side against ours."
Growls and hisses and angry murmurs filled the room.
"They behave like children!" Colin said angrily. "The law we enforce is vital to our safety and our way of life!"
"Exactly—upstart children," Caius sneered. "Carlisle is the oldest of their group, and he is barely four-hundred years old. They have no concept of what it was like before! We are the reason they have been able to live safely! We prevent our species from being revealed to humanity, we hunted the werewolves to extinction, and we brought the peace they've been living in all these years!"
"The point," Aro said loudly over him, "is that the Cullens may not be attempting to seize power outright, as you thought, Caius—they balk at the mere thought of responsibility." His lip curled slightly. "But they are using our same methods of acquiring wealth and power and position. Carlisle has accumulated seven loyal vampires, some with exceptional abilities, a halfbreed, and a pack of wolves in a mere century, and his monetary gain has been near exponential in the past fifty years. Combine that with their desire to see us removed from our position—to see the vampire world exist without the Volturi and thus to remove the laws and rules that chafe at their irresponsibility—and all of their supporters, and you have an overwhelming need for us to act. To reassert ourselves." He rose from his chair and clenched his fist. "To crush this rebellion."
Jane spoke before the excitement of his fiery speech could settle in. "I am in full agreement, Master. But there is still the issue of Bella Swan," she said, and the petulant whine was creeping back into her voice as it always did when she thought of her defeat at the hands of that girl. "How can we go on the offensive? Even if with more powerful vampires, we could do nothing against them."
The others at the table began to mutter discontentedly, remembering that impenetrable shield, but they became silent when they saw that Aro was smiling knowingly.
"When we all took our places and began our mental assault, you will remember when Alec sent forward his mist," Aro said, gesturing towards the boy, "the earth split and opened beneath it. Whether that was an attempt to stop it or simply a show of power I am not sure. But I do know that it was a vampire named Benjamin who caused it—and Edward showed me that manipulation of the earth is not the only thing the young vampire can do. I saw in Edward's mind memories of him creating huge gusts of wind, powerful enough to make even a vampire falter. I saw him make geysers come spouting up from a calm creek." His smile widened. "And I saw him turn a match into a raging bonfire and back again. He commands the four elements—and it is physical control of tangible substances. Not mental control of thoughts or emotions. Bella Swan can only block abilities that affect the mind. Abilities with real, physical effects are just as efficient against her as anyone else."
He leaned back, soaking in the looks of surprised delight his statement brought to the faces of those around him. "And young Benjamin is not the only one with a physical power. Jasper Cullen controls emotions as you do, Afton," he said, nodding in his direction. "But it is not a mental effect—it is a physical control. Bella can block you, but not Jasper." He spread his arms wide. "Command vampires with physical abilities, and you defeat Bella Swan."
That look of anticipation, of eagerness for forming a new plan of attack, so rarely seen in the past centuries, was slowly spreading across Caius's face. "And do you perhaps know where this Benjamin and his mate may go?" he asked.
Aro nodded, pleased at his first show of enthusiasm. "Egypt. He will not wish to join us at first, I am sure, but I believe Chelsea will be able to convince them," he said. He returned her knowing smirk with interest.
"What about others?" Caius demanded, the long-dormant spark in his eyes flaring once again.
Aro gazed inward through his stolen memories. "There is Siobhan—they are unsure if she even has an ability, but if she does, it is possible she can will a situation to the outcome of her liking. She will need to be examined. And, of course, I must find a way to see dear Eleazar again—if only to shake his hand and see just what interesting vampires, or even potential humans, he has come across in his travels."
"But what of mental abilities?" Santiago prompted. "Surely we should not discredit them."
"Certainly not—especially so since those they gathered with such gifts were powerful as well. However, they shall have to wait. Zafrina the Amazon has the gift of illusion and Kate from the Denali clan is able to electrify her own skin, but those two are very close friends with the Cullens. They would know if we seized them. We should not discount them, but we must wait to make that move."
"Finding physical counterparts to our current abilities would be an excellent plan as well," Afton said eagerly. "Perhaps we should consider this Jasper?"
The sudden loud smack of Caius's hand coming down upon the table quelled the enthusiastic chatter that had slowly been rising. "No. What we should be considering is his mate—Alice," he said flatly.
The rising mood quickly collapsed. "We can get around every single trap or ability or roadblock they have thrown in our path—except her," Caius continued. "The moment we make a decision to attack one of their allies, she will surely see it. I have no doubt they are keeping an eye on all that scum. And even if they are not, they will know we are coming the moment we decide to move, and they will go to ground and Bella will prevent us from using Demetri to track them, or else they will go on the offensive and rally their pack of animals and horde of miscreants to stand against us. No matter what we have, they will still have her—their trump card, and their protection against any plan we might devise." He slumped back in his seat, his glower back in full force.
"He is right," Heidi said, a defeated note creeping back into her voice. "She has thwarted us at every turn. You yourself said that is the reason our plans did not come to fruition ten months ago, the reason why they were able to prepare for the newborn army six months ago, and the reason why they were able to prepare for us this time," she finished, reminding Aro and his previous words.
"She is more powerful than that Benjamin in that regard—he cannot see us coming, but she can," Sulpicia muttered bitterly.
Silence fell like a shroud as the collection stared morosely at the tabletop, once again seemingly outwitted by the Cullens.
Demetri noticed it at first—but it did not take the rest of them long to see Aro's expression from behind his steepled fingers—to see his glittering eyes and his ubiquitous small, knowing smile.
"Ah yes. Alice Cullen," Aro mused, nodding slightly. "Her ability is decidedly unique. I have never seen its equal, in either scope or in power. Nor have the Cullens, for that matter—and they exploit her ability as often as possible, and lean rather heavily upon her." His smile widened "Their faith in her power is unwavering, to the point of blindness. To the point where none of them—not even Alice herself—can see her glaring, obvious weakness for what it is."
He allowed the room to steep in tension, knowing that they were waiting for him to continue, enjoying their obvious anticipation. He deliberately did not look at them, merely watched the light sparkle in the gems on his fingers. "Alice Cullen's all-seeing eye has one, significant blind spot. She cannot See the wolves—or anyone they associate with. She Saw the newborn army coming in June—but then the wolves became involved, and her Eye was shut to all of them. The wolves, the Cullens, the newborns. She was completely blind." He finally looked up, saw his order leaning forward, and placed his palms on the table, his fingers spread wide. "She cannot See them—nor can she see halfbreeds—nor anyone in their company."
Leaning back in his chair and letting the sudden exhalation and understanding fill the room, he listened to their eager whispers and smiled at Caius, who was looking disbelievingly pleased.
"My friends," Aro said lazily, "I believe a trip to South America would be most… educational. I would dearly like to see Joham—and his four lovely, lovely children."