Thank you for your get well wishes! These last two weeks have been trying to say the least.
I can't tell you how sorry I am that I didn't update. It ate at me every minute of every day as I struggled to edit this with a fog-riddled brain.
This is the last chapter though you can expect an epilogue of sorts.
Aro pushes the stable doors aside. A blustering heat envelopes his bare face and neck. His jaw is lax. His eyes are wide. A torrent of flames devours the white manor and gray smoke swells from every crevice as it burns with ferocity, as though lit by Satan, himself. For a single moment, Aro considers this a dream as he touches his fingertips to his forehead and chest, whispering a terse prayer as he stands between the stable doors. Timber and an aberrant, sharp odor seize his breath. He coughs, and it's then Aro knows this world is certain and lasting. Days prior he helped paint varnish on the wooden floors. He coughed the entire time. He smells it now as it fills the early morning with stink.
His feet and legs are cold as he sprints toward the front of the house while his arms and face remain flush. "Master Carlisle!" He coughs until his chest aches then he's gasping for fresh air as he rounds the corner to the front lawn. "Master Carlisle! Master Jasper!"
With every second the flame grows wilder. The blaze eats away at the structure, blackening the once-white exterior. He turns away, burying his nose in the crook of his arm. His gaze falls on the body in the grass and he widens with recognition. "Master Carlisle!"
The rising inferno roars against the black sky. It's a ferocity Aro's never heard or seen before. It burns so hot and close he looks back at the house once to ensure he won't catch fire.
When he sees Carlisle's face, he covers his mouth and searches the stretch of grass around the property, a new fear pulsing through his limbs. He expects to see the aggressor running for the cover of trees, but there's only the warm glow from the havoc next to him with nothing in between.
What or whoever has butchered Master Carlisle has escaped, leaving no evidence behind. Aro stands over him, pondering the torn skin and exposed meat. He glances toward the city through the dense cluster of trees and brush. Darkness pervades. No lanterns are approaching. No people stand to observe the destruction, but they won't ignore the large blaze at the plantation on the hill. They won't ignore the obvious, murderous signs left upon Carlisle's body in front of his ode to wealth and vanity that burns, now, with hatred. They won't ignore Aro if he remains there. They will come with their questions and unsatisfied slants. Those people, who always seem to sneer at him when he passes them on the street, will suspect him. They won't think twice. They will cry and call him a murderer, a jealous pauper!
A tremble sets through his bones, having nothing to do with the cold. The blaze stretches along the front porch where Master Jasper waited for his horse countless times in the sun or rain. It's where Master Emmett stumbled up the stairs from a night of gambling, and where Carlisle Cullen welcomed patrons at his door and offered whiskey for their enjoyment. It's where young Edward would sit and write in his journal on hot days, observing the world around him, yet never participated.
At no time did Jasper nor Emmett offer praise to Aro for his good service. Carlisle kept his superior Irish prize to himself and those he thought honorable, never asking Aro if he'd enjoy a glass.
Does he hate them? He's not sure, but as he stares down at Carlisle a final time, Aro thought of the blonde man and his tenacious, closefisted quest for coin. He was a right bastard and an unrefuted drunk whose interests dwelled on the payment of others for his goods and services, no matter the cost. Perhaps, Aro thinks, he deserves this death.
He returns to the cold room he keeps in the stables, dressing warmly to suit the weather, then saddles Jasper's stallion, the faster, more reliable horse. He packs provisions in his bag which will help him along his way, as well as letters from his family in Italy, and his journal. He will write to tell them his debt is paid and his search for work in a large city has begun.
Before he finds himself on the back of the horse, he rushes to open the stall doors for the mares inside. They linger momentarily then emerge from the stables and pitch their heads and bodies from the heat. Aro regards them from the back of his chosen mount as they find their way across the threads of the tilled field harboring Spring's harvest. Bordering the patch meant for crops stands the Native women under the awning of their quarters drawn from slumber.
His stare finds a girl they call Sooleawah. She leans on a weathered column, holding a white and brown blanket around her shoulders. Her hair is undone and hangs down her back. In this ocher glow, he can see why young Edward favored looking at her above all others.
Aro remembers the attention Edward showed when she arrived last summer on the back of Carlisle's stock cart. Tears wet her cheeks and turned her face sour, and even through such turmoil Edward watched as she unloaded. His eyes dilated and his languor attitude toward the plantation's goings-on thawed, as though she had bewitched him without meaning.
The steed under Aro jolts and rears, but he holds himself fast and Sooleawah adjusts her eyes to the slight commotion. Her brow furrows as she studies him, and in that wash of bittersweet he believes her lips turn up slightly, smiling at him for the first time.
He doesn't look back when he spurs the horse from the manor.
His mortal body rejects the amassment of blood. He is bent over in the weave of brush, spilling it until he's empty then wiping away the plump curds of life staining his cheeks. He will not kill again for a day, or perhaps when the sun dies and the cold resumes. For now he sits with his back to a tree, wiping a palm over his mouth and staring at his fingers. His soul is on its throne, and within this dominion he can inhale the air, move with purpose, and speak with breath, but he wonders if the gray skin will ever turn, or if he'll remain this way. He rises, feeling at home in this weave of ancient trees and thicket, hearing a hard rhythm in his head not unlike the call of blood from the boy's kinship. He can still smell the burn of the manor in his nostrils, and the scorch of human flesh faintly under.
He walks the web of broken limbs and twisting vines, his bare feet striking the foliage beneath him as he distances himself from where he began. He starts to climb and jump over impediments in his path, using his legs as he'd seen humans do. And when he finds a suitable balance he jumps distances mortals only dream. The pattern of booms in his head become louder as the dawn turns rose. It pulls, intices, creates such curiosity he can no longer ignore it. An urgency beckons him, a narrowing collision of Earth, blood, and voices. It spans across the entirety of the woods and after sweeping the expanse for what seems an ample period of time the scent of humans fills him once again. He follows it to a bundle of Earth-drawn structures.
A bonfire flickers amidst an assembly of voices rising into the birth of morning, calling for protection against all harm which may come from moonlight. A new pulse accumulates within, a hammering which thrums inside his cavity. The voices fill in the soft pauses between. He catches glimpses of them as he wanders closer. Animal pelts and furs envelope their bodies from the cold. Their feet are wrapped by thick layers of the same hide.
"Spirit of dark and stone!" a wavering voice chants. "We call you to us while keeping the light in our hearts!"
He approaches, his fingers bracing on the trees as he nears them. His chin is high as to catch the scents which come from their tree-lain hamlet. He flinches at the odor of herbs most ungood, and he ingests their fear, their anxiety, their anxious call for protection from him while inviting him forth. He listens to the chant, and he recognizes the voice slipping through the barriers between this world and beyond, waking him from his due rest. He knows the likes of these humans. They once dedicated prayers to him, but it's been years.
Through the trees, he can discern a figure impaling a long, wooden spear into a motionless, tawny bird. Its broad wings are open, and its curved beak are embracing the sky. The Spirit watches as the long-haired man then places the bloodied tip in the fire. Words find their way to the air, the drums catching the rhythm as they sing. As he observes, he continues to step forward. The man removes the tip caught in flame, and he nears the Spirit's place at the edge of the trees. He propels the lit peak into the air then motions to the four corners of the world in a fluid movement before impaling the spike into the ground.
The Spirit can feel the spark as the wood bridges the sky and earth. A means to an end creeps through his stomach, and he folds his forearms into his torso, bending over and gasping.
He can smell the blood of the bird, and taste the burning wood before it's extinguished in the dirt, extended by the man as he creates a narrow trench through the thick muck separating the mass of chanters from the forest.
The prayer continues. The drums are struck with fervor, and the old man calls to the Great Spirit again asking for protection from the one who comes in shadow. "We give no land for your feet to fall! Great Spirit, keep the shade from this ground!"
The drums and chanting cease.
He emerges from the persuasive coercion. They stare at him now through the coal streaking their skin, their eyes regarding his every move.
He eyes the leader of the prayer and speaks in the language they understand. His voice is harsh, guttural. It cracks through words and they feel empty at first, but as he continues to speak it swells and smoothes like water. "I heard your voice before. It came with a cold wind." His gaze drifts to the line in the dirt as he approaches. It seems an insignificant barrier to guard them, but a vibration pushes on his new skin, crawls around his breath as though he'll uproot from this new body. He stops, unable to go further. An appeased Spirit has cast out this traversing eidolon, and at this his blood-stained face turns hard. "During a slumber you called me forth. Now you call on me once more?"
"Yes, Shadow Spirit." A chill blew across the swaying flare, sending the adornment of feathers on the man's head sideways in the breeze, ferrying his sharp scent in the Spirit's direction. "You carry a burden in the world beyond, an ill sight. My ancestors bestowed upon you great sacrifices of lineage and fire..."
"I know of your origin, and I know of mine. Do not arouse my ire, Prayermaker. Speak with reason or my patience dies."
The man pauses for a moment, his exalted voice and body stance waver in uniform to the fire beside him. "Spirit of Shadow, I have called upon you to ask a blessing for my people."
He stares at him, eyes narrowing. "What do you ask of me, mortal? Have you called me to take this boy's flesh? Is this your great sacrifice of kinship? If so I have taken his blood, ended the line of his father. This price is great, for it didn't belong to you."
"Their death is of little consequence. The white man with yellow hair saw to place us in chains. They hold our daughters, rape them, murder them. Their greed is eternal. Their evil is long and dark. They point a finger at my people when they can not explain shameful acts within their colony. We ask you to turn their bodies cold, the white invaders. Kill those who come for our blood. Leave our people in peace, Spirit. Do this and no man will order you from this realm."
Green eyes sweep through the crowd before him, and when he grazes their skin he feels as though he harrows the very soul inhabiting their flesh. "You are not pure. You are not gentle. You are not selfless. You are not without ruin. This blessing you ask is grim and woeful. "
"We have not appeased you, Spirit?"
He considers this and lifts his palms. The skin is peeling at his fingertips from the fire not too long past. A mistake he believed at the time to be a curse until a siren called him from that cage. What a confusing jolt of senses!
But the body! The fresh air upon his skin, the scent of the world bestows upon him the greatest freedom. And how startling and grand and horrible it felt to maneuver inside a pre-existing life, to push it asunder and take it for himself. He understood yet questioned the complexities of breath when he formed to the flesh, and his untold curiosities could penetrate all he's wanted to know about these creatures from afar, from another time and life.
He can experience it all within this boy. He can move among them, be one of them, live for as long as the body will allow. His duration isn't assured and compared to eternity it will seem a mere speck. But can the worth be so great as to accept such a misbegotten sacrifice? Could it be so paramount to warrant death, and for how long? The taste of blood still lingers on his tongue and between his tame, flat teeth. He's reminded of the carnage, and perhaps it isn't vile to meet evil with beastly acts. He'd done so to acquire this boy's body when it summoned him from the deepest dark, a boy who upon impact was ailing, already frail with drought and misery, though his brief existence lends possibilities to this design.
He considers all this. "This endowment you have given is, indeed, a great favor." He blinks at the versed man. "You have my blessing," the Spirit says and he backs to the edge of the forest, shifting as if to walk into the entanglement.
"Thank you, Spirit," the man says.
He turns, the fierce gaze of a monster hiding inside the young man's striking features. "No longer will I answer to such a nameless utterance. I am flesh, as you."
"What do we call you, merciful specter?"
He is still for a moment, his black pupils widening then eclipsing with esteem. "Edward," he says. "I am Edward."