Disclaimer: Haha, yeah no. Twilight is still Stephenie Meyer's, The Little Mermaid is still Disney's and Hans Christian Anderson's (though I'm only borrowing slight inspiration from them, as I'm sure you've realized by this point), and The Sound of the Sea is Longfellow's. I actually barely own any of this… it's rather distressing, to be perfectly honest.
Author's Note: Woo-hoo, I did it! I finished a chapter fic! I'm so proud of me…
By the way guys, when I said "snaps for anyone who knew" I didn't mean "attack me with your knowledge of Greek mythology-slash-your ability to recognize Twilight!bitches." To be sure, I'm impressed by everyone's' worldliness and mad observation skillz, but goodness… some of you were almost rabid about it! (It was actually a little amusing.)
Ah well. It certainly got you guys reviewing! XD Thank you. I appreciate that more than I can say.
With that in mind—here is the end of Elegiac! And once you finish it, I invite you to go back and re-read. Not because I'm greedy and want the reviews (though I do appreciate reviews, hint hint), but because I think you'll catch a lot more of the subtext now. (Because I wrote out this entire fic before posting even the prologue, I was able to throw more hints than usual into the story. So you know, if you have some spare time…)
Warnings: Attempts at plot twists. Tentacle-molestage-ness. Other not-nice stuff.
Day Three: Future
The next morning, she was again awoken by the hands.
Or, at least, she thought she was awake: she felt wholly conscious, completely aware of the fingertips as they caressed every inch of her skin, leaving invisible, burning trails in their wake. And yet, despite this, Bella found she could not move. Her vision was black, her arms pinned to her sides… All she could do was groan in half-hearted resistance as—without warning—the heat seeped into her core.
It was as if she suddenly had no mass, no skin. The hands had passed through every barrier, every defense her body had to offer; they were inside her, filling her, taking over her tendons, ligaments, bones, muscles…
She was the puppet of an unseen master. Her center tensed, her neck snapped backwards, her mouth was wrenched open by a horrible, pleasured scream.
Light returned to her eyes with a flash.
Bolting upright with a yelp and a sob, Bella instinctively yanked her legs to her chest, wrapped her arms around them, and shot furtive glances every which way, torn between terror and a bizarre, carnal craving that she did not understand. As her gaze focused further, she noticed the sun that shone brightly through the windows; she noted how the room looked as cozy and inviting as ever. And she hated its quaint normalcy— it almost seemed to mock her as her entire body shook with fear and need, tendrils of chestnut hair clinging to the cold sweat that was seeping from her pores, making her neck and back itch.
What's going on? the girl thought, panicked and pale, as she hurriedly swept her tangled locks behind her ears. The feeling of violation she'd suffered the previous morning was both back with a vengeance and worse than ever: the sickening sensation refused to fade as wakefulness overtook her, refused to let her be. Rather, Bella was left wondering if it was possible for lead to replace the blood in one's veins; her body was heavy and full and felt as if it was not her own. It was as if she were not a true person anymore.
At the musing, Bella's heart skipped a beat. Not a person. Oh my God…
It was today, wasn't it? Today was the third day—if she wasn't kissed by the one who loved her as much as she loved him, she would return to being a monster of the deep. She would be forced back into the darkness and the coldness of the ocean.
She would belong to the sea witch for all time.
I can't let it end like this, Bella thought desperately, clawing at the soft comforter draped over her lap. I came here for a reason. I loved someone—I remember that much from my first meeting with Edward. I wanted to be human... because there was someone I needed to be human for... but who? Who was it?
She had no idea. For all of her attempts, all of her mental straining, Bella could not remember anything before her deal with the sea witch. And as she had not mentioned the name of her beloved before making the covenant... It was like there was a cerebral blockade around whoever it was she wished to remember. Why? How? That made no sense!
Frustrated, Bella began to gnaw worriedly on the tip of her thumb…
But was torn from her musings by a knocking on the door.
"Bella? Bella, my dear?" Their was a soft creaking as Alice poked her head into the room, wearing her usual winning smile and a ruffled dress of smoke-gray silk. "Good morning, sleepy head! You certainly slept in late… good dreams?"
Distracted, Bella merely blinked at the pixie of a woman, watching vacantly as she spun into the room, another silver tray in her hands; breakfast this morning seemed to consist of oatmeal and a warm biscuit. With a beam, Alice handed her the platter. With a frown, Bella poked churlishly at the meal, refusing to eat.
It was a fact that, to Bella's surprise, did not go unnoticed.
Pausing mid-twirl, the smaller woman's cheerful expression drooped a fraction, her enthusiasm waning. "…what's the matter?" Alice asked kindly, genuine concern in her dark eyes. As she waited for an answer, she slid beside the princess on the bed; a tender hand pat Bella's knee comfortingly.
Even still, the feeling of more fingers on her skin—even visible fingers— made the girl squirm.
"Come now, child," Alice prompted after another moment, unperturbed. "You can tell me."
I…Hesitant, Bella stirred her warm porridge, unsure of how to put her feelings into words. She was even less sure of how to convey them to Alice, who was, after all, in Edward's employment. Not that she wanted to complain about the sea witch—he had, after all, warned her of the cost of doing this, and had been so surprisingly kind to her the past few days. He'd set it up so that she'd want for nothing while on land, and had given her every opportunity to do what she needed to do…
If only she could remember what needed to be done!
Alice waited for another minute, but after that it seemed her patience had been spent. "Well, whatever it is, I know this will cheer you up," she said earnestly, clasping Bella's hand in her own. "The prince has decided to meet individually with his favorite princesses today, and you're on the list! In fact, he gave you the biggest time slot! Isn't that wonderful?"
Her pretty little face shone with vicarious excitement, and Bella found herself unable to stay sulky.
"See?" Alice sang as a tiny smile touched the princess' lips. "I knew that'd make you happy! Now, it's already almost noon—you're scheduled to meet him in the gazebo near the cliffs at 5. And, as we want to make you look good enough to eat—or, in this case, kiss—we're going to need every minute we have!"
5 hours? Bella gawked, appalled. She was to spend 5 hours of her last day as a human stuck in a room trying on clothes? But— but yesterday you had me dressed and ready to go in less than 10 minutes!
"Different circumstances, my dear," Alice interjected flippantly, hopping off the bed to dance to the amour. "Yesterday you merely had to look more attractive than any of the other tramps. That's child's play. Today, you must look so achingly beautiful that an angel himself would weep at the sight of you!"
…that seems a little extreme, Bella pointed out delicately, but was utterly ignored. Alice was having too much fun rooting through the glut of silks and taffetas peeking and poking out of the closet, each shade more vibrant and striking than the last.
"Today's color scheme is violet," Alice announced after a moment of consideration, spinning away from the wardrobe with a twirl that would make a professional ballerina jealous. "Here, put this on first. We'll decide what looks best with it and go from there."
From a pocket, the lithe young woman produced a third choker necklace, this one crafted from a velvet cord of deep purple. The pentagonal gem that dangled from it had been carved out of high-quality amethyst, and was fastened to its ribbon by a short string beaded with three black pearls.
"Hmm… perhaps a less conventional dress today," Alice muttered to herself, tossing Bella the necklace without a backwards glance. It arched gracefully through the air and landed with a noiseless plop in the girl's outstretched hands, its warm weight oddly reassuring. Without a second thought, she snapped the choker securely into place.
Distracted by her own thoughts, Bella missed Alice's smile twisting into a hidden smirk.
Though the experience was long, torturous, and—in Bella's opinion—very much a waste of precious time, she had to admit that Alice knew what was what when it came to fashion. Much like she had done yesterday and the day before, Bella needed a moment to make sure that the breathtaking young woman staring back from the mirror was actually her; it didn't seem possible.
Today's ensemble was less formal than days past: instead of eveningwear she'd been clothed in a pale, off-the-shoulder dress much like a slip or nightgown. Over it, Alice had laced a charcoal corset with violet ribbons and trim, then adorned her feet in little cream slippers. Her hair cascaded down the small of her back in mahogany waves, and her face had been spruced ever so lightly with makeup. Upon her throat, the dark gem of her necklace glistened brightly… even seemed to glow.
Overall, Bella had to admit that she found her own beauty somewhat distracting…
…she felt a bit bad for the prince.
Alice had been the one to bring her to the gazebo—she seemed to fear someone ruining her work on the way over. But once they'd arrived and Jacob had first seen Bella, his jaw dropping in wordless wonder, the pixie-girl had very quickly vanished, leaving the two in an awkward silence ever since.
Not that I can do much about that, Bella thought wryly, sitting beside the prince on a white wooden bench. Above them, clinging to the porch's eves and ceiling, green ivy grew wild; columbine blossomed beside the fencing and step. Beyond the gazebo, goldenrods wove up and down and back and forth like waves in the wind until they met the sheer drop of the nearby cliffs, giving way for the true waves of the sea. From somewhere unseen, seagulls called mournfully to one another, as if lamenting the slowly setting sun.
"…you know," Jacob said suddenly, voice low and bashful as he stared outward, determinedly avoiding Bella's gaze. "I didn't really want to meet with any of the princesses today. Anyone… except you."
Ah… um…Flustered, Bella's cheeks grew hot; she pressed her hands to them, hoping her cold fingers would cool them down. She wished she could tell him how flattering that was, though she wondered why he was interested in her. It wasn't as if she was thrilling company.
"To be honest," Jacob continued softly, strands of his shaggy black hair dancing in a gentle, salty breeze, "In the beginning, I found this entire contest exceedingly primitive and unnecessary. I didn't want a bride who only coveted a title—I wanted someone who'd love me for who I am, and someone I could love unabashedly. Out of spite, I was going to refuse to marry anyone who came here… But then there was you."
With wide-eyed wonder, the prince turned his head to stare deep into Bella's doe-brown orbs, one large hand sliding over to cover her own. The gesture made the girl's heart thrum loudly, almost painfully, in her chest.
But the adrenaline was not from happiness. Even Bella— trapped in this human body, barraged by a million contradicting emotions—could tell that much.
"I… I don't know how to explain it," Jacob whispered reverently, brow puckering as he tried to sort out his next words. "There's something about you that's so familiar, so enchanting… and yet, so fresh and mysterious and new. Like I knew you in another life, and we were destined to meet again. You mesmerize me. You're someone I can see myself ruling beside, living for, and loving with every fiber of my being until the day I die."
He scooted an inch closer; Bella tried to subtly move the other way. You only just met me, she wished to snap, irritation twisting up her churning stomach, why are you saying this? But Jacob seemed to mistake the baffled panic in her gaze as nervous demureness and leaned ever closer, trailing two fingers down the side of her face.
It reminded her of Edward.
Edward… Bella thought desperately. Despite herself, she felt tears begin to form, burning the back of her eyes like an acid. The stone around her neck felt like a coal; her bottom lip trembled with terror.
"Isabella," Jacob breathed, long lashes quivering as he slowly closed his eyes, tilting his head and bringing their faces closer… and closer… "I think I… I think I love you…"
His mouth met hers with gentle malleability.
For a moment, Bella thought her heart might explode.
No! she mentally cried, struggling against the hands that held her. Jacob, justifiably confused, pulled back an inch or so, blinking down at the highly alarmed, now-thrashing girl in his arms. No, I don't even know you, I don't love you! Please, get off of me—take me to Edward!
But of course, the prince understood none of that. "Isabella?" he questioned lightly, hurt in his voice as he came to realize her tears were not those of joy. "What's the matter?"
Concerned, he tried to tilt her chin upwards, to meet his stare with her own. Unaware of his innocent intentions, Bella assumed he might try to kiss her again; the thought filled her with revulsion. In alarm, she pushed frantically against his chest, her tears now uncontrollable sobs.
Where was Edward? Where was the sea witch? All she wanted in the entire world was to be with him that very instant, wrapped in his arms. He was so safe, so familiar… the only thing she recognized, remembered in the entire world. Why on earth would she want to be in the embrace of this stranger—he was too warm, to big, too alien! No, she needed to get out of there… she needed to get to the garden.
Jacob—now very concerned for the princess's sanity—watched in silent mystification as a volley of emotions played out on Bella's easily-read face: horror, need, loneliness, repulsion… realization. Pasty-faced, eyes bugged, and lips thin, Bella's tiny fists clenched in decision.
I must go, she mouthed, and managed to break free of Jacob's grasp, which had long-since been weakened by bewilderment. To the surprise of both parties, Bella managed to lift herself fairly steadily to her feet, and was even able to lurch forward without hurting herself. Though it was more of a toddle than a walk, she made it just fine on her own.
Stunned by so many incongruous things, Jacob watched wordlessly as the girl barreled away, her mind set and arms extended.
She could hear him before she could see him—singing his strange melody to the sunset sky, his voice almost too lovely to withstand. With dreadful longing Bella wished that her feet were faster, her strides sturdier… she wanted nothing more in the world than to be beside him right now. It was almost unnatural, this pull she felt… but she was far too distraught to notice or care.
"So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitude of being…!"
Edward… Bella panted, rounding the final tree that hid the garden from view.
And there—there he was. Lounging comfortably in the glittering fountain, shirtless and wet and chest arched towards the sun. He'd shed his human guise completely in the solitude of the trees and flowers; his long, thick tentacles shone like glossed ebony, curling idly as he sang.
"The rushing of the sea-tides of the sou— oh my."
Brow arched in faint surprise, Edward noticed Bella's leap towards him mid-lunge; with a casual, amused deftness, a tentacle reached out to snag her around the waist. Another lifted to join it after a moment, curling around her left leg, then her right. As the first two appendages lifted her into the air, pulling her towards him, a third rose to cradle her chin, locking her eyes with his own.
"Really, my sweet," Edward gaped, blinking twice in rapid succession as he drank in her disheveled appearance. "Whatever has happened to you? You look as if you've just thrown a temper tantrum…"
"Edward…" Bella whimpered, arms stretching downward, reaching for him. "Edward, it was awful…!"
"Oh dear…" With a deep throated, soothing purr, he gently lowered the girl onto his chest; like magic, the tentacles became a thick smoke, reforming as a pair of leather-clad legs and a pelvis that deliberately cradled the girl's hips beneath the shallow water. Bella, however, did not notice this transformation: she was already busily bawling her troubles into the sea witch's torso. "Ah, now, calm down, my pet. Shhhh…" Edward soothed, stroking her hair with sensual, unhurried movements. But though his words were spoken tenderly, the devious glitter in his green eyes had only intensified. "Breathe, love. Then tell me what the matter is."
"W—well…" Bella blubbered, voice catching on a hiccup, "you see, th—the prince and I were at the gazebo… and he… he told me that he loved me…!"
"Ah… How very traumatizing for you," Edward murmured, forehead furrowed as he tutted sympathetically.
"It… it wasn't just that…" the girl sniffled, gingerly pushing herself into a sitting position—her waist still straddling his hips. "He… he went and he… he kissed me, Edward. And as he was doing it, I realized it was something I wanted… but not something I wanted from him! For… for some reason, I… I kept thinking… of you. Of how I wanted… you to kiss me."
Face on fire, Bella balled her hands into fists upon his collar bone, staring deep into his jewel-bright orbs. When, after a full minute, he had not responded, she bit her pouting bottom lip, feeling a second round of tears welling in the corners of her already puffy eyes…
But then he smoothed his palm across her cheek, gaze softening as he sat up, pulling them both to their feet. The undulating water in the fountain pool rippled around them, making the hem of Bella's dress flair; Edward pushed wet tendrils of hair behind her ears, cupping her face in his hands.
"If you want me to kiss you," the sea witch whispered, the words sweetly husky and low, "you need only to ask."
As if they were physical beings, Bella felt all of her internal struggles and maidenly fears leave her body in a rush. "Please," she begged, eyes half-lidded as her voice broke with longing. "Please, Edward… kiss me."
His face, already mere inches from her own, melted into the most stunning of smiles.
"Then this is for you," Edward told the girl softly, an idle thumb still stroking her cheek as he moved ever nearer, his nose brushing hers… their breath mingling… "The kiss you earned long ago."
Their lips met abruptly—passionately, eagerly— Bella's hands lifting to tangle in his hair as his fingers tugged her closer, refusing to let even air come between them. It was bliss, it was heaven… And, so completely engrossed was she, that Bella failed to take notice of the laughter in his kiss: of the sharp sting of electricity that jolted from his lips to her own…
At least, until the pain of it hit her heart.
"Ah—!" Wrenching away with a stumble of agony, Bella curled around her chest with a hiss, fingers clawing uselessly at the front of her dress. In seconds the pain had intensified tenfold; it was as if her soul had caught fire, as if she'd swallowed an inferno— her body contorted, jerking uselessly, like a doll on a string. Like a statue being molded. Like a welding of iron forced to take new shape. "What is—?"
She broke off with a noiseless gasp as the sound of bubbling mirth met her ears. The clear fountain-pond around them began to churn like the sea, its clear waters darkening as Edward—emerald eyes shining with malevolent glee— released another peal of black laughter, looping his arms around Bella and dragging her close again.
"And now, you poor unfortunate soul," he chuckled, positively leering at the slack-jawed, terror-struck girl in his embrace. As his hold tightened, her body began convulsing sporadically— the ache in her chest was radiating outward and downward, setting her every nerve on fire, "it seems our little charade has come to an end. After all of this time, you finally…" —his fingers brushed her exposed chest, lingering for a moment above her heart before snapping the dulled amethyst from its chain— "…belong to me."
"Wh… what?" Mortified, Bella feebly tried to push him away, struggling against the infinitely stronger sea witch. It was a wasted effort. "I don't… I don't understand. What are you talking about? Why are you doing this to me? Why does my body hurt so much…?"
"Don't worry, my sweet," Edward cooed, eyes bright as the pentagonal gem became an evanescent curl of purple smoke, swirling from his fingers into his conch shell locket. Around his neck, the charm shone like a small star. "The pain will pass soon… and then, then you'll feel stronger than you have in days. You'll be less disorientated, less forgetful… why, you'll even be able to really walk on your own. Won't that be nice?"
Bella's tear-streaked face curled into a sneer, her clenched fists shaking as she pounded angrily upon his chest. "What have you done to me?!" she demanded, screaming with rage.
The sea witch merely clucked his tongue disapprovingly, utterly unfazed by the girl's assault. "Really now, princess. Is that any way to thank the man who just granted you your dearest wish?"
"Dearest wish…?" In spite of herself, Bella felt her fury replaced by stunned confusion. "What was my…?"
"Why, to become a human, of course," Edward replied dismissively, happily toying with the shell that dangled from his throat. It was currently sparkling in a splendid array of rainbow of colors: periwinkle, gold, violet, emerald, and crystal-white. "And, in the process, you granted me my dearest wish: possession of your soul. So, really, I should be thanking you, too, dear heart."
With a gentle thumb, he traced the bottom of her lip, smiling as if about to kiss her again…
Bella shoved his hand away. "But I don't want to be human!" she snarled, aggravation burning in the back of her throat. "I—I mean, I did, but I didn't want to be human for me. I wanted to be human for someone else. Someone I loved."
"Me," the sea witch answered coolly, as if not even paying attention.
"No!" Bella hissed, so irritated that she almost began stamping her feet. "No! It wasn't for you—you don't even like humans! I did it for… For…"
The young girl paused, her temples creased in deep concentration. Patient and silent, Edward watched her think, a tiny grin playing on his handsome face. Still, for all of the time that drifted by—for all of the memories that Bella tried to recall—nothing came to her. Not a name, not a face… nothing.
"I… I really don't remember," she whispered after ten minutes, eyes large and glassy with astonishment and dismay. "I still don't… wait."
With a fire of true fury bursting to life behind her chocolate gaze, Bella hit the sea witch with a glare so sharp that a lesser man would have been reduced to cowering. Edward, however, merely snorted, as if amused that she'd finally seen the light.
"You." Dripping with disgust, the word flew from Bella's lips, the connotation behind it leaving her feeling both winded and sullied. Livid, she started jabbing a finger at the sea witch's torso, branding him with the blame. "You have something to do with this! Why, Edward?! Why can't I remember?!"
With a sigh, the sea witch calmly batted her hand away, upper lip curled. "Because I own your past, you silly girl," he drawled, rolling his eyes. "Don't you remember? You gave it to me in exchange for your first day as a human. That means everything from the present moment and backwards is mine to control—you remember what I will, and forget what I dislike." A smug little smirk quirked the corners of his lips. "I wasn't too fond of your intended, my dear. I like it much better when he's far out of your mind."
Bella's knees wavered beneath her, the strength draining from her body as his words sunk in. "But… but how was I supposed to complete my mission on land if I…?" she began, voice trembling… but then the hopelessness of her situation struck home. She hadn't a prayer from the very beginning— there'd been no happy ending in her future.
Her jaw dropped.
"Alice…" the girl breathed, and this time Edward really did laugh. "Alice! You knew all along that my plan wouldn't work!"
"Of course I did," Edward chortled, unmoved by the accusation in her tone. With a careless toss of his head, he stepped onto the lip of the fountain, out of the water. He offered Bella his hand; she slapped it away with a whimper. "Do you really think I would have helped you if your little idea might have succeeded? But in all of Alice's visions of possible futures, you failed. With your voice, without your voice, with my help, without my help… Why not use your misery for my own personal gain? And oh, I have gained so very, very much…"
His spidery fingers caressed the conch; Bella collapsed in the pool.
"So… so that's it," she whispered, whetting her dry lips as her small body shook. "I'm… I'm a human. But—but what good does that do me now?!" With a wordless shriek, she slammed a fist down; the water around her rippled furiously, sloshing and splashing. "I have no memories, no soul—you've taken everything from me! I have nothing left!"
"…that's not true."
Bella paused. For a moment, she wasn't sure why… but then, though delayed, she noticed the sudden shift of tone. Edward's cruel chuckles had been abruptly replaced by a gentle lilt: soft and comforting. Desperate for any hint of hope, Bella looked upward, silently begging for good news. Above her, crouched on the lip of stone, Edward grinned.
"That's not true," he repeated, his unbroken stare full of adoration. "You'll always have me."
The pin-prick of optimism vanished in the blackness of the truth.
"I don't want you!" Bella screeched, leaping to her feet and scurrying away—petrified by the sudden support her previously-weak legs were now giving her. It only proved further the reality of the situation… it made her want to vomit. "I don't… I don't want anything to do with you!"
"Nonsense," Edward returned easily, offering her a charming smile. "If that were true, you wouldn't be in this predicament at all, would you? Yes, I'd still own your soul come sunset, but you'd have been free to live your own life… I wouldn't have come collecting until after your lifespan had run out. You'd have been free to live your mortal years as Jacob's—" For once, his composure slipped; he spat the name as if it made him ill, "—brainless puppet, content to follow him around as the wife this world expects you to be. Yet, you are not beside him right now. Instead, you stand here with me… ha, instead, you ran to my side! And it was my kiss that sealed you in this form. You cannot hide from the truth, my dear. You cannot hide your feelings. At least, not from those who can already see them so clearly."
"If you were able to see clearly," the girl growled, swallowing harshly against the lump in her throat, "then you'd see how much I hate you."
"Perhaps," the sea witch agreed, lazily pointing at Bella and curling a finger. Instantly, her legs began moving on their own—bringing her closer to him, forcing her out of the water. To her surprise, though, he made no attempt to touch her; rather, he watched indifferently as she crumpled onto the cobbled path, panting hard. "But you also love me. Just as I love you."
She refused to acknowledge the passion behind his words. "If I do," Bella hissed, face scrunched in hatred, "it's only because you've forced me to love you. You've ruined everything!"
"No, love," Edward breathed, the reply dripping with sincerity. With a flutter of his lashes, he kneeled beside her, gingerly dropping one hand upon her own. She lacked the energy to pull back. "Everything has worked out the way it was meant to—meant to from the very start—even if you have yet to realize it yourself."
"That's not true," Bella grumbled, resolutely avoiding his eyes.
"It is," he assured quietly, almost consolingly. "I promise you, it is."
"And how on earth could you know that?!" she challenged, acid in her voice as he inched closer, snaking an arm around her shoulder. Bella wished with all of her might to resist, but the cool skin felt so good upon her overheated flesh… and some deep, irrefutable part of her wanted him there. Wanted him closer. Damn him. "Even if Alice knows the future, the future is ever-changing!"
Edward half-shrugged, his fingers curling possessively around her shoulder. "For some, perhaps," he agreed, carefully pulling her into his lap. "But not for you, poor child. You sold your future to me in exchange for this last day on land, remember? Your future is mine to control; it'll be better for everyone if you don't resist this. Now, the sun is setting, my dear. You see?" He pointed towards the golden sunset as it glistened over the sapphire sea; he offered Bella a blithe beam as he pulled himself to his feet, dragging her along with him. "Come with me. We'll go home."
Hunched over and still weak from tears, Bella managed to send him one scathing look. "I'd rather die than go anywhere with you," she whispered... and was surprised to feel his hands tighten painfully on her shoulder.
Glancing hurriedly upwards, the girl managed to catch the tail-end of a mutated grimace, the green eyes livid above his warped lips.
And for a moment, she feared for her life.
"…is that so…?" Edward then whispered, a dangerous edge to the words as his nails dug deeper than ever into Bella's shoulder blades, almost drawing blood. She squeaked in protest, opening her mouth to tell him to let go—
But wound up emitting a silent scream in its place, petrified as the world around her began to shift and swirl, darkening from vibrant yellow to navy-black, cold and bleak and suffocating…
I—I'm under water, Bella realized with a start, whipping her head back and forth and up and down as she came to comprehend this twist, inconceivable as it seemed. She was underwater, but… but she could breathe. And she was still human. And Edward was there: stone-faced and scowling, hovering wraith-like beside her, his clothes, like her own, rippling in a non-existent breeze.
"Edward—" she began with a whimper, but was cut off but an angry shake of his head, his finger darting out to point upward.
"There," he snarled, not even bothering to look up. As if he already knew what was up above, other than just the surface world. "Look."
Tentatively, Bella did as she was told: craning her neck skyward, squinting through the murky blackness. Vaguely, she could see gray swirls of storm clouds in the distant heavens; a fork of lightening hit the water and set a sizzle of electricity through the deep. Somewhere in her peripheral vision, she could see something dark and big and black starting to sink, bubbles obscuring it partially from her sight.
And then— before her very eyes— a silhouette appeared. At first it floated high above her head, another inky blotch trapped between the borders of the two worlds. But slowly, ever so slowly, the blot began to grow larger, come closer…
Someone's drowning. It was statement, not question. Feeling faintly ill, Bella watched in horror as the figure came closer, became clearer: a young woman, her ratty skirts ballooning around her, chestnut hair streaming, and her panic-stricken, ashen face shining with terror and realization…
Through the darkness a familiar voice whispered in Bella's ear.
I… I'm going to die, the young woman thought, grim understanding making even her mental musings feel heavy. But rather than weighty with sadness, they were thick with near-tangible fury. I'm going to drown. I saved him, and they're going to let me die…
Beside the statuesque Edward, Bella felt her legs threaten to give out as the drowning girl twisted and writhed in her watery grave: final acts of resistance, fruitless attempts to drive off fate. During one last desperate thrash, her face flashed before Bella's eyes.
It was her own.
The Bella next to the sea witch almost vomited on the spot. But no—she continued to watch herself as if in a dream, unable to turn away…
I hate them, the drowning Bella was snarling, her doe-brown orbs flashing in the encroaching gloom. A claw-like hand reached towards the surface, now hundreds of yards above her. I hate them! A curse upon those filthy royals and their precious baby boy… may true happiness stare him in the face, then be ripped away! For letting me… for letting me die…
The watery demon-girl's bright eyes were growing dull; her accusing white fingers slackened as her oxygen ran out. The small stream of bubbles that had drifted from her mouth and nose slowed to a halt; she floated, still and serene and doll-like, half-way between the sky and the sandy ocean floor.
There was a single, ethereal moment of silence.
And then, as if from no-where, a noise. A sound. A song.
"The sea awoke from midnight from its sleep
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide…"
The world around them shifted again; Bella clung to Edward's arm as the blue vanished, the sea disappeared, and they stood again in the sunset garden, surrounded by flowers and trees.
"…so," Edward said snidely, his frosty words unusually loud as they rung through the still air. His cold eyes refused to meet Bella's. "Did you enjoy that? Do you still prefer death?"
It was too much to bear.
"Oh… oh my God…" Voice barely more than a moan now, Bella sank onto the stone lip of the fountain, her icy skin pasty and tinged with green. "What was that…? A memory…? Was that… was that me?" she asked, already knowing the answer and fearing that she might lose consciousness. "What… what happened?!"
It was succinct, blunt, and so much more than she wanted to know. But whether out of cruelty or a lack of patience for her ignorance, Edward pressed on: "In your first life, you were the nurse-maid of the baby prince—your Prince Jacob, to be precise. During a trip out to sea, the royal ship was caught in a storm. You saved the prince and managed to swim him to a tiny raft. But because the raft was already so full of people, they took the prince from your arms and kicked you away, leaving you to drown."
Having turned away with his arms crossed over his chest, the sea witch spun suddenly to face her once more, his expression impassive as he arched a single eyebrow. "I believe the humans call such situations The Carneades Plank. Atrocious, isn't it, how they even have a name for such pitiless practices?"
Bella shook her head, unhearing, as she clenched her fingers in her own hair. "But… But I can't be dead," she choked, dumbstruck. "I mean, I'm alive right now… wait." Teary eyed, she looked up at Edward, faint awareness dawning on her features. "That song… you were there? Tell me…"
The sea witch snorted. "Of course. Our relationship is far deeper and grander than you've ever dared dream…" His mouth morphed into a crooked half-smile; he lowered himself beside Bella, gazing musingly out over the twilight-colored ocean. "So you want to know what happened, my dear? You want to know the truth of your existence? Very well. After all, I can tell you now…
"A quarter of a century ago," Edward began, voice oddly detached as he spoke—pointedly watching the rising moon as the pallid Bella gawked at him, "there was a storm at sea. It wasn't particularly grand, but it was bad enough that I knew shipwrecks were bound to be involved. And so, feeling restless, I ventured from my home at the bottom of the ocean: searching for survivors who might need my aid or request my magic. But providence had a different plan for me that night… and instead of wounded sailors, I found you."
It clearly was not a memory he enjoyed revisiting. Regardless, with a swift shake of his head, the sea witch pressed on.
"By the time I had found you, it was too late—you were dead. But you were also the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, with an aura pulsing so brightly that I knew you could still be saved, even beyond the grave. Something kept a piece of your spirit here, some last thread of regret… Once I brought you back home and began to probe your soul, I realized that it was vengeance. But if that was all you longed for, white magic wouldn't allow your rebirth. I'd have to let you go."
He sighed, raking a hand through his rumpled locks. "Yet I… I couldn't do that. Though your spirit had been dampened by the darkness of hate, you still had the most amazing soul I'd ever seen. It was so full of love and laughter and wonder—so bright and warm it filled me with joy, something I had not felt for centuries. I knew, somehow, that I had to bring you back to life… no matter what the cost was to myself. And so, willing and full of confidence, I chose to follow the dangerous path of black magic."
Bella choked on a gasp; Edward smirked manically.
"The cost, I read, would be both my soul and my sanity—a price that you, like every other poor, drowned mortal, seemed every bit deserving of. Ha. Remember, back then I was foolish and naïve and full of good intentions… something that is only a distant memory now. But nevertheless I set myself to work. Before I could revive you, I needed to make you compatible with my essence; after all, a soul is most comfortable in a shape that it recognizes. As my soul was accustomed to an aqueous life form, I knew I'd need to fashion you a body suitable for the sea. At the same time, I'd determined that you'd be able to keep more than half of your soul—all that had not been tarnished by your desire for retribution— so you needed a form that was also humanoid in order to keep that half of your spirit comfortable. In the end, I decided I'd give you the body of a creature that even I had never seen, though I'd heard humans speak of it in legend."
"A mermaid…" Bella whispered, throat tightening around the word.
"A mermaid," the sea witch agreed, eyes glittering with delight. "And when your new body had been created, I knew it was my greatest work yet. I'd managed to keep your breathtaking beauty alive, as well as create a functional body for undersea life. As I gazed upon you, the first true mermaid—an immortal enchantress even more gorgeous, in my eyes, than any mere human could've dreamed of in their silly tales— I felt myself fall more deeply in love with you."
Beside her, Bella felt her companion shiver—as if a jolt of lust had shot down his spine. The action brought a blush to her face; unnerved, she looked away.
"But there was no time for that," Edward gruffly persisted after a pause, straightening in his seat. "And I couldn't grow attached, I knew that. Otherwise, the cost of reviving you would break me… as was the intention, I suppose. There's a reason they call it black magic."
"…so… so then…the cost was your soul? Are you soulless now, or dead because of me…?" Bella inquired gingerly, unable to resist touching her the sea witch's chilled arm.
With the speed of a striking viper, he snatched her hand in his own, refusing to let go as a bitter smile stole across his face.
"Heh. Almost. To be more exact, the fee was half of my soul," he murmured, gaze distant. "It wouldn't have been necessary, had your entire soul been pure. But as it was, I needed to sacrifice the good half of my essence, the light, to replace the darkness that kept you in limbo. In addition, I had to suck your darkness into my own heart, so that we each had two complete spirits—not to mention an invisible bond between us. That was very important, for the true price, I found, was not so much the sacrifice of my soul, but the fact that I must sever that bond. When you awoke, you would not remember me, nor would you remember what had happened before your revival. You were not allowed to know, lest your new spirit shatter."
Lost in his own thoughts, Edward lifted a hand to his face—hiding his visage behind his spidery fingers. When he next spoke, there was a note of hysteria hidden deep in his voice…
"The day you awoke was both the best and worst of my life. Watching you swim away was… you were so stunning it nearly tore my heart in two. At times I think it did… because when you were gone, I wasn't complete. I wasn't the same. Nothing was the same. There was no happiness in life anymore; I had no desire to help others or use my magic. Alice and Jasper could do nothing but watch as I surrendered to the darkness, as I fell beyond redemption."
His own nails tore into his flesh; Bella could see a crazed glint hidden within his blank stare—shadowed by his clenched fingers.
"Twenty-five years trickled by like an eon. Alone within myself, half-insane with longing for you, I felt my mind begin to snap. My ideals warped and twisted; I began to hate the world. Your pox upon humanity became my own—this was all their fault. How could a species do that to one of their own? A woman? A weak, drowning woman who'd used all of her strength to protect a child? No…" the sea witch hissed, feral in his fury. "I grew to hate, just as you did. I grew to loathe the humans who had killed you, who had forced me to rip apart my soul… but mostly I pined for you. Every day, every hour, every minute. I could not contact you— not ever, not even accidentally. But there was a loophole in this rule… a loophole I knew I could exploit."
As the words left his mouth, Edward's eyes—which had been as dark as his mood, jet-black and hard as rocks—suddenly lightened, a frenzied fire bursting into existence within their deadened depths. The mania in them made Bella's blood run cold…
"I could not go to you, perhaps, but if you came to me… anything was fair, so long as you were the one to initiate contact. I didn't care what for. Anything. So long as I got to see you, feel you, be close to you again… or so I thought."
Venom dripped from his tone. Fixing his narrowed glare upon some unseen point in the distance, the sea witch chewed on the end of a claw, disgust radiating from his every pore.
"But when Alice brought you to me, it was for him. The one who killed you! It was the greatest of ironies— because I had removed the taint from your soul, you continued to love him. In fact, your ties to him became even stronger—so much so that you felt drawn to him even after your rebirth! I knew this from the first moment you told me you wanted to be human… but I also knew that I could use this to my advantage, too."
Around his neck, the opalescent conch gleamed brightly through the emergent dusk.
"The reason I couldn't contact you, the reason you couldn't know of your past, was because your heart would have shattered upon realizing what you'd gone through. As the victim, your psyche would be too weak to keep the individual bits of the soul conjoined once it realized it was a hybrid. Rather like not knowing you've been injured until you see the wound, what you did not know couldn't hurt you. However, if your spirit was in my hands, not only would we be one, balanced and whole, but I could keep your soul from cracking after you discovered the truth—two birds with one stone. And now my plan has come to fruition: you know, you're mine, and we're complete."
Grinning so widely that it frightened Bella, Edward turned in place, clasping their hands tightly and brining the interlocked fingers to their chests. "You are my lightness, dear Bella, and I am your darkness," the sea witch whispered, reverent and low. "We belong together. We are one."
Unable to stop him, Bella squeezed her eyes shut as Edward leaned forward, brushing a chaste kiss upon her lips.
"We shall be together forever, as was originally intended…" he added, breathless and crazed as he dusted butterfly kisses down the slope of her neck. Bella gasped as she felt a sharp nip beside her jugular; her vision swam once more. Her chest was about to burst…!
"No…!" Strained and soft, the moan squeaked from the girl's lips with the pleading of a prayer. Her insides were on fire, her head swam—her body wanted him closer, her heart wanted him inside, and her mind couldn't stand it. Her brain threatened to shut down, close to an overload. "No—! Edward, let me go! It's… it's too awful, it's too much! I can't— I can't be here! Let me go!"
With a monstrous shove, Bella forced the sea witch backward—untangling their hands and managing to find her feet. Without time for recess or reflection, she immediately took off: flying across the land with a strength and speed she hadn't known feet could possess. Like an animal, she bounded down the grassy slopes, through the tangled weed-flowers, over the salt-stained boulders and towards the only home she'd ever known.
On a cliff overlooking the rising tide, Bella fell on all fours: wheezing harder than she'd ever known possible. Her lungs burned, her heart pounded, her parched throat tasted like blood. Her torso contracted between thick, dry sobs; Edward had chosen to be particularly vindictive and temporarily give her back the use of her voice— an offering of a mocking peace— which made the pain of the waterless tears infinitely more intense.
"God…" the girl near-groveled, nails thick with dirt as she dug her fingers into the hard earth, trying to keep the world from spinning around her. "Why…? Why, God? What did I ever…?"
The answer came like lightening, even before the words had finished forming.
The curse. Wide-eyed, Bella blinked blearily towards the star-strewn sky, her glassy brown orbs reflecting the indigo heavens above. My curse. To have Jacob's happiness taken away…I was the happiness. This… this is all my fault.
"…they say that to curse someone is to dig a double-grave," Bella heard herself mutter, as if remembering a friend's advice from long ago. "I damned myself… and Edward. I'm the one who did this to him."
Instantaneously, the girl's hand lifted to clutch the cloth covering her heart: the heart the held both her own lightness, and the lost goodness of the sea witch. A double grave…
There was only one way to fix this.
And so Bella stood. She didn't clamor or trip, she simply got to her feet: graceful and beautiful and more sure of this than she'd ever been of anything else in her life. It was the only thing that could possibly save them, save them both— it was the least she could do for redemption.
She took a deep breath.
"And inspirations that we deem our own…"
She started forward, one foot in front of the other, as the evening air whipped through her locks of mahogany silk.
"…are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing…"
She reached the edge of the cliff.
"…of things beyond our reason or control."
"Hm?" Engrossed in his shimmering necklace, Edward barely paid Alice any heed, but nonetheless waved a hand for the silhouette in the shadows to continue.
"Master, I warned you—Bella is planning to kill herself." The monotonous phantom sounded a hint anxious, as if privately concerned that she might evoke her lord's wrath. "And it is not quite midnight yet… her future isn't entirely yours."
But the shaded woman needn't have worried. In fact, the sea witch merely laughed, his smile toothy and wide as his eyes glittered like jewels.
"Whether through death or physical extraction, once her soul leaves her body it has no choice but to come to me, now— as payment for this third day on land. And, once it's in my hands, the expiration of her shell will be of no importance. As long as I own my Bella's beautiful soul, I can bring her back from the dead as often as I please. She will never be able to escape me."
With a look of pure adoration and a gentle caress, Edward rubbed the conch against his cheek, chortling in delight. "So for now, my princess, do as you please. I'll allow you this one final taste of freedom."
As he spoke, there was a soft smashing in the distance— a sound too faint for human ears to hear—of a skull shattering on the rocks, and of a lifeless body being pulled out to sea.
In Edward's spindle-thin fingers, the conch shell flashed like the sun: vibrant and violet, a super-nova the color of an amethyst.
The color of Bella's future.
And then there was only darkness.