…The FINAL Epilogue…
…Fifty Years Later…
"Yes, Mom and Dad are walking over, just like they've done for the past fifty years. Well, she actually used to ride him over." Alessa rolled her eyes as Alice and I laughed. Vanessa, and Jake for that matter, had always done just as they pleased, leaders of the Pack and all. This year, just like those in the recent past, they had been offered lifts to the gathering, but they walked, just like they had for so many years.
I glanced around the clearing. The muted light of a cloud covered afternoon softened the edges of the granite monolith that sat at one side of the field. This was where the battle had begun, and ended, with losses on all of our parts.
The monument had been brought here a year later by vampires and werewolves working together. After it was settled into its base, it was then inscribed with Alice's delicate script.
On the opposite side of the field from the memorial was a bonfire all ready to be lit. Logs were set about for those that would want to sit as they listened to the story that would be told. They had been worn smooth by the generations of people who came to remember.
Alice rushed with Alessa to hug Vee and Jake when they arrived a few minutes later. Jasper was there to give Vee a hug too. Looking closely at the stately woman wrapped in Jasper's arms, I found it hard to believe that Vanessa was almost seventy-five now. Her hair was unbound and flowed down her back in a silken swath, the black broken by a streak of silver that started at her right temple and was swept back, held with a leather clip. Her face was serene and unlined as she was hugged by vampires.
We saw Vanessa several times a year, as she and Alice met to discuss their design business. It was based out of La Push and brought money and fame to the small town. They were very successful. Jake liked to say that by imprinting on her, he had brought new blood into the Reservation. We no longer cringed at the comment.
Jacob looked distinguished with a dusting of silver in his hair, too. He had quit phasing at forty-three, to age with his beloved imprint. He was now the chief elder and the role fit him well.
Seth and Embry were discussing IMMORTAL MUSE with a couple of the youngsters. Emmett and Rosalie had handed the reins over to them when they could no longer be the public face of the recording studio. About twenty years ago we had built a new studio in Port Angeles and it was also very successful. The dream catcher logo that Alice had designed was featured on many music award shows as the musicians went on stage to receive their trophies.
A crowd of humans, wolves and vampires continued to arrive as the day slowly moved into late afternoon. Standing with Esme and Rosalie, I glanced over at Edward, smiling as I caught his eye where he stood chatting with Alessa's mate, Micah. He was the Beta to her Alpha. There hadn't been any grumbling amongst the pack when Alessa had stepped up into that position when Jacob stepped down. She was a fair and balanced leader with a cutting wit and a strong sense of right and wrong. Micah had stepped into the role of leader each time Alessa had become pregnant. She would then take the mantle back up when the child reached toddlerhood.
Claire had a baby on her hip, her youngest granddaughter. She had come to love Quil in a grownup way and they had been married the minute she turned eighteen. Esme and Melissa had supported each other as Mothers of the Bride and Groom.
Glancing around, I saw Seth and Delaney, Micah's parents, already sitting on a log near the fire pit. Their youngest son, Robbie, was standing with them, his newly imprinted girl tucked close to his side. This would be the first time she would be hearing this particular part of the history of the Reservation.
There were actually several children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the Pack that we had befriended so long ago in attendance. The youngest ones were all on their best behavior, standing in small groups, watching the Pack members and the vampires with wide eyes. All of those present, no matter what their age, knew that the legends of the Quileute were much more than stories…they were truth. The story that would be told tonight had touched all of their lives.
The solemn demeanor of those that gathered today was in sharp contrast to the casual bonfires that we occasionally attended during the year. This was a day of remembrance. One we came together to share every year.
As twilight descended, I stood next to Edward, our fingers entwined. A drum began beating slowly and the already quiet crowd of people became totally silent. The drum beat on for several minutes before Jacob stood, his back to the monument, as he faced us. The tempo of the drum, beat by Robbie, sped up frantically and then stopped suddenly. Silence, filled with anticipation, reigned over the meadow as the sun sank slowly below the horizon.
"Family, friends, allies…we come together to remember a time when our future was in peril. We come together to remember those who were lost, right here in this meadow." Jacob paused and every eye was focused on him. "We gather to remember the sacrifices given and the vows of friendship forged so that we could live our lives freely in safety and peace. Some of you are hearing this story for the first time, some of you lived it. All of us will remember…"
Jacob then began the tale that he had slowly perfected over the years, having added shades and nuances that led each listener through the emotions that we had lived: shock, fear, determination, loss and finally, victory. His words flowed through my mind, taking me back to that time in our lives, the time when we feared that all would be lost.
~Fifty years earlier~
Edward and I had been reading in our room when Edward leaped to his feet, saying, "Alice". We hurried to join everyone in the living room. Jasper held his wife while the vision played out. Edward gasped quietly as he saw it too.
A vampire, a nomad we had had a dispute with three months previously, was standing in the throne room at Volterra.
He was complaining that we had kept him from hunting in our area. He continued to argue that we were getting too powerful, there were too many of us, that we were setting ourselves up to be the Volturi in the West…That we had tamed the Children of Moon to do our bidding.
Aro held his hand out, he wanted to see the memories for himself. The nomad eagerly placed his hand in the aged vampire's, wanting to show how he had been wronged. Aro's face showed shock at one point and I wondered if that was when he had seen the wolves in the nomad's mind.
He released the vampire's hand and dismissed him from the room. When the nomad started to complain, Aro asked him if he wanted to be forced to leave. A huge vampire, Felix, stepped forward and the nomad quickly exited, bowing his way out.
Aro turned to his brothers where they sat on gilded, throne-like chairs. "I think it's time we paid a visit to our good friend Carlisle. It really has been too long since we were in America, don't you think?"
Alice filled us in on what she had seen, as Edward added snippets that he had gleaned from the vision. All of us were shocked. It appeared that the three brothers would be coming our way, along with a number of the Volturi Guard. To have all three of them leaving Volterra was nearly unheard of. Carlisle could only remember a half dozen times when it had happened, mostly in response to uprisings like those in the Southern Wars.
We had always worked to keep the Volturi out of our lives. It wasn't that we were doing anything wrong, but most vampires didn't live in family units like we do. Very few kept to our diet and even fewer protected the humans that they lived near. It seemed that we were about to come face to face with the so called peacekeepers of our kind.
Carlisle asked, "When, Alice?"
"I had the impression that it would take them a couple of weeks to get things organized. So…" she paused to consider. "Probably at the end of June…maybe the beginning of July. I'll watch to see if I can pinpoint the time."
Esme immediately began to worry about her newest sons and their families. "They think the Pack are true werewolves. Carlisle has said that Caius hates them, that he's tried to hunt them into extinction. They wouldn't know that these people aren't those creatures." She spun to face Jasper. "What can we do to keep them safe?"
Jasper had been Major Whitlock in his human life, a military leader during the Civil War, and then second in command, after he was turned, in the Southern Vampire Wars. The only reason that war hadn't succeeded was because he turned his back on the strife and the constant battles that his maker, Maria, had encouraged. He had been brilliant and he still was the best one to help us survive the coming meeting.
Before he could speak, Carlisle took the floor. "We can't decide to fight this visit with aggression. First we need to see if the Volturi can be reasoned with. We need to see if they can be shown that we are peaceful and not breaking any rules."
"I agree with you, Carlisle, it's always better to smile and play nice," Jasper nodded.
Emmett immediately leaped to his feet and began to argue vehemently, wanting to lead the way into a clash with those he felt were coming to harm his family. Rosalie stood steadfast at his side, nodding her agreement.
"Wait, I didn't finish yet," Jasper interrupted with a smile, a smile that would have made me shudder if I didn't know him so well. "We greet them as we would any other guests...but we plan as if it were an attack. We won't be caught unaware or unprepared."
Holding Esme close to his side, Carlisle agreed with that and the strategizing began in earnest.
I sat next to Edward on the couch, comforted by his touch as we called Kate and her family in Denali. It wasn't that we were building an army of our own to meet with the Volturi, but we wanted to alert them to the altercation that was making its way toward us. Kate said they would be with us within days.
The Volturi thought differently than we all do. We were two families bound by love, two families with six and eight members, large by coven measures. They were a group brought together by power and held together through political favors…and Chelsea.
Chelsea could make or break bonds between vampires. Carlisle and Eleazar had noted during the time they spent in Volterra that she had a very hard time changing bonds of love, whether it was familial love or the love between mates. All others could be bound through her gift, or severed if that's what Aro, Caius and Marcus wanted.
Well, actually Marcus, from what Carlisle had told us, didn't really seem to care one way or another. He had lost his mate in a battle ages ago and with that loss, he seemed to just drift along.
Loving Edward the way I did, I didn't even want to imagine losing him and I had no idea how Marcus even continued to exist. But exist he did, always the third to agree with whatever Aro and Caius decreed.
Carlisle called Jacob, telling him that a situation was forming and that we would need to speak with him and the Elders as soon as possible. A meeting was planned for later in the evening at the Council House on the Reservation.
Mumbling that no one was going to hurt her boys, Esme hurried into the kitchen and started to gather the ingredients for cookies and sweets. She would not be able to go to the meeting empty handed. I stepped in to help her, leaving the guys, and Rosalie, putting plans together. They decided to have several up and ready to run for whatever scenarios might present themselves.
The meeting with the Pack and the elders was difficult. While we had had a few hours to assimilate the idea, they had to work through all of the emotions.
Paul was particularly angry. His imprint, Rachel, who was Jacob's sister, had just found out she was pregnant. He was all for storming Volterra and destroying the Volturi on their home ground. Jacob had to command him to stand down.
It took a few hours, but everyone eventually settled down and listened to the plans that Jasper and the others had come up with.
Toward the end of the meeting, Edward caught Seth's eye and mouthed, "Reindeer games." A huge grin crossed Seth's face and he nodded enthusiastically.
Each time a youth phased for the first time, they enjoyed a few training sessions with Jasper and Emmett. They usually couldn't wait to make themselves at home at the Cullen mansion too. It was a rite of adulthood to phase…and then receive a motorcycle from Rosalie. She made sure they knew how to ride them too. It had become quite a ceremony to gift them with their leather jackets.
Several practice sessions were scheduled to get everyone in top form for whatever may come when the Volturi arrived.
We would do everything in our power to be ready when they showed up.
Kate, Garrett and the rest of our Alaskan family arrived two days later. Garrett's eyes were as golden as ours. He had embraced his life with Kate wholeheartedly. The two of them enjoyed the "reindeer games" nearly as much as Emmett and Seth did. Every single one of the wolves had to test Kate's shocking power.
Eleazar immediately joined in the strategy meetings, while Carmen and Irina helped us bake. It was a new experience for them.
Tanya had fun teasing the wolves. A few of them were awestruck over her beauty and Edward said they wondered if they could get used to her scent enough to actually get close to her. Tanya thought that was great fun. She liked their heat. Making out was one thing, I just hoped none of the wolves would imprint on her. That would be beyond weird, in what was already a weird situation.
When Alice saw Alec and Jane being tapped to accompany Aro and his brothers, Carlisle tutored everyone in the powers that they had. Jane could make you feel the pain of a white hot fire, while Alec could make you feel nothing, see nothing, hear nothing.
I had found early on in our wolf/vampire relationship, that if I shielded Jacob from mental attacks, the rest of the pack would be safe also. We had stumbled upon that little quirk while playing a game of Capture the Flag. We all hoped that I would be able to keep everyone safe from the twins now. There were fourteen vampires and 22 wolves. It would be spreading my shield pretty thin. At least I only had to shield fifteen minds from Jane, Alec and Chelsea. We figured that she'd be testing our connections.
Esme was in her element, making tons of food to feed the wolves and their imprints. Claire, at seven, was her eager helper. Her mother had soon come to realize that Quil was everything that her daughter needed, and most of the time, all she wanted. It took some time for her to accept the fact, but she had been assured that once Claire grew up, if she didn't love him with a lover's heart, Quil would still be the friend she needed. It had taken a bit longer for her to trust us, but she soon did that too, especially after Vanessa came into our lives. Alice, Vee and Claire had the best time putting on fashion shows with us as their admiring audience.
As we prepared for the meeting, the imprints were all spending a lot of time with their mates, knowing that as soon as Alice could pinpoint when the visit would occur they would all be sent into the heart of the Reservation, guarded by a small contingent of wolves. The Pack had to have them somewhere safe, just in case the meeting went badly.
Alice and Rosalie were at the house in Seattle. She needed to be away from the wolves to try and see what was going to happen. They hated to be away from us right now, but she needed the distance to sharpen her focus. It was the first of July when she called and said that they Volturi would be in our game field on July 4th. We all saw the irony of that. Would the day bring us independence? There was no way for Alice to see since the wolves were involved. She and Rosalie hurried home to us.
One of the scouts that Jacob had on the trail in the direction that we thought the Volturi would come from alerted us that they were, in fact, on their way. Jacob called the scout in and phased back to human.
"This is it. Hemeh reported that there are twenty of them. They're moving fast." Jacob's words caused everyone to pause.
Emmett, although he knew that Carlisle wanted to extend the hand of friendship, couldn't contain himself. "Cool, that's what, thirty-six of us…we have them outnumbered. I dibs Felix. I hear he's nearly as big as me."
I heard wolves chuffing their agreement and Garrett gave a small cheer but before any more "dibs" could be called out, Carlisle and Jasper stepped forward beside Jacob.
"Remember, we hope not to have to fight. We are going to extend the hand of diplomacy first." Carlisle pinned Emmett with his gaze and my brother squirmed just a bit. "No one does anything without Jasper's go ahead."
Very much looking like Major Whitlock, Jasper nodded. We had assigned different signals for contingency plans, and he went over them again, just to be sure that everyone knew what to expect.
Jacob phased again and Edward took over the translation duties as we spread out to meet the Volturi. Jasper, Carlisle, Edward and Jacob took point with the rest of us flanking them. Esme had no less than three wolves surrounding her. The wolves took special care of their Mama E.
The minutes dragged on as we waited. Another report came in from a scout and Edward passed the message on that our guests were less than ten minutes from us. I placed my hand on Edward's back for just a moment, conveying my feelings for him quietly through touch and a mental, I love you. He glanced back over his shoulder and smiled at me.
This had to work out, we had to be safe, all of us. I couldn't bear it any other way.
A breeze swirled over us, bringing the scents of the Volturi just moments before they stepped from the trees. They all wore cloaks of gray, none of them the light gray of a new Guard member. The three brothers wore cloaks of nearly black.
As they dropped their hoods from their heads, I recognized all but ten of them: Aro, Caius, Marcus, Chelsea, Renata (standing at Aro's back, her hand lightly touching him), Felix, Demetri, Jane and Alec.
Holding my shield at the ready, I looked at the vampires standing before us. They had been the bogeymen of my waking nightmares since I had heard of them. Not all of their decisions had appeared to be made with justice in mind. Sometimes it seemed that they made decisions that were only of benefit to the Volturi. My sense of fair play didn't approve.
Aro and Carlisle greeted one another, sounding like politicians the world over, although there was no shaking of hands. Carlisle wanted to avoid that, as Aro would know everything, and I do mean everything, about us. Aro tended to ask before touching someone, one of his more civilized mannerisms. There was lots of "good to see you" and "how was your trip" before Aro decided to take the bull by the horns.
Glancing at those of us behind Carlisle, his red eyes lingering longest on the giant wolves standing amongst us, Aro gave a little smirk before saying, "It looks like our information was correct, Carlisle. You do appear to be in control of quite the army." The smile left his face and he snapped, "Can you explain this?"
Caius had stepped up beside him, his glance resting maliciously on Kate, Irina and Tanya. Edward stiffened and I wondered if it was at one of the Guard member's thoughts. He was fully open to them, hoping to find something to use to our advantage. I pressed my palm firmly against his back, to offer him comfort as he listened.
"Aro, I thought you were here for a friendly visit. And now you say that you were told we were forming an Army? I see your loyal minions at your side, your most deadly Guard members. I think that it is I who has to ask what you are really doing here." Carlisle, who generally was the most calm and sweet man that I have ever had the pleasure to meet, was suddenly every inch the vampire coven leader. He was strong, commanding and he exuded confidence.
Aro actually seemed slightly taken aback by Carlisle's poise. I think that most covens tended to fall into groveling when approached by such a large group of vampires who were known to be in charge and ruthless in meting out punishment.
Aro gathered himself and said, "We were told that you had tamed the Children of the Moon. That appears to be correct." His scathing glance brought growls from those with us, wolves and vampires alike.
Once again Edward stiffened and gave me a signal to shield our side. Apparently Chelsea was poking about and trying to break our ties. I immediately let my shield expand to cover everyone. Reaching out, I felt the pressure of something. I could see a confused look on Chelsea's face. Good, she was being blocked.
Gesturing with both arms to take in the Pack beside us, Carlisle scoffed. "Aro, you aren't thinking clearly. It's not the full moon and these are not true werewolves. These are shape shifters and we have not tamed them at all. They are our friends and here by their own choice."
The Volturi looked shocked at this revelation. Caius was nearly trembling with anger. He spoke before Aro could. "I see the succubae are barely adequately represented here." Kate, Tanya and Irina glared at him as he continued, "I remember your mother. She was such a poor excuse for a vampire. Felt the need to create her own toddler, apparently you three weren't enough for her. She needed a baby to give her the affection she craved; an immortal child of her own. I loved how she lied to you, that she didn't tell you that the little monster was your brother."
The three women were hissing at his words and I saw Jasper glance at them and I knew he was trying to pour calming emotions over them. It didn't appear to be working.
"Yes, I remember your mother…how she screamed when we pulled the creature from her arms and ripped him to shreds. She had the audacity to try and attack me. Me! I found great pleasure in tearing her apart and burning the pieces of her body one at a time. Did you know that I saved her head for last? I made her watch as we burned her creation. When I need a little cheer I remember her screams. My only regret is that I didn't drag it out longer."
Before any of us could stop her, Irina had thrown herself at Caius, leaping over our front line and heading straight for the smirking vampire. In a move that was almost too fast for me to comprehend, Caius brought up a wand of some kind and flamed Irina as she flew towards him. She was nothing but ash in a matter of seconds.
Emmett immediately pounced on Tanya, pinning her to the ground as Garrett grabbed Kate. At his grimace of agony from the force of her shocking gift, I slipped my shield between them, protecting him from her.
He didn't spare me a glance as he tried to calm his mate down. Esme joined him while Alice knelt beside Emmett where he held Tanya. Rose stood guard over them all. Esme and Alice were both whispering words too quietly for us to hear, trying to calm the grieving women. The shock, grief and anger on the sisters' faces were almost too much for me to bear. My fingers grasped Edward's hand as he reached for me.
The entire Volturi contingent took a small step forward just as Aro raised his hands, commanding everyone to be still. Jane and Alec were glaring around, looking for targets. I strengthened my shield in case they didn't heed Aro's authority.
Jasper had also signaled for our side to stand firm. It was a testament to his willpower and training that we all did so.
Before Carlisle could say anything about this show of violence, Edward gave my hand one more squeeze and stepped forward.
"You know, Carlisle, there isn't a lot of truth going on here right now," my husband said, his smooth voice loud enough for everyone to hear. "Just as Aro had Chelsea looking to break our bonds, I've been picking through the morass of the minds of those from Volterra."
Aro gasped when he realized what Edward had said. "You are a mind reader, a true mind reader? You don't have to touch, as I do?" A look, almost of fear crossed Aro's face, but it was quickly gone.
"Yes, I can read minds, all minds." The Guard members stirred slightly and I wondered what secrets they wished that Edward hadn't seen. I soon found out.
"I've found some very interesting tidbits nestled deeply in some of these minds. For instance, Alec, did you know that Jane has been plotting with Aro to destroy you? Had you wondered why you have suddenly felt an immense amount of loyalty to Aro? More so than you usually have?" Alec's eyes had gone wide when Edward began speaking. Now they narrowed and he turned to look at his sister.
"Is this true, Jane? Why would you do such a thing?" Alec's voice rang out through the meadow. Jane backed away from him after tossing a telling look for help in Aro's direction.
Edward continued, spelling out how Jane felt that Alec got too much of Aro's attention. That she wanted to be the special one. She had been feeding Aro hints that Alec was going to use his gift to hurt Aro. He, in turn, had made Chelsea shore up Alec's bond to him.
"Brother, you would believe this Cullen? I am your sister." Jane tried to sound firm, but her voice held a waver that even I could hear. "Master, tell him!"
"Silence," Aro ordered the two of them.
Pointing at Caius, Edward offered his next observation. "Caius, just as Jane has been plotting against her brother, your brother has been plotting against you." Caius whipped his head around to look at Aro, not even bothering to glance at Marcus. "He thinks that you are a pompous ass and entirely too enmeshed in your whoring ways to be a true leader. He's been thinking that it might be time to remove you from the equation."
Whispers had started among the members of the Volturi. I heard grumbles of mutiny and sidelong glances as the members began wondering if the leaders were plotting against them too.
Aro had his hands raised again, trying to regain control of the situation. But that was not to be when Edward brought out his last point.
"Marcus, you've always wondered what you could have done differently all those years ago during the battle where your mate was killed. I have to say, Didyme didn't stand a chance, not with the coup that Aro and Caius staged. It was their plan, through some expendable lackeys, that brought your mate, and Aro's sister, to her end. You're wondering why would they do that? Because they both felt that you, with her at your side, would come to be stronger than the two them and they couldn't stand that. So they took her out and you remained the third leg of their tribunal. Always the one to support them in their rulings, no matter how unjust they were. Because you really didn't care, once Didyme was gone."
Kate and Tanya had been allowed to stand back up, their arms still being held by our family. Edward's recital ended and there was a moment of utter stillness before all hell broke loose. With a snarl to match a werewolf's Marcus was on Aro, ripping his head from his body.
Kate and Tanya were away from Emmett and Garrett and had pounced on Caius in the time it took me to blink once. The sound of the two vampires being ripped apart was a signal to the Guard and they leaped into battle with us. Jasper motioned and suddenly everyone was involved in the fight.
I focused on Jane and Alec, knowing that if my shield slipped even a little, that they could immobilize the rest of us and take us out. They had always depended upon their mental skills, never having to fight in hand to hand combat. The terrified look on both of their faces as Jacob, Embry and three other wolves fought their way toward them was almost comical. They had never been in a situation like this. The Guard, without Aro and Caius to direct them, had quickly realized that their only hope of survival was the twins and they came to their defense. Jasper and Garrett were fighting to get through to them too. Alice was guarding their flanks and then I saw Kate join them. I heard Jane screech just as Jasper got hold of one arm and Jacob the other. Alec's scream quickly joined hers as Embry and Garrett grabbed him.
I had my own defenders as I was the only thing standing between the twins and the total annihilation of my family and friends.
Demetri and Felix saw where the most guards were and started to make their way toward me. I saw Emmett trying to get to Felix, the vampire he had put his dibs in on, but he was challenged by another Guard and quickly became embroiled in a fight with him. Edward was right in front of me, but was suddenly knocked aside by a figure in medium gray, one of the Guard that I didn't know. I hadn't been able to use my shield as a physical barrier too as the strain of keeping everyone mentally shielded was stretching my gift quite thin.
Felix, with a look of intense hatred on his face, lunged through the opening left by Edward and I crouched into a fighting stance. Before I could defend myself the way that Jasper had taught me, a wolf with dark silver fur flew at him. Paul and Felix grappled together. I could see Paul's teeth bury themselves in the heavily built vampire's throat. Before I could leap to his defense, Felix's arms came up and grabbed him across his shoulder blades, ripping a huge chunk from his body, and then he began squeezing the life from him. I felt the howl of the Pack before I heard it and I knew that Paul was mortally wounded.
Felix's head toppled from his shoulders, wrenched apart from his body with Paul's dying motion. The two of them fell in a heap before me and I rushed to the wolf's side, forcing the vampire's arms away from him. I carefully lifted Paul away from him just as Seth and Edward grabbed Felix's body and began ripping him apart.
Edward and I shared a sorrowful glance before I looked back down at the man now in my arms. Paul's eyes met mine calmly, he knew what was happening as a bubble of blood appeared at the corner of his mouth. I gently wiped it away.
Paul's voice was only a whisper of sound. "Bella, tell Rachel…tell her…love her…baby…always." Edward was at my side as Paul passed away. The howls of the Pack reverberated around us and then there was silence. The fighting was over.
With Paul's head still on my lap, I looked up to find a small group of Volturi being held by wolves with bared fangs. Marcus was standing with his hands extended in a sign of surrender. Beside him was Renata, Demetri, Chelsea, Afton and two of the Guard that I didn't know. Only seven of the twenty remained.
A bonfire was burning in the middle of the field and wolves and my family were throwing vampire parts into the flames.
Jacob was standing beside me, human again. Carlisle had knelt at my side and with a shake of his head he confirmed what we all knew.
Sam, Jared, Brady and Quil phased, quickly dressing and coming to stand nearby. Jacob extended his hand to me. I wiped the last bit of blood from Paul's face and stood with Jacob.
"He saved my life." There weren't enough words for me to say what I felt. Edward wrapped his arms around my waist and I leaned back into the comfort of his touch.
Jacob nodded, grief and pride on his face. "He knew, as we all did, that you had to be protected so that you could protect us. He did his duty to an ally and friend of the Pack. His sacrifice won't be forgotten." The four men reached down and gently lifted Paul. They slowly left the field, taking him home to the Reservation.
I knew that the wolves who were protecting the imprints would have known what was happening. Rachel would already know what had happened to her mate. My heart was breaking at the thought of what she would have to endure. I hoped that she would find solace in hearing his last words, but I wished I could have done something, anything to spare her this grief.
Taking a deep breath, Carlisle turned to face the remaining Volturi. Jasper and Jacob walked with him to the captives, their shoulders set and stiff. The Pack remained vigilant as they surrounded the vampires.
I'm sure I wasn't the only one that noticed that Renata was standing close to Marcus, her hand resting on his back, but without her protective shield in place. I had briefly wondered why she hadn't protected Aro from his attack. Carlisle asked that question when he faced them.
Her answer was simple. "When your Edward told us that Aro and Caius was the one to kill Didyme, I knew that I couldn't protect Aro any longer. He didn't deserve my protection."
Marcus gave her a soft look before he began speaking. "I am sorry that we came here for the wrong reasons. I'm sorry that your families have been harmed. You truly are a family and not just a coven. I had no clue that Aro and Caius had orchestrated the murder of Didyme. I've been in a fog for these many years, allowing them to run roughshod over our community." Another glance at Renata and then he went on, "This one has brought me solace and has helped the fog to clear. And for that, I thank you." In a gesture that was ages old, Marcus, the remaining leader of the Volturi bowed deeply to us.
As he straightened up, he spoke again. "I can see the chains that bind you all together. You are stronger than Aro or Caius could imagine and you didn't get there by coercion or punishment. That's something that Aro could never thought could happen. You did scare him, you terrified him, in fact. He's heard the rumors of your family and he hoped to best you." Taking a look at the rest of the Volturi he nodded and then said, "We are at your mercy. Do with us what you will." Wrapping his arms around Renata's waist, he rested his head upon hers and closed his eyes, awaiting our judgment.
I could see defeat written on each of the Volturi's faces.
Carlisle shook his head and led us all far enough away that the captives couldn't hear us. He spoke in a thread of sound, "That's the way that Aro would have dealt with this situation. He would have and has killed entire covens, sometimes over trivial matters. That's not what we are going to do here."
Looking back at them, he shook his head again. "Do any of you want to take on the job of keeping our kind in order?" Snorts of disdain and denial filled the area.
"Yes, I didn't think so. But now that Aro and Caius are gone, someone is going to have to be in charge. And I think it should be Marcus. Now that he's actually looking around and taking notice, it would be good for all of us. Aro and Caius were right to worry that he would have been our leader all those centuries ago. Vampires liked him, they liked the way he managed things. Didyme made everyone feel happy. They would have been benevolent rulers, kind in their judgments. That's not to say that they would have been lenient. There are rules for a reason…" Carlisle paused, giving us a chance to think this through.
After further discussion, we agreed to let them go back to Volterra. We certainly didn't want to go there and watch over our kind.
Carlisle made the offer to Marcus and he agreed. The others were thrilled to be allowed to live and tried to bind themselves to us. Rosalie told them to go before we changed our minds and set the wolves on them. Everyone but Marcus trembled at the thought. He told Carlisle that he would keep him informed on how the changes to the Guard went on. The Guard was a necessary force, but Marcus would direct it in a much different manner than his brothers had. It would run with justice and honor.
Goodbyes were said and the field was cleared of the Volturi. Leaving it to us to express our grief at our loss of family and friends. Our minds were shocked at how quickly they had been taken from us.
Our Denali family only stayed the night. They needed to get home to grieve in the Alaskan wilderness where they had known happiness with Irina.
Paul's burial was set for three days later…we would all be attending.
Jacob's narration came to a close and I brought my mind back to the present. Seth handed him two torches. He held them high and then passed one to Saul, a youthful looking man who changed into a silver wolf on a regular basis.
Taking the torch, Saul plunged it into the depths of the bonfire, saying, "For my father, Paul…"
Jacob then handed the second torch to Kate who moved to the other side of the piled logs and plunged it into the middle of the wood, stating, "For our sister, Irina…"
The flames licked high into the now dark sky, sparks lifting and spiraling to the heavens. Turning his back to the fire, Jacob, joined by Vanessa, walked to the monolith as we all followed. It was surrounded by torches that brightly lit the words inscribed there:
Beloved Husband and Father of Saul
~We will Remember~
Each one of us caressed the words on the front of the monument as we passed by. Then we touched the ones on the sides of the giant memorial. It had been decided to put the names of the Quileute tribe there when they passed on. I lightly touched William Black's name and Harry and Sue Clearwater's, then the others before I stepped away, leaving room for the ones remaining in line to make their own silent greeting.
Edward held my hand as we moved away, leaving our family and the Quileutes behind us. "We will remember, and I am so thankful we are not remembering alone."
I smiled up into the golden eyes of my mate, my husband, my lover. I had received so much more than I ever could have imagined when I fought myself to not kill him, my singer, all those years ago.
"We will remember…together." Our fingers twined closely as we moved into our future and the new adventures that awaited us.
A/N…wow…I feel…sad. And relieved. I would love it if you would take the time to let me know what you think of this ending. It feels right to me.
I have to thank my pre-readers, LJ Summers, u2shay, leelan oleander, AMayes, Caro_lalala, Val and Bells. LJ gave me a perfect line for the end and everyone else gave their wonderful input. THANK YOU!
I was *bought* by Team Guarding Kat for the Fandom Gives Back Auction. I've just finished writing an outtake for the seven members of the team...using the prompts that they gave me:
Mick St. John...shirtless
Annie touching Jasper
Katmom square dancing
Edward and Gwen getting hot and bothered
Hummingbirds feeding on a fucshia
Edward, Jasper and Emmett crime fighting together
I'll post it here on Monday, August 23...do keep me on AUTHOR ALERT if you'd like to see it.
I can't thank you all enough…this is has been a great experience and I'm grateful for all of the reviews, alerts and favorites you have given me. I appreciate each and every one.
My hubby asked if I was now going to start adding addendums…that would be a NO…although the thought made me laugh.
Again, thank you for joining me in this adventure.
A reader asked what happened to Mike and Jess...I think this is the rest of their story:
Jess and Mike continued to NOT question Edward...because they wanted him in their lives however they could have him.
Michael Edward grew up, and had a scholarship to anywhere he wanted to go. He became a pediatrician and married the love of his life when he was 24. They had two daughters and a son.
He, at the time of the final epilogue, was still alive and doing well. He also didn't question Edward's existence...so that he could have him in his life.