A/N: Has it really been over five months since I've posted? Here is the final post for High Noon - Felix's POV for chapters 35-36.
Renata and I came to a stop just behind Aro as soon as we stepped into the room. It was obvious that something was up. Everyone was assembled. Everyone. The guards lined the walls as if waiting for something important to begin. Then I caught sight of the tiny new guard standing frozen next to Alec. I recognized her as the psychic from the Cullen coven, yet she was wearing a cloak of the darkest gray - equal to Jane and Alec. If it were anyone else, I might have suspected that the guard was assembled to witness her induction ceremony, but I knew that none of the Cullens would be willing to join us. It was too early. Aro's plan had not yet had time to secure their trust. Her absolute stillness and unfocused eyes tipped me off that she was probably under Alec's power; while stillness was the natural state of our kind, she was the only one in the room whose eyes were not on Aro as we entered. She continued staring straight ahead as though she was unaware that we had entered, and Alec remained at her side rather than taking his place by Aro's throne.
"I see you have not been idle while I was away," Aro observed calmly, carefully taking in the room. He seemed cautious but hopeful. "What is the meaning of this?"
Caius offered his hand, smiling widely in his eagerness to share his news.
Aro's face betrayed no hint of his reaction. He took his seat on his throne and remained silent for several seconds.
"Are you not pleased?" Caius asked, impatient for a reaction.
"Why was I not consulted?" Aro asked in a quiet voice. Only those of us closest to him could hear, but we gave no indication that we were overhearing.
"That would have spoiled the surprise, my dear brother!" Caius exclaimed. "I thought you would welcome the good news."
"This does negate the plans we agreed to earlier," Aro said. "But it is done. Let us see what we can make of this situation."
"Shall we send for the rest of the Cullens now?" Caius asked. He said it as though he could retrieve them easily, and I wondered what he was planning.
"I would like a moment to ponder the possibilities," Aro answered.
Caius appeared pleased with this response. I watched the psychic out of the corner of my eye, but she did not move. I wondered how well her psychic abilities really worked, considering that she had effectively allowed herself to be entrapped by Alec's power.
"Felix!" Aro commanded after a few minutes. "You will go to the lobby and inform the Cullens and their witnesses that we will see them now. Ensure that their sixteen canine friends do not accompany them."
"Yes, Master," I answered automatically. So the Cullens were already here. I headed for the elevator, wondering how I, alone, would be able to stop the wolves should they decide they wanted to visit. I felt certain I could handle two or three of them with no problem, but not if I had to go through the entire Cullen coven to do it.
I descended to the lobby, wondering if they might have brought all of the witnesses who had stood with them before.
"Welcome to Volterra," I said, stepping out as the door opened. I was both relieved and concerned to see that there were only two wolves present, and thankfully they seemed content to remain where they were.
I watched as the group entered the elevator. Carlisle nodded in greeting as he passed by me. He was no stranger here. I had been acquainted with him during the time that he had lived here as an honored guest of my masters. In many ways, it seemed like such a short time ago. I never knew him well, but I had a certain respect for the strange vampire who had fascinated both Aro and Caius. I recognized the inner strength it must take for him to deny his nature even in the face of extreme temptation; I had personally witnessed Aro present him with humans with open wounds when he had not hunted in weeks, in an effort to get him to accept a normal diet, and he had resisted. Ironically, I now shared his bizarre diet, although reluctantly. I failed to see the appeal, but I complied in order to assist Aro with his plan to restore a more amicable relationship with Carlisle. I marveled at Aro's brilliance; only he would have the foresight and patience to develop such a plan, one that would turn our biggest enemy into an ally. I suspected that Caius's surprise had just rendered our years of sacrifice irrelevant, but Aro would find a way to salvage the situation.
Once they were all inside the elevator, I realized I needed to find out why there were only two wolves. I pressed the button to hold it in place and went over to talk to Ariana. I didn't have to wonder how she felt about being left alone with the two foul creatures who were obviously trying not to look intimidating, albeit rather unsuccessfully.
"You don't mind the dogs waiting in here, do you?" I asked her.
The human looked up and shrugged, trying to look brave, and told me, "They seem harmless enough."
I laughed; she had no idea that they were reportedly capable of killing vampires. "Where are the rest of them?" I asked.
She looked confused, and her heart rate accelerated. "There were just the two. I haven't seen any others."
"I mean the sixteen who were planning to wait here," I clarified. Aro had said there were sixteen.
"Oh. The human men all left right before the two dogs showed up," she said, biting her lip and quivering slightly. "Should I have tried to keep them here?"
That was all I needed to know. Fourteen of them had shifted to human form and left the lobby. I wondered where they went. There was no way they had gotten further inside the complex without tripping one of the alarms. I stepped back onto the elevator and closed the door, pressing the button for the top floor.
"They weren't happy that we decided to leave them in the lobby," one of the Cullens said. "Most of them went back to their hotel."
I looked over to see who was speaking, and I recognized the mind reader, Edward. I knew Aro liked him, but I wasn't sure I trusted him. He might not be able to lie to Aro, but he was very capable of lying to me.
I led them into the throne room and resumed my post near Aro. The psychic looked up at us as we entered; she was no longer under Alec's control. Still, she stood there willingly. Perhaps she finally recognized the prestige that Caius offered her; my masters were very selective as to whom they allowed into their elite guard. Personally, I coveted the dark cloak that she wore. While I was nearly always selected to accompany the elite on assignments, I had never been officially granted admittance into the privileged group.
I watched the proceedings, eager to see how Aro would salvage his plan for an alliance.
Aro denied that we were holding the psychic captive and declared that she was free to go. Of course; it was that simple. Just give them what they want and allow them to leave. In time, we could resume our efforts to gain their trust.
Caius seemed displeased but managed to hold his tongue. But what really surprised me was that the small vampire declared that she wanted to stay, even telling her mate that she did not want him with her. Apparently Alec's efforts had been unnecessary; she really was here of her own volition. She wanted to leave her coven.
Aro once again offered the mind reader a place in the guard, and this time he accepted. I wondered briefly if it might be part of a ruse to infiltrate us and "rescue" their psychic, but of course Aro could easily determine if that were the case. But something seemed off; he was trying to assure his fellow coven members that he wanted to join, but he was also showing signs of duress. Perhaps he was struggling with leaving his mate behind, but that was unnecessary - we would have been happy to welcome her into our ranks as well.
A vampire I had never encountered before entered and introduced himself as "Eli." I couldn't figure out where he had come from – how had he gotten up here without the elevator? I would have heard it arrive if he had used it, not to mention that there was no way he could have gotten past our security without alerting us. Maybe he had a talent that allowed him to avoid detection – had he somehow accompanied us on the way up without my notice?
The newcomer began accusing Aro of killing Marcus's mate. It seemed such an odd accusation! How did he even know Didyme's name? Our leaders never discussed anything about their mates with outsiders. Their mates were highly protected; none of them would ever consider harming another's mate. It was unthinkable. Didyme's death had occurred before my time, but I had heard on numerous occasions the fondness in Aro's voice when he would speak of his sister. I could not believe he would have harmed her. And as Aro pointed out, what motive could he have had to do such a thing?
Aro reached out to Marcus, as he often did, to allow Marcus to share his thoughts.
Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. Marcus was attacking Aro! The impossibility of what I was seeing left me stunned and frozen as Marcus performed the fastest disassembly and disposal I had ever witnessed. I yearned to rush to his aid, but there was simply no time to intervene. By the time I fully registered what was happening, the fire was already being lit. For a few brief seconds, I grieved deeply at the loss of my wise and respected leader. How would I go on without him? The man I had idolized for centuries was breathing his last breath. His final wail of agony was almost more than I could bear. How could Marcus have believed such nonsense, especially when it was being spoken by an ally of this enemy coven? If only there had been time for me to protect him! I would gladly have died in his place.
Before anyone could stop her, Sulpicia ran forward and attacked the visiting coven. It was clear that she no longer wished to live, but her death was still difficult for me to accept. I had served her as well as Aro faithfully for centuries. To see them both go up in smoke in a matter of seconds was simply unfathomable.
But as their remains were reduced to ashes, I began to feel confused. It was as if a fog was descending upon me - or perhaps the fog was being lifted - but my thoughts were shifting. I had been horrified at the sight of Marcus destroying Aro, but once my master was gone, I was confused as to why I didn't feel a greater sense of loss. I still felt a certain fondness and respect for Aro, and it was regretful that he had been killed, but somehow I no longer felt the same level of devotion that I had possessed for the last several centuries. His death was not the end of the world, as it had first seemed.
When Marcus finally spoke, he accused Aro of having killed Didyme in order to keep Marcus's talent for use in battle. I knew Marcus's talent was discerning relationships among people, and while I could see how this might be advantageous in any confrontation, the accusation still did not make sense to me. Other talents such as Jane's and Alec's were obviously more powerful. Then again, Marcus was around then, and I was not. And he seemed to speak with great certainty. Could it be true? Could Aro have killed his own beloved sister to keep Marcus's talent around? A few minutes earlier, I would never have even considered the possibility, but perhaps Marcus knew my former master better than I did. Even Caius seemed to believe him!
Sulpicia had obviously been trying to commit suicide when she had thrown herself at the enemy, and I was certain that Caius had seen it as well. She had no desire to live without Aro. Yet Caius gave the signal for us to advance upon our opponents.
Automatically, I took a step forward. We had practiced this drill so many thousands of times. We moved as one unit, silently and in perfect synchronization. Our opponents were outnumbered, and we had them surrounded. Alec, Jane, and the other elite guards remained on the sidelines; they would not be needed. Even with our most formidable talents rendered useless, the Cullens didn't stand a chance.
"You don't have to do this," a voice said, breaking the silence. It was one of the Cullens – the mind reader. "He's using you. He knows most of you will be killed. Do you realize how easily you are replaced?"
Most of us would be killed? Was he delusional? We had them severely outnumbered. Did he not see us advancing upon them? It was a plea of desperation.
Without warning the missing wolves came bounding in through the food service tunnel. I counted sixteen – so this was all of them. The first one went straight for Caius, who was sitting on his throne, but of course he was diverted by Renata. They were a distraction, but we could handle them. As the wolves began to encircle us, I flashed a brief hand signal, and the junior guard members all shifted formation to face the new threat.
A large number of the wolves suddenly dropped to the ground as if Jane were punishing them, but I had never seen her incapacitate more than one target at a time. Had her power grown? Was Bella unable to shield them? Was something about Bella's shield causing Jane's power to be distributed to more targets? The howls grated on my ears, but I had no time to continue thinking on it. There was work to be done.
The largest Cullen had his eyes set on me, and he looked eager for a fight. I was happy to oblige. But just as I was about to grab his arm to rip it from its socket, the room was suddenly empty! An invisible force grabbed my leg, and I felt myself hit the floor, but my vision did not shift from my previous standing position. I realized finally that I was trapped in an illusion. My opponents were still all around me, but I could not see them! But why weren't they finishing me off?
Suddenly, the illusion ended, and I rolled to avoid an attack from the blonde female Cullen. I could see Santiago staggering about, attacking an invisible enemy, while our real opponents fought other guard members right next to him. Santiago was vulnerable, but the Cullens were still too busy fighting the rest of our number to divert any resources to kill him. That explained why I was still alive as well – they were incapacitating us just long enough to hold us off while they dealt with other, less experienced guard members. They were reducing our numbers!
And in a battle where our numbers were our only advantage, that was a very bad thing. Even Santiago and I, the strongest fighters, were being rendered useless by the disorienting illusions which kept overcoming us. Every time reality returned, there were more limbs on the floor, and the acrid smell of the purple smoke had grown stronger. Caius was still sitting casually on his throne, smiling in anticipation, eager for more action. Aro's ashes were still smoldering, and Caius's only concern was to start a war that was already decimating the guard.
A horrible stench - which had to be coming from the wolves - had filled the air, but all of Carlisle's forces were still standing. All of them! They were using their talents against us, while ours were all useless against them. Even Jane's talent against the wolves was no longer working. She must have gotten lucky the first time and got them before Bella had her shield extended over them.
One of the wolves lunged at me, its fangs bared. I turned sharply, hitting it in the nose with my elbow, and it paused for a moment, seeming stunned, and then it chose a new target. This was very fortunate for me, as I found myself inside yet another illusion. This time, I was back in the Olympic forest, on Cullen territory, and Alec's mist was revealing the boundaries of Bella's immense shield.
I had been fascinated by Bella since the first time I had seen her, the feeble human that Carlisle's creation had chosen as a mate despite the way her blood sang to him. I had been astounded when that "feeble human" had been able to withstand Jane's fire without even realizing what she was doing. At our most recent encounter, the one I was temporarily immersed in again, I had been stunned by her beauty as an immortal. It had seemed such a shame that her coven was about to be sentenced to death. And when Alec's mist hovered around the outside of her shield, unable to seep through, I easily saw why Aro would desire so strongly to have her on our side during any battle. But the Cullens had not been guilty of the charges against them, and we had walked away from that confrontation. Why did we fight them now? Because of Sulpicia's suicide?
There was a sudden, searing pain in my arm, accompanied by a screech which was much too close for comfort, and I surfaced into reality again just in time to see the wolf that had bitten off my forearm. Jerome went after him, and I dove after my arm which had landed just inches from the pyre. It had been nearly six hundred years since I had sustained such an injury, but I knew well how to reattach it. Scrambling back away from the physical flames, I steeled myself for the fire I would feel as I let the venom do its job repairing the damage. I touched the end of the dismembered arm to the open wound where it had been severed, and immediately I could feel the bones and muscles reattaching themselves. It was every bit as painful as the injury itself, but I did not have time to dwell on my own pain.
I was dismayed to see that not only were our numbers still decreasing, but that most of the elite guard members were now engaged in physical combat. Although technically we still held a slight advantage in number, the situation was dire.
Caius was barking orders at me, but before I could try to carry them out, the illusion-maker blinded me once more. Initially there was black nothingness, and then I was placed in the center of a busy intersection of some nameless city with the sun directly above me in the cloudless sky. The sight of the natural light hitting my skin and casting rainbows everywhere left me feeling so exposed; surely I would be executed for allowing so many humans to see my true nature. No. It wasn't real. I had to keep reminding myself of that. Even without being able to see what was happening around me, I could still hear the unmistakable sound of dismemberment and I had no doubt as to which side was losing. Our numbers must be nearly evenly matched with our opponents by now; soon their fighters would be free from fighting the inexperienced ones and would turn their energies toward me in earnest. I could not go down without a fight. I swung wildly at my invisible enemy, and my fist finally connected with something solid. But was it one of the enemy, or was I fighting my own men? Did it even matter?
I considered what I knew of our opponents and their leader. I knew Carlisle to be an honorable man. When I had accompanied the guard to destroy his coven ten years earlier, I had done so thinking that Carlisle was guilty of creating an immortal child; I had trusted that Aro would never destroy his old friend without an extremely good reason. But Carlisle had been proven innocent, and some of those present had made a compelling argument that the Volturi's motives were not sincere. I had dismissed those charges easily at the time, blindly trusting in Aro's judgment, but as I fought against Carlisle's friends, I found myself turning these things around in my mind, and I was beginning to doubt Aro's motives. Caius's motives I was even less sure about.
For the first time, I began to consider whether I was on the right side of this battle. If I survived, Caius would rule alone. Marcus would probably be demoted and become a member of the guard; an elite member, perhaps, with one of the darker cloaks, but he was not likely to continue ruling equally with Caius. Caius was too hungry for power. How had I never seen that before?
With Caius in charge, without Aro to restrain him, we would likely be going on more expeditions to seek out covens to be "punished" - covens which, I had begun to realize, were in some cases not even breaking the rules. Caius was willing to fabricate charges to feed his bloodlust and alleviate his boredom. Carlisle would be a much fairer and more level-headed leader – he would be more like Aro. A vampire world ruled by Carlisle might require me to continue the ridiculous vegetarian diet indefinitely, but life would remain civilized and orderly, and my master would be honorable. I would be willing to serve such a master.
As I surfaced from the illusion of the sunlit intersection, I saw Santiago about to attack the mind reader. Edward – that was his name. I knew most of their names, actually, but I realized I had been avoiding thinking of them as people; it was easier to see them as targets that way. Edward did not seem to notice Santiago; he was busy repeating Carlisle's offer of amnesty for all who would stop fighting. Caius's familiar voice reached me through the roar of the battle, carrying chastisement and derision for having stood there, unmoving for the most part, as I had waited for the sunny illusion to cease.
It was then that I made my decision. I intercepted Santiago and threw him aside before the mind reader even noticed the threat.
"Shield Felix!" he shouted suddenly. Apparently he had noticed. I felt reassured that I had made the right decision; they were honoring their promise to protect those who did not fight against them. Caius or even Aro would never have made such an allowance... Unless, perhaps, if the one surrendering possessed a sufficiently desirable gift. I caught sight of Jane and saw that she was staring daggers at me, but the burning never started.
As I sparred with Santiago, I quietly urged him to join me, but he adamantly refused. When he suddenly lost his fighting skills and began swinging about wildly, I knew what I had to do. He had never been my favorite person; he had always resented me because when I joined the guard I had replaced him as the strongest fighter, and in some ways we had always seen one another as rivals, but it still pained me to have to destroy him. He could have been a good ally if I had been able to make him see reason.
I moved on, carefully targeting the strongest guards - the ones the Cullens would have the most difficulty defeating on their own. Jerome was next, even though he had saved me from the wolf just moments earlier. He had become one of Caius's favorites, and he was an excellent fighter - I had taught him myself. As with Santiago, I tried to persuade him to switch sides, but he was loyal to Caius to the end. I was grateful that the illusion-maker didn't help me with that battle; I didn't need the assistance, and Jerome deserved a fair fight.
I felt terrible for Heidi, who was being torn apart by the blonde and the earth-mover. She had been one of my favorites. I was thankful that I didn't have to be the one to destroy her. I noticed that Alec and Jane were gone as well. That was good; we were making serious progress. I would not miss either of them.
I approached a cluster of three two-year-olds who had been simply watching as I destroyed Jerome. They eyed me with confusion and did not appear eager to fight.
"Felix, did you really change sides?" one of them asked.
"Yes, and you should, too," I told them. "Come on, join the winning side."
"Caius will have us destroyed!" the second one said. He was actually trembling in fear.
"I don't think Caius will be around much longer," I said. "And if you don't surrender, I'll have to destroy you right now."
"Just tell us how," the third one said.
Edward called for Carlisle, who came and led them to protection in the inner circle. Those three were useless as fighters; I had no idea how they were even still alive.
A new scent filled the air, one that I did not recognize, and I quickly saw that it was coming from one of Joham's daughters. One of the remaining guards, an eight-year-old named Christopher, had defeated her. Her bright red blood oozed out across the floor, but the scent held no appeal for any of us. Her two sisters then tried to attack Christopher, but they both appeared too grief-stricken to fight effectively. I was about to intervene when three wolves joined forces to tear Christopher apart.
My heart went out to Renata as the big black wolf attacked her shield once more. I was sure she was finished this time, since the wolves were obviously shielded now, considering that Jane had not been able to affect them a second time. But when the wolf charged at her, somehow her shield seemed to still be protecting her though it was not working in its normal fashion. Instead of the wolf being redirected as it approached, it seemed to push her and the shield backward, along with all those she was shielding. She looked terrified; she was not a fighter. Why didn't she just surrender! We had grown rather close while serving Aro during his tenure at the museum, and I wished fervently that she would decide to join us.
I listened with fascination as the half-human, half-vampire child wanted to try to take on Renata. Even though we all knew she could get through the shield, the others wouldn't let her try. I had trouble understanding why they stopped her, as even a half-vampire would have probably been able to disable Renata easily. But it was just as well, since I was still holding out hope that Renata might be spared.
I was in the process of decapitating Greta, one of Caius's favorites who not only rejected my pleas to surrender but had dared to pick a fight with me, when I saw something I couldn't explain. Three of the pairs fighting one another nearby suddenly stopped fighting and staggered away with confused expressions. Were they all surrendering simultaneously? Were they being sent illusions, as I had been? But why? The only person in that part of the room who was still moving purposefully was one of the late arrivals – one of the two who had slipped in after the battle had begun. I didn't know his name, but he had been fighting alongside the Cullens – obviously an ally. He wore a cocky smile as he walked through the middle of the battle, clearing a path as he went. Everyone within about three meters of him as he passed by stopped fighting and stepped aside or changed direction. It was kind of like when someone tried to approach Renata – they would find themselves inexplicably going in another direction. This guy seemed to be heading straight for various people – both Cullens and guard members – and without fail, the person he was approaching would skitter away.
"Master, my shield is gone," Renata announced. I had never heard such terror in her voice.
I saw instantly what had happened – the newcomer had somehow stolen her shield! Such a talent could have earned him great prestige in the guard. I wondered if he could have taken Jane's talent, or Alec's. And I was confused as to why he hadn't done so if he was capable of it. The Cullens could have destroyed us without a battle. Had Aro known of this? Was this his true reason for fearing the Cullens? No wonder he had wanted to repair relations with them.
The end came very quickly. Caius and Corin, in a final desperate act, took a flying leap toward the center of the battle. They were obviously attempting to reach the inner circle and Bella, but they were intercepted in midair by the mind reader and the psychic. Oddly, they did not tear into him but merely threw him off to the side. For a split second, I wondered if they had plans to let them live; for Caius, being dethroned and adapting to a "normal" vampire lifestyle might be a fate worse than death. However, the leader of the Denali coven had her own plans for him. Before he even hit the floor, she had ripped off his arms, and it was suddenly clear to me that Edward was allowing her to do the honors; it was a member of her coven who Aro had made an example of ten years earlier. The one who had destroyed Sulpicia helped hold him down as Tanya finished him off. She was obviously relishing her revenge, and she did not have the control to slow down in order to prolong his pain. She was literally shredding his body with her nails, working her way up to the head which she saved for last, but the entire process lasted only a few seconds.
Two of the wolves carried his remains to the fire, and the powerful Volturi leader was history. It was the end of an era. I felt relief that he was finally destroyed, yet I also felt a twinge of guilt at my betrayal. I had served here loyally for centuries. But I should focus on being of use to my new masters.
Corin was still trying to protect Athenodora. Couldn't she see the battle was over? She should have put herself at the mercy of the Cullens. I turned my head as they ripped her apart. I had never spent any time with her, as she was always in the wives' quarters, but I couldn't imagine she could have posed any real threat; I was sure she would have been spared if she would have simply stopped fighting. As soon as Corin was gone, Athenodora predictably threw herself at the nearest wolf – the big black one. I couldn't bear to watch.
Renata! No! Not little Renata! The black wolf was heading for her! There would be no point to her death; she was no longer shielding anyone, and she couldn't fight. In the split second as I weighed whether I was willing to place myself between her and the wolf, Edward called the wolf off. So the wolves were under the control of the Cullens. The wolf sounded distinctly unhappy at not being permitted to finish off his target. The Cullens had proved themselves honorable once again in sparing one who posed no threat.
Marcus seemed to have somehow escaped notice thus far simply by remaining seated on the floor just beyond the perimeter of the battle. He complied with Edward's request to order the remainder of the guard to stand down. I wondered if he would be allowed to live.
The surviving guard members stood around, confused and terrified. No one had expected this. The situation was completely unprecedented; the Volturi had never lost before. They were now leaderless, except for Marcus, and even the youngest guards had seen enough to know that Caius and Aro had been the true leaders. Would the Cullens really spare all of the survivors?
For the moment, the Cullens seemed to have no concern for the former Volturi guard members. They all darted about, checking on their loved ones and tending to their wounded. Their casualties had been excessively light – they had lost one hybrid and one wolf, and there were only two with what appeared to be significant injuries. The few vampires who had been injured had managed to salvage and reattach their own severed body parts, as I had also done. Despite having been severely outnumbered, the Cullens had truly had the advantage in this battle. They had all of their talents at their disposal, while all of the Volturi's were rendered useless. How had I not anticipated that in the beginning?
I wasn't sure what I should do. The guard members who remained were mainly the newer ones, the ones who had never met the Cullens. They had been groomed by Aro and Caius to see the Cullens as a dangerous enemy, one which wished to destroy us. They were obviously terrified and very confused. Some of them stood ready to attack again, seeming unsure if the battle was really over. Surrender was unheard of, and they weren't sure what to make of the current situation. I wasn't quite sure either, but someone needed to round them up and calm them down. As Edward went over to check on one of the injured, I wondered if he would hear me if I thought something at him. "Edward! Should I move the guard off to the side and try to calm them?"
I didn't think it had worked, but then he looked back over his shoulder, briefly made eye contact with me, and nodded.
I began directing the guard members over to the east wall. Some of them hesitated, but I did not meet any real resistance. Most of them had been taking orders from me since they first woke to this life. And they also knew that I could and would destroy them if necessary.
The Cullen with all the battle scars, Jasper, came over and stood next to me. At first I wasn't sure he knew I had Edward's approval to be taking charge of the others, but he didn't question me. He just stood there as if backing me up. It was difficult not to stare at him; he had more scars that anyone I had ever seen. There were several fresh bite marks along his arms, and his clothing was ripped in several places.
I motioned to the three youngest ones – the ones who had surrendered before the battle was over – and indicated they should join the rest of us. After several seconds, they finally stopped trembling enough to stand up and join us. Aro had told me that Jasper could influence emotions; I suspected that those three had been subjected to his talent because their level of terror simply wasn't normal. Perhaps he was helping to calm them now.
Renata didn't seem to notice that the rest of us had moved over to one side. She was staring, perplexed, as Carlisle moved his hands over one of the injured hybrids. I approached her, ready to lead her over to the others. I could smell the hybrid's blood; the scent was pleasant but unappetizing. Suddenly, I realized that I had become distracted from my task – Renata's shield must have started working again. I turned to face her again, this time keeping my distance.
"I'd much rather be in there with you," I whispered.
This brought a smile to her face, and she looked up at me; for a moment, things felt normal again.
She stepped over to me, reached up to place her hand on my arm, and asked softly, "What do you think they're going to do with us?"
"I have no idea," I told her as I led her over to where the others were standing. "I'm sure we'll find out in a few minutes."
"Why are you lining everyone up against this wall?"
"Just trying to maintain order until we get our instructions."
She nodded nervously, and we leaned back against the wall together. She slipped her small hand into mine, something she had never done before, and I gave her a reassuring squeeze. Jasper still hovered nearby but did not seem to be paying any particular attention to our conversation.
We watched with interest as Edward went over to Marcus. Was it time for him to be executed? He had not fought the Cullens, so perhaps he would be spared even though he had been one of the leaders. And it seemed they were only talking. I could not make out what was being said, but I suspected they might be discussing what Marcus's role would be in the new order. When they finished talking, they continued staring at one another for a few seconds, and then Marcus turned toward Carlisle and bowed down, placing his hands on the floor and assuming a posture indicating full submission – head down and neck bared.
So I was initially shocked when Edward attacked him from behind. Why would he do that after securing Marcus's complete surrender? Renata gasped, and the others started talking amongst themselves. The three who had been trembling earlier were shouting in fear, certain we would be next. Could they be right?
Edward's family appeared surprised at his actions as well. He was saying something to them, but I could not make out what it was. The sounds of panic began to escalate as another of the Cullens approached us. It was Eli, the one who had made the accusation against Aro. What did he want with us?
I felt a great calm come over me as he began to speak, and I glanced over at Jasper. He was most certainly responsible for that.
"We have no plans to destroy any of you," Eli assured us. "The Cullens are only interested in defending themselves, so as long as you don't provoke them, you'll all be fine."
But what about Marcus, I wondered. What was Edward's motivation for killing him?
"Marcus begged Edward for death," Eli said. "He lost his desire to live when he lost Didyme. Edward was showing him mercy."
I turned his words around in my head, and I decided they made perfect sense. Marcus had never been interested in ruling, and without Aro or Caius around to keep him company, his life would have been completely empty. And it had been obvious in all the centuries I'd known him that he was still in mourning for the one he had loved. Yes, Marcus would have welcomed death.
The Cullens continued tending to their wounded, and the mated pairs were engaging in small, personal celebrations of victory. The wolves had all reverted to human form. Apparently the cloth that had been tied to their ankles was their human clothing. They still had a revolting smell, but they looked much less intimidating as humans. I was shocked when one of them went over to Edward and Bella's hybrid daughter and kissed her – and neither of her parents paid any attention! They allowed this? I continued watching their interactions and concluded that they were indeed aware of this romantic relationship and apparently approved of it. But this made no sense if the wolves were under their control. They seemed to be treating them as equals.
After some time, Carlisle, Edward, Bella, and several of the others approached us. It was time to find out what they would do with us.
Carlisle singled me out, thanking me for my assistance, and asking me what caused me to switch sides. The question caught me off guard; I hadn't had time to think through my reasoning, and I wasn't sure I had an answer. I stumbled through an explanation as best as I could, and then Edward informed me Aro's death had severed the ties that Chelsea had created to bond me to Aro. I turned the idea around in my mind and concluded that it made sense. I had been aware that Chelsea could strengthen the bonds of relationships, but I had never considered the extent to which she held all of us together. The odd feeling I had experienced upon Aro's death was the severing of those bonds – yes, that made sense.
I then found the words to articulate what I had been thinking when I switched sides – without Aro, Caius would have ruled alone, and I had not found that desirable. Further, I recognized that Carlisle was a more worthy leader.
Edward then informed me that Carlisle was not my master, and when I began to wonder whether Edward was the true coven leader, he insisted that he was not my master either. He went on to say that they planned to let us each go our own way. It made no sense. Why would they just let us go?
The discussion was interrupted by a bizarre visit from the two remaining Romanians. Apparently they were behind all of this – in a convoluted, roundabout sort of way.
I continued to ponder what I would do if the Cullens really let us go. Where would I go? And with whom? I had never been on my own. Even as a human, I had served the royalty of my day. Aro had hand-picked me from among my peers in the Praetorian Guard, and I had served him faithfully for centuries. I had never had any desire or inclination to strike out on my own. The idea was foreign to me.
I was distracted from my thoughts as an altercation broke out – some of the Cullens were attacking the Romanians, while others were attempting to restrain their own people. I considered briefly whether I should help, but Carlisle and Edward were both trying to stop the attack and were already beginning to bring things under control, so I remained where I was.
Order was soon restored, and I listened with great interest as Carlisle and Jasper outlined their plan to appoint a council to continue enforcing the non-exposure rule. They intended to offer violators second chances, and punishments for repeat offenders would be handled by the wolves. The enforcement procedure, while much more lenient than I was accustomed, was logical.
"Would this council maintain a presence here in Volterra?" I asked. Perhaps they would want to make use of the Volturi compound. Perhaps they might even allow the guard to remain, and we continue to serve as we did with the Volturi.
"I don't think that would be necessary," Jasper answered, dashing my hopes. "But that decision could be left up to the council once it is appointed. I suppose there could be certain logistical benefits since the compound is already set up."
So there was still a possibility. But would they even need the guard?
"What will become of the guard?" I asked. "Will we be required to disperse?"
"Is that what has them all so worried?" Jasper asked, glancing at the guard members behind me.
"Most of us lived and worked here even as humans," one of the guards said. "I would like to remain here if it is permitted."
"It would be easier for us to avoid exposure if we could stay in Volterra," another said, and several others agreed.
"I've been helping enforce the non-exposure rule for centuries," I said. "I would like to continue in that role if I could be of use to you."
It had not occurred to them that most of us would want to remain here, and they seemed to be considering it. Growing hopeful, I explained that most of the surviving guard members were young and have never known life outside the guard; they had desired this role even as humans. And as the Cullens well knew, change was not an easy thing for vampires.
They left the possibility open but did not give an immediate answer, and their conversation turned to the formation of the council.
I found it very odd that no one was stepping up to volunteer for the council positions. I found it especially odd that Carlisle – the leader of the coven who just defeated the Volturi - did not automatically place himself on the council, and even declined after being nominated. His explanation was logical, but it seemed he truly didn't desire power. I was becoming even more convinced that Aro had been mistaken about the danger he had felt his old friend represented.
After some prompting, Eli accepted a nomination, and then one named Siobhan who I had never met except for the brief encounter with the Cullens ten years ago – she had been present as one of their witnesses.
When Eleazar was nominated for the final position, I had mixed feelings. We had once been friends, but he had turned his back on the Volturi long ago. Would he be supportive of keeping the guard around under the current circumstances? And as for his presence putting the guard at ease, that didn't make much sense considering that Renata and I were the only two who had been around when Eleazar was in the guard. The current lot was practically all brand new and did not know him.
"I nominate Felix." The words were spoken by Edward, and they elicited an immediate response of incredulity from everyone in the room – including me. He couldn't be serious.
"Me?" I asked. Was he just testing my reaction? There was no way they would elevate me to a council position. I was practically their prisoner. Why would they put me in charge?
"Zafrina had a good point," Edward said. "We do need someone who can work with the guard members who choose to remain here and assist us. They already know Felix and respect him. He provided much of their training. And he's not exactly one of Carlisle's long-time friends, so that should help eliminate any suspicion from others that our family is trying to take over."
"But he's a vegetarian," said the one who had stolen Renata's shield, "That would make two on the council."
"I don't think he's planning to continue the diet," Eli told him. "Are you?" he asked, turning to me.
"No, I don't think so," I told them, deciding quickly to be honest though I knew it was not what the Cullens would want to hear; Edward would know my true thoughts anyway. "I was only doing that for Aro. And I wasn't very good at it."
"Would you be willing to serve on the council, Felix?" Carlisle asked me.
"I've never been in a leadership position before," I pointed out, still in disbelief that they were even considering this.
"Sure you have," Edward told me. "You've been leading the guard for centuries. Aro just didn't want you to realize how much control you had. That's why he never allowed you to wear a darker cloak."
It was true that I had been in charge of all the training. Jane led when we went on expeditions without our masters, but in routine, day-to-day matters, I did shoulder the responsibility for keeping the guard in order. Apparently this was their reason for placing me on the council – to continue my previous role of keeping the guard in order. It was exactly what I had been hoping for! But would they really allow me such a prestigious position?
"I'd be willing to do it," I told them, "but I find it hard to believe that any of you would trust me that much."
Edward, Eli, and the one with a gift for discerning honesty vouched for me, and based on their approval, the others all accepted me as well. It seemed too good to be true.
Carlisle asked once more if there were any objections to Eli, Siobhan, and me comprising the first council, and then he declared it to be official. I was a council member!
Eli and Siobhan moved to the center of the room, and I followed them, taking their cue.
We then interviewed each guard member, giving each the option of striking out on their own if they would agree to uphold the non-exposure rule, and asking questions to determine whether any of them might be planning to cause problems for the new council. Siobhan was asking most of the questions, but she kept looking at Eli to evaluate their responses. I wondered why she seemed so dependent on his opinion.
When we came to Renata, she still seemed lost and confused.
"I'm not really sure what I want to do," she told us. "I think I might like to stay here at Volterra for a while until I decide. Would that be okay?"
"I think that will be fine," I told her, voicing my opinion first for once. I had mostly been deferring to Siobhan and Eli, but I knew Renata much better than I knew the younger guard members, and I had been hoping she would stay around. I turned to my fellow council members to make sure they weren't disagreeing.
"Sure, you're welcome to remain here as long as you want," Eli told her.
"You have a powerful talent," Siobhan told her, "but it is not an offensive one, so I don't see you as a threat. Even if you were to decide to shield our enemies at some point in the future, you're no threat to us as long as we have Jesse."
"I have no plans to shield anyone from you," Renata assured them.
"Do you have any ideas on where you might go if you decide to leave here?" Siobhan asked.
"I was thinking of trying to find my uncle, Luca. It's strange - I haven't seen him in centuries, but I suddenly miss him greatly."
"Luca is a vampire?" Eli asked.
"Yes. He is the one who changed me. But we really are related. Our family was always a mixture of vampires and humans. The Volturi allowed it under the conditions that the family maintained the secret."
"Very interesting," Eli said. "You were very tightly bound to Aro, and now that he's gone, your previous relationships are coming back to you."
"I suppose so," Renata agreed. "Makenna is part of our family also. I don't think she knows who I am, but I would like to meet her someday, especially if I can't find Luca."
"Makenna and Charles?" Siobhan asked.
Renata nodded. "I doubt they'd want a third person in their coven, but I'd still like to meet her. She may be in touch with others in our family – either human or vampire – and then I could try to meet them also." A look of doubt suddenly came over her face. "Would that be allowed?"
I turned to look at Eli and Siobhan.
"If the Volturi allowed it, they must be very good at keeping the secret," Eli said.
"If you sense any danger with the secret getting out beyond your family, will you trust us enough to let us help you contain it?" Siobhan asked Renata. "We would of course try to do so without harming anyone in your family."
Renata looked at me for reassurance.
"If they can trust me, I think we can trust them," I told her, feeling even more convinced of this myself as I voiced it out loud.
"Yes," Renata said, looking at Siobhan. "If there are any problems, I will certainly contact the council. I'm not planning to go looking for them immediately, though. I'm going to stay here a while first."
I found myself glad that she was remaining, at least for a while. She was the only other long-time guard member, and I would feel alone here if she left.
We then moved on to the rest of the young guards. Only three wanted to go off on their own and try life as nomads. After the interviews were complete, we gathered those three together and reviewed the reasons for the non-exposure rule and gave them advice on how to follow it. They were accustomed to having their meals delivered to them, but they would now need to obtain their own. Siobhan gave advice on how to select inconspicuous humans and hide remains, and Eli explained what he called the "vegetarian option." I had heard the animal blood diet called that before, but the term made no sense to me since no plant life was involved. Siobhan then gave tips on avoiding humans, so as not to be noticed by them at all, and Eli gave advice on how to blend in with them as the Cullens did. He pointed out that this could be done even without adopting the vegetarian diet, though he claimed it made it easier. The three were then allowed to leave.
Next, we talked about where the council members should reside while serving their term on the council, realizing that whatever decision we came to was likely to set the standard for future councils. After a brief discussion, we determined that we would each be free to live wherever we pleased during our service but would convene monthly in Volterra so as to be easily available to anyone who wished to contact us for assistance. I expressed my desire to continue residing in the current compound, and Eli and Siobhan both decided to remain as well, at least for the first few months while we continued to work out all the details. I suspected they also wished to keep a close eye on me, as well as the other former Volturi guard members, but this was understandable.
I was just beginning to give details on some of the new technology I had recently implemented for monitoring human communication when my phone rang. Predictably, it was Ariana.
"Felix?" she asked, her voice frantic. "My shift is ending, and Master Caius is not answering his phone. This has never happened before! Is something wrong?"
"Everything's fine," I assured her.
"Should I give my report to you instead?" she asked. "Can you relay it to him?"
"There's no report required today," I told her dismissively. "You can return to your quarters."
"Oh." She sounded confused. "I guess I'll just pass it along to Carol, then."
"Sure, that's fine," I told her before ending the call. What did I care if she gave her report to the human covering the next shift? But I should probably ask the others what they had planned for the humans. They might wish us to release them, or turn them, or dispose of them. And if we kept them, would the Cullens or the council want them to know that their previous bosses had been destroyed by their new bosses?
"This raises another question," I said, knowing Siobhan and Eli had been listening attentively to the entire call. "What is our policy on the humans that are employed here?"
"As far as I'm concerned, they can continue as before," Eli answered. "They seem to serve as a barrier between the human public and what really goes on in this building, and that's probably a good thing."
"How many of them are there?" Siobhan asked.
"Only four at the moment," I told them. I went on to clarify that only three of those knew the secret.
"Do you anticipate any problems with allowing them to remain in their current roles?" Siobhan asked, still directing her questions to me.
"No, I agree that they perform a necessary function," I said. "But I was wondering if we should introduce them to the new council. Do you want them to know that they have new bosses? Or should we try to give the appearance that nothing has changed, to make sure they'll go about their duties as before?"
"I think we should introduce ourselves," Eli said. "I don't think they'll give us any problems. The human we saw in the lobby was very eager to please, and she was a lot more comfortable talking to you than she was with talking to Caius."
This made no sense. That woman had never been comfortable around me. "What makes you say that?" I asked. "She was comfortable talking to me?"
"Relatively speaking, of course," Eli clarified. "She witnessed Caius having her best friend for breakfast a few months ago, so she was less comfortable with him."
I supposed that was an adequate explanation. I had never consumed any of the other employees in Ariana's presence. Of course, with the diet I'd been adhering to for Aro, and our extended absences while he worked as museum director, I hadn't had much opportunity for that lately. But how would Eli know all of this about the human?
"What exactly is your talent, anyway?" I asked him. "You judge comfort levels?" But Jasper had said Eli had a talent that could help ensure fair judgments, so this didn't quite make sense.
"No, I can scan others' thoughts and memories," he explained.
"Like Aro!" I exclaimed. No wonder Jasper suggested that Eli be on the council!
"Not exactly," Eli said. "But there are similarities. I can hear from a distance but I can't take memories instantly like Aro could."
"And Ariana was relatively comfortable talking to me?" I asked again. He had heard this in her thoughts? I thought she had always seemed appropriately terrified.
"She thinks you're quite handsome, and she loves it when you wink at her," he said, seeming to find it amusing.
"I'll never understand humans," I said, rolling my eyes in disdain. Those winks had been intended to intimidate her. But we needed to get back to the matter at hand. "So, Siobhan, do you agree that we should tell the humans about our new council?"
"Yes, I agree," she said. "We want them to trust us, so we should be honest with them about who's in charge. And it won't hurt them to know that we disposed of their previous employers – it's best if they remain fearful of us."
"Their reactions should be entertaining," Eli said, grinning eagerly. "I think we should try to keep those same three around for a while so that we can avoid having to hunt for replacements. But we won't tell them that. Like you said, it's best if they're afraid of us."
"They all work here in hopes of being 'promoted,'" I told them. "So if we're planning to leave them human, we should keep that quiet too."
"Agreed," Siobhan said.
"We can go introduce ourselves to them after we finish up here," I suggested.
The others agreed, and then we interviewed Jesse, the one who was able to take Renata's shield. Apparently he just realized the full extent of his power today, not having spent much time around talented vampires in the past. And he needed eye contact from his target in order to do it. It was a bit surprising that he would reveal this weakness, but with two mind readers in the room, I supposed he didn't have much choice but to be honest. We continued to question him and eventually determined him not to be a threat. He was then challenged to attempt stealing Edward's talent, and he was successful but seemed to be suffering from sensory overload and was not able to maintain it for long. And he was not able to steal Bella's; apparently her talent protected even itself. He was able to take Zafrina's and Eli's, but with both he required some training before he could begin to use them effectively.
No, it did not seem that this one would pose a threat to the council, for not only did he consider us allies, but the more useful gifts seemed to be difficult for him to manage. Besides, other than those still present in the room, the world's most powerful vampire gifts had just been destroyed. Aro, Jane, Alec, Demetri, Marcus, Heidi, Corin. It was still difficult for me to comprehend that they were truly gone. Suddenly, I remembered there were two who weren't accounted for! How had I missed it earlier?
"We forgot Chelsea and Afton!" I said, interrupting Eli. "They're on an extended leave. Aro sent them on an assignment, and they sent back word that they would not be returning for at least six more months."
Eli just smiled. "We've already talked to them," he said calmly.
"What?" I was completely confused.
"Their 'assignment' was to visit the Denali coven. While they were there, Eleazar convinced them of the truth about the Volturi. They aren't planning to return here. They've gone off on their own."
"Really?" I found this very surprising. "What, exactly, was the 'truth' that Eleazar shared with them?"
"He pointed out the pattern of how the covens who were 'punished' were always the ones which had a talented member, and how that talented member was always the one who was spared, and how it was always someone Eleazar had identified decades or centuries earlier as possessing a desirable talent. Eleazar just recognized the pattern himself fairly recently."
"And what did Chelsea say?" I asked. It was difficult for me to imagine her being so easily convinced.
"It took her a while to be convinced, but she decided to release her own bonds to the Volturi leaders so that she could be sure she was making an unbiased determination, and it was obvious to her after that. She was appalled at her own participation. She had, of course, been using her talent to get those talented coven members to join the guard. Afton was appalled as well."
It was difficult for me to believe this about Aro, but I had to admit to myself it was logical. Aro did always get excited about acquiring any new talent. And it was quite the coincidence that the talented vampires were always the ones found to be innocent of the crimes the rest of their coven had participated in. And I had not known that Eleazar had previously identified those same talents. "So you don't think the Chelsea or Afton present a threat?" I asked.
"Edward and I were both there," Eli said. "We heard their thoughts. They were sincere. They weren't brave enough to switch sides, but they were not planning to return to Volterra. Aro would have known he'd lost their loyalty, and he would have had them destroyed."
"Shouldn't we inform them of what has transpired?" I asked. "We could send –," I stopped suddenly, remembering Demetri was no longer an option.
"No, we can't send Demetri," Eli said with a chuckle. "Sorry. I hope he wasn't a close friend of yours."
"We had a good working relationship," I told him. "But no, we weren't close friends. Who killed him? I didn't see."
"Kate and Garrett ganged up on him," Siobhan said.
"He had no intentions of surrender," Eli added.
I nodded. Demetri and I had worked closely together for centuries, yet I felt no great loss at his death. Those bonds must have been largely artificial – the work of Chelsea.
"So is there any way of contacting them?" I asked. "Do you have any tracker friends?"
"Fernando can probably find them," Eli said. "He's not exactly a tracker, but he has a knack for accomplishing any goals he might have. We can ask him to relay the message if he runs across them."
The council discussions continued throughout the night, and eventually the Cullens and most of their friends left. The only ones who remained besides the council members and the former guard were Eli's mate, Tanya, and Siobhan's mate, Liam. It struck me that very few of the guard members had had mates – Chelsea and Afton were the only mated pair in Volterra other than the Volturi leaders and their wives. That was probably all Chelsea's doing – severing those potential bonds while binding us strongly to the leaders and giving us a sense of brotherhood with our fellow guard members. Perhaps it would be best if Chelsea didn't return.
I gave them a grand tour of the compound, and each of the two mated pairs chose a set of living quarters from among the ones that had become vacant.
Eventually, I went back to my own quarters. They were a welcome sight – unchanged, and still mine. So many of my peers were gone, having made the wrong choice in the battle. I had never considered how much things could change in such a short time; only hours ago, I was accompanying Aro back from the museum to receive the "good news" Caius claimed to have. Life at Volterra had been virtually unchanged throughout the seventeen-hundred-odd years I'd lived here. And today, in the blink of an eye, it had all changed. Our leaders, as well as nearly all of the elite guard, were destroyed. And yet, here I was, returning to my quarters unscathed. And not only that, but I was now in a position similar to that of the leaders who were just deposed. I was one of three council members in charge of enforcing the non-exposure rule. I most definitely never expected that to occur. I had never had any ambition for that – but perhaps that is precisely why the Cullens trusted me in the position. I had no desire to rule over anyone; I was very content merely to help maintain order – I thrived on order and routine.
As a vampire, any sort of change was an uncomfortable prospect for me. But Renata was still here, along with some of the older "new" guard members, and I would soon fall into a new routine. Siobhan and Eli seemed decent; maybe we could even be friends eventually. And without Chelsea around, perhaps I might someday find a mate.
Carlisle had proved to be honorable, as I had suspected, and their friends all seemed trustworthy as well. Aro, while I still felt a certain fondness for him, was not who I had thought he was. Caius did not deserve to lead alone, and Marcus had no will to live – much less a desire to actually lead. And had I continued fighting for the Volturi, there was no way I would have survived.
Yes, I had definitely made the right choice.
A/N: Another huge thanks to Kelsismom for beta reading this chapter and to Jessica314 for pre-reading!
I hope you will all check out my new Seth story! I am posting the prologue and first chapter today. It starts the day after High Noon chapter 36 ends, and it is told from the POV of the girl Seth imprints on. Edward, Bella, Jacob, and Renesmee are still around as supporting characters. This is not a story about the wolf pack but a story about a normal human girl - a Dartmouth student - falling in love with Seth, who has imprinted on her but is afraid to explain wolves and imprinting to her for fear of creeping her out. So for much of the story, the girl has no clue anything supernatural is going on around her. It will be much shorter than High Noon, and I will make a real effort post regularly this time. My plan is to post at least one chapter each week. Some of the early chapters are shorter and may be posted two at a time.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about my take on Felix, as well as any comments about High Noon in general. I still reply to all reviews to this story if you are signed in when you review such that I have a way to reply. It may take me days, weeks, or even months, but you will hear back from me. :) I'd love to know your favorite part of the story, your favorite line, etc. I'm happy to answer any questions, and I welcome criticism as well (please be specific so that I know what needs to be fixed or explained). A huge thanks to all of you for reading this massively long story!