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XXI

And They All Fell Down

I curled up next to the door, afraid of venturing further into the darkness, afraid of seeing things which weren't really there. My imagination shifted in the shadows, playing just out of reach.

"I don't want to die."

I clung to each word, the combination so heavy as it fell from my lips and tongue. My face flushed with heat, the kind of heat I remembered from my trip to Phoenix a few years ago. I would never forget the rush I felt below my skin when I stood in the sun, or the burn after long exposure.

I'd been exposed too long.

Sobs tickled my throat as they began to bubble from the weakest part of me as I held my sore arm to my chest and pressed my back against the door.

Lost. I'd never be found in such darkness. Hopeless. All of it. Useless.

I told myself to breathe, repeated it over and over again. Just breathe, just take a deep breath. Forget everything you saw.

But I couldn't forget Edward's face, or Aro's anger, or the way Royce almost...

I swallowed, feeling the rush in my throat, the hot and cold of panic and fear. The cold air raised my skin, and if I held my breath I could hear the groans and creaks of the house around and below, unnatural against the heavy quiet. It seemed like I'd been sitting there for hours.

I erupted into sharp gasps, the all-too-familiar edge of reality sinking into my chest, burying into my stomach.

"I don't want to die," I cried, and it echoed through my small surroundings and I knew, then, I was alone in that room. So incredibly alone.

A rhythm began to grow, faint at first, but the longer I held my breath, concentrated on the noise, the louder it grew. Footsteps. They stopped outside the door, and I prepared myself for who would be on the other side. I moved away as keys ground in the lock, popping the squeaky door open. For the second time that night he came for me. Edward. His bare skin had been covered with his traditional black on black suit, though his hair still appeared wrecked, possibly even more than before. His shadow moved over my shivering frame. "Come on," he said.

I stood and moved away from the deep shadows, walking with him to the empty throne room. He pointed to the steps in front of the large chairs, an indicator where I should sit. I did, cradling my arm, afraid of my shoulder popping out again. I cringed at that thought.

His eyes shifted between the chairs, contemplating, and instead of sitting on the right where he usually did, he sat in the largest, in the middle: Aro's seat. He gripped the decorative arms, his long, white fingers curling around the wooden, bowed flourishes as though to claim as he stared across the sea of sand tile. And he sat unmoving, never removing his intense gaze from the large, double doors as though expecting them to open.

He wore a strange grin that didn't even affect his lips. It was made with his eyes, a sly confidence. The silence unnerved me, perhaps because we were alone in such a large room. He didn't speak to me, and I said nothing to him.

Three knocks rapped against the entrance of the room.

"Enter!" he yelled, and it echoed.

They fell open, two dozen bodies shuffling inside. Jake and James walked between them with three guards on each of their arms. Jake's long, dark hair had been pulled away from his face, as usual, but it fell over his shoulder. His face was pushed to his collarbone, his eyes on the floor in front of him. James had been forced into the same position.

My pulse quickened. I felt I could rise without any fear or consequences. I wanted to finish what I started when I slammed James' car against a rock wall. I wanted them dead. Jake most of all.

Jasper led them, his straight expression changing when he looked at us. He stopped in front of the steps after taking a quick look around, his eyes narrowing at Edward. Did he see the strangeness I saw, the peculiar smirk on his face? "Did you inform Aro of our arrival?" he asked. "Is he coming?"

And with those words, Edward's face softened. The smile he'd held for minutes and the confidence in his posture dropped as he stood from Aro's throne. "Brothers," he said, "there's been a tragedy."

The declaration seemed solely meant for Jasper as Edward stepped down to the common floor, but whispers began to creep through the room. Voices of the creatures I often saw as silent faces were the only sound as words broke over the coven, gathered from their hunting party. Edward propped his hands behind his back as he settled in front of them.

When his shoes came together they all quieted and focused their attention to him, forgetting their words and conversations. "We have been deceived. All of us. Our good master has been murdered. Slain in his own chambers!"

"Who would kill our master?" one asked. "Who killed him? Show him to us! We shall burn him! This crime shall not go unpunished!" And the coven agreed.

"Brothers," Edward said over the noise, "the murderer has been caught in the act. I heard his thoughts. They alerted me to Aro's chamber. I knew the voice." Edward's once-still feet began to move. He paced in front of them. "I opened the door and found Emmett, fresh from killing. He plunged Aro's crown into his beloved hearth and his head lit up! He saw me there, his thoughts were wild with control and power, and those he served! Secret doors in his mind opened when he saw me." He nodded. Others nodded, too, agreeing. "He showed me why he did what he felt he had to, that traitor, that spy! It's no secret Emmett wallowed in flesh as well as blood. It's no secret that we turned our heads the other way because it was under our care, our supervision. This is why we've conjured here tonight! To trial those who trespass against us!"

Edward stepped behind Jake and James. "And now, it's no secret you do the same, but without our walls and records. Emmett was one of you. He took up your influence."

The guards allowed Jake to look up at Edward, so he could answer. "Emmett? One of us?" Jake said, his lips half-turned in smile, the other concern. "We barely knew that guy. Newborn rabble." Jake looked at me, and it caught me off guard. "And speaking of rabble..."

He received a scowl in return. My eyes narrowed at him, my hands balling.

"They haven't killed her yet. Surprising," James said.

"That human has confirmed the information we received on your priorities with this coven," Edward said. "Her testimony has been invaluable."

"What testimony?" Jake's voice began to change into something more gruesome than his actual nature.

"Bella Swan is your former neighbor, is that right?" Edward asked.

Jake's eyes slid to me before coming back to Edward. He bared his teeth and tried to step forward, but was held back by the guards on his arms. "Yes," he hissed.

"During that time you engaged in sexual intercourse with many women. Do you deny it?"

For the first time Jake shut his mouth about his conquests, his top lip twitching over his teeth.

"I'll ask again; do you deny it?"

"This is madness! You actually believe a human?!"

"I believe the thoughts of those women racing through your mind! How you hypnotized them to get your way then drank from them! You used your power to help them forget the pain, the actions, but you forgot about the venom, Jacob! It remains even when the memory does not!"

"I... I was careful!"

"You have betrayed this coven, this order! You rebel against the laws I helped set forth! You got to Emmett, convinced him of your ways, made him a spy for you so you could know the workings within these walls. You planned to assassinate all high standing members. Greed! Power! Lust! Sex!" Edward's words were crazy, his voice low and loud. "Don't try to hide it behind other thoughts... I've already seen!"

"We receive trial!" James shouted. "Only Master may condemn our crimes!"

Edward leaned in closer. "And I say you're guilty!"

Wide-eyed and mouths parted they protested as Edward walked toward the throne. His eyes met mine briefly before turning back to the coven. He'd become Master. In all the possibilities that could've happened that night Edward being in charge of the house was a mistake. I knew what would happen to me, I could see my future tangle with his. I'd be called to his room, placed on his bed. Those teeth. I shuddered, wrapping my arms around my torso to convince my stomach it was alright.

The protests from James and Jake continued as Jasper locked with Edward. My imagination could've been running away with me, or it might've been my angle, but he didn't seem entirely convinced of Edward's new position. Regardless, he turned to the others. "What says our master of their punishment? The penalty for human relationships outside these walls is death. Does the penalty stand?" He turned back to Edward.

"You're never going to find another like me!" Jake shouted, fighting the restraint. "I was a faithful and loyal servant! Never in all your long, miserable years is another going to do what I do! Aro recognized this and would be lenient!"

"But in your scheming your spy has killed the lord in your favor. Now, you have me and I say... the penalty stands."

"NO!" Jake struggled to free himself, his fangs bared at Edward. My neighbor, my once-nice neighbor who helped me brings boxes from the moving truck when I first arrived. All that time he hid a creature under his skin. All that time I lived next to death and never knew it. "You're a liar! A fraud!"

"Put him on his knees!" Edward shouted in a tone I'd never heard from him. Power took over his words. They pushed a struggling Jake to his knees, his arms spread by his side, taken by three vampires on each. James fought, too, but like his friend proved unsuccessful. And I wondered then, what his exact talent was, why he was so irreplaceable. I leaned forward on my folded arms, squeezing them between my thighs and stomach as I watched Edward take Jake's head between his hands.

"Do you have any last words?"

"Fuck you!"

"Very well, but one last question," Edward said, looking down into angry eyes. "What happened to Bella's friends, the ones you were to 'take care of'?"

This question pulled my attention, and I expected him to answer. A few seconds passed, and his body and head were separated in one swift twist and pull from Edward. The coven ignited with cheers!

My eyes closed, squeezed the sight away and if that wasn't enough, I turned my head, too. A death for those already dead.

I peeked carefully, prepared to turn away at the slightest sign of blood. A vampire was already dragging the body away through the double doors, one following the trail of red. His elbows bent as if carrying something. The head.

"Now for you," Edward said to James as they brought him forward, the creatures' approval roared behind him. His eyes were bright red, not blue like I remembered.

"I have not broken any laws," James said, bowing before him. "Many times I could have, but I've never crossed the threshold like Jacob. I know better than to upset you, Master." He spoke to Edward like he did to Aro, like he'd never left. There was no transition between them, Edward filled Aro's empty space without sorrow or regret. "I've always served you!"

"Yet, you did not tell us of his actions. You protected him, and used Emmett as a mole. You had other plans for this coven. You were part of a revolution, and the very thought is treason. The penalty is death, from which there is no return. Hold him on his knees!"

I closed my eyes again, my hands cupping my ears. I never wanted to hear the tearing sound again, never wanted to see it.

James' voice was muffled as he screamed. "No! There was no revo—!"

The silence prickled and remained. I uncovered my ears slowly, but didn't dare to open my eyes. My heavy breaths were the only sound. If I didn't know better, I'd say I was alone in that big room.

I opened my eyes, wishing I kept them shut. James lay on his back, unmoving. Edward discarded his head onto his body, red tendrils hanging from the exposed wound. Once again, the coven erupted from their patient silence. My stomach fluttered, my lids grew weak. Copper invaded my nostrils, followed by death. My head turned, my breathing soft, but it wouldn't be long before I foundered and gave into my need to vomit.

"Brothers!" The mob grew quiet once more at Edward's words. When he spoke, they listened. "I have extinguished those who violate our laws, but the cost has been great! We've lost a dedicated Lord, and it is with a heavy conscience that I assume his throne. No one will ever take his place, but we must continue our missions for this existence we've been granted!"

"This is the way of our laws," Jasper said when Edward finished and turned from the creatures, toward the throne. "Aro was good, knowledgeable, fair and I know he wouldn't choose any other vampire to take his place should something happen to him. This is the contract of our master, our crown. Now, I ask Him to make the same decision. Who will be named your Second, Edward? Who shall succeed you if, for any reason, you are to pass?"

Edward's presence behind me only intensified the want to vomit. My throat lurched. I gulped the heavy air, holding my stomach and praying to God he'd answer me this one time and make the pain and nausea go away. This was a mistake. He didn't need such high authority. The heat was almost immediate under my skin, flushing my cheeks and spreading everywhere at once. My stomach and chest caved, and the bile rose, burning my throat and mouth as it came up and splattered onto the floor next to Jasper's boots and my bare toes.

Jasper jumped away. I held myself on the step below, my quivering, sore arm wavering. I stared at what I'd just done, knowing I had to do it again. It splattered onto the floor. My chest burned. My eyes stung with tears and the back of my mouth tingled as I looked up at Jasper. He stared at the liquid contents, his horror my own.

But Edward seemed unaffected. "The rules inside this House are changing! My decision on Second will be decided soon, when I've had the chance to see where loyalties fall."

Jasper stepped forward and took Edward's hand into his own. He placed his lips upon his knuckles then bowed his head. "My Lord," he whispered.

"Clean her," Edward said, his voice low, "and have her brought to my room." His red eyes slipped to mine, and I took in a breath. I knew what that meant, knew what it entailed. My bottom lip trembled as Jasper reached for me, but I pulled away, refusing his help. I stood, the red, satin dress covered with wet and stink. I touched my fingertips to my mouth as I walked past James' still body. Jasper didn't even acknowledge the body next to his boots.

I heard Edward's voice again as we reached the doors. "Take that traitor to the morgue. He will burn with his friend."

"What was that about?" Jasper asked as we walked up the stairs. I had to hold onto the skirt of the dress so I wouldn't trip over it. The wet twisted into my fingers, and I felt disgusted with myself.

"Everything," I said. "Smells, sights. I don't know why I was even required to be there. He didn't even have me say anything."

"A presence does more than words ever can."

I pushed open the door to the showers, winding through the cavernous walls to the low-lit space. Jasper's face came to mind, his expression toward Edward when no one else could see. "Do you really believe Emmett killed Aro?" I asked.

He turned me around and pushed me against the wall. The cool tile shocked me. His hand over my mouth held me in place, his eyes wide. I'd never heard him take in and release a harsh breath before. It hit my face, pushing my hair back. "You and I must no longer speak of such things!" His whisper was forceful. "Our conversations can never exist anymore. You are to be silent unless spoken to. I have been lenient with you, answered questions I should never have answered, treated you as equal at times. Even now. Any other would hit you to the floor."

I nodded against his rough skin, sucking in the clove air. It filled my lungs until it hurt. His lips were so close, his nose almost brushing against mine.

He braced himself against the wall, his elbow next to my jaw as he allowed another breath to hit, leaning in, touching his mouth to the back of his hand. "I say poetry to keep him away from my thoughts," he mumbled. "Even now, I recite something simple in my head. His gift is in the present, not the past. There are too many questions floating through the air, thoughts he must sort through with this new revelation. I'm lost in the puzzle, in here with you. My actions can be overlooked if his mind isn't on me, but he knows of our talks." He leaned away. "You belong to him in every aspect, and if I betray my place then I fear for Alice more than ever before. Do you understand?"

I understood. Edward was in charge. His house, his rules and Jasper might've been on his watch list because of his relationship with me. He had been strangely understanding, more human-like over the past couple of weeks. We began to blur against the clear, distinct line of predator and prey. My insides coiled. I would be so lucky if Jasper cared for me as he did for Alice, to have someone care for my fate as I did, as if they were me.

I nodded, and he removed his hand. "I won't let anything happen to her," I said, "I care for her, too." His touch fell, brushing against the hollow of my throat then slipping to my collarbone. I tried to breathe calmly. He woke from a stare then removed his fingers.

"It's not the same as before, Bella. Now you're his, and he will want you with him. His sight will remain on you. Keep it that way." His eyes were on me, off me, gazing at my neck, my face, the wall. "Give yourself to him in any way he wishes. Be captured for the sake of this place, for every creature within. You have more power than your realize," he whispered.

He leaned in closer, his lips touching my ear bringing a chill with it. His whisper brushed my skin and caused my spine to roll against the wall. "And no, I don't believe Emmett killed Aro."


I've received a few questions regarding the Lions Eat Lambs sequel. On my profile is a link to my blog. I've posted the first half of the chapter there, with a little more information regarding the continuation.

I'm also on Twitter, too, if you have any questions.

xoxo