Thank you so much for all amazing responses to the last chapter! I am blown away, and no matter what I say, it's not enough to thank all of you for being excited with me and reading with anticipation... No pressure or anything, though. Jeesh! I hope it lives up to the expectations.
Just a heads up, there's some gore. Lets get ready to rumble, shall we?
Chapter 28 Playlist Song: Uninvited, by Alanis Morissette (Part 1); Come Undone, by Duran Duran (Part 2)
Disclaimer: All characters from and references to Twilight and the Twilight Saga belong to Stephenie Meyer. No money is made from this writing, and no copyright infringement is intended. The plot for Entwined is mine. Badass Bella and her kick-ass talent is mine. =)
Chapter 28: Breaking Down, Broken Arrow
Dawn broke in misty, muted grey all over the field that we framed. Clouds blocked out the sunlight that rose from the eastern sky and let loose a constant wetness that was not quite rain. It was like existing underwater, breathing in droplets of miniature molecules that hung like crystals all around us in the already-damp air.
We waited, all of us watching the tree line where Marcus had emerged, quiet. Had we all needed oxygen, our breaths would have been held until we could not longer exist without opening and gulping. As it was, though, only the wolves—too-young boys and girls that had no idea what was to come from the east—struggled with their anxiety, pawed the ground with impatience and whimpered at the churning in their furry bellies.
There had been discontent when Marcus had come. We walked back together, Bella and Marcus and me, and the vampires had grown cautious and the wolves nearly revolted. I didn't blame them, of course—this was one of them who joined our ranks, our enemy, and one of them whom Bella and I had told them about. But I could see into his mind, and I could read the pure regret in him, the desperate agony of loss and betrayal, the way that his tie was severed from his murderous ex-brother. There was no alliance there any longer, regardless of their past.
Marcus' robes were dirtier than I'd ever imagined a Volturi's clothes could be, muddied from travel and rumpled from sitting so long and arriving here. His skin was still so pale and papery, like tissue, and his eyes were more dead than I'd ever seen, even as he had sat with disinterest on his throne in Volterra. But there was still a spark of fire in them, the look of a man who was crazy from his loss, who had no one and nothing left to live for.
Carlisle was the first to step forward, accept Marcus' arm as if he was a frail old man—which he was, of course—but only after I assured him with my eyes that he should and could. He didn't question my decision, even in his mind, though he had every right. This was his home and his family, and I'd already done so many things wrong. But he trusted me, because he was my father.
"Marcus," he said, clasping his hand and pulling him in to what was now our fold. "We can't tell you how much it means that you are here. Welcome, brother."
Marcus' eyes glossed over for a moment, and I realized then that it had been so long since the ancient vampire had felt any real emotion. Aro had kept him numb for so long he'd forgotten what it was like. My father's hand on his was like burning fire and shattering cold to him, a broken man that had been senseless for centuries, who was only just beginning to feel again. This was too much for him. He stared at his hand like it was a foreign body, which I supposed it was, and his mind wobbled back and forth between despair to unbelief to resoluteness to joy at being accepted somewhere else that wasn't malevolent and cold stone-walled.
He nodded at Carlisle, but didn't say anything.
The rest of our group was slow to accept his presence, because they didn't know what we did and didn't see the genuine alignment with our side.
But then, they didn't understand how much Marcus had lost since Bella and I had left him with Aro and his history of lies.
They didn't know that he would rather die than see Aro live any longer with his crimes on his sleeve like a scarlet letter.
So there we all stood, surrounded like the mist by our fears and doubts and anxiousness. Bella was at my right side, tethered to me. I could feel her ring in the space between my ring finger and my pinkie, and it grounded me. She was still and serene, listening like the rest of us. Waiting.
Beside her was Marcus, watching and waiting, too. Carlisle was on my left, and then Esme, and then Alice and Jasper and Emmett and Rose, and behind us were the rest of those who were brave enough to stay. The wolves were at the back, sunk low into the long, wet grass and the mud, waiting until they were given the signal—until they could surprise our enemies.
It felt like the end, like the last stand.
"It won't be long now," Marcus said, his slow lazy drawl still managing to sound as if he were imprisoned by Corin's numbing power.
Marcus had given me more information, about the time between now and when Bella and I had escaped. Though Marcus had been preoccupied and consumed with discovering the truth of Didyme's death, he knew the basics of what Aro had been planning. He hadn't pursued us right away, mainly because he was arrogant, and hadn't felt it necessary to chase us down. Aro never expected us to elude him for long, because he had all his acquired talents and all of his brute force and all of his collected fear. No one could escape me, he reasoned. He was too old and too feared to hunt and pursue and make haste.
Demetri could not track us—Bella's power had held us steady and safe for the most part—but he was in no hurry to come find us regardless. Aro planned to attack our home right from the start, a tactical move that would hit us where it hurt us most, whether we were there or not. He wanted Carlisle to pay, because he chose a life that was not Aro's and because he was more than content in it. and he wanted me to pay, for having Bella and creating her and then not giving her to him. It would either have been us he was attacking, or it would bring us to him again. Either way, he felt no rush, no time clipping at his heels. Not after centuries of having his way.
And in the end, he fully intended to have his way—to take Bella back with him after he'd destroyed all of us.
He took his time. Just as I had wondered, he collected his minions, organized his travel plans, simmered in his anger until there was nothing left but to hunt us down and make us suffer.
And he was now coming, to Forks, to my family, and to all of us waiting for redemption and retribution.
Five thousand beats of a human heart. The earth very nearly began to wake. The sun rose higher, still invisible to us, but shielding it's eyes in careful disinterest, casting shadows through the wet morning. I closed my eyes and breathed in, feeling the weight of the moisture in the air as it coated my useless lungs, my tongue, and my teeth. I felt Bella's hand in mine, noted her presence as more than just a body beside me, but as though she was just an extension of my own. I listened to all of their thoughts—Garrett, who knew that this could be his last stand, but did so out of his own obligation to the human life he'd once lived and to Kate, whose hand was now in his; and the one called Benjamin, who surveyed the rocks around the field and the water hanging in the air and the fire that he could conjure with careful patience and consideration—and I pushed it away so all that was left was my father's and my mother's and my brothers' and sisters'.
But not my love's, because she was still so quiet to me.
She wasn't even trying to block Demetri anymore.
"Let them come," she whispered against the still and steady morning.
Let them come, indeed.
The fog was thick along the tree line, but we could all still see them as they emerged from the shadows. They were like shadows themselves, all dark and fluid and inhuman. They hardly made a sound, but the world was so still around them as they moved—as if all the creatures around had held their breath as they passed by them— that it was almost as if we could hear every movement: of their cloaks and their feet on the ground, and their aggression.
I could hear them all in my head, even from so far away.
The din in my skull was nearly deafening, full of hatred and blinding fury and fear and readiness and impatience. The approaching group was full of purpose, a uniform objective that stemmed only from Aro. They were angry and full of murderous vengeance—for having to have come all this way for one foolish girl, for having been made fools of themselves—but they didn't waver, because their free will was gone and their goal was visible in front of them.
Spare the girl, they'd been ordered. Destroy the rest that stood in her way.
We were not like them, not fully united, because we were fighting for different things, though we still wanted the same freedoms. We were one force, but not. We were like-minded, but would never really be. We all wanted the same outcome, but we were not together on how to get there. And in the end, we wanted to live, but not for the same reasons. At least we were allowed to have our own reasons, though. That alone made it enough.
The vampires behind me were anxious and wondering, strong and steady, and eager for all of it to start. We'd spent too many minutes, hours, days, lifetimes waiting for this, and now it was happening. To my right, Bella faced the emerging group and didn't waver, but her hand squeezed mine tightly as if to say, I'm here. I'm ready. I'm frightened.
Carlisle was praying for a peaceful resolution, praying that he didn't lose us when he'd only just gotten us back. And there was Esme, who was already itching to level those that had caused so much turmoil in her family. Jasper was thinking tactically and Alice was searching, always searching, and Rose was angry and Emmett was too eager. And all the others had their own fears and wants and prayers and anger boiling inside them against the black-cloaked army of devils that were marching slowly toward us.
Marcus was blank and thinking of everything, all at once. His ancient mind was so, so tired. Marcus had nothing left but to fight. His reasons were not ours, but still felt familiar. His reasons were so much like mine it frightened me. Is he who I would be, I wondered, if I lose her today?
I could not follow that train of thought any more, and so I listened to those around us to avoid listening to my own fears.
The wolves couldn't see them yet, their bellies hovering just over the ground, but they could smell the new vampires and it took all their restraint to heel and contain their assault, to calm their beating hearts and curb the whimpering in their throats that threatened their plan. The youngest of them inched forward, and struggled to tame their excitement. Foolish pups.
Across the tall grasses of the field that ran between the Cullen house and the creek-bed and the tree line—long, dead blades that crackled when the wind blew through them—shadows stretched like Death—too long and dark as nightmares, too reaching, angled crookedly and menacingly— with each measured footstep. Their movement was so controlled and precise and slow, that time seemed to stand still in the space between us.
One foot and then the other brought Aro closer to Bella, and it caused the hair on my arms and the back of my neck to stand tall.
We had no idea what would happen, and we were putting so much on her shoulders. I wished I could take it all away from her. But I couldn't. It was our lot in this life together. She was our greatest hope.
Aro was at the front, their leader, and Caius was a his right. Behind them was the whole guard and their mates and so many whose names I didn't know and whose faces I'd not seen but in a brief moment in Alice's mind. There were dozens of them, vampires from all over who'd been lied to and who'd been threatened and who had come out of allegiance to a fake king and kingdom. And they wavered now, in their decision to stand behind Aro, seeing all of us here waiting.
We knew they were coming—both Alice and I had seen it when she knew the Volturi would be coming at dawn—but it didn't stop the quick tremor that ran through our whole group at the sight of them. We'd prepared them for this, but no matter what, they'd never have been ready for the actual sight of them, black-robed and solid like a wall, loyal to a madman's whims. The Volturi numbered forty-eight, so close to our numbers but still so many more because of the talents that Aro had. My heart fell, listening to the shaking subconciences behind me, as little pebbles of hope fell away from them. The blackness stopped, one-hundred yards in front of us and stood there as the silence pierced the air, and the raucous turmoil of all of their minds blanketed me in my own kind of chaos.
"Well look at this," Aro said. Despite the watery haze and the distance between us, he didn't need to raise his voice. He was smiling. I could see the glint off his too-white teeth and his rice-paper skin, and it looked as if he glowed in the muted light of the barely-there morning. "Am I interrupting a party?"
He laughed, but it was not full of mirth, but vengeful hatred for everything. He already knew why there were so many there with us, and he despised me for it—Carlisle for it—because we didn't need to command anyone to join us as he did. And if I didn't know Aro better, perhaps I could have mistaken his intensity for a hint of fear, seeing so many that might stand in front of him beside us and against him. But Aro did not fear us. He looked at Alec and then Jane and smiled with real, giddy pleasure.
"And Marcus, my brother!" Aro snorted. "You didn't tell me you had other plans today. I've missed you in our little traveling entourage."
Marcus' chest tightened, and I swam in the memories of his Didyme, times when he hadn't been so weak and used. His body did not mimic the pain that seemed to radiate from the center of him. He felt betrayal, but not really from Aro anymore—that part of him had already accepted this—but from himself for not seeing the truth for so long and for allowing it and for staying.
"You do not want me standing with you, Aro," he drawled, so devoid of life that I wondered if he would truly be of help us at all in the end, or if he would simply die from his broken-heartedness. "It would not be beneficial for either of us."
"Because of Didyme?!" He laughed, and it stung at Marcus' arms and legs and in his skull. "She was weak! I did you a favor!"
"And I will see one done to you, by the end of this day!" Marcus said, through his gritted teeth and burning venom.
Aro contemplated this for a moment. He did not take the threat to heart, of course, but for a very brief moment, he hurt at the fact that Marcus was not standing beside him. Aro pitied him, but he'd stood at his side for so long, Aro missed his presence. But not enough to stop, or to keep from killing him, if that's what it came to. He even thought of Marcus' head, separated from his body, and accepted it.
"Enough of this! You know what I've come for," he said, his face contorted into a grimace. Of course I knew what he wanted. We all did. Her name was permeating his very pores, eking out of his mind like a sieve. He had no intention of leaving this place without her. "Give me the girl, and we'll leave quietly."
Lies. So many lies. Is this the world that he lived in, because he had been the only one to see the whole truth for so long?
I was so angry, so full of fury that I could barely see my hand in front of me from the blindness it caused. Carlisle reached forward and placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed just a little. It focused me enough to allow a growl. I sank low and pulled Bella with me. Her fingers tightened.
"She is staying with us, Aro," Carlisle said. "You've wasted the trip." My father was so brave to push at Aro, to tease him and make him the butt of a joke. I smiled, despite the hostility that coursed through Aro and through me.
Aro laughed, placing his powdered hand on his belly and throwing his head back.
"Really?" he guffawed and scoffed. "Really, Carlisle? You don't seem to understand things, do you? If you don't send her to me, I will destroy you."
"Then we will go down together, Aro," Carlisle whispered.
Aro was so angry at my father's hushed words that he screamed. His body wracked with electricity, a surge that stemmed from the deepest part of his dead heart. And all around him, his guard and his witnesses and his puppets buzzed with the energy that came out of him. His loathing and animosity seemed to breathe with life and it ignited them.
Alec was calm with quiet acceptance. Renata, too, standing guard by her master, and Chelsea, who was ready to act and sever ties with the flick of a wrist. But Jane, and Demetri, and Caius and so many more all stirred and sparked and couldn't sit still with anticipation and greed for death. They wanted to pounce at us, were nearly crazy with it, and though none of them, save Caius, would speak against Aro, they all ached to attack, to stop the banter and set fire to the field in front of them and splatter it with our bodies.
The wolves rose up then, bringing themselves to full height behind us. I smiled as the Volturi shirked away from them, these massive wolves that were obviously supernatural in nature. Aro's eyes widened. A small handful of the witnesses left, turned around and exited the way they came, unwilling to put their lives in the hands of even Aro. Jane's chest heaved with confusion as she looked from the wolves to her master. Caius trembled with fear, fear that he disguised well as disgust, but I could hear the thrumming in his mind that was like a human heartbeat, intense and numbing. He very nearly shook.
"Treason!" Aro shouted above the developing murmur of the crowd around him, who no longer remained silent. For just a second, just a blink of an eye, there was dissension. But Aro roared again and quieted them. "Do you see? How they align themselves with our natural enemies?"
As if he needed to prove his reasons. As if he cared anymore about justice or propriety or formality.
"Kill them," he whispered, nodding to Alec. "Kill them all."
I looked over at Bella, and she looked at me. Our hands were slotted together, tightly, palm-to-palm, just as every other couple that was behind us: Carlisle and Esme, and Rose and Em, and Garrett and Kate and Carmen and Eleazar. Twisted and twined and unwilling to let go.
Bella closed her eyes tightly, so tightly that her face contorted. She gripped my hand so forcefully that a few weeks ago, with her newborn strength, she might have crushed the stone-like bones in it. Her lips parted, and she breathed, deep inhalations that drew watery droplets into her.
Alec advanced slowly, his hand in front of him. Like a milky mist, his power seeped over the earth in front of him, a silky fog that blanketed the grass and the earth, and leveled at his ankles.
Succumb, his mind whispered. Sleep. Die.
I watched with wide eyes as each blade of grass wilted under Alec's power. Tiny shoots that were trying to survive the wet Washington winter, gave up and browned. Small beetles that twitched in the field fell the moment the mist touched them. The dew dried and the wind stilled and stopped its churning.
And I watched helpless as it drew nearer.
Bella was shielding. I could feel it wrapped around me tightly, holding me to her and her erratic talent. I knew that she would not let me go, would not let Alec's mist assault me, just as surely as I knew that her hand was in mine. But the others were not yet surrounded by her gift.
"Watch out!" I yelled.
But what could I do to protect all of them? What could I say that would calm the fear that bellied in them? It was only Bella that could protect them, and Alice could see nothing of whether or not Bella would be able to in the moments before the mist reached us. I couldn't offer them guarantees or solace or even help.
We backed away, just a little. I pulled Bella with me, as she kept her eyes closed and her lips open and breathy. But there was no where to go where Alec's power could not touch us.
Stay strong, my father thought. Stay strong, son. Believe.
The mist touched my feet. It swirled around the toes of my boots, and Bella's. It tugged at me, and for a moment, I was almost sleepy, like I could have wanted to lie down and close my eyes, but it passed faster than a blink, in less than a breath. The feeling fell away from me, snapped back like a tightly wound string, and in the end, I had more energy and resolve than before. The mist swayed around me, passed me and Bella, and reached out to the others like a grasping, quivering hand. And there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I looked at Aro, at the whites of his eyes and the blood in his pupils and the smile on his sadistic face, and I heard in his mind that he knew this was how it would work. He knew that Bella would innately protect me, and he knew that she and I would be the only ones left alert and attentive to his devastation. I hated that he could put me in this position again, a man watching while he made those I love suffer. This had been his plan all along, to make me watch this. I could have fought, because I was immune as long as Bella was my shield, but it would mean leaving her undefended and alone. And he knew I would not do that. It was the two of us against the whole army of Aro's.
I watched out of the corner of my eye, as Charlotte fell. Jane was holding her hand out, crushing Peter's mate from the inside with her mind. Peter, next to her, did not move, did not blink. There was nothing he could do, stuck in his place by Alec's mist. He didn't even know, didn't even feel or think or realize that his love was suffering. He didn't even care, because he had no care left in him. Their minds were all blank.
"Bella!" I yelled, because it was the only thing I could think to do. She was shielding me, pushing back on Alec's power and keeping me safe, but she was not keeping the rest of them safe. Her talent had not spread any further than me, and I didn't understand, because I needed her to shield them. I needed it, and so did she. And her talent wasn't working when she needed it, like it was supposed to. Her talent was failing. The rest of them had succumbed to his talent and were immovable and unprotected.
Alice and Jasper and my father, Esme and Emmett and Rose—and all the rest of our group—were still and blank, like their bodies no longer housed anything. Bella was protecting me, because her hand was in mine, but she was not protecting the rest of them, and the Volturi were drawing closer. Bella was supposed to shield us. That had been the plan all along. The plan was failing before it even began.
"Bella!" I yelled again. Her eyes were closed tightly and her lips were moving but not making noise. Her lips spoke a silent language I didn't know as Charlotte continued to writhe in pain, the only one of them who was feeling anything. But she didn't really know that she was suffering from inside her brain. I could feel it, though, almost more than her. She screamed in reaction and shook in its intensity.
Jane's head tilted from side to side, enjoying the way that Charlotte's body twitched and contorted on the ground. I was alone in the world, watching as Bella chanted and Charlotte unknowingly tried to die.
Aro walked forward and stood in front of me. His cape swirled around him dramatically as he walked, and I felt it brush up against my legs. His toes were nearly touching mine as he placed his hand on my shoulder. I braced myself for the onslaught of my memories, for the rushing between us, but it never came. Bella still held me firmly. I tensed at his touch.
He looked over at Bella longingly, smitten with her even as she was keeping him out of my mind, and it churned my belly and brought bile to my throat. Even now, like this, he saw nothing but an acquisition. When his eyes met mine he smiled.
"So easy," he whispered, leaning in. "So easy to take her. You should have stayed, spared all their lives. Perhaps I'll let you live with all the guilt."
I prayed, because I knew I could not take all of them on by myself. I could not defend her, chanting and focusing as she was, all alone in this sea of dead bodies. I could not stop him from taking her away, and I knew that he was toying with me, because he would not let me live even if he thought I would suffer because of it. He would take her and he would kill me.
I prayed for my family, in final thanks for giving them to me, even though it was only recently that I realized how much I wanted and needed them. I prayed for Bella, that she would find peace even without me. I prayed for those who stood with us and never should have. I closed my eyes and waited for death, and my heart fell because I'd failed her again, over and over again. Even before I'd tried, I failed her.
But, then, for a moment, there was a flickering. For a second, I could hear them again, all connected to me. Dozens of half-thoughts flashed in my cranium, like a deep and deliberate breath. Just one, final shutter. I glanced at Bella out of the corner of my eye. Her brow was furrowed and she was still, focusing on some far off place inside herself.
I thought perhaps I'd imagined it, that I'd dreamt this up in one last-ditch effort, one memory of what I was unwilling to fully give up. I thought that maybe, this was what finally dying was like—-hope that would never actually come. But then it happened again, like a series of pictures that nearly had no shape. I heard thoughts that moments ago had been silent. Bella's face changed as she recognized what she was doing. It felt different to her, I could tell. It felt different to me as well, through the shield that she was stretching over me.
And then it happened again, longer this time, and I couldn't help the smirk that I gave Aro, or the sigh that I released, because I couldn't believe I'd ever doubted her. She was in it now, and she was waiting for me, holding it back until the perfect time. Aro didn't know yet, and I delighted in telling him.
"Did you ever think," I said, leaning in as he had done to me, "that you don't know everything? That you underestimate even her?"
Alec fell back as his mist fell away. It swooped back into him like a vacuum, teetering him with the force of it, at the same time that the world and his victims woke around him. Bella's power surged, like a too-bright lightbulb. I didn't understand it all at the time, didn't put two and two together, even in my vampire mind, until much later. I didn't realize until after, after all the dust had settled, that Bella was not in control of her power as much as I thought, that this was something new and frightening and miraculous that she was doing. Alec's eyes widened, and before I could read his thoughts, his head was detached from his body, held high in the air by Peter, whose face was contorted in his feral scream.
The world seemed to pause, suspended as if the earth's rotation itself had stopped. Jane's hands fell to her side and she screeched and Charlotte fell to the ground, her body almost exhausted from the abuse. Alec's body remained upright as the vampires, both ours and theirs, looked on, startled. It was surreal, as if we'd all just imagined that Peter was still screaming with Alec's small head grasped by his hair in his hand, his shouts echoing around us. Aro was no longer looking at me or at Bella, but at the boy who he'd wanted and cured and used for so long, as his body fell in a heap at his feet. Jane fell on her knees next to the body, and screamed again and again, wailing.
I backed away, pulled Bella with me into the middle of our group. Peter dropped Alec's head and rushed to pick Charlotte up and pulled her to his side.
The field erupted in chaos, blanketed in fury. Ours. Theirs. Aro's.
Vampire against vampire, once-men and once-woman against one another. The wolves bounded into the fray, their massive bodies knocking vampires to the side. The wolves collective thoughts were scattered and confused, but they recognized the fact that they were free to attack now, and they leapt in with zeal and youthful ignorance. Aro fell back, fully shielded by Renata and the rest of the Volturi guard, as the fight broke out in the middle, mashing the good and the bad, the demons and the fur and the innocent all together in pandemonium.
I continued to pull Bella back, holding her against me and shielding her from the fight around her. Her eyes were open now, wide and wondering at what she did. She'd had so much control in that moment, but still had no idea how she wielded it. My family followed back as we moved, surrounded us to protect her too.
"Whatever you do, protect Bella!" I shouted, a command that they'd already agreed upon in their minds. They all knew, even unseeing as they were, that Bella had protected me, had protected them all to rid them of Alec. I turned her and held her hands. "You need to try to keep shielding. Pull them in again."
Bella shook her head in reluctance, as if she had no idea how to replicate what had just happened, but there was not time. All around us, the fight was dancing towards us. I could hear them all, the resounding cracks of limb against limb, the feverish thoughts as their movements were met and deflected. As they gained the upper hand and then lost it, over and over.
Aro sent the unnamed vampires forward, mixing into the throng and fighting those who I knew. Bodies crashing around them, our friends and loved ones fought for our survival. I saw as Felix reached down and picked up Jane off the ground where she still sat, nearly catatonic, in her suffering, as mayhem hooked and spun and kicked around her. The Volturi regrouped after the loss of one of their own, and circled around Aro as if he was worth protecting.
So many faces. So much fury and rage and fight. It was all too much, as I watched bodies fall and felt their minds go blank in my own. I saw them falter before they even saw it themselves. I regretted it, every move that brought down our numbers, because it was because of one man's selfishness and manipulations, and it never had to be this way. But at the same time, there was no other way than this.
Charles, the nomad, was the first of our side to fall, but he would not be the last. A short, red-headed vampire took him out, tackled him after their too-quick tussle. He was bigger than her, but she was quicker, and he swung at her and missed her. She sprang up into the air, and kicked, sending his knee the wrong way six inches too far, bent the incorrect direction, and when he fell in an agonizing heap over himself, she leapt and took his head and separated it from his shoulders. I winced, and tried to block out the memory of his last unfinished thought.
I kept them in the corner of my mind, monitoring the mental tones of my loved ones and allies, against those of the Volturi, but it was Bella who I watched. Little battles were happening all over, just like this—one-on-ones that would leave a crumpled body in their wake—but I could not afford to listen to them all and I could not go to each of them and help. I couldn't worry for all of those out there, or even for my family, because I didn't have the luxury of it. There was no time for worry or regret or even guilt. I had to protect Bella. Aro was fighting now too, fully engaged in our imminent demise. He'd been only momentarily stunned from Alec's quick death. Like me, he'd underestimated Bella. Like me, he never expected her to shake him. Alec was gone because we'd both underestimated. And more were dying because we'd let it get too far.
And my love was enemy number one.
A nomad roared in front of me, searching out Bella on Aro's command. I swayed in front of him, hopping from foot to foot. He was strong, taller than me and more muscled, like Emmett. But he was slower of mind, and his movements were not as quick as they traveled through his cerebrum to his limbs. His eyes darted from me to Bella just after his mind planned his attack at her, and I spun around him and ripped at his shoulder with my teeth. It left a gaping wound in him, shiny-silvery from my venom, and his arm dangled limply at his side. While he was distracted, I kicked in his ribcage. Jacob ran by at that moment and finished him. Our eyes met and I heard the necessary camaraderie in his thoughts.
I'd finished one, but they came again and again, unrelenting.
We were fairly evenly matched, each side. I looked around at all the faces, all the bodies as they tossed about and tried to gain the upper hand, faces of those I loved and hated and those whom I was only just beginning to like. Bella was focusing her energy, but would it be enough? In the end, would it be enough to change all of this, to make it all worth it? Already there were so many empty bodies where thoughts had once been. They fell away from me like whispers.
My family was holding their own, of that much I was sure. I was watching out for them, occasionally searching out through the muddied thoughts of the mass, just to make sure they were still alive. Each time, I feared what I would find. Carlisle and Esme were next to Bella and me, both of them unwilling to stray too far from her, battling one of those whose name I didn't know. Carlisle held him, managed to pin his arms, and Esme put her hands on the side of his head. She pressed her foot against his gut and pulled, and his body fell under her feet. And then another came, and another, and they began this morbid dance over and over again, watching out for us and each other.
Alice was toying with Chelsea, playing with her while Jasper flanked her and protected her back. Alice was quick and had the advantage of her gift, but Chelsea was very old and battle-ready. They circled each other, stepping feet over feet. Alice sprung, leapt at her throat. It was mate against mate, as Afton parried with Jasper, a revolution of four bodies like careful synchronization. Chelsea could not break them, as much as she tried. Their bond was too strong, and even as Chelsea was darting away from Alice, trying not to think of her next move, she was trying to sever them. In the end, though, it was Alice who severed her, catching her in a moment of frustration with her venom and fangs at her neck. Alice tore at her, and Afton cried out in agony at the loss of his mate. Her eyes went blank and she fell to her knees.
Bonds that had been so strong for centuries snapped like too-taut wires with Chelsea's death. Aro cried out across the field at his sudden loss.
I looked out over the fight, and watched as a half a dozen vampires fled to the tree line. Movement caught the corner of my eye, and I saw a sight I never before imagined possible. Marcus was fighting Caius, and while Caius had more hand-to-hand experience, he was arrogant and slightly thrown by the fact that it was Marcus who was his opponent. Despite the lifetimes of numbness, Marcus was holding his own, meeting him throw for throw. They connected again and again, sending thunder crashes through the sky, a flurry of black cloaks whipping around them. I didn't know how long it would last, this impasse between the two once-rulers.
Benjamin had lit a fire, and the air was burning black-ashen and putrid, filling the sky with the remains of the fallen, both ours and theirs. Because we were not immune. We'd already lost so many.
In the middle of the field, two, small wolves lay unbreathing and broken, while another lay beside them and whimpered her laments. Garrett's left arm was no longer attached to him, and Tanya was on the ground, left for dead for another kill. Amun was dead, burned already on the pyre, and Kebi was far from here, already fleeing in grief. Jane had recovered and was on a mission of vengeance, causing pain while the others came behind and destroyed them. I listened as they fell, those that had stood behind us—Senna and Mary and the wolf called Paul—and my head hurt. This was because of me, and the guilt pricked at my eyes where no tears could fall.
I saw Jane coming at us, her eyes and mind focusing solely on Bella. White rage like her talent filled her head, and it was directed at Bella, only at Bella. This is because of her, Jane thought, her mind consumed with the memories of Alec's death. She will suffer and die and then I will kill all of them. Jane could not hurt me with her power, not with Bella wrapped all around me, but I still had a moment of doubt, a flicker of fear for my mate. What if I couldn't stop Jane from getting to her?
I saw the plan that formed in her head and I hunched low and growled.
Felix attacked my left, while Demetri came at Bella from the right. I leapt in front of her, anticipating his movement toward her, knocking him back with my elbow. They had been sent by the little blonde-haired demon, placed here to distract me from protecting Bella and her unsuccessful attempts at shielding everyone. Bella was trying so hard, but all the movement was too much for her. She couldn't focus enough to keep us all in at once, and we were moving too much to protect each of our friends. Like a static radio signal, there were moments when it was so clear—where she could protect one or two of us—but it would not last. She couldn't hold anyone besides me for a steady amount of time, and her knees sometimes buckled from the devastation of it. It was like grasping at air, trying to hold it when all it wanted was to fly away.
Felix grabbed me and threw me to the earth, and the ground caved, just a little. The grass was matted where we were, and my back muddied as my head hit. He held me down and I struggled, unable to get up back to Bella. Demetri meandered over to her, whose eyes were wide and terrified at my compromised position on the ground. I could see the panic in her eyes for me, but her hesitation only lasted a moment, because then she growled and launched herself at him, leaping and taking his head between her hands. He hadn't expected her to defend herself, because he still imagined her prone and delicate.
But she was not delicate, not like he hoped she would be. Demetri had wanted to possess and hurt and abuse her because he couldn't track her. But he had not anticipated that she was stronger than a girl-woman, a flower waiting to be unfurled. He did not know that he had helped make her a monster, helped harden and temper her. He had been foolish, too consumed with consuming her, to see that she could rip him apart from the inside out.
In a too-easy movement, she ripped his head away, and then his arms and then his legs. she pushed her hand into his chest and pulled out his dark heart. And she stood over what was left of him, his pieces untraceable.
"Fuck. You," she said.
It only took Felix a moment to release me and step away. She held her hand out to me. My mouth was hanging open, and she looked away.
"Too much?" she whispered, her eyes on the ground where the pieces of Demetri lay. I leaned over, took her chin between my fingers, and kissed her quickly, unable to tell her how proud of her I was, how terrified of her, and how thankful I was for her, all at once.
"Incredible," I whispered. This had been her kill, her rite.
But our moment was not long. I heard the agonizing screaming of my brother before I heard Rose's yell for me. Jane had Emmett, was holding him up with her power. His body was contorted, standing still but shaking as though he was coursing with electrical current. The pain in his head was so familiar, but still so distant, but I remembered it for myself, all blinding heat and stinging numbness all at the same time.
"Bella!" Rose said, pleading with her in a desperate attempt to coerce her talent. I tried to rush at Jane, but Santiago was suddenly there, pulling me back and holding my throat. I cursed under my breath, because I hadn't been fast enough, hadn't been ready for him to come at me. I turned and fought him, hitting him in the head as he blocked another punch.
Rose rushed in front of Bella, took my place where I couldn't be. I hoped I could tell her someday, what that movement meant to me, but she was thinking of protecting Bella at all costs, helping her block Emmett from Jane's power. It didn't matter, either way. She'd protected Bella.
Above us, the sky had lightened. Tiny, white-yellow beams of light shattered through the thinning clouds. In patches, the field began to sparkle and scatter light. Had there not been so much death and blackening decay, it might have been beautiful. But this was far from pretty or radiant. Still, despite the billowing ashen smoke that the wind swept away, sunlight shifted over us.
Jane continued to torture Emmett, shocking him over and over again with white fire, as I struggled under Santiago's age and brute strength. He held my throat, slowly crushing my windpipe with his fingertips. I wanted to yell at Rose to stay where she was despite what Jane did, but I couldn't. I kicked at him, as he lifted me higher and higher. I heard Rose's terrified, silent pleas—her begging to Bella and me and God and Jane—but Jane laughed at her.
"Get out of the way," she said evenly, "or I will burn you like I am burning your idiot husband."
Rose screamed and crouched to leap, but then Emmett fell to the ground with a thud. For a moment, Rose and Jane both stilled. Jane looked at her hands, confused, and tried again.
Santiago's grip faltered, his hands dropping me for a fraction of a second. It was enough.
Jane's hands tensed to induce pain again, and Emmett anticipated the pain again, but it didn't come.
His mind whispered, Bella, because he thought she was shielding him, but there was no feeling of being wrapped up, no protective clarity in his mind like what was always in my mind when Bella shielded me.
All around me, I heard them as they staggered. The venom that had swelled at the attack dissipated, pulled back over their teeth with a retching burn. Their bodies, usually so unrelenting and sure, faltered. Their hearts leapt inside the confines of their chests, shuttered. Their lungs took in breath on their own, without reason, without premeditation.
Above, the clouds shifted and bathed the field in warm light.
And no one sparkled.
The field breathed, and gasped and groaned as bodies became pained. My ears rang with blood, pumping through dozens of long-dead hearts.
Santiago dropped me because he was not strong enough anymore. Jane tripped. Garrett screamed at his now-red-bloodied and missing arm. I heard Tanya groan far away and gasp for air that her crushed lungs required. Kate could not stun. My father sought me out with his mind and a tear slipped down his cheek. Caius threw up the bloody contents of his stomach. Alice couldn't see anything clearly, besides what a human's eyes could pick up.
Bella had turned them human, stripped them all of their ancient curse— the good and the bad. They were terrified, searching, stumbling mortal. Chaos filled their minds, panic stirred them. They could die, all of them.
Jane and Santiago. And Aro.
Rosalie was quick to understand, quicker than most. She rose up and snorted, and in Jane's befuddled mind, I saw her smile from in front of Bella. She straightened and stretched and balled her fists, cracking long-rested tendons and ligaments, and she walked toward her—not as gracefully as Rose once would have, but still fluid like a woman on a mission. Rose towered over the little useless girl, pulled her hand back and laughed.
"Oh, it's on bitch!" And then Rose hit her, swallowing up the pain in her own fists as she bloodied Jane's face, over and over again until you couldn't tell that she was once highly-feared and unnaturally powerful. Or a girl.
Like the wolves collective mind, the vampires seemed to sigh and groan and whimper in understanding, one right after the other, not nearly as fast as they once would have.
I looked over at Bella. Her eyes were open wide and glazed over, brilliant white. She had no pupils any longer, and when our eyes met, she was not looking at me, but somewhere far away. She had risen, up on her tiptoes, and her body bent upward at an impossible angle. Her hands were lifted, little balls that shook, and her lips were moving faster than any of them could follow. She was clenching her fingers into her palm with fury, and her body sparkled under the imposing sun, not like little prisms, but like the light was coming right out of her from the inside—out of her eye sockets and wrists, like she was cut and was bleeding fire. She was radiant and I could still feel her, still feel her power all around me.
I'd never been so afraid, and so aware, and so sure of anything. I quaked.
I could still read all of their thoughts, all the confusion and pain and fleeing power. I could still sense the distant noises of the forest, and smell the sunlight and the creek miles away. I could see all the way past this place, deep into the darkness that was not touched by sunlight yet. I couldn't cry, and I didn't need to breath, and the rushing pulses all around me thrummed in my teeth like a drum, calling to me.
Lub-dub, blood, their tired veins whispered to me, chanting like a mantra.
I still craved blood, and I still craved vengeance, and I wanted to destroy everything the way that my kind was meant to.
And across the field, I looked at Aro. Our eyes connected, mine still blood-red, and his milky brown. And I smiled.
I was behind him, faster than he could comprehend. When I wrapped my fingers through his black hair, he could not read my wants and desires and all of my moments. His eyes were wide and frightened, but it did not cause me pause as I placed my hands over his ears and felt his heartbeat in my palms.
I could see Bella across the field. The vampires separated between us, those that were left of the Volturi on one side, and those that were left of us on the other. They parted like the great Red Sea, dragging those that needed it with their weak, human muscles. There was so much fear and emptiness and regret, but I fed off of it. I paused and watched her for what was no time for the rest of them, but felt like an eternity for me. She was glowing, shattering the light as it hit her out of the clear sky, the only one besides me who could throw it that way.
This was all because of her. For her.
It was all worth every movement, every moment, every mistake.
"Aro," I said, leaning down and making him shake with real fear. "So easy. So easy to take you. You could have spared all of this. But I will not let you live with your guilt."
I had expected so much, had wondered what Aro—terrifying, menacing Aro, who commanded murder and tortured for pleasure—would be thinking in his final moments. With all he had seen and with all the memories that he had consumed and manipulated and discarded, I expected it to be grandiose and haunting.
But Aro's thoughts were not poetic in this last and final moment. They were no what I had hoped for after all the torture and all of the angst. He was nothing, no better than any other man. He was desperate and afraid and he was grasping at shallow breathes like he'd relied on them all his life. Aro's last moment was pathetic.
My hands twisted. His body tore like paper.
Bella's eyes softened, and our gazes connected. They turned from terrible white to softening red. I didn't need to speak to tell her of my love, because I think, at that moment, she could hear inside my mind.
I love you, I thought.
I love you, she mouthed. The field began to shimmer again as Bella released them all from their human entrapments with flickering uncertainty, from her blinding power and gruesome gift. Mortality had only been temporary, exactly what Bella had needed, when she had needed it.
And then the wolves descended, sweeping up the mess with their fangs and their duty to their people and their alliance with us because of one, once-human girl.
The field was stained red, splattered with the remnants of the vampires-turned-momentarity-human, and with the blood from the fallen and injured wolves. The pack had survived, outlived more than I thought they could. They lost only five, but it was still too much.
It was all too much.
Once the wolves had finished their ripping and tearing and blood-letting, they backed away and mourned their lost ones, leaving us to deal with the repercussions of the last half an hour. That was all it had taken to flip our worlds on their ends, to change everything. There was a new world emerging through the sun-splatter clouds, but we couldn't comprehend it all. We couldn't see it yet, not when everything was blood-spattered and choked with loss.
It was in silence that we washed away the mess that was left. Those that could—whose limbs were all intact and functional— picked up the Volturi remains, tossing them onto the growing tower of flames at the corner of the clearing. There were lifeless eyes and grimaces, flesh torn and mutilated. And so much regret and relief and victory all at once.
There were those that mourned: McKenna and Timothy for their mates, and Benjamin and Tia for Amun and for Kebi. Zafrina and Kachiri put their heads together and wailed for Senna, whose body they knew was already gone. We'd lost Alexa and Mary and Samuel. They were gone, burning black already in the morning light.
I took Bella in my arms, kissed her and cried with her, sinking down into each other on the ground as we held on and wept. I was so proud and so relieved, but so sorry, so struck with the heavy grief that rested in my chest for all that was now gone, all the wounds that would never heal. All I could do was hold her. All I could focus on was the feel of her in my arms and the relief that she was still here with me, and the featherlight kisses that she pressed against my neck and eyelids and lips as she wept.
It was a long time before we noticed the group around us, rejoined everyone else's reality.
But Aro was dead, his body broken and ash. I wished it had been Bella's hands that had ripped his head from his body, but she'd been there right with me. It was because of her that he was gone. And he would never come for her again.
We had lost loved ones and brethren, but the Volturi had been devastated. They would not recover. Only a handful remained. No one with talents was left standing on their side—Caius, but the Romanians had already left to go find him; Felix, because he'd fled in terror of Bella's gift. Perhaps more, along with some of Aro's witnesses. But the reign of the Volturi was done.
A flicker of hope still remained, even through the agony of our losses. A remnant of joy peaked through the heavy weight of grief. Inside, there was still a sense of victory.
Bella and I watched from our spot on the ground as Garret sought out his arm. When he found it, he held it above his head as Kate cheered. They laughed, and Bella buried her face in my neck to stifle her inappropriate giggles. I held her tight, feeling her shake, and couldn't help it when I laughed with her, because it was a release. I needed it, as wrong as it was.
Alice ran to us and wrapped her little arms around us, piling onto the ground with us. It knocked us over and toppled us, and our laughter spread to her and then to Jasper. Alice kissed her cheek and thanked Bella for giving her one human moment that she could remember. Rose and Emmett joined us then. He bent down and picked up Bella like a well-loved rag doll, spinning her and laughing with her as she fake-beat him with her little fists. Rose threw herself at her husband and spun with them, wrapping Bella up in her own gratitude. I knew that it would not be tense between them again. That had died away when they stood together in battle.
All around us, in the midst of the carnage, little victory celebrations were igniting—between lovers and between friends, and between families that had not been separated, and between those that needed someone to lean on, because they had lost too much.
Endings and new beginnings, all in one place.
We walked up to my father, and my mother. Bella was in my arms, pulled close to me, where I would never let her leave again. Esme kissed us both, and Carlisle squeezed too tight, but not nearly tight enough. They stood beside a broken and weakened body, slumped down in exhaustion. It made me smile to see him there, still alive.
"Marcus," my father said, offering him his arm to help him stand. "You are alive."
"Yes," Marcus said, nodding, but there was no sense of victory for him. There was no hope or promise of what the future held. He was already looking into it, knowing what it would bring.
"Stay with us," Carlisle offered, and Esme was quick to nod and place her hand on his sleeve, which was ripped away and tattered from the battle. He smiled down at her in regretful thanks.
"Thank you," Marcus said. "I am grateful, but my place is not here."
He looked off wistfully into the trees, thinking of how much he'd lost. For less than a moment, he considered their offer, but it would never work. His heart was already gone, far away and resolved. I mourned him. Alice's mind flickered and we shared a look. I nodded, knowing what his heart had long ago decided for him, but he'd never been able to act upon until now.
He hoped today had been enough—that today, he'd done enough penance. He was banking on it.
He clasped my fathers shoulder and kissed Esme's hand. He stroked down Bella's cheek and took my palm in his, already knowing that I knew what his intentions were. He didn't hide them from me. What would have been the point? With his talent, the bond between Bella and I glowed amber, pulsing like a living, breathing being. It hurt him, but gave him even more resolve. There had to be a bond still left for him. He hoped he could find it again. Slowly, like a man who had nothing left here, he released me.
Protect her, he thought. Cherish every second. Never let her go.
Slowly, he waked toward the direction of the trees, alone in a world that no longer held him there. His mind was gone, his hope reaching out in front of him to the unknown. I let Carlisle believe he went away to wander the earth, but I knew he was going to follow the wolves, beg them to end it all.
I let him go, meet Didyme in whatever world waited for him, knowing that I would do the same if I was in his shoes.
Never let her go, I thought. Never let her go. Alone.
We are entwined.
...the end... JUST KIDDING! Close, but not quite. This chapter was too heavy, don't you think? Where's the love? Where's the gooeiness!? Where is the sexing?! No, this is not quite the end.
I hope the fight scared you, surprised you, made you sad but still fulfilled all your hopes and wishes too. It was one of the hardest ones to write, because there was so much, but also one of the best, because you guys had so much excitement for it.
But isn't Bella IN-FRICKIN-CREDIBLE!? I want to be her when I grow up!
Thank you all so, SO much, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for hanging in there for this, and for celebrating when Bella ripped out Demetri's heart (Come on, you know you fist-pumped). Thanks for being so excited for this chapter and for your amazing reviews. It's overwhelming. I'm humbled.
A special thanks to my hubby (Yep, he's still in it with me), who's been waiting for this chapter with more anticipation than even you guys. He picked the title... and Bella's epic moment (there were a few options). Yep... he's a keeper. I know.
One chapter and an epi left! :D I'm sure there will be some questions. I'll try to address them collectively, in the author's note for chapter 29, but if you just can't wait, message me!
Enjoy the BD Release. :D
Until next time! Mwah!