Stephenie Meyer owns all TWILIGHT characters.
Please see AN at end.
"Come with me," Edward murmurs lowly. Heat flashes quickly throughout my body at his tone, low and warm and inviting. His hand, cold as it surrounds my own, tugs me up the stairs to the second floor where the noise lessens. No one is allowed past the staircase so the only thing I can hear is the music that reverberates in the house, shaking the walls dangerously.
"Edward," I sing his name lightly. "Everyone is downstairs."
"I know." He continues to lead me up to the third floor where the music lowers even more. "We'll go back. I just want some quiet time with you first."
I duck my head, feeling the heat rise up to flush my cheeks. Though the graduation party is for me – or so Alice says – I love that Edward wants to sneak away with me. My heart pounds as we reach the landing. A cool finger traces up my jaw to tuck hair behind my ear. I turn my face upwards and smile at the sweet gaze Edward gives me.
"Isabella," he says softly. I hum a response and shiver at the cool touch down my neck to my collarbone where the pads of his fingers brush against skin, causing tiny bumps to rise in their wake. "I love you."
The words make me frown slightly. His free hand lifts and brushes the crease in my forehead away. He repeats the movement and I shiver again. Edward says it all the time now, tells me whenever he can; it's like he's scared that I don't understand his love or that I don't know of it.
"Kiss me," I demand gently in an attempt to wipe away the thoughts that plague my mind. I don't coerce him into kissing me but he complies, breathing cool air over my lips before capturing them in icy heat. I am frozen against him, my heart beating fast against my chest. He pulls away and the whimper escapes my mouth before I can stop it. "Edward."
"Shh," he shushes me softly, lovingly. There is slight amusement in his voice. I go up on my toes to try to reach his mouth again but he steps away. His hands drag down my arms and he takes my hands. He walks backwards, nudging the door to his bedroom with his foot, and leads me to the bed. I can't help but roll my eyes as I remember the first time I saw it. It had appeared one night after our return from Italy and I had spent more nights in it than in the bed at Charlie's house.
Edward sits and tugs me onto the bed, the comforter soft beneath me. I blink and suddenly, I'm on my back, staring up at Edward who leans over me. His body is a welcome weight as he presses down against me, careful but wanting my touch as much as I want his. His elbows frame my head and his arms are ropes of steel muscle beneath my palms as I glide my hands up to his cheeks. I pull him down and let him inhale my breaths. I whisper his name a second before his lips fall against mine once more. The slide of mouths against each other makes me flush with need. My body wants to arch up, wants to press against Edward's form, but I control myself. While Edward is fine with many things, I don't want to do anything too sudden. He always leads.
"You're exquisite," he says against my lips. I want to giggle at him; the words sound old-fashioned but I can hear the truth in his voice. His compliments always warm me from the inside out. "I love you so much."
There it is again – words that make me shake with uncertainty because it sounds almost regretful, like he's ready to give up on promises and oaths.
"I love you," I say back. "You have to believe me."
No more words are said as he rolls us over so that I straddle his body. Large hands move to my back and pull me down. I press kisses on his lips, his chin, and his neck. I pause in the space between his head and shoulder and wait but nothing comes. There is no steady pulse to play a staccato beat for me. When I pull away and look down, all I see are thin ribbons sliding over his body, the color of a rainy day. I wish they were white, bursting with life, but he's stuck in the grayness between life and death. His heart no longer beats but his soul begs me for release.
"I can't," I whisper.
Beneath me, Edward freezes. His hands are heavy weights on my back. "Bella?"
The tears come unbidden and I don't know how to stop them. I feel myself being lifted before my body rests against plush pillows. At a loss, Edward sits at my side, running his hands over my body, brushing away the tracks on my cheeks.
"Bella, love," he says urgently. "What's wrong? What did I do? Talk to me, please."
I take a deep breath, feeling the air rattle inside my lungs, and wait until I am calm enough to answer. Slowly, I lift a hand and press my fingers against his neck. The ribbon moves faster as though it wants to grab my hands and slide from his body onto mine.
"No," I say to him. "I won't take your life." I look up and see the confusion in his eyes, deep gold with concern. "Edward, I don't care what you said to my father. I won't let you follow me under."
Just then, a rumble echoes throughout the house. Seconds later, I feel the trembling – a harsh rocking that causes the walls to groan. Screams sound from the party and Edward stands quickly, calling his sister's name. Alice appears, her eyes wide and scared.
"What?" I look from Edward to Alice and back again. "What's happening?" A beating of air catches my attention at the window and my head whips around to see a figure hovering outside Edward's room. "Thanatos."
He gives me a sad smile and holds a hand out. Without thought, I stand and begin to walk toward him. An iron grip closes around my wrist. Blinking rapidly, I turn to Edward, who tells me silently to stay with him.
Thanatos begins to speak. "When you were born, you were given a gift, but were taken from your home. There are those of us who helped you, trained you, helped you understand the right and wrong of taking life."
I say his name again, my heart seeming to stop.
"The war begins, Melantha."
My limbs freeze.
"You are needed at my side."
I close my eyes.
"We shall find the dead together and bring them home."
With dread coursing through the blood of my veins, I turn to Edward. "Release me, Edward." His fingers fall away from my wrist immediately. My teeth bite into my bottom lip at the hurt that fills his eyes; I never wanted to use my power against him again. "I have no choice," I try to explain.
"You always have a choice."
Thanatos speaks again. "She will be safe," he promises, his red eyes glittering in appreciation as he looks at Edward. "There are those who wish to claim her. Will you fight for her?"
Edward's voice is filled with love, anger, and determination. "She is mine." He turns to me. "You are mine." He staggers backwards suddenly, only staying upright because Alice steps forward to steady him. He draws in ragged breaths before surprised eyes blink at Thanatos. "I will see you there." He and Alice disappear, leaving me alone in the room, silence descending around me.
"Melantha," Thanatos calls. His arm is still outstretched toward me. "Your vampire is already in your meadow."
Slowly, I take measured steps to him. My hand slides against his and he pulls me into a tight hug, one of a mentor, of another father.
"It is time."
The world spins around me and my arms are tight around Thanatos' neck as the ground disappears from beneath my feet. His wings beat harshly to carry us to the large open field that reminds me of a beautiful relationship. I hear my name being called and I lift my head from the god's shoulder to see Morpheus and Hermes flying next to us. Morpheus, I'm not surprised to see, but the sight of Hermes in white and gold makes my breath catch. His smile is sad.
"Your father sends his love."
I let out a strangled cry at the statement just as Thanatos brings me down. Immediately, strong arms wrap around me and the scent that is purely Edward surrounds me, calming me instantly. I look around and see familiar faces of Olympus, their eyes narrow and their lips tight with determination.
I gasp at the sight of auburn hair and vines of flowers. My mother wears a blood red chiton. Her eyes are bright with unshed tears as she walks to me. Edward's arms fall from my shoulders as she approaches. Her fingers are tense as they flutter over my face.
"There is so much change happening," she says. A tremble breaks her words. "If I could give you everything, child, I would, but there are things far beyond my control."
"There are many things that cannot be controlled," an echo of voices says behind me. I turn and see three raven-haired women, young and beautiful and draped in black. The one who spoke – Atropos – holds a pair of sharp scissors in her right hand. It glints in the bright moonlight.
"Moirae," I whisper. I bow my head to hide the fear that must be painted across my face.
When nothing is said, I glance up. My heart beats faster when I see the one whose arms are wrapped in threads glaring at Edward. She lifts her staff and points to him. "You have cheated death. No more."
Edward doesn't flinch. "I have already taken an oath to the god of the Underworld."
My eyes close tight.
"So you have," the triplets intone in harmony.
A sharp battle cry slashes through the air. It sounds distant, the deep shout that makes my heart drop to my stomach. An answering cry, this one higher, sounds from my left and I turn to see Athena standing atop a chariot, her spear lifted into the air. The cries go back and forth, over and over, until I want to cover my ears.
Air rushes past me and I gasp as I open my eyes. I stand against a tree at the edge of the clearing. Edward's hands are tight on my shoulders. "Stay here," he begs. "Stay safe."
I feel a surge of anger. "No. This is my fight. This is my life."
He pauses. "You are my life, Dark One." The use of the nickname almost sends me into a tailspin. "I won't lose you."
Again, the ribbons dancing around him beckon me closer. I shake my head. "No. You won't. But I won't stay hidden."
Silence descends across the meadow then. I peer across the cover of night and see shadows lined up at the other end of the field. A fire suddenly appears in the center of the meadow, crackling the grass beneath it but not spreading out. I move closer, constantly aware that Edward moves with me.
Like a synchronized dance, figures move to the sides – the gods and goddesses who will not fight but will watch and aid with words and power. I recognize Ares who stands next to his sister though they hate each other. They will keep watch. Ares will crow in victory every time someone falls while Athena will mourn. I look to the figure next to Ares and feel the hatred emanating from her eyes that stare at me. Her stare makes me move closer to Edward, makes me curl into the chilled planes of his body.
He doesn't ask what's wrong. He doesn't look at me in concern. Instead, a dangerous sound of growling rumbles through his chest. He is completely focused across the field and that's when I notice the bright red hair that seems to dance in the firelight. Victoria. Her pale skin almost glows in the darkness and her lips are curled into a sneer as she watches me. I can practically feel her thirst for vengeance.
"Stay," Edward whispers. My fingers press against him though it does nothing. He doesn't look at me; his eyes flicker over the moving mass surrounding Victoria. "Stay."
As though my defiance is the bell that begins a boxing match, there is movement all around me. Flashes of limbs, rising growls and screeches, and bodies whipping across the field move in and out of my line of vision. As his family rushes toward the newborns surrounding Victoria, Edward tightens his grip on my wrist. Slight pain pushes past my skin and into the bones but I barely notice it. There are more than just Cullens on our side and I try to recognize their faces but can't. I don't worry about it for the time being; if they're helping us, that's all that matters.
Large shadows emerge from the cover of the woods. The snapping teeth of the Pack echo around the dark field. Their appearance causes Artemis to break the invisible line that divides gods and vampires. My mother follows quickly, a warrior for her daughter. They both get lost in the crowds of vampires and wolves but I hear the twang of Artemis' longbow, the arrows of Olympus scratching but not piercing marble skin.
A lithe figure appears at the edge of the field where tiny fires have been lit. As it moves, I am mesmerized and only when it passes between flames do I recognize the bright hair, the sensuous body.
"Empusa," I say in a near-whisper. Next to me Edward flinches and turns. "She's here."
"The wolves," he says quietly after a moment. "She's after the wolves."
"What?" I ask in alarm. "Why? The wolves?" My voice goes higher with each word. Panic swarms around my mind.
"They're human. They're the only humans here. She wants them." Edward's body tightens with tension. "They're the only ones she can –"
His hand is no longer holding me. Edward is a blur as he speeds toward the demigoddess in rage. I don't know what's happening, don't know what he's doing, or why, but just then, Alice's voice shouts a loud, "Edward, NO!"
Warm arms wrap around me and the flutter of wings blocks my view. I hear pain in the form of a scream, a high-toned shriek that pierces the air. A low, feral growl follows it, one that makes tiny bumps rise up on my skin. The familiar timbre is laced with anger.
I need to see him.
I need to help him.
"Morpheus, let me go," I beg. "I have to go to –"
A sudden force of shock and guilt washes over me. It's so strong that I stagger backwards into Morpheus' arms. He groans painfully but catches me. He whispers his confusion and loosens his hold; as soon as he does, I break through the curtain of his wings to see a new scene of destruction.
Edward stands above a fallen Empusa, whose fingers twitch against the grass. Her hair blazes in the flickering flames of the fires. She is barely alive, the ribbons around her changing from black to gray to black to gray; her mother's blood keeps her alive but her father's threatens to stop her heart completely. Next to them, the Moirae sway back and forth. Lachesis holds a hand up, her thumb and forefinger pressed together and in the light of Clotho's staff, I see a single piece of thread. Atropos holds her a pair of shears. In the stillness of the night, she hums a tune and brings the scissors up to the thread.
My mother walks up to the group and presses a hand firmly on Atropos' shoulder. The Fate turns her head and whispers but the words are indiscernible. Her hand stills and I take that moment to turn my attention to Edward who stands frozen with a hand over his mouth. I whisper his name and run toward him, ignoring the shouts for me to stand back. In the bright flames nearby, I can see that his eyes have changed from their normal gold to a deep crimson. The burgundy of Empusa's blood runs through him. I reach an arm out to him, frowning when he backs away.
"Edward," I say his name in a pleading tone, not one filled with command. He stops anyway and his eyes are pained. Again, I reach for him, breathing a sigh of relief when he welcomes the slide of my arm around his waist. He says nothing; he only stares at Empusa.
"Edward," is repeated again, this time in a mocking and angry tone. Hecate's powerful presence nears us and when I turn, I flinch at the murderous gaze she bestows on Edward. "Is that the name of the one who did this?" She stares down at her child, her daughter, and sneers when she glances back up. "You hurt a child of the gods," she says bitterly.
Edward's hand finally drops from his mouth to rest at his side. His lips are slick, though with blood or venom, I'm not entirely certain. I press myself closer to him in support. "When it is a matter of her life or the wolves who are willing to die to protect one of your gods, there is no choice to the matter." His words are harsh and real; they act like a magnet to those around us. A few of the wolves shift to stand behind him in a semi-circle, teeth bared in warning. Artemis appears in the space between the Moirae and Edward, her gratitude evident in the way her body turns to Edward.
I look around and notice changes. Gods and goddesses await some sort of sign, one that will allow them to fight now that one of their own has been hurt. A few are already walking through the crowds, stopping to study the vampires who are locked in odd positions. I notice Aphrodite stop and turn sharply toward vampires who almost look like they are in a warm embrace, except one is struggling viciously.
"Her life belongs to Olympus," Hecate hisses out. She raises a hand that is covered in black ink. My eyes struggle to read the markings and I suck in a breath through my teeth at the sorcery she seems to have brought with her.
"Half of her life belongs to us," my mother interrupts. Her voice is cold steel and I turn to face her. I attempt to catch her attention to show her the ruins etched onto Hecate's skin but her eyes blaze wildly, focused only on Hecate. "For years, my family has welcomed you, has befriended you, even when others shame you. You dare to defy that friendship in order to hurt my child?" As she steps forward, ink appears up and down my mother's bare arms. I gasp at the markings of my father, of the Underworld, as my mother's anger rises. "Your daughter seeks to tear mine apart. You threaten he who she loves for protecting her. I have the power to send you to the pits of Tarturus with no way to escape."
"Mother," I say her name softly. She holds a hand out to me, palm toward me, and I stop speaking. She is my mother but at this moment, she is a goddess. So am I. "Persephone." This time, she looks at me, the rage in her eyes lowering to a simmering anger. "This is against me. I have the right to give punishment."
For a moment, it looks like she will argue but I don't back down. I refuse to break the stare that is happening between us. I have this right – as a goddess, as the victim, as a ruler. After what seems like forever, she nods at me and I step forward, allowing my arm to move away from Edward. His hand is a comforting weight on my back.
"I've always heard of your friendship, of your allegiance to my parents, and to Demeter." My voice stays steady despite the nerves running through my system. "My mother is right – for what you and your lover and your daughter have done, I should send you all to the land below even my home." Hecate glares at me. "But I won't." Edward's fingers curl into the fabric of my shirt. "But I banish you from my home, Hecate. I banish you and those who cater to you from the safety of the Underworld." I look down at Empusa, moaning and barely moving. "Take her away, Hecate. If I were you, I'd be wary before showing myself to the Olympians again. You will have much to answer."
Slowly, Hecate bends down and takes Empusa into her arms. At the same pace, she bends her head to me in deference and slowly walks away. My body is thrumming with power, excitement. Behind me, Edward relaxes with every step Hecate takes away from us.
"Her thoughts are only of her daughter," Edward informs me quietly.
A wave of tiredness washes over me; I lean back into Edward's touch, flinching only when I hear him say Jasper's name lightly in a warning tone.
"Is he the cause of this?" I ask. Edward nods right before I feel a slight shift of paranoia overcome me. I turn to my mother but before I can say anything, the unfamiliar faces holding onto struggling newborns catch my attention again. Reaching behind me, I grasp Edward's wrist and turn so our hands dangle between us. "Edward, who are they?"
As if broken out of a trance, Edward's eyes roam over those standing around us. "The clan from Denali," he says with relief. "They were told a few weeks ago to be prepared and were on their way down already. They're friends, love." A tall, statuesque blonde walks quickly toward us and stops in front of Edward. Though I am used to beauty, her features almost make me stagger backwards. Her hair is the color of spun gold, her eyes a striking match. Edward turns quickly to her, breathing out a "Tanya" that makes me want to pull him away from her and closer to me.
"She ran," Tanya says in an urgent tone. "As soon as you started… drinking."
"Which way did she go? Was she alone?" Edward's voice is tense and I lean my body into his to offer comfort. His arm slides up to wrap around my shoulders and he pulls me in closer. "Victoria left," he whispers to me, telling me the information from Tanya's mind.
"She went to the north," Tanya says with her eyes focused on Edward's fingers entwined with mine. "I saw one other vampire with her. Male. Tall."
After a terse nod, Edward turns to me, his lips parting to speak, but his head tilts as though he hears a new voice in his mind – an unexpected one. His nostrils flare and I wish there was more light in the area so I could see his face more clearly.
"Edward? What is it?"
His body turns to the right – north. Slowly, as though he doesn't want anyone to notice what he's doing, his face turns to scan the field. I follow his movements though I see mostly shadows except for the few wolves pacing back and forth near the burning fires. "Tanya," Edward says abruptly. "Where is Irina?"
Frowning, I lift my face to look at him, to ask who Irina is, but Tanya lets out a surprised sound. "She's… She's not… Kate!" Another beautiful vampire, this time with hair the color of corn silk, appears. "Have you seen Irina?"
Kate shakes her head. "Not since we first arrived."
"Is there anything she holds a grudge for?" The two female vampires stare at him in confusion. I do the same. His words don't make any sense to me. "I need to know."
"I have no –"
"Yes," Tanya breathes out, cutting off Kate's response. She turns to Kate. "Sasha. She's never… We've never…" Edward places a hand on her arm in an effort to calm her but the arm that is still around me tightens. "You know we don't talk of what happened often, Edward, but Irina, she… She's the one who remembers it the most; she keeps it at the forefront of her mind – always."
"Why, Edward?" Kate cuts in. "Do you hear something? Where is she?"
Edward's hand moves off of Tanya's arm and reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "She's to the north of us. With Victoria." Bursts of sounds erupt around us, not just from Tanya and Kate, but also from a few of the Cullens who have rallied around us in concern. "Are her loyalties so easy to dissuade?"
Before Kate and Tanya answer, Rosalie speaks up, "They shouldn't. Irina loves her sisters; she respects our family. Something's wrong."
They argue because no one wants to run after Victoria and the unnamed vampire if Irina is with them. Edward, with Empusa's potent blood running through him, senses that Victoria is still near. When I worry about it, he tells me he can sense her; he's not sure how but she won't be able to evade him, not tonight. As he returns to the talks within the group, I feel a prickling sensation at the back of my neck, like someone is watching me.
In the glow of the fire, Aphrodite stares at me with a blank face. Even in the dimness of night, her hair shines like a silver river. She stands among vampires and my heart clenches tightly when I meet her gaze. Anger and jealousy rage like a violent storm in what I know are the deep blue irises of her eyes. She's close enough that I can read the smugness that begins to appear on her face but too far for me to say anything to her face.
She stopped. I remember the way she paused in front of two vampires and the way her lips moved in speech. I think back to that moment, attempt to remember everything I can. I hadn't recognized either vampire but somehow, I have an inkling of what may have happened. I turn back to the group.
"This Sasha," I say aloud. "How important was she?"
The voices quiet and Kate looks at me wearily. "She was our Esme."
My eyes flicker to where Esme is helping tend to one of the wolves – now in human form – who was hurt. "A mother." I move my gaze to my own mother who stands nearby as though waiting for me. "Irina loved her?"
"Loves her," Tanya corrects. "Of the three of us, she took it the hardest. Sasha – she betrayed us. We were devastated and Irina thinks of her often."
Betrayal. Secrets. Aphrodite turns away and begins to walk back to the other gods. Around her, I can see Shades walking aimlessly about, waiting for a guide to bring them to my father. Hermes. He is the messenger of gods, the bringer of souls to the Underworld. Hermes, who has a fondness for Aphrodite and gave her daughters, who is not and will never be Aphrodite's favored lover.
As though he knows I am thinking of him, Hermes stops in mid-air and looks at me. He looks confused at my perplexed stare. My eyes flicker between him and Aphrodite a few times. Slowly, she turns her head to look over her shoulder at me and her lips turn up into a wicked grin.
"Tanya," I murmur her name. "Kate." They both whip their heads around to look at me. "If Irina was given the chance to see Sasha again, what would she say?"
"She would," Tanya answers slowly. "She would ask what she had to do."
"And she'd do it," Kate breathes out.
"And she would do anything to make this happen?" My eyes catch the gaze of my mother; her mouth is set in a grim line like she knows where my thoughts are headed.
"Bella, what are you thinking?" Edward asks cautiously. He, of all the vampires present, know of empty words and possible promises and oaths taken.
"She is cunning and often wicked," I mumble. "She will use those he loves against him to have her way."
"Aphrodite," Persephone answers Edward when I don't. She turns to me. "That is who you think of, am I right, Daughter?"
"Jealous and petty," I say louder. "And willing to go against her own kind." I turn to Edward now and lift my hands up to his face. The tips of my fingers trace his cool cheeks and eyebrows; they brush against his lips. Love radiates from his red eyes through the mist of confusion. His lips part at my touch and the icy breath that flows out of him wraps around my skin and holds me close.
"She is right to be jealous of our love," Edward says quietly.
"We have to go after her," I tell him. "Not just you." Edward nods though a flare of fear flickers in his eyes before he blinks it away. "Can you sense Victoria, still?"
"Yes," he says with a nod. "Now that I know Irina is with her, it will be much easier."
He holds a hand out to me. His palm is up, his fingers bent slightly toward the sky. With one last glance around the people around us, I slip my hand into his and we are flying through the forest, racing through the trees. He has lifted me on his back and my arms and legs wrap around him tightly. Every now and then, Edward pauses for the briefest of moments before angling his body and running in another direction. It's clear that Victoria knows how to stay hidden and how to keep pursuers off her tail.
Two large blurs appear on either side of us after a few moments. Jacob and Seth, in their massive wolf forms, keep pace with Edward easily. Edward mumbles under his breath occasionally and I realize he can communicate with both wolves by reading their minds and giving them answers. It seems to be a blessing from the gods that they've followed us.
Higher and higher we go, leaving the lower trenches of the forest and climbing the rocky terrain of a trodden path. My hands grip Edward's neck tighter as he takes what seem to be shortcuts. I can't see much but I can hear small rocks tumbling down the sides of the mountain. I remind myself that even if I fall, I won't necessarily die, but the thought still makes me feel sick.
Edward stops suddenly and his hands reaching behind to catch me are the only reason I don't slide off of his body. We've reached a clearing but it's obvious it wasn't always that way. There are large tree trunks thrown haphazardly around the space, their roots tangled messes against the grass. A vampire I can only assume is Irina is laid across one of the trunks, her limbs not quite attached to her body. It's a horrifying display and Edward tries to shield me from the scene as he quietly asks Jacob to transform and take her back to her sisters.
No one else is around, at least not visibly. Edward puts a finger to his lips as a warning for me and Seth to stay quiet and still. His head whips around when he hears the sound of a breaking twig. I am swung around as Edward turns his entire body. A young boy – vampire, my mind reminds me – walks into the clearing, tall and imposing. His eyes are bloodshot red and his upper lip curls back in a growl. Next to me, Seth makes the same sound but his rumbles through the air and echoes all around us.
"Wait," Edward orders Seth softly. He watches the new vampire closely, carefully, moving around so that he is always between the other and me. "Riley," he says.
The young man stops then lets out a dark laugh. "She warned me about you," he says. "She told me about your mind tricks. They won't work on me."
"Tricks?" Edward practically spits out the word. "There are no tricks here, Riley. There's only you and me."
"And the girl," he sneers. "She's the one Victoria wants."
"She won't get her."
"No?" A smile breaks out on Riley's face. "We got you up here, didn't we? You're away from your little army of fighters. You're alone."
He lunges then but Edward is faster and soon, they're a blurred tangle of limbs in the bright light of the moon. Seth rears back on his haunches, shaking with his need to attack, but there's no way to tell where Edward ends and where Riley begins. In a single second where the two bodies separate, Seth launches himself toward Riley and the sound of snapping bones fills the air.
I feel helpless. I stand there, watching the fight happen before my eyes, and my body feels numb. There are people hurting because of me. A part of me wants Victoria to show herself, to fight on her own, but the other part of me knows I'm not ready to fight her. I don't know a thing about combat, about how to fight, and both Edward and Seth are struggling against the strength of a newborn vampire. A sharp howl bursts from Seth and he collapses against a fallen trunk. I see the trembling of his body and the rise and fall of a furry chest so I know he's alive but I can't even go to him with Riley and Edward in the way. A high-pitched giggle comes from above us. It distracts me from the scene before me. I turn my face up and see a flash of bright orange in the trees and then a lower, more masculine laugh comes from Riley's mouth. I look back to see Edward on his knees, his arms twisted behind his back while Riley holds him as still as possible.
"Edward!" I begin to run toward him but then Victoria appears, lithe and graceful and angry. I stumble back in shock and open my mouth again, knowing I will use every power inside of me to have us go free, but Victoria's hand clamps down over my mouth, a tight grip that threatens to steal all breath.
"It will be so easy for Riley to rip off Edward's arms right now, little Bella." Her voice is tinny, like a child's, and it has a mocking tone to it. "It will be even easier for me to drain you right now."
"Victoria," Edward's voice calls her name loudly like he's trying to showcase his rage but even I know he can't do much right now.
"What do you think he'll do, hmm? When he watches me drain you until you lose all of your immortality? When he watches me kill you?"
The fear and anguish burn brightly in Edward's eyes, the moonlight glinting in them. He breathes out my name, a broken whisper that morphs into a pained yell when Riley smirks and yanks his arm back harshly. The sound of bone coming apart splinters the air and I let out a sob behind Victoria's hand.
She hums without thinking. "Should I break you first?" she whispers into my ear. "Edward and his coven tore apart James before they burned him. Shall I do the same for you?"
There is no answer to be said. Without warning, Victoria spins us so that my back is to her chest. Her right hand stays clamped over my mouth and I can see Edward even more clearly than before when I only glimpsed him from over Victoria's shoulder. His body is tilted forward; his arms are held back in a long stretch as Riley holds him but keeps him still with a foot on his back. Behind me, Victoria twists my arm and I let out a shriek that is muffled by her palm. Around us, the leaves on the trees seem to rustle with my scream.
My eyes fall shut. The fingers of Victoria's hand press into my cheek. She coos at me, the sound sending shivers down my spine. The warmth of tears falls from the corners of my eyes and I feel both desperate and desolate. Edward chants my name, over and over again, like there is power behind his words.
There isn't and soon, even the cadence of his voice is drowned out my Victoria's laughter. Her head lowers to my neck. "Just a taste," I hear in the light, baby-like voice.
I squeeze my eyes tighter and wait. My eyes spring open when Victoria growls and turns her head sharply toward the forest. I strain to listen but don't hear anything except the wind blowing around us. Confused, I look to Edward and all I see are wide eyes. His mouth is open in what I assume is shock and he yells out a name just as a force hits Victoria, sending me sprawling over grass and dirt.
"Release him!" I scream instinctively toward Riley. It's the first thing I think to do and there is so much anger and pain in my voice that the force of my command practically pushes Riley away from Edward. Seth leaps up from the ground, a blur of brown fur, and the crunch of canine teeth into bone is sickeningly satisfying to my ears. As Seth drags him backward, shaking his head back and forth to dangle Riley from the air, I crawl toward Edward. He's desperately trying to reattach bones in his shoulder and though it takes him a few tries, he does it and turns to me.
"You're okay?" he asks frantically. "Are you okay?"
"Yes!" The tears are making my vision hazy but I reach for him, wanting to touch him, needing to feel the cold emanating from his body. "Edward –"
A loud scream echoes from the woods and then there's silence from the trees. Edward looks at me grimly. "Stay here, Bella. Stay here."
Feeling lost, I nod and press my back against a fallen tree trunk. Edward moves into a crouch and his head moves back and forth. I finally focus on the scene before me and let out a whimper. All I can see are the shadows of two figures grappling with each other.
"Stop," I whisper. Edward's back straightens and he looks over his shoulder at me. I shake my head at him and try to direct my commands at the fighters. "STOP!" They slow and face me, two pale faces – one with fiery red hair, the other with blond locks of gold. "Don't," I say quietly but already, I can feel my energy waning. I'm not used to fighting, not used to so much adrenaline. Victoria smiles and I can see the gleaming and slick teeth in the moonlight. Before I can blink, she reaches out and twists her arms. A sharp screech fills the air and I let out a cry.
"Rosalie!" Edward yells out the name again but it's too late. His sister's body is on the ground, a headless slab of cold stone. Normally the fastest one, Edward stands immobile, staring at Rosalie. It's all I can do as well.
Still with the smile on her face, Victoria reaches into an inner pocket of her coat and a flame appears from a lighter. She drops it easily onto Rosalie's body and the bright flames that begin to dance are all it takes to rip Edward from his stupor. He lunges forward but Victoria dodges him. They move in circles, oddly looking like two dancers around a campfire.
"It ends tonight," Edward threatens.
"Does it?" Victoria lets out a trilling laugh, her feet light as they move across the ground. "I've killed one already. What's a few more?"
Like a synchronized dance, Seth reappears, this time at Victoria's side, and pushes her hard so that she falls toward Edward instead of the fire. I watch as Edward's hands clamp down on her arms and bring her close. In what is reminiscent of a lover's embrace, he lowers his face into the crook of her neck. Instead of moans of satisfaction, though, I hear the same high-pitched sound from seconds earlier; it echoes in the clearing. Edward pulls away and Victoria's head falls to the ground. Her eyes are still open. Seth nudges the head to the fire and Edward forces the rest of her body to follow.
He steps back unsteadily. His wrist is pressed against his mouth as he stumbles to the ground. The smoke rises high, wavering when Edward lets out a heart-wrenching sound, an eruption of anguish that I can practically feel in my bones. Soundlessly, I lift to my feet and make my way to him, falling to my knees when I'm at his side. His body trembles within the circle of my arms and I breathe out, the air causing his hair to ruffle.
"I'm sorry," I whisper. "I'm sorry, so sorry."
"Loyal to a fault," he says quietly after long moments of silence. He turns his face and crimson eyes stare at me. "She came for us."
I have no words to say, nothing to comfort him. Rosalie, the beautiful female that seemed to hate me, is the one who followed, the one who saved me. I don't know why and curiosity burns through me.
"Emmett," Edward whispers his brother's name in near devastation. His hands move to his hair, his fingers tug at the strands, and all I can do is cover them with my own and leave kisses on his knuckles. Seth whines from his position on the other side of the fire. Edward turns his head and listens before nodding. "We have to go."
"Is something wrong?" I don't want anything else to happen. I don't know what else could happen at this point.
Edward forces himself to stand and takes a deep breath before he offers me his hands. I take them and pull myself up, wrapping my arms around his waist. He is an anchor for me even when grief is prevalent in his body language, in his tone, and in his eyes. Pressing a kiss onto my forehead, I feel his tension, but then he turns and offers me his back. I climb on, holding him as tightly as I can.
"Edward?" I call his name in question.
"We have visitors," Edward says solemnly. His voice sounds almost dead. "It seems the Volturi have arrived."
"No! They can't. My father –"
"Is also here, Bella," he cuts me off. "We have to go."
I know his body almost as well as I know my own. His muscles twitch in preparation to run. I turn my head toward the fire and watch the flames flicker and flare – an enemy and a loved one. Purple smoke rises and all I can do is bury my face in Edward's neck as we run to our families.
Thank you to Jill/ooza for the beta work on this chapter.
I don't normally write author's notes but I wanted to take a moment to apologize for the insane delay in this chapter. I don't have any other excuse than I had no idea that life would become crazy at the same time new plot ideas overtook my brain. This story will be finished; it is, after all, my baby. In fact, RtMS is coming to a close. There is one chapter remaining, and then an epilogue, which is already written and needs only to be edited.
I'll see you all soon with another chapter. Hopefully.