Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Stephenie Meyer created this little world I like to play in.
All warfare is based upon deception.
Bella stood at the window gazing out over the back yard. The diffuse moonlight from the overcast night outlined her form against the panes of glass my wife had installed throughout our house to allow the natural ambiance to infiltrate our home. It had begun to rain. In stark contrast to the vibrant, moving, breathing forest, my daughter was as still as a statue…a magnificent creation as if Michelangelo had fashioned her himself.
I'd felt torn when Bella had told everyone to go to bed, and when Esme had seen my face she'd sent me back downstairs. "My dear, I'll be there in just a few minutes, but we both know Bella really just needs you right now."
After kissing Esme's lips reverently, I'd traveled back down the stairs to our living room. When I saw Bella's motionless form, I was never more grateful to my wife and for her understanding. Moving to stand beside Bella, I watched the raindrops trailing down the window pane. For the longest time, I remained silently beside her, no words necessary between us. The house was very quiet; the immortals kept their conversation to a very low murmur, while the others slept, the sound of their gentle breathing a susurrus.
"I thought I would be able to be cruel to them…" she whispered finally. "They were complicit in stealing Edward from us, from me, for God's sakes. Am I a weak person because I found it hard to stand the torture? Am I a bad person because I was willing to let the torture happen in hopes of gaining information? Does it make me less a mate to Edward that I had to shut my eyes at times? Do people think I don't lov…"
I put my hand to her shoulder to stop the torrent of her words. She immediately stopped, then shook her head minutely, still staring unseeingly out into the wet night. I knew exactly how she was feeling. It was how I felt every time we had to destroy or harm another creature. It was uncomfortable, but when needed, a necessary evil.
That was exactly how I would describe the two vampires that we'd ultimately destroyed after Kate and Jasper interrogated them. Kate with her electrical current, and Jasper with his subtle emotional manipulations to force both to spill their guts. Bad cop, good cop. I'd been unsure as to who exactly to console after the process – Bella, Jasper, or Kate. Bella had been enraged, incredulous, and then guilt-ridden when we learned just how long the ancient woman had been watching. It had been years. Jasper had struggled mightily to cope with the backwash of having to deal with both our emotions and the torturous feelings and emotions…things he'd amplified and manipulated to break both vampires. It was very much like the emotional climate he had fallen into after draining his human prey in the later part of his time with his erstwhile creator. Garrett thankfully had been beside Kate when she turned away finally, almost weak from the experience.
But in the end, Jasper and Kate had both had their mates to comfort them. Bella didn't. Lowering my hand from her shoulder, I knew that she needed to understand she wasn't the only one to feel such a dichotomy of reactions. "I know exactly what you were feeling, for I have experienced it as well, Bella. Our humanity…it does appear at odd times, doesn't it?"
She placed the fingertips of her right hand gently against the glass, as if she was reaching out into the wet night; her left hand hadn't moved from where Edward's wedding ring rested against her chest…hanging from a thick gold necklace. "I don't have much humanity left, Carlisle," she said in an almost inaudible whisper. "I may not have been as bloodthirsty as I expected, but I most definitely didn't have a lot of compassion for them."
I followed her eyes as she stared at a distant metal barrel which had contained the burned ashes of the two vampires. She had personally lit the fire in it.
"I'm sorry about the wait, Bella. I know you would prefer to immediately go to Africa and start the search." Demetri had indicated to us that that was where he could sense the ancient woman heading toward.
She turned quickly to me, her dark eyes flashing even in the weak light. "Everything within me screams to be on a plane, boat, or even swimming through the ocean to get there. But Jasper is right…" She turned back to the window. "She is prepared, and that is what she wants me…us to do." She placed her finger through Edward's wedding ring, dragging it gently to and fro on the necklace. "We have to be intelligent about our next course of action." Her words weren't too reassuring, but the sound of the gold of Edward's ring sliding along the necklace was oddly calming.
Her lips quirked slightly. "He'll be fighting as well to get back to us, Carlisle. How she thinks she'll keep him from doing so, I don't know. I worry though that if he gives her too much trouble…"
"He'll know when he is going too far, Bella."
One of the wolves…Paul from his dark grey coat…ghosted through the tree line drawing both of our attention. The packs had insisted on patrols even though we knew the unlikelihood the ancient woman would come back. She'd accomplished her mission. But now that she didn't have the werewolf to hide her scent, the wolves were eager for her to be naïve enough to stalk us again. They had memorized the scents they had found at the beach earlier, and would know instantly if she or her allies came near.
William had wanted to be with them as well, but his request had been met with resounding denial from all angles. As much as he'd fought it, his steady heartbeat and deep restful breaths coming from the floor above reassured the family that we were right to do so. He'd been exhausted after the battle. His phase back into human form had staggered him. He'd had to eat a great deal of food to replenish his energy before resting, which Esme had only been too glad to cook for. His transformation was just one of the many things we needed to sort out, but Bella had been the voice of reason. "A good night's rest for the kids and wolves and a night of communion for the mates."
To the unmated vampires, she'd shrugged her shoulders; the quirk of her lip had been reassuring, in that she could find any ounce of amusement right now. It all had to do with the ring she was toying with and the hope she'd been adamant about carrying as a result of its discovery. I thanked God for that ring and the hope it had brought.
Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin with the chaos. We had much to discuss, and I knew that many of the topics weren't going to be easy to resolve.
Charlie was not going to be happy, but Bella was insistent that her father, Sue, and Victoria go to Volterra with us. Sam had been surprisingly understanding, conceding that it would relieve them of the strain of posting daily patrols for the groups both in Forks and Seattle. Even as he acknowledged that relief, he had growled at the idea that we were removing ourselves so as to not make the Quileute a target. That notion had stung his pride in his Nation's ability to repel invaders. That I didn't respond had only bolstered his accurate assessment.
I was certain that this was not about our association with the wolves, but I'd yet to really determine the true reason the ancient woman hated and wanted a vendetta against us. We'd been lackadaisical to some degree in ferreting out just who she was. No more… Volterra was an abyss of information and knowledge with the many libraries Aro had accumulated in his long existence, our associations forming a network of connections to other stores of unwritten, orally conveyed knowledge. It was time, past time, to thoroughly scour our resources while notifying the vampire council of our intentions.
Having given us the time she felt we needed, Esme eased down the stairs and approached us, moving to wrap her arm around Bella's shoulder. My heart felt heavy seeing Bella lean her head against my wife, as if she was seeking comfort.
"We'll go to Volterra and meet with the council, Bella, because it will be important to inform them of our intentions," Esme murmured.
"All of them will come" I said, inwardly wondering about Amun; I had strong suspicions that he was linked to the ancient woman in some way. "But afterward, nothing will stop us. Nothing…" It was my solemn promise. My pain was immense, but I knew it was nothing in comparison to Bella's. Edward's absence was like a cancerous lesion.
Even my wife looked out into the rain as if it held the answers to our prayers.
Ancient Woman POV
The swaying of the ship caused the chains and rigging to clink loudly in the predawn silence. Only the dripping of the water as it flowed off us accompanied the clanging sounds. Nodding my head toward the wood planking of the ship, the vampire who was my Man-at-Arms dumped the body of the man I'd gone to recover inelegantly onto the planks. The wood beneath him groaned under his mass, but Edward didn't move. He was still underneath the Incan Wayob's control. The dark man stood next to me, his head inclined toward the prostrate body as he fingered his bone necklace rhythmically, his golden earrings glittering in the predawn darkness. I'd learned my mistake of releasing the young vampire king too soon. He was more of a credible force than I'd even given credence to; the destroyed body of Luison, my cloak, was testament to that. I was momentarily unhappy that I had lost my cloak, because I knew I could be more easily found by the witch-seer and by the beasts that guarded the aberrant clan.
Clan…no… I corrected myself. The Cullens were just another coven to be destroyed, particularly because they were different…aberrations. Clever aberrations…
As if proving the point, my gaze was drawn down. I was inordinately amazed at the finesse of the man lying in a heap on the decking. His fighting expertise was rivaled by very few I'd known over my long existence. That we were down to three was an example of that. It made me snarl in rage to know that my well trained troops had been reduced to rubble so easily by him and his progeny, but I couldn't also help but shiver in excitement at the level of aggression Edward had displayed. It was intoxicating. It was also clear that I needed to expand the training that had been provided to my army; my Man-at-Arms was clearly inferior. The thought was maddening.
Yes, I would be furious, except for the exceptional way it had all occurred.
Edward's mind was blank.
I still wanted to cackle in glee and had almost done so when I realized what had occurred. His reaction to Luison had been clearly instinctual, not based upon memories of the past. His confusion, as the dreamweaver released him, had shocked me for the barest of moments…until the implications hit.
Tabula Rasa. A blank slate.
My mind to shape and mold.
I didn't care how it had happened, suspecting that his coven had found some way to alter or wipe out his knowledge. They'd unknowingly handed me a most outstanding and incredible gift; although I suspected that they didn't realize the implications of what they'd done. Certainly, they wouldn't have wanted to eradicate his entire life…most likely just the memories he had received from Aro. Little did they know that I could care less about the destroyed leader's life and the memories the Italian had taken from the vast multitude of people he'd touched in his existence.
It was all trivial and had always had been.
However, had young Edward not have destroyed Luison, I would've; with the sudden change in events, the werewolf had become a sudden liability, despite my reliance on him as my cloak. He'd been the sole entity left to know the young vampire's ties with his family; the army I had waiting for the Cullens simply knew my targets, not the purpose. It had been near time to dispose of the cloak, anyway, his terrible smell notwithstanding. The Wayob had only joined us on the cliff as we watched the destruction of Maria's coven. I thought carefully as I stared down at Edward's form. What to do with him? How can I use him for my own purposes? It helped greatly that wiped clean, he could be taught anything. I could bend him to my own purposes; even turn him savagely against his own goodly and heavenly father and family. Then I smiled maliciously. I could easily weave a story that would encompass Edward's enslavement by the Cullens – that he'd fought valiantly for his mate Maria, but that the Cullens had been responsible for her destruction. For he was going to feel the loss of his true mate…that young woman who'd glared at me in Italy.
The mating bond was not easily broken, and it was my biggest hurdle now, thanks to my unexpected gift – the elimination of those memories that would've reminded Edward of his allegiance to Carlisle Cullen and his wife. Isabella Marie… Yes, if anything was still in that mind of his about his mate, the similarities in names would work nicely. It was always good to keep things simple…as close to the truth as possible when devising a plan of deception. My dark otherworldly friend had taught me this thusly. A simple lie could lead a person down the wrong path.
I'd believed I would have to restrain young Edward while I worked my magic on him; in fact, I'd prepared for such an outcome and had the means necessary to contain him at the camp. I'd expected a glorious, infuriated male vampire intent on returning to his family, but what I'd been given was infinitely better. I'd still have that delicious blend, but instead of his ire being directed at me, I could refocus it on his own family. The turn of events was too delicious to even consider.
Now, I just had to seduce him.
I had to use the sexual abstinence that would eat at him after having enjoyed a mating and all its requisite benefits. I'd seduced vampires before…ones that had lived upon rage and revenge after losing their "hearts." Ironically, the Cullens had nurtured two such men…ah…Stefan and Vladimir. They'd been fun during the time I'd spent with them in their castle in the dark mountains of Europe. They'd reserved a room for my use during my stay with them. I hadn't been with the pair very long at all, only a decade or so; their thirst for revenge against Aro and his rule had taken too much of their attention away from me. I did not share; I would NEVER be second again.
Looking down at the man splayed across the flooring, I noted his luminous beauty, and a covetous need bloomed within me. I squatted down to run my fingertip across the scar on his cheek. Perhaps I would keep him afterward…he was wickedly handsome, intelligent, resourceful, loyal to a fault, and inherently good – that last quality of which I wasn't so fond. Although a means to an end at the beginning of all this, he was becoming more to me.
My machinations were becoming more and more attractive. And there was never a time better to start.
"Release him, then the two of you disappear," I directed the Wayob, jerking my head toward the ocean. They could swim.
"Mistress," he spoke sharply, uncertain about leaving me with the man that had cause so much destruction. I raged, glaring at him. Even if his loyalty was endearing, his questioning was not.
"You dare to contest my orders?" I snarled.
He flinched, and the vampire beside him took a step away, hoping to distance himself from my incipient rage. I did not tolerate disobedience well at all; it was a lesson my Man at Arms knew well.
"Do as you are told. Go back to camp. I'll meet you there with Edward when the time is appropriate."
After one long last look and enough hesitation to enrage me, he finally complied. I heard the splash as the two slipped into the water. Remaining kneeling beside Edward, leaning over him with great care and concern, I waited. It had only taken a minute the last time for him to battle back. Only a minute more for Luison to take his final breath. I waited…knowing that he would most likely react. Of course…it was all a part of my plan. Even knowing, I had to fight hard not to react when his hand clamped around my throat. His hisses filled the air around us as he lunged up, dragging me with him. I'd adopted a submissive, meek stance, my mind full of worry. I put into place my artificial persona, burying my true thoughts deep behind a screen where he would not be able to read my mind.
My poor child…
There was so much they didn't know. So much they were on the cusp of knowing, but hadn't put together as of yet.
Read my mind Edward…see what I want you to see.
Startled, he looked around scanning for danger, but finding none. "Who are you?" he hissed, his black, angry eyes assessing me.
Making my eyes as sorrowful as I could, I gently fluttered my hands helpless against his grasp and saw the courteous behavior that Carlisle Cullen had ingrained in him finally emerge. Lowering me to the deck of the ship, he didn't so much let me go as loosen his grasp; he was a gentleman, not an idiot.
"I'm a friend. Maria, your mate, she was a friend."
"Marie?" I froze a little at the name, wondering just how buried his memories really were. He'd used one of the child's names so quickly.
"Maria," I reaffirmed, watching his gold eyes widen a little and refocus. I hated the color; they should be red as was right.
"Mate?" he asked, clearly not understanding.
"Your love, your only love."
"Where is she?" His eyes went wild again, as if he was remembering something; his hand tightened against my throat again. My moan of pain had him floundering. It didn't escape my notice that I found his chivalry intriguing as well.
"I'm sorry…" I hesitated and let out a sob. "They destroyed her." As if the thought itself destroyed me, I allowed my memories of the Cullens' raid on Maria fill my mind. They were dark, gruesome, full of exquisite violence…and effective.
His face fell and he released me to fall to his knees at the images of destruction. Wrapping his arms around his chest, he wailed as he mourned, and I secretly gloated. The mating instinct could be a problem, but it could also be a tool. Even the thought that his mate no longer existed had immediately incapacitated him. Lowering to my knees beside him, I waited. Patience…as humans were fond of saying…was a virtue. It wasn't always one I adopted, but for now, it worked.
"Destroyed?" he cried out some time later, finally having gained a degree of control.
"She's gone, I'm sorry." I said, imbuing my voice and mind with just the right touch of grief and mourning. "I couldn't save her, but I've been trying to get you away from them for a while. It is what she would've wanted…for you to be free of the control they had over you."
"I don't remember anything…" he muttered, looking up to me with glaring, hate-filled eyes. "I don't remember her…just a glimpse, maybe…"
"Dark hair…" I offered, internally gloating again at the luck of it all. It was so fortuitous that Maria had a tangential physical similarity to Isabella.
His eyes flared with awareness. "Yes…" He then looked down to the deck again. "I think so…"
"She had brown hair, and she was beautiful." I added quietly, letting him grieve, letting the pain of his mourning to flow over him as I indulged in seeing his pain. One tool to use to manipulate him.
Finally, our proximity became apparent to the young king, and he moved away from me, putting space between us. "I don't know you, or anything about you. For all I know, you are the person who has caused me pain."
Such a smart man…
"I know. I understand," I whispered almost hypnotically. I gestured very slightly at him. "But I'm here now to help you, and as you can tell, I don't mean you harm."
His fingers went to his nose and he pinched the bridge of it. "How is it I can hear your thoughts?"
Because I want you to…I wanted to shout in victory. Or at least what I want you to hear. "Because you are gifted; you've always been able to discern the thoughts of anyone you meet. It is why they wanted you."
"Who?" Edward said, confused.
"The Cullens. The rulers of our world. They are diabolical and tyrannical. They destroy those that don't abide by their dictates and have amassed an army of gifted individuals like you to ensure their control," I whispered again, using my considerable skills to seduce him to my side.
When his brow furrowed, I wanted so much to know if my representation of Aro's rule had hit the right note. Keeping it close to the truth, again, was always the best.
"See, I went to a lot of trouble to rescue you, because I knew it was what Maria…" his eyes jerked to me at the name "…would have wanted and because you were able to get a letter to me asking for my help. Now, I am their enemy for helping you, and they will come after us. You destroyed one of the people helping me when you woke the last time. I told the other two to leave, because I didn't want you hurting them. You can take off on your own, or you can come with me." I shrugged as if I could care less. "But I've commandeered this boat and plan to return to my coven."
"Coven?" he said in confusion.
As if his ignorance pained me, I let my shoulder fall in grief. He watched me intently as I attempted to match my emotions with the thoughts I was letting him hear. "There is so much I need to teach you again. I don't know how they did it, but somehow they erased all your memories." He looked furious at the possibility. "I'm certain they wanted to do so to leave you victim to anyone that would take advantage of you."
He moved over to the rail, and for a moment, I thought he might actually leap out into the water.
"What is my name?" he asked, tugging at his bronze hair in an agitated fashion.
"Edward. They called you Edward Cullen."
He hissed, from what I didn't know. For moments again, he stared out over the water, then turned back to me. "And yours?" he inquired.
Elemental rage, festered for as long as time had counted and then even before, threatened to overwhelm me. Hatred was a very mild word for my response, for how the memories of my "naming" made me feel.
But no one had ever dared to ask my real name. Poor child… He didn't know any better. It was very entertaining, and I couldn't help but want to give it to him. Just how widespread was Edward's loss of memory? Just how far did Carlisle Cullen's knowledge go?
Suddenly, my desire to know won out over any precautions.
"My name?" I asked, as if I was flattered he wanted to know.
He straightened slightly at my lack of hostility. He wasn't past his suspicions, but he it was apparent he was going to continue assessing me…and my purpose. "It is only proper that I know to whom I'm speaking to," he replied in an elegant way. I wanted to laugh at his manners; what a prize.
Moving slowly over to him, I reached my hand up as elegantly as any of the "fair maidens" I'd slaughtered during the Middle Ages. Yes, he was cautious, but again his good breeding won out. He grasped it lightly with his fingers and bowed over them. As the moonlight caught on the red in his hair, my possessive nature won out.
He was mine, and I was going to do whatever it took to keep him.
When his now-golden eyes looked up in expectation of an answer, I murmured, "My name is…"
I know, I know…I had to leave it there. Would love to know your thoughts!
My thanks to ColdOnePaul for putting his eyes on this chapter and making it so much better. He takes my drabble and makes it sound intelligent.