Yes, I'm back. I hadn't intended on adding any more to Eden Burning, but the characters started talking to me again and I couldn't get them to pipe down until I started writing. I have to thank Detka and LauraLoo for holding my hand through this whole process. I could not have done this without you!
I hope you enjoy.
As always, I own nothing.
These violent delights have violent ends.
It had been almost two centuries since Edward had become part of the Volturi. Not one day had gone by that he didn't feel regret for everything that led him to that cold, dark castle. While he still looked like the same seventeen year old boy that had fallen desperately in love with Bella Swan, inside he couldn't have been more different. The years of serving Aro had numbed him to suffering and inured him to the gluttonous folly of his masters. Despite Aro's attempts to sway him, Edward had remained a vegetarian – and celibate – since the day he arrived in Italy.
In fact, Edward had obtained the nickname "The Monk" not long after being initiated into the Volturi Guard. He spoke only when spoken to, remained apart from the other guards, and never seemed to be affected by the beautiful women passing through the castle. Even Heidi had failed to lure him into her bed, a fact that still vexed her these many years later. Edward was the only man, vampire or human, she had ever failed to seduce. Adding to the accuracy of his nickname, Edward spent countless hours in the small chapel within the castle, replaying the past over and over again in his mind. The vision of Bella as she lay in his arms, so beautiful and fragile - the soft popping of her neck, the smell of burnt hair - each memory cut through him like a knife. He was beyond God - beyond saving, but he knew Bella was not. She was angel on Earth, so surely she had been given wings in Heaven. There, in the chapel, Edward prayed not for himself, but for Bella. Whether God heard him or not, he knew that he would never stop praying, never stop remembering, never stop atoning.
He had not returned to Forks since the day of the funeral. But now, as the anniversary of Bella's death approached, he felt a desperate yearning to go back. He was so tired of the emptiness in his soul and the guilt he carried like a yoke around his neck. No matter how long he lived, Edward knew that nothing could atone for what he had done to Bella and his family. No amount of suffering he went through made a damn difference – Bella was still dead, and his adopted family would always bear the scars of his actions. He longed to walk into the fire and end his wretched existence. But, as long as Aro held the threat of harm to the Cullens against him, Edward could make no move to end his life. He had done enough damage to his former family; there was no way he would risk inflicting more damage on them for his own selfish reasons. So, each day he performed his duties, going wherever Aro sent him, gleaning information from the minds around him and keeping the vampire population under control. He did everything Aro asked without complaint, as long as it pertained to his duties as a Guard.
For his part, Aro couldn't complain about Edward's service. It was less than enthusiastic, but never less than what was asked of him. Aro had hopes that one day Edward would view him as more than his punishment for killing Bella - that he would finally take his rightful place as a member of the Guard. However, he had finally had to admit that Edward was never going to look at Aro with anything more than hate or embrace the Volturi lifestyle. The Monk was indeed a fitting name for him. At least Aro could take comfort in the knowledge that he had Edward's unique talent on his side. With each touch of their hands, Aro knew that as long as he continued to hold the threat of harm towards the Cullen coven against Edward, he would never stray. And, it didn't hurt that he still had Chelsea to bind Edward to the Volturi. Edward had fought against Chelsea's ability to bind him to the Volturi since the first day that he arrived, but he had not failed Aro in anything he had asked. Regardless of Edward's disdain for his lot in life, he was Aro's creature for eternity.
Edward had recently returned to Volterra from China, where he had been meeting with a delegation of vampires who were working on what could be the nuclear weapon of the vampire world - a virus so potent that it would kill all vampires not inoculated within days. The leader of the largest Chinese coven, Zhuo Hu had squandered the immense wealth of his people, leaving them destitute and desperate to regain their fortune. Hu had been captured and killed, and the covens new leader, Gong Sun had jumped at Aro's proposal. The virus would be the perfect tool for Aro to cement his power for all time and the coven would have immense wealth and the favor of the Volturi. Edward was there to check on the progress of the project and to discern if the Gong coven was planning to double cross the Volturi and use the virus for their own gain.
As Edward strode into Aro's private chambers, he immediately held out his hand and placed it in Aro's deceivingly gentle grip. Immediately, Aro was assaulted with the myriad details of Edward's trip. Not surprisingly, he holed up in his quarters when not meeting with the Chinese delegation. And, he was pleased to know the virus and the vaccine were progressing as planned, and that Edward detected no deceit amongst the vampires he met with.
"Well done, Edward. This project is the most ambitious ever launched in the vampire world and will assure the rule of the Volturi for millenia to come. We must keep a close eye on Gong Sun- this virus must be carefully controlled and its existence must be kept an absolute secret. I will accompany you on your next trip to ensure their total cooperation. But, enough business for now. Heidi has just brought in a most inviting repast, if you would care to join us. We can debrief later." Aro knew Edward would refuse, but he continued to ask, hoping one day his most reluctant guard would recognize the folly of his ways and once again consume human blood.
"Thank you, but I think I will visit the chapel."
"Very well. Jane will fetch you when I am ready." Aro nodded, dismissing Edward.
Edward slowly made his way to the small chapel. The sight of his pilgrimage to this little used room didn't evoke surprise any longer. The inhabitants of the castle knew that if Edward wasn't in his chambers he could be found there. He made his way to the front of the room and lit nine candles: one for Bella, his human parents, and one for each member of his former adopted family. With each hiss of the match, Edward felt the burden of his guilt for all of the wrongs he had done. This was his penance – remembering the life he had turned asunder and the people he had hurt – and knowing that death itself was a blessing too good for a sinner such as him.
As he looked at the candles burning in front of the alter, Edward's mind drifted back to the day of Bella's death. It had been almost two centuries since he had taken her life. In that time, he hadn't returned to Forks, but lately he had been feeling a pull to go back. His life began an ended in that rainy little town, and after all the years he had lived in Volterra, it was still the only place he would ever think of as home. He wasn't sure if Aro would consent to the trip, although he could hardly worry that Edward was a flight risk. In his years of service to the Volturi, Edward had never balked at any assignment he was give, no matter how distasteful. Surely Aro would allow him a bit of freedom in exchange for his years of faithful service.
Later that evening, Jane summoned Edward to visit Aro in his private chambers. After the debriefing, Aro approached the topic that had been hanging between them for longer than Edward probably realized. Aro could read the longing in Edward's thoughts – he knew his youngest Guard wanted to make a pilgrimage to Forks. Edward had been carrying guilt for his wife's death for far too long. If Bella would have lived to old age, she would have been long dead by now – either way, the unnecessary remorse over his human wife was greatly annoying. Aro steepled his fingers, mentally urging Edward to broach the topic of Forks.
"As you seem to already know, I wish to return to Forks for a brief time. I have been your faithful servant now for almost two centuries, so I would ask for permission to travel alone. I give my word I will return to my duties here—"
Aro held up one finger. "I have given this issue much thought. Whether you are aware of it or not, your thoughts have been projecting your desire to return to Forks for some time now. I will allow you this trip, but you must promise me one thing in return."
Edward tensed, reading Aro's thoughts before the words could leave his lips.
"Upon your return, you must discard this priestly lifestyle you have adopted. You are a Volturi and I expect you to act as such. Your time of guilt and mourning must come to an end, Edward."
"I…you can't ask…" Edward stammered.
"That is my condition. Take it or leave it. I will not lie and say I wish you not to go. On the contrary, I most look forward to your company minus the sackcloth and ashes. But, the choice is yours."
"I need some time to consider your terms."
"Of course, dear boy. Run to the chapel and pray for divine intervention." Aro chuckled, waving his hands in a shooing motion. "I have had enough of your gloom for one day – leave and do not return until you have an answer."
Dismissed, Edward quickly left Aro's chambers. However, he didn't go to the chapel as Aro assumed. Instead, he made his way through the castle and out a back door that led to the lush gardens outside.
The day was bright and clear – Edward hoped the fresh air would help clear his mind after the many hours he had spent either cooped up in a plane or a small, dark room. On its face, Aro's offer should have been easy for him to reject. He had vowed to himself that he would spend the rest of his life doing penitence for his sins, and Aro's demand that he discard his carefully constructed lifestyle would obliterate that vow. However, he longed to go back to Forks – to revisit Bella's grave and feel close to her in a way that he couldn't anywhere else on Earth. He sat down on the nearest bench and fixed his eyes on the nearest rose bush.
"What do I do?" he whispered.
"If only the wind would answer."
Edward was caught off guard by Marcus's words. He had a startling ability to mask his thoughts, only letting in Edward when he chose. It was an talent he had developed in the years since Edward had joined the Guard. Marcus was a very private person, so Edward's ability was a very unwelcome intrusion.
"What can I do for you?" Edward asked, assuming Marcus had followed him outside because he had business only Edward could attend to.
"May I join you?"
"Yes, of course," Edward replied.
He took a seat beside Edward, smoothing his robes as he settled. "I couldn't help but over hear your conversation with Aro. What a most vexing choice you must make."
"It shouldn't be a choice at all. I can't undo the past, but I can't just forget it ever happened and move on. I killed Bella – I hurt my family. How does he expect me to turn my back on that?"
"Aro is not like us, you know. He doesn't feel sadness or regret. When Didyme was killed, he didn't bat an eye. I have never stopped missing her – not one day goes by that I don't think about what might have been if we would have been able to leave this place."
"Why didn't you leave after she died?"
"You shouldn't have to ask – I know Aro uses Chelsea's talent to keep me in line. In those early years I tried to leave many times, but she would cast her net tighter around me and I would lose the will to fight. Finally, I gave up. I am old – the world outside these walls holds no more for me than the world within them."
The emptiness in his tone made Edward feel sympathy for the first time for Marcus.
"Don't feel pity for me. I accept my lot in life. But you – you are still far too young to be as miserable as I. Depriving yourself of happiness won't bring Bella back or absolve you of your sins. We are beyond saving, regardless of the hours you spend in the chapel. Why continue to play the martyr?"
"But you have no trouble depriving yourself of happiness. Why should I be any different?" Edward asked, probing Marcus's mind for anything that would give away why he was talking so intimately with him.
"As I said, I am an old, done man. Happiness is not for me - not at this stage in my life. But you are still so young and the Volturi can offer much to a handsome, intelligent vampire such as yourself. Bella's death was a tragedy, but eternity is a very long time to punish yourself for something you cannot change."
Edward knew that what Marcus said was true, but he still couldn't imagine living the type of life that Aro wanted. "But to live the life Aro asks of me would be to dishonor Bella's memory. As much as I want to go back to Forks, I can't give Aro what he wants."
Marcus leaned close to Edward, so that he was whispering in his ear. "What if you could give Aro what he wants and get something in return?"
Edward tensed, sensing a trap. Marcus was one of the three most powerful vampires in the world – that was not something to be taken lightly. However, he couldn't resist finding out what Marcus had to offer.
"First you must tell Aro that you consent to his demands. We must tread carefully here. Trust me when I say that what I offer is worth the sacrifice."
Edward could only think of one thing that would lessen his burden and that was the promise that no matter what happened, the Cullen family would not be harmed. Aro could do what he wished with Edward, but his former family should be free to live without the fear that one day harm could come to them because of him. Other than that, nothing else Marcus offered held any appeal.
"What you don't seem to understand is that there is nothing I want – I've made peace with the fact that I will spend the rest of my life in Aro's debt. The only thing I would ever ask for is that the Cullen family be left in peace. Aro will never consent to that – as much as he seems to trust me, that is his only insurance I will behave."
"I know what I'm asking you is difficult. I am an old man and have seen much in my time. I see good in you Edward, even if you can't see it in yourself. Perhaps I am foolish, but I wish to help you lessen the burdensome load you carry. Meet me here in three days time with your answer. Now, if you will excuse me, I must meet my brothers. I wouldn't want Jane to come looking for me and find us together."
Marcus rose from the bench and departed the garden as silently as he had entered it. Edward was confused and worried. Marcus conveyed no more in his thoughts than he had spoken aloud. Was it possible that Marcus actually wanted to help Edward, or was he acting as Aro's agent, testing Edward's loyalties? What could Marcus offer Edward that would be worth him accepting the Volturi lifestyle and laying aside his guilt and remorse for the grievous wrongs he had committed? Nothing made sense, yet Edward couldn't help the strong feeling that he should trust Marcus. Perhaps it was the way he spoke of his long dead mate, or the fact that he saw the malevolence in Aro, but for the first time, Edward recognized that Marcus was far more than he seemed on the outside.
Edward spent the next two days contemplating his decision and staying as far away from Aro as possible. He didn't want to risk the brush of skin that would reveal his every thought and action. He was anxious that Aro would find out from Marcus, although he often gave his brothers the deference not to to read their thoughts unless the situation warranted the intrusion. So many things could go wrong and in the end. Edward could deal with whatever punishment Aro inflicted on him, but he couldn't bear the thought of any of the Cullen family suffering. He longed to talk to Carlisle - he always seemed to know what to do in any situation. Alas, he was on his own and time was running out for him to make a decision. He could accept Marcus's proposal and embrace whatever fate resulted, or he could turn him down and miss what might be his only chance to return to Forks one last time.
In the end, Edward decided that with nothing left to lose, there was no reason not to help. If he could gain freedom for the Cullens by helping Marcus, he could agree to Aro's terms. Nothing would change the regret or anguish he felt over Bella's death - and in a way, this would be a new phase of punishment. He could already feel the self loathing creeping into his mind as he thought about drinking human blood and giving his body over to a woman not his wife.
On the third day, Edward made his way back out to the garden and found Marcus already there.
"I assume you have come to a decision?" Marcus asked, not bothering with meaningless pleasantries.
"Tell me again why I should trust you? I've been here two hundred years and never once have you spoken to me outside of issuing orders. Now you want to help me? Please forgive me if I doubt your motives."
"I understand you have little reason to trust me. But, I cannot tell you any more until you are safely away from these walls. I cannot risk Aro discovering my plans."
"Your mind is strangely silent to me. This would all be so much easier if I could hear what you were thinking." Edward gave Marcus a wry grin.
"Dear boy, I have learned to adapt to my environment over these many centuries. Tell Aro that you will accede to his demands and I assure you that I will fully reveal my plans as soon as it is safe. Believe me, I would not ask this of you if I did not think that this plan would not benefit both our interests."
Edward caught a glimpse of a thought from Marcus and furrowed his brow.
"What will Aro pay for?" Edward asked.
Marcus blanched and stood suddenly. "Your decision, Edward. Tell me now. Will you go to Forks or remain here and live as the Monk for the rest of your existence?"
Now Edward was more confused than ever, but more than that he was intrigued. What had Aro done to make Marcus angry enough to plot against him and reach out to Edward for help? For the first time in many years, Edward felt a spark of life as he thought about acting against Aro.
"If I do this, can you promise the Cullens won't be harmed?"
"I can make no promises - but I will assure you that if my plans are successful, no harm will come to the Cullen coven."
Edward knew that was probably the most he could ask for. He extended his hand to Marcus. "I believe I will be making arrangements to visit Forks."
Aro had been delighted that Edward had accepted his demands. He had already begun planning a grand party to take place upon Edward's return. He had instructed Heidi to procure only the young and beautiful and promised her that she would have the honor of breaking Edward's vow of celibacy.
Edward cringed as he read Aro's thoughts. The homecoming he was planning was sure to have the vampires of Volterra talking for days. And, Edward was expected to enjoy every dreadful moment. How would he make it through the night without thinking of Bella or feeling guilty that he was breaking every vow he had made since her death? But, he had struck a deal with Marcus and it was too late to back out now.
A mere twenty four hours after Edward had announced his decision to Aro, he was sitting on the plane, impatiently waiting for take off. He still couldn't believe things had gone so smoothly. One touch of Aro's hand was all it would have taken to unravel this trip. Edward hadn't seen Marcus since their last meeting in the garden. He wondered if Aro had discovered their scheming and was just stringing Edward along. He tapped his fingers impatiently against the arm rest and tried to quell the dread bubbling in his stomach.
He couldn't help but think back to his last flight to Forks. That trip was taking him back to Bella's funeral - it was his chance to say goodbye and to apologize for all the wrong he had done. This time, he wasn't sure what he was hoping to accomplish. It wasn't as if returning to Forks was going to change his situation. He was still a member of the Volturi Guard, still a murderer, a monster - as he thought about it, returning to Forks would only reinforce the hopelessness of his existence. If only he knew what Marcus was planning and what role he would play in the scheme. He didn't believe in redemption, but retribution - that was an entirely different matter.
Edward was so lost in thought that he barely registered the wheels lifting off the ground. When he realized the plane was in flight, he felt the nausea and tension leave his body. He closed his eyes, relishing the freedom he felt when away from Volterra.
"That was easier than I expected."
If Edward had a heartbeat, it would have stuttered at the shock of having Marcus appear in the seat next to him.
"I guess I should have expected to see you here." It made sense - what better opportunity would Marcus have to fill Edward in on his plot than here, 30,000 feet above ground? "I assume you had the plane checked for bugs?"
"All precautions have been taken to ensure our conversation will be only between us," Marcus answered.
"Well then, please do fill me in on this grand plan of yours."
"The time has come for the Volturi to relinquish its power to a more universal governing body. You are going to help that happen."
Of all the things Marcus could have said, Edward had not anticipated that. "I...I'm not quite sure what to say, Marcus."
"The world has changed, yet the vampire community has not kept pace. Covens around the world chafe at not having a say in their governance. Power holds no appeal for me, not like it does for Aro and Caius, so who better than I to start a coup and overthrow the Volturi?" Marcus gave Edward a small smile. "I suppose you're wondering how I've kept this from Aro for so long?"
"Among other things, yes." Edward's mind was reeling with questions.
"Aro knows well that my hunger for power is weak. He rarely asks my counsel and only bothers to seek my thoughts when he has given me a pressing duty to fulfill. As of late, he has been obsessed with the virus being created by the Chinese. He and Cauis have been so immersed with their quest for total domination that I have been left quite alone."
"That might explain why your thoughts have been protected from Aro, but why do you want to overthrow him? I get that you don't care about having power, but a coup? What do you gain from destroying what the Volturi has built over hundreds of years? Vampire have been upset with the Volturi for a long time - why is the time for change suddenly now?"
"Aro and Didyme were siblings - did you know that?" Marcus asked.
"I did, yes." Carlisle had imparted all the knowledge he had of the Volturi leaders to his adopted family, realizing that information could one day be necessary to their survival.
"What does that have to do with overthrowing the Volturi?"
"I loved her the first time we met. She was sweet, shy - nothing like her brother," Marcus started, ignoring Edward's question. "We were so happy together, Didyme and I. Aro was always disappointed in her talent, but I always believed he loved her."
Edward tensed, reading the thoughts swirling through Marcus's mind.
"After a few centuries, we made the decision to leave Volterra. There was so much we wanted to do - so many places we wanted to live. Aro gave his blessing and threw us a lavish party to send us off in style. But, before we left he asked if we could help quash an uprising in Rome.
He told me she died at the hands of an insurgent; oh what a convincing performance he gave that day. But now I know the truth - he killed her to keep me by his side. For that, I will take away all he holds dear."
All that Marcus said made sense. He knew at another time, in another life, he would have killed anyone who hurt Bella. "Why didn't he just threaten you so you would stay?"
"As long as Didyme was alive, there was always the threat that I would leave. Her power might not have been the weapon he hoped for, but I think he knew that even Chelsea would not be able to stand against her in the long run. And, with Didyme gone, I had nothing else to live for. Aro had me right where he wanted me."
"How did you discover the truth?"
"A vampire who was there that day and saw it happen. He is a nomad with no love for the Volturi, so until recently he had no reason to tell me what he saw that day."
"What changed his mind?"
"He required my assistance. I saw no reason to come to his aid until he told me this information."
"And how do you know he wasn't lying?"
"It makes sense. Once Aro has acquired vampires with power, he is loathe to part with them. He uses whatever means necessary to ensure obedience. Killing Didyme caused him little sadness and kept me in the fold - problem solved."
Edward knew Aro was cruel, but to kill his own sister just to keep Marcus by his side was almost unfathomable. "I always knew he was a sick bastard, but that...I'm so sorry. I know that probably doesn't mean much from me, but I am."
"I don't require your sympathy, only your assistance."
"I'm here, aren't I?" Edward replied.
"As I knew you would be; It is no secret that Volturi Guard or not, you loathe Aro."
Marcus had him there. Edward had never tried to hide his disdain Aro. He skated on the edge of insolence, pushing Aro only as far as he thought safe. "So I was an easy choice to help you execute your master plan. Now that you have my assistance, are you going to tell me how we are going to bring down the Volturi? And, are we bringing down the whole coven, or just Aro? It seems to me this talk about a new governing body is just a means an end."
"If Aro is brought low and the world's vampire population are given a chance to govern themselves does my motivation really matter?"
"I suppose not, although something about this whole situation seems too convenient."
"I prefer to think of it as fortuitous," Marcus countered. "Let's move on to my plan, shall we?"
"Yes, please," Edward said, no bothering to mask his impatience.
"It's rather simple, really. The Gong coven has agreed to sell me the virus they are creating."
All of the perils and pitfalls of the plan immediately began popping up in Edward's mind. Marcus was playing a very dangerous game and Edward was now right in the middle. If things went wrong, he could only imagine the pain and suffering Aro would inflict on the Cullens, not to mention the punishment he would think up for Edward.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and bit back a groan. "And you're sure Gong Sun isn't going to go back to Aro and try to start a bidding war for the virus?"
"Gong has no love for Aro or the Volturi. He is happy to aid in their destruction. With my deal he gets the riches he so greatly desires as well as freedom from what he perceives as the heavy handedness of the Volturi style of governing."
"And will Gong give you the blueprints for the virus?" Edward asked.
"Yes, although I'm not sure that I trust him to give me the only is part of your role in all of this. Although Gong has stated his distaste for the whole idea, what leader would give up such a powerful weapon?"
Edward suddenly realized that he and Marcus wouldn't be traveling Forks. "We're going to China."
"Yes, indeed we are. I'm sorry, but your visit to Forks will have to wait. After this business is concluded, you will have the freedom to go wherever you wish."
The thought of freedom both scared and exhilarated Edward. He hadn't allowed himself to imagine a future where he wasn't beholden to Aro. Contemplating the future still wasn't a good idea - too much could still go wrong.
"Upon our arrival at Gong's compound, we will take possession of the virus, inoculation, and blueprints as soon as I wire the agreed upon funds to an account in Geneva. One of the scientists who developed the virus will give us a brief explanation of how it should be administered. We will stay no longer than necessary - it is vital we are back in Volterra in time for your party."
"Where does Aro think you have gone? Won't he be suspicious that you just disappeared?"
"Let him be suspicious." Marcus waved his hand as if he was shooing away a fly.
"But what if he demands your hand when you return?" Edward feared the rage Marcus held for Aro was clouding his judgement.
"That is exactly what I'm hoping will happen. For over 3,000 years, Aro has looked at me as nothing more than a tool to be used to secure his power. He killed my beloved and forced a life on me that I did not want. It is time for the tables to turn."
Even though Edward had brought on his current life by his own actions,he could relate to the blinding anger Marcus felt towards Aro. But, the plot he was proposing seemed ill thought out. "So what, we're going to just walk in the castle, hold out our hands and what, expect Aro not to have Renata subdue us before we can even think about infecting him?" There were so many holes in the plot it might as well have been swiss cheese.
"Do you have so little faith that I would even begin this mission before I had a plan in place? I have learned a few things from Aro over the years. Now, relax and enjoy the trip. I will fill you in on the rest of the trip on our return flight."
Relaxing was not going to be easy, not when all Edward could think about was all the ways things could go wrong. His brain ran through countess scenarios, none of them ending with Edward gaining his freedom. How he wanted to believe that everything would go according to plan and he would find himself far away from Volterra. Now that the possibility was before him, he ached to see Aro dead - he longed to escape from Italy and never return. But so many things had to go right first. Eventually, Edward chose a classic musical selection and tried immerse himself in the soothing notes.
Edward was still feeling unsettled when the transporter arrived in China,, but was more resigned to his fate than when he had first heard Marcus's plan. As soon as they disembarked, a car was waiting to take them to Gong's palace. This part of the plan was fairly straight forward: pay Gong for the virus, get a brief demonstration, stay long enough to be polite and leave. The drive to their destination was brief. Marcus mentally relayed some information on Gong and his coven to Edward so that he was prepared for what they would face when they reached their destination.
The next several hours went according to plan. After the formalities were out of the way, Marcus made a call to a banker in Geneva to transfer the agreed upon sum to Gong's bank account. Once the transfer was complete, Gong handed over the virus and antibody to Marcus and had one of his coven members give a debriefing.
The virus was very straight forward. It was delivered transdermally via the swipe of a medicated roller ball. Given the current medical technology, it was very crude, but it was the most effective method for delivery to a vampire. Once the virus touched the skin it would soak into the dermis and enter the circulatory system. Within hours, the infected vampire would start begin to rot from the outside in. Death would come within twenty four to thirty six hours. The virus was could be transmitted by the exchange of bodily fluids. Simple, yet deadly.
Marcus and Edward were both inoculated against the virus before departing China. They left Beijing with five doses of the virus, three doses of the antibody, and a microchip containing the formulation. Edward payed careful attention to Gong's thoughts every moment and, as Edward suspected, Gong had made no effort to destroy the vampires who created the virus, which was the only surefire way to ensure that knowledge of the virus was contained.
When Marcus and Edward were shown their chambers for the night, Edward finally had a chance to speak privately.
"Gong has no plans to eliminate the team of scientists responsible for creating the virus."
"I figured as much. What vampire with such power at his fingertips would so easily destroy it?"
"You don't seem worried," Edward stated.
"Now that I have the virus and the antibody, I can have scientists analyze it as well. Gong will not be able to run unchecked as long as I have the formula."
"That is just what Gong was thinking. He knows that the power of the virus is diluted now that he has sold it, but he knows that he still has a formidable weapon at his disposal. He has no immediate plans to use the virus. I judge it is more the security of knowing that he has it at his disposal." Edward didn't trust Gong by any means, but he didn't sense that he had any immediate plans to use the virus for his own gain. Gong's main goal was to rebuild the wealth of his coven and have a place at the table when the Volturi were replaced as the de facto rulers of the vampire world.
"I wouldn't have agreed to this if I thought Gong had ill intent. The formula will go to the new governing body and I have no doubt they will make every effort to stockpile as much of the antibody as possible."
"You put a great deal of trust in this new government," Edward scoffed.
"I should, Carlisle Cullen has agreed to be the first Secretary-General." Marcus had kept this information secret. Each step of his plan had been carefully planned out - it wouldn't do to have details leaking before he had obtained the virus.
"Does he know what you're planning do?" Edward was well aware that Carlisle eschewed violence unless there was no other choice.
"He does, and although he disagrees with my methods, his sense of duty towards his fellow vampires outweighs his distaste for this mission. He was actually quite wroth that I was involving you in all of this."
Edward's dead heart ached at the though that Carlisle might still care about him, even after all he had done. "If anyone can bring the world's covens together, it's Carlisle. I don't envy him the task ahead."
"Nor do I," Marcus agreed. "But, from his efforts will come a government capable of protecting the interests of the vampire community in a way that gives all the covens a voice."
Edward had great hopes for the future of his kind knowing that Carlisle Cullen would be the vampire in charge of putting together a coalition of vampires to run the government. Of course, like all governments it would have its problems, but he had no doubt that the foundation would be strong and that it would be fair and just.
"So, now that we have the virus and a plan in place for a government, would you care to fill me in on what comes in between?" Edward was anxious to find out what his role in the next part of the plan would be – and how Marcus believed only two vampires could topple the Volturi.
"The first thing you should know is that Demetri is on our side. Hopefully by the time we return Felix will be as well - if not we will be less one Guard. Nex—"
"Wait – Demetri is a part of this?" Edward scoffed. "Do you really think you can trust him?"
"I do. Demetri wants money and power. I have promised him a large sum of money in exchange for his assistance. I have also secured an agreement from Carlisle that Demetri will play a leading role in the Security Force the government will assemble. If Felix agrees to join us, the same offer will be extended to him."
The thought of Demetri and Felix having any part of the new government did not sit well with Edward. "They have tortured and killed! How could Carlisle agree to this?"
"What they have done in the past was done under orders from Aro. There will be strict rules in place on the use of force that the new Security Force will have to abide by, and there will be severe consequences for breaking them. Demetri understands his power will not be unchecked and that his role will be quite different from the one he played for Aro. Carlisle and I agreed that we must make the best of the situation. While this might seem distasteful to you, we need both vampires on our side. Now, if I may continue?"
Edward waved his hands, too furious to speak.
"Before we leave the plane, I will give you a vial of the virus – keep it in an easily accessible place. Our first challenge is to approach Aro and Cauis privately. I will arrange to have a private word with them in the anteroom just off the ballroom. It is vital that you follow me into the room. I don't think it will arouse suspicion, as Aro will be eager to hear about your trip.
"At this point you will dab a small amount on your hand before extending it to Aro. In the mean time, I will take care of Caius. Of course, Aro will know immediately what you have done. Hopefully, both Demetri and Felix will be there to subdue them both and secure them in a vault in the catacombs. We do not want them exposing others to the virus, so getting them to the catacombs is essential. If Felix is not there, you will need to assist Demetri."
The possibilities for failure threatened to overwhelm Edward. "And what about the rest of the Guard? It won't take them long to realize something is wrong."
"Once Aro and Caius are secured, Demetri is going to stage a breach in the catacombs. Once the guards are alerted, they will immediately converge upon the breach point, which just happens to be the cell where Jacque Dupont is being housed."
"He's still alive?" Edward asked. "Vampires generally don't withstand Aro's brand of torture very well."
"Apparently he still hasn't given up the pass codes. Aro has his heart quite set on the Arman Tateos Manookian painting in his collection."
"He's being tortured for a painting?"
"Which is exactly why Aro must be eliminated." Marcus pounded his fist on the armrest with each word.
"Am I to assume the plan is to trap as many guards as possible in the cell?"
"You are correct. As for any Guards that remain - we must hope they make a peaceful escape. The castle will be full of vampires - some who might be inclined to help us, but many more whose first instinct will be for self preservation."
"This is a disaster waiting to happen," Edward complained. "How can you be so sure this plan won't end with both of us set on fire?"
"I can't - but I am old and weary. I do not fear death, only living under the iron fist of a delusional master."
"I don't fear death, but I have seen Aro torture countless vampires. That I do fear." Edward had longed for death for close to two hundred years. He had tried to be killed by the Volturi in another life; it was ironic that he was trying to avoid the same fate today.
"Edward, I never claimed that this plan was perfect. But, I don't think things are a dire as you make them out to be. Many loyalties will be tested over the next several hours, and I think you will find that many vampires in Volterra are not as loyal to Aro as they might seem."
It had been six months since the Volturi had been overthrown. Once free, Edward felt lost and spent the time wandering around Europe, keeping in touch with Marcus every few weeks. He kept to the graveyards of whatever town he found himself in, keeping to the shadows and resisting the urge to hunt until his hunger became unbearable. Finally, he had broken down and made the journey to Forks. Time had changed the town considerably, familiar landmarks were gone, replaced by more modern buildings. The spot where the house he had once lived in with Bella once sod was now overrun with trees and grass. Just being there made his chest constrict. If any place was hell on Earth, this was it. The smell of burning hair filled his nose and he found himself running away. But, there was no where he could run that would erase the memory of what he had done to Bella.
Edward ran mindlessly and found himself at the cemetery. Although the town of Forks had changed, the cemetery had not. As he walked amongst the tomb stones, he remembered the last time he had been there. So much had changed since that day, yet the the stark reality of what had not changed loomed before him. While he was lost in thought, his feet had taken him to the mausoleum where Bella was interred. The age of the building showed by the crumbling and darkened marble exterior. Just has he had all those years ago, Edward raised a trembling hand to the handle and pushed the door open. The air was stale and cool and he took a deep breath into his lungs. He found the plaque with Bella's name on it and immediately brought his hand up to trace the letters of her name.
"My Bella," he whispered. "I know I don't deserve to be here, but I couldn't stay away any longer. I miss you so much. Not a day goes by that I don't hate myself for what I did to you. Living in Volterra, and being under Aro's thumb - I thought that would be my punishment. Now Aro is dead and I'm free and I have no idea what to do."
"I still can't believe it worked." He said, allowing a faint smile to form. "I'd like to think you sent a little luck our way. Not for me, but maybe for Carlisle. If things would have turned out differently...I don't even want to think what could have happened to him."
When Marcus and Edward had arrived back at the castle, they found that Demetri had persuaded not just Felix, but also Alec and Jane to defect. Technology had evolved to the point where Jane and Alec's powers weren't as formidable as they once were. As a result, their usefulness had diminished in Aro's eyes. That, combined with Aro's increasingly erratic behavior and the knowledge of what he had done to his own sister was enough to persuade the evil twins to turn their backs on him in his hour of need.
"The look on Aro's face when he took my hand was priceless, Bella. And watching him rot and die - I know it's horrible that I took such joy in another's suffering, but after all the misery Aro had caused...I just couldn't find it in myself to pity him. We offered to let Sulpecia visit him - through the glass of course, but even she couldn't muster up any sympathy for him. She and Athenadora had barely seen their husband's bodies burned before they left for Paris."
Trapping the Guards had been easier than Edward had imagined. "Once they discovered DuPont's cell was empty, they stood around arguing about how he could have escaped and which direction he would have gone. The doors to the cell had almost closed by the time they realized they were trapped. Heidi almost squeezed through the doors, but the electromagnetic barrier had already been activated. Demetri found Afton trying to sneak out of the castle. Once he saw his fellow Guards in a cell and Aro and Caius rotting, he didn't have any fight left. Carlisle spoke with him a few days later and let both him and Chelsea go. Out of all the Guards, Afton is probably the one I trust the most to stay out of trouble. I have no idea what is going to happen to the others."
Carlisle and the other vampires who had gathered to form the United Vampire Council still hadn't decided to do with the remnants of the Volturi Guard. Demetri, Felix, Jane and Alec had all joined the fledgling Security Forces, so for now, they weren't considered a high risk. However, Renata, Heidi, Corin and Santiago were still in custody, refusing to cooperate.
"I still don't trust Demetri and that group. They were faithful to Aro for far too many years for me to believe they are going to be happy working for a government that puts restrictions on them. And none of them can stand Carlisle - their loyalty to Marcus is the only thing keeping them in line. This government is still coming together; I'm afraid one wrong move from one of them could bring it down.
"There are so many things I would like to ask Carlisle, but I can't bring myself to face him. Marcus says that he wants to meet with me, but what could I possibly say to him after what I did? Sorry just isn't enough to cover all of the hurt I caused. I wish..." Edward shook his head. "I wish for so much that can never happen."
Above all he wanted to go back in time. He wanted Bella back - he wanted his family. Some days he even wanted to be back with the Volturi, leading a solitary life of self punishment and regret. Now that he was free to live as he chose he felt guilty. There were moments he contemplated stepping into the fire, but he could never quite force himself to do it. Whatever boldness had propelled him to lay in that fiery bed with Bella had long since left him.
Edward wasn't sure how much time he had spent in the mausoleum, pouring out two centuries worth of life to Bella when he heard the creak of the door and caught the familiar scent of a man he thought never to see again.
"Carlisle," he whispered, not daring to turn around.
"Son." Carlisle didn't move from the doorway.
"I'm not your son anymore." Edward tried to sound defiant, but his words came out dripping with resignation.
"You will always be my son. May I come in?"
Edward didn't answer, and heard Carlisle's steps echo on the marble floor until they stopped just behind him. He flinched when he felt a hand tentatively touch his shoulder.
"Edward, please look at me." Carlisle's voice was soft, but firm.
Edward slowly turned around, but couldn't bring himself to lift his head. Carlisle's thoughts were full of love and forgiveness, neither things Edward deserved.
"How can you possibly forgive me after all I've done? I killed Bella. I betrayed the trust of my family. I don't deserve anything less than your contempt."
"You caused a great deal of heartache and grief to many people and that is something you have to atone for in your own way. But as a father, my love for my children is unconditional. If it was any less, what kind of father would I be?"
Edward couldn't respond. How could he make Carlisle see that nothing he could do would atone for his sins – nothing could right the wrongs he had done.
"I know you don't see it now, but you can seek forgiveness. It won't come easily, but living your life denying love – punishing yourself for a wrong you can't undo – none of that is going to bring Bella back. She's already forgiven you, son. There are no records of wrong kept beyond the Gates of Heaven. This punishment – it is serving nothing. Do something good with your life – try to give back instead of trying to find ways of keeping yourself miserable. I'm not telling you to forget, or even to forgive yourself, just try to honor Bella's memory in a way that will make some small difference."
The thought of moving onto a life with purpose frightened him. "I don't know, Carlisle. I've spent so much time convincing myself that the only just life for me was one of punishment that I can't even imagine moving on right now."
"I understand – I just want you to know that I am always here for you. I forgive you even if you don't think you deserve it." Carlisle reached in his pocket and pulled out a small, silver ComCloud. "Please don't leave this here. If you ever need me..." His words trailed off as Edward took the device from his hand.
"Thank you, Carlisle. You're showing me more kindness than I could ever have have hoped for. And, I'll think about what you've said." He slipped the ComCloud in the pocket of his pants and extended his hand.
As their hands met, Edward saw the Cullen crest Carlisle wore around his wrist and thought of the bracelet he once wore.
"You don't need to wear a crest to be a Cullen." Carlisle followed Edward's gaze and pulled him into a hug. "There will always be a place for you in our home."
Carlisle left the mausoleum and Edward felt emptier than he thought was possible. There was nothing in him worth saving, and no good acts he did would make a damn bit of difference. He was still a murderer and a liar – a selfish monster to the core.
The more he thought about his encounter with Carlisle, the more depressed he became. He thought he had wanted his family back, but now that he had seen his father he realized that regaining what he had lost was impossible. He read Carlisle's thoughts and new the sincerity of his words were true. He really believed that if Edward dedicated himself to a life of purpose that he could find comfort. Edward knew the truth was much darker – no amount of good deeds would ever wash him clean.
As for Bella forgiving him – it was a thought Edward would not even let himself consider. He had no doubt that Bella was in Heaven, but nothing could convince him that she spared him even the smallest thought. He had sinned against her in the most unforgivable of ways and angel or not, she should rejoice in his misery. Bella might have loved him once, but that was snuffed out the moment he snapped her neck.
Edward stalked outside, barely restraining himself from slamming the doorHis hand closed around the ComCloud Carlisle had given him and crushed into powder as he began running. His feet didn't stop until he reached the road. It wouldn't do to be seen sprinting through downtown Forks with superhuman speed. He made his way to what looked like a coffee shop and took a moment to calm himself before he walked inside. There was only one thing he needed there, and it wasn't coffee. As his eyes scanned the tables, he noticed a woman enjoying her cup of coffee and reading, a lighter lying next to a pack of cigarettes on the table in front of her.
He made his way to the counter and swiped the lighter; the woman never blinked an eye. Since he was already at the counter, he ordered a drink and waited impatiently for the barista to prepare it. A few minutes later he exited the coffee shop, discarding his untouched coffee in the first waste bin he passed. His steps were slower as he made his way back out of town. So many memories surrounded him, even if Forks had changed drastically since he last lived there. In many ways, his life began in that rainy little town. Bella brought light into his life where only darkness had festered. Her beauty, her goodness, showed him that his existence could be so much more than day upon day of endless misery. But he had been weak and selfish - he let her precious humanity become a twisted curse - a torture whose only freedom meant death for them both.
His death had been delayed for over two hundred years, but now the moment was finally at hand. His life held no purpose –no meaning beyond punishing himself for a crime few people beyond himself still remembered. He had no family, no friends, and no God to plead to for mercy.
It didn't take long for him to gather a large pile of wood in the middle of the meadow that held so much meaning for him. He was happy here once, spending countless hours with Bella basking in the beauty of her presence. Today he would die here, haunted by memories that no amount of time could ever erase.
The wood was wet, so it took several moments for the flame to catch and several moments more for it to build up into a healthy fire. As he looked into the flames he felt no fear or trepidation, only relief that it would all be over. At one time he thought death was too good for him, but he was beyond the point of caring. What good was punishing himself if nothing would come of it?
The flames were now jumping into the afternoon sky, a brilliant orange against drab grey. The moment was at hand – there was nothing left to say – with one step it would be as if he never existed. With one stride, Edward walked into the flames. The pain was indescribable – far worse than even Jane's torture. He clenched his eyes shut, determined not to cry out. This was his final punishment, and he would accept it with the last shred of dignity he had left. The pain of all he had lost - the love and the wasted promise of a future with Bella, no matter how short, had carved a hole in him that nothing but death could fill.
Time passed and the spot where Edward died became overgrown, covering all traces of the funeral pyre that once burned so brightly. Carlisle tried in vain to contact Edward over the years. He never stopped asking the different vampires he met across the globe if they had seen him. Through his persistence, there was hardly a vampire alive who had not heard of his wayward son and human daughter-in-law. Finally, Carlisle stopped asking. It broke his heart to acknowledge that Edward was gone. His only hope was that he had found the peace in death. Even though Bella and Edward no longer walked the Earth, the story of their tragic love affair lived on in the vampire world, ensuring that though they might be gone, they would never be forgotten.