A/N: I'm back! I couldn't leave you guys hanging any longer than that! Here ya gooo!
The next few moments were a blur of movement. Enraged, Bella's troops converged on the remaining Hunter's and the deaths were concise and absolute. A hundred bows trained and loosed on the Queen. Either by her excitement or perhaps through over confidence, the shields that should have protected her were rendered ineffective. The pi cushion Queen fell to the ground, dead and unaccounted for. The Volturi were caught and held, the warriors turning to Carlisle for his final word. His transition to leader of the vampire world was an understood concept. The blond man simply turned and squeezed his eyes shut so the light of the flames wouldn't reach him. He could nothing for the screams, however.
Or the sobs. Hundreds crowded around Bella's body, held back only by courtesy as her Tribe fell to their knees around her and Alice strew herself across the girl's scorched remains. Rafael, grimacing and forcing back the bile in his throat, conjured a white sheet to lay over her after Alice had, with much difficulty, been pulled back. The vigil was held for an entire day and night by those closest to Bella. New comers and the wounded were taken back into camp to be treated, but many of those who were able chose to stand beside her.
"What now?" Rafael finally asked, to no one in particular.
Unfortunately, no one had an answer.
Dense, milky white fog obscured my vision. My head throbbed and my body ached when I moved. I came into conscious quickly, something unusual, as we had been trained... too... odd. I couldn't remember what I had been trained for, or even who the 'we' had been. As soon as I grasped for the knowledge it floated out of reach, seeming to disappear into the mist. I took a deep breath. The air smelled like a meadow after it rained. The ground beneath me was hard and smooth as silk, not quite polished to a marble finish. I groaned as I sat up, casting my gaze around me, looking for any clue as to where I was, or what I was doing there.
"Oh good. You're awake!" A voice, feminine and rich with a thousand accents greeted me. It was smooth and reminded me of honey and melted chocolate, but also ripened grain and dry earth. Perhaps wildflowers, too. I could see these things in my mind and recollect them vividly but where I had seen them, when or with who? It escaped me.
"What... where...?" I led off, my voice raspy to the point of a whisper and my thoughts disjointed.
"I will answer your questions in time, my child," the mysterious woman soothed. "But for now, I have several questions of my own. Do you know who I am?"
I scoffed and my brows knit together. "I can't even see you," I grumbled after clearing my throat.
"Well, how about now." From the fog in front of me, a tall, slender, tanned woman stepped out before me. Her hair was a honey-chestnut color, flecked with greens and blues, tinges of red. Her eyes glowed silver and her hairs were made from moving, living plants and even streams of water. Wildflowers and woven grasses covered her torso as a trickle of water splashed from her shoulder down her hip. Saplings and bark made up booths that stretched up to her knees, ending where large leaves and brush had made a long skirt. The colors were a motley, but orderly all the same. She moved with the grace of something unspeakably ancient.
"Gaia," I breathed out as the name sprung into my mind. Again the specifics eluded me but the gravity of her presence stunned me into silence.
"Correct," she said, smiling gently. "I am Gaia. And you are Bella Ravensage, of the Askari Hunters."
I gasp burst from my lungs as memories, unbidden, tore through my mind like wild fire. My veins jolted as my pulse spend up, adrenaline and pain pumping through my body. "The battle!" I cried out, searching this new wealth for any information on how it ended. I tracked it in an instant, from start to end. My body sagged in defeat. "Oh," I murmured, my voice barely a whisper. "I died."
Gaia smiled again, crossing the small space to kneel beside me and lay a hand on my shoulder. "Yes, you did. You sacrificed yourself for your mate."
I just shook my head, feeling the tears prick my eyes and not having the reserve to stop them. "There wasn't anything else I could do. I didn't even think about it. I had to, and I'm glad I did. Is Alice okay?" I asked, my voice hopeful and desperate.
Gaia nodded slowly. "Alice lives, as do her family and the wolves, and Arin and Skyler. Queen Generia Ravensage is dead, as are Aro, Caius, and Marcus of the Volturi."
"And Haebus? My father?" I asked.
Gaia nodded. "Him as well, slain by the Queen in her tent before the Hunters even joined the battle."
I thought occurred to me, and I voiced it. "You told me that Alice lives, but that's not what I asked. I asked if she was okay."
Gaia sighed sadly. "Alice is very distraught. She misses you terribly. The link from her soul to yours is severed and she feels as though a part of her is missing. It is. She... has tried to join you twice since you have fallen."
I gasped and jumped to my feet. "No!" I cried.
Gaia shifted so she sat cross legged. It occurred to me that I could not pinpoint an age on her. She was both youthful and ancient at once. "Her family is protecting her, as is your Tribe. They will not leave her. They know you well, and know you would not want her to join you here prematurely."
I sighed and sat down once more, slow and desolate. "Yes. Good."
"You do not want her to join you here?" Gaia asked, an eyebrow raised. "What about your other friends? Would you rather they be by your side."
I shook my head and whispered out, "No. Not like this. They have a duty to the earth as it is."
Gaia smiled, and I got the distinct feeling that I had passed a test. "Well... would you like to rejoin them?"
My head snapped up and my eyes zeroed in on her silver orbs. It was a hard glance and I knew, probably harder than I should afford to a goddess, the goddess, but this was too important. What was the catch?
Gaia went on. "You've known since you were young that you were special, Bella. You are my most favored child. I know you have never wanted to admit it, but I also know you could feel it close to your heart."
I could only nod.
"I can no longer reach the earth from my seclusion here across the Veil. My poor world is being destroyed, and I can do nothing but peer through this thick mist and try to make out the going ons. I am so terribly tired, sweet Bella. You have proved yourself to be wise, kind, gracious, and fervently dedicated to the health of the world as a whole and all of it's species. All of my creations. Therefore, I would like you to take my power and do what I cannot from the earth itself."
My jaw dropped open. She seemed to be waiting for a response, so I merely forced out, "With all respect, I am no goddess. I couldn't. I don't know the first thing about it."
"I would teach you of course, dear child. Here and now. You would have an eternity to spend my your mate's side. You would have the power you always dreamed of, to finally change things large scale, for the better. The magic reservoir you have now you increase tenfold, the universe would open to you." She must have caught the awestruck fear in my eyes, like a mouse before a hawk, because she asked with a small chuckle, "Does this daunt you?"
I nodded. "I can't. I shirked from leading a simple Clan, now you ask me to become a goddess? And what will happen to you?"
"I will always be here, Bella, to guide you but my power will be yours. After a thousand years of teaching the ways of the world would be second nature to you."
I balked once more. "I don't have a thousand years. I can't let Alice suffer for that long."
Gaia smiled and chuckled once more. "Silly Bella. What is a thousand years here means nothing. Time doesn't exist where we are."
"Where are we, exactly?" I asked.
"Limbo. The Veil. The In-Between. The cusp of life and death where everything is and is not, all at once. A great vortex of pliable energy."
"Well... I don't know," I said finally.
"If at any point you wish to cease, we will be able to stop and you will be able to continue on to the after life. If we can make it through and you accept, you will be able to send yourself back to your Alice and your friends."
I smirked, eyes narrowing. "Bribery, eh?"
"That is rule number one. Give and Take..."
For countless hours, days, years, we sat there and talked. Never once was I tired or hungry or cold. I sat and listened in rapt attention as Gaia unraveled the mysteries of life before my very eyes. Truth and lies became nothing, only the will and pull of the cosmos. I became a speck of dust floating in an infinite pool of knowledge, my mind's capacity for it never failing but always seeming just at the brim of too much. I felt that if I move to quickly or thought too hard it would surely tip and overflow. Anger and rage and love were brought before me in the truest of forms, raw and intimidating and fierce. One by one I learned the plants and animals of the earth, all that ever had been and all that would be for ever and ever until life extinguished, as it eventually would. I learned each being intimately and I tasted to tug of fate upon them. The balance of life and death tipped in my mind, rocking in time with the beat of my soul.
Finally, after countless words and lectures, truths and lies and everything in between, Gaia took a deep breath and smiled. "You're ready."
"It has been an eon," I murmured.
"Has it?" she questioned, mirth tickling her tongue and an eyebrow raised.
I just smiled and shook my head. "No, it hasn't." I paused and looked into the mist, which had slowly begun to clear as the years passed on. Now I could see scenes flashing before me, of our world and even of others. "I fear that I will be too different, now. How will I have a place among mortals now that I know what I know?"
"You have knowledge and power. History has shown that they are certainly capable of changing people but only if you let them." Gaia smiled and laid a hand on my shoulder once more. "You are still Bella and they will love you just the same."
I nodded and smiled. I understood now. I looked to her and grinned. "I'm ready."
She smiled a warm, deep, loving smile a mother gives a child. "You are."
Rows and rows of people, all garbed in black, stood before the raised table. The casket that rested atop it was made of light colored pine wood and the sharp scent perforated the calm air. Sniffles and weeping were the only sounds that could be heard along side a gentle rustling breeze. The day was uncommonly cold, both for Forks in general and especially at this time of year. Mourning hopefuls thought they felt traces of the late Hunter on the breeze.
Alice was inconsolable. She was a shuddering mess, supported only by the strong arms of her brothers, who were in a right state as well. Her tribe, while stoic in the face of loss, as they had been trained, could not spare a few stray tears. Skyler, Arin, and Thorskir also stood behind the alter to pay respects to their lost friend. There was no joy the be found that day, not a person in half a thousand were joyful. Likely not one person in the tens of thousands who would have come if they had been able to would have aught but good to say about Bella, but they would all carry heavy sorrow in their hearts.
Rafael had been chosen to do the honors according to Hunter ceremony.
He moved to stand over Bella's casket, facing the rows of mourners, on a dais behind where Bella's body lay. In one hand he held a bundle of herbs: sage and meadow grasses, wild flowers and sweet smelling tansy. He laid the bundle atop the casket and lay a single stick against it. One by one rows of Bella's friends and family came by and laid a branch of their own. Many had inscribed runes and spells onto theirs that would mingle with the smoke and carry the blessings beyond that they may protect her in the afterlife. Others, who knew her better, had depicted her acts of valor in pictures. Some yet had simply written prayers and phrases. Others were blank, simple tokens of their mourning. When the pyre had been constructed and the viewers back in their places, Rafael held aloft his sword hand, his right hand, and brought to life a small ball of flame.
Alice cried out, straining against the binding hands of Emmett and Jasper. "Please," she mumbled. "Let me go too."
Emmett closed his eyes against the words, trying his best not to accept them.
Rafael, voice choked with sorrow, spoke. "Bella was a true hero... A vision. She was everything our race, and anyone else really, has ever dreamed of becoming. She was patient and honest. She cared deeply for the weak or scared, and she was wise beyond her years. Her capability, being put to the test again and again, never failed her or those that depended on it. Each morning she woke up with determination and each night she fell asleep with an accomplished feeling of time well spent. She helped the helpless and healed the sick. She brought peace and justice to those that had been wrong. Most of all, she loved. One that had never been more than a figurehead to most, ignored by her family aside from the blood she carried, truly loved every person she came across. Even in those final moments she regretted that battle. She hated doing that. She was so pure, and she will be so, so missed." His voice cracked and he stopped. Bowing his head he stepped forward and slowly allowed his hand to ghost over the pyre, setting it alight.
In silence, the congregation watched as the flames grew bright and brighter. The smell of the smoke carried the hints of sage and tansy, but also of something distinctly different. Magical. Cinders began to float lazily towards the sky and even though the heat of the flames was substantial no one could bring themselves to step away from the flames. They all felt guilty, as if they would have been able to help had they been the smallest bit quicker or stronger. The heat was a penance and helped cleanse them.
Then, a ripple of motion passed through the crowd. A group awakening, a pulling from thoughts, as the color and shape of the fire abruptly changed. The red flames flickered blue and green and purple on the edges. The sparks in the air froze in their upward ascent, and instead began to slowly circle the casket as if in an orbit. The flames themselves turned into a twisting inferno and were steadily picking up speed. The fire's heat grew to unbearable levels and the crowd was forced to stumble backwards. The grass surrounding the dais blackened and scorched, vaporizing and crisping into ash for feet in each direction. The core of the flames were white, the casket no longer visible. At once, it died down, as if sucked inward, an implosion of sorts. And in it's place stood a figure. It was Bella, Alice and well.
And very different.
No one cared about that, though. The collective intake of air left them all feeling strangely unconstrained, as if all the matter surrounding them had been sucked away and they were left bare and fragile. Bella stood there, before them, expression slightly puzzled and amused, looking around her. Her battle armor was no where to be seen, instead she wore a tunic of shimmering silver gossamer over dark buckskin breeches and soft leather boots. Her hair was bound back with a silver band, the chocolate brown tint now altered. Instead it was streaked with silver and green and blue. Her chocolate brown irises were silver now as well. Her features were more refined, giving her an ageless look.
Alice was the first to break the silence and this time, Emmett let her go. She didn't speak as she raced to Bella's side, only cried out in startled joy. In her mind she wondered if her grief had snapped her mentality, but she really didn't care. Bella, on the other hand, having re-established the mate's link, smiled and opened her arms wide. Alice crashed into her side and clung to the taller girl while Bella wrapped her in a tight embrace.
"Hello to you too," Bella murmured, her voice as clear as crystalline waters, ringing with all the power of an active volcano.
"Bella?" Rafael choked out, stumbling forward. "How..?"
Bella just smiled and said, "Have you no faith? You really think I'd leave you so easily?"
Rafael just fell to his knees and began to laugh in shocked, weeping chuckles. It should be noted that he was not the only one.
A/N: Voila! See. Believe it or not, I've had this idea since the very beginning. I mean the beginning-beginning! Like when I was eating and the story idea popped into my mind, this one came right after it! It kinda comes full circle, you see. So you know why Bella was so awesome in the first place. Anyways! Here's the bad news: Next chapter will probably be the last :( But we had a good run, didn't we? Had some good times? I sure did. Like always, REVIEWS MAKE ME HAPPY! LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THOUGHT OF THIS LITTLE REJUVENATION! Maaaayybe ideas for a sequel? :D
I love you all!