The one that called herself Isabella was fascinating, infuriating, but fascinating. She blocked all of our gifts, and I had tried them all. Jane found it especially frustrating. I could have killed her, of course, but I hated to waste such a gift. If she could be brought around to our way of thinking, she could be a valuable asset to us.
I wished that Alec's ability to render her mute would work; it would have been pleasant to have a break from the inane chatter. She seemed to resent being shackled inside Bella for so long, and she used her freedom to talk to its fullest extent. The only way I got some peace was to allow her a chamber in one of the towers.
In was in one of these moments of relative solitude that I was made aware of a vampire seeking an audience with my brothers and myself.
As was our custom, I called the guard to the throne room to greet our guest, with the exception of Felix whom I sent to Isabella's room to keep her distracted. He was the only one among our number who could be said to have any affection for the girl. They shared the same perverse sense of humor.
Demetri came into the room, leading an unfamiliar vampire; he was a tall man, with an olive cast to his pale skin. He seemed awed at the sight of my guard surrounding me. We were an impressive sight when assembled. I liked to make an impact when meeting someone for the first time.
He came to stand before me and made a low bow. "My Lord, I come with grave news."
I found I liked being addressed thus. I would have to consider having my guard call me the same. It had an air of grandeur that Master lacked.
I reined in my wayward thoughts and concentrated on our guest. "If you would just give me your hand I can see what you have come to share."
He looked confused and I elucidated, "With a touch I can read your thoughts. Every thought you have ever had, in fact."
He took an involuntary step back from me. I smiled indulgently at him. "You can attempt to flee if you like, but I know you have noticed the amount of vampires at my command. To be sporting, I will allow you to get to the door before I send them after you."
The vampire steeled himself and held out a hand to me. Exceedingly slowly, I reached for him, allowing the moment to stretch on to increase his tension. As my fingers closed around his, his eyes fell shut and his expression tautened.
There was a wealth of memory there for me to enjoy. He was over two centuries old, and even more temptingly, he was a veteran of the Southern Wars. He had led a coven in fact. I skimmed through his few human memories and focused on how it had felt to lead a coven in the wars. It was fascinating. Once I had glutted myself on his memories, I moved to his more recent thoughts, searching for what had led him to come to me.
When I found what I was seeking, I released his hand and leapt back with a hiss.
"What is it, Aro?" Caius asked.
It took me a moment to marshal myself. What I had seen in the vampire's thoughts was horrifying. Drawing in a deep breath, I spoke. "An immortal child."
The affect of my words was instant and overwhelming. The room around me exploded with hisses and growls. Even Marcus roused himself at the news. He looked directly in my eyes, and I knew, even without reading his thoughts, that he was thinking the same as me. This could not be allowed.
"But… how?" someone asked. I didn't take care to see whom.
"Someone called Maria created it. It cannot have reached ten years of mortality before its change."
"It must be destroyed." Caius' tone was menacing.
"And it will, brother," I said.
I paced the room, taking long strides. What to do now? I would have liked to go along to mete out justice against the creator and the child, but I had other things to consider. The Cullens would surely be coming soon. I needed to be here to oversee their capture. Too much to do, and not enough time to do it.
"Jane," I called, and she hurried to my side. "Take a guard of your choosing and destroy this threat."
"Yes, Master." She made a low bow and darted to her brother's side.
"Demetri, can you find the trail of the creature from our guest's mind?"
He fixed his eyes on the vampire for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, Master."
"Very well. Lead them to the abomination and oversee our guard. Do your duty to protect us."
In a rush of billowing robes, Jane, Alec, Afton, Demetri and Chelsea left the room. I watched them go with a sense of satisfaction. They would destroy the threat and our world would be at peace again.
As that reassuring thought came to me, the door swung open and Isabella appeared.
"What did I miss?"
I was loathe to admit it, even to myself, but I hated to be without my guard. I felt weakened without them. I kept Renata at my side at all times. She gave me the illusion of protection. The only that could breach her defenses was Isabella, a fact which she found highly entertaining. I was reconsidering my plan to kill her after all.
I was in my private chamber with Sulpicia when the ruckus started. I heard shouting voices and screams. Sulpicia exchanged a horrified look with me. Nothing like this had ever happened in the castle before.
"Stay hidden," I commanded as I ran for the door.
"Aro!" a familiar voice bellowed. "Where are you, you coward?"
No one, in my two millennia of life, had ever spoken to me like that. Let alone that whelp of a boy, Edward.
I raced through the halls to the throne room where I found what remained of my guard cowering against the walls. At the sight of me, they straightened and attempted to look brave. Caius hurried through the door at that moment.
"What is happening?"
"I rather think we are under attack."
The second the words slipped from my mouth the door were torn from their hinges and a mass of people made their way inside. At the head of the crowd was the boy Cullen. His face was contorted with rage. His eyes scanned the room wildly, searching for something. As they settled upon me, his lips curved into a menacing smile.
My guard immediately moved to form a protective cage around myself and Caius. Renata gripped the hem of my sleeve.
"Welcome, Edward," I opened my arms in greeting. "I had been hoping to see you again." Though I never imagined he would bring such a force down upon us. I would never admit it to a soul, but I felt the first prickles of fear as he looked at me. Fear that I had never felt in my vampire lifespan.
I looked at the vampires around him and knew that I had met my match at last. There were too many of them, too many by far. But one among their number caught my eye, and I knew was not yet lost. Carlisle. It was true that he was looking at me with open loathing in his eyes, but I knew him better than anyone. He would never kill me. He valued all life, even those of whom he hated.
Edward snarled. "Why did you do it? What did she ever do to you?"
He was asking me why. Surely he knew already. She was my crowning achievement.
"I did it because I could," I said with relish. "She was weak, your love made her weak. I merely finished the job you started the day you left her."
His expression crumpled and I expected him to falter, but he didn't. He closed his eyes for a moment and when he opened them, they were burning with fury once more. "You will die."
I shook my head. "You will not kill me, will he Carlisle. Don't you try to emulate your father at all times, he would never kill me."
"That's where you are wrong, Aro." I had never heard Carlisle speak in such a hate-filled tone. "You destroyed my daughter. Tore my family apart. I will never forgive you for this. I will help my son to kill you."
The guard around us tightened their ranks and dropped into crouches, preparing to attack. As if that was the cue they needed, the crowd of vampire's before us surged forward and launched themselves at us.
It happened too fast I barely had time to react. For a split second there was silence and then the room was rent with screams, snarls, and the metallic tearing of vampire flesh.
I pulled Renata with me to the corner of the room and clung to her hand. "Under no circumstance will you leave me, do you understand?"
"Yes, Master," she said in a trembling voice.
I would have liked to cover my eyes and look away, but they refused to accept my command. I was forced to watch as my dear ones were torn apart.
I looked around at the chaos of the room and knew it was all over.
I heard it in his thoughts the moment he accepted that it was all over. I was working in tandem with Carlisle, tearing Heidi to pieces at the time, but his thought drew my eyes to him. He slumped against the wall, gripping Renata's hand in his, looking defeated.
It couldn't really be called a battle; there were far too many of us for it to be called that. It was merely an assassination mission.
With every piece I tore from another of the guard, I thought of my Bella and how I was doing this for her. These people had watched her suffer and had done nothing to ease her pain. I now caused them pain in retribution.
Caius was brought down by Alice and Jasper. Santiago by Emmett and Rose. Peter and Charlotte took down Corin. Many other nameless members of the secondary guard were destroyed as we moved among them. There were injuries to our side, but no destructions. We were too strong for them.
Is it time for me now? I turned to the source of the thought, and found Marcus staring back at me.
"Do it, boy," he commanded. "End my suffering."
I looked at the man that was the living embodiment of my future path. Without Bella to guide me, his life was my own.
"Did you ever try to help her?" I asked in a mournful tone.
He shook his head. "Only once. I am sorry. I never meant for it to end this way."
I felt a surge of hatred for the man. To kill him would be to end his pain, he wished for the release of death, but he deserved to live.
"No," I said coldly. "You will live with the same pain I live with. That is your punishment."
My words drew the attention of everyone around me. The fight was over, we were victorious, there were just three left: Marcus, Aro and Renata. Marcus sought death and I would refuse him. Aro sought life and I would refuse him too. This was my right as Bella's mate. Her price would be theirs.
Marcus looked at me desperately. "Please."
I shook my head. I was not going to grant him his release. He slumped back in his chair and raised a shaking hand to his face.
"And, me? What fate awaits me?" Aro asked.
"Your guard is dead," I said. "Those that went south too."
The battle there had also been victorious, though at a cost. Jacob Black was dead. He had been killed by Felix and the immortal child. I felt no real pain for his loss. The weight of my loss was too great to add another's passing. I felt regret thought. He had fought for Bella and it had cost him his life.
Aro's face fell as he truly accepted that it was over. All the power he had lived and killed for was lost. He had nothing left now. Nothing except Renata.
"Enough of this crap," Emmett snarled and launched himself at Aro. He stopped and turned away as Renata's influence reached him. He cursed under his breath as he walked, against his will, to stand at Rosalie's side once again.
Aro laughed. "You cannot kill me. I still have one defense."
It was true. There was nothing we could do but stand and watch him. None of us were able to pass Renata's shield.
"Renata," Carlisle said in a soft tone. "You know he does not deserve your protection. He has enslaved you for long enough."
Renata's eyes were wide as she considered Carlisle. I could hear her thoughts; she was considering all that her master had done.
"Renata, my dearest one of all," Aro whispered in a silky tone. "Don't listen to their lies. You know I have only ever done what was needed to protect our kind."
The little headway we had been making with Renata was lost at his words. She was too devoted to Aro for us to reach her.
She shook her head. "Yes, Master. I know."
We were at a stalemate. There was nothing we could do other than hold Aro here indefinitely. Marcus could be freed to roam the world, but Aro was too dangerous. Jasper was fingering a silver lighter in his hand.
What do you think, Edward? He asked. Would it work?
Renata's shield certainly couldn't block the flames, but whole and uninjured Aro would be able to extinguish the flames. I shook my head. It was no good.
At that moment, the door flew open again and a slight figure darted into the room. She stopped short and stared at us, as we stared at her. My mouth dropped open. I had to be imagining it. She couldn't be here. It was impossible.
"Hey, Edward, what took you so long?" she asked brightly.
I blinked and shook my head experimentally. I had lost my mind after all. Bella was dead; she couldn't be talking to me. Even if she was alive, she would never have spoken to me like that.
"How…?" Carlisle asked in a wondering tone. "How is it possible?"
I heard a muffled sob and saw Esme covering her face in her hands.
"Bella!" Emmett bellowed.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one hallucinating.
Alice stepped forward with a hand raised, but the Bella apparition held up a hand. "No thanks, shorty. I'm good."
"Bella, is it really you?" I asked, hoping against all impossible hope. "Are you here?"
She tilted her head to the side and gave me an assessing look. "Nope."
My heart sank to my stomach. Of course she wasn't here. She was dead.
"Isabella?" Jasper asked in a hopeful tone.
"Got it in one, Tex. Now I ask again, what took you so long?"
"We thought you were dead," I said in a wondering tone.
"Of course you did. Any particular reason, or were you all just feeling a little dense today?"
"I saw you," Alice said. "I mean I didn't see you. You disappeared."
She bent double at the waist and laughed."Man, you guys are something else. Can you see me now?"
Alice searched her visions for a sight of Bella's path, but there was nothing there. She didn't exist for Alice.
"The shield," I said. "Of course. Why didn't we think?" There was no answer to my question. We didn't think because we were fools.
"So, what are we doing with him?" she asked as she stared at Aro.
"Nothing," Aro said with a cruel laugh. "They can do nothing with me."
Isabella grinned a wicked grin. "Is that right." With deliberate slowness, she stepped towards him. I waited for the moment she would be repelled by Renata's shield, but it never came. Instead, she stepped close enough to Aro to be able to touch him.
"You hurt us, Aro," she said, looking deep into his eyes. "You tortured us."
Aro nodded, without remorse.
"We're going to kill you now."
Aro began to laugh. "You won't kill me Isabella. You are too we—"
She cut off his words with a hand at his throat. She bowed her head forward as if she was going to kiss him. There was a foul screeching sound and a thud as Aro's head fell to the floor. His body crumpled down beside it. I noted that he hadn't fought her. He had known the end was coming, and he went into it with the little dignity he had left.
Isabella stepped back and surveyed the damage she had wrought. "Does anyone have a match?"
She took the proffered lighter from Jasper and dropped it down on what remained of Aro. I pulled her out of the way just in time as the flames whooshed up toward the ceiling. Seeing her alive was amazing, but feeling her in my arms was indescribable. I clung to her with all I had and sobbed into her neck.
"Oh, Bella, I thought I had lost you," I choked.
She struggled against me but I held her tighter. "Let me go," she hissed.
I looked back and saw that she was looking at me with fury. I was wrong, this wasn't my Bella come back to me; it was Isabella. I didn't understand why my Bella had not come back to the fore. The danger was over now.
"Bella Swan. You will come back to me now!" I commanded.
I watched with elation as the harsh set of her eyes lighten and the hard lines of her jaw softened. "Edward?" she asked in a tremulous tone.
"Oh, Bella," I sobbed, burying my face in her neck. "Oh, my Bella."
"It's okay," she soothed. "I'm here now."
And if I had my way, I would never let her go anywhere again.