Breaking Dawn Reimagined @visser2315
All the World Hey all, back again! Sorry for the technical difficulties last chapter on ffnet, I'll be experimenting posting on this site here as an alternative. Hope you enjoy, and see you at the end!

Chapter 19: All the World

The cabin aboard the Volturi's personal jet was dark as we sped swiftly through the night.

We were quickly racing upon what could be the end of civilization as we knew it, and the dawn of a world ruled by the most savage of vampires, who sought after nothing but satisfaction for their ravenous appetites. However, for the first time in days I wasn't thinking about any of that.

Instead, my gaze was fixed on the ancient vampire in front of me, with eyes clouded with age and a deep, ever-present sadness. Her gaze seemed to stare right past me, back to a world I couldn't see.

She let out the briefest of sighs.

“Once, many centuries ago, I was human too.”

Sulpicia didn't move as she spoke, hands on the armrests beside her. Her oddly fragile, paper-like skin was even whiter than usual in the darkness, like an ancient statue carved in marble.

“I was the daughter of an administrator to a powerful lord, and we never wanted for anything. My father taught me a little of the writing system of the day, which was carved onto clay tablets to keep extensive records of business and other matters, but my days were more often spent helping my mother care for my younger brother. My brother would someday take our father's place, and was then, as I recall, the center of my world.

“However, when I was not yet seventeen, invaders from the north attacked our palace. The lord was slain, as were all the servants, along with my parents. I never saw what happened to my brother—likely slain as the others. I hid from the invaders amidst the produce on the back of a farmer's cart, but smoke from the fires overcame me.

“When I next awoke, I found myself far from the burning remains of our fallen home. The man who owned the cart had fled, me with him. He had thrown off everything but the most critical provisions, but left me where I was, in spite of my extra weight. I was nearly comatose with the shock, having lost everything I had ever known and loved, but he made me drink, and shared what little food he had with me.

“The man, an administrator and friend to my father, had been badly burned in putting out some of the fires around the cart just before escaping, and the burns began to fester—infected. He died just as we reached the city to which we had fled, and I was alone.

“Though none of the noble families would take me in as a house servant, ragged as I was and delirious with hunger, I learned of a palace on the city outskirts that kept a place for the care of orphans, children who had lost their parents to disease or the violence from the invaders that grew ever more widespread. I made my way there, and as I stood on its doorstep, I hoped myself at last safe.

“However, in spite of the beautiful frescoes that adorned the walls and works of pottery and bronze, it turned out to be a wretched place—the boys were put to hard labor in the palace farmlands, with a few of the more fortunate allowed to apprentice to the men who worked with bronze or pottery. The girls were set to weaving, all day long, clothing, tapestries, all manner of things. The servants placed in charge of our care were cruel to us if we did not produce as expected, and we worked until our fingers bled.

“But for all that, by far the worst for me was the other orphans. Though I did not consider it at the time, perhaps they saw in me, as the oldest among them, a way to strike back at their adult tormentors. Anything not carried directly on my person at all times was stolen, whether it be food or clothing or shoes. They told lies about what I did or didn't do to the head servants, and they in turn were even harsher with me. All I could do was spend my nights crying silently to myself, wishing with fervor I might have died with my family.

“It was in the midst of this, when I had sunk to my lowest point, I first saw him.”

Sulpicia closed her eyes for a moment, the barest hint of a smile playing across her lips. At last, she sighed and her eyes opened again.

“I had been told by the head servant to run some errand—the servants were in the habit of making us perform arduous tasks that ought to have been their duty, from carrying water to picking up the linens for washing—when I saw in the palace hall a young man, dressed in the clothes of an artisan. He was standing before one of the more impressive relief carvings along the hall, depicting a band of warriors on a hunt for a great boar. I didn't recognize him as one of the lord's personal artisans, and assumed he must be newly arrived, perhaps an apprentice. It struck me that his clothes were oddly clean, with not a least hint of clay dust, as the others could not seem to escape.

“As though sensing I was there, he turned to look at me. Though he was standing some ways away, features lit only by the red twilit sky just visible through an open doorway beyond, I saw instantly that his was surely the most beautiful face I had ever seen—every feature so perfectly defined, dark eyes deep as the night sky.

“I stared back longer than I should have, before I remembered myself. Even the lowest of servants were above us, and I quickly dropped to my knees in deference. However, when I looked up again, he was gone.

“As the days passed, I ruminated on the mysterious stranger. The more I considered, the more unlikely it seemed he could be a new artisan to the lord of our palace, or a new apprentice. The servants and other orphans would surely speak of him if he was, especially one so beautiful, so striking. I wondered if he might not have been one of the gods in disguise—Apollo came to my thoughts first, the light in his face, the obvious evident fascination and delight in the arts.

“Whatever the case, I expected I would never see him again. So it came as a shock when he appeared before me again some time later, in much the same manner, the same time of day. This time it was the geometric designs on a clay pot that seemed to intrigue him. As I quickly bowed yet again, this time he signaled me to come closer. I carefully left the heavy basket of soiled linens I had been carrying on the floor beside me sitting there, and hesitantly approached.

“'Do you see the work here?' he said to me, with an odd eagerness that reminded me of a child. 'Such exquisite craftsmanship. Lines so straight. There is only the tiniest flaw here. Remarkable for such unsteady hands.'

“I tried to see the flaw that he did, where his delicate hands gestured, but could not discern it. I did not know what he meant by unsteady hands—did he know the craftsman personally? Few of us knew which pots were made by which artisans, and some came from trade with distant lands. However, I merely kept my head bowed respectfully. I tried to remember all the stories I had ever heard of the gods, and determine how best to avoid offending him.

“He considered me with dark eyes bright with curiosity. 'You are one of the orphans,' he said.

“'I am,' I said softly, finding my voice at last.

“'Other lords find it a strange practice,' he mused. 'But clever, too. Are you glad to be here?'

“For a long moment, I didn't know how to answer. I thought back to my home of old, where I had been safe and loved, where my future had seemed secure and I had my young brother to love. His little smile as he fiddled with some toy, or made some discovery. And I thought of this palace, where we labored during the day and fell exhausted to sleep at night on hard beds of straw, amidst skittering vermin in the lowest servants' quarters. No one to confide in, all those around me ready to steal from me and leave me with nothing.

“Perhaps he read what I was thinking on my face, because he reached out then and, giving me the chance to pull away if I wished, gently placed a consoling hand against the back of mine.

“An odd gesture, one that would set the servants to gossiping if it were observed. But then, if he were a god, I supposed he wouldn't concern himself about such things. I found myself looking up, to glimpse his face one more time—only to find him smiling down at me in the most peculiar way. As though he knew me, as though he had always known me.

“And it was from that moment that it began.”

“An odd gesture, one that would set the servants to gossiping if it were observed. But then, if he were a god, I supposed he wouldn't concern himself about such things. I found myself looking up, to glimpse his face one more time—only to find him smiling down at me in the most peculiar way. As though he knew me, as though he had always known me.

“And it was from that moment that it began.”

Once again Sulpicia closed her eyes, seeming to savor the memory. She continued in a murmur, almost a trance, eyes still closed.

“He told me his name was Aro, and he came to see me in secret often, always catching me at moments when I was alone. He asked me questions of myself, though with that odd smile as though he already knew the answers. And I asked questions of him in return—I was struck by how much he knew of the world, how much he had seen. Never had I met someone with more appreciation for the beauty of the world, with an insatiable desire to see and experience and understand, and through his eyes I felt I might grow to see the beauty of the world as he did. Though I grew more certain he must be a god in disguise, that he would eventually lose interest as gods were wont to do, I felt even a few short weeks of such happiness could surely sustain me a lifetime.

“It was some time before Aro at last told me his secret. That he was immortal as I had suspected—but not Apollo. Rather, a descendent of those cursed by him—or so that was my only way of understanding it at the time. We had heard rumors of blood-drinkers of the underworld that devoured humans in other lands, but never seen them. He was one of them.

“I ought to have been shocked, horrified. But by then I was so deeply in love it hardly mattered. My parents were dead, my younger brother dead, even the old administrator who had been kind to me—I had no love for any in the human world, no connection to them. So when he asked me if I would like to join him, become like him, it was no decision at all.”

As Sulpicia spoke, I could almost see it. I could see myself in Sulpicia's place—some version of my own story, playing out a thousand years before my time. However, I already knew how this story ended, and I didn't like where she seemed to be going with it. Still, I stayed silent, waiting for her to continue.

“After I was turned, and the initial newborn frenzy had time to abate, Aro brought me fully into his world. He introduced me to his closest friends, Caius and Caius's mate, Athenodora, and his other close friend, Marcus. And, of course, Marcus's mate and Aro's sister from his human life, Didyme. Like her brother she was cheerful and good-natured, and happy just to finally meet me. From the beginning she felt almost as much my sister as his, and it was through her I felt as though I belonged, for the first time since my home had burned. I felt at home.

“I also learned for the first time the full measure of my husband's ambition. The immortal world was in chaos, torn apart by skirmishes for power. The most powerful, the Getae as we called them then or the vampires of Dacia—you now know them as the Romanians—were the most vile, indulgent of them all. My Aro, by contrast, believed our kind was meant to live in a more civilized fashion, concealing our existence from human knowledge and blending in with them, if simply for sake of convenience. He hoped to unite our kind and govern over them with the grace and order that the Dacians lacked.

“Over the course of two centuries, Aro made his preparations, working alongside Marcus and Caius. Aro and Marcus together made a particularly potent combination—they both possessed extra gifts, Aro able to read back deep into the memories of any he touched, while Marcus could read the strength of relationships between our kind just by looking on them. Aro quietly gathered allies, always knowing who to approach and who to dismiss as an enemy, how to convince those undecided into tipping in our favor. While the Dacians fought and ruled through brute force, we moved unnoticed in the shadows, always with the advantage of tactics, information.

“I did all I could to support him. I practiced my restraint so I might help turn potential candidates for our army into new recruits—Aro had a theory, you see, about the extra talents. He believed those who displayed remarkable gifts as humans would be more likely to develop into related powers once turned. I was tasked with identifying candidates, keeping an eye on those that seemed promising until they were ready to be turned. Athenodora and Didyme likewise did what they could to aid their mates. Power and glory, we were all caught up in Aro's vision—or so I thought.”

Sulpicia sighed a little, shaking her head slightly.

“I was not there when Marcus and Didyme went to speak with Aro. To explain they had grown weary of it all, and wished simply to go in peace, enjoy their love together in a simpler life far from the coming war against the Dacians.

“Though on the surface Aro appeared accepting, serene, and gave his blessing, I could see how it troubled him. Losing Marcus would surely cripple our chances of success.

“Much as I felt for him, some treacherous part of me envied Marcus and Didyme. Their love for each other, which was alone enough to satisfy them. I was so often second to Aro's ambition, or so it felt.

“Aro took my hand between his, as he often did. He knew my thoughts of course, but did not admonish me for them. Instead, he looked at me with nothing but love and kindness, as always. And yet, I saw a pain there, too, a deep regret impossible to understand.

“'My love,' he whispered to me, with earnestness. 'All we have accomplished—it has been as much thanks to you as the others. Because I have had you standing by my side. When my sister is gone, I will need you all the more. You must see—the legacy of our love will be felt by all the world.'

Sulpicia's eyes slid closed once more. For a long moment she was silent, and something taut and painful seemed to ripple over her features, like a sharp stone across a still pond. However, she breathed, a long deep breath she silently exhaled, and her face was once again smooth. She continued.

“Aro had convinced the two to stay a little longer—he and Caius had been trying to negotiate an alliance with another coven, and still needed Marcus's gift to tell how close the leader might be to siding with them against the Romanians. The leader did not like Aro's so openly intrusive gift, and explicitly refused to deal with him directly. Marcus agreed to stay until after the meeting, and accompany Caius.

“Caius naturally seemed sour of our prospects if Marcus left, but he did not voice as many complaints as I might have expected. I simply supposed at the time he, like Aro, knew there was to be no talking Marcus and Didyme out of their decision. I, on the other hand, was confident Aro would accomplish all he desired with or without Marcus. Once Marcus's soldiers saw they were to have no battle or glory following him, I was sure they would shift their allegiance to us. And Aro would always have his gift and infallible cleverness.

“On the night Marcus was to go with Caius, Aro made plans to meet with Didyme for a final hunt together. They had been blood siblings in their human lives after all, he the one to turn her, and he had always delighted in his beloved younger sister. I would miss her terribly as well, but I had spent most of the past few days with her, and would not intrude on their last time together as family. Instead, I made up my mind to check back in on a human, one I had been monitoring off and on for the past several months as a candidate for turning. Now that Marcus would be gone, I would double my efforts in Aro's cause. I would do all in my power to help my husband's desires come to pass. For, as he said, his vision to be felt by all the world.

“Much had changed in the human world in the centuries since I had been human. In my time, great palaces had been a common sight over the lands, ruled by lords who answered to a single powerful king. A great army had kept the people safe, and wealth and prosperity had flowed. However, the same invaders who had attacked my palace had struck elsewhere, ravaging the palaces and cities. The great civilization of my time had collapsed to small dispersed plots of farmland, run by simple farmers who kept no records. The wealth of knowledge of my time was forgotten, knowledge no longer accumulated. There was no unity, no king to keep order—chaos and violence were a constant threat.

“Still we had watched the humans, for those who might someday join our ranks with useful new talents. The girl I had been shadowing on occasion the past several months was no one important, merely a servant to one of the slightly larger farming households. She had attracted my attention by the skill with which she pilfered things from her masters. She took everything, from food to clothing to even some of the rough tools the men used to work the land. In many cases, she took things she couldn't possibly use, but she seemed to take a keen delight in making them disappear just as they might have been needed the most. To my knowledge, she had never been caught.

“She was still a child, too young for ideal turning, so I had simply observed. Though I had done my best to remain detached, dispassionate, in truth there was something about the girl that had piqued my interest. Perhaps I saw in her some shadow of my old human self—an orphan, as I had been, her parents long dead of disease and famine.

“And perhaps that was why she also so repelled me. For even if I saw in her some shadow of my old self, I saw even more the shadows of my long dead tormentors, the other orphans, who had hated and stolen from me and held me in utter contempt. Had she been among them, I knew she would have delighted in making me as miserable as they had.

“The small farming household in which the girl stayed had sprung up on the outskirts of what had once been a palatial city of my time. So I crouched in the darkness amidst the gently sloping hills that concealed the old domed tombs, where in times past those of wealth and means were buried to be properly seen off to the afterlife. I watched from a distance as she, dressed as usual in rough linen, snuck out as she often did, creeping along the sickly crops, on the hunt for something to snatch. Sometimes she had uprooted some of the plants, out of pure spite I assumed for I didn't see there could be any other reason for risking starvation for the entire household.

“Since my turning, the plight of humans had been of as little concern to me as that of chattel. But as I thought of my husband's words I found myself thinking back to the world as it had been in my early years as a human—when the great king and the officials had protected us, given us shelter and ensured we never went hungry. It had been a good time, a happy time, relatively speaking. Now humans scrounged off the land in desperation, half starving. The invaders had torn down the old order, sewn chaos in their wake, and left behind this poor, barren land as their legacy.

“Were the Dacians, our enemies, which we had worked so long to undermine and someday overcome, not unlike the invaders? Wild beasts that sewed chaos and destroyed order? When Aro's plans came to pass, surely we would be like the great king of before, bringing peace to the chaos, saving our kind from its own self destruction. Aro had seen this—that was why he was so determined. Why he put his plans ahead of everything else, even his love for me and the rest of his coven.

“In that moment, I felt more pride than I had ever felt in being his mate—even as I also felt a stir of unease. His words whispered in the back of my mind.

“When my sister is gone...

“I can't say why in that moment I was so certain. Perhaps I knew my Aro even better than I realized. That he would not chance the failure of his grand designs, that he would find a way to keep Marcus with us—no matter what he had to sacrifice.

“I raced back with all the speed I could muster, back to where we had parted at the beginning of the night. All the while I fought with myself—surely not. She was his beloved sister. I must be mistaken. When Aro saw these thoughts, he would be both amused and hurt.

“Still I kept going. I followed his scent at first, but it cut off in a stream, and so I doubled back and found hers instead. I followed it to a copse of trees next to a winding stream, far out in the wilderness, away from any of the scattered human settlements. I heard it first—the terrible sound that meant I was already too late. The tearing, the grinding of stone broken apart. And I saw the flames.

“I stopped at some distance, and through the trees half obscured, I saw him there. He stood in the stream—disguising his scent trail. And next to him was a small bonfire, which he watched as though in a trance. Within the flames, I saw them—pale dismembered limbs, all too familiar. The smoke rose into the dark air, the wind carrying its sickly sweet scent to me.

“I don't know what would have happened if he had turned to see me there, or if the wind had changed to give me away. Perhaps I would have been dead. Or perhaps he would have found a way to soothe everything I was feeling, bring me back around to his side. I do not know—but in that breath of time, I knew all I could do was flee.”

Sulpicia's misty gaze stared at nothing. Though I detected no strain in her features, I was tense. An errant image crossed my mind—not of Sulpicia, thousands of years ago as she saw her sister burn. But me.

Watching beautiful, delicate hands strike down someone else I loved.

A deep shudder coursed through my frame, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. However, I pushed the image viciously aside, focusing everything on Sulpicia. This was her story, not mine.

Sulpicia spoke softly at last. “I have never, neither before nor since, been so wretched. Didyme, my beloved sister, lost to me forever. My brother Marcus, soon to be writhing in inescapable anguish. My husband, their betrayer. That I would now have to betray one of my family was inevitable—to keep silent would betray my sister's memory. To speak would condemn my husband to Marcus's vengeance.

“As I raced blindly across the desolate countryside, I came at last to a cliff overlooking one of the many mazes of fallen walls of the old palaces. This one, unlike where the servant girl lived, was empty of humans, deserted. As I gazed upon the ruins I saw behind my eyes again my sister, burning, and my mate, filled with a vision for this world, one where chaos was brought to order, where our kind looked to one entity that enforced justice, and was better for it.

“Once, long ago, I had felt safe and happy in the sanctuary of my palace home. Aro had later saved me, and I did not often think of that loss—but now I felt much as I must have felt as a human. My home, my sanctuary, aflame.

“I loved Aro, his infinite curiosity and ambition, and I believed in that world he had so often spoken of, the one we would create. But now I knew that, for as many palaces he might build, places of safety he would create in his new world, he would burn many sanctuaries to get there. I had lost my sister—who else might I lose before his vision was realized? Athena? Caius? Someone else I may still yet come to care for?

“I realized two things in that moment, as I gazed upon the ruins of my old human world. First, I loved my dear Aro as I always had. Second, my own world as I'd known it had shifted. Where before I had been content to have no ambition of my own, to stand at my husband's side through eternity, I knew now that perhaps I had been meant for something different. That, in the end, it would be not Aro's vision felt by all the world, but mine.

“And so my decision was made.”

Sulpicia's face was oddly tranquil as I watched her in the dark cabin, her eyes closed as though on the verge of sleep. Then they opened to meet mine. I saw pain there—but also resolve.

Sulpicia continued, her voice brisk now, almost business-like. “Marcus's soldiers seized Aro immediately upon his return. Marcus's pain and rage were beyond description, and it was only Caius, who argued vehemently that Aro's power was the cornerstone of all our hope to defeat the other covens, who made him hesitate, if only briefly. While Marcus had no interest in the rebellion any longer, I sided with Caius, and the two of us together were able to convince him to hold off for a time. If Marcus saw my intervention as from weakness, he did not say so—perhaps he felt he owed me something, given that he would never have known his friend's betrayal without my sacrifice.

“Of course, the success of the fight against the other covens had never been of more vital importance to me than it was now. I cast about for a solution to our quandary—and a distant possibility occurred to me. Finding another gift to replace Aro's was hopeless, we had not come across anything like it in the two hundred years of our preparations. But perhaps his gift could be taken from him—stolen.

“I returned to the household where the young servant girl lived, taking two of the soldiers Marcus had left to me—though Aro's many precautions had ensured our preparations against the Dacians went largely unnoticed, now that I had technically taken my husband's place among our coven's leaders, I could not afford to be careless.

“Capturing her was absurdly easy—she was often prowling about at night, hunting for what she might take for herself. I handled her myself, quietly rendering her unconscious and whisking her away through the darkness. Knowing that even though Aro's theory about our gifts may have merit, it was a desperate hope, so unlikely I didn't even bother to inform Marcus or Caius of what I meant to attempt.

“Though we could have been as comfortable in a cave or stretch of forest for our home, Aro had always preferred walls where he stayed, a structure massive and imposing, like the palaces of our own time. Which was why, deep in the mountains, far from human eyes, we had constructed a palace of our own. With thick stone walls decorated with frescoes and tapestries depicting the gods, sometimes with Aro and ourselves mixed in. The humans would have marveled at its grandeur, especially now when the memory of grand palaces had faded.

“Now Aro knelt confined in the bowels of the palace's underground dungeons, where we had occasionally brought prisoners Aro didn't want to kill right away, and I brought the girl to a chamber I had kept as my own. I lay her down on a pile of silks, and waited for her to rouse.

“When she did wake, she did not run or try to speak. Rather, she simply glared at me with sullen, resentful eyes. As though I were another master she despised.

“I could have begun the change immediately, but I knew for what I wanted, if she possessed the power we needed, it would be preferable to have her willing cooperation. I knew from observation she was an unmanageable creature at best, but perhaps she might be enticed to be a little more agreeable.

“'You must be frightened,' I told her, as kindly as I could. My husband had always had a way of setting others at ease, and I did my best to imitate him. 'I'm sorry to have taken you as I did. But I had to bring you here. You are—chosen.'

“She eyed me warily—suspicious. She ran a careful hand over the silks she was sitting on, and I saw the flash of greed in her eyes. I seized on it.

“'Yes, there will be many things you will have when you join us. Things only kings and lords of the past knew. You will have more than you can possibly imagine—strength, immortality. No spear or sword will be able to pierce you, no poison will touch you. You may be hungry, but you will never be in danger of starving. All you must do is swear yourself to me.'

“Something seemed to flash in her dark, hostile eyes, but I couldn't interpret it as Aro would have. Her eyes dropped to the ground. In a very quiet voice, almost rasping as though with disuse, she whispered, 'What are you?'

“A fair question. I considered the simplest way to answer—how she might understand. I crouched in front of her, letting her see my inhuman features closer, my alabaster skin, my eyes dark red with human blood.

“'You have heard coyotes bay at night, as they hunt rodents in the field. Well, if you are the rodents, then we are the coyotes. We stand above other creatures. But I can make you one of us.'

“I could not read her reaction. With another child, perhaps I would not have been so direct. But as I had observed the girl I had seen in her actions what I thought to be a longing to be something other than a small girl subject to the whims of others. Stealing that which would have been impossible for someone else to steal seemed to make her feel strong, and for the chance to be the predator rather than prey I could not help but guess would appeal to her twisted way of thinking.

“She stared down at the silks beneath her. Once again her small, quick fingers ran over the material. When she raised her gaze to mine again, I saw in her small face once more the insatiable greed, that looked so out of place on a child.

“Forcing back my growing revulsion, I reached out and gently touched her shoulders, having her lay back on the silks. I absently adjusted them, as though I could make her more comfortable when the fires started.

“She gazed up at me quietly as I did so, and the ever present defiance had faded somewhat. As I began to focus my concentration, setting my determination not to kill her, she broke her silence once again.

“'Do you have children, creature?'

“It was an odd question for such a young child, who oughtn't be concerned of such things yet. I was briefly distracted.

“'No,' I replied. 'This life does not permit it.'

“'Would you want them if you could?'

“I stared down at her. And though I had more important things to consider, I could not help but contemplate the question. There had been a time, a decade or so after my change, when I had thought about it. What it would have been like for Aro and I to have married as humans, and to have children, a family. The idea had been hard to let go at the time, fruitless a fantasy as it was. I'd always pictured myself having a son, a little like the younger brother I had cared for back in my happier human days.

“I didn't answer. Instead, I leaned over her, raising her small hand close to my mouth. I'd always thought the girl had a mouthwatering fragrance, it had been a trial in the beginning not to take her and consume her. But I couldn't let myself think of that—instead, I focused merely on her wrist, that one point I would nip, and then force myself to pull away. The pain of pulling away from the frenzy after tasting the blood was always excruciating, and it could often linger for hours even after satiating myself on the blood of another. I readied myself for it. A bite on the hand always made the transformation last longer, but I couldn't help that, a bite on the neck or nearer the heart would be too much of a risk.

“'Mele,' said the girl unexpectedly, as though rushing to get it out before she might forget it. 'My name is Mele.'

“'I know,' I said. 'I know many things about you.'

“'What's your name?' the girl asked.

“'Sulpicia,' I answered her. 'You may call me Lady Sulpicia.'

“She stared up at me for a long moment, then nodded once. 'Lady Sulpicia,' she repeated, as though testing if she could say it without mockery. She folded her hands over her stomach and gazed up at the shadowy ceiling that Aro had carved. Ready for me.

“Her transformation was fairly quick by our standards, in spite of how I had done it. I suppose because she was so small. She screamed and begged for death as we all had—but then she was born anew, eyes glowing red. I had Marcus's soldiers bring her something to momentarily quell the newborn madness, and then I led her below the palace, to the place where Aro was still kept under guard.

“The moment Aro saw us approach, he fell to his knees and stretched out his hands to me in supplication, though the guards immediately raised their arms threateningly, stepping between us and forcing him back.

“Though I refused to let it show, I was taken aback by the look in his eyes—the love, the kindness. Though I knew he had always been skilled at deception, that the love must now conceal bitter hatred at my betrayal, still I thought the expression would wrench my cold still heart in two.

“Aro did not attempt to resist as I ordered the guards to hold him, keeping him where he knelt. He merely continued to gaze at me in the same way, as though there were still a chance for us, as though once I just gave him a chance to explain, everything would be all right...

“At my command, Mele stepped forward, stretching out her fingers. She did not yet know if she possessed the power I had described to her, the one that we needed. She had said she thought she felt something—but I did not know if that were true, or if she sensed that if she could not do what I wished she may be in danger. Her instincts for self-preservation had always been keen. Behind her, I grasped her other wrist, ready to draw her back if Aro attempted anything.

“When she carefully pressed a finger to his forehead, his eyes widened—of course seeing in her thoughts exactly what I planned, what I hoped. He still did not resist the guards, but he stared at me with horror, mouth opening as though to plead, to sway me from my course.

“But Mele had already drawn back from him, pulling from my grasp as well. She stared down at her hands, then up at me, with eyes both resentful and expectant.

“I gazed down at my own hand, turning it over to stare at the back, trying to see if I felt anything different. However, I felt nothing. It had not worked—in that moment, when I ought to have been disappointed, I found myself relieved instead. With Aro's power lost to him, there would be nothing to stop Marcus taking his just revenge. To fail might mean to prolong his life just a little longer.

“Still, the girl stared at me. 'Try,' she whispered, with that odd mix of resentment and eagerness. Resentment of the fact she was in bondage to me forever now, I supposed. Eager to... prove that she was useful? I did not know, and for the first time, I truly wondered about the girl, beyond what I could observe. Her past, what she was thinking now. If this defiant child that crept in the shadows could ever really be trusted.

“If she had succeeded... I should now have the power to find out.

“I stretched out my hand to her, palm up, and she went perfectly still, startled. No doubt she had expected my mate to be my first test. However, at long last, eyes not meeting mine, half glaring at the stone wall, she reached up her hand obediently to mine.

“Before that moment, I had never experienced true chaos. Not when I was surrounded by the flames of my burning palace, or my body burned as I transformed—not compared to this. When the tips of her small fingers carefully pressed my palm, a vast array of images slammed into me like a tidal wave. Submerging me, so much my old limited human mind would have broken under its weight.

“I saw the girl's entire life from beginning to end. Her incoherent needs and wants as a baby, not yet fully cognizant of the world. A mother whose face she could not quite recall, who she had once toddled after eagerly. Finding herself alone in a strange, unfamiliar place, only to come to understand later her parents had both been taken by disease, and she sold by uncles to account for their debts.

“The master of her new house was not in general a cruel man. But even so, she remembered every false accusation, every beating rare as it might be, and burned against the unfairness of it. And even more, she felt the difference between her parents and this life. A time when she had been loved, and now even if she was fed and treated well, it was only in the way a piece of livestock or tool was kept well-cared for.

“I saw everything, every memory, every event that had marked some significant change in her way of thinking. The first time she had stolen something and gotten away with it, and finding purpose in realizing she was good at something. And I saw myself through her eyes too. A strange creature of some kind, a monster with red eyes that lurked in the shadows, yet also an arrogant adult like the others, in need of a tool.

“However, buried beneath that I felt another thread to her thoughts I had not guessed—something else behind the flash of greed as she gazed at my face. Her whispered question about my wanting children.

“It was as though I had been blind, and now I could see. Many of the traits I had observed of the girl were accurate—there was a hardness in her for one so young, not hint of gratitude, merely a jeering contempt and sickening revelry both in her skill as a thief and now in possessing strength and immortality. But I now felt her life as she had experienced it, the things that had molded her into what she became. And I saw beneath the hardness a quiet longing, too. To have a mother again, like the one she only vaguely remembered, to find a place of such safety and love. In me, even if just for a moment, she had seen such a fantasy.

“Before I knew quite what I was doing, my arms were around her, pulling her to myself. Though she stiffened in my grip and I felt even as she thought it the suspicion and confusion, I could not stop myself. I saw deep into the girl's mind, in all its ugliness—the bitterness, the scorn, the spite. But now I also felt the pain, the need. In that moment, I loved her like a daughter, no matter what she might have done, or what she might do, or whether she would ever love me in return. I loved her.

“I pulled away from her at last, leaving her to stare up at me, her usual defiance mingled with confusion. And, I felt, a thrilling warmth. Then I lifted my eyes to focus on the reason I was here.

“Aro gazed at me from where he knelt on the floor with pleading eyes. I approached him, slowly, deliberately. Kneeling before him, I raised a hand to hover before his beautiful face. However, I hesitated. Making certain the guards had him properly restrained, instead I, as in happier days, leaned forward and pressed my lips lightly to his.

“Again, that violent, terrifying sensation. Alien thoughts and memories exploding into my mind like all-consuming flames. Only this was different—centuries' worth of experience and knowledge poured into my mind like a drenching storm, pressing against the confines of my mind. Yet I still derived meaning—I saw his dim human memories, his curiosity toward those he suspected to be immortal. His own cleverness that brought him to the moment when he, too, was brought into the world of immortals. How he learned of the Dacians and began forming his own plans, and transformed his human sister in hopes of creating an ally with another powerful gift like his own. Meeting Marcus and Caius, and forming an alliance that made all he longed for possible.

“I saw through his eyes the moment he had first seen me. It was not the fate-driven love of a god falling inexplicably for a mortal. Rather, when his sister fell in love with Marcus, he knew he had needed a mate of his own to balance out the swing of power. He decided to create a loyal mate from among the humans, one who would have no ties to immortals elsewhere to distract her. He had found me, and in my thoughts, seen my potential for such devoted love.

“For our campaign against the Dacians, I saw machinations within machinations. Treacheries and careful maneuverings that I never would have guessed. Didyme was not the first sacrifice to the cause.

“I drew back then, though my hands continued to cradle his face, still absorbing every memory, every thought in this moment. I was perfectly still—startled at two of the last thoughts that lurked beneath the others.

“'You miss her too.' I murmured. 'You didn't want to do it.'

“When he at last spoke, his voice rasped with fervor. 'She was my sister. Only the greatest need... only the greatest necessity...'

“I gazed at him, still holding his face gently between my hands. 'And,' I added, marveling. 'You really do love me. Even now.'

“He gazed into my face, seeing nothing but me. 'Always, my dearest.'

“I gazed back at him for a long moment. This one who had chosen me, who had filled this second life with meaning and purpose and happiness. Since Didyme's fall, I had resigned myself to the notion I was only a pawn all along, that much I had assumed of my mate was a lie. But the truth was, much of it was real. His bright curiosity, his wonder at the world. And the love he had so often whispered to me. Whatever else, however he might have come to choose me, he did love me. Even now as I betrayed him.

“I stood up from him, stood back. I whispered gently, 'Everything you desired, my love, that you have fought and prepared for, will come to pass. I will make certain of it.'

“With great difficulty, I turned away from him then, never to look back. Even as the look on his face then—filled with fear and kindness and sadness and love—would remain forever imprinted on my memory, for all the centuries and millennia still to come.”

Sulpicia's eyes had closed, and a soft, yet deep sigh escaped her.

“Aro's execution was swift. Now that I possessed Aro's power, many of Aro's forces shifted their loyalties to me—and many of Caius's did as well, when I informed Marcus what else I had learned from Aro's thoughts. That Caius, too, had known Aro's plans. That he had been the one to suggest the excuse to lure Marcus away so that it could be done. Those whose loyalties did not shift we removed immediately, with brutal efficiency.

“In the past, for me to attempt to lead such a campaign would have been hopeless. It was Aro, Marcus, and Caius who knew the ways of war, the tactics of preparing and winning battles. But I had touched Aro, and now all his knowledge was mine—how to seek out weakness and exploit it rather than rely on mindless brute force, to maneuver ourselves for every advantage. Fortunate, given that Marcus and Athenodora both were crippled by he loss of their mates. It was up to me to galvanize them, to be the point of the spear. I carried my mate's power within me, and it empowered me to do what I never could have hoped in the past.

“Still, I discovered strangely that Aro's gift was not the same for me as it had been for him. The gift had most likely manifested out of my husband's intense curiosity as a human, his desire to discover and know everything. He was an academic, a philosopher, before such things even existed. But for me, this gift was, in the end, one of compassion. It let me see, truly see, the hidden feelings and memories of those in the past I might have simply condemned—even as I knew I must become more ruthless than I had ever been.”

Sulpicia tapped a finger lightly against her armrest.

“And so, using what I had learned from Aro, with the allies we had gained and the information we needed, we eventually achieved victory over the Dacians, and the others too. I brought order and peace to the world and our kind, just as Aro had always believed that we could. And through the passing years, centuries, I have done all that I could to maintain it. And now, here we are.”

Silence fell on the cabin then. Sulpicia's story seemed to finally be at an end, though I had been so engrossed I had scarcely noticed the passage of time.

My mind worked, trying to make sense of it. It was a hard story, painful, but then, I'd heard a lot of painful stories. Carine had watched her own father murdered in front of her eyes, then had to suffer being turned into a monster that couldn't destroy herself, and spent centuries alone. Royal had nearly been beaten to death on the command of his fiance, Archie had been put in an insane asylum for his visions. The girl Mele didn't sound like she'd had too easy a time either.

But as I, against my will, slipped myself again into Sulpicia's place, I couldn't fathom how she had been able to make the decision she had.

Could I face an eternity without Edythe? My entire being recoiled from the very thought.

As my mind wound back to how this conversation had begun, I felt a hard knot of annoyance form in my stomach.

“So what are you saying?” I said into the silence, voice stiff. “That Edythe is like Aro?”

Sulpicia seemed to come out of her reverie, and her misty eyes sharpened as they focused on me. Once again, that smile, which always seemed so sad and kind, yet also ready in a moment to condemn and destroy, touched her lips.

“As I said,” she murmured, “in some ways I see myself in you. I can understand your ever-faithful, unquestioning love of a girl who seems in so many ways the one thing in an otherwise dull world that gives it color, that makes it worth living.”

Her eyes never moved from mine, and she added softly, “But even so, there is one difference between your Edythe, and my Aro. In that moment when I saw into the far reaches of his mind, I saw his love for me as it was—he did love me, need me, and could not have born losing me. In a man that had told so many lies, that had been nothing but the truth. And yet—”

Another sigh escaped her. “Yet, his love for me did not change him in any way. His ambition remained the same, as well as what he was willing to do to achieve it. Your Edythe, on the other hand...”

Sulpicia smiled again, glassy eyes oddly gentle. “She is not who she was before she met you. Edythe has always had a strong sense of right and wrong, always wanted to live up to the ideal that her mother did. But even so, she often has—as most of our kind—looked upon the human world with a kind of arrogant indifference, notions of right and wrong often feeling more an abstract thought exercise than something real. However, contemplating how she and her family must look to human eyes—your eyes—well, it made it very real.”

And we've got another one down. This is the chapter I've been most concerned about needing more time for, so now that it's done I plan to move back to the four-week schedule. (Honestly I'm a little sad about this chapter, because I've almost completely rewritten it at least four times over the past three years, and it's still not what I'd want it to be. Backstory chapters are honestly my nemesis. Still, I was able to fix quite a few things that were bothering me.) Sorry about the extra spaces through part of the chapter, I couldn't figure out how to upload a document to the site, so I just copied and pasted. (I deleted the extra spaces for some of the lines, but got lazy a little ways in, lol. Italics weren't preserved in pasting, which is also why there aren't any italics in the chapter.) I just overwrote the notice I'd put up on ffnet, which is why the update on when this chapter went up might be off. Thanks for reading! Again, my plan is to move back to the four-week schedule now, though I will continue to put the next post date in my bio on ffnet. There are still some tough chapters coming I may decide to give myself an extra week or two on. Thanks again, and hope to see you all in the next one! Hope you all have a good holiday! Posted 12/14/20
1. Preface 298 0 0 2. Sacrifices 7580 0 0 3. Long Night 8219 0 0 4. The Wedding 4867 0 0 5. Now and Forever 5329 0 0 6. Possibilities 6820 0 0 7. Pawn 9851 0 0 8. Life sucks and then you die 5899 0 0 9. New Reality 7913 0 0 10. Strike 6420 0 0 11. Crisis 7571 0 0 12. Hope 6498 0 0 13. Rebellion 4422 0 0 14. Reunion 12281 0 0 15. Lion 8546 0 0 16. Enemy 7337 0 0 17. Desperation 7379 0 0 18. The Veil 7226 0 0 19. Game 7810 0 0 20. All the World 8673 0 0 21. Hypocrisy 5643 0 0 22. Logic 7049 0 0 23. Villain 11163 0 0 24. Waiting for the Fight to Start Already 6537 0 0 25. Complete 10191 0 0 26. Love 7403 0 0 27. The Future 9114 0 0 28. Some people just don't grasp the concept 2858 0 0 29. Epilogue 10327 0 0