A/N: Hey all, we're back again!
Sorry if this next chapter is a bit of a tough one, but I've been looking forward to finally getting here. Hope you like it anyway, and I'll see you all at the end!
Incidentally, the illogical 'Animorph rule' from New Moon's Chapter 15: Pressure is still in effect.
Chapter 22: Villain
I stood where I was in the clearing, numb, hardly able to think. And yet, my new quick mind was racing a mile a minute.
The sun, which had just breached the low mountains to the east, cast the clearing in rays of brilliant sunlight. I had my hood up, so my features were cast in shadow, but I could see the light shattering off Sulpicia's skin, reflecting a rainbow of colors like a prism. Marcus, one of the other Volturi I had briefly seen through human eyes, stood on Sulpicia's other side, while Renatus kept close to us, projecting his protective forcefield or whatever it was around us. Brenden kept near as well, as a backup shield, while Tacita of course took up a defensive position directly in front of Sulpicia. The rest of the Volturi fighters Marcus had brought stood around us in a tight circle of protection—waiting for the enemy to arrive.
My cold, hard body felt numb all over. The Romanians were the bad guys, I knew that much. Compared to them, Sulpicia and the Volturi were saints, guardian angels. The Romanians were the very essence of the very worst of vampire kind, savage, brutal, indulgent to the point of excess. If given the opportunity, they would drink human blood without restraint and tear to pieces any who got in their way.
And so, I was finding it impossible to reconcile—that Edythe could possibly be with them.
Was she their prisoner? Or, had she somehow tracked them down, and was just going along with them because they had that vampire who could show her where I was?
Whatever the reason, I could feel the terror creeping through my body, up through the back of my neck and down to the tips of my fingers. Sulpicia had assured me before that she had no intention of hurting Edythe in any way—she didn't want to turn me against them. But if Edythe appeared to be in any way connected to the Romanians, part of a rebellion just like Salvatore, would Sulpicia really let her go? If this came to a battle—what would happen to Edythe?
That was especially given the strangest part of all this—that, of what seemed to have Sulpicia most concerned, that made her normally placid features tighten and her misty eyes narrow with concentrated thought, seemed to be tied up in Edythe. It made no sense.
"So," Jules said unexpectedly into the quiet. She was standing near me, where I stood beside Sulpicia and Renatus. Though the slouch of her back was casual, her rigid shoulders told me she was intensely aware of the couple dozen or so bloodsuckers standing on every side of her. A few of the less disciplined of the lot had wrinkled their noses and edged away.
"So," she said again. She made a show of picking at invisible lint on her arm, pretending to flick it away as though she hadn't a care in the world. "Can't help but notice, you look a bit nervous. Like maybe these big, bad Romanians scare you. Don't suppose you'd like some extra firepower—don't forget, I'm a certified bloodsucker-killer if there ever was one."
She glanced at me, the two of us probably thinking the same thing. Yeah, right. I turned my eyes toward Sulpicia, expecting one of her polite half-smiles of amusement.
However, we both blinked when Sulpicia studied Jules speculatively for a minute, then stretched out a hand toward her.
Jules backed up a step automatically, hands going up defensively. "What?" she said, suspicious.
"Take my hand," Sulpicia said, her face impassive.
"So you can rummage through every single thought that's ever been in my head?" Jules asked.
"I have already seen it before," Sulpicia pointed out mildly. "If you wish to fight with us—well, you may have yet to realize as such, but I am more trusting when I am able to see."
Jules and I shared a look. It was always hard to tell with Sulpicia, but that sounded an awful like her equivalent of sarcasm. If that didn't prove the situation was dire, I didn't know what did.
Scowling, Jules reluctantly stepped forward, extending a hand. With a single finger, she lightly pressed it to Sulpicia's wrist.
Sulpica's bruised eyelids sunk closed, for one second, then two. Then her eyes abruptly snapped open, and they were hard.
"Yes," she said briskly. "You may change, and help us. I can see you know as well as we do that the Romanians cannot be allowed to succeed. And your hive wolf-mind is no longer of concern—we are close enough to the battle with Salvatore that for your friends to know where you are and what you are doing now will make little difference. Granted, of course, that we survive the crisis."
Jules had already withdrawn her hand, immediately wiping the finger on her shorts vigorously as though to rid of it of something nasty. However, her eyes never wavered from Sulpicia's and she gave the barest dip of her head in acknowledgment.
The thought of Jules in this battle made my stomach tighten. "Hey—" I started to protest. "I don't think—"
But Jules wasn't listening. Letting her hand drop back to her side, she backed away from us, back toward the trees. No one stopped her, and when she was a fair distance away, her eyes slid closed. And I watched as she exploded.
I had seen Jules change once before. Back when I was human. It had seemed almost instantaneous then. This was different—it was still just as violent, an exploding bomb, the blast of a lightning strike, but this time I saw each and every detail. The way the fur tore out of her skin, the way claws shot from her fingers where human nails used to be. The crunch and snap as her spine stretched and grew. It was probably just as well I couldn't see all that back as a human—I'd have probably lost my lunch.
Still, it barely took a second, and Jules was standing there on four legs, her giant muzzle curled back into a vicious snarl.
Several of the guards, who had been standing a little way away, jerked in surprise, some spinning around to face her, legs automatically coiling as though ready to spring. However, at a look from Sulpicia, they reluctantly turned back, facing forward.
Jules let out a low, rumbling growl as she looked around at each—but then her giant wolf eyes blinked, and her ears pricked up. She swiveled her head toward the north, entire body freezing in place, like a dog catching sight of a passing squirrel. A second passed before she slowly turned to look back at me, and though her wolf face could give no sense of any human emotion, I thought I felt from her some new worry.
I didn't need anything more to worry about just now, and didn't try to find out. Instead I just stared back toward the forest on the opposite end of the clearing. I felt cold—I didn't want Jules to fight here. It was too dangerous, surrounded by vampires on all sides. Even allies could harm her by accident. But I already knew there would be no stopping her. I just hoped she and Edythe would have sense to keep away from each other.
I was so tense I jerked a little in surprise when I felt a pair of fingers gently touch my wrist, and I looked around to see Sulpicia standing next to me.
I stared back at her, and I realized it was the first time Sulpicia had touched me since that time in the car. This wasn't an attempted intrusion or test, rather—it felt strangely at once affectionate, and desperate. Like a mother about to ask her young son for a huge favor. I knew it well from my mom when I was still a kid, when there was an important piece of mail she had misplaced, or was going to need me to stay overnight on my own. Thinking about my mom had something tightening in my stomach again—but I forced myself to turn my mind away from that, for the moment.
I wanted to shake Sulpicia off, but I resisted the urge. I only gazed back at her evenly, waiting for her to explain.
"We are in a precarious position," Sulpicia murmured. "Depending on what other abilities the Romanians may have been able to acquire, this is likely to be a very dangerous fight. I, Marcus, and you will be protected by Renatus's power, and Brenden can protect some of our forces from physical attacks initially, but his power is unstable over broader areas, and of course we cannot afford a long standoff, lest Salvatore come upon us and Jonathan is able to render Renatus incapacitated. Ordinarily we could rely on subterfuge and clever maneuvering to gain some strategic advantage—but Edythe Cullen's presence will make that impossible."
I was silent for a moment, just staring into the shadows of the trees on the other side of the clearing. "You don't know she's really working with them," I answered at last, my lips barely moving. "She might not be helping them. She might just be with them to find me."
"And when she has found you," Sulpicia answered, "how will she hope to get you back from me? No, Beau, she will help the Romanians until you are safely back with her. And for obvious reasons, I can't return you just yet."
"We can explain all this to her," I continued in a low voice. "We can explain what I need to do and why. I'm sure she would understand. She would join with us."
Sulpicia's granite features softened for the first time. She smiled at me sadly. "Beau, I am sure you would like to think so. Even your friend, Julie Black, has realized this is the best, the only, course of action. But your Edythe—she can't be rational, not now, not on this point. If she gets a hold of you, she will try to take you far away from here, even if it means Greece—perhaps your mother, too—will fall."
Sulpicia looked me straight in the eye, her features at once earnest and hard. "Beau, I promise you, I will not allow Edythe to come to any harm. However—I will need you to protect Tacita's mind from Edythe's powers, just long enough for Tacita to bring her to us. Tacita is a skilled fighter, certainly, with centuries of experience, but her style is too controlled, too calculated—she cannot strike without a thought first, a decision, and against Edythe's powers I do not know that she could hope to triumph decisively. Not without striking a killing blow. We need your help, Beau."
I stared back at her for a long moment. Betray Edythe. That was what she was asking. She'd asked it of me once, and now she was asking it again. I did have control of my powers enough for what she wanted—projecting over someone away from me was hard, harder than shielding someone nearby, but I had been able to do it, at least for brief periods at a time. But if Edythe had decided to join forces with the Romanians, how could helping Sulpicia against her possibly be the right thing?
The terrible things I had seen Sulpicia do flashed through my mind again. I realized then that everything I knew about the Romanians came from Sulpicia—she might have been exaggerating, or even completely made up what they had done. For all I knew, they had been good rulers fifteen hundred years ago. What did I know, really? Edythe would know more about them than I did. If Edythe was helping the Romanians try to take down Sulpicia—maybe she was right.
I didn't answer, and at long last, Sulpicia turned away from me, to stare back across the clearing before us.
I heard them before I saw them—the sound of many light feet moving along the forest floor, like a couple dozen stalking panthers drawing in for the kill. The first few emerged from the forest, the pale morning sunlight shattering off their skin. They were followed by more, until they all stood on the opposite side of the broad clearing, close together yet in no clear formation. I noticed many were wearing black leather or dark coats over their clothes, like some kind of strange, rough imitation of the Volturi.
I was still as a statue. For all their numbers, they didn't look particularly organized—I didn't know if they would really put up much of a fight against Sulpicia. Even the more restless of the Volturi, in their black cloaks and standing in front of Sulpicia in neat rows, looked far more impressive.
As my eyes scanned the sea of beautiful, inhuman faces, with all different clothes and hairstyles, yet with lips curled back in nearly identical snarls, I finally saw her.
She stood near the back, like many of the others in a black jacket over her clothes. The golden sunlight reflected off her skin, an array of color playing in the air around her like an ethereal halo, her long, glittering bronze hair tied back from her face in a tightly braided bun.
It felt like years since I had last seen her face. It was like a splash of cool water in a desert, the first breath of fresh air after nearly drowning. I knew the danger she was in here, yet I couldn't quite stop the profound sense of relief that flooded through me. I had been so focused on what I had to do—first, saving Jules, and then trying to learn how to stop Jonathan and Alexa—that I hadn't fully appreciated the deprivation until now. Everything would be okay now—despite everything else, that was how I felt.
And yet, there was something else in her face that was unfamiliar. Her features were hard, cold as I'd ever seen them, something almost brutal in the way the skin was slightly buckled between her eyebrows, her mouth pressed in a rigid line. Though her eyes were still the liquid gold that I knew, she didn't look the least out of place among the savage army that stood with her.
I shook my head. This was Edythe. My Edythe. And she was here—that was what mattered.
Edythe's icy gaze swept over Sulpicia and the entire Volturi force. Her eyes only lingered for a moment on me—though my hood was up, I knew she could see my features with perfect clarity. Only the barest flicker of emotion crossed her face—then she mastered it.
I couldn't help but notice the way Edythe stood, her back rigidly straight, in contrast to the many who stood in front of her, their shoulders bent forward, like snarling animals ready to be let loose. I also noticed for the first time that two other vampires stood close to her, flanking her on either side—almost like guards.
Edythe's eyes seemed to take us all in in a moment. Then, to my surprise, her mouth opened, and she shouted something. A single, short word in a foreign tongue that sounded almost like a command.
I felt Sulpicia stiffen beside me, and there were several gasps amid the forces in front of us. Jules let out a wild snarl, and she turned her head violently this way and that.
For the first time, I forced myself to tear my gaze away from Edythe's beautiful face, and glanced to Sulpicia.
Sulpicia was standing beside me, and I noticed her misty eyes, which had been slowly tracing over the enemy, studying them as Edythe studied us, had stopped moving. Instead, she stared straight ahead, eyes slightly wide, her usually cool and serene features stunned. Renatus now clung tightly to her cloak, his eyes wide with terror. The only one completely calm was Marcus who, unbelievably, looked bored out of his mind.
Sulpicia answered my unspoken question, her lips barely moving. "They possess some kind of ability. All of us but you, Beau—are completely blind."
I stared at her. Then I looked around at the Volturi forces. Many were shifting uneasily. A few took a step back—perhaps hoping to fall under Renatus's shield of protection. Jules was growling, dark eyes rolling this way and that in their sockets, as though searching in the darkness for a spot of light she could see.
I slowly turned back to the figures standing before us. I didn't know what to think. In an instant, the tables had completely turned—and I still didn't know who to side with. If these vampires won, they might rip us to shreds. But clearly Edythe must have some sort of plan. I trusted her—more than I'd ever trust Sulpicia.
"What did she say before?" I whispered, so low I could barely hear the words myself. I swallowed, then forced myself to say her name. "Edythe."
"A Romanian word," Sulpicia murmured back. "It had no particular meaning in this context—I suspect they have worked out a series of coded orders. It would seem that... Edythe is the one in command here. The head of the snake, so to speak."
I turned my head quickly back to stare in disbelief. Edythe—in control of so many vampires, listening for her orders. It was almost too much to wrap my head around. Why would they have chosen Edythe? She couldn't possibly have known them for that long. Purely because of her power?
Edythe's eyes were focused like lasers on Sulpicia.
"Sulpicia!" she shouted, in a harsh voice which carried over the crowd. "You see there is no hope for you. Surrender, or else watch your entire force be annihilated."
I glanced back at Sulpicia, and was startled to see the almost-fear had gone, and she was once again completely calm. A knowing smile played at the corner of her lips.
"Ah, Edythe," she sighed, in a voice no louder than usual but more than loud enough for all the immortal ears listening to hear. "It is a pleasure to see you again, though I am sorry we had to meet under such distasteful circumstances. I trust Carine is doing well?"
Edythe's eyes narrowed slightly. "Will you surrender?" she asked coldly. "Or will you simply stand back and watch your people be butchered?"
Sulpicia's smile was still in place, and she shook her head, almost regretfully. "Ah, Edythe, Edythe. Why must you always ask questions you already know the answer to? Especially as I rather suspect that, even if we did surrender, you would butcher my forces anyway. After all, I doubt your sponsors would allow you to do anything else."
My eyes flickered to the shadowy forest beyond Edythe, and I was startled to see two more lurking figures emerge, skin glittering like diamonds in the morning light.
Like Sulpicia, their skin had a transparent, papery quality, like layers of onion skin, and though their dark burgundy eyes lacked the misty film, there was almost a fragility about them, an ancientness, as though they might turn to dust and blow away in an instant. They were both shorter than most of those vampires standing before them—one was a man, with ash-blond hair, while the other was a woman, with long dark hair that fell around her face and down her back. As they stared across the field at Sulpicia, their faces were alight with nearly identical expressions of triumph and cruelty.
I had never seen them before, yet I knew in an instant who they were—the surviving Romanians Sulpicia had spoken of. Rahela and Vladimir.
Rahela let loose a harsh, cackling laugh. "Sulpicia!" she crowed, in an unmistakable Romanian accent. "After a thousand years, your vile and dishonest ways will finally be at an end. You have nowhere left to run!"
Sulpicia's glassy eyes stared at nothing, yet her smile didn't waver. "Ah, Rahela," she said. "It has been some time. I wish I could say it was a pleasure."
"You and your cursed false politeness," Rahela spat, lip curling. "The foul odor of your arrogance will no doubt linger in the air long after you are ash on the wind. It will take much human blood to cleanse this world and blot the very memory of you from existence."
Sulpicia tilted her head in Edythe's approximate direction. "Quite interesting friends you have adopted," she said mildly. "I think Carine would like them, don't you?"
Rahela's lip curled back in a snarl, but Edythe spoke first, her voice flat and cold. "You should know your many mind-games won't work on me, Sulpicia. Surrender, or face the consequences."
Sulpicia bowed her head slightly. "I would surrender, of course. But I simply cannot bear the thought of such an ignoble end—giving in to uncultured, over-indulgent savages with the temperament of a pair of insolent children."
Rahela's face contorted, and she screamed, a sound so primal and coarse it sent wracking chills down my spine.
"You!" she snarled, rasping voice shaking with fury. "You will perish for your insults. I will tear you limb from limb, and you will feel every part of you burn before you reach your wretched end."
Eyes blazing, she spun her gaze toward the force that stood before her. "Well?" she roared. "What are you waiting for? Ucide-i pe toti! Kill them all!"
A deafening roar rose from the crowed, and they surged forward like ravenous lions. I froze, as something icy plunged into my stomach. All of Sulpicia's forces flinched back—knowing that death was coming, and unable to fight back. I saw Tacita tense, as though ready to move. Sulpicia didn't react, her expression placid.
Edythe screamed another Romanian word, and the entire force halted.
A breath of relief escaped my mouth, though I didn't relax.
Rahela spun on Edythe furiously. "You dare—" she spat. "You would show mercy to—"
Edythe didn't even bother to glance at Rahela, her cool eyes focused only on Sulpicia. "Not mercy," she said evenly. Her eyes narrowed. "Only we cannot afford to be too hasty. After all... she still has a card yet to play. Don't you, Sulpicia?"
Sulpicia bowed her head slightly, still smiling, though with a nearly imperceptible tightening at the corners of her mouth. "I see you caught me. I must say, you really make for a very frustrating enemy, Edythe Cullen."
"What?" Rahela demanded. "What card? What can she possibly do, blind and helpless?"
"There is still one of their number who can see," Edythe replied evenly.
"Who?" Rahela demanded. Her eyes shot back to us, scanning over each and every face.
I was frozen where I was, trying to keep my eyes staring straight ahead so I wouldn't give myself away. Not that it probably mattered in the end, but was Edythe really going to give me away? What was she trying to do?
Still, I trusted her. I didn't breathe as I waited for what would happen next.
Instead of answering immediately, Edythe made a sharp gesture to the forces standing before her, and she started forward. They stepped aside before her like a parting sea, until she came to stand at the front of the crowd, the two guards once again flanking her on either side.
"I know what you're thinking, Sulpicia," Edythe said in a hard voice. "But no matter what plans you might come up with, whatever you might try, I will see it coming, and I will block you."
Sulpicia's tight smile relaxed, and once again her features were calm, even serene. "Of course I know that, Edythe," she said. "However, I also know you know my thoughts enough to know that, in spite of your seemingly overwhelming advantage, we are at a stalemate. If you launch a thoughtless attack now in hopes of overpowering my entire force, you will likely destroy much of us—however, it won't be quite so one-sided as your Romanian friends think."
Edythe's expression didn't change. "I do know that," she said evenly. "Which is why, before this battle can begin, there is something that must be resolved." Her eyes suddenly shifted, and for a second I thought she was looking at me. Then she said sharply, "Tacita, if you would step forward."
Tacita stood rigidly where she was, right in front of Sulpicia. She didn't move.
"Do as she says, Tacita," Sulpicia murmured. "We will be just a step behind you."
Tacita, her limbs stiff with tension, took an obedient step in Edythe's direction. Sulpicia, to my surprise, moved after her. She reached out to take Marcus's arm, and Brenden's, while Renatus still clung tightly to her cloak. I followed, and our entire small congregation within Renatus's protection moved forward, and the force standing in front of us, though still blind, automatically parted, repelled by Renatus's power, until the heart of the Volturi stood at the front of the force.
Tacita stepped forward, into the broad empty space that stood between us, the Volturi and the Romanians. I noticed she moved differently than the rest of those in Renatus's protection. With more certainty, more confidence. I remembered Tacita's power, as Sulpicia had explained it, what seemed like years ago now.
Rahela and Vladimir had not attempted to follow Edythe, apparently preferring to remain at the protected back of the force. However, Rahela wasn't done snarling irritated questions.
"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded of Edythe. "Explain!"
"You know Tacita, one of the oldest members of the guard," Edythe said smoothly. "The power given to her in the early days was one of short-range tracking. It is so precise she doesn't need her eyes to move—or fight."
I'd seen Tacita in action. I knew she was dangerous. But even so, there wouldn't be much she could do fighting ten or fifteen of those standing here—she'd be plowed under. Maybe Edythe was stalling.
Apparently Rahela was thinking the same thing. "Then take her down first!" she hissed. "If you are too much of a soft weakling to act, then—"
"Tacita couldn't defeat us all," Edythe interrupted. Though she was reaffirming what Rahela had just said, her cold, measured tone was dismissive, almost critical. She continued, "What she could do is seize one of us, drag them behind that shield, and allow Sulpicia to absorb his thoughts. Tacita couldn't beat us all—but targeting one among our number and taking that one out would be more than within her power. I don't think I need explain what that would mean for our current advantage."
Rahela still looked irritable and furious, but at this, her eyes widened. Realizing what now the entire Romanian force must be realizing—that if they had struck and Tacita was able to capture just one, there would have been nothing to stop Sulpicia knowing exactly who was causing the blindness, and instructing Tacita to take them out. Instantly leveling the playing field in the Volturi's favor.
I could only stare across the field at Edythe, stunned. I knew Edythe's gift for mind-reading often gave her the upper hand in a multitude of situations—how it had been a big part of what had helped the Cullens keep their secret for so many years. It always kept her from being taken off guard, first with Joss, and then later when she had faced Victor. But I'd never considered it being used like this.
"So what do you propose?" Rahela said sourly at last. "Stand here, staring? Hope the scourge dies of boredom?"
Edythe's impassive expression didn't change. "We could wait here until the other force makes their way here," she said. "Eventually they would come, and it would be two against one." She paused. "But that would present risks for us as well. So I propose something different." Her gaze shifted. "Can you guess what it is, Sulpicia?"
Sulpicia's hands were folded in front of her. She smoothed a small crease in her cloak. "I suppose it was always going to come to this," she murmured thoughtfully. She nodded once in Tacita's general direction. "Go then, Tacita."
If Tacita was as confused as I was, she hid it well. She obediently advanced, one step, then another. Only a short ways in front of us, she hesitated a brief moment—then took a slow, deliberate step forward. Now, I assumed, outside of Renatus's protective umbrella. She continued striding forward, tense, on guard every moment, but without any other outward sign of fear. At last she came to a halt not a dozen yards from where Edythe stood.
Edythe had barked another one of her cryptic commands, and the force slowly backed up, leaving Edythe standing alone. Even the two guards standing next to her drew back.
The beginnings of panic pulsed up my arms and down my throat. Why was she leaving herself so exposed? And in front of Tacita, no less. Tacita was technically blind—but she could still see, still fight. And she would, the moment Sulpicia gave the command.
"You can't overcome this force with your usual tricks, Sulpicia," Edythe called out in a ringing voice. "Not as long as I'm here. Yet I can't overcome you, so long as one of yours can still see. So to decide this conflict—one must be removed."
"Yes," Sulpicia sighed. "I knew I could count on you to be logical, Edythe Cullen—in one respect, at least."
Edythe didn't reply—only her rigidly formal posture suddenly shifted, head and center of gravity lowering into a combat stance. Tacita bent in almost the same moment, raising spadelike hands before her. Her sightless eyes seemed to stare right at Edythe—before they slowly slid closed, for absolute concentration.
I could only stare. Images played through my mind, as crisp and clear as the moment they had happened—a figure slammed to the ground, another with his arms ripped from the shoulders. A blur of heartless, brutal efficiency. The execution of Sulpicia's cold and merciless justice.
I wanted to scream, I wanted to run—run right to Edythe, stand in front of her and stop what was about to happen. Edythe didn't know—she didn't understand—
I heard the soft voice beside me, so soft it was probably inaudible, even to the immortal ears of the Volturi forces standing just behind us.
I gazed at Edythe for a second longer, before I wrenched my eyes away from the clearing to look at Sulpicia instead. She was facing straight ahead, glassy eyes still oriented in the vague direction where Tacita and Edythe stood.
"Beau," she repeated again, in that same voice that was barely a breath.
I understood now—for this stalemate to be broken, either Edythe or Tacita had to go down. There was no point in any other members of the Volturi joining the fight, as they were all blind, and Edythe wouldn't risk Tacita seizing someone on the Romanian side and dragging them back to Sulpicia.
It occurred to me that Sulpicia had known it would come down to this. The moment she had heard Edythe was with them—or maybe even before that. That it would come down to Edythe, and Tacita—Tacita, Sulpicia's main offensive weapon now that she'd lost Jonathan and Alexa, or at least the one she trusted most. The physical extension of Sulpicia's iron will.
I stared out at the battlefield, and this time, I didn't look away.
All was silent, as Edythe stared across the field at Tacita, eyes hard with a cold concentration, while Tacita faced her, eyes closed.
In the exact same moment, they both sprung into action—both little more than blurs, even to my sharp, immortal eyes. Tacita lashed out with a vicious kick, while Edythe pivoted just enough to avoid it, clawed fingers snapping out in return, missing wrenching Tacita's arm from her shoulder by inches. Lightning-fast strikes tore through the air again and again, as each tried to slip inside the other's guard, but each dodged as fast as they struck.
Edythe was quick, just on the very edge of what even my new sharp eyes could follow, but Tacita was just a hair faster. However, Edythe was always a step ahead, the lack of speed made up for by the fact that she started moving before Tacita could. Several times I saw Tacita's limbs change direction in mid-strike, trying to catch Edythe off-guard, but each time Edythe anticipated the attack, blocking or dodging with flawless timing.
They were about even—but I knew this couldn't go on forever. Sooner or later, something had to give. I clenched my hands at my sides, and felt them shaking.
"Beau," Sulpicia breathed again, still in a voice barely louder than the clearing's light curling breeze. "Beau, I know how you must feel. But if Tacita is not victorious here—Beau, Edythe will do everything she can to get to you, and once she has, she will attempt to take you away from here. If that happens, there will be no one to stop Salvatore. Renatus and Brenden's protection will ensure that I and Marcus are not immediately slain by the Romanians, even if the rest of our force is—but eventually Salvatore will bring his forces to find us, and Jonathan and Alexa's powers will render us all senseless, and Renatus unable to protect us. Salvatore's forces will march on Greece, and they will leave nothing left. Think of the human lives there, Beau. Think of your mother."
She had mentioned my mother before, and maybe it was just to escape the sickening horror of the moment, but I briefly wondered how she knew that—then I remembered she had touched Jules. Sulpicia, leader of the Volturi, who always knew everything, as she had for a thousand years.
A thought suddenly struck me—a great and terrible thought. Sulpicia was right, even if Edythe won this battle, the Romanians couldn't actually do anything to Sulpicia right away. They would probably wipe out all the forces Marcus had brought outside Renatus's protection, but then they wouldn't be able to actually get to her.
Except, maybe they could.
I couldn't protect Edythe physically, couldn't help her fight. But if I stretched out my power, used it to protect Edythe, she would become invisible to Tacita's tracking. She would destroy Tacita with absurd ease. Not only that, she would be immune to Renatus's shielding power, which worked on the mind. There would be no need to wait for Salvatore's forces, Edythe could take out Sulpicia right now. There was Brenden's shielding power of course, but that was nothing, it wouldn't be stable enough to protect anyone for long.
I'd spent so much time being powerless, so much time unable to help Edythe. But now I could help her. We could take out Sulpicia, leave the Romanians and the Volturi to rip each other apart, and escape, with no one to threaten us, no one who would chase us to make us face Sulpicia's warped form of justice...
A sharp crack cut through the air, snapping my attention back to the battle. The fight had moved across the clearing now—toward a large rock jutting up from the ground. Tacita had struck the rock with her elbow, and though of course a rock wasn't about to slow her down by more than a fraction of a second, in a battle against Edythe, a fraction of a second might well mean life or death.
Though my full concentration hadn't been entirely focused on the fight for a moment, I realized in an instant what had happened—Tacita's tracking only worked on people, humans, vampires, and maybe animals. Not on inanimate objects. And so, Edythe had carefully steered the battle toward where there would be obstacles in the way—obstacles Tacita wouldn't see there until she felt them for herself.
The moment Tacita touched the rock, she instantly shifted direction, to spring away from it, but Edythe was ready for the barest instant of hesitation. With one hand, she struck out toward Tacita's mid-section, with what would almost certainly be a crippling blow. Any blow that stopped Tacita even for a moment was almost certain to be a fatal one in this fight.
Through some inhuman force of will, beyond the physical powers of even an immortal, Tacita hurled herself to one side, with a violent desperation. She sprung away, missing Edythe's attack by a hair's breadth.
Edythe's hand struck the rock with a deafening, echoing crack, that sent bits of debris hurtling in all directions. The top half sheared off, falling to the ground in pieces.
However, Edythe had already turned toward where Tacita now stood, who had jumped halfway back across the field, her back once again bent in a ready combat stance.
Several of the Romanian forces laughed and jeered.
Edythe did not smile, her face still a hard mask of concentration. But I saw a new calmness that had not been there before. While Tacita, though her cold features appeared unchanged, a hint of new tension now tightened the corners of her mouth—she was unnerved.
Edythe and Tacita were about even, but it was clear now how this battle was going to go. Even without my help, Edythe could see the weakness of Tacita's ability—Tacita could see Edythe, but she couldn't see the objects that might get in the way, and even though they might slow her down by only a moment, a moment was all it would take. Even if I did nothing, it was Edythe who would emerge victorious in this battle.
It all spun in my head, a confused mess. Jules, writhing on the ground. Tacita's raised hand, ready to put an end to Ivan of the Denalis. Edythe gazing at me in a dark forest, face twisted in pain. An immortal army full of bloodlust advancing on a city, my mom and so many others unknowing of the coming horror...
I closed my eyes briefly. And then I stared at Edythe's face one more time. Absorbing every beautiful, fierce detail.
The truth was, I was proud of her—proud that she was so strong and clever as to really be a threat to the likes of Sulpicia. Sulpicia, who, in spite of all her talk of the danger of Salvatore and other rebels, always seemed an impregnable fortress that could not fall. After all the horrible things Sulpicia had done to us, and to so many other people besides, I was glad Edythe had the power to strike fear in her icy heart.
I was glad—even as I already knew, with a terrible sinking in the pit of my stomach, that Sulpicia was right. If I was going to have even the sliver of a chance of saving my mom, along with thousands of other nameless, innocent people in Greece and who knew where else, I couldn't let Edythe win.
Feeling as though my still heart would break, I concentrated. I stretched out the membrane I felt around my body, pushing it outward, until it detached from me, like a giant floating bubble. I felt it struggle against me, like elastic wanting to snap back to its original position, but I ignored it, and just kept pushing. It probed outward, until it settled around Tacita, who now stood still, waiting for Edythe to make another move. And as it did, I felt it automatically retract around her, clinging to her core, even as every moment it tried to jump back to me.
I didn't know how long I could keep it up—but I knew I could do it for long enough.
"Tacita," I whispered, in a low rasp. Almost hoping she wouldn't hear.
Of course, she did. Tacita's head dipped slightly, almost in surprise. Then she slowly opened her crimson eyes. They were sharp and cold—and fixed with perfectly clarity on her target.
Edythe stared back at her. The smooth, self-assured concentration had vanished. Instead, her face was slack with shock, which quickly turned to horror. Once, very briefly, her gaze flickered in my direction.
Then Tacita was moving. A blinding streak of black as she tore across the clearing, fearlessly, without a hint of hesitation. Like a lion, tearing straight for a gazelle.
Edythe was the one on the defensive now. She sprung back, trying to get out of range—but Tacita was too quick for her. Tacita feinted left, then seemed to appear from nowhere on Edythe's right. Edythe tried to react, but in an instant Tacita had struck her hard on the back of the neck.
It was a good thing I wasn't a new newborn anymore. In that moment, I might have lost myself—might have forgotten everything, and sprung forward to attack, purely on instinct. To protect the one who was most important.
Instead, I stayed rooted where I was, forcing myself to watch. Watch as she gasped in pain, and collapsed hard to her knees. Watch as she scrambled sideways, trying to get her feet under her so she could spring away, only for Tacita to seize her, wrenching an arm behind her back, and pressing a forearm to her neck in an iron chokehold as she dragged her back a step. I forced myself to watch what I had done.
For a moment, the Romanian forces could only stare, stunned. Their assured victory suddenly turned to loss. None probably having the slightest idea how it had happened.
Then the shock of the moment was over, and Rahela screamed a command. Several of the Romanians leaped from the crowd, straight for Tacita and Edythe—even Tacita couldn't hold a hostage and fend off enemy fighters at the same time.
However, before they reached them, they seemed to strike an invisible barrier, and were thrown back. They looked around in confusion.
I turned to see Brenden, his entire body tense, one hand half-raised. I could tell from his wide, slightly unfocused eyes that he still couldn't see—he must have been going on sound alone. I didn't know how precise he could be.
It was enough time—as the Romanian forces made to charge forward again, Tacita slipped the rest of the way past Renatus's barrier, Edythe in her grip.
Edythe was still struggling, still fighting to get away, but now Cato was there, adding his subduing grip to Tacita's, and Edythe's violent motions slowed, until at last she sagged in defeat.
I couldn't bear to look at her. Edythe had to have known the entire time what Sulpicia's real plan was. The instant Tacita's thoughts were cut off from her, she would have known what it meant. That after all she had done, all for me, I had turned against her.
Without hesitation, Sulpicia reached out a hand to the sound of the struggle, her delicate fingers finding Edythe's forehead. She let her misty eyes slide closed.
After barely a moment, her eyes snapped back open. "Tacita," she said sharply. "The tall one in the second-to-back row, third to the left—go!"
Tacita was gone in an instant, leaving Edythe to Cato.
I watched her tear across the field, weaving in between the figures of the Romanian forces like they weren't even there. A few turned and tried to strike—but by the time they moved, Tacita was already gone.
Her blurred form suddenly stopped before a tall figure, taller than almost any of the others there. He was so tall he had an oddly stretched appearance, though despite his wiry build, I could see the muscle of his arms bulging beneath a dark jacket. A powerful warrior.
He saw Tacita there, and started to react—hand striking out in a blur of motion. But Tacita had him off guard, and she was already behind him. One of her spade-like hands struck him in the neck and, as I watched, his elongated head toppled from his shoulders.
There was silence in the clearing for a moment. As I looked around, I saw Sulpicia blink, and the sharpness came back to her misty eyes. Marcus's fighters, who had been shifting restlessly, suddenly stood straight and at attention, eyes on the enemy force standing across from them. Jules stopped looking around and shaking her head like she was trying to dislodge some unwelcome parasite, and abruptly her dark eyes, too, were focused on the other vampires. Her muzzle drew back from her teeth in a feral snarl.
The Romanian forces stood where they were a moment, frozen, as though not quite believing what had just happened. Rahela stared at the place the tall vampire had been, then her eyes flickered to Edythe, caught in Sulpicia's grip.
A light breeze whispered through the clearing, rustling the grass—and then everything dissolved into chaos. The Romanian forces scrambled away in all directions, a roaring mob of terror and desperation. Like a school of fish scattering before a ravenous shark.
Sulpicia's forces didn't immediately move. Instead they stood with perfect discipline, waiting for instructions. Sulpicia stood where she was, completely calm now, the fear of before vanished without a trace. In complete control.
"Execute them," Sulpicia said softly. "Every single one."
The Volturi all came to life in an instant. A single, unified organism, a devouring hunter, all lithe muscle and teeth. The Romanian forces that simply ran were picked off with almost absurd ease, torn apart with ruthless efficiency, followed by bursts of flame from hidden lighters that left behind no more than piles of ash. I distantly saw Jules leap into the fray, her teeth closing on the arm of one immortal, and shaking him to pieces. A few turned and tried to fight, and some managed to tear off a Volturi arm or two before they were swiftly exterminated.
I had never witnessed anything like it—even that horrible day in Volterra, when I heard the screams of the humans the Volturi would consume, it was nothing to the violence now. This wasn't a battle—it was a slaughter. I closed my eyes and turned away, wishing I could shut out the sound as well as the images. Shut out the results of what I had done.
However, I felt a rumble beneath my feet, and before I could stop myself, my eyes snapped open again, turning automatically to the source of it, to the east.
Several cloaked Volturi were standing on the edge of what looked to be a wide chasm cutting straight through the clearing, a chasm that had not been there before. The trees before them had exploded in flames, not the controlled fire of the lighters on the dismembered enemies, but a real fire, as though the forest itself was fighting back. The Volturi hung back, hissing as embers caught on the wind and rained down on their exposed faces.
Beyond the cloaked Volturi stood what appeared to be a teenage girl, who I had seen standing toward the back of the Romanian force. Her large crimson eyes were blazing, her black hair blowing in a swirling vortex of wind raging around her. Beside her stood another girl, her hair also black, watching the Volturi warily. She stood near another woman, this one tall, with long, dark blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. They both stood over a fallen cloaked figure, a Volturi guard who must have gotten past the strange power. The girl with the ponytail didn't try to flee, but instead remained where she was, in a stance almost protective.
"What... sort of power is that?" Brenden said, staring with wide eyes at the girl as she raised her arms higher, and suddenly a wave of water rose from the stream behind where the Volturi stood, striking them with such force they drew back a few steps. The ground shook beneath them.
"Control of the elements," Sulpicia explained. "A dangerous power indeed. A discovery by our old friend, Amun, it would seem. Of course, it seems he took off long before the fight even began, so we likely won't be catching him."
I heard a hiss, and glanced up to see that the commotion had also drawn Tacita's attention, who had already taken out at least five of the rebels on her own. She was glaring, not at the girl raising her arms, but at the girl beside her.
"Demia," I heard her spit, as though it were a curse world. "Traitorous slime."
Cato too, stared across the field at the girl with distaste.
Sulpicia gazed out over the field for a long moment, then ordered softly, "Let them go."
Several of the Volturi guards glanced around in surprise.
Sulpicia continued, "Those ones are not our enemies. And we have more important matters to attend to."
Reluctantly, the Volturi who had been advancing on the pair halted.
The two watched the Volturi for a moment, expressions wary. Then, slowly, they both turned, one taking off into the shadow of the forest, soon followed by the other. A moment later, the tall girl with the sandy hair took off after them.
Tacita glowered after the girl Demia for a moment, then, forcing her expression back to its usual hard stoicism, approached Sulpicia.
"What of the one with the blinding power?" Tacita asked. "I did not completely destroy him."
Sulpicia considered. "His would be a powerful talent to add to our ranks—perhaps I will seek to discover later if that is possible. If not... well, he does not seem to be an incurably irrational sort. For now, leave him."
"And the Romanians?" Tacita asked. "A few of our forces are pursuing them, but..."
Sulpicia shook her head. "Call our guards back. I doubt they can catch Rahela now."
Sulpicia noticed me watching, and gave an oddly wistful smile. "Rahela has a talent for getting quickly out of reach," she explained, "which is why I have been unable to remove her from the equation before now—not unlike your previous friend Victor, I think. However, she dislikes people to know about it. Not out of any logical desire to give herself some advantage, you understand, but purely out of the vanity of disgust with her cowardly gift."
Tacita was already barking orders to a few of the remaining Volturi, who promptly turned and disappeared in the direction the guards chasing the Romanians had gone.
Sulpicia sighed. "And with that, before we may attempt to put down Salvatore next—there is one last thing that must be addressed."
Edythe had been kneeling where she was, absolutely still and quiet in Cato's grip. No longer resisting Sulpicia's hand, which had moved to wrap securely around Edythe's wrist. She glanced down at Edythe, then shifted her gaze to me.
Sulpicia couldn't read my mind. But she had to read it in my face—the horror, the pain of what I had done. A treachery I would never, in all my immortal days, forgive myself for.
Edythe didn't look at me, her head bowed. Her long bronze hair, which had come loose from the tight bun in the fight, hung down lankly around her face, blocking my view of her expression.
"Please," Edythe said quietly, dully. "Let me make one phone call."
Tacita, who was standing next to Cato, ready to add an extra restraint if need be, hissed.
"Very well," Sulpicia replied. With her free hand, she quickly reached down into the side pocket of Edythe's jacket, and withdrew a small cellphone. She flipped it open, punched in a number at lightning speed, then held it before Edythe's face. It rang once, before I heard a short Romanian response on the other end.
Edythe spoke a word in Romanian. Another code word of some kind. Sulpicia then closed the phone and replaced it in Edythe's pocket.
"Brena will be relieved," Sulpicia commented. "And Demia. For Rahela and Vladimir to make use of the same means to control those powers as you would be less than desirable, wouldn't you say?"
I figured no one but Sulpicia and Edythe had any idea what she was talking about. I wasn't sure I wanted to know. All I knew was what I had done, and the fear of what would happen next—now that, thanks to me, it wasn't just me and Jules in Sulpicia's power, but Edythe too.
Edythe didn't reply, head still bowed toward the ground in defeat, her now-loosened hair still obstructing my view of her face. I wanted nothing more than to take her in my arms and tell her everything would be okay. But even if I could, even if she would have let me touch her again after what I had done, I couldn't say that. I couldn't lie.
Still, I knew I had to say something. Maybe she would never forgive me, and I didn't blame her—but before I went off to die, I had to speak. And I had to hear her voice.
"Edythe?" I whispered.
There was no immediate response, and I said again, my voice nearly cracking. "Edythe?"
She shifted slightly this time.
I took a deep, steadying breath and I whispered, my voice nearly breaking with every word, "I'm so sorry, Edythe. So sorry. I just—if you knew what was at stake—I just couldn't let so many people die. Not if I have a chance to try to stop it."
I whispered, "I love you, Edythe. So much. I didn't mean anything I said before. I just—didn't have a choice. I don't expect you to ever forgive me, but—I want you to know that, no matter what, I love you."
There were so many eyes watching us. Tacita, Cato, Brenden, Renatus, Sulpicia—I was even aware of Jules, her giant wolf head half swiveled in our direction. Yet I didn't care. Back in the forest, I had hurt Edythe in the worst way possible. Then we had been apart for so long, and now that we were finally reunited, I'd betrayed her again. I had to say the words, because they were as true now as they had ever been, no matter how hollow they might ring.
At long last, Edythe finally lifted her head, to look at me with her deep, golden eyes. And to my surprise, I saw a sad smile touch her lips.
"Always so ridiculous," she whispered. "Forgive you for what? In all of this, what have you done wrong?"
I didn't know what to say. I didn't see how, even Edythe, in these circumstances, could look at me and not be angry. Hurt, betrayed. Yet, somehow, her kindness, her shining goodness, was nearly too blinding to look at.
I knew it wouldn't do any good to try to explain, so I only said again, "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize to me, Beau," she whispered. "You don't need to apologize for anything."
I took a deep breath. Then I reached out with one hand, and gently cradled her face.
"Edythe," I said softly, urgently. "It's going to be okay. She won't hurt you. If I'm able to do this, then—then I'll be back, and we can go finish our honeymoon. It... could still work out okay. It could still be okay."
The soft, gentle look disappeared. Edythe's features darkened, and her narrowed eyes flickered back toward Sulpicia, who still stood over her.
A moment of tense silence. At last, Sulpicia said softly, "Shall I tell him what you're thinking?"
Edythe made a sharp, angry sound at the back of her throat, then looked back at me. "Beau, I—" she began, almost desperately. "I can't—you can't—" She shook her head. "Beau, I don't want you to go. I can't stand the thought."
I didn't immediately speak. Of course I understood only too well how she felt—if it were her going, I wouldn't want this either. But I felt we were far beyond trying to find alternative options.
"I have to go, Edythe," I said quietly, gently. "People are going to die, and I might be able to stop it from happening. You have to know what will happen to Greece. My mom—she might even be there, too." My voice caught on her name, as the thought sent another chill through my entire body. It hit me as hard as the first time—my mom, in such horrific, terrible danger.
Edythe's demeanor changed. She let out a high, almost crazed laugh.
"Your mother!" she spat with scorn. "Your mother's not in Greece, Beau." Her blazing eyes wheeled on Sulpicia, before returning to me, expression almost pleading. "She's manipulating you, Beau. That message wasn't from your mother. In your state, your powers barely developed—she hasn't told you just how low your chances are. You're just a pawn that she's willing to sacrifice on the slim off-chance you might be able to save her crumbling order. She's practically already written you off—already planning how she will move next when you fail."
For a long moment, I could only stare at her. Then, slowly, my gaze at last shifted to Sulpicia. "Is that true?" I asked quietly. "Is my mom... not in Greece?"
Sulpicia bowed her head. "Indeed. Likely she is back in Jacksonville, listening to Beethoven as she rushes about in hopes of improving the mental faculties of your new little brother or sister. I modified a message she had sent, to help make the stake in all this a little more personal for you."
For a long second, I gazed back at her. Then I felt my shoulders sag. I couldn't stop the hint of the relieved smile that tried to form at the corners of my lips.
"Good. I'm glad to hear that."
Edythe was staring at me with that incredulous, disbelieving expression I'd come to know so well. When she thought me doing or saying something she considered abnormal. This time she had a point—I should have been angry. To be lied to, played with. But Sulpicia had already done worse, and maybe there were already too many painful emotions roiling in my chest and mind now to even think about trying to cram in another. Still, maybe it was the familiarity in her face that made my brief smile fade back to solemnity.
"I know it might be a longshot," I said. "I know it might be such a longshot that this is the Plan A of the Plan As, and everybody's already written this off as a lost cause. I've practically written me off myself. But, Edythe, even if the chance is barely a fraction of one percent, I've got to try. Whether my mom's in Greece or not, all those people out there are brothers and sisters and wives and husbands and children to somebody. How many moms and dads? How many grandparents? How many newlyweds there on their honeymoons? I can't turn my back on them. Even if Sulpicia gave me a choice to back out, which she won't, I wouldn't. Not now, not when I can help."
Edythe stared at me for a long moment.
"So," I said softly. "You'll be fine. Sulpicia will keep a couple of guards here, and if I succeed, then I'll come right—"
"No!" Edythe hissed.
"No!" she snarled again. Her eyes were wide and wild, with fury and panic. I realized suddenly she had yanked one arm free from Cato's grip through sheer force of will. She drew back as though to strike him.
Tacita was on her in an instant, pinning Edythe to the ground, forcing her head down, arms held behind her. Sulpicia had stepped back, but now calmly came forward again, this time placing her fingers against the back of Edythe's exposed neck.
"No," Edythe spat, and her face was twisted in a dark, feral expression, eyes blazing. "No, Sulpicia knows her ordinary guards wouldn't be able to hold me here. I won't let you go—not if I can help it. Never. I won't let you throw your life away for nothing, Beau. If she wants to take you there, she'll have to break me first."
I could only gaze on her ever beautiful features, feeling every bit of the horror and pain in her face as though it were my own. I briefly glanced up toward Sulpicia.
Sulpicia sighed. "She is correct. I can spare a couple of guards behind to attempt to keep her here, but anyone other than Tacita would have a difficult time—and obviously Tacita cannot be spared from this coming battle. And, also obviously, were she to get free and come after us it would be... potentially disastrous."
It slowly dawned on me what she was suggesting. What she claimed to be the next necessary course of action.
"No," I whispered.
"You heard her yourself," Sulpicia answered quietly, gently. "She will not let you go. The only way we can ensure that we can make it safely away with no danger of her following..."
I shook my head vigorously. "No," I said again, more loudly this time. "You swore—you swore you wouldn't—"
"And she won't be hurt," Sulpicia interrupted. "Not permanently. But I'm afraid, short of destruction, there is only one way our kind may be rendered... no longer consciously aware."
I was still shaking my head.
"Beau," Sulpicia said quietly. Tacita had hefted Edythe back into a kneeling position, Cato adding his subduing strength to hers as he gripped her shoulders. Sulpicia had shifted her hand back to Edythe's held wrist, never breaking contact. "We won't act against your wishes, not on this point. But your alternatives are limited. We cannot bring her with us, and we also cannot leave her here, fully cognizant. You must make a decision."
I stared down at Edythe. I knew I couldn't cry anymore, but I thought I could imagine old human tears pricking my eyes as the emotion tore through me, trying to drown me. At last, I sank to my knees in the grass before her, staring into her golden eyes with a plea in mine.
"Edythe," I whispered. "Please, Edythe. I have to do this. I have to. Please—I know how hard it is, I know, because I can't imagine being in your place. But—please, try to understand. Think of all those people. Please understand, and let me do this."
Edythe had stopped struggling, and as I watched her blazing eyes softened a little. But still the hardness in the set of her jaw remained.
"I could promise you, Beau," she murmured, "I could say I promise to stay here and wait for you, under the watch of Sulpicia's guards." Her eyes closed briefly. "But Sulpicia would know I was lying."
Her eyes opened again, and she gazed back at me, with deep golden eyes so full of pain—yet also an unshakeable certainty. "Because, Beau, Sulpicia knows. She knows that, as much as the thought of human death tears me apart inside, haunts me, makes me ill, the truth is that when it comes down to it—" She hesitated. Then, taking a short breath, she forced herself to continue, "When it comes down to it, if I have to choose between a thousand faceless strangers, and you, then..."
She trailed off, letting the thought hang. She didn't finish—she didn't need to.
I paused briefly. But then I felt my hand reaching forward, until I cupped my palm against her perfect face, brushing her cheek with my thumb. And I tried one last time. "Oh please, Edythe," I whispered, my new vampire voice cracking. "Please. Don't... Don't make me..."
Edythe gazed up at me for a moment, and then her lips turned up faintly in the dull echo of a rueful smile. "Beau," she said quietly. "Do you remember that time, when we sat in the cafeteria together? Back when you were still trying to figure out what manner of creature I was."
I stared back down at her, and didn't answer. She had to know I remembered. My human memories may have faded now, but I knew there were some that would be etched in my now frozen heart forever.
"I tried to tell you then—that I was the villain. Yet you wouldn't believe me." She smiled wistfully. "Well, now you know, Beau. You know I really am the villain."
A sound escaped my mouth—a choked sound, almost a sob. I held her face between my hands, and lowered my head until my forehead resting against hers. She closed her eyes, and some of the tension in her frame seemed to drain away.
Somehow, by some immortal strength, I at last pried myself away. I wanted to stay close, needed to stay close—yet, as though my body were no longer my own, I felt myself stand, taking a step back. I swallowed back the emotions that were trying to swallow me, as I saw Tacita slip a hand under her chin.
My clenched fists shook at my sides. I didn't let myself look at Tacita, or Sulpicia, or any of the Volturi. Just at her.
"You don't have to forgive me," I whispered. My voice came out oddly dead—as though I'd already run through all the emotions I had left to feel, now with nothing left.
Edythe gazed up at me, her golden eyes oddly gentle. "Always so irrational," she murmured. "Of course I won't be able to forgive you—how can I forgive you when you haven't done anything wrong?"
Her back straightened as far as it could against the grips of Tacita and Cato, and a new strength seemed to surge in her expression. "I love you, Beau," she said softly, earnestly. "I hope you know that, in spite of how I have betrayed you, and in spite of how ugly a love it is. I love you, and I will always love you."
She bowed her head, and closed her eyes.
I stared down at her a moment longer, at each of her perfect features, her gentleness, her kindness. And though my heart was cold and still, I felt it breaking, two mangled pieces of useless debris screaming in my chest as they were wrenched away from each other. I drunk in every last detail of her face—before I tore my eyes away, closing them against the sight.
I didn't open my eyes, even as the piercing screech of tearing metal ripped through the early morning quiet, along with a quiet thud, like a decapitated head falling to the grass.
A/N: Okay, so. Yes, I'm going into hiding now. (It'll be fine, I promise. Probably.)
Google Translate helped out with the one Romanian line, so if anyone is familiar with the language and can give a more accurate translation, I'll edit it.
Still a ways of the story left to go, but we're getting into the home stretch now. Thank you all for reading so far, and I'm excited to move into the final chapters. Wish me luck, next update date will be in my bio as always. Take care!