Chapter Forty TwoMature

There is one line in here taken from an OKGO song titled "Invincible."  It's in italics.


Silence hovered in the thick air of evening, the shadows lengthened and deepened; Aro waited outside of the residence for the Volturi, his back straight and his hands hanging awkwardly by his sides. Bella was the first to round the corner into his sight, but she didn't seem at all surprised by his presence there. She strode forward, her small frame oddly demanding in the black shorts and tank top she wore. Or perhaps it was the boots, Aro mused. Her long brown hair fell around her shoulders and down her back, actually longer than the shorts she wore; she stopped two yards ahead of him and locked herself into a straight-backed position.

He wondered how such a small thing could appear so formidable.

James and Edward followed Bella around the turn, keeping identical pace with each other. They stopped three feet behind Bella, their hands clasped behind their backs and their bodies rigid. Synchronized, complete mirror images of the other in motion and body language. They seemed more like two hired mercenaries rather than two of her friends; or as Aro had heard, lovers. He smiled broadly at Bella and extended his hand to her, he made sure his motions were like liquid – natural and graceful, not a single reason to be suspicious. But Bella didn't take his hand; she just tossed him a scowl and stiffened her shoulders. He suddenly thought she might spit on his hand, and he retracted it to let it fall to his side again. He darted his eyes up to the men behind her and he felt a bothersome sensation drop into the pit of his stomach.

Something was very wrong with his plan, he just didn't know what.

The cool steel of the blade pressed into her spine as she stood in front of Aro, a solid reminder of what she was here for and what she had to do. She was grateful for it when she spoke; it seemed to fuel an unwavering sureness in her voice.

"You know what we are here for, Aro. There's no use in playing the host."

Aro opened his mouth to argue with her but she shook her head calmly at him, something about the gesture halted his voice in his throat. Snaking along his skin was the strangest vibration; it coaxed his muscles into relaxing and blurred his thoughts in his head.

He shook it off.

"I am here for Jasper; either you hand him over or I find him." There it was again, the steel in her voice and the feather-light vibrations along his flesh.

He turned and led them into the building in silence, focusing all of his attention on clearing his head. He couldn't afford to be careless.

As soon as Aro pushed open the doors in front of her, all sound in the large chamber died down to nothing. Everyone froze where they sat, and Bella made a quiet note that most of the guard wasn't present. Even Caius was missing, and he was one of the leaders of the Volturi. Something was off; she could practically smell the deception in the air.

They had something planned.

She caught a whiff of a faint smoke, not quite cigarette smoke, more like campfire smoke.

She spun to address the source and was startled to find a man standing directly behind her. Judging by the look on his face, he was startled to see her facing him. An oily grin pulled up the corners of his thin lips, baring fangs as it widened. He had stringy black hair and bright red eyes, he wore a pristine white suit and a grin that depicted exactly what he'd like to be doing to her, and Bella was suddenly nauseated just being near him. He lifted his fingers and ran them down the side of her body, his eyes roaming where they touched.

He looked over her head at Aro, a pleading expression on his face. "Can I keep this one, Aro?"

She scowled at him and opened her mouth to blurt out some vicious remark, but Aro's voice floated over her shoulder first.

"Acanthus, how impolite. Do not touch our guest. Quit it."

And just like that, Acanthus flickered out of existence in front of her. She caught another whiff of the smoke, farther away judging by the faintness of it. She scanned the area swiftly and saw him leaning against a wall behind Aro. He didn't look particularly pleased.

Neither of the men behind her made a single move, though she knew they were fuming behind their expressionless facades. She could feel their anger like a hot breath on her neck. "Where is Jasper, Aro? I am not here to marvel at your chambers."

Edward watched the sleek way she moved herself around, the subtle gestures that seemed to give her an air of righteous authority in the room. He hadn't ever heard her so confident before, it practically dripped from her mouth. James fought a smirk every time Bella spoke; he'd seen this confidence numerous times.

In bed, every one of them.

Edward held his breath to keep a growl from emerging. That hadn't been something he wanted to know.

"I am afraid I cannot just hand your friend over, Bella; we must come to an agreement first."

"The agreement is that I won't kill you if you release him. That's all I'm offering you." The cool steel pressed more firmly into her skin and she wondered why until she realized she had straightened her back again while she spoke.

"That is unacceptable, Miss Swan. Why don't we discuss this?"

"There's nothing to discuss, Aro. I will say this only once more. Release him or I will be forced to take him."

At her words, Aro shook his head in mock sadness. "I am afraid it is not my reluctance, Bella, but Jasper's."

"I will be the judge of that." Her palm was practically itching for her blade.

Aro waved his hand casually and a door in the back of the room opened up. Jasper stepped through it, a beaming smile on his face and Chelsea on his arm. Ah, so that's what this is about, Bella thought. Well, that's solved pretty easily.

"Is that the best you can do, Aro?" The laughter in her voice was clear. Aro looked at her, stunned, and studied her expression. "You're a fool."

Bella moved swiftly, her right hand reaching to her back and grasping the handle of her throwing knife. She held it firmly, turning her torso at just the right angle to swing her arm around to aim. Aro cried out a single name, "Renata!" in panic as the realization of Bella's motive dawned on him.

Out of the corner of her eye, Bella could see a small, mousey woman dive forward in the direction of Chelsea, her hands outstretched but Bella had already released her grip on the knife. It hurtled through the air with a devastating whistle before it embedded itself in Chelsea's skull as she turned to face Aro's alarmed cry. Jasper was thrown back from Chelsea with the force of the protective shield Renata threw up over Chelsea no more than a fragment of a second too late.

Chelsea crumpled to the floor in a heap, the dark stain of her blood pooling around her.

Bella straightened up and faced Aro the same way she had merely two seconds before. Aro met her gaze and regretted it instantly; the pools of her eyes had lightened, drawing him in so intensely that he wanted to rise and move closer to see them more clearly. He felt his fingers twitch with the urge as he fought himself to stay seated. There was something deathly commanding in her eyes and it brought a lump to his throat that he couldn't swallow. Suddenly, Aro knew they would all die.

"You killed her," he squawked. Terror was plain on his face for a full second before he caught his breath and tore his eyes away from hers. Immediately, he seemed more in control and he straightened himself up. "I am afraid you've made a terrible mistake, Isabella."

Jasper rose from the floor where he'd been tossed and rubbed at his head. He groaned weakly and rested against the wall behind him. He opened his eyes slowly and scanned the room. He analyzed the Volturi that were sprawled around him, most of them hiding in the shadows in an attempt to be unnoticed, without expression. His eyes even landed on Edward without as much as a twitch of his lip. But when his eyes landed on Bella they widened in alarm and he took a second and third look around the room as if he didn't understand what was going on.

"Be still, Jasper," Aro commanded. And Jasper did.

"Come on, Jasper; we're here to take you home." Bella softened her tone dramatically until it came out gentle and soothing, as if she were talking to a frightened child. He wouldn't look at her, only shook his head repeatedly while he stared at the floor.

"As I was saying, Isabella; you've made a terrible mistake." He contorted his features into an expression that would resemble sympathy if he weren't such a frightening creature. "And one of your friends will pay dearly for it." His red eyes shifted to his left, searching for a body in the darkness of the shadows. "Gloria, I want the blond one."

It was as if the inch of bone that made up James' skull was attempting to pull apart from itself. The pain was blinding. Furious at the intrusion, he heard himself roar savagely as he threw his head back. He'd been unaware he was cradling it in his hands. He felt his muscles straining all over his body as the second consciousness sought to push him out. His barriers were cracking beneath the weight of such a demand and he felt his knees buckle beneath him.

The sharp pain of his kneecaps hitting the stone floor shook him out of his stunned paralysis long enough for him to tap into a gift. It was a simple choice. He lifted his hands, even though he usually didn't need to use them in order to use his telekinesis, and shoved the power from his palms. The hefty fog that had settled around the edges of his vision lifted, but just barely. It was enough, though; and he shoved his power out harder. This was not going to happen. There was a chill that was frosting over his bones.

He could feel the pressure lifting incrementally, slowly at first but faster as he continued to fight against it. With a sudden slam of flesh and bone hitting stone, the icy ache that had begun settling in his bones vanished. His breathing was coming in rapid, uneven pants and he'd broken out into a sweat. He gulped down air hungrily in an attempt to re-assert control over his body. Edward stared down at him in shock. Realizing that James hadn't stood up yet, Edward extended a hand to help him up and was surprised when James accepted it. Edward lifted and got James on his feet but waited to release his hand until James appeared stable. James turned and eyed Aro, a vicious growl rumbling in his chest.

But Aro wasn't looking at him; he was looking at the mangled body of a beautiful woman in a silk emerald dress that lay on the floor against the wall. She was covered in dust and shattered stone pieces, her brilliant red hair matted with blood and dust. It appeared her skull was crushed, James realized, when he noticed the pale white of bone and the sick grayish pink of brain tissue. Aro leapt to his feet and the small mousey woman, Renata, rushed to his side with a tremble to her lip that gave away her tearless sobs. James could see Aro's chest rising and falling with the labored breaths he was taking and James met his incensed red eyes.


James refrained from chuckling at the idea of this frail man tossing opponent after opponent at the three of them. A distant recollection of the woman entered James' mind that he recognized to be Edward's, and the realization of the woman's powers dawned on him with immense gravity. He wanted to lunge forward and cover Bella with his own body, protect her at all costs.

Bella stiffed in front of him and said nothing, her eyes scanning the room for the first sign of movement. 'I want you both to keep yourselves under control.' Neither of them moved, not wanting to give away the connection the three of them had to any attentive observer. 'I can handle her.'

The three of them noticed the shifting stone before anyone saw Delia's long frame step from the shadows behind Aro. There was something primitive about her, something carnal and exotic and earthy. She was Mother Nature, complete with a pin-stripped button-up blouse that barely contained her caramel skin. James found himself wondering how dark her skin had been when she was alive, how the pulse at her neck would have felt against his lips. The memory of her skin filled Edward's head, lacing the tips of his fingers with a cold remembrance of her flesh. Her lips twisted, curling and parting to form a heart-stopping smile. She directed it at Bella.

James and Edward heard her thought at the same time, 'Down.'

The floor beneath Bella's feet gave as if it was thin ice, the rolling sounds of shifting earth and crumbling stone startling the two of them enough to step backward. Bella could feel herself falling as if she was in slow-motion, the push of air beneath her not quite enough to propel her up. She crouched as she fell, calmly aware of her unnatural state of relaxation for such a situation, and felt the hard give of dirt beneath her boots when she landed. She stood and brushed herself off before she turned her eyes upward to see how far she'd fallen. Two hundred feet, at least, she calculated; too high for her to spring out of. She frowned.

'Well, it could be worse,' she thought, hoping James and Edward could hear her. 'It could be wet.' She knew James would understand. She opened her mouth and yelled loud enough for Aro to hear, "you've gone and pissed me off now, Aro. You've fouled up something rotten, this time."

James looked up from staring at the pit in front of them and met Aro's eyes with a vicious smirk. He said nothing as he lifted his hand and pressed his palm against Edward's chest. The two of them stepped back twenty paces, Aro watching curiously as they did so. James cleared his throat and dropped his hand from Edward so he could cross his arms over his chest.

It was a simple sound, but it didn't matter. Bella recognized it as a green light and she crouched down once again, bending her knees beneath her and pressing her skin into the dirt. The beast awoke in her chest and began its tense pacing between her ribs and she coaxed it out further, encouraging it to press against her skin and fill her throat. It was warm and hungry and nasty. And she could taste it like a bitter chocolate on her tongue.

Her breathing became ragged, catching dozens of times each breath until it felt like she was breathing in ash.

With a single triumphant scream, Bella's entire body ignited in flame. It licked its way over her skin and singed her clothes and melted the rubber soles of her boots. It tore up the walls of the pit and ate its fill of oxygen on the way up. The flames rose, building and rolling and growing hotter and hotter. It wasn't more than a second before Bella was the white-hot center of the blaze.

And then she was filling with smoke, it crept down her throat and slithered into her lungs. She inhaled greedily, sucking in the burning ash. She could feel parts of her clothes falling from her as they burned, but she'd been expecting that. Even her hair was singed at the tips. The lightness that took over her body was expected as well; she could feel the smoke pushing out through the pores of her skin as fresh smoke forced its way in through her mouth and nose.

With a final lick of flame, she felt her body fall away from her mind as if she were shedding clothes. Her seemingly imaginary limbs stretched upward, reaching and twisting in smoky spirals towards the opening of the gorge.

Edward made a lunge for the pit, certain that the amount of fire coming from it would incinerate even Bella. The flames he could see were electric blue and a furiously bright green. The oranges and yellows of the flames were near the ceiling. Smoke snaked up from the inferno, which he thought was odd because smoke didn't usually appear to come from the base of a fire. James grabbed his neck roughly and pulled him back hard enough to land him a few feet behind his previous spot. On his ass.

'I will rip your throat out if you make a foolhardy mistake like that again, Edward. If you reveal your affinity to Bella one more time, I swear to God I will kill you myself for destroying this mission.'

Edward sat where he had been thrown and stared at the flames as they grew impossibly more. He watched the smoke carefully, noting the strange way it moved. Smoke was usually guided by a breeze, the spirals curling and tucking where the breeze demanded; but the smoke he saw rising now seemed deliberate, as if it were controlled by something aside from airflow. The streams of gray seemed to stretch out, they seemed to climb the air like a ladder rather than riding it like a wave.

'Do you see her now?' James thought, careful to keep his expression blank as he turned to look at Edward. Edward blinked and focused harder.

And there it was. The smoke was moving on its own, it maneuvered its way around the flames expertly as it seemed to thicken and twist only around itself instead of flowing upwards. It began to take shape, slowly, until it formed a smooth, haunting silhouette.

Bella's pleased laugh floated from the silhouette. Her voice was harsh, a brittle whisper against the furious roar of the blaze. "Don't look so arrogant, Aro; these flames are not your Delia's. Fire is its own master, it answers to no one; not even Mother Earth."

Edward looked at Aro for the first time since the fire started and realized that Aro didn't appear to be frightened at all. He really was a fool if he thought the fire was of Delia's doing.

Delia, who was cowering in a corner as far from the raging inferno as she could get.

Aro turned to find her, searching for proof that Bella was wrong, and found none. Delia looked toward him and shook her head frantically. "Then smother the damn thing, you imbecile!" he seethed at her, his fingers tightening absurdly around the arm rests of his chair. Delia collapsed the pit with a frantic thought and whimpered when there was nothing left except smoke.

The strange figure in the smoke settled down into a sitting position atop the newly shifted dirt that had filled the pit. A wisp of a hand gestured dismissively at Aro. The faceless blur turned toward Delia, evocative of Bella even without facial features. As they watched, the smoke seemed to gain mass. It solidified right before their very eyes, the gray tinge vanishing to be replaced by the delicious cream color of Bella's untouched skin. Her hair fell around her in beautiful waves of chocolate brown, singed only on the tips, and covered her torso carefully.

She was completely nude beneath the locks of hair that shielded parts of her from Aro's furious gaze. She stared heavily at Delia from across the room.

Delia let out a meek yelp when she met Bella's gaze; she wanted desperately to tear away and find shelter elsewhere. But the eyes looking back at her seemed to penetrate her, see directly through everything she was to summon out her soul. Terror welled up in her chest, pushing forth into her throat as a desperate scream that she attempted to smother but failed. Bella's eyes were destructive on their own, unflinching in their gaze and decimating of their own power. Thousand-Fahrenheit hot metal lights burned behind her eyes.

She opened her mouth with a gentle smile and said "come" – and Delia did. Something in Delia cried out to obey, whimpered and whined and kicked until Delia's feet shifted beneath her and pushed her closer to Bella. It had been years since she'd moved at all without having the ground beneath her move as well; the sensation of moving alone was petrifying. Once she was there, her hands and knees scraped from the rough stone beneath her, the need to touch Bella was overwhelming. Delia wanted to lay her face in her lap and weep, to beg the woman for forgiveness; this woman was more than Aro, more than Marcus or Caius or any of them combined.

This woman was the queen and no one else had discovered her right to the throne except Delia. It seemed she had been given an honor, an overwhelmingly fortunate gift that she couldn't possibly deserve – and yet, this woman with her long brown hair and startling eyes spoke softly to her and called her forth. Delia fell into Bella's lap and wept openly, murmuring promises of her unshakable devotion and loyalty to her, the queen.


The End

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