Caius’ impeccable planning had all but guaranteed their victory. It had been a simple enough matter to spread their scent, capture another hostage—a young male shape shifter—and leave an unmistakable trail. As expected, the so-called La Push Protectors gathered their mates and tribal elders in one location in the village for protection. The unattended humans left behind were quickly contained and subdued as the pack of beasts were lured to a locale that was to the vampires’ advantage.
Aro swept into the Tribal Hall, his face a blank mask as he glided along the line of quivering humans, a fingertip brushing lightly over the hand or arm of each terrified individual. At his signal, the prisoners were knocked senseless and bundled away.
That phase of the plan had taken only moments. The black-haired king, with his unconscious charges, arrived at the cliff above the sea in time to observe the battle.
Even having seen them in the memories of others, the size and strength of the fanged brutes was disconcerting to Aro, but his confidence in Caius’ strategy was absolute.
The Volturi’s small army of dedicated guards and highly motivated volunteers followed their orders precisely.
Had it not been so violent and bloody, one could have imagined the engagement was a macabre live reenactment of one of the old Master’s depictions of Hell by one of the world’s great ballet companies.
Also as Caius had predicted, the irrationally furious wolves had trailed the few decoy vampires to the cliff’s edge, while the remainder had hidden in the canopy of the evergreen forest. So intent were they on their fleeing prey, the wolves had never glanced upward. The briny wind and intermittent rain helped to disguise the multiple scents.
As the small band of immortals leapt from the rocky ledge to the churning sea below, the Volterran foot soldiers dropped like silent wraiths from the tree tops.
The wolves snarled their frustration, knowing they’d never be able to match the speed of the vampires in the water. Their angry snarls turned to howls of disbelief and pain as they were swiftly surrounded and set upon.
A team of three vampires advanced on each furred creature. Two wrenched and twisted the animals’ legs and broke them like kindling. The third moved in to bash out teeth or break jaws, ensuring long fangs did not rip and tear.
Aro had learned when the wolves were dreadfully injured, they returned to their human form. Even having seen the transformation in the minds of others, it was still an astounding display.
Though stronger than normal men, with multiple compound fractures in their arms and legs—some nearly torn off—and the loss of their life’s essence, they were no match for the skilled and determined warriors.
It worked precisely as Caius had planned.
The Volturi had not lost even one of their compatriots to the wolves.
His eyes blazing with his triumph, Caius stood and roared, the gusting wind whipping his pale blond hair around his head. In a movement too fast for any of the agony-filled combatants to comprehend, Caius bent down, gripped the shoulders of the groaning man at his feet, dragged him forward, and threw him down in front of Aro.
At a flick of Caius’ wrist, Felix held the screaming man to the ground as Caius strode to Aro’s side. He nodded briefly in thanks as Marcus offered him a fresh cloak.
“Caius. Marcus. Let us confer so that you might know what I have learned.” Aro reached for their hands.
After several seemingly endless minutes, the two kings released Aro’s hands and stepped back, taking in and studying the face of each and every tribe member. Aro’s eyes drifted open and he gazed out over the surging, white-capped waves far below them, and then to the human and near-human captives at the vampires’ mercy on the rocky precipice.
Aro shut his eyes to the red-stained tableau that was before him. They had conquered their enemy. It would all soon be over, but he didn’t share Caius’ sense of victory. Retribution—punishment—though deserved, would not replace what had been lost to him.
He lifted his face to the roiling, weeping clouds above, shoved aside the memories of all those he had ever been in physical contact with, and descended into his own.
And his granite heart wept.
They would be protecting their people, but the resultant misery of the catalyst for their campaign was almost more than he could bear. Even if he had informed Marcus and Caius months before about the existence of the Quileute Protectors, there had been no indication they were anything more than a nuisance. The original treaty had been agreed to because the wolves had been outnumbered. No one could have foreseen the current devastating results.
At last, he gazed solemnly down at their vanquished enemy. “Let no one accuse the Volturi of being unjust. We do not mete out unwarranted verdicts. You will not be sentenced without knowing your crime.”
A strained growl sounded from one of the men being held to the ground. “Now here comes the part where the villain gloats over—”
“Shut up, Paul,” another hissed through broken teeth.
“We’re all gonna fuckin’ die anyway. Taha Aki isn’t going to send bolts of lightning down from the sky to fry these fuckers. There’s no cavalry gonna come riding up and save our asses. We killed the only bloodsuckers who might have given a shit about us! It doesn’t matter what the hell I say.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Caius agreed coldly. “Clearly, there were not enough jaws broken. It would behoove you to hold your tongue, or it shall be removed.” Caius shifted his stance and nodded at Felix. “The one you are holding. Raise him from the ground.”
The large guard lifted the mortally wounded man toward Aro’s outstretched hand.
“Great-grandson of Ephraim Black, who established the treaty with the golden-eyed vampires. Son of the Chief of the Quileute tribe.” Tilting his head to the side, Aro raised his voice. “Jacob Black—he who led the assault and committed the atrocities against the … Cullens … and the vampire race.”
At Jacob’s guttural denial, Caius peered haughtily down his nose at him. “A pity the accepted heir apparent was unable to fully enjoy and appreciate his time with his true half-brother before his demise.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Jacob gasped out, blood dripping from his face.
Caius’ eyes glinted with malicious joy. “The one named Embry Call was the first son of your father.”
“Embry is …? What? Who are you?”
Aro withdrew his hand from Jacob’s blood-smeared head. Before speaking, he meticulously wiped the slick residue from his fingers with a cloth Jane had handed to him. “You know who we are. You’d heard of us from the human Bella Swan.”
“Bella!” Panting harshly, Jacob’s words could barely be understood. “She married that … that … And then he got her pregnant. That thing inside her was killing her. It killed her! Then Edward—”
“Injected his venom to grant her the gift of immortality,” Aro continued. “You assisted him in keeping her heart beating. You witnessed her awakening.”
“When she woke up, she was quiet for a while, and then she walked right up to the scarred one and took his head off! She was insane!”
“She was a newborn,” Aro whispered, shaking his head slowly from side to side. “She displayed much calculated intelligence, but she was still a newborn. Edward Cullen feared and resented the unborn child, wanting to rip it from his beloved’s womb, even after she stated she wanted it. His repugnant offer of Bella’s body for you to impregnate was … reprehensible … beyond contempt.”
Gasps of shock could be heard from the vampires over the mutterings and weepings of the humans.
Jacob groaned. “I didn’t—”
“It matters not!” Aro spat out the words, silencing him. “She would have remembered his vile scheme and sought a reckoning. Without doubt, she knew enough to disable the most skilled fighter first. Allowing her so close … ” His eyes narrowed. “I can only surmise she was able to mask her emotions from him as she could block her thoughts from Edward and myself. So many errors. So many mistakes were made. The scarred one—Jasper—he should have known having that many beings around a newly awakened vampire—”
“He told us that, but Edward … She woke up crazy,” Jacob screamed over the weak groans of the others. “That stupid, fucking Edward! He destroyed her! She shoved him away like he was nothing!” Jacob’s lungs rattled as he drew in each ragged breath. “Then she ran. None of them even moved to stop her! They were standing there like … She jumped from the landing to the living room.”
“And you followed. She fought viciously to take the child from the one named Rosalie Hale.”
“She tore the blonde apart and then she killed it. She died to save it, and then she killed it.” Jacob’s head dropped and hung between his shoulders.
“You, her mortal enemy,” Aro intoned, “approached her.”
“How do you even know that?” Jacob strained to lift his head. “She was crazy! Her red eyes—” He gulped. “Insane!”
“Unlike Edward Cullen, I am able to see the entirety of your thoughts and memories, and I have seen, through your eyes, Alpha Jacob Black, what transpired.” Aro’s burgundy eyes shifted to a dull black. “I will enlighten you, so that you comprehend the magnitude of your crimes. You heard the babe’s heart beating, you noted her almost-human scent and attributes. You saw Bella attempting to protect her, yet you continued to approach them. Your aroma and proximity alarmed the new mother. She growled to warn you away, but in your obvious ignorance, you stepped closer. Being a newborn vampire and being threatened, she was incapable of controlling her immense strength while holding her infant. She crushed the child in her attempt to keep it from you.” Aro clasped his shaking hands in front of his chest. “Did you not see her hesitation? Hear her gasp of horror when she realized what she had done as she held the suddenly limp child in her hands? You did. You were fully aware you caused the death of her child. You phased and called to your waiting wolf brothers and sister. You dismembered Isabella while your cohorts decimated the others.”
Squeezing his eyes shut, Aro bowed his head and swallowed the venom that had begun to well up. He pressed his fists into his chest in an attempt to quell the recurring ache and his ire.
Caius stepped forward and hissed through clenched teeth. “Though the child was dead, the Cullens were not ended—deceased—as you were also well aware of, dog. Instead of urging the Cullens to assist the warrior and allow him to take control, you and your horde of rabid beasts maliciously and methodically tore them apart in ever smaller pieces. You demolished their home and set it ablaze.”
Marcus’s deep voice rang out. “They had not broken your treaty—the very one you made exceptions to—yet you attacked and destroyed them.”
“She wasn’t my Bella! She was an animal … insane. A monster!” Jacob sagged even lower in the large guard’s hands.
“You refuse to acknowledge that she was as overwhelmed with her new state of being as you were when you first became a spirit warrior.” Marcus growled and raised his fist.
Aro reached out to stop Marcus from taking another step toward Jacob Black. “His belligerence makes their crime even more barbarous and depraved.” He brought his hands together, and touched the tips of his index fingers to his mouth. “We also know of what you refer to as the wolf gene.” His eyes narrowed. “I first learned of it from Edward Cullen. Our knowledge was extended by the young Seth Clearwater.”
Even with their debilitating injuries, the Quileutes reacted violently to Aro’s words. The raucous screams and outraged howls were immediately silenced by a flurry of stone-like fists.
“My brother Marcus has discerned the intricacies of your genealogies. The information has been disseminated throughout our guard and newly appointed deputies.”
Caius let out a frigid laugh. “We have secured Joshua Uley north of here and discovered he has been most indiscreet—sowing his seed far and wide. As we speak, his ill-begotten offspring are being rounded up and disposed of—no matter where he left them.” He stalked toward a man sitting rigidly in a wheelchair and took hold of his chin, lifting his head. “Chief Billy Black, your rebellious daughters will be found. All four of your children will be ended. Thank your Spirits your end comes swiftly.”
In a blur of movement, Caius spun away as the Chief of the Quileute people slumped in his chair, his eyes unblinking and staring at nothing, his chest still—not rising with breath.
Speaking even more loudly, projecting his voice above the blowing rain and the people’s wails, Caius glared at the humans trying to huddle together. “A bounty has been placed upon the heads of the La Push Protectors and their progeny. All those with the beastly inheritance coursing through their veins will be destroyed. Items with their putrid scent will be distributed throughout our world with instructions to immediately kill any humans who bear the stench.”
“You can’t kill our whole tribe—our children!” a weak, feminine voice exclaimed from the group of elders. “That’s genocide!”
Finding the speaker, Aro turned to face her. “Sue Clearwater, we are not as cruel and malicious as you all believe. Even though your people wish to eradicate our race from the face of the earth, we will not be eliminating your entire tribe—only those with the tainted blood—those who have proven they are a danger to my people. Some must remain to explain the passing of so many of your tribe, despite the fact you keep predominantly to yourselves. You are well-versed at your traditional folklore—perhaps a plague as explanation? I will leave that to your discretion. There will be new legends of how the great Spirit Warriors were vanquished by the dreaded Cold Ones. A cautionary tale to pass down to future generations.”
Setting his jaw and perusing the wretched humans, Aro inhaled deeply, his nostrils flaring. “Regardless of your beliefs, we are not without some compassion. Death will be swift. Your Chief, William Black, Junior, will be laid to rest with his forebears. Council members and others with the blood of the wolves will be interred with their ancestors. To ensure the bodies will not be discovered and lead to troublesome questions that might reveal our existence, those who have transformed into wolves will be incinerated and their ashes dispersed.”
“No!” another woman shrieked. “You can’t do this!”
“Oh, but we can, we will, and we are.” Ignoring the rain, Caius fixed his attention on the young woman struggling ineffectually against her captors. “Aro, that one bears a wolf’s whelp. I can hear the fluttering of its heart.”
“Emily Young.” Aro stated somberly and gestured toward one of the men panting and grimacing in pain. “Mate of Samuel Uley. You shall be cremated as well.”
“No! No!” Jacob Black raised his head, shaking with his effort. “You can’t kill the women or wipe out all the descendants of Taha Aki!”
Aro turned back to Jacob and the ghost of a smile played about his lips. “It has already begun. After brutally and savagely murdering the Cullens, you erroneously thought you and your brethren could become vampire hunters, roam the world, and extinguish my people instead of remaining sequestered here. A foolish, unattainable dream on your part, but I cannot allow it to grow and fester. Even with your ineptitude, you have proven to be a danger.”
Glancing at the various members of his guard who restrained the criminals, Aro raised his arm and signaled them with a grand flourish.
In a morbidly choreographed dance, each of the broken and battered shape shifters were lifted from the ground in unison, and their necks were efficiently snapped. Their lifeless bodies were released and unceremoniously dropped into the shallow pools of red-stained rainwater.
Jacob Black’s eyes squeezed shut. Tears joined the raindrops rolling down his face, and an agonized sob escaped his split and swollen mouth. Aro reached forward to place his hand on the crown of his head as if he were about to bestow a blessing.
“You’ll never get away with it!” Jacob cried out in desperation.
Because he was the Alpha, the leader—because he was the first to attack and dismember Bella Swan and call his pack to finish the others—not only did he have to watch his father’s death, he knew he would be left alive long enough to witness the deaths of his people.
“But we will. The storm will wash it all away. As it washed away the ashes of your hapless victims.” Aro placed his cold hands almost reverently around Jacob’s neck and urged his face upward. “The others of the wolf bloodlines are being gathered and will be brought here. Death will come for you soon.”
Jacob gasped and shrank away from Aro’s touch. He flinched at every scream and shriek. Shuddered uncontrollably at the grating crunch of each neck as it was snapped, and the splashing thud as each body hit the ground. “You’d kill all of us because of the Cullens?”
Cold rain trickled down, and Aro knew, through Jacob Black’s thoughts, it looked as if tears were streaming down his face. For the first time in his lengthy existence, he longed for the ability to weep and mourn.
“I have my exquisite wife, my devoted brothers, my loyal dear ones, but Carlisle Cullen was … my friend.”
~o~ the end ~o~