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A Litany at Dusk

Summary:
Thanks to hellacullen for the awesome banner! Edward’s rebellious period wasn't just a few years; it lasted seventy. Having spent his years hunting on the edges of society, he rejoins his family in Forks ready to abstain when he runs acorss a young woman praying. Can a choice be made between one's desires, one's heart and one's soul? Will Edward be willing to fight for her instead of fighting against her? A/U a bit OOC, rated for lemons and adult content, some violence


Notes:
Thanks to PTB for their assistance and to hellacullen, who is the wind beneath my wings! Her consistent and intelligent commentary, suggestions and cheerleading were incredible and I wish everyone a beta like hellacullen. I own nothing of Twilight. Let's see who could be the owner? Possibly SM?


30. Chapter 30 The Pride of Lions

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3429   Review this Chapter

Edward

Panic hit me when the black void descended. It wasn't so much darkness that hid everything; it was the absence of everything−all perception, all senses, and all movement. I tried concentrating and trying to flex muscles, but it was as if my body had disappeared and was floating bodiless in a black, featureless space. I tried reaching out with my mind, trying to listen for the others, but there was nothing.

The wolves had smelled the strange vampires first, but when I had seen in their minds the images of cloaked vampires approaching, I'd known immediately it had to be the Volturi. I'd seen their pictures in Carlisle's mind too many times to be mistaken. I'd whirled away from Jacob and sprang towards Bella's side, but before I reached her the guard had taken all perception, leaving me to gnash my teeth in horror and frustration. I was forced to wait out the blackness, unable to even hear the others' minds, not knowing what was happening inches from me. It was a total sensory deprivation experience unlike anything I had ever encountered.

I castigated myself relentlessly. I had acted so arrogantly and stupidly in my attempts to win Bella. I'd underestimated the ties the wolves had to her. I'd thought the Volturi would be slow to act; everything I'd heard about them had convinced me that they thought decades were necessary before contemplating action, and it was nothing for them to spend centuries debating particular points. Instead, they had shown up so quickly, it was if they had been waiting for something to happen.

I knew Carlisle had been trying to escape their attention. Aro was a collector of vampires with exceptional talents, and here Carlisle was with three in his family. He didn't want to see any of us recruited into the Volturi; he had cohabitated with them at one point and finally left in disgust when the extent of their off-hand cruelty could no longer be disguised by the thin veneer of culture they pretended to. It bothered him immensely to see creatures gifted with immortality use it for nothing but self-serving hedonistic pleasures.

But as deeply concerned as I was about my family, it was nothing to the despair I felt at my inability to protect Bella. I stood cursing at myself, Jacob, the Volturi, the Monsignor and the entire Catholic Church with such vehemence that I was sure I was quivering with fury. If anything happened to Bella, I promised I'd create such havoc among the Volturi that their only recourse would be to send me into the fires. I could not live without her; I would not live without her, and if my actions had contributed in any way to her demise, then I shouldn't be allowed to live.

As time passed in a featureless void, it could only be measured by the narrative of my thoughts. Slowly, my initial fury passed, until I realized that this might be the very last time I would ever see Bella. If I could break free of the darkness, I had better assess my situation carefully before I brought catastrophe on all of us.

Finally, I was released and my relief at seeing Bella by my side was so great, I almost fell to my knees. I pulled her into my arms, trying to catch the tenor of the minds around me, assessing our danger. The field, where so much action and noise had been only moments before, rang strangely silent. Only Carlisle, Esme and I had been released from the spell the Volturi guard had thrown. It continued to linger over the wolves and my brothers and sisters. Oddly, Bella had been immune to it, and that thought intrigued Aro greatly.

From those locked under the blackness, I could hear nothing. They stood stock still, as frozen as statues. From the Volturi guard, there came varying degrees of caution, amusement, curiosity and surprise. The young boy named Alec, with the power which had held us, was intrigued by the Quileutes, while a portion of his mind kept watch on the figures still under his power. There was Jane, a sister to Alec, whose method of dealing pain had created a daunting reputation for unusual cruelty, even among our kind where cruelty was an everyday occurrence. Behind Aro, stood a ghostly silent figure called Renata, whose mind unswervingly concentrated on the protection of Aro, her Master and that only. There was Demetri, the tracker who had led them all here, and Felix, a hulking brute of a vampire and Captain of the Guard. Between two lesser guards, Hecuba and Sergio, the monsignor hung supported by their cold hands, his mind a swirling mix of terror, self-righteousness and indignation at his treatment.

If I hadn't been worried already, I would have been once I caught the tenor of Carlisle's thoughts. He was frightened for Bella, but even more, concern for all of his family was in his thoughts, and he saw Aro's presence here as a distinct threat to all of us. If this had just been a minor mission, Aro would not have chosen to come himself.

"Carlisle," Aro said warmly, belaying the cold assessment and calculations going on in his head. "It's been too long since we've been together. I would ask how you are, but it seems the answer is unfortunate. Having some trouble with the indigenous population, I take it?"

"It was well within our capabilities to handle it. A simple misunderstanding," Carlisle said

"H-m-m," Aro said, looking at the figures scattered in the field. "Well, perhaps I can help." He extended his hand. "Perhaps you would fill me in?" he said, staring into Carlisle's eyes.

There was a pause as Aro looked expectantly at Carlisle who looked at Aro's hand as if it would sting him. Finally, resignation crossed Carlisle's features, and he stepped forward to take Aro's hand.

How disorientating it was to watch the two of them as Aro flipped through Carlisle's memories. Their minds echoed one another but just slightly off, like watching a movie where the sound was not synched correctly with the action and everything was delayed by a second or two. Aro rifled through the history with the wolves quickly, and then lingered longest over my making and history and Alice and Jasper's entry to the family. I had to turn away; it was too hard watching Carlisle have to submit to this invasion. Bella sensed my distaste and looked up inquiringly at me. "Aro can read minds with a touch," I murmured. "He needs to touch but when he does he can see every thought that has crossed your mind." Bella's eyebrows drew together and her arms tightened around my waist. I could feel the tension in her back and the spasmodic shivers that ran down it every so often.

Aro released Carlisle's hand and gripped his forearm in a gesture of seeming sincerity. "But you mustn't be suspicious of my intentions, my friend. Hearing your name made me realize how long it had been since we'd been together, a situation I decided to rectify immediately." His eyes flicked to mine. He'd gotten all the information he needed from Carlisle on each one of us, and he knew of my extra abilities. He envied being able to read from a distance and wondered how powerful my gift was. He looked around the field and returned his gaze to Carlisle, smiling. "My goodness. You have been busy."

"We are a family," Carlisle said simply, suspecting what I could read in Aro's mind−the paranoia of a ruler, ever watchful for conspiracies and mutinies. Aro had specifically put a watch on Carlisle's activities, and this was only made easier by the family's habit of settling in at a location for a decade or so. He had suspected Carlisle was trying to put together his own Guard, for what purpose he couldn't fathom, and that is what had driven him from his castle in Italy to visit an 'old friend.'

"Well, I would be honored to meet them," Aro said, smiling.

Carlisle reached for Esme who came to his side. "Esme, I would like to present Aro Argentous. Aro, this is my wife, Esme Cullen."

"A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cullen," Aro said graciously, bending over her hand and brushing the back of it with his lips. He clasped her hand for a moment longer. "You always had wonderful taste, Carlisle. I can see you have outdone yourself with this beauty."

"So very nice to meet you," Esme said. "I see the reference to silver must be your tongue."

Aro's eyebrows shot up with surprise, and then he laughed delightedly. "Of course! And quick-witted to boot. I am delighted to meet a child of Carlisle's making. I always told him he needed to find a mate, and now he has done so impeccably."

Carlisle turned to me. "My son, Edward."

He stepped up to me, smiling. Behind him, only a pace or two away, Renata stood silently, like a shadow. She moved whenever he did, never more than a few feet away. "Of course, the mind reader. How convenient to be able to do so from a distance." He held out his hand, as if in introduction, ignoring my hesitation as I tightened my grip around Bella.

He waited for me to extend my hand and take his, looking me steadily in the eyes. Come now, turnabout is fair play.You're been reading me, surely you will allow me the chance to do the same? Underneath the thought, there was a distinct tone of menace.

I reluctantly loosed my right arm around Bella and extended my hand. We clasped hands and I stiffened violently with the feeling of electric connection that raced through my body. I could feel my mind being rifled through, even as I could see the memories flashing through his mind. "Interesting," Aro said aloud. You do not share the golden eyes of your family. But you flagellate yourself over your nature. Only taking the evil-doer. How naïve of you.

I answered him in my thoughts, knowing he would hear me as long as we had a physical connection. Naïve? No. Trying to serve the greater good, perhaps.

We are all saints, and we are all sinners. It's just a matter of what opportunities life has presented us with that make us who we are.

"I don't believe that," I said aloud. "We have choices."

Aro shrugged. "But you have made some interesting choices. Falling in love with your singer, that is folly of a magnitude I rarely see."

"You will not harm her," I hissed.

His eyes flashed angrily at me. Young one, do not presume to tell me what I will and will not do. But outwardly, he continued with his pretense. "And Bella, I have already met." He cocked his head. "So unusual. It will be interesting to see how your gift manifests itself when you are turned. But you are fighting that, aren't you?" He glanced at me. "He loves you. He isn't going to want to live without you, and that would surely be a waste of natural talent."

She looked at him and then back at me. "You wouldn't…" she whispered.

"He feels deeply about you," Aro said. He smiled and his eyes flicked once to where the Monsignor, whose thoughts were ranging from terror to the glory of martyrdom, was being held. "You mustn't believe everything you hear. What makes you so sure that we are not instruments of God's Will? Perhaps God works with the lion as well as the lamb."

"Don't listen to these demons, Isabella!" the Monsignor yelled. "What could they possibly know of God's mind? They−" He was cut off abruptly, by the vampire who shook him like a rag doll.

Aro sighed, with the air of royalty forced to suffer fools. "Please don't attempt to argue theology with me," he said over his shoulder to the Monsignor. "I was a Cardinal under both Benedict VIII and Clement VII." He shook his head, cocking it to one side. "Fools, both of them." He glanced back at me and Bella. "But consider this, Bella. We are all children of God. Perhaps He works through us as well."

"How can there be a place for us in creation when we are so unnatural?" I hissed.

Aro let his finger run down Bella's cheek, before she pulled away to bury her head in my chest. It set my teeth on edge and I fought the urge to pick her up and start running, knowing it would be disastrous.

Aro smiled coldly at me. "How can there be any place beyond God's reach? Surely, even His dark angels are in His dominion."

"So you are are saying that God allows this evil?"

"Not only allows it, He is the architect."

"Aro," Carlisle called, "please release the rest of my family, and I will introduce you."

Aro nodded, and raising a hand, gestured to Alec. A moment later, Rose, Emmett, Jasper and Alice started to move.

"Children," Carlisle called to them. "Please come meet my friend, Aro."

Emmett and Rose, like-minded as always, had dropped into a defensive pose when first released from the spell of nothingness, but their curiosity and Carlisle's demeanor had given them pause. Exchanging glances, taking in the field of still frozen wolves and clasping each other's hands, they walked over to where Aro, his shadow, Renata, and Carlisle stood.

"Aro, these are my children, Rosalie Hale and Emmett McCarty."

Aro took Rosalie's hand, and as he had done with Esme, kissed the back of it. "Ah, un bel fiore," he breathed. "It is my honor."

"Nice to meet you," Rosalie said, perplexed and catching Carlisle's eyes as he nodded discreetly. Both she and Emmett were watching Carlisle for clues on how to handle this unexpected intrusion. Emmett and the hulking Captain, Felix, measured each other with their eyes.

Aro perfunctorily shook Emmett's hand, murmuring a greeting, but his eyes had already traveled to Alice and Jasper.

Jasper held out his hand to Aro who stepped up to grasp it. "Jasper Whitlock," he said letting his southern twang color his inflection.

"A pleasure to meet you," Aro said. "You have a strong gift, but I see you are reluctant to use it." He glanced at Carlisle, suspicion tainting his thoughts. "You must come visit us sometime. Several of the guards have gifts similar to yours. They may be able to help you manage it."

"Well, that's kind of you."

Aro waved his hand, indicating he thought it nothing. "But a history buff as well. You must come see our archives. It makes the Vatican's look like a provincial library."

"Well, thank you for the invitation," Jasper acknowledged.

Aro looked him up and down, thinking it was more than a simple invitation, but he let it go as he turned to Alice.

"And lovely Alice with such a gift!" he exclaimed as he kissed her hand. "True precognition is so rare."

"I don't always call it a gift," she said, glancing at Carlisle, who was looking on calmly while his mind raced with probable scenarios and how best to usher the Volturi back on their way.

"No," Aro said, still holding her hand. "I can see why. The future is not always pleasant." He glanced behind him at the still wolves. "These creatures are bothering you."

"They block it somehow," Alice said, withdrawing her hand. Jasper stepped up to her and placed an arm around her shoulders.

"Sometimes there are pockets of very old power trapped in the earth. Indigenous people with a long history in the area seem to be able to tap into it. It is power older than Christianity, older even than me." He stepped back towards Carlisle. "But these," he said indicating the Quileutes, "are an anomaly among anomalies." He circled Jacob slowly, who stood in wolf form, as still as a taxidermy statue. "Not true werewolves, the moon is not full tonight."

Bella shifted in my arms. Her concern for the wolves pulled her forward, and I reluctantly moved with her, keeping her hand in mine.

"Please, let them go," she asked, glancing between Aro and Alec.

Aro frowned. Perhaps a display of strength is what this coven needs to recognize our power. The wolves first, then the girl, he decided. She does smell good.

"No!" I cried, unable to stop myself from reacting to his thoughts and springing forward. Pain hit me−unimaginable pain. Pain that would take your breath away, pain that made it impossible to think. Pain that occupied you and took over every nerve, every cell, until there was nothing in the world but the pain that stretched endlessly like an ocean.

As suddenly as it started, it stopped, and the cessation of it was breathtaking. I pulled myself up off the ground where I had fallen and rose to my knees when a heavy hand laid on my shoulder. "Stay where you are," Felix ordered, rising like a mountain above me. Several paces away, Jane smiled triumphantly.

Carlisle silently urged me to caution, while behind him, the rest of the family stood tense and ready. Emmett looked at me. Say the word, brother, and he'll be sorry he laid a hand on you.

We had no chance against these ancient ones. Yes, we were gifted, but not with the offensive gifts that these vampires possessed. We could have taken the wolves easily, but the Volturi were nearly invincible. I shook my head minutely and tried to think how to get Bella out of this alive. She certainly wasn't making it easy.

"Please, they have done nothing," she pleaded as Aro stepped away and gestured to Alec and Demetri.

"They were attacking vampires," Aro answered. "We'll start with this one." He gestured to Jacob.

"Aro," Carlisle said calmly, while inside his mind raced. "It was a misunderstanding. Perhaps you misinterpreted−"

Alec and Demitri approached Jacob, whose eyes began to twitch. From behind him, Bella ran and threw her arms around his neck, screaming, "No! You won't hurt him!"

Alec released Jacob from the strange black void and he came to awareness, realizing that strange vampires were attacking him. He felt the arms around his neck and instinctively twisted toward them, baring his teeth and biting. For a brief moment, there was a ball of fur and flesh rolling on the ground. Horrified, I saw Bella underneath Jacob's teeth and claws, as he unwittingly attacked the closest person next to him.

"No!" I cried panic-stricken, trying to rise to my feet only to be slammed back to my knees by Felix's hand.

Jacob suddenly realized the error he had made and his horror reflected my own as he froze over Bella's body. Esme, Emmett and Rosalie were instantly by Bella, dragging her away from Jacob's teeth and nails. Emmett punched Jacob in the side of the head, and the wolf went down in a heap. Alec and Demitri began to kick and punch at Jacob's struggling body.

"Wait!" Carlisle shouted. "Aro, please, my friend. Think this through."

He turned briefly toward Bella, who lay cradled in Esme's arms. She was stunned with disbelief and looked down at her injuries with a lack of comprehension. I could see teeth marks in the shoulder of her slicker, the forearms of her jacket were in shreds and, in the front of her shirt, four parallels tears from a paw. As I watched, a dark stain started seeping into the yellow of her shirt, and a single line of black trickled down the front of her slicker.

The scent of Bella's blood rushed at me, obliterating everything else. It surrounded me, enveloped me, and painted everything around me red. I began to shake with the overwhelming need to be where that fragrance was, to lose myself in it. There was her blood and nothing else in the world; it all fell away as trivial and unimportant. There was the only the rich, deep smell beckoning me to come and ease the fire in my throat, an inescapable and undeniable siren call.

I tried to rise to my feet, but again, heavy hands forced me back to my knees. Mindlessly, I tried to crawl toward the source of that smell, that compulsive, unavoidable smell, only to be pulled back. I lost all reason, fighting senselessly against the hands that held me, targeting only that incredible fragrance and the need to be one with it.