Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Judgment ( Chapter 18 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Twilight and its three and two half sequels are the creation of Stephenie Meyer.
July was a month for rewrites, and not just the many versions of this chapter that clog-danced their way through my poor brain. Chapters eleven and sixteen have undergone some moderately serious changes, especially sixteen. Namely, Felix does a little more than play tour guide while Edward interviews the help. In the next few days, I'll be going through twelve and thirteen to make sure the continuity matches.
If anyone can think of a better quote for this chapter, I'd be grateful. I can be contacted by PM.
EDIT: This chapter has been edited as of early August. I felt like I was pulling my punches with Felix. No more!

"It's very pleasant when my ...enhanced abilities allow me to save someone who would otherwise have been lost." -Carlisle, New Moon

The pre-dawn air still held a hint of spring, even through the pollution. At this time of night, the warehouse district was as close to empty as it would ever get. The nearest humans were blocks from here, thinking about the end of shift.
This building looked exactly like all the others, serviceable, run-down, not currently in use. The corrugated metal wall could have been any of a thousand such in any of a hundred cities. Although most sensible residents of the area would have avoided this place at this hour, it was, in its way, benign. Mundane. Not the least out of place.
The mental voices inside it, however, were nothing of the kind.
"Well?" asked a high male voice on my right, the crunchy gravel making no sound under his feet.
"They're all in there," I answered from beneath the drawn hood of my storm-gray cloak.
Alec smiled, a gleam of excitement coloring his usual languidness. He gave a sharp sideways jerk of his head and Felix leaped forward like a cannonade.
I registered a female scream as the warehouse door exploded inward in a kickup of rust and abused metal. Demetri and I were through the opening before the sound died away, Alec and Rolfe close behind.
I didn't hang back. I didn't flinch. I knew why we were here.
My mate is lovely, my Lucia.
I went for the far side of the building. There was a female with light brown hair going for the opposite door, her panicked mind alive with thoughts of escape. Demetri had spotted her first, but I was faster.
She put her arms around me that day, and I became a different man, a better man.
I hit her from behind and got my arms around her, staying clear of her clawing fingers and watching her thoughts, cutting her off every time she tried to twist free.
You must know what that feels like.
Demetri was at my side an instant later. With a practiced hand, he took hold of the female's right arm and twisted hard.
Promise me, witch-boy of the Volturi. As you despise this man who commands you, as you love that creature by your side, promise me you will not hurt my Lucia.
The metallic wrenching and the vibrations from her screams carried through my chest into my spine. Her thoughts cut deeper still.
No! No no no oh God! She twisted in my arms, but I held firm as Demetri went to work on her legs. There was another scream, deeper, coming from somewhere behind me. Who are you? She tried to look over her shoulder to see what Felix and Rolfe were doing to the rest of her coven. Oh my God. Miklos!
Not a minute had passed since I'd breathed my report to Alec, and it was all over.
I set my jaw, willed my hands not to shake, willing ...willing the fire inside me to die away. The woman's screams cut off abruptly as Demetri pulled her throat open. Her head lurched in my hands, suddenly free of excess weight. Her lips still moved, like a goldfish gulping air. They were forming a word, the same one, without any breath behind.
"He's dead," I whispered back. She stopped moving, and I found myself drawn to the eyes, dark red, helpless eyes. It wasn't the moment of her death, not yet, but her mind flashed with images from her life, most of them featuring a pale vampire man with straw-colored hair. He'd been like an angel in her eyes. He'd changed her life, given her a whole world.
I felt like there were a dozen anvils pressing down on my chest. It was that much like the way Esme thought of Carlisle. They'd spent hours together talking about books or the weather or walking along the river at night and that one time they'd come across a young college student who'd screamed just like a—
I jerked my hands away and the woman's head hit the ground with a solid thunk. I shook my own, trying to wipe away the images of Oleg and Lucia sharing a kill, wipe my parents' faces off the memory. My stomach heaved and I leaned forward, palms to my knees, trying to regain my balance.
"Careful," Demetri said quietly. "She can still bite."
There were many types of battles, I knew now, and this was no show of strength, no public justice laid down on lawbreakers with witnesses to spread through words and whispers and keep the rest of our race in line. This time, the fist of the Volturi had come down swift and heavy, and the fewer witnesses, the better.
All of a sudden the vampire's twitching, disconnected hand went limp. I backed away carefully. I could overhear a chuckle behind me.
I looked over at Alec, who gave a smile that made my shoulder blades cringe together. It was tempting to think of Alec's gift as the other side of Jane's—taking away the pain—but there was no mercy in it. Alec wasn't Jane's opposite in any respect.
Like his sister's, Alec's human life had ended young. Turned before he could reach his full size and weight, and it looked like he'd never been big for his age. I got the impression that the companions of his youth had made sure he'd felt it. I could see the satisfaction that it brought him to leave larger vampires helpless. That smile left nothing to the imagination.
I turned toward the center of the room. The situation seemed secure. Demetri and I had taken out the female. Rolfe and Felix had taken poor Miklos half apart. He was pinned under the larger vampire's considerable mass.
"Careful," Alec warned mildly. "We do need to leave one of them intact enough to talk."
A lie. They only had to be intact enough to listen.
Alec fixed his dark red eyes on the vampire struggling under Felix's weight. He was short for a male, and he had light brown hair and a face that might have once been careworn. He'd made it to middle age or more as a human. "Do you know who I am?" asked Alec.
The vampire gave a grunt but did not answer. A flicker of annoyance crossed Alec's underdeveloped features as he remembered that Jane hadn't come with us on this little excursion. He was used to seeing his enemies convulsing with pain after every insult. His eyes crossed to mine for a moment. He didn't like that Aro was thinking of replacing his other half with me, if only partially.
"Felix," Alec said simply.
Miklos gave another shudder of pain as Felix ripped off the remaining chunk of his right arm.
"You're—" the vampire's jaw gaped, like a fish gulping air as it flopped on the pier. "You're Volturi."
"Yes," said Alec. "And there are some things that you are going to tell me. You may notice that we have not yet fully dispatched your friend," Alec said.
But you will, Miklos thought. I told Oleg that it was a bad idea. Should have known better than to run with such a reckless pair.
Keeping out of the prisoner's field of vision, I moved until I was directly in Alec's line of sight. He and I did not have anything like the rapport between Aro and Caius (to my great relief) so the code we'd worked out was simple. I was to shake my head if he lied, nod if he told the truth, and interrupt only if the line of questioning needed to change. Aro did not want our enemies knowing what I could do just yet, not even enemies who were sure to die.
"Who asked you to spy on us?" Alec asked.
"Nobody asked me to—"
There was another crunching sound. For the hundredth time that morning, I was glad I wasn't Jasper. I still had to watch as Miklos registered what was happening to his arms and legs.
It wasn't as bad as the woman. Miklos was going into denial. He didn't completely believe that we'd kill him before he put himself back together.
"Never saw him," he choked. "I never saw him."
In the part of me that wasn't completely disgusted, I knew that this was foolish. This whole charade was purposeless cruelty. Oleg had been the only member of this coven to have any direct contact with the Romanians. No one here would be able to tell us anything that Aro had not learned from Oleg's mind. There was nothing that could justify this—
I held up my hand, motioning for Alec to repeat his last question.
"Where did Oleg meet them?"
"I told you, I don't kno—aagh!" Miklos flinched as Felix tore at him, but it was too late. He hadn't been able to help thinking about it.
Cruelty, certainly. But whether it was purposeless remained to be seen.
Oleg had been the one to speak with the Romanian Stefan, but Miklos had kept his own counsel. Oleg and Lucia had joined Miklos's coven because of his knack for finding areas where food would be plentiful and for sensing when it was time to move on. There was no way to tell if he was talented like Jasper and me or just a hunter of uncommon skill.
The balance of human prey had shifted recently. Miklos had noticed. He'd assumed it was another group of nomads. He'd assumed that right up until Oleg had left on his crazy little mission and Lucia had said where he'd gone.
He thinks there are other vampires nearby, I realized quietly.
I motioned to Alec.
Go ahead, he thought.
"Where is their safehouse?" I asked.
Miklos gave a lurch under Felix's weight, trying to see who was speaking. I could hear my own voice echoing in his mind. I sounded more intimidating than Alec, some mysterious new agent. "I don't know who you—"
"The Romanians," I clarified. "Where?"
Damn it all. I don't know. But something is going on near the north bank of the Danube.
"He thinks they have an outpost near the river."
How the hell... Miklos thought in amazement.
"Budapest?" asked Alec. We drove them out of this area well before the war, Alec mused. If they're trying to crawl back in... Alec refocused his thoughts on me. Anything else?
That was it, wasn't it? The moment I said no, Alec would give Felix the go-ahead that we were fished here, and two people who were not my enemies would die.
And another, less compassionate part of me knew that I couldn't really know if Miklos had no other valuable information. I wasn't Aro.
In the end, I shook my head. Alec reached into his cloak and pulled out a simple Butane lighter.
"Wha-what?" Miklos shouted in surprise.
Alec shook his head without looking up. "Felix?"
I didn't watch. I couldn't close my ears or my mind, but I didn't have to watch.
"Alec," I said. The protest in my voice was unmistakable. Five sets of eyes turned toward me, all staring. I cursed myself, but there was no use going back now. "He didn't want to," I said. "He's cooperated."
There's no way we can let him live, not to tell others what happened here today, Alec thought.
Too late. And not only for Oleg's coven.
"Felix," Alec said.
Oh Damn. It was the only thing I had time to think before Felix had me spread-eagled on the ground, one arm wrenched behind my back in a grip like an earthquake. His thundering, eldritch growl went through my bones, my skin, my eyes my heart and it was all too much for me, just too much.
Yes, yes, I'll do what you say. You win. You win. I tried to shake it off, but I knew I wouldn't last long.
"Listen to me, Edward Cullen," Alec's voice came through the growling fog like a curse. "You do not contradict us."
Felix gave another snarl, grabbing my hair to jerk my head back. There were teeth like razors at my throat. A kill shot.
"If your opinion is wanted, I will ask for it." That voice, that growl. I screwed my eyes shut. I am not like this. I am not like this. "You obey and you do not falter."
Unity. The Volturi's implacable unity. It was the true source of their power.
"You do not question us in front of our enemies." Alec spoke. Felix sent that growl all through me, but they were the same man.
I am not like this. I would fight it because I was not like this.
"Do you understand?" Alec's high snarl mixed with Felix's and went straight to a part of my brain that I wished to God, hell and the foundations of the earth was not there.
"He understands," Felix rumbled. I could hear the satisfaction in his voice. He'd earned the right to speak for me.
Never, I thought.
"Yes!" I gasped.
And then it was gone. I staggered to my feet, looking around.
It was like the world had changed while I'd been on the ground. It was like it had all been a dream, like it hadn't really happened. Except Alec was scowling and Felix was smirking, and Rolfe looked like he'd have rather been anywhere else. Someone had finished working on Miklos while I'd been down. Probably Demetri. I fought the urge to touch my neck, wipe it clean of venom with my fingers.
"You do not question, not in the field," Alec said, as if this was the only thing he'd ever meant to do, "not in front of our enemies."
I nodded, clenching my fingers so that they would not shake.
We piled the pieces by the north wall, near the electrical circuits, removed all signs of habitation from the building. To the human authorities, this would be nothing more sinister than a warehouse fire, arson at the absolute worst. There would be no bones and no evidence.
"They were ready for us," I muttered to no one in particular. Felix smirked, remembering that Miklos had not seemed all that ready to him. "Or at least they knew we might come for them soon," I amended.
That means they all condoned Oleg's plan, Demetri concluded with cold satisfaction. That made this a whole coven of traitors.
"Will we investigate this safehouse rumor?" Rolfe asked Alec, not particularly stressing the word "rumor."
"No," Alec answered. "We'll report back to Caius and return with sufficient numbers. We only planned for two enemies today," he said. Though if my sister were here, we could have handled as many as we pleased. He had a memory now, some rogue coven in France, Jane sending each vampire to the ground, over and over, giving Alec time to do his own work upon them. "Unless, of course, there were some way to know for sure what we were dealing with..." he trailed off, eyes lingering on mine.
I shook my head.
Alec shrugged. "There is a train waiting for us, gentlemen," he said simply.
I fell into step behind the others. I did wish to return to Volterra, but not to give my report. Even with the Volturi's best tracker here to look over my shoulder, the temptation to attempt escape was there, and Aro knew that. He knew me. He had taken no chances.
And his thoughts in the feasting hall the day of Oleg's execution had been clear ...and far more vivid than I would have liked.
These people are a danger to our way of life, Edward, to every vampire who lives discreetly, including my friend Carlisle, he'd told me as Felix had had his way with Oleg's left arm. It was the truth, in a way. The Romanians had never shown quite the same dedication to secrecy that the Voltrui had. However, they hadn't been in power since the early Renaissance, when superstition and limited technology had given supernatural creatures more leeway. And it wasn't as if our sort of warfare gave anyone time to come out with a political platform. I am not used to having to negotiate with my own guard.
He hadn't explicitly threatened Bella, not on the surface of his thoughts. It was there underneath, in that place where we all kept knowledge about the weather and the turn of the seasons and how to keep a shoelace tied. If I did not do my utmost duty and then return, the newborn Bella would die as had Oleg died. It was a fact of the universe.
She'd been standing at my side at that moment, fingers barely touching me, like a breeze from some hidden window.
After resisting my human Bella's blood, the scent of free air was at best a mild intoxicant. And there was Demetri, keeping me on the straight and narrow.
The train station was far from deserted, even at this hour, but Rolfe had a knack for this. We were in a freight car bound for Italy before anyone noticed or questioned our presence.
As we settled in to wait, I noticed that Rolfe was staring at me. I glared back but he didn't stop.
"Will you just say it out loud?" I asked impatiently.
"But you can already tell what I want to ask, can't you?" he said, eyes bright beneath his bristly dark brows.
I closed my eyes. His tone was playful, but I was in no mood to make friends, not today.
If I had a gift, I wouldn't hog all the fun... he thought peevishly.
" 'Fun' isn't what I would have called it," I told him. "Might be hard to believe, but hearing someone's thoughts after their head's been ripped off is actually a bit unpleasant."
And they'd kept going right up until we'd put her out of her misery. I wondered at that. A few minutes of pain and degradation versus utter and irreversible oblivion. Which would I choose when my time came? At least there would be no hell for me. It would all just be over.
"What was she thinking?" said Rolfe, his red eyes bright beneath his short dark hair.
"What you'd expect, mostly," I obfuscated. I didn't have enough fight left in me for anything else. " 'Oh God. Oh God. Why are you doing this?' And she was sad about her mate."
Of course, she'd also been thinking about ripping apart some terrified co-ed as part of a romantic evening... I hadn't eaten in over a week, and I still had to hold my gorge down.
No, I told myself firmly. No justifications. My days playing God were long done. My new role was lieutenant devil.
So it's not just humans he doesn't like to kill, Rolfe thought, misinterpreting my disgust. Got to give him that. Squeamish across the board, this one. Oh shit, he's probably listening to my thoughts right now. LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA...
I shook my head. "How long to you think it will take for us to get back?" Demetri asked Alec.
"We'll be home in two days," he said, taking the none-too-subtle hints that he'd wanted to change the subject.
It was not an easy trip. The journey outward had been ...well, it had been almost educational. If I hadn't been a prisoner being forced into committing terrible sins and if my newborn had not been held hostage against my good behavior, I might have been fascinated, learning the methods of the Volturi guard. Demetri, Rolfe and Alec had been focused on the task ahead, and even Felix had preferred imagining the brutal task ahead of us to anything he could have done to me. But now the thrill of Miklos's death was wearing off. I watched with apprehension as his thoughts turned to me again. I reassured myself that he could hardly slam my head against the walls of the train without attracting attention. And he didn't have Alec's endorsement this time.
As humiliated as I felt, I had to admit there was a sick logic to it. The Volturi simply could not afford to have any dissent in their ranks, not even gentle dissent. The only thing that frightened my kind was their eerie ability to act so very much against our nature. And creating unity in monsters took even more monstrous behavior.
We were not wolves. We did not have instincts that pushed us to submit to higher ranking individuals. Any pack instincts I had came from my human lifetime. Most vampires had never needed substitutes for combat. What did a stronger vampire lose if a weaker one was injured? It wasn't as if he needed him. The only fighting instincts we had went to self-preservation.
The Volturi, however, had developed traditions to compensate for this.
I'd hoped that Felix would be content with reliving my submission, but I had rotten luck. He got creative.
He set the first one in the library, the big one. I watched his narrowing eyes from the corner of my own and had to keep from jumping across the train car to wring his neck. I was able to stop the motion, but not before he saw my hands clench.
Didn't like that, did you? Felix chuckled silently. Well what do you expect when you leave a female all by herself? Especially a little torch like that.
I settled down, trying to force out Felix's very visual imaginings of my newborn Bella ...with men. I could stare straight ahead, but every twitch of my lip, every move of my lower eyelids rewarded him. Felix didn't have a true mate, but he had enough experience to make things ...visceral.
It was only that he was impugning a lady's honor. I had no right to her, for all that I was her protector. It was only...
She reminded me.
I had been an asexual being once. Well, not asexual, but not tormented by bodily desire. I'd appreciated beauty. I'd understood more of Emmett's jokes than I'd ever had admitted out loud, but I hadn't been driven.
That had changed when I'd met her. Why not? Everything else had changed, so why not this part of my being? A year in Bella's company had taught my body to hope for ...<i>something.</i> Joy, I supposed, satisfaction, release, whatever the right word was. I'd been trying not to think too hard about it. Though my mind had been resolved never to risk her life by indulging myself, I had never convinced the rest of me that it wasn't going to happen.
You do know the way she was looking at Randall, don't you? I'll bet it'd be him first. He'd wear her out, though.
My right fist flexed against my leg. Felix laughed to himself, just as if I'd jumped to my feet and challenged him to an old-style duel. Rolfe was staring. Demetri just shook his head.
I was going to go insane if I didn't find some way to block that damned man. I closed my eyes and saw Lucia's disembodied face staring back at me, felt her skin under my fingers. I ended up conjugating Russian verbs. By the time we reached Italy, I could have rewritten Crime and Punishment without missing a note.
Randall was waiting with a car and we spent a tense few hours in the nighttime traffic. I had to fight to keep from gritting my teeth with frustration. Did he have to follow the goddamned speed limit? I came close to volunteering my services as a RADAR detector, but I had a nagging feeling that I'd already made myself too useful on this trip.
We arrived in Volterra well before dawn, to my slight annoyance. I had been hoping to get a chance to study the shadow-paths in and out of the city. Part of my mind was free to wonder whether our mission had been scheduled that way deliberately or if it was just my bad luck. I felt the city walls settle down around me like a vice.
Most of my mind was elsewhere anyway. I'd been gone nearly a week. Caius hadn't had any specific plans to sabotage her, but that could have changed at any time. Surely Heidi was well into gathering her next catch by now. The closer we got, the more worried I felt. I literally ached to know she was all right. And... And I wanted to know that I was all right. It was as if she could tell me, as if I wouldn't know until I saw her.
We moved through reception without stopping. Gianna greeted us simply, probably used to this. I watched her take note of the tears in Felix's cloak and sleeves. She didn't ask questions.
The hallway leading to the feasting chamber opened up around us, and I realized with a twinge that I'd been expecting to see her waiting for me. I hardly deserved a hero's homecoming, but after the talk we'd had before Aro had sent me away, I'd thought—
My feet stopped.
I listened again, hardly able to keep my composure at the feeling bubbling up inside me like water from a spring, quiet but unstoppable. Yes, yes I really had heard it. I shook my head. I was not prepared for this. I should have expected it, long before now, but I was not ready.
"Get a move on," snarled Felix. Alec rolled his eyes.
"Felix, he hears something," Demetri pointed out without inflection. Is it an enemy? he wondered. Is the compound in danger?
"Nothing like that, Demetri," I said, finding my feet again. "No danger."
"Then what?" asked Alec, his small face impatient.
"A visitor," I said.
"A visitor?" Alec asked.
I nodded. "Just an old friend of the Master's," I said, walking past him toward the audience chamber. My voice sounded hollow, even to my own ears. I wasn't sure that I wouldn't fall right off my feet. For the first time in weeks, hope was buzzing up inside me.
Carlisle was here.

One of the things that makes this 'fic harder to write than my previous long projects is that I don't really have a Twilight community. I'm used to being to bounce chapters off a forum full of other fanwriters before showing it to the public, asking people what quote to use, how to bring out the effects I want...
krisbatt—Okay, JEEZ!
drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu