Many, many apologies for such a delay in posting. I've run into so very many issues- unexpected surgeries, my laptop dying, etc. It's still being weird, so I unfortunately cannot guarantee when I will be able to upload again. So many times I've started writing just for my laptop to shut off. I've started using google docs so that it saves now, but it's annoying to be in the moment and writing and then not be able to get your laptop to turn on again for weeks. A new laptop is not in my budget currently, so I will post sporadically when I can.
If you're still here and reading, you are so very much appreciated. If you can't hang due to the infrequent updates, I get your frustration and understand your decision- hopefully as this story is marked "complete", you'll be able to fully enjoy it. Again, I appreciate every single one of you readers.
Wind whistles by as I rush from class to class. The colors and experiences from Court 3 have dulled my view of Court 5, but I still stop to feel the silky petals of my favorite flowers, which grow from the tree I spent so many hours reading under.
It's like this tree knows you, Edward whispers.
I don't hide my smile as I softly pet the greenery and take hold of the thick branch arching above.
We've seen each other through some hard times.
I've only been back to school for four days, and I already miss him so much. He met me for dinner Tuesday, but other than that, we haven't been able to make time. He's been extremely busy with research he's been careful to keep secret from me, and I've been extremely busy writing reports for each Court I attended.
But tomorrow, it all changes.
On Friday, Edward will pick me up after classes have ended for us both, and I'll spend the weekend with him. We'll smile, laugh, and explore each other in ways I always dreamed of with a Mate. But come Monday, the trial starts.
On Tuesday, Edward told me it wouldn't be longer than a day, but I will be asked to speak.
"About what?" I ask, pushing the chicken around on my plate.
"Will they use their magic?"
He nods slowly. "I would not doubt it one bit, Belle. Jane is heading the trial. She currently possesses the magic of Aro, so I'm sure it will be she who looks into your truths. What they find will be a catalyst for Aro's trial."
"What if he's banished?" I whisper.
Edward shakes his head as if in warning. I wouldn't worry too much about that. The Royals have a way of protecting each other.
Honesty bubbles right out of my thoughts. I'm scared.
Edward offers me his hand in solace, and I take it greedily.
I cannot wait to see you tomorrow, Lovely, he speaks to me, pulling me from our memory on Tuesday.
The wind picks up, whipping my hair from side to side and across my face. A giggle escapes as I rush faster into the next building.
What do you have planned? I ask, taking the steps two at a time until I nearly fall.
A passerby helps me up as she laughs at my mania.
What are you in such a rush for? Edward asks through a laugh.
I get to the classroom just in time to see that the door is closed and the lights are off. There is a paper posted that reads:
Class cancelations: Class 202: Ideology in Pedagogy.
Did you know and still let me rush around like a Royal-loving lunatic?
Royal-loving lunatic, huh? He teases. Your professor was asked to provide a statement about Royce King. She is meeting with a Royal in the main building. That is why your class is canceled.
I don't ask him to elaborate. Instead, I spend the afternoon studying under my old tree, finishing papers and reading. Edward calls sometimes between sunset and twilight. We talk over dinner. He asks me questions about Court 6, like, did I know anyone with different powers?
"Edward," I start with a laugh, "almost everyone has different powers. That's what makes us unique."
"I know," he says, "but these would be distinct kinds of powers."
"Can you elaborate?" I ask.
He sighs. "I cannot."
For a moment or two, there's a steep silence. One so powerful I have to check to see if the connection dropped.
"Someone who possesses strength," he says.
"Emotional, physical…," he begins but trails off before finishing with, "Someone so good at lying they believe it themselves?"
I rack my brain until it hurts. "I guess if they're so good at lying, I wouldn't know, right?"
He scoffs at my attempt at a joke. "If you can think of anyone—"
"Maybe Jake?" I whisper. "He's extremely strong and—"
"No, not him. I've seen him," Edward starts, and I can hear his eyes roll before he even finishes. "He is not the individual who possesses brute force strength both physically and mentally."
"And it's someone who lives in Court 6?" I ask.
"I'll have to think about it."
When I close my eyes, I can see him outside on his patio, eyes on his shoes, as he listens to me.
"Look up," I whisper into the phone.
The moon sits pretty, a bright glow in the deep sky. Bursts of galaxies paint the glitter against the darkening heavens, and I know in my heart that Court 3 is home.
On Friday evening, Edward and I find ourselves scantily clothed in his pool. It's an extremely warm night, the kind where humidity eats at your skin and dampens the clothes covering your body. I let him strip me of my sundress before jumping in. Now, I'm submerged in the cool water, legs wrapped tightly around his waist, with my back scratching against the cement.
His lips trail from shoulder to shoulder, tasting every square inch of my skin in between. Slowly, he lowers our centers until they touch, and when he hisses into my neck as I press myself into where he's hardest for me, I toss my head back and gasp.
The stars sparkle above as they watch us explore each other in the most intimate ways. When he makes me come, Edward takes my nipple into his mouth and helps me ride through the pleasure.
Saturday we spend on the beach. He made us a picnic, and we watched the sun crest and set throughout the day. There's no mention of the trial, Royals, or what we're doing beyond today.
And it's peaceful.
We're constantly caught up in the moment, worrying about who we're meant to be, who the Royals want us to be, and not enjoying this world for what it is.
Later in the evening, when the sky turns pitch black and not a single star winks above, Edward pulls me into his body and kisses my hair.
"The lightning will start soon," he explains. "Have you missed it, Belle?"
"Yes," I whisper.
The atmosphere around us changes. Edward had opened the balcony doors upon our arrival and never shut them. The electricity charges a current so powerful that it tugs between us.
The room lights up a bright white, and I can see it all.
I can see him.
And his markings.
And the love etched into his skin like a scar.
And the idea of us spreads across our bodies like the best idea ever created.
And then it's dark and loud, and thunder and rain pound overhead.
"It appears it has missed you as well, Lovely."
I'm not sure why, but I smile up at the sky. The notion that the atmosphere in Court 3 hasn't been the same since I left settles a nerve I didn't know existed. The fear that this Court, that Edward, could move on so easily after my departure frightens me more than I've admitted to myself, and—
Never, he whispers, tangling his fingers in my hair and forcing my eyes onto his.
The lighting brightens the room for a split second, and the intensity of his eyes penetrates so profoundly it nearly tattoos me in green.
I exist for you, he whispers. I exist because of you.
My lips pull to his with such a need that I must turn over before I kiss him.
Edward's erection presses into me, matching the dampness between my legs. His insatiable need to constantly be touching me turns me on more.
Mixed with the lightning storm, I know he'll need to release tonight. Edward doesn't always let me reciprocate, but when he puts his bare shaft against my underwear, his fingers pressing into my breasts, I know what he needs.
Slowly, I lower my panties, and he lets me take the lead. He loves my hands on him in the shower, but his favorite way to release is grinding against my body. It's only ever been this way, with my back to his chest, but it's perfectly fine.
Tonight, Edward reaches between my legs and rubs my slit from the back. He coats his fingers in arousal before gripping his cock and spreading the wetness along his shaft and nestling it between our bodies.
His thrusts become more aggressive—harder, faster, deeper—the closer he gets. Tonight I help out, something he isn't always keen on. Rolling my hips, we find a motion, and his grip on my hip is so tight I know he's leaving marks.
But I don't care.
I let Edward use my body in ways that give him the sensual release he's pent up for years. Each time is different, and I revel in his moans and words and pants.
Our bodies become slick with sweat under the sheet, and as he pulls back and pushes forward again, his shaft lodges itself a little more forward. My thighs hug it securely as my slit spreads against his head.
We both gasp so painfully we nearly choke.
The large head bypasses my opening and grinds against my clit.
Edward's skin leaves mine save for his cock, which is still nestled where I'm wettest.
My legs squeeze together, and I have to keep my hips from grinding against the pleasure.
"Do—" he starts, panting so hard he can't form words. "Do you like that?"
"Do you?" I ask.
"Yes," he hisses, slipping his arm under my head and gripping the sheet between his fingers.
"Are you going to stop?" I whimper.
And he doesn't.
Edward thrusts slowly, so his shaft spreads my lips, catching and dragging against my clit. I can't help the way my hips gyrate, how badly I want to grind against him, and I try to stop, I really do, but the grunts he spills into my ear and the way his breaths pant across my skin tell me I don't think he wants me to.
"You're soaked," he manages as his free hand grips my hip again. This time, he helps me move in longer, more strenuous strides. He helps me roll and grind, teaching me how to chase pleasure.
"Edward," I whimper as he reaches down from the front, letting go of my hip to press his shaft harder against my clit. "Edward," I pant louder.
Electricity powers through the bedroom as a swell of wind refreshes our sticky skin.
Lightning illuminates us.
And then, in a matter of breaths, Edward angles his hips to press his cock more upward, hitting against my clit with more fervor.
"Edward!" I shout, losing myself in the heat and electricity.
His teeth sink into my shoulder as his hips pump faster, and warmth spills out against my thighs and onto the sheets.
He's silent save for the breaths. Sticky skin quickly becomes cold with the breeze as the storm passes overhead.
After we clean up and settle back into bed, He turns me, so my face nuzzles into his neck. My fingers trace the ridges of his muscles from his pecs to his hips down onto his thighs.
Edward whispers about Garret and Kate's wedding, a research seminar he's heading in a few months, and the idea of our own free will.
Soon, he whispers before I drift off.
On Monday, I'm freaking out.
Like more than freaking out…
He dresses me in a tight skirt with a tucked-in blouse, low heels, and my hair curled perfectly in loose waves down my back.
"We're being escorted by a private charter," he tells me. "I cannot use my magic anywhere past Court 2, so they want to pick us up from here."
"My guess is as good as yours, Lovely," he tells me, holding my shoulder in his palms to calm me. "Remember this is not your doing, regardless of the results. This was done to you, not because of you."
Two minutes after two, a young man with stark blonde hair and eyes so blue they're almost transparent appears at the dock.
"We're late," he says. "Please hurry."
Edward says nothing as he escorts me onto the vehicle parked on the water.
"What is this?" I whisper, ducking under the roof as we descend.
"We call this beauty the Shark," the man says from behind me. "Please buckle up tightly."
I find myself sitting next to Edward on a long, comfortable bench. Although we're in what I hesitate to call a boat, the space strikes me more as a living room in a home than something that should be underwater.
It's dark as the two other men close the doors behind us. Edward feels around for my hand once he's chest plate surrounding our necks connects to the seatbelt around our hips.
"Interesting to see you, Edward," the man says.
Edward snorts. "Interesting?"
"Yes," he drawls boredly. "Seeing as the last time we were in each other's presence, you were being sentenced. Hold on, Belle," the man says, "the kickstart is the worst, but once we're settled at speed, we can unbuckle." His voice holds more worry for me than Edward, which both eases and concerns me.
My eyes adjust to the darkness as Edward clears his throat.
"I never did get to thank—"
"I do not need thanks," he says as if annoyed. "What I need is to be proven correct."
Edward clears his throat. "If you have any—"
But Edward is cut off by the roar of the engine and the pressure of the vehicle as it speeds against resistance. A cough gets stuck in my throat the more speed we take on. Suddenly, I don't feel well at all.
"Thirty-seven seconds until we even out," the man says in a soothing voice. "You are doing remarkably well."
I can't find the words to reply. My brain is scrambled into a million pieces, and I wonder how in the Royal's loving Earth, these two are carrying on such a conversation.
"As I was saying," Edward says, his hand gripping my thigh tightly though I'm not sure if it's to quell my nerves or his. "If you have any bits of loose information to provide—"
"The trial won't last very long. We've already made our decision. You will be asked what you would like to do with the man involved with your kidnapping, Belle. Please prepare a response between now and the trial. Edward, as she's being held in deliberation with Jane, please see that you find my office. In there, you will find answers you seek for questions you do not even know you have."
And just like that, my body no longer feels as if my insides are on the outside or that my brain is a puddle of slop.
"What was that?" I gasp loudly.
The man across from us unbuckles and stands, reaching behind him and then behind us to lift the metal shades. Blue light filters through the thick glass.
"And where are we?" I ask slowly, looking around, squinting through the light adjustment.
The man sticks out his hand. His blonde hair looks more yellow in the confines of this vehicle.
"My name is Caius, and it's so lovely to finally meet you," he says gently, a hand outstretched in greeting.
It's a choice; one I don't think about too long, but it's a choice, nonetheless.
"Hello," I whisper-croak, placing my hand in his.
He shakes it softly before releasing it. Caius moves from one end of the room to the other as he opens the shades. Large fish swim past, and it's then I realize we're under the water.
A soft gasp escapes my lips as I turn, kneeling on the bench and looking for miles into the clear water. I pretend I can see whole villages or schools of fish, but the size and sound of this vehicle have scared everything away.
"This is unbelievable," I whisper to no one in particular.
"We don't typically allow outsiders access to Court 2. Because we can't go through Court 2, we go under it," Caius answers.
"How do you just happen to have a vessel to cut through the water?"
Caius's smirk turns into a smile which bubbles into a laugh. He glances from me to Edward and back to me. "Oh, we have many secrets, Miss—"
But he doesn't finish, and I can't figure out why. It's not as though he doesn't know my last name. Of course, he does.
He's a Royal.
"Would you like to know my magic?" he asks, crossing one long leg over the other.
"Okay," I whisper nervously.
"I can be whoever you need me to be."
It takes a second to truly understand what that means, and even then, I still have no idea.
"So, you can, like, change your appearance?" I try to clarify while still remaining respectful.
"Precisely. I would still be me under the skin and bones, but I would take on the physical attributes of that person."
"Why?" I ask.
Caius clears his throat and leans back. "It's unclear why we are given the magic we are given."
Stuttering, I apologize. "I-I'm sorry. Please don't mistake that for callousness. I just… do you use your magic frequently?"
He nods. "I do."
"Are you using it right now?" I ask slowly, unsure if this version of him is who he says it is.
He laughs softly and looks down. Before I can even blink, Edward sits before me. I turn to my left and then straight ahead.
Two Edwards with the same laugh, the same smile, the same—
My Edward, the one next to me, places a hand on my arm. "Okay, Caius, she understands."
"Does it hurt you?" I ask my Edward.
He shrugs. "It's almost like the air slowly leaks from my lungs. It's not painful, but it's not comfortable."
Caius returns with a laugh. "That never gets old. Now, if you could, please buckle up as we approach the entrance to Court 1. The descent is worse than floating back to sea level, so please don't fret. We'll be back on shore in moments."
No one greets us as we exit the vehicle and enter another one. This one has four wheels and drives on the road, though, and for that, I am thankful.
"Remember that some members of the Royal Court hear everything, so please refrain from speaking things you wish to keep secret," Caius explains as we round a bend that opens into a stunningly large courtyard. Trees, bushes, and flowers of all different colors, shades, and sizes bloom wildly around us.
Edward guides me so I am between him and Caius as we enter a building that appears to be as large as Court 7. My heart begins to pump blood faster than before, and when we pause at the entrance to greet a line of annoyed-looking faces, I almost throw up.
"What took so long?" A familiar voice asks.
Sleek straight hair, professional attire, and eyes that scream frustration.
"I ran into issues in Court 2, Jane," Caius explains irritably. "Or should I have skipped that and—"
"No need to continue," Jane says, stopping Caius mid-thought. "You may retire to your other duties."
"Now, Caius," Jane speaks heatedly.
When he walks away, Jane turns her attention to Edward and me.
"Hello," I whisper nervously.
She doesn't so much as smile before turning and walking through a set of double doors. Fear creeps under my skin, suffocating every last ounce of hope.
I try to remember what Jane said when I saw her on the mountain for the Lark sisters. She told me she wouldn't be as friendly the next time we saw each other. If she's playing a role, she's playing it really well.
"This is Belle," Jane says, the click of her heels echoing in the silent room. "She will be addressed as Belle," Jane explains, her pace quickening so fast I nearly have to run to keep up. "If anyone addresses her as something other, you will be held in contempt of court and banished to Court 7. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes," all bodies in the room bark simultaneously.
Edward looks down at me, brows creased, mouthing the word weird.
I take a moment to glance around. The room is grand with three crystal chandeliers overhead, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves made of rich mahogany, and a table long enough to seat one hundred people comfortably. Jane glances at us as we make it to the end of the room, where a grand chair made of golden wood and encrusted with deep jewels waits for her at the head of the table.
All other bodies at the table stand as she finds her seat.
"Please be seated," she says, leaning back in the chair and glancing down at the stack of papers before her.
"Judge has made a ruling, Belle. It is your job to decide the punishment for Doctor James Witherdale, the man who consorted with the likes of a hunter who Jasper Hale skillfully extinguished." She then turns to me and asks, "and your decision is?"
My eyes bulge, completely forgetting Caius's instruction.
"W-what are the options?" I whisper.
"If you wish to be heard—" someone says further down the table.
Jane puts her hand up, effectively stopping the man mid-sentence.
"Lack of order in this trial will be punishable." Jane flits her eyes to what seems like every man at this table. "If you would like to hear what Belle has to say, then you will listen." She finishes with her eyes on me. "Did Caius prepare—"
"Yes, he explained—"
Jane pushes her chair back in anger, a strong fist finding its way onto the glossy tabletop.
Edward leans over, places his lips at my ear, and whispers, "allow her to finish."
A lump catches in my throat, and I swallow down a cough. Embarrassment heats my skin as tears cloud my vision. Anxiety eats my senses so much that I don't even realize I've dug crescent-shaped tattoos into Edward's hand that holds mine still against my leg.
She takes a breath before closing her eyes and seating herself once more.
"Did Caius prepare you for what to expect at this trial?"
"He explained that it would be my choice—"
"On the trip over here."
He did not visit beforehand to explain the steps?" Jane asks.
"He did not."
"Aro," Jane says curtly. "Fetch Caius. Everyone else is dismissed."
I've never heard a silence quite this loud as feet shuffle quickly. These men can't wait to be out of this room.
When it's just the three of us, Jane doesn't so much as look toward us. Her eyes focus so intensely on the door at the end of the room that I'm afraid it might catch fire.
Just when I can't take the pounding of blood in my ears any longer, Aro arrives with an annoyed Caius at his heels.
"You are dismissed, Uncle," she says, standing and walking toward Caius. Aro simply turns and shuts the door behind him. "My office. Now."
Edward and I find ourselves on a couch in front of a bay window, looking out into the garden in Jane's office as she and Caius argue.
"How many times, Caius?" Jane reprimands, arms crossed, seething at the blonde-haired man who looks strikingly similar to her. "How many fucking times did we review the protocol? Do you not know how closely we're being watched?"
"How could I forget, Jane," he spits her name like it's poison. "I ran into trouble in Court 2. Made it out of there by the skin of my teeth and not even a thank you or a simple I appreciate you from any of your Royal mouths."
Caius throws himself into a wooden chair in front of Jane's desk and gives a final hmph.
Collecting herself, Jane rolls her shoulders back, stands up straight, and walks to maneuver her body between where he's sitting and the edge of her desk. Her hip rests against it as she crosses her arms, eyes never leaving his.
"We all have a role to play, brother," she grits.
"Oh, don't give me that bullshit," he seethes back.
Edward and I watch as Jane and Caius talk without saying anything at all. Their eyes size each other up before one backs down, but I'm not sure which it is.
"Take Edward into the office attached to the state room. It's the only other one besides this one that's safe. Do not forget to—"
Caius interrupts her. "—To enter the code and shut the windows. Yes, sister." Caius stands, the feet of the heavy wooden chair scraping against the floor. "Shall we, Edward?" he asks with a plastered-on smile.
Edward squeezes my hand before letting it go and whispering in my ear, "I'll be back."
A swift kiss to the tip of my nose, and the two men are off.
"Now, where were we?" Jane says, turning quickly and taking a seat at her desk. "I'm sure you have many questions. I will not answer them all today, but eventually, you'll figure them out for yourself. Things are not as they appear—" she stops, looks around, and then gestures to the chair Caius was just in.
"I'm not sure what that means," I stated politely, standing and walking to the chair quickly.
"Caius and I are part of the revolution. Among others, to be fair, but you don't need to know the details of who else is involved. Just that he and I will be the only Royals you converse with between now and the end."
My brows furrow deeply. "The end?"
She winks. "That's one thing you'll definitely figure out, but I don't anticipate that for a long while. We've got some work to do. One question before I continue…" she trails off, sliding her perfectly manicured fingers across the crisp papers piled on her desk. "Can I count on you?"
She's silent as I ponder. "Count on me for what?"
"This is an all-or-nothing situation," she explains. "I need your trust and faith before I may continue."
Jane sits back; her wild eyes take me in as a lump forms in my stomach.
"What if I agree to it now but rescind it in the future?" I ask nervously. "You can't very well ask me to—"
"I can, and I did," Jane speaks as she stands and walks easily around her desk to a bookshelf, where she runs her fingers along the spines until she finds what she's looking for. "For twenty years, you were asked to blindly follow the rules and regulations of a Court system you knew nothing about. A Court system that assigned you roles, forced you into schools and told you what you'd amount to. And you followed without question." She pauses, grabbing the book and coming to sit. "Well, I guess you did question occasionally. However, anytime your family members said three little words, you ate it up… did you not?"
Three little words? I rack my brain to determine what those three words might be. Jane intently watches as if she can see the words I piece together flashing above my head. Her semi-smile slows me down until I can't think anymore.
"You'll figure it out," she says simply. "Of that, I have zero doubt. Moving on, I need your full cooperation, Belle. The Royals are split down the middle. Many younger Royals want to see a change. You need to start that—"
My anxiety revs up. "Me? Jane, I can't—"
"Miss Swan," she spits. Her eyes burn into my body. It's the first time I've heard my last name in what feels like years, and the fact that it's Jane saying it brings tears to my eyes. "I am still a Royal, and you will know your place. Only after the revolution will you be free to interrupt… even though it is rude." She rolls her eyes and tosses the book on her desk. "Here's what you're going to do, Belle," she takes a deep breath and smiles. "You will not banish James to Court 8 like you want to. You will place him in Court 2, never to be seen again. When it's time to give Aro his sentencing, you will banish him to Court 8."
I pause, waiting for her to continue. When she doesn't, I ask, "why?"
"Court 2 is a wasteland," Jane answers. "Well, half of it, anyway. Not one soul, other than Court 2 citizens, knows about this. Court 2 is a split Court. Half of the Court is built into a mountain, much like Court 3 with half the appeal. The other half is an island just a few miles off the coast where wild animals and wild humans are banished."
"So… Court 8 isn't the wasteland everyone thinks it is?"
Jane giggles and shakes her head. "On the contrary. Court 8 is where we begin again."
"Does Edward know?"
She shrugs. "I'm sure by now Caius has told him. I feel like this goes without saying, Belle, that when you two compare conversations with Caius and myself, you must only do so here." Jane taps her temple, and I nod in understanding.
"Why wasn't Jasper's mother banished to Court 2?" I ask.
She smiles. "Lovely question. At that time, her offense was not strong enough to sanction her to Court 2."
"Who decided that?" I ask, disgusted.
"Marcus," she reveals with disdain. "Caius wanted to—"
A sudden knock at the door stalls any further conversation. Jane stands, opens the door, and allows a young, handsome-looking male entry. His hair and skin are dark, his eyes are pale yellow, and his stare remains on the floor.
"Take her back to the table and recall everyone. A decision has been made," Jane says, her clipped tone returning easily. "Belle?" she calls, holding out the book she pulled from her shelf. "You forgot this." I don't meet her eyes as I grab it from her hands and tuck it between my body and my arms. "I do not want to see you again after this," she responds in annoyance. "I'm extraordinarily busy with the mess my Uncle left that I'm now responsible for cleaning up. I do not have time for your insolence or other issues you and your boyfriend create."
I catch on now that she's playing a role in front of the others, and Royals is she good at it.
I don't notice I've stood still until she raises her eyes to mine and points to the door.
Edward and Caius are at the table by the time I return. Edward stands to greet me, pulls the book from my hands softly, and places it in the inner pocket of his coat. Wait, a coat? In this heat? Was he wearing that earlier?
My head is spinning from all the information and confusion occurring today, and I don't think anything more of it. I just want to be done.
I want to be back home.
I want to be alone. With Edward. In our bath. Wrapped in quiet and cocooned into each other.
Moments later, Jane reappears. We stand until she seats herself, and then she turns to me.
"Please bless us with your offering," Jane says, pushing a paper and pen in front of me.
It's a script with a line at the bottom for my signature.
"Taken from my home, school, and friends, with the intent to harm me and anyone who got in the way, James Witherdale, Doctor of medicine and research from the third Court of Their Royalty, is hereby banished to Court 2 with no opportunity for re-trial," I say robotically, reading from the paper as I sign the bottom in ink.
No one moves or breathes.
"Shall we get Aro's trial over with as well? I simply don't have time to meet and go through this again. All in favor, say 'I.'"
In unison, everyone says, "I."
Jane pushes another paper toward me, then dips the pen in ink and slides that to the right of it.
"Working with James Witherdale and Royce King was a decision made to work against me. Based on the lack of awareness and decision-making on Aro's end, I hereby banish him to," and with a soft breath, I finish, "Court 8."
From the short, quiet gasps of surprise, I can tell many at this table are not privy to what Jane told me. They see Court 8 as a wasteland. Eyes fall on me.
"Court 8?" Aro asks. "Surely this is some kind of—"
"This is what the victim has decided. We will respect those wishes. Aro, you may bring two bags. You have two days to say goodbye, and the vessel will see you off before sunrise," Jane responds, pointing to the paper for my signature.
I pick up the pen.
Aro asks me to wait.
The ink hits the paper.
Aro begs me to stop.
I scrawl my name quickly and return the paper back to Jane as Aro pushes his chair back and stands quickly.
His reaction surprises me. Tears fall from his face. As if in slow motion, I watch him rush over to us. To me, to Edward, to Jane. There's a buzz inside the room as Jane snaps her fingers, and two guards appear at Aro's side. They pull at his arms as he tries to break free. I can't hear or see anything.
Edward pushes my chair back and stands in front of me. Aro escapes the guards, meeting Edward suddenly. His hand rears back, and the sound of bone crunching earns gasps from almost everyone in this room. Everyone except Jane and Caius. Aro falls to the floor, spewing words laced with venom and threats.
Once the guards reach Aro, they place him in handcuffs and pull him from the room.
Jane gathers the papers and tucks them in a folder before standing. With a bored sigh, she says, "if there are no other concerns to be dealt with, everyone is dismissed."
Caius, Edward, and I are the last to filter out. Not one word is spoken by anyone, but I feel the eyes of everyone as we exit.
The trip home is much quieter than the ride in. I replay every word uttered by Jane like a movie. I can't make sense of anything right now. I don't even know if we're under or above water, upside down or right side up, in Court 1, 2, or 3. Confusion muddles my brain, my body, and my existence.
When we're back to Court 3, my toes in the pink sand, Caius whispers, "I'll be seeing you."
Edward touches the skin of my low back, his fingers dipping into the waistband of my tight skirt. I need out of this.
I need a breather.
I need an escape.
Turning to my right, I walk to the beach, stripping my shirt from my body, shimming the tight skirt off my legs, and kicking the annoying kitten heels off my feet. In nothing but a white lace bra and matching underwear, I walk into the ocean until I disappear.
I stay under for as long as my lungs allow before resurfacing. Edward catches my eye. He's sitting on a blanket on the beach, eyes locked on mine as he watches me swim under and resurface as many times as I need to feel okay. He allows me these moments to piece together the mysteries of today, and I wonder just how much more I can take.