*** This story contains some mild language, suspense, romance, and some frightening images and situations—13 and older, please.

In the Grip of Twilight

By:

Olivia Tannis Moore

Chapter Eighty Eight:

Through the Darkness and Beyond

Part One

"Thaddeus?" I said weakly. But it couldn't be the old reformer. It just couldn't be. My mouth went dry with shame as I remembered how I had just snapped at him. "But Aro…Aro murdered you." My breath caught in my throat. "Muriel said—"

The old man suddenly interrupted me, gripping my hand in excitement, "Muriel? You've spoken with Muriel?"

Thaddeus' entire face was radiant and I smiled, forgetting our snide exchange of just a moment ago. "I escaped to Muriel's house after leaving the castle," I explained.

He nodded. "I should've known Muriel was involved…but I lost contact with her ages ago. I was afraid that Aro had finally found a way to silence her—he has always deeply resented her interference in the ongoing war." He raised my hand and kissed my knuckles. "Would you do me the kindest of favors? Would you think of her for me? Just hold her image in your mind so that I might look at her? It's been so very long…"

I closed my eyes and thought of the first time I'd seen Muriel. She had made quite an impression on me with her bronzed skin and sun-kissed hair defying the red handkerchief that bound it, the spunk of her bird-like hands poised on her narrow hips with such attitude…and the way her eyes sparked when something drew her interest.

After a moment, I opened my eyes. Thaddeus' eyes were still closed as one single amber-stained tear slid down his cheek. I gazed at the liquid jewel, mesmerized by the likeness of his tears to mine. But of course it would be—we were the same. It was only at this moment, though, that I felt relief wash over me that I was not alone—neither entirely human, nor vampire, nor Lycan, but all of these, just like Thaddeus. It was this likeness that drew me to Thaddeus' writings, hoping for some sort of insight of what I had become. I had thought it was an accident that day when I'd come across The Forgotten in the forest. Why wouldn't it be when I was prone to freak accidents and flukes?

He opened his eyes to see me smiling at him. "I know…" he whispered. "But The Forgotten would never have given you his gift if he found you weak or unworthy. Trust me on that."

My smile wavered. If only I could believe that, I thought. But nothing in my life ever seemed planned, or deserved…not even the good stuff that happened, like Edward.

Thaddeus shook his head solemnly, "There are forces that see far better than you or I, my child." The words had barely escaped his mouth when he turned to the far end of the tunnel and tilted his head as if straining to hear something.

Alice put her hand of his arm. "They're coming."

Thaddeus sighed. "Yes…and we've lost too much precious time." He quickly turned to face us. "We need to go down to the lower levels and then over to the cavern."

My head snapped back to look at him. "The cavern? You mean the cavern with the temple inside?" Of all the places I didn't want to revisit within the castle, the cavern temple was at the top of the list. In fact, it was that creepy place that I dreaded the most.

"Yes," Thaddeus said, gathering his thread-bare cloak in his hands in preparation to flee. "It's our destination—and with any luck, the last place they'll look for us having just come from there with the cup."

I stared down the corridor where the Volturi would soon appear. For a split second I thought I'd rather face Aro again than that cold evil place. Those gory, cave-like paintings drawn in ritual blood…the blood of the slave vampires that had perished down there, it was still so fresh in my mind. It was part of Hell itself—so why was I the only one repulsed by the cavern?

"Run, Isabella. We must hurry," Thaddeus called anxiously.

Alice was running alongside him, looking back and motioning at me to follow. But my breath was frozen inside my lungs, and I stood motionless with indecision. If only it wasn't that place…If only it wasn't the cavern with its Temple of Evil, I thought.

"Bella…" she hissed at me. "Come on, let's go."

I turned from the long corridor and joined them silently and dutifully, but the cold fist inside my stomach refused to loosen.

(Thanks for reading. And here's a preview of next week's chapter. I know that Edward's return to the story will please a lot of you. Have a Smiley Week. See you next Tuesday for a new update. OTM)

Through the Darkness and Beyond Part Two:

Caius voice hissed in my ear, "Life or Death? What will you choose?"

I swallowed hard, already knowing my answer. Yet, I didn't answer. There was still a part of me that hoped Edward would free himself from Aro's grasp and escape. It was wishful and illogical. Aro had already inflicted so much damage on us already, I thought as my gaze kept drifting over to Alice's still form sprawled across the floor. And poor Thaddeus…

I blinked the tears away and turned my attention overhead. The ceiling of the cavern seemed covered with twinkling stardust. I wondered why I hadn't noticed that before. Perhaps it was only now, as my life hung in the balance, that I finally allowed myself to see its beauty, the light opposed to the dark. I felt the slight pressure of cold steel as Caius had now repositioned the sword, slanting the handle so that the tip would slide up through my heart, a fatal wound for me if I chose the wrong path.

"Bella," Edward pleaded. "Look at me."

I shook my head slightly. I didn't want to see Edward in such a vulnerable state…with Aro's arms locked around his chest and the shackles gripping his ankles.

I squeezed my eyes shut—knowing that if I did look over at him my resolve would be lost. But it was still his image I still saw behind my eyelids, burned into my memory among the stardust overhead.

Caius seemed to run out of patience with me as he grasped my jaw and forced me to look up into his face. "Life or Death," he repeated. "I'll take your answer now. Will you serve?"

(Thanks for reading. OTM)