*** This story contains some mild language, suspense, romance, and some frightening images and situations—13 and older, please.
In the Grip of Twilight
Olivia Tannis Moore
Through the Darkness and Beyond
When we reached the antechamber, I was surprised to find it locked down; and as Thaddeus fumbled with the padlock I wondered about this—the cavern had never been locked before, even when it probably should've been. Chills went up my spine as the lock mechanism clicked and Thaddeus swung the door open to enter.
I hesitated for a moment as Thaddeus and Alice hurried inside. "Isabella?" Thaddeus asked gently from the door that led into the cavern.
I shook my head. "Something's not right…don't you feel it…the evil in this place?" I was shivering uncontrollably, my teeth tapping together as I spoke.
Thaddeus frowned, and then turned to Alice. "Stay with Isabella until I can check things out, would you?"
Alice nodded, and with a nervous smile moved to my side.
"Can you see what's going on down below?" I whispered.
Alice shrugged her shoulders. "It's so strange—like a big black curtain thrown over my mind. I hear people talking in the background but I can't see what they're doing. I can't even make out what they're saying…it's muffled. I haven't dreamed in years, but it feels as if I'm moving through a dream. Ever since we left the dungeon, I've been moving around as if I was on auto-pilot. The last thing I remember is seeing Edward climb the wall to the castle..."
"Where is he now?" I prodded. "Do you know?" I couldn't help but feel that, like before, Alice wasn't telling me the whole truth, or she was keeping something from me. "Please, just try to establish some sort of contact with him…"
Alice turned and sharply hissed, "There's no use. What's done is done. The sooner the accept that, the better."
I shrank back, stunned by the bitterness in her voice, and the fact that I didn't think I'd said anything to provoke her anger.
Or had I? Did Alice finally blame me for the Cullens' predicament? Now that everything was falling apart and I seemed to be at the very center of all their problems, it would seem reasonable to catch some of the fallout. Maybe I had become too sensitive. I nodded awkwardly and pushed my hands into my jean pockets. "I'm sorry, Alice—didn't mean to agitate you. I just wanted to know that he was okay, that's all."
Alice walked off from me a few feet and seemed engrossed in the paintings on the wall. "A little too late for that…" I thought I heard her say under her breath.
"What?" I said. But when I looked at her, she smiled sweetly and shook her head. "Nothing. Just talking to myself." She grimaced. "I'm so sick of this place…"
I thought that Alice's words were strange…maybe it was because she'd not been out of the trance Aro had placed her under for very long. I was just about to say something to this effect, when there was a loud thud down in the cavern.
Alice and I looked at one another for a long moment.
"Bella…I don't think we should go…"
I walked to the cavern entrance and turned back to Alice. "Something might've happened to him."
"Thaddeus will be fine," Alice said confidently.
I gazed at her. How could she know that? "What have you seen?" I asked.
But Alice just shook her head in confusion as she pinched the bridge of her nose. "Nothing…I haven't seen anything…I don't know why I said that…"
For a moment, I thought of grabbing Alice's hand and fleeing. This place was messing with our heads and I was convinced that we shouldn't be there. But I didn't have it in me to leave Thaddeus behind. "I'm going down there."
Instantly, Alice was across the floor and blocking my way. "Bella, what if…" and then she abruptly stopped. There was a hint of panic in her eyes before she composed herself.
Then she smiled. It was too cheery of a smile for the situation we were in, full of fake bravado. "Okay, then, if that's what you want. I'll go with you." She stepped to the side.
I gazed past the entrance into the cavern where it was pitch dark. Not a candle burned. Not a sound stirred below. I took a deep breath and crossed the threshold into the cavern.
"Thaddeus?" I called softly.
The strangest sound met my ears, like wind blowing through an open window or door—which made no sense, the door at my back was the only door that I knew of.
"Stay close," I told Alice. And then I walked to the ledge and off, letting the air rush up and over me as I spread my arms and glided toward the floor of the cavern. There was a churning wind in the place. Although it was too dark to see beyond the few feet before me, I picked up the scent of pine and Volterra soil. The wind was coming from outside. But then a louder thud came from behind the altar below, inspiring dread as I wondered what would greet us when we touched down. I felt the whoosh of air from Alice's descent behind me a mere second after my feet touched the floor.
Stepping back, I reached and found her hand in the darkness. Our hands clasped together tightly.
Then, there was the cautious whisper inside my head. "Isabella?"
I nearly groaned with relief at the sound of Thaddeus' voice; it sounded as if he was close to the altar. Briefly, I let go of Alice's hand and responded. "We're here…where are you? Didn't you hear me call down from the antechamber?" I whispered.
"Yes, well, I found myself in a bit of a predicament…"
I turned and once again reached for Alice's hand. But my hand flailed into the empty air. She wasn't there!
I tried not to panic. "Alice?" I whirled around in the dark.
There was a loud click and then a pale bright light burst into the cavern causing me to shield my eyes. The wind became gusty, and as I peered into the direction of the light, I collapsed to my knees.
Behind the altar, the wall had opened up to reveal a wind tunnel in front of the spotlight. And there, in the center of the light, Aro held Edward limp within his arms.
I stepped back, then forwards, not knowing quite what to do. "Thaddeus?" But even as I called for the old man I wasn't sure what he could do to help us. Even in the bright illumination of the spotlight, he wasn't to be seen, nor was Alice.
"Alice?" I called.
From the left, Thaddeus emerged from behind one of the massive altar columns, holding Alice's arm and guiding her forward. She didn't look right…she swayed on her feet as Thaddeus propelled her toward me.
I gasped. "What happened?"
Alice stumbled and I reached out to steady her and pull her to my side. Her eyes were glazed over just as I had found her down in the dungeon.
"Exactly, Isabella…What happened?" Thaddeus said grimly. "You were supposed to escape and go home. Anyone with half a brain would've done just that. But you chose to come back and complicate things—now why would you do that?"
I stood transfixed, not fully comprehending what he was saying. And then suddenly my arms were pulled back and I was caught within cold arms and the cold steel of a long blade positioned against my chest. I strained to look up and saw Caius grinning down at me.
From the wind tunnel, I heard Edward moan, but when I tried to turn to him, Caius tightened his grip and brandished the sword closer to my throat.
"If you had only gone home, Isabella, then it wouldn't have come to this," Thaddeus whispered inside my head. "You have only yourself to blame. Did you really think I would just allow you to waltz in here and take my place? I've waited centuries for another opportunity to prove myself—training and growing stronger with each passing day."
I shook my head sadly, thinking of Thaddeus' writings and how he had gone terribly wrong. When he had told me his name while down in the dungeons, it had seemed strange and confusing to me—hadn't the legends told that there was only one Reformer at any given time in history?
But Thaddeus again read my thoughts.
Aro started those rumors of my death. I had to go into hiding in that dank dungeon in order for The Forgotten to believe me to be dead. However, I didn't know that he'd pass the gift on to someone else. Image my surprise to learn about you. I had to endure Aro's delight when he found you and brought you here—demoting me to his lowly backup plan. He thinks you're more powerful than I, but it'll never come to that, will it Isabella? Because I know you have no intention of helping Aro win this war. I know full well that you're prepared to die if need be.
Caius voice hissed in my ear, "Life or Death? What will you choose?"
From the shadows, Thaddeus stepped forward to Caius' side. His thin mouth twitched with anticipation; his eyes were glazed with the madness. This time he didn't bother to whisper into my head. "Tell him, Bella," Thaddeus cajoled. "Tell him that you don't have the heart to fight his war…tell him how you love both vampire and wolf."
I flashed my lengthening canines and spoke outloud, "No, Thaddeus, that's where you're wrong. Peace requires more strength than war, more love than hate. Muriel taught me that…you do remember Muriel, don't you?"
Thaddeus' eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. For a moment I thought he'd strike me for mentioning her name. But then his mouth relaxed and curved into a sardonic smile. "Muriel will understand once the Lycans are brought to their knees—once their influence has been severed. And if she doesn't come around…I can always reform her."
I laughed then. The thought of anyone reforming Muriel…it was foolish. And he knew it as well; I watched as uncertainty skittered across his face. As proof, I held Muriel's image in my mind, her ferial eyes and ramrod-straight back, and practically thrust the image at him.
With a low irritated growl, he shifted back into the half-light of the shadows. "You're the one on trial here, Isabella Swan. Not I. Give your answer so that I can reclaim my fate."
I swallowed hard, already knowing my answer. Yet, I didn't speak. There was still a part of me that hoped I might save the situation, that Alice would awaken, and Edward would free himself from Aro's grasp and escape. It was wishful and illogical but I would hold on to those hopes for as long as I could. And with this thought in mind, I turned to Aro.
"Where's my ceremonial robe, Aro? I need to wear it as I decide."
This apparently thrilled Aro. He grinned and ordered Thaddeus to fetch the robe, and within seconds he was back with the garment draped across his arm. He held it out to me and I felt Caius' arms fall away.
I eased into the robe, taking my time. But Caius seemed impatient and grasped my arms behind my back once again. I took a deep breath and looked upward, trying to find the courage to stand for what I believed in.
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 his image I still saw behind my eyelids, burned into my memory among the stardust overhead.
"Life or Death," Caius repeated. "I'll take your answer now. Will you serve?"
I took a deep breath and remained silent.
The sword's tip pricked the tender skin underneath my breast. I didn't have to look down at the white silk of the ceremonial robe to know the blood was spreading there; I felt its warmth as it trickled down my rib cage.
There was a horrible silence that seemed to float around me. And then a rumble of thunderous rage as Edward lunged against his restraints. His bellows of rage and heartbreak startled me, and then made me shudder and grow weak. It was then when finally I looked at him, that I realized that Edward didn't know that it was only a warning. He had seen my blood turn the robe red and thought the worst.
"Shhhh. It's okay, listen…" I whispered "…my heart still beats…"
His strangled roar died in his throat as his jaw snapped together and clenched tightly as our eyes met. "I'm okay, it was just a nick," I reassured him. I could see his eyes dance from the robe to my face as if he were deciding for himself. But after a few seconds, he slumped in relief, and I knew he'd heard my heartbeat; it throbbed as we gazed at one another. "Don't you leave me…" he whispered, shaking his head as he spoke.
My voice was thick with suppressed emotion as I said the words he'd once said to me, "I'll never leave you—don't you know that?"
But it seemed cruel to me to say this, because the next time Caius stabbed me with the sword's blade, it would be fatal. The hardest part of that reality would be witnessing Edward's pain. We had always felt too much for one another; and now as this played out, we'd become the big, glaring example of that. After all, Aro and company were doing what they did best…they were playing with us to get what they wanted.
Yet, it didn't matter how much we loved each other, not in the long run. We were making our stand, just like we had committed to do that morning we left Forks to come to this vampire city. And when the whole world was at stake, you couldn't let a little thing like earth-shattering love get in the way. Blood would be spilled. Sacrifices made. We knew that already, but it was much harder to accept when the time had come to make that sacrifice.
Marius appeared then at Aro's side and whispered something urgently. I heard him mention Dimetri's name with loathing, and then something about the moon high in the sky with little time remaining.
Aro nodded and pointed at me. "The wolves are at our door. We must have your answer now. Yes or no? Caius, ask her once more and if she doesn't answer this time…silence her forever."
(This chapter may be a little (or a lot) rough around the edges, but I wanted to get something out since it had been a few months since last updated. Thanks for hanging in there, guys. And, as always, thanks so much for reading. Have a great week. OTM)