Chapter 45: Executioner

Before Addy got me all the way to the throne room, we were met in the hallway by my parents - my mother still half-supporting my father, who was covered in shallow fissures along his skin that hadn't healed yet and leaning his head on her shoulder. The piece of his thumb that Aro had taken was back where it belonged. Behind them, fanned out in a nicely intimidating V, were Siobhan and Liam, Jasper, Tanya and Kate and Garrett and Eleazar, Nathan, and Maggie. I heard the voices of the others who'd made it through the battle intact, back in the throne room.

"Unhand my daughter," my mother demanded.

Addy let me go without further ado, and I stumbled a step and then crossed the distance; my mother put her free arm around my shoulders. And then Addy gave me - and to judge by the slight shifts in posture from everyone else except my mother, all of us - a summary of the answers to her remaining mysteries.

"Addy, my mother's immune to my power now," I said helpfully, before even unpacking the sending, "she didn't get that..."

Addy blinked. "Oh, well then, I suppose I'll have to resort to the use of language. How inelegant." She coughed, for effect, then said, "Bella, you're welcome."

"And what," said my mother, quietly, "am I welcome to?"

"Alice and Jasper," said Addy, ticking off fingers. "Stefan and Vladimir. Nathan." She ticked off the entire hand, then pointed at Nathan.

"She sent you?" Siobhan asked, turning incredulously to him. "Why didn't you mention that?"

"Time wasn't proper," he said easily, smiling.

"If you knew Nathan, why wasn't he in the dungeon with all the other useful witches you'd met?" my mother wanted to know.

"We hadn't met," Addy corrected. "I suspected him when I thought about it, via very indirect mentions in Carlisle's memories and Edward's regarding Siobhan's coven's long-term suspicions that someone from thereabouts been poaching in her territory. The Isle of Man was on my way out, so I stopped in, he found me -"

"It seemed like a good time to go for a walk along that road," reminisced Nathan. "And wouldn't you know it, I was right again."

"I'd assumed you'd heard about the meeting from the fellow in Newcastle," said Maggie indignantly. "I knew Cath didn't invite you!"

"You assumed, but you didn't ask," Nathan said. "But come on. Would you have trusted me if you'd known Addy sent me? But I'm trustworthy. I was helpful, wasn't I? I did half the work!"

"You were," my mother said, still fixing her gaze on Addy and holding me and my father close on either side of her. "And Stefan and Vladimir?"

"Them I didn't contact directly," said Addy. "An old friend - she's got a minor tracking power, nothing compared to Demetri, the Volturi didn't want to bother with her - lives near their area. I told her, she told them, I take it they showed up."

"They did," murmured Siobhan.

"And I assume you know about how I got Alice and Jasper peeled off, although I wasn't sure how to get them to rendezvous with you," Addy went on, "so good job finding them anyway!"

There was a silence, during which Addy smiled brightly at the dumbfounded collection of vampires facing her, and finally, my mother very carefully said, "Thank you."

"You're welcome, as I said," Addy replied. "I imagine your next question is why, if I'm so helpful, I didn't just stick with Siobhan and company. Is that right?"

"I'd think you read my mind," my mother said dryly, "except that even with my husband's toe in your pocket, you can't do that. Give that over, by the way, it's not yours."

"I'll swap powers if I touch it, and I'm still using this one," Addy said in a very reasonable tone, "for everyone else's benefit, if not yours. Maggie's not comprehensive enough to notice all the little deceptions I could conceivably throw in. If I toss it over can I borrow Elspeth again for a moment?"

My mother examined that request for barbs, then finally said, "Eleazar, would you go take it out of her pocket and bring it here, please?" I supposed she picked him because Addy wouldn't want to touch him; his power would displace mine without giving her any notable advantage. Eleazar broke formation and moved carefully forward, and reached into the front pouch on Addy's sweatshirt while she stood there innocuously with her hands up and a cocky smile on her face. He retrieved my father's toe and handed it over to its owner, who leaned down carefully to hold it in place for longer than it should have taken to reattach. My father straightened up and Eleazar went back into his place in the V.

"Anyway," said Addy once the transfer of the toe was complete, "I was hedging my bets. Not gonna lie. There's three reasons why I can't do that..." She pointed at me, at my father, and at Maggie. "If I'd worked overtly for your side, and you'd then lost, I'd be a fugitive at best and ashes at worst. I left Volterra on bad terms in the first place, had my leverage rendered pretty much moot, and was generally wanted dead - that being why I ran off to begin with. Rescuing your daughter in the process, incidentally, Bella. In fact, the only way I could expect to live through a Volturi victory would be if they were weakened enough in the witchcraft department that they needed me to cover their gaps. So I had a double motive for taking Alice away from them, although I did hope they'd find you. I would have convinced more of their witches to leave but didn't have an angle."

"...Thank you," said my mother again, not blinking. "And now you're here because?"

"Here to welcome our new golden-eyed overlords," said Addy promptly.

My mother blinked, and said flatly, "You're looking for a job."

"I've always been very clear about my motives," said Addy earnestly. "I want witches to taste - new, interesting, varied powers to train up and play with. I can understand how my past behavior would be... unsettling... to the point where you wouldn't like me to be running around where you can't keep an eye on me. I managed to hide from Alice for a while, but I didn't have a good way to predict whether you'd have Demetri after the dust settled, and even if you didn't I couldn't hide from Alice forever. But I can potentially get what I want, or most of it, while you keep an eye on me."

"Unsettling?" said my mother. "You sent my daughter to Jane. You were complicit in Elspeth's imprisonment and Edward's - in fact, you were essential to Edward being worth imprisoning and torturing in the first place. When you left the Volturi's sphere of influence you abandoned the rebellion against them as soon as you had something useful to take with you. You have killed... oh... how many people now? with no hint of being even vaguely open to the possibility of stopping. And now you want me to hire you while you have that smug look on your face?"

"Are you going to kill me because I have a smug look on my face?" asked Addy lightly. My mother didn't answer, and Addy said, "I taught your daughter to expand her power in ways that have helped her immensely. I carried her out of Volterra when I didn't have to bother. I sent you five allies, two of which at least you found valuable and the other three of which you could have found so if you'd gone with a different plan. I showed up here today instead of making you hunt me down. And, yes, I have a smug look on my face, because I know how smart you are, and I know how smart it would be for you to keep me in your back pocket and use me. You've got a mindreader. You've got a lie detector. You can turn me into someone who cannot effectively tell a lie by asking your daughter to poke me. It wouldn't be difficult to keep tabs on me, and it wouldn't be too much trouble to keep me happy."

My mother stared at her, ground her teeth a little, and said, "You want to do something useful?"

"Mm-hm," said Addy.

"Find a piece of Vasanti, take her power, and go out and bring in some live nonsapient food for Edward and David and everyone on our side who was broken. If you set foot out of Edward's range - I trust you're aware of how far it extends - then I will have you killed, no further negotiating," my mother said.

"Yes ma'am," said Addy, winking. "Or, do you have a title picked out yet?"

"I don't. Shoo."

"Oh, one more thing," Addy said. "You didn't burn Chelsea's hands with the rest of her. For the next two weeks or so I'll still be able to take her power by touching them; after that, parts that size will be starved to death. If there's anything you're regretting not having the chance to fix that requires her, I mean. Anyway. Vasaaaaanti..." She turned around and picked her way through the debris, looking for a piece of the animal-charmer.

My mother watched, a stricken look on her face, as Addy rounded the corner in her search.

A chilly feeling crept up my spine and tingled at the back of my neck.

We repaired our broken comrades, mostly victims of Heidi's lure who'd been drawn into close range before my mother had been able to shield them for the moment it took to lurch away. Alice had sorted everyone in the throne room, friend and foe, into heaps during the conversation in the hall. I didn't directly piece anyone together, because I wasn't as fast or precise as a vampire, but I broadcasted blankness to everyone in pain while they were reassembled. Alice moved on into the hall to consolidate all of the other Volturi parts from where they were scattered throughout the compound.

My mother put together Esme, no less rapidly than the people she worked next to, but there was a distant, distracted look on her face. My father, still covered in little cracks and trying not to move much, sat next to her with one hand on her knee. He was murmuring something to her.

I took a step closer, to hear what he was saying. "...if you want," I caught.

"I think I do," my mother murmured back. "I know I do, really, but I feel like I shouldn't."

"I don't mind," he told her. "What Chelsea left behind isn't natural either way... but it could be better, even so..."

"You didn't handle Elspeth very well, you know," she muttered back to him. "Even with what Chelsea did to you... you could have done better."

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry, Bella. If you want me to let Addy undo it I will."

"But it's not really undoing it, that's the problem," whispered my mother. "It's not like Elspeth's deprogramming that really does only undo what was done. It's building something new where something old was permanently destroyed."

"I don't want it," I said softly.

My mother glanced up for a moment to look at my face, then turned back to Esme, half-finished, and continued putting her together. "Then you don't have to take it," she said quaveringly, almost under her breath. "...It might not stick, with you, anyway."

"It might," I said, "I still care about Jake and the villagers, which Chelsea did, but... I just don't want more of that in my head than I already have. Like you said - building something new where something was permanently destroyed, not undoing it for real - and if I'm going to have that again I want it to be natural."

My mother pursed her lips tightly and nodded. "Think about it," she said tentatively, "because you can't change your mind after Chelsea's hands die and Addy gets rid of the power... but if you don't want it you don't have to take it."

"I'll take it," said Jasper gravely from where he was working on Randall. "I think Alice will too... we're... very alone, at the moment."

"Anyone who wants it," my mother said, "can have it when Addy gets back. She's behaving?" she asked, looking into my father's eyes.

"Yes," he said. "She has a herd of deer and a couple of boars following her now - and some pigeons she couldn't shake off - and she's on her way back. I haven't heard anything untoward."

My mother nodded. She completed enough of her work that Esme was able to sit up and finish the rest of it herself, and shifted a foot to the right to start work on Carlisle. Her face was solemn, and preoccupied, but calm.

"Alistair left after all?" I asked, not noticing him coming together under anyone's hands.

"Offered to stay behind with Jacob and Pera and Razi," my mother said, "and we decided it would be safest to take him up on that, rather than bring another body into the fight when he didn't want to be there."

"I should call Jake and tell him he can come in..." I pulled out my phone and dialed. Jacob answered and, after a brief exchange during which I repeatedly confirmed that I was uninjured, he said he was on his way and Alistair would follow.

"Elspeth," said my father after I'd hung up the phone, and when everyone on our side who'd been damaged was reconstructed and no longer needed the blank sending, "would you go show Marcus what's happened? He may have a reaction worth noting, but at the moment he doesn't know anything except that Aro was looking at a lot of people who have no obvious reason to be here."

"Should I bring his eye back to the rest of him?" I asked.

"It rolled under that throne," my mother said, pointing.

I picked up the eye gingerly - it was smooth and dry and cold, not very eyeball-like, but it was still an eye - and carried it to the dungeon, which was now empty of anyone but parts of Marcus. I put the eye with the rest of him, composed a summary, and sent it over.

Addy passed me in the hall, leading deer and wild boars behind her single file to their doom, and waved. Her eyes were a brilliant gold. Show of good faith, I supposed. I waved back, and waited. A minute later, my father, looking much improved, and my mother, no longer propping him up, entered the room.

"He wants to kill Aro himself," my father murmured.

"I'm tempted to keep Aro disassembled for use - via Addy and Elspeth, he's a very good way of getting large volumes of complex information from one person to another - but I think recent events have demonstrated the long-term non-viability of that imprisonment strategy," my mother said. "If we decide to kill him, and I think we have to - even with Pera's help on our side, which we still can't count on, he's too much of a threat... The only issue I can think of with letting Marcus light the match is whether Marcus will make a nuisance of himself should he be permitted to heal."

"Should I pass that on?" I asked her, and she nodded, and I did.

"He'll work for us, he'll do whatever you tell him," my father reported slowly, "if you let him kill Aro for what he did. He worked for his mate's murderer for millennia... he'll promise a lot for revenge. But as far as I can hear, he's sincere."

"He wouldn't be unusually difficult to subdue if it came to that," I said. "He has almost no practice fighting - he's basically done nothing since Didyme died but help Chelsea work, and she died relatively early in his life. And his power doesn't help in combat. Plus he has the dead skin - he's going to be absolutely covered in scars when he's put back together. It won't heal on the surface. Those will be points of weakness."

My mother pursed her lips and thought. "It'll probably disappoint Stefan and Vladimir," she said. "I suppose they should be able to content themselves with Caius, Athenodora, and Sulpicia, though."

"Probably," agreed my father. "And Jane, if you aren't going to try keeping her..."

"I don't think keeping her would work very well," I said, shuddering.

"The Romanians can have Jane," my mother said darkly. "Is it possible to salvage Alec?"

"If you let Addy snip him away from his sister," I said.

My mother frowned, but nodded slowly. "I'll consider that... it's better than killing him, if only marginally... well, let's put Marcus together, shall we?"

We got him in one piece, although he still looked like a wreck. Unhealed lines along his skin radiated from every point of impact that had taken him apart in the first place, leaving him looking like a jigsaw puzzle even when he was complete. But he sat up, and climbed with difficulty to his feet, and bowed to my mother and then to my father and then to me with no trace of irony.

"This way," she said, and we showed him into the throne room. "There -"

"I can see," said Marcus raspily. "All too well. I know which pile is his."

"Should we keep a piece?" Addy asked, from the portion of the throne room where she was keeping the remaining couple of deer calm in spite of the other vampires. "It won't be able to read anyone itself with his brain gone, I think, but I'd have a couple weeks able to read non-witches."

"Do you care either way?" my mother asked Marcus.

"No," he murmured, eyes fixed on the pile, and Cath, who was nearest - and had newly gold eyes, I noted, probably having deigned to feed on one of the animals after being reconstructed - picked up what looked like Aro's knee and stepped away from the pile.

My mother gingerly handed Marcus her lighter, and he did the deed swiftly and without discernable enjoyment of any kind. I thought there might have been a grim satisfaction around the corners of his eyes, but it was hard to read any expression on the scar-webbed face. Aro burned, and Marcus turned back to my mother, returned the lighter, and bowed again.

"Someone - Cath - find clothes for everyone, but not those awful black cloaks," my mother instructed, noting that a great many of the vampires in the room were naked. Cath zipped out of the room to obey. "Marcus, help yourself to one of the deer Addy brought us. Don't touch her." He drifted towards the animals and fed. "Elspeth, deprogram him in case there's anything left after what they did to him."

I did, but Marcus looked up after finishing his deer. He looked strange - subdued glitter under the evening sunlight falling on him through the narrow window, craquelure complexion, gold bleeding into his dark eyes as I watched. "At first, the only thing that told me that Aro did not mean to do me a favor," he said quietly, "was the fact that he left one of my eyes in the dungeon, where it could see the ribbon."

I blinked, then understood. If Aro had worn both eyes, or put the second one somewhere else entirely, Marcus wouldn't have had to look at the evidence of Didyme's loss. Marcus might have done that to himself - torn out his own eyes, let them die, permanently severed himself from his agonizing power - if his ability to see relationships hadn't been the entire reason he was obliged to stick around. But once it occurred to Aro to just wear one of the eyes, there would be no reason for that. The rest of the disassembly could have been some kind of subterfuge to explain the sudden change of Marcus's status to the rest of the world.

If Aro hadn't left the second eye there, Marcus might have considered it a relief, on the whole.

(Peeking at Marcus's memories, I saw that he'd asked for permission to take out his eyes once Addy had joined the guard, and been refused on the grounds that Addy was still new, was too busy copying anyone and everyone, might find a mate and leave at the drop of a hat, needed her own relationships manipulated and couldn't very well help Chelsea there, and was less experienced in assisting Chelsea anyway.)

"That's how I found the... relevant memory," Marcus added quietly, and he gritted his teeth. The corpse of the deer he'd eaten slumped to the floor as he stood. "I didn't know why else he would do that, if not to help... and so I sought, and found, the memory of my wife's murder, but could do nothing about it." My mother nodded. Marcus spread his hands. "What would you have of me?"

"Sit tight for now," she said. "If you really want to take your eyes out and put them somewhere else, go ahead, just don't lose them or let them die. When Cath gives you clothes, put them on. There has been too much incidental nudity in my life recently." She ran a hand over her scalp, like she wanted to adjust her hair, but there was barely any new growth since the last time she'd been set on fire. (My father twitched when I thought that.)

My mother pointed at several of our comrades. "Find boxes or bags or something and move all the Volturi from where they are in the compound and collect them here. And someone eat that last deer so Addy can ditch Vasanti's power and take Alec's. I don't care to torture anyone when it's not necessary."

The people she'd pointed at left to bring back scattered guard. Cath returned with enough clothes for everyone naked, the outfits pilfered from assorted closets. Marcus put his designated outfit on and then departed silently, presumably to tuck his eyes away in a safe nook. My mother looked on as Volturi accumulated in the throne room. Garrett ate the deer and Addy switched powers, waiting at the ready to anesthetize the assembled when they were all in one place. At last Mary and Randall carried in the last two - who it was they brought, I couldn't tell - and stood back to let Addy do her work.

"Elspeth," my mother said, "deprogram all of them, and we'll go case-by-case on the potentially salvageable. With Aro gone, we can summarily write off Sulpicia. Is there any reason to keep Caius and Athenodora?" I deprogrammed all of the Volturi as she asked, and was about to weigh in on the subject of Caius and his mate, but Siobhan spoke first.

"They're not witches, Caius is loyal to Aro dating back to before Chelsea, and they're symbols of the old guard," Siobhan said. "That last means that if you could turn Caius it would make it easier to get some of the other guard, but not significantly more than it will be with Marcus... and he'd be hard to turn."

My mother nodded once. "That last also means I wouldn't trust them imprisoned in the hiding place... even if Pera would make up her mind in a positive direction about whether she'll serve as warden for the new order. They'd have too much potential to rally support for a resurgence of the Volturi." She sighed and passed a hand across her eyes. "Stefan, Vladimir, would you like to do the honors? And Jane, too. Jane... needs to go. Leave Alec."

The short, ancient vampires nodded eagerly, undisguised glee in their eyes, and produced matches from their pockets, obtained before the assault had begun. They threw them from a safe distance into the relevant piles, directed by Alice, who knew which person was which. Four more fires were soon crackling away busily.

I heard footsteps too heavy to be Marcus's drifting gait, and went out to meet Jake and usher him away from the smoke.

"Elspeth," my mother called after me as I leaned into my wolf's open arms, "why don't you go to the village, show-and-tell the other wolves and the imprints and children what's happened - be careful about being age-appropriate for the little ones, please, and... turn in for the night? It's... almost your bedtime."

I wasn't sure whether to say "Yes, Mama" or "Yes, Your Highness", so I simply nodded and went with Jake out of the compound.