Well hey hey hey,
Sorry about the whole not posting last week situation. All I can say in my defense is, well. Nothing, actually. This scene was just really super duper tough to write, because there's a ton of action and writing action is not my forté, as they say. I'd written this scene many, many times before and never got it right. It took the interference of both Snarkier Than You and dear old Mr. Myg to get me through it this time. To be perfectly honest, this chapter (chapter? scene? whatevs...) is a collaboration between me and Mr. Myg. Meaning, I wrote it, and he rewrote it and literally just deleted and rewrote entire paragraphs, which I then tweaked. So I suppose we co-wrote this one, which is pretty damned cool if you ask me. I hope you'll enjoy it.
We either have one or two more posts to go before we're done here. Not sure yet. After that I'll be compiling into a .pdf and an ebook so remember, if you donated to FGB you are welcome to have copies of those. Just email me at mygdala (at) gmail and I'll add you to the list. That said, I think Latchkey Wife has me on the posting schedule for every Friday in March so if I run out of Reckoner I suppose I'll have to spam you all with pictures of Ioan Gruffudd. You'll thank me. Eventually. I think.
If you're new to Reckoner, a quick recap: This is a prequel to Osa Bella in Edward's point of view. I wrote it for Fandom Gives Back but wasn't able to finish it, so Twitarded let me post it here. If you'd like to start it, please go here and scroll all the way down, click older posts until you get to the end, and then read from the bottom up. Or just email me your FGB receipt and wait until I send out the full thing.
Thanks to those of you who have been reading this and giving me feedback on it here and on Twitter (I am @Myg on Twitter, fyi). You truly make it all worthwhile.
RECKONER PART VIII
They’ve brought us to the edge of the woods, Edward. We’re standing at the bottom of that sloping western pasture on the Kaine Estate. The one not accessible from the road. They’ve lit a fire and the flames are at least twice as tall as you. Smoke is billowing to the south. I have no idea how they’re keeping a fire this big under control with the wind so strong tonight—it’s a wonder it doesn’t spread into the trees. Someone must be using magic to contain it, but who? It can’t be Allston—Oh God, I hope they didn’t get a witch involved.
All the Kaines are here now, so that’s ten of them and the two of us. I realize these are not good odds, but I have a plan. If I can distract them for a minute, you can shake off the three holding you, right? Timothy has your left shoulder, and he’s pretty easy to drop. The problem is Mark has your neck and he’s quite strong. If you lose your head you won’t be able to do much fighting. But if we lose, so be it, right? We can’t just let them burn you without a fight. I won’t face eternity letting you die like this. I can’t believe Carlisle left you on our own. I never would have imagined… Wait…
Edward, the dead man’s family is coming now, and they look like their insides have been replaced with…I don’t know. Lead, maybe. There’s a draining, heavy kind of energy about them—that must be the grief. But there’s something else there, something churning and hot and I’m not sure what it is. Secrets. Very dark secrets, I’m guessing. Oh God, this is awful. They’re all in black except the older woman, I think it’s his mother. Yes, it must be her. She’s in a burgundy wool cape and there’s a thick, black wool scarf wrapped around her head. There’s a young woman holding her hand. It looks like there are two other sons besides the daughter—I’m assuming that’s her daughter—and they are all churning black grief and red rage in their abdominal cavities. They’re coming over to you now. Oh sweet Jesus, Edward, this is terrible.
I’m going to start a riot. I will take the father out first. If I make it bloody enough, some of these vamps will get a good, strong bloodlust on and we might have a chance to get away. We’ll run to Canada and get a flight to Spain. I know how you love Barcelona. So that’s the plan, then. I’m going to let them get into position here and then I’m taking out the father. Maybe I should take the daughter? She’s the youngest and probably has the sweetest smelling blood. I’ll make it so bloody every vampire on the hill will lust, I swear. I’m not letting them just take you without a fight. I know you’re listening. Just turn your right foot out and let me know you’re with me. You’re not turning your foot, Edward. Okay fine then, move your left pinky. Come on, Edward. Don’t let them slaughter you, please. For me? Fight.
I didn’t signal Mercy because I wasn’t even remotely hopeful her plan would do anything besides get her killed right along with me. If I was going down, so be it. I wasn’t happy about it, but I was past existential regret by then. I just didn’t want Mercy to die.
I couldn’t see a thing with the tape over my eyes and the canvas bag on my head so I listened carefully to all of the threads of thinking from the vampires in that pasture for any insight into what Allston had planned for Mercy after I was dead. Then Allston’s very targeted message came through.
Edward, I know Mercy will do something stupid to try to save you, and as much as I am loathe to credit you with anything, I know you know a bad bet when you see one. When Mercy makes her move, you will have a choice. You can fight and then bear witness as I personally maim and then burn her to death. Or, you can let me subdue her and if I’m feeling generous, I might let her live. How’s that for an easy decision?
I couldn’t hate this fucking guy more. I swore if I ever lived to kill again, he would be first on my god damned list.
The taste and stench of the gasoline-soaked rag in my mouth was overwhelming and killed any chance I had of using scent to orient myself. The heat and the roar of the blaze behind me reminded me I was one wrong step away from being cooked. Mark had his hands wrapped tightly around my neck, gripping the base of my head to keep me from running once Timothy and Adam tore my arms from me. They were waiting for Allston to give the signal, but they’d been ordered to go ahead if I gave any signs of trouble. They’d burn my arms and legs and make me watch before taking my head, just so I could have the most fucked up death possible. They looked forward most to the moment Allston would rip my head from my shoulders himself, and Allston was nearly giddy contemplating that moment in as much detail as possible for my benefit.
You! A desperate, screechy sounding thought penetrated my own. You killed my boy!
“I present you with Edward Cullen,” Allston said as the Kaines pushed me forward towards the bereaved family.
“Cullen?” The gruff voice of an older man sounded disbelieving. “I know the Cullens. They don’t hunt humans. What is this?”
“He didn’t do it!” Mercy shouted. “You’ll have no satisfaction from his death. There’s no justice in it!”
“Where is the real killer?” the man demanded.
“You’ll have to ask him,” Allston said. “He’s the only one who seems to know, and he’s not talking.”
“I want to speak to it.” A woman’s voice, matching the one I’d heard in my head, was strained with grief.
“He can hear you, Mrs. Reynolds,” Allston said. “Speak your mind.”
“I want to look into its eyes.”
“Why? It won’t make any…” Allston started to argue, but stopped when the bag on my head flew off as though a specific gust had forced it from me.
Allston began to mentally grope for the right response, and it was then I knew he was afraid. That’s when I had my first glimmer of hope.
Allston ripped the duct tape from my eyes and I whipped my head around to survey the scene. Mercy was behind Allston, with two females on either side of her. They were closer to the tree line and too close to the fire. Mercy looked worried, but determined, too. I turned and saw the silhouette of my form cast a shadow, a second cloud of darkness over the grieving family. There wasn’t much that could have broken my spirit more than gazing into the eyes of a murder victim’s mother, no matter how awful the man had been.
My heart, my heart, my dead, black heart… you have no idea what you have done to me, creature… Her eyes glazed over with thick tears, red and orange light reflecting in the whites of them, her grey face warmed by the fire’s glow.
“You will tell us who killed my son,” she said.
“It’s not a good idea to let him speak,” Allston said. “He’s weakened from our preparations but he still has some of his… capabilities.”
The woman laughed a sad, sick laugh. “What are you more afraid of, Allston? His words or his bite?”
Allston hesitated as I looked at him. I cocked an eyebrow to taunt him and he glared back before ripping the tape from my mouth. You cannot win, Edward, he warned. I promise you I will rape, torture and murder Mercy right here, right now, in the most hideous spectacle you can imagine if you so much as try.
From behind him, Mercy urged me. Make blood, she thought. As much blood as possible. Go for the girl—it’s our only hope.
I spat the rag out onto the ground at Allston’s feet and a spark from the fire caught it and it burned into the dead grass. Allston stepped quickly away, frowning. I turned to face the woman, tuning into the churn of her troubled thoughts.
“I’m the one responsible for your son’s death,” I said.
“You don’t have a killer’s eyes,” she said as she stared into mine, disbelieving. “Look at these other vampires. I’d sooner believe it was one of them.”
“You’re welcome to kill one of them instead,” I said, turning on every last bit of charm I had left.
The Kaines laughed. “Oh, I’m sure,” Allston said. Go on and try then. Oh, please do…
“You didn’t kill my son,” the woman insisted, her face twisted with anger and anguish. “Why are you saying you did?”
“I marked him,” I said, looking at Mercy from the corner of my eye, who silently urged me to stop charming and start killing.
“But why?” the woman asked, and the look on her face was more painful to me than just about any look I’d ever seen cross a face. There was no beating, no breaking, no burning that would injure me the way this grieving mother’s perfectly reasonable question did. But I had no answer that seemed adequate.
“Because I’m a vampire,” I said, unable to read the flurry of words and feelings and rage in her mind.
“No!” she yelled in my face. “Don’t lie to me.”
Edward… Mercy’s thought broke through. She’s… a…
“You’re a witch,” I said. Her broken smile was all the confirmation I needed.
We are in deep trouble here, Edward. I’m taking the girl out in ten seconds, Mercy thought, her mind racing with anger and panic as she called out her inner killer. Ten… Nine… Eight…
“No,” I said, but before I could stop her, Mercy lunged at the witch’s daughter and put her in a hold, her arms wrapped around the girl’s waist, her mouth poised over her neck for the deadly kiss.
In the confusion, Mark let his grip around my neck ease slightly and that was all I needed. I knocked him and Timothy to the ground and grabbed Mercy just before she sank her teeth into the girl. Adam grabbed my neck but I kicked him in the gut and he staggered back, too close to the fire. A stray spark caught his jacket and in an instant he went up in flames, a plume of green and gray smoke and ash ascending.
“God damn it!” Allston cried as the rest of the Kaines closed in around us, alarmed and enraged by the sudden, surprising loss of one of their own. “Burn them! Now!”
“Come any closer and I’ll kill her!” Mercy cried. Mercy clung to the witch’s daughter, who didn’t bother to struggle against her. Somehow the girl already looked lifeless, resigned, her thoughts a swirl of grey fog. Unreadable, unknowable.
The witch towered over us, now twice her original size, her arms long and thin, her feet hovering inches off the ground. Her face was contorted in anguish and rage.
“Come here, Jenna,” the witch commanded to the girl. “The vampire won’t hurt you. She’s a humanitarian. See the amber of her eyes? Don’t be afraid.”
Mercy bared her teeth and hissed and I stepped back from her, impressed at her display of aggression. I’d never seen Mercy as a real killer, not even back when I first met her and she still was one. It never seemed to fit her, but here she was, downright terrifying.
“Take Edward!” Allston commanded his coven, but Mercy put her lips to the girl’s neck and the witch’s eyes grew wide with fear.
“Stay where you are!” the witch cried.
Do it… the girl thought. Please just do it now…
“Let us go!” Mercy cried. “Or I’ll kill her right now.”
“I just want to understand, creature,” the witch said to me, her eyes softening as she faced her daughter, encircled in Mercy’s arms. “You are a humanitarian—why would you mark my son for death?”
“He’s a decree hunter from Boston,” Allston said. “He’s killed plenty of humans.”
“Reckoner?” the witch asked, her eyes wide now. “You’re the Reckoner?”
“I was,” I said.
“Then why my son?” she asked.
What the hell is that? The thought came from Timothy Kaine, who along with every other vampire there turned to look towards the woods, from where a wickedly sweet, pungent scent drifted, carried on a stiff breeze, cutting through the smoke billowing off the fire. Human blood. The scent was so overpowering I nearly reeled from it myself, and as it grew stronger every vampire there, even Allston, began to think of slaughtering and draining the human family who stood there unaware.
Where is the human blood scent coming from? Mercy thought. It’s making me dizzy… and this girl smells so good, Edward. So good…
“Give her to me,” I whispered, and pulled the girl from Mercy’s grasp. She didn’t even try to break free.
“Tell me!” the witch bellowed in our faces.
“Fine,” I yelled back. “I marked him because—”
“He was a rapist!” Rosalie’s voice finished my sentence with a ferocious howl tinged with the crackle of the fire it came from, not around us but within her, hot and vengeful. She, Carlisle, Emmett, Alice, Esme and Jasper all emerged from the tree line and with them, that overpowering scent of fresh human blood grew exponentially. They were covered in it. It was smeared on their faces, running from their mouths. Blood soaked their clothes, reflected blackly on their skins, and clotted in their hair like corruption on the scales of Medusa’s serpentine coils. Terrifying and glorious, and I couldn’t have been more grateful to see them, or more sorry as I knew the coming battle would be all our ruin.
You’re all dead, Edward, Allston thought. Every last Cullen.
“Holy mother of God,” Chief Reynolds whispered at the sight of them.
“So it was you?” the woman shouted at Rosalie, stared into her red eyes. “You killed him!”
“Yes, I did!” Rosalie cried. “And it was better than he deserved.”
The witch’s face contorted in agony. She tugged at her greying hair, and then cried, low mewling sounds that cut through my skull like a bandsaw. She pounded her own skull with her fists.
“You!” she cried, shaking her fist at her husband. “You could have stopped this!”
“How?” Chief Reynold’s was red in the face, his pulse pounding so loud in his chest I thought he might go into cardiac arrest any minute. “How could I stop a vampire from killing him?”
“Not the vampire, the boy, the boy,” she cried. “Jenna told you last year what happened, and you did nothing!”
Last year? I’d been telling you both for years how he used to come into my room at night… Why did you think I asked for a handgun when I turned thirteen? The young woman’s thoughts were a chilling arrow straight through the heart of my intentions, her eyes black and wide with rage. I tightened my arms around her.
“We offer a truce,” Carlisle said. “Let Edward and Mercy go and we’ll be done with this sad business.”
“Done with it?” the witch seethed and stepped into Carlisle’s face. She was taller than he now, her face graying and flickering in the light of the fire that began to burn higher, more intensely, slowly encroaching on where we all stood. It roared and sparks began to fly from the top, into the trees. The careful control that had kept the blaze contained there began to erode and it began to spread slowly across the field, towards the woods. “Do you think this is a grief I will ever be done with? Fool!”
“Should you suffer more losses then?” Carlisle asked, gesturing to her daughter and two other sons. “Can you kill us all before you lose another child?”
“I want that one!” she yelled, pointing at Rosalie. “Then I will have justice!”
“You will take no child of mine,” Carlisle said. “I don’t care what your grievance is.”
“Kill the Cullens! Now!”” Allston shouted. The Kaines flew towards us then, all but Timothy who in the flurry of movement tackled Chief Reynolds and bit him on the back of the neck. The man cried out and but was silenced quickly and twitched beneath Timothy’s pulsing body. The kill caused several other Kaines to pause in their assault and debate whether to attack us or the remaining Reynolds family. Carlisle pulled Timothy from the ground and throttled him. In their struggle, Carlisle pushed him so hard, he stumbled back into the fire and then disappeared in a funnel of smoke. “Burn them!” Allston cried. “Burn them all!”
With the death of Timothy, the rest of Allston’s coven charged, fueled with hatred and fear as they came at us, bodies clashing, teeth gnashing into iron bones. Two females pulled at Alice’s arms and Mercy and Jasper dropped them while on the opposite side of the fire Emmett and Rosalie fought alongside Carlisle and Esme as they brawled with the other Kaines.
I let Jenna go and whispered “Run… run as far as you can. Into the forest…” because I was going to kill Allston. No matter what else happened, I wanted to be absolutely certain that motherfucker was dead when this was over. Jenna didn’t run, she just stepped to the side and then he came at me with teeth bared. I lunged at him and we collided in mid-air, Allston twisting so that he landed on top of me as we struck the ground. I felt his teeth on my neck, tearing at my throat.
I drove my left hand up under his jaw, pushing his head up and away from me. I used the momentum to roll back and throw him off of me. As I stood I saw the witch walk into the fire, right into it, but the flames didn’t touch her at all—they parted. She was surrounded by flame, licking at the hem of her skirt, dancing up her arms, encasing her like an aura, and then she walked back out, her arms stretched out in front of her. In them she held an orb of fire, the size of a cannon ball.
Emmett had just pulled two Kaines off Rosalie but they in turn managed to pin him to the ground next to her. I could see her neck was broken from the odd angle of her head where she lay on the forest floor. She was vulnerable, twitching as she waited for her neck to repair itself. The witch’s sons held her down and the witch carried the fire and held it out, right over where she lay.
“No!” I tried to yell but no sound came out.
“I am tired of your kind,” the witch said to Rosalie. “You think you have any right to kill my son? To justice? Look at you, lustful, soulless filth. You are no human--you will always be more foul than the most wretched human alive.”
As she was about to drop the fire on Rosalie, Jenna threw herself protectively over her, and the witch faltered and stepped back from them. “Traitor!” she called, looming over, larger than even Emmett. “You would protect the monster who killed your own brother?”
“Killing her won’t erase what’s already done!” Jenna cried. “We should leave this place!”
Emmett broke free and tackled the witch at the knees. She fell to the ground and there was a sound like shattering glass as the ball of flame landed on her, just missing Emmett’s face. He leaped up and jumped away from the witch, back to Rosalie and Jenna. The witch rose, levitating as she had before, her legs hanging like cadavers from her long skirts, her mouth speaking some necromantic tongue, fingers tracing in the air. Fire began to roll off of her, cascading onto the ground. She began to turn, to spin, slowly at first and the fire spread out to the edge of the clearing where a tree caught fire, and then another. As the witch spun faster, five trees ignited at once and the flames began to leap from tree to tree. The witch’s sons carried Jenna off to the north, protected from the flames by some other unseen spell, running from the conflagration as the battle continued. Clearly under the witch’s control, the flames circled around, sealing our escape. “You will all die here!” she shrieked. “Burn in hell, where you will never end and never begin again!” And then she stepped through the flames as they closed off any chance we had of running to the north. We were surrounded.
“What do we do, Alice? What do we do?” Rosalie shouted.
“I can’t see,” said Alice. “I don’t know.”
In a panic, Mark tried to run through a section of flame that was no higher than our knees, but as soon as he touched it, he went up in a flash like dry tinder, and was gone a moment later into ash and smoke. All the vampires, Kaines, Cullens and all, huddled in the middle of the field looking for some way out.
“Look what you’ve done!” Allston roared. “Mercy, can’t you do something? A counter-spell for the fire?”
“Are you kidding? I haven’t practiced magic in a century!” she cried. “You brought this on all of us, you ass! You trusted a witch and thought she wouldn’t turn on you? Fool, fool, fool!”
“I’ll at least have the satisfaction of watching you die first!” He said and came at me again. He caught my head and the force of the blow was disorienting. I heard scraping and felt my neck tear where he had bitten me. He was separating my head from my body.
Carlisle and Emmett pulled Allston off of me, kicking and struggling while the remaining Kaines stood by watching, apparently having lost the will to fight. Esme and Rosalie grabbed Allston by the legs and I felt Alice and Mercy pull me to my feet, drag me away from the encroaching line of flames. Then Carlisle himself, the pacifist, charged at Allston and the two of them tumbled into the line of flame.
I wanted to shout but I still couldn’t speak. We watched, horrified as we were certain Carlisle was about to burn right along with Allston, but instead he fell on top of him and for just a second, the fiery fence opened. A tongue of flame caught Allston’s sleeve and his arm caught fire. Carlisle jumped back just before the fire could touch him and a moment later Allston was nothing but a tower of black flame. Another moment and he was gone. I was too awed to be disappointed I hadn’t killed Allston myself.
The fire burned higher, brighter, spreading into the forest in a boil of smoke and blue and red flame. We were all dead, I was sure of it. There was nothing to be done. As my family huddled there in the center of the fire, there was so much I wanted to say to each of them but with my neck still healing, I still couldn’t speak. I wanted to tell them how sorry I was, how much each and every one of them meant to me. How they made life worth living and how I would have done anything to keep them out of harm’s way. How with everything I mistakenly thought I’d lost, in that final moment I realized what I’d had all along but couldn’t see—and it was each and every one of them. How badly I wanted to thank Mercy especially for her loyalty and her trust and how sorry I was then I’d never loved her the way she truly deserved.
I felt my vocal cords knit back together. I was about to open my mouth and say it all while I still could. But then I couldn’t speak because right there in the moment when I could least stand to see it, I saw her—the woman I’d loved and lost. I must be dying, I thought. This must be the end, because this vision was more tangible, more real, more vivid than any other I’d ever had of her. Her face was so close I could almost touch it.
Good bye, Edward. Mercy turned and gave me a pained, hopeless look.
“Mercy…” I whispered as I reached for her. She took my hand and squeezed it tight and I pulled her into an embrace and we both fell quiet inside.
I’m sorry, Edward. This is my fault. Thank you for trying to save me. Rosalie clung to Emmett, and all Emmett could think was, Damn. Damn, damn, damn. Jasper held tightly onto Alice and was sending out all of the soothing, loving energy he had left in him and I’m sure it helped because after Carlisle and Esme shared a final kiss, Esme reached a hand out to me.
“At least we’re all together,” she said. “We still have each other.”
“Right,” I said. “No one can ever take that from us.”
Not even you, Edward, Carlisle thought. I’m glad you know it now.
“Carlisle…” I started, but then realized I had no idea how to finish.
His hand clasped on my shoulder and squeezed as I looked away. I love you too, son, he said.
We all moved closer, our heads touching, our arms linked together and our backs to the flame. The heat began to sear and I just prayed for a quick death for all of us. The roar grew louder, and louder, and then it didn’t sound like a fire at all, but a real roar. A terrifying, angry roar. I looked up and turned my head and then he was there—the great white bear, Midor, on his hind legs, bellowing up into the sky and clawing at some invisible opponent in the air. The fire had stopped its approach and was burning out in a ring around us.
Cold, heavy rain began to fall--a soaking torrent, drenching the trees and the ground and what was left of the fire. The stench of wet, burnt vegetation and ash choked us. Just beyond Midor was a troop of enormous black bears, possibly thirty in all. They began to roar, too, and approached us with terrifying, aggressive faces, teeth showing and haunches flexed. They were disturbed by all the blood that my family wore, that trick that had caused the Kaines so much confusion. They thought they’d slaughtered humans. They were shape shifters—how could they know Carlisle had taken the blood from the hospital?
“Run!” Carlisle commanded. “To Reckoner!”
And they're off! See you all next time, lovers.