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The Mythical Creature's Guide to Modern Warfare (26/26)


"The fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen – it's not gasps and blood and falling about –
that isn't what makes it death. It's just a man failing to reappear, that's all – now you see him,
now you don't, that's the only thing that's real: here one minute and gone the next and
never coming back – an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance
gathering weight as it goes on until, finally, it is heavy with death."
Guildenstern inTom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Chapter Twenty-Six, Zulu


What I could see went like this, a blur of action and half-thoughts that I could neither completely notice or wholly ignore:

Jake, Embry, and Quil went for Red Ridding Hood's mirror world twin, trying to pin her down so they could keep her from, a) using her power on anyone and, b) attacking back as they tried to pull her apart and burn the pieces.

Some of the witnesses disappeared, Amun grabbing Kebi and running without looking for his other covenmates at all, but the rest of ours stayed. None of the Volturi's were joining the fight, though, not for any of its sides.

Benjamin and Tia lingered around the pups and Nessie, the boy standing with his knuckles pressed to his forehead, his other hand stretched out as if reaching for something none of the rest of us could see. His mate crouched defensibly in one of the least-uncool vampire crouches I've had the privilege of seeing. Wind started to whip her loose, dark hair about and force the snow sideways, though there hadn't been the slightest breeze a moment before.

Carlisle and Esme seemed to hang back as well, not having wanted this to come to a fight. But, I noticed, they were standing where the leeches would have to run if they wanted to get to Forks, making sure that none of the human-drinkers could get past them into town. Zafrina, calling on her power of illusions, had done something similar in the direction of La Push, making it seem as if more wolves waited in the shadows there. Or maybe there were, and Sam's pack had come to join us. I doubted it. I doubted they even knew what deep monkey-licking, toe-scratching shit we were in.

And, of course, there was Marcus and Aro, fighting in a manner that was part-Matrix, part-The-Transporter, and part-the-dad-from-Taken. Not that any part of it was particularly cool or well-choreographed or, God forbid, actually good-looking, but it was just... They had the look of those who were both masters of destruction, Sith Lords without the red lightsaber, who knew what they were doing but hadn't had to do it themselves in a long time. They were talking to each other, shouting, in a language I only knew couldn't be Latin 'cause it didn't sound anything like that Latin from movies, and Caius was trying to intercede.

And then there was me and Seth. And there was Alec, who were were going after. Alec, who was too busy watching with shocked expression his masters fighting like this and did not notice us coming at him until Seth had already lunged at him, snarling as he took hold of one of the leech's ankles and tried to pull and I, taking an arm, pulled the opposite direction.

He quickly realized what we were doing, though, and took his free hand to try and pry me off of him without loosing his arm. This was naturally, difficult, as we bit down hard.

Er, said Seth, now what?

My poor, idiot brother, who had no idea how to fight. You know that thing dogs do with bones, where they shake their heads?

Yeah.

I winced as Alec grabbed the hairs on the back of my neck and pulled, I advise doing that. Ow! Ow! Ow fuckity ow! I swore as he tore the hairs out but not me. What is the mother-fucking toadstool-popping goat-biting son of a bitch and a broomstick doing? Trying to do? Annoy me to death?

Possibly. Seth offered. Why won't this guy fall to pieces already?

'Cause we don't have the proper mood music, I told him, my feel scrambling for purchase in the snow as I tried to pull his hand lower, figuring that if we could bring him down and ran in opposite directions, we might at least tear him in two. God, we're built to fight vampires. Why can't this be fucking easy?

Patience builds character, someone, I think, Matty said.

Ah-ha! shouted Embry. I got a foot! First blood, Call! Yeow! he screamed, a fire hot brand of pain running through his body and along the line of mental connection between us. He fell to the ground, limbs twitching like mad, while Jake and Quil, still with a grip on the titchy witch, redoubled their effort. The foot he'd managed to tear off, still clad in black Mary Jane's and a bit of torn grey stockings, rocked a bit, and tried to wiggle its way back to the many body.

Fire! We need fire! that was Jake. He was throwing Jane's other foot towards the centre of the clearing, back towards Benjamin, Tia, and the pups, and away from the vampires.

At the same time, from where the wives had been hiding, the shout of, "Incendiu," came from one of the
Romanians. Bits of limbs, torn from the body at the joints and dotted with hints of blood, flew over our heads, towards where Jake had thrown the foot. "Avem nevoie foc. Acum!" he shouted again as Caius, seeming to realize that, while he tried to break his brothers up, his wife was being killed. The Volturi and the Romanian met in a rage that, from the corner of my eye as I – finally – twisted a hand off, looked like a whirl of hands and legs and feet that could only be described as Matrix and something more ancient at the same time.

Tanya shouted next – and I knew it was Tanya by the way her voice lilted at the end, possibly as a result of seeing Irina held fast by a tall, burly, leech with short black cropped hair; a version of Emmett that had never known laughter or, if he had, only the dark kind - "Ogień! Benjamin, we need fire!"

The wind was whipping around the edge of the battlefield now, and I could barely see anything at all in the whirling haze of snow except for the strange, dark dressed vampire Seth and I were trying to take down, made harder by the fact that it seemed he could see his sister being torn apart and being unable to focus her pain power on any one person for more than a moment before it sputtered out of its own free will. Seeing this, Alec, though missing a hand and seeing cognisant enough of his surroundings not to let me get another purchase on his stone-like skin, made for her, and a black mist began to pour from his one hand and the stump of his other.

Seth! I shouted without thinking, not knowing what the mist was but guessing it was nothing I would like to see used against my brother. When I leapt again, it wasn't to try to get my teeth in the Alec's neck or to aim for his other hand, but to knock Seth out of the way, just as the mist expanded to the size of a malformed oval about as tall as the leech and twice again as wide. I felt myself caught in the mist like a fly in amber, lodged somewhat awkwardly in it some feet above the ground, unable to move or breathe or see...

And then it hit me: an overwhelming sense of nothingness that could not be dreamt of in a nightmare, let alone described in words and deeds of me or werewolves.

I did not see the tempestuous wind rip cleanly large branches from the nearby trees and throw them into the centre of the clearing, where a handful of thrown limbs from all sides of the fighting lingered, or the bright, blue-tinged lightening bolt that descended impossibly straightly from the heavens amid the whirling snow and light the logs on fire. I did not see the four-hundred-year-old vampire boy who did this stumble afterwards, almost falling atop the pups he stood in front of, nor hear him whisper to Matty faintly, "I cannot control all the elements at once. Keep getting wood for the fire. It must be hot," while trying with all his might to keep up the mighty maelstrom of snow that kept the combatants from escaping, or new ones joining from the group of watchers the Volturi had brought.

I did not see Edward, Emmett, and Rosalie tag-teaming against a tall blonde with the hint of olive to her pale skin that Benjamin and the other Egyptians showed. Chelsea I would later learn she was called, and how she fought like an animal once she realized she could not break the bonds of love and brotherhood between the three. I did not see her make the short, scaring cut across Emmett's chest with the diamond-edged switchblades she had secreted in the sleeves of her white tunic – though, as might be expected, neither blade went in all too deeply or cut for any length before getting stuck in his stone skin and both blades, warpped and chipped, fell to the ground. I did not see her make some fatal flaw of positioning that allowed Rose to come from behind and twist and run like a quarterback to the fire with the blonde Volturi's head.

I did not see the after-effects of Chelsea's beheading, not directly. I did not see Felix, the burly fellow holding Irina back, suddenly loose her and stagger as if hit with the broad side of a tree. I did not see how, after a moment where he could not make sense of what was going on around him, he went as if to join a shorter, slighter member of the guard (Demetri, I believe) who was giving Siobhan, Maggie, and Mary a run of their money, and was able to pin Demetri's arms behind him so that the she-leeches could pull hunks of flesh from the guard and throw them into the fire. Nor did I see Hedi, a drop dead blonde of the Nordic persuasion, near fall over from the shock of it, nor, as she struggle back to her feet, grab her arm back from Zafrina and Senna, and reattach it on the run before joining Rose in tearing what remained of Chelsea limb from limb, muttering, "Ni ordvalet, ni var precis som min syster. Hur skulle du göra detta för mig?" as she did so.

I did not see anything. Not Corin, with her power of persuasion, walk Randal and his 'coon hat right into the fire. Not Stefan and Vladimir fighting Caius, or Aro and Marcus going at it. All I knew was... nothing. There was nothing else but the blackness and the coldness and the emptiness. I'd not felt like this since Sam dumped me for Emily – not upset or angry, but just dazed and confused and wanting to do something, but unable to figure out what it was that needed to be done, let alone how to do it. It wasn't a pleasant feeling, or a feeling at all. Like I was just here, a body taking up space with nothing more to recommend it.

I hated it.

I hated it then, I hated it now, and it seemed I'd have to spend the rest of my life hating this dark and empty void that had become my life once more. And this little vampire boy – this mother-fucking, bite-sized, peanut-pinching, blood-drinking son of a bitch – was trying to make me feel that way again? (I could feel the anger rise within me, or try to at least, at just the thought of the titchy bastard.) What right did he to make me feel that empty again? To send me back to that bitter piece of hell that had been my domain for so long that the devils and I had started Tuesday night poker games? Just when I'd finally found my niche as Alpha female? As Jake's wife and mother hen to a handful of werewolves and, God forbid, BFFs with a succubal vampire and precocious human-vampire hybrid? It wasn't right and wasn't fair and damn the world if it wasn't either, but I wanted it to be that way and I'd reshape it if that's what it took for my dreams to come true. A hammer was all I'd need...

I waited, hoping that something would happen. That, perhaps, the mist would move or I'd become numb to its effects. But nothing happened. I was a fool to expect anything that helpful could happen to me.

Well damn it all to hell! If this Alec fellow thought he could break me, he was in for another thing entirely. I was going to live through this, we all were, and the Volturi were going to be destroyed and I'd give birth to twins and we'd find some names for them and some house to raise them in and it'd be some sick '50s sitcom of a life and people would gag at how happy we'd be and all we'd have to worry about is what flavour of daiquiri to have as we sat on First Beach (anything but banana, yuck) and we'd not have to phase unless we wanted to and there'd be no more vampire threat to La Push and we'd be able to go back to the Rez without the stupid rules or worrying about the other pack 'cause there'd be only one and Jake would be the Alpha and I'd be the Alpha female and maybe we'd live longer than we should and maybe we'd seem to be layabouts whose only source of income would have to be some drug cartel 'cause nothing else could explain it, and maybe we'd have to put up with a new vampire court being set up on the Olympic peninsula, but we were going to live through it, damn vampires in general and damn the Volturi in particular and Alec the overgrown toe-wart in specific.

I struggled against the black mist, or, at least, tried to, but I could not move limbs I no longer seemed to have, which made me grow only angrier. I mean, mother of God in track pants, I'd flown halfway around the world and back in a day. I'd lied to and bullied ticket sellers and customs agents, probably ruined the engine on a perfectly good Audi with my terrible abuse of its gas pedal, and had my nerves wrung every which way in the last couple of days. I'd spent the last few months putting up with vampires and living at a rock and stupid werewolf periods and then this whole pregnancy thing that wasn't working quite according to The First Nine Months books and had to deal with Mom wanting to marry Charlie and had learned entirely too much about certain kings of medieval Europe and where they had unfortunate moles or other physical excesses due to inbreeding and I was NOT going to end it all trapped inside some girly mist because some titchy little vampire was angry his sister couldn't torture people properly!

To my surprise, though, I felt my paws actually twitch as I thought this, and then the ground as I collapsed heavily upon it, sound and sights and smells exploding all around me as, staggering to my feet, everything came back into being. It was loud and hurt like hell, and it took me a moment to get my bearings as everything was screaming and burning and hard, but I threw myself back at the annoying boy-pire as soon as I figured out which shapeless blur he was, not daring to pause for fear it mightn't be me to got to rip him to pieces.

Leah, how-?

What-?

When, where, why, who. I snapped, not caring how I escaped the black mist at all at the moment and getting a nice grip on Alec's neck and trying to pry it off with only my teeth. I am going to kill this mother-fucking undead son-of-a-shit-head, and then I'm going to get tractor-trailer and fill it with lead and run his nematode-sucking, ass-pantsing, lice-licking body over, (I managed to rip halfway through his creepy pale white neck), and then do it again, (I shook harder, vaguely annoyed by the half-decapitated head bouncing against my muzzle and his hands trying to get a grip on my snow-slick fur), and again, until I run out of gas. And then I'll burn the pieces until there's nothing but ash, (nearly there), and then, (a-ha! there went the annoying little bastard's overgrown pimple of a head, rolling away), I will jump on the ashes and continue to do so until I get blisters, and then, (I severed through the legs of the battling leeches, caught up with the screeching head, and butted the thing towards the ridiculously hot fire, not pausing for an instant to wonder why a naked Matty and carrying very large logs towards it), I'll find some sumo wrestlers, and they'll jump on them, and she shoots, (I gave a particularly forceful head butt, so that the – ha! - head went soaring into the flames), she scores! And the crowd goes wild!

That's wonderful, Lee, Seth said, trying to rip Alec's arm from his still moving torso, It really is, but do you mind? Quil, Jake, and Embry are still two limbs ahead of us...

We'd be farther if somebody hadn't almost let the itty-bitty bitch go to watch Leah get stuck in some black fog.

Well I'm sor-ry if I wanted to make sure my wife wasn't getting herself killed!

Seth and I each grabbed an arm and pulled, the joints popping out of their sockets a whole lot easier than the guy's head had. We took turns running them to the fire, which burned blue-white in the places limbs had landed, and made unpleasant screaming noises that I decided had turned me off horror and war movies forever. You put all the World War Two movies together and you'd probably have something that lasted longer than the entire war did anyway. And only maybe three were worth watching anyway.

I was trying my best not to, you know, but then I was thinking, 'You know, Leah, you've not done anything idiotic, unreasonable, or irresponsible in a couple of hours...'

Ha! Quil snorted, then groaned as an bolt of pain ran through him and our connection, This is just too creepy. All she is now is a bit of torso and hand, and she still keeps shocking us. I don't like it.

'I do not like green eggs and ham I do not like them Sam I am.'

I imprinted on a toddler, for fuck's sake! Quil yelled, taking what was left of Jane's arm towards the fire. I am not a toddler myself.

Yes, you're just a teenager that happens to like Dr. Seuss.

I dunno, Jake said, following Quil with the last bit of bloody Jane torso and stump of biceps to the fire. It was rather awkward, seeing him do it out of his eyes while I was trying to break her twin into fun-sized bits, made stranger still by the fact he seemed disinclined to actually bite what remained of the vampire (possibly because it was still randomly shocking whoever touched it, and a jolt of electricity to the mouth is never fun) and was holding it by her schoolgirl collar instead. I always thought The Lorax was a hell of a book myself.

The sheer absurdity of it all – discussing children's books while dismembering child-vampires – struck me then, and I let out a bark of laughter from my position at one end of Alec's torso, dragging it into the fire. It made Jake actually look back for a moment to see if I'd gone insane or something. The torso wiggled in his grip, and a small bolt of force-lightening-like light escaped the bleeding end of Jane's wounded arm and hit Matty, however weakly, square in the chest as he raised his arms to toss another tree-sized log into the fire. The log slipped out of his hands and fell heavily, bruising at least one rib, and doing far more harm than the jolt she sent probably had. Jake shook the torso wildly, than threw it into the fire.

Ha! We we win! Embry said, than ran to Matty to make sure he's was alright. But the boy was already getting up, a nasty purple spreading across his chest, but otherwise fine.

I spat out the last bit of of Alec into the fire, gagged at the taste, and looked around. So, Almighty Alpha, who do we fight next? The Cullen children had, with Heidi's help, taken care of Chelsea and moved on to Corin; the others had taken out the girl that had been physically attached to Aro – Renata – quite easily, and Santiago, and were working with Felix on the last fighting member of the guard, a tall but slight man with longish brown hair waving a pair of firebrands at the vampires, in epic rage, mobbed him. And don't think you're going to get out of cleaning the lean-to so easily, Call. I know where you sleep...

Blonde Irina with the golden eyes was standing off to one side, clearly wanting to join her coven but unable to bring herself to do so after seeing the battle her words had wrought.

And then there were Stefan and Vladimir, who looked like they were toying with Caius as they forced him closer and closer to the flames.

The real battle to watch, though, was that of Marcus and Aro. One would kick out, landing a solid blow that the other would accept where a human would have had the wind (and the liver) knocked out them while managing to catch his attacker's arm and flip him over, backwards, so that he pivoted around his extended foot, and would have landed flat on his back if leech reflexes hadn't allowed him to twist around in the air and use his other arm to push the other backwards, pulling his arm safely back to his side.

Strangely, curiously, we watched the battle that was more of a dance, long robes with hanging sleeves obscuring sharp movement into something quite other, circling around and gathering stray bits of leech limbs and sticks to throw into the fire. Embry phased out and helped Matty bring larger pieces, until the fire was so hot the snow had melted for a good twenty feet around it, turning the ground into some sort of mud-ridden sludge.

Have we won? Seth asked.

Nearly... we need to teach you how to fight better, buddy.

I lacked the proper background music for a cool fight scene.

Does anyone else have "Dragula" stuck in their heads?

We all rolled our eyes. Well now we do, I snapped, while Seth started humming da da da dunna da da da dunna da da da dunna da dun-nah!

I sighed. You know that time you ate that lump of charcoal when you were like three? Well, Seth, I'm pretty certain now that it was lead, 'cause you're as mad as a hatter.

The Mad Hatter, Quil said matter-of-factly, had mercury poisoning.

What, Claire make you watch Alice in Wonderland yesterday?

Can we save this argument for a time when we're not watching to Volturi try to kill each other?

Hey, does something seem off to you?

Other than the smell of burning leech-flesh? I mean, what do they do? Bathe in Eau du Barf or something?

No, I mean, doesn't the one that killed his sister like read minds or something?

Yeah, but touch, Seth added, that's what I think Edward said. Why?

'Cause doesn't he look like he's having a seizure or something?

We all looked over, sweating like, well, dogs by the fire. Aro did look a little odd, but he probably didn't like the glint in Marcus's eyes any more than I would have if he was looking that way at me. There was a reason why you didn't kill somebody's wife and lie about it for three thousand years...

I dunno, he looks like he's had a bit too much botox to me.

No, wait, I think... is he wincing every time Marcus touches him?

Why would he be doing that?

Ten guesses what memories Marcus is remembering... and anger is a powerful tool.

Is that how you escaped from the midst? 'Cause Edward said-

I don't give a rhinoceros's flying fuck what the cradle-robbing, dick-sucking, rabbit-killer said – unless its how many STDs he contracted giving Sam blow jobs over the summer.

That's wrong on so many levels, Lee.

Why? My money's on herpes and syphilis, at the very- oh, ol' boy Aro did not seem to take that well.

The white-hat leeches seem to have the last one under control. Should we try to help, er...?

The Romanians? No, I think they've got Caius under control. We could like edge Aro and Marcus towards the fire or something... Besides, the Romanians were freaky. Sure, draining people's blood into barrels and drinking it in sippy cups may keep you from staining your five-hundred-year-old Shakespeare original suit, but it does nothing for ones Karma points and is probably second on the grand grossness scale to the classic Dracula-drink-from-the-throat manoeuvre. And, of course, the idea of Mom and Charlie going full-frontal in my living room. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Oh, great, I said with an eye roll, nevertheless heading circling the fire after Jake, now we get to be sheepdogs too?

We started from a distance, Jake, Seth, Quil, and I kinda hedging the duelling vampires towards the fire, moving in slowly and closely as they fought so they'd have less and less space to manoeuvre unless they wanted to try and get past us. Our hope was that they'd rather not and not realize they were dancing close to the fire until it was far too late, 'cause all of us were quite content to let the leeches fight each other, 'cause if one managed to kill the other, that'd just leave us with the remainder... and I was a little achy from my time in the black mist. I guess nerves weren't meant to be suddenly disconnected from then reconnected to the brain...

Call it what you like, Lee, I'm just happy that you're managed not to get killed.

Not yet, anyway, I amended. 'Sides, it takes more than a vampire with an attitude problem to kill Leah Clearwater, I hope you know.

Leah Black.

Po-ta-to, Pa-tad-o, I yawned. Now that we weren't actively fighting, I was beginning to notice a lot of places that stung where dirt and snow had gotten into now-healing cuts and scratches, and all this healing made me tired. And hungry. I wouldn't say no to a nice potato soup when this is all over.. or peach cobbler... or papaya. I could really go for some papaya right now. I've never had a real papaya, just a papaya-flavoured smoothie at the mall once, when I still went to malls, but a papaya sounds really good...

God, can't pregnancy hormones give it a rest during epic Vampire-Lycan battles?

I-

God, can you save the mushy stuff for when I'm not around?

Quil snorted, If you call that mushy, you're never going to get anywhere with Ruth Huntly.

To do that, he'd first have to ask her out. You know, Seth, if you want any tips-

EWWWWW! Gross! I do not want to hear about anything of the kind from my sister's husband.

I was actually going to suggest going to Emmett. He probably knows about these things.

Oh... Well, you could've said something! Now I'm going to have nightmares for weeks.

Oh, yes, I rolled my eyes in his direction as the space between us and the fire narrowed to about twenty yards, 'cause dismembering vampires isn't scary at all, while the mere thought of your sister-

Grrrrah! Logically, I know what you two do, and I'm copacetic with that, but I do not want to hear about it, think about it, or even have any indication that you are anything other than...

Maid Marian?

You've got to stop watching Disney movies. Switch to Nickelodeon or something every once and a while.

This coming from the guy who just used the word 'copacetic' in a sentence?

Too much time spent around leeches, I said, shaking my head. And then I paused to wonder how the name Marian Black sounded. And then I shook my head even harder and longed for papaya cravings again.

Alas, poor Seth! I knew him well.

I am surrounded by idiots and imbeciles... What do you suppose the jerk-pires are yelling at each other?

"Oh, Aro," Jake said, making his mind-voice high and shrill, effectively talking over Marcus as he yelled something in that unknown language and did something with his arms that almost knocked Aro over, "How can you do this to me? You told me dingos ate my wife!"

Seth, Quil, and I burst into wolfy laughter, which neither Leech Lord noticed as they fought each other, not seeming to realize they were down to only fifty feet between us and the fire. Aro and Marcus make for such boring evil names. I mean, Dark Lord Phil is about the only worse name out there. Haven't these guys ever seen a Star Wars movie or read a book in the last thousand years? They really need to work on their evil branding... if they somehow manage to kill us all before we kill them.

Aro yelled something back, and Quil couldn't help but say (affecting a terrible Italian accent as he did so), "Oh, but Marcus, I love you. I only want us to be together always, like de peanut butter and jelly, no?"

"How many times do I have to tell you, Aro? I do not love you. I can never love again. I am still mourning for my long dead wife... haven't you noticed all the black clothes and the heavy make-up and the goth music?"

"I dought you were just going drough a phase, and you would come to realize in de end dat you were de gay too."

"I am not," Jake said, holding back laughter as he continued to pretend to translate for Marcus, "'the gay.'"

"Neider am I... but we still can-"

"No."

"Predy predy please?"

"Never."

"But-"

"Not if we were the last two people on earth and the choice was between you or coating myself in honey and locking myself in a room with a thousand killer bees."

"Fine den," 'Aro' huffed. "See if I care. I shall simply kill you and moon over our lost love for the next hundred years."

There's something seriously wrong with us, Jake said, breaking character at last.

You're just now figuring that out? I shook my head. Our poor children are going to be brain damaged, I just know it. Combined IQs of twelve, I swear.

Don't say things like that, Lee.

It's your fault, you know, Quil added; you're the one who let him knock you up.

Little brother, people! Little brother. Can't we just corral the vampires like normal wolves, without talking about anyone's sex life?

Or lack thereof?

I agree with Seth here, as much as it pains me to admit. I do not want to hear anything about his, oh, gag me, sex life... okay, I need a toothbrush now... and extra-strength mouth wash...

How about plans for tomorrow?

Tomorrow? I'm planning on sleeping in for the next week. And then a chocolate binge, and some stolen time with Jake, and then maybe another nap. Maybe not in that order.

Isn't Matty's birthday next week?

What's he turning? Seven?

Fourteen, I think.

God, the pups are babies, aren't they?

We'll need a cake.

We'll need to get him a fake license, that's what we need to do. Then we can go bar-crawling in Seattle or something.

There will be no bar-crawling when I cannot drink.

Who said you were invited, Leah?

Who said I wanted to come? But as the only legal person here... I draw the line at fourteen-year-olds going bar-crawling.

Fine then. Embry's is at the end of the month and Seth's in March. We can go drinking then.

Oh, go watch Arthur or something, Ateara.

I-

"You fool," Aro shouted, this time in English, so we knew what he was actually saying. Unbeknownst to us as we were, er, talking amongst ourselves, Edward, Emmett, and Rosalie; Tanya, Kate, Carmen, and Eleazaar; Siobhan, Liam, and Maggie; Zafrina and Senna; Vladimir and Stefan, and Mary had formed another ring behind us – father back, well away from the fire – that effectively blocked the escape for these two dictators of the vampire world. "It's all lies and trickery – just and excuse to get us to fight amongst each other. Si coniungmus, reportamus. Si dividamus, cadeamus sine dubio."

They had ceased fighting, if only for the moment, circling each other inside the rings we'd formed around them. "I am tired of your lies, thuva. Celu Cathua, I will see you dead for this."

"Dead? My dear friend, you have to have been alive long enough to know that all the best gods are dead."

"Divinity? Is that what this is to you? - No, why am I surprised? I've always known you were power-hungry and power-mad; this trip to destroy the gold-eyes is just the latest in your line of schemings: the Yamna destroyed Didyme Flora, we must destroy them; the Hushiur Tivr near destroyed Caius, we must destroy them – tell me, did you send the wolf-men after him, or did you go after him yourself and have Ulisse alter his memories before we rid ourselves of him for his ridiculous obsession with that newborn..."

"Lucia? Or was it Linda?"

For a moment Marcus seemed to consider, than regained his anger twofold. "What does it matter now what her name was? Both are dust so many times over that empires have risen and fallen with their ashes in their bones. You call yourself a god, and maybe you are, but gods too have hells, my fratello prediletto," he spat, stopping his circling so that his back was to us, his face towards Aro and the fire.

"I did what had to be done, mio stupido cognato, to make us strong. You think you would have survived this long if I had not found you? You think you would've been anything without me? You would have wasted your gift flitting from town to town, a vampyrus, a phasma lurking in the shadows, praying to gods you were greater than that the alimenta that you so feared would not destroy you. I taught you how to make best use of your gift! I brought you into my coven, let you lie with my inutilis soror, and how did you repay me? By wanting to sneak off into the night at the hour of my greatest need?"

"Didyme was far from worthless. At least she could make people happy – your name needs but be mentioned and fear and discord are sewn into every heart!"

"Fear is power, and without power-"

"I have heard your speeches, Aro. I have spent a thousand lifetimes listening to your speeches. 'The world itself is the will to power – and nothing else!'" he spat venom at the other's feet, coming slowly forward as Aro stepped slowly back. There was still easily ten, fifteen feet between him and the fire... but he was still moving backwards, and we'd all the time in the world. "You said you wanted revenge on the Yamna, to avenge Didyme and to civilize our people. You wanted revenge on the Hushiur Tivr, to show them that they could not attack one of our own, to make the world safe for our kind – when it was the world that needed to be saved from us!" Marcus was walking faster now, and I imagine that his face was a mask of fury as his long sleeves slowly rose into the air, his stone arms hidden somewhere within. Benjamin was still keeping the snow whirling around us like some strange tornado, and Matty was still getting firewood. Judy and Zac were still with Nessie, with Tia. And Irina was still standing off to the side, not knowing what to do. "You said you wanted to come against the Cullens for violating the ancient law – and yet you had us bring all our guard, gather so many witnesses, and Athenodora and Sulpicia when they've scarcely left Volterra in centuries! You came preparing for war, a so-called god bringing his angels to bear. But the angels are gone, Aro, and I can remember now what I saw so long ago... power is not a means but an end, and one no more fights for peace than one burns for water or breathes to eat, especially you. I just want one thing, Aro..."

Marcus was but two yards from the red-eyed monster who'd started this all, and he but four or five more from the flames. And then, hand snapping out, he grabbed Aro by the throat and jumped the last few feet to hold him above the fire, crackling with the bodies of their dead servants and mates. Aro's hands went immediately to his neck, trying to pry off Marcus's hand, but anger or had made him strong, or maybe he'd always been stronger, I dunno, only that Aro couldn't do it, and it was all he could do to gasp out, "What?"

"I want to hear you scream."

He lowered Aro into the fire, the spots that licked him turning brilliant blue with the heat of it. But, as his arm lowered, Marcus's own long sleeves were caught up in the blaze, climbing quickly up the cloth and cloaking his entire body. He had to have noticed, but maybe the anger had overtaken him so far he'd couldn't feel anything else... I dunno. Only that they were both consumed in the flames, and even the whirlwind of snow died down as everyone watched the last of the Volturi die.

And then there were only ashes and fire. And silence.

Are cheers appropriate? Quil asked as the silence dragged on, the pack and the leeches that had fought on our side and the witnesses that hadn't that remained all watching as the fire consumed what should've died before Aeneas ever set foot on Italy, or whatever the truth of the past was.

I think they're in shock.

Wouldn't you be, realizing the government that ran your species for the last three thousand years is dead and overthrown?

Who's in charge now? Of the vampires, I mean? Does it go to the Romanians, since they're the oldest?

I wouldn't trust them ruling anything. They're insane, and, what little they aren't is just creepy.

The Cullens then?

I dunno.

I guess they're going to have to figure it out.

Fight it out, you mean.

No, figure it out... the witnesses that the Cullens gathered get along well enough, and whoever they want can be put in charge.

You think they'll vote on it?

Sometimes the threat of violence gets more across than actual violence.

'Kay then, but who would they want in charge? They made Zafrina their unofficial spokeswoman.

She can't wait to get back to South America and be in the "proper" woods there. She'd never want to be bothered with ruling.

Not the Egyptians, then, certainly. Not after Amun and Kebi ran out on us.

Siobhan?

Maybe.

Maybe it will be the Cullens then. The Cullens and the Denalis...

I hate politics, I said decisively. We fought the bad guys and we won. I say we party – and no pub-crawls.

Pubs? What is this, England?

Oh get over yourself, Ateara.

Let's at least get inside – my fur's all wet.

You're such a girl, Seth.

Well forgive me if I don't want to be covered in melted snow and vampire ooze.

We headed inside, Judy and Zack and Matty and Nessie too, and luckily vampire ooze and snow came off a lot easier human than wolf, and we were able to get dressed and raid the kitchen before the first of the vampires came trickling in – Benjamin, being largely supported by Tia. "Doing so much with the elements all at once always tires him. We will rest for a while, and then decide if we want to find Amun and Kebi."

"All the fun's here, Tee. Amun would hardly ever let us out of his sight again after this if we went back."

"Well, hopefully the fun is done here for a while."

"You kidding? It's just getting started... but we'll think about it. Hey, wolf-boy," all the pack but me turned from the food we'd found (thank God Esme is back! Hallelujah!), and I turned to see what they were all looking at. "You okay? I saw the log hit you..."

We all turned towards Matty, whose bruise was already yellowing. "Er... I feel a little off, but we heal really quickly."

"Well," I added, just having to say something, "everything but the hole in Seth's head."

Seth, leaning back in his chair so that it teetered on two legs, punched me in the leg (the only part of me he could reach from my perch on the sparkling counter). "Just 'cause you're my sister doesn't mean you get to me so mean all the time."

"Yes I do: it's in my contract, right between 'find hilarious baby pictures to share with potential girlfriends' and-"

"I hate you," he said, slamming his chair back down and leaning across the table to steal a bag of chips from Embry. I felt almost giddy enough to call him cute when he was angry, so happy was I that we weren't dead... I'd not been expecting this. We couldn't just make it out of this alive, could we?

"I was eating those, man – and don't try to to fool us. We all know 'I hate you' is Clearwater-speak for 'I love you to fucking pieces,' so don't try and act all manly on us now."

"Me and Leah took down Alec!"

"From what I saw, it was mostly Leah trying to keep you from getting your ass handed to you."

"Whose ass where?" Kate asked, coming through the door and pulling Garrett along after her.

"Seth's," I answered, "to himself."

"Well that'd be a perfectly awful waste of a przystojne zwierzęand his ass – don't look at me like that. You said I could look, so long as I didn't touch. 'Sides, one day I'm going to get you to let me watch-"

"Oh, go fuck a hamster already. Can't you see we're trying to eat here?"

"Fate of the vampire world being decided outside their doors, and the wolves want to eat. I tell you Garrett, what kind of sense does that make?" And then Kate jumped onto the counter beside me.

"None at all," he told her instead of doing something helpful like, I dunno, gagging her.

"God, you two are going to be worse than Twettle-Dead and Twettle-Deader out there, aren't you?"

"Yep – but only until you choose a china pattern."

I rolled my eyes and hopped off the counter, grabbing a bag of Oreos off the table. I was about to say something – I don't know what, something about china probably – when Matty suddenly went very, very pale. "Guys, who turned off the heat?" he said before a mouthful of red, red blood came sputtering out of pale lips.

Judy, sitting next to her brother, screamed and jumped out of her chair. Everyone else seemed ready to panic – but the bruises were healing! - and then Jake shouted, "Quil, get Carlisle," as he swept all the food off the table and, with Seth's help, pulled Matty, still coughing onto it.

I pulled Judy of the way, as she just stood there, watching her big brother spit up blood, and pushed her into Kate's arms. "Take the Guardian and get Mr. Mora."

"But-"

"We'll deal with the treaty later. Judy will show you the way."

"I want to stay-!"

"We'll run to the border and get the La Push pack to bring him. She can stay."

"Fine!" I shouted, and Judy ran back to her brother's side, grabbing a hand, looking almost as pale and shocked as he. "No," she was mumbling, I saw, "this can't be happening," but she was too far across the room now...

It only too a moment for Carlisle and Nurse Edward to come pouring through the door at superhuman speed. And then all of a sudden words like "pulmonary lacerations" and "haemopneumothorax" and they were saying that they needed to get him upstairs, to Carlisle's hospital equipment, and I didn't know what was going on, only that Matty was coughing up blood and nobody would tell me why and he was supposed to heal – it'd only been a little bruise and a little shock, nothing bad – the rest of us had gotten tonnes of scratches and cuts and were covered in dried blood but otherwise already healed – and he was not even fourteen yet, and there was a stream of vampires entering the house and we Edward and Seth were trying to carry Matty upstairs without hurting him further and the rest of the pack was following, Judy nearly tripping Seth up as she followed so close, and then there was a moment of sheer panic as Edward shouted to Carlisle, "His lung's collapsed," while they were on the stairs and though they tried and stuck a needle through his chest and could hear "breath sounds" and then...

And then...

"It doesn't sound right..."

"...air embolism..."

"...need to..."

"...surgery..."

"...hurry..."

"...flat-lining..."

"...get the paddles..."

"...charging..."

"...again!"

And then there was no sound as they unplugged their machines.

This couldn't have happened... He'd just been sitting with us a minute ago – he hadn't even fought the Volturi – we tried our best to keep him from harm... But now Carlisle was staring at me with sad eyes, about ready to tell us Matthew Mora was dead, and-

There was the sound of the door being pulled open, and then footsteps on the stairs before it had even slammed back into place. "Carlisle! Edward!" it was little Alice's voice, so high pitched and full of hope, "We found one! Another hybrid! His name's Nahuel... Oh, I hope we're not too late."

Continue in "The Mythical Creature's Guide to Manners and Decorum"