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27. TRAVEL PLANS i took mythology a lot more seriously since I'd become a vampire. Often, when I looked back over my first three months as an immortal, I imagined how the thread of my life might look in the Fates' loom 覧who knew but that it actually existed? I was sure my thread must have changed color; I thought it had probably started out as a nice beige, something supportive and non-confrontational, something that would look good in the background. Now it felt like it must be bright crimson, or maybe glistening gold. The tapestry of family and friends that wove together around me was a beautiful, glowing thing, full of their bright, complementary colors. I was surprised by some of the threads I got to include in my life. The werewolves, with their deep, woodsy colors, were not something I'd expected; Jacob, of course, and Seth, too. But my old friends Quil and Embry became part of the fabric as they joined Jacob's pack, and even Sam and Emily were cordial. The tensions between our families eased, mostly due to Renesmee. She was easy to love. Sue and Leah Clearwater were interlaced into our life, too 覧two more I had not anticipated. Sue seemed to have taken it on herself to smooth Charlie's transition into the world of make-believe. She came with him to the Cullens' most days, though she never seemed truly comfortable here the way her son and most of Jake's pack did. She did not speak often; she just hovered protectively near Charlie. She was always the first person he looked to when Renesmee did something disturbingly advanced 覧which was often. In answer, Sue would eye Seth meaningfully as if to say, Yeah, tell me about it. Leah was even less comfortable than Sue and was the only part of our recently extended family who was openly hostile to the merger. However, she and Jacob had a new camaraderie that kept her close to us all. I asked him about it once 覧hesitantly; I didn't want to pry, but the relationship was so different from the way it used to be that it made me curious. He shrugged and told me it was a pack thing. She was his second-in-command now, his "beta," as I'd called it once long ago. "I figured as long as I was going to do this Alpha thing for real," Jacob explained, "I'd better nail down the formalities." The new responsibility made Leah feel the need to check in with him often, and since he was always with Renesmee... Leah was not happy to be near us, but she was the exception. Happiness was the main component in my life now, the dominant pattern in the tapestry. So much so that my relationship with Jasper was now much closer than I'd ever dreamed it would be. At first I was really annoyed, though. "Yeesh!" I complained to Edward one night after we'd put Renesmee in her wrought-iron crib. "If I haven't killed Charlie or Sue yet, it's probably not going to happen. I wish Jasper would stop hovering all the time!" "No one doubts you, Bella, not in the slightest," he assured me. "You know how Jasper is 覧he can't resist a good emotional climate. You're so happy all the time, love, he gravitates toward you without thinking." And then Edward hugged me tightly, because nothing pleased him more than my overwhelming ecstasy in this new life. And I was euphoric the vast majority of the time. The days were not long enough for me to get my fill of adoring my daughter; the nights did not have enough hours to satisfy my need for Edward. There was a flipside to the joy, though. If you turned the fabric of our lives over, I imagined the design on the backside would be woven in the bleak grays of doubt and fear. Renesmee spoke her first word when she was exactly one week old. The word was Momma, which would have made my day, except that I was so frightened by her progress I could barely force my frozen face to smile back at her. It didn't help that she continued from her first word to her first sentence in the same breath. "Momma, where is Grandpa?" she'd asked in a clear, high soprano, only bothering to speak aloud because I was across the room from her. She'd already asked Rosalie, using her normal (or seriously abnormal, from another point of view) means of communication. Rosalie hadn't known the answer, so Renesmee had turned to me. When she walked for the first time, fewer than three weeks later, it was similar. She'd simply stared at Alice for a long moment, watching intently as her aunt arranged bouquets in the vases scattered around the room, dancing back and forth across the floor with her arms full of flowers. Renesmee got to her feet, not in the least bit shaky, and crossed the floor almost as gracefully. Jacob had burst into applause, because that was clearly the response Renesmee wanted. The way he was tied to her made his own reactions secondary; his first reflex was always to give Renesmee whatever she needed. But our eyes met, and I saw all the panic in mine echoed in his. I made my hands clap together, too, trying to hide my fear from her. Edward applauded quietly at my side, and we didn't need to speak our thoughts to know they were the same. Edward and Carlisle threw themselves into research, looking for any answers, anything to expect. There was very little to be found, and none of it verifiable. Alice and Rosalie usually began our day with a fashion show. Renesmee never wore the same clothes twice, partly because she outgrew her clothes almost immediately and partly because Alice and Rosalie were trying to create a baby album that appeared to span years rather than weeks. They took thousands of pictures, documenting every phase of her accelerated childhood. At three months, Renesmee could have been a big one-year-old, or a small two-year-old. She wasn't shaped exactly like a toddler; she was leaner and more graceful, her proportions were more even, like an adult's. Her bronze ringlets hung to her waist; I couldn't bear to cut them, even if Alice would have allowed it. Renesmee could speak with flawless grammar and articulation, but she rarely bothered, preferring to simply show people what she wanted. She could not only walk but run and dance. She could even read. I'd been reading Tennyson to her one night, because the flow and rhythm of his poetry seemed restful. (I had to search constantly for new material; Renesmee didn't like repetition in her bedtime stories as other children supposedly did, and she had no patience for picture books.) She reached up to touch my cheek, the image in her mind one of us, only with her holding the book. I gave it to her, smiling. " There is sweet music here,'" she read without hesitation, "'that softer falls than petals from blown roses on the grass, or night-dews on still waters between walls of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass 覧'" My hand was robotic as I took the book back. "If you read, how will you fall asleep?" I asked in a voice that had barely escaped shaking. By Carlisle's calculations, the growth of her body was gradually slowing; her mind continued to race on ahead. Even if the rate of decrease held steady, she'd still be an adult in no more than four years. Four years. And an old woman by fifteen. Just fifteen years of life. But she was so healthy. Vital, bright, glowing, and happy. Her conspicuous well-being made it easy for me to be happy with her in the moment and leave the future for tomorrow. Carlisle and Edward discussed our options for the future from every angle in low voices that I tried not to hear. They never had these discussions when Jacob was around, because there was one sure way to halt aging, and that wasn't something Jacob was likely to be excited about. I wasn't. Too dangerous! my instincts screamed at me. Jacob and Renesmee seemed alike in so many ways, both half-and-half beings, two things at the same time. And all the werewolf lore insisted that vampire venom was a death sentence rather than a course to immortality___ Carlisle and Edward had exhausted the research they could do from a distance, and now we were preparing to follow old legends at their source. We were going back to Brazil, starting there. The Ticunas had legends about children like Renesmee.... If other children like her had ever existed, perhaps some tale of the life span of half-mortal children still lingered___ The only real question left was exactly when we would go. I was the holdup. A small part of it was that I wanted to stay near Forks until after the holidays, for Charlie's sake. But more than that, there was a different journey that I knew had to come first 覧that was the clear priority. Also, it had to be a solo trip. This was the only argument that Edward and I had gotten in since I'd become a vampire. The main point of contention was the "solo" part. But the facts were what they were, and my plan was the only one that made rational sense. I had to go see the Volturi, and I had to do it absolutely alone. Even freed from old nightmares, from any dreams at all, it was impossible to forget the Volturi. Nor did they leave us without reminders. Until the day that Aro's present showed up, i didn't know that Alice had sent a wedding announcement to the Volturi leaders; we'd been far away on Esme's island when she'd seen a vision of Volturi soldiers 憂ane and Alec, the devastatingly powerful twins, among them. Caius was planning to send a hunting party to see if I was still human, against their edict (because I knew about the secret vampire world, I either must join it or be silenced... permanently). So Alice had mailed the announcement, seeing that this would delay them as they deciphered the meaning behind it. But they would come eventually. That was certain. The present itself was not overtly threatening. Extravagant, yes, almost frightening in that very extravagance. The threat was in the parting line of Aro's congratulatory note, written in black ink on a square of heavy, plain white paper in Aro's own hand: I so look forward to seeing the new Mrs. Cullen in person. The gift was presented in an ornately carved, ancient wooden box inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl, ornamented with a rainbow of gemstones. Alice said the box itself was a priceless treasure, that it would have outshone just about any piece of jewelry besides the one inside it. "I always wondered where the crown jewels disappeared to after John of England pawned them in the thirteenth century," Carlisle said. "I suppose it doesn't surprise me that the Volturi have their share." The necklace was simple 覧gold woven into a thick rope of a chain, almost scaled, like a smooth snake that would curl close around the throat. One jewel hung suspended from the rope; a white diamond the size of a golf ball. The unsubtle reminder in Aro's note interested me more than the jewel. The Volturi needed to see that I was immortal, that the Cullens had been obedient to the Volturi's orders, and they needed to see this soon. They could not be allowed near Forks. There was only one way to keep our life here safe. "You're not going alone," Edward had insisted through his teeth, his hands clenching into fists. "They won't hurt me," I'd said as soothingly as I could manage, forcing my voice to sound sure. "They have no reason to. I'm a vampire. Case closed." "No. Absolutely no." "Edward, it's the only way to protect her." And he hadn't been able to argue with that. My logic was watertight. Even in the short time I'd known Aro, I'd been able to see that he was a collector 覧and his most prized treasures were his living pieces. He coveted beauty, talent, and rarity in his immortal followers more than any jewel locked in his vaults. It was unfortunate enough that he'd begun to covet Alice's and Edward's abilities. I would give him no more reason to be jealous of Carlisle's family. Renesmee was beautiful and gifted and unique蓉耀he was one of a kind. He could not be allowed to see her, not even through someone's thoughts. And I was the only one whose thoughts he could not hear. Of course I would go alone. Alice did not see any trouble with my trip, but she was worried by the indistinct quality of her visions. She said they were sometimes similarly hazy when there were outside decisions that might conflict but that had not been solidly resolved. This uncertainty made Edward, already hesitant, extremely opposed to what I had to do. He wanted to come with me as far as my connection in London, but I wouldn't leave Renesmee without both her parents. Carlisle was coming instead. It made both Edward and me a little more relaxed, knowing that Carlisle would be only a few hours away from me. Alice kept searching for the future, but the things she found were unrelated to what she was looking for. A new trend in the stock market; a possible visit of reconciliation from Irina, though her decision was not firm; a snowstorm that wouldn't hit for another six weeks; a call from Renee (I was practicing my "rough" voice, and getting better at it every day 2葉o Renee's knowledge, I was still sick, but mending). We bought the tickets for Italy the day after Renesmee turned three months. I planned for it to be a very short trip, so I hadn't told Charlie about it. Jacob knew, and he took Edward's view on things. However, today the argument was about Brazil. Jacob was determined to come with us. The three of us, Jacob, Renesmee, and I, were hunting together. The diet of animal blood wasn't Renesmee's favorite thing 覧and that was why Jacob was allowed to come along. Jacob had made it a contest between them, and that made her more willing than anything else. Renesmee was quite clear on the whole good vs. bad as it applied to hunting humans; she just thought that donated blood made a nice compromise. Human food filled her and it seemed compatible with her system, but she reacted to all varieties of solid food with the same martyred endurance I had once given cauliflower and lima beans. Animal blood was better than that, at least. She had a competitive nature, and the challenge of beating Jacob made her excited to hunt. "Jacob," I said, trying to reason with him again while Renesmee danced ahead of us into the long clearing, searching for a scent she liked. "You've got obligations here. Seth, Leah 覧" He snorted. "I'm not my pack's nanny. They've all got responsibilities in La Push anyway." "Sort of like you? Are you officially dropping out of high school, then? If you're going to keep up with Renesmee, you're going to have to study a lot harder." "It's just a sabbatical. I'll get back to school when things... slow down." I lost my concentration on my side of the disagreement when he said that, and we both automatically looked at Renesmee. She was staring at the snowflakes fluttering high above her head, melting before they could stick to the yellowed grass in the long arrowhead-shaped meadow that we were standing in. Her ruffled ivory dress was just a shade darker than the snow, and her reddish-brown curls managed to shimmer, though the sun was buried deeply behind the clouds. As we watched, she crouched for an instant and then sprang fifteen feet up into the air. Her little hands closed around a flake, and she dropped lightly to her feet. She turned to us with her shocking smile 2葉ruly, it wasn't something you could get used to2預nd opened her hands to show us the perfectly formed eight-pointed ice star in her palm before it melted. "Pretty," Jacob called to her appreciatively. "But I think you're stalling, Nessie." She bounded back to Jacob; he held his arms out at exactly the moment she leaped into them. They had the move perfectly synchronized. She did this when she had something to say. She still preferred not to speak aloud. Renesmee touched his face, scowling adorably as we all listened to the sound of a small herd of elk moving farther into the wood. "Suuuure you're not thirsty, Nessie," Jacob answered a little sarcastically, but more indulgently than anything else. "You're just afraid HI catch the biggest one again!" She flipped backward out of Jacob's arms, landing lightly on her feet, and rolled her eyes 覧she looked so much like Edward when she did that. Then she darted off toward the trees. "Got it," Jacob said when I leaned as if to follow. He yanked his t-shirt off as he charged after her into the forest, already trembling. "It doesn't count if you cheat," he called to Renesmee. I smiled at the leaves they left fluttering behind them, shaking my head. Jacob was more a child than Renesmee sometimes. I paused, giving my hunters a few minutes' head start. It would be beyond simple to track them, and Renesmee would love to surprise me with the size of her prey. I smiled again. The narrow meadow was very still, very empty. The fluttering snow was thinning above me, almost gone. Alice had seen that it wouldn't stick for many weeks. Usually Edward and I came together on these hunting trips. But Edward was with Carlisle today, planning the trip to Rio, talking behind Jacob's back.... I frowned. When I returned, I would take Jacob's side. He should come with us. He had as big a stake in this as any of us 2揺is entire life was at stake, just like mine. While my thoughts were lost in the near future, my eyes swept the mountainside routinely, searching for prey, searching for danger. I didn't think about it; the urge was an automatic thing. Or perhaps there was a reason for my scanning, some tiny trigger that my razor-sharp senses had caught before I realized it consciously. As my eyes flitted across the edge of a distant cliff, standing out starkly blue-gray against the green-black forest, a glint of silver 覧or was it gold?覧gripped my attention. My gaze zeroed in on the color that shouldn't have been there, so far away in the haze that an eagle wouldn't have been able to make it out. I stared. She stared back. That she was a vampire was obvious. Her skin was marble white, the texture a million times smoother than human skin. Even under the clouds, she glistened ever so slightly. If her skin had not given her away, her stillness would have. Only vampires and statues could be so perfectly motionless. Her hair was pale, pale blond, almost silver. This was the gleam that had caught my eye. It hung straight as a ruler to a blunt edge at her chin, parted evenly down the center. She was a stranger to me. I was absolutely certain I'd never seen her before, even as a human. None of the faces in my muddy memory were the same as this one. But I knew her at once from her dark golden eyes. Irina had decided to come after all. For one moment I stared at her, and she stared back. I wondered if she would guess immediately who I was as well. I half-raised my hand, about to wave, but her lip twisted the tiniest bit, making her face suddenly hostile. I heard Renesmee's cry of victory from the forest, heard Jacob's echoing howl, and saw Irina's face jerk reflexively to the sound when it echoed to her a few seconds later. Her gaze cut slightly to the right, and I knew what she was seeing. An enormous russet werewolf, perhaps the very one who had killed her Laurent. How long had she been watching us? Long enough to see our affectionate exchange before, I was sure. Her face spasmed in pain. Instinctually, I opened my hands in front of me in an apologetic gesture. She turned back to me, and her lip curled back over her teeth. Her jaw unlocked as she growled. When the faint sound reached me, she had already turned and disappeared into the forest. "Crap!" I groaned. I sprinted into the forest after Renesmee and Jacob, unwilling to have them out of my sight. I didn't know which direction Irina had taken, or exactly how furious she was right now. Vengeance was a common obsession for vampires, one that was not easy to suppress. Running at full speed, it only took me two seconds to reach them. "Mine is bigger," I heard Renesmee insist as I burst through the thick thornbushes to the small open space where they stood. Jacob's ears flattened as he took in my expression; he crouched forward, baring his teeth 擁揺is muzzle was streaked with blood from his kill. His eyes raked the forest. I could hear the growl building in his throat. Renesmee was every bit as alert as Jacob. Abandoning the dead stag at her feet, she leaped into my waiting arms, pressing her curious hands against my cheeks. "I'm overreacting," I assured them quickly. "It's okay, I think. Hold on." I pulled out my cell phone and hit the speed dial. Edward answered on the first ring. Jacob and Renesmee listened intently to my side as I filled Edward in. "Come, bring Carlisle," I trilled so fast I wondered if Jacob could keep up. "I saw Irina, and she saw me, but then she saw Jacob and she got mad and ran away, I think. She hasn't shown up here 覧yet, anyway覧but she looked pretty upset so maybe she will. If she doesn't, you and Carlisle have to go after her and talk to her. I feel so bad." Jacob rumbled. "We'll be there in half a minute," Edward assured me, and I could hear the whoosh of the wind his running made. We darted back to the long meadow and then waited silently as Jacob and I listened carefully for the sound of an approach we did not recognize. When the sound came, though, it was very familiar. And then Edward was at my side, Carlisle a few seconds behind. I was surprised to hear the heavy pad of big paws following behind Carlisle. I supposed I shouldn't have been shocked. With Renesmee in even a hint of danger, of course Jacob would call in reinforcements. "She was up on that ridge," I told them at once, pointing out the spot. If Irina was fleeing, she already had quite a head start. Would she stop and listen to Carlisle? Her expression before made me think not. "Maybe you should call Emmett and Jasper and have them come with you. She looked... really upset. She growled at me." "What?" Edward said angrily. Carlisle put a hand on his arm. "She's grieving. HI go after her." Tm coming with you," Edward insisted. They exchanged a long glance 覧perhaps Carlisle was measuring Edward's irritation with Irina against his helpfulness as a mind reader. Finally, Carlisle nodded, and they took off to find the trail without calling for Jasper or Emmett. Jacob huffed impatiently and poked my back with his nose. He must want Renesmee back at the safety of the house, just in case. I agreed with him on that, and we hurried home with Seth and Leah running at our flanks. Renesmee was complacent in my arms, one hand still resting on my face. Since the hunting trip had been aborted, she would just have to make do with donated blood. Her thoughts were a little smug.

28. THE FUTURE Carlisle and Edward had not been able to catch up with Irina before her trail disappeared into the sound. They'd swum to the other bank to see if her trail had picked up in a straight line, but there was no trace of her for miles in either direction on the eastern shore. It was all my fault. She had come, as Alice had seen, to make peace with the Cullens, only to be angered by my camaraderie with Jacob. I wished I'd noticed her earlier, before Jacob had phased. I wished we'd gone hunting somewhere else. There wasn't much to be done. Carlisle had called Tanya with the disappointing news. Tanya and Kate hadn't seen Irina since they'd decided to come to my wedding, and they were distraught that Irina had come so close and yet not returned home; it wasn't easy for them to lose their sister, however temporary the separation might be. I wondered if this brought back hard memories of losing their mother so many centuries ago. Alice was able to catch a few glimpses of Irina's immediate future, nothing too concrete. She wasn't going back to Denali, as far as Alice could tell. The picture was hazy. All Alice could see was that Irina was visibly upset; she wandered in the snow-swathed wilderness 覧to the north? To the east?覧with a devastated expression. She made no decisions for a new course beyond her directionless grieving. Days passed and, though of course I forgot nothing, Irina and her pain moved to the back of my mind. There were more important things to think of now. I would leave for Italy in just a few days. When I got back, we'd all be off to South America. Every detail had been gone over a hundred times already. We would start with the Ticunas, tracing their legends as well as we could at the source. Now that it was accepted that Jacob would come with us, he figured prominently in the plans 覧it was unlikely that the people who believed in vampires would speak to any of us about their stories. If we dead-ended with the Ticunas, there were many closely related tribes in the area to research. Carlisle had some old friends in the Amazon; if we could find them, they might have information for us, too. Or at least a suggestion as to where else we might go for answers. It was unlikely that the three Amazon vampires had anything to do with the legends of vampire hybrids themselves, as they were all female. There was no way to know how long our search would take. I hadn't told Charlie about the longer trip yet, and I stewed about what to say to him while Edward and Carlisle's discussion went on. How to break the news to him just right? I stared at Renesmee while I debated internally. She was curled up on the sofa now, her breathing slow with heavy sleep, her tangled curls splayed wildly around her face. Usually, Edward and I took her back to our cottage to put her to bed, but tonight we lingered with the family, he and Carlisle deep in their planning session. Meanwhile, Emmett and Jasper were more excited about planning the hunting possibilities. The Amazon offered a change from our normal quarry. Jaguars and panthers, for example. Emmett had a whim to wrestle with an anaconda. Esme and Rosalie were planning what they would pack. Jacob was off with Sam's pack, setting things up for his own absence. Alice moved slowly 擁庸or her2預round the big room, unnecessarily tidying the already immaculate space, straightening Esme's perfectly hung garlands. She was re-centering Esme's vases on the console at the moment. I could see from the way her face fluctuated覧aware, then blank, then aware again2葉hat she was searching the future. I assumed she was trying to see through the blind spots that Jacob and Renesmee made in her visions as to what was waiting for us in South America until Jasper said, "Let it go, Alice; she's not our concern," and a cloud of serenity stole silently and invisibly through the room. Alice must have been worrying about Irina again. She stuck her tongue out at Jasper and then lifted one crystal vase that was filled with white and red roses and turned toward the kitchen. There was just the barest hint of wilt to one of the white flowers, but Alice seemed intent on utter perfection as a distraction to her lack of vision tonight. Staring at Renesmee again, I didn't see it when the vase slipped from Alice's fingers. I only heard the whoosh of the air whistling past the crystal, and my eyes flickered up in time to see the vase shatter into ten thousand diamond shards against the edge of the kitchen's marble floor. We were perfectly still as the fragmented crystal bounced and skittered in every direction with an unmusical tinkling, all eyes on Alice's back. My first illogical thought was that Alice was playing some joke on us. Because there was no way that Alice could have dropped the vase by accident I could have darted across the room to catch the vase in plenty of time myself, if I hadn't assumed she would get it. And how would it fall through her fingers in the first place? Her perfectly sure fingers... I had never seen a vampire drop anything by accident. Ever. And then Alice was facing us, twisting in a move so fast it didn't exist. Her eyes were halfway here and halfway locked on the future, wide, staring, filling her thin face till they seemed to overflow it. Looking into her eyes was like looking out of a grave from the inside; I was buried in the terror and despair and agony of her gaze. I heard Edward gasp; it was a broken, half-choked sound. "What?" Jasper growled, leaping to her side in a blurred rush of movement, crushing the broken crystal under his feet. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her sharply. She seemed to rattle silently in his hands. "What Alice?" Emmett moved into my peripheral vision, his teeth bared while his eyes darted toward the window, anticipating an attack. There was only silence from Esme, Carlisle, and Rose, who were frozen just as I was. Jasper shook Alice again. "What is it?" "They're coming for us," Alice and Edward whispered together, perfectly synchronized. "All of them." Silence. For once, I was the quickest to understand 蓉傭ecause something in their words triggered my own vision. It was only the distant memory of a dream庸庸aint, transparent, indistinct as if I were peering through thick gauze.... In my head, I saw a line of black advancing on me, the ghost of my half-forgotten human nightmare. I could not see the glint of their ruby eyes in the shrouded image, or the shine of their sharp wet teeth, but I knew where the gleam should be.... Stronger than the memory of the sight came the memory of the feel 覧 the wrenching need to protect the precious thing behind me. I wanted to snatch Renesmee up into my arms, to hide her behind my skin and hair, to make her invisible. But I couldn't even turn to look at her. I felt not like stone but ice. For the first time since I'd been reborn a vampire, I felt cold. I barely heard the confirmation of my fears. I didn't need it. I already knew. "The Volturi," Alice moaned. "All of them," Edward groaned at the same time. "Why?" Alice whispered to herself. "How?" "When?" Edward whispered. "Why?" Esme echoed. "When?" Jasper repeated in a voice like splintering ice. Alice's eyes didn't blink, but it was as if a veil covered them; they became perfectly blank. Only her mouth held on to her expression of horror. "Not long," she and Edward said together. Then she spoke alone. "There's snow on the forest, snow on the town. Little more than a month." "Why?" Carlisle was the one to ask this time. Esme answered. "They must have a reason. Maybe to see ..." "This isn't about Bella," Alice said hollowly. "They're all coming 4輸ro, Caius, Marcus, every member of the guard, even the wives." "The wives never leave the tower," Jasper contradicted her in a flat voice. "Never. Not during the southern rebellion. Not when the Romanians tried to overthrow them. Not even when they were hunting the immortal children. Never." "They're coming now," Edward whispered. "But why?" Carlisle said again. "We've done nothing! And if we had, what could we possibly do that would bring f/?/sdown on us?" "There are so many of us," Edward answered dully. "They must want to make sure that..." He didn't finish. "That doesn't answer the crucial question! Why?" I felt I knew the answer to Carlisle's question, and yet at the same time I didn't. Renesmee was the reason why, I was sure. Somehow I'd known from the very beginning that they would come for her. My subconscious had warned me before I'd known I was carrying her. It felt oddly expected now. As if I'd somehow always known that the Volturi would come to take my happiness from me. But that still didn't answer the question. "Go back, Alice," Jasper pleaded. "Look for the trigger. Search." Alice shook her head slowly, her shoulders sagging. "It came out of nowhere, Jazz. I wasn't looking for them, or even for us. I was just looking for Irina. She wasn't where I expected her to be...." Alice trailed off, her eyes drifting again. She stared at nothing for a long second. And then her head jerked up, her eyes hard as flint. I heard Edward catch his breath. "She decided to go to them," Alice said. "Irina decided to go to the Volturi. And then they will decide.... It's as if they're waiting for her. Like their decision was already made, and just waiting on her___" It was silent again as we digested this. What would Irina tell the Volturi that would result in Alice's appalling vision? "Can we stop her?" Jasper asked. "There's no way. She's almost there." "What is she doing?" Carlisle was asking, but I wasn't paying attention to the discussion now. All my focus was on the picture that was painstakingly coming together in my head. I pictured Irina poised on the cliff, watching. What had she seen? A vampire and a werewolf who were best friends. I'd been focused on that image, one that would obviously explain her reaction. But that was not all that she'd seen. She'd also seen a child. An exquisitely beautiful child, showing off in the falling snow, clearly more than human... Irina... the orphaned sisters... Carlisle had said that losing their mother to the Volturi's justice had made Tanya, Kate, and Irina purists when it came to the law. Just half a minute ago, Jasper had said the words himself: Not even when they were hunting the immortal children.... The immortal children 覧the unmentionable bane, the appalling taboo... With Irina's past, how could she apply any other reading to what she'd seen that day in the narrow field? She had not been close enough to hear Renesmee's heart, to feel the heat radiating from her body. Renesmee's rosy cheeks could have been a trick on our part for all she knew. After all, the Cullens were in league with werewolves. From Irina's point of view, maybe this meant nothing was beyond us.... Irina, wringing her hands in the snowy wilderness 2溶ot mourning Laurent, after all, but knowing it was her duty to turn the Cullens in, knowing what would happen to them if she did. Apparently her conscience had won out over the centuries of friendship. And the Volturi's response to this kind of infraction was so automatic, it was already decided. I turned and draped myself over Renesmee's sleeping body, covering her with my hair, burying my face in her curls. "Think of what she saw that afternoon," I said in a low voice, interrupting whatever Emmett was beginning to say. "To someone who'd lost a mother because of the immortal children, what would Renesmee look like?" Everything was silent again as the others caught up to where I was already. "An immortal child," Carlisle whispered. I felt Edward kneel beside me, wrap his arms over us both. "But she's wrong," I went on. "Renesmee isn't like those other children. They were frozen, but she grows so much every day. They were out of control, but she never hurts Charlie or Sue or even shows them things that would upset them. She can control herself. She's already smarter than most adults. There would be no reason___" I babbled on, waiting for someone to exhale with relief, waiting for the icy tension in the room to relax as they realized I was right. The room just seemed to get colder. Eventually my small voice trailed off into silence. No one spoke for a long time. Then Edward whispered into my hair. "It's not the kind of crime they hold a trial for, love," he said quietly. "Aro's seen Irina's proof in her thoughts. They come to destroy, not to be reasoned with." "But they're wrong," I said stubbornly. "They won't wait for us to show them that." His voice was still quiet, gentle, velvet... and yet the pain and desolation in the sound was unavoidable. His voice was like Alice's eyes before 蓉様ike the inside of a tomb. "What can we do?" I demanded. Renesmee was so warm and perfect in my arms, dreaming peacefully. I'd worried so much about Renesmee's speeding age 覧worried that she would only have little over a decade of life.... That terror seemed ironic now. Little over a month... Was this the limit, then? I'd had more happiness than most people ever experienced. Was there some natural law that demanded equal shares of happiness and misery in the world? Was my joy overthrowing the balance? Was four months all I could have? It was Emmett who answered my rhetorical question. "We fight," he said calmly. "We can't win," Jasper growled. I could imagine how his face would look, how his body would curve protectively over Alice's. "Well, we can't run. Not with Demetri around." Emmett made a disgusted noise, and I knew instinctively that he was not upset by the idea of the Volturi's tracker but by the idea of running away. "And I don't know that we can't win," he said. "There are a few options to consider. We don't have to fight alone." My head snapped up at that. "We don't have to sentence the Quileutes to death, either, Emmett!" "Chill, Bella." His expression was no different from when he was contemplating fighting anacondas. Even the threat of annihilation couldn't change Emmett's perspective, his ability to thrill to a challenge. "I didn't mean the pack. Be realistic, though 覧do you think Jacob or Sam is going to ignore an invasion? Even if it wasn't about Nessie? Not to mention that, thanks to Irina, Aro knows about our alliance with the pack now, too. But I was thinking of our other friends." Carlisle echoed me in a whisper. "Other friends we don't have to sentence to death." "Hey, we'll let them decide," Emmett said in a placating tone. "I'm not saying they have to fight with us." I could see the plan refining itself in his head as he spoke. "If they'd just stand beside us, just long enough to make the Volturi hesitate. Bella's right, after all. If we could force them to stop and listen. Though that might take away any reason for a fight___" There was a hint of a smile on Emmett's face now. I was surprised no one had hit him yet. I wanted to. "Yes," Esme said eagerly. "That makes sense, Emmett. All we need is for the Volturi to pause for one moment. Just long enough to listen* "We'd need quite a show of witnesses," Rosalie said harshly, her voice brittle as glass. Esme nodded in agreement, as if she hadn't heard the sarcasm in Rosalie's tone. "We can ask that much of our friends. Just to witness." "We'd do it for them," Emmett said. "We'll have to ask them just right," Alice murmured. I looked to see her eyes were a dark void again. "They'll have to be shown very carefully." "Shown?"Jasper asked. Alice and Edward both looked down at Renesmee. Then Alice's eyes glazed over. "Tanya's family," she said. "Siobhan's coven. Amun's. Some of the nomads 覧Garrett and Mary for certain. Maybe Alistair." "What about Peter and Charlotte?" Jasper asked half fearfully, as if he hoped the answer was no, and his old brother could be spared from the coming carnage. "Maybe." "The Amazons?" Carlisle asked. "Kachiri, Zafrina, and Senna?" Alice seemed too deep into her vision to answer at first; finally she shuddered, and her eyes flickered back to the present. She met Carlisle's gaze for the tiniest part of a second, and then looked down. "I can't see." "What was that?" Edward asked, his whisper a demand. "That part in the jungle. Are we going to look for them?" "I can't see," Alice repeated, not meeting his eyes. A flash of confusion crossed Edward's face. "We'll have to split up and hurry 2傭efore the snow sticks to the ground. We have to round up whomever we can and get them here to show them." She zoned again. "Ask Eleazar. There is more to this than just an immortal child." The silence was ominous for another long moment while Alice was in her trance. She blinked slowly when it was over, her eyes peculiarly opaque despite the fact that she was clearly in the present. "There is so much. We have to hurry," she whispered. "Alice?" Edward asked. "That was too fast 蓉悠 didn't understand. What was覧?" "I can't see!" she exploded back at him. "Jacob's almost here!" Rosalie took a step toward the front door. "I'll deal with 蓉" "No, let him come," Alice said quickly, her voice straining higher with each word. She grabbed Jasper's hand and began pulling him toward the back door. "I'll see better away from Nessie, too. I need to go. I need to really concentrate. I need to see everything I can. I have to go. Come on, Jasper, there's no time to waste!" We all could hear Jacob on the stairs. Alice yanked, impatient, on Jasper's hand. He followed quickly, confusion in his eyes just like Edward's. They darted out the door into the silver night. "Hurry!" she called back to us. "You have to find them all!" "Find what?" Jacob asked, shutting the front door behind himself. "Where'd Alice go?" No one answered; we all just stared. Jacob shook the wet from his hair and pulled his arms through the sleeves of his t-shirt, his eyes on Renesmee. "Hey, Bells! I thought you guys would've gone home by now___" He looked up to me finally, blinked, and then stared. I watched his expression as the room's atmosphere finally touched him. He glanced down, eyes wide, at the wet spot on the floor, the scattered roses, the fragments of crystal. His fingers quivered. "What?" he asked flatly. "What happened?" I couldn't think where to begin. No one else found the words, either. Jacob crossed the room in three long strides and dropped to his knees beside Renesmee and me. I could feel the heat shaking off his body as tremors rolled down his arms to his shaking hands. "Is she okay?" he demanded, touching her forehead, tilting his head as he listened to her heart. "Don't mess with me, Bella, please!" "Nothing's wrong with Renesmee," I choked out, the words breaking in strange places. "Then who?" "All of us, Jacob," I whispered. And it was there in my voice, too 2葉he sound of the inside of a grave. "It's over. We've all been sentenced to die."

29. DEFECTION We sat there all night long, statues of horror and grief, and Alice never came back. We were all at our limits 覧frenzied into absolute stillness. Carlisle had barely been able to move his lips to explain it all to Jacob. The retelling seemed to make it worse; even Emmett stood silent and still from then on. It wasn't until the sun rose and I knew that Renesmee would soon be stirring under my hands that I wondered for the first time what could possibly be taking Alice so long. I'd hoped to know more before I was faced with my daughter's curiosity. To have some answers. Some tiny, tiny portion of hope so that I could smile and keep the truth from terrifying her, too. My face felt permanently set into the fixed mask it had worn all night. I wasn't sure I had the ability to smile anymore. Jacob was snoring in the corner, a mountain of fur on the floor, twitching anxiously in his sleep. Sam knew everything 蓉葉he wolves were readying themselves for what was coming. Not that this preparation would do anything but get them killed with the rest of my family. The sunlight broke through the back windows, sparkling on Edward's skin. My eyes had not moved from his since Alice's departure. We'd stared at each other all night, staring at what neither of us could live through losing: the other. I saw my reflection glimmer in his agonized eyes as the sun touched my own skin. His eyebrows moved an infinitesimal bit, then his lips. "Alice," he said. The sound of his voice was like ice cracking as it melted. All of us fractured a little, softened a little. Moved again. "She's been gone a long time," Rosalie murmured, surprised. "Where could she be?" Emmett wondered, taking a step toward the door. Esme put a hand on her arm. "We don't want to disturb ..." "She's never taken so long before," Edward said. New worry splintered the mask his face had become. His features were alive again, his eyes suddenly wide with fresh fear, extra panic. "Carlisle, you don't think 覧something preemptive? Would Alice have had time to see if they sent someone for her?" Aro's translucent-skinned face filled my head. Aro, who had seen into all the corners of Alice's mind, who knew everything she was capable of 蓉 Emmett cussed loud enough that Jacob lurched to his feet with a growl. In the yard, his growl was echoed by his pack. My family was already a blur of action. "Stay with Renesmee!" I all but shrieked at Jacob as I sprinted through the door. I was still stronger than the rest of them, and I used that strength to push myself forward. I overtook Esme in a few bounds, and Rosalie in just a few strides more. I raced through the thick forest until I was right behind Edward and Carlisle. "Would they have been able to surprise her?" Carlisle asked, his voice as even as if he were standing motionless rather than running at full speed. "I don't see how," Edward answered. "But Aro knows her better than anyone else. Better than I do." "Is this a trap?" Emmett called from behind us. "Maybe," Edward said. "There's no scent but Alice and Jasper. Where were they going?" Alice and Jasper's trail was curling into a wide arc; it stretched first east of the house, but headed north on the other side of the river, and then back west again after a few miles. We recrossed the river, all six jumping within a second of each other. Edward ran in the lead, his concentration total. "Did you catch that scent?" Esme called ahead a few moments after we'd leaped the river for the second time. She was the farthest back, on the far left edge of our hunting party. She gestured to the southeast. "Keep to the main trail 蓉謡e're almost to the Quileute border," Edward ordered tersely. "Stay together. See if they turned north or south." I was not as familiar with the treaty line as the rest of them, but I could smell the hint of wolf in the breeze blowing from the east. Edward and Carlisle slowed a little out of habit, and I could see their heads sweep from side to side, waiting for the trail to turn. Then the wolf smell was suddenly stronger, and Edward's head snapped up. He came to a sudden stop. The rest of us froze, too. "Sam?" Edward asked in a flat voice. "What is this?" Sam came through the trees a few hundred yards away, walking quickly toward us in his human form, flanked by two big wolves 2猶aul and Jared. It took Sam a while to reach us; his human pace made me impatient. I didn't want time to think about what was happening. I wanted to be in motion, to be doing something. I wanted to have my arms around Alice, to know beyond a doubt that she was safe. I watched Edward's face go absolutely white as he read what Sam was thinking. Sam ignored him, looking straight at Carlisle as he stopped walking and began to speak. "Right after midnight, Alice and Jasper came to this place and asked permission to cross our land to the ocean. I granted them that and escorted them to the coast myself. They went immediately into the water and did not return. As we journeyed, Alice told me it was of the utmost importance that I say nothing to Jacob about seeing her until I spoke to you. I was to wait here for you to come looking for her and then give you this note. She told me to obey her as if all our lives depended on it." Sam's face was grim as he held out a folded sheet of paper, printed all over with small black text. It was a page out of a book; my sharp eyes read the printed words as Carlisle unfolded it to see the other side. The side facing me was the copyright page from The Merchant of Venice. A hint of my own scent blew off of it as Carlisle shook the paper flat. I realized it was a page torn from one of my books. I'd brought a few things from Charlie's house to the cottage; a few sets of normal clothes, all the letters from my mother, and my favorite books. My tattered collection of Shakespeare paperbacks had been on the bookshelf in the cottage's little living room yesterday morning.... "Alice has decided to leave us," Carlisle whispered. "What?" Rosalie cried. Carlisle turned the page around so that we all could read. Don't look for us. There isn't time to waste. Remember; Tanya, Siobhan, Amun, Alistair, all the nomads you can find. We'll seek out Peter and Charlotte on our way. We're so sorry that we have to leave you this way, with no goodbyes or explanations. It's the only way for us. We love you. We stood frozen again, the silence total but for the sound of the wolves' heartbeats, their breathing. Their thoughts must have been loud, too. Edward was first to move again, speaking in response to what he heard in Sam's head. "Yes, things are that dangerous." "Enough that you would abandon your family?" Sam asked out loud, censure in his tone. It was clear that he had not read the note before giving it to Carlisle. He was upset now, looking as if he regretted listening to Alice. Edward's expression was stiff 覧to Sam it probably looked angry or arrogant, but I could see the shape of pain in the hard planes of his face. "We don't know what she saw," Edward said. "Alice is neither unfeeling nor a coward. She just has more information than we do." "We would not 覧," Sam began. "You are bound differently than we are," Edward snapped. "1/1/e each still have our free will." Sam's chin jerked up, and his eyes looked suddenly flat black. "But you should heed the warning," Edward went on. "This is not something you want to involve yourselves in. You can still avoid what Alice saw." Sam smiled grimly. "We don't run away." Behind him, Paul snorted. "Don't get your family slaughtered for pride," Carlisle interjected quietly. Sam looked at Carlisle with a softer expression. "As Edward pointed out, we don't have the same kind of freedom that you have. Renesmee is as much as part of our family now as she is yours. Jacob cannot abandon her, and we cannot abandon him." His eyes flickered to Alice's note, and his lips pressed into a thin line. "You don't know her," Edward said. "Do you?" Sam asked bluntly. Carlisle put a hand on Edward's shoulder. "We have much to do, son. Whatever Alice's decision, we would be foolish not to follow her advice now. Let's go home and get to work." Edward nodded, his face still rigid with pain. Behind me, I could hear Esme's quiet, tearless sobs. I didn't know how to cry in this body; I couldn't do anything but stare. There was no feeling yet. Everything seemed unreal, like I was dreaming again after all these months. Having a nightmare. "Thank you, Sam," Carlisle said. "I'm sorry," Sam answered. "We shouldn't have let her through." "You did the right thing," Carlisle told him. "Alice is free to do what she will. I wouldn't deny her that liberty." I'd always thought of the Cullens as a whole, an indivisible unit. Suddenly, I remembered that it had not always been so. Carlisle had created Edward, Esme, Rosalie and Emmett; Edward had created me. We were physically linked by blood and venom. I never thought of Alice and Jasper as separate 2預s adopted into the family. But in truth, Alice had adopted the Cullens. She had shown up with her unconnected past, bringing Jasper with his, and fit herself into the family that was already there. Both she and Jasper had known another life outside the Cullen family. Had she really chosen to lead another new life after she'd seen that life with the Cullens was over? We were doomed, then, weren't we? There was no hope at all. Not one ray, one flicker that might have convinced Alice she had a chance at our side. The bright morning air seemed thicker suddenly, blacker, as if physically darkened by my despair. "I'm not going down without a fight," Emmett snarled low under his breath. "Alice told us what to do. Let's get it done." The others nodded with determined expressions, and I realized that they were banking on whatever chance Alice had given us. That they were not going to give in to hopelessness and wait to die. Yes, we all would fight. What else was there? And apparently we would involve others, because Alice had said so before she'd left us. How could we not follow Alice's last warning? The wolves, too, would fight with us for Renesmee. We would fight, they would fight, and we all would die. I didn't feel the same resolve the others seemed to feel. Alice knew the odds. She was giving us the only chance she could see, but the chance was too slim for her to bet on it. I felt already beaten as I turned my back on Sam's critical face and followed Carlisle toward home. We ran automatically now, not the same panicked hurry as before. As we neared the river, Esme's head lifted. "There was that other trail. It was fresh." She nodded forward, toward where she had called Edward's attention on the way here. While we were racing to save Alice... "It has to be from earlier in the day. It was just Alice, without Jasper," Edward said lifelessly. Esme's face puckered, and she nodded. I drifted to the right, falling a little behind. I was sure Edward was right, but at the same time... After all, how had Alice's note ended up on a page from my book? "Bella?" Edward asked in an emotionless voice as I hesitated. "I want to follow the trail," I told him, smelling the light scent of Alice that led away from her earlier flight path, i was new to this, but it smelled exactly the same to me, just minus the scent of Jasper. Edward's golden eyes were empty. "It probably just leads back to the house." "Then I'll meet you there." At first I thought he would let me go alone, but then, as I moved a few steps away, his blank eyes flickered to life. "I'll come with you," he said quietly. "Well meet you at home, Carlisle." Carlisle nodded, and the others left. I waited until they were out of sight, and then I looked at Edward questioningly. "I couldn't let you walk away from me," he explained in a low voice. "It hurt just to imagine it." I understood without more explanation than that. I thought of being divided from him now and realized I would have felt the same pain, no matter how short the separation. There was so little time left to be together. I held my hand out to him, and he took it. "Let's hurry," he said. "Renesmee will be awake." I nodded, and we were running again. It was probably a silly thing, to waste the time away from Renesmee just for curiosity's sake. But the note bothered me. Alice could have carved the note into a boulder or tree trunk if she lacked writing utensils. She could have stolen a pad of Post-its from any of the houses by the highway. Why my book? When did she get it? Sure enough, the trail led back to the cottage by a circuitous route that stayed far clear of the Cullens' house and the wolves in the nearby woods. Edward's brows tightened in confusion as it became obvious where the trail led. He tried to reason it out. "She left Jasper to wait for her and came here?" We were almost to the cottage now, and I felt uneasy. I was glad to have Edward's hand in mine, but I also felt as if I should be here alone. Tearing out the page and carrying it back to Jasper was such an odd thing for Alice to do. It felt like there was a message in her action 蓉熔ne I didn't understand at all. But it was my book, so the message must be for me. If it were something she wanted Edward to know, wouldn't she have pulled a page from one of his books... ? "Give me just a minute," I said, pulling my hand free as we got to the door. His forehead creased. "Bella?" "Please? Thirty seconds." I didn't wait for him to answer. I darted through the door, pulling it shut behind me. I went straight to the bookshelf. Alice's scent was fresh 覧less than a day old. A fire that I had not set burned low but hot in the fireplace. I yanked The Merchant of Venice off the shelf and flipped it open to the title page. There, next to the feathered edge left by the torn page, under the words The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, was a note. Destroy this. Below that was a name and an address in Seattle. When Edward came through the door after only thirteen seconds rather than thirty, I was watching the book burn. "What's going on, Bella?" "She was here. She ripped a page out of my book to write her note on." "Why?" "I don't know why." "Why are you burning it?" "I 2悠覧" I frowned, letting all my frustration and pain show on my face. I did not know what Alice was trying to tell me, only that she'd gone to great lengths to keep it from anyone but me. The one person whose mind Edward could not read. So she must want to keep him in the dark, and it was probably for a good reason. "It seemed appropriate." "We don't know what she's doing," he said quietly. I stared into the flames. I was the only person in the world who could lie to Edward. Was that what Alice wanted from me? Her last request? "When we were on the plane to Italy," I whispered 覧this was not a lie, except perhaps in context覧"on our way to rescue you... she lied to Jasper so that he wouldn't come after us. She knew that if he faced the Volturi, he would die. She was willing to die herself rather than put him in danger. Willing for me to die, too. Willing for you to die." Edward didn't answer. "She has her priorities," I said. It made my still heart ache to realize that my explanation did not feel like a lie in any way. "I don't believe it," Edward said. He didn't say it like he was arguing with me 2揺e said it like he was arguing with himself. "Maybe it was just Jasper in danger. Her plan would work for the rest of us, but he'd be lost if he stayed. Maybe..." "She could have told us that. Sent him away." "But would Jasper have gone? Maybe she's lying to him again." "Maybe," I pretended to agree. "We should go home. There's no time." Edward took my hand, and we ran. Alice's note did not make me hopeful. If there were any way to avoid the coming slaughter, Alice would have stayed. I couldn't see another possibility. So it was something else she was giving me. Not a way to escape. But what else would she think that I wanted? Maybe a way to salvage something? Was there anything I could still save? Carlisle and the others had not been idle in our absence. We'd been separated from them for all of five minutes, and they were already prepared to leave. In the corner, Jacob was human again, with Renesmee on his lap, both of them watching us with wide eyes. Rosalie had traded her silk wrap dress for a sturdy-looking pair of jeans, running shoes, and a button-down shirt made of the thick weave that backpackers used for long trips. Esme was dressed similarly. There was a globe on the coffee table, but they were done looking at it, just waiting for us. The atmosphere was more positive now than before; it felt good to them to be in action. Their hopes were pinned on Alice's instructions. I looked at the globe and wondered where we were headed first. "We're to stay here?" Edward asked, looking at Carlisle. He didn't sound happy. "Alice said that we would have to show people Renesmee, and we would have to be careful about it," Carlisle said. "We'll send whomever we can find back here to you 蓉勇dward, you'll be the best at fielding that particular minefield." Edward gave one sharp nod, still not happy. "There's a lot of ground to cover." "We're splitting up," Emmett answered. "Rose and I are hunting for nomads." "You'll have your hands full here," Carlisle said. "Tanya's family will be here in the morning, and they have no idea why. First, you have to persuade them not to react the way Irina did. Second, you've got to find out what Alice meant about Eleazar. Then, after all that, will they stay to witness for us? It will start again as the others come 覧if we can persuade anyone to come in the first place." Carlisle sighed. "Your job may well be the hardest. We'll be back to help as soon as we can." Carlisle put his hand on Edward's shoulder for a second and then kissed my forehead. Esme hugged us both, and Emmett punched us both on the arm. Rosalie forced a hard smile for Edward and me, blew a kiss to Renesmee, and then gave Jacob a parting grimace. "Good luck," Edward told them. "And to you," Carlisle said. "We'll all need it." I watched them leave, wishing I could feel whatever hope bolstered them, and wishing I could be alone with the computer for just a few seconds. I had to figure out who this J. Jenks person was and why Alice had gone to such lengths to give his name to only me. Renesmee twisted in Jacob's arms to touch his cheek. "I don't know if Carlisle's friends will come. I hope so. Sounds like we're a little outnumbered right now," Jacob murmured to Renesmee. So she knew. Renesmee already understood only too clearly what was going on. The whole imprinted-werewolf-gives-the-object-of-his-imprinting-whatever-she-wants thing was getting old pretty fast. Wasn't shielding her more important than answering her questions? I looked carefully at her face. She did not look frightened, only anxious and very serious as she conversed with Jacob in her silent way. "No, we can't help; we've got to stay here," he went on. "People are coming to see you, not the scenery." Renesmee frowned at him. "No, I don't have to go anywhere," he said to her. Then he looked at Edward, his face stunned by the realization that he might be wrong. "Do I?" Edward hesitated. "Spit it out," Jacob said, his voice raw with tension. He was right at his breaking point, just like the rest of us. "The vampires who are coming to help us are not the same as we are," Edward said. "Tanya's family is the only one besides ours with a reverence for human life, and even they don't think much of werewolves. I think it might be safer 覧" "I can take care of myself," Jacob interrupted. "Safer for Renesmee," Edward continued, "if the choice to believe our story about her is not tainted by an association with werewolves." "Some friends. They'd turn on you just because of who you hang out with now?" "I think they would mostly be tolerant under normal circumstances. But you need to understand 覧accepting Nessie will not be a simple thing for any of them. Why make it even the slightest bit harder?" Carlisle had explained the laws about immortal children to Jacob last night. "The immortal children were really that bad?" he asked. "You can't imagine the depth of the scars they've left in the collective vampire psyche." "Edward ..." It was still odd to hear Jacob use Edward's name without bitterness. "I know, Jake. I know how hard it is to be away from her. We'll play it by ear 覧 see how they react to her. In any case, Nessie is going to have to be incognito off and on in the next few weeks. She'll need to stay at the cottage until the right moment for us to introduce her. As long as you keep a safe distance from the main house ..." "I can do that. Company in the morning, huh?" "Yes. The closest of our friends. In this particular case, it's probably better if we get things out in the open as soon as possible. You can stay here. Tanya knows about you. She's even met Seth." "You should tell Sam what's going on. There might be strangers in the woods soon." "Good point. Though I owe him some silence after last night." "Listening to Alice is usually the right thing." Jacob's teeth ground together, and I could see that he shared Sam's feelings about what Alice and Jasper had done. While they were talking, I wandered toward the back windows, trying to look distracted and anxious. Not a difficult thing to do. I leaned my head against the wall that curved away from the living room toward the dining room, right next to one of the computer desks. I ran my fingers against the keys while staring into the forest, trying to make it look like an absentminded thing. Did vampires ever do things absentmindedly? I didn't think anyone was paying particular attention to me, but I didn't turn to make sure. The monitor glowed to life. I stroked my fingers across the keys again. Then I drummed them very quietly on the wooden desktop, just to make it seem random. Another stroke across the keys. I scanned the screen in my peripheral vision. No J. Jenks, but there was a Jason Jenks. A lawyer. I brushed the keyboard, trying to keep a rhythm, like the preoccupied stroking of a cat you'd all but forgotten on your lap. Jason Jenks had a fancy website for his firm, but the address on the homepage was wrong. In Seattle, but in a different zip code. I noted the phone number and then stroked the keyboard in rhythm. This time I searched the address, but nothing at all came up, as if the address didn't exist. I wanted to look at a map, but I decided I was pushing my luck. One more brush, to delete the history___ I continued staring out the window and brushed the wood a few times. I heard light footsteps crossing the floor to me, and I turned with what I hoped was the same expression as before. Renesmee reached for me, and I held my arms open. She launched herself into them, smelling strongly of werewolf, and nestled her head against my neck. I didn't know if I could stand this. As much as I feared for my life, for Edward's, for the rest of my family's, it was not the same as the gut-wrenching terror I felt for my daughter. There had to be a way to save her, even if that was the only thing I could do. Suddenly, I knew that this was all I wanted anymore. The rest I would bear if I had to, but not her life being forfeited. Not that. She was the one thing I simply had to save. Would Alice have known how I would feel? Renesmee's hand touched my cheek lightly. She showed me my own face, Edward's, Jacob's, Rosalie's, Esme's, Carlisle's, Alice's, Jasper's, flipping through all our family's faces faster and faster. Seth and Leah. Charlie, Sue, and Billy. Over and over again. Worrying, like the rest of us were. She was only worrying, though. Jake had kept the worst from her as far as I could tell. The part about how we had no hope, how we all were going to die in a month's time. She settled on Alice's face, longing and confused. Where was Alice? "I don't know," I whispered. "But she's Alice. She's doing the right thing, like always." The right thing for Alice, anyway. I hated thinking of her that way, but how else could the situation be understood? Renesmee sighed, and the longing intensified. "I miss her, too." I felt my face working, trying to find the expression that went with the grief inside. My eyes felt strange and dry; they blinked against the uncomfortable feeling. I bit my lip. When I took my next breath, the air hitched in my throat, like I was choking on it. Renesmee pulled back to look at me, and I saw my face mirrored in her thoughts and in her eyes. I looked like Esme had this morning. So this was what it felt like to cry. Renesmee's eyes glistened wetly as she watched my face. She stroked my face, showing me nothing, just trying to soothe me. I'd never thought to see the mother-daughter bond reversed between us, the way it had always been for Renee and me. But I hadn't had a very clear view of the future. A tear welled up on the edge of Renesmee's eye. I wiped it away with a kiss. She touched her eye in amazement and then looked at the wetness on her fingertip. "Don't cry," I told her. "It's going to be okay. You're going to be fine. I will find you a way through this." If there was nothing else I could do, I would still save my Renesmee. I was more positive than ever that this was what Alice would give me. She would know. She would have left me a way.

30. IRRESISTIBLE There was so much to think about. How was I going to find time alone to hunt down J. Jenks, and why did Alice want me to know about him? If Alice's clue had nothing to do with Renesmee, what could I do to save my daughter? How were Edward and I going to explain things to Tanya's family in the morning? What if they reacted like Irina? What if it turned into a fight? I didn't know how to fight. How was I going to learn in just a month? Was there any chance at all that I could be taught fast enough that I might be a danger to any one member of the Volturi? Or was I doomed to be totally useless? Just another easily dispatched newborn? So many answers I needed, but I did not get the chance to ask my questions. Wanting some normality for Renesmee, I'd insisted on taking her home to our cottage at bedtime. Jacob was more comfortable in his wolf form at the moment; the stress was easier dealt with when he felt ready for a fight. I wished that I could feel the same, could feel ready. He ran in the woods, on guard again. After she was deeply under, I put Renesmee in her bed and then went to the front room to ask my questions of Edward. The ones I was able to ask, at any rate; one of the most difficult of problems was the idea of trying to hide anything from him, even with the advantage of my silent thoughts. He stood with his back to me, staring into the fire. "Edward, I 覧" He spun and was across the room in what seemed like no time at all, not even the smallest part of a second. I only had time to register the ferocious expression on his face before his lips were crushing against mine and his arms were locked around me like steel girders. I didn't think of my questions again for the rest of that night. It didn't take long for me to grasp the reason for his mood, and even less time to feel exactly the same way. I'd been planning on needing years just to somewhat organize the overwhelming passion I felt for him physically. And then centuries after that to enjoy it. if we had only a month left together... Well, I didn't see how I could stand to have this end. For the moment I couldn't help but be selfish. All I wanted was to love him as much as possible in the limited time given to me. It was hard to pull myself away from him when the sun came up, but we had our job to do, a job that might be more difficult than all the rest of our family's searches put together. As soon as I let myself think of what was coming, i was all tension; it felt like my nerves were being stretched on a rack, thinner and thinner. "I wish there was a way to get the information we need from Eleazar before we tell them about Nessie," Edward muttered as we hurriedly dressed in the huge closet that was more reminder of Alice than I wanted at the moment. "Just in case." "But he wouldn't understand the question to answer it," I agreed. "Do you think they'll let us explain?" "I don't know." I pulled Renesmee, still sleeping, from her bed and held her close so that her curls were pressed against my face; her sweet scent, so close, overpowered every other smell. I couldn't waste one second of time today. There were answers I needed, and wasn't sure how much time Edward and I would have alone today. If all went well with Tanya's family, hopefully we would have company for an extended period. "Edward, will you teach me how to fight?" I asked him, tensed for his reaction, as he held the door for me. It was what I expected. He froze, and then his eyes swept over me with a deep significance, like he was looking at me for the first or last time. His eyes lingered on our daughter sleeping in my arms. "If it comes to a fight, there won't be much any of us can do," he hedged. I kept my voice even. "Would you leave me unable to defend myself?" He swallowed convulsively, and the door shuddered, hinges protesting, as his hand tightened. Then he nodded. "When you put it that way... I suppose we should get to work as soon as we can." I nodded, too, and we started toward the big house. We didn't hurry. I wondered what I could do that would have any hope of making a difference. I was a tiny bit special, in my own way 蓉擁f a having a supematurally thick skull could really be considered special. Was there any use that I could put that toward? "What would you say their biggest advantage is? Do they even have a weakness?" Edward didn't have to ask to know I meant the Volturi. "Alec and Jane are their greatest offense," he said emotionlessly, like we were talking of a basketball team. "Their defensive players rarely see any real action." "Because Jane can burn you where you stand 覧mentally at least. What does Alec do? Didn't you once say he was even more dangerous than Jane?" "Yes. In a way, he is the antidote to Jane. She makes you feel the worst pain imaginable. Alec, on the other hand, makes you feel nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sometimes, when the Volturi are feeling kind, they have Alec anesthetize someone before he is executed. If he has surrendered or pleased them in some other way." "Anesthetic? But how is that more dangerous than Jane?" "Because he cuts off your senses altogether. No pain, but also no sight or sound or smell. Total sensory deprivation. You are utterly alone in the blackness. You don't even feel it when they burn you." I shivered. Was this the best we could hope for? To not see or feel death when it came? "That would make him only equally as dangerous as Jane," Edward went on in the same detached voice, "in that they both can incapacitate you, make you into a helpless target. The difference between them is like the difference between Aro and me. Aro hears the mind of only one person at a time. Jane can only hurt the one object of her focus. I can hear everyone at the same time." I felt cold as I saw where he was going. "And Alec can incapacitate us all at the same time?" I whispered. "Yes," he said. "If he uses his gift against us, we will all stand blind and deaf until they get around to killing us 庸洋aybe they'll simply burn us without bothering to tear us apart first. Oh, we could try to fight, but we'll be more likely to hurt one another than we would be to hurt one of them." We walked in silence for a few seconds. An idea was shaping itself in my head. Not very promising, but better than nothing. "Do you think Alec is a very good fighter?" I asked. "Aside from what he can do, I mean. If he had to fight without his gift. I wonder if he's ever even tried___" Edward glanced at me sharply. "What are you thinking?" I looked straight ahead. "Well, he probably can't do that to me, can he? If what he does is like Aro and Jane and you. Maybe... if he's never really had to defend himself... and I learned a few tricks 2" "He's been with the Volturi for centuries," Edward cut me off, his voice abruptly panicked. He was probably seeing the same image in his head that I was: the Cullens standing helpless, senseless pillars on the killing field 覧all but me. I'd be the only one who could fight. "Yes, you're surely immune to his power, but you are still a newborn, Bella. I can't make you that strong a fighter in a few weeks. I'm sure he's had training." "Maybe, maybe not. It's the one thing I can do that no one else can. Even if I can just distract him for a while 覧" Could I last long enough to give the others a chance? "Please, Bella," Edward said through his teeth. "Let's not talk about this." "Be reasonable." "I will try to teach you what I can, but please don't make me think about you sacrificing yourself as a diversion 2" He choked, and didn't finish. I nodded. I would keep my plans to myself, then. First Alec and then, if I was miraculously lucky enough to win, Jane. If I could only even things out 覧remove the Volturi's overwhelming offensive advantage. Maybe then there was a chance.... My mind raced ahead. What if I was able to distract or even take them out? Honestly, why would either Jane or Alec ever have needed to learn battle skills? I couldn't imagine petulant little Jane surrendering her advantage, even to learn. If I was able to kill them, what a difference that would make. "I have to learn everything. As much as you can possibly cram into my head in the next month," I murmured. He acted as if I hadn't spoken. Who next, then? I might as well have my plans in order so that, if I did live past attacking Alec, there would be no hesitation in my strike. I tried to think of another situation where my thick skull would give me an advantage. I didn't know enough about what the others did. Obviously, fighters like the huge Felix were beyond me. I could only try to give Emmett his fair fight there. I didn't know much about the rest of the Volturi guard, besides Demetri___ My face was perfectly smooth as I considered Demetri. Without a doubt, he would be a fighter. There was no other way he could have survived so long, always at the spear point of any attack. And he must always lead, because he was their tracker 覧the best tracker in the world, no doubt. If there had been one better, the Volturi would have traded up. Aro didn't surround himself with second best. If Demetri didn't exist, then we could run. Whoever was left of us, in any case. My daughter, warm in my arms... Someone could run with her. Jacob or Rosalie, whoever was left. And... if Demetri didn't exist, then Alice and Jasper could be safe forever. Is that what Alice had seen? That part of our family could continue? The two of them, at the very least. Could I begrudge her that? "Demetri...," I said. "Demetri is mine," Edward said in a hard, tight voice. I looked at him quickly and saw that his expression had turned violent. "Why?" I whispered. He didn't answer at first. We were to the river when he finally murmured, "For Alice. It's the only thanks I can give her now for the last fifty years." So his thoughts were in line with mine. I heard Jacob's heavy paws thudding against the frozen ground. In seconds, he was pacing beside me, his dark eyes focused on Renesmee. I nodded to him once, then returned to my questions. There was so little time. "Edward, why do you think Alice told us to ask Eleazar about the Volturi? Has he been in Italy recently or something? What could he know?" "Eleazar knows everything when it comes to the Volturi. I forgot you didn't know. He used to be one of them." I hissed involuntarily. Jacob growled beside me. "What?" I demanded, in my head picturing the beautiful dark-haired man at our wedding wrapped in a long, ashy cloak. Edward's face was softer now 覧he smiled a little. "Eleazar is a very gentle person. He wasn't entirely happy with the Volturi, but he respected the law and its need to be upheld. He felt he was working toward the greater good. He doesn't regret his time with them. But when he found Carmen, he found his place in this world. They are very similar people, both very compassionate for vampires." He smiled again. "They met Tanya and her sisters, and they never looked back. They are well suited to this lifestyle. If they'd never found Tanya, I imagine they would have eventually discovered a way to live without human blood on their own." The pictures in my head were jarring. I couldn't make them match up. A compassionate Volturi soldier? Edward glanced at Jacob and answered a silent question. "No, he wasn't one of their warriors, so to speak. He had a gift they found convenient." Jacob must have asked the obvious follow-up question. "He has an instinctive feel for the gifts of others 覧the extra abilities that some vampires have," Edward told him. "He could give Aro a general idea of what any given vampire was capable of just by being in proximity with him or her. This was helpful when the Volturi went into battle. He could warn them if someone in the opposing coven had a skill that might give them some trouble. That was rare; it takes quite a skill to even inconvenience the Volturi for a moment. More often, the warning would give Aro the chance to save someone who might be useful to him. Eleazar's gift works even with humans, to an extent. He has to really concentrate with humans, though, because the latent ability is so nebulous. Aro would have him test the people who wanted to join, to see if they had any potential. Aro was sorry to see him go." "They let him go?" I asked. "Just like that?" His smile was darker now, a little twisted. 'The Volturi aren't supposed to be the villains, the way they seem to you. They are the foundation of our peace and civilization. Each member of the guard chooses to serve them. It's quite prestigious; they all are proud to be there, not forced to be there." I scowled at the ground. "They're only alleged to be heinous and evil by the criminals, Bella." "We're not criminals." Jacob huffed in agreement. "They don't know that." "Do you really think we can make them stop and listen?" Edward hesitated just the tiniest moment and then shrugged. "If we find enough friends to stand beside us. Maybe." If. I suddenly felt the urgency of what we had before us today. Edward and I both started to move faster, breaking into a run. Jacob caught up quickly. "Tanya shouldn't be too much longer," Edward said. "We need to be ready." How to be ready, though? We arranged and rearranged, thought and rethought. Renesmee in full view? Or hidden at first? Jacob in the room? Or outside? He'd told his pack to stay close but invisible. Should he do the same? In the end, Renesmee, Jacob 擁擁n his human form again2預nd I waited around the corner from the front door in the dining room, sitting at the big polished table. Jacob let me hold Renesmee; he wanted space in case he had to phase quickly. Though I was glad to have her in my arms, it made me feel useless. It reminded me that in a fight with mature vampires, I was no more than an easy target; I didn't need my hands free. I tried to remember Tanya, Kate, Carmen, and Eleazar from the wedding. Their faces were murky in my ill-lit memories. I only knew they were beautiful, two blondes and two brunettes. I couldn't remember if there was any kindness in their eyes. Edward leaned motionlessly against the back window wall, staring toward the front door. It didn't look like he was seeing the room in front of him. We listened to the cars zooming past out on the freeway, none of them slowing. Renesmee nestled into my neck, her hand against my cheek but no images in my head. She didn't have pictures for her feelings now. "What if they don't like me?" she whispered, and all our eyes flashed to her face. "Of course they'll 2," Jacob started to say, but I silenced him with a look. 'They don't understand you, Renesmee, because they've never met anyone like you," I told her, not wanting to lie to her with promises that might not come true. "Getting them to understand is the problem." She sighed, and in my head flashed pictures of all of us in one quick burst. Vampire, human, werewolf. She fit nowhere. "You're special, that's not a bad thing." She shook her head in disagreement. She thought of our strained faces and said, "This is my fault." "No," Jacob, Edward, and I all said at exactly the same time, but before we could argue further, we heard the sound we'd been waiting for: the slowing of an engine on the freeway, the tires moving from pavement to soft dirt. Edward darted around the corner to stand waiting by the door. Renesmee hid in my hair. Jacob and I stared at each other across the table, desperation on our faces. The car moved quickly through the woods, faster than Charlie or Sue drove. We heard it pull into the meadow and stop by the front porch. Four doors opened and closed. They didn't speak as they approached the door. Edward opened it before they could knock. "Edward!" a female voice enthused. "Hello, Tanya. Kate, Eleazar, Carmen." Three murmured hellos. "Carlisle said he needed to talk to us right away," the first voice said, Tanya. I could hear that they all were still outside. I imagined Edward in the doorway, blocking their entrance. "What's the problem? Trouble with the werewolves?" Jacob rolled his eyes. "No," Edward said. "Our truce with the werewolves is stronger than ever." A woman chuckled. "Aren't you going to invite us in?" Tanya asked. And then she continued without waiting for an answer. "Where's Carlisle?" "Carlisle had to leave." There was a short silence. "What's going on, Edward?" Tanya demanded. "If you could give me the benefit of the doubt for just a few minutes," he answered. "I have something difficult to explain, and I'll need you to be open-minded until you understand." "Is Carlisle all right?" a male voice asked anxiously. Eleazar. "None of us is all right, Eleazar," Edward said, and then he patted something, maybe Eleazar's shoulder. "But physically, Carlisle is fine." "Physically?" Tanya asked sharply. "What do you mean?" "I mean that my entire family is in very grave danger. But before I explain, I ask for your promise. Listen to everything I say before you react. I am begging you to hear me out." A longer silence greeted his request. Through the strained hush, Jacob and I stared wordlessly at each other. His russet lips paled. "We're listening," Tanya finally said. "We will hear it all before we judge." "Thank you, Tanya," Edward said fervently. "We wouldn't involve you in this if we had any other choice." Edward moved. We heard four sets of footsteps walk through the doorway. Someone sniffed. "I knew those werewolves were involved," Tanya muttered. "Yes, and they're on our side. Again." The reminder silenced Tanya. "Where's your Bella?" one of the other female voices asked. "How is she?" "She'll join us shortly. She's well, thank you. She's taken to immortality with amazing finesse." "Tell us about the danger, Edward," Tanya said quietly. "We'll listen, and we'll be on your side, where we belong." Edward took a deep breath. "I'd like you to witness for yourselves first. Listen 覧in the other room. What do you hear?" It was quiet, and then there was movement. "Just listen first, please," Edward said. "A werewolf, I assume. I can hear his heart," Tanya said. "What else?" Edward asked. There was a pause. "What is that thrumming?" Kate or Carmen asked. "Is that... some kind of a bird?" "No, but remember what you're hearing. Now, what do you smell? Besides the werewolf." "Is there a human here?" Eleazar whispered. "No," Tanya disagreed. "It's not human... but... closer to human than the rest of the scents here. What is that, Edward? I don't think I've ever smelled that fragrance before." "You most certainly have not, Tanya. Please, please remember that this is something entirely new to you. Throw away your preconceived notions." "I promised you I would listen, Edward." "All right, then. Bella? Bring out Renesmee, please." My legs felt strangely numb, but I knew that feeling was all in my head. I forced myself not to hold back, not to move sluggishly, as I got to my feet and walked the few short feet to the corner. The heat from Jacob's body flamed close behind me as he shadowed my steps. I took one step into the bigger room and then froze, unable to force myself farther forward. Renesmee took a deep breath and then peeped out from under my hair, her little shoulders tight, expecting a rebuff. I thought I'd prepared myself for their reaction. For accusations, for shouting, for the motionlessness of deep stress. Tanya skittered back four steps, her strawberry curls quivering, like a human confronted by a venomous snake. Kate jumped back all the way to the front door and braced herself against the wall there. A shocked hiss came from between her clenched teeth. Eleazar threw himself in front of Carmen in a protective crouch. "Oh please" I heard Jacob complain under his breath. Edward put his arm around Renesmee and me. "You promised to listen," he reminded them. "Some things cannot be heard!" Tanya exclaimed. "How could you, Edward? Do you not know what this means?" "We have to get out of here," Kate said anxiously, her hand on the doorknob. "Edward ..." Eleazar seemed beyond words. "Wait," Edward said, his voice harder now. "Remember what you hear, what you smell. Renesmee is not what you think she is." "There are no exceptions to this rule, Edward," Tanya snapped back. "Tanya," Edward said sharply, "you can hear her heartbeat! Stop and think about what that means." "Her heartbeat?" Carmen whispered, peering around Eleazar's shoulder. "She's not a full vampire child," Edward answered, directing his attention toward Carmen's less hostile expression. "She is half-human." The four vampires stared at him like he was speaking a language none of them knew. "Hear me." Edward's voice shifted into a smooth velvet tone of persuasion. "Renesmee is one of a kind. I am her father. Not her creator 覧her biological father." Tanya's head was shaking, just a tiny movement. She didn't seem aware of it. "Edward, you can't expect us to 覧," Eleazar started to say. "Tell me another explanation that fits, Eleazar. You can feel the warmth of her body in the air. Blood runs in her veins, Eleazar. You can smell it." "How?" Kate breathed. "Bella is her biological mother," Edward told her. "She conceived, carried, and gave birth to Renesmee while she was still human. It nearly killed her. I was hard-pressed to get enough venom into her heart to save her." Tve never heard of such a thing," Eleazar said. His shoulders were still stiff, his expression cold. "Physical relationships between vampires and humans are not common," Edward answered, a bit of dark humor in his tone now. "Human survivors of such trysts are even less common. Wouldn't you agree, cousins?" Both Kate and Tanya scowled at him. "Come now, Eleazar. Surely you can see the resemblance." It was Carmen who responded to Edward's words. She stepped around Eleazar, ignoring his half-articulated warning, and walked carefully to stand right in front of me. She leaned down slightly, looking carefully into Renesmee's face. "You seem to have your mother's eyes," she said in a low, calm voice, "but your father's face." And then, as if she could not help herself, she smiled at Renesmee. Renesmee's answering smile was dazzling. She touched my face without looking away from Carmen. She imagined touching Carmen's face, wondering if that was okay. "Do you mind if Renesmee tells you about it herself?" I asked Carmen. I was still too stressed to speak above a whisper. "She has a gift for explaining things." Carmen was still smiling at Renesmee. "Do you speak, little one?" "Yes," Renesmee answered in her trilling high soprano. All of Tanya's family flinched at the sound of her voice except for Carmen. "But I can show you more than I can tell you." She placed her little dimpled hand on Carmen's cheek. Carmen stiffened like an electric shock had run through her. Eleazar was at her side in an instant, his hands on her shoulders as if to yank her away. "Wait," Carmen said breathlessly, her unblinking eyes locked on Renesmee's. Renesmee "showed" Carmen her explanation for a long time. Edward's face was intent as he watched with Carmen, and I wished so much that I could hear what he heard, too. Jacob shifted his weight impatiently behind me, and I knew he was wishing the same. "What's Nessie showing her?" he grumbled under his breath. "Everything," Edward murmured. Another minute passed, and Renesmee dropped her hand from Carmen's face. She smiled winningly at the stunned vampire. "She really is your daughter, isn't she?" Carmen breathed, switching her wide topaz eyes to Edward's face. "Such a vivid gift! It could only have come from a very gifted father." "Do you believe what she showed you?" Edward asked, his expression intense. "Without a doubt," Carmen said simply. Eleazar's face was rigid with distress. "Carmen!" Carmen took his hands into her own and squeezed them. "Impossible as it seems, Edward has told you nothing but truth. Let the child show you." Carmen nudged Eleazar closer to me and then nodded at Renesmee. "Show him, mi querida" Renesmee grinned, clearly delighted with Carmen's acceptance, and touched Eleazar lightly on the forehead. "Ay caray!"he spit, and jerked away from her. "What did she do to you?" Tanya demanded, coming closer warily. Kate crept forward, too. "She's just trying to show you her side of the story," Carmen told him in a soothing voice. Renesmee frowned impatiently. "Watch, please," she commanded Eleazar. She stretched her hand out to him and then left a few inches between her fingers and his face, waiting. Eleazar eyed her suspiciously and then glanced at Carmen for help. She nodded encouragingly. Eleazar took a deep breath and then leaned closer until his forehead touched her hand again. He shuddered when it began but held still this time, his eyes closed in concentration. "Ahh," he sighed when his eyes reopened a few minutes later. "I see." Renesmee smiled at him. He hesitated, then smiled a slightly unwilling smile in response. "Eleazar?" Tanya asked. "It's all true, Tanya. This is no immortal child. She's half-human. Come. See for yourself." In silence, Tanya took her turn standing warily before me, and then Kate, both showing shock as that first image hit them with Renesmee's touch. But then, just like Carmen and Eleazar, they seemed completely won over as soon as it was done. I shot a glance at Edward's smooth face, wondering if it could really be so easy. His golden eyes were clear, unshadowed. There was no deception in this, then. "Thank you for listening," he said quietly. "But there is the grave danger you warned us of," Tanya said. "Not directly from this child, I see, but surely from the Volturi, then. How did they find out about her? When are they coming?" I was not surprised at her quick understanding. After all, what could possibly be a threat to a family as strong as mine? Only the Volturi. "When Bella saw Irina that day in the mountains," Edward explained, "she had Renesmee with her." Kate hissed, her eyes narrowing to slits, "irina did this? To you? To Carlisle? Irina?" "No," Tanya whispered. "Someone else ..." "Alice saw her go to them," Edward said. I wondered if the others noticed the way he winced just slightly when he spoke Alice's name. "How could she do this thing?" Eleazar asked of no one. 'Imagine if you had seen Renesmee only from a distance. If you had not waited for our explanation." Tanya's eyes tightened. "No matter what she thought... You are our family." "There's nothing we can do about Irina's choice now. It's too late. Alice gave us a month." Both Tanya's and Eleazar's heads cocked to one side. Kate's brow furrowed. "So long?" Eleazar asked. "They are all coming. That must take some preparation." Eleazar gasped. "The entire guard?" "Not just the guard," Edward said, his jaw straining tight. "Aro, Caius, Marcus. Even the wives." Shock glazed over all their eyes. "Impossible," Eleazar said blankly. "I would have said the same two days ago," Edward said. Eleazar scowled, and when he spoke it was nearly a growl. "But that doesn't make any sense. Why would they put themselves and the wives in danger?" "It doesn't make sense from that angle. Alice said there was more to this than just punishment for what they think we've done. She thought you could help us." "More than punishment? But what else is there?" Eleazar started pacing, stalking toward the door and back again as if he were alone here, his eyebrows furrowed as he stared at the floor. "Where are the others, Edward? Carlisle and Alice and the rest?" Tanya asked. Edward's hesitation was almost unnoticeable. He answered only part of her question. "Looking for friends who might help us." Tanya leaned toward him, holding her hands out in front of her. "Edward, no matter how many friends you gather, we can't help you win. We can only die with you. You must know that. Of course, perhaps the four of us deserve that after what Irina has done now, after how we've failed you in the past 覧for her sake that time as well." Edward shook his head quickly. "We're not asking you to fight and die with us, Tanya. You know Carlisle would never ask for that." "Then what, Edward?" "We're just looking for witnesses. If we can make them pause, just for a moment. If they would let us explain ..." He touched Renesmee's cheek; she grabbed his hand and held it pressed against her skin. "It's difficult to doubt our story when you see it for yourself." Tanya nodded slowly. "Do you think her past will matter to them so much?" "Only as it foreshadows her future. The point of the restriction was to protect us from exposure, from the excesses of children who could not be tamed." "I'm not dangerous at all," Renesmee interjected. I listened to her high, clear voice with new ears, imagining how she sounded to the others. "I never hurt Grandpa or Sue or Billy. I love humans. And wolf-people like my Jacob." She dropped Edward's hand to reach back and pat Jacob's arm. Tanya and Kate exchanged a quick glance. "If Irina had not come so soon," Edward mused, "we could have avoided all of this. Renesmee grows at an unprecedented rate. By the time the month is past, shell have gained another half year of development." "Well, that is something we can certainly witness," Carmen said in a decided tone. "We'll be able to promise that we've seen her mature ourselves. How could the Volturi ignore such evidence?" Eleazar mumbled, "How, indeed?" but he did not look up, and he continued pacing as if he were paying no attention at all. "Yes, we can witness for you," Tanya said. "Certainly that much. We will consider what more we might do." "Tanya," Edward protested, hearing more in her thoughts than there was in her words, "we don't expect you to fight with us." "If the Volturi won't pause to listen to our witness, we cannot simply stand by," Tanya insisted. "Of course, I should only speak for myself." Kate snorted. "Do you really doubt me so much, sister?" Tanya smiled widely at her. "It is a suicide mission, after all." Kate flashed a grin back and then shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm in." "I, too, will do what I can to protect the child," Carmen agreed. Then, as if she couldn't resist, she held her arms out toward Renesmee. "May I hold you, bebe linda?" Renesmee reached eagerly toward Carmen, delighted with her new friend. Carmen hugged her close, murmuring to her in Spanish. It was like it had been with Charlie, and before that with all the Cullens. Renesmee was irresistible. What was it about her that drew everyone to her, that made them willing even to pledge their lives in her defense? For a moment I thought that maybe what we were attempting might be possible. Maybe Renesmee could do the impossible and win over our enemies as she had our friends. And then I remembered that Alice had left us, and my hope vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

31. TALENTED "What is the werewolves' part in this?" Tanya asked then, eyeing Jacob. Jacob spoke before Edward could answer. "If the Volturi won't stop to listen about Nessie, I mean Renesmee," he corrected himself, remembering that Tanya would not understand his stupid nickname, "we will stop them." "Very brave, child, but that would be impossible for more experienced fighters than you are." "You don't know what we can do." Tanya shrugged. "It is your own life, certainly, to spend as you choose." Jacob's eyes flickered to Renesmee 覧still in Carmen's arms with Kate hovering over them覧and it was easy to read the longing in them. "She is special, that little one," Tanya mused. "Hard to resist." "A very talented family," Eleazar murmured as he paced. His tempo was increasing; he flashed from the door to Carmen and back again every second. "A mind reader for a father, a shield for a mother, and then whatever magic this extraordinary child has bewitched us with. I wonder if there is a name for what she does, or if it is the norm for a vampire hybrid. As if such a thing could ever be considered normal! A vampire hybrid, indeed!" "Excuse me," Edward said in a stunned voice. He reached out and caught Eleazar's shoulder as he was about to turn again for the door. "What did you just call my wife?" Eleazar looked at Edward curiously, his manic pacing forgotten for the moment. "A shield, I think. She's blocking me now, so I can't be sure." I stared at Eleazar, my brows furrowing in confusion. Shield? What did he mean about my blocking him? I was standing right here beside him, not defensive in any way. "A shield?" Edward repeated, bewildered. "Come now, Edward! If I can't get a read on her, I doubt you can, either. Can you hear her thoughts right now?" Eleazar asked. "No," Edward murmured. "But I've never been able to do that. Even when she was human." "Never?" Eleazar blinked. "Interesting. That would indicate a rather powerful latent talent, if it was manifesting so clearly even before the transformation. I can't feel a way through her shield to get a sense of it at all. Yet she must be raw still 2耀he's only a few months old." The look he gave Edward now was almost exasperated. "And apparently completely unaware of what she's doing. Totally unconscious. Ironic. Aro sent me all over the world searching for such anomalies, and you simply stumble across it by accident and don't even realize what you have." Eleazar shook his head in disbelief. I frowned. "What are you talking about? How can I be a shield? What does that even mean?" All I could picture in my head was a ridiculous medieval suit of armor. Eleazar leaned his head to one side as he examined me. "I suppose we were overly formal about it in the guard. In truth, categorizing talents is a subjective, haphazard business; every talent is unique, never exactly the same thing twice. But you, Bella, are fairly easy to classify. Talents that are purely defensive, that protect some aspect of the bearer, are always called shields. Have you ever tested your abilities? Blocked anyone besides me and your mate?" It took me few seconds, despite how quickly my new brain worked, to organize my answer. "It only works with certain things," I told him. "My head is sort of... private. But it doesn't stop Jasper from being able to mess with my mood or Alice from seeing my future." "Purely a mental defense." Eleazar nodded to himself. "Limited, but strong." "Aro couldn't hear her," Edward interjected. "Though she was human when they met." Eleazar's eyes widened. "Jane tried to hurt me, but she couldn't," I said. "Edward thinks Demetri can't find me, and that Alec can't bother me, either. Is that good?" Eleazar, still gaping, nodded. "Quite." "A shield!" Edward said, deep satisfaction saturating his tone. "I never thought of it that way. The only one I've ever met before was Renata, and what she did was so different." Eleazar had recovered slightly. "Yes, no talent ever manifests in precisely the same way, because no one ever thinks in exactly the same way." "Who's Renata? What does she do?" I asked. Renesmee was interested, too, leaning away from Carmen so that she could see around Kate. "Renata is Aro's personal bodyguard," Eleazar told me. "A very practical kind of shield, and a very strong one." I vaguely remembered a small crowd of vampires hovering close to Aro in his macabre tower, some male, some female. I couldn't remember the women's faces in the uncomfortable, terrifying memory. One must have been Renata. "I wonder...," Eleazar mused. "You see, Renata is a powerful shield against a physical attack. If someone approaches her 蓉熔r Aro, as she is always close beside him in a hostile situation覧they find themselves... diverted. There's a force around her that repels, though it's almost unnoticeable. You simply find yourself going a different direction than you planned, with a confused memory as to why you wanted to go that other way in the first place. She can project her shield several meters out from herself. She also protects Caius and Marcus, too, when they have a need, but Aro is her priority. "What she does isn't actually physical, though. Like the vast majority of our gifts, it takes place inside the mind. If she tried to keep you back, I wonder who would win?" He shook his head. "I've never heard of Aro's or Jane's gifts being thwarted." "Momma, you're special," Renesmee told me without any surprise, like she was commenting on the color of my clothes. I felt disoriented. Didn't I already know my gift? I had my super-self-control that had allowed me to skip right over the horrifying newborn year. Vampires only had one extra ability at most, right? Or had Edward been correct in the beginning? Before Carlisle had suggested that my self-control could be something beyond the natural, Edward had thought my restraint was just a product of good preparation 覧focus and attitude, he'd declared. Which one had been right? Was there more I could do? A name and a category for what I was? "Can you project?" Kate asked interestedly. "Project?" I asked. "Push it out from yourself," Kate explained. "Shield someone besides yourself." "I don't know. I've never tried. I didn't know I should do that." "Oh, you might not be able to," Kate said quickly. "Heavens knows I've been working on it for centuries and the best I can do is run a current over my skin." I stared at her, mystified. "Kate's got an offensive skill," Edward said. "Sort of like Jane." I flinched away from Kate automatically, and she laughed. "I'm not sadistic about it," she assured me. "It's just something that comes in handy during a fight." Kate's words were sinking in, beginning to make connections in my mind. Shield someone besides yourself she'd said. As if there were some way for me to include another person in my strange, quirky silent head. I remembered Edward cringing on the ancient stones of the Volturi castle turret. Though this was a human memory, it was sharper, more painful than most of the others 2様ike it had been branded into the tissues of my brain. What if I could stop that from happening ever again? What if I could protect him? Protect Renesmee? What if there was even the faintest glimmer of a possibility that I could shield them, too? "You have to teach me what to do!" I insisted, unthinkingly grabbing Kate's arm. "You have to show me how!" Kate winced at my grip. "Maybe 覧if you stop trying to crush my radius." "Oops! Sorry!" "You're shielding, all right," Kate said. "That move should have about shocked your arm off. You didn't feel anything just now?" "That wasn't really necessary, Kate. She didn't mean any harm," Edward muttered under his breath. Neither of us paid attention to him. "No, I didn't feel anything. Were you doing your electric current thing?" "I was. Hmm. I've never met anyone who couldn't feel it, immortal or otherwise." "You said you project it? On your skin?" Kate nodded. "It used to be just in my palms. Kind of like Aro." "Or Renesmee," Edward interjected. "But after a lot of practice, I can radiate the current all over my body. It's a good defense. Anyone who tries to touch me drops like a human that's been Tasered. It only downs him for a second, but that's long enough." I was only half-listening to Kate, my thoughts racing around the idea that I might be able to protect my little family if I could just learn fast enough. I wished fervently that I might be good at this projecting thing, too, like I was somehow mysteriously good at all the other aspects of being a vampire. My human life had not prepared me for things that came naturally, and I couldn't make myself trust this aptitude to last. It felt like I had never wanted anything so badly before this; to be able to protect what I loved. Because I was so preoccupied, I didn't notice the silent exchange going on between Edward and Eleazar until it became a spoken conversation. "Can you think of even one exception, though?" Edward asked. I looked over to make sense of his comment and realized that everyone else was already staring at the two men. They were leaning toward each other intently, Edward's expression tight with suspicion, Eleazar's unhappy and reluctant. "I don't want to think of them that way," Eleazar said through his teeth. I was surprised at the sudden change in the atmosphere. "If you're right 覧," Eleazar began again. Edward cut him off. "The thought was yours, not mine." "If I'm right... I can't even grasp what that would mean. It would change everything about the world we've created. It would change the meaning of my life. What I have been a part of." "Your intentions were always the best, Eleazar." "Would that even matter? What have I done? How many lives ..." Tanya put her hand on Eleazar's shoulder in a comforting gesture. "What did we miss, my friend? I want to know so that I can argue with these thoughts. You've never done anything worth castigating yourself this way." "Oh, haven't I?" Eleazar muttered. Then he shrugged out from under her hand and began his pacing again, faster even than before. Tanya watched him for half a second and then focused on Edward. "Explain." Edward nodded, his tense eyes following Eleazar as he spoke. "He was trying to understand why so many of the Volturi would come to punish us. It's not the way they do things. Certainly, we are the biggest mature coven they've dealt with, but in the past other covens have joined to protect themselves, and they never presented much of a challenge despite their numbers. We are more closely bonded, and that's a factor, but not a huge one. "He was remembering other times that covens have been punished, for one thing or the other, and a pattern occurred to him. It was a pattern that the rest of the guard would never have noticed, since Eleazar was the one passing the pertinent intelligence privately to Aro. A pattern that only repeated every other century or so." "What was this pattern?" Carmen asked, watching Eleazar as Edward was. "Aro does not often personally attend a punishing expedition," Edward said. "But in the past, when Aro wanted something in particular, it was never long before evidence turned up proving that this coven or that coven had committed some unpardonable crime. The ancients would decide to go along to watch the guard administer justice. And then, once the coven was all but destroyed, Aro would grant a pardon to one member whose thoughts, he would claim, were particularly repentant. Always, it would turn out that this vampire had the gift Aro had admired. Always, this person was given a place with the guard. The gifted vampire was won over quickly, always so grateful for the honor. There were no exceptions." "It must be a heady thing to be chosen," Kate suggested. "Ha!" Eleazar snarled, still in motion. "There is one among the guard," Edward said, explaining Eleazar's angry reaction. "Her name is Chelsea. She has influence over the emotional ties between people. She can both loosen and secure these ties. She could make someone feel bonded to the Volturi, to want to belong, to want to please them___" Eleazar came to an abrupt halt. "We all understood why Chelsea was important. In a fight, if we could separate allegiances between allied covens, we could defeat them that much more easily. If we could distance the innocent members of a coven emotionally from the guilty, justice could be done without unnecessary brutality 覧the guilty could be punished without interference, and the innocent could be spared. Otherwise, it was impossible to keep the coven from fighting as a whole. So Chelsea would break the ties that bound them together. It seemed a great kindness to me, evidence of Aro's mercy. I did suspect that Chelsea kept our own band more tightly knit, but that, too, was a good thing. It made us more effective. It helped us coexist more easily." This clarified old memories for me. It had not made sense to me before how the guard obeyed their masters so gladly, with almost lover-like devotion. "How strong is her gift?" Tanya asked with an edge to her voice. Her gaze quickly touched on each member of her family. Eleazar shrugged. "I was able to leave with Carmen." And then he shook his head. "But anything weaker than the bond between partners is in danger. In a normal coven, at least. Those are weaker bonds than those in our family, though. Abstaining from human blood makes us more civilized 2様ets us form true bonds of love. I doubt she could turn our allegiances, Tanya." Tanya nodded, seeming reassured, while Eleazar continued with his analysis. "I could only think that the reason Aro had decided to come himself, to bring so many with him, is because his goal is not punishment but acquisition," Eleazar said. "He needs to be there to control the situation. But he needs the entire guard for protection from such a large, gifted coven. On the other hand, that leaves the other ancients unprotected in Volterra. Too risky 蓉耀omeone might try to take advantage. So they all come together. How else could he be sure to preserve the gifts that he wants? He must want them very badly," Eleazar mused. Edward's voice was low as a breath. "From what I saw of his thoughts last spring, Aro's never wanted anything more than he wants Alice." I felt my mouth fall open, remembering the nightmarish pictures I had imagined long ago: Edward and Alice in black cloaks with bloodred eyes, their faces cold and remote as they stood close as shadows, Aro's hands on theirs.... Had Alice seen this more recently? Had she seen Chelsea trying to strip away her love for us, to bind her to Aro and Caius and Marcus? "Is that why Alice left?" I asked, my voice breaking on her name. Edward put his hand against my cheek. "I think it must be. To keep Aro from gaining the thing he wants most of all. To keep her power out of his hands." I heard Tanya and Kate murmuring in disturbed voices and remembered that they hadn't known about Alice. "He wants you, too," I whispered. Edward shrugged, his face suddenly a little too composed. "Not nearly as much. I can't really give him anything more than he already has. And of course that's dependent on his finding a way to force me to do his will. He knows me, and he knows how unlikely that is." He raised one eyebrow sardonically. Eleazar frowned at Edward's nonchalance. "He also knows your weaknesses," Eleazar pointed out, and then he looked at me. "It's nothing we need to discuss now," Edward said quickly. Eleazar ignored the hint and continued. "He probably wants your mate, too, regardless. He must have been intrigued by a talent that could defy him in its human incarnation." Edward was uncomfortable with this topic. I didn't like it, either. If Aro wanted me to do something 2預nything覧all he had to do was threaten Edward and I would comply. And vice versa. Was death the lesser concern? Was it really capture we should fear? Edward changed the subject. "I think the Volturi were waiting for this 覧for some pretext. They couldn't know what form their excuse would come in, but the plan was already in place for when it did come. That's why Alice saw their decision before Irina triggered it. The decision was already made, just waiting for the pretense of a justification." "If the Volturi are abusing the trust all immortals have placed in them...," Carmen murmured. "Does it matter?" Eleazar asked. "Who would believe it? And even if others could be convinced that the Volturi are exploiting their power, how would it make any difference? No one can stand against them." "Though some of us are apparently insane enough to try," Kate muttered. Edward shook his head. "You're only here to witness, Kate. Whatever Aro's goal, I don't think he's ready to tarnish the Volturi's reputation for it. If we can take away his argument against us, he'll be forced to leave us in peace." "Of course," Tanya murmured. No one looked convinced. For a few long minutes, nobody said anything. Then I heard the sound of tires turning off the highway pavement onto the Cullens' dirt drive. "Oh crap, Charlie," I muttered. "Maybe the Denalis could hang out upstairs until 覧" "No," Edward said in a distant voice. His eyes were far away, staring blankly at the door. "It's not your father." His gaze focused on me. "Alice sent Peter and Charlotte, after all. Time to get ready for the next round."

32. COMPANY The Cullens' enormous house was more crowded with guests than anyone would assume could possibly be comfortable. It only worked out because none of the visitors slept. Mealtimes were dicey, though. Our company cooperated as best they could. They gave Forks and La Push a wide berth, only hunting out of state; Edward was a gracious host, lending out his cars as needed without so much as a wince. The compromise made me very uncomfortable, though I tried to tell myself that they'd all be hunting somewhere in the world, regardless. Jacob was even more upset. The werewolves existed to prevent the loss of human life, and here was rampant murder being condoned barely outside the packs' borders. But under these circumstances, with Renesmee in acute danger, he kept his mouth shut and glared at the floor rather than the vampires. I was amazed at the easy acceptance the visiting vampires had for Jacob; the problems Edward had anticipated had never materialized. Jacob seemed more or less invisible to them, not quite a person, but also not food, either. They treated him the way people who are not animal-lovers treat the pets of their friends. Leah, Seth, Quil, and Embry were assigned to run with Sam for now, and Jacob would have happily joined them, except that he couldn't stand to be away from Renesmee, and Renesmee was busy fascinating the strange collection of Carlisle's friends. We'd replayed the scene of Renesmee's introduction to the Denali coven a half dozen times. First for Peter and Charlotte, whom Alice and Jasper had sent our way without giving them any explanation at all; like most people who knew Alice, they trusted her instructions despite the lack of information. Alice had told them nothing about which direction she and Jasper were heading. She'd made no promise to ever see them again in the future. Neither Peter nor Charlotte had ever seen an immortal child. Though they knew the rule, their negative reaction was not as powerful as the Denali vampires' had been at first. Curiosity had driven them to allow Renesmee's "explanation." And that was it. Now they were as committed to witnessing as Tanya's family. Carlisle had sent friends from Ireland and Egypt. The Irish clan arrived first, and they were surprisingly easy to convince. Siobhan 蓉預 woman of immense presence whose huge body was both beautiful and mesmerizing as it moved in smooth undulations蓉謡as the leader, but she and her hard-faced mate, Liam, were long used to trusting the judgment of their newest coven member. Little Maggie, with her bouncy red curls, was not physically imposing like the other two, but she had a gift for knowing when she was being lied to, and her verdicts were never contested. Maggie declared that Edward spoke the truth, and so Siobhan and Liam accepted our story absolutely before even touching Renesmee. Amun and the other Egyptian vampires were another story. Even after two younger members of his coven, Benjamin and Tia, had been convinced by Renesmee's explanation, Amun refused to touch her and ordered his coven to leave. Benjamin 2預n oddly cheerful vampire who looked barely older than a boy and seemed both utterly confident and utterly careless at the same time2用ersuaded Amun to stay with a few subtle threats about disbanding their alliance. Amun stayed, but continued to refuse to touch Renesmee, and would not allow his mate, Kebi, to touch her, either. It seemed an unlikely grouping熔葉hough the Egyptians all looked so alike, with their midnight hair and olive-toned pallor, that they easily could have passed for a biological family. Amun was the senior member and the outspoken leader. Kebi never strayed farther away from Amun than his shadow, and I never heard her speak a single word. Tia, Benjamin's mate, was a quiet woman as well, though when she did speak there was great insight and gravity to everything she said. Still, it was Benjamin whom they all seemed to revolve around, as if he had some invisible magnetism the others depended upon for their balance. I saw Eleazar staring at the boy with wide eyes and assumed Benjamin had a talent that drew the others to him. "It's not that," Edward told me when we were alone that night. "His gift is so singular that Amun is terrified of losing him. Much like we had planned to keep Renesmee from Aro's knowledge" 覧he sighed覧"Amun has been keeping Benjamin from Aro's attention. Amun created Benjamin, knowing he would be special." "What can he do?" "Something Eleazar's never seen before. Something I've never heard of. Something that even your shield would do nothing against." He grinned his crooked smile at me. "He can actually influence the elements 覧earth, wind, water, and fire. True physical manipulation, no illusion of the mind. Benjamin's still experimenting with it, and Amun tries to mold him into a weapon. But you see how independent Benjamin is. He won't be used." "You like him," I surmised from the tone of his voice. "He has a very clear sense of right and wrong. I like his attitude." Amun's attitude was something else, and he and Kebi kept to themselves, though Benjamin and Tia were well on their way to being fast friends with both the Denali and the Irish covens. We hoped that Carlisle's return would ease the remaining tension with Amun. Emmett and Rose sent individuals 覧any nomad friends of Carlisle's that they could track down. Garrett came first 覧a tall, rangy vampire with eager ruby eyes and long sandy hair he kept tied back with a leather thong覧and it was apparent immediately that he was an adventurer. I imagined that we could have presented him with any challenge and he would have accepted, just to test himself. He fell in quickly with the Denali sisters, asking endless questions about their unusual lifestyle. I wondered if vegetarianism was another challenge he would try, just to see if he could do it. Mary and Randall also came 擁庸riends already, though they did not travel together. They listened to Renesmee's story and stayed to witness like the others. Like the Denalis, they considered what they would do if the Volturi did not pause for explanations. All three of the nomads toyed with the idea of standing with us. Of course, Jacob got more surly with each new addition. He kept his distance when he could, and when he couldn't he grumbled to Renesmee that someone was going to have to provide an index if anyone expected him to keep all the new bloodsuckers1 names straight.* Carlisle and Esme returned a week after they had gone, Emmett and Rosalie just a few days later, and all of us felt better when they were home. Carlisle brought one more friend home with him, though friend might have been the wrong term. Alistair was a misanthropic English vampire who counted Carlisle as his closest acquaintance, though he could hardly stand a visit more than once a century. Alistair very much preferred to wander alone, and Carlisle had called in a lot of favors to get him here. He shunned all company, and it was clear he didn't have any admirers in the gathered covens. The brooding dark-haired vampire took Carlisle at his word about Renesmee's origins, refusing, like Amun, to touch her. Edward told Carlisle, Esme, and me that Alistair was afraid to be here, but more afraid of not knowing the outcome. He was deeply suspicious of all authority, and therefore naturally suspicious of the Volturi. What was happening now seemed to confirm all his fears. "Of course, now they'll know i was here," we heard him grumble to himself in the attic 覧his preferred spot to sulk. "No way to keep it from Aro at this point. Centuries on the run, that's what this will mean. Everyone Carlisle's talked to in the last decade will be on their list. I can't believe I got myself sucked into this mess. What a fine way to treat your friends." But if he was right about having to run from the Volturi, at least he had more hope of doing that than the rest of us. Alistair was a tracker, though not nearly as precise and efficient as Demetri. Alistair just felt an elusive pull toward whatever he was seeking. But that pull would be enough to tell him which direction to run 覧the opposite direction from Demetri. And then another pair of unexpected friends arrived 覧unexpected, because neither Carlisle nor Rosalie had been able to contact the Amazons. "Carlisle," the taller of the two very tall feline women greeted him when they arrived. Both of them seemed as if they'd been stretched 覧long arms and legs, long fingers, long black braids, and long faces with long noses. They wore nothing but animal skins2揺ide vests and tight-fitting pants that laced on the sides with leather ties. It wasn't just their eccentric clothes that made them seem wild but everything about them, from their restless crimson eyes to their sudden, darting movements. I'd never met any vampires less civilized. But Alice had sent them, and that was interesting news, to put it mildly. Why was Alice in South America? Just because she'd seen that no one else would be able to get in touch with the Amazons? "Zafrina and Senna! But Where's Kachiri?" Carlisle asked. Tve never seen you three apart." "Alice told us we needed to separate," Zafrina answered in the rough, deep voice that matched her wild appearance. "It's uncomfortable to be away from each other, but Alice assured us that you needed us here, while she very much needed Kachiri somewhere else. That's all she would tell us, except that there was a great hurry... ?" Zafrina's statement trailed off into a question, and 覧with the tremor of nerves that never went away no matter how often I did this2悠 brought Renesmee out to meet them. Despite their fierce appearance, they listened very calmly to our story, and then allowed Renesmee to prove the point. They were every bit as taken with Renesmee as any of the other vampires, but I couldn't help worrying as I watched their swift, jerky movements so close beside her. Senna was always near Zafrina, never speaking, but it wasn't the same as Amun and Kebi. Kebi's manner seemed obedient; Senna and Zafrina were more like two limbs of one organism 2融afrina just happened to be the mouthpiece. The news about Alice was oddly comforting. Clearly, she was on some obscure mission of her own as she avoided whatever Aro had planned for her. Edward was thrilled to have the Amazons with us, because Zafrina was enormously talented; her gift could make a very dangerous offensive weapon. Not that Edward was asking for Zafrina to side with us in the battle, but if the Volturi did not pause when they saw our witnesses, perhaps they would pause for a different kind of scene. "It's a very straightforward illusion," Edward explained when it turned out that I couldn't see anything, as usual. Zafrina was intrigued and amused by my immunity 覧something she'd never encountered before雄預nd she hovered restlessly while Edward described what I was missing. Edward's eyes unfocused slightly as he continued. "She can make most people see whatever she wants them to see2耀ee that, and nothing else. For example, right now I would appear to be alone in the middle of a rain forest. It's so clear I might possibly believe it, except for the fact that I can still feel you in my arms." Zafrina's lips twitched into her hard version of a smile. A second later, Edward's eyes focused again, and he grinned back. "Impressive," he said. Renesmee was fascinated with the conversation, and she reached out fearlessly toward Zafrina. "Can I see?" she asked. "What would you like to see?" Zafrina asked. "What you showed Daddy." Zafrina nodded, and I watched anxiously as Renesmee's eyes stared blankly into space. A second later, Renesmee's dazzling smile lit up her face. "More," she commanded. After that, it was hard to keep Renesmee away from Zafrina and her pretty pictures. I worried, because I was quite sure that Zafrina was able to create images that were not pretty at all. But through Renesmee's thoughts I could see Zafrina's visions for myself 蓉葉hey were as clear as any of Renesmee's own memories, like they were real用預nd thus judge for myself whether they were appropriate or not. Though I didn't give her up easily, I had to admit it was a good thing Zafrina was keeping Renesmee entertained. I needed my hands. I had so much to learn, both physically and mentally, and the time was so short. My first attempt at learning to fight did not go well. Edward had me pinned in about two seconds. But instead of letting me wrestle my way free 蓉謡hich I absolutely could have覧he'd leaped up and away from me. I knew immediately that something was wrong; he was still as stone, staring across the meadow we were practicing in. Tm sorry, Bella," he said. "No, I'm fine," I said. "Let's go again." "I can't." "What do you mean, you can't? We just started." He didn't answer. "Look, I know I'm no good at this, but I can't get better if you don't help me." He said nothing. Playfully, I sprang at him. He made no defense at all, and we both fell to the ground. He was motionless as I pressed my lips to his jugular. "I win," I announced. His eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. "Edward? What's wrong? Why won't you teach me?" A full minute passed before he spoke again. "I just can't... bear it. Emmett and Rosalie know as much as I do. Tanya and Eleazar probably know more. Ask someone else." "That's not fair! You're good at this. You helped Jasper before 覧you fought with him and all the others, too. Why not me? What did I do wrong?" He sighed, exasperated. His eyes were dark, barely any gold to lighten the black. "Looking at you that way, analyzing you as a target. Seeing all the ways I can kill you .. ." He flinched. "It just makes it too real for me. We don't have so much time that it will really make a difference who your teacher is. Anyone can teach you the fundamentals." I scowled. He touched my pouting lower lip and smiled. "Besides, it's unnecessary. The Volturi will stop. They will be made to understand." "But if they don't! I need to learn this." "Find another teacher." That was not our last conversation on the subject, but I never swayed him an inch from his decision. Emmett was more than willing to help, though his teaching felt to me a lot like revenge for all the lost arm-wrestling matches. If I could still bruise, I would have been purple from head to toe. Rose, Tanya, and Eleazar all were patient and supportive. Their lessons reminded me of Jasper's fighting instructions to the others last June, though those memories were fuzzy and indistinct. Some of the visitors found my education entertaining, and some even offered assistance. The nomad Garrett took a few turns 覧he was a surprisingly good teacher; he interacted so easily with others in general that I wondered how he'd never found a coven. I even fought once with Zafrina while Renesmee watched from Jacob's arms. I learned several tricks, but I never asked for her help again. In truth, though I liked Zafrina very much and I knew she wouldn't really hurt me, the wild woman scared me to death. I learned many things from my teachers, but I had the sense that my knowledge was still impossibly basic. I had no idea how many seconds I would last against Alec and Jane. I only prayed that it would be long enough to help. Every minute of the day that I wasn't with Renesmee or learning to fight, I was in the backyard working with Kate, trying to push my internal shield outside of my own brain to protect someone else. Edward encouraged me in this training. I knew he hoped I would find a way of contributing that satisfied me while also keeping me out of the line of fire. It was just so hard. There was nothing to get a hold of, nothing solid to work with. I had only my raging desire to be of use, to be able to keep Edward, Renesmee, and as much of my family as possible safe with me. Over and over I tried to force the nebulous shield outside of myself, with only faint, sporadic success. It felt like I was wrestling to stretch an invisible rubber band 覧a band that would change from concrete tangibility into insubstantial smoke at any random moment. Only Edward was willing to be our guinea pig 覧to receive shock after shock from Kate while I grappled incompetently with the insides of my head. We worked for hours at a time, and I felt like I should be covered in sweat from the exertion, but of course my perfect body didn't betray me that way. My weariness was all mental. It killed me that it was Edward who had to suffer, my arms wrapped uselessly around him while he winced over and over from Kate's low" setting. I tried as hard as I could to push my shield around us both; every now and then I would get it, and then it would slip away again. I hated this practice, and I wished that Zafrina would help instead of Kate. Then all Edward would have to do was look at Zafrina's illusions until I could stop him from seeing them. But Kate insisted that I needed better motivation 2傭y which she meant my hatred of watching Edward's pain. I was beginning to doubt her assertion from the first day we'd met覧that she wasn't sadistic about the use of her gift. She seemed to be enjoying herself to me. "Hey," Edward said cheerfully, trying to hide any evidence of distress in his voice. Anything to keep me from fighting practice. "That one barely stung. Good job, Bella." I took a deep breath, trying to grasp exactly what I'd done right, i tested the elastic band, struggling to force it to remain solid as I stretched it away from me. "Again, Kate," I grunted through my clenched teeth. Kate pressed her palm to Edward's shoulder. He sighed in relief. "Nothing that time." She raised an eyebrow. "That wasn't low, either." "Good," I huffed. "Get ready," she told me, and reached out to Edward again. This time he shuddered, and a low breath hissed between his teeth. "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" I chanted, biting my lip. Why couldn't I get this right? "You're doing an amazing job, Bella," Edward said, pulling me tight against him. "You've really only been working at this for a few days and you're already projecting sporadically. Kate, tell her how well she's doing." Kate pursed her lips. "I don't know. She's obviously got tremendous ability, and we're only beginning to touch it. She can do better, I'm sure. She's just lacking incentive." I stared at her in disbelief, my lips automatically curling back from my teeth. How could she think I lacked motivation with her shocking Edward right here in front of me? I heard murmurs from the audience that had grown steadily as I practiced 覧only Eleazar, Carmen, and Tanya at first, but then Garrett had wandered over, then Benjamin and Tia, Siobhan and Maggie, and now even Alistair was peering down from a window on the third story. The spectators agreed with Edward; they thought I was already doing well. "Kate...," Edward said in a warning voice as some new course of action occurred to her, but she was already in motion. She darted along the curve of the river to where Zafrina, Senna, and Renesmee were walking slowly, Renesmee's hand in Zafrina's as they traded pictures back and forth. Jacob shadowed them from a few feet behind. "Nessie," Kate said 2葉he newcomers had quickly picked up the irritating nickname, "would you like to come help your mother?" "No," I half-snarled. Edward hugged me reassuringly. I shook him off just as Renesmee flitted across the yard to me, with Kate, Zafrina, and Senna right behind her. "Absolutely not, Kate," I hissed. Renesmee reached for me, and I opened my arms automatically. She curled into me, pressing her head into the hollow beneath my shoulder. "But Momma, I want to help," she said in a determined voice. Her hand rested against my neck, reinforcing her desire with images of the two of us together, a team. "No," I said, quickly backing away. Kate had taken a deliberate step in my direction, her hand stretched toward us. "Stay away from us, Kate," I warned her. "No." She began stalking forward. She smiled like a hunter cornering her prey. I shifted Renesmee so that she was clinging to my back, still backing away at a pace that matched Kate's. Now my hands were free, and if Kate wanted to keep her hands attached to her wrists, she'd better keep her distance. Kate probably didn't understand, never having known for herself the passion of a mother for her child. She must not have realized just how far past too far she'd already gone. I was so furious that my vision took on a strange reddish tint, and my tongue tasted like burning metal. The strength I usually worked to keep restrained flowed through my muscles, and I knew I could crush her into diamond-hard rubble if she pushed me to it. The rage brought every aspect of my being into sharper focus. I could even feel the elasticity of my shield more exactly now 蓉庸eel that it was not a band so much as a layer, a thin film that covered me from head to toe. With the anger rippling through my body, I had a better sense of it, a tighter hold on it. I stretched it around myself, out from myself, swaddling Renesmee completely inside it, just in case Kate got past my guard. Kate took another calculated step forward, and a vicious snarl ripped up my throat and through my clenched teeth. "Be careful, Kate," Edward cautioned. Kate took another step, and then made a mistake even someone as inexpert as I could recognize. Just a short leap away from me, she looked away, turning her attention from me to Edward. Renesmee was secure on my back; I coiled to spring. "Can you hear anything from Nessie?" Kate asked him, her voice calm and easy. Edward darted into the space between us, blocking my line to Kate. "No, nothing at all," he answered. "Now give Bella some space to calm down, Kate. You shouldn't goad her like that. I know she doesn't seem her age, but she's only a few months old." "We don't have time to do this gently, Edward. We're going to have to push her. We only have a few weeks, and she's got the potential to 覧" "Back off for a minute, Kate." Kate frowned but took Edward's warning more seriously than she'd taken mine. Renesmee's hand was on my neck; she was remembering Kate's attack, showing me that no harm was meant, that Daddy was in on it.... This did not pacify me. The spectrum of light I saw still seemed tainted with crimson. But I was in better control of myself, and I could see the wisdom of Kate's words. The anger helped me. I would learn faster under pressure. That didn't mean I liked it. "Kate," I growled. I rested my hand on the small of Edward's back. I could still feel my shield like a strong, flexible sheet around Renesmee and me. I pushed it farther, forcing it around Edward. There was no sign of a flaw in the stretchy fabric, no threat of a tear. I panted with the effort, and my words came out sounding breathless rather than furious. "Again," I said to Kate. "Edward only." She rolled her eyes but flitted forward and pressed her palm to Edward's shoulder. "Nothing," Edward said. I heard the smile in his voice. "And now?" Kate asked. "Still nothing." "And now?" This time, there was the sound of strain in her voice. "Nothing at all." Kate grunted and stepped away. "Can you see this?" Zafrina asked in her deep, wild voice, staring intently at the three of us. Her English was strangely accented, her words pulling up in unexpected places. "I don't see anything I shouldn't," Edward said. "And you, Renesmee?" Zafrina asked. Renesmee smiled at Zafrina and shook her head. My fury had almost entirely ebbed, and I clenched my teeth together, panting faster as I pushed out against the elastic shield; it felt like it was getting heavier the longer I held it. It pulled back, dragging inward. "No one panic," Zafrina warned the little group watching me. "I want to see how far she can extend." There was a shocked gasp from everyone there 覧Eleazar, Carmen, Tanya, Garrett, Benjamin, Tia, Siobhan, Maggie覧everyone but Senna, who seemed prepared for whatever Zafrina was doing. The others' eyes were blank, their expressions anxious. "Raise your hand when you get your sight back," Zafrina instructed. "Now, Bella. See how many you can shield." My breath came out in a huff. Kate was the closest person to me besides Edward and Renesmee, but even she was about ten feet away. I locked my jaw and shoved, trying to heave the resisting, resilient safeguard farther from myself. Inch by inch I drove it toward Kate, fighting the reaction that fought back with every fraction that I gained. I only watched Kate's anxious expression while I worked, and I groaned quietly with relief when her eyes blinked and focused. She raised her hand. "Fascinating!" Edward murmured under his breath. "It's like one-way glass. I can read everything they're thinking, but they can't reach me behind it. And I can hear Renesmee, though I couldn't when I was on the outside. I'll bet Kate could shock me now, because she's underneath the umbrella. I still can't hear you... hmmm. How does that work? I wonder if..." He continued to mumble to himself, but I couldn't listen to the words. I ground my teeth together, struggling to force the shield out to Garrett, who was closest to Kate. His hand came up. "Very good," Zafrina complimented me. "Now 2" But she'd spoken too soon; with a sharp gasp, I felt my shield recoil like a rubber band stretched too far, snapping back into its original shape. Renesmee, experiencing for the first time the blindness Zafrina had conjured for the others, trembled against my back. Wearily, I fought back against the elastic pull, forcing the shield to include her again. "Can I have a minute?" I panted. Since I'd become a vampire, I hadn't felt the need to rest even once before this moment. It was unnerving to feel so drained and yet so strong at the same time. "Of course," Zafrina said, and the spectators relaxed as she let them see again. "Kate," Garrett called as the others murmured and drifted slightly away, disturbed by the moment of blindness; vampires were not used to feeling vulnerable. The tall, sandy-haired Garrett was the only non-gifted immortal who seemed drawn to my practice sessions. I wondered what the lure was for the adventurer. "I wouldn't, Garrett," Edward cautioned. Garrett continued toward Kate despite the warning, his lips pursed in speculation. "They say you can put a vampire flat on his back." "Yes," she agreed. Then, with a sly smile, she wiggled her fingers playfully at him. "Curious?" Garrett shrugged. "That's something I've never seen. Seems like it might be a bit of an exaggeration___" "Maybe," Kate said, her face suddenly serious. "Maybe it only works on the weak or the young. I'm not sure. You look strong, though. Perhaps you could withstand my gift." She stretched her hand out to him, palm up 覧a clear invitation. Her lips twitched, and I was pretty sure her grave expression was an attempt to hustle him. Garrett grinned at the challenge. Very confidently, he touched her palm with his index finger. And then, with a loud gasp, his knees buckled and he keeled over backward. His head hit a piece of granite with a sharp cracking noise. It was shocking to watch. My instincts recoiled against seeing an immortal incapacitated that way; it was profoundly wrong. "I told you so," Edward muttered. Garrett's eyelids trembled for a few seconds, and then his eyes opened wide. He stared up at the smirking Kate, and a wondering smile lit his face. "Wow," he said. "Did you enjoy that?" she asked skeptically. "I'm not crazy," he laughed, shaking his head as he got slowly to his knees, "but that was sure something!" "That's what I hear." Edward rolled his eyes. And then there was a low commotion from the front yard. I heard Carlisle speaking over a babble of surprised voices. "Did Alice send you?" he asked someone, his voice unsure, slightly upset. Another unexpected guest? Edward darted into the house and most of the others imitated him. I followed more slowly, Renesmee still perched on my back. I would give Carlisle a moment. Let him warm up the new guest, prepare him or her or them for the idea of what was coming. I pulled Renesmee into my arms as I walked cautiously around the house to enter through the kitchen door, listening to what I couldn't see. "No one sent us," a deep whispery voice answered Carlisle's question. I was immediately reminded of the ancient voices of Aro and Caius, and I froze just inside the kitchen. I knew the front room was crowded 揺預lmost everyone had gone in to see the newest visitors蓉傭ut there was barely any noise. Shallow breathing, that was all. Carlisle's voice was wary as he responded. "Then what brings you here now?" "Word travels," a different voice answered, just as feathery as the first. "We heard hints that Volturi were moving against you. There were whispers that you would not stand alone. Obviously, the whispers were true. This is an impressive gathering." "We are not challenging the Volturi," Carlisle answered in a strained tone. "There has been a misunderstanding, that is all. A very serious misunderstanding, to be sure, but one we're hoping to clear up. What you see are witnesses. We just need the Volturi to listen. We didn't 覧" "We don't care what they say you did," the first voice interrupted. "And we don't care if you broke the law." "No matter how egregiously," the second inserted. "We've been waiting a millennium and a half for the Italian scum to be challenged," said the first. "If there is any chance they will fall, we will be here to see it." "Or even to help defeat them," the second added. They spoke in a smooth tandem, their voices so similar that less sensitive ears would assume there was only one speaker. "If we think you have a chance of success." "Bella?" Edward called to me in a hard voice. "Bring Renesmee here, please. Maybe we should test our Romanian visitors' claims." It helped to know that probably half of the vampires in the other room would come to Renesmee's defense if these Romanians were upset by her. I didn't like the sound of their voices, or the dark menace in their words. As I walked into the room, I could see that I was not alone in that assessment. Most of the motionless vampires glared with hostile eyes, and a few 覧Carmen, Tanya, Zafrina, and Senna4羊epositioned themselves subtly into defensive poses between the newcomers and Renesmee. The vampires at the door were both slight and short, one dark-haired and the other with hair so ashy blond that it looked pale gray. They had the same powdery look to their skin as the Volturi, though I thought it was not so pronounced. I couldn't be sure about that, as I had never seen the Volturi except with human eyes; I could not make a perfect comparison. Their sharp, narrow eyes were dark burgundy, with no milky film. They wore very simple black clothes that could pass as modern but hinted at older designs. The dark one grinned when I came into view. "Well, well, Carlisle. You have been naughty, haven't you?" "She's not what you think, Stefan." "And we don't care either way," the blonde responded. "As we said before." "Then you're welcome to observe, Vladimir, but it is definitely not our plan to challenge the Volturi, as we said before." "Then we'll just cross our fingers," Stefan began. "And hope we get lucky," finished Vladimir. In the end, we had pulled together seventeen witnesses 2葉he Irish, Siobhan, Liam, and Maggie; the Egyptians, Amun, Kebi, Benjamin, and Tia; the Amazons, Zafrina and Senna; the Romanians, Vladimir and Stefan; and the nomads, Charlotte and Peter, Garrett, Alistair, Mary, and Randall 覧to supplement our family of eleven. Tanya, Kate, Eleazar, and Carmen insisted on being counted as part of our family. Aside from the Volturi, it was probably the largest friendly gathering of mature vampires in immortal history. We all were beginning to be a little bit hopeful. Even I couldn't help it. Renesmee had won over so many in such a brief time. The Volturi only had to listen for just the tiniest second___ The last two surviving Romanians 覧focused only on their bitter resentment of the ones who had overthrown their empire fifteen hundred years earlier覧took everything in stride. They would not touch Renesmee, but they showed no aversion to her. They seemed mysteriously delighted by our alliance with the werewolves. They watched me practice my shield with Zafrina and Kate, watched Edward answer unspoken questions, watched Benjamin pull geysers of water from the river or sharp gusts of wind from the still air with just his mind, and their eyes glowed with their fierce hope that the Volturi had finally met their match. We did not hope for the same things, but we all hoped.

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