A/N: I received such a warm welcome back... wow. Thank you. So many familiar readers and a bunch of new ones. I am so very, very grateful that I get to be part of this fandom. Thank you!

Bella sat, frozen in place, as the room gradually emptied around her. Eventually the only people who remained were her partner, still fuming, and two guards near the main entrance. The bamboo canes had been swept aside and lay in splinters against one wall. She could still smell the stink of blood and urine, although two of the Volturi captives had been forced to scrub the stones clean once Zafrina's unresponsive body had been dragged away.

"Come along then," Masen said stiffly.

Bella struggled to stand. Her hands and feet were tingling, and her knees ached. The first steps she took sent pain shooting from her ankles up to her hips. She raised her left hand to feel her face and found the skin puffy and hot to the touch. Her left eyelid was slightly swollen, and her vision swam as tears continued to seep from that eye.

Why couldn't she just wake up and find herself safe at home, far away from this nightmare? She knew the answer before the question was fully formed in her mind. Because none of them could. Not Alice or Zafrina, nor the girl with the doll or silent Jane.

Her thoughts skipped back to the seconds immediately before Masen had activated the collar. What had they done to Zafrina? She couldn't remember anything but the screams and accompanying hoots and jeers from the men. If she hadn't made a scene, would Masen have joined in their celebration? Just how far would he feel compelled to go to further their mission? His character was vile, absolutely evil. That had to come from somewhere. Somewhere inside his mind.

I'm about as black as they come on this side of the line…

Those were his words just a few days earlier. She had wondered then if he really believed them himself. Now she was beginning to question her own conviction about his character. But Jacob had agreed with her, called Masen a good man. So where did that leave them?

"Stop. Stay."

Bella halted at his command, only then realizing that they had reached the central courtyard. Sunlight was streaming down through the glass roof; clear, fresh and beautiful. She flinched away from the sudden brightness, shielding her eyes with one arm.

Why couldn't it be raining? Black clouds would have been more fitting... if this were a fictional tale. Bella reminded herself that the sun rose and set all over the globe with no consideration for the torment of any mere mortal. This was no soundstage, with lighting and a score to complement each scene. This was the real world, and birds sang beautifully outside the window as young women were drugged, raped and tortured. She had to let go of all her preconceived notions about the world and how it should operate. Masen's rage had been unfeigned. Those naive expectations had almost cost them everything this morning. Bella's knees shook when the full impact of her mistake, and the barely avoided catastrophe, sank in. Her fingers trembled as she felt the blue gemstone that rested just below her larynx. The pain and the panic were indescribable. However, she also felt intense relief flooding her body.

Bella took a shallow breath, then a slightly deeper one, and as her eyes adjusted, she peeked out to see what Masen was doing. Her partner stood several paces away, talking to Aro, who was laying back on a cushioned rattan settee with Jane nestled snugly against his side. Today Aro's slacks were tangerine orange, and his shirt was a tightly-tailored blend of turquoise silk and bright yellow piping. The combination was so garish that Bella had trouble looking away.

Mr. Cullen's stern voice reached her clearly, sounding slightly impatient. "If I have to travel on short notice, I want to take her with me. No offense, but I do not trust James. Not after that little tantrum he threw last night. And, if she's documented, Marie is worth that much more to her next owner. I would have taken care of it before I left Seattle, but..."

"Ah, yes… I believe I heard rumors…"

"So you understand my predicament. Can you help me?" The businessman leaned with one hand on the back of the settee, and his other hand in his pocket, so Aro had to crane his head and look into the sun to address him directly.

Aro blinked against the glare and looked back down at his petite companion. "Mr. Volturi has taken a liking to your little girl. She might have no need of identification after all. Give us a little time. I'm sure we'll turn up a suitable replacement soon."

"I'm confident you will. That's why I came to you in the first place. Perhaps I'm throwing money away, but I value my mobility. At the moment, I have very little if I want to keep the girl in my sight."

"You make an excellent point," Aro replied thoughtfully. He paused, his perfectly manicured fingers trailing gently up and down Jane's spine. When he spoke again, his voice was cheerful and upbeat. "I feel comfortable speaking for Mr. Volturi when I say that he values your friendship and would be pleased to extend you this consideration. One of our men will give you instructions on how to contact a man you can trust to do the job professionally… and discretely. In fact, he takes visitors most Sundays. How do you feel about taking a short drive down the coast tomorrow?"

"I have no other plans."

"How perfect!" Aro stretched, dislodging the girl at his side. "Run along now, my pet. You haven't had any breakfast yet."

Bella was so engrossed in their conversation that she did not hear the soft steps behind her until the man spoke.

"Well, hello, my darling dormouse," a gentle voice greeted her.

Bella looked up with a start to see Marcus Volturi standing casually with his hands clasped at the small of his back.

"Such a lovely day," he continued. "It appears that young Aro and the esteemed Mr. Cullen are deep in conversation. More's the pity. They would have loved this. Walk with me. I would very much like to show you something."

"Mr. Cullen told me not to move," she whispered.

Bella willed her partner to turn her way, but when several seconds passed and the other two men were still locked in conversation, Mr. Volturi slipped his arm through hers and tugged her gently around to walk beside him.

"I don't think-" she protested feebly, but the old man shushed her.

"It's fine. It's fine. Aro will find us. He knows how much I love to visit my pretties."

Bella caught her toe on the edge of a paver, stumbled and fell, almost pulling her escort down with her. She cried out a little louder than necessary, and felt a surge of satisfaction when she saw Masen and Aro glance their way. At least she knew that Masen was aware of who she was with and the direction they were going.

"Careful, my dear," he admonished her gently, patting the back of her hand with one pale, long-fingered hand. She apologized in a breathless rush and allowed Mr. Volturi to lead her across the courtyard and through an ornate archway to the open air.

The fresh ocean breeze was invigorating after the oppressive darkness of the mansion's interior and the bright heat of the atrium. They paused a moment and looked out across the ocean, the waters a translucent blue-green expanse, only occasionally broken by thin white lines of foam.

A concrete and timber pier extended out into the water, with two motorboats docked on one side and a sailing boat moored on the other. Fifty yards offshore a magnificent yacht was anchored, the sun gleaming off its polished teak deck and shining copper rails.

Bella froze as if in awe, taking in as much of the scene as she could before the old man prodded her to move again. The walls of the compound extended into the water on both sides, so that the stretch of white sand was invisible to both the neighboring properties. Tall coconut palms further obscured the view. While the roofs of the mansions on either side were clearly visible, Bella could not make out a single window or balcony. A black-coated Volturi guard was patrolling the beach with a heavily-muscled Rottweiler on a short leash at his heel.

"This way, this way. It really is marvelous." The old man's voice quickened with his excitement.

He had yet to mention the horrific scene in the dining room. Had he seen her outburst and Edward Cullen's response? Unsure of what to expect, Bella reluctantly allowed herself to be towed along. Near the north property line, a greenhouse sat, its steeply-pitched roof made up of immaculate glass panels mounted in an oxidized bronze framework. Four of the panels were propped open for ventilation, but the door itself was shut. Bella's anxiety grew as they approached the structure. She could see that the interior was sheathed in fine netting, while closely spaced flowers and trees obscured her view of what lay inside.

"Move quickly now," Marcus said in an agitated whisper, opening the door no more than a foot before pushing the trembling girl inside and squeezing through right behind her.

Bella pushed through the green netting, her eyes flinching closed as the silky strands caught on her hair and eyelashes. The air was still and close, heavy with the scents of rich soil and tropical blooms. Sweat was already gathering on her scalp and neck, dripping down to soak her clothes. But she shivered all the same. As she opened her eyes, a fluttering sound near her ear made her jump and squeak.

"Look, she likes you. Haha!" the old man cackled, holding out his finger to coax a large butterfly from her hair.

The greenhouse was alive with butterflies. They clung to the nets along the ceiling and walls, wings opening and closing lazily in the tropical heat. Bella saw every color of the rainbow, but the beauty balancing on Marcus's slender index finger was the most eye-catching of all. It was a giant iridescent blue and black butterfly, its vivid wings spread wide to show off. Each wing was traced with delicate veins and bordered with black, white spots highlighting the scalloped wing edge. The tiny, feather-like scales quivered with every movement of the air around them. Bella found herself holding her breath.

"She is the only one to survive her hatching. Such a treasure, is she not?"

"It's beautiful," Bella agreed, her voice barely raised beyond a whisper.

The creature was more than four inches across. As they watched, its wings closed for a moment, revealing the soft beige and brown markings of its ventral wing surface. When they opened again, the light glinted off the brilliant blue.

Marcus hummed and nodded, tilting his head to examine the specimen more closely. "Just like a dormouse, timid and oh so modest. One has to know exactly where to look to find her. But when she spreads her wings, who can look away? Eh, my dear?" He fixed his pale brown eyes on her face, and Bella found herself trapped, unable to look away.

She didn't know what to make of the Volturi mastermind. He was distant but intense, gentle and sweet one moment, yet seemingly unaffected by the horrific crimes committed under his roof, on his orders. Bella could not shake the image from just an hour earlier of Aro receiving instructions and meting out punishments that could have only come from this man. How could evil present itself with such gentility? Even elegance?

Marcus Volturi laid his finger alongside a feeder and blew gently until the butterfly rose and resettled itself. He began to point out each species in turn, describing their natural habitats and unique characteristics. She listened attentively, wondering what other motive he could have for separating her from her master.

Heavy footsteps sounded outside, and the door opened to admit one of the guardsmen.

"Sir," he began.

"The door, the door! Shut the door!" Marcus cried, flapping his hands urgently.

The man jerked the door closed, looking around to make sure none of the winged insects had slipped by him.

"I'm sorry, sir. Mr. Aro sent me to remind you that you must depart in under ten minutes. Can I escort you to your vehicle?"

"Is it time to go already? Well, that is a shock. Such a busy morning we've had. My darling Marie, I'm sorry. We've only just gotten acquainted."

Bella bit her lip desperately. This was her opportunity to learn something about their strange nemesis. "Will you be gone long?" she finally stammered.

"Will I be gone long… I think so. But not too long. I'm not going far. Just far enough. For the fresh air, you see?" he said, a contented smile stretching his thin lips. "I hope you will still be here when I return. You are a special one, just like my pretty morpho menelaus." His voice drifted off into a wistful sigh, and Bella looked at the guard in alarm.

"Sir? Your appointment begins in fifty minutes. Allow me to escort you to your vehicle." The guard pulled back the netting and opened the door, beckoning the old man to join him. A salty breeze swept in, lifting Bella's hair and awakening the butterflies.

Marcus howled in panic, lean arms swooping around to close the curtain. A flash of blue, a clap of his hands, and he crowed in relief. "Got her. Such a spirited thing, my beauty. But she wouldn't survive a day out there. The sea birds would snap her up in flash. Here, Marie. Please hold her for me." Bella held out her cupped hands as ordered. Mr. Volturi transferred the butterfly to her shaking palms and eased himself through the doorway. "Have a lovely day, my dear. And please come here as often as you wish. They shall be lonely otherwise."

The door closed and latched behind him, and Bella gulped in lungfuls of the now still air. She looked down in horror at the once-perfect butterfly. Her wings were snapped, the delicate scales smudged and missing in several places, and thick yellow fluid oozed from the cracks in her exoskeleton. Bella sank to the ground, tears of confusion and terror dripping down her cheeks as, one after another, the delicate, tawny legs flexed, uncurled and lay still.

A/N: For those who have asked, we're approximately 2/3 through my outline. Next chapter is longer and more complex, so it might take me a couple weeks to get it just right. Thanks in advance for your patience.