BY SENORGIMP, AND BUFFYGRL3
**It was just past six on a Thursday evening in Mid-July, and Jacob, Nessie, Edward and I were sitting on the sofa watching the news. Not that we NEEDED to sit, but it seemed like the type of thing a family would do.
The WeatherMan had just gotten done with his five day forecast (More rain.. YAY!), when a breaking news bulletin came on:
"At approximately 5:35 this afternoon, just outside of Newton's Sporting Goods, a Giant Wolf was spotted running along the highway. Four cars were involved in a collision when one of them veered to miss the large animal. Of the seven passengers, only one of them was seriously injured, a 19 year old boy named Mike Newton, and he was taken to Forks City Hospital in an ambulance just moments ago. We're still not sure where the wolf came from or its current whereabouts, but search parties have been organized and the threat should soon be neutralized"
Oh My God!
"Dammit Leah!", Jacob roared. "I told her to stay OUT of the public eye! I swear to god, if she doesn't start listening to me, I WILL use my alpha command and MAKE her see reason"
"Why would she be risking exposure like that?", I wondered. "I always thought she was quite good at avoiding observation"
"It's that damn boy, Mike. She saw him last month when he brought a group to the beach at La Push, and she's been crushing on him ever since. She sits outside of his store for hours waiting for him to come out. I don't know why she was running down the damn highway, but I bet she's gonna have a conniption when she finds out that he got hurt because of her."
As if on cue, a loud agonized howl sounded out in the forest, and Jacob went outside to investigate, phasing without a thought as he leaped off the porch.
"That girl just never ceases to annoy me", Edward informed me, rolling his eyes to accentuate his irritation.
"Now you listen to me mister," I said, gathering all of my bluster and indignation, and fixing him with a glare the likes of which he'd never seen, "That poor girl has suffered through a lot of pain, and she deserves to have a happy life. Just because she yelled at me, with GOOD CAUSE, when I was sick, doesn't give you the right to treat her badly. You just keep your mouth shut about her, or I'll shut it for you. Now come on, we're going to the hospital to see if Mike's all right." **
**When we got there, Mike looked pretty bad. His head was wrapped in bandages and his arm was in a cast. Renesmee touched her hand to my cheek, her thoughts were thirst related. She was wondering why the blood here smelled kind of like ammonia. Unfortunately, I couldn't answer her without Mike thinking I was nuts, so I leaned down and whispered "later", too quietly for MIke to hear. "So Bella," he said, "I didn't expect you to come. You look, er, different." I could hear the awe in his voice, and felt like smacking myself for my indiscretion. Mike hadn't seen me since before the change!
I smiled at him, searching my head for a way out of THIS pickle.
He seemed to get over it pretty quickly, though. "Whats with the kid?" he asked. He smiled a little, in a friendly way, it looked like he'd finally gotten over his crush on me, too. Or that's what I thought, until I heard Edward grinding his teeth together, or maybe Edward was annoyed by the way Mike called our baby "the kid". I shot him a glare and he forced a small smile.
Carlisle walked in and began changing the bandages, once again I was very thankful for my abnormal self-control. Mike smelled delicious. While Carlisle worked I asked him questions. Mike would be fine, in fact, he'd be out of the hospital in just a couple days, so I invited him to join us at the house for a movie night. Maybe I could get Leah and him to spend a little time together. Mike accepted, of course, and Edward worked very hard to keep the comforting smile on his face.
Once we were out of the room, out of earshot of Mike, Edward turned to me and whispered, "May I ask why you invited MIKE to our home?"
"For your information, its because I'm TRYING to do something nice for Leah. She's obviously too shy to talk to him herself, so I figured I could help her out. And who knows, maybe it'll make her like us a little." I gave him my best angry look, but the tiny glint of regret I saw in his eyes stopped me short.
"I'm sorry," he said,"I didn't realize you were doing it for Leah."
"What else would I be doing? You think I just enjoy Mike's company so very much or what?"**
**He gave an apologetic half-smile and slight bow, gesturing with his arm that I should lead the way. I rolled my eyes, hiding my secret pleasure at his playful antics.
I marched out the front doors of the hospital, playing my role as disgruntled wife better than I could have ever gotten away with during my human life.
Renesmee touched my face, showing me a picture of the consternation on my brow, and looked at me questioningly.
I managed to sneak her a conspiratorial smile, letting her in on the ruse.
Once we got to the side of the parking lot where Edward's shiny silver volvo waited (I still refused to take my After car out, unless absolutely necessary. There was, after all, a limit to how flashy a person could decently be!), I spared him a quick glance to get his attention, released my mental shield for a fraction of a second, to let him in on the game, then raced off into the woods, Renesmee snuggled tight against my breast.
I could just imagine the look on his face, when the words RACE YOU! suddenly jumped form my brain to his. I giggled deviously.
As I neared the house, by this time beginning to hear the distant revving of an engine being pushed as hard as it would go, Jake caught up with me, loping easily along beside me, but slowing gradually to indicate that I should stop and talk with him.
I quickly calculated the odds of still managing to beat Edward home, decided it would frustrate him more if he had to wait for me to return, and slowed to a stop.
"What's up Jake?"
He stood hesitantly in the middle of the woods, moving his head in circles, still in his wolf form.
"Oops!" I said, realizing the dilemma. I turned around so he could change in private.
This did not, however, prevent Renesmee from peeking over the top of my shoulder, her mouth dropping open into a surprised little "O".
"Nessie!" I scolded, looking at her in astonishment.
She giggled and hid her face in my chest again.
"Er, sorry Jake.", I said, not sure how he would feel about it. 'He'd better be embarrassed and upset', I thought, getting protective now, 'because if he wasn't...'
"That's okay, Bells. But this is important! I just talked to Leah, and she told me the reason she was running down the freeway was that there was a vehicle following Mike, and she recognized the driver for what he was. She also recognized his intention, so she ran him off the road, accidentally clipping mike's car in the process. They were following him, waiting for a chance to abduct him. She says she followed them through the woods, but lost them a few miles away from the mountains. She says there were three of them, and they kept crying "Delajio" as they fled. We don't know what that's supposed to mean though-"
"I do." Edward's voice came out of the trees behind us, taking my breath away as usual. Well, it would have taken my breath away, if i had been breathing.
It always caught me off guard, the difference in the way I viewed things since my transformation, and how easily it was to get distracted... Good thing I can think so much faster, now, too!
This all went through my head in a little less than 1/32 of a second.
Jake and I stared at him expectantly, and Nessie had a look of enthralled suspense on her face, as though this were all an interesting story for her to enjoy.
Edward remained silent.
"Well?" I prompted, thinking he was holding back.
"Sorry, Alice was just filling in a few holes for me. Delajio is a term that is, I guess, basically similar in concept to a dowry. Do you know what that is?" He asked.
I gave him a look that said he was going to pay later for thinking so little of me.
"Right, sorry. The Delajio is an offering by someone interested in becoming one of us. Prior to the transformation, they are required to demonstrate their allegiance to our world by offering a blood relative as a sacrifice." He looked at me gravely, letting the gravity of the situation sink in.
Someone in Mike's family wanted to become one of us, and had tried to have Mike Killed to do it!!!**
**I was in shock, a million thoughts zipped through my head. For a moment I struggled to arrange them, and get my priorities right. Nessie's slight loss of innocence would have to wait, unfortunately. "We have to get Mike out of the hospital. Whoever wanted to kill him failed, and if I know vampires, they won't give up that easily." Jake phased, I gripped Edward's hand and shifted Nessie to the other arm, and we flew through the forest toward the house.
When we got there, I left Edward with Nessie at the house, got some clothes for Jake and Leah, and we jumped in my "after" car. While I drove we asked Leah to tell her story over.
A MESS OF TROUBLE
I was getting really sick of my mighty Alpha's very teenage boy behavior. Every time I mentioned Mike, he rolled his eyes, or grinned like an idiot. But, we didn't have much time, so I shot him a glare and began retelling my story. "Well, I was running near the highway toward the store, just runnin for the hell of it ya know, and I saw Mike headed to work. There was a green car behind him, and I didn't think much of it until I got a good look at the leeches - er- people inside. Well I could tell they were after Mike cause they turned everywhere he did, stopped when he did, all that creepy stalker stuff. So I bumped their car, hoping to at least get them away from MIke, and they bolted." Bella interrupted with a question, "Did you see what they looked like Leah?"
"Well, there were two females and a male. One of the females tall, and kind of dark like those one's from Egypt who showed up. The other female had this really bright red hair, she moved more like a cat than any other... vampire I've seen. Her eyes were kinda wild, they darted around and well, if I couldn't tell by their skin I definitely could have told from her eyes. And the male, well, I didn't really get a good look at him. Maybe I should have thought about it when Edward was around, he might have recognized one of them."
We got to the hospital and I went to check on Mike, while the blood-sucker and Jake went to talk to the doctor leech (my mighty Alpha didn't like me to use those words around him, said he'd send me home if he caught me, but hell, he can't read my mind when I'm human.) I got the room number from the nurse behind the desk, as I walked down the hall I tried to keep myself from breathing through my nose. The way hospitals smell always kind of scared me. I got to the room and found myself face to face with an empty bed.
Just minutes later Jake and I were outside the house listening to the vampires talk.**
**"It seems that we have, as usual, a very serious danger here in our little town. I guess it was a bit overly optimistic of me to assume that the area would quiet down as soon as Bella was, well, less vulnerable." He looked at me apologetically. Obviously he had meant no offense.
"S'okay, Carlisle, I did cause you all a good deal of trouble before." I smiled to show him there were no hard feelings.
"It was never your fault, Bella, when will you understand that?" Of COURSE he would make things difficult by trying to absolve me of all responsibility.
"Edward, now is not the time. Mike's life is in danger, so if we could maybe put the issue of my part in your previous troubles on the back burner for now? Thanks honey"
I kissed his hand quickly and then pressed it to my breast to show him that I loved him, and also to prevent any rebuttals. He seemed oddly taken aback and confused as to how I'd managed to grasp his hand in the first place.
It seemed that he might no longer be the quickest in the family. I couldn't hide a thrilled grin, but stifled it immediately to get back to the matter at hand.
"Anyway, Edward filled you in on the basic principles of the Delajio?" He waited for my nod before continuing. "There are some rituals, however, that go beyond the degradation of your 'standard' Delajio." He said the word standard with a certain amount of disgust.
'Well this can't bode well', I thought, as I'd never really seen anything but compassionate understanding on his face before. Anything awful enough to unsettle Carlisle must be bad!
"When one of our kind reaches a certain level of maturity, which depends, by the traditional vampire diet, on the number of meals..." he trailed off here, and I knew that what was coming up would be absolutely horrid!
"Let me back up a moment.. A Delajio is basically a chance for one of us to be inducted into the coven we choose. It is a very outdated tradition, and is rarely used these days. The concept behind the Delajio is a double-betrayal, however. We convince a human that we will allow them to become one of us by giving up a blood sacrifice, that is to say, offering up one of their relatives as a meal for the vampires who would change them. So the first betrayal is of the loyalty of family. Again, this is based on the traditional lifestyle, and most covens don't even practice the ritual anymore." He paused here and took a steadying breath.
"The second betrayal I will get to shortly. There are three requirements to a Delajio: 1). The sacrifice that the inductee receives must be freely and whole-heartedly given, anything less will be insufficient. 2). The one giving up his bloodline" his brow furrowed unconsciously at the thought, "In addition to that atrocity, must pass through a number of rigorous trials, both before and after their transformation, to prove that he-", I arched one eyebrow at him, and he amended the thought, "or she will be physically and mentally fit for this life." He was obviously having a hard time articulating his thoughts, so this MUST be spectacularly abhorrent indeed!
"3). Once the first two requirements are met, the inductee must then challenge the newborn vampire to a fight to the death, which for those of us who are seasoned in combat is not much of a task. You remember how we fared last summer?" I nodded. That was one human memory I'd NEVER forget!
"So the first betrayal is a betrayal of family, and the second betrayal is the death of the newly-turned vampire. By the reasoning of most of our kind, they should have expected it when dealing with us in the first place." He looked at me meaningfully.
"So whoever it is was going to have Mike killed to attain vampire status, and then himself be used as a sacrifice for another vampire?" I thought about that, and although it was awful, I didn't think this was what had my adopted father on edge. "So 1) the wannabe coven member feeds on mike, 2) turns mike's family member, and 3) kills them, do I have that right?" Carlisle inclined his head in acknowledgment. "You said those were the rules to the 'standard' Delajio... That sounds bad enough, but I assume there is icing on this cake?"
He nodded, obviously hesitant to finish his lecture. "Well, in a very few select cases, when the inductee proves promising enough, the coven may impose one more requirement..." I waited, aiming for patiently, but having to settle for tolerantly, not wanting to push him too far. "After besting the newborn, the coven, rather than allowing him to- him or her- to be killed in the accepted way, dismemberment and burning, the inductee ends his or her" he didn't need me as a reminder this time, "life by, well, feeding on the newborn. This has had various effects throughout the years, and caused a great many gifted vampires to meet an untimely end, because each of us has our own unique", he paused searching for the word, "composition in our blood, and they often don't mix. The Volturi long ago labeled it taboo, which is why it isn't very common anymore, but strictly speaking, if the coven is reasonably certain of the outcome, the act is not illegal."
"And what will the outcome be?" I begged, fearing the answer.
"In cases where the inductee didn't immediately wither up and die, or go irrevocably insane, the result is sometimes astonishing. It's basically a coupling of the power of both, physical and mental, which forms a sort of super-breed. Twice as strong, twice as fast, twice as talented, and infinitely more thirsty. That is why some covens still risk it, to gain a member who can substantially increase the respect and fear that others view them with."
"But wouldn't a vampire that powerful be almost impossible to keep in line? Why wouldn't he just go out on his own? Why stay in the coven at all?" I fired these questions at him in rapid succession, unable to compose myself.
"That's part of the Delajio, the gift offered by the coven to the inductee, known as a Diablerie, which forever binds him or her to the coven. There are some incantations, which I am unfamiliar with for obvious reasons, but the bond between the coven and the inductee is equivalent to the bond between a man and his dog. Absolute obedience. Sorry for the analogy, I'm sure you understand that I didn't lump you in that category Jacob, Leah?"
"No worries, Doc." Jacob said, walking inside with Leah on his heels, "We've got to go now though! Leah thinks she can pick up the scent again if we hurry. But we need to get to the site of the 'accident' ", he looked scoldingly at her as he said this, "before the trail fades."
"Carlisle, will you keep an eye on Renesmee for me?" I asked. Without waiting for his confirmation, Edward, Jacob, Leah and I raced off through the woods toward the crash site, Jacob and Leah phasing as they ran. We had a friend to save!**
**As we raced toward the crash site I pondered the Delajio. Why would someone give up a relative to become one of us, if they were going to be destroyed as soon as they were changed? Did they underestimate the strength of vampires or were they just way too confident? Even with my nearly infinite mind capacity I couldn't wrap my head around it. Maybe they just weren't told all of the details. Once we reached the place where Leah had stopped the other vampires, I forced the Delajio to the back of my mind. The reason didn't really matter, did it? What really counted was that Mike was in trouble and we had no clue where he was.
Leah put her nose to the ground and we were off, following the vampires' scent through the forest. Running through small streams and in circles around the trees. It seemed odd that they kept zig-zagging, it made me wonder what they were up to. We followed the trail for about five miles before it disappeared. We spread out, hoping we could find where it started back up but we didn't have any luck, so we gathered back up and thought about what to do next. Then, I got an idea, one that I should have had hours ago, one that any of us should have had hours ago. Edward saw me freeze and pain flashed across his face as he saw the near agony in mine. "Edward," I whispered," Mike didn't disappear from the crash site, he'd gone missing from the hospital. That's where we should be. Where we should have gone from the start, oh Edward how didn't I see this?"
He grabbed my hand and looked me in the eyes, he didn't seem worried at all by what I'd said. For a moment I was furious, why was he being so apathetic, just because he didn't like Mike. Before my anger showed in my eyes, or jumped from my lips, Edward said, "Good idea Bella honey, we'll go to the hospital. Following this trail wasn't a waste of time though, if we hadn't then we wouldn't have known what we were looking for. We've got their scent now."
My hope soared, while I tried to keep it somewhat restrained. If we could find any trace of them at the hospital, then we might be able to follow them to where Mike was! We ran back through the forest, this time not bothering to follow the scent. Before we got to the hospital Jake and Leah phased back and put on the clothes Edward was smart enough to bring for them. We all ran, side by side until we reached the building. Once we were inside we split off. Leah and Edward went to Mike's room to see if they could pick up any trail from there, while Jake and I went to the front desk on the off chance that whoever took Mike from the hospital was human, and dumb enough to put their name on the sign in sheet.
Behind the desk was a dark-haired nurse, she handed us the clipboard and I scanned it quickly. There were no 'Newton's on the list. In fact the only name I really recognized was Lauren's. On my way back to Edward and Leah I wondered why Lauren had been here. Was someone in her family sick?**
But the more I thought about it, the less sense it made. An unnerving suspicion begin creeping its way through me as I searched the hospital for Edward and Leah.
Jacob seemed to realize my unnease, because he stopped me cold in my tracks, unflinchingly grabbing my shoulders from behind, to make me turn and face him. "Bells, what's the matter? You look like you just ate a handful of sour grapes."
"I suppose it's nothing, really. Nothing solid, anyway. I just noticed that Lauren's name was on the guest list, but none of her family is listed here in any of the rooms. Curious, isn't it?" I looked Jacob in the face, measuring his reaction.
"So you think Lauren is responsible for all of this?" He asked rolling his eyes as he said it. "Only one problem there, Bells, Lauren's not related to Mike, they were even dating up till recently. I saw them holding hands on the beach the last time they came to La Push."
"Oh, well I didn't know that, did I? Like I said, it was just nervous speculation. Now let's find the others and see if they've picked up anything, I haven't found that scent around here anywhere!" I said, then quickly looked around to make sure no one had overheard.
"Good idea", Jake said. Then, as though trying to comfort me, added, "Don't worry Bells, we'll find him, I swear we will!" But I knew that there was no way he could guarantee that particular promise.
As we neared the front of the hospital I spotted Edward arguing quietly with Leah by the doors. They must have really been whispering, because I couldn't even make out what they were saying, and my hearing was pretty good.
"Any luck?" I asked, distracting them from their debate. Leah glared at me, which kind of upset me, but Edward preempted any argument that may have started by quickly interjecting, "They left through the window on the 3rd floor, directly below Mike's room. They must have snuck him to the lower room through the vents, to try and throw us off their trail."
I immediately set out to the back of the hospital, intending to pick up the trail from the ground outside Mike's window, and resume the chase. I'd almost made it to the end of the hall when I realized no one had followed me.
I flitted quickly back to them, looking curiously into Edward's eyes, "What did I miss?"
"Do you remember our time in Volterra?" My face dropped as soon as I heard his question.
I barely had the presence of mind to respond, "Is it them then? The Volturi?"
"Not anything like the congregation we faced last winter, no, but a few individual members of the guard. You Remember Felix?"
I nodded, letting him finish his story. "Well I recognized his scent from the back of the hospital," of Course he would have already gone to investigate! "but Leah says it's not the same scent as any of the three in the car. What does that tell us?"
"That there are at least four of them. And One of them is trying to join their coven." I considered a moment longer. "I suppose that since Felix wasn't one of the scents from the initial trail, that he's probably in charge, and only came to get Mike himself when the others failed to do so." I conjured up an image of Felix in my mind, cringing as I thought about what he would be able to do. "The only thing I DON'T get is why Felix would be here to help out with this type of ritual. I mean, didn't the Volturi proclaim that it was taboo? If that's so, then why would one of their own ranks be here to assist in such a thing?"
"You are failing to take into account two things here, my love. First: Being a member of the Volturi Guard is not membership in the Volturi Coven. As a rule, most members of the guard divide themselves into individual sects of 2,3, or 4 members, which could themselves be classified as covens. And two, the Volturi, though hiding behind the mask of Virtue and Righteousness, rarely think twice about the legality of their actions in regards to anything that might substantially benefit them. I'm sure I don't need to remind you of what they tried to just a few short months ago?"
I shook my head, rushing ahead to more urgent matters. "All of this is secondary, we should be off following that trail by now. Mike could already be dead!"
"That's just it, Bella. Mike COULD already be dead, and if that's the case then the Delajio is underway, and how well do you suppose the four of us will fare against a like number of Vampires, at least one of which we know is a member of the Guard, and their new super-powered Vampire hybrid? I'm thinking a few reinforcements would be in order."
"Well let's get some damned reinforcements, then!" I fumed at him, but it was a pointless command, as he had already pulled out his cell phone and dialed in a very familiar number.**
**After one ring Emmett's voice came through the phone. While Edward explained the situation in a hushed voice, Leah stood on edge. I could tell she was itching to do something, anything that would help. "Jake, Leah, I think maybe you should gather the pack, see if Sam would be willing to help. I know its not really in your jurisdiction but there is a human life at stake... maybe two" Within moments they were out the door and running at a very human pace towards the woods.
Edward flipped his phone shut and explained that Emmett, Rose, Alice, Jasper, and Carlisle would be joining us shortly. Esme had volunteered to watch Renesmee while we were gone. I hated the situation we were placing my family in, even with my shield we were likely to lose some of our number if it came to a confrontation. And it was all for Mike. Was it fair for me to risk us all just because the Volturi snack for tonight was someone I knew?
Which brought me back to my earlier speculations about Lauren. Could she be responsible for this? At first it had seemed pretty far-fetched, but then I'd found out that Felix was here, and the situation just kept on getting more complicated. Why shouldn't it be possible that Lauren and Mike were related, if distantly? I brought up my conjecture to Edward as we waited for the others to arrive.
"No, they're definitely not related." I raised an eyebrow at him, wondering how he could possibly know this. "You seem to be forgetting that for the last 4 years I've spent in this town, I've had entire nights of free time to dedicate to whatever I wanted. So I got some background on my class mates, just for the hell of it. Lauren's Maternal Grandparents moved here from Eastern England in 1955, when they were in their 20s. Her Paternal Grandparents have lived here since birth, and the genetic line has been passed down accordingly. Mike's Great Grandparents were from New Zealand, moved to Cincinatti in the early 1920s, where they had Mike's Grandfather, who then moved to Seattle in the late 60s, meeting Mike's grandmother, who was from a Jewish family and had a rebellious streak. They had Mike's Father 2 years later. He moved to Forks about 19 years ago, marrying Mike's mother who was, if memory serves, a hotel manager in Olympia for some time. Her parents were from Boston, and her grandparents from Germany and Sweden..."
I looked at him disbelievingly, shaking my head. Was there no limit to what you could find out on the internet? "Do you know everyone's history that thoroughly?" I asked, sure that he probably did.
He just smiled enigmatically at me, which gave me my answer.
"So it's definitely not Lauren then. Guess that puts us back at square one."
"Not quite square one, no." Carlisle said as he pushed open the double doors and beckoned us outside. "But there are a few things you should all know before we go any farther. I think it would be best if we had this discussion somewhere a bit less public." And with that he turned around and walked quickly back outside, the rest of us following along in his wake.
**"I took the liberty of doing some research in some of the volumes I obtained during my time with the Volturi." Carlisle said, when we were far enough from the hospital to avoid eavesdropping. My entire family was there, minus Esme and Nessie, with Jacob and Leah. Sam should be here soon, Jacob told me, with as many of his pack as he could spare from the normal patrol. I could see a few kanine forms slipping through the trees to the south, and a few moments later, Quil, Embry and Seth began making their way towards us.
Apparently Jacob had gathered his ENTIRE pack.
"It seems that blood relation isn't so much of a factor as I'd thought, which broadens our list of prospective suspects quite a bit. The only thing that actually matters is that the person giving the blood sacrifice give it absolutely, without any reservations. Being a blood relative increases the potency of the offering, but is not, strictly speaking, essential."
"Then I guess my theory isn't as unlikely as some," I glared at Jacob, "have suggested. Carlisle, I think it was Lauren, her name's on the sign-in sheet, and there's no other explanation for her being here, that I can think of, so it would fit wouldn't it?"
"I suppose it's possible, yes." I beamed at this acknowlegment as Edward filled the rest of them in on what we'd discerned, Quil, Embry and Seth having reached us by this point.
"Then I think it would probably be best if we set out immediately," Carlisle finally said, when Edward had finished. "Whether or not we are able to save the Newton boy, it seems that this issue is no longer something that we could overlook, even if we wanted to. The whole town's in danger at this point, and it's up to us to keep them safe."
With that, we made our way with all due haste (ridiculously slow, as we had to walk at a human speed till we were out of sight) to the point in the back of the hospital where the trail picked up, letting Carlisle lead the way, as he was most familiar with Felix's scent. Once he had the trail, we followed him at an excruciatingly slow pace into the cover of the trees, allowing our wolfish companions the opportunity to strip down before phasing, then raced through the thick vegetation of the forest, making our way ever so gradually into the part of the forest I'd once been warned never to visit.
NOW IT'S PERSONAL!
As we raced through the overgrown foliage, Carlisle leading the way unerringly down the path that Felix had taken, my mind began to wander back a few years. They had told me that my human memories would fade and eventually disappear, but so far I had had hardly [i]any[/i] trouble with it. Maybe it was another of those preconceived Vampire notions about being a newborn that was, like the year of uncontrollable thirst, fallacious.
[i]It was just after he had first admitted to me what he was. We were in his car, having just gotten back from Port Angeles, and I had a kind of weird high. The fact that something as absurd as what I'd considered about him could be the truth had made a livewire of my nerves.
He told me he needed to ask something of me, and I was dazzled by the intensity of his sultry voice. "I need you to promise me that you won't go back into the forest anymore." I asked him why and he simply responded, "Let's just say that there are worse things than me out there." [/i]
And that is exactly where we were heading, to that dense expanse of forest in the heart of the woods just outside my Dad's back door.
I realized that this was all secondary, that I should be working on a plan of action to ensure the best chance of a positive outcome, unlikely though that seemed. Still, I needed to focus.
Edward had instructed everyone to think of different ways in which to proceed while we traveled, so that he could sort through it all and hopefully have a decision by then. Which is why it was doubly as important for me to be coming up with something, since he couldn't read my thoughts.
I mean, I can pull it off well enough when I have my full focus on it, but in the current situation, running through the forest at speeds pushing 240 mph, it was a bit hard to concentrate on letting him in. That would be yet another piece for him to try and add to the puzzle when we got there, so I had to have something good!
But try as I might, nothing would come. I couldn't think of any possible way that the outcome wouldn't be incredibly tragic. Mike was an almost certain loss at this point, and it seemed rather inevitable that I would also lose one of my family. God I couldn't bear the thought that it might be Edward!
All too soon, Carlisle called a halt, stating that there was a cavern up ahead and that the trail went directly into it. I had run out of time, and I had nothing to offer. I hung my head in shame.
But Edward surprised me. Looking in turn from one person to the next, he said, "I think you would be better off working with Emmett, your speed would compliment his brute force. Jake, I agree with you, take the pack around a couple mile circuit, check the perimeter to make sure there are no other ways out of here. When Sam shows up, use your best judgment to decide where he would be most useful, I'm counting on you to close up any holes. Alice, you stick with Rosalie, and Bella, keep her safe, we'll need her shield." And then he turned to me.
"I couldn't think of anything," I intoned, my voice tinkling like chimes despite my evident melancholy. "I'm not-"
"Bella, my love, I know this is hard for you. You've got a friend in there, and you're worried about him." He was using all of his considerable charm to calm me down, and I must admit, it was working. "You've got the most important job of all. I hate to put the responsibility of all of our safety on your shoulders, but you're the only one who can do it."
That snapped me right out of my trance. "You hate to put the responsibility on my shoulders!?" I was incredulous. "So you're saying that you don't think I'm strong enough to handle the pressure, is that it?"
"What? No Bella, you've completely miscon-"
"I know what I heard, and I'm going to forget that you said it.. for now." I was fuming, but the urgency of the situation was more pressing than venting my anger. "I know my role, and I will fill it" I said sharply, as I expanded my shield to cover all of my friends, easily pinpointing their unique spots of light, "regardless of your doubt!"
And with that, I led the way down into the tunnel's depths, the set of my shoulders daring anyone to say otherwise.
As I walked through the tunnel I thought. Why had I gotten so incredibly upset with Edward. I knew he didn't mean any harm and with us headed right toward what could be my family's final confrontation it was ridiculous for me to ruin what could be our last moments. Without saying a word I turned and pressed my lips to Edward's. He froze with shock for a moment but once he'd regained his mind he kissed me back passionately. Fire tingled through my veins and I was overwhelmed with the amount of love I could feel in his every movement. I kept kissing him, lost in the moment as I so often was, until I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard a small sigh behind me.
"Bella," said Alice, "we've kinda got to keep focused here, we're on a rescue mission remember?"
I looked at my feet, still almost expecting the heat of a blush, and mumbled an apology.
"Don't worry little sis, I'm sure we'd all love kissing Edward as much as you do." Emmett laughed until Rose nudged him in the rib. They were all smiling at me. Sometimes I wondered what was wrong with my new family, they could be facing the possible destruction of their loved ones and seem totally at ease, while I sometimes faced the smallest things and couldn't hold myself together. At that moment, I promised myself that if we made it out of this, I would become strong, composed individual. I would stop being the emotional weak link, I WOULD find a way to keep calm under fire.
Without a word Edward and I turned and resumed walking through the cavern hand in hand.**
**After about 15 minutes of stalking through the corridors, Carlisle having again taken the lead to guide us unerringly to where Felix had went, we reached a large Iron-bound door of what looked to be aged Mahogany. We all shared a last glance, while Edward gestured at us to indicate who should go where, then pushed open the door, and quickly filed through into the main corridor.
No one was expecting what we saw on the other side.
The room was massive, and lit with an eerie purplish glow that appeared to be emanating from small lanterns which were hung around the room at about fifteen feet intervals. There must have been hundreds of these lanterns, which was revolting, because it was clearly evident, to anyone with the exceptional eyesight of our kind, what these lanterns contained that was producing such light.
Human hearts, strangely luminescent, as though driven by a life force totally separate from their human counterparts. And from each of these lanterns, within the center of the purple effulgence, shone one spot of burning white light which met with each of the others in the precise center of the room.
Well, they would have met, anyway, were it not for the hulking monstrosity intercepting their beams. I suppose she wasn't really hulking, but she put off such an aura of power that she seemed magnified in my mind, larger than life, as it were.
It seemed as though Mike hadn't made it after all.
Her very presence seemed to drink in the beams of light, so that rather than spreading out from their source and illuminating the room with their brilliance, they were confined to the path they traveled from their source straight to her.
I looked into her eyes. Eyes that were shockingly familiar.
I had seen those eyes once before, years ago, during my visit to Volterra. They had been different then, less piercing, not nearly as spectacular or intense. The eyes of a human.
"I trust you remember Gianna? She's amazed us all with her potential, and proven to have a gift that even you won't be able to counter, my dear Bella. Control over light, itself. Look now, she stirs from her reverie. Dorian, Ursula, kindly assist me in a demonstration for our guests." Felix's voice was as confident as ever.
He smiled pleasantly as the other two left through a side door, emerging just a moment later with someone whose face I was [b]not[/b] so shocked to see here.
"Dammit Lauren, have you any idea what you've done?!" The hard edge of rage in Edward's voice sent shivers down my spine. "You may have brought death to this entire town, to everyone you love!"
Lauren was crying uncontrollably, seeming incoherent in the face of her defection. Felix had no such reservations.
"Oh! You believed that it was this pathetic little girl who gave us what we needed? No, I'm afraid she just didn't have the courage to see it through. I do believe you will be surprised when the truth of the situation is made apparent."
"Who then, if not Lauren?" It seemed that Edward was taking the lead in this most dire of dialogues.
"All in good time, my friend, all in good time. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise for you. No, first the demonstration."
And with those words, Dorian and Ursula set Lauren on the floor about 300 yards away from Gianna, who was just now beginning to appraise the situation with blood-red eyes.
"Gianna, dear, why don't you show our guests what your talent is?" said Felix, gesturing grandly to Lauren's motionless form.
Before any of us could take more than a step in her direction, though what good we could have done, i'm not sure, Gianna directed her gaze at Lauren, and to our astonishment a beam of pure white light more brilliant than those emananting from the lanterns incinerated Lauren where she sat.
We all just stood there dumb-struck for a moment, trying to process what we'd just seen. Felix spared us the effort.
"Her talent was, simply put, the control of light, as I suppose is quite obvious at this point, but it was hardly an effective weapon. She could increase or decrease the light within a given area as much as she wanted, but the most effect that that ever had was to blind her opponents either with brightness or darkness. Since many of us are quite capable of functioning through the use of our other senses, it was hardly a notable talent at all."
As much as we knew it was only delaying the inevitable, we all just stood there at rapt attention, unable to tear ourselves out of the hold of his narrative. All of us, that is, except for Rosalie, who I noticed had managed to make it halfway across the room, and was even now scaling the sheer rock wall to perch above an unsuspecting Gianna.
"But that's when we found [i]her[/i], and everything changed. Her talent, simply put, was vanity. Absolute conceit. Any compliment paid to her, she sort of absorbed, if you will, and used this to elevate herself above her peers, by attacking their flaws. This may seem like a rather, well, trivial talent, and indeed, hardly manifested at all after her transformation, but it gave us just what we needed to create her, our new secret weapon."
I thought about it for a moment, and it made a sick kind of sense. Absorbing compliments, and using them against others; Absorbing light, and using it as a weapon. And that was when I realized the truth, just milliseconds before Felix again sent his lackeys to the back room. When they emerged, my fears were confirmed.
"Oh Jessica, No!" But there was no denying it. There she was, beautiful in her eternal slumber, resting motionless with her arms dangling over the shoulders of Felix's underlings.
And that's when it all happened. Leah came barreling down the tunnel and burst through the door, giving Rosalie her chance. She kicked off of the ceiling, flying with the force of a gale toward an unsuspecting Gianna.
As Leah made a B-line straight toward Dorian, her face contorted in rage, Rosalie slammed into Gianna's back, gouging out her eyes with diamond-hard fingernails, digging them as deep into her skull as she could manage. She threw a look of triumphant glee at Emmett, as Gianna's body erupted in a torrent of light, and then Rosalie was no more.
**Felix laughed and batted Leah to one side, while we stood in shock. She crumpled against the wall, knocked out, but not dead. Emmett nearly fell to the floor. Strong, joking Emmett seemed so helpless with the look of agony carved into his features. With a growl he launched himself at Felix. Edward made a move to stop him, but in his shock he moved too slowly and by the time his arms had come up to catch Emmett's waist, Emmett was on top of Felix already. While the two hulking forms struggled on the ground Alice went after Dorian, she leaped lightly into the air and came down in an arch, landing on top of him with force that would have crushed a human, Dorian tossed her into the air and she flew into the far wall, leaving a crack in the thick stone. At the sound of Alice's body hitting the stone, Jasper leaped into action. While Dorian was distracted by Alice, Jasper came up behind him. There was a thick tearing sound then flames, and Dorian was no more. I struggled with what to do, my shield was no use against Gianna, and I wasn't sure if the other vampires here even had talents. A fact that was horribly made clear when Edward suddenly pushed me to the floor, a piercing streak of light hit him directly in the chest and immediately surrounded his body. With one last look into my eyes, Edward was gone.
I was in shock for almost a whole second before the rage hit. It was nothing like what I'd felt with the Volturi, it was more anger than I had ever felt in my life, or afterlife for that matter. My shield launched away from me, straight toward Gianna. It wasn't even an intentional thing, but to my surprise she was pushed backwards. My shield was actually moving her! But that wasn't enough for me, while my shield held her against the wall I ran toward her. I heard my family screaming my name but nothing could stop me, like I'd always said, Edward's death meant mine and if I could cause Gianna one second of pain before she killed me it was more than worth it. Gianna struggled against the wall, and with my sight still tinted red I stuck my fingers into her eyes, finishing the job that had gotten Rose killed. My fingers broke through her vampiric skull and crushed right into her brain. I ripped her brain out of her head and she crumpled onto the floor. I was sure she was dead, but that didn't matter. I ripped her arms out of the sockets, ripped fingers out of joints, tore her spine into twelve bloody chunks and threw her to the floor. Carlisle came over with a lighter and finished the job.
Emmett and Felix were still fighting, every time one of his family would get close Emmett would scream out, "He's mine!" I wanted to help him, if I stood here and did nothing then I would be crushed by the torrent of guilt and loss I was trying to hold back. Then I remembered the other one, Ursula. I looked around the room and found her. For a moment I was suprised that she hadn't joined the fight, she was huddled in the corner. I moved toward her, intent on destroying her. She was part of the reason Edward wasn't here, she had to die. Before I'd reached her Alice stepped in front of me. I knew I could throw her out of my way with ease, but this was Alice and she'd probably been thrown enough for one day. "Bella, stop. If you kill her, here, when she's doing nothing but cry you'll never forgive yourself once your-" her words cut off as her eyes slid out of focus and went blank. "No" she mouthed right before her head flew from her shoulders and landed on Dorian's still burning corpse. Jasper and I lunged at Ursula, he ripped her arms while I tore her legs, she screamed and writhed at first but then she was silent. We tossed the pieces into the vampire bonfire we had going. I couldn't see Alice in the flames, but I didn't really want to. It hurt to think of her mixed in with those wicked creatures. Jasper held her body in his arms, his shoulders shaking. Emmett was kneeling over the black spot where Rose had disappeared, his face was a mask of pain. Carlisle stood in the middle of the room, he seemed torn between each lost member of his family, unsure of which he would mourn and who he'd console.
My own pain was indescribable, Edward could have left a hundred times and it wouldn't be this bad. I tried to think about how I could do it, how I could die. The more I thought, the more I realized that I couldn't do it. My family had lost enough for one lifetime, I couldn't hurt them even more, and I couldn't leave Renesmee without parents, even though I was sure the rest of the family would take great care of her. I felt dead, worse than dead, I was in hell. The worst kind of hell imaginable. I could feel nothing but the pain. An endless black ocean who's waters were cold and deep, an ocean I'd never make it out of. I curled into the fetal position next to the last place I saw Edward. And though I felt my own pain, I worried about Nessie, who'd lost her father and aunts, and I worried about Esme, who'd lost her son and daughters. Today, we killed the threat to Forks, but we'd certainly lost. There was no winner in this fight.**
I couldn't find my mother when I woke up today, and I had to search the entire house before I realized where she would be. I quickly ran through the familiar stretch of woods that separated our house from the cottage where we had used to live.
Grandma and Grandpa had insisted we move back in with them after my father died, Five years ago to the day. He had said that family was the most important thing, now more than ever.
My two uncles had moved away, Jasper returning to whatever life he'd known in the South before he had met Auntie Alice. Emmett had just disappeared, telling no one of his plans.
I came to the stone walkway leading into the cottage, and softly called for her for my mother. "Mom, where are you?"
"We're here, honey." I followed the sound of my mom's voice around to the back of the cottage. She was sitting on the marble bench with my Jacob, and I could see the strain in her eyes. Strain from trying to look happy for my benefit.
"Hi Jake. Mom, I had another nightmare. You told me to tell you immediately when I had these." I said out loud. My grandpa had insisted I start talking more, saying that one day I would have to be able to live on my own and survive in the world.
"Show me." I walked over to my mom, and I couldn't help but notice how serious she had just gotten. Ever since my first Nightmare, where I had seen my dad burned out of existence with a beam of pure white light, she had insisted I tell her about them. There seemed to be an awful lot more insisting since Dad died.
I walked over and touched her forehead, showing her what I had dreamed. It was a new dream, but similar in imagery to the others. Shadow-shrouded figures lurking menacingly toward Mom and Me, My Jacob lying broken and bloody at their feet.
I looked in her eyes as I showed her, searching their depths for some reaction. The horror that blossomed on her face was answer enough.
I let my concern show in her mind, even as a black-shrouded figure dropped down on Jacob's back.