A/N: Sorry about the long wait. Lots of things happen in two years…I won't bore you with the details. I just hope you all aren't too horribly disappointed in me.
Laurent sniffed the air.
"Couldn't we have gone somewhere else? This forest smells like…wet dog!"
"We're nearly out. Just keep moving. This is going to be the largest population of free humans on the map—all because there are 'vegan vampires'. They won't miss a few…not to mention we'll make quite a profit when we sell the rest. There are bound to be a few young ones."
Though it was her idea, Victoria hadn't said very much on the way down here. Even for a vampire, she looked quite menacing at the moment. Her bright red hair stood out against all the green of the forest and her blue eyes shone with an unnatural gleam. It had been a while since she'd hunted.
All vampires needed to hunt at one point or another despite the nice, clean, kill-free bottles of blood. What the vampires didn't think of when they came up with this plan was that the more primitive instincts always surfaced. Most authorities overlooked the occasional death of a slave, but where was the fun in catching something you didn't even have to chase? It was boring to her. She'd rather feel the wind on her skin as she ran, feel the victory of a challenge in her mind. This was precisely the type of thing she needed: it was James's present to her for their anniversary. They had the entire town to themselves.
"Freedom Flats," James read the sign out loud, "how corny can you get?"
Victoria's eyes locked on the first human she saw: a small old man with silvering hair. He wasn't very big, but he'd make a good appetizer. She heard the wet beating of his heart and saw the slight flutter of his pulse point in his purple ropy veins.
"We should discuss how we're going to take over first," James said, seeing the gleam in her eye.
"I'm not sure she feels like talking," Laurent remarked.
The old man had unfastened the latch on the mail box and was leafing through his mail. As he tore open a letter he'd been waiting for in earnest, the paper slit his finger. All it took was that one tiny droplet to seal the man's fate.
Their eyes darkened.
To Laurent's surprise, it was James that streaked forward first. For all his scheming, he was no more immune to instinct than Victoria. The two took off in a race with Laurent only slightly behind them. It was James that reached the old man first. His dark eyes bulged when he saw the gleaming razor-teeth coming down on him. His scream cut off in a gurgle as the artery in his throat was severed.
"Damn," Victoria laughed, watching James finish him off, "I was that close. At least there are others."
Laurent wasn't sure why, but listening to her speak so casually of the old man made him sick. He wondered why.
He was just a human. All humans die at one time or another, don't they? We're probably more merciful than the heart-attack this guy probably would have had.
Unfortunately, they had attracted some attention. The humans stopped and stared. Then, they started to panic and scatter every which way. Victoria honed in on a chestnut-haired woman.
"No! Please! I'm pregnant!" the woman puffed as she tried to get away. Victoria merely chuckled.
"Two for the price of one!"
Her teeth closed on the woman's neck.
They're on their way to the town! Jacob told his pack. They chased after the scent. Blood boiling, they were itching for a fight now. Their instincts had been stirred by the syrupy-sweet stink of vampires who didn't belong here. Jacob's thoughts flitted to the three girls briefly, but he pushed them away. There was no time to be thinking about that right now.
Suddenly, he skidded to a stop.
Alice! he thought.
What about her? Leah asked irritably.
She's still human! We have to warn them!
NOT NOW, JACOB! There's a whole town full of humans that are being slaughtered right now! She has two vampires to protect her! Sam shouted. Sure enough, the stench of blood was on the air now as well. Jacob reluctantly started running again. Sam was right—Alice was far enough away that the pests could be stopped before they reached her. By the time they did, they would likely be so full that they wouldn't have an appetite for her anyway. The wolves burst through the treeline and surged into the streets. The humans knew who they were and did not fear them—they were actually grateful. Jacob went for Laurent, Sam went for James, and Leah went for Victoria. Just as she reached her, however, a blinding blow knocked her sprawling to the sidewalk.
"Nice try, honey," Victoria laughed.
Leah growled and head-butted her. She landed neatly on her feet, though. No longer in a jovial mood, she was growling as well. Nearby, Jacob and Laurent went tumbling through the dust. Sam, Quil, and Embry were pursuing James as he fled. The humans, knowing full-well that there was danger around, had locked themselves inside various houses and buildings. It was unlikely to help them if the vampires decided to come in though—wood was as easy to tear through as paper to them.
You're not taking me down that easily, James thought. He put on an extra spurt of speed, given strength by the old man's stolen life, and headed for the water. If they couldn't smell him, they couldn't track him.
A little help here would be nice! Leah thought, slamming Victoria into a light-pole hard enough to bend it. She didn't want anyone actually killing Victoria—that was HER job. She just needed a distraction—a split second advantage. Seth provided that advantage by slamming her into the side of a building. Splinters of wood flew everywhere and the humans inside screamed and fled further inside.
What are you doing here? I told you to stay home! Leah scolded him.
And let you guys have all the fun? NEVER! Seth laughed, Admit it, you owe me!
Victoria growled. She slammed into Seth, sending him careening out into the road. Leah heard some of his bones snap with a sickening crunch. She growled angrily and sank her teeth into Victoria's arm. The awful sound of scraping metal filled the air for a moment. Victoria managed to move just enough to where her arm wasn't completely severed. It did, however, have several deep gash-marks in it.
Leah wasn't sure what disgusted her more: the way Victoria was laughing despite the obvious pain or the fact that she didn't bleed at all. She may as well have been tearing apart a stone statue. Victoria leapt into the air, graceful and deadly, and landed behind Leah. Being a split-second faster than the wolf, she managed to hit her so hard that she knocked her out. Then, she fled.
Laurent was surrounded on all sides by growling wolves the size of horses. He raised his hands above his head in surrender.
"Please! I give up! I'm not like those other two! I don't kill for pleasure! I swear I will leave and never return! Just…don't kill me!"
Jacob had phased back into his human form, but the other wolves stayed wolves.
"Why should we trust you? Everyone knows that vampires aren't capable of keeping their word. You'll just keep killing. Or you'll tell others and they'll come to enslave these people! You care only about yourself!"
"I have not harmed a single human here," Laurent told them, "and I swear on my own life I never will. If I do, you have my permission to take my life. I won't say a word about this place. I'll even help you track the other two if you spare my life."
Jacob stared. This was another aspect of vampires he didn't like: they were willing to sell each other out easily. However, beggars could not be choosers at this time. They needed to find the other two vampires before anything else happened.
"Fine. But one false move and you're glittery confetti, understand?"
"We came through the western woods," he told them, "they may have gone back that way. I suspect they both went underwater to help disguise their smells to you."
Jacob phased back. The wolves stayed in a circular formation around Laurent. He was still thirsty, still slightly weaker because he had not hunted yet. They weren't about to let their guard down, though.
"What's that?" Bella asked, hearing something crashing through the under brush.
"I smell…a vampire," Esme said, "an injured one."
Sure enough, Victoria exploded out of the woods a fraction of a second later. She was clutching her shredded arm against her side and breathing rather hard for a vampire.
"Help me!" her thin, shrill voice called, "I need to hide!"
"What happened to you?" Bella asked.
"Fight…misunderstanding…the wolves!" Victoria began to cry a tearless sob. Much to their disturbance, streams of venom flowed down her cheeks instead of water. It streaked her face with a greenish-yellow tint.
Esme leapt off the porch and led Victoria up to the house. She had her arm around Victoria's shoulders as if she were a child who had scraped her knee. Bella had not yet moved, however. She smelled blood on Victoria's breath and wondered if she'd been near the town—that was the only way that the wolves would have attacked.
"We were just passing through," Victoria whimpered, "and we thought we'd have a little picnic in the woods. We brought our own blood. The wolves smelled the blood and assumed we'd killed some of their humans. Then they started attacking us!"
"You poor thing," Esme commented, "why don't you sit down here on the couch? I'm not much of a doctor, but I did learn a couple of things from Carlisle. We'll get that healed up in no time."
She turned to Bella.
"Bella, why don't you go and heat up some blood for her? She'll need the extra nutrients to regenerate."
Bella stared at her as if she'd lost her mind, but she did as she was told.
"I hope you don't mind animal blood," Esme told her, "we're vegans."
Victoria forced a smile.
"I've always wondered what that must be like…never having to take a life at all…"
"Well, it takes some getting used to, but you acquire a taste for it eventually," Esme told her, "I asked to have it from my birth. Never tasting human blood is much easier."
Alice appeared at the top of the stairs just as Bella brought the heated blood into the living room. She made a "stay up there" gesture to Alice and Alice's eyes widened. She promptly went back into her room and closed the door.
Victoria sniffed the air delicately with her small nose.
"I smell a human here…is she your slave?"
"Uhm…no, actually…she's our sister," Esme told her, "she'll be turned as soon as we get a little misunderstanding sorted out."
"I see," Victoria said, accepting the bottle. She cautiously took a sip and had to fight from spitting it right back out. It was absolutely disgusting! However, beggars couldn't be choosers. She forced down a mouthful and smiled her most convincing smile. Winning people over was a gift of hers. Sometimes one had to make sacrifices to do so.
"I'll be right back," Esme said, "I'll get our medical kit."