Twilight and its three and two half sequels are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. This story is fanfiction based on characters, settings and concepts from Twilight, its first three sequels and the first half of Midnight Sun, all of which are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. No party other than the submitting author may alter this work in any way other than font size and other reasonable accommodations to formatting.

I have been butting my head against this chapter for months. But I'm getting on a plane on a Friday the 13th that also happens to be a full moon. If anything happens, my rough draft for the rest of the 'fic is saved to my hard drive.

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"Even if we could somehow neutralize the Volturi's advantages, they could still bury us in bodies," –Bella, Breaking Dawn

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He was taking too long.

He was taking too long.

He was taking too long and I was going to turn into a complete whiny whiner of a nag unless Demetri quit dragging his feet and got his slow butt here right now.

Corin's team had checked in.

Felix's team had checked in.

Demetri was taking too long again.

Genevieve and the others were picking up on my agitation. I knew what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to get it together, put my game face on and mind the discipline. Screw the discipline. Screw it all. I didn't care about the masters. I cared about some of my students. I cared about Caroly, Renata, Rolfe and Demetri. I cared about humans in general, and I cared about Edward, and right now, my boys were flat-out missing, MIA, AWOL, not back in time.

Caroly had been sent out with one of the sweep teams. Stupid decision. She was a fighter who could sense group dynamics and identify weak targets. If she wasn't with Edward and Demetri doing their three-headed-death thing, then she belonged with Caius in tactical. (Just because I wouldn't mind if the calcified creep dropped dead didn't mean that I didn't want the invasion to go well. From what I understood, this was a thinly veiled grudge match between two different sets of bitter old buzzards who'd rather throw their followers at each other's throats than roll up their sleeves and have a straight-up geezer fight, Gandalf-on-Saruman style, but if something was worth doing then it was worth doing right.) She'd proven herself too many times to be minimized like this.

Old-fashioned. Damn them.

Well I could always... Oh hell.

I exhaled. I's been fighting the temptation all day—for years if I was honest. I couldn't leave, but I had to know what was happening. I had to know where he was because I had an awful, awful feeling.

I closed my eyes. If we'd been among humans, any humans, this might have looked weird, but the bottom line was that a lot of vampires spent a lot of time standing very, very still. You didn't need to shift positions to help your circulation (my anatomy books had taught me about the role of skeletal muscle in returning blood flow, and let me tell you, sometimes it was nice to know that I wasn't gooey and squishy any more). Anyone would assume I was just preparing myself, holding my energy in reserve, imagining strategies or meditating before the fight. That last one was even pretty close.

I stretched out my gift. I imagined it like the cling wrap that I'd once used to classify leftovers in my dad's fridge. I reached out until I could touch Letitia and Genevieve. I touched Marjane, feeling her like a precise and clicking collection of sparks, the way I'd imagined computers worked on the inside before I'd cracked a programming and circuitry book and found out the real deal.

Now that I was used to the dizzying vulnerability that it always gave me, using my gift could be very soothing. Everything underneath my shield was part of me, even the grass and bugs. Their jointed little legs turned like clockwork jewels in my head. (I couldn't do this for very long or I'd drive myself batty with love for all creation. I couldn't afford to wimp out. My friends needed a fighter, not a vampire universalist hippie.)

Edward had said that his gift had a range of a few miles if the mental voice was very familiar to him. I was nowhere near that. I could shield Edward from anywhere in the keep, but I couldn't use it to listen or find anyone. It was like a nearsighted person gently patting down a tabletop in search of her glasses. I could only touch and touch and hope that what I wanted to find was near.

I also couldn't tell people apart that well. Edward I could recognize. Shining hope, ray of light in my brain, most beautiful thing ever, blah blah blah. Edward would probably say that his long abstention from human blood made his soul extra-sparkly or whatever. It wasn't like I could prove he was wrong. Or talk to him about it. Ever. Caroly felt different from most people to me too. I couldn't really put my finger on how, though.

I stretched out mentally through the woods, and wow but these trees were really, really dead. Whatever toxic goo the humans had dropped in this neck of the woods, it'd been a doozy. This place would be a pile of mud once the dead wood rotted. I sometimes wondered if I could use what I saw to convince Edward that he had a soul—I knew it still bothered him even though I didn't really doubt it. I wasn't sure that souls or God or anything existed at all, but if humans had them, then so did we. If anyone had a soul, he did. A flawed and tarnished soul that had done duty as Aro's personal dishrag a few too many times, but you could say that about just about anybody, and he was my flawed and tarnished soul.

Years ago, I'd thought that what Edward and I had was true love, real love, the way love ought to be. I knew better now. It was true love and it was real love, but the bottom line was that we were both pretty messed up, two complete basket cases. The impossible, unexplainable thing about us was that his crazy matched my crazy. He tended to brood and despair and hate himself and I tended to be... Well... I guess I was more practical. I guess I had a talent for loving him. I knew from the real world that loving someone couldn't cure depression or bad habits or anything, but even Rolfe said that I took the edge off his prissy. My love made him better. His love made me better. Who cared if it wasn't supposed to work that way so long as it did?

I'd gotten distracted. I had a skinny slowpoke Demetri and a self-hating Edward to find, and I had to do that without leaving the spot.

The dim light coming from the holo-console shifted and I snapped back into my own brain as Marjane lifted her head. I felt a hum go through me as tracer-lines reflected off her dull red eyes. One advantage of vampires being able to stand so darn still was that I didn't have to wonder if every little twitch and shift of weight was Demetri finally checking in. If she moved, then she'd gotten another message.

One thing I could say about Caius was that he was not shy about incorporating new technology into his schemes for world domination. He couldn't shut up about the importance of the communication system first developed by the Israeli army and adapted for vampiric use by Marjane and her apprentices. Demetri, Rolfe and Edward had taken a small unit with them, but Marjane controlled the local system from here using a full-sized portable server. Not limited to a two-dimensional screen, she could project a full map into the air in front of her. The interface blinked to life and I fought the urge to exhale. It looked like an underground building, with tunnels, depth and hidden traps. Edward and Demetri had completed their mission. Marjane gave a little smile and dipped her hands into the light.

Six possible entrances, three certain. More important than the layout was the enemy stronghold's actual location. These woods were pretty big. Humans didn't want to live or work around here ever since some kind of chemical spill a few years back. (Couldn't blame them. This place reeked like a muck monster's locker room.) Caius had set most of the guard a few miles west of the city, with scout groups like us here and there. Marjane was centrally located so that she could work the cloud.

Her fingers moved like white spiders as she entered a few commands into her holoscreen, probably distributing the information to Caius and our group leaders. I was usually good about keeping up with new technology, but I hadn't really had time to learn how this system worked. It would be replaced with another one before I did. Marjane gave the upload command and relaying the information to Caius and the other teams.

The screen flickered. Marjane frowned.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Some of the data are corrupted," she answered.

"Corrupted?" I asked. This I did remember. Back when I'd first been learning about computers, that was something that could happen if the system shut down when the file was saving, or at a million other times. But Edward wouldn't have shut his console off, just put it in sleep mode.

"Like the handheld was damaged," she said.

I didn't make a sound. Neither did Jen or Lettie, but they knew what I knew: Marjane had built these machines for combat. They were little tanks. Breaking them would take deliberate effort.

Marjane touched her screen with the tip of one finger.

"What's that?" I asked.

"A text-based message," she answered.

I blinked. It didn't look like text to me.

"Eight words in sets of two," said Marjane. She shook her head. "My guess is that whoever sent this message was doing it by touch." I pictured Edward in the tunnels, his precise hands moving numbly with his eyes fixed on something far away. These things were all modified to emit the least amount of light possible to prevent humans from noticing them, but that wouldn't fool other vampires. Working dark might have been safer if they were actually inside the stronghold.

I heard a foot shift behind me, "Letitia," I said without looking back. "What is your duty?"

"To guard Marjane, Teacher Bella," she answered.

"And can you do that if you're looking over my shoulder at Marjane's display?" I asked.

She swallowed. "No, Teacher Bella."

"In fact, wouldn't it be easy for someone to sneak up on us?"

"Yes, Teacher Bella."

"An enemy perhaps. We are in enemy territory."

"Yes, Teacher Bella," and she turned her attention outward where it belonged.

"You will get your turn to look at the maps."

I could practically hear Genevieve smirking. I really shouldn't have dressed Lettie down in front of her, but I was at the end of my patience. Edward, Rolfe and Demetri had been late checking in, and the message shouldn't have been so cryptic.

"Where were they when they sent this message?" I asked.

Marjane shook her head. "The system doesn't work that way. It's not like the old cell tower grid where you could triangulate something. At least not over distances that short."

So all we had were eight blurs that might be words. Worse, if Demetri'd sent such a crummy message in the first place, then...

Marjane got there before I did, "They know we're here."

"Does the message say that?" Lettie asked with alarm.

"It doesn't have to," I finished. If it had gotten sent at all, then something had gone tits-up. I looked at her and Jen. "You know your duty. Find a defensible position. Protect our communications. Stay hidden if possible." And don't tell anyone else where you are, but Marjane was too wise for that. If we still had a spy, then the enemy would know how valuable the comm system was.

I already regretted the sharpness in my voice, but sounding like Caius for two minutes probably wasn't going to be the worst thing that I would do in the next few hours. Besides, my reputation was already on the edge. If something went wrong tonight and one of my trainees was to blame, I could be executed. The guard would be in no mood to think logically.

Jen and Marjane were already packing up the equipment. Once the cases were shouldered, Marjane paused just long enough to clasp my hand. I squeezed back hard. Just because she wouldn't be front of the pack didn't mean she wasn't in danger. She might as well have a target painted between her eyes.

I turned, not wanting to see or hear where they went. It was better if I didn't know.

Caius hadn't wasted any time. There was a dull buzz on my earpiece with my instructions.

Plan sigma. What was with this guy and his Greek letters? But I understood what he meant. Caius had made us memorize all his plans in advance so that no meaningful information would be lost if the transmissions were intercepted. I guess that even with the spy, Caius trusted the guard not to rat on him more than he trusted his precious comm system.

I'd never been in a fight like this before. Almost no one had. Immortality was a relative term, and the guard didn't still have many members who'd been in the first Romanian war. Most fights were against nomads, alone and in pairs. I wouldn't even call them battles. We came in against a maximum of four opponents, almost always with superior numbers, absolutely always with superior discipline. The usual tactic was shock and awe, and did it ever work.

That wasn't going to be the case this time. For all our scheming, we had very little intel about the current makeup of the enemy coven, though Edward, Rolfe and Demetri had just sent us a number in the low thirties. What we didn't know was who was gifted or what they could do. If they had someone like Alec, then our usual MO would get us all wiped out.

Scenario sigma involved splitting up. Now that we knew where Stefan and Vladimir's fortress was—or at least where the entrances were—we could attack. One group would circle round to the south, where Caius would divide them into smaller teams in person. They would block the exits to prevent anyone from escaping or flanking our other forces. The remainder would remain with Aro and Marcus near the largest of the openings that Demetri had found. They would present a target. The wives and their guards would remain where they were, near a rise in the ground that Caius considered defensible, but it was close enough to the rest of the guard that help could reach them in time if the enemy figured out where and who they were. Why Caius hadn't thought that Old Bitches One and Two were safer on a battlefield than staying home in the tower I could not figure.

This was something else that the guard wasn't used to, and it made me very uneasy. I'd read enough modern and historical military books to know that defenders usually had the advantage—usually. But we were the Volturi. We were used to taking initiative, controlling the situation through action. Aro's chunk of the guard could well hold position until the sun rose between the dead branches, and even out here there was some risk of exposure. Even in the line of duty, no one was cavalier about breaking the law.

My role in scenario sigma was to return to the main body of the guard, to give my newborns whatever guidance they might need as they laid eyes on enemy vampires for the first time ...but no one would be too held up if I got ...lost.

I looked over my shoulder to the southwest, to where Demetri, Edward and Rolfe had gone. More than anything I wanted to run headlong toward the fortress and find them before things could get worse. But the truth was I'd probably just get myself killed. I'd just get myself killed... I was only taking a few steps toward the fortress. I didn't want to get myself killed; just stretching my legs, really.

As I skidded down the muddy slope, the acrid chemical stink of these woods broke with a hint of sickly violet-sweet.

Smoke.

Someone had already burned a vampire tonight.

I felt myself go very still, not just muscle and bone, but everything from my thoughts to my spirit stopped moving. I was Bella at absolute zero.

They hadn't just gotten caught.

They hadn't just come close. Edward, Rolfe and Demetri had gotten caught. I was breathing at least one of them in right now. I was breathing one of them in.

I felt something crunching like ice crystals inside me. If it was my Edward, then I knew what I wanted, what I would want for every second for the rest of the universe: I'd want to take the ones who did it apart atom by atom, crush their eyes in my bare hands, pull down anything they'd ever built or loved.

I was still another full minute.

If you wanted to hurt Vladimir and Stefan, there was better place to be than with Caius.

I turned north to join up with the others.

It couldn't have taken very long to get to the clearing but I didn't remember anything about the walk there. I never would. One second the world was condensing around me and the next I was pushing past half-rotten branches toward a crowd of people in dark cloaks that soaked up the light like they were part of the dead forest. There were a few piles of pale limbs, probably scouts.

The scent was fainter here. Less like being punched in the gut and more like it was stroking the inside of my chest with each breath.

Caius's pale face loomed like a kite in front of me, Marcus and Aro beside him, hand on Renata's shoulder. He rarely spoke to me directly. When he did, he tended to be all business. Edward had speculated that Marcus had asked him to give me this kind of special treatment so that he'd be less tempted to have me executed for my lip. Well tonight I was all business too. If Edward was anything but dead, then this was the quickest way to get him back.

"What news of Marjane?" barked Caius.

"All is as planned, Master," I said. I couldn't avoid calling him "master " when speaking directly to him, and for once I didn't mind. I'd call him Master forever if it got me what I needed—Edward in one piece or whoever'd burned him in in ten thousand. I must have said something about the smoke. I must have said something about Marjane. The next thing I knew I was staring at the back of Heidi's hood, noting the positions of the other fighters within arm's reach: Dobson, Ichiro, Concordia, Trish, Laurel.

Even though I knew Chelsea couldn't have been at me, I still felt like I wasn't my own. The part of me that wanted to kill and tear took the wheel. It had happened before, on missions, when I turned myself into someone who could do terrible things. I usually just let it happen. This time I pushed the throttle as far as it would go, until I wanted to itch and shiver.

I reached out as hard as I could, no tentative patdown of the countryside this time; I pushed against my limits like they were a prison wall. Suddenly, it didn't seem so reckless to use a zap-blocking gift that I wanted to keep under wraps right in front of a half-dozen vampires who would notice as soon as they tried to zap anyone. Usually, I was terrified that Chelsea or someone would figure it out, but what the hell use was a secret now?

I could feel Heidi, Dobson and Ichiro in front of me, strong as steel pistons, the dead trees like the frozen hands of an abandoned plastic doll. Vampires. Where were the vampires? Through it all, I had just enough attention left to notice something else: This was easy. When had my limits gotten so loose?

I pushed, hoping I'd feel something near where the Romanian compound was supposed to be. It wasn't like seeing someone's face. Unless it was someone I'd shielded many times, like Edward or Caroly, I usually couldn't tell people apart. Rolfe's good heart didn't feel any different from Laurel's empty one.

My concentration snapped as Caius gave the order. We just moved. Through my vendetta-driven focus, I spared enough pride to see that my newborns in step with the rest of the pack as if they'd been doing this for years. I was still myself enough to smirk. And Aro had called me a spy.

As much as I wanted to know something about what was going on ahead, I didn't use my shield again. Alec had been sent with one of the rear groups with Afton, but Jane was with us and Chelsea was with us. I hoped they were feeling evil. There were people I wanted squirming and helpless tonight.

Like a cloud breaking, the dead branches gave way overhead, and a clearing opened up. We weren't alone.

I knew what we had to look like to them, like slow-flowing lava, like an opening flower made of steel gray at the tips of the petals coalescing to an onyx heart. Slowly we spread out across the clearing, like an octopus surrounding its prey with many arms. The message was as inexorable as our footsteps: We were here to kill, not to talk. None would escape.

I peered from under the edge of my hood. The compound entrance didn't look like an entrance, which was probably the idea. The vampires outside of it had clearly assembled in a rush. I could feel the confusion radiating off them like heat. The smoke was thick and cloying, enough to turn the air gray. More than one person had already died. Some of the tightness around my heart gave way. This was too much smoke for just two or three people. At least some of the dead vampires had to be Romanian, which meant that all the dead vampires might be Romanian.

For all our preparation, they still knew the territory better than we did, but we were disciplined where they were weak. We were steady where they were panicked. I smiled underneath my hood. I could make them panic more.

I couldn't help counting. There were seventeen of them already out front. Some others were probably going for the other exits. Suddenly I wasn't so keen on Caius's plan to split us up into groups. Even half of them were calm newborns, then we could still have buried them in bodies.

I watched a tall woman with bark-black hair snarl and twitch as our ranks fanned out in front of her, clearly not happy that the lines of retreat were being blocked. To escape into the dying woods, they would have to pass through our ranks. They could dive through their tunnels, past whatever had sent those sickly sweet cloud of smoke our way and out to whatever surprises we had waiting at their other exits. Any vampire could climb up and over the steep face of the hill, but that would give Jane easy line of sight. Jane would be standing near Renata. I could feel her smiling her smile behind me. They would face us or die. Check that, they'd face us and die.

There was a voice like ballast wrapped in leather, shouting in Romanian. I wasn't fluent in the language, but I knew a master when I heard one.

I stood impassively within arm's reach of Laurel on one side and Phillip a short way behind me. Caius had placed most of my fresh newborns at the center but none in the front row. They'd want famous faces where they'd be recognized. I imagined Heidi, her single scar gleaming in the starlight as Caius let the tension build. Probably wanted to swap words with his old enemy. This never worked out well for Bond villains.

I didn't know if it was Vladimir or Stefan, but the voice switched to English, "Forgotten your white hat this time, old friend?"

"You've no right to call me 'friend,'" answered Caius. "You have conspired against your own kind."

"If it is a crime to gather followers, then you are twice as guilty as we are," the Romanian said, spreading his arms wide as if to take in the whole clearing.

"Not to gather followers," said Caius, "but it is a crime to encourage others to break the law. To plan the destruction of the Volturi order. You put all our kind in danger of discovery with your wantonness."

I remembered a boy with swollen arms. I remembered a woman who'd thanked me in a language I didn't speak. Tonight, I had no problem with Caius or his grudges. This whole operation might be extremely shady even within the already less than crystal context of vampire law, but these guys had actually done some of the stuff they were going to die for.

It was as if I had two minds. One of them was full of Edward and Demetri and Caroly and Rolfe, scanning every pixel of my field of view for any sign of them. The rest of me was turned steel gray in less time than it took for a snowflake to melt. I could barely hear what Master Caius was saying, what the Romanian was still saying back. My eyes were on the vampires ahead of me, the tunnel entrance that could have anything inside it. My ears were on the forest around me, alert for more enemies. I could smell the sting of old chemicals, tainted soil, dead wood that hadn't rotted, and vampire after vampire. My spine and my heart and whatever flowed in my veins was on the events that I could feel looming in the future, about to topple down on top of us.

The dry voice laughed, joined by others. "If you did not want our kind in danger, you could have brought the human world to heel. If you did not want our kind in danger, you could have made yourself master of the sheep."

Another voice, just as dry, followed, "You will never convince him, Brother. He is like a rabbit who loves his snug little burrow too well."

There was no call for surrender, not even the gifted ones. No theatrical pronunciation of sentence. The masters spoke one after the other.

"Do your duty."

"Kill them."

"Kill them all."

I felt my lips pull back from my teeth just as I pulled my gift—my protection—away from the enemy like a cloth being whipped off a banquet table. They could all eat Jane's work tonight. I rushed forward with the others; we shifted like a wave turning white as it crashed, six of my newborns leaping forward into the opposing crowd. Caius had had me drill them on some kind of spearhead move, meant to break the enemy's formation. It helped that they didn't have much of one. I heard tearing and screaming, but it only made me want more. I tapped Laurel on the shoulder, and she ducked her head in acknowledgement, just like we'd drilled. Mountain of a woman, she blocked my view, but I could hear hissing and snarling and I could tell exactly how far ahead it was. Barely touching her cloak with one hand, I sprung up to her shoulder and launched myself toward the foe.

He was a small man, almost my height, and he clearly hadn't been expecting that. His eyes were still on Laurel when I landed on his upper chest with enough force to slam his shoulder blades to the earth. She was right behind me, grasping him by one leg. I sidestepped and ducked down as she swung his whole body like a club, knocking down two others. Philip had joined us by then, and I couldn't help my teacher's smile at the precision with which he struck out with one hand, disrupting the small man's limb at the joint.

Thoughts of Edward and Caroly retreated further toward the back of my skull.

These guys were better fighters than I'd ever seen, and they had the home court advantage. Worse, they knew how to fight together. Most vampires lived as nomads and had no use for cooperative moves. Armies of traditional newborns weren't capable of them. From across the clearing, I saw two men and a woman flank Salome and pin her arms to her side. Damia and Ichiro were on them within seconds, but Salome's throat was already on the dead grass.

A tall Romanian picked up one of his companions, a woman with short hair dyed a bright, saturated violet, swinging her like a spear as she double-kicked Dobson in the chest. He went skidding backward, cloak tearing. I ducked under the pixie's guard and tried to break her leg at the knee when I heard Philip give out a startled grunt. Behind me, Dobson had gotten to his feet and, it seemed, punched Philip in the small of his back.

I turned in time to see Dobson throw another punch, this time into empty air. Two feet to his left, one of the Romanians gave a smug smirk.

"Why won't you go down?" Dobson snarled, again striking well clear of his mark.

Could vampires get concussions? I hadn't heard of anyone who had...

I must have been staring longer than I thought because Two hands grabbed my head from behind, yanking me backward so hard my vertebrae nearly popped, but before I could react. Suddenly the pressure let go as my enemy gave up an eldritch shriek. I rounded and tore her apart as she writhed in the mud. I pictured an evil oatmeal smile. Goblin girl had my back.

That was all the motivation I needed. I reached out, my gift obeying my thoughts as easily as my arms and legs did. Dobson felt like a twined rope of steel wires in my mind, like a half-grown labrador that still thought it was small. He was back on his feet and back in the fight a second later. I released him and imagined that I heard a frustrated hiss from somewhere near the Romanian leaders.

They had gifted servants as well. We'd known that. And now I knew what one of them could do.

Caius called out a command and I started to move hard to my right. A second later I realized why: The formation up ahead was tightening up, protecting the two elders as they backed toward the entrance to their hollow hill. I snarled. I knew what they were doing. Block the doorway, force us into a choke, eliminate the advantage of our numbers. It was what I would have done.

I nodded to Laurel and Dobson just as I heard the command on my earpiece. Some of us broke off to surround the enemy from both sides, cut them off from the hill.

Why hadn't the Romanians called out any of their own calm newborns? It was making me nervous. Right now, the sight of Phillip's left arm crawling independently through the mud should have been disturbing, but I the sense that there was something going on here that I couldn't see—and yes that Aro hadn't accounted for—was far more likely to get me killed.

I couldn't see the future. It was probably some subsonic noise or even the look on one of the Romanians' faces or, heck, maybe I recognized the scent from somewhere, but I had a bad feeling, a very bad feeling, right as I brushed against the nearly vertical hillside behind Heidi.

I was just close enough to see one of the Romanian masters watching me closely, something like a smile twisting his half-petrified mouth. Then a scent reached my nose, not vampire, not human, something that had been masked by the chemical reek of the woods. I grabbed Heidi's arm and pulled her back as half the hillside erupted in a hurricane of sound and flame and falling earth.

With my last coherent thought, I wondered:

Explosive charges in the ground? Why hadn't we thought of that?

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So it's a bit sketchy and chunky but it was past time it was done. I hope to continue the fight in the next chapter.

drf24