Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. Stephenie Meyer does.
I was in the East Texas piny woods. The sun was shining brightly above the trees – their branches made the light dappled on my skin. It was warm. It was a beautiful day.
But I was beyond noticing the beauty around me. I was shaking with fury, my hands clenched tightly into fists. My body ached to shift, to change into a faster, stronger form that could tear its way through the people surrounding me. My jaw tingled as my teeth tried to extend into a Cat's long canines. My lips curled up over my teeth and I snarled, showing the ten or so Cats that circled me with their weapons drawn and pointed at me that I meant business. They would get out of my way willingly, or I would make them move. I forgot that I had been raised with these Cats. After all, since when had they cared about me, the half-blood? I had always been nothing to most of them. I had three friends within my pride – my cousin, Brittany, the man who trained the children how to fight, Brian, and his mate, Nicole. The rest hated me.
But still, I didn't want to fight them. So I glared over their shoulders at the woman who stood behind them, the pride leader, the one who had ordered the pride to stop me. "Let. Me. Go." I snarled at her.
She shook her head. "You know I can't do that. We have laws. You can't just break them."
She was so cool and collected! After all that had happened today, she was so calm! It drove me over the edge. I had learned to control my temper under any circumstances, but this..... this went beyond my ability to control myself. "They killed Sarah!" I screamed at her, taking a step forward. "They killed your daughter!" Ten swords flashed to my neck. Somehow, I managed to stop myself from charging Sarah's mother – who was acting like her daughter's death meant nothing. "They killed her," I repeated, my voice trembling with fury and anguish. "And you won't even let me avenge her."
The pride leader shook her head again. "I have to obey the laws just like everyone else." she reminded me. "If I let you go after her murderers, I wouldn't be fit to lead this pride."
"You could sanction a hunt," I hissed. "You're just using the law as an excuse so you can hide the fact that you're a cold-hearted -"
"Enough," she cut me off, glaring. "Don't think that I won't have you killed for insubordination."
I laughed cruelly. "Why would I think that? What have you ever done to make me think that you wouldn't kill me?" I leveled a glare at her, putting every ounce of anger and hate into it that I could manage. "They killed Sarah. My sister. I will kill them," I told her, my voice as hard and cold as I could make it.
Renee, the pride leader and my mother, looked at me coolly. "You may be my daughter, but if you insist upon taking on an unsanctioned hunt, you will pay the price."
I shrugged. So be it. "Is that supposed to scare me, Mom," I asked icily. "I don't need a pride – I can kill those monsters on my own."
My mother looked at me and asked in a bored, detached voice. "Then will you pursue this?"
I straightened. "I will," I replied firmly.
Renee nodded curtly. "Then by the laws established by Shaylynn, I, Renee Dywer, head of the Allen Pride, cast you from our number. You are from here on out declared to be a solitary Cat, deprived of the comfort of your pride, and the warmth of our company." As soon as she finished reading my sentence, the Cats who had circled me sheathed their swords and backed away. They and Renee walked away from me, into the pine trees. Brittany, Brian, and Nicole looked back as me sadly as they went."Enjoy your revenge," Renee called over her shoulder as they all shifted into their Cat forms and disappeared into the trees.
When they were gone, I slung my pack across my shoulders and started running, picking up the trial I'd been following before my pride – my former pride – had stopped me. When I'd run about fifty feet, I launched myself forward into the air so I was parallel to the ground. Then, with my arms stretched out in front of me, I shifted. It was a very quick, pleasant process – after one quick flash of heat deep in my bones, a sensation like cool water rushed over my skin, and then I had four legs, incredibly sharp senses, and a panther's black fur. I landed on the ground on my four paws, then dug my sharp claws into the forest floor and shot forward with a speed that's always exhilarating no matter how often I run with it.
My nose tasted the air, following the scents of the three vampires who had killed my sister. My fury filled me again as I smelled their sweet scents, driving me faster. I'd always thought it was ironic – vampires smelled so good, you wouldn't think they were disgusting monsters, and yet when you followed a vampire scent, that was always what you found. A monster. A murderer.
I'd been trained to hate vampires, trained to fight and kill them just like every other child in my pride had been trained, like our parents had been trained, like our grandparents had been trained, like most Cats have been trained for two thousand years. We fought vampires, protected their human victims. That's what a great number of my people have done ever since Shaylynn, the Cat who had led the Allen Pride two thousand years ago, saw a human killed by a vampire and pitied the human race.
I had been trained to fight, to track, since I was three years old. And I was good at it. These three vampires I was tracking now – they had no idea who they were dealing with. I would find them easily. And I would kill them just as easily.
And if the price I had to pay for that was being kicked out of my pride, well, that was fine by me. I snorted as I remembered the words with which Renee had cast me out of the pride. You are from here on out declared to be a solitary Cat, deprived of the comfort of your pride, and the warmth of our company. That was more of a reward than a curse. Deprived of their comfort? Deprived of their warmth? Did she think I would miss them? Miss the coldness toward me? Miss the hisses and insults? Miss my mother's acidic indifference? No. No, I would not miss them. I would miss Brittany, Brian, and Nicole, but I would not miss the pride as a whole.
Besides, I could still see my friends after I killed Sarah's killers. I hadn't been banned from seeing actual people – just from being a part of the mental closeness of a pride. Normally, the mind of each member of a pride was open to everyone – the Cats of a pride lived in their pridemates' minds as much as they lived in their own. Thus, everyone knew each other as well as they knew themselves, and they were all extremely close, closer than family. But that closeness had not been extended to me. My childhood had been cold and lonely. Being physically alone now wasn't such a change.
I followed the vampire's scents from about noon until about seven in the evening. They had a bit of a head start – my former pride's interference had slowed me down – but I was catching up. Their trail had led me north and west – I guessed I was in Northwestern Washington by now. That wasn't really surprising – most vampires prefer the North, where they can go out in the day more often. I glanced up at the sky as I ran. Purple-gray rainclouds churned overhead. I picked up my pace, sprinting through the trees. If it started raining, I would loose the trail. That couldn't happen. I paused to smell a fern frond. The scent was fairly fresh – I was maybe a hour behind them, I guessed. If I hurried, I could get to them before the bottom opened and the rain came down. I started running again.
I ran at a break-neck pace for maybe ten more miles, then I slowed down. I had just crossed a new scent, also a vampire. And here was another new one. And another, and another, so thickly layered that whoever had left these trails must have come this way very often. I kept coming across new vampire scents! I counted as I went along, and ended up with seven. Seven vampires in an incredibly close proximity. A coven? No – there were too many! Were they just a group of mutual friends? That was a little bit more likely, but not much.
Then a new thought – was this group a vampires why the three I was hunting had come here? Were they meeting them? Should I follow these new scents and hope that they led me to the ones I wanted? I considered that as I ran, still following the original trail I'd followed from Texas. What were the odds of seven vampires gathering together in the first place? And then, what were the odds of three more vampires crossing through the same region? The odds of seven vampires being together were slim – the odds of three more randomly passing through the same area were even slimmer. It couldn't be a coincidence.
I veered off my course and followed the new scents. There were trails leading every which way through these woods, but most of them were in straight lines – coming and going from or to one place. I followed the scents for maybe twenty miles before I started to hear them. Two sets of feet paced slowly, close to each other, circling, then darting forward or back when one of them lunged and the other dodged. They were fighting. A high, tinkling voice cheered. "Come on, Jasper!" the voice – a female's voice – cried. Huh. Not fighting, then – playing. The concept wasn't foreign to me – Cats play all the time. But vampires..... that was different. I listened closer, until I picked up the sounds of their breathing. I only could only hear seven vampires, but maybe the three I was hunting knew I was after them, and were trying throw me off by taking a roundabout approach.
I slowed down and shifted into an In Between form. In this form, the form my people wore almost as often as the Cat form, I looked like any human, but my heart did not beat, my senses remained razor sharp, and I kept my Cat strength and near-indestructibility. I needed this form now – any Cat form is about as tall as a horse, and if you're that big, it's hard to sneak up on anything, especially a vampire. I carefully set my pack down and crept forward silently. Part of a young Cat's training is learning how to walk – or run – in any terrain without making a sound. And I'd excelled in my training. When I was so close that I could hear the fabric sighing as the fighters moved, I dropped silently to all fours, slinking forward with my stomach barely an inch off the ground. Again, I moved silently.
And then there was just a wall of ferns between me and the group of vampires. I crouched low behind the leafy plants, and peered through their fronds. I was looking at a three story, beautiful white house. It was very old, and it definitely wasn't the place one would expect to find vampires. Two males were horsing around in the front yard. One was dark-haired and absolutely huge, but I knew the other would win the play-fight. He was blond, lean, fast, and so covered with battle scars that he had to from the South. He was a trained fighter. It was in the way he moved. His opponent, though obviously stronger, didn't have the skill he would need to beat him. I looked back toward the house.
Seated on the grand front steps of the beautiful house were five vampires, two males and three females. One of the males had golden-blond hair, and looked to be in his mid-twenties. By his side was a female with caramel-colored hair – his mate, I assumed, since they were holding hands. She looked..... well, motherly was the only word I could think of to describe her. The other two females were like day and night – one honey blond, tall, and statuesque, the other short, slender, and black-haired.
But it was the other male on the steps that caught my eye. He was tall and slender, but still muscular, with tousled bronze-colored hair. He was beautiful. He was almost completely still – besides the occasional chuckle and shake of his head – as he, well, lounged on the steps, but he nonetheless excluded a subtle grace that drew the eye. There was a humored half-smile on his perfectly sculpted lips, like he already knew the outcome of the fight in front of him, just like I did. And his eyes were the incredible shade of molten gold. Wait – gold? No – he was a vampire! He couldn't have gold eyes. But he did! And now that I looked again, I noticed that all the vampires there had gold eyes. How bizarre! How..... my eyes flicked of their own accord back to the bronze-haired male. How hypnotic.
He was a vampire, something I had learned to hate. And even if I had been raised without what some might call brainwashing, I had my own reasons to hate vampires. Six people I'd loved had been killed by vampires, and I'd only ever cared for eleven people in my life. Amelia, the closest thing to a mother I'd ever had, was dead. Brittany's mother – my aunt – was dead. Sarah was dead. Micheal and Nadia were dead. And Darren, Micheal and Nadia's son, who had been so much more than a friend to me, was dead. I should have despised this bronze-haired vampire on sight. But there was something about him. Perhaps, since he didn't have the traditional red eyes, my mind was more open to just how gorgeous he was. All Cats love beauty – in art, in music, in dance..... in anything. And this vampire was very beautiful.
However, as preoccupied as I was with staring at him, another part of my mind was still listening, still completely on guard – the result of a warrior's training. So when the wind changed direction, making the leaves rustle in a different way, I heard it. I realized that this gust of wind would blow my scent directly into the faces of the seven vampires. But there was only enough time for me to tense, preparing to run, before that happened.
My hair swirled around my face and shoulders in the sudden wind, and in almost the same instant, seven vampires whirled to face me – or at least, where I was hiding. I ground my teeth, mentally kicking myself for getting caught, and slowly stood up, facing this strange coven. I was still tensed – if this turned into a fight, I wanted to be ready.
Edward's Point of View
I didn't know why Emmett insisted on doing this. Had he ever beaten Jasper? No. Had he changed his fighting style since he'd lost the last time – which had been last night? No. And yet he always wanted a rematch. And Jasper always beat him. Honestly, Emmett had challenged Jasper so many times, Jasper knew his fighting style inside and out. He could practically predict every move Emmett would make. But oh, well. That was just Emmett. We all loved him for it.
Jasper was just about to end the fight and take Emmett down. But then the wind changed, sweeping in a new direction across our faces. Such a gust shouldn't have brought with it anything more than the scent of the rain, the trees, the animals. But it did. My nose filled with a strange scent, like nothing I'd ever smelled before in my eight decades or so of being a vampire. This scent was a very natural smell, like freesia or lavender, with a slightly tangy edge to it that reminded me of a mountain lion, or something like it. A very pleasant smell, fragrant enough to be pleasing, and animal enough to not be appetizing. But it meant that something was here, close, and we had not even heard it coming, which was a serious cause for alarm. We usually heard everything, and, even if we didn't, my or Alice's gift was enough to give us a warning. But I hadn't heard a thing, and Alice had seen nothing.
My family and I spun in unison to face the wind, and saw..... a girl. She was half-hidden behind the tall ferns that bordered our lawn, crouched low to the ground. She was crouched in a strange way, though, on the tips of her bare toes and her fingertips, with her elbows and knees bent so she was coiled like a spring. The posture was distinctly cat-like. She looked a little like a cat, too – the point of her chin, the way her cheekbones slanted across her face, the shape of her eyes. I felt a little shocked – she was pretty! No, she was too..... fierce, in a way, to be pretty. Beautiful – that was a better word. I looked closer as she clenched her jaw and stood, her eyes flickering back and forth between us, like she was sizing us up as opponents. That alone surprised me – she didn't look more than seventeen years old, and yet she looked us over with the cool, practiced eye of someone much older. But, then again, I was over a hundred years old, and I looked seventeen. Who knew how old she was?
I tried to listen to her thoughts to find out why she'd been watching us. Actually, I was pretty sure she'd been watching me. But I couldn't hear a whisper. Nothing. I felt vaguely disturbed. I'd never not been able to hear someone's thoughts. Carlisle glanced at me, wondering at her intentions, and the only answer I could give him was a hopeless gesture. His eyes widened. You can't hear her? he asked. I shook my head, fighting down my alarm. Jasper was already evaluating her emotions, and I felt them in his mind. There was anger there, and a deep, deep pain, but neither were directed at us. What was directed at us was wariness and curiosity. And then there was frustration, aimed at herself, for being detected, Jasper thought.
Carlisle stepped forward, determined to settle this peacefully. Judging by the way the girl tensed as he approached her, I didn't think that was likely. "Good evening," Carlisle greeted her politely, stopping a good ways away from her. "I am Carlisle Cullen, and this is my family." A tiny crease formed between the girl's eyebrows when he said the word family, then quickly vanished as she smoothed her face into a blank mask. She nodded stiffly in greeting, but made no move to introduce herself. Carlisle didn't press her, and moved on to a different question like a skilled diplomat. "What brings you to this area?" he inquired.
The girls eyes tightened, and through Jasper I felt her anger and pain flare. "Looking for someone," she said shortly, and started to back away. "Which I need to keep doing."
Carlisle was going to let her go with out question, but at that moment, the storm that had been brewing for hours began, sending a torrent of rain down on us. The girls eyes widened. "No!" she screamed, and plunged back into the trees. Carlisle, worried about her, followed, and the rest of us, worried about him, followed both of them. We followed the strange girl down one of our main scent trails, to the edge of the clearing we used to play baseball. From there, the girl ran along a different trail, freshly laid by nomads, no doubt. But, fresh as it was, the heavy rain was washing it away. The girl ran, so incredibly fast that soon I was the only one able to keep up with her, along this new trail until it began to fade away in spots, and then vanished all together.
There the girl stopped, he eyes huge and her face dead white. She started shaking, and suddenly she looked like a frightened girl, rather than the hardened fighter she had seemed to be at my house. "No," she said again, her voice strangled, her eyes unfocused. "Please. No." She covered her eyes with one hand as the rest of my family caught up with us.
Esme, ever soft and loving, immediately wanted to comfort this girl who had stumbled into our lives. She was at the girl's side in a flash, putting her hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?" she murmured gently.
The girl, more controlled now, stepped away from Esme's hand. "I'm fine," she told my mother figure. "I just really needed to find them." Jasper felt her rage swell, and I suddenly realized that if this girl had found who she was looking for, she might have killed them. And then a crushing emptiness and hopelessness crashed down on her. Jasper regarded her with cautious eyes, made wary by her emotions.
Carlisle didn't believe the girl, however, when she said she was fine, and his irrepressible compassion showed itself. "Well, we're all soaked," he said kindly. "Why don't you come back to our home so you can dry off and change?"
The girl, her eyes still far away and her face still pale, nodded mechanically. "Thank you," she said her voice hollow. "That would be nice."