Stephenie Meyer owns the Twilight Saga, I've got the plot. No copyright infringement intended. No money is being made off this; it's just for fun.


I want to thank everyone for their patience-thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
When I said I wasn't giving up on CV, I meant it!


Previously on Cauchemar Vivant: The chandelier rattled overhead just as Aro sat up in his chair. He looked to the ceiling with a small smile. "Ah, so it has already begun," he said softly, standing. "I must admit, your family is very fast, Edward. Very well. If Carlisle wants his city back, I will give him a proper fight. Excuse me, young friends, but our dinner will have to wait until another day. Something dire has come up."

And now, part one of the exciting conclusion of Cauchemar Vivant!


He used me. They all used me like . . . like some stupid human. Why had I trusted any of them? How had I even considered it to begin with? Charlie raised me better than to trust a bunch of vampires. I'd had the survival rules of Forks beaten into my head from the time I was taught to shoot a gun; that was when I was seven. I should have listened to Jacob. I should have never come down here with the Cullens. I should have come down here with my friends at my back, guns blazing.

But it was too late for that. Now I just felt dirty. I felt betrayed.

I tripped over the hem of the gown as I went to turn on a light. Thanks to the heels, I stumbled before falling over. I braced myself before I hit the carpet then kicked off the stupid heels. This dress is getting on my last fucking nerve! A rush of warmth flooded my veins, and the familiar tingle of rage felt good. It felt normal.

As I stood, finally hitting the light so I could see to gather my equipment, I struggled to get out of the gown. The rage racing through my veins made untying the laces harder than it should have been. My hands shook with the warm pulse of my anger. It made something simple, like tugging a ribbon loose, impossible. My back burned with scratches as I kept missing. There was a vampire outside the door with the strength to rip it off, but fuck that.

With a frustrated scream, I threw the small duffel bag on the bed, searching for something that would take the gown off. Underneath the heavy artillery was the long hunting knife in its sheath. I slipped the blade between my skin and the laces and pulled, trying to avoid cutting myself in the process; one by one they fell apart. A clean slice. Shimmying out of the gown, I took a deep breath, freed from my prison at last.

My fingers tightened around the handle of the blade. Everyone got a couple of knives in Embry's shop that day.


That son of a bitch lied to us. He was the one behind all this. I thought he was part of the resistance! Why would he do this? There was no denying it though. He betrayed us. For what? What did he gain from capturing Charlie and getting me underground? And what else did he lie about? Was he really Quileute? Was he even a werewolf? What about his sob story—how much of that was real? Why am I asking myself when I could be hunting him down?

My fingers fumbled with the buckle on the thigh holster as I went to the armoire to collect what clothes I needed. It wasn't coming loose. Here I was, naked in a monstrous room, fighting with my own equipment, while the ceiling threatened to come down on my head. The tremors really hadn't let up at all, and I wondered just how many tunnels were around this area. Eventually I gave up and grabbed the knife from the bed, sawing through the tough material. I threw the holster on the bed as I grabbed a pair of jeans out of the bottom drawer of the armoire.

I came to one conclusion as I pulled the denim over my legs: Embry was getting something out of this. There was no way he'd devise all this unless he got something—I just hadn't figured out what it was yet. A piece of Seattle? But if that was what he wanted, he'd have to go through Carlisle. Even though they were working together, I didn't think Carlisle would easily hand his city over. And what did they need me for? I couldn't be only a distraction. Embry wouldn't try so hard to get me down here.

Did he want to kill me? The Cullens didn't seem too concerned trying to keep me out of Aro's clutches. Would it be a good or bad thing if Aro had me? Did the Cullens even care? Oh, right. Not likely.

I couldn't believe we'd been betrayed. I'd always been taught to trust in the resistance completely—they were the only friends I had, basically extended family. We were one body working towards one goal. We weren't supposed to have traitors. Embry didn't only betray me or the resistance, but Charlie—all of Forks. Sam trusted him; Embry had been in charge of half of the Forks invasion. What if he let someone die? Mike was part of the airdrop . . . and Tyler. That's right, Embry did let someone die. One of our men. I didn't care what Sam said. Embry's men let Tyler die to force my hand, to seal the deal that I'd come down here. Tyler didn't have to give himself up. The marines could've helped him!

The fist pounding against the door made me jump. "Are you ready?" Edward asked, his voice muffled by the thick wood. I spotted my pistol on the bed where I'd left it earlier and popped the magazine. Still loaded. I was a little surprised; I thought Jasper might mess with my weapons. It'd serve me right for leaving them laying around.

I slid the magazine home, pulling the slide back, chambering a round. I wondered if Edward was listening. It was a warning to let him know his pushing wasn't welcomed. I was hurrying to get dressed. Really, I was. I didn't like the way rubble fell from the ceiling with each tremor. If the ceiling was going to come down, I didn't want it to happen while I was here. With each tunnel collapsing, I wondered if it would bring down the whole underground city. It would certainly make parts unstable enough.

I had just pulled on a long-sleeved green shirt when Edward knocked again less than a minute later. Before I could think, my hand grabbed the pistol, firing a round. The roar of the gun echoed loudly in the cavernous room, but I heard the wood splinter. Did it come out the other side? Armor-piercing rounds were strong enough to go through, well, pretty much anything. A little bit of wood shouldn't have been a problem. Just to be sure, I fired twice more when I heard a glorious sound. A pained groan.

I went to the door, throwing it open to find Edward wide-eyed and pressing a hand to his side. Blood seeped from between his fingers, staining his white shirt and dripping to the floor. Good. They actually bleed.

Without thinking, I tackled him to the floor. He was shocked enough that he went without a struggle, and I sat high on his chest, one knee against his left elbow, and one foot firmly on the floor; only an idiot sits on both knees, unable to move. I shoved the gun barrel in his gaping mouth, finger on the trigger.

"Guess we're finally going to find out how well you talk around a gun," I said, the darkness in my voice not surprising me. I sounded downright evil. This was the last straw. I was pissed, and I was most definitely done messing around. "We're going to do this my way now, got it? No more politics, no more word games. You're going to take me straight to Charlie. If you even utter a word, I will shoot you."

Edward's right hand twitched where it rested beside his head. I shoved the gun further into his mouth. "Let me rephrase that," I growled. "If you utter a word, or make any sudden movements, I will shoot you."

When he didn't immediately move, I slowly brought the gun out of his mouth. "Now, I'm going to stand up, and you're going to take me to Charlie. Got it?"

Edward nodded. Before I moved, I noticed a spark of concern in his eyes that confused me. I hated seeing it, mostly because I was tired of his false sympathy. I wanted him to be afraid of me. He didn't look alarmed at all that I could blow his brains out. I was ready to do it, but I still needed him. Charlie wasn't safe yet.

I slowly straightened, watching Edward carefully for any signs of movement. Obediently, he stayed still. Yeah, so maybe I was looking for an excuse to shoot him again, but I had to keep reminding myself that I couldn't kill him yet. When I was fully on my feet and standing a few inches away, Edward took a deep breath and stood. It was slow and deliberate, and I liked that he was taking my threat to heart. I added my right hand to the pistol for a steadier aim; my muscles were starting to quiver as the adrenaline wore off. Squeezing the butt of the pistol, warm from my palm, was familiar and grounding. Edward's white shirt had a nice red stain on it, but there was no fresh blood. His wound had healed a lot faster than I thought.

As Edward went toward the door, I remembered my other artillery still sat in the bedroom. "Wait," I called, and he immediately stopped. "I'm not leaving without all my weapons. Don't move an inch or a centimeter, or however much a vampire can measure."

He stayed firmly in his spot as I walked backward to the bedroom, gun still steady on his chest. When he was out of my sight, I ran for the door and immediately dug into the duffel bag, producing the now-familiar rig. It only took me a second to slip into it and the wrist sheath for the knife; the sword was still nestled in the built-in sheath. I shoved as many pistol magazines as I could fit in my pockets then slung the Striker over my shoulder like a reassuring hug. The small duffel bag was thrown over the opposite shoulder with the main pocket slightly unzipped for easy access to ammo. I needed heavier firepower than my pistol; holstering it, I decided to carry the FAMAS. I kept it close to my chest, almost cuddling it for comfort. My only friends in this demented place and I completely ignored them. What was I thinking?

With a deep, almost cleansing breath, I entered the main room again to find Edward hadn't moved. Well, everyone called him a dog; it was nice to know he could take orders like one. When he saw me, he made a gesture as if asking if we could continue. I motioned him forward with the FAMAS, and he went without complaint.

Outside of the room, I could hear the evidence of battle. It wasn't just explosions going off, but gunfire and screams echoed up the stairs too. Were our guys killing Renfields too? Some Renfields had to have a pinch of humanity left, right? I still wasn't sure what to do with the Renfields down here; I wanted to save as many humans as possible.

As we descended the stairs, I wondered where the fight was happening. It wasn't too close to us, judging by the way the rhythmic staccato echoed in the halls. How much had the resistance cleared out already? Why didn't I see any bodies lying around? The walls sported fresh cracks and the floor was covered in dust, but there were no bodies, no blood.

It was when we came to the hall of doors, just before the main room, that I got the nightmare scene I'd expected. The splash of red blood in the light was startling. It was splattered against the white walls, collected in puddles on the floor, and several different footprints tracked it into the oval room beyond. Most of the bodies lying around were missing their heads, leaking more blood on the floor; they were full of bullet holes. I didn't think any of our men were amongst the dead. At least, I hoped not.

I carefully stepped over the few bodies blocking the way to enter the main room. The destruction in here was worse.

The sight of it made my stomach churn. The smell of copper polluted the air, surrounding me, crushing me. I tried not to breathe, tried not to think of the time it was all over me. My hair, my face—covering my body. I thought I would choke on all the blood spray. And the warmth . . . it was like a living thing all around me.

I didn't realize I'd stopped moving until someone touched my shoulder. I jumped, bringing the FAMAS up with my finger on the trigger ready to fire. Edward held up his hands, his face filled with concern. I lowered the gun, but barely. That touch was enough to clear my head. I didn't concentrate on one thing; not my heart pounding in my chest, not my once off-white tennis shoes now covered in the thick red liquid, not even how it felt soaking into my shoes. Instead, I forced my mind elsewhere. If all this blood didn't affect Edward, one of the sickest vampires I knew, I couldn't let it affect me either. I took in the large domed room in one sweep, not lingering on anything too long.

A thin layer of dust had settled on all the blood, and looking up, I noticed why. Chunks of the mural were missing; underneath those brilliant colors was the same boring stone found everywhere else. Around the room, desks, tables, and chairs were flipped to provide cover from a gunfight. They were riddled with bullet holes, some of the material still smoking and burning from incendiary rounds.

Two bodies stood out in a sea of dead bodies, and that's only because they were moving. I tried not to step on anyone lying around as I made my way towards the living. It was Sam and Embry, crouched over one body talking quietly. Hearing Embry's laugh fueled my dimming rage, and I forgot my worry of stepping on bodies. I crossed the room at a dead run. I let the FAMAS hang on its sling, bumping my lower back, and pulled my pistol. This bastard didn't deserve a quick death.

Sam saw me first, and the look on his face said I had murder on mine. He jumped to his feet, ready to stop me. I knew he would try to grab me, but I wasn't letting anything stop me. I dodged under his arms and closed the short distance left between Embry and me, pistol ready to strike. He glanced over his shoulder just as I brought the pistol down. The butt connected sharply with his temple, cutting a deep gash in his head. He barely paused before standing. I threw one more punch with all my strength, the pistol nearly dislocating his jaw, when Sam grabbed my arms. I struggled, but he held on like iron bars. I almost had my left hand free until he changed his grip to my wrist, ready to apply pressure to get me to drop the pistol. I didn't think he'd really do it; I held a live gun, it could easily go off. But he got what he wanted: I stopped struggling.

Embry was on his feet, rubbing his jaw. He touched the gash there, and then the other my pistol left on his forehead, and then cracked his neck; the room was so empty, the sound echoed eerily. When he looked up, I wasn't looking at the good boy mask. I was really seeing Embry for the first time. It was like looking into the eyes of a vampire, cool and unreadable, yet behind them, there was something definitely not human or dead. It was very much alive, watching every shift my body made. And it was pissed. "You know, that kinda hurt."

"You bastard!" I screamed, pulling against Sam's grip again. He only held me tighter, the tension in his body skyrocketing. "You lying bastard!"

"Who told you?" was Embry's reply, but it didn't sound like him. His voice was rough, deeper. It made me grip the pistol tighter until my fingers nearly cramped.

"Embry, you need to calm down," Sam said carefully.

Embry ignored him. "Couldn't have been Edward. He has strict orders to keep his mouth shut."

I glanced behind me to Edward. His face was unreadable, yet he looked away.

Embry tsked. "No wonder Carlisle barely trusts you with anything. You've always been a thorn in his perfect world, you know."

I opened my mouth to ask him what he meant, but Sam interrupted me.

"Someone better start talking," Sam snapped. "Bella, is there a reason you attacked Embry?"

Sam was right. I had to keep my mind on business. Turning back to Embry, I knew I'd have to wait to question Edward. "Guess what, Sam?" I said, and kept my eyes focused on the other man. "Embry was lying to us this whole time. He tricked us. He's working with the vampires."

"Embry?" Why did Sam have to ask for confirmation? Had I ever lied to him? I was so ready to kill the fucker and get this over with.

The room was silent for a heartbeat. Finally Embry moved to wipe the blood away from his head to reveal there was no longer a gushing wound. Just tan skin, not even a hair of that bizarre Mohawk out of place. "You can't call me a traitor," he said with a sigh. "I haven't betrayed anyone. All of this is for the greater good. Your town will be free of Aro much faster this way."

"Is that how you see it?" I spat. "You're insane! You betrayed the whole resistance the instant you gave Charlie up—not to mention you got Tyler killed, and almost Mike! Just admit it; you've been playing double agent this whole time."

"Let me—"

"You want us out of the way, killing us off one by one so your vampires can live happily ever after, is that it?"

"Shut up!" Embry roared. Sam pushed me behind his back as Embry approached, but I still saw his face. His eyes had changed to light amber. Okay, so maybe Embry was really a shifter. This wasn't human behavior.

"You don't understand anything, Bella. I had a debt to repay, and I'm a man who keeps my word," growled Embry. "Yeah, so I helped devise the plan, but I never told Carlisle he had to do it. He sees it the same way I do—it helps your cause."

"What's this debt?" Sam asked quietly, taking the words right from my mouth. I felt ridiculous hiding behind Sam, but when I tried to move, he blocked me. Whatever was going on with Embry, it was dangerous. It was a cue to put the pistol away and hug the FAMAS.

"You really want the truth? Does this seem like the time?"

"Fucking great time," I said. Sam immediately hushed me.

Silence crowded into the room again, and I jumped when a guttural bark echoed from one of the many halls. Was that a wolf?

"Sounds like the clean-up crew is close," Embry said with a sigh, bringing my attention back to the main problem: himself.

"Listen, if you really want to know, I'll tell you," he said, "but don't blame me if we're attacked. Just standing around here makes for easy prey."

I moved around Sam, and he let me. Apparently the real danger had passed, but Embry's eyes still hadn't returned to normal. Those bright amber eyes watched me carefully.

I gripped the FAMAS tighter. "Talk faster, or you're getting a stomach full of incendiary rounds."

"I joined the marines when I was twenty-seven and was immediately thrust into the developing battle that became World War 2."

"That's the stupidest joke I've ever heard," I interrupted.

"Let him talk, Bella," Sam said. "You wanted to hear this."

"You don't actually believe him, do you?"

Sam nodded. "Embry turned ninety-four this year." Before I could even sputter a reply, he continued, "I'll explain it later. Just listen."

My right hand let go of the FAMAS to tug on my holster. How could Embry be ninety-four years old? He didn't look a day over twenty-three.

"What I told you before is mostly true. My military life was brought to an abrupt halt because I shifted. But it wasn't just some random occurrence. Carlisle was the medic on my base; it was because of him that I lost everything. My career was ruined thanks to him. He realized it and regretted ever showing up. He agonized over it for a few weeks until testing began. Finally, I guess he couldn't take it anymore because he helped me break out. I don't really know what happened, but apparently the military believes I died in testing. Carlisle set me up with a new life—a house, a store, and all the guns I could imagine. It didn't even begin to heal the wounds inflicted, but I knew that I was indebted to him for what he did. We stayed in touch, and I asked him what he wanted in return. It took five months after I opened the shop, but he admitted the truth. He wanted his city back, away from Aro. I think he told me as a joke, but I told him I'd make it happen. And look where we all are now."

I swallowed all the things I wanted to say and decided on a good question. I could sound smart for once. "So how do I fit into this picture?" I asked evenly, staring into those inhuman eyes. "Why am I down here?"

"Edward found you in the forest during a hunt and brought you to Carlisle. Carlisle found that mark of yours and gave me a call. He knew I was working with the resistance, using his funds to supply your weapons. He wanted to know if I had any information about the escapees, and let me tell you, there aren't many girls who carry an old pistol like yours."

"Doesn't mean it was me," I replied stiffly. How did he even get all the information?

"But it was, otherwise none of this would have happened. You know that lovely little crest on your back? That's what got you dragged into this mess. Aro had his eye on you; Carlisle wanted to know why." Embry gave me an antagonizing smile. "With you involved, Aro was out of our way. Send in a pretty distraction and suddenly the whole fortress is lacking in defense. Mission accomplished, I'd say."

Sam grabbed my arm, keeping the FAMAS pointed at the floor. Always predicting my next move. I almost shot myself in the foot, damn it. "I'm not some fucking pawn that you can lead around the board!" I screamed.

"But we did. Admit it—you fell for every little trap we set along the way. You only have yourself to blame for trusting a group of vampires."

Sam was about to reply, and I had a feeling it was going to be something mean and nasty, but a pained groan shut him up. It was the body he and Embry had been looking at before. No, not just any body.

"Jake," I whispered with shock. Suddenly I didn't care about being used in some territorial pissing contest—I wanted to know why my friend was lying in a pool of blood, gripping his stomach.

I twisted out of Sam's hold and, dropping the FAMAS by my side, went to Jake. I was almost hesitant to really get close—I couldn't tell if it was just his, but there was blood everywhere—then he let out another horrible sound. I tried to kneel slowly, but my legs were too weak to hold me up. I knew this would happen. This was why I didn't want him here!

Jacob's skin was paler than usual and his lips had taken on a sickly tint. Although I didn't want to look, I forced my mind to make sense of all the blood splattered on his bare chest. There was a large bloody gash from just under his ribs down to his jeans, and hidden by his hands was what looked like the hilt of a knife.

"What happened?" I asked, trying not to show the fear through my voice. There's too much blood, I thought. And it was still warm.

I didn't expect Jake to answer, but he was stubborn—like me. "Got a kukri blade imbedded in my gut," he moaned.

"What?" I shrieked. "Why hasn't anyone tried to get it out?" I turned accusing eyes to Sam and Embry.

"We'd damage something worse trying to take it out," Embry replied with a shrug. "Just shift already, Jake. It will come out."

Jake shook his head slowly, his eyes twisting with pain. "I don't want—"

"To die, I know," Embry interrupted, "so shift."

"He doesn't want Bella to see him as the beast," said a quiet voice. It made me jump. I forgot Edward was still around.

Barely glancing at him, I raised the FAMAS in his direction as a threat. "Remember our talk?" With a sigh, I turned back to Jake. "You idiot." Trying to resist the urge to punch him, I gently touched his bloody chest. "I don't care if you turn furry every once in a while. You can't die because of this idiot's"—I motioned to Embry over my shoulder—"master plan. Just do what you have to do."

"You'll . . . it's not pretty, Bells," Jacob said weakly, choking on his own blood.

"Shit, just do it!"

With another pained groaned, I felt something move under my hand. My skin crawled with a strange sensation, like a million ants marching on me. A bone shifted and cracked under my hand. I pulled away and stood up. What the hell was that?

I took a step back. He looked in worse pain than before. His body shook violently, hands clawing at the bloody floor, as his spine bowed backward. At first I thought he was having a seizure . . . and then his chest split open further. Coming out of his skin was dry brown fur. I took another step back as his arms stretched to the ceiling, changing shape as the explosion spread to the rest of his body. Bones audibly cracked, reshaping right before my eyes, as more fur sprouted from split skin. It was disturbing, yet amazing to witness. I could feel my own body shaking just from watching.

When the transformation was over, a large brown wolf lay on its back, panting. It rolled over with a whine, stood on trembling legs, and then heaved, spitting something up on the red floor. It was the kukri, completely intact, and three bullets.

The wolf collapsed with another painful whine. He rolled onto his side and closed his eyes, panting. My hands shook so hard, I had trouble gripping my rig. Trying to make sense of this was impossible.

My friend just . . . just what? Had a giant wolf crawl out of him? Exploded?

I took an involuntary step back. I didn't mean to, but holy shit! This was entirely different from the time Paul shifted in Forks; then again, I didn't get to feel it that time. I felt Jacob's bones shift under his skin—briefly, but it was enough. I watched every painful part of Jacob's transformation. It was terrifying yet kind of beautiful, in a messed up way. Was Jake even still in there? Was he okay? The kukri came out, so why was Sam still standing off to the side? Why weren't we bandaging Jake?

"Jake?" I asked weakly. I hated how my voice shook, yet the scene kept replaying in my head.

"He'll be okay," Sam said. He came to stand beside me, and I was sure he could feel the light tremors running through my body. "We heal faster than humans. A little rest and Jacob will be good to go."

I shook my head quickly. "No. No way! You're going to make him fight? I don't care how fast he heals; he should get to the surface as soon as he can walk!"

"I didn't say I would make him fight."

"Bells." The sudden use of my nickname surprised me—mostly because it wasn't Sam that used it. I turned to Edward. Didn't we just go through this? I wasn't in the mood to threaten him again, as normal as it would make me feel.

Edward continued, "Jacob asked me to speak for him. He wants to tell you that he's okay. I quote: 'Sam won't make me fight unless I want to. Unlike you, I'm only stubborn, not suicidal.' You don't have to worry about him."

I looked down to the wolf to find strangely human eyes staring back at me.

"Jake?" I asked.

"It's not something I would admit to every day, but Edward has a decent gift. Creepy as hell, though." It was definitely Edward's voice, yet the words coming out of his mouth were all wrong. They were Jake's. Weird.

I gave a bitter laugh. "Let's hope you never meet Aro. He's a thousand times worse." Just thinking of those phantom fingers on my skull made me shudder. I moved closer and crouched beside Jake, slowly reaching my hand toward his big head. Call me crazy, but it looked like he was smiling as I stroked his cheek. He was so soft and warm . . . and dry. The fur came from inside, so why was he dry? Wasn't he hot with all that fur? Wait, why was I still petting my friend?

I stood quickly with a mumbled apology. My face felt hot as I adjusted my weapons, trying to look anywhere except someone's eyes. Of course, the only things to look at in the room were death and destruction. I settled on Edward; the least embarrassing option.

"We need to go," I said. He nodded in agreement.

"That's a good idea," said Sam. "We should move too."

I turned around to face him. "Are you going to join the others? Where are they, anyway? You guys seemed to clean house pretty damn quick."

"We have military forces and three wolves down here. I haven't seen any of the Cullens, but the resistance should have cleared most of the halls, if not all of them. We've got it covered, Bella. You just need to focus on getting Charlie out of here."

I knew that, yet I was almost afraid to find him. I didn't want to know the truth—if Charlie was alive or dead. But if he was still alive, I was going to do anything necessary to get him out of here.

"I'm not even entirely sure my guide knows where he's going," I replied. Turning to Edward, I asked, "Do you?"

"This way," he said. In a blink, he stood in front of a crumbling hallway. If I remembered correctly, that hall led to the throne room. Great.

"So Jake will really be okay?" I asked as I turned back to Sam.

"Don't worry about him, Bella," Sam said, exasperated. "He'll be prancing around like a puppy in a matter of minutes, but I guarantee he won't be fighting. Just go already."

I couldn't help grinning at him. I might aggravate him, but he still loved me. "Thanks, Sam. Be careful down here, okay?" Sparing a glance at Embry, I added, "Except you. It wouldn't hurt to jump in front of a few bullets for the people you stabbed in the back."

"Don't worry about him," Sam said with a smile. He clasped Embry's shoulder. "You're going to make an excellent shield for Jake."

Embry rolled his eyes. "I guess I deserve that. But I suggest worrying about yourself, girlie. Remember: if something happens to you, I get that Striker back."

I hugged the shotgun to my side. "Only if you can find my corpse and pry it from my cold, dead fingers."

He grinned. "Sounds like a challenge to me. A challenge I happily accept, girlie."

Judging by his laughter as I went to Edward, he thought he'd won. Not even close. When we got out of here, I would show Embry just how magnificent the Striker was. I'd have a special shot just for him.

I followed Edward down the long maze of halls, some of them cracked from the explosions, until we stood in front of the portrait leading to the throne room. As Edward struggled to find the hidden latch, I got a good look at the women in the painting.

The three of them were placed in a typical fancy medieval setting, surrounded by rich cloth, jewels, and fine antiques. The painting was surprisingly drab—except for the women. Their dresses, their hair and skin; everything glowed.

Two women stood beside one that sat on a gilded chair similar to the one behind the portrait. The woman on the left was a tall blond dressed in green silk. The woman on the right was slightly shorter, or perhaps it was just the shape of her large red dress; her black hair was tied in an intricate up-do. And the woman in the middle, the one sitting on the throne, was me. Or she looked like me, how I might imagine myself in a few years—just without red eyes. She was dressed in blue with her brown hair in loose curls. Unlike the other two, she was smiling.

The portrait moved, and Edward opened the hidden path with a strained grunt. Odd, since Jane had moved it effortlessly.

"That's Didyme, isn't it?" I asked, watching the women disappear as Edward pressed the portrait against the wall.

"Yes, she was Aro's sister," Edward replied. "I'm told he truly loved her, but when she fell in love with Marcus, she became a liability to the Volturi's strength."

At dinner, Aro briefly mentioned that he'd had to kill her. "What did she do?"

"She wanted to take Marcus and leave. Aro wouldn't allow it, since Marcus is a powerful force to have."

"What does he do?"

Edward glanced over his shoulder as he went through the walkway. "Now isn't really the time," he snapped. Wait, he sounded winded. He had to be way past the age of feeling the urge to breathe. Why was he basically panting?

The somber mood dropped. This time I got to snap as I followed him. "What, a little painting too much for you to move? What happened to that vampiric strength?"

"I haven't fed for days," he said, and promptly shut up.

"That's it? That doesn't even make sense. And what was Embry saying before, about Carlisle not trusting you? I thought you were his favorite or something."

No answer to that question, either.

We entered the round room, the place where I first met Aro. Just thinking about it made me sick. The way he looked at me, that façade of a gracious host, and those skeletal fingers. I didn't like that a vampire had tried to pry his way into my mind. Hopefully today would be the last time I ever saw him.

Edward stopped abruptly, and I was unconsciously following him so close that I nearly smacked into him. I almost asked him why he stopped, but the air shifted behind me and the question died in my throat. On instinct, I ducked; pulling up the FAMAS and turning in one motion, I barely had my balance before firing. The bullet blew through the vamp's stomach. He bowed with pain, a strangled cry coming from his throat, yet he stayed standing. I aimed the FAMAS higher and half of his face disappeared in a gory explosion. He screamed loud and long, his hands coming up to feel the damage. I stood and released the FAMAS in shock. It was a little stronger than I expected.

With a roar, the vamp finally moved. He disappeared in a burst of speed, and when I saw him again, his fist was inches from my face. Edward had a firm grip on his arm, although he had to use both hands. I took a step back when Edward said, "Your sword."

I barely hesitated. I unsheathed the sword, but as I brought it around to strike, the vamp disappeared. Edward swore and I gripped the sword's hilt tighter. With a rush of air, Edward disappeared; next I knew, the vamp was pinned by his neck against the far wall. He struggled against Edward's hold, growling and thrashing, but Edward was stronger. Some part of me thought that was strange. Wasn't he weak right now? I quickly shut it up, concentrating on the fight.

Again the vamp broke loose, and again the fight was too fast for me to follow. I watched Edward grapple with the vamp, then with the next blink they were gone. I didn't have much warning when a body flew at me; I jumped out of the way, but not before a limb slammed into my arm.

The vamp rolled, absorbing the impact, and was almost on his feet when Edward was suddenly there, holding him down.

"Bella!" Edward called.

I was halfway across the room when the vamp tore an arm free and landed a punch across Edward's jaw. It was enough to weaken his grasp, and the vamp took advantage of it, rolling them until he held Edward down. A knife seemed to appear in the vamp's hands, just a quick flash of silver in the light. He wasted no time plunging it into Edward's neck. Edward gasped and choked as the vamp twisted and ground the blade into the skin.

Time slowed for a moment. The fear and pain that crossed Edward's face was so clear to me, it made me stumble. He was afraid he was going to die—a very human reaction. I couldn't let him die. I had to save him. As much as I hated the thought, I had to kill someone for him. To protect him. Shit.

A burst of adrenaline pushed me forward, and I used the momentum for extra force behind my swing. I brought the sword down on the vamp's right shoulder, causing him to howl, releasing the knife. Blood immediately welled, and I think I struck deep enough that he lost motion in that arm. It wasn't a killing blow, but it was a painful distraction. Edward wormed his way out from underneath the vamp; he held a hand to his throat, trying not to move the knife. Some of the fear had gone out of his eyes, replaced with gratitude. Now was not the time for thanks.

The vamp swiped at me with his left arm; I wasn't fast enough. The heel of his hand connected sharply with my chest. With a weak gasp, I was suddenly airborne. I didn't hit the wall as I expected, and instead landed against something with a bit of cushion. My head still snapped back, and it was still rough on my back, but it was better than cracking my head on concrete or marble. When I was able to breathe again, and the stars had cleared from my vision, I glanced behind me to find Edward's bloodstained shirt. Then he was gone.

I stood uneasily and waited for the dizziness to pass. I'd never been thrown with vampiric strength—it was not a ride I wanted to repeat. Thinking clearly, I realized my sword had gone missing. I spotted it close to where the vamp had hit me and ran to it on unsteady legs.

As my fingers closed around the hilt, Edward screamed. I looked up too fast, the room swam, but holy shit I was not expecting that. When my vision cleared, I really wished I hadn't looked.

The vamp had pinned Edward again and was driving the dagger further into Edward's neck. Through the blood, I could see the inner workings of Edward's throat. It took my brain a minute to realize he was nearly beheaded.

I didn't have time for the sword. I pulled up the FAMAS and fired.

I blinked and suddenly the rest of the vamp's head was an explosion of meat. The body sat up for a moment longer then slumped on Edward. Grabbing the sword, I ran to Edward, hoping he was still alive. Could he even heal that much damage?

I crouched beside him and pushed the vamp's body off; it flopped on its chest with a meaty slap onto the floor. Up close, the damage to Edward's neck was worse. It was so ravaged I wasn't sure he could use it now. No, I couldn't think like that; he had to be alive. Yet one more slice would've easily brought his head clean off.

"Edward?" I asked weakly. I didn't want to touch him. I really, really didn't want to touch him. "Edward, come on. We have to go."


I swallowed the sick feeling building in my throat and tried again. "Time to go, Edward, but you gotta move first. Move like the undead corpse you are. Move, damn it!"

Suddenly his eyelids fluttered, his fingers twitched, and he came to with a terrible, raspy cough. A waterfall of blood cascaded down his shirt as he sat up, gasping. I sighed as relief flooded my chest, letting me breathe again. He was okay, after all.

He reached up and grabbed the dagger handle. What was he thinking? It was lodged too deep in his throat to pull out!

"You shouldn't do that," I said anxiously. "Are you trying to kill yourself? Stop trying to move the blade!"

Edward coughed. "Renfield," he gasped.

I looked around the room. There was no one else here. "What?"

"Kill him. Finish him off."

His weak words hit me like a cold tidal wave. Finish him off. I stared at the headless body with wide eyes. I knew now why Edward could keep up with him in his weakened state. That man wasn't a vampire. He was human.

I murdered a human.

My sword clattered against the marble floor. The room spun; I felt sick again. I squeezed my eyes shut, willing the urge to vomit to pass. We weren't supposed to kill humans; we should try to save to everyone possible. Charlie was always very clear when he mentioned this. We were vampire killers, not murderers.

"Bella? Bella, you're going to pass out. Breathe."

I did as the voice instructed. After three deep breaths, I opened my eyes, but the scene hadn't changed like I'd hoped. The only thing different was that the dagger was no longer sticking out of Edward's throat. The skin was slowly stitching itself together as I watched.

He watched me, eyes cautious. "Are you okay?" he said, and the sight of the muscles in his neck working intrigued me. I almost wanted to stick my fingers in the wound and feel them.

That was not a good thought. I closed my eyes again. Was this shock? Because I really couldn't handle that right now. Damn it, get a grip, Bella. I dug my nails into my palm until I felt something real, something that could ground me. Pain flared in my hands, and I slowly inhaled. As much as I hated it, this was real. I killed a man without thinking. To make sure he didn't have a nasty surprise waiting for us, I had to cut him open. Was this my punishment for protecting a vampire?

I grabbed the sword, pushed up to my feet, and moved to the Renfield's body. I had never tried stabbing someone in the heart. First time for everything, right?

The body was still draining blood onto the floor, creating a slick pool beneath my feet. I slid once. How much blood could one body hold? If he wasn't dead from what I did to him, he'd die from bleeding out. Maybe I wouldn't have to cut him up, but it's better to know for sure. I tightened my grip on the sword's hilt as I brought it up.

"You need to use a lot of strength to get through the ribs," Edward coached softly. At least he sounded a bit stronger; that was good. "Bring it straight down. Don't hesitate."

I plunged the blade into the Renfield's back only to be met with resistance and a sickening crack. I didn't expect it to be easy, but I didn't have the strength to make it through bone and muscle in one swing. Blood welled as I fought with the sword, jamming it deeper into the body. The Renfield didn't move, didn't make a sound; he was truly dead, thanks to me.

Edward's hands closed over mine, giving the sword one last shove. The blade passed through the body, coming out the other side and making the pool of blood bigger, more ocean-like than a small pool. I looked up at Edward with surprise; I didn't see him move. It had to be shock—definitely.

He pulled the sword free, still using my hands, and the disgusting squishing sound made my stomach roll. He stepped back and pulled me along. I didn't protest; I wanted to get out of this room entirely. When we were far enough from the body, Edward released me. He was about to say something until I cut him off. I had a feeling whatever he was going to say, I wouldn't like it.

"Whatever you're going to say, don't. Take me to Charlie," I said. I didn't recognize my voice, but it wasn't shaking. Point for me.

He exhaled sharply. "Come on. He's just through here," said Edward, motioning to the arched doorway.

I debated what to do with the sword. I really didn't want to sheathe it, afraid I might smear blood all over my back, but after a few moments, I tried it anyway. Just to prove that I could do something without being a baby; it slid home my first try. I hated this weak feeling. I knew I had to kill. Living in Forks, I came to terms with that very quickly. Yet why did I continue to hesitate? I saw it with my own eyes—Renfields weren't entirely human. They were one step away from becoming the thing I hated most. There was no room for weakness out in the battlefield, which was what Charlie had warned me about time after time. Man up or back out, Swan. I couldn't let this weakness control me much longer or it would get me killed.

Edward took us past the golden throne to the archway beyond. A small tremor passed under my feet as we stepped into the darkness. It wasn't long until I spotted a sliver of light against the floor. A door. Edward pulled it open, and immediately a wave of warm air assaulted me. I choked on the smell accompanying it—as if I was swimming in a thousand pounds of rotten, raw hamburger meat.

Edward stood silently in the doorway, waiting for me to stop gagging. Did I even want to know what waited beyond here? Not really, but Charlie was somewhere over that threshold. I could do it. I had to.

It took a moment, and my eyes continued to tear up, but I caught enough breath to hold. I only took short gasps through my mouth when I absolutely needed them.

We entered the cobblestone room to find the hall lined with cells. The bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling hardly lit their insides. Was that a good thing? I tried to see into a cell, squinting into the darkness.

My mind couldn't make sense of it—or refused to. I saw a pile of brown and red mush. Then I saw an arm crawling with maggots . . . an eye . . . a flash of torn intestines. The blood spray on the wall—fresh.

I ignored it. I held my breath and kept walking. I could do this. I just didn't look in any more cells. I focused on the weight of my guns, focused on the back of Edward's head—anything except the cells as we passed.

We were nearly to the large steel door at the opposite end when something shuffled behind me. Again, I was turned around with my gun to my shoulder on instinct. I would have pulled the trigger, but taking a breath of the putrid air made me gag and lose my mark. When I opened my eyes, I saw a bandaged hand stuck out of a cell, waving wildly.

"Hey, Bella! Over here!"

I lowered the gun and glanced behind me, telling Edward to wait. Without waiting for a reply, I went to the hand, careful to stay out of mystery man's reach. After the first cell, I really didn't want to look into another one, but this one was, thankfully, empty. Except for a slightly familiar face: Smiley, who was so kind to point me in Charlie's direction. He had lost his shirt somewhere, and he was bloodied up, but it was definitely Smiley. The grin kind of tipped me off.

"Thank God," he sighed with relief. He wrapped his hands around the bars and leaned against them. I didn't move closer. "I was really hoping you would come this way, and here you are. Great timing as always, Bella."

I really hated how everyone knew my name. "I guess so," I replied curtly. Standing around to talk in this place was not at the top of my to-do list. "What are you doing in there? I got the impression you were somewhat loyal."

"Someone told on me," he answered. "I admit it was stupid to talk in the middle of the hall. They overheard us. I wasn't really supposed to know where Charlie is, after all."

"So because someone thought you were helping me—"

"And I must have, since you're here," he added with a painful-looking grin.

"Right, I'm about to check the validity of those words," I mumbled. "But why would they attack one of their own? They didn't leave you to rot here, did they?"

"Well they might. I have a feeling if I call my mistress a bitch and tell her to shove a stake through her heart again, yeah, they'll leave me here. For now, it's more like a timeout. Unless everyone is dead. Then I sit here and wait for the ceiling to collapse."

His display of arrogance was impressive. Back-talking his mistress had to be hard to do; or perhaps he was just tired of it all. He almost seemed annoyed by vampires when I first met him. If he was really done with this, I wasn't going to let the ceiling squish him. He was getting out of here.

"Who are you?" I asked.

He held out his hand for a shake, but I wasn't taking any chances. I stayed back as he smiled at me. "Name's Quil Ateara. Nice to meet you."

I gripped my gun tighter. "I know a Quil Ateara. Not exactly a popular name," I replied stiffly.

The smile was wiped right off his face. "Oh, so you know that old fart. Great," he sighed, dropping his hand. "Old Quil is my grandpa." Quil looked a little embarrassed then. "Please don't call me Junior."

"No problem, Quil," I said. Now that I was looking, he did resemble Old Quil; same eyes, same nose. Only this Quil was less ancient. Was this what Old Quil looked like back in the day? "Hey, can I ask you something?"

He shrugged.

I was curious how an elder's grandson ended up down here, but we didn't have time for a round of Twenty Questions. We had to keep moving. I looked around the corridor, a testament to how they treated him. "You're not actually happy here, are you?"

"Not anymore," he answered. "The first few months were amazing. I was pampered, I was wanted—it felt like I was really loved. Then my mistress started to treat me like a dog, and all this shit happened. I'd rather get out of here while I can."

"I think that can be arranged," I replied with a smile. "Can you defend yourself?"

Quil returned my grin. "I have teeth and claws that can shred a vampire in ten to thirty seconds."

"You're a werewolf?" I was starting to wonder if all Quileutes were.

"Technically we're shapeshifters, but yeah. I turn into a big cuddly wolf."

"You weren't kidding when you said you're a dog," I laughed.

Quil gave a short shrug. "Vampires love wordplay."

I hadn't heard anything that true in a while. It was refreshing.

Dropping my gun, I motioned Edward over. Predictably, he came without a word. If I knew he behaved this well, I would have threatened him much earlier.

"Can you do anything about these bars?" I asked. He gave me an unreadable face; not even a blink.

"Bella, these cells are made to keep vamps in," Quil said. "It doesn't look like he's in any condition to try them. Even at full strength he couldn't dent these things."

"Then you better have a bright idea, otherwise I'm leaving you here." I wouldn't really; I was trying to save whoever I could, after all. But the smell was really starting to get to me.

Quil snapped to attention. "Someone should have a set of keys on 'em—not far from here. If not, they'll be in a cubbyhole behind a fake stone."

"I'll find them," Edward said, and promptly disappeared.

I huffed with annoyance. Keys, really? What kind of material could stop a vampire yet be easily unlocked with a key, anyway? I thought vamps could tear through anything.

"What happened to him?" asked Quil, leaning against the bars.

"What do you mean?"

"He's in bad shape. His eyes are dark and empty, his skin is drawn, he's agitated—not to mention his reaction time is off. When was the last time he fed? You realize it's dangerous if he loses too much blood, right?"

I shrugged. What did it matter? Edward was certainly old enough to take care of himself. If he didn't want to munch on someone, that was his problem. "Why do you care?" I snapped. Edward did lose a lot of blood recently, though. Was that dangerous?

"Vamps have to feed regularly to replenish the blood they no longer have. If they start running low, depending on what they do—like if they exert too much energy—their body will burn through the stored supply faster. It costs them to power their super strength and speed, you know. It's difficult on a vamp when they're low. They're not as fast or strong; the body doesn't have the required life force to fuel it all. And when it's all used up, the body gives out. Without blood, the vamp dies."

Suddenly Edward's attitude made sense. He hadn't eaten since we came down here, and after how many times he'd been injured—my shooting him included—it wasted more blood. He could hardly open the portrait. What would have happened if he tried to pry apart the bars? Would he have dropped there?

A sharp jingle sounded on my side, and I jumped. Edward reappeared with a set of keys. Great, we could finally get out of here. I wasn't going to ask how or where he found them; I just watched as he unlocked Quil's cell. Watching his movements, actually. He didn't move as fluidly as usual. And he did look tired, as if he would drop at any moment. Was Quil right? Would Edward die of starvation? How was it even possible for a corpse to die of starvation?

Edward continued down the hall towards the steel door as Quil pushed his cell door aside. He started with small steps, but soon he was limping toward what I guessed was Isolation. I walked with him, in case he needed someone to lean on. Behind us, the sound of gunfire was picking up. A new wave of enemies?

Edward tried other keys on the key ring until he found one that unlocked the steel door and pushed it open to reveal another corridor lined with metal doors. We entered the hall, slightly brighter than the last and with cleaner air. I could still hear gunfire from here, but as the door closed, I realized why they called it Isolation. It was soundproofed; an eerie emptiness and silence hung thick in the air. Unable to stand the silence, my ears rang with the sudden stillness. I tugged on my rig. This place was freaking me out already.

Edward didn't bother checking the rooms; he went to the end of the hall and pressed his ear to the left door. "He's in here."

"How do you know for sure?" I asked.

"This is the only cell with a heartbeat."

"It could be any human in there."

"He's repeating your name."

My heart skipped as Edward found the right key for the lock. What if the vamps really hurt Charlie? What if he was almost . . . no, Charlie was too strong. He had to be okay. The door scraped loudly against the floor as Edward shouldered it open. He made it halfway when Quil joined him, and together they opened it the rest of the way.

I stepped into the room, having trouble seeing in the darkness; the light from the hall only touched certain parts. It took my eyes a moment to adjust, and when they did, I saw Charlie sitting on a ratty cot in the far corner.

I nearly screamed with relief. "Dad!"

He looked up with surprise. "Bella?"

I ran toward the cot and hugged him gently, afraid of accidentally hurting him. I wasn't sure what they did to him down here. But Charlie didn't hold back. He crushed me to his chest with surprising strength. "You're okay," I whispered, my eyes burning with tears. "Oh my god, you're okay."

Charlie chuckled, leaning away but still not letting me go. "You didn't think a few vampires could hurt your old man, did you?"

I gave a weak laugh and pulled back one hand to wipe my eyes. No way. Charlie was too hardcore to be brought down by a few vamps. I should've known better. I released him, stepping back, when I noticed the dried blood on his forehead. "What happened?"

"Just a little hard medicine to shut me up for a while," he replied casually. "I'm fine."

I knew what that meant. I wouldn't prod him about it. "We have to get out of here before this place comes down. Can you stand?" I asked.

"I need a little help, but yeah."

Without being asked, Quil came forward and offered Charlie a hand up.

Charlie gave Quil his cop stare—the hard look that made him the big, bad police chief—before asking, "You Ateara's grandson?"

The surprise was clear on Quil's face. "Yes, sir. How did—?"

"Lucky guess," Charlie replied, and took Quil's hand. He stood with a weak groan. He didn't favor one foot over the other; that was a good sign. Besides his forehead, there were no apparent injuries.

As Quil helped Charlie to the door, he suddenly looked up to the figure standing in the doorway and swore.

Edward. A vampire.

"Looks like we have some trouble," Charlie muttered. He motioned to me, and I knew what he wanted. I held onto my guns.

Edward raised his hands slowly, standing perfectly still. He opened his mouth, but before he could possibly make the situation worse, I cut him off.

"He's not trouble, Dad. That's Edward, and he's been helping me since I came down here. Actually, his whole . . . family helped me. I asked him to help me rescue you." Edward and I might have been at each other's throats more than we helped each other, but he made good on his promise. Charlie was almost free. I had no problem taking this bullet.

Charlie didn't take his eyes off Edward, but the mood definitely changed. I expected disappointment from Charlie, but no. Instead, he did the opposite of what I expected. He snatched my pistol right out from under my arm, and before I could register the sound or movement, shot Edward in the chest. As Edward buckled in the doorway, I realized my ears were ringing and that I was shouting.

"Wait, Dad, wait! Don't!" I went to Edward, hoping Charlie hadn't just incapacitated him. Edward groaned, telling me he was still alive, but he was losing more blood. I kind of regretted shooting him earlier. If I had known there was a possibility of him dying from blood loss—something that seemed impossible for a vampire—I wouldn't have shot him. I knelt beside him, trying to find the entry wound. Did the bullet even exit? There was plenty of blood, which meant he wasn't healing like he should. Shit. "Are you okay, Edward?"

Charlie's menacing presence stood at my back. "What the fuck did you do to my baby girl?" he demanded. "Bella, get away from him!"

"Dad, let me explain. Please," I said with a sigh. Once again, I was defending the Cullens and making myself sound like a bloodwhore. I imagined Charlie felt a million times more disappointed than Sam and Jake had in Forks.

Charlie waited in silence as I tried to organize my thoughts. Where did the Cullen train-wreck begin? Maybe when I first woke up in their house. But I couldn't tell Charlie the truth about that—not yet.

I gave him the short version, recapping from when Eric came with the bad news, up until I met Aro. It was rushed, but Charlie seemed to follow easily enough. He wasn't happy—judging by the way he ground his teeth, he was seriously pissed—until I told him that Sam had taken enough precautions to safely interrogate and negotiate with vampires. He calmed down the slightest, his face returning to red instead of purple.

When I finished, he wasted no time in getting to the important part. "Did anyone think of a way to get out of here?"

Edward had recovered while I was filling Charlie in, and I had helped him sit up. Now he stood, pulling me with him. "That's Quil's part," Edward said. It was? I almost wanted to ask, but Quil talked about the Cullens like he knew them; he must have known Edward could read minds. They probably decided as we walked.

Charlie stared at Quil for a minute then said, "Ah, so then you must be a shifter too."

"You knew about them?" I asked incredulously.

He gave me a half smile. Not quite forgiven, but there was no way he could stay mad at his only daughter forever. "Sure, I've always known. Harry told me, and we've been using shifters since. Sam's pack has been a great help. Besides, why do you think I let Jacob come along? You needed a little more protection than bullets."

I gaped stupidly at him but he ignored me. His mind was on business as he turned back to Quil. "How exactly are you going to help us, Quil?"

Quil grinned. "I'm going to take you to safety, sir."

"And Bella?"

"I don't know how I'm getting out yet," I replied, "but Edward and I are going on to deal with Aro."


"A vamp way past his expiration date. It's a long story, and I promise I'll tell you later. For now, I have some payback to deliver." I couldn't tell Charlie I was going to face the father of vampires. I left Aro out of the recap intentionally. The way Charlie's face looked scared me, but to tell him one of the oldest wanted to keep me as a pet? That wouldn't have gone over well.

It seemed that plans were settled, as no one objected. Charlie was getting out, and I was going in deeper. That was good. For once, things were working in my favor. Quil stepped around us to get out into the hall, claiming he needed room to shift. I watched him as he inhaled deeply, slowly letting it go, and then his body started the strange jerky movements that Jacob's had. His skin split in multiple places at once; that sickening bone-crunching noise happened as his body rearranged. This time I got to watch as he bent forward, morphing and growing into the shape of a wolf. The way his legs bowed, and how his face completely changed to form a snout. His transformation was smoother than Jake's and was over in nearly seconds. What stood in the hall now was a large wolf that resembled Jake's, except Quil's face was a lighter brown.

Before we could move, the wolf whimpered and winced as if he'd been hit. He crouched, paws swiping at his ears. Was there a dog whistle going off somewhere?

"What's wrong?" I asked before I could stop myself. It was a stupid question because he couldn't reply; he was a wolf.

"The other wolves are bothering him," Edward answered. "He's not used to voices in his head."

"What are you talking about?"

"The pack mind. I experienced it in Forks and not long ago with Jacob. They communicate through a telepathic bond when in wolf form."

"He's not part of the pack. At least, I don't think he is." To the wolf I asked, "Are you?" Embry wasn't part of the pack . . . that I knew of.

My only response was another whimper.

"Quil had been thinking about his destiny," Edward continued. "He knew it was painful to keep fighting it. I think this is what he meant. His grandfather wanted him to be an elder because of this. I searched some channels in the bond; apparently, in certain lines of the Quileute blood, this sync-up is instantaneous."

"Instant bond or not, tell them to knock it off!" I snapped. "We all need to get out of here."

Edward rolled his eyes. "Oh yes, because a pack of mongrels will listen to me," he said sarcastically. Charlie chambered another round in the pistol behind me as a threat.

Point to Edward Cullen. What was the official score now?

"We can't sit around here much longer," Charlie said, perfectly timed as a tremor passed under our feet. They had mostly stopped since I found Sam and Jake. What else did our guys need to blow up?

I squeezed out into the hallway—which seemed several times smaller with a giant wolf in it—to stand in front of Quil. His prone position made him the perfect height to see eye-to-eye; that is, if he would open them. Carefully, I placed my hand on the fine fur of his nose. He didn't snap, so I assumed it was safe to get closer.

The wolf cracked open an eye. "Are you in there, Quil?" I asked.

He whimpered and gave a huff.

"Jacob can hear you," Edward said. "He wants to know where you are."

Right then, I was kind of thankful for Edward's gift. I wasn't sure how Jake got Edward to cooperate, or if Edward was doing it to show he could be useful, but whatever they agreed on, it would help clear this situation a lot faster.

I wasn't sure who I should direct my reply to. How did this bond even work? Was Edward reading both Quil's and Jake's mind at once? "I'm standing in the dungeon with Charlie and Quil," I answered. "Where the fuck are you? You better not be fighting." Sam said he would be okay, but I wasn't so sure. Did Jacob realize how close he was to dying?

"He's sitting on the sidelines," Edward replied. Then, as if Jake had taken over Edward's body, he continued, "So Charlie's okay? Best damn news I heard all day. But wait, who's Quil? You mean Old Quil?"

"No, his grandson. I guess he's your new wolf. Anyway, he's going to get Charlie out of here, so stop doing whatever you're doing to him. You can figure this thing out when Charlie's safe, okay?"

"When we're all safe," Charlie grunted. "There's no use arguing with our allies when we're in danger."

"Did you hear that?" I asked the wolf with its too intelligent eyes. The question wasn't meant for him, but for the jackass on the other end.

"Sure, sure." Hearing Jake's favorite phrase come out of Edward's mouth was so strange it bordered disturbing. "We'll leave the runt alone . . . for now. Eventually he'll have to answer to Sam. Just stay where you are, I'm coming your way. I'll help Charlie and Quil get out; I know a quick route."

"Thanks, Jake," I said, resisting the urge to pat the wolf. Petting Jake was embarrassing enough; doing it to a stranger was a big no-no.

Jake didn't reply, or well, Edward didn't reply. Quil seemed to be back to normal, so the others must have left him alone. Was he still talking to Jake? Was he introducing himself? Sam had said three other wolves were running around, too. I couldn't imagine how Paul reacted.

Quil stayed crouched on the floor, and Charlie carefully moved past Edward, returning my pistol before climbing onto the mountain of fur. When he was settled between the wolf's shoulders, I asked, "Do you know what happened to your revolver?"

He shrugged. "It disappeared when I woke up from this." He touched his forehead. "I don't think it matters now. I have a giant wolf as a weapon. He doesn't have the range of a gun, but he seems pretty damn dangerous to me."

I shook my head, holstered my pistol, and pulled the Striker's sling over my head. "Take this with you. I haven't had the chance to shoot it, but it's full of incendiary ammo. I bet it shoots like a dream." Even I heard the wistful sigh in my voice.

Charlie stared at the shotgun for a second. "I can't take your weaponry, Bella. You need it."

It was my turn to shrug. "I still have the FAMAS, and if worse comes to worst, I've got a vampire."

"That's why I want you to keep it," he growled, eyeing Edward unhappily. "I don't know what's happened to make you protect a vampire—and I expect the full story once we're out of here—but I trust you. You seem to have the situation under control."

I rolled my eyes. Under control? Sure. "I'll be fine, Dad." I shoved the Striker into Charlie's hands, and he immediately slung it over his shoulder. "Oh, and if you see Embry before I do—if he asks—no, I'm not giving it back. Tell him the challenge is still on. Actually, if he wants either gun back, he has to find my corpse and pry them from my fingers."

"Hey, I'll have no dead talk from you, missy," he said sternly. It was meant to be a joke but I heard the concern behind it. Charlie reached down to ruffle my hair. "You get to the surface so I can return the Striker, and you can tell Embry yourself. You came this far to get me—doing something as stupid as trusting a vampire—but I always knew you were tough. I'm proud of you, Bells. We'll make it out alive, got it? I love you, kiddo. Be careful."

And with that, Charlie pressed himself flat against Quil as they moved toward the door. Edward opened the heavy steel door to reveal the sound of gunfire. Quil squeezed through, and I watched as they barreled down the hall, out of sight.


Part two: Coming mid-April