A/N: Got an amusing review question on the last chapter. It simply said, (paraphrasing) "what if your story is worse than Twilight?" Well, obviously I don't think so, otherwise I wouldn't have written this much or this far. And, well, anyone who has read this far doesn't think so either. I don't mind if there's people who don't like my writing. They can read it or not, it makes no difference to me. I'm just glad I can share my "alternate vision" with others who enjoy it, too.
I got another recent review that said I had "a wicked sense of humor." Thanks for the compliment, madnessdownunder2! Half my reason for doing this was poking fun, just "for the lulz," and it's great to know I succeeded.
That said, on to the part you really want to read!
I went back to the Cullen house and filled Alice in on who I'd seen and what had happened. She liked the possibilities Irina's appearance brought, too. Alice was able to catch a few glimpses of Irina's immediate future, but nothing too concrete. She wasn't going back to Denali, as far as Alice could tell. The picture was hazy; all she could see was that Irina was obviously upset. She wandered in the snow-swathed wilderness-to the north? maybe east?-with a devastated attitude. She was making no decisions for a new course beyond that directionless grieving.
In other words, Irina likely wouldn't be of any help to us any time soon. I put thoughts of that useless load on the backburner of my mind. It might amount to something in the future, but for now we had other things to think about. The Cullens were planning a little vacation, it seemed.
Every detail had been gone over almost before I knew it. We would start with the Ticunas, tracing their legends as well as we could at the source. Now that it was accepted that Jacob would come with us, he figured prominently in the plans—it was unlikely that the people who believed in vampires would speak to any of us about their stories. If we dead-ended with the Ticunas, there were many closely related tribes in the area to research. Carlisle had some old friends in the Amazon; if we could find them, they might have information for us, too. Or at least a suggestion as to where else we might go for answers. There was no way to know how long our search would take.
Emmett and Jasper were more excited about planning the hunting possibilities, if you could call that excited. They didn't really get truly excited about anything anymore, just a bit more energetic than the drooly handmaidens of Renesmee that they usually were. The Amazon offered a change from our normal quarry. Jaguars and panthers, for example. Emmett had a whim to wrestle with an anaconda, which was as close to his old self as I'd seen in weeks. Esme and Rosalie were planning what they would pack.
Jacob was off with Sam's pack, setting things up for his own absence. Lucky bastard, though he didn't seem to see it that way. No, wolf-boy was still Renesmee's biggest fan, followed closely by Carlisle. It seemed our clan leader spent all his free time marveling over the specialness that was Renesmee.
You never realize just how much you need the attention of others until quite suddenly you are soundly and deliberately ignored. Lately Carlisle never bothered with me for anything beyond making sure I stuck around; mostly he acted like I didn't exist, as did everyone else besides Alice. It was unnerving. I'd often wished to get away from this "clan" and many times begged Carlisle to leave me alone, but I'd never realized being completely left alone would be so...lonely. I missed the camaraderie we all had, as twisted as it was. I even found myself wishing that Carlisle would give me one of his "surprise embraces from behind," even one of the reach-around ones that always had me yelping in embarassingly high tones, just because it would show that Carlisle cared enough to make sure I was nervous and on edge and never quite completely relaxed.
The fact that I was wishing Carlisle to humiliate me made me abruptly want to hit my head against a wall. Hard. Repeatedly. Clearly I was in desperate straits here.
I stared at Renesmee while I debated internally. She was curled up on the sofa now, her breathing slow with heavy sleep, her tangled curls splayed wildly around her face. Every time that little monster smiled, I wanted to wipe it off her face. With a sledgehammer.
Alice moved slowly—for her—around the big room, unnecessarily tidying the already immaculate space, straightening Esme's perfectly hung garlands. She was re-centering Esme's vases on the console at the moment. Her face fluctuated—aware, then blank, then aware again—as she was searching the future. She was trying to see through the blind spots that Jacob and Renesmee made in her visions as to what was waiting for us in South America. She lifted one crystal vase that was filled with white and red roses and turned toward the kitchen. There was just the barest hint of wilt to one of the white flowers, but Alice seemed intent on utter perfection as a distraction to her lack of vision tonight.
I saw it an instant after she did. The vase slipped from Alice's fingers and shattered into ten thousand shards against the edge of the kitchen's marble were perfectly still as the fragmented crystal bounced and skittered in every direction with an unmusical tinkling, all eyes on Alice's eyes were halfway here and halfway locked on the future, wide, staring, filling her thin face till they seemed to overflow it. I could see her vision: a line of vampires, some familiar, some not, walking toward a battlefield. All had glowing red eyes, and they had come for one very specific purpose: War.
"What?" Jasper growled, leaping to her side in a blurred rush of movement, crushing the broken crystal under his feet. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her sharply. She seemed to rattle silently in his hands. "What, Alice?"
Emmett moved into my peripheral vision, his teeth bared while his eyes darted toward the window, anticipating an attack.
"They're coming for us," Alice and I whispered together, perfectly synchronized. "All of them."
"Why?" Esme asked.
"When?" Jasper demanded in a voice like splintering ice. Renesmee's eyes were bright, focused on this new topic.
Alice's eyes didn't blink, but it was as if a veil covered them; they became perfectly blank. Only her mouth held on to her expression of horror. "Not long," she said. "There's snow on the forest, snow on the town. Little more than a month."
"Why?" Carlisle was the one to ask this time.
Esme answered. "They must have a reason. Maybe to see Renesmee. She is such a darling girl. . ." she trailed off when she saw none of us believed it.
"It came out of nowhere, Jasper. I wasn't looking for them, or even for us. I was just looking for Irina. She wasn't where I expected her to be. . . ." Alice trailed off, her eyes drifting again. She stared at nothing for a long second. Then her head jerked up, her eyes hard as flint. "She decided to go to them," Alice said. "Irina decided to go to the Volturi. And then they will decide.… It's as if they're waiting for her. Like their decision was already made, and just waiting on her. . . ."
It was silent again as we digested this. What would Irina tell the Volturi that would result in Alice's appalling vision? What did she know? Did she actually know anything damning enough to-?
"Can we stop her?" Jasper asked.
"There's no way. She's almost there."
"What is she doing?" Carlisle was asking, but I wasn't paying attention to the discussion now. All my focus was on the picture that was painstakingly coming together in my head.
"This isn't about Bella," Alice said hollowly. "They're all coming—Aro, Caius, Marcus, every member of the guard, even the wives."
"The wives never leave the tower," Jasper contradicted her in a flat voice. "Never. Not during the southern rebellion. Not when the Romanians tried to overthrow them. Not even when they were hunting the immortal children. Never."
"They're coming now," I murmured.
"But why?" Carlisle said again. "We've done nothing! And if we had, what could we possibly do that would bring this down on us?"
"There are so many of us," I offered. "They must want to make sure that . . ." I didn't reveal the real reason I thought they might be after us.
"That doesn't answer the crucial question! Why?" Rosalie demanded.
"The immortal children," Carlisle murmured, sudden understanding lighting up his eyes for a moment.
Renesmee jerked her head to look at him. Explain!
"Irina and her sisters...their 'mother' was killed many years ago because she was involved with beings we call immortal children. They are a taboo among our kind, Renesmee, and she probably assumed you were one."
Am I? she asked.
"No, you are a hybrid. Immortal children are born human and turned when they are only children. They are frozen in that state. You were born and still remain as you are, growing so much every day, a true miracle of nature and magic."
Oh, gag me, I thought.
"Since immortal children are outlawed in our world, the Volturi will come and try to...kill you."
NOOOO! I don't want to die! I'm just a helpless little kid! You'll protect me, won't you? she begged Carlisle.
"Of course I will," he reassured her, and damn if he didn't mean it.
Renesmee repeated her plea, looking into everyone's eyes in turn, until she got to Alice and me. You'll protect me, won't you, Alice?This time she sent an image of Jasper getting mangled to underline her point.
"I will protect my chosen family," Alice vowed. Which doesn't include you, you little rat-faced imp, she mentally added.
Then Renesmee turned to me. I know you'll protect me, daddy, she began, and finished with, because I have Carlisle, and he won't give you a choice, in a private thought meant for me alone.
I concentrated hard on not grinding my teeth. "I will fight for the Cullens," I declared through gritted teeth. I did not consider Renesmee to be a Cullen. The Cullens were humans-turned-vampires; she was neither one.
"But what can we do?" Rosalie demanded.
"We fight," Emmett said calmly.
"We can't win," Jasper growled.
"Well, we can't run. Not with Demetri around." Emmett made a disgusted noise. He was not upset by the idea of the Volturi's tracker but by the idea of running away. "And I don't know that we can't win," he said. "There are a few options to consider. We don't have to fight alone."
"What, you mean our little wolf friends?" I scoffed. "You really expect them to help us?"
"I didn't mean the pack. Be realistic, though—do you think Jacob or Sam will ignore an invasion? Even if it wasn't about Nessie? Not to mention that, thanks to Irina, Aro might know about our alliance with the pack now, too. But I was thinking of our other friends."
Carlisle whispered, "Other friends we don't have to sentence to death."
"Hey, we'll let them decide," Emmett said in a placating tone. "I'm not saying they have to fight with us." I could see the plan refining itself in his head as he spoke. "If they'd just stand beside us, just long enough to make the Volturi hesitate. If we could force them to stop and listen. Though that might take away any reason for a fight. . . ." There was a hint of a smile on Emmett's face now.
"Yes," Esme said. "That makes sense, Emmett. All we need is for the Volturi to pause for one moment. Just long enough to listen."
I turned my head and squinted at Esme for a few moments. That was...surprisingly intelligent of her. Like she understood the situation, for once. If she really did, what might that mean? Did it mean anything at all?
"We'd need quite a show of witnesses," Rosalie said harshly, voicing her skepticism at getting such support, her voice bringing me back to the topic at hand.
Carlisle nodded in agreement, acting as if he hadn't heard the sarcasm in Rosalie's tone. "We can ask that much of our friends. Just to witness."
"We'd do it for them," Emmett said.
"We'll have to ask them just right," Alice murmured. "They'll have to be shown very carefully."
"Shown?" Jasper asked.
Alice's eyes glazed over. "Tanya's family," she said. "Siobhan's coven. Amun's. Some of the nomads—Garrett and Mary for certain. Maybe Alistair."
"What about Peter and Charlotte?" Jasper asked half fearfully, as if he hoped the answer was no, and his former partners in crime could be spared from the coming carnage.
"The Amazons?" Carlisle asked. "Kachiri, Zafrina, and Senna?"
Alice seemed too deep into her vision to answer at first; finally she shuddered, and her eyes flickered back to the present. She met Carlisle's gaze for the tiniest part of a second, and then looked down.
"I can't see." There was an image...something not clear enough for me to grasp. She had seen something, a flicker of...but Alice kept it hidden from me. Why? She was more experienced with her visions, could usually see the cause and effect behind most things before I could.
"What was that?" I asked, almost demanded. "That part in the jungle. Are we going to look for them?" Something in her vision was way off, and it was something she couldn't share with anyone, even her current closest ally, me.
"I can't see," Alice repeated, not meeting my eyes. "We'll have to split up and hurry—before the snow sticks to the ground. We have to round up whomever we can and get them here to show them." The silence was ominous for another long moment while Alice was in her trance. She blinked slowly when it was over, her eyes peculiarly opaque despite the fact that she was clearly in the present. "There is so much. We have to hurry," she whispered.
"Alice?" I asked. "That was too fast—I didn't understand. What was—?"
"I can't see!" she exploded back at me. "Jacob's almost here!"
Rosalie took a step toward the front door. "I'll deal with—"
"No, let him come," Alice said quickly, her voice straining higher with each word. She grabbed Jasper's hand and began pulling him toward the back door. "I'll see better away from Nessie, too. I need to go. I need to really concentrate. I need to see everything I can. I have to go. Come on, Jasper, there's no time to waste!" We all could hear Jacob on the stairs. Alice yanked, impatient, on Jasper's hand. He followed quickly, confusion in his eyes. They darted out the door into the silver night. "Hurry!" she called back to us. "You have to find them all!"
I thought I knew what she was doing with Jasper, and wished her all the best. This was her best opportunity to get him away from Renesmee's influence, at least for short periods of time, in the guise of planning her protection. Alice hoped that Renesmee's hold on him would weaken sufficiently to bring him out of the spell he was under. I didn't think it would work, but I hoped it would. We needed another ally.
"Find what?" Jacob asked, shutting the front door behind himself. "Where'd Alice go?"
No one answered.
Jacob shook the wet from his hair and pulled his arms through the sleeves of his t-shirt, his eyes on Renesmee. "Hey, I thought you guys would've gone hunting by now. . . ."
His expression changed as the room's atmosphere finally touched him. He glanced down at the wet spot on the floor, the scattered roses, the fragments of crystal. His fingers quivered. "What?" he asked flatly. "What happened?"Jacob crossed the room in three long strides and dropped to his knees beside Renesmee and Carlisle. "Is she okay?" he demanded, touching her forehead, tilting his head as he listened to her heart. "Don't mess with me, please!"
"Nothing's wrong with Renesmee," Carlisle finally stated.
"All of us, Jacob," he replied. "It's done. We've all been sentenced to die."
We sat there all night long, and Alice never came back. It wasn't until the sun rose and I knew that Renesmee would soon be stirring that I wondered for the first time what could possibly be taking Alice so long. I'd hoped to know more; to have some answers. My face felt permanently set into the fixed mask it had worn all night. Jacob was snoring in the corner, a mountain of fur on the floor, twitching anxiously in his sleep. Sam knew everything—the wolves were readying themselves for what was coming. Not that this preparation would do anything but get them killed with the rest of my "family."
"She's been gone a long time," Rosalie murmured, breaking the silence.
"Where could she be?" Emmett wondered, taking a step toward the door.
Esme put a hand on his arm. "We don't want to disturb . . ."
"She's never taken so long before," I said. Had she really made it? Were she and Jasper totally gone? Fresh panic filled me when I realized I might be in this all alone. "Carlisle, you don't think—something preemptive? Would Alice have had time to see if they sent someone for her?" I threw that out as a possibility, trying to keep Carlisle's thoughts elsewhere. If he thought Alice had escaped for good, he'd be even more vigilant in keeping me close. With the combined efforts of Carlisle and the demon baby, I was much more likely to fall under her spell, my own strength insufficient.
Emmett cussed loud enough that Jacob lurched to his feet with a growl. In the yard, his growl was echoed by his pack.
"Let's go!" Carlisle snapped, and we all hopped to. We had no choice; we were all bound to him.
"Stay with Renesmee!" Rosalie all but shrieked at Jacob as we sprinted through the door.
"Would they have been able to surprise her?" Carlisle asked, his voice as even as if he were standing motionless rather than running at full speed.
"I don't see how," I answered. "But Aro knows her better than anyone else. Better than I do."
"Is this a trap?" Emmett called from behind us.
"Maybe," I said. "There's no scent but Alice and Jasper. Where were they going?"
Alice and Jasper's trail was curling into a wide arc; it stretched first east of the house, but headed north on the other side of the river, and then back west again after a few miles. We recrossed the river, all jumping within a second of each other. I ran in the lead.
"Keep to the main trail—we're almost to the Quileute border," I ordered tersely. "Stay together. See if they turned north or south." Carlisle slowed a little, and looked from side to side, waiting for the trail to turn.
Then the wolf smell got suddenly stronger, and I snapped my head up and came to a sudden stop. The others froze, too. "Sam?" I asked flatly. "What is this?"
Sam came through the trees a few hundred yards away, walking quickly toward us in his human form, flanked by two big wolves—Paul and Jared. It took Sam a while to reach us; his human pace made me impatient. I didn't want time to think about what was happening. I wanted to be in motion, to be doing something. I wanted to have Alice here, to know beyond a doubt that she was on my side. I froze as I heard what Sam was thinking. Sam ignored me, looking straight at Carlisle as he stopped walking and began to vocalize his thoughts.
"Right after midnight, Alice and Jasper came to this place and asked permission to cross our land to the ocean. I granted them that and escorted them to the coast myself. They went immediately into the water and did not return. As we journeyed, Alice told me it was of the utmost importance that I say nothing to Jacob about seeing her until I spoke to you. I was to wait here for you to come looking for her and then give you this note. She told me to obey her as if all our lives depended on it."
"You did tell Jacob, though, didn't you?"
Sam snorted. "Of course. If you blood-suckers want to keep secrets from each other, that's your affair. We shapeshifters don't keep secrets from our own." Sam's face was grim and slightly contemptuous as he held out a folded sheet of paper, printed all over with small black text. It was a page out of a book; my sharp eyes read the printed words as Carlisle unfolded it to see the other side. The side facing me was the copyright page from Oedipus Rex.A hint of my own scent blew off of it as Carlisle shook the paper flat. I realized it was a page torn from one of my books. Why had she gone to the trouble of doing that? It wasn't like we didn't have stationery in the house.
"Alice has decided to leave us," Carlisle whispered.
"What?" Rosalie cried.
Carlisle turned the page around so that we all could read:
Don't look for us. There isn't time to waste. Remember: Tanya,Siobhan, Amun, Alistair, all the nomads you can find. We'll seek out Peter and Charlotte on our way. We're so sorry that we have to leave you this way, with no goodbyes or explanations. It's the only way for us. Good luck.
We stood frozen again, the silence total but for the sound of the wolves' heartbeats, their breathing. Their thoughts were loud too, a virtual cacophony of telepathic voices. I was first to move, speaking in response to the question in Sam's head: Have things degraded that much?
"Yes, things are that dangerous."
"Enough that you would abandon your family?" Sam asked out loud, censure in his tone. He had not read the note before giving it to Carlisle. He was upset now; he regretted listening to Alice.
"We don't know what she saw," I said quickly. "Alice is neither unfeeling nor a coward. She just has more information than we do." I didn't know who I was trying to convince at this point, everyone else or myself.
"We would not—," Sam began.
"You are bound differently than we are," I snapped. "We each still have our free will."
Sam's chin jerked up, and his eyes looked suddenly flat black as he bristled at the proverbial sucker-punch. Oh, do you, now?
"But you should heed the warning," I continued before he could retort. "This is not something you want to involve yourselves in. You can still avoid what Alice saw."
Sam smiled grimly. "We don't run away." Behind him, Paul snorted.
"Don't get your family slaughtered for pride," Carlisle interjected quietly.
What a 'compassionate family man;' he is so full of it.
Sam looked at Carlisle with a softer expression. "As Edward pointed out, we don't have the same kind of freedom that you have. Renesmee is as much as part of our family now as she is yours. Jacob cannot abandon her, and we cannot abandon him." His eyes flickered to Alice's note, and he pressed his lips into a thin line.
"You don't know her," I warned.
"Do you?" Sam snapped back.
I opened my mouth and my mind to tell him exactly what I knew about Renesmee, when Carlisle put a hand on my shoulder. That's enough of that, Edward. "We have much to do, son. Whatever Alice's decision, we would be foolish not to follow her advice now. Let's go home and get to work." I immediately felt the influence of his binding on me; I could no longer speak to Sam in any capacity, following Carlisle's unspoken orders.
I nodded, grimacing. Behind me, I could hear Esme's quiet questions. Once again, she didn't actually grasp the situation, though she seemed to understand that Alice and Jasper were gone, probably for good, though not why.
"Thank you, Sam," Carlisle said.
"Right," Sam answered. "You think we shouldn't have let her through."
"You did the right thing," Carlisle told him. "Alice is free to do what she will. I wouldn't deny her that liberty." Not since she's already gone, anyway, he continued in his head.
If Alice were still here, it would be a different story. Carlisle had thought that with Jasper along, she would come back, since among the Cullens, Jasper was bound probably the most tightly with Renesmee through his empathy. To discover that she may actually escape, and Jasper with her, made his anger flare up briefly, stronger than he'd felt since the demon baby got him in her clutches. It quickly settled into embers though, thanks to Renesmee's damping influence.
I'd always thought of the Cullens as a whole, an indivisible unit. I was abruptly reminded that it had not always been so. Carlisle had created me, Esme, Rosalie and Emmett. We were physically linked by blood and venom. I never thought of Alice and Jasper as separate—as adopted into the family. But in truth, Alice had adopted the Cullens. She had shown up with her unconnected past, bringing Jasper with his, and fit herself into the family that was already there. Both she and Jasper had known another life outside the Cullen family. Had she really chosen to lead another new life after she'd seen that life with the Cullens was over? We were doomed, then, weren't we? There was no hope at all. Not one ray, one flicker that might have convinced Alice she had a chance at our side.
The bright morning air seemed thicker suddenly, blacker, as if physically darkened by my despair.
"I'm not going down without a fight," Emmett snarled low under his breath. "Alice told us what to do. Let's get it done."
The others nodded with determined expressions, and I realized that they were banking on whatever chance Alice had given us. That they were not going to give in to hopelessness and wait to die. Yes, we all would fight. What else was there? And apparently we would involve others, because Alice had said so before she'd left us. How could we not follow Alice's last warning? The wolves, too, would fight with us for Renesmee. We would fight, they would fight, and we all would die. I didn't feel the same resolve the others seemed to feel. Alice knew the odds. She was giving us the only chance she could see, but the chance was too slim for her to bet on it. For what? Why would she help us at all? Was it for me, and our companionship of not falling before the spell of the demon baby? For some affection she felt for our "family" all the years we were together?
Alice's note did not make me hopeful. If there were any way to avoid the coming slaughter, Alice would have stayed. I couldn't see another possibility. So it was something else she was giving me. Not a way to escape. But what else would she think that I wanted?
My thoughts abruptly turned darker. Perhaps it was an attempt to draw even more attention to us and our situation. That many vampires gathering in one location would surely bring all eyes in the vampire world on us. Was she hoping that the Volturi would come down so hard on us that there was no way Renesmee could survive the encounter? I had a feeling it was the last one. While destroying Renesmee was an ambitious goal, and in my opinion a noble and worthy one, I was not willing to sacrifice myself in order to achieve it. Unfortunately, that decision wasn't mine to make.
I felt already beaten as I turned my back on Sam's critical face and followed Carlisle toward home.
A/N: Ok, so not so much suspense here as whiny despairing emo, but we're still into a lot of set-up. Hope you all continue to enjoy reading, and remember: constructive criticism is ALWAYS appreciated!