A/N: I don't even know if any of you guys are still following this story and I wouldn't even blame you. But holy crap, this year moved fast. Christmas was, like last week; it's 2014 in four bloody months. What is even happening?
Anyway, third year of college was a bitch, so I'm citing academic reasons for my absence, followed by intense procrastination.
Again, I would just like to reassure you that I will not abandon this story, for those of you still left. I also won't bother to make an estimate as to when I will update again, because I'm flaky like that.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A tall middle-aged man stands on the side of a secluded road, wearing a thick black coat and a bright red scarf, hands jammed deep within the large pockets to ward off the late-night chill.
The lights of the man's broken down car illuminate the night, but the dense forests on either side of the road remain shrouded in darkness. Taking a drag of an almost finished cigarette, the man looks around him, impatience mixed with unease on his broad face.
He starts suddenly, jerking in place before pulling a battered phone out of his pocket, pressing a button and putting it to his ear. His mouth moves, but the lack of sound in this scene prevents understanding. The expression he now wears is one of frustration as he becomes more agitated, shouting soundlessly into the phone, arms waving in anger.
This lasts for several long seconds before the man stops gesturing, pulling the phone away from his ear to stare at it in disbelief. His fist clenches around the now disconnected device as he shoves it back into his pocket. Throwing the cigarette butt to the ground, he strides angrily to the front of the car where he leans against the hood.
His breath frosts the air in front of him, the lights turning the little puffs into shining smoke.
What natural light there is from the moon and stars is obscured by the heavy clouds, leaving only the harsh glare of the headlights to illuminate the person suddenly standing in the middle of the road. Wearing a ratty army jacket over a simple t-shirt and jeans, his lean, six foot frame cuts an impressive figure.
Sandy blond hair falls into striking purple eyes, the physical beauty of his face marred by the look of predatory hunger adorning it.
The man finally takes note of the stranger, his surprised exclamation obvious despite the lack of sound. Hands raised in an unconvincing threat, he takes a step back, base instinct no doubt driving his actions.
The blond man grins and evens the distance again by taking a step forward. He lifts his own arms in the universal 'I mean you no harm' gesture, but his eyes betray him. The first man sees it too and reacts, spurred on by a feeling of dread he couldn't quite comprehend.
He bolts for the door to his car, fumbling with his keys before diving inside and slamming the door behind him.
The blond man watches on in amusement, taking slow steps towards the stationary car. His quarry stares back at him, chest rising and falling in pure, instinctual fear.
He begins frantically searching his pockets, the keys to his car finally in his grip just as the blond man reaches him.
He has no chance to start the car before the door to his sanctuary is ripped from its hinges and he is pulled out into the night, mouth open in a soundless scream.
"Alice?" A voice called to me, warm hand coming to rest on my shoulder. "Alice, are you okay?"
I blinked rapidly as the vision ended, the frozen face of the terrified man fading until it was replaced by Bella's. Her eyebrows were drawn down in concern over brown eyes, teeth gently biting into the soft flesh of her lower lip.
My visions were still in the process of coming back fully, but they were now strong enough that I had begun to zone out whenever an intense one hit. My family were used to this, but Bella and her family were definitely not, and as a result she tended to worry whenever I suddenly stopped moving. She also seemed to have a powerful urge to poke me, but she had been getting that particular impulse under control.
I let out a shuddering breath, placing my hand over Bella's and giving it a reassuring squeeze.
Both of our families were in a clearing out in the woods, awaiting the arrival of the Quileutes. Eleven sets of eyes were resting on me, a mix of curiosity and trepidation in their gazes.
"I had another one. A man this time, on some secluded road. There were no identifiable markers; I don't know where it is." I growled, swiftly kicking a rock into the surrounding trees. "Dammit."
"Hey, this isn't your fault," Bella told me gently.
I scoffed. "Of course it is. He's after me. I'm the reason he stayed here, I'm the reason that he found out about you, and I'm the reason that that man and two other innocent humans are now either dead or vampires." I shrugged her hand off my shoulder and stepped closer to the trees, head down.
The vision that I had just had hadn't actually happened yet and if I could just think, try to find out where it was, I could stop it. Even as I thought this, I knew that it was hopeless. That stretch of road was like countless others in this part of the country, there was just no way I would be able to find him in time.
"Hey, don't do that to yourself." Bella's usually soft voice was stern, face set in a determined scowl as she walked towards me. "This is not your fault. James is the one that is to blame for this, for all of this. He is the one who attacked that man and the people before him. He is the one who decided to stay here and carry out some century-old vendetta against you. He's the one who decided to raise this army. Heck, he's the one who caused you to become a vampire in the first place. I don't know if anything I say is going to change this for you, but taking on all the blame for this is not only illogical, it's downright stupid and you are anything but stupid. You are an amazing person and I am not going to stand back and let you blame yourself for this when it is in fact the fault of a homicidal maniac, got it?"
I blinked slowly, more than a little taken aback by this new side to the normally laid-back girl. The rest of my family seemed equally stunned, eyebrows raised all around.
Bella cleared her throat, obviously a little uncomfortable with the attention. She broke her gaze away from my face, looking down at the ground. "So, yeah. Um, glad we got that squared away then. Ahem."
I sighed in resignation and laid my forehead on her collarbone, inwardly smiling a little at her flustered expression.
Intellectually, I knew that she was right, that this was on James. Emotionally, however, I couldn't help but feel that this was my responsibility.
Bella's hands came up; one coming to rest on my back, while the other began running through my hair soothingly.
"She's right, Alice," Esme told me gently, patting my shoulder comfortingly. "We can't blame ourselves for the actions of others. If we did that, we'd never have a moments peace."
The others made sounds of agreement and my smile widened, though it was still a shadow of what it usually was. The situation was too serious, the losses too real for it to be truly happy, but I was still extremely thankful for having such a supporting family, not to mention having Bella in my life. I moved in closer to her, warmth suffusing me in what seemed like every cell.
That was how the Quileutes found us several minutes later as they entered the clearing. They had toned down the aggression towards us lately in lieu of Bella's closeness with our family, but we were still vampires to them and seeing us doing something as human as offering or seeking comfort obviously unnerved some of them. After all, it was easier to hate something that you thought of as less than a person.
One of the Quileutes was in wolf form, medium size and dark brown in colour. I wasn't familiar enough with their wolf forms to be able to identify him, but based on who was missing, it was most likely Jared.
As the respective leaders of each coven, Carlisle and Clare stood at the front of the group, their mates close behind. Sam, at the forefront of his pack, stood up to his full height, eyes meeting each of theirs in turn. His stance was wary, but not overtly hostile. The others remained behind him, deferring to his status as Alpha.
Our common enemy and fledgling alliance couldn't quite remove the tense atmosphere that arose whenever we all met like this.
That tenseness eased up quite suddenly when Bella poked her head around Esme's shoulder and smiled at the wolves, one hand raised in a cheery greeting. "Hi."
Sam's shoulders relaxed somewhat as the others, minus Jared, instinctively returned the smile, Seth even going so far as to return the wave. "Hi Bella."
Jacob, a pace behind Sam, took notice of the fact that Bella was still hugging me with a hand on my back and his smile faltered, turning into a frown that would have been almost comical had it not been that he looked like a kicked puppy. That he had an incredibly obvious crush on Bella was, while not exactly surprising, nonetheless unwelcome. I trusted Bella enough that I wasn't jealous, but there was a chance that this could end badly depending on how interested Jacob was in her. Although this was Bella, so it was safe to assume that Jacob, being an individual with a working brain, was pretty interested.
"Bella. How are you?" Sam's deep voice carried a hint of affection, Bella having healed his mate and one of his pack members smoothing their relations immeasurably.
"Oh, I'm fine. Evil vampire on the loose, overall sense of impending doom, nothing new."
"Speaking of evil vampires on the loose and impending doom, didn't we come out to these deep, dark woods for a reason?" Rosalie was never much one for small talk, straight to the point as always.
We were out in this particular area of the woods because it was relatively close to La Push, well into their territory beyond the boundary line. The only reason they had let us get this close in the first place was because they no longer felt comfortable being far away from their home, on the off chance James decided to attack the humans there. No doubt one of the wolves, Paul from the looks of it, had remained behind in wolf form and was communicating with the wolf here with us. If anything went wrong, the rest of the pack were close enough to get there quickly.
We could have done much of the planning over the phone, Jesse having gone to the trouble of purchasing scrambled cell phones to ensure that no one was listening in. It was almost certainly unnecessary, James not exactly having the look of someone who had much technological know-how, but she preferred to be safe than sorry. However, we intended to show the Quileutes how to counter newborns during these meetings and that did require our physical interaction.
"You said that you had information?" Sam urged.
Carlisle nodded in return. "Alice has had several visions over the past few days, showing James attacking several humans. The one she had before you arrived puts the count up to three." The wolves growled at this, looking more agitated by the second. They saw themselves as protectors, and not being able to stop this must have been an unpleasant experience for them. "Considering the fact that he has already obtained a fully stocked shipment of blood, it's safe to assume that these humans are now vampires in his army, as opposed to food."
Jacob frowned. "I thought that Alice saw the future. You couldn't prevent any of these attacks? What about the one she had before we got here, shouldn't that be happening right now?"
In all honesty, the question was a valid one, but I couldn't help but feel that it was a personal jab. My gaze turned down, staring at Bella's shoes. They were a nice brown colour, went with her shirt.
Bella scowled, her voice taking on the slightly raspier quality it did whenever she was annoyed. "James is familiar with Alice's visions. He's made sure to avoid attacking anyone in an easily recognizable area, so she can't tell where it's happening."
Jasper voiced his agreement, his own voice sounding slightly annoyed at the younger boy. "You need to be aware that Alice is not all-seeing. Your presence in these events, and to a lesser degree, Bella's, are causing her visions to be less effective. Even if you weren't here, it's doubtful that she would be getting a vision of everyone he attacks."
"So he might have more vampires in his army than just three."
"Yes. He can only make a limited number; a newborn army of too large a size will definitely attract the Volturi and that is something that we do not want."
My family, as well as the Van Allens looked positively ill at the thought, but the wolves didn't look nearly worried enough. Sam still stood with the self-assured ease of one who thought he could handle anything the world threw at him. He wasn't without any caution, but he was a new, relatively untested wolf, and suddenly having all that power at his fingertips was making him overly-confident. He hadn't had to deal with the harsh reality that being a supernatural creature didn't make you the top dog.
Edward was no doubt reading the same thing in their minds. "They're worse than you think they are, Sam. They are comprised of some of the most powerful vampires to have ever lived, some of which are thousands of years old. They've put down armies that make the one James is building look pathetic in comparison. One of their leaders, Caius, hates shapeshifters with a single-minded passion and will not take kindly to your existence." He turned to look at Bella. "Not to mention the lengths that Aro will go to in order to acquire Bella, should he find out about her. If we're being completely honest with ourselves, despite the considerable danger James and his coven pose, the real threat is that he'll inadvertently draw the attention of the Volturi down upon us. If that happens then we are, to put it plainly, well and truly screwed."
As the Quileutes looked at each other with poorly concealed unease, I felt a familiar sense of dread. It was one that had been trying to get my attention since I had first met Bella, only to be pushed aside by my own stubbornness and my determination not to let anything ruin my newfound happiness.
Given how long he has lived and his warped sense of time as a result, it might well take a hundred years, but one thing was certain: Aro would find out about Bella sooner or later, and when he did, I had no idea what to do about it.
I looked down at Alice in concern, wondering what was going through her mind. She didn't even seem to be paying attention to the rest of the conversation; she just moved in a bit closer to me- not easy seeing as we were practically stuck together at this point- and wrapped her arms around my waist.
"Hey," I whispered to her, her subdued attitude making me worry. "What's the matter? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she mumbled back.
The others were still engaged in their conversation and we were speaking too low for them to hear us clearly, but I still manoeuvred my body slightly to shield Alice completely from their sight.
"Alice, you're not fine." I placed my finger underneath her chin and gently tilted her head upwards until she met my gaze. My concern doubled as I saw the faint trace of tears in her eyes, tears that would never fall but were there all the same.
Instead of trying to convince me again that she was 'fine', which would not have worked even a tiny bit, she merely looked at me imploringly. "Can we please talk about this later?"
I hesitated briefly, desperately wanting to get to the bottom of this, but if Alice didn't want to talk about it, I wasn't going to push her.
"Okay." I ran my hand up and down her back again, knowing how soothing she found it to be. A little healing energy passed between us, causing her to close her eyes and hum blissfully, leaning into me fully.
The sound of a throat clearing nearby brought us out of our moment, a quick glance revealing the amused looks of our families, as well as the uncomfortable awkwardness of the wolves.
Fighting the blush that was trying to take over my face proved to be fruitless, but I made a valiant effort nonetheless.
"You asked something?" I was more than a little envious of how unembarrassed Alice was by all of this, but I suppose she has had a century to get over social unease.
Clare's eyebrow rose, but she refrained from commenting. "Have your visions recovered enough for you to be able to use them in battle to a sufficient degree?"
She thought about that for a moment before nodding. "They won't be as effective as they usually are due to the presence of the wolves, but they'll do. To be honest, when it comes to fighting without my visions, I don't have much experience. To be on the safe side, I should probably practise fighting without them for a while, in case they aren't as effective as I hope."
She nodded. "Good, good. While you were…distracted, we agreed on a patrol schedule that will work in conjunction with the wolves to cover the most ground and hopefully ensure that they won't slip through unnoticed."
Jasper stepped forward. "This won't be about confrontation, but observation. You'll be patrolling in groups, but that doesn't mean that you should go chasing off after any vampires you find. If you have them pinned down in a location and are sure of your ability to take them out, then you can engage, cautiously. However, if you think for even a second that they are leading you in any pre-determined direction or their numbers are too great, then break off."
"Just let them go?" Sam asked incredulously.
"No, not let them go, just don't engage. Let the other teams know what you saw; regroup, and we'll go from there. We don't know how much, if any, experience James has with leading a newborn army, but we're not going to underestimate him." He placed his hands on his hips, standing stiffly. "A tactic I've seen many times is a general sending one of his fastest, more controlled soldiers into enemy territory, while keeping a strong force in a certain location. The soldier approaches a newborn contingent and then runs. The newborns, having little control and being already riled up from battle, give chase and run right into the ambush. It's a mistake human soldiers would never make but it works so effectively in this instance because the soldiers in question are still acting mostly on instinct. They see the prey run, they pursue."
"We're not newborns," Jacob pointed out, looking affronted at the mere thought.
"But you are aggressive and over-confident, which is just as bad. We need to work together and be smart about this, so that we can avoid casualties for as long as possible."
The unspoken assumption that there would eventually be casualties sobered the mood considerably.
"And if we're supposed to be so cautious, how can we be sure if we can take them out?"
Jasper pursed his lips, brushing his golden hair behind one ear. He looked more leonine than ever, stalking back and forth, obviously in his element. Social interaction may not have been high on his list of things that caught his attention, but put him in a battle strategy meeting and he was all set. "To be honest, you never really can in a situation like this, especially with unknown vampires operating under an unknown leader. As you're well aware by now, some vampires gain special abilities when they turn. It's not overly common, and most abilities take a long time to master, or are impractical in a contact situation, but do not under any circumstances underestimate them. You never know what they might be capable of.
As for how you can ascertain whether or not you can take them out, you'll have to use your best judgement. If their numbers rival your own, try not to risk it. If there's only one of them and more of you, then attack while keeping in mind the possibility of an ambush. If you can safely capture them alive for information gathering, all the better, but do not take any chances and if you do go down that route, make sure that they are incapacitated fully. I find removing all four limbs and avoiding the mouth area works best, but we can go into capture protocol at a later time."
Leah spoke up for the first time since the meeting began, looking at Jasper with a new respect. Not to mention a little bit of unease, which I understood completely given the dismemberment talk. "Just to clear something up that I've been wondering about since this whole 'build-an-army' thing began, why would they even fight for him in the first place? For all intents and purposes, he ruined their lives and turned them into vampires. Why wouldn't they just turn on him?"
He shook his head. "Newborn vampires are confused, frightened and very easily manipulated. Considering how intelligent and prepared he's proven himself to be, James will have done his research and taken people with little to no ties. No family, few friends, unimportant jobs; essentially, people who wouldn't be missed. This ensures that they wouldn't have much to go back to and would eventually see vampirism as a gift, making their lives better. Giving such power to people who have had so little of it in their lives will make them feel indebted to him, willing to fight for him once he's done training them."
I could feel my eyebrows drawing down, the concept of 'training' a sentient being a little disturbing. "Training?"
"Yes. He gave them the power; he's the one who holds all the answers, the one who's teaching them about this new life. He's also put himself in charge of blood acquisition and distribution, keeping them dependent on him. They're still new and fear the unknown; they don't know what to do with their new lives and so they need him, for guidance and for answers. This ensures a level of loyalty that he needs to control them. He'll also have outright lied to them about both his own intentions and ours. We may be able to plant the seed of doubt, but convincing them fully would take time, something we don't have in abundance."
"One more thing before we get to training," Carlisle spoke up. "It turns out that James drinking some of Bella's blood did have an effect on him. So far, it seems to have effected only Alice's visions of him, making them harder to perceive than normal. However, it may have had more drastic effects for all we know."
God I hoped not.
"Would it really have changed him that much?" This came from Embry, one of the shorter members of the pack.
"The type of blood a vampire drinks can have a big effect. For example, the fact the we drink animal blood allows us to form more emotional bonds than human drinking vampires, but it also makes us comparatively weaker than them. While he didn't drink a significant amount of Bella's blood, its effects on a vampire are as yet undocumented. It could prove beneficial to him, or even harmful. It could weaken him, or give him greater strength for however long it lasts. Until we know for sure, we should be careful; we don't want any unexpected surprises."
I raised my hand sheepishly, wanting to get something cleared up. "Just while you're all here, could you give us a quick run-down of the patrol schedule since we, um, missed it?"
Jasper smiled, more than a little amused. "Four wolves will be staying at La Push at all times to protect the people there, while the other four will be joining the patrols with six of us. This means five, two man recon teams, most of which will have one wolf and one vampire, to allow for communication between the teams. The remaining four vampires will stay to protect you and Alice." Alice and I started to protest at this, but he cut us off. "No, this is how it has to be. You're the ones he's after; you're the ones that need to stay safe. The personnel will rotate on a fixed six hour shift, excluding Micheal, who will stay at the house with you continuously. This allows him to use his ability and pilot one of his creatures as a separate team. He'll need to be protected while he's under, which is something the three vampires remaining at home can do. If something happens at your location, you can wake him up and he'll assist you there, meaning he'll be useful both at home and in the field."
"What about me?" I asked, knowing that my ability to fly would be more than useful. "I can...scout very, ah, effectively."
"True. We'll most likely use your…scouting abilities in the future, but for now, you need to stay put so we know where you are at all times."
I glanced at Alice, her frown making it obvious that she didn't like the idea of me 'scouting' while she was left behind. I smiled at her reassuringly, thankful when she returned it, albeit in a smaller fashion. I really needed to get to the bottom of her strange mood, and soon.
"Okay." Jasper clapped his hands, looking for all the world like an enthusiastic school teacher; if school teachers taught their students the most effective ways of dismembering their enemies that is.
"Let's get started."
A/N: God, I feel the need to just hide behind a big rock. To be honest, as bad as I feel, my battle with horrendous procrastination is not going away any time soon, so I won't even make a guess as to when I'll update next. I'll certainly finish this story, but God only knows when at this point.
As I said above, I'll understand if you need to drop this story, and if you already have and are consequentially not reading this, I don't blame you.
So I'll just say thanks for reading, try to review and I shall see you at some time in the future possibly. Metaphorically speaking, because I am in fact never going to see you, unless something very strange happens.