A/N: Hello everyone! You have been very patient with me (I hope some of you are Doctor Who fans so you've got something out of me lately!) so here is a long-ish chapter for you! It's a bit patchy as this section as so many dramatic moments that would suit an end-of-chapter it was difficult to write. I hope to get the next chapter or two up very soon, maybe even today, as an apology for my heinous lateness.
Also, update on Life is Harder...it's nearly finished, I think the next chap will be the last, but it's just not coming to me right now. I don't want to give it a crappy half-assed ending after all this time and effort so bear with me please.
PREVIOUSLY - CARLISLE POV
"What can we do?" Bella demanded.
"We fight," Emmett suggested calmly.
"We can't win," Jasper growled, a cry of frustration and a warning.
"Well, we can't run," Emmett muttered. "Not with Demetri around. And I don't know why we can't win. We don't have to fight alone."
"We don't have to sentence the Quileutes to death either, Emmett!" Bella snapped.
"Chill, Bella," Emmett shrugged. "I was thinking about our other friends."
"Other friends we don't have to sentence to death." My voice was a solemn echo of Bella's shout. It was bad enough to lose my family…my friends did not have to pay for whatever mistakes had led to this tragedy.
"Hey, we'll let them decide," Emmett suggested.
But how many vampires would be willing to go up against the Volturi over the blackest crime in our history? Very few bonds of friendship were that strong.
Chapter Seventy One - Checkmate
"All we need is for the Volturi to pause for one moment," Esme pleaded with noone. I took one of her hands in mine and felt it clench into a determined fist. "Just long enough to listen."
"We'd need quite a show of witnesses," Rosalie snorted.
"We can ask that much of our friends; just to witness." Her hope wavering, she loosened her fist and slipped her fingers between mine. I gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and drew her closer to me, folding my arms around her hips and sparing a moment from the conversation to kiss her once on top of the head. Usually it was a gesture saved for private moments, but if the others noticed, they showed no sign of it.
"We'd do it for them," Emmett put in.
"We'd have to ask them just right," Alice murmured, falling into another trance. "They'll have to be shown very carefully."
"Shown?" Jasper wondered. In reply, Alice and Edward looked towards Renesmee.
"Tanya's family, Siobhan's coven. Amun's," Alice listed. "Some of the nomads...Garrett and Mary for certain. Maybe Alistair."
I frowned; Alistair would of everyone, be least likely to join us as far as I would have guessed. But then, I had been wrong about a lot of things in the past – increasingly so, it seems, since Bella came into our lives.
"What about Peter and Charlotte?" Jasper asked reluctantly, hoping his oldest friends would be spared. If they were, it would help us maintain the fact that we did not want to fight: they were experienced soldiers, and known rogues to the Volturi. Our trusting them, assembling them, might seem a desperate move. We would risk dangerous misinterpretation – but then, in this situation, there was not a space we could move to in any direction without such risk. Even as we were, we had nothing to lose.
"Maybe," Alice replied neutrally.
"The Amazons?" I inquired. "Kachiri, Zafrina and Senna?" Siobhan's gift would be very helpful, but it would be excellent to have the Amazonians on our side too. Who knows – maybe we wouldn't have to travel to Brazil to learn about the other half-vampires. That is, if there were any.
"I can't see," Alice muttered, frustrated.
"What was that?" Edward pressed, having noticed something. "That part in the jungle? Are we going to look for them?"
"I can't see," Alice repeated, not meeting Edward's eyes. Confusion crossed his features. Esme's fingers dug into my forearm.
"We'll have to split up and hurry, before the snow sticks to the ground," Alice continued. "We have to round up whomever we can and get them here to show them. Ask Eleazer. There is more to this than just an immortal child."
She blinked slowly, coming out of her vision. Her eyes were still strangely distant, but she wasn't entranced. She looked so frightened…Esme stepped forward, breaking out of my arms.
"There is so much," Alice whispered quietly, urgently. "We have to hurry."
"Alice?" Edward pressed. "That was too fast – I didn't understand. What was-?"
"I can't see!" she snapped back immediately, cutting him off. "Jacob's almost here!"
"I'll deal with-" Rosalie took a step towards the door, but Alice cut her off.
"No, let him come," Alice objected quickly. She began dragging Jasper towards 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!"
She jerked impatiently on his hand, and though he was confused, he followed Alice out.
"Hurry! You have to find them all!" Alice cried back to us as they disappeared into the night.
"Find what? Where'd Alice go?" Jacob wondered, shutting the front door behind himself. Apparently unaffected by the ominous atmosphere, Jacob shook the water out of his hair and pulled on his shirt, his eyes on Renesmee, of course.
"Hey Bells!" he cried. "I thought you guys would have gone home by now…"
He looked up at Bella's mortified expression, and froze when it finally hit him. He slowly, fearfully lowered his eyes to the crystal shards all over the floor, and his fingers quivered.
"What?" he demanded. "What happened?" He strode over to Bella and Renesmee. "Is she okay? Don't mess with me, Bella, please!" he cried, his voice full of anguish. With painstaking care, he gently touched Renesmee's forehead and listened carefully to her heart.
"Nothing's wrong with Renesmee," Bella choked at last.
"All of us, Jacob. It's over." Bella's voice was like Alice's and Edward's before; the empty, echoing sound of a tomb. "We've all been sentenced to die."
I could barely bring myself to explain the situation to Jacob. It only seemed to get worse in the retelling. More real, somehow, closer to home.
Esme stood in my arms as I talked, and then long afterwards. She didn't look at me, nor I her. It seemed that if we stayed as we were, there would be a way out of this, but as soon as we looked at each other and admitted that this could really be the end, we would be trapped.
We spent all night in silence, Jacob's heavy heartbeats – and eventually snores - ticking away until the sun rose, and Alice had still not returned. Her flustered and confusing exit was still on my mind. Jacob had transformed and Sam knew everything now. He was preparing for the invasion, just as Emmett had predicted. There was no hope of talking them out of it – not to mention, we needed them so desperately it was impossible for us to truly wish it. So much for sparing the Quileutes.
"Alice," Edward murmured as the sun broke into the house. His voice cracked the silence like so much ice. Everyone in the room shifted slightly, as if brought back from the dead by the memory of Alice.
"She's been gone a long time," Rosalie remarked, surprised.
"Where could she be?" Emmett wondered, taking a step towards the door. Esme put one hand on the opposite arm, still looking at the floor.
"We don't want to disturb…" she mumbled to herself, as if it didn't really matter anyway.
"She's never taken so long before," Edward said, agitated now. Suddenly, the panicked expression of before was back, fresh fear breaking through the numbness. Like a crack in glass, his alertness flew around the room. "Carlisle, you don't think – something preemptive? Would Alice have had time to see if they sent someone for her?"
Esme sprung straight for the door. I was after her in an instant, and behind us I could hear Emmett swear so loudly Jacob immediately leapt to his feet. The rest of the pack were already in the yard, ready to go.
"Would they have been able to surprise her?" I asked Edward as we ran.
"I don't see how," Edward replied, "but Aro knows her better than anyone else. Better than I do."
"Is this a trap?" Emmett called from behind us – just behind Rosalie, I think.
"Maybe," Edward decided. "There's no scent but Alice and Jasper. Where were they going?"
Alice's and Jasper's trail curved to the east of the house, then north once they crossed the river, and then west again after a few miles. We crossed the river again, approaching the Quileute border.
"Did you catch that scent?" Esme called from the back of the hunting party. Edward ignored all suggestion it could mean something; his concentration was absolute.
"Keep to the main trail," he instructed firmly. "We're almost to the Quileute border. Stay together. See if they turned north or south."
They did not. The trail ran right on over the border, mingling with the wolves' scent. Suddenly, the wolf smell intensified. Edward snapped to attention, immediately halting. The rest of us froze, too.
"Sam, what is this?" Edward asked flatly. Sam came through the forest in his human form, flanked by two wolf guards. His human pace was agonisingly slow. I could almost feel the precious seconds plunging down into the abyss of time, lost forever.
Sam's eyes were locked on mine. He stopped a few metres away and began to speak, all eyes on him.
"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."
Sam's face remained grim as he offered out a folded sheet of paper. It was the copyright page, torn from The Merchant of Venice, with something scrawled on the other side. Stiffly, scared of what I might find, I took the paper from Sam. Was it a ransom? A simple threat, maybe from the Volturi?
Don't look for us. There's no 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 we had to leave you this way, with no goodbyes or explanations. It's the only way for us. We love you.
I read it again, and again, but nothing changed. It was only black ink scrawled on a page; nothing to read betwee the lines. It was unmistakably Alice's handwriting, and if it had been written under juress she would have left us some sign. Yet there was nothing. No trick, no code, not one hint of where they were. Only one conclusion I could draw.
"Alice has decided to leave us."