Chapter Eighteen

It's been more than a year since I started this story. Thanks to everyone for sticking with me throughout that year :)

There was a brief silence before Fred continued.

I wondered how long it would take for me to get thirsty again.

"It never goes away when you're a newborn." Jasper murmured.

Usually, a few hours after feeding, the pain would start to come back, and then it would just get worse and worse until—after a couple of days—it was impossible to ignore it even for a second. Would the excessive amount of blood I'd just drunk delay that? I guessed I'd see pretty soon.

I swallowed the burn in my throat, trying to avert my thoughts elsewhere. I'd need to hunt-soon.

I glanced around to make sure no one was waiting for the bag, because I thought Fred would probably be curious, too.

"Sorry but I probably am." Fred told Bella.

Riley caught my eye, smiled the tiniest bit, and jerked his chin slightly toward the corner where Fred was. Which made me want to do the exact opposite of what I'd just been planning, but whatever. I didn't want Riley to be suspicious of me.

"All vampires are perfect actors, right?" Bella asked. Edward shuddered in response, remembering something from a time in which I had no idea.

I walked back to Fred, ignoring the nausea until it faded and I was right next to him. I handed him the bag. He seemed pleased I'd thought to include him; he smiled and then sniffed the shirt.

"Unlike those other douches," Fred muttered.

After a second he nodded thoughtfully to himself.

"Glad to know that my blood has you so deep in thought." Bella said sarcastically.

He gave me the bag back with a significant look. The next time we were alone, I thought he would say aloud whatever it was he had seemed to want to share before. I tossed the bag toward Spider-Man, who reacted like it had fallen out of the sky but still caught it before it hit the ground.

Everyone laughed at that while I grimaced.

Everyone was buzzing about the scent.

"It can't be that good." Bella frowned.

"You have no idea." Edward sighed and then kissed her forehead.

Riley clapped his hands together twice.

"Okay, so there's the dessert I was talking about. The girl will be with the yellow-eyes.

"Yay! We were mentioned." Alice squealed while we rolled our eyes.

"This could happen Alice." Edward grumbled.

"You know that we'll all ensure that it won't." Alice stuck her tongue out in reply.

And whoever gets to her first gets dessert. Simple as that."

The sound of teeth clenching could be heard.

Appreciative growls, competitive growls.

"Stay away from her." Edward warned, protective of his mate.

Simple, yes, but… wrong. Weren't we supposed to be destroying the yellow-eyed coven?

"If only they really knew us." Esme sighed.

"Yeah, we're all going to get together and have a tea party." Fred muttered sarcastically.

"Don't get any ideas Alice." Jasper smiled at her as her eyes lit up.

Unity was supposed to be the key, not a first-come, first-served prize that only one vampire could win. The only guaranteed outcome from this plan was one dead human.

"Well Bella's one important human." Rosalie commented.

"Sure is." Emmett grinned.

"And everybody should know that." Edward grimaced.

"Thanks guys."

I could think of half a dozen more productive ways to motivate this army. The one who kills the most yellow-eyes wins the girl. The one who shows the best team cooperation gets the girl. The one who sticks to the plan best. The one who follows orders best. MVP, etc.

"Err, I like my life here too much to appreciate those ideas." Bella laughed.

"Being a part of a newborn army sounds like fun." Emmett pouted.

The focus should be on the danger, which was definitely not the human.

"Hey, how do you know? I could have a power as a vampire. Like a shield or something, yeah." Bella exclaimed.

"True." Diego agreed.

I looked around at the others and decided that none of them were following the same train of thought. Raoul and Kristie were glaring at each other. I heard Sara and Jen arguing in whispers about the possibility of sharing the prize.

Bella winced.

Well, maybe Fred got it.

"I'm not a mental case like the rest of them." Fred muttered.

He was frowning, too.

"And the last thing," Riley said. For the first time there was some reluctance in his voice. "This will probably be even harder to accept, so I'll show you. I won't ask you to do anything I won't do. Remember that—I'm with you guys every step of the way."

"Sure you are." Diego snorted.

"I know, right."

The vampires got real still again. I noticed that Raoul had the ziplock back and was gripping it possessively.

"Maybe he's….gay." Emmett joked. Nobody got what was supposed to be funny. (No offence intended)

"Why?" I questioned.

"Bella's very girly blouse is in that bag. He's pretty possessive of it."

That got everyone laughing.

"There are so many things you have yet to learn about being a vampire," Riley said. "Some of them make more sense than others. This is one of those things that won't sound right at first, but I've experienced it myself, and I'll show you." He deliberated for a long second. "Four times a year, the sun shines at a certain indirect angle. During that one day, four times a year, it is safe… for us to be outside in the daylight."

"Bullshit." Fred glared.

Every tiny movement stopped. There was no breathing.

Riley was talking to a bunch of statues.

"One of those special days is beginning now. The sun that is rising outside today won't hurt any of us. And we are going to use this rare exception to surprise our enemies."

"What by sparkling." Emmett snorted.

"We sparkle too." Rosalie rolled her eyes.

My thoughts spun around and turned upside down. So Riley knew it was safe for us to go out in the sun. Or he didn't, and our creator had told him this "four days a year" story. Or… this was true and Diego and I had lucked into one of those days. Except that Diego had been out in the shade before. And Riley was making this into some kind of solstice-y seasonal thing, while Diego and I had been safe in the daylight just four days ago. I could understand that Riley and our creator would want to control us with the fear of the sun.

"Ugh, I hate how I was so stupid." I groaned.

It made sense. But why tell the truth—in a very limited way—now? I would bet it had to do with those scary dark-cloaks.

Everyone shuddered except for Emmett who simply shrugged.

She probably wanted to get a jump on her deadline. The cloaked ones had not promised to let her live when we killed all the yellow-eyes.

"We're the C.u.l.l.e.n.s." Emmett said each letter singularly with a grin. "Not the yellow-eyed freaks."

"Yellow looks good on all of you though. No other colour would suit" Bella commented.

"Sure does."

I guessed she would be off like a shot the second she'd accomplished her objective here. Kill the yellow-eyes and then take an extended vacation in Australia

"What and ride the kangaroos?" Emmett snorted.

"Emmett, I went there once for a fashion show and didn't see one kangaroo. Most people who have lived there for their whole life haven't seen one either, unless they live in the rural areas, and not many people do." Alice laughed.

"Next thing you know, he's going to be saying that people in New Zealand ride whales." Jasper muttered.

Or somewhere else on the other side of the world. And I'd bet she wasn't going to send us engraved invitations.

"What a great idea." Alice squealed.

I would have to get to Diego quick so we could bail, too.

"Best decision ever." Diego murmured.

In the opposite direction from Riley and our creator. And I ought to tip Fred off.

"Thanks for that."

I decided I would as soon as we had a moment alone. There was so much manipulation going on in this one little speech, and I wasn't sure I was catching it all. I wished Diego were here so we could analyze it together.

"Don't worry, I will be." Diego promised.

If Riley was just making up this four-days story on the spot, I guess I could understand why. It's not like he could have just said, Hey, so I've lied to you for your whole lives, but now I'm telling the truth.

"But that would have been funny." Emmett pouted.

"Not for us."

He wanted us to follow him into battle today; he couldn't undermine whatever trust he'd earned.

"It's right for you to be terrified at the thought," Riley told the statues. "The reason you are all still alive is that you paid attention when I told you to be careful. You got home on time, you didn't make mistakes. You let that fear make you smart and cautious. I don't expect you to put that intelligent fear aside easily. I don't expect you to run out that door on my word. But…" He looked around the room once. "I do expect you to follow me out."

"Hell no!"

His eyes slid away from the audience for just the teensiest fraction of a second, touching very briefly on something over my head.

"Hmm, let me guess. It's the most awesome person in this room." Fred grinned.

"Watch me," he told us. "Listen to me. Trust me. When you see that I'm okay, believe your eyes. The sun on this one day does have some interesting effects on our skin.

Everyone burst out laughing.

"Interesting is a good way to put it." Carlisle chuckled.

You'll see. It won't hurt you in any way. I wouldn't do anything to put you guys in unnecessary danger. You know that."

"If only he really did care about your well-being." Esme sighed.

He started up the stairs.

"Riley, can't we just wait—," Kristie began.

"Just pay attention," Riley cut her off, still moving up at a measured pace. "This gives us a big advantage. The yellow eyes know all about this day, but they don't know that we know."

"Think again." Jasper smirked.

As he was talking, he opened the door and walked out of the basement into the kitchen. There was no light in the well-shaded kitchen, but everyone still shied away from the open doorway. Everyone but me. His voice continued, moving toward the front door. "It takes most young vampires a while to embrace this exception—for good reason. Those who aren't cautious about the daylight don't last long."

"Wow, we must really be dead then. I love the sun." Edward smiled.

I felt Fred's eyes on me. I glanced over at him. He was staring at me urgently, as if he wanted to take off but had nowhere to go.

"It's okay," I whispered almost silently. "The sun's not going to hurt us." You trust him? he mouthed back at me.

No way.

Fred raised an eyebrow and relaxed just slightly.

"What's so shocking about that?" I demanded. "I'm not exactly a dumbass like the rest."

"It's just that…."He trailed off when he saw my murderous expression.

I glanced behind us. What had Riley been looking at? Nothing had changed—just some family pictures of dead people, a small mirror, and a cuckoo clock.

"That sounds creepy." Bella muttered.

Hmm. Was he checking the time? Maybe our creator had given him a deadline, too.

"'Kay, guys, I'm going out," Riley said. "You don't have to be afraid today, I promise."

The light burst into the basement through the open door, magnified—as only I knew—by Riley's skin. I could see the bright reflections dance on the wall.

"LOL, glittery Riley." Emmett snickered.

"Did you just use internet talk in a face-to-face conversation?" I asked. Emmett shrugged in response.

Hissing and snarling, my coven backed into the corner opposite from Fred's. Kristie was in the very back. It looked like she was trying to use her gang as a kind of shield.

"Relax, everybody," Riley called down to us. "I am absolutely fine. No pain, no burn. Come and see. C'mon!" No one moved closer to the door. Fred was crouched against the wall beside me, eyeing the light with panic. I waved my hand a tiny bit to get his attention. He looked up at me and measured my total calm for a second. Slowly he straightened up next to me. I smiled encouragingly.

"Nice to know, someone enlightened me on the truth." Fred grumbled.

Everyone else was waiting for the burn to start. I wondered if I had looked that silly to Diego.

"Never." Diego whispered to me.

"You know," Riley mused from above, "I'm curious to see who is the bravest one of you. I have a good idea who the first person through that door is going to be, but I've been wrong before." I rolled my eyes. Subtle, Riley. But of course it worked. Raoul started inching his way toward the stairs almost immediately. For once, Kristie was in no hurry to compete with him for Riley's approval. Raoul snapped his fingers at Kevin, and both he and the Spider-Man kid reluctantly moved to flank him.

"You can hear me. You know I'm not fried. Don't be a bunch of babies! You're vampires. Act like it."

"Immature asses." Fred muttered.

Still, Raoul and his buddies couldn't get farther than the foot of the stairs. None of the others moved. After a few minutes, Riley came back. In the indirect light from the front door, he shimmered just a tiny bit in the doorway. "Look at me—I'm fine. Seriously! I'm embarrassed for you. C'mere, Raoul!"

In the end, Riley had to grab Kevin—Raoul ducked out of the way as soon as he could see what Riley was thinking—and drag him upstairs by force. I saw the moment when they made it into the sun, when the light brightened from their reflections.

"Tell them, Kevin," Riley ordered.

"I'm okay, Raoul!" Kevin called down. "Whoa. I'm all… shiny. This is crazy!" He laughed.

"Is he gay?" Emmett exclaimed.

"Sounds like it." (No offence intended here)

"Well done, Kevin," Riley said loudly.

That did it for Raoul. He gritted his teeth and marched up the stairs. He didn't move fast, but soon he was up there sparkling and laughing with Kevin. Even from then on, the process took longer than I would have predicted. It was still a one-by-one thing. Riley got impatient. It was more threats than encouragement now.

"He's so nice. Isn't he?" Diego said sarcastically.

Fred shot me a look that said, You knew this?

Yes, I mouthed.

He nodded and started up the stairs. There were still about ten people, mostly Kristie's group, huddled against the wall. I went with Fred. Better to come out right in the middle. Let Riley read into that what he would.

"Smart." Emmett commented.

We could see the shining, disco-ball vampires in the front yard, staring at their hands and each other's faces with rapt expressions. Fred moved into the light without slowing, which I thought was pretty brave, all things considered.

"I'm not a wuss." Fred complained.

Kristie was a better example of how well Riley had indoctrinated us. She clung to what she knew regardless of the evidence in front of her. Fred and I stood a little space from the others. He examined himself carefully, then looked me over, then stared at the others. It struck me that Fred, though really quiet, was very observant and almost scientific in the way he examined evidence.

"Logic is the one thing that makes sense, even when I was turned." Fred murmured.

A vampire believing in logic? Wow. I'd given up logic a long time ago.

He'd been evaluating Riley's words and actions all along. How much had he figured out?

"Hopefully everything. I don't want to die." Fred shuddered. The Cullens' looked down guiltily.

Riley had to force Kristie up the stairs, and her gang came with her. Finally we all were out in the sun, most people enjoying how very pretty they were.

"Wow, even the guys." Emmett grinned. Everyone just rolled their eyes.

Riley rounded everyone up for one more quick practice session—mostly, I thought, to get them to focus again. It took them a minute, but everyone started to realize that this was it, and they got quieter and more fierce. I could see that the idea of a real fight—of being not only allowed but encouraged to rip and burn—was almost as exciting as hunting.

"I see that, that's wrong now." I said with regret. Humans seemed like people to me now, after spending all this time with Bella and seeing the Cullens' interactions with her.

It appealed to people like Raoul and Jen and Sara. Riley focused on a strategy he'd been trying to drill into them for the last few days—once we'd pinpointed the yellow eyes' scent, we were going to divide in two and flank them. Raoul would charge them head-on while Kristie attacked from the side. The plan suited both their styles, though I wasn't sure if they were going to be able to follow this strategy in the heat of the hunt.

"Riley would have been more help in the vampire wars of the south." Jasper frowned.

When Riley called everyone together after an hour of practice, Fred immediately started walking backward toward the north; Riley had the others facing south. I stayed close, though I had no idea what he was doing. Fred stopped when we were a good hundred yards away, in the shade of the spruce trees on the fringe of the forest. No one watched us move away.

"Like a ninja." Diego grinned at me.

Fred was eyeing Riley, as if waiting to see if he would notice our retreat. Riley began speaking. "We leave now. You're strong and you're ready. And you're thirsty for it, aren't you? You can feel the burn. You're ready for dessert."

"That should be your new nickname." Emmett joked. Bella glared at him in response and Edward snarled under his breath.

He was right. All that blood hadn't slowed the return of the thirst at all. In fact, I wasn't sure, but I thought it might be coming back faster and harder than usual. Maybe overfeeding was counterproductive in some ways.

"The yellow-eyes are coming in slowly from the south, feeding along the way, trying to get stronger," Riley said.

"Yep, we're feeding on Bambi."

"She's been monitoring them, so I know where to find them. She's going to meet us there, with Diego"

"Finally, my existence is remembered. It's a miracle." Diego commented sarcastically.

he cast a significant glance toward where I'd just been standing, and then a quick frown that disappeared just as quickly—"and we will hit them like a tsunami. We will overwhelm them easily. And then we will celebrate." He smiled. "Someone's going to get a jump on the celebration. Raoul—give me that." Riley held out his hand imperiously. Raoul reluctantly tossed him the bag with the shirt.

"Stop touching my stuff." Bella pouted.

It seemed like Raoul was trying to lay claim to the girl by hogging her scent.

"Why does everyone want to lay a claim on me?" Bella wondered.

"You're irresistible in both blood and body, but in this case I think Raoul wants your blood." Edward laughed.

"Good to know."

"Take another whiff, everybody. Let's get focused!"

Focused on the girl? Or the fight? Riley himself walked the shirt around this time, almost like he wanted to make sure everyone was thirsty. And I could see from the reactions that, like me, the burn was back for them all. The scent of the shirt made them scowl and snarl. It wasn't necessary to give us the scent again; we forgot nothing. So this was probably just a test. Just thinking about the girl's scent had venom pooling in my mouth.

"Lucky I can't smell it right now." I muttered.

"Are you with me?" Riley bellowed.

Everyone screamed his or her assent.

"Wow, everyone sure is eager." Alice commented.

"Let's take them down, kids!"

"I'm only around two years younger than him." Fred said with disgust.

It was like the barracuda again, only on land this time. Fred didn't move, so I stayed with him, though I knew I was wasting time I needed. If I were going to get to Diego and pull him away before the fighting could start, I would need to be near the front of the attack. I looked after them anxiously. I was still younger than most of them—faster.

"Riley won't be able to think of me for about twenty minutes or so," Fred told me, his voice casual and familiar, like we'd had a million conversations in the past. "I've been gauging the time. Even a good distance away, he'll feel sick if he tries to remember me."

"Aww, I want your power." Emmett shook his head with disappointment.

"Really? That's cool."

Fred smiled. "I've been practicing, keeping track of the effects. I can make myself totally invisible now. No one can look at me if I don't want them to."

"I wish I could have done that before I met Bella." Edward grimaced.

"I've noticed," I said, then paused and guessed, "You're not going?"

Fred shook his head. "Of course not. It's obvious we're not being told what we need to know. I'm not going to be Riley's pawn."

"That reminds me. You still owe me that chess match." Jasper glared at Emmett.

"Oh, that."

So Fred had figured it out on his own.

"I was going to take off sooner, but then I wanted to talk to you before I left, and there hasn't been a chance till now."

"I wanted to talk to you, too," I said. "I thought you should know that Riley's been lying about the sun. This four-day thing is a total crock. I think Shelly and Steve

"They sound so cute." Alice squealed.

and the others figured it out, too. And there's a lot more politics going on with this fight than he's told us. More than one set of enemies." I said it fast, feeling with terrible urgency the movement of the sun, the time passing. I had to get to Diego.

'We'll be together soon." Diego smiled.

"I'm not surprised," Fred said calmly. "And I'm out. I'm going to explore on my own, see the world. Or I was going on my own, but then I thought maybe you might want to come, too. You'd be pretty safe with me. No one will be able to follow us."

"I probably would have taken the offer if Diego was there." I admitted.

"So would I." Diego agreed.

I hesitated for a second. The idea of safety was hard to resist in that exact moment.

"I've got to get Diego," I said, shaking my head.

"Thanks." Diego kissed my forehead with appreciation.

He nodded thoughtfully. "I get it. You know, if you're willing to vouch for him, you can bring him along. Seems like sometimes numbers come in handy."

'Well look at us." Esme said fondly.

"Yes," I agreed fervently, remembering how vulnerable I'd felt in the tree alone with Diego as the four cloaks had advanced.

"I hope that I never have to meet them again." I winced.

"Unlikely." Jasper shot me a sympathetic look.

He raised an eyebrow at my tone.

"Riley is lying about at least one more important thing," I explained. "Be careful. We aren't supposed to let humans know about us. There are some kind of freaky vampires

"Great name." Emmett chuckled.

who stop covens when they get too obvious. I've seen them, and you don't want them to find you. Just keep out of sight in the day, and hunt smart." I looked south anxiously. "I have to hurry!"

"I'll be there." Diego squeezed my shoulders reassuringly.

He was processing my revelations solemnly. "Okay. Catch up to me if you want. I'd like to hear more. I'll wait for you in Vancouver for one day. I know the city. I'll leave you a trail in…"

He thought for a second and then chuckled once. "Riley Park.

"Ironic much." Alice smiled.

You can follow it to me. But after twenty-four hours I'm taking off."

"I'll get Diego and catch up to you."

"Good luck, Bree."

"Thanks, Fred! Good luck to you, too. I'll see you!" I was already running.

"I hope so," I heard him say behind me.

"Hey." I protested. "I'll get out."

"We all hope so." Was his only reply.

I sprinted after the scent of the others, flying along the ground faster than I'd ever run before. I was lucky that they must have paused for something—for Riley to yell at them, I was guessing—because I caught them sooner than I should have. Or maybe Riley had remembered Fred and stopped to look for us.

"Leave me alone." Fred hissed.

They were running at a steady pace when I reached them, semi-disciplined like last night. I tried to slide into the group without drawing attention, but I saw Riley's head flip around once to scan those trailing behind. His eyes zeroed in on me, and then he started running faster. Did he assume Fred was with me?

"Jokes on you." Fred chortled.

Riley would never see Fred again.

"That's the best news I've ever heard."

It wasn't five minutes later when everything changed.

"Ooh, the battle's begun." Emmett exclaimed.

Raoul caught the scent. With a wild growl he was off. Riley had us so worked up that it took only the tiniest spark to set off an explosion. The others near Raoul had the scent, too, and then everyone went crazy. Riley's harping on this human had overshadowed the rest of his instructions. We were hunters, not an army. There was no team. It was a race for blood. Even though I knew there were a lot of lies in the story, I couldn't totally resist the scent. Running at the back of the pack, I had to cross it. Fresh. Strong. The human had been here.

"That better not be our meadow that they're ruining." Bella grimaced.

"We would have left a trail purposefully to trap them." Edward assured her.

recently, and she smelled so sweet. I was strong with all the blood we'd drunk last night, but it didn't matter. I was thirsty. It burned. I ran after the others, trying to keep my head clear. It was all I could do to hold back a little, to stay behind the others. The closest person to me was Riley. He was… holding back, too? He shouted orders, mostly the same thing repeated.

"Kristie, go around! Move around! Split off! Kristie, Jen! Break off!" His whole plan of the two-pronged ambush was self-destructing as we watched. Riley sped up to the main group and grabbed Sara's shoulder. She snapped at him as he hurled her to the left. "Go around!" he shouted. He caught the blond kid whose name I'd never figured out

"I still can't get over that." Emmett laughed.

and shoved him into Sara, who clearly wasn't happy with that. Kristie came out of the hunting focus long enough to realize she was supposed to be moving strategically. She gave one fierce gaze after Raoul and then started screeching at her team.

"This way! Faster! We'll beat them around and get to her first! C'mon!"

"I'm spear point with Raoul!" Riley shouted at her, turning away.

I hesitated, still running forward. I didn't want to be part of any "spear point," but Kristie's team was already turning on each other. Sara had the blond kid in a headlock. The sound of his head tearing off made my decision for me.

"Err, I don't think that he was the enemy."

I sprinted after Riley, wondering if Sara would pause to burn the boy who liked to play Spider-Man.

"Hope so. He was annoying"

"Emmett, nobody deserves to die." Carlisle chastened.

I caught up enough to see Riley ahead and followed at a distance until he got to Raoul's team. The scent made it hard to keep my mind on the things that mattered.

"Raoul!" Riley yelled.

Raoul grunted, not turning. He was totally absorbed by the sweet scent.

"I can't smell that good." Bella protested.

"I've got to help Kristie! I'll meet you there! Keep your focus!" I jerked to a stop, frozen with uncertainty. Raoul kept on, not showing any response to Riley's words. Riley slowed to a jog, then a walk. I should have moved, but he probably would have heard me try to hide. He turned, a smile on his face, and saw me.

"Fake." Emmett pointed at the book accusingly as if Riley was a physical part of it.

"Bree. I thought you were with Kristie." I didn't respond.

"I heard someone get hurt—Kristie needs me more than Raoul," he explained quickly.

"Are you… leaving us?"

Riley's face changed. It was like I could see his shifting tactics written on his features. His eyes widened, suddenly anxious.

"I'm worried, Bree. I told you that she was going to meet us, to help us, but I haven't crossed her trail. Something's wrong. I need to find her."

"We're probably kicking her ass." Jasper smirked.

"But there's no way you can find her before Raoul gets to the yellow-eyes," I pointed out.

"He'll be dead by then."

"I have to find out what's going on." He sounded genuinely desperate. "I need her. I wasn't supposed to do this alone!"

"But the others…"

"Bree, I have to go find her! Now! There are enough of you to overwhelm the yellow-eyes. I'll get back to you as soon as I can." He sounded so sincere. I hesitated, glancing back the way we had come. Fred would be halfway to Vancouver by now.

"And ecstatic." Fred added.

Riley hadn't even asked about him. Maybe Fred's talent was still in effect.

"Diego's down there, Bree," Riley said urgently. "He'll be part of the first attack. Didn't you catch his scent back there? Did you not get close enough?"

"If he's lying to get you killed then I'll..." Diego trailed off murderously.

I shook my head, totally confused. "Diego was there?"

"He's with Raoul by now. If you hurry, you can help him get out alive."

We stared at each other for a long second, and then I looked south after Raoul's path.

"Good girl," Riley said. "I'll go find her and we'll be back to help clean up. You guys have got this! It might be over by the time you get there!"

"Pff, he underestimates our skills." Edward said.

He took off in a direction perpendicular to our original path. I clenched my teeth at how sure he seemed of his way. Lying to the end.

"I feel like killing that bastard even more after every chapter that passes." Fred muttered.

But it didn't feel like I had a choice. I headed south in a flat out sprint again. I had to go get Diego. Drag him away if it came to that.

"No dragging necessary." Diego grinned.

We could catch up with Fred. Or take off on our own. We needed to run. I would tell Diego how Riley had lied. He would see that Riley had no intention of helping us fight the battle he'd set up. There was no reason to help him anymore. I found the human's scent and then Raoul's. I didn't catch Diego's. Was I going too fast? Or was the human's scent just overpowering me? Half my head was absorbed in this strangely counterproductive hunt—sure, we would find the girl, but would we be ready to fight together when we did? No, we'd be clawing each other apart to get to her.

"There is no way that I'd let you be there." Edward assured Bella when she appeared anxious.

"I'm worrying about you guys," She replied, biting her lip.

And then I heard the snarling and screaming and screeching explode from ahead and I knew the fight was happening

"And we're winning." Emmett said confidently.

and I was too late to beat Diego there. I only ran faster. Maybe I could still save him.

I smelled the smoke—the sweet, thick scent of vampires burning—carried back to me on the wind. The sound of mayhem was louder. Maybe it was almost done. Would I find our coven victorious and Diego waiting?

"We're sorry." Esme told us genuinely.

I dashed through a heavy fringe of smoke and found myself out of the forest in a huge grassy field. I leaped over a rock, only to realize in the instant I flew past it that it was a headless torso.

"Sounds like we're fighting zombies." Alice laughed.

My eyes raked the field. There were pieces of vampires everywhere, and a huge bonfire smoking purple into the sunny sky. Out from under the billowing haze, I could see dazzling, glittering bodies darting and grappling as the sounds of vampires being torn apart went on and on. I looked for one thing: Diego's curly black hair. No one I could see had hair so dark. There was one huge vampire with brown hair that was almost black, but he was too big

"Oh yeah, sounds like me." Emmett grinned.

and as I focused I watched him tear Kevin's head off and pitch it into the fire before leaping on someone else's back. Was that Jen? There was another with straight black hair that was too small to be Diego. That one was moving so fast I couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl.

"Me" Alice sang.

I scanned quickly again, feeling horribly exposed. I took in the faces. There weren't nearly enough vampires here, even counting those that were down. I didn't see any of Kristie's group. There must have been a lot of vampires burned already. Most of the vampires still standing were strangers. A blond vampire glanced at me, meeting my gaze, and his eyes flashed gold in the sunlight.

"Probably me." Jasper commented.

"Or me." Carlisle amended.

We were losing. Bad. I started backing toward the trees, not moving fast enough because I was still looking for Diego. He wasn't here. There was no sign he had ever been here. No trace of his scent, though I could distinguish the smells of most of Raoul's team and many strangers. I had made myself look at the pieces, too. None of them belonged to Diego. I would have recognized even a finger. I turned and really ran for the trees, suddenly positive that Diego's presence here was just another of Riley's lies. And if Diego wasn't here, then he was already dead.

There was total silence as this sunk in. I couldn't speak, couldn't think. Diego couldn't die, he couldn't. If he died then the world would cease to exist. NO! Life wouldn't be so cruel. NO!

This fell into place for me so easily that I thought I must have known the truth for a while. Since the moment that Diego had not followed Riley through the basement door. He'd already been gone.

"Diego." I sobbed. "You can't die, you can't die. You can't leave me, you can't."

Diego had also lost the ability to speak and just held me in silence. We held onto each other as tightly as would allow, feeling that if we let go, that everything in the book would become reality. That we would lose each other.

"Keep going." I choked out after a few minutes. "We need to get past this."

I was a few feet into the trees when a force like a wrecking ball hit me from behind and threw me to the ground. An arm slipped under my chin.

"Please!" I sobbed. And I meant please kill me fast.

"When a vampire loses their mate, death is all they wish for apart from revenge." Carlisle stated sadly.

The arm hesitated. I didn't fight back, though my instincts were urging me to bite and claw and rip the enemy apart. The saner part of me knew that wasn't going to work. Riley had lied about these weak, older vampires, too, and we'd never had a chance. But even if I'd had a way to beat this one, I wouldn't have been able to move. Diego was gone, and that glaring fact killed the fight in me.

"You've got to keep going, you've got to live, to survive." Diego told me, agony in his deep voice.

Suddenly I was airborne. I crashed into a tree and crumpled to the ground. I should have tried to run, but Diego was dead. I couldn't get around that.

More silence followed and then all that could be heard were the sound of our sobs, at what the future might bring.

We've probably got around three more chapters left (One reading and two aftermath) to go. Please review my wonderful readers :)