I had some complaints about not being able to remember what was going on in the story. Fair enough, it has been...a while since I regularly updated. To sum up: Alice had a vision of the end of the world, and she needed an army to help her take on the Volturi Collective, a powerful organization that polices the vampire world. Edward and Bella are now new vamps, and recently...ahem...consummated their relationship. Alice's rebel army has gathered in the middle of nowhere to take on the Collective, and together with their friends and allies, they're going to try to defeat the most powerful group of vamps the world has ever seen. The Collective has another not-so-secret weapon, a group of human-vampire hybrids that they are planning to do some major damage with, created and engineered by mad scientist vamp Joham. Joham's firstborn, Nahuel, is not particularly excited about how the hybrids are being manipulated. The battle is coming. Soon.
When last we left our heroes, Edward and Bella had returned from camp after enthusiastically destroying a patch of forest and having a little come-to-Jesus about their circumstances as mated vampires. Alice is nowhere to be seen, apparently off with Nahuel, who recently made a visit to the rebel army. The Collective has arrived, and they're not far away.
Earlier that day…
Alice watched Bella tear into the forest, churning up loam and woodchips in her haste to escape. After a brief argument with Zafrina over who should follow her, Edward took off through the trees, his features set in grim determination.
Jasper opened his mouth to comment, his eyes twinkling. Bella and Edward's antics amused him, especially when their fights turned vicious. He told Alice the conflict between their emotions and their actions was something he had only experienced during brief interactions with human teenagers.
Before he could make another joke at their expense, Alice grabbed his arm, stopping his words in his throat. He recognized the telltale signs of one of her visions—her eyes rolled back, her pupils shook like a human in REM sleep, and her body stiffened and straightened like a beam of steel.
For once, the images that spun through her mind were crystal clear, and when she shook off her trance, relaxing the iron grip she had on Jasper's arm, she smiled.
"What is it, doll?"
"Something is finally going right."
"Edward and Bella?" he asked.
Alice's smile grew, and Jasper shook his head. "About time."
"Would you mind stopping back at the cabin to get some clothes and then running them out to that big white pine just north of camp?"
"Clothes?" Jasper asked. "What are they going to do to the ones they're wearing?"
Alice just stared at him, eyebrows raised. "Newborns get a little violent, Jasper. Or don't you remember? Anyway, Rose is around somewhere. She should know where to dig up some stuff for Bella."
"Why do I get the distinct impression you're trying to get rid of me?" Jasper mused as he turned toward the cabin. "You're up to something."
"Me?" She smiled innocently. "Of course."
Jasper hadn't been out of camp for five minutes when the visitor she had been expecting finally arrived. She hadn't been able to see his face or exactly when he would arrive, and she was only just beginning to suspect why that was.
The visitor crept in, not trying to hide, but clearly ill at ease. His footsteps were mostly muffled by the undergrowth, but there was no hiding the rapid beating of his heart, or the strange amalgamation of human and vampire that was his scent.
All around camp, vampires froze and watched him approach, some suspicious and instantly on their guard, others merely curious. Only Alice recognized him for what he was - an ally. She walked to meet him, purposefully imitating his human pace.
"Nahuel, I presume," she said. "Welcome to our camp."
He ducked his head, glancing from the Brazilians, who had clustered several yards away and were muttering hostilely, to where Benjamin practiced shifting earth into various formations as he watched the newcomer.
"I can't stay long, but it was vital I come here. At least that's what Eleazar told me."
So Eleazar had fulfilled his end of the bargain, Alice thought with some satisfaction and relief. Good. "Why didn't Eleazar come himself?" She had been unable to channel their enemies in the Collective stronghold for some weeks, and the lack of information unnerved her.
"Aro keeps his inner circle close these days," Nahuel said darkly. "We were lucky to have enough time alone to discuss you and your plans. As it was, I have had to be extremely careful to do nothing objectionable. Had I displeased Aro in any way, his touch would have revealed everything."
"Shouldn't you want to share your thoughts with your master?" Rosalie asked. She had no fear of the hybrid, and was the only vampire in the camp who broke past the invisible line between the rest of the group and where Alice and Nahuel stood. "Or are you some kind of double agent?" The scorn and disbelief was clear in her tone.
Nahuel hesitated. "I have been sent ahead as an advance scout for Joham and the others."
"The others?" Emmett asked, joining his mate. He placed a calming hand on her shoulder and she relaxed. Carlisle and Esme stood next to him, and it was obvious that even from a distance, Carlisle was taking careful note of every oddity that Nahuel presented.
"Yes. Aro has decreed that the hybrid army is to have its first engagement in a field of battle. We are the front lines in tomorrow's fight, a safety net for the rest of the guard."
As he spoke, Alice heard Jasper's path through the woods, his speed belying his frustration. She had known he would be upset with her for exposing herself to potential danger, but she also knew that his presence at the beginning of this parlay would have been detrimental to any alliances she might form. At least now, he would be able to read the emotions of the group, which she hoped would make him less likely to go on the attack.
"That's a lie, hybrid," he shouted from across the clearing. In a blink, he was standing in front of Alice, red eyes glinting furiously. "The Volturi Guard has no need for a safety net. I have seen them destroy hundreds of bloodthirsty mercenaries in less than thirty minutes with no casualties of their own."
Nahuel's eyes widened, but he stood his ground. "True. Alone, the Guard is invincible. And that is why using hybrids in this fight poses no threat to them. Aro wishes to see what we can do before he launches his true plan. If he loses a few hybrids, he can always make more. Obviously he needn't worry about losing any vampire soldiers."
"So the hybrids can be destroyed?" Jasper pressed, leaning forward. "How?"
"We are as destructible as our vampire sires." Nahuel shrugged. "To my knowledge, no hybrid has been punished with a death sentence as of yet. But our skin is as hard as yours, and I imagine our hearts can be stopped like those of our human mothers."
"Why tell us all this?" Carlisle asked, joining Alice's side.
"Because I have been considering Isabella's words. Eleazar tells me you have changed her—that is fortunate. In the hands of the Collective, she would have been a formidable foe. Is she here?" He craned his neck, looking around the camp.
"Isabella is not your concern right now," Rose sneered. "What could she possibly have said to turn you against your father and masters?"
"We spoke of family," he said defiantly, looking her in the eye. "She asked about my mate, and my brothers and sisters. She showed concern. I … had never expected that."
"Humans are quite perceptive at times, are they not?" Carlisle asked, smiling softly. "What else did Bella say?"
"She asked if we had children. And when I told her that we were not permitted to try-" Emmett made an outraged sound of disbelief. "-she voiced concerns that Vanessa and I had already discussed. That we would never be free. That our children's children's children, if they should ever come to be, would remain with us, enslaved, to be used at the whim of the Collective. That is not the life we dream of, and we do not wish to live in the future that the Collective hungers for."
"And what future is that?" Carlisle asked, glancing at Alice. Her face was contorted in concentration as she willed a vision to come, armed with this new information. Still, her mind remained frustratingly blank.
"They will use us to blend into human cities." His voice turned cold, and when he met Carlisle's eyes, the older vampire could not suppress a shudder. "They will place us in positions of power—human law enforcement, government, military and media. The Volturi have great pull in such places already, unseen manipulators of conditions when it suits them. Hybrids can eat human food and weather sunlight much more inconspicuously than full-fledged vampires."
"What's step two?" Emmett asked skeptically.
"When we are numerous enough, we will rise up," Nahuel said simply. "Humans will be enslaved, their purpose to serve as glorified cattle. Of course, Joham dreams of breeding grounds for more experiments, and Aro insists that human captivity is the final solution to bring peace to vampire kind. Once your little army has been defeated, there will be none left to stand in their way. I could not stand by and let that happen. I am here to offer the services of myself and my people."
"Do you speak for the other hybrids?" challenged Jasper.
"I do." Nahuel nodded once. "In the nursery, where my mate heads the military training program, we are often left to our own devices, without vampire guard. Since my last return to the city, we have been weighing the options. We will stand with you, in hopes that we, too, may be free."
As Nahuel talked, every vampire in the camp began to gather, slowly creeping up to form a circle with Alice, Jasper, and Nahuel in the center. Nahuel now addressed the group, shifting from foot to foot nervously, preparing himself to defend an attack at a moment's notice.
"My brothers and sisters are just like you. We want to be free from the tyranny of our masters, and we cannot do it alone. Will you allow us to join you?"
Jasper looked down at the woman whose careful orchestration had brought them to this point. She looked up at him, and he was hit with wave after wave of emotion- love, fear, confidence, and tenderness. He closed his eyes, allowing her emotions to echo through him, keeping them from overflowing into the group.
"I'm afraid that I know the reason for the blank spots in my vision of the battle," she murmured, not breaking eye contact with her mate. No one spoke, waiting, breathless, for her revelation. "I can't see hybrids," she said finally. She looked at Nahuel. "You have been involved from the start, mixing in among our fighters. The blurred pieces of the battle, the blank faces...it's always been you and your brothers and sisters."
She looked around the circle, meeting each vampire's eyes in turn. "I cannot make you trust the hybrids, but I urge you to accept them. We need them to win. I can't tell you how, just like I haven't been able to give you the details I know you all wish I could. All I can tell you is if we want to free ourselves, we must also help to free the hybrids."
She turned back to Jasper as a round of low mutters broke out among the vampire army. "Bella and Edward will be arriving back at camp shortly. Watch for them, and fill them in on what's happened. I have to go with Nahuel. There are things we must discuss alone."
Jasper growled, but she reached up and placed a hand on his smooth cheek. "Do you trust me?"
He smiled, but his eyes remained guarded and worried. "With my life."
They kissed briefly, and then, with a nod to the rest of the camp, Alice followed Nahuel south through the trees.
Garrett was the first to speak. "Well, give me liberty or give me death, I say!"
Kate giggled, and the quiet that had fallen over the camp with Nahuel's arrival broke. One by one, the vampires in the clearing drifted away to converse quietly among themselves, or to continue preparing for the coming fight with renewed urgency.
Jasper waited uneasily where Alice had left him, looking to the northeast and wondering what on earth he was supposed to tell Edward and Bella when they returned.
"The Volturi have come," Carlisle said.
Edward put his hands to his ears again—a reflex he couldn't seem to stop even though he knew it would do nothing to block the voices. "One at a time, one at a time!"
Bella stepped around him, sliding her hand into his as she did so. The gesture didn't go unnoticed by the group, but wisely, no one said anything.
"Do you know when Alice will be back? Edward and I had … a bit of a breakthrough."
When no one spoke, she added, "You know, with my shield?"
"I can't imagine she'll be gone too long," said Zafrina, glancing sidelong at Jasper. "The Volturi will engage us tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Bella squeaked. "I only just figured out how to use my shield. How the hell am I supposed to protect an entire goddamn army tomorrow?"
Carlisle turned to her. "I know this is overwhelming, but-"
"Overwhelming?" Bella's voice rose an octave, and her eyes got impossibly wide as panic set in. "Overwhelming was getting creepy letters in the mail from a vampire stalker. Overwhelming was being told by a stranger in a trench coat that I was the key to saving the world. Overwhelming was being kidnapped by said vampire stalker, being re-kidnapped, and then being changed into a vampire myself! You don't know anything about overwhelming, trust me."
"Bella, it's imperative you stay calm," Carlisle tried again, but Bella's rising panic would not be quelled.
Jasper sent waves of calm across the group, but that only served to escalate the situation.
"I know you're doing that," she snapped at him, fighting it even as her tight muscles relaxed. "But if you think for one second that you're helping anyone by putting me into some voodoo zen coma, then you are sadly mistaken!"
"That's enough, little one." Zafrina's voice boomed out, cutting through Bella's increasing hysteria and Jasper's wall of false calm. "You are a warrior. And in times of battle, even great warriors feel fear. But we also know that we must face the fight ahead of us, ready or not."
Bella stared at the wild woman from the Amazon, the vampire who she had secretly thought the most intimidating and fiercest of the ragtag army settled in the Ozarks. There was no doubt in Zafrina's burgundy eyes, only a blazing confidence tempered by deep strength.
Bella nodded, squeezing Edward's hand tightly and feeling him return the pressure. It was only when his fingers cracked quietly that she let go, afraid that she had hurt him in her moment of weakness. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. She was speaking to the group, but she looked at Zafrina, feeling as if she had let the warrior woman down.
"That's enough," Zafrina said, her fierce eyes uncharacteristically tender. "Now, let us see that famous shield in action!"
Bella stared at her wide-eyed as Zafrina positioned herself between Carlisle and Esme.
"With your permission, young one," she said.
Slowly, Bella nodded.
Zafrina's large hands clamped down on their shoulders, and Carlisle and Esme plunged into a sinister vision. Esme began to whimper, her eyes shut tight but unable to block the terrifying vision that projected. No one could turn it off except for Zafrina, or if Bella protected them from it.
Bella pushed outward, longing to feel the easy stretch and snap to her shield that had seemed so natural alone with Edward. Nothing came. She pushed harder, but faltered when Carlisle cried out in fear.
She looked at Edward, despair written all over her face.
He stood in front of her, blocking her view of the rest of the group and staring down into her face. "Concentrate," he whispered. "Remember how it was. Remember what we can do together. Remember what you can do."
Looking at Edward, remembering how easy he made things, Bella nodded. Slowly, she took a deep breath, filling her diaphragm and allowing her shield to expand with her stomach. It crept over Edward, then spread to Jasper. If he noticed, he didn't acknowledge it. Next, she tucked Benjamin into the safety of her protection. She bit her lip in concentration, willing the shield to stretch farther. Finally it wrapped around Carlisle and Esme, and she was careful to separate Zafrina completely from those under her protection.
It was immediately obvious when she had succeeded. Carlisle sighed in relief, and Esme slumped, Zafrina's grip on her shoulder the only support keeping her upright. Zafrina beamed in satisfaction, and let go of them. When Esme collapsed, Carlisle sank down to examine her, running his fingers through her hair.
"I'm glad she's on our side," Esme said weakly.
Zafrina laughed and looked at Bella. "You see? It is only necessary to embrace your fear. Do not run from it. Become your fear."
"Good advice." Alice emerged from the forest, alone. As one, the scattered vampires in camp rose and gathered around her, eager for news.
"I don't have much more to tell you," she said wearily. "Nahuel took me to meet his mate."
"Vanessa?" Bella said.
"Yes. The Collective is right to keep her so sheltered; her gift will be a godsend tomorrow."
"Then it's true?" Tanya asked sharply. She stood straight-backed, shoulder to shoulder, with her sisters. "They will attack tomorrow?"
"At dawn," Alice confirmed. "It's as Nahuel told us. They will send the hybrids in first, then flank them with the members of the Guard. Aro and his brothers intend to make a grand entrance before they charge us with our crimes. They will make an example of us in front of the rest of the vampire world."
"Let them come," sneered Irina. She and Tanya exchanged a fierce smile. "They destroyed our mother many centuries ago, as well as countless other innocents. I'm tired of waiting."
"Don't let your thirst for revenge blind you," Jasper warned. "The Volturi are powerful for a reason, and things are far from guaranteed. We could fail."
Jasper's words brought forth raw, horrific images. Edward heard the roar of battle, and the sound of rocks breaking in his mind. The sounds were followed by a flash of light behind his eyes. He was becoming used to the burst of images from other vampires, but the light was so bright that it temporarily blinded him. He blinked, and the noise faded into the cacophony of voices and thoughts. He thought he smelled the faint scent of incense.
A/N: I am bound and determined to finish this. I am touched that so many of you are still hanging in there and waiting for updates. You really don't know what that means to me! Thank you SO much. Also, huge shout out to my bestie and beta BittenBee, who offers the most amazing comments and really insightful edits. Any mistakes that remain are all me, people.
This will be important moving forward, so I'm going to leave you with a quick reminder of Nessie's special talent from Chapter 6:
"She's talented, like your offspring will be, like many of the other hybrids. After a little experimentation, my father learned that those with an aura of power," he practically sneered the word, "produced better offspring. Nessie's mother was telekinetic, we think, although as she's dead, there's no way to be certain. Her father is telepathic. The combination of those two gifts turned out to be rather potent."
"I don't understand." [Bella] had lost the thread of his explanation somewhere around 'telekinetic.'
"What my father has discovered," Nahuel explained, his voice patient and slow, as if he was talking to a toddler, "is that a hybrid is much more likely to be born with some kind of innate talent if both of the parents, human and vampire, are gifted. Most often, the children exhibit a sort of inverted version of their parents' gifts, and the combinations can lead to some miraculous things. Nessie is a sort of living two-way receiver. Like... a radio."
Seeing that Bella was still confused, he went on. "She can read the minds of those she touches, like her father. But she can also project those thoughts into the minds of others, also through touch."
"Like a radio," Bella repeated, marveling at the thought.