The burn from invisible flames licked at her skin from the inside out. She was aware of everything but knew nothing. Time lost relevance with no means to measure it. Voices swirled in the distance, begging at her, pleading with her. She remained silent, desperate to find her own voice but unable to summon the strength though the will was there.
How did she find herself here in this place, this dark burning abyss? Memories remained elusive, foggy and blurred. No matter how hard she tried to grasp at them with invisible hands, they eluded her. Voices became more distinct and every sound magnified. Leather crunched, chairs groaned, rain sprayed against glass like rapid gunfire and a wind's whispered kiss amplified to a banshee howl.
One voice carried to her now, dark with remorse and self-loathing. She knew that deep timbre, its self-deprecating cadence. Damon. He was scared, desperately so. Scared for her. Whatever was happening to her, she knew he wasn't to blame. He couldn't be. She didn't know much but she knew that.
Pulling from a reserve of strength she wasn't aware existed, Bella reached out to him, desperate to make a connection.
He heard her. She had to make him hear her again.
The room exploded in a cacophony of sound so loud, she felt each vibration course through her. Arguing and fear tinged with hope railed at her. Something was touching her, probing her. Slowly the pain, the burn began to recede and in its place, ice turned her veins making a crackling sound.
Terror. Something was happening, something unnatural and wrong. It shouldn't be like this.
Bella fought hard with the need to awaken. She struggled against the weight of her eyelids, forcing them open. Faces hovered over her, staring intently. Her eyes focused on a pair of confused, fearful amber colored eyes. Edward.
He looked tired, so very tired. His face was drawn, purplish bruising marred the skin under his eyes and his hair pulled in every direction.
"I said stand back, Edward."
She recognized that it was Carlisle speaking, yet the worried tone didn't match the usually calm demeanor of man she knew. Was his fear for her or of her?
Edward refused to listen. He approached her like one would a wounded animal, his movements slow and measured. His fingers trembled as his hand reached out, ever so slowly to her. She tracked his movements as he came closer to her face, every miniscule line, every flaw, every pore, every tiny follicle clearly visible where it had never been before.
And she knew, perhaps for the first time with absolute clarity, what she had become. It seemed no matter what she had decided, what time limit she put on it, the fates had conspired to make her a vampire sooner than she wanted. Her decision to delay had been in vain.
"Bella? How do you feel?" Edward's fingers lightly skated down her cheek, finally making contact. His fingers still felt cold, not as icy but still not the same temperature she was. That was odd. She expected him to feel warm now that she was one of them.
Everyone was silent, waiting for a reaction, for something to happen. All the air seemed to have been sucked from the room, leaving nothing but silence in its wake. They were waiting for her answer.
"I'm…I'm not quite sure," she said in a voice that was more melodic than the one she was used to hearing come from her mouth. Carlisle was staring at her and she knew he was waiting for her to elaborate. The problem was she didn't know if she could.
"Are you in any pain?" Carlisle came forward but still remained a safe distance away. His eyes seemed to examine where his hands would not.
"I don't think so…" She shook her head. "No. But I feel…weird…and hungry." Heat ignited her cheeks at the admission lending further proof to her that something was not quite right. She cupped her face with her palms, her face startled, and her jaw slacking in surprise.
"You're cheeks," Edward said in amazement. His hand briefly touched the corner of her eye. "Your eyes-"
"What about my eyes?" she asked, her voice shrill with panic. She didn't like the way he was looking at her, inspecting her more like, as if she were a science experiment or an oddity.
"They are…the same."
"The same?" Her eyes darted around trying to find a mirror or any surface that could reveal her refelction. "Not red? Not butterscotch?"
How can this be? Her hearing, her sight were magnified to the point where she was met with astonishment and surprise with every turn of her head. The rising fire in her throat told her she was ravenous, the need for blood steadily building. Was she not finished? Was she destined to live life as a half vampire?
What am I?
Damon snorted. Bella snapped her focus to him.
"Isn't it obvious by now?" Tired of waiting, he shouldered through to reach her, ignoring everyone else's protests. His chest puffed and a victorious smile split his face. "You're one of us. A Nocturne."
"How can that be? Victoria-" Her hand flew to her shoulder, probing for the wound that wasn't there any longer.
He leaned down to her, staring directly into her wary brown gaze. "You had my blood in your system. See?" Damon touched her arm and they both watched her skin give under the pressure, watching the blood under the skin pool and shift. "Flesh and blood, soft. Not like the Statue of David over here."
"Not completely," she said, correcting him, watching his smile fade.
"She's neither." Rose burst through the door with relish, the triumph of having knowledge no one else had brightening her face. "She's a hybrid."
The room erupted with denials and questions at Rose's proclamation. Bella clamped her hands over her ears, rocking back and forth, the hunger getting worse. Her skin itched hot, like she had thousands of tiny ants crawling on her. She felt a clawing need to get out, to disappear...to run. She had to leave.
A loud crash of glass gave way to pin drop silence as everyone stopped and stared at the broken window and the shards of glass left behind with tiny droplets of blood. It only took one look, one silent communication between Stefan and Damon before they jumped out the window after her.
Edward ran after them, only stopping for a second as he straddled the broken window, ready to jump out. He turned to his shocked family who stood mouths agape with worry and fear. "Everyone else stay here."
"Find her, Edward," Esme said, pleading. "Find her and bring her home."
He nodded once, expression grim, jaw tight and with that, he was gone, leaving nothing but the soft summer breeze behind him.
With the sound of broken glass crunching under his feet, Carlisle watched his son disappear into the line of trees, his worry growing exponentially. He plucked a blood tinged shard of the window from the floor and held up to eyes, examining it before herding everyone from the room.
Was it possible? Could Rose be right? Was Bella a hybrid carrying a blend of attributes from both types of vampires? His only clue was the blood she left behind, leaving clear evidence that she was not a full cold one. He wanted desperately to analyze the blood more fully to see if it had traces of venom, to see if it shared the same qualities as Caroline's blood but the sound of Jasper clearing his throat quite loudly reminded him, his family needed his attention right now.
Edward ran, following the scents, trying to keep his panic at bay. It was difficult. The fear, the worry, escalating with each unneeded breath. Would she appease her hunger with a human before they had a chance to stop her? She'd be grief stricken, drowning with a guilt she may never be able to come back from if that happened. Was she scared? Confused? He could pummel Rosalie for bursting in the room like that, making her brash announcement. It had sent Bella over the edge, both literally and figuratively. If only he could turn back the hands of time.
It wasn't long before he managed to catch up to Damon and Stefan. He could hear them arguing over which way she might've gone.
"I'm telling you, she went this way." Damon pointed in the direction of the river.
"What if she went towards the town?"
"She's not you, Stefan. She won't be a ripper. It's not in her nature so just stop comparing."
"Bella went towards the mountain," Edward said, coming upon them.
"And how do you know?"
"I would know her scent anywhere."
"Okay, Boy Scout Bob, let's go then. If she really is a mixture of both then she may be in transition, which means we don't have much time to find her."
"What does that mean?"
"What Damon is trying to say is Bella needs blood. If she doesn't get in within a reasonable amount of time, she will not complete the transition process and she will get weaker and she will die."
"And if the hunger grows unbearable, it won't matter to her if she gets it from Bambi or from that pop-tart, Jessica Stanley - which come to think about it, may not be such a bad thing."
Bella had no idea how long or how fast she ran. Her only her guide was the slow descent the sun made across the sky. She just knew she had to get away. She knew it was wrong to run but nothing was as it was supposed to be, as she expected it to be, it became too much and she panicked.
Sound, sight, emotions, everything was magnified. And the hunger pelted at her, a burning, living thing inside her, making her suffer, making her weak. She stopped, feeling dizzy, weak, her body running out of steam. How could that be? That's when she heard it, distinct amongst the rustling of trees, the songs of the summer birds, the babbling of a nearby stream.
Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. The heartbeat was steady, the prey unaware. She could hear the gush of the blood as it rushed through veins, feeding life to every cell. The scent called to her. No longer metallic with the ability to make her nauseous, this was sweet, savory and begging to be devoured.
Her fingernails dug into the bark of the tree, indenting it as she watched. She felt a hard pull on her gums, and a piercing on her lip, drawing her own blood. She could taste it as it hit her tongue. Fangs! She had fangs. Tentatively, she touched them, flinching as one pierced her skin. The small wound closed almost immediately as if it never happened.
A rustle of a bush alerted her that her prey was on the move. She stalked it through the foliage with stealth, relishing in how primal she felt, like an animal huntress. A branch snapped under her feet. The prey's heart beat picked up pace, his head stiff and alert as his eyes darted about, looking for the threat.
Bella knew she could wait no more. In one swift move she launched herself into the air and onto his back. He struggled to wrench her off but Bella hung tight with her knees and thighs locked around him with a vice like grip. His neck craned, trying to use his own teeth to bite her even as he bucked under her.
They went down, rolling on the carpet of grass and rocks, wrestling for dominance. Bella was enjoying the fight but enough was enough. She needed to feed. With lips bared and pulled back over her teeth, she sunk her fangs into the warm neck with a cat-like growl and drank seep.
Her cheeks suctioned as her teeth pulled every last drop of blood, exsanguinating the poor creature. She could feel its thick, warm texture sluice down her throat, coating it, satisfying that deep ache of hunger inside her, making her stronger with each swallow. It tasted sweet and tangy and probably a bit like the last meal he had before she pounced on him.
When it was over and the mountain lion was dead, Bella rolled over onto her back. The sun's weak rays cut through the trees and onto her, illuminating her pale skin. Looking down at her bare arm, she noticed a slight shimmer, nothing as noticeable as Edward or the rest of the Cullens had but it was there; a light dusting of glitter that could just as easily be mistaken for glittering body lotion that one could find at any drug store chain.
The shimmer of her skin began to burn then, puckering the skin pink. She snatched her arm from the direct rays of the sun and into the shadows with a pained hiss.
Clap, clap, clap.
Bella was up in an instant, all thoughts fleeing, positioning her body to fight. She scanned her surroundings until they fell upon Damon clapping his hands while Edward and Stefan stood beside him.
Her body slumped with relief even as she backed up slowly, unsure of what reaction she would receive. She used the back of her hand to wipe away any remnants of blood that may have been still on her lips while her other hand dusted at the twigs and leaves attached to her clothes.
She needn't have worried about their reactions though. Edward was watching her, his pupils dilated with lust, his body tightened with need. Watching her stalk her prey, seeing her wrestle with it was the most sensually riveting sight he had ever seen. His fear was instantly replaced with desire. He tried to temper it down. There was still too much to be said, to be discussed before satisfying his wanton cravings.
Edward rushed to her side, embracing her. "Are you okay? You had us so worried when you left."
"I was just so hungry and then Rosalie….it was too much."She bit her lip and looked up guiltily. "Is Esme really pissed about the window?"
"No." Edward smiled against her hair. "She's not pissed. How are you now? Still hungry?"
"A bit. I made a mess, huh?" She down at her ripped clothes and back over her shoulder and frowned at the lion's carcass she left on the ground.
"Well, I for one am highly impressed," Damon said. "You executed that with just the right amount of Salvatore flourish. Bravo!"
"Umm…thanks? I think."
"Come, Piccola, don't be so modest. You owned that mountain lion. The pretty kitty had no idea it met its match. Still, not a very good substitute for human. I doubt you'd still be hungry if you had some authentic O pos in your system."
"Damon," Stefan warned. "Stop. Just because you have no issue with taking a human life doesn't mean you can apply your lack of standards to everybody."
"Ouch." Damon clutched his chest and stumbled backwards in mock offense. "You wound me, brother."
Would you two cut it out already!
All three pairs of eyes snapped to her, widening like saucers.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have shouted." She hung her head down, her hair falling forward to curtain her face from view.
Edward's finger grazed under her chin, tilting it up to meet his gaze. "But you didn't. Your mouth never moved."
"How is that possible? All of you heard me."
"We should go back to the house. Maybe Carlisle can shed some light for us."
Her face bloomed with color. "I'm not quite full yet."
"Okay , then. One more. Damon, Stefan, why don't the two of you go back to the house and tell everyone we found Bella? I'll take her hunting."