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"Adrastus, you have been summoned to Aro's chambers," announced Lucia, one of our human caretakers. I had known so many of these "people" in my time that taken together they could populate a whole district in Volterra. They served their purpose however, if one could overlook the hypocrisy of it all. No human was to know. Lucia knew, and what was worse—she was allowed too. I would not complain though. Again, they served their purpose and my masters would not appreciate my subversion.
As I sauntered the length of the castle, I enjoyed the quiet stillness of the morning. There were no windows on my route, but the air was humid. It had just finished raining. Rain. It was the lifeblood of this planet. In Sparta—my home, rain meant the difference between a harvest and a famine.
The smell reminded me of a story my father had told me, about the gods Poseidon and Athena. Poseidon sought to be the patron of Athens and offered the Athenians a spring, a salt water spring. Might as well have given them famine instead, for that was what would happen anyway—saltwater...
I shook my head, but quickly composed myself. I must not joke about the sea god. To ward off any bad omens I spit my venomous saliva and it burned the rug beneath me. It was a priceless attic. Aro would be upset. Better that he be upset than Poseidon. I shivered in disdain.
I did not need to knock at the door of my master's chambers as those formalities ceased millennia ago, and besides, he heard me, and I heard him, from the other side of the castle.
I entered Aro's chambers and knelt. "Master, you summoned me?"
"Ah, my Spartiate!" Aro clasped his hands together and smiled. He was not happy to see me. He was happy to see my bow. That formality had not ceased since 502 BCE, if you used the Judeo-Christian calendar. I certainly did not.
I rose and met Aro's milky-red eyes. "How may I serve?"
"May I assume you have taken care of our problem in Finland?"
I offered my hand to Aro. He took it greedily. I reviewed my mission: to destroy the one known as Kaija. She was as old, or probably older, than me. It seemed cruel to destroy her, there were so few of us that old. But she had caused a spectacle of herself, or so I have been told. The rumors of the Snomannen have frequently given my kind the cover we need. It always starts as Snomannen in Scandinavia, the Yeti in the Himalayas, or Big Foot in America. Whatever one would like to call it, it worked until a photo arose.
Aro withdrew his hand and pulled the drapes open on a pair of windows. The sun blasted inside and Aro's skin refracted the light with great luminosity. "I sense disquiet in you," Aro mused.
I held silent.
Aro turned to face me and smiled. "Adrastus, has Lucia upset you?"
He knew my feelings on the matter. He had read my entire life's thoughts but a minute ago. I chose to give him my typical response—nothing. Some would call it Spartan pride… or arrogance. I blinked twice though. Aro expected this. He was my sire after all.
"I have spoken with my brothers," Aro redirected.
I nodded. This is how Aro would introduce my next mission to me.
"We have not paid a visit with our dear friends, the Cullen Coven in many decades. I think it rude not to send an emissary along with our well wishes and reaffirmations of friendship. After all, what is life without friends?"
I raised my eyebrow for I was perplexed. The Cullens? That was not a name whispered within these castle walls for nearly a century. What do we want with them? I voiced my concern.
"Do not worry, my old friend," Aro said has he grasped my hand again. "All will become clear soon. I merely wish you to go to them and reintroduce the Guard. Bring no one with you. We must not worry them with our strength. Stay with them for as long as is polite. I will send word when I want you to return. They can be found in the same area as our unfortunate misunderstanding so long ago. They have moved back there recently. "
"I know you already know this, Master, but the Cullens already know of your plans. Alice Cullen's clairvoyance is impressive."
"Ah, yes, Alice. What a sweet woman…" Aro said quietly, the desire pouring out of him. I knew him well enough, perhaps better than his own brothers, or his mate. So was our relationship.
"Very well, master. Please give my salutations to Caius and Marcus." I knelt again quickly and then hurried from Aro's chambers.
Very little preparation was required. I traveled light. Others in the Guard would so often slow us down with luggage. Perhaps this was a holdover from my human life. We had few possessions at home, fewer still on the road.
"Come on, Seth!" Ness screamed. "Give it back to her!"
Never, I growled.
Seth… the voice of my Alpha blasted through my head.
Yes? I pretended coyly.
Give it back to her, now!
And that was a command. Crap. My jaw lurched open involuntarily and the doll fell out of my mouth. It landed on a pile of pine needles with a thud and not a second later a russet face with bronze curls whirled before me and grabbed it.
"Sethy!" my niece squealed in anger. "You could've bent her with your fangs!" She approached me and bobbed me on the snout.
I let out a whine. Damn, Jake! Your daughter's got a real good punch!
Don't you swear in front of my daughter, Seth Clearwater! Jake thought.
Is that another command, Alpha? I snickered. That was a half-serious question. Jacob Black, the Alpha Wolf, the Chief of our Tribe, had not given me a real command in like a hundred years. It was a strange feeling to be compelled like that. I didn't like it.
Thump, thump, thump…
I looked down to find the source of the thumping. It was coming from the tiny ballet shoes of my niece. She was trying to get my attention with her doll clutched tightly in her little half-human, quarter-vampire, quarter-maybe-shapeshifter hand. I wouldn't be allowed to play fetch with it again.
I raised my eyebrow and whined. Yes?
She stomped her foot. "Say you're sorry!"
Can't. I can't talk! I jumped over her in a single leap and was off into the woods.
"I'm going to get you back, Sethy!" she screamed in vain.
I howled, literally, in laughter.
Better watch it, Jake cautioned. My daughter is half Cullen and she has her other uncles wrapped around her little finger. You know she could enlist any or all of them in her revenge plot for your thievery if she really wanted to.
Shit. That had not crossed my mind.
Yeah, shit! Jake whirled before me and gave me a toothy grin.
I sat back on my haunches and enjoyed the rain. It was sure good to be back in La Push. A century away and my heart only became fonder of this place. Sure, the Tribe was still here, and so was Forks, but so much had indeed changed. The rain didn't. It was the one sure thing in the Pacific Northwest. That, and taxes.
Come on, Jake pointed his head in the direction we had come. Let's head back to the house.
I nodded. The trip back to the Cullen's house was quick and uneventful. I hid behind a stand of trees and phased back into my human form. Searching for the clothes I had hidden underneath the protective cover of the trees, I came up empty. "What in the hell?" I whispered. "Wait…"
I heard a snicker come from the driveway.
"Rene Black!" I roared. "You bring my clothes back this instant!"
"No!" she yelled. "You stole Dollie!"
I peered through the trees. Her lips were pursed and she had her arms crossed.
"Okay, funny! You win… Haha!" My attempt to surrender was only half-hearted..
"Uncle Emmett taught me what sarcasm meant today," Rene spat.
Oh wow, she was freaking smart, and devilish, her parents through and through.
"Rene, you give him back his pants this instant!" Ness screeched as she stomped out of the house. My savior. I would never hear the end of it if my Emmett or Jazz saw this. Ugh, I would have to try my hardest to keep from remembering it. I had Edward to contend with too.
"But Momma, I was just playin' around!" Rene pouted and threw my pants to me.
"Get in the house, right now!" Ness patted her on the bottom, ever so gently. Motherhood had really taken to Ness, but why was she being so assertive?
"Okay, okay! Am I grounded? He started it!" Rene whined as she made her way to the garage.
"We'll talk later," Ness said. That was Mom-speak for "I'm not sure" or "I haven't come up with a good punishment." I got in enough trouble back when I was kid to know exactly what was going on in Momma Ness' head.
Man, how old am I? Yep, I'm an old man, I thought. I didn't look it though. Thank you, wolf gene! Gotta look fly for the ladies!
I threw on my pants and crossed the driveway over to Ness. Her heart was racing faster than usually.
"Hey Ness, don't be harsh on her," I said. "She was only playing around. And I did steal her doll first."
Ness let her gaze wander from me. Was that tear threatening to drop from her eye?
"Ness, what is going on?" I asked.
Jake bounded out of the woods on two feet. Clearly, his daughter didn't steal his pants. That wouldn't have gone over very well. Jake's word was the law as far as Rene was concerned.
Ness's heart rate slowed a bit. The imprint was having its affect on her. I was glad for it.
She turned back to me and in a hushed tone she asked whether I would do her a favor.
"Yes, what's up?"
"Can you take Rene to Seattle tomorrow for a picnic?"
"Huh?" I asked. "Wouldn't a picnic here be better…"
Ness cut me off. "Promise me you'll take her?"
I nodded. What was she getting at? Why was she so worried? Her worry was making me worrisome.
Jake grabbed Ness's hand and hugged her. Her heartbeat slowed to its normal quickened pace. The power of the imprint was truly impressive.
"How are you, my love?" Jake asked Ness, as if I wasn't even there. Typical.
"We need to talk," Ness said calmly, but I heard her heartbeat speed up a bit. That was married person-speak for "You fucked up and this is how you're going to fix it." I have been around married couples too long. Fuck temporary immortality.
Okay, only half fuck it. Immortality rocked!
It didn't rock that long as my stomach decided to let me know it was empty with a loud gurgle. I excused myself from Jake and Ness' impending fight and scurried to Esme's kitchen. It was always open and always stocked for an army. I was slinking around Rose's latest auto project in the garage when Ness caught up to me.
"Seth, you promise right?" Ness's eyes were serious.
I nodded. Yeah, I was serious.
"Promise what?" Jake asked.
Ness pulled on Jake's hand and passed me. "It can wait, dear, come on, the family is having a meeting and they're waiting for us."
Oh geez, what could this be about? We had only just gotten here. I don't want to leave already. And where would we go? Not back to New York. Ugh, those people were just plain rude. And not freaking Alaska. That Tanya chick gave me the creeps. Always pining over me and telling me she wants to see my "wolfie nature." Rose thought it was so damn funny. That bitch. In retaliation, I made sure to leave my wolfie nature sprayed all over the most expensive pair of pumps she dared walk in the woods with. I got a broken nose in retaliation for my retaliation, but it was soooo worth it.
I followed Jake and Ness up into the kitchen and thankfully, Esme had just pulled two large casserole dishes out of the oven. The succulent smell informed me that it was lasagna. The cheese, noodles, and sauce had my mouth watering.
Esme handed me the dish and a big fork. "Dig in, Seth. You're looking lanky lately."
"Wha?" I tried to say over the mouthful of scalding hot cheese that somehow found itself stuffed in my mouth. I surveyed myself in a mirror on a far wall. Yep, I was still there; all six foot, two inches of triple-A all-American prime beefcake. For added effect (and reinforcement), I did a double bicep curl. Yep, my guns where still there. Who was lanky? Try, taut!
Esme winked. If she wasn't my surrogate mother and she wasn't already married and it wasn't such a weirdly gross thought, Esme would be quite a catch. What? I shuddered at the thought.
"Yeah, thanks for the image!" Edward yelled from the living room. Come to smell of it, everyone else was there too. The smell was almost noxious, it was so concentrated. Again, almost. I had spent far too many years with the Cold Ones to have the negative reaction I once did. It's kind of like how I hated onions when I was a kid, and now, oh boy, the more the merrier.
"Did you just compare me to an onion?" Edward roared with laughter.
My mouth full, I tried to say, but it came out as, "chya."
Edward stopped laughing suddenly. "Okay, onion breath, get in here, we have to talk." There was a real seriousness in his voice. One I hadn't heard in a long time.
I got up from my seat. Jake caught my eye and he too was aware of the emotional thicket we were about to enter. Wonderful…
I sat at Edward's piano and put my lasagna down. Edward's breath hitched. Oops, I pulled the plate up and set it in my lap. "My bad," I said. Yep, Edward's piano was his pride and joy. He'd probably give up Bella before his piano. Probably would throw in Ness if he had to too.
"I highly doubt that," Edward calmly, but firmly stated.
"Whateve…" I said as I slurped a noodle.
Jake and Ness took a seat next to each other and Jake dived into his plate of food. Everyone else was sitting or standing like stones. It was the first time that I noticed that the never-can-sit-still Alice Cullen was quiet as a corpse.
Rose was the first speak. "What is going on? I'm bidding on Ebay for some antic parts for Em's Jeep, the rust bucket."
Carlisle rose from his chair. "I do not want to alarm anyone, but Alice has had a vision and I believe it only right to share it with you all at the same time."
My eyes shot to Edwards. He already knew. He was stressed out. I could tell, even through his icy exterior. He had a heart, which meant he had the capability to feel pain and loss, along with his other emotions that I knew his family brought him—joy, love, and contentment.
Edward didn't give me any hints though so I waited.
Alice perked up. She just had another vision. A look of disdain pierced her face. "The future has not changed," she announced. "He's still coming."
Edward's eyes shot to the ground. They dug deep inside too, like he was trying to dig a hole to hide.
"Who's coming?" I asked.
Jake stopped eating. I did too.
"The Volturi," Alice snapped.
The Volturi. That wasn't a name I had heard in a long time. Alice had always kept an eye out for our safety. I guess we were lucky that nothing had come up in over a century. The Volturi. I had only one run-in with them in all my life. It was a cold, wintery day in the meadow where we destroyed a whole bunch of newborns the year previous. They left in peace that day, but we always knew they coveted certain members of our family—namely Bella, Edward, and Alice. Sometime after the Guard left, Edward told me of how much Aro would've just loved to have a pack of attack dogs at his command too. Yeah, that was never going to happen.
Emmett stood up and his muscles tensed. "Why now?" He was ready for a fight. I was too.
Carlisle put his hand on Emmett's shoulder to calm him down. "Apparently, it's just one member of the Guard. He's an emissary. Aro sent him to… visit."
"Visit?" Jake said with sarcasm. "Carlisle, we have a real problem. There isn't a lot of the pack left now. I mean… it's Seth and me. We can't have the Volturi snooping around. They could target the Tribe. That isn't okay. I knew coming back here was a bad idea."
Ever since Jake's Dad died—it had been years ago now—La Push never was the same. Jake took his duties as chief seriously, but always through an intermediary like a descendant of a pack member. Now that we were back, Jake was always orbiting about at the tribal meetings. He was a leader, not a politician. La Push wasn't what it was when his Dad was there. It wasn't home any longer for Jake, I suppose.
"Don't worry," I said. "We can take care of the Volturi." With my last dying breath, I would protect my Tribe. That was a fact. Briefly, I thought of the Cullens and where they stood on the matter. It took me very little time to conclude that the Cullens would do anything to secure the safety of my Tribe. We had so much history together now that it was more difficult than not to consider the Cullens a part of my Tribe. Our histories were so interwoven now. Enemies, allies, friends, now family… Trust can only be earned and the Cullens certainly earned the Tribe's and my trust. It was infallible to me at this point.
Jasper stood from his seat near Alice. "Even so, a visit by one of Guard does pose problems for the local population. I'm sure he will want to feed. And how long is he going to stay?"
"I don't know," Alice said. "All I know is he's old. Really, really old. It was just the way he interacted with Aro. He's different. That's probably why Aro is sending him and not Jane or Alec or any other of the Guard."
"Who is it? Was he at the meadow that day?" Bella asked. She shifted uncomfortably and it was because Jane's name was said aloud for the first time in decades.
Oh, what a blissful time we had when the Volturi weren't breathing down our necks.
I let out a low growl.
"Calm yourself," Jake whispered. He gave me a brief, but reassuring smile. He was having a more difficult time with this than I, but still managed to put me at ease—command or not.
"He wasn't there at the meadow," Edward said with his head tilted to one side. He was scanning over Alice's thoughts trying to place the mysterious visitor. "Are you sure he wasn't created afterward?"
"No, I'm sure of it. He's been around the block." The conviction in Alice's voice convinced me.
"Perhaps if you described him to me, I would know who he was," Carlisle suggested.
Alice looked to Edward. "It's worth a try," Edward said.
"Well," Alice began. "He looks to be about, maybe eighteen or nineteen years old when he was turned. His eyes are red…"
"Well, that let's us know his blood of choice," Jake interjected with annoyance.
"Yeah, let's invite him to school with us too!" Rose sneered.
"Calm down," Esme whispered.
Alice continued, "He has short, dark brown hair. He has darker skin, but pale like us. It's almost like he got a lot of sun before he was turned. Maybe he's Middle Eastern? Spanish?"
"Did you hear a name said?" Carlisle asked.
"No, the visions come in bits and pieces. I never get the whole conversation." Alice looked defeated. I knew how much pressure we put on her. Her visions provided us with a lot, but like a drug and we craved more and more of it from her. She wandered around the room clutching her head as if she was trying to force a vision.
Nothing more was coming.
I got up and put my hand around her shoulder. I held her tight in a brotherly hug. "It's all good, Alice. We'll figure it out." Her ice-cold skin, even through her sweater, burned my own skin. It was a good burn, a familial burn.
"Ah thanks, little brother," Alice said tongue in cheek. She was by far my favorite female Cullen, but I chose not to let Ness, Rose, Esme, or Bella know that. I mean, it was hard to pick favorites, really, and each of the ladies held a special part in my heart, but Alice was truly something else. I think it was her voracity when it came to forcing others to do things that they didn't otherwise want to do. And frankly, it was hilarious to watch Bella kick and scream all the way to the mall whenever Alice had her by the britches.
Carlisle sat and pondered for a minute. We all waited on baited breath. Carlisle did spend a long time with the Volturi. Maybe he did have a run-in with a certain red-eyed monster.
Carlisle sighed. "Seth is right. We will figure it out, and soon if I am not mistaken. Alice?"
Alice nodded. "Yeah, he is coming tomorrow afternoon. And before any of you yell at me, I only had the vision about an hour ago, which means Aro only made his decision then. I have been watching him for decades despite not talking about it openly." Alice looked annoyed.
What a burden Alice carried. I felt sorry for using her so heavily like this without even knowing. Everyone truly owed her.
"Well," I said picking up my unfinished lasagna. "There's nothing to do, but sit and wait. Might as well finish this little morsel."
Rose gagged. "There's a whole pan there. What morsel are you talking about, Seth?"
Oh, come on. She's known my furry ass (metaphorically speaking, of course!) for a century. If she had to ask now, she'd never know. I scooped a heaping fork-full of lasagna and shoveled into my mouth. Delicious!