A/N: Duhn duhn DUHHNNNN! DRUM ROLL PLEASE! Oh yes, the Hunter series has returned, thanks to the avid interest of avid fans! Welcome back for your second ride, sit tight and enjoy!
My eyes snapped open at the same moment Alice gasped. We both sat bolt upright, taking only a few seconds to take stock of the dark room around us. The walls of my bedroom had been tinted a light blue shade of moonlight and the sound of dying leaves rattling in the trees whispered around us, but neither had caused me to wake. Alice and I looked at each other, wide eyed and slack jawed.
"Rose," we whispered at the same time, then leaped out of bed, flinging covers hither and thither and dashing from the room.
We were already sprinting down the hallway when Emmett's startled cry beckoned us, or rather me. "Bella! It's happening!"
"We know," I said, leaping from the top of the stair case to the bottom, not willing to waste any time. "Rafael, Holly, Aria, Archer, Birch! Up and at 'em!" I called out to my tribe, pleased to hear the immediate sound of motion from their rooms. "Alice, call the others."
"On it," my mate said, dashing towards the kitchen for a quiet place to place a phone call.
I focused finally on the two vampires before me. One was a hulking man, wrapped with muscle and wide as a tree, whose utterly terrified expression looked quite out of place on his face. The second was his wife, a bombshell blond who was extremely pregnant and looked extremely uncomfortable as well. She lay currently on the downstairs couch in mine and my tribe's woodland mansion, head propped against the arm rest and panting despite her lack of true need for air.
"Tell me how you feel, Rose. Just talk to me." I tried to make my voice as soothing as possible as I laid a hand on her extended stomach, feeling with my magic for what lay beneath. Everything seemed to be going as planned, just as it had been for the past two months since I had first used my magic to create a child for her and her mate.
"It hurts," she hissed out, I'd guess trying not to whimper.
I laid a hand on her forehead, cooling her body with a spell to make her more comfortable. I could do nothing for her pain right now though, her body needed it to let her brain know how the birth was progressing. She wasn't supposed to like it, but that's life sometimes.
"Carlisle is on his way, as are the others. You're doing great, Rose. Emmett, give her your arm or something to squeeze. The contractions will start getting closer together the closer the baby gets."
Emmett quickly moved to offer his wife his hand, which she eagerly latched on to. Emmett grimaced but offered no dissent. "She's been having contractions for about an hour now, but we thought they were just ghost contractions, like the other times." Emmett looked more frazzled than I had ever seen him, and under different circumstances I'd probably be laughing and cracking a joke about it.
My tribe came tumbling down the stairs, all five of them bright eyed and bushy tailed. "What do you need, Bells?" My second, Rafael, asked.
"Get me some rags and some water, and fetch a few bags of blood from the fridge. Birch, how close are the others?"
The cornsilk blond, fair skinned boy closed his eyes for just a moment. "They'll be here within the minute. They're running, not driving." Birch was an oracle, he possessed a Kara'til, a gift given from Apollo to his ancestors back in the days of ancient Greece. It was uncommon for a Hunter to come into any genetic gifts until they had finished growing at age twenty-one, but my tribe was not exactly what you would call ordinary.
By the time the others came back with supplies, Alice at their heels carrying a few bags of blood, Rose was in the midst of another contraction. I was in the middle of placing a pillow behind her for support when Carlisle, his wife Esme, and their adoptive sons Edward and Jasper burst through the front door. Carlisle was at Rosalie's side immediately, probing at her stomach and gauging how far along she was. "Alright Rosalie, I've brought a hospital gown for you. Can't give birth to a baby through jeans, can we?" He tried to lighten the mood, but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say Rosalie wasn't exactly in the mood for joking.
Emmett helped her stand and we respectively turned around as she was stripped down and slid in the gown. Before she laid back down I reached into the pool of magic within me and summoned an old blanket from the hall closet to lay beneath her. Birth was a beautiful thing of course, but no one had ever said it was cleanly. I flashed her a sheepish glance and said, "No offense."
"No taken," was her wry, clipped response.
We stood on the side of her head, my tribe and Rose's siblings, as Carlisle checked under her gown. "It won't be long until you have to start pushing, Rose. Take some deep breaths and get ready."
She did just that. Esme looked to me and said, "Is there anything you can do to help?"
I shrugged and sighed. "If there were going to be complications, sure, I could alter that. But at the core of it birth is one of those old things I really can't do much about. It's between her an the baby now. She'll be fine, don't worry." I gave the older woman a warm smile and laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Well, if a Goddess says my baby and my baby's baby are going to be fine, I think I'm good with that," Emmett smiled out, forcibly, but smiled nonetheless.
I scrunched my face up for just a moment, still not used to the term 'goddess' being thrown around in affiliation with me. Sure, a few days ago I had sacrificed myself in battle to save my mate, been held in limbo by Gaia for a thousand years to learn the ways of ruling the planet in her stead, and had then been reborn from the ashes of my old body amidst a whirling inferno, but was that really such a big deal?
You're kidding, right? Alice deadpanned through out mate link.
"Alright Rosalie, give me a big push in three. One... Two... Three!"
Rosalie pained groan made us all wince and made me particularly glad the universe had allotted my soul to bond with another woman's. No babies for me!
"Alright, that was great. Take a few deep breaths, and again." Carlisle's medical training shone through in every way, from his obvious knowledge and skill, even to his demeanor.
Again and again Rosalie pushed in time with her contractions. We had awaited this day for a long time, not the full nine months per say, but somehow it still seemed surreal that the moment was finally upon us. I'm sure through the pain-induce haze of pushing another living thing from your nether regions, Rosalie felt the same.
She let out a scream.
Or maybe not...
Emmett looked like he was about ready to fall apart. Emotionally, of course, though from the crackling I heard Rose could probably loosen her grip on his hand just a tad. His eyes were wide with fear and a wee bit of horror too. Of course if I had to see Alice in this much pain, I'd probably have a meltdown as well.
"Almost there!" Carlisle said, a look of determination plastered across his face.
Rose screamed and tensed once more, and it was as if the very world let go of a held breath when we heard that baby cry. It was a strong wail, produced by a strong set of lungs. Carlisle beamed and pulled the squirming mass out from under Rose's gown. She deflated for just a moment, panting, until her face contorted once more. She groaned and Carlisle's eyes lit.
"We're not done yet," he murmured, handing the child off to where Esme waited with a fresh, warm blanket and several rags to begin cleaning it off.
"What?" Emmett asked, terrified and confused and generally unhappy.
Alice and I of course were smiling like a cats in the cream because we'd known all along, from the very instant the pregnancy had begun.
Edward gasped and burst out, "Alice, how in the world did you manage to keep this from me?"
She let out a tinkering laugh and replied, "Edward, I learned a long time ago how to get around your gift, don't act so surprised."
As miffed as her brother was, no one was focusing on them long as yet another cry burst out into the room, just as strong and healthy sounding as the first. With a grin I walked forward and place a hand on Rosalie's shoulder, smiling down at her.
"Congratulations Mama, it's twins," I said with a smile.
Through her exhaustion she smiled.
"A girl and a boy," Carlisle said with a smile.
Esme had finished bundling and cleaning the second baby, and she handed both to Rose at the same time. The little girl had wisps of blond hair and light blue eyes, while the boy had the start of Emmett's dark, curly locks and darker, sapphire eyes. Both seemed to already hold an unnatural amount of intelligence, but hey, what else could you expect from hybrids?
"What should we name them?" Emmett asked.
"I want to name her after the woman who helped us bring them into the world," Rose whispered.
"Rose, you don't have to do that," I said, equally as stunned as everyone else.
Rose just shook her head, smiling down at her daughter and first born. "I want to. Besides, there must be some good cosmic energy to be had in naming your child after a goddess."
I wouldn't argue with her so instead I smiled. "I'm honored."
"Isabella, then," Rose said with finality. "Isabella Esme Cullen."
Esme looked as surprised and honored as I had.
"And what about him?" Emmett asked, smiling down at his son.
"How about we name him after your father?" Rosalie asked with a smile and Emmett beamed.
"Theo for short of course. Theodore Ezekiel Cullen."
"Theo and Izzy," Emmett said with a smile, and to everyone's surprised the children even joined in.
I sighed in relief that everything had gone smoothly, and Alice leaned into my side. My tribe beamed at one another, thrilled to witness the miracle of birth. Rose reached for two bags of blood, cutting a small hole in the tops of each. As soon as the smell wafted into the air the babies began to squirm. Surprised, Rose lowered a bag to Izzy's level and the child eagerly latched on and began sucking away. She was quick to offer Theo the same and as they ate, we all made small conversation about what to expect as they grew up, what all we needed to buy now that there were two instead of one. As soon as the bags were empty the babies immediately fell asleep, nestled into the crook of their mother's neck.
Gently, ever so gently, Rosalie shifted and handed Theo to her husband. At first Emmett looked startled but Jasper let out a low laugh and said, "Em, man up and hold your son."
That lit a fire in his eyes and Emmett reached out eagerly. As ownership changed the small hybrid opened his deep blue eyes and stared up at Emmett. He didn't cry, but he did seem to be assessing the situation. His father smiled down and whispered, "Hey there, little man. I'm your daddy, it's nice to meet you."
We all smiled despite ourselves, even Theo, at the big man's antics. It was an odd sight, the hulking man holding such a small thing. The baby gurgled and reached out with grasping hands. Emmett smiled and held a hand of his own out so that Theo could grasp Emmett's big hands with his much smaller ones.
"Do they have gifts?" Rose asked, breaking the trance.
I smiled and nodded. "Theo can feel and picture what people are planning in accords to him, like we discussed. Izzy's gift developed all on her own, I had no meddling in that, and it's a very strongly magical one at that. She will be able to manipulate elements it seems, or something close to that anyways."
"Wow, my kids aren't just innately awesome, they're badasses too!"
Rose sent a glare at her husband. "Don't curse in front of the children, idiot."
Despite the rebuke, Emmett still grinned.
Rafael yawned and said, "Well, glad to see we got through yet another minor calamity unscathed. It's still two hours until the sun rises, I'm going back to bed."
I nodded to him and the others followed his lead, all except for Holly. "Seth is coming off patrol in La Push anyways, I think I'm just going to head down there."
"Alright, say hi to everyone for me," I said, knowing Jake and Skyler would be there as well as the others in the pack we had grown close to since the battle.
"I always do!" Holly said with a laugh then ducked out the door. I watched as her fox spirit companion, Renia, appeared to whisk her away.
Before long the entire room was empty. Emmett and Rosalie returned to the spare room they had been staying in as soon as Birch told them the birth would happen soon. Carlisle, Esme, Edward and Jasper returned to Casa Cullen and I could hear my tribe snuffling and snoring away as they fell back into sleep. I led Alice out to the back porch, overlooking the woods and the small creek that flowed through it. It's gurgling infiltrated my mind and thoughts until they ran, just as the water did. I vaguely felt Alice's presence as she monitored what crossed my mind, seeing if anything struck her fancy. My thoughts were not simply baby related of course, but as they often did had turned to more serious matters, such as our impending trip into the heart of Canada to reconnect with my tribe, so I could hopefully take my place on the throne I loathed my claim to.
"It'll be fine, babe," Alice murmured.
I could only sigh, relaying my doubt and worry through our link.
"Brinnin has been there for a week already and all his reports have been very positive. I think your clan will be happy to see someone, you know, sane on the throne. They will gladly follow you."
"It's not just that though! They can willingly follow me all they want, that's not even the hardest part. I could still lead a group of people that didn't want me there, that's almost easier because you don't need to worry about pissing them off, they're already there! I'm not just going to have to lead them, I'm going to have to appease them. I'm going to have to make nice with them, pretend I actually like the noble families that mocked and shunned me. God, I'm going to have to deal with my brother, too." I grimaced.
Alice, on the other hand, smiled. "I don't know Bella, I'm kind of excited to meet him."
I gave her a dry look. "He's a sweet kid, but a complete ditz at times. Plus he was putty in my grandmother's hands so he's also a stuck up snob, and most of the time he doesn't even realize he's doing it."
"So part Jasper, part Emmett, and part Rose."
I chuckled despite myself, but sobered quickly. "I don't know, I'm just worried. Everything is about to change. I mean, even with that battle looming over us I still loved it here. I loved the life we made here and now we have to leave it all behind."
"We can come back after everything is settled though, can't we?"
I shrugged. "We could possibly come back near here, but it won't be the same. I'll have a band of nobles following me around, trying simultaneously to kiss my ass and wriggle out blackmailing material. I'll have to oversee ceremonies and delegate jobs. I'll have to meet clients and won't be able to run any jobs on my own." The more I talked about it, the more miserable I got and Alice knew it.
"Hey, hey now. Stop all that. Yes, you'll be going back, but not to the world you knew. Things will change now, you'll make them change."
Two days later, once Rose was back to her full strength and I had seen the babies were adjusting properly I announced that we would finally be returning to the Clan. I told the Cullens that they were welcome to come along, though my Clan may not accept them. After long conversations it was decided that only Alice would accompany my tribe and I northward, taking up her position as my mate, while her family would stay to maintain human pretenses and to ease my way however they could. I was sad to leave them, my new family and the truest one I had ever known, but I couldn't argue with their reasoning. Seth, Holly's mate, would be accompanying us as well, having been given a temporary leave from Sam's pack.
When the sun rose on our day of departure we were already awake and ready to go. I had my sword, Archangel, strapped to my hip and wore my trademark black leathers. A quiver of arrows, no two the same, was strapped over my shoulder along with my unstrung bow. My tribe, even Seth and Alice, was dressed similarly. Seth was unarmed but Alice was accompanied by her sword, Sanguine, which happened to be spelled against almost every attack I could think of. I was extremely nervous to bring her into the political wasp's nest called the Askari Court but I would be even more nervous were she to be separated from my side.
"Are we ready?" Rafael asked.
I sighed and ran a hand through my brown, green, blue, and white streaked hair. The odd colors were only mild highlights and lowlights, most prominent in the sun, and had sprung up after my rebirth along with shimmering silver irises. "As ready as we'll ever be. Gods above, I never wanted to return to that place."
No one said anything, knowing I was talking more to myself than to them. I sighed for a final time and closed my eyes, delving into the pool of magic within me. Well, perhaps 'ocean' would be a better way to phrase it. Before the battle my reserve of magical energy had been impressive, unheard of in a Hunter for centuries and it had allowed me to do incredible, awe-inspiring things. Where post Hunter's commanded a pool of magic mine had been a lake, and now it was a vast, deep, terrifying ocean. Even I had not yet probed it's depths to their full extent but I could sense the earth shattering ramifications that would come about if I ever did.
I barely dipped below the surface now, grasping for the threads and currents within. In my minds eye I caught flashes of color and light, flickering in time with the thoughts in my mind and the intent in my heart, reaching for me and begging to be woven into the tapestry of a spell. I was happy to oblige. By feel and instinct I pulled them into a sentient form and a warmth spread over my skin. I pulled in string after string until the complex blanket of my spell shimmer before me. Content I smiled at my creation then pulled it to the surface. The wind roared in my ears and a heat covered me, on the cusp between comforting and unbearable. Then, almost too soon, it was suddenly over with.
The air around us had turned from a crisp, late October breeze to a frigid, bone chilling Canadian autumn bite. Snow flicked around us, some blown from the ground and some falling from a sky that never seemed to tire of spitting them out. The pine forest around us was tall, ancient, and very much sentient. I saw the flickers of forest spirits and sprites darting around on the edge of my vision, but every time I turned to one they would hide away. I smiled and walked forward to one conifer, taller and broader than the rest. I ducked my way into it's heart, skirting branches and needles, where no snow lay and it was noticeably warmer.
My aura filled the confined air around me a slowly, one by one, a family of sprites peeked out from behind branches. They were no more than six inches tall at the largest and some were as small at my pointer finger. They seemed to be a strange mix of human, lizard, and bird. Wings sprouted from their backs and their faces were generally human but with a serpentine edge in the slanted planes of their cheeks, nose, and glowing green eyes. Their hands were tipped with short claws and their skin was mildly scaled, more prominent in some places than others.
I smiled up at them and then said, in the Language of All, Hello. How do you do?
To all creatures who still lived close to Gaia's influence, the Language of All was native to them, something they knew instinctively. The farther you slipped from Gaia's embrace, the harder it was to understand or speak it. The more human-esque Supernaturals had no knowledge of it whatsoever.
What are you? One of the young ones asked.
Like one cat leaping for another with vicious intent, a larger sprite leaped down from a higher branch. It bowled the younger one out into the air and their scrabbled, screeching and clawing at one another until the older sprite, one I guessed to be it's mother, held the younger by it's wings. Know you no respect? She seethed.
The young one pressed it's pointed ears back and down, trying to make itself as small as possible and avoid it's elder's wrath.
It's fine, I said, trying to diffuse the situation. The youngling meant no disrespect. My name is Bella, heir to the Askari and favored of Gaia. Tell me, do the Hunters still make camp not far from here?
The sprites stiffened, their demeanor changing radically. The largest, likely the monarch of their family, came to hover before me. I am Koru, father of this tree-clan. We have heard whispers about you from the trees, Chosen One. Is it true you have cast down the Crazed Queen and restored balance to our world?
I swallowed hard. An honor to meet you, Koru. I'm afraid I have restored little so far, but that is my intention, yes.
One by one they dropped into low bows, even the young ones. Koru went on to say, Let us guide you, Chosen One. Please, we would be honored to serve you in any way we can. Anything we can do, you only have to ask.
I was startled by their reactions, of course. Sprites were odd creatures to be certain. They were similar in many ways to certain subspecies of pixies and goblins and were fiercely loyal. In olden days, back before humans had deviated too far from Gaia's light, families would leave offerings for such creatures on their farms or in their shops, hoping to earn favor. In some cases families of sprites, pixies, or house goblins would become so attached that the link lived on through generations. It seemed this was the sort of bond Koru was trying to create.
I am doubly honored Koru, but I can sense your family's link to this tree, you have watched over this grove for many, many years. It would not be right of me to ask you to leave.
Koru scoffed. This land is rich with our kind, our grove will not be wanting for new ownership. There is more honor to be found in serving our savior. Please, my lady, allow us to accompany you. He bowed once more, all while my emotions caught in my throat.
If you are certain you wish to come along, I will not stop you. But please, if at any time you wish to leave, you are of course free to do so.
The sprites in the tree buzzed happily, skittered here and there with wide grins revealing pointed, shark-like teeth. When I emerged again, with a cloud of seven sprites trailing me, my tribe gave me bewildered looks. I sighed and thought to myself, Really, you'd think they'd be used to things like this by now.
A/N: So, hopefully a bit of a refresher since we last heard from the gang! What did you think of the babies, huh? Don't think Bella is abandoning the Cullens either, she'll be back in no time at all. I think. Maybe? Who knows!
I hope you're all as excited as I am for this next installment, please don't hesitate to ask me if you have any questions, comments, or concerns! I love hearing your feedback, via reviews or PMs! I love you all!