Post Reply chapter 32: company
Posted 12/25/08
The Cullens' enormous house was more crowded with guests than anyone would
assume could possibly be comfortable. It only worked out because none of the
visitors slept. Mealtimes were dicey, though. Our company cooperated as best
they could. They gave Forks and La Push a wide berth, only hunting out of state;
Edward was a gracious host, lending out his cars as needed without so much as a
wince. The compromise made me very uncomfortable, though I tried to tell myself
that they'd all be hunting somewhere in the world, regardless.
Jacob was even more upset. The werewolves existed to prevent the loss of human
life, and here was rampant murder being condoned barely outside the packs' borders.
But under these circumstances, with Renesmee in acute danger, he kept his
mouth shut and glared at the floor rather than the vampires.
I was amazed at the easy acceptance the visiting vampires had for Jacob; the
problems Edward had anticipated had never materialized. Jacob seemed more or
less invisible to them, not quite a person, but also not food, either. They treated
him the way people who are not animal-lovers treat the pets of their friends.
Leah, Seth, Quil, and Embry were assigned to run with Sam for now, and Jacob
would have happily joined them, except that he couldn't stand to be away from
Renesmee, and Renesmee was busy fascinating the strange collection of Carlisle's
friends.
We'd replayed the scene of Renesmee's introduction to the Denali coven a half
dozen times. First for Peter and Charlotte, whom Alice and Jasper had sent our
way without giving them any explanation at all; like most people who knew Alice,
they trusted her instructions despite the lack of information. Alice had told them
nothing about which direction she and Jasper were heading. She'd made no
promise to ever see them again in the future.
Neither Peter nor Charlotte had ever seen an immortal child. Though they knew
the rule, their negative reaction was not as powerful as the Denali vampires' had
been at first. Curiosity had driven them to allow Renesmee's "explanation." And
that was it. Now they were as committed to witnessing as Tanya's family.
Carlisle had sent friends from Ireland and Egypt.
The Irish clan arrived first, and they were surprisingly easy to convince. Siobhan
– a woman of immense presence whose huge body was both beautiful and mesmerizing
as it moved in smooth undulations – was the leader, but she and her
hard-faced mate, Liam, were long used to trusting the judgment of their newest
coven member. Little Maggie, with her bouncy red curls, was not physically imposing
like the other two, but she had a gift for knowing when she was being lied
to, and her verdicts were never contested. Maggie declared that Edward spoke the
truth, and so Siobhan and Liam accepted our story absolutely before even touching
Renesmee.
Amun and the other Egyptian vampires were another story. Even after two
younger members of his coven, Benjamin and Tia, had been convinced by Renesmee's
explanation, Amun refused to touch her and ordered his coven to leave.
Benjamin – an oddly cheerful vampire who looked barely older than a boy and
seemed both utterly confident and utterly careless at the same time – persuaded
Amun to stay with a few subtle threats about disbanding their alliance. Amun
stayed, but continued to refuse to touch Renesmee, and would not allow his mate,
Kebi, to touch her, either. It seemed an unlikely grouping – though the Egyptians
all looked so alike, with their midnight hair and olive-toned pallor, that they easily
could have passed for a biological family. Amun was the senior member and
the outspoken leader. Kebi never strayed farther away from Amun than his
shadow, and I never heard her speak a single word. Tia, Benjamin's mate, was a
quiet woman as well, though when she did speak there was great insight and
gravity to everything she said. Still, it was Benjamin whom they all seemed to revolve
around, as if he had some invisible magnetism the others depended upon
for their balance. I saw Eleazar staring at the boy with wide eyes and assumed
Benjamin had a talent that drew the others to him.
"It's not that," Edward told me when we were alone that night. "His gift is so singular
that Amun is terrified of losing him. Much like we had planned to keep Renesmee
from Aro's knowledge" – he sighed – "Amun has been keeping Benjamin
from Aro's attention. Amun created Benjamin, knowing he would be special."
"What can he do?"
"Something Eleazar's never seen before. Something I've never heard of. Something
that even your shield would do nothing against." He grinned his crooked
smile at me. "He can actually influence the elements – earth, wind, water, and
fire. True physical manipulation, no illusion of the mind. Benjamin's still experimenting
with it, and Amun tries to mold him into a weapon. But you see how independent
Benjamin is. He won't be used."
"You like him," I surmised from the tone of his voice.
"He has a very clear sense of right and wrong. I like his attitude."
Amun's attitude was something else, and he and Kebi kept to themselves, though
Benjamin and Tia were well on their way to being fast friends with both the Denali
and the Irish covens. We hoped that Carlisle's return would ease the remaining
tension with Amun.
Emmett and Rose sent individuals – any nomad friends of Carlisle's that they
could track down.
Garrett came first – a tall, rangy vampire with eager ruby eyes and long sandy
hair he kept tied back with a leather thong – and it was apparent immediately
that he was an adventurer. I imagined that we could have presented
him with any challenge and he would have accepted, just to test himself. He fell
in quickly with the Denali sisters, asking endless questions about their unusual
lifestyle. I wondered if vegetarianism was another challenge he would try, just to
see if he could do it.
Mary and Randall also came – friends already, though they did not travel together.
They listened to Renesmee's story and stayed to witness like the others.
Like the Denalis, they considered what they would do if the Volturi did not pause
for explanations. All three of the nomads toyed with the idea of standing with us.
Of course, Jacob got more surly with each new addition. He kept his distance
when he could, and when he couldn't he grumbled to Renesmee that someone
was going to have to provide an index if anyone expected him to keep all the new
bloodsuckers1names straight.*
Carlisle and Esme returned a week after they had gone, Emmett and Rosalie just
a few days later, and all of us felt better when they were home. Carlisle brought
one more friend home with him, thoughfriend might have been the wrong term.
Alistair was a misanthropic English vampire who counted Carlisle as his closest
acquaintance, though he could hardly stand a visit more than once a century. Alistair
very much preferred to wander alone, and Carlisle had called in a lot of favors
to get him here. He shunned all company, and it was clear he didn't have any
admirers in the gathered covens.
The brooding dark-haired vampire took Carlisle at his word about Renesmee's
origins, refusing, like Amun, to touch her. Edward told Carlisle, Esme, and me
that Alistair was afraid to be here, but more afraid of not knowing the outcome.
He was deeply suspicious of all authority, and therefore naturally suspicious of
the Volturi. What was happening now seemed to confirm all his fears.
"Of course, now they'll know i was here," we heard him grumble to himself in the
attic – his preferred spot to sulk. "No way to keep it from Aro at this point. Centuries
on the run, that's what this will mean. Everyone Carlisle's talked to in the last
decade will be on their list. I can't believe I got myself sucked into this mess.
What a fine way to treat your friends."
But if he was right about having to run from the Volturi, at least he had more
hope of doing that than the rest of us. Alistair was a tracker, though not nearly as
precise and efficient as Demetri. Alistair just felt an elusive pull toward whatever
he was seeking. But that pull would be enough to tell him which direction to run
– the opposite direction from Demetri.
And then another pair of unexpected friends arrived – unexpected, because neither
Carlisle nor Rosalie had been able to contact the Amazons.
"Carlisle," the taller of the two very tall feline women greeted him when they arrived.
Both of them seemed as if they'd been stretched – long arms and legs, long
fingers, long black braids, and long faces with long noses. They wore nothing but
animal skins – hide vests and tight-fitting pants that laced on the sides with
leather ties. It wasn't just their eccentric clothes that made them seem wild but
everything about them, from their restless crimson eyes to their sudden, darting
movements. I'd never met any vampires less civilized.
But Alice had sent them, and that was interesting news, to put it mildly. Why was
Alice in South America? Just
because she'd seen that no one else would be able to get in touch with the Amazons?
"Zafrina and Senna! But Where's Kachiri?" Carlisle asked. Tve never seen you
three apart."
"Alice told us we needed to separate," Zafrina answered in the rough, deep voice
that matched her wild appearance. "It's uncomfortable to be away from each
other, but Alice assured us that you needed us here, while she very much needed
Kachiri somewhere else. That's all she would tell us, except that there was a great
hurry... ?" Zafrina's statement trailed off into a question, and – with the tremor of
nerves that never went away no matter how often I did this – I brought Renesmee
out to meet them.
Despite their fierce appearance, they listened very calmly to our story, and then
allowed Renesmee to prove the point. They were every bit as taken with Renesmee
as any of the other vampires, but I couldn't help worrying as I watched their
swift, jerky movements so close beside her. Senna was always near Zafrina, never
speaking, but it wasn't the same as Amun and Kebi. Kebi's manner seemed obedient;
Senna and Zafrina were more like two limbs of one organism – Zafrina just
happened to be the mouthpiece.
The news about Alice was oddly comforting. Clearly, she was on some obscure
mission of her own as she avoided whatever Aro had planned for her.
Edward was thrilled to have the Amazons with us, because Zafrina was enormously
talented; her gift could make a very dangerous offensive weapon. Not that
Edward was asking for Zafrina to side with us in the battle, but if the Volturi did
not pause when they saw our witnesses, perhaps they would pause for a different
kind of scene.
"It's a very straightforward illusion," Edward explained when it turned out that I
couldn't see anything, as usual. Zafrina was intrigued and amused by my immunity
– something she'd never encountered before – and she hovered restlessly
while Edward described what I was missing. Edward's eyes unfocused slightly as
he continued. "She can make most people see whatever she wants them to see –
see that, and nothing else. For example, right now I would appear to be alone in
the middle of a rain forest. It's so clear I might possibly believe it, except for the
fact that I can still feel you in my arms."
Zafrina's lips twitched into her hard version of a smile. A second later, Edward's
eyes focused again, and he grinned back.
"Impressive," he said.
Renesmee was fascinated with the conversation, and she reached out fearlessly
toward Zafrina.
"Can I see?" she asked.
"What would you like to see?" Zafrina asked.
"What you showed Daddy."
Zafrina nodded, and I watched anxiously as Renesmee's eyes stared blankly into
space. A second later, Renesmee's dazzling smile lit up her face.
"More," she commanded.
After that, it was hard to keep Renesmee away from Zafrina and herpretty pictures.
I worried, because I was quite sure that Zafrina was able to create images
that were not pretty at all. But through Renesmee's thoughts I
could see Zafrina's visions for myself – they were as clear as any of Renesmee's
own memories, like they were real – and thus judge for myself whether they were
appropriate or not.
Though I didn't give her up easily, I had to admit it was a good thing Zafrina was
keeping Renesmee entertained. I needed my hands. I had so much to learn, both
physically and mentally, and the time was so short.
My first attempt at learning to fight did not go well.
Edward had me pinned in about two seconds. But instead of letting me wrestle
my way free – which I absolutely could have – he'd leaped up and away from me.
I knew immediately that something was wrong; he was still as stone, staring
across the meadow we were practicing in.
Tm sorry, Bella," he said.
"No, I'm fine," I said. "Let's go again."
"I can't."
"What do you mean, you can't? We just started."
He didn't answer.
"Look, I know I'm no good at this, but I can't get better if you don't help me."
He said nothing. Playfully, I sprang at him. He made no defense at all, and we
both fell to the ground. He was motionless as I pressed my lips to his jugular.
"I win," I announced.
His eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.
"Edward? What's wrong? Why won't you teach me?"
A full minute passed before he spoke again.
"I just can't... bear it. Emmett and Rosalie know as much as I do. Tanya and
Eleazar probably know more. Ask someone else."
"That's not fair! You'regood at this. You helped Jasper before – you fought with
him and all the others, too. Why not me? What did I do wrong?"
He sighed, exasperated. His eyes were dark, barely any gold to lighten the black.
"Looking at you that way, analyzing you as a target. Seeing all the ways I can kill
you .. ." He flinched. "It just makes it too real for me. We don't have so much time
that it will really make a difference who your teacher is. Anyone can teach you the
fundamentals."
I scowled.
He touched my pouting lower lip and smiled. "Besides, it's unnecessary. The Volturi
will stop. They will be made to understand."
"But if they don't! Ineed to learn this."
"Find another teacher."
That was not our last conversation on the subject, but I never swayed him an
inch from his decision.
Emmett was more than willing to help, though his teaching felt to me a lot like
revenge for all the lost
arm-wrestling matches. If I could still bruise, I would have been purple from
head to toe. Rose, Tanya, and Eleazar all were patient and supportive. Their lessons
reminded me of Jasper's fighting instructions to the others last June, though
those memories were fuzzy and indistinct. Some of the visitors found my education
entertaining, and some even offered assistance. The nomad Garrett took a
few turns – he was a surprisingly good teacher; he interacted so easily with others
in general that I wondered how he'd never found a coven. I even fought once with
Zafrina while Renesmee watched from Jacob's arms. I learned several tricks, but
I never asked for her help again. In truth, though I liked Zafrina very much and I
knew she wouldn't really hurt me, the wild woman scared me to death.
I learned many things from my teachers, but I had the sense that my knowledge
was still impossibly basic. I had no idea how many seconds I would last against
Alec and Jane. I only prayed that it would be long enough to help.
Every minute of the day that I wasn't with Renesmee or learning to fight, I was in
the backyard working with Kate, trying to push my internal shield outside of my
own brain to protect someone else. Edward encouraged me in this training. I
knew he hoped I would find a way of contributing that satisfied me while also
keeping me out of the line of fire.
It was just so hard. There was nothing to get a hold of, nothing solid to work
with. I had only my raging desire to be of use, to be able to keep Edward, Renesmee,
and as much of my family as possible safe with me. Over and over I tried to
force the nebulous shield outside of myself, with only faint, sporadic success. It
felt like I was wrestling to stretch an invisible rubber band – a band that would
change from concrete tangibility into insubstantial smoke at any random moment.
Only Edward was willing to be our guinea pig – to receive shock after shock from
Kate while I grappled incompetently with the insides of my head. We worked for
hours at a time, and I felt like I should be covered in sweat from the exertion, but
of course my perfect body didn't betray me that way. My weariness was all mental.
It killed me that it was Edward who had to suffer, my arms wrapped uselessly
around him while he winced over and over from Kate's low" setting. I tried as
hard as I could to push my shield around us both; every now and then I would get
it, and then it would slip away again.
I hated this practice, and I wished that Zafrina would help instead of Kate. Then
all Edward would have to do was look at Zafrina's illusions until I could stop him
from seeing them. But Kate insisted that I needed better motivation – by which
she meant my hatred of watching Edward's pain. I was beginning to doubt her
assertion from the first day we'd met – that she wasn't sadistic about the use of
her gift. She seemed to be enjoying herself to me.
"Hey," Edward said cheerfully, trying to hide any evidence of distress in his
voice. Anything to keep me from fighting practice. "That one barely stung. Good
job, Bella."
I took a deep breath, trying to grasp exactly what I'd done right, i tested the elastic
band, struggling to force it to remain solid as I stretched it away from me.
"Again, Kate," I grunted through my clenched teeth.
Kate pressed her palm to Edward's shoulder.
He sighed in relief. "Nothing that time."
She raised an eyebrow. "That wasn't low, either."
"Good," I huffed.
"Get ready," she told me, and reached out to Edward again.
This time he shuddered, and a low breath hissed between his teeth.
"Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" I chanted, biting my lip. Why couldn't I get this right?
"You're doing an amazing job, Bella," Edward said, pulling me tight against him.
"You've really only been working at this for a few days and you're already projecting
sporadically. Kate, tell her how well she's doing."
Kate pursed her lips. "I don't know. She's obviously got tremendous ability, and
we're only beginning to touch it. She can do better, I'm sure. She's just lacking incentive."
I stared at her in disbelief, my lips automatically curling back from my teeth.
How could she think I lacked motivation with her shocking Edward right here in
front of me?
I heard murmurs from the audience that had grown steadily as I practiced – only
Eleazar, Carmen, and Tanya at first, but then Garrett had wandered over, then
Benjamin and Tia, Siobhan and Maggie, and now even Alistair was peering down
from a window on the third story. The spectators agreed with Edward; they
thought I was already doing well.
"Kate...," Edward said in a warning voice as some new course of action occurred
to her, but she was already in motion. She darted along the curve of the river to
where Zafrina, Senna, and Renesmee were walking slowly, Renesmee's hand in
Zafrina's as they traded pictures back and forth. Jacob shadowed them from a few
feet behind.
"Nessie," Kate said – the newcomers had quickly picked up the irritating nickname,
"would you like to come help your mother?"
"No," I half-snarled.
Edward hugged me reassuringly. I shook him off just as Renesmee flitted across
the yard to me, with Kate, Zafrina, and Senna right behind her.
"Absolutely not, Kate," I hissed.
Renesmee reached for me, and I opened my arms automatically. She curled into
me, pressing her head into the hollow beneath my shoulder.
"But Momma, Iwant to help," she said in a determined voice. Her hand rested
against my neck, reinforcing her desire with images of the two of us together, a
team.
"No," I said, quickly backing away. Kate had taken a deliberate step in my direction,
her hand stretched toward us.
"Stay away from us, Kate," I warned her.
"No." She began stalking forward. She smiled like a hunter cornering her prey.
I shifted Renesmee so that she was clinging to my back, still backing away at a
pace that matched Kate's. Now my hands were free, and if Kate wanted to keepher
hands attached to her wrists, she'd better keep her distance.
Kate probably didn't understand, never having known for herself the passion of a
mother for her child. She must
not have realized just how far pasttoo far she'd already gone. I was so furious
that my vision took on a strange reddish tint, and my tongue tasted like burning
metal. The strength I usually worked to keep restrained flowed through my muscles,
and I knew I could crush her into diamond-hard rubble if she pushed me to
it.
The rage brought every aspect of my being into sharper focus. I could even feel
the elasticity of my shield more exactly now – feel that it was not a band so much
as a layer, a thin film that covered me from head to toe. With the anger rippling
through my body, I had a better sense of it, a tighter hold on it. I stretched it
around myself, out from myself, swaddling Renesmee completely inside it, just in
case Kate got past my guard.
Kate took another calculated step forward, and a vicious snarl ripped up my
throat and through my clenched teeth.
"Be careful, Kate," Edward cautioned.
Kate took another step, and then made a mistake even someone as inexpert as I
could recognize. Just a short leap away from me, she looked away, turning her
attention from me to Edward.
Renesmee was secure on my back; I coiled to spring.
"Can you hear anything from Nessie?" Kate asked him, her voice calm and easy.
Edward darted into the space between us, blocking my line to Kate.
"No, nothing at all," he answered. "Now give Bella some space to calm down,
Kate. You shouldn't goad her like that. I know she doesn't seem her age, but she's
only a few months old."
"We don't have time to do this gently, Edward. We're going to have to push her.
We only have a few weeks, and she's got the potential to – "
"Back off for a minute, Kate."
Kate frowned but took Edward's warning more seriously than she'd taken mine.
Renesmee's hand was on my neck; she was remembering Kate's attack, showing
me that no harm was meant, that Daddy was in on it....
This did not pacify me. The spectrum of light I saw still seemed tainted with
crimson. But I was in better control of myself, and I could see the wisdom of
Kate's words. The anger helped me. I would learn faster under pressure.
That didn't mean I liked it.
"Kate," I growled. I rested my hand on the small of Edward's back. I could still
feel my shield like a strong, flexible sheet around Renesmee and me. I pushed it
farther, forcing it around Edward. There was no sign of a flaw in the stretchy fabric,
no threat of a tear. I panted with the effort, and my words came out sounding
breathless rather than furious. "Again," I said to Kate. "Edward only."
She rolled her eyes but flitted forward and pressed her palm to Edward's shoulder.
"Nothing," Edward said. I heard the smile in his voice.
"And now?" Kate asked.
"Still nothing."
"And now?" This time, there was the sound of strain in her voice.
"Nothing at all."
Kate grunted and stepped away.
"Can you see this?" Zafrina asked in her deep, wild voice, staring intently at the
three of us. Her English was strangely accented, her words pulling up in unexpected
places.
"I don't see anything I shouldn't," Edward said.
"And you, Renesmee?" Zafrina asked.
Renesmee smiled at Zafrina and shook her head.
My fury had almost entirely ebbed, and I clenched my teeth together, panting
faster as I pushed out against the elastic shield; it felt like it was getting heavier
the longer I held it. It pulled back, dragging inward.
"No one panic," Zafrina warned the little group watching me. "I want to see how
far she can extend."
There was a shocked gasp from everyone there – Eleazar, Carmen, Tanya, Garrett,
Benjamin, Tia, Siobhan, Maggie – everyone but Senna, who seemed prepared
for whatever Zafrina was doing. The others' eyes were blank, their expressions
anxious.
"Raise your hand when you get your sight back," Zafrina instructed. "Now, Bella.
See how many you can shield."
My breath came out in a huff. Kate was the closest person to me besides Edward
and Renesmee, but even she was about ten feet away. I locked my jaw and
shoved, trying to heave the resisting, resilient safeguard farther from myself. Inch
by inch I drove it toward Kate, fighting the reaction that fought back with every
fraction that I gained. I only watched Kate's anxious expression while I worked,
and I groaned quietly with relief when her eyes blinked and focused. She raised
her hand.
"Fascinating!" Edward murmured under his breath. "It's like one-way glass. I can
read everything they're thinking, but they can't reach me behind it. And I can
hear Renesmee, though I couldn't when I was on the outside. I'll bet Kate could
shock me now, because she's underneath the umbrella. I still can't hear you...
hmmm. How does that work? I wonder if..."
He continued to mumble to himself, but I couldn't listen to the words. I ground
my teeth together, struggling to force the shield out to Garrett, who was closest to
Kate. His hand came up.
"Very good," Zafrina complimented me. "Now – "
But she'd spoken too soon; with a sharp gasp, I felt my shield recoil like a rubber
band stretched too far, snapping back into its original shape. Renesmee, experiencing
for the first time the blindness Zafrina had conjured for the others, trembled
against my back. Wearily, I fought back against the elastic pull, forcing the
shield to include her again.
"Can I have a minute?" I panted. Since I'd become a vampire, I hadn't felt the
need to rest even once before this moment. It was unnerving to feel so drained
and yet so strong at the same time.
"Of course," Zafrina said, and the spectators relaxed as she let them see again.
"Kate," Garrett called as the others murmured and drifted slightly away, disturbed
by the moment of blindness; vampires were not used to feeling vulnerable.
The tall, sandy-haired Garrett was the only non-gifted immortal who
seemed drawn to my practice sessions. I wondered what the lure was for the adventurer.
"I wouldn't, Garrett," Edward cautioned.
Garrett continued toward Kate despite the warning, his lips pursed in speculation.
"They say you can put a vampire flat on his back."
"Yes," she agreed. Then, with a sly smile, she wiggled her fingers playfully at him.
"Curious?"
Garrett shrugged. "That's something I've never seen. Seems like it might be a bit
of an exaggeration..."
"Maybe," Kate said, her face suddenly serious. "Maybe it only works on the weak
or the young. I'm not sure. You look strong, though. Perhaps you could withstand
my gift." She stretched her hand out to him, palm up – a clear invitation. Her lips
twitched, and I was pretty sure her grave expression was an attempt to hustle
him.
Garrett grinned at the challenge. Very confidently, he touched her palm with his
index finger.
And then, with a loud gasp, his knees buckled and he keeled over backward. His
head hit a piece of granite with a sharp cracking noise. It was shocking to watch.
My instincts recoiled against seeing an immortal incapacitated that way; it was
profoundly wrong.
"I told you so," Edward muttered.
Garrett's eyelids trembled for a few seconds, and then his eyes opened wide. He
stared up at the smirking Kate, and a wondering smile lit his face.
"Wow," he said.
"Did you enjoy that?" she asked skeptically.
"I'm not crazy," he laughed, shaking his head as he got slowly to his knees, "but
that was sure something!"
"That's what I hear."
Edward rolled his eyes.
And then there was a low commotion from the front yard. I heard Carlisle speaking
over a babble of surprised voices.
"Did Alice send you?" he asked someone, his voice unsure, slightly upset.
Another unexpected guest?
Edward darted into the house and most of the others imitated him. I followed
more slowly, Renesmee still perched on my back. I would give Carlisle a moment.
Let him warm up the new guest, prepare him or her or them for the idea of what
was coming.
I pulled Renesmee into my arms as I walked cautiously around the house to enter
through the kitchen door, listening to what I couldn't see.
"No one sent us," a deep whispery voice answered Carlisle's question. I was immediately
reminded of the ancient voices of Aro and Caius, and I froze just inside
the kitchen.
I knew the front room was crowded – almost everyone had gone in to see the
newest visitors – but there was barely any noise. Shallow breathing, that was all.
Carlisle's voice was wary as he responded. "Then what brings you here now?"
"Word travels," a different voice answered, just as feathery as the first. "We
heard hints that Volturi were moving against you. There were whispers that you
would not stand alone. Obviously, the whispers were true. This is an impressive
gathering."
"We are not challenging the Volturi," Carlisle answered in a strained tone. "There
has been a misunderstanding, that is all. A very serious misunderstanding, to be
sure, but one we're hoping to clear up. What yousee are witnesses. We just need
the Volturi to listen. We didn't – "
"We don't care what they say you did," the first voice interrupted. "And we don't
care if you broke the law."
"No matter how egregiously," the second inserted.
"We've been waiting a millennium and a half for the Italian scum to be challenged,"
said the first. "If there is any chance theywill fall, we will be here to see
it."
"Or even to help defeat them," the second added. They spoke ina smooth tandem,
their voices so similar that less sensitive ears would assume there was only
one speaker. "If we think you havea chance of success."
"Bella?"Edward called to me ina hard voice. "Bring Renesmee here, please.
Maybe we should test our Romanian visitors' claims."
It helped to know that probably half of the vampires in the other room would
come to Renesmee's defense if these Romanians were upset by her. I didn't like
the sound of their voices, or the dark menace in their words. As I walked into the
room, I could see that I was not alone in that assessment. Most of the motionless
vampires glared with hostile eyes, anda few – Carmen, Tanya, Zafrina, and Senna
– repositioned themselves subtly into defensive poses between the newcomers
and Renesmee.
The vampires at the door were both slight and short, one dark-haired and the
other with hair so ashy blond that it looked pale gray. They had the same powdery
look to their skin as the Volturi, though I thought it was not so pronounced.
I couldn't be sure about that, as I had never seen the Volturi except with human
eyes; I could not make a perfect comparison. Their sharp, narrow eyes were dark
burgundy, with no milky film. They wore very simple black clothes that could
pass as modern but hinted at older designs.
The dark one grinned when I came into view. "Well, well, Carlisle. Youhave been
naughty, haven't you?"
"She's not what you think, Stefan."
"And we don't care either way," the blonde responded. "As we said before."
"Then you're welcome to observe, Vladimir, but it is definitely not our plan to
challenge the Volturi, aswe said before."
"Then we'lljust cross our fingers," Stefan began.
"And hope we get lucky," finished Vladimir.
In the end, we had pulled together seventeen witnesses – the Irish, Siobhan,
Liam, and Maggie; the Egyptians, Amun, Kebi, Benjamin, and Tia; the Amazons,
Zafrina and Senna; the Romanians, Vladimir and Stefan; and the
nomads, Charlotte and Peter, Garrett, Alistair, Mary, and Randall – to supplement
our family of eleven. Tanya, Kate, Eleazar, and Carmen insisted on being
counted as part of our family.
Aside from the Volturi, it was probably the largest friendly gathering of mature
vampires in immortal history.
We all were beginning to be a little bit hopeful. Even I couldn't help
it.Renesmee had won over so many in such a brief time.The Volturi only had to
listen for just the tiniest second...
The lasttwo surviving Romanians – focused only on their bitter resentment of
the ones who had overthrown their empire fifteen hundred years earlier – took
everything in stride. They would not touch Renesmee, but they showed no aversion
to her. They seemed mysteriously delighted by our alliance with the
werewolves.They watched me practice my shield with Zafrina and Kate, watched
Edward answer unspoken questions, watched Benjaminpull geysers of water
from the river or sharp gusts of wind from the still air with just his mind, and
their eyes glowed with their fierce hope that the Volturi had finally met their
match.
We did not hope for the same things, but we all hoped.
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