Chapter 27: Scatter
The phone call came the next morning. I was with the whole family, posing Elspeth for more pictures against the backdrops available in the main house. While Esme took her turn I picked up the phone unthinkingly, and froze when I saw the identity of my caller. Before I could invent an excuse to take the call privately, Jasper had seen the name.
"Jacob Black," snarled Jasper. Would he know the name? The surname certainly, but - I remembered a snippet of a paragraph from my notes, read and attached to memories early in my second life. Jasper had answered the phone first when I'd called Edward to tell him that Jacob was at Charlie's house on Valentine's Day. He'd have been near enough to hear the entire conversation. He would know who Jacob was - Billy's son. A Quileute. He'd know enough to be furious that I was in secret contact with him.
Edward's head snapped up and he was across the room in a moment to interpose himself between me and Jasper. The phone rang again, and everyone else was holding still, waiting to see what was going on.
If Jacob was calling me - not texting, not relaying a message through Rachel, not sending an e-mail - then it was urgent. He would know as well as Rachel or Leah the protocols for getting ahold of me. Or at least it had better be urgent, because if it wasn't, I was going to kill him. I flipped the phone open, trusting Edward and Alice to keep Jasper under control while I dealt with the emergency. "What?" I snapped.
"Bella," said Jacob, "you know that bloodsucker Becky's gang killed a while back? His mate was here sniffing around, and we couldn't catch her when we found her - she went into the water and we lost the trail. And she snitched on us to the Volturi and now there are some scary damn leeches who've got near everybody lying on the ground blind and deaf and sorta paralyzed. I peeled off my own pack, same way Becky did, and was able to get everybody with an imprint to follow me and they didn't knock me out, somehow. Nobody else managed to get away and we had to leave them."
"Where are you?"
"We're making a run for it, eastward - we've got Cody too. Harry and Sue were going to try to save their other kids last I saw. We couldn't stop to get your dad, he's still in Forks - mine's still in La Push. Everybody just grabbed their imprints and we're on the run. Lucky they were all around and nobody tried to go for the Makah rez because that would've been suicide. We need backup right the hell now. The leeches were talking about doing experiments on the pack so they're not killing them right away but I don't want to count on that for long."
"A young-looking boy, dark blond hair...?" I asked.
"He's one of 'em, yeah, and a girl who could be his twin sister and a couple of big skeeters, seem to take orders from the girl," Jacob said. I could hear wind rushing past; he was probably riding one of the escaped wolves, only in his own human form so as to be able to talk to me.
"You got away when you split off your own pack?" I said, uncomfortably aware of the fact that everybody in the room was staring at me. "When the boy - he's Alec - when he knocked out one from a pack did it carry over to everybody?"
"I think so - it looked like Nina went first, only she was screaming, not just collapsing, I think that might have been the girl and not the boy because she had this sadistic grin on her face. And then Becky's whole pack was down howling bloody murder, and then Rachel got too close to "Alec" and we were out too, but I broke off. Raych gave me an excuse, she Alpha-voiced me so I'd have something to disobey. And it was like all the guys with imprints had enough motivation or something to get gone with me and nobody else did. I guess once we were up, we were out of there too fast for the leeches to catch us."
I ground my teeth. It sounded like both Jane and Alec could echo their powers through an entire pack via telepathic relay, and only Jacob's split had let anyone get away at all. "I'll do what I can. Will you be able to answer this phone if I call you later?"
"I'll give it to Kim to hold," he said, naming one of the imprints. "You'll get her if you call again."
"Anything else I've got to know?"
"Last I saw everybody was in that big field a ways up from the ravine," he said. "One of the big bloodsuckers was baiting us, weaving in and out of the rez, trying to get us all in one place to attack him as a group, and damned if it didn't work. I don't know if they'd be able to move all those wolves or not, but that'd be the first place I'd check. Also don't know if we're being chased now, but have to guess so. Handing the phone to Kim now. I'm slowing down Jared too much." Jared was the wolf who'd imprinted on Kim. I heard the sound of Jacob giving away the phone and leaping off Jared's back, phasing midair.
"Bella?" said a girl, presumably Kim. She was quavery. "Are you going to be able to help us?"
"I'll do what I can," I promised. "I'm in trouble too, though, if they've got captives - even if they don't say anything in spite of Jane, Aro could show up at any time and he'll get any information he wants. Probably I could not be more on their hit list than I already am now, even if I'd killed Aro's wife. But I'll do what I can."
"Okay," said Kim in a small voice. I snapped the phone shut.
Everybody was still staring at me.
I had missed a gaping, obvious security flaw. Of course Irina wouldn't try to personally destroy thirty-one wolves even if she found out that they were responsible for Laurent's death. Of course she was not that stupid. Even if she were suicidal, revenge would take priority over getting herself dead in a hurry, and the way you kill someone more powerful than you is to get someone more powerful than them aboard. I'd done it myself - I'd brought James straight into the Volturi's lair when I'd needed him dead and didn't have the power to kill him - why hadn't I expected the same of Irina?
And now all hell had broken loose, and several of my most necessary allies were looking like they'd never forgive me for unleashing it.
I was expecting an infuriated accusation from Jasper, but it was actually Carlisle who recovered the ability to speak first.
"Bella," he said, every inch the gravely disappointed father figure, "what have you done?"
That broke the silence; suddenly everyone was yammering to everyone else. Esme, still holding Elspeth, brought Ilario, Gianna, and Maggie up to speed on the werewolf matter. Edward's rapidity of speech was overtaxed as he defended me from simultaneous accusations from Jasper, Rosalie, and Emmett. Alice tried to see something and then clutched her head and squeaked, which distracted Jasper, but only made him angrier at me when she whispered that everything was in shadow.
I wanted to hide. I wanted to run to my fairytale cottage and be with the smaller, less difficult part of my family. Edward was busy. I thought of asking Esme for Elspeth, but in the current climate of the house, there was no safer place for a baby than Esme's arms - no one would attack Esme, Esme would not attack anyone. Me, on the other hand - I might be less safe.
"You woke up the dogs?" Rosalie was shrieking.
"You knew who had killed Laurent, and you said nothing?" Carlisle asked. He wasn't shouting, just exuding dismay. How had he made the connection between what Jacob had said and Laurent's death? Some contact I wasn't aware of between him and Irina or other Denalis? Didn't matter. I wasn't getting out of this room without telling them all everything anyway. This was not the time to figure out what secrets I could and couldn't salvage.
"When did you even find the time to -" Emmett began, and then he looked at Edward, who stared him down. "Ed, did you know -"
Jasper wasn't talking. He was hissing, curled protectively around Alice as though he thought I'd attack her. She'd quit yelping, having stopped trying to use her vision, but she wasn't making any move to calm down her husband - she was just staring at me, uncomprehending.
Esme, to her eternal credit, was trying to soothe Elspeth in between catching up the three who were not aware of the full Cullen family history. Elspeth wasn't crying, but she was clearly bewildered and displeased by the shouting that was going on around her.
"I -" I began, trying to answer any of the many questions aimed at me, but words beyond that wouldn't come. "I..."
"We need to get out of here," Maggie said fiercely, turning to Gianna and Ilario. "We had no part in anything Bella did; we're safe from the Volturi if we cut and run now. Siobhan and Liam will have us - especially since we're not competing for their prey. I asked earlier. Let's go, now, before we're complicit in anything."
The siblings nodded, and Ilario shot me a dark look and Gianna an apologetic one as they left the room after Maggie.
Esme turned to face the middle of the room, where I stood. She didn't look angry - but she did look afraid. I'd endangered her family. The guilt was crushing: how could I hurt Esme, of all people? As if I hadn't done enough to the Quileutes? If I hadn't activated them, Laurent might have killed three or four people in the area, gotten in and out in a few days, gone home to Irina, the Volturi wouldn't have found them or at least not so soon. And now Esme's loved ones - including me, including Edward - were all in likely danger.
The questions died down. I located my voice - it had sunk to somewhere near the pit of my stomach - and tried to answer them, one at a time, over the tingle of fear from Jasper's hisses.
"I - I - I -" So this was how Maggie had stuttered: lots of room in the vampire brain, lots of room for huge and crippling emotions, enough to let them displace peripheral functions like language. "I activated Rachel in July. And most of the others. Harry's a Quileute too. His daughter hurt him and I had to turn him to save him -" I stammered, ineloquently, through the Cliff's notes of the secrets I'd been keeping. I had to double back several times to explain my motivations, about Aro's witchcraft and Sue's pregnancy and the like, and even when I offered these feeble justifications it sounded almost as though I'd been acting randomly. Jasper growled at me (to an answering snarl from Edward) when I mentioned that I wasn't immune to Alice, never had been, I just fell into werewolf-derived shadows on a regular basis. Alice looked hurt, still made no move to restrain Jasper, but she wasn't snarling herself.
When I'd run out of things to say, events and explanations both, silence settled over the room. Edward didn't relax at all.
"Maggie was right," said Rosalie, breaking the quiet. "The smart thing to do, the safe thing, is to cut and run. Bella's painted a great, big target on herself but we can prove to Aro that we weren't involved."
This wasn't how I'd wanted it to go, I didn't want to be like the Denalis' mother, sacrificed as an example to my family so they would develop a healthy respect for the law -
"Rose," said Edward. "Rose, you're not like this -" I could tell as he said it that he didn't believe it. She was like that, exactly like that, and she had every right to be, she didn't need to let her second life be broken to smithereens the way her first one had because I was playing Secret Agent Vampire behind everyone's backs.
"Edward, you weren't like this," she snapped. "Go get yourself executed with Bella while she tries to save the mutts she made, fine, your prerogative, but don't expect us to live with the mess she's created." She paused. "Don't drag Elspeth into it either."
"No," I said, suddenly. "No, of course not. I can't bring Elspeth there."
"I'll take her," said Rosalie readily.
I nodded, rapidly. "I got the wolves into this, I'll have to do what I can to get them out, I'm the only prayer against Alec and Jane - but I should go alone. The rest of you should stay out - Rose, if I can ask you to look after Elsie even now..." Rosalie was nodding impatiently. "Here would do, I suppose, or you could go to ground in one of the other houses or Denali..."
"Bella," said Edward. "Bella, I can't leave you."
"I can't bring Elspeth there," I repeated. "Can you leave her? Our daughter?"
"Don't go, Bella," Edward pleaded, recoiling from the choice presented. "You don't have to go."
"I've gone and painted a target on myself, like Rosalie said," I murmured. "The Volturi are going to come after me at this point whether I go to them first or not. But if I go and I take out Jane and Alec somehow - and realistically I'm the only person who can do that - and the wolves are there and they get up and fight, then there might be a chance."
"Go with them," I said to Edward, gesturing at the rest of the family. "Wherever. Look after Elspeth."
"Bella, do you seriously think they'll leave Edward alone?" asked Rosalie scathingly. "They know perfectly well he's your mate. If you survive the head-on fight the very next thing they'll do is grab Edward and use him as bait."
I looked up. My brain was kicking into overdrive. I could not screw this up. I had to be right, I had to be careful, if Rosalie was willing to tell me when and how I was being a moron then I had to use that resource in order to be less of a moron. "Would they do that with Elspeth, too?"
Rosalie didn't seem to have thought of that. "...Maybe." Esme tightened her hold on my daughter.
I thought. I was still thinking when Alice spoke.
"Jasper," she murmured, "we need to go. Not with everyone else. The bits I can see, the bits that aren't shadowed - they're going to use this as an excuse to try to collect me. Aro's never wanted anything else as much as he's wanted a precog. A criminal in my coven is just the pretense he needs. We have to run and keep running until it's obvious we've cut contact and there's no excuse to try us with the others."
Jasper nodded once, jaw clenched tightly, eyes narrow. They got up and left; I heard Alice's car starting up. They didn't discuss where they were going - of course; they probably weren't even thinking about it while Edward could hear. If we could find them, then that wouldn't be a plausible severing of contact. Alice had said enough that no one who loved her would try to find her, and that was all she could safely say.
The room was beginning to look rather empty.
How could I keep my husband and daughter safe?
I didn't even need to ask myself what do I want? - it was too obvious, the sole consuming thought in my head. Edward needed to be safe. Elspeth needed to be safe. Both of those things had to happen before anything else could attain a shred of importance.
What do I have?
I had Edward - and that was half the problem. His very attachment to me was making him vulnerable. If it weren't assumed by everyone who knew word one about vampires that we would be together, then he could go somewhere with the others, hole up and wait for the Volturi to clean up my undesireable self.
Rosalie, and Esme and Carlisle and Emmett, might abhor what I'd done, might be forced to write Edward off as a lost cause they'd have to pinch off the family in order to salvage anything. But they did want to protect Elspeth, and that was more plausibly doable. The Volturi didn't have the same ironclad expectations about my relationship with her. There wasn't the same kind of precedent for half-vampire children.
Could I hide her? I couldn't think of anyone to hide her with, and while she might survive if I just dropped her off in the middle of nowhere, she wouldn't understand the need for concealment and would eventually give herself away - not to mention that it was hardly what I had in mind when I thought of the word "safe". The Volturi had the resources to track down anyone I could trust her with, from Renée to Gianna. That held if I flung the definition of "trust" as far as it could go and considered leaving her with distant acquaintances like the Chilean coven. I couldn't leave her anonymously at an adoption agency or on someone's doorstep. She grew too fast, she'd be too obviously nonhuman to anyone taking a close look. Exactly the kind of oddity that the Volturi liked to stamp out with lots of death.
So: if the Volturi wanted her, they could find her. Whoever had her needed to either run from them forever or be armed with a way to make them uninterested in kidnapping or hurting her.
Or she needed to spend so little time there that they never got around to looking.
"Bella," said Edward.
"I'm thinking. It takes long enough to get to America from here that the best way to hurry isn't to rush the thinking part," I said, but anxiety betrayed the fact that I didn't feel so confident.
What else did I have? I was still a newborn, still a shield, might be able to kill or at least interrupt Jane and Alec long enough to get wolves up and fighting, before the other handful of Volturi on their team tore me to bits, if I got there before reinforcements from Volterra arrived. Rachel's pack and Becky's, minus Jacob and the five imprinted wolves he'd peeled off, maybe plus Harry and Sue if they weren't already dead, could probably kill off the handful of vampires that Jacob had described. After that we could regroup; without their favorite illusionists the Volturi would be at much more of a disadvantage against the wolves.
So I might live long enough to be able to retrieve Elspeth from a temporary hiding place without heavy duty defenses, if there were one that wouldn't delay me too much to leave her at.
I couldn't count on being able to go back for her. But I'd already established that she could be found wherever I put her. So that meant I had to leave her with someone who could hang onto her if necessary, and that someone had to have a way to convince an angry Volturi guard to leave her alone if one came knocking.
The Volturi's top priority was containing information. They were probably limiting their sphere of destruction to La Push, not extending to Forks. Charlie might be ignored for the time being, while the Volturi contemplated the wolves. If he turned his siren on he could be streaking away from Forks like a bat out of hell, difficult for even a vampire to keep up with, and he could bring Elspeth along. If I died...
Charlie couldn't fight off a vampire. His limited version of my shield might offer some sort of defense against the same things I was immune to, but ultimately he was human, helpless unless the Volturi had another reason to leave Elspeth - and Charlie - alone. He wouldn't be able to drive the getaway car if he was in the middle of turning, and I couldn't wait around three days for him to finish. She - and possibly also he - would be bait if (when) caught. He had to sleep, he couldn't run forever.
So Charlie was out.
Maybe I was dwelling too much on how I'd get her back, and not enough on how I'd make her safe.
"If you go to Denali," I said softly, indicating Carlisle and Esme, Rosalie and Emmett, "and you take Elspeth, and I make it impossible for you to contact me... and I swear never to come for her... then they can't use her as bait."
Edward swallowed. "But..."
"Edward has to come with me, because they will never, ever believe that we'd cut ourselves off like that... they'd know that if they got him, they'd get me too, and they'd be right," I whispered. "But Elspeth's another story. I can leave her if... if that's the only way she can be kept safe, is to be away from me. Between you four and the Denalis you can make the Volturi at least ask a few questions, before they try to attack. They need excuses to wipe out covens or they lose their aura of legitimacy, and they don't have one for any of you. The only weak point is making sure Elspeth can't be used to find me. So I have to be unable to receive threats. No contact. Like Alice and Jasper. Even if I live through this in the short term. Until and unless the Volturi are all gone or so scattered as to be no threat, I can't see her."
"Bella," whispered Edward.
"Please have a better idea," I said. "That's the best I can do."
"We could just run. The three of us. You'll never be in time to save the wolves anyway."
"I might be there in time," I said. "But you're right. We could run. Until they caught us. And they would. You aren't immune to Demetri - hell, we don't even know for sure if I am - and he's met you, he can track you down anywhere on Earth. But it might take him long enough that Elspeth wouldn't be a baby anymore, and then she'd be obviously in cahoots with us, and they'd just kill us all three. You and I might be done for unless we manage to singlehandedly wipe out the Volturi, but Elspeth has a chance if we leave her - and it means she won't be caught in the fight at La Push itself."
Edward's face was frozen into a mask of dread. But slowly, he managed to nod.
"Fine," said Rosalie tightly. "We go to Denali, you go to your deaths, but Elsie's safe with me. With all of us," she added.
"There has to be another way," said Carlisle, and Esme nodded fervently.
"There doesn't have to be another way," I said. "If there is one, if you think of one, please, please tell me - but there doesn't have to be. The Volturi can be too strong to fight, too evil to dispense mercy."
There was a heavy pause, and then -
"I... I guess we need plane tickets," said Esme. "I'll... go buy them." She handed Elspeth to me.
I turned to face Edward, standing close, so we could both hold her at the same time. Elspeth held up both little hands, touched our faces, showed us ourselves and how miserable and afraid we looked, and wanted to know why.
I had no idea what to tell her.
Esme bought tickets. We collected our documentation. I raided a petty cash location - there was money stored all over the house, in various denominations; I helped myself to a wad of American dollars in case I did manage to get out of La Push alive. Edward pocketed half.
There weren't flights from Norway to the States so often that it would have been worthwhile to simply leave immediately. There was a little time before we needed to go to the airport. I fed Elspeth, as much as she would swallow - I didn't want her hungry around humans and tempted to try to bite them, and even though we could all give her our airplane food, it might not be as much as she'd want. I put on my Valentine's bracelet.
Edward pulled a little paper packet out of a hiding place in our cottage. "I was going to give you this tonight, after Elspeth was asleep," he said. "But..."
I unwrapped the packet. It contained a locket. I flicked it open; it already held pictures - one from our wedding, one of Elspeth. I closed it, put it on, and tucked it into my shirt, and kissed him.
Time was up. We went to the garage and piled into a car; the other four were in another. We were on the same flight over the Atlantic and would split up when we had to change planes.
Elspeth definitely picked up on our collective mood and kept sending us pictures of ourselves during the first leg of the journey, wanting to know what was wrong.
"We're going to let Grandma Esme and Grandpa Carlisle and Aunt Rosalie and Uncle Emmett take you to see some friends in Alaska," I whispered to her, "but me and Daddy can't go, and we'll miss you."
That explanation seemed to suffice for her. She slept through most of the flight.
At the airport where we had to change planes, I almost backed out. Almost clung to Elspeth when Rosalie reached out for her, almost said we should run, should hope to keep away from Demetri forever, should abandon the wolves and take Elspeth and not endure this loss now when it could certainly be put off until later. I re-checked all my logic in a flurry of desperation. But I still couldn't think of a way to hide her, couldn't think of a way to thwart the Volturi tracker indefinitely, and was still sure that I'd been sentenced to death and Edward with me for the crime of being my husband. Elspeth had as much of a chance as she could get, in Denali. If something came up that really changed that situation, well, I knew where she was.
I took a deep breath, and, forcing myself not to tremble, let Rosalie take her. "I love you," I whispered to Elspeth, and Edward echoed my words. Edward and I handed our phones to Carlisle, to make us impossible to contact in that direction. Impossible to threaten.
Edward hugged his adoptive parents, each in turn. I didn't try. It was my fault there needed to be a goodbye. My fault the family was splintering.
Their connecting flight was earlier than ours. They walked away, with Elspeth peeping over Rosalie's shoulder and waving forlornly, and Esme looking back every few moments, despairing. They disappeared around a corner.
We had time to buy new phones - we left the airport and did that, then went back in. I texted Jacob, giving him my new number and telling him our expected arrival time in case he wanted to be part of the cavalry. There was no answer before we boarded our second plane.
Elspeth's absence felt cold. I didn't need warmth. I could live in the vacuum of space, if it came to that. But I missed it, I missed her, her heartbeat and her quick little breaths and the heat when I held her. The play of color in her dreams. I sat as close to Edward as the airplane seats allowed, wrapped myself up in his presence and tried to offer back what I could to him.
My baby was five days old, and in five days she'd become so important. Could we stay away from Denali? What mattered was really if everyone else thought we could, I supposed, and no one else could look into my mind and feel the cold.
We talked, a little: quiet discussions of tactics. If the Volturi had backup there before we arrived instead of just the twins and the two others Jacob had seen, we would do thus and such; if Jacob's pack didn't show, that would have this other implication. I paid just enough attention to memorize the new information and dredge up relevant tidbits about the wolves. Most of my mind was on our daughter and how cold it was without her.
I said that to Edward, when there was no other contingency plan to invent - "It's cold."
He nodded. He knew what I meant.
I pulled my locket out of my shirt and touched the side of it that held Elspeth's picture. She's safe, safe as I can make her, I told myself. That's what's important. I've always known that it's more important that my loved ones be alive, that they be happy, than that they be near. That's why I don't live in Jacksonville with Renée and Phil right now, attending twelfth grade and keeping notebooks and being human and being single and childless.
Single and childless. No state had ever seemed so distant. Edward was part of me, attached, inseparable, essential; Elspeth was part of me, carved out of my heart and secreted away for safekeeping, leaving an unhealing wound in her wake. The Florida-dwelling high-schooler I could have turned into, with one different choice, was not me. She just would have gone by the same name. Or maybe she'd have people calling her "Izzy" by this point. Who knew.
"I had such delusions of grandeur," I murmured. "I was going to build up the population of wolves over years and years, collect allies, work on my shield, take over the world. Convert everybody to vegetarianism, turn humans as fast as we could handle them, cure death."
"I love you," said Edward. I put my locket back in my shirt.
"I love you," I replied.
There was nothing left to say.
When we got off the plane, I checked my new phone. There was a message from Jacob - or from his phone, anyway. Someone else had probably typed it. Jake fazed n says Rchl n Beky have smthg rong w/ thm, it said, unanmus not 2 go bak n risk it b/c nowere safe 4 imprins 2 hide. I dialed the number, hoping to get more detail; there was no answer. I tried four times and gave up.
"That's six wolves out of the picture, whether they got run down or something else happened that no one's picking up," I said. "And depending on what the "something wrong" is, maybe the other twenty-five as well. Those girls they took have families, too - if they make a fuss about their daughters being kidnapped that means a bigger coverup job for the Volturi... just how many people did I get killed?"
"If the Volturi kill people, they kill people, not you," Edward said, and I knew he was copying what I'd said to Gianna about Maggie earlier. It was unhelpful. So many people, dead or about to be -
"They've probably wiped out everyone on the Quileute reservation," I said. "But there's only one Quileute imprint; that won't keep it contained even if they explain everyone on the reservation going missing. Three Makahs - including a toddler! - and a girl from Forks are the others; they can get that information easily from any wolf. What are the Volturi going to do, wipe out the entire population of the Olympic Peninsula to keep people from investigating those disappearances in a way that implicates the supernatural?"
"There are more immediate concerns," Edward said.
I pushed my hair out of my face, staring at the phone, willing it to ring; it didn't, so I put it in my pocket. "Right. Anything could be going on with Rachel and Becky - Jane could be hurting them, it could just be that extended sensory deprivation via Alec is interacting strangely with their telepathy - either case, I might be able to get them up and in the fight if I can take out or at least distract the illusionists."
"If we get close enough for me to hear their thoughts, I can probably figure it out without us getting near enough that they'll notice us," Edward said.
"Right," I said again. "If the wolves are out of commission... if I can't get them up even if I get the witch twins out of the picture... then we have no chance in a stand-up fight, then we run and hope they take a long time to catch us."
Edward nodded once.
We headed west.
"Do you want to check on your father?" Edward asked, as we passed close to Forks.
"Yes," I admitted, "but... we shouldn't."
"We don't have to do anything that will leave a trace," Edward said. "His thoughts aren't quiet, only indistinct - we just need to go through town and I'll be able to hear him."
"Even if he's okay, you still might not find him. Jacob's pack could have warned him and he could be running away, or he could be out of town for some unrelated reason. We don't have time to check really thoroughly. I'd be more worried if we went through town and you didn't hear him than I am now."
Edward nodded. "After, then."
"Right. If there's an after."
"We can run if the wolves aren't able to help," he reminded me. "There will be an after. I won't let you die."
We went past Forks, and I was glad I couldn't cry.
We slowed down when we were within a few miles of the field where we expected to find the center of the action. Edward crept forward several paces ahead of me, listening. When he stopped, I stopped. We were only a mile and a half from the edge of the field - barely out of earshot for noises the volume of ordinary voices.
"I hear Aro," Edward said.
"He's the most familiar voice there?" I asked, feeling compelled to whisper even though I heard nothing besides ordinary forest noises.
"Or close enough. Some of his familiarity is borrowed from people he's read, including me."
"What are you getting from him?"
Edward closed his eyes and focused. "He's reading someone. It's very fast, I can't quite... I think it's one of the wolves, maybe Rachel." A minute of silence passed as he waited for Aro to finish reading his target. "Yes, that was Rachel. The wolves are all alive, but Chelsea's there - and someone I haven't heard of, a new witch. I don't hear all the details but the new witch is doing the same thing Chelsea does. The wolves are... with the two of them working in concert..."
"We're dead," I said. Chelsea alone was enough to hold the Volturi together against fractious vampire instinct; she and another vampire with a comparable power could probably turn the wolves' loyalties. The imprinted wolves would have had stronger outside claims on their devotion than witchcraft could fabricate and would have been able to pull away given the freedom of Jacob's third pack. Not so for the others. Jacob had mentioned Jane, Alec, and two "big skeeters". For the timing to work, Chelsea, and possibly also the new witch, had probably been hiding until after he left. They were resources too important to risk until the illusionists had done their damage.
"They don't know we're here. I can listen a little longer, maybe find something that will help us hide," Edward said. "The group that was here to start was Jane, Alec, Afton, Demetri, Chelsea, and the new witch - oh, her name is Addy. Aro, with Renata, arrived fairly recently and he's checking Chelsea and Addy's work before the wolves are allowed to wake. Now he's reading Becky." Demetri and Afton would be the "big skeeters", then, most likely.
"If Demetri is there and the wolves are the Volturi's new best friends, shouldn't we be running as fast as we can so we have more of a head start when they start looking for us?"
"Bella, they might not want to kill us," said Edward, full of hope. "They think the wolves are useful, they're going to make them a sort of outer guard - they might not blame you for activating them."
"Do you really think so?" I breathed. I didn't want two large packs of wolves added to the Volturi's arsenal, but if it meant that the arsenal wouldn't be turned on me and Edward -
We could have our lives back, we could have our daughter back -
"It's not a sure thing," he admitted. "But it's possible."
"Keep listening," I said.
After a moment, Edward said, "Harry and Sue are dead." Of course they were. They wouldn't have liked what was happening to their children, they'd have tried to intervene, but they had no fighting experience whatever. They could have been brought down at range with next to no effort, dismantled and incinerated at leisure. "So is everyone else who lived on the reservation - except a number of children who carry the gene and are too young to activate," he went on after a pause. "They're going to bring them to Volterra and torch the village."
Of course they were.
"Can you hear anything about us?" I asked. "Do they want us dead, do they want to give me a medal, do they think we're beneath notice, what?"
"I can still hear only Aro," Edward said. "He's... giving Alec the go-ahead to release one pack. Rachel's. They're going to make sure that they're sufficiently under control, that they don't need a little more tweaking from Chelsea and Addy."
"Check how, exactly?" I said, leery of the possibility that this could involve sending wolves running in formations all over the area that might intersect with where we were standing.
"They're calling it good if the wolves will sit and stay when told," said Edward, disgustedly. "And phase on command. That's all they need to get them to Italy safely; Chelsea and Addy can go on working with them indefinitely."
"And... the wolves are taking this how?"
"I can't hear their thoughts - they're following the orders, but I don't know how they feel about it. We could go closer..."
"Not until we have some idea of whether we're on death row or not," I said.
"Aro's reading Rachel again," Edward reported. "Now he's giving the go-ahead to wake Becky's pack. They're behaving similarly."
"Did you get anything from his read on Rachel?" In the midst of so many things to be concerned about, I didn't have much to spare for her, but I was somewhat upset about her approximate enslavement by the Volturi.
"Not much... but... it sounded like Chelsea managed to twist their loyalties in large part by directing their native dislike of vampires at you," he said regretfully. "She doesn't spin affection out of thin air, she needs some resources to work with; I surmise Addy works similarly. It sounded like - mind, it went by very fast, I've certainly missed bits - like the Volturi have set themselves up in the wolves' minds as a necessary check on the general vampire population, to prevent rogue vampires like you from causing damage."
"Splendid. Just splendid. So the wolves all hate me and they're working for the Volturi to help them necessarily check the vampire population - are they thrilled at the honor, do they wish the last few months were all a dream so they could live normal human lives, or what?"
"The impression I have is one of the entire mess being a dirty job that someone has to do. But it went by extremely quickly, it was harder to follow than a normal read - a dozen minds all going by at once through hers - I can't be very precise."
"Did Aro tell Chelsea and Addy to use that angle where I'm a dangerous rogue, or did they pick it on their own, or was it the only one available? That could be a clue about how dead we are," I suggested.
"I haven't heard about that. Aro, at least, isn't thinking of us at all right now. He's considering how best to deploy the wolves."
"How long are they going to be standing around in that field?" I asked.
"I don't know. They aren't aware that we're here, or Aro would be thinking about it," Edward said. "We can move in a little and I should be able to read the guard members, if not the wolves."
Part of me wanted to say no and demand that we turn tail and run. There were only two of us, versus eight vampires (mostly witches) and twenty-five wolves. If they did want us dead, we needed as much distance as we could possibly get between us and Demetri, who was right there and could be ordered to hunt us down at any moment. And then he could point and say "thataway" and we would be toast.
On the other hand, if they didn't want to kill us, if Demetri wasn't particularly interested in finding us, then we could go to Denali and get Elspeth. And that was possible. They were using the wolves, after all.
I was so cold.
"Okay," I murmured. "But quietly. And sign language."
He signed back, "All right."
We crept forward, one step at a time, waiting for someone else to cross the border of Edward's hearing.