Chapter 21: Hybrid

It was more than a week into the month of August when we swam back to Norway. When I checked my e-mail, there was a small heap of messages from my parents and Rachel - and, interestingly, one from Angela. I was so surprised to get an e-mail from her that I opened it first. It was sweet and postcard-like. She was still in Forks for the summer, and wanted to make known her hopes that I was having a nice time in Europe. I replied and told her what I could about Norway, Ireland, the U.K., and Italy, and mentioned - since unless Charlie had told everyone, she didn't know - that I had eloped and likely wouldn't be returning to school in the fall. I sent her three wedding photos that Alice had Photoshopped to make me look pinker, and asked her if she'd do me the favor of notifying Jessica and our other friends.

Then I tackled the e-mails from my parents - more of the same, really, but I dutifully compiled the recent tourism data for their reading pleasure. Renée was mostly adjusted to life in Florida, where my stepfather had gotten signed earlier in the year. She missed Phoenix but liked Jacksonville pretty well, and was already cycling through the locally available diversions and hobbies. She and Phil were still getting along very well.

Charlie, meanwhile, was starting to worry about Harry. Since he obviously could not be told what had really happened to his friend, and yet could also not be invited to the funeral that he'd expect to attend if Harry were dead, he was being fed a confused jumble of vague misinformation.

I'd turned the Denalis' latest addition in mid-July; it was becoming awfully suspicious that in the weeks since, Harry had supposedly been visiting his aunt in Nashville, then become too sick to receive visitors but not sick enough to be in the hospital, then become well enough to go and see a cousin Charlie had never heard of who lived in Toronto. All of these plane tickets, of course, being paid for by the visited relatives; the Clearwaters were not especially wealthy, although Leah and Seth now had some access to pack money I'd supplied. Charlie didn't appear to suspect foul play - Billy and Sue both were making sure of that - but he was very confused.

I assured Charlie, in my e-mail, that Harry was probably just fine and there was no reason to worry - but I didn't know what long-term solution would work. If Harry were reported as a missing person so he could be declared legally dead later, Charlie would certainly look for him, and could run into wolfy or vampiric things that he shouldn't see yet. Short of torching the Clearwater house while Sue and the kids were out of it and Harry was supposedly inside (to eliminate the need for a body), there was no other obvious way to give Charlie a satisfactory story. I toyed with the arson idea, but it would be too obviously staged if the family rescued their belongings first, and not all of those objects were likely to be of the easily replaceable variety. They would be unlikely to go for the idea.

Next I opened the e-mails from Rachel. Two more wolves had imprinted. One, a teenage boy named Jared, had fallen instantly for a classmate of his who'd turned out to have a longstanding crush on him, so that was all sweet and convenient. Less sweetly, Quil Ateara had imprinted on Emily's two-year-old niece Claire, another Makah. Emily was still staying at the Clearwater house to comfort Leah, and had agreed to babysit Claire from that location, which was how Quil had gotten a look at her.

Rachel added, hastily, that Quil was absolutely not sexually interested in the toddler, which was the only reason he still had all of his face attached. Apparently imprinting wasn't necessarily sexual. The pack was assuming that when Claire grew up, she and Quil would be as happy together as Jared and his imprint, but for the time being he was absolutely content to serve as an older brother figure. Rachel confided to me that he let Claire boss him around very indulgently, never tiring of her.

Leah had, at first, thought that this might mean that Sam could come to think of Emily as a sister, so that Leah could have her fiancé back. Emily and Rachel had been all for this plan, and so Sam, supernaturally obedient to his imprint and his Alpha, had tried. Rachel didn't doubt the sincerity of his attempt. But he'd failed; he was still in love with Emily.

In a brief message, Rachel informed me that everyone in the pack was growing like a weed. "Everybody fifteen and up looks 25 years old and on our way to the Olympics," she told me. "The younger ones look about five years older than they really are already, and they're catching up, and even the kids are completely built. Wolf form sizes still vary by age and size in human shape - I'm not the biggest, just the prettiest and the one who can boss everyone around."

Rachel's next e-mail said only, "I think Emily is wavering."

The next message said nothing more of Emily, Sam, or Leah, just told the stories of more imprintings. One boy I hadn't met, who'd been flown in during my drive to Denali, had apparently picked up on the Makah pattern. His name was Victor, and he was really enthusiastic about imprinting. He and two like-minded friends had actually run north all the way to the Makah reservation, while Rachel was asleep and unable to order them to stop. There, they'd wandered around looking at girls until Victor had imprinted on one.

Thus freed from his obligation to keep the pack's information contained, he told her everything (complete with a phasing demonstration) and actually convinced her to visit La Push and live with him until school started, although she would be obliged to go back home and finish her last year of high school in September. The other two hadn't imprinted during the excursion, and Rachel had resorted to Alpha commands to prevent any more of that kind of foolishness. This hadn't prevented one other wolf from (accidentally) imprinting on a Forks girl, who I didn't recognize by name or description.

It did not escape Rachel's notice that all of the wolves who had imprinted were male. "The dominant hypothesis," she'd written in her latest missive, "is that we imprint on people who'll be able to pass on the werewolf gene."

And all the female wolves had stopped having periods.

Rachel passed this information to me clinically, but I could imagine that it wasn't being taken with such calm by all of the female half of the pack. With menstruation had gone the ability to have children - or so they strongly suspected. I could guess why, biologically, this would be the case. It would not do a fetus any good at all to be subjected to violent transformations between shapes. Small children with the gene couldn't activate; presumably they also lacked the ability in utero. Miscarriage would be inevitable. Male wolves, on the other hand, would be perfectly able to sire offspring. None of this was likely to ease the blow to the girls.

I promptly wrote back. While they couldn't safely carry children, that wasn't necessarily a reason to suspect that all of their eggs were non-viable. Secrecy, including from my own family, was still important, but in a few years I could be in and out of medical school and equipped to personally do for the pack what Rosalie had done for me. (If, in that time, discretion became unnecessary or impossible, then one of the existing Cullen doctors could handle the task.) Individual wolves who, for some reason, valued the ability to bear their own children more than the ability to never age could quit their wolves. At that point, they would probably pick right up where they'd left off, reproductive capacities and all.

While I wrote my reply to Rachel, another e-mail appeared. This one, surprisingly, was from Harry.

He wanted to know how I'd become sure that I could handle being around humans. I sympathized with his impatience - not only had he been thrown into vampire-hood without warning, he wasn't getting along well with most of his coven. So I summarized all the tips I'd collected, my self-tests with my old human-smelling clothes, and the trial we'd devised with Nils. I gave him Alice's e-mail address and a summary of her power, and suggested that he ask her to see if he'd be safe to try. Given a green light from her, all that would be needed would be for one of the longstanding Denalis to take David safely away and another to bring in a Nils-equivalent.

I also recommended he get in touch with Ilario, whose contact information I realized I did not have. I poked my head out of the window, asked Esme - the first person I saw - for his e-mail address, and added it in an endnote to my reply to Harry. I reminded him not to tell Alice or Ilario that he was Quileute, and further advised that he not even use his last name with them lest Edward pick something up and recognize the family.

Before I hit "send", it occurred to me that everyone in my family but Edward thought that I'd spent my entire detour to North America simply hanging out in Québec, less the time it had taken me to encounter, turn, and transport Harry. They'd assume he was Canadian. The Denalis and Edward thought that I'd brought Harry up from Seattle, which was still off, but too close for comfort. The Denalis knew Harry's last name but not what it meant; everyone in my own coven would know who the Clearwaters were except Ilario and maybe Alice and Jasper.

If Harry started e-mailing people other than me and his fellow Quileutes, some informational cross-contamination would happen. It was already likely, if one of the Denalis called him "Harry Clearwater" in correspondence to my family or mentioned where he'd come from, but there was nothing I could do about that without telling them to keep it on first-name terms, which was a greater risk than just crossing my fingers about that leak.

I didn't have to make it worse, though. I deleted my last paragraphs. Instead, I wrote that Harry should look for solitary hikers with someone's supervision, and very firmly make up his mind that he would immediately tell me if he slipped up and ate someone, and that I would resolve that if he told me of this event, I would...

I tried to think of something flashy that Alice would definitely tell me about if she saw me doing it, which she'd definitely see if it was to happen. Eventually I decided that if Harry killed someone, I'd pick a fight with Ilario. I didn't think we were likely to squabble otherwise, so I would probably not get a false signal. But it was the sort of thing Alice would notice and try to head off if she saw it, while not being sufficiently bizarre behavior for a couple of newborns that I would be obviously faking. I explained to Harry that if Alice gave me this warning, I'd warn him in turn that his test wasn't going to go well and he should put it off. Then I hit "send".

My e-mail thus taken care of, I went to locate Emmett and get another fighting lesson.

Emmett started getting cocky after a couple of hours of flinging me into treetops and making Bella-shaped impressions in the ground, so I quit reining in my strength. I was trying not to depend on it, since it wouldn't stay with me, but it was available for the time being as a tool to wipe Emmett's smirk off his face. I grabbed him and, holding him too tightly for him to escape, stuck him into the dirt headfirst, all the way up to his knees. This made a spying Alice snicker.

Emmett lost no time in wriggling his way out of the ground, but he was absolutely covered in soil and looked perturbed. "I'm a newborn," I reminded him sweetly.

"Arm-wrestle him!" cried Alice. "I'll get you a rock to use as a table, hang on!" She zipped off into the woods and came back with a boulder four times her size. "Here!"

"What's the point? I'll win," I said.

"Will not," challenged Emmett.

"Emmett, that's ridiculous. I've been a vampire for less than two months. I'm sure you'll be able to beat me at any contest of strength you care to name this time next year, but now?"

"Come on," he goaded, getting into arm-wrestling position with his elbow on the rock. I rolled my eyes and clasped hands. Alice counted down, and Emmett started pushing.

I could definitely tell that he was pushing - he probably could have shoved his arm shoulder-deep through solid granite with the force he applied. But my arm didn't move. It wasn't hard to keep it still. Vampire muscles didn't react to physical challenges in the same way. While there were things too heavy for us to pick up, attempting to lift them, or slightly lighter objects, did not cause strain or any sort of fatigue. So I sat there, looking innocently at Emmett, as he gritted his teeth and pushed harder. My arm still didn't move.

We'd collected more spectators; an amused Edward had come to the yard, presumably following someone's thoughts, and Rosalie and Jasper were looking out two windows of the house. Ilario peered out a window and then left the house to watch from a better vantage point. "Let me know when you're ready for me to break this rock with your forearm," I told Emmett mildly.

He pushed even harder, but I compensated automatically. "Rrr," he said.

"This isn't nearly as fun as sparring," I complained. "Do you really want to sit here all day? Just tell me when you're done, and then I'll win. But since you wanted to do this, I'd hate to deprive you of your fun before you say so... not that I can tell what you see in this activity..." I tilted my head, looking curiously at our joined hands as though trying to figure out what might be interesting about them.

Edward laughed, and Alice tittered. I was being a little mean, obliging Emmett to say he wanted to lose before allowing the contest to end, but the look on his face was so much fun. I blinked at him patiently.

Suddenly, Emmett grinned and let his arm go limp all at once. Unprepared, my arm slammed forward and drove his into the rock, but on his terms. I laughed with everyone else.

"Want to try me?" Ilario asked me.

I had not spoken to Ilario at all since he'd turned, and only a handful of sentences before that. I'd left right after he'd been injected, and stopped in Norway only briefly to drop off his sister - who monopolized his time - before jumping into the ocean and swimming to Ireland.

"Hm," I said. "You're newer than I am - how much does that matter?"

Jasper, resident newborn expert, opened his window and hopped out, falling twenty feet and landing neatly. "Very little," he said. "But it's not nothing. Either of you could win, but I'd bet on Ilario."

Ilario was a tall, skinny guy, not particularly burly, but I hadn't brought special physical prowess into my vampire life either. Unlike with Emmett, who I'd known I could beat, I was honestly curious about the outcome. "Sure," I said. "The rock is a little beat up on this side..." I turned it over, pressing it into the ground so it wouldn't wobble, and put my arm in place.

Ilario walked up, eyeing my arm appraisingly, and took hold of my hand. Alice counted again.

The difference was immediately obvious, and my arm twitched backwards half a centimeter before I brought more power to bear and held my own. Ilario looked very focused and calm as he pushed my hand.

I decided to just go all out, and forced my arm to push as hard as it physically could. Ilario matched me, and then some; my arm leaned, bit by bit, towards the rock. Clearly he was stronger than I was, but that didn't necessarily mean he'd win... I relaxed my arm for a fraction of a second, and it shot towards the rock, but Ilario reduced the strength of his attack in response, and just before my knuckles hit stone, I pushed back with maximum power and had our arms perpendicular to the rock before he reacted and stopped me cold. It was back to a near-stalemate in his favor.

"Not going to fall for that again," laughed Ilario, good-naturedly.

"No?" I didn't have any more tricks, and I sighed as he forced my arm down to the rock, millimeter by millimeter. I didn't let go like Emmett had, and so the back of my hand just brushed the boulder very lightly, and then he'd won.

"Congratulations," I said; he extracted his hand and I swept a little rock dust off of mine. Jasper nodded to himself and Emmett looked pleased.

Other than the arm-wrestling, my week of downtime in Norway was pleasantly uneventful. I got to know Ilario, who was a pleasant fellow, very careful and deliberate in his choices and protective of Gianna. I spent a lot of time with Edward in our cottage, dined exclusively on killer whale, and got to be conversationally fluent in Italian. I explored the countryside around our house, sometimes with Edward or other family, sometimes all by myself.

Harry e-mailed; I opened the message nervously, worried that Alice had missed the tussle I would have to provoke with Ilario in response to a tragic failure. But Harry had successfully gotten within ten feet of a hiker, with Carmen along to check his movements, and not done the man any harm. He thanked me for my help. In a P.S. at the end of the message, he apologized for having acted so afraid of me; via e-mail no one seemed like a person to him, and so I didn't stand out as scarily in the remote medium.

I kept abreast of the goings-on in La Push. Rachel was nervous about what would happen when school started up again for the Makah who Victor had found. She didn't think that the boy would hold up well without his imprint. Claire, too, would eventually have to return to the Makah reservation; her parents, while moderately neglectful, were not complete absentees. They'd expect Emily to return her charge eventually, and then Quil would be alone. For her own part, with no way to hand off Alpha responsibilities to someone else, Rachel was arranging with her school to do everything long-distance come autumn. She might need to go to Spokane to sit exams at the end of each semester, but could otherwise expect to keep up while based in La Push.

I found occasion to ask Carlisle what evidence beyond Maggie he had for Siobhan's witchcraft. It wasn't impressive at all. In fact, that was the strongest example he had. Every other case gave Siobhan lots of time to lay complex groundwork. I announced that I was in Siobhan's camp as far as the nature of her talent: she just planned well. Until she and Eleazar were in a room together and he said otherwise, or she pulled off something more impressive than getting Liam to put up with a new covenmate, there was no reason to consider her a witch. Carlisle smiled agreeably and said that this was fine, which frustrated me, but didn't seem worth having a long argument over; I went and watched Esme pour cement in the basement instead.

After a week at home, as specified, I was ready to go to South America and hunt for half-vampires. I informed Edward of this, and he happily booked us tickets. A few hours later, we were flying over the Atlantic again, hoping to find out if our potential child was mythical or possible.

"I confess I have no idea how to go about looking for half-vampires," I told Edward, in Portuguese, as we walked away from the airport. I'd spent the trip studying the language, since we had no textbooks handy on any other tongues that the obscure tribes we could wind up talking to might use. Using translators would be ill-advised, given the sensitive nature of our search, but we could hire one to teach us a few words without explaining what they were for and use them to elicit images in people's minds that Edward could examine.

"I don't have much experience with it either," he replied in the same language. "That's why we landed in Manaus instead of Rio. I thought we could start by finding the Amazon coven and asking them if they know anything. Humans who believe in vampires might not want to talk to you and me, although if we dead-end with the Amazons we could try coming back with Gianna and getting her to ask for us."

"Oh, that makes sense. Tell me about the coven?" I invited.

The Amazons were three women, all unmated, who formed an unusually close coven and were rarely seen apart. Zafrina, the leader, was an illusionist. Though limited to vision and unable to affect other senses, she was still very powerful, and could compose entire scenes to supplant whatever input one's eyes would normally supply. Edward expected me to be immune to this talent. The other two, Senna and Kachiri, were not witches. All three of them were on the order of five hundred years old, as they reckoned it. They'd been turned separately, departed from their creators separately after maturing, and then found each other a few years later.

While they were not the only vampires in South America by a long shot, or even in Brazil, they did have more or less undisputed run of the Amazon River and its environs. Edward assured me, though, that Zafrina was sufficiently confident in her ability to turn a fight to her advantage that they could afford not to attack intruders on sight, even unexpected ones. (They did not hold with modern technology, and could not have been called ahead of time.) They'd recognize him and be willing to be introduced to me, and if they couldn't or wouldn't help, they'd let us leave peacefully.

The rainforest was not a location notable for its transportational infrastructure, so we were on foot, with a modest amount of luggage carried in backpacks and wrapped in plastic to keep the rain off it. The constant rain had the effect of making it very difficult to track by scent. We could smell things that had been nearby recently, but figuring out where the coven had been and which direction they'd gone since was near-impossible.

It took us two very scenic and damp days before we finally found them, during which time I improved my Portuguese considerably and learned to identify a wide variety of native wildlife. I also ate a jaguar, which was okay. When we located the three women, they were in the middle of eating. Edward caught the scent first, and warned me to hold my breath; I was still untested with regards to the smell of fresh human blood. He didn't look terribly comfortable himself, either, and quit breathing once he had the direction; he signed, to avoid using up air, that he was pretty sure that the blood was from the Amazons' prey.

The humans in question were all dead by the time we got there. Each of the three Amazons appeared to have bagged one of her own - by their outfits, I thought they might have been loggers or something like that. The coven, for their part, were all dressed entirely in hide and leather, just vests and pants. They had elongated limbs and features, like average people as seen in a funhouse mirror - elegant tall faces, willowy limbs and digits. All of them had braided black hair past their waists and a slightly beige hue to their pale skin.

One of the women lifted her head from the throat of her quarry to look at us, and I was surprised by the fact that I did not feel physically queasy. Apparently that was a sensation vampires did not experience, because the dead men were one of the most disturbing things I'd personally laid eyes on. Harry Clearwater's mangled body was in the same ballpark. Actually, he'd been torn up worse, whereas these men were missing most of their necks but otherwise intact. But Harry was walking around healthy as a horse, and the loggers never would again. I found it unhelpful to speculate that they had been killing endangered species. Endangered species, however photogenic, did not think. Their deaths did not warrant vengeance. Even if they did, that had not been the motive.

Edward noticed my discomfort and put his arm around me. The woman who was looking at us said, "Edward Cullen. How surprising to see you." She spoke English, although it was accented - my guess was that she didn't practice the language often. "And I take it that you have found a mate."

"This is Bella," said Edward, nodding. "Bella, this is Zafrina, and that is Senna and that's Kachiri." He pointed out the two who'd ignored our approach.

I attempted to smile, and succeeded, although I kept looking at the corpses. Kachiri finished hers and looked over her shoulder at us, and then Senna followed suit.

The men were already dead and couldn't get deader, and I did need to know if I could handle blood... I took a small breath.

It was about ten or twenty times worse than when the blood was neatly contained in a human; my throat instantly combusted, praying for drink. Venom gushed into my mouth. I summoned the instinct to fear the three women, identifying the dead as their prey which I couldn't safely take, and held very, very still, caught between the terror I was using and the thirst I'd invited. Edward's arm, still around my shoulders, squeezed. I didn't know if I would have been able to leave the blood unconsumed if it hadn't belonged to the Amazons. Rational thought wasn't efficacious against the thirst; the best I could do was pit one drive against another, fearing for my life at the hands of the coven if I drank the blood that the pain in my throat told me I needed.

I swallowed the venom, and it was instantly replaced; it didn't matter that I'd stopped breathing. I closed my eyes and turned towards Edward, who wrapped his arms around me comfortingly. "I'm sorry," he said to the Amazons. "She's very controlled for a newborn, but hasn't been near human blood before. Please excuse her."

I had been near human blood before, but this was faster to explain, and anyway, I'd known not to inhale near Harry while the blood was fresh... and those men were dead, and our friends the Amazon coven had killed them... and even if the loggers had been driving some tree extinct, they didn't deserve to die... and they smelled so good and I wanted to fight Kachiri for her dead man and suck out whatever drops were left in his veins and cool the burning in my throat but I thought she might kill me if I tried and I didn't deserve to die either -

Edward said, "It looks like you've finished eating. If you could dispose of the leftovers, it would be easier for us to talk to you; we have some questions."

"Very well," said Zafrina, agreeably enough, and I heard the three women picking up their respective beverage containers and racing off into the forest with them. I didn't know what they were going to do to cover up their involvement in the deaths; I didn't think I'd like it if I got the answer. That didn't keep my brain from wildly speculating. Drop the bodies into piranha-infested waters? That would probably work well. Fling them into some slash-and-burn farm that was in the middle of the "burn" phase? Risky... I was so parched. I wished I'd brought a bottle of water. I wanted blood. The jaguar had been too long ago. My throat smoldered.

They came back after about thirty seconds. "We can go somewhere else, if that would be more comfortable for your Bella," offered either Senna or Kachiri; I hadn't heard either speak and wasn't looking, still burying my face in Edward's shirt. I felt him nod, and he picked me up, accurately judging me too affected by the blood and the murder to want to move around under my own power. I might just take off and find someone full of blood that smelled that good and make the burning stop.

Edward followed the coven through the forest with me in his arms. I opened my eyes and watched plants whiz by, then closed them again. Eventually we'd arrived at the Amazons' venue of choice. It was a section of rainforest, much like any other.

"Bella, there's none of the scent here," Edward murmured to me. "You can breathe."

I breathed again, and set my feet on the ground, where they held me up quite satisfactorily in spite of my ongoing distress. No one seemed to expect me to talk, which was good. "What did you visit us about, then?" asked Zafrina.

Edward related the story of what he'd learned after our honeymoon had been cut short from the Ticuna Indian woman who'd heard of half vampires. "Bella had some eggs taken from her before she turned," he told them. Then he had to explain what eggs were to the scientifically uninitiated coven. "The upshot is that if half-vampires are possible, a human woman could bear a child that is both mine and Bella's," he concluded.

"I've never heard of this truly happening," said Zafrina skeptically. "Of course there are stories, but there are stories about anything and everything; only a handful are true."

"It may be a fruitless search," acknowledged Edward. "We're prepared to devote some time to investigating anyway. We know the Ticuna have legends about half-vampires; who else might know something?"

Zafrina listed a half-dozen tribes; Kachiri chimed in with a few more, and I concluded that it was her voice that had offered the change of location. Senna was quite silent. Zafrina remarked, after about ten peoples with half-vampire stories had been suggested, "It surprises me that you, golden-eyed still, would let a human die to get your child."

"No," I said at once. "Not if it will kill her. We want to find out if there's a way she could live through it."

"Ah, she speaks," said Kachiri. "But the stories never say the mother lives."

"But the stories are old," I said. "Medicine has gotten much better. Forty years ago, my eggs couldn't have been harvested as they were. Perhaps the last half-vampire born is two or three hundred years old, and his or her mother could have been saved with something that was invented since then. We only need to find out what killed her to make a good guess about that."

"If she existed at all," said Zafrina.

"As I said," said Edward, "it may turn out that we're looking for something that isn't there. But we want to try. Are there vampires that live closer to the tribes you mentioned, who might talk to us and might know something more concrete?"

Kachiri gave the usual stomping grounds of two vampires, both of whom traveled alone and would be therefore unlikely to attack the pair of us, although she didn't vouch for their helpfulness, and remarked that she and her coven had only met each briefly. They'd run into each other, come to an agreement on their respective territories, and then never noticeably encroached again.

They had nothing else useful to tell us, so Edward courteously caught them up on the latest Cullen family news and then excused us.

I fought the mental image of those dead men into the farthest recesses of my mind, and followed him as he took off at a run through the rainforest.

One would expect, even given no detailed information, that it would be very difficult and time-consuming to find nomadic vampires one has never met who are not trying to be easy to find in a continent as large as South America. One would be absolutely correct. We tromped around the suggested locations for almost three weeks. During this time, Edward filled in the large gaps in my Spanish, so I could get along in the non-Brazil countries. We went sniffing in uninhabited areas for vampire scents and passed through population centers for Edward to catch thoughts of suspicious disappearances.

Finally, we ran into a vampire who could have been one of those Kachiri described, in the middle of the Chilean Andes.

She was a small, nervous-looking woman with a long black braid and the same off-white tinge to her skin that seemed common to vampires made of non-white humans. We caught just a glimpse of her from a distance before she disappeared over a mountain, apparently spooked.

"Did you get her name?" I asked Edward as we followed the path she'd taken over the rocks.

"No," he said. "If I keep her in range it's sure to come up..." He ranged a little ahead of me, pitting his speed against the other vampire's familiarity with the territory and head start. "Huilen!" he shouted, after a few seconds. That was presumably her name; he continued in Spanish. "Huilen, we don't want to hurt you! We just want to talk!"

She paused, clinging to a mountain peak, ready to escape if we made any threatening moves. I caught up to Edward.

"Please talk to us," I called in the same language. Since she'd stopped, I thought she probably knew Spanish.

"How do you know my name?" she demanded in a high, clear voice that carried easily through the mountain air.

"Come talk to us and we'll explain," I replied.

"I can hear you from here," she said.

"You'll run away again as soon as you aren't curious anymore," I retorted. "Please come here. We won't hurt you."

Huilen crept down the mountain cautiously; Edward and I held still. "Who are you?" she asked.

"My name is Edward," he said, "and this is my wife Bella."

"And how do you know my name?" she asked again. Edward explained his ability, which made Huilen even more nervous, although she didn't run away again. "What do you want?" she said when he'd finished accounting for his knowledge.

"We're trying to find out if half-vampires exist," I said.

Huilen stared at us, and then Edward said abruptly, "Who was that?"

She hissed, and turned to run, but Edward chased her; I followed, but Huilen was scrambling over the mountains with practiced efficiency and Edward was charging after her very fast, so it was all I could do to keep them in hearing distance. "Huilen, wait!" pleaded Edward. "We don't want to do you or him any harm! Please!"

She didn't answer him, just continued to clamber over the terrain at high speed. I wondered what Edward would do with her if he caught her. I saw them going diagonally over a slope off to my left, and I pushed off from the ground with all four limbs, leaving gouges in the rock and hurtling towards them. I landed in front of Huilen and she veered right, but the course correction was enough to let Edward get around and cut her off. She stopped again and shrank into herself, making a small noise.

"Huilen, we don't want to hurt you, or... Nahuel? Nahuel. But it's important to us to find out about half-vampires," said Edward. "Why are you so afraid?"

"Your eyes," she murmured. "They're - what are you?"

Patiently - whether because he was truly patient or because Huilen's thoughts were providing satisfactory information - Edward explained that we were vampires, but did not eat humans. Huilen seemed only a little surprised by our animal diet, although it struck her as odd that this would affect eye color.

"Why do you want to know about the demon's children?" asked Huilen harshly. The way she said it, it was as though she had some specific demon in mind, and specific children.

"When I was human," I said, approaching, "eggs were taken from me. We have a human friend who has agreed to bear my child, but we want to know if the child could be Edward's too."

"Your friend will die," spat Huilen.

"We would like to meet your nephew, Huilen," murmured Edward gently. "And hear the whole of your story."

Huilen's nephew Nahuel was definitely not a vampire. His skin was a richly saturated brown, dark and warm, and his eyes the same. He wore his hair like his aunt's, braided, but it was a bit shorter. He had vampirically perfect symmetry, and was quite beautiful, but he didn't move quite so gracefully, and while I didn't see him run or lift weights, my estimation was that he would not be quite so fast or strong either. But it was close.

The real giveaway was the heartbeat. Nahuel's heart thrummed at a speed I'd never heard a human's manage, although it was slower than mine or Harry's had been at the final moments of our turnings. He was also warm, about the same temperature as a werewolf, and smelled somewhere between human and vampire - not like food, but pleasant.

He lived in a tiny house high on a mountain, which would be difficult for humans to access but not impossible. It was not too far from there to the city of Santiago de Chile, whence the vampire who went by "Santiago" apparently hailed.

Huilen didn't live with Nahuel anymore, although she had raised him and visited frequently. "My sister is dead, of course," she explained, sounding angry. "She was so pretty. Our parents named her Pire, for the snow on the mountains. But she was too pretty, and the Libishomen wanted her for himself." I assumed the unfamiliar word was a legendary term for vampire. "She told me in confidence that an angel had taken her for his lover and I knew it was no angel - she was covered in bruises, I suppose he didn't take any care with her. I warned her, as if the injuries weren't warnings themselves, but she didn't listen - like she'd been bewitched. And she told me she was carrying his child."

"This was how long ago?" asked Edward, studying Nahuel's youthful, lovely features. The half-vampire blinked back at him mildly.

"A hundred and fifty years, give or take," supplied Nahuel. His voice was clear and gentle. "I grew very fast, but stopped when I was seven. Haven't noticed any change since."

"Amazing," Edward murmured. "Do go on," he added to Huilen.

"I knew everyone, even our parents, would want the child dead and Pire with him, if she were found to be carrying the demon's spawn, and I couldn't lose her," explained Huilen. "I went with her into the jungle, I hunted animals for her and she drank their blood ravenously, and she was still weak and her child hurt her from the inside, breaking bones. I thought perhaps if I nursed her well enough she could live, and then the demon's child could be destroyed without harming her." Nahuel didn't have any visible reaction to this description of his fetal self.

"But Pire died anyway?" I murmured.

Huilen nodded. "She did. She lost so much blood, and was so weakened to make him grow so quickly, and he had broken so many of her bones. But she loved her child. She named him Nahuel - after the jungle cat - and her dying wish was that I care for her son. And I told her I would. But after he ripped his way out, through the hard shell that had grown around him in her womb, and I lifted him from her body, he bit me. I crawled into the jungle, and thought I would die. When I was finished turning, he was sleeping, curled up beside me."

"So you're venomous," Edward said, looking back to Nahuel. "And you sleep."

"I do, and I am," confirmed Nahuel. "My sisters have no venom, but I do not know if that is due to gender or to chance."

"You have sisters," exclaimed Edward.

"Three," said Nahuel, "as of seventeen years ago. The other two are older than me. But their mothers died as well. My father considers himself a scientist, and thinks he's breeding a master race; I'm told that more of his experiments have died in... attempting to conceive... or during their pregnancies, than have managed to bring to term. My sisters travel with him, but I already had Huilen for family, and was not interested in going with him when he came looking for me several years after my mother's death."

Edward nodded, crestfallen at the implied death toll. It yielded a pessimistic prognosis for an attempt at our own half-vampire child. I took his hand and folded it in mine. Seventeen years previously, medicine had been fairly modern. If Nahuel's father had had any interest at all in keeping the newest sister's mother alive, and it was the sort of thing that was reliably doable with 2005 technology, it could most likely have been managed then. And Joham was a vampire, and could have turned the mothers if that would have saved them and he'd wanted them alive. Maybe he didn't care, but he wasn't there to ask.

I asked, but Nahuel couldn't speculate as to how much care the recent crop of "attempts" had gotten; Pire had been abandoned altogether once pregnant, but that might or might not have been a special situation, as she was with Huilen instead of isolated. Nahuel rarely had any contact with his father, whose name was Joham but whose location and contact information were unknown.

The three sisters were from various parts of the world - one Aboriginal Australian, one Swiss, one Korean. Nahuel had heard of failures from Mexico, Iceland, Ghana, Nigeria, China, Tibet, India, the Philippines, Indonesia and Russia, and didn't think that Joham and the sisters had bothered to mention all such deaths. So Joham clearly had no geographical pattern that we could use to predict his movements. There was no realistic hope of finding him and getting more information before Aro came to check up on Gianna.

We quizzed Nahuel a little more on his biology, just out of some masochistic interest in knowing what could have been. He obliged us readily enough. He was not as strong, fast, tough, sensorily gifted, precise in movement, roomy-minded, or possessed of perfect recall as a vampire. In physical power, he was behind an average vampire by the same amount that a vampire was behind a newborn; it was similar for the other physical abilities. His mind had space in proportion to his senses and capacities, as ours did. He could remember anything he chose to remember and might or might not forget things otherwise.

I winced when he remarked casually that he could survive on either human food or blood - human or animal - but found his aunt's diet the most pleasant. Huilen's eyes (of course) were murderous burgundy.

Nahuel sounded like he was acting on a much milder preference than her, though, somewhere between a human's "I really enjoy bacon, and I don't like tofu at all" and a vampire's "only human blood will quench my desperate, maddening thirst". I was mildly repulsed, which he appeared to notice.

I debated with myself whether I ought to try to convert the pair of them, or at least Nahuel. It felt very awkward - they hadn't expressed the interest that Maggie had. Part of me thought that it would be ungrateful and rude of me to have badgered Huilen into taking us to her nephew's home and dragged a painful story out of them, only to then disapprove of their dietary habits. Part of me thought something along the lines of, people are dying, if there's any chance you can stop it then you must tolerate arbitary amounts of awkwardness because there is no embarrassment you can feel that it's worth someone's life to avoid.

While Edward accumulated information about Nahuel's eldest sister's witchcraft (she could divert notice away from herself, apparently - becoming not invisible, but uninteresting), I let these parts of myself fight it out. If what I really wanted to do was minimize death, I ought to kill Huilen then and there. Even if I convinced her to become a vegetarian, she was not overwhelmingly likely to go on forever without ever messing up.

And she could be killed, if I attacked. If it came down to it, however insane he thought I was being in my assault, Edward would be on my side. Just as Irina would have been on Laurent's against her own sisters if they'd kicked up a fuss about his killings. Edward's mindreading and my newborn strength made the fight almost risk-free on our end, even if Nahuel was factored in. Neither the hybrid nor Huilen was any sort of witch, and she was small and he was weak and slow compared to us.

But I didn't want to kill her. That seemed like an incorrect thing to do.

I thought about it, and decided that this wasn't just a matter of wanting to keep my hands clean of death. I had no queasiness about the mental image of personally destroying, say, Aro, in the likely event that this proved necessary. I could probably even bring myself to execute his mate, since she'd been in one of the best possible positions to affect the direction of the Volturi out of anyone save the three rulers themselves, and had done nothing. (And because if I had to kill Aro, it would amount to a mercy killing to send his wife after him.)

But Huilen was, incredibly, frustratingly, not an evil woman, even if she'd killed a hundred people or more in every one of the hundred and fifty years she'd been a vampire. Evil women did not adhere to the dying wishes of their sisters, from across the memory-thinning wall of turning, to bring up their nephews. An evil Huilen would have strangled the sleeping oxygen-dependent baby who'd curled up beside her while she turned. Or she wouldn't have taken Pire into the jungle and helped her in the first place - she'd have let their village kill her sister and gestating nephew, washing her hands of the mess.

If she really wasn't evil, though, she shouldn't be murdering people. Huilen's death would be dreadful, but her victims weren't evil either.

Damn the awkwardness, full speed ahead.

There was a lull in the conversation after Edward established that Nahuel had spent one month in the womb from conception to messy, deadly birth. Huilen was grimacing again, displaying clear misery over her sister's loss.

"It's strange to me," I said quietly, "that you feel so strongly about Pire's death, but you both kill humans for food."

"She was my sister," growled Huilen.

I held up my hands, palms forward, in a calming gesture. "I understand. I would feel more strongly about it if one of my family were killed than if it were only a stranger, too. But of course strangers tend to have families too." It was difficult to restrain my flippancy. I would really need to look into that and find a way to force myself to be serious, if I were going to make any kind of habit out of vegetarian evangelism. "Huilen, I understand it's not common knowledge that full vampires can live on animal blood - but Nahuel, if you know that you can eat animal blood or even humans' food..."

"I can; that doesn't mean I like it," he said.

"Maybe you could rob blood banks or something," I said. My family didn't do this (or even legally buy blood, which doctors such as Carlisle could do) because drinking any human blood would make it harder to resist killing for more. It would be the equivalent of an alcoholic keeping beer in the fridge to make it less likely that he'd rob a liquor store if he got a craving.

But it might work differently for a half-vampire (he'd tried animal blood and human food long enough to know that they sustained him, for one thing, which I didn't think vampires had a history of doing on their own save Carlisle). And Huilen was already killing people. If they started drinking blood without murdering to get it, they might develop opinions of themselves that were more consistent with vegetarian diets, and move in that direction on their own. Maybe.

Or at least they wouldn't be first up against the wall when the revolution came. They'd have a little warning.

Nahuel looked vaguely interested by the suggestion, as though he might try it the way he'd tried other nutritional regimens; Huilen, less so. I let the conversation drift away, frowning to myself.

We visited with the hybrid coven for a few more hours, picking up minutiae we couldn't use about Nahuel and sharing trivia about ourselves. Edward seemed inclined to count them among our non-vegetarian friends as we departed. This was reasonable enough, considering that "non-vegetarian" wasn't a disqualifying feature. It seemed to make him feel better about having learned that Gianna couldn't hope to live through a half-vampire pregnancy.

I let Edward continue to teach me to be a polyglot as we went to the nearest airport, but my mind wasn't on linguistics. I was thinking about death.

It had to go.

"It's a reasonable assumption that Joham wasn't trying to keep the women alive," Edward said tentatively, during the flight to Norway. "If he's trying to breed a master race, he could consider it a sign of bad genes or something, if one doesn't survive..."

"Possibly," I said. "Maybe even probably. If it mattered to him that much that they were dying, he would have called off the "experiment" hundreds of years ago. But we don't know how to find him and check. We can stall for a few months, and see if he visits Nahuel in the available window of leeway and is willing to talk to us. But we can't tell Gianna we want her to carry a kind of baby that no one has ever lived through carrying unless we have some good information that says she will be okay."

"You're right," sighed Edward.

"I think it's safe to delay until January, maybe even February," I said, patting his arm. "Just in case. Maybe you could look for him without me along, so Alice could be of more help?" Texts and e-mails from Rachel were frequent enough, and apparently affected my decisions enough, that there were still irregular blank spots in my future that Alice couldn't see. She'd been unable to provide advance directions regarding our hunt through South America, or it wouldn't have taken us half of August and the first week of September to conduct the search.

"Maybe," he said, although he didn't sound very hopeful.

I was tempted to say something about how being a vampire was better anyway, and a human child could turn into a vampire adult one day where a hybrid most likely couldn't and vampires had various advantages over half-vampires. That was just sour grapes. Edward had wanted - and I had wanted - our baby. Of course we'd love the stranger's child. But it wasn't the better outcome. Half-vampires weren't deficient in some vitally important way. So what if I could beat Nahuel up if I needed to - he was still unaging, still stronger and faster and smarter than a human, and there were hints that he didn't have the vampire struggle with blood, which was an advantage. Besides, half-vampires could be witches like the eldest sister, and good witchcraft could balance any losses in other areas.

So instead of inventing that reassurance I leaned against Edward, exchanging comfort that didn't rely on rationalizations.