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Chapter 31 Talented

"What is the werewolves' part in this?" Tanya asked then, eyeing Jacob.

  Jacob spoke before Edward could answer. "If the Volturi won't stop to listen about Nessie, I meanRenesmee," he corrected himself, remembering that Tanya would not understand his stupid nickname,"we will stop them.""Very brave, child, but that would be impossible for more experienced fighters than you are.""You don't know what we can do."Tanya shrugged. "It is your own life, certainly, to spend as you choose."Jacob's eyes flickered to Renesmee—still in Carmen's arms with Kate hovering over them—and it waseasy to read the longing in them.

  "She is special, that little one," Tanya mused. "Hard to resist.""A very talented family," Eleazar murmured as he paced. His tempo was increasing; he flashed from thedoor to Carmen and back again every second. "A mind reader for a father, a shield for a mother, andthen whatever magic this extraordinary child has bewitched us with. I wonder if there is a name for whatshe does, or if it is the norm for a vampire hybrid. As if such a thing could ever be considered normal! Avampire hybrid, indeed!""Excuse me," Edward said in a stunned voice. He reached out and caught Eleazar's shoulder as he wasabout to turn again for the door. "What did you just call my wife?"Eleazar looked at Edward curiously, his manic pacing forgotten for the moment. "A shield, I think. She'sblocking me now, so I can't be sure."I stared at Eleazar, my brows furrowing in confusion. Shield? What did he mean about my blocking him?

  I was standing right here beside him, not defensive in any way.

  "A shield?" Edward repeated, bewildered.

  "Come now, Edward! If I can't get a read on her, I doubt you can, either. Can you hear her thoughtsright now?"Eleazar asked.

  "No," Edward murmured. "But I've never been able to do that. Even when she was human.""Never?" Eleazar blinked. "Interesting. That would indicate a rather powerful latent talent, if it wasmanifesting so clearly even before the transformation. I can't feel a way through her shield to get a senseof it at all. Yet she must be raw still—she's only a few months old." The look he gave Edward now wasalmost exasperated. "And apparently completely unaware of what she's doing. Totally unconscious.

  Ironic. Aro sent me all over the world searching for such anomalies, and you simply stumble across it byaccident and don't even realize what you have." Eleazar shook his head in disbelief.

  I frowned. "What are you talking about? How can I be a shield? What does that even mean?" All Icould picture in my head was a ridiculous medieval suit of armor.

  Eleazar leaned his head to one side as he examined me. "I suppose we were overly formal about it in theguard. In truth, categorizing talents is a subjective, haphazard business; every talent is unique, neverexactly the same thing twice. But you, Bella, are fairly easy to classify. Talents that are purely defensive,that protect some aspect of the bearer, are always called shields. Have you ever tested your abilities?

  Blocked anyone besides me and your mate?"It took me few seconds, despite how quickly my new brain worked, to organize my answer.

  "It only works with certain things," I told him. "My head is sort of... private. But it doesn't stop Jasperfrom being able to mess with my mood or Alice from seeing my future.""Purely a mental defense." Eleazar nodded to himself. "Limited, but strong.""Aro couldn't hear her," Edward interjected. "Though she was human when they met."Eleazar's eyes widened.

  "Jane tried to hurt me, but she couldn't," I said. "Edward thinks Demetri can't find me, and that Aleccan't bother me, either. Is that good?"Eleazar, still gaping, nodded. "Quite.""A shield!" Edward said, deep satisfaction saturating his tone. "I never thought of it that way. The onlyone I've ever met before was Renata, and what she did was so different."Eleazar had recovered slightly. "Yes, no talent ever manifests in precisely the same way, because no oneever thinks in exactly the same way.""Who's Renata? What does she do?" I asked. Renesmee was interested, too, leaning away fromCarmen so that she could see around Kate.

  "Renata is Aro's personal bodyguard," Eleazar told me. "A very practical kind of shield, and a verystrong one."I vaguely remembered a small crowd of vampires hovering close to Aro in his macabre tower, somemale, some female. I couldn't remember the women's faces in the uncomfortable, terrifying memory. Onemust have been Renata.

  "I wonder...," Eleazar mused. "You see, Renata is a powerful shield against a physical attack. Ifsomeone approaches her—or Aro, as she is always close beside him in a hostile situation—they findthemselves... diverted.

  There's a force around her that repels, though it's almost unnoticeable. You simply find yourself going adifferent direction than you planned, with a confused memory as to why you wanted to go that other wayin the first place. She can project her shield several meters out from herself. She also protects Caius andMarcus, too, when they have a need, but Aro is her priority.

  "What she does isn't actually physical, though. Like the vast majority of our gifts, it takes place inside themind. If she tried to keep you back, I wonder who would win?" He shook his head. "I've never heard ofAro's or Jane's gifts being thwarted.""Momma, you're special," Renesmee told me without any surprise, like she was commenting on the colorof my clothes.

  I felt disoriented. Didn't I already know my gift? I had my super-self-control that had allowed me to skipright over the horrifying newborn year. Vampires only had one extra ability at most, right?

  Or had Edward been correct in the beginning? Before Carlisle had suggested that my self-control couldbe something beyond the natural, Edward had thought my restraint was just a product of goodpreparation— focus and attitude,he'd declared.

  Which one had been right? Was there more I could do? A name and a category for what I was?

  "Can you project?" Kate asked interestedly.

  "Project?" I asked.

  "Push it out from yourself," Kate explained. "Shield someone besides yourself.""I don't know. I've never tried. I didn't know I should do that.""Oh, you might not be able to," Kate said quickly. "Heavens knows I've been working on it for centuriesand the best I can do is run a current over my skin."I stared at her, mystified.

  "Kate's got an offensive skill," Edward said. "Sort of like Jane."I flinched away from Kate automatically, and she laughed.

  "I'm not sadistic about it," she assured me. "It's just something that comes in handy during a fight."Kate's words were sinking in, beginning to make connections in my mind. Shield someone besidesyourself she'd said. As if there were some way for me to include another person in my strange, quirkysilent head.

  I remembered Edward cringing on the ancient stones of the Volturi castle turret. Though this was ahuman memory, it was sharper, more painful than most of the others—like it had been branded into thetissues of my brain.

  What if I could stop that from happening ever again? What if I could protect him? Protect Renesmee?

  What if there was even the faintest glimmer of a possibility that I could shield them, too?

  "You have to teach me what to do!" I insisted, unthinkingly grabbing Kate's arm. "You have to show mehow!"Kate winced at my grip. "Maybe—if you stop trying to crush my radius.""Oops! Sorry!""You're shielding, all right," Kate said. "That move should have about shocked your arm off. You didn'tfeelanything just now?""That wasn't really necessary, Kate. She didn't mean any harm," Edward muttered under his breath.

  Neither of us paid attention to him.

  "No, I didn't feel anything. Were you doing your electric current thing?""I was. Hmm. I've never met anyone who couldn't feel it, immortal or otherwise.""You said you project it? On your skin?"Kate nodded. "It used to be just in my palms. Kind of like Aro.""Or Renesmee," Edward interjected.

  "But after a lot of practice, I can radiate the current all over my body. It's a good defense. Anyone whotries to touch me drops like a human that's been Tasered. It only downs him for a second, but that's longenough."I was only half-listening to Kate, my thoughts racing around the idea that I might be able to protect mylittle family if I could just learn fast enough. I wished fervently that I might be good at this projecting thing,too, like I was somehow mysteriously good at all the other aspects of being a vampire. My human lifehad not prepared me for things that came naturally, and I couldn't make myself trust this aptitude to last.

  It felt like I had never wanted anything so badly before this; to be able to protect what I loved.

  Because I was so preoccupied, I didn't notice the silent exchange going on between Edward and Eleazaruntil it became a spoken conversation.

  "Can you think of even one exception, though?" Edward asked.

  I looked over to make sense of his comment and realized that everyone else was already staring at thetwo men. They were leaning toward each other intently, Edward's expression tight with suspicion,Eleazar's unhappy and reluctant.

  "I don't want to think of them that way," Eleazar said through his teeth. I was surprised at the suddenchange in the atmosphere.

  "If you're right—," Eleazar began again.

  Edward cut him off. "The thought was yours, not mine.""If I'm right... I can't even grasp what that would mean. It would change everything about the worldwe've created. It would change the meaning of my life. What I have been a part of.""Your intentions were always the best, Eleazar.""Would that even matter? What have I done? How many lives ..."Tanya put her hand on Eleazar's shoulder in a comforting gesture. "What did we miss, my friend? I wantto know so that I can argue with these thoughts. You've never done anything worth castigating yourselfthis way.""Oh, haven't I?" Eleazar muttered. Then he shrugged out from under her hand and began his pacingagain, faster even than before.

  Tanya watched him for half a second and then focused on Edward. "Explain."Edward nodded, his tense eyes following Eleazar as he spoke. "He was trying to understand why somany ofthe Volturi would come to punish us. It's not the way they do things. Certainly, we are the biggest maturecoven they've dealt with, but in the past other covens have joined to protect themselves, and they neverpresented much of a challenge despite their numbers. We are more closely bonded, and that's a factor,but not a huge one.

  "He was remembering other times that covens have been punished, for one thing or the other, and apattern occurred to him. It was a pattern that the rest of the guard would never have noticed, sinceEleazar was the one passing the pertinent intelligence privately to Aro. A pattern that only repeated everyother century or so.""What was this pattern?" Carmen asked, watching Eleazar as Edward was.

  "Aro does not often personally attend a punishing expedition," Edward said. "But in the past, when Arowanted something in particular, it was never long before evidence turned up proving that this coven orthat coven had committed some unpardonable crime. The ancients would decide to go along to watch theguard administer justice. And then, once the coven was all but destroyed, Aro would grant a pardon toone member whose thoughts, he would claim, were particularly repentant. Always, it would turn out thatthis vampire had the gift Aro had admired. Always, this person was given a place with the guard. Thegifted vampire was won over quickly, always so grateful for the honor. There were no exceptions.""It must be a heady thing to be chosen," Kate suggested.

  "Ha!" Eleazar snarled, still in motion.

  "There is one among the guard," Edward said, explaining Eleazar's angry reaction. "Her name is Chelsea.

  She has influence over the emotional ties between people. She can both loosen and secure these ties. Shecould make someone feel bonded to the Volturi, to want to belong, to want to please them___"Eleazar came to an abrupt halt. "We all understood why Chelsea was important. In a fight, if we couldseparate allegiances between allied covens, we could defeat them that much more easily. If we coulddistance the innocent members of a coven emotionally from the guilty, justice could be done withoutunnecessary brutality—the guilty could be punished without interference, and the innocent could bespared. Otherwise, it was impossible to keep the coven from fighting as a whole. So Chelsea wouldbreak the ties that bound them together. It seemed a great kindness to me, evidence of Aro's mercy. Idid suspect that Chelsea kept our own band more tightly knit, but that, too, was a good thing. It made usmore effective. It helped us coexist more easily."This clarified old memories for me. It had not made sense to me before how the guard obeyed theirmasters so gladly, with almost lover-like devotion.

  "How strong is her gift?" Tanya asked with an edge to her voice. Her gaze quickly touched on eachmember of her family.

  Eleazar shrugged. "I was able to leave with Carmen." And then he shook his head. "But anything weakerthan the bond between partners is in danger. In a normal coven, at least. Those are weaker bonds thanthose in our family, though. Abstaining from human blood makes us more civilized—lets us form truebonds of love. I doubt she could turn our allegiances, Tanya."Tanya nodded, seeming reassured, while Eleazar continued with his analysis.

  "I could only think that the reason Aro had decided to come himself, to bring so many with him, isbecause his goal is not punishment but acquisition," Eleazar said. "He needs to be there to control thesituation. But he needs the entire guard for protection from such a large, gifted coven. On the other hand,that leaves the other ancients unprotected in Volterra. Too risky—someone might try to take advantage.

  So they all come together. How else could he be sure to preserve the gifts that he wants? He must wantthem very badly," Eleazar mused.

  Edward's voice was low as a breath. "From what I saw of his thoughts last spring, Aro's never wantedanything more than he wants Alice."I felt my mouth fall open, remembering the nightmarish pictures I had imagined long ago: Edward andAlice in black cloaks with bloodred eyes, their faces cold and remote as they stood close as shadows,Aro's hands on theirs.... Had Alice seen this more recently? Had she seen Chelsea trying to strip awayher love for us, to bind her to Aro and Caius and Marcus?

  "Is that why Alice left?" I asked, my voice breaking on her name.

  Edward put his hand against my cheek. "I think it must be. To keep Aro from gaining the thing he wantsmost of all. To keep her power out of his hands."I heard Tanya and Kate murmuring in disturbed voices and remembered that they hadn't known aboutAlice.

  "He wants you, too," I whispered.

  Edward shrugged, his face suddenly a little too composed. "Not nearly as much. I can't really give himanything more than he already has. And of course that's dependent on his finding a way to force me to dohis will. He knows me, and he knows how unlikely that is." He raised one eyebrow sardonically.

  Eleazar frowned at Edward's nonchalance. "He also knows your weaknesses," Eleazar pointed out, andthen he looked at me.

  "It's nothing we need to discuss now," Edward said quickly.

  Eleazar ignored the hint and continued. "He probably wants your mate, too, regardless. He must havebeen intrigued by a talent that could defy him in its human incarnation."Edward was uncomfortable with this topic. I didn't like it, either. If Aro wanted me to do something—anything—all he had to do was threaten Edward and I would comply. And vice versa.

  Was death the lesser concern? Was it really capture we should fear?

  Edward changed the subject. "I think the Volturi were waiting for this—for some pretext. They couldn'tknow what form their excuse would come in, but the plan was already in place for when it did come.

  That's why Alice saw their decision before Irina triggered it. The decision was already made, just waitingfor the pretense of a justification.""If the Volturi are abusing the trust all immortals have placed in them...," Carmen murmured.

  "Does it matter?" Eleazar asked. "Who would believe it? And even if others could be convinced that theVolturi are exploiting their power, how would it make any difference? No one can stand against them.""Though some of us are apparently insane enough to try," Kate muttered.

  Edward shook his head. "You're only here to witness, Kate. Whatever Aro's goal, I don't think he'sready totarnish the Volturi's reputation for it. If we can take away his argument against us, he'll be forced to leaveus in peace.""Of course," Tanya murmured.

  No one looked convinced. For a few long minutes, nobody said anything.

  Then Iheard the sound of tires turning off the highway pavement onto the Cullens' dirt drive.

  "Oh crap, Charlie," I muttered. "Maybe the Denalis could hang out upstairs until—""No," Edward said in a distant voice. His eyes were far away, staring blankly at the door. "It's not yourfather." His gaze focused on me. "Alice sent Peter and Charlotte, afterall. Time to get ready for the nextround."


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