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Chapter 32 Company
The Cullens' enormous house was more crowded with guests than anyone would assume could possiblybe comfortable. It only worked out because none of the visitors slept. Mealtimes were dicey, though.

  Our company cooperated as best they could. They gave Forks and La Push a wide berth, only huntingout of state; Edward was a gracious host, lending out his cars as needed without so much as a wince.

  The compromise made me very uncomfortable, though I tried to tell myself that they'd all be huntingsomewhere in the world, regardless.

  Jacob was even more upset. The werewolves existed to prevent the loss of human life, and here wasrampant murder being condoned barely outside the packs' borders. But under these circumstances, withRenesmee in acute danger, he kept his mouth shut and glared at the floor rather than the vampires.

  I was amazed at the easy acceptance the visiting vampires had for Jacob; the problems Edward hadanticipated had never materialized. Jacob seemed more or less invisible to them, not quite a person, butalso not food, either. They treated him the way people who are not animal-lovers treat the pets of theirfriends.

  Leah, Seth, Quil, and Embry were assigned to run with Sam for now, and Jacob would have happilyjoined them, except that he couldn't stand to be away from Renesmee, and Renesmee was busyfascinating the strange collection of Carlisle's friends.

  We'd replayed the scene of Renesmee's introduction to the Denali coven a half dozen times. First forPeter and Charlotte, whom Alice and Jasper had sent our way without giving them any explanation at all;like most people who knew Alice, they trusted her instructions despite the lack of information. Alice hadtold them nothing about which direction she and Jasper were heading. She'd made no promise to eversee them again in the future.

  Neither Peter nor Charlotte had ever seen an immortal child. Though they knew the rule, their negativereaction was not as powerful as the Denali vampires' had been at first. Curiosity had driven them to allowRenesmee's "explanation." And that was it. Now they were as committed to witnessing as Tanya's family.

  Carlisle had sent friends from Ireland and Egypt.

  The Irish clan arrived first, and they were surprisingly easy to convince. Siobhan—a woman of immensepresence whose huge body was both beautiful and mesmerizing as it moved in smooth undulations—wasthe leader, but she and her hard-faced mate, Liam, were long used to trusting the judgment of theirnewest coven member. Little Maggie, with her bouncy red curls, was not physically imposing like theother two, but she had a gift for knowing when she was being lied to, and her verdicts were nevercontested. Maggie declared that Edward spoke the truth, and so Siobhan and Liam accepted our storyabsolutely before even touching Renesmee.

  Amun and the other Egyptian vampires were another story. Even after two younger members of hiscoven, Benjamin and Tia, had been convinced by Renesmee's explanation, Amun refused to touch herand ordered his coven to leave. Benjamin—an oddly cheerful vampire who looked barely older than aboy and seemed both utterly confident and utterly careless at the same time—persuaded Amun to staywith a few subtle threats about disbanding their alliance. Amun stayed, but continued to refuse to touchRenesmee, and would not allow his mate, Kebi, to touch her, either. It seemed an unlikelygrouping—though the Egyptians all looked so alike, with their midnight hair and olive-toned pallor, thatthey easily could have passed for a biological family. Amun was the senior member and the outspokenleader. Kebi never strayed farther away from Amun than his shadow, and I never heard her speak asingle word. Tia, Benjamin's mate, was a quiet woman as well, though when she did speak there wasgreat insight and gravity to everything she said. Still, it was Benjamin whom they all seemed to revolvearound, as if he had some invisible magnetism the others depended upon for their balance. I saw Eleazarstaring at the boy with wide eyes and assumed Benjamin had a talent that drew the others to him.

  "It's not that," Edward told me when we were alone that night. "His gift is so singular that Amun isterrified of losing him. Much like we had planned to keep Renesmee from Aro's knowledge"—hesighed—"Amun has been keeping Benjamin from Aro's attention. Amun created Benjamin, knowing hewould be special.""What can he do?""Something Eleazar's never seen before. Something I've never heard of. Something that even your shieldwould do nothing against." He grinned his crooked smile at me. "He can actually influence the elements—earth, wind, water, and fire. True physical manipulation, no illusion of the mind. Benjamin's stillexperimenting with it, and Amun tries to mold him into a weapon. But you see how independentBenjamin is. He won't be used.""You like him," I surmised from the tone of his voice.

  "He has a very clear sense of right and wrong. I like his attitude."Amun's attitude was something else, and he and Kebi kept to themselves, though Benjamin and Tia werewell on their way to being fast friends with both the Denali and the Irish covens. We hoped that Carlisle'sreturn would ease the remaining tension with Amun.

  Emmett and Rose sent individuals—any nomad friends of Carlisle's that they could track down.

  Garrett came first—a tall, rangy vampire with eager ruby eyes and long sandy hair he kept tied backwith a leather thong—and it was apparent immediately that he was an adventurer. I imagined that wecould have presentedhim with any challenge and he would have accepted, just to test himself. He fell in quickly with the Denalisisters, asking endless questions about their unusual lifestyle. I wondered if vegetarianism was anotherchallenge he would try, just to see if he could do it.

  Mary and Randall also came—friends already, though they did not travel together. They listened toRenesmee's story and stayed to witness like the others. Like the Denalis, they considered what theywould do if the Volturi did not pause for explanations. All three of the nomads toyed with the idea ofstanding with us.

  Of course, Jacob got more surly with each new addition. He kept his distance when he could, and whenhe couldn't he grumbled to Renesmee that someone was going to have to provide an index if anyoneexpected him to keep all the new bloodsuckers1names straight.*Carlisle and Esme returned a week after they had gone, Emmett and Rosalie just a few days later, andall of us felt better when they were home. Carlisle brought one more friend home with him, though friendmight have been the wrong term. Alistair was a misanthropic English vampire who counted Carlisle as hisclosest acquaintance, though he could hardly stand a visit more than once a century. Alistair very muchpreferred to wander alone, and Carlisle had called in a lot of favors to get him here. He shunned allcompany, and it was clear he didn't have any admirers in the gathered covens.

  The brooding dark-haired vampire took Carlisle at his word about Renesmee's origins, refusing, likeAmun, to touch her. Edward told Carlisle, Esme, and me that Alistair was afraid to be here, but moreafraid of not knowing the outcome. He was deeply suspicious of all authority, and therefore naturallysuspicious of the Volturi. What was happening now seemed to confirm all his fears.

  "Of course, now they'll know i was here," we heard him grumble to himself in the attic—his preferredspot to sulk. "No way to keep it from Aro at this point. Centuries on the run, that's what this will mean.

  Everyone Carlisle's talked to in the last decade will be on their list. I can't believe I got myself sucked intothis mess. What a fine way to treat your friends."But if he was right about having to run from the Volturi, at least he had more hope of doing that than therest of us. Alistair was a tracker, though not nearly as precise and efficient as Demetri. Alistair just felt anelusive pull toward whatever he was seeking. But that pull would be enough to tell him which direction torun—the opposite direction from Demetri.

  And then another pair of unexpected friends arrived—unexpected, because neither Carlisle nor Rosaliehad been able to contact the Amazons.

  "Carlisle," the taller of the two very tall feline women greeted him when they arrived. Both of themseemed as if they'd been stretched—long arms and legs, long fingers, long black braids, and long faceswith long noses. They wore nothing but animal skins—hide vests and tight-fitting pants that laced on thesides with leather ties. It wasn't just their eccentric clothes that made them seem wild but everything aboutthem, from their restless crimson eyes to their sudden, darting movements. I'd never met any vampiresless civilized.

  But Alice had sent them, and that was interesting news, to put it mildly. Why was Alice in SouthAmerica? Justbecause she'd seen that no one else would be able to get in touch with the Amazons?

  "Zafrina and Senna! But Where's Kachiri?" Carlisle asked. Tve never seen you three apart.""Alice told us we needed to separate," Zafrina answered in the rough, deep voice that matched her wildappearance. "It's uncomfortable to be away from each other, but Alice assured us that you needed ushere, while she very much needed Kachiri somewhere else. That's all she would tell us, except that therewas a great hurry... ?" Zafrina's statement trailed off into a question, and—with the tremor of nerves thatnever went away no matter how often I did this—I brought Renesmee out to meet them.

  Despite their fierce appearance, they listened very calmly to our story, and then allowed Renesmee toprove the point. They were every bit as taken with Renesmee as any of the other vampires, but I couldn'thelp worrying as I watched their swift, jerky movements so close beside her. Senna was always nearZafrina, never speaking, but it wasn't the same as Amun and Kebi. Kebi's manner seemed obedient;Senna and Zafrina were more like two limbs of one organism—Zafrina just happened to be themouthpiece.

  The news about Alice was oddly comforting. Clearly, she was on some obscure mission of her own asshe avoided whatever Aro had planned for her.

  Edward was thrilled to have the Amazons with us, because Zafrina was enormously talented; her giftcould make a very dangerous offensive weapon. Not that Edward was asking for Zafrina to side with usin the battle, but if the Volturi did not pause when they saw our witnesses, perhaps they would pause fora different kind of scene.

  "It's a very straightforward illusion," Edward explained when it turned out that I couldn't see anything, asusual. Zafrina was intrigued and amused by my immunity—something she'd never encounteredbefore—and she hovered restlessly while Edward described what I was missing. Edward's eyesunfocused slightly as he continued. "She can make most people see whatever she wants them tosee—see that, and nothing else. For example, right now I would appear to be alone in the middle of arain forest. It's so clear I might possibly believe it, except for the fact that I can still feel you in my arms."Zafrina's lips twitched into her hard version of a smile. A second later, Edward's eyes focused again, andhe grinned back.

  "Impressive," he said.

  Renesmee was fascinated with the conversation, and she reached out fearlessly toward Zafrina.

  "Can I see?" she asked.

  "What would you like to see?" Zafrina asked.

  "What you showed Daddy."Zafrina nodded, and I watched anxiously as Renesmee's eyes stared blankly into space. A second later,Renesmee's dazzling smile lit up her face.

  "More," she commanded.

  After that, it was hard to keep Renesmee away from Zafrina and her pretty pictures. I worried,because I was quite sure that Zafrina was able to create images that were not pretty at all. But throughRenesmee's thoughts Icould see Zafrina's visions for myself—they were as clear as any of Renesmee's own memories, like theywere real—and thus judge for myself whether they were appropriate or not.

  Though I didn't give her up easily, I had to admit it was a good thing Zafrina was keeping Renesmeeentertained. I needed my hands. I had so much to learn, both physically and mentally, and the time wasso short.

  My first attempt at learning to fight did not go well.

  Edward had me pinned in about two seconds. But instead of letting me wrestle my way free—which Iabsolutely could have—he'd leaped up and away from me. I knew immediately that something waswrong; he was still as stone, staring across the meadow we were practicing in.

  Tm sorry, Bella," he said.

  "No, I'm fine," I said. "Let's go again.""I can't.""What do you mean, you can't? We just started."He didn't answer.

  "Look, I know I'm no good at this, but I can't get better if you don't help me."He said nothing. Playfully, I sprang at him. He made no defense at all, and we both fell to the ground. Hewas motionless as I pressed my lips to his jugular.

  "I win," I announced.

  His eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.

  "Edward? What's wrong? Why won't you teach me?"A full minute passed before he spoke again.

  "I just can't... bear it. Emmett and Rosalie know as much as I do. Tanya and Eleazar probably knowmore. Ask someone else.""That's not fair! You're good at this. You helped Jasper before—you fought with him and all the others,too. Why not me? What did I do wrong?"He sighed, exasperated. His eyes were dark, barely any gold to lighten the black.

  "Looking at you that way, analyzing you as a target. Seeing all the ways I can kill you .. ." He flinched. "Itjust makes it too real for me. We don't have so much time that it will really make a difference who yourteacher is. Anyone can teach you the fundamentals."I scowled.

  He touched my pouting lower lip and smiled. "Besides, it's unnecessary. The Volturi will stop. They willbe made to understand.""But if they don't! I need to learn this.""Find another teacher."That was not our last conversation on the subject, but I never swayed him an inch from his decision.

  Emmett was more than willing to help, though his teaching felt to me a lot like revenge for all the lostarm-wrestling matches. If I could still bruise, I would have been purple from head to toe. Rose, Tanya,and Eleazar all were patient and supportive. Their lessons reminded me of Jasper's fighting instructions tothe others last June, though those memories were fuzzy and indistinct. Some of the visitors found myeducation entertaining, and some even offered assistance. The nomad Garrett took a few turns—he wasa surprisingly good teacher; he interacted so easily with others in general that I wondered how he'd neverfound a coven. I even fought once with Zafrina while Renesmee watched from Jacob's arms. I learnedseveral tricks, but I never asked for her help again. In truth, though I liked Zafrina very much and I knewshe wouldn't really hurt me, the wild woman scared me to death.

  I learned many things from my teachers, but I had the sense that my knowledge was still impossiblybasic. I had no idea how many seconds I would last against Alec and Jane. I only prayed that it would belong enough to help.

  Every minute of the day that I wasn't with Renesmee or learning to fight, I was in the backyard workingwith Kate, trying to push my internal shield outside of my own brain to protect someone else. Edwardencouraged me in this training. I knew he hoped I would find a way of contributing that satisfied me whilealso keeping me out of the line of fire.

  It was just so hard. There was nothing to get a hold of, nothing solid to work with. I had only my ragingdesire to be of use, to be able to keep Edward, Renesmee, and as much of my family as possible safewith me. Over and over I tried to force the nebulous shield outside of myself, with only faint, sporadicsuccess. It felt like I was wrestling to stretch an invisible rubber band—a band that would change fromconcrete tangibility into insubstantial smoke at any random moment.

  Only Edward was willing to be our guinea pig—to receive shock after shock from Kate while I grappledincompetently with the insides of my head. We worked for hours at a time, and I felt like I should becovered in sweat from the exertion, but of course my perfect body didn't betray me that way. Myweariness was all mental.

  It killed me that it was Edward who had to suffer, my arms wrapped uselessly around him while hewinced over and over from Kate's low" setting. I tried as hard as I could to push my shield around usboth; every now and then I would get it, and then it would slip away again.

  I hated this practice, and I wished that Zafrina would help instead of Kate. Then all Edward would haveto do was look at Zafrina's illusions until I could stop him from seeing them. But Kate insisted that Ineeded better motivation—by which she meant my hatred of watching Edward's pain. I was beginning todoubt her assertion from the first day we'd met—that she wasn't sadistic about the use of her gift. Sheseemed to be enjoying herself to me.

  "Hey," Edward said cheerfully, trying to hide any evidence of distress in his voice. Anything to keep mefrom fighting practice. "That one barely stung. Good job, Bella."I took a deep breath, trying to grasp exactly what I'd done right, i tested the elastic band, struggling toforce it to remain solid as I stretched it away from me.

  "Again, Kate," I grunted through my clenched teeth.

  Kate pressed her palm to Edward's shoulder.

  He sighed in relief. "Nothing that time."She raised an eyebrow. "That wasn't low, either.""Good," I huffed.

  "Get ready," she told me, and reached out to Edward again.

  This time he shuddered, and a low breath hissed between his teeth.

  "Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!" I chanted, biting my lip. Why couldn't I get this right?

  "You're doing an amazing job, Bella," Edward said, pulling me tight against him. "You've really only beenworking at this for a few days and you're already projecting sporadically. Kate, tell her how well she'sdoing."Kate pursed her lips. "I don't know. She's obviously got tremendous ability, and we're only beginning totouch it. She can do better, I'm sure. She's just lacking incentive."I stared at her in disbelief, my lips automatically curling back from my teeth. How could she think Ilacked motivation with her shocking Edward right here in front of me?

  I heard murmurs from the audience that had grown steadily as I practiced—only Eleazar, Carmen, andTanya at first, but then Garrett had wandered over, then Benjamin and Tia, Siobhan and Maggie, andnow even Alistair was peering down from a window on the third story. The spectators agreed withEdward; they thought I was already doing well.

  "Kate...," Edward said in a warning voice as some new course of action occurred to her, but she wasalready in motion. She darted along the curve of the river to where Zafrina, Senna, and Renesmee werewalking slowly, Renesmee's hand in Zafrina's as they traded pictures back and forth. Jacob shadowedthem from a few feet behind.

  "Nessie," Kate said—the newcomers had quickly picked up the irritating nickname, "would you like tocome help your mother?""No," I half-snarled.

  Edward hugged me reassuringly. I shook him off just as Renesmee flitted across the yard to me, withKate, Zafrina, and Senna right behind her.

  "Absolutely not, Kate," I hissed.

  Renesmee reached for me, and I opened my arms automatically. She curled into me, pressing her headinto the hollow beneath my shoulder.

  "But Momma, I want to help," she said in a determined voice. Her hand rested against my neck,reinforcing her desire with images of the two of us together, a team.

  "No," I said, quickly backing away. Kate had taken a deliberate step in my direction, her hand stretchedtoward us.

  "Stay away from us, Kate," I warned her.

  "No." She began stalking forward. She smiled like a hunter cornering her prey.

  I shifted Renesmee so that she was clinging to my back, still backing away at a pace that matchedKate's. Now my hands were free, and if Kate wanted to keep her hands attached to her wrists, she'dbetter keep her distance.

  Kate probably didn't understand, never having known for herself the passion of a mother for her child.

  She mustnot have realized just how far past too far she'd already gone. I was so furious that my vision took on astrange reddish tint, and my tongue tasted like burning metal. The strength I usually worked to keeprestrained flowed through my muscles, and I knew I could crush her into diamond-hard rubble if shepushed me to it.

  The rage brought every aspect of my being into sharper focus. I could even feel the elasticity of myshield more exactly now—feel that it was not a band so much as a layer, a thin film that covered me fromhead to toe. With the anger rippling through my body, I had a better sense of it, a tighter hold on it. Istretched it around myself, out from myself, swaddling Renesmee completely inside it, just in case Kategot past my guard.

  Kate took another calculated step forward, and a vicious snarl ripped up my throat and through myclenched teeth.

  "Be careful, Kate," Edward cautioned.

  Kate took another step, and then made a mistake even someone as inexpert as I could recognize. Just ashort leap away from me, she looked away, turning her attention from me to Edward.

  Renesmee was secure on my back; I coiled to spring.

  "Can you hear anything from Nessie?" Kate asked him, her voice calm and easy.

  Edward darted into the space between us, blocking my line to Kate.

  "No, nothing at all," he answered. "Now give Bella some space to calm down, Kate. You shouldn't goadher like that. I know she doesn't seem her age, but she's only a few months old.""We don't have time to do this gently, Edward. We're going to have to push her. We only have a fewweeks, and she's got the potential to—""Back off for a minute, Kate."Kate frowned but took Edward's warning more seriously than she'd taken mine.

  Renesmee's hand was on my neck; she was remembering Kate's attack, showing me that no harm wasmeant, that Daddy was in on it....

  This did not pacify me. The spectrum of light I saw still seemed tainted with crimson. But I was in bettercontrol of myself, and I could see the wisdom of Kate's words. The anger helped me. I would learnfaster under pressure.

  That didn't mean I liked it.

  "Kate," I growled. I rested my hand on the small of Edward's back. I could still feel my shield like astrong, flexible sheet around Renesmee and me. I pushed it farther, forcing it around Edward. There wasno sign of a flaw in the stretchy fabric, no threat of a tear. I panted with the effort, and my words cameout sounding breathless rather than furious. "Again," I said to Kate. "Edward only."She rolled her eyes but flitted forward and pressed her palm to Edward's shoulder.

  "Nothing," Edward said. I heard the smile in his voice.

  "And now?" Kate asked.

  "Stillnothing.""And now?" This time, there was the sound of strain in her voice.

  "Nothing at all."Kate grunted and stepped away.

  "Can you see this?" Zafrina asked in her deep, wild voice, staring intently at the three of us. Her Englishwas strangely accented, her words pulling up in unexpected places.

  "I don't see anything I shouldn't," Edward said.

  "And you, Renesmee?" Zafrina asked.

  Renesmee smiled at Zafrina and shook her head.

  My fury had almost entirely ebbed, and I clenched my teeth together, panting faster as I pushed outagainst the elastic shield; it felt like it was getting heavier the longer I held it. It pulled back, dragginginward.

  "No one panic," Zafrina warned the little group watching me. "I want to see how far she can extend."There was a shocked gasp from everyone there—Eleazar, Carmen, Tanya, Garrett, Benjamin, Tia,Siobhan, Maggie—everyone but Senna, who seemed prepared for whatever Zafrina was doing. Theothers' eyes were blank, their expressions anxious.

  "Raise your hand when you get your sight back," Zafrina instructed. "Now, Bella. See how many youcan shield."My breath came out in a huff. Kate was the closest person to me besides Edward and Renesmee, buteven she was about ten feet away. I locked my jaw and shoved, trying to heave the resisting, resilientsafeguard farther from myself. Inch by inch I drove it toward Kate, fighting the reaction that fought backwith every fraction that I gained. I only watched Kate's anxious expression while I worked, and Igroaned quietly with relief when her eyes blinked and focused. She raised her hand.

  "Fascinating!" Edward murmured under his breath. "It's like one-way glass. I can read everything they'rethinking, but they can't reach me behind it. And I can hear Renesmee, though I couldn't when I was onthe outside. I'll bet Kate could shock me now, because she's underneath the umbrella. I still can't hearyou... hmmm. How does that work? I wonder if..."He continued to mumble to himself, but I couldn't listen to the words. I ground my teeth together,struggling to force the shield out to Garrett, who was closest to Kate. His hand came up.

  "Very good," Zafrina complimented me. "Now—"But she'd spoken too soon; with a sharp gasp, I felt my shield recoil like a rubber band stretched too far,snapping back into its original shape. Renesmee, experiencing for the first time the blindness Zafrina hadconjured for the others, trembled against my back. Wearily, I fought back against the elastic pull, forcingthe shield to include her again.

  "Can I have a minute?" I panted. Since I'd become a vampire, I hadn't felt the need to rest even oncebefore this moment. It was unnerving to feel so drained and yet so strong at the same time.

  "Of course," Zafrina said, and the spectators relaxed as she let them see again.

  "Kate," Garrett called as the others murmured and drifted slightly away, disturbed by the moment ofblindness; vampires were not used to feeling vulnerable. The tall, sandy-haired Garrett was the onlynon-gifted immortal whoseemed drawn to my practice sessions. I wondered what the lure was for the adventurer.

  "I wouldn't, Garrett," Edward cautioned.

  Garrett continued toward Kate despite the warning, his lips pursed in speculation. "They say you can puta vampire flat on his back.""Yes," she agreed. Then, with a sly smile, she wiggled her fingers playfully at him. "Curious?"Garrett shrugged. "That's something I've never seen. Seems like it might be a bit of an exaggeration___""Maybe," Kate said, her face suddenly serious. "Maybe it only works on the weak or the young. I'm notsure. You look strong, though. Perhaps you could withstand my gift." She stretched her hand out to him,palm up—a clear invitation. Her lips twitched, and I was pretty sure her grave expression was an attemptto hustle him.

  Garrett grinned at the challenge. Very confidently, he touched her palm with his index finger.

  And then, with a loud gasp, his knees buckled and he keeled over backward. His head hit a piece ofgranite with a sharp cracking noise. It was shocking to watch. My instincts recoiled against seeing animmortal incapacitated that way; it was profoundly wrong.

  "I told you so," Edward muttered.

  Garrett's eyelids trembled for a few seconds, and then his eyes opened wide. He stared up at thesmirking Kate, and a wondering smile lit his face.

  "Wow," he said.

  "Did you enjoy that?" she asked skeptically.

  "I'm not crazy," he laughed, shaking his head as he got slowly to his knees, "but that was suresomething!""That's what I hear."Edward rolled his eyes.

  And then there was a low commotion from the front yard. I heard Carlisle speaking over a babble ofsurprised voices.

  "Did Alice send you?" he asked someone, his voice unsure, slightly upset.

  Another unexpected guest?

  Edward darted into the house and most of the others imitated him. I followed more slowly, Renesmeestill perched on my back. I would give Carlisle a moment. Let him warm up the new guest, prepare himor her or them for the idea of what was coming.

  I pulled Renesmee into my arms as I walked cautiously around the house to enter through the kitchendoor, listening to what I couldn't see.

  "No one sent us," a deep whispery voice answered Carlisle's question. I was immediately reminded ofthe ancient voices of Aro and Caius, and I froze just inside the kitchen.

  I knew the front room was crowded—almost everyone had gone in to see the newest visitors—butthere was barely any noise. Shallow breathing, that was all.

  Carlisle's voice was wary as he responded. "Then what brings you here now?""Word travels," a different voice answered, just as feathery as the first. "We heard hints that Volturi weremoving against you. There were whispers that you would not stand alone. Obviously, the whispers weretrue. This is an impressive gathering.""We are not challenging the Volturi," Carlisle answered in a strained tone. "There has been amisunderstanding, that is all. A very serious misunderstanding, to be sure, but one we're hoping to clearup. What yousee are witnesses. We just need the Volturi to listen. We didn't—""We don't care what they say you did," the first voice interrupted. "And we don't care if you broke thelaw.""No matter how egregiously," the second inserted.

  "We've been waiting a millennium and a half for the Italian scum to be challenged," said the first. "If thereis any chance theywill fall, we will be here to see it.""Or even to help defeat them," the second added. They spoke ina smooth tandem, their voices so similarthat less sensitive ears would assume there was only one speaker. "If we think you havea chance ofsuccess.""Bella?"Edward called to me ina hard voice. "Bring Renesmee here, please. Maybe we should test ourRomanian visitors' claims."It helped to know that probably half of the vampires in the other room would come to Renesmee'sdefense if these Romanians were upset by her. I didn't like the sound of their voices, or the dark menacein their words. As I walked into the room, I could see that I was not alone in that assessment. Most ofthe motionless vampires glared with hostile eyes, anda few—Carmen, Tanya, Zafrina, andSenna—repositioned themselves subtly into defensive poses between the newcomers and Renesmee.

  The vampires at the door were both slight and short, one dark-haired and the other with hair so ashyblond that it looked pale gray. They had the same powdery look to their skin as the Volturi, though Ithought it was not so pronounced. I couldn't be sure about that, as I had never seen the Volturi exceptwith human eyes; I could not make a perfect comparison. Their sharp, narrow eyes were dark burgundy,with no milky film. They wore very simple black clothes that could pass as modern but hinted at olderdesigns.

  The dark one grinned when I came into view. "Well, well, Carlisle. You have been naughty, haven'tyou?""She's not what you think, Stefan.""And we don't care either way," the blonde responded. "As we said before.""Then you're welcome to observe, Vladimir, but it is definitely not our plan to challenge the Volturi, aswe said before.""Then we'lljust cross our fingers," Stefan began.

  "And hope we get lucky," finished Vladimir.

  In the end, we had pulled together seventeen witnesses—the Irish, Siobhan, Liam, and Maggie; theEgyptians, Amun, Kebi, Benjamin, and Tia; the Amazons, Zafrina and Senna; the Romanians, Vladimirand Stefan; and thenomads, Charlotte and Peter, Garrett, Alistair, Mary, and Randall—to supplement our family of eleven.

  Tanya, Kate, Eleazar, and Carmen insisted on being counted as part of our family.

  Aside from the Volturi, it was probably the largest friendly gathering of mature vampires in immortalhistory.

  We all were beginning to be a little bit hopeful. Even I couldn't help it.Renesmee had won over somany in such a brief time.The Volturi only had to listen for just the tiniest second___The lasttwo surviving Romanians—focused only on their bitter resentment of the ones who hadoverthrown their empire fifteen hundred years earlier—took everything in stride. They would not touchRenesmee, but they showed no aversion to her. They seemed mysteriously delighted by our alliance withthe werewolves.They watched me practice my shield with Zafrina and Kate, watched Edward answerunspoken questions, watched Benjaminpull geysers of water from the river or sharp gusts of wind fromthe still air with just his mind, and their eyes glowed with their fierce hope that the Volturi had finally mettheir match.

  We did not hope for the same things, but we all hoped.


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