A/N: And, we're back! (And this far into the new year already.)
Hope you enjoy this next one, and see you at the end!
Chapter 21: Logic
We had landed in yet another hidden airstrip, and now we all stood in a broad forested area, the jet safely stowed in the hangar below our feet. Cato and Tacita stood near Sulpicia, flanking her on either side. Cato, this time around, was inexplicably carrying a computer bag slung over his shoulder, while I noticed Brenden was sticking closer to me than usual. Whether to act as backup bodyguard or additional jailor I wasn't sure.
The sky was still dark overhead, but for a faint yellow line on the horizon in the distance—dawn was fast approaching.
Sulpicia nodded at my question. "Yes. In the Pindus Mountains to be exact, near the National Park."
Jules, who was reclining against a nearby conifer, arms folded, tapped an impatient finger against her forearm. "You said before you were going to tell us everything, but now I'm starting to feel like you've left something out. Albania? Isn't this, like, the bloodsucker mecca of the world?"
"That would probably be Transylvania," Sulpicia said, smiling. "Made famous to you humans by a man by the name of Vlad Drăculea, also known as Vlad the Impaler—ironically, not actually one of our kind, though with a similar draconian thirst for blood and violence. But yes, in the past, there was much activity by our kind in this place."
Sulpicia added, "However, that is not why we are here. Our enemy has made temporary base here, and if we are to confront him before the deadline, we will likely have to face him in these mountains. I believe he will be waiting for our attack, or else move to confront us himself if he grows impatient. Once he has faced us and defeated or at least weakened us, he will plan to move forward with attacking a city. His target, according to the thoughts I absorbed, will be in northern Greece to the south of us. Once he has taken over the media, panic will spread."
"Why Greece?" Jules wanted to know. "Because it's a hot spot for tourists?"
"The population there is dense," Sulpicia answered. "And would make for easy feeding, not to mention there is less of a military presence there. However..."
Her misty eyes were faraway and thoughtful. "If we assume that Salvatore has a personal grudge against us, the Volturi, it could be simply that he likes the idea of such a bitter kind of irony. Most of our kind now see us as Italians, as we have for so long ruled from Volterra. But all of us—Marcus, Athenodora, and myself—were all born in Greece."
Sulpicia continued, "The rest of our force will be traveling down from northern Albania to join us. Marcus and Athenodora, my brother and sister, have been gathering together the stray members of our guard, those who have fought for us at one time or another, along with rallying a few more skilled individuals to our cause. Ours will be a tremendous force—though merely about equal in numbers to Salvatore's, we will far outmatch them in skill and experience. In a straight battle, we would dispatch them with absurd ease."
Jules stretched, stifling a yawn. "Yeah, yeah. Only if Beau can't take out the torture twins, you'll all be dead."
"We will not engage Salvatore's forces unless Jonathan and Alexa have been eliminated," Sulpicia corrected. "Alexa's power would render us all senseless all at once, and even if Tacita, who can still navigate with her tracking even under the effects of Alexa's gift, was still with us and had not already fallen, Jonathan would incapacitate her. Should Beau's mission fail, I will order our forces to retreat and scatter, and simply hope that an opportunity for another plan to counter the enemy will someday arise. Of course, that would mean abandoning Greece to its fate—but I do not intend to sacrifice our forces in a futile show of heroism."
Jules rolled her eyes to me. "Well, that's reassuring. While you're getting hacked down by crazy monsters, she'll be off running for her life."
I noticed Renatus clinging half concealed behind Sulpicia, like a terrified kid drawing into his mother. It had taken a lot of coaxing from Sulpicia to get him to leave her side, even to do the practice with me, and I could only imagine what he was feeling at the prospect of going on what might very well be a suicide mission. And if Sulpicia was forced to flee, without Renatus's gift to shield her she would be exposed, more so than she had probably ever been before. Everything depended on me.
My hard immortal stomach seemed to contract, and I couldn't look at any of them anymore.
Sulpicia looked around at each of us in turn. "If that is all," she said at last, "we ought to be on our way." She started to turn.
I'm not sure why it was that moment—maybe it was having looked into Renatus's face, and seeing the paralyzing terror in his eyes. Knowing that the decisive moment when I would succeed or fail was no longer weeks or even days away, but now suddenly upon us. The panic crashed down on me like a tidal wave, an avalanche. Too massive and crushing to have a hope to fight.
"No," I whispered.
Sulpicia paused, and turned halfway back. "No?" she repeated politely.
"No," I said again, louder than before. I clenched my hands into fists as it all swirled together in my head, a confused mess impossible to untangle—Jules, writhing on the ground as Sulpicia looked on with hard eyes, an army of rebel vampires, ready to descend on Greece, Edythe, standing in a forest, looking after me with a face in so much pain it was devoid of expression—
"You have to choose someone else," I choked, the words coming out so fast they almost blurred together. "You have to find someone else—I can't do this. I won't be able to do this."
"You can," Sulpicia said softly. "You're the only one who can, Beau. You must see that."
I shook my head vigorously. I couldn't, and whatever Sulpicia might say, I knew I couldn't. I suddenly wished I could be anywhere but here—still on my honeymoon with Edythe, back in Forks, anywhere. It had to be some sadistic joke by the universe that it would put me in this position—the fate of humankind resting on my pathetic, useless shoulders.
As I stared back at Sulpicia's calm features and the panic scurried like a sea of rats over my head and down over my chest, I felt rise beneath it a cool pulse of anger.
In a way, this was all her doing. The way she operated. While Edythe and the Cullens stuck to their ideals and refused to drink human blood even if it meant dying to Victor and his army, Sulpicia made people hate her. Like Riku Shimizu, or Salvatore. Now she was trying to get me to fix this mess, but the joke was on her, because I was just going to fall flat on my face like I always did.
Sulpicia gazed back at me, with an unfathomable expression, and she seemed to read the accusation in my face. "You're right," she said suddenly, softly.
She continued serenely, "All this likely is my doing, at least in some sense. I destroyed Riku Shimizu's mate, and I would be surprised to find that Salvatore's crusade is not at least in part fueled by a vendetta. However—"
Her ancient eyes bore back into mine, and were suddenly hard once again beneath the swirling mist. "The thing that plagues me with uncertainty and guilt," she murmured, "that I fear the most, is whether I have been too gentle, too compassionate. Deep into the night, when I am unable to sleep as a human would, I have wondered—if it were my husband in my place, would these rebellions have arose? Or have I failed to instill the fear in all that would have better protected the stability of our world?"
Sulpicia turned away from me.
I swallowed, but couldn't help but ask, "What about them?" I gestured vaguely to Tacita and Renatus, Sulpicia's most loyal of loyal servants. "Are you just going to let them die trying something that's never going to work?"
Sulpicia didn't turn back. "My people do not fight for me. They follow my commands, regardless of the danger, regardless of the fear, for the same reason that I aided in the fall of my husband. For the greater good."
I gazed at her rigidly straight back for a long moment, before I felt the anger drain from me as quickly as it had come. I was being irrational, and I knew it. Sulpicia's form of justice repulsed me in so many ways, but even so, ultimately what she wanted was what I wanted, and I couldn't just stand by and let the world fall to ruin when there was something I could do. Even if I failed, she was right, I had to try. And I was the only one who could.
I took several deep, steadying breaths, then nodded once. "Right," I said. "Okay... okay. I'm ready to give it a shot."
Jules never took her eyes off me, seeing my internal struggle, and when my resolve returned. I met her eyes, and she gave me an imperceptible nod. One step at a time, her eyes seemed to say. Don't think too far ahead. If we die, we die.
Sulpicia studied me for a moment, my face, my posture. "Thank you, Beau," she said at last. "If you succeed, the Volturi—and the world—will be in your debt." Still, her eyes continued to linger on my face, as though there might be something hidden there she was still trying to discern.
At last she said slowly, almost gently, "I know that this is not an easy thing to ask of you. For you to risk your life, when you have loved ones who you are anxious to see again. Would it make you feel better if you had a chance to write down a few of your thoughts? Perhaps a few words to those you care for most, in case the worst should happen. Leaving behind fewer regrets can make it easier to march into battle."
I was startled at this suggestion. "You mean—"
But before I could even get my question out, Cato was already lowering his shoulder bag to the ground. He produced the laptop I had seen Sulpicia use on the plane.
Sulpicia said, "Athenodora will join us later, but I must go retrieve Marcus and his forces just now. I can give you a few minutes to yourself to write something. To your father, your mother, even Edythe. Of course you must not mention anything of your possible impending death to your parents or of our kind—on the chance that the world does not go up in flames, best to keep everything normal."
She added, "You may use your own address to contact your parents. However, I have a more secure address set up you may use to contact Edythe. Though I would ask you delay its arrival time until after things are... decided."
I took the laptop from Cato gingerly, hardly able to believe it. I hadn't had the time or opportunity to even consider the possibility. But a fierce wave of gladness swept through me. To say something to them one last time—even if it was just to tell them how much I loved them.
As Sulpicia turned, Tacita and Renatus close at her heels, I realized it would probably be the first time she'd be separated from Jules and her power to block Archie's visions since I'd first gotten her call at the lodge. However, this close to the battle Sulpicia probably didn't care if Archie saw her future or where she was. Brenden and Cato both remained where they were, however. Both bodyguards and jailors, I guessed.
As I sank down to the ground and opened the laptop lid, the whisper of Sulpicia's long cloak brushing the grass paused a moment. "One last thing," she said lightly. I looked up automatically and found her gazing back at me. Her deep misty eyes were once again tinged with that aura of sadness, the sadness that made her look oddly kind.
"As I said before, Beau," she murmured, "if you succeed, we will be greatly in your debt. There is little in the way of reward I could give you that would interest you—except perhaps one thing."
I stared back at her, not sure whether to be appalled or to laugh. Reward? What, she thought that, on the off chance I really did save Greece from getting slaughtered, the next thing I'd do was hit her up for cash? Edythe was already way too rich for my tastes.
Sulpicia clearly read my expression, because she smiled a little. "Nothing monetary, of course. But I forced you to change ahead of when you intended, and as a result, now your time with your human parents has been prematurely cut short."
My breath caught briefly in my throat, and suddenly I was sitting very still. In all this, that was one thing I had tried not to think about—how, now that I was changed, I really would never see either of my parents again.
"I can give you more time," Sulpicia said softly. "More time with them, before you must be separated."
I could only stare at her dumbly. More time. More...
Sulpicia continued, "You will probably want to stay away from them for now, while your new blood is acting up—though you have seemed remarkably controlled for a newborn. But, you would be amazed at the resources I have at my disposal. Doctors, paperwork—I could make the idea that your transformation is the result of some obscure disease seem quite authentic."
While I sat there, my quick vampire mind hardly able to fully digest the words, she went on, "Of course, the disease would be terminal, the fact you do not age creates an inherent time limit. And, naturally this could not be done for many, as the humans would grow suspicious of a strange, obscure disease that begins cropping up a little too often. But, I would say you could have another ten years, perhaps more. And if your death is not quite so sudden, it will give your parents more time to prepare, to grieve. And you as well. I am the one who made the rules concerning our secrecy after all—I should be able to bend them a little, in light of the great service you would have rendered us."
I couldn't answer immediately. Ten years. Ten years I had thought I wouldn't have. Was it possible? Maybe in a year or two, I would be safe to be around people. Maybe I could even meet my little sister—or brother—after all.
"Well," Sulpicia said. "Consider it. Remember, you have things to live for, Beau—do not give up too easily."
Sulpicia started to move away again, for real this time, but before she had gone more than a few steps I heard myself blurt, "Wait, just one question."
Sulpicia paused, and glanced back.
I knew if I were still human, there would be red splotches blooming across my face. "Um... how do you send a delayed email?"
Jules snorted. Tacita glared at me as if I were being stupid on purpose.
However, Sulpicia only smiled slightly. "If you can't figure it out, Cato can show you."
I nodded, eyes still on the screen.
I heard the light footfalls as Sulpicia glided away, flanked closely by both Tacita and Renatus. My head was still spinning with Sulpicia's offer, a dream I hadn't even dared to have. Only when they were gone did I force myself to focus.
Sulpicia's email—under a different name from Sulpicia's—was already open in the browser to a blank email, with Edythe's email already input into the address bar. A good thing, as I didn't think I could have remembered it, I'd never emailed her anything before, even as a human. But of course Sulpicia would have known it from touching Edythe's mind before. I tried not to think about how creepy that was.
I decided to start with Edythe's email first. It would undoubtedly be the hardest, but if I saved it for last I had a feeling I wouldn't be able to get myself to write anything down. Typing it up would only take a moment with my quick fingers, but that didn't make actually deciding what to say any easier. I stared at the screen for a minute.
"My lovely, dearest bloodsucker," Jules spoke up. "I will probably be dead by the time you read this. So long, and thanks for all the fish. Or humans, in this case."
I turned to glare at her, where she was now unabashedly peering over my shoulder.
"You really think this is a big joke, don't you?" I accused. "World going down in flames, let's break out the one-liners."
Jules was resting her head on her hand. She seemed to consider. "I mean, not really," she said. "In fact, I think I'm honestly so freaked out right now I don't know what to do. But telling jokes seems better than having a breakdown."
I stared back at Jules. And, not for the first time, I was glad she was here. I hated what she had been forced to go through because of all this—on the pure fact of being so unfortunate as to happen to be someone I cared about—but I knew how much of a darker place my head would be in right now if not for her.
"You know," I said quietly, in a different tone. "I'm kind of surprised."
Her eyebrows rose slightly. "Surprised at what?"
I shrugged, suddenly wondering if this was something I should be saying. I didn't want to give her ideas. However, I'd already come this far.
"You know... that you haven't tried to stop me from doing this. Or try to insist on coming with me or something. I mean, back when Victor was coming after me, you said you wouldn't let me near that clearing."
I could feel Brenden and Cato watching us quietly, but compared to having the eyes of Sulpicia and Tacita on us, I found them oddly easy to ignore.
Jules half-shrugged. "Yeah, because that would have been totally stupid and pointless." She added, "Don't get me wrong—the idea of letting you run straight into a horde of bloodthirsty vampires while I sit back here on my hands kills me." Her blasé tone faded a little, and she looked at me, her dark eyes suddenly intense. "Kills me," she repeated in a murmur.
She sighed and turned away, focusing instead on the distant cliffs beyond the forest. "But," she said, "I've thought about it and thought about it, and I really don't see much choice. Even if I could try to stop you, which I'm sure queen of darkness would put the kibosh on in about three seconds flat, what am I going to do—let the whole world go to hell? If this was something I could do instead of you, I'd be tying you to a tree and pushing your face in the dirt right now, but—"
She sighed deeply. "Yeah, well, you're the only one, right? Like I said, don't have much of a choice."
We were both quiet for a moment. I imagined what it would be like if our roles were reversed—if I was the one staying behind, and Jules was the one running straight into a mass of vampires, with only a new talent she had spotty control over as protection. The thought made me sick to my core, and I realized just what a sacrifice her support was.
"Thanks, Jules," I said quietly.
Jules shrugged. "No problem. If you ever need me to sit around doing nothing while you run straight into danger, I'm there."
I reached back and touched her shoulder briefly. Her blazing skin burned against mine, uncomfortable, but I ignored it.
I turned back to the blank email screen.
"So what are you going to write?" Jules asked.
I shook my head. "No idea." There seemed to be so much to say, I didn't know where to begin. I wanted to explain that I didn't mean anything I had said when I had left, just why I'd had to go. I wanted to tell her about Sulpicia and the world being in danger, and the powers I apparently had. Meeting the Denalis. I wanted to tell her everything.
However, inevitably, I found myself thinking of the goodbye note I had written to Edythe so long ago, when I had made up my mind to hand myself over to Joss. I love you. That had been the main sentiment I had been trying to communicate back then. I love you, and I don't regret anything. Maybe that should be my focus now.
Carefully, going much slower than my new vampire reflexes could have allowed me, I tapped out my message.
When I was finished, I looked up at where Cato stood nearby. "Um," I began. "So, that delay thing..."
Cato started to approach, but Jules sighed and rolled her eyes. "Here, I'll show you. Sheesh, I thought that now you're a bloodsucker, you're supposed to know how to do everything."
I frowned at her. "Since when are you so good at this stuff?"
She shrugged. "I'm not. Sarah's the real techie of the pack. Trust me, if you've got any dirty secrets on your computer, you don't want Sarah going anywhere near it, of she'll have all your data mined and you'll be on her blackmail list. But, you're just so bad at it you make me look good."
I grumbled something in reply as Jules leaned over me and put her finger on the touchpad, moving the cursor over to click on something. As she set the time, a few days out, and then let me hit the send, she said, "Hope your bloodsucker won't be too freaked out getting love letters from her ladyship."
I remembered I needed to switch to my own account for the messages to my parents, and I quickly navigated through the browser. I didn't worry about Sulpicia being able to get into my account or passwords or anything like that, Edythe already had all my information and if Edythe had it, Sulpicia already had it. Still creepy, but not much I could do about it.
The first thing I noticed was that I had received a new message from my mom since I'd last signed on. I hesitated—I was suddenly nervous of reading it. After being changed into a vampire and spending so many days completely immersed in a world so far removed from my old human one, suddenly reading something that I knew would jerk me back gave me a strange feeling.
However, if I was going to send my mom one last message, I would have to reply to what she said. And besides, if I was going to die soon, there was something almost too tragic about the idea of not having read the last thing she'd sent.
I quickly tapped out a message to Charlie first—that one didn't take too long. I left it short and to the point, with nothing too touchy-feely. Charlie and I had never done a lot of email exchanges; Charlie avoided using a computer whenever possible, and that kind of social interaction didn't come easily to either of us. I was only able to keep up with my mom as well as I did because she never seemed to run out of things to say.
I hit the send. Then, taking a short breath, I opened the message from my mom. As I scanned through the contents, I felt whatever inhuman blood was still running through my veins freeze.
I know you probably won't see this message for a little while sweetheart (I know you're probably absorbed with other things. ;-) Say hi to Edythe for me!), but I've been thinking about you, and you know how I just can't help myself.
The weather's been absolutely gorgeous in Jacksonville (as always!), I hope you've been seeing good weather there too. I wish they had told me where you were going sooner so I could have tipped you off. I know you've never been much for hiking and the backwoods, but Archie assures me the scenery there is beautiful, and I'm sure you're having the time of your life being there with your Edythe.
By the way sweetheart, as I get closer to your little sister (of course Phil keeps reminding me we don't know just yet, I love he's so down-to-earth! I've been talking about it so much he thinks I'll be disappointed if it's a boy, the silly goose) coming, I've been thinking about what I can do to help her get an extra headstart on life. I've been playing Beethoven whenever I'm cleaning the house, I've heard that does wonders for a baby's smarts. And just the other day I was reading how everything you do can affect what she's interested in growing up. When I was carrying you, for a little while I became obsessed with budgeting, and look how you turned out!
I just panicked and thought, there could be so much more I'm doing! I could be introducing her to culture and art, and she'll be so much smarter than I ever was. Well, you know me, I started getting ideas, and when I told Phil I wanted to take a trip to Europe as soon as possible (baby's going to be born soon after all!), he was all for it. He got us tickets to Greece! Can you imagine? The history she'll know! I was so bad in history.
Well, hope you're having the time of your life, sweetie (did I say that already?), and I know I'll have to lure you both out to Jacksonville sometime before you go to college! Love you, darling!
With all the love in the world,
Your crazy mom
I stared numbly at the screen.
It didn't seem possible—that of all the hair-brained schemes my mom would come up with, it would have to center on the one place that may very well soon be a slaughtering ground. Of all the countries of all the continents of the world, how could it be...
My eyes rose to the send date on the message—four days ago. I wondered how Phil could have gotten time off—wasn't it the middle of ball season? Then I remembered his injury back from the time around my graduation; he was able to get around like normal now, but he still wasn't fit for play, and according to my mom had just been taking odd jobs here and there that weren't too physically strenuous. The insurance provided by the team's owner wasn't too good.
Depending on how fast Phil had been able to book the flight, they could already be in Greece now. Getting a last-minute flight that soon would be expensive and they couldn't afford it but, if he was humoring her something about the baby and trying to keep her new tendency to fly into panic-mode at a minimum, he would probably go to any lengths to get her what she wanted.
I couldn't move, couldn't think. I knew, on a rational level, that it didn't matter much—if the bad guys won and took down Greece, and the laws of secrecy were no more, then no human in the world would be safe. And yet, the idea of my mom being in Greece, when red-eyed monsters out of a nightmare struck—my mom, with the love of her life and pregnant with my new little sibling—
I felt the panic like hot needles racing up and down my skin. This just couldn't be real. It was too much of a coincidence. I was supposed to be the unlucky one, the magnet for trouble. Not her.
Jules, who had been lounging nearby, saw my face, and of course, immediately knew that something was wrong. Any vestiges of the morbid humor of before vanished, and she sat up.
"What is it?" she asked. "What's wrong?"
My eyes didn't move from the screen and, hesitantly, she leaned over my shoulder to get a look.
After a moment, she whistled, then muttered, "Wow. Ever feel like the universe might be conspiring against you?" She hesitated, glancing at me. "You know, she might not have gotten there yet. She didn't say when it would be exactly."
I didn't answer. She was right, and yet—if the universe hated us so much as to pick out Greece of all countries for my mom to zero in on, I didn't have much faith in our luck in anything else.
Not knowing quite what I was doing, I was suddenly on my feet, leaving the laptop in the grass. Cato and Brenden both tensed, watching me.
"Where are you going?" Jules asked, startled.
"I—" I began. Images were swirling in my mind—my mom, out on the streets of Greece—monsters suddenly appearing from nowhere, leaping from buildings, streaks of sparkling color along the walks, their eyes blazing with triumph and the maddening thirst for blood. The terror in her face as she realized something terrible was happening—
It was happening all over again. Just like with Joss. It wasn't right—my mom didn't deserve this. She was happy, with the guy she loved, and a new kid on the way. The fairy tale ending she hadn't quite gotten with my dad.
I spun, my eyes going toward the south, where I knew Greece lay. I had to find her. I had to get to her, and even if I just ended up ripped apart, I had to try—I had to be there to try to protect her.
I took a step forward, but suddenly found a glass-like barrier in my way. Harder than diamond, too hard even for my immortal hands to break.
Shock quickly turned to fury, and I spun on Brenden, my lips curling back from my teeth in a wild snarl. He stepped back slightly, but otherwise made no discernible reaction.
"What are you doing?" Jules asked. She, too, was on her feet now. However, she wasn't looking at Brenden, but me. She approached me cautiously.
"I have to—" I rasped, my voice at once a hiss of fury and wild desperation. "If she's in Greece, I can't just—"
Brenden must have let down the shield, because Jules reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. She looked me right in the face, and her expression was unusually serious.
"Beau," she said in a measured, calming tone. "Listen. I know how you feel, believe me. I can't believe I'm saying this, but—the best thing you can do for your mom is to stay here and do what the queen of darkness wants you to do. If you do it, the queen will be able to wipe them all out before they get anywhere near Greece."
I shook my head hard, the panic twisting in my stomach, rising up my throat like a live animal. "I can't," I gasped. "There's no way I'll be able to—it's hopeless. I can't just leave my mom to—"
Jules shook my shoulder, and even though my hard, rock form didn't give, it got my attention.
"Beau," she said again. "Stop for a second, and think about it. You help the queen stop the army, then Greece is safe—not just your mom, but everyone there. You run off to find her—which, the queen's minions number two and number three here aren't going to let happen anyway—and if, by some crazy miracle, you actually find her, the most you'd do is find her in time to get torn to pieces by the other bloodsuckers looking for a feast. If you didn't accidentally pick her off yourself, that is."
I froze. A violent, uncontrollable shudder ripped down my spine at that image.
Jules added, "Maybe you think you can't do this, Beau, and maybe it is a longshot—but you know it's the only thing you can do. It's the only way you can save her, and everybody else."
I stayed where I was for a full minute, frozen. The blazing panic and cold logic warred in my brain for a moment—strange, that I was an immortal now, my mind like a machine able to think a thousand times faster and with so much more precision than when I was human. Yet the emotions were also sharper, so much more potent and so much more difficult to override.
Brenden and Cato were both watching me mutely. I looked at Brenden for some reason, and I wondered what he was thinking. It occurred to me that, besides me, he was the youngest vampire here, closest to his human life. Maybe he had no ties to his human life anymore, but if he did, if he were in my place, what advice would I give him?
At long last, the logic won out. I sagged and nodded once, and Jules finally let her hand fall from my shoulder.
I sank back to the grass in front of the laptop, staring at the message. Maybe it was hypocritical, to have already almost accepted the death of entire cities of strangers, and then freak out at the thought of the death of one or two people. It wasn't that I didn't care about the others—it was just, somehow, when it came to Jules, or Edythe, or my mom, I just couldn't think clearly. I couldn't be logical.
I wondered if everyone was like that. I found myself thinking back. Back all the way to when Edythe had gone to the Volturi for death, and Archie and I had followed. When I'd realized that, if the choice was between Jessamine and Edythe, Archie would choose Jessamine. And then when Edythe had refused to let me in the clearing—and maybe she'd had a point, I wouldn't have been much use there—but knowing that, even if some risk to me could have been some advantage to her family, she wouldn't let me anyway. How I'd made Edythe stay back with me, even knowing the added risk it would be to the others. So many of us, who would choose one person over everyone else.
However, even as I thought it, my mind flickered—to the imagined image of a dungeon underneath a Grecian palace, a fallen charismatic leader on his knees, regarded by eyes at once sad and cold, love overridden by justice.
I shook my head. None of that mattered—because Jules was right, what was best for my mom was also best for everybody. Running off to find her wouldn't help anyone, least of all her. If I was going to save her, I had to succeed. Even if I didn't think I could, I just had to.
I took several deep breathes, steadying my concentration. I somehow managed to jot down a few lines in reply. I suggested starting out with Greece might be a bit overwhelming, and if she wanted the baby to know history, she could start out with the basic stuff right at home in the US—American Revolutionary war sites, or the presidents. However, I kept myself from saying anything that sounded too urgent that would alarm her. If she was already in Greece, I knew there wouldn't be anything I could say to get her to cut the trip early. Even if she wanted to, I doubted Phil could get tickets to get them out that fast.
When I was done, I logged out of my email account, and closed the lid on the laptop.
"Well... now what?" My voice was low and rasping, dull.
Jules shrugged. "I guess we wait for the queen to come back with the other bloodsuckers."
I nodded slowly. I started to turn to Cato, if he had an idea when to expect them back, but as I did, I saw he had stiffened.
At first, I thought he was worried I was going to try to make a break for it again, but his eyes were oriented toward the west, in the direction Sulpicia had gone.
"They're coming," he said quietly. "Very quickly."
Something buzzed inside a pocket of his cloak, and he withdrew a cell phone. He put it to his ear, and as he listened his eyes widened. "Yes, my lady," he said shortly. "I understand." He snapped the phone closed.
"We must go," he said abruptly. "Now. Lady Sulpicia is headed back this way. She wants us reunited as soon as possible."
"Why?" Jules asked. "Why the sudden emergency?" She shook her head. "If she's worried Beau might take off—you should have told her we've got that covered."
Cato shook his head, and his features were about as grave as I'd ever seen them. "A complication has arisen," he said evenly. "Perhaps a dire one."
"The bad guys are attacking early?" Jules asked casually, as she climbed onto my back. "Surprised our omniscient darkness queen didn't see that coming."
Cato shook his head as we began to run. "Even worse, I'm afraid. A completely new factor."
I waited for Cato to explain that, but he didn't, and instead we simply raced through the forest in silence, the trees casting long shadows like prison bars along the ground in the early morning light.
I saw the clearing up ahead long before we reached it. As we broke the trees, we came upon a wide, open space covered in emerald green grass.
I found myself slowing automatically, and looked around, taking a fraction of a second to take it in. The vegetation was surprisingly lush for this time of year, while a lazy stream coming down from a nearby mountainside cut through it. The waters were a clear blue, and I could see the silver flashes of fish.
I wondered if, in the spring, if flowers bloomed here. The image of Edythe's clearing flickered through my mind, and I felt a sharp pang in my chest. I shook my head a fraction, forcing myself to focus.
Instead, I turned my eyes to the clearing's opposite end, where I saw a series of figures in dark cloaks congregated. Twenty-four, I quickly counted altogether. These must have been those Sulpicia had been going to meet—for some reason, I had expected there to be more.
Unlike the previous Volturi members I had seen, who always stood at rigid attention like Roman sentries, many of these did not seem so disciplined. Though they had stopped walking at a signal from Sulpicia, many shifted restlessly, looking around.
Sulpicia left the force behind her, Tacita and Renatus keeping close at her sides as always. They moved briskly, and were to us in an instant.
I had grown used to Sulpicia's almost supernatural poise and ever-present politeness, but though she appeared outwardly calm now, I was startled to see the tension in her face. Not panic exactly, but on her usually serene and implacable features, the deep gravity in her misty eyes seemed the next thing to it.
Cato, uncharacteristically, spoke first.
"I am so sorry, my lady," he began in a rush. "I ought to have sensed this. I was so focused on the movements of Salvatore, I did not—"
Sulpicia put up a hand, cutting him off. "You can only see what you are on the lookout to see," she said. "And Salvatore has been our chief concern. I should not be surprised they would try to make a move now—my dear old acquaintances are like vultures, circling, waiting until we are sufficiently weakened to swoop down and feed on us. It was fortunate we were able to unite with Marcus's forces as soon as we have, though Athenodora is still some way away."
At a tap from Jules on my shoulder, I let her step down from my back. She stood with us, for once not lounging around as though she didn't have a care in the world. Some of the crimson eyes watching us from a distance glanced at her curiously, but none lingered on her too long. Even without a cloak, she must have looked as much like a part of this group as any of us. They didn't question Sulpicia's choice of allies.
"Wait," Jules said, raising a hand. "Back up a second. Who's the vultures coming for us?"
Sulpicia's misty eyes, unusually sharp, shifted to her. She said quietly, "The Romanians."
Sulpicia's words from her story whispered in my mind. The most vile, indulgent of them all... Monsters from a time long past. Here. Now.
I felt myself suck in a sharp breath. My hands clenched at my sides.
Jules frowned, then glanced to me. "Who?"
I shook myself from the imagined horrors. I tried to think how to explain. "Before the Volturi," I muttered in a low voice, "other vampires ruled the world. But not the same way as the Volturi do. Out in the open—just eating whoever they want, whenever they want."
Jules stared at me. A tinge of sick pallor had crept into her russet skin. For once she didn't have a clever wisecrack.
I looked to Sulpicia. "I thought you defeated them."
Sulpicia nodded once, in the briefest movement—she was all efficiency now. "We did. However, a couple of them escaped our grasp then, and have been on the run from us ever since. However, as Tacita sensed their approach, she felt twenty-eight, those Rahela and Vladimir—that is their names—recruited to their cause. They have also joined forces with another old enemy, the only remaining member of the Egyptian coven. Though the Egyptians were more indolent and less aggressive than the Romanians, they too were once a force to be reckoned with, and shared similar indulgent sensibilities when it came to feeding."
A hint of a sigh escaped her. "Tacita also senses among them a girl by the name of Demia—a member of the Egyptian coven and the greatest tracker I have ever seen, which seems to be how they were able to locate us so easily." She added, "I had hoped at one time she would join our guard, but she was happier to remain with her coven. Perhaps it would have been better had I been more insistent."
"So," Jules said, glancing back at the congregation of vampires in dark cloaks. "You're about even, except they've got you a little outnumbered."
Sulpicia's expression, set in stone, didn't change. "I wish I could say we were. Even with about even numbers, the battle would be tilted in our favor—as I said before, many of those Marcus has gathered here are former core guard members, with all of our advanced training and a great deal of experience. Tacita on her own would likely be good for taking out a good few of their numbers. However—"
Sulpicia's eyes looked to me, and they were unusually sharp, almost piercing, even through the ever-present misty film that covered them. "However," she said quietly, "in addition to Demia and her tracking, there is one other with them whose power will put us at a severe disadvantage. One I know to be clever enough to put that gift to maximum use, and who will be, at this moment, driven to the point of fanaticism to take back something I stole from her."
I stared back at her, and felt my body freeze where it was. And I knew the name she was going to say before she said it.
"The Romanians are fast approaching," she repeated softly. "And with them is Edythe Cullen."
A/N: Another chapter down—and we're finally getting down to the wire.
Next chapter we'll be stepping out of order with the perspectives (it just ended up working out that way), though I'll admit next chapter might be my favorite of the project.
My plan on the next chapter is post on the regular schedule (so that's the date I'll be putting in my bio), but March is promising to be a busy month, so depending on how things go the date might get pushed back.
If you have a moment, let me know what you thought, and hope to see you all next time!