WE MADE OUR FLIGHT WITH SECONDS TO SPARE, AND THEN the true torture began. The plane sat idle on the tarmac while the flight attendants strolled—so casually—up and down the aisle, patting the bags in the overhead compartments to make sure everything fit. The pilots leaned out of the cockpit, chatting with them as they passed. Alice’s hand was hard on my shoulder, holding me in my seat while I bounced anxiously up and down.
“It’s faster than running,” she reminded me in a low voice.
I just nodded in time with my bouncing.
At last the plane rolled lazily from the gate, building speed with a gradual steadiness that tortured me further. I expected some kind of relief when we achieved liftoff, but my frenzied impatience didn’t lessen.
Alice lifted the phone on the back of the seat in front of her before we’d stopped climbing, turning her back on the stewardess who eyed her with disapproval. Something about my expression stopped the stewardess from coming over to protest.
I tried to tune out what Alice was murmuring to Jasper; I didn’t want to hear the words again, but some slipped through.
“I can’t be sure, I keep seeing him do different things, he keeps changing his mind… A killing spree through the city, attacking the guard, lifting a car over his head in the main square… mostly things that would expose them—he knows that’s the fastest way to force a reaction…”
“No, you can’t.” Alice’s voice dropped till it was nearly inaudible, though I was sitting inches from her. Contrarily, I listened harder. “Tell Emmett no… Well, go after Emmett and Rosalie and bring them back… Think about it, Jasper. If he sees any of us, what do you think he will do?”
She nodded. “Exactly. I think Bella is the only chance—if there is a chance… I’ll do everything that can be done, but prepare Carlisle; the odds aren’t good.”
She laughed then, and there was a catch in her voice. “I’ve thought of that… Yes, I promise.” Her voice became pleading. “Don’t follow me. I promise, Jasper. One way or another, I’ll get out… And I love you.”
She hung up, and leaned back in her seat with her eyes closed. “I hate lying to him.”
“Tell me everything, Alice,” I begged. “I don’t understand. Why did you tell Jasper to stop Emmett, why can’t they come help us?”
“Two reasons,” she whispered, her eyes still closed. “The first I told him. We could try to stop Edward ourselves—if Emmett could get his hands on him, we might be able to stop him long enough to convince him you’re alive. But we can’t sneak up on Edward. And if he sees us coming for him, he’ll just act that much faster. He’ll throw a Buiclc through a wall or something, and the Volturi will take him down.
“That’s the second reason of course, the reason I couldn’t say to Jasper. Because if they’re there and the Volturi kill Edward, they’ll fight them. Bella.” She opened her eyes and stared at me, beseeching. “If there were any chance we could win… if there were a way that the four of us could save my brother by fighting for him, maybe it would be different. But we can’t, and, Bella, I can’t lose Jasper like that.”
I realized why her eyes begged for my understanding. She was protecting Jasper, at our expense, and maybe at Edward’s, too. I understood, and I did not think badly of her. I nodded.
“Couldn’t Edward hear you, though.'” I asked. “Wouldn’t he know, as soon as he heard your thoughts, that I was alive, that there was no point to this?”
Not that there was any justification, either way. I still couldn’t believe that he was capable of reacting like this. It made no sense! I remembered with painful clarity his words that day on the sofa, while we watched Romeo and Juliet kill themselves, one after the other. I wasn’t going to live without you , he’d said, as if it should be such an obvious conclusion. But the words he had spoken in the forest as he’d left me had canceled all that out—forcefully.
“If he were listening,” she explained. “But believe it or not, it’s possible to lie with your thoughts. If you had died, I would still try to stop him. And I would be thinking ‘she’s alive, she’s alive’ as hard as I could. He knows that.”
I ground my teeth in mute frustration.
“If there were any way to do this without you, Bella, I wouldn’t be endangering you like this. It’s very wrong of me.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m the last thing you should be worrying about.” I shook my head impatiently. “Tell me what you meant, about hating to lie to Jasper.”
She smiled a grim smile. “I promised him I would get out before they killed me, too. It’s not something I can guarantee—not by a long shot.” She raised her eyebrows, as if willing me to take the danger more seriously.
“Who are these Volturi?” I demanded in a whisper. “What makes them so much more dangerous than Emmett, Jasper, Rosalie, and you?” It was hard to imagine something scarier than that.
She took a deep breath, and then abruptly leveled a dark glance over my shoulder. I turned in time to see the man in the aisle seat looking away as if he wasn’t listening to us. He appeared to be a businessman, in a dark suit with a power tie and a laptop on his knees. While I stared at him with irritation, he opened the computer and very conspicuously put headphones on.
I leaned closer to Alice. Her lips were at my ears as she breathed the story.
“I was surprised that you recognized the name,” she said. “That you understood so immediately what it meant—when I said he was going to Italy. I thought I would have to explain. How much did Edward tell you?”
“He just said they were an old, powerful family—like royalty. That you didn’t antagonize them unless you wanted to… die,” I whispered. The last word was hard to choke out.
“You have to understand,” she said, her voice slower, more measured now. “We Cullens are unique in more ways than you know. It’s… abnormal for so many of us to live together in peace. It’s the same for Tanya’s family in the north, and Carlisle speculates that abstaining makes it easier for us to be civilized, to form bonds based on love rather than survival or convenience. Even James’s little coven of three was unusually large—and you saw how easily Laurent left them. Our kind travel alone, or in pairs, as a general rule. Carlisle’s family is the biggest in existence, as far as I know, with the one exception. The Volturi.
“There were three of them originally, Aro, Caius, and Marcus.”
“I’ve seen them,” I mumbled. “In the picture in Carlisle’s study.”
Alice nodded. “Two females joined them over time, and the five of them make up the family. I’m not sure, but I suspect that their age is what gives them the ability to live peacefully together. They are well over three thousand years old. Or maybe it’s their gifts that give them extra tolerance. Like Edward and I, Aro and Marcus are… talented.”
She continued before I could ask. “Or maybe it’s just their love of power that binds them together. Royalty is an apt description.”
“But if there are only five—”
“Five that make up the family,” she corrected. “That doesn’t include their guard.”
I took a deep breath. “That sounds… serious.”
“Oh, it is,” she assured me. “There were nine members of the guard that were permanent, the last time we heard. Others are more… transitory. It changes. And many of them are gifted as well—with formidable gifts, gifts that make what I can do look like a parlor trick. The Volturi chose them for their abilities, physical or otherwise.”
I opened my mouth, and then closed it. I didn’t think I wanted to know how bad the odds were.
She nodded again, as if she understood exactly what I was thinking. “They don’t get into too many confrontations. No one is stupid enough to mess with them. They stay in their city, leaving only as duty calls.”
“Duty?” I wondered.
“Didn’t Edward tell you what they do?”
“No,” I said, feeling the blank expression on my face.
Alice looked over my head again, toward the businessman, and put her wintry lips back to my ear.
“There’s a reason he called them royalty… the ruling class. Over the millennia, they have assumed the position of enforcing our rules—which actually translates to punishing transgressors. They fulfill that duty decisively.”
My eyes popped wide with shock. “There are rules ?” I asked in a voice that was too loud.
“Shouldn’t somebody have mentioned this to me earlier?” I whispered angrily. “I mean, I wanted to be a… to be one of you! Shouldn’t somebody have explained the rules to me?”
Alice chuckled once at my reaction. “It’s not that complicated, Bella. There’s only one core restriction—and if you think about it, you can probably figure it out for yourself.”
I thought about it. “Nope, I have no idea.”
She shook her head, disappointed. “Maybe it’s too obvious. We just have to keep our existence a secret.”
“Oh,” I mumbled. It was obvious.
“It makes sense, and most of us don’t need policing,” she continued. “But, after a few centuries, sometimes one of us gets bored. Or crazy. I dor’t know. And then the Volturi step in before it can compromise them, or the rest of us.”
“Is planning to flout that in their own city—the city they’ve secretly held for three thousand years, since the time of the Etruscans. They are so protective of their city that they don’t allow hunting within its walls. Volterra is probably the safest city in the world—from vampire attack at the very least.”
“But you said they didn’t leave. How do they eat?”
“They don’t leave. They bring in their food from the outside, from quite far away sometimes. It gives their guard something to do when they’re not out annihilating mavericks. Or protecting Volterra from exposure…”
“From situations like this one, like Edward,” I finished her sentence. It was amazingly easy to say his name now. I wasn’t sure what the difference was. Maybe because I wasn’t really planning on living much longer without seeing him. Or at all, if we were too late. It was comforting to know that I would have an easy out.
“I doubt they’ve ever had a situation quite like this,” she muttered, disgusted. “You don’t get a lot of suicidal vampires.”
The sound that escaped out of my mouth was very quiet, but Alice seemed to understand that it was a cry of pain. She wrapped her thin, strong arm around my shoulders.
“We’ll do what we can, Bella. It’s not over yet.”
“Not yet.” I let her comfort me, though I knew she thought our chances were poor. “And the Volturi will get us if we mess up.”
Alice stiffened. “You say that like it’s a good thing.”
“Knock it off, Bella, or we’re turning around in New York and going back to Forks.”
“You know what. If we’re too late for Edward, I’m going to do my damnedest to get you back to Charlie, and I don’t want any trouble from you. Do you understand that?”
She pulled back slightly so that she could glare at me. “No trouble.”
“Scout’s honor,” I muttered.
She rolled her eyes.
“Let me concentrate, now. I’m trying to see what he’s planning.”
She left her arm around me, but let her head fall back against the seat and closed her eyes. She pressed her free hand to the side of her face, rubbing her fingertips against her temple.
I watched her in fascination for a long time. Eventually, she became utterly motionless, hei face like a stone sculpture. The minutes passed, and if I didn’t know better, I would have thought she’d fallen asleep. I didn’t dare interrupt her to ask what was going on.
I wished there was something safe for me to think about. I couldn’t allow myself to consider the horrors we were headed toward, or, more horrific yet, the chance that we might fail—not if I wanted to keep from screaming aloud.
I couldn’t anticipate anything, either. Maybe, if I were very, very, very lucky, I would somehow be able to save Edward. But I wasn’t so stupid as to think that saving him would mean that I could stay with him. I was no different, no more special than I’d been before. There would be no new reason for him to want me now. Seeing him and losing him again…
I fought back against the pain. This was the price I had to pay to save his life. I would pay it.
They showed a movie, and my neighbor got headphones. Sometimes I watched the figures moving across the little screen, but I couldn’t even tell if the movie was supposed to be a romance or a horror film.
After an eternity, the plane began to descend toward New York City. Alice remained in her trance. I dithered, reaching out to touch her, only to pull my hand back again. This happened a dozen times before the plane touched town with a jarring impact.
“Alice,” I finally said. “Alice, we have to go.”
I touched her arm.
Her eyes came open very slowly. She shook her head from side to side for a moment.
“Anything new?” I asked in a low voice, conscious of the man listening on the other side of me.
“Not exactly,” she breathed in a voice I could barely catch. “He’s getting closer. He’s deciding how he’s going to ask.”
We had to run for our connection, but that was good—better than having to wait. As soon as the plane was in the air, Alice closed her eyes and slid back into the same stupor as before. I waited as patiently as I could. When it was dark again, I opened the window to stare out into the flat black that was no better than the window shade.
I was grateful that I’d had so many months’ practice with controlling my thoughts. Instead of dwelling on the terrifying possibilities that, no matter what Alice said, I did not intend to survive, I concentrated on lesser problems. Like, what I was going to say to Charlie if I got back:’ That was a thorny enough problem to occupy several hours. And Jacob? He’d promised to wait for me, but did that promise still apply? Would I end up home alone in Forks, with no one at all? Maybe I didn’t want to survive, no matter what happened.
It felt like seconds later when Alice shook my shoulder—I hadn’t realized I’d fallen asleep.
“Bella,” she hissed, her voice a little too loud in the darkened cabin full of sleeping humans.
I wasn’t disoriented—I hadn’t been out long enough for that.
Alice’s eyes gleamed in the dim light of a reading lamp in the row behind us.
“It’s not wrong.” She smiled fiercely. “It’s right. They’re deliberating, but they’ve decided to tell him no.”
“The Volturi?” I muttered, groggy.
“Of course, Bella, keep up. I can see what they’re going to say.”
An attendant tiptoed down the aisle to us. “Can I get you ladies a pillow?” His hushed whisper was a rebuke to our comparatively loud conversation.
“No, thank you.” Alice beamed at up at him, her smile shockingly lovely. The attendant’s expression was dazed as he turned and stumbled his way back.
“Tell me,” I breathed almost silently.
She whispered into my ear. “They’re interested in him—they think his talent could be uselul. They’re going to offer him a place with them.”
“What will he say?”
“I can’t see that yet, but I’ll bet it’s colorful.” She grinned again. “This is the first good news—the first break. They’re intrigued; they truly don’t want to destroy him—’wasteful,’ that’s the word Aro will use—and that may be enough to force him to get creative. The longer he spends on his plans, the better for us.”
It wasn’t enough to make me hopeful, to make me feel the relief she obviously felt. There were still so many ways that we could be too late. And if I didn’t get through the walls into the Volturi city, I wouldn’t be able to stop Alice from dragging me back home.
“I’m confused. How are you seeing this so clearly? And then other times, you see things far away—things that don’t happen?”
Her eyes tightened. I wondered if she guessed what I was thinking of.
“It’s clear because it’s immediate and close, and I’m really concentrating. The faraway things that come on their own—those are just glimpses, faint maybes. Plus, I see my kind more easily than yours. Edward is even easier because I’m so attuned to him.”
“You see me sometimes,” I reminded her.
She shook her head. “Not as clearly.”
I sighed. “I really wish you could have been right about me. In the beginning, when you first saw things about me, before we even met…”
“What do you mean?”
“You saw me become one of you.” I barely mouthed the words.
She sighed. “It was a possibility at the time.”
“At the time,” I repeated.
“Actually, Bella…” She hesitated, and then seemed to make a choice. “Honestly, I think it’s all gotten beyond ridiculous. I’m debating whether to just change you myself.”
I stared at her, frozen with shock. Instantly, my mind resisted her words. I couldn’t afford that kind of hope if she changed her mind.
“Did I scare you?” she wondered. “I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“I do!” I gasped. “Oh, Alice, do it now! I could help you so much—and I wouldn’t slow you down. Bite me!”
“Shh,” she cautioned. The attendant was looking in our direction again. “Try to be reasonable,” she whispered. “We don’t have enough time. We have to get into Volterra tomorrow. You’d be writhing in pain for days.” She made a face. “And I don’t think the other passengers would react well.”
I bit my lip. “If you don’t do it now, you’ll change your mind.”
“No.” She frowned, her expression unhappy. “I don’t think I will. He’ll be furious, but what will he be able to do about it?”
My heart beat faster. “Nothing at all.”
She laughed quietly, and then sighed. “You have too much faith in me, Bella. I’m not sure that I can . I’ll probably just end up killing you.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“You are so bizarre, even for a human.”
“Oh well, this is purely hypothetical at this point, anyway. First we have to live through tomorrow.”
“Good point.” But at least I had something to hope for if we did. If Alice made good on her promise—and if she didn’t kill me—then Edward could run after his distractions all he wanted, and I could follow. I wouldn’t let him be distracted. Maybe, when I was beautiful and strong, he wouldn’t want distractions.
“Go back to sleep,” she encouraged me. “I’ll wake you up when there’s something new.”
“Right,” I grumbled, certain that sleep was a lost cause now. Alice pulled her legs up on the seat, wrapping her arms around them and leaning her forehead against her knees. She rocked back and forth as she concentrated.
I rested my head against the seat, watching her, and the next thing I knew, she was snapping the shade closed against the faint brightening in the eastern sky.
“What’s happening?” I mumbled.
“They’ve told him no,” she said quietly. I noticed at once that her enthusiasm was gone.
My voice choked in my throat with panic. “What’s he going to do?”
“It was chaotic at first. I was only getting flickers, he was changing plans so quickly.”
“What kinds of plans?” I pressed.
“There was a bad hour,” she whispered. “He’d decided to go hunting.”
She looked at me, seeing the comprehension in my face.
“In the city,” she explained. “It got very close. He changed his mind at the last minute.”
“He wouldn’t want to disappoint Carlisle,” I mumbled. Not at the end.
“Probably,” she agreed.
“Will there be enough time?” As I spoke, there was a shift in the cabin pressure. I could feel the plane angling downward.
“I’m hoping so—if he sticks to his latest decision, maybe.”
“What is that?”
“He’s going to keep it simple. He’s just going to walk out into the sun.”
Just walk out into the sun. That was all.
It would be enough. The image of Edward in the meadow—glowing, shimmering like his skin was made of a million diamond facets—was burned into my memory. No human who saw that would ever forget. The Volturi couldn’t possibly allow it. Not if they wanted to keep their city inconspicuous.
I looked at the slight gray glow that shone through the opened windows. “We’ll be too late,” I whispered, my throat closing in panic.
She shook her head. “Right now, he’s leaning toward the melodramatic. He wants the biggest audience possible, so he’ll choose the main plaza, under the clock tower. The walls are high there. He’ll wait till the sun is exactly overhead.”
“So we have till noon?”
“If we’re lucky. If he sticks with this decision.”
The pilot came on over the intercom, announcing, first in French and then in English, our imminent landing. The seat belt lights dinged and flashed.
“How far is it from Florence to Volterra?”
“That depends on how fast you drive… Bella?”
She eyed me speculatively. “How strongly are you opposed to grand theft auto?”
A bright yellow Porsche screamed to a stop a few feet in front of where I paced, the word TURBO scrawled in silver cursive across its back. Everyone beside me on the crowded airport sidewalk stared.
“Hurry, Bella!” Alice shouted impatiently through the open passenger window.
I ran to the door and threw myself in, feeling as though I might as well be wearing a black stocking over my head.
“Sheesh, Alice,” I complained. “Could you pick a more conspicuous car to steal?”
The interior was black leather, and the windows were tinted dark. It felt safer inside, like nighttime.
Alice was already weaving, too fast, through the thick airport traffic—sliding through tiny spaces between the cars as I cringed and fumbled for my seat belt.
“The important question,” she corrected, “is whether I could have stolen a faster car, and I don’t think so. I got lucky.”
“I’m sure that will be very comforting at the roadblock.”
She trilled a laugh. “Trust me, Bella. If anyone sets up a roadblock, it will be behind us.” She hit the gas then, as if to prove her point.
I probably should have watched out the window as first the city of Florence and then the Tuscan landscape flashed past with blurring speed. This was my first trip anywhere, and maybe my last, too. But Alice’s driving frightened me, despite the fact that I knew I could trust her behind the wheel. And I was too tortured with anxiety to really see the hills or the walled towns that looked like castles in the distance.
“Do you see anything more?”
“There’s something going on,” Alice muttered. “Some kind of festival. The streets are full of people and red flags. What’s the date today?”
I wasn’t entirely sure. “The nineteenth, maybe?”
“Well, that’s ironic. It’s Saint Marcus Day.”
She chuckled darkly. “The city holds a celebration every year. As the legend goes, a Christian missionary, a Father Marcus—Marcus of the Voltun, in fact—drove all the vampires from Volterra fifteen hundred years ago. The story claims he was martyred in Romania, still trying to drive away the vampire scourge. Of course that’s nonsense—he’s never left the city. But that’s where some of the superstitions about things like crosses and garlic come from. Father Marcus used them so successfully. And vampires don’t trouble Volterra, so they must work.” Her smile was sardonic. “It’s become more of a celebration of the city, and recognition for the police force—after all, Volterra is an amazingly safe city. The police get the credit.”
I was realizing what she meant when she’d said ironic . “They’re not going to be very happy if Edward messes things up for them on St. Marcus Day, are they?”
She shook her head, her expression grim. “No. They’ll act very quickly.”
I looked away, fighting against my teeth as they tried to break through the skin of my lower lip. Bleeding was not the best idea right now.
The sun was terrifyingly high in the pale blue sky.
“He’s still planning on noon?” I checked.
“Yes. He’s decided to wait. And they’re waiting for him.”
“Tell me what I have to do.”
She kept her eyes on the winding road—the needle on the speedometer was touching the far right on the dial.
“You don’t have to do anything. He just has to see you before he moves into the light. And he has to see you before he sees me.”
“How are we going to work that?”
A small red car seemed to be racing backward as Alice zoomed around it.
“I’m going to get you as close as possible, and then you’re going to run in the direction I point you.”
“Try not to trip,” she added. “We don’t have time for a concussion today.”
I groaned. That would be just like me—ruin everything, destroy the world, in a moment of klutziness.
The sun continued to climb in the sky while Alice raced against it. It was too brigh:, and that had me panicking. Maybe he wouldn’t feel the need to wait for noon after all.
“There,” Alice said abruptly, pointing to the castle city atop the closest hill.
I stared at it, feeling the very first hint of a new kind of fear. Every minute since yesterday morning—it seemed like a week ago—when Alice had spoken his name at the foot of the stairs, there had been only one fear. And yet, now, as I stared at the ancient sienna walls and towers crowning the peak of the steep hill, I felt another, more selfish kind of dread thrill through me.
I supposed the city was very beautiful. It absolutely terrified me.
“Volterra,” Alice announced in a flat, icy voice.