Carlisle and Edward had not been able to catch up with Irina before her trail disappeared into the sound. They’d swum to the other bank to see if her trail had picked up in a straight line, but there was no trace of her for miles in either direction on the eastern shore.
It was all my fault. She had come, as Alice had seen, to make peace with the Cullens, only to be angered by my camaraderie with Jacob. I wished I’d noticed her earlier, before Jacob had phased. I wished we’d gone hunting somewhere else.
There wasn’t much to be done. Carlisle had called Tanya with the disappointing news. Tanya and Kate hadn’t seen Irina since they’d decided to come to my wedding, and they were distraught that Irina had come so close and yet not returned home; it wasn’t easy for them to lose their sister, however temporary the separation might be. I wondered if this brought back hard memories of losing their mother so many centuries ago.
Alice was able to catch a few glimpses of Irina’s immediate future, nothing too concrete. She wasn’t going back to Denali, as far as Alice could tell. The picture was hazy. All Alice could see was that Irina was visibly upset; she wandered in the snow-swathed wilderness—to the north? To the east?—with a devastated expression. She made no decisions for a new course beyond her directionless grieving.
Days passed and, though of course I forgot nothing, Irina and her pain moved to the back of my mind. There were more important things to think of now. I would leave for Italy in just a few days. When I got back, we’d all be off to South America.
Every detail had been gone over a hundred times already. We would start with the Ticunas, tracing their legends as well as we could at the source. Now that it was accepted that Jacob would come with us, he figured prominently in the plans—it was unlikely that the people who believed in vampires would speak to any of us about their stories. If we dead-ended with the Ticunas, there were many closely related tribes in the area to research. Carlisle had some old friends in the Amazon; if we could find them, they might have information for us, too. Or at least a suggestion as to where else we might go for answers. It was unlikely that the three Amazon vampires had anything to do with the legends of vampire hybrids themselves, as they were all female. There was no way to know how long our search would take.
I hadn’t told Charlie about the longer trip yet, and I stewed about what to say to him while Edward and Carlisle’s discussion went on. How to break the news to him just right?
I stared at Renesmee while I debated internally. She was curled up on the sofa now, her breathing slow with heavy sleep, her tangled curls splayed wildly around her face. Usually, Edward and I took her back to our cottage to put her to bed, but tonight we lingered with the family, he and Carlisle deep in their planning session.
Meanwhile, Emmett and Jasper were more excited about planning the hunting possibilities. The Amazon offered a change from our normal quarry. Jaguars and panthers, for example. Emmett had a whim to wrestle with an anaconda. Esme and Rosalie were planning what they would pack. Jacob was off with Sam’s pack, setting things up for his own absence.
Alice moved slowly—for her—around the big room, unnecessarily tidying the already immaculate space, straightening Esme’s perfectly hung garlands. She was re-centering Esme’s vases on the console at the moment. I could see from the way her face fluctuated—aware, then blank, then aware again—that she was searching the future. I assumed she was trying to see through the blind spots that Jacob and Renesmee made in her visions as to what was waiting for us in South America until Jasper said, “Let it go, Alice; she’s not our concern,” and a cloud of serenity stole silently and invisibly through the room. Alice must have been worrying about Irina again.
She stuck her tongue out at Jasper and then lifted one crystal vase that was filled with white and red roses and turned toward the kitchen. There was just the barest hint of wilt to one of the white flowers, but Alice seemed intent on utter perfection as a distraction to her lack of vision tonight.
Staring at Renesmee again, I didn’t see it when the vase slipped from Alice’s fingers. I only heard the whoosh of the air whistling past the crystal, and my eyes flickered up in time to see the vase shatter into ten thousand diamond shards against the edge of the kitchen’s marble floor.
We were perfectly still as the fragmented crystal bounced and skittered in every direction with an unmusical tinkling, all eyes on Alice’s back.
My first illogical thought was that Alice was playing some joke on us. Because there was no way that Alice could have dropped the vase by accident . I could have darted across the room to catch the vase in plenty of time myself, if I hadn’t assumed she would get it. And how would it fall through her fingers in the first place? Her perfectly sure fingers…
I had never seen a vampire drop anything by accident. Ever.
And then Alice was facing us, twisting in a move so fast it didn’t exist.
Her eyes were halfway here and halfway locked on the future, wide, staring, filling her thin face till they seemed to overflow it. Looking into her eyes was like looking out of a grave from the inside; I was buried in the terror and despair and agony of her gaze.
I heard Edward gasp; it was a broken, half-choked sound.
“What? ” Jasper growled, leaping to her side in a blurred rush of movement, crushing the broken crystal under his feet. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her sharply. She seemed to rattle silently in his hands. “What, Alice?”
Emmett moved into my peripheral vision, his teeth bared while his eyes darted toward the window, anticipating an attack.
There was only silence from Esme, Carlisle, and Rose, who were frozen just as I was.
Jasper shook Alice again. “What is it?”
“They’re coming for us,” Alice and Edward whispered together, perfectly synchronized. “All of them.”
For once, I was the quickest to understand—because something in their words triggered my own vision. It was only the distant memory of a dream—faint, transparent, indistinct as if I were peering through thick gauze.… In my head, I saw a line of black advancing on me, the ghost of my half-forgotten human nightmare. I could not see the glint of their ruby eyes in the shrouded image, or the shine of their sharp wet teeth, but I knew where the gleam should be. . . .
Stronger than the memory of the sight came the memory of the feel —the wrenching need to protect the precious thing behind me.
I wanted to snatch Renesmee up into my arms, to hide her behind my skin and hair, to make her invisible. But I couldn’t even turn to look at her. I felt not like stone but ice. For the first time since I’d been reborn a vampire, I felt cold.
I barely heard the confirmation of my fears. I didn’t need it. I already knew.
“The Volturi,” Alice moaned.
“All of them,” Edward groaned at the same time.
“Why?” Alice whispered to herself. “How?”
“When?” Edward whispered.
“Why?” Esme echoed.
“When ?” Jasper repeated in a voice like splintering ice.
Alice’s eyes didn’t blink, but it was as if a veil covered them; they became perfectly blank. Only her mouth held on to her expression of horror.
“Not long,” she and Edward said together. Then she spoke alone. “There’s snow on the forest, snow on the town. Little more than a month.”
“Why?” Carlisle was the one to ask this time.
Esme answered. “They must have a reason. Maybe to see . . .”
“This isn’t about Bella,” Alice said hollowly. “They’re all coming—Aro, Caius, Marcus, every member of the guard, even the wives.”
“The wives never leave the tower,” Jasper contradicted her in a flat voice. “Never. Not during the southern rebellion. Not when the Romanians tried to overthrow them. Not even when they were hunting the immortal children. Never.”
“They’re coming now,” Edward whispered.
“But why ?” Carlisle said again. “We’ve done nothing! And if we had, what could we possibly do that would bring this down on us?”
“There are so many of us,” Edward answered dully. “They must want to make sure that . . .” He didn’t finish.
“That doesn’t answer the crucial question! Why?”
I felt I knew the answer to Carlisle’s question, and yet at the same time I didn’t. Renesmee was the reason why, I was sure. Somehow I’d known from the very beginning that they would come for her. My subconscious had warned me before I’d known I was carrying her. It felt oddly expected now. As if I’d somehow always known that the Volturi would come to take my happiness from me.
But that still didn’t answer the question.
“Go back, Alice,” Jasper pleaded. “Look for the trigger. Search.”
Alice shook her head slowly, her shoulders sagging. “It came out of nowhere, Jazz. I wasn’t looking for them, or even for us. I was just looking for Irina. She wasn’t where I expected her to be. . . .” Alice trailed off, her eyes drifting again. She stared at nothing for a long second.
And then her head jerked up, her eyes hard as flint. I heard Edward catch his breath.
“She decided to go to them,” Alice said. “Irina decided to go to the Volturi. And then they will decide.… It’s as if they’re waiting for her. Like their decision was already made, and just waiting on her. . . .”
It was silent again as we digested this. What would Irina tell the Volturi that would result in Alice’s appalling vision?
“Can we stop her?” Jasper asked.
“There’s no way. She’s almost there.”
“What is she doing?” Carlisle was asking, but I wasn’t paying attention to the discussion now. All my focus was on the picture that was painstakingly coming together in my head.
I pictured Irina poised on the cliff, watching. What had she seen? A vampire and a werewolf who were best friends. I’d been focused on that image, one that would obviously explain her reaction. But that was not all that she’d seen.
She’d also seen a child. An exquisitely beautiful child, showing off in the falling snow, clearly more than human…
Irina… the orphaned sisters… Carlisle had said that losing their mother to the Volturi’s justice had made Tanya, Kate, and Irina purists when it came to the law.
Just half a minute ago, Jasper had said the words himself: Not even when they were hunting the immortal children .… The immortal children—the unmentionable bane, the appalling taboo…
With Irina’s past, how could she apply any other reading to what she’d seen that day in the narrow field? She had not been close enough to hear Renesmee’s heart, to feel the heat radiating from her body. Renesmee’s rosy cheeks could have been a trick on our part for all she knew.
After all, the Cullens were in league with werewolves. From Irina’s point of view, maybe this meant nothing was beyond us.…
Irina, wringing her hands in the snowy wilderness—not mourning Laurent, after all, but knowing it was her duty to turn the Cullens in, knowing what would happen to them if she did. Apparently her conscience had won out over the centuries of friendship.
And the Volturi’s response to this kind of infraction was so automatic, it was already decided.
I turned and draped myself over Renesmee’s sleeping body, covering her with my hair, burying my face in her curls.
“Think of what she saw that afternoon,” I said in a low voice, interrupting whatever Emmett was beginning to say. “To someone who’d lost a mother because of the immortal children, what would Renesmee look like?”
Everything was silent again as the others caught up to where I was already.
“An immortal child,” Carlisle whispered.
I felt Edward kneel beside me, wrap his arms over us both.
“But she’s wrong,” I went on. “Renesmee isn’t like those other children. They were frozen, but she grows so much every day. They were out of control, but she never hurts Charlie or Sue or even shows them things that would upset them. She can control herself. She’s already smarter than most adults. There would be no reason. . . .”
I babbled on, waiting for someone to exhale with relief, waiting for the icy tension in the room to relax as they realized I was right. The room just seemed to get colder. Eventually my small voice trailed off into silence.
No one spoke for a long time.
Then Edward whispered into my hair. “It’s not the kind of crime they hold a trial for, love,” he said quietly. “Aro’s seen Irina’s proof in her thoughts. They come to destroy, not to be reasoned with.”
“But they’re wrong,” I said stubbornly.
“They won’t wait for us to show them that.”
His voice was still quiet, gentle, velvet… and yet the pain and desolation in the sound was unavoidable. His voice was like Alice’s eyes before—like the inside of a tomb.
“What can we do?” I demanded.
Renesmee was so warm and perfect in my arms, dreaming peacefully. I’d worried so much about Renesmee’s speeding age—worried that she would only have little over a decade of life.… That terror seemed ironic now.
Little over a month…
Was this the limit, then? I’d had more happiness than most people ever experienced. Was there some natural law that demanded equal shares of happiness and misery in the world? Was my joy overthrowing the balance? Was four months all I could have?
It was Emmett who answered my rhetorical question.
“We fight,” he said calmly.
“We can’t win,” Jasper growled. I could imagine how his face would look, how his body would curve protectively over Alice’s.
“Well, we can’t run. Not with Demetri around.” Emmett made a disgusted noise, and I knew instinctively that he was not upset by the idea of the Volturi’s tracker but by the idea of running away. “And I don’t know that we can’t win,” he said. “There are a few options to consider. We don’t have to fight alone.”
My head snapped up at that. “We don’t have to sentence the Quileutes to death, either, Emmett!”
“Chill, Bella.” His expression was no different from when he was contemplating fighting anacondas. Even the threat of annihilation couldn’t change Emmett’s perspective, his ability to thrill to a challenge. “I didn’t mean the pack. Be realistic, though—do you think Jacob or Sam is going to ignore an invasion? Even if it wasn’t about Nessie? Not to mention that, thanks to Irina, Aro knows about our alliance with the pack now, too. But I was thinking of our other friends.”
Carlisle echoed me in a whisper. “Other friends we don’t have to sentence to death.”
“Hey, we’ll let them decide,” Emmett said in a placating tone. “I’m not saying they have to fight with us.” I could see the plan refining itself in his head as he spoke. “If they’d just stand beside us, just long enough to make the Volturi hesitate. Bella’s right, after all. If we could force them to stop and listen. Though that might take away any reason for a fight. . . .”
There was a hint of a smile on Emmett’s face now. I was surprised no one had hit him yet. I wanted to.
“Yes,” Esme said eagerly. “That makes sense, Emmett. All we need is for the Volturi to pause for one moment. Just long enough to listen .”
“We’d need quite a show of witnesses,” Rosalie said harshly, her voice brittle as glass.
Esme nodded in agreement, as if she hadn’t heard the sarcasm in Rosalie’s tone. “We can ask that much of our friends. Just to witness.”
“We’d do it for them,” Emmett said.
“We’ll have to ask them just right,” Alice murmured. I looked to see her eyes were a dark void again. “They’ll have to be shown very carefully.”
“Shown?” Jasper asked.
Alice and Edward both looked down at Renesmee. Then Alice’s eyes glazed over.
“Tanya’s family,” she said. “Siobhan’s coven. Amun’s. Some of the nomads—Garrett and Mary for certain. Maybe Alistair.”
“What about Peter and Charlotte?” Jasper asked half fearfully, as if he hoped the answer was no, and his old brother could be spared from the coming carnage.
“The Amazons?” Carlisle asked. “Kachiri, Zafrina, and Senna?”
Alice seemed too deep into her vision to answer at first; finally she shuddered, and her eyes flickered back to the present. She met Carlisle’s gaze for the tiniest part of a second, and then looked down.
“I can’t see.”
“What was that?” Edward asked, his whisper a demand. “That part in the jungle. Are we going to look for them?”
“I can’t see,” Alice repeated, not meeting his eyes. A flash of confusion crossed Edward’s face. “We’ll have to split up and hurry—before the snow sticks to the ground. We have to round up whomever we can and get them here to show them.” She zoned again. “Ask Eleazar. There is more to this than just an immortal child.”
The silence was ominous for another long moment while Alice was in her trance. She blinked slowly when it was over, her eyes peculiarly opaque despite the fact that she was clearly in the present.
“There is so much. We have to hurry,” she whispered.
“Alice?” Edward asked. “That was too fast—I didn’t understand. What was—?”
“I can’t see!” she exploded back at him. “Jacob’s almost here!”
Rosalie took a step toward the front door. “I’ll deal with—”
“No, let him come,” Alice said quickly, her voice straining higher with each word. She grabbed Jasper’s hand and began pulling him toward the back door. “I’ll see better away from Nessie, too. I need to go. I need to really concentrate. I need to see everything I can. I have to go. Come on, Jasper, there’s no time to waste!”
We all could hear Jacob on the stairs. Alice yanked, impatient, on Jasper’s hand. He followed quickly, confusion in his eyes just like Edward’s. They darted out the door into the silver night.
“Hurry!” she called back to us. “You have to find them all!”
“Find what?” Jacob asked, shutting the front door behind himself. “Where’d Alice go?”
No one answered; we all just stared.
Jacob shook the wet from his hair and pulled his arms through the sleeves of his t-shirt, his eyes on Renesmee. “Hey, Bells! I thought you guys would’ve gone home by now. . . .”
He looked up to me finally, blinked, and then stared. I watched his expression as the room’s atmosphere finally touched him. He glanced down, eyes wide, at the wet spot on the floor, the scattered roses, the fragments of crystal. His fingers quivered.
“What?” he asked flatly. “What happened?”
I couldn’t think where to begin. No one else found the words, either.
Jacob crossed the room in three long strides and dropped to his knees beside Renesmee and me. I could feel the heat shaking off his body as tremors rolled down his arms to his shaking hands.
“Is she okay?” he demanded, touching her forehead, tilting his head as he listened to her heart. “Don’t mess with me, Bella, please!”
“Nothing’s wrong with Renesmee,” I choked out, the words breaking in strange places.
“All of us, Jacob,” I whispered. And it was there in my voice, too—the sound of the inside of a grave. “It’s over. We’ve all been sentenced to die.”