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The Short Second Life (Chapters 15)

"Come with us. Don't make one rash move or I will take you down."

I felt angry again as he glared at me, and a smal part of me wanted to snarl and show my teeth, but I had a feeling he was looking for just that kind of excuse.

Jasper paused as if he'd just thought of something. "Close your eyes," he commanded.

I hesitated. Had he decided to kil me after al ?

"Do it!"

I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes. I felt twice as helpless as I had before.

"Fol ow the sound of my voice and don't open your eyes. You look, you lose, got it?"

I nodded, wondering what he didn't want me to see. I felt some relief that he was bothering to protect a secret. There was no reason to do so if he was just going to kil me.

"This way."

I walked slowly after him, careful to give him no excuses. He was considerate in the way he led, not walking me into any trees, at least. I could hear the way the sound changed when we were in the open; the feel of the wind was different, too, and the smel of my coven burning was stronger. I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and the insides of my eyelids were brighter as I sparkled.

He led me closer and closer to the muffled crackle of the flames, so close that I could feel the smoke brush my skin. I knew he could have kil ed me at any time, but the nearness of the fire stil made me nervous.

"Sit here. Eyes closed."

The ground was warm from the sun and the fire. I kept very stil and tried to concentrate on looking harmless, but I could feel his glare on me, and it made me agitated. Though I was not mad at these vampires, who I truly believed had only been defending themselves, I felt the oddest stirrings of fury. It was almost outside myself, as if it were some leftover echo from the battle that had just taken place.

The anger didn't make me stupid, though, because I was too sad – miserable to my core. Diego was aways in my mind, and I couldn't help thinking about how he must have died. I was sure there was no way he would have voluntarily told Riley our secrets – secrets that had given me a reason to trust Riley just enough until it was too late. In my head, I saw Riley's face again – that cold, smooth expression that had formed as he'd threatened to punish any of us who wouldn't behave. I heard again his macabre and oddly detailed description – when I take you to her and hold you as she tears off your legs and then slowly, slowly burns off your fingers, ears, lips, tongue, and every other superfluous appendage one by one. I realized now that I'd been hearing the description of Diego's death.

That night, I'd been sure that something had changed in Riley. Kil ing Diego was what had changed Riley, had hardened him. I believed only one thing that Riley had ever told me: he had valued Diego more than any of the rest of us. Had even been fond of him. And yet he'd watched our creator hurt him. No doubt he'd helped her. Kil ed Diego with her.

I wondered how much pain it would have taken to make me betray Diego. I imagined it would have taken quite a lot. And I was sure it had taken at least that much to make Diego betray me.

I felt sick. I wanted the image of Diego screaming in agony out of my head, but it wouldn't leave.

And then there was screaming there in the field. My eyelids fluttered, but Jasper snarled furiously and I clenched them together at once. I'd seen nothing but heavy lavender smoke.

I heard shouting and a strange, savage howling. It was loud, and there was a lot of it. I couldn't imagine how a face would have to contort to create such a noise, and the not knowing made the sound more frightening. These yel ow-eyed vampires were so different from the rest of us. Or different from me, I guess, since I was the only one left. Riley and our creator were long gone by now.

I heard names cal ed, Jacob, Leah, Sam. There were lots of distinct voices, though the howls continued. Of course Riley had lied to us about the number of vampires here, too. The sound of the howling tapered off until it was just one voice, one agonized, inhuman yowling that made me grit my teeth. I could see Diego's face so clearly in my mind, and the sound was like him screaming.

I heard Carlisle talking over the other voices and the howling. He was begging to look at something. "Please let me take a look. Please let me help." I didn't hear anyone arguing with him, but for some reason his tone made it sound like he was losing the dispute.

And then the yowling reached a strident new pitch, and suddenly Carlisle was saying "thank you" in a fervent voice, and under the yowl there was the sound of a lot of movement by a lot of bodies. Many heavy footsteps coming closer.

I listened harder and heard something unexpected and impossible. Along with some heavy breathing – and I've never heard anyone in my coven breathe like that – there were dozens of deep thumping noises. Almost like… heartbeats. But definitely not human hearts. I knew that particular sound wel . I sniffed hard, but the wind was blowing from the other direction, and I could only smel the smoke.

Without a warning sound, something touched me, clapped down firmly on either side of my head.

My eyes started open in panic as I lurched up, straining to jerk free of this hold, and instantly met Jasper's warning gaze about two inches from my face.

"Stop it," he snapped, yanking me back down on my butt. I could only just hear him, and I realized that his hands were sealed tight against my head, covering my ears entirely.

"Close your eyes," he instructed again, probably at a normal volume, but it was hushed for me.

I struggled to calm myself and shut my eyes again. There were things they didn't want me to hear, either. I could live with that – if it meant I could live.

For a second I saw Fred's face behind my eyelids. He had said he would wait for one day. I wondered if he would keep his word. I wished I could tel him the truth about the yel ow-eyes, and how much more there seemed to be that we didn't know. This whole world that we real y knew nothing about. It would be interesting to explore that world. Particularly with someone who could make me invisible and safe.

But Diego was gone. He wouldn't be coming to find Fred with me. That made imagining the future faintly repugnant. I could stil hear some of what was going on, but just the howling and a few voices. Whatever those weird thumping sounds had been, they were too muted now for me to examine them.

I did make out the words when, a few minutes later, Carlisle said, "You have to…" – his voice was too low for a second, and then – "… from here now. If we could help we would, but we cannot leave."

There was a growl, but it was oddly unmenacing. The yowling became a low whine that disappeared slowly, as if it was moving away from me.

It was quiet for a few minutes. I heard some low voices, Carlisle and Esme among them, but also some I didn't know. I wished I could smel something – the blindness combined with the muted sound left me straining for some source of sensory information. But al I could smel was the horribly sweet smoke. There was one voice, higher and clearer than the others, that I could hear most easily.

"Another five minutes," I heard whoever it was say. I was sure it was a girl who was speaking. "And Bel a wil open her eyes in thirty-seven seconds. I wouldn't doubt that she can hear us now."

I tried to make sense of this. Was someone else being forced to keep her eyes shut, like me? Or did she think my name was Bel a? I hadn't told anyone my name. I struggled again to smel something.

More mumbling. I thought that one voice sounded off – I couldn't hear any ring to it at al . But I couldn't be sure with Jasper's hands so securely over my ears.

"Three minutes," the high, clear voice said.

Jasper's hands left my head.

"You'd better open your eyes now," he told me from a few steps away. The way he said this frightened me. I looked around myself quickly, searching for the danger hinted at in his tone.

One whole field of my vision was obscured by the dark smoke. Close by, Jasper was frowning. His teeth were gritted together and he was looking at me with an expression that was almost… frightened. Not like he was scared of me, but like he was scared because of me. I remembered what he'd said before, about my putting them in danger with something cal ed a Volturi. I wondered what a Volturi was. I couldn't imagine what this scarred-up, dangerous vampire would be afraid of. Behind Jasper, four vampires were spaced out in a loose line with their backs to me. One was Esme. With her were a tal blonde woman, a tiny black-haired girl, and a dark-haired male vampire so big that he was scary just to look at – the one I'd seen kil Kevin. For an instant I imagined that vampire getting a hold on Raoul. It was a strangely pleasant picture. There were three more vampires behind the big one. I couldn't see exactly what they were doing with him in the way. Carlisle was kneeling on the ground, and next to him was a male vampire with dark red hair. Lying flat on the ground was another figure, but I couldn't see much of that one, only jeans and smal brown boots. It was either a female or a young male. I wondered if they were putting the vampire back together. So eight yel ow-eyes total, plus al that howling before, whatever strange kind of vampire that had been; there had been at least eight more voices involved. Sixteen, maybe more. More than twice as many as Riley had told us to expect. I found myself fiercely hoping that those black-cloaked vampires would catch up to Riley, and that they would make him suffer.

The vampire on the ground started to get slowly to her feet – moving awkwardly, almost like she was some clumsy human. The breeze shifted, blowing the smoke across me and Jasper. For a moment, everything was invisible except for him. Though I was not as blind as before, I suddenly felt much more anxious, for some reason. It was like I could feel the anxiety bleeding out of the vampire next to me.

The light wind gusted back in the next second, and I could see and smel everything.

Jasper hissed at me furiously and shoved me out of my crouch and back onto the ground.

It was her – the human I'd been hunting just a few minutes ago. The scent my whole body had been focused toward. The sweet, wet scent of the most delicious blood I'd ever tracked. My mouth and throat felt like they were on fire. I tried wildly to hold on to my reason – to focus on the fact that Jasper was just waiting for me to jump up again so that he could kil me – but only part of me could do it. I felt like I was about to pul into two halves trying to keep myself here. The human named Bel a stared at me with stunned brown eyes. Looking at her made it worse. I could see the blood flushing through her thin skin. I tried to look anywhere else, but my eyes kept circling back to her.

The redhead spoke to her in a low voice. "She surrendered. That's one I've never seen before. Only Carlisle would think of offering. Jasper doesn't approve."

Carlisle must have explained to that one when my ears were covered.

The vampire had both his arms around the human girl, and she had both hands pressed to his chest. Her throat was just inches from his mouth, but she didn't look frightened of him at al . And he didn't look like he was hunting. I had tried to wrap my head around the idea of a coven with a pet human, but this was not close to what I had imagined. If she'd been a vampire, I would have guessed that they were together.

"Is Jasper al right?" the human whispered.

"He's fine. The venom stings," the vampire said.

"He was bitten?" she asked, sounding shocked by the idea. Who was this girl? Why did the vampires al ow her to be with them? Why hadn't they kil ed her yet? Why did she seem so comfortable with them, like they didn't scare her? She seemed like she was a part of this world, and yet she didn't understand its realities. Of course Jasper was bitten. He'd just fought – and destroyed – my entire coven. Did this girl even know what we were?

Ugh, the burn in my throat was impossible! I tried not to think about washing it away with her blood, but the wind was blowing her smel right in my face! It was too late to keep my head – I had scented the prey I was hunting, and nothing could change that now.

"He was trying to be everywhere at once," the redhead told the human. "Trying to make sure Alice had nothing to do, actual y." He shook his head as he looked at the tiny blackhaired girl. "Alice doesn't need anyone's help."

The vampire named Alice shot a glare at Jasper.

"Overprotective fool," she said in her clear soprano voice. Jasper met her stare with a half smile, seeming to forget for a second that I existed.

I could barely fight the instinct that wanted me to make use of his lapse and spring at the human girl. It would take less than an instant and then her warm blood – blood I could hear pumping through her heart – would quench the burn. She was so close –

The vampire with the dark red hair met my eyes with a fierce warning glare, and I knew I would die if I tried for the girl, but the agony in my throat made me feel like I would die if I didn't. It hurt so much that I screamed out loud in frustration. Jasper snarled at me, and I tried to keep myself from moving, but it felt like the scent of her blood was a giant hand yanking me off the ground. I had never tried to stop myself from feeding once I had committed to a hunt. I dug my hands into the ground looking for something to hold on to but finding nothing. Jasper leaned into a crouch, and even knowing I was two seconds from death, I couldn't focus my thirsty thoughts. And then Carlisle was right there, his hand on Jasper's arm. He looked at me with kind, calm eyes. "Have you changed your mind, young one?" he asked me. "We don't want to destroy you, but we wil if you can't control yourself."

"How can you stand it?" I asked him, almost begging. Wasn't he burning, too? "I want her." I stared at her, desperately wishing the distance between us was gone. My fingers raked uselessly through the rocky dirt.

"You must stand it," Carlisle said solemnly. "You must exercise control. It is possible, and it is the only thing that wil save you now."

If being able to tolerate the human the way these strange vampires did was my only hope for survival, then I was already doomed. I couldn't stand the fire. And I was of two minds about survival anyway. I didn't want to die, I didn't want pain, but what was the point? Everyone else was dead. Diego had been dead for days.

His name was right on my lips. I almost whispered it aloud. Instead, I gripped my skul with both hands and tried to think about something that wouldn't hurt. Not the girl, and not Diego. It didn't work very wel .

"Shouldn't we move away from her?" the human whispered roughly, breaking my concentration. My eyes snapped back to her. Her skin was so thin and soft. I could see the pulse in her neck.

"We have to stay here," said the vampire she was clinging to. "They are coming to the north end of the clearing now."

They? I glanced to the north, but there was nothing but smoke. Did he mean Riley and my creator? I felt a new thril of panic, fol owed by a little spasm of hope. There was no way she and Riley could stand against these vampires who had kil ed so many of us, was there? Even if the howly ones were gone, Jasper alone looked capable of dealing with the two of them. Or did he mean this mysterious Volturi?

The wind teased the girl's scent across my face again, and my thoughts scattered. I glared at her thirstily. The girl met my stare, but her expression was so different from what it should have been. Though I could feel that my lips were curled back from my teeth, though I trembled with the effort to stop myself from springing at her, she did not look afraid of me. Instead she seemed fascinated. It almost looked like she wanted to speak to me – like she had a question she wanted me to answer.

Then Carlisle and Jasper began to back away from the fire – and me – closing ranks with the others and the human. They al were staring past me into the smoke, so whatever they were afraid of was closer to me than it was to them. I huddled tighter to the smoke in spite of the nearby flames. Should I make a run for it? Were they distracted enough that I could escape? Where would I go? To Fred? Off on my own? To find Riley and make him pay for what he'd done to Diego?

As I hesitated, mesmerized by that last idea, the moment passed. I heard movement to the north and knew I was sandwiched between the yel ow-eyes and whatever was coming.

"Hmm," a dead voice said from behind the smoke. In that one syl able I knew exactly who it was, and if I hadn't been frozen solid with mindless terror I would have bolted. It was the dark-cloaks.

What did this mean? Would a new battle begin now? I knew that the dark-cloaked vampires had wanted my creator to succeed in destroying these yel ow-eyes. My creator had clearly failed. Did that mean they would kil her? Or would they kil Carlisle and Esme and the rest here instead? If it had been my choice, I knew who I would want destroyed, and it wasn't my captors.

The dark-cloaks ghosted through the vapor to face the yel ow-eyes. None of them looked in my direction. I held absolutely stil .

There were only four of them, like last time. But it didn't make a difference that there were seven of the yel ow-eyes. I could tel that they were as wary of these dark-cloaks as Riley and my creator had been. There was something more to them than I could see, but I could definitely feel it. These were the punishers, and they didn't lose.

"Welcome, Jane," said the yel ow-eyed one who held the human.

They knew each other. But the redhead's voice was not friendly – nor was it weak and eager to please like Riley's had been, or furiously terrified like my creator's. His voice was simply cold and polite and unsurprised. Were the dark-cloaks this Volturi, then?

The smal vampire who led the dark-cloaks – Jane, apparently – slowly scanned across the seven yel ow-eyes and the human, and then final y turned her head toward me. I glimpsed her face for the first time. She was younger than me, but much older, too, I guessed. Her eyes were the velvet color of dark red roses. Knowing it was too late to escape notice, I put my head down, covering it with my hands. Maybe if it were clear that I didn't want to fight, Jane would treat me as Carlisle had. I didn't feel much hope of that, though.

"I don't understand." Jane's dead voice betrayed a hint of annoyance.

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