Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ The Front ( Chapter 38 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Twilight and its three and two half sequels are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. This story is fanfiction based on characters, settings and concepts from Twilight, its first three sequels and the first half of Midnight Sun, all of which are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. No party other than the submitting author may alter this work in any way other than font size and other reasonable accommodations to formatting.

Note to Mediaminer readers: Unless otherwise indicated, please assume that "updates" of earlier chapters are for the repair of typos, not changes in content.

MM still isn't letting me upload in .doc at all or in .rtf without deleting my paragraph breaks, so please pardon the lack of italics.


"This can't be the work of just one newborn vampire. who is creating them, then?" –Edward, Eclipse


"You know, Edward, your mate should try harder not to provoke Master Caius."

Stephen, halfway across the darkened hallway, gave me a confused. No wonder. This was a terrible example for him. Outside, I could hear Demetri thinking something uncharitable. I touched the receiver at my neck.

"Rolfe, just because these things are encrypted doesn't mean you should spout our private business across the airwaves."

"I wouldn't have to if you'd just read my mind like a normal person." I was reading his mind, as it happened. The plan had been that I would only use my transmitter to send messages out to the rest of the team, and then only when necessary. This building wasn't exactly state of the art, but there was no way to be sure that the security system wouldn't react to incoming signals. "And who still calls them 'airwaves'? You're way more conspicuous than I am."

"Shut up and keep an eye out, Rolfe," said Demetri. "We don't want another Zhengzhou situation."

A sigh crackled its way over the line, "We're never going to live that down, are we, Edward? But seriously, you know I'm right. Heidi and Richard complained."

"Rolfe," Caroly's voice came through the receiver, clear as if she were standing beside me, "if you don't shut up, Demetri's going to have you put on the milk diet for six months, and yellow is not your color." And Felix would take advantage of his diminished strength to beat him senseless on a daily basis, but that went without saying. It was practically part of the punishment.

"You know I've got a point, Edward," Rolfe said again as his eyes swept the dark street. Even secondhand, it seemed eerie. I remembered Zhengzhou full of street lamps and headlights. Xi'an was like a shadow that hid some careful, skittering beast, alive with the thoughts of waking and dreaming humans, but dark.

"Demetri's right, Rolfe. We should talk about this later." I let go of my receiver and nodded to Stephen. We'd been planning this job for three months and damned if I was going to let him worry me. If Rolfe spoke up during a mission, it was probably to dispel tension, to let Demetri and Caroly snipe at him a little rather than worry about running into the police or the army.

Over the course of China's long history, thirteen separate dynasties had held capitals in Shaanxi Province. Of these, Xi'an was probably the most important. Its prime location as the eastern destination of the Great Silk Road had likely had something to do with that.

Its location was still important.

Currently, however, its location was extremely close to the geographic line of China's heavily inflamed east-west divide, and its many cultural treasures were in need of, as Master Caius had euphemistically put it, "evacuation." If he could have, he'd have had us lift up the entire Drum Tower and reassemble it in Volterra. The smaller of the two Wild Goose Towers had already collapsed after an air strike. I'd been with him and Aro in the library when he'd learned that these pieces were on display in a downtown museum, and, tonight, we were taking them out.

Museums weren't doing much in the way of business these days, what with the city under martial law. In fact, most of Xi'an's portable artwork had already been packed away to less target-rich zones or to friendly countries—though which countries seemed friendlier to which side changed by the week. It was rather remarkable that even these pieces were on display.

The exhibits were in storage, but the security system was not. Full-room laser detection and pressure switches were the least of it. Caius's items had been rendered completely inaccessible to anyone who operated within the limits of human dexterity.

Stephen, one of Caroly's newborns, had no such limits. Gift or no gift, the man was a wonder with his hands and feet and balance. He'd done so well in combat that Demetri had handpicked him for this mission. I had a bet running with Rolfe as to whether Caius would offer him a permanent place in the guard once his year was up. Most of our newborns we cut loose.

The holodecoy had taken Richard and Marjane fifteen days to construct. The apparatus gave off a noiseless, odorless stream of mist that worked as a screen against which it projected a perfect three-dimensional image of the stolen artifact. If we were lucky, no one would notice that the items were gone until morning. If we were very lucky, a day's worth of patrons would file by, believing that they'd seen a two Tang Dynasty vases and a real Han-era crossbow until the machine ran out of aerosol sometime tomorrow night.

I nodded to Stephen and pulled the detector from the folds of my cloak. We'd practiced this twenty times a day since August. I monitored the room for lulls in the electron cloud that swept the room ahead of the lasers and then gave Stephen the signal. He moved like a flickering shadow, one toe barely touching a pedestal as he launched himself to his first grip from the ceiling. Another signal and he was at the first pressure switch, setting down the holodecoy in the vase's place.

My role in all of this was that of a chaperone and lookout. Stephen was relatively capable, but turning them calm didn't make them experienced. I was here as Stephen's guide and as liaison with our support crew, currently engaged in a four-way lookout. Demetri, cloaked and still as a stone, was watching from the main entrance. Caroly, Rolfe and Andrew were outside. With any luck, it would be a quiet night, but we had five possible routes out of the city and eight perfectly ordered contingency plans for dealing with nomads, human citizens, museum security, civilian law enforcement, the Western Nationalist Army, and either air or ground strikes from the People's military.

No human could have made it from the display to the blind spot and back in the time they had. I couldn't have done it on an average day, and I was faster than most.

I snapped the two vases, one small and one large, into a carrying case that Caroly would disguise as luggage once we were outside. I nodded to Stephen and we hugged the blind spots and worked our way toward the section of the museum that housed older artifacts.

I heard a sound from outside.

"Caroly, can you keep Andrew under control?" I murmured into the radio at my throat.

There was no response, but I could see the alleyways in Caroly's thoughts as she went to remind our other newborn of his duty. No one was placing any bets on Andrew, and he knew it. That was probably why he was so miffed about being put on something as dull as guard duty. He'd never prove himself to the masters if he kept sulking.

"What is it?" asked Stephen.

"Something's wrong outside," I said.

Wordlessly, he handed me the crossbow. Too bad the darn thing wasn't strung, let alone loaded.

Stephen breathed in nervously, "What is—?"

I held up a hand, listening carefully until I found the thoughts I needed. I met Stephen's eyes and only mouthed the words: "We are not alone."

"Humans?" he mouthed back.


"Demetri," I said out loud into my radio.

Yes? he thought back.

"Four," I told him. I tossed Stephen the vase case and hoisted the bare crossbow over my shoulder.

What's going on? asked Stephen.

"Something unplanned."

Crap, he thought. I didn't disagree.

I picked up the pace, taking slightly less care with the security system. Andrew was one hell of a fighter, but if there were three grunts on the ground and, Caroly could be in serious danger. With Stephen at my heels, I hurried toward our exit, a sixth-floor window in a security black spot. I walked around the corner straight into a pair of bright red, practically glowing eyes. For a full ten seconds, I actually thought it must have been Andrew.

Then the man smiled, as if I were a long-expected guest.

I supposed even mind readers had the right to be surprised now and again.

I heard footsteps falling away behind me, "Stephen!" I shouted, but I already knew what had happened. I couldn't beat a newborn in a fight, not alone. "Stephen, don't be a coward!" Not that it would help; he was. He'd never willingly fought anyone whose strength even approached his own. He was going to make a pathetic vampire once his year was up.

The newborn had shoulder-length black hair and the layered clothes of a northern refugee. He might have been Asian but it was hard to tell with the grin. I'd forgotten how inhuman newborns could look, and this one was very eager to tear me apart.

He growled heavily, filling the air with his aggression. I stood straight beneath my cloak. I was Edward of the Volturi, and I would not be intimidated.

He dropped into a crouch a split second before the leap. I caught his intention and darted to the side, kicking him heavily in the back as he went. In the back of my mind, I could see Andrew and Caroly facing off against a pair of them, four eyes like flames. I could see Stephen running headlong through the museum, thinking that he would bring the vases back to Caius to save himself from punishment. Fool.

"Edward," came Demetri's voice on my radio, "where is their master?"

"Rooftop," I said.

"Which building?" asked Demetri, airflow kicking up the background as he circled toward Andrew and Caroly. Rolfe had figured out what was wrong and was climbing the wall behind me.

The newborn lunged for my neck, pinning my right hand to my collarbone. I choked involuntarily, getting an unpleasant reek of my opponent's clothes. It became clear to me that the refugee had lived in these clothes for at least a month before finally dying in them. From my pinned position, I watched my enemy's thoughts. He thought I was down. He thought I was out. I did not enjoy the prospect of being torn apart, but I'd been Felix's personal Velcro set for my first eight months with the guard, and I knew how much my limbs could take before they separated.

Outside, through Caroly's thoughts, I could see two pairs of ember-bright eyes materialize and move down the alley. Andrew only registered as one of the Volturi's newborn grunts, but I felt a chill run through me as one they both identified Caroly by sight. I felt my jaw drop as I realized they'd been trained to disorient the minders first, to disorient rival newborns—that they'd been trained at all.

A crack from one of my ribs reminded me that I had more immediate problems. The newborn's arms held me like steel bars.

But the wall was only wood and cinder blocks.

The newborn was strong, but whoever had taught him combat was no Bella. I braced my legs behind us and sent us both partway through the barrier, kicking up a cloud of dust straight into my opponent's eyes. I freed my legs twisted out of his loosened grip. I grasped his arm and twisted it behind him, trapping him in the still-crackling hole between the two rooms, and yanked hard.

The newborn shrieked as his forearm came loose, mind alive with horror as he stared at the stump, just long enough for me to get hold of his head with both arms and, with a shoulder-wrenching heave, pull it loose.

A vampire's arms and legs could still move without a head. In fact, his arm was creeping off in the direction of the Song wing at the moment, and I could not have that.

I touched the radio at my neck, "Across the street to the east, Demetri. Hurry!"

I see him! he thought back.

By now, museum security knew there were intruders. We had minutes to get out of here without leaving any evidence behind, preferably with the vases and crossbow. Caroly, Rolfe and Andrew were having trouble overcoming the two other newborns in the alley, and Stephen was almost to the main entrance below. On impulse, I dragged my enemy's stray arm through the gap back toward my blind spot. Taking quick stock of the layout through Caroly's eyes, I hurled it downward like a spear. There was a startled shout and one of the newborns lost its balance long enough for Andrew to get in a throat shot. I searched for Rolfe's mind and blinked hard. Was he inside the building?

"Coming down," I said again.

"Good, we need the help!" answered Andrew.

"No, I mean their friend is," I answered.

Oh, thought Andew. That's good too. Aim for the groin, would you? This one's being a real pain in my ass.

I hurled the body ahead of me and then the pulled myself through the window. Even aside from the fight, this was going to be extremely problematic. We had ways of disposing of dead vampires in cities, but not with a major Chinese army closing in on us. There was no way that we could burn four dismembered vampires in the time we had. We were going to have to take them with us. That would slow us down, increase our chances of being caught with very obviously inhuman remains.

Instead of dropping down to the alley, I inched across the ledge toward the east face. I could see a pair of shadows fighting on the far roof. With a running start, I could have jumped it.

I spared myself fifteen seconds to watch the slashing silhouettes. Neither of the men on the roof were newborns. Both of them fought with experience. In this light, though, I could not tell one from the other.

The thoughts I could hear, though. Demetri tended to swear in Russian.

The other man thought in Romanian.

It was three on two in the alley below us. The best thing to do would be dispatch the two grunts quickly and then scale the building. I gathered my cloak around me and jumped.

The laws of physics were what they were. I couldn't make myself fall faster, and the downside of being airborne was that there was no way to change trajectory. The newborn moved to his right, and I landed right in front of him.

Fortunately, he was halfway through a lunge toward Andrew and tripped over me. He shook his head in distraction. The next fifteen seconds were a blur. Caroly and I had been fighting together for almost twenty years, and she and Bella had trained Andrew together. We dispatched our enemy with the perfect synchrony of a flower opening to the night. I kicked the him into Andrew's waiting grip and Caroly had his throat before he could draw breath. He was in pieces before he hit the ground.

The remaining newborn was younger than mine had been, or at least turned younger. He was a little on the scrawny side, too, with short hair sticking straight out. In a human boy it might have been endearing or gawky. On a newborn, it was the look of a jaguar, tight with feline rage.

I had to admire him, I thought as I twisted his calf off at the knee. He wasn't afraid. Andrew was half again his size and he'd gone straight for him. The young man's mind wrenched and twisted into the now-familiar mental shrieks of a vampire who suddenly found himself without a stomach or a voice or fingers.

His name had been Gao, his family name. He wasn't a volunteer. They'd just taken him.

Rolfe barreled around a corner just in time for Caroly to round on him. "Where were you?" she demanded of him.

Rolfe held up a round, gray object. I recognized it as a late-model electromagnet. "Erasing the security drives," he said intently. Let's face it, we aren't getting out of here clean. No sense making it home just to get executed.

"Rolfe," I said quickly, "Demetri—he's fighting their minder on the—"

Rolfe was already looking toward the east but nodding heavily, vaulting between the close-set buildings until he reached roof level. The fight was nearly over, and Demetri probably didn't need the help, but this was no time to take chances, when so much else had just gone so very wrong.

I tried to tune out the mental voices of the three decapitated vampires and looked toward the rest of my team. Andrew was rubbing his wide nose with one hand, a habit left over from his human days. Caroly was looking at me with wide, concerned red eyes.

Where's Stephen? she asked.

"Gone," I answered. "Fled." Even his thoughts were missing. I couldn't hear him anywhere.

Caroly's eyes widened. "He left you?" Andrew looked up sharply.

I nodded.

Master Caius will have Stephen executed for this, Caroly told me quietly. And then, I am the one who'll be put to animal blood. I reached out and squeezed her shoulder. She'd done so well so many times. My Caroly was the picture of a perfect Volturi, powerful and completely self-acutalized, bending her gift for group dynamics toward her duty. Caius would allow her to earn back her position swiftly—probably by hunting down our runaway and dragging him back to Volterra for justice. A deeply uncivilized part of myself hoped I'd get to join in. I probably would. Caius had an appreciation for revenge.

I looked up, eyes searching the skyline, "Better gather up these here," I said, eying the still-twitching limbs. I did a quick count, mentally reassembling the bodies. We couldn't leave so much as a finger for anyone to find. I snapped off my cloak for a makeshift sack and started piling things together.

"What about Demetri?" asked Andrew.

I listened intently. "The fight is over," I said. "Demetri and Rolfe will meet us at the front of the building, and we'll make for exit route four."

Andrew did some mental juggling as he tried to remember whether we were going through the High-Tech Industries Development Zone or just making for the southern boundary, but at least his hands were busy. I tossed him all three heads one by one. Three cloaks, three bodies, and the more mixed up they were, the better. We could probably start a brush fire out on the plain or in the hills and blame it all on some natural disaster. Caius might even feel better if he knew that he wasn't the only one suffering.

"Who were they?" Andrew asked in a loud hiss as we hurried toward our rendezvous point.

"They were with the Romanians," I answered quietly.

"They were like me," Andrew said, "me and Stephen."

I nodded tightly. And Li and Carlos and Alicia and Adal and a dozen other calm newborns who'd served the Volturi over the past nineteen years.

Caroly exhaled slowly. It was only a matter of time before someone else figured it out, she thought.

I hefted the ungainly, slowly undulating bundle, trying to settle it better on my shoulders, and I nearly tripped over the rectangular case that lay carelessly in my path. Caroly and I exchanged a glance, and Andrew ducked forward to pick it up one-armed.

I carefully turned the corner to the front of the building, where Stephen's limbs lay in a disordered pile. Arms. Legs. Three pieces that made up the torso. Part of his neck.

I looked around the alleyways, but I still couldn't hear his voice. Not anywhere. I swallowed something that reminded me of bile. The last one, the master. He'd taken it with him.

"I don't think we need to worry about Caius executing Stephen," I said.

It seemed that the Romanians did take prisoners.


Three very tense hours later, we were outside the curfew lines and halfway up into the hills south of the city. Dawn was nearly breaking, and Rolfe was dousing the bodies with accelerant. We would linger long enough to see that no pieces remained unburned. Then we would be far from shelter, near an active front in a major military conflict, with two of us sharing outerwear.

"What about him?" Andrew asked, pointing to the weakly squirming mass inside Rolfe's cloak.

Can anyone survive that? Demetri thought to himself. Even if we restore him, would he live? His face was like a cragged rock, but his mind was like the sea that battered it. If I could sense emotions, I was sure I'd feel his skin crawl.

I did not know the answer to his question. It would fascinate Aro, though. In the meantime, what was left of Stephen presented a huge risk of discovery. I wasn't sure it wasn't illegal on its face.

"We will take him back to Volterra for safekeeping," Demetri said out loud, "unless it proves impractical. In the meantime," he asked simply "how did you miss this?" There was no malice in the question. With Demetri, it was always about tactics.

"They must have showed up after we did," I said. Demetri would not care for excuses, but this was tactical. "If they watched from far enough away, they could have avoided me. I would have known if there had been any vampires in the museum before Stephen and I went in."

That means they knew we'd be here and that Edward had been sent, he eyed me carefully, willing me not to respond out loud. I shook my head.

"They might have only suspected it would be us, Brother," I told him. "They've sent us out together before." I swallowed. "It could be anything else," I said. One of the newborns we'd discarded. A nomad who'd paid particular attention to Caius's MO.

Demetri's ruby-clear eyes looked out toward the city. Behind us, the largest nation in modern history was pulsing like an infected wound, sending out red streaks to the nations that shared China's interests—both Chinas. The human world was tearing itself apart.

And Demetri thought there was a spy in Volterra.


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