Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Redemption ( Chapter 39 )

[ 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.

This one's a bit heavy on the exposition.

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.


"Riley told us that we had to destroy the strange yellow-eyes here. He said it would be easy." –Bree, Eclipse


Conflict between the Chinese army and western rebels accelerated today in Guangdong. Anti-aircraft measures successfully prevented the destruction of what the Beijing government claims was a pharmaceutical factory. Requests for a U.N. peacekeeping force have been delayed due to human rights concerns. Beijing assures the international community that both sides have sworn off what Xing refers to as "extreme measures," but Western forces announce that they have secured at least two nuclear warheads.

Regarding rumors of kidnapped women, children and medical personnel—

I closed my eyes and the relay ceased. Anything longer than a blink and the darn things shut themselves off. No more heavy tablets and Internet phones the size of playing cards. Today you could carry your hardware in your wrist or finger and project your news or a full-sized ergonomic keyboard onto any smooth surface. Five years ago, Marcus had had the tables in the main library equipped with adjustable white screens that mimicked the texture of old paper books. They were even easier on the eyes the ones in the Internet café at the edge of the Piazza where Edward and I used to go before they'd turned it into a maglev repair shop.

There had been a lot of smaller conflicts coming up to it, but five of the western provinces and the Xinjiang Autonomous Region had declared their independence from China proper in the spring. The Tibetians had taken advantage of the situation and done the same on their own, but Inner Mongolia was still on board. It made sense. Beijing had spent the past twenty years promoting manufacturing in the Hohhot Export Processing Zone, and it had been the site of some of the first collective bargaining experiments about ten years back. People in Gansu, Yunnan and Qinghai hadn't been so lucky. It also didn't hurt that peneconcordant uranium deposits had been found in the sandstone underneath the Mongolian steppe. Nuclear power lit half of China—the eastern half.

During the early years of the Cold War, China had deliberately spread development throughout the country. Sensitive industries, such as arms development, had been placed far inland for security reasons. You could say it was fair, but you could also say that it didn't work. In 1978, General Secretary Deng Xiaopeng had opened the country to foreign investment, issued licenses to entrepreneurs, and focused development on coastal regions. The idea was that these areas would grow strong economies and pull the rest of the country along with them. It had worked. A little. Standards of living had gone up, but the gap between rich and poor and between cities and rural areas had skyrocketed.

We'd all been worried that China would split along the old north-south cultural line. Edward had told me that Aro had laughed when he'd figured it out. Something about the little humans always finding a way to surprise him. Bastard.

Most of the fighting so far had taken place in Yunnan. Something about both sides wanting the platinum deposits for the high-end fuel cells that you put in pulse rifles. Neither side was hurting for weapons. University-trained doctors and nurses? They were in short supply. The Westerners had come up with the neat trick of targeting medics. Of course, they said that the Beijing army had started doing it first. One way or another, they were both up to it now.

If things got much worse, and the U.N. would send soldiers. That meant American soldiers, young kids just out of high school, trying to earn their GI bill and make something of themselves. That's what had happened in Taiwan a few years ago.

I always pictured Jacob.

But that had been my problem for months—years, if I felt like being honest. My main concern today was making sure that nothing had happened in Xi'an, and nothing had. Who knew what was happening to Edward out there, but at least he wasn't getting firebombed. We'd lost Randall and Adalfieri in the uprising outside Lijiang City not two years back.

There were no bells or quitting flags in the compound. Everyone knew what time it was, so everyone knew that shift was over. I joined the muted rustling of vampires rising to their feet and change places. Aro wasn't here in person today. He usually didn't bother unless Edward was with him.

I stepped aside as the crew for the next library shift walked past me. Oh God, was Richard actually wearing sunglasses? What an idiot. First, wearing sunglasses indoors makes you look like an asshole, even if you're human. Second, the sneering douchebag had spent so much time beating up vampires who'd been ordered to drink animal blood that you'd think he'd have noticed that it takes more than one feeding to turn your eyes yellow. Third, he was only drawing more attention to himself, like that time when Marcy Ginsberg from sixth grade had pulled her socks all the way up because she thought she'd started growing leg hair. She'd looked a lot like an idiot herself.

Or had she been named Melinda? I couldn't really remember. Edward had told me to go over my human memories, and I mostly had, but I'd focused on what I thought was important: Charlie, Renée, Jacob, Arizona in general and my human days with our old family, the Cullens. And Alice, of course. The rest of it had gone gray over the years.

Edward and Caroly were due back this morning. In about fifteen minutes, actually. If it had been Afton leading the team I might have bothered getting someone to cover my shifts so I could sneak out, but Demetri was like a stopwatch. They were supposed to get back before dawn today, so they'd get back before dawn today. Unless something had gone wrong.

I walked down the hall, trying not to look too agitated. The discipline had to be maintained, after all, even in our own keep.

They didn't send me out on missions much. I didn't mind. Missions were horrible. Spending years at a clip without fresh air was a small price to pay. Besides, they didn't need me. I was a decent fighter but nothing special, at least not for the guard. The masters sometimes sent me along as a grunt and slightly more often as a minder, but if there were newborns to train, they considered that a better use of my time.

Most of the missions I'd been on had been pretty routine. Rough up this group of nomads here. Kill these criminals there. Patrol this area for two weeks. Calm newborns didn't need the constant minding that Marcell and Caroly had, but they did need teachers, especially if we wanted them to mind the discipline. And guess who got drafted as the Volturi drill sergeant? Whatever. I only wished it cut into my time in the tower more.

I breathed in and out. They'd come through reception first. The whole team would have to report to Aro, Marcus and Caius, but at least I'd get to lay eyes on them and know how many pieces they were in. Four years ago, a German nomad had ripped Caroly’s arm off at the elbow, and Felix had done a shit job of putting her back together. Renata and I had had to realign it. I'd tried to do it alone, but my hands had kept shaking.

That was when I'd been sure that Caroly was mine. I'd put vampires back together dozens of times, steady as a rock. Caroly made my hands shake.

I snorted out a laugh. Two kids by age nineteen? Renee would have been furious. At least I hadn't let myself get attached to the others like I had to Caroly and my boy. I'd considered asking Adal to call me "Aunt," but that had smacked of the traitorous hags from Handmaid's Tale. He'd called me Teacher. All of the others since had called me Teacher. It had worked. It was close but not too close. I could be like the rancor tamer from Return of the Jedi, caring just enough about the monsters I trained for my employer to get upset when the hero tore them apart. I'd liked that analogy a little more, mostly because it meant that Caius was Jabba the Hutt.

I hadn't shared that particular mental image with Edward. I'd wanted to, but Aro might've gotten mad.

Both my current students were out in the field today. Caroly was minding them. She'd grown into such a capable vampire. Sometimes, in my more delirious moments, I was actually proud that I'd helped her become a powerful member of the guard. When I looked at her, I tried to remember that the Volturi might actually save more humans than they ate. She certainly did.

The nature of Caroly's gift had become clear slowly. We'd always known that she a sense of people, and in a compound full of creatures not naturally inclined to live in close quarters, that was worth more than gold. She could look across a crowded room and tell who was the leader, who was the follower, who was the weak link. She was usually sent on missions that involved larger rogue covens. She was also seven out of ten for guessing who was sleeping with whom. Now that had shaken up the Volterra rumor mill a few times. Renata had given up gossiping for a whole month.

Edward had seen Caroly in action a few times. He said that her gift reminded him of Chelsea's. She saw people's personalities almost as if they were colors, the way that different levels of darkness in the ocean meant water at different depths. "Loyal blue," I'd joked. Caroly couldn't cut or strengthen people's ties, though, not with anything more supernatural than an axe. Take down the leader, though, and project the right image, and you could make all the others cower like dogs.

Edward said that Aro would give Caroly a team of her own to lead any day now. And our girl would be the terror of the Western world.

I moved into the reception hall and paused near one of the pillars, exactly as if I'd been ordered to be there. Technically I was on my own time until noon, when I was due to serve the wives, but until then I had the run of all the public parts of the compound.

The new hire was sitting behind the desk, elegant as an orchid. The fashions of these tense times lent themselves to sharp, saturated colors. I thought they were hideous, but this girl was wearing them well, just a little of the garish red at the edges of her neutral tan suit. It brought out the highlights in her hair and the blood in her cheeks ...and other places. From the corner of my eye, I noticed her rubbing the injection site on her left forearm. You could just barely see the dot. It would heal into a tiny white scar, no nasty bite mark like James had left me with.

The stupid clock on the wall wouldn't move. Sometimes I felt like a princess in a story, stuck in a tower while her knight took all the risk. At least I was no damsel in distress any more. If some dragon showed up, I could rip its head off.

I ought to have been used to frustration, I thought. After all, I lived with Edward. The past twenty years had had more false starts than my old Chevy on a cold morning.

I can't get out.

That one had really stuck with me. It had to have been right after Adal had been turned—must have been, because I never had time to read those first few weeks after a newborn woke up—and I'd been in the upper library. In those days, I'd been determined to be the most well-read high school dropout ever.

It was Sterne. It was that fucking starling. I'd read that poem—or at least I thought of it as a poem—my sophomore year. It was mentioned in Mansfield Park and I'd wanted to see the rest. It turned out to be about a guy who's writing an essay about how just because you're locked up in prison doesn't mean you have to be in prison. But then he sees a little bird stuck in a cage, beating against the bars in a full-blown panic attack. The guy tries to open up the cage and all the time the little bird is begging, "I can't get out! I can't get out!" But the man can't get the door to open. He sees that the only way to turn the bird loose would be to break the cage into pieces.

And he doesn't do it. He goes on and on about how sorry he feels for the little sack of feather mites, but he doesn't do it. Back in high school, I'd thought he was a just a big pre-Victorian jerk. In Volterra, I understood.

My cage was worth more than I was.

Figuring that out was like remembering tears. It was like that bird's voice pushing against my eyes from the inside, and Edward had been right there, with the hint of sunlight just touching the edge of him and I'd suddenly hated the silence in the room. I knew him so well. I knew that the minute I opened my mouth, he'd remember the row of Austen books on my shelf back in Forks, the page with the scuff marks where I'd read that line over and over. He'd know what I was feeling and how to get it out of me.

"Edward," I'd said, and he'd looked up at me, perfect eyes, perfect face, ready to hear me say I can't get out.

My throat had sealed itself shut as something sucked all the warmth out of the room.

I can't get out. It had beaten against my heart like a thousand tiny wings. I can't get out.
I had to keep the words in. I couldn't tell him, not about any of it.

"Bella, what is it?" he'd walked over to me, put his hand on my arm.

The words were fluttering in my mouth and I had to bite my tongue to keep them in, or else I'd put another clue in his head. Breaking the cage apart. Volterra was my cage. Oh I'd had backups in place for if Plan J hadn't worked, but they'd all been based on the same general principle: Destroy the Volturi and then walk away from the wreckage.

I hadn't told Edward any of this, but that didn't mean he'd never figure it out. Even if he didn't, if he knew too much, Aro would figure it out, and then I was dead. Maybe both of us.

Early during our captivity, we'd promised each other that there would be no secrets between us. I'd been lying, of course. After all, I was orchestrating our escape, and I'd had to keep Aro from reading it in Edward's mind. At first, I'd told myself, "It's only a few months." And I'd been so pleased with myself, imagining laying out all the pieces for him and Alice once we were home and safe, like the detective at the end of the mystery. I'd been so stupid.

My reflection had reeled back at me from Edward's eyes, two wild, hollow creatures.

This wasn't a few months, I'd realized. My stupid plan had gotten Marcell and all those humans killed and I was going to have to keep it a secret forever.

I should've just packed it away like I packed everything else away, told him it was nothing and switched back to reading Donne. But Edward was his own man. I might study him like a puzzle, learn which buttons to push, but I'd never be able to control him. And he wanted to know what was wrong.

"Bella?" he'd asked


His fingers had closed gently on my wrist. I had to tell him something. I licked my lips. "I miss home is all," I said. That was innocuous enough. Nothing for Aro to read into there.

Edward had put one perfect finger under my chin to keep me from turning away. "You're lying," he told me calmly. "I think I know what this is about." Or at least he'd thought he did.

We'd had a fight about it. He was getting comfortable here. I'd thought it had started with Demetri calling him "Brother" on the day Adal was prepped, but it had really been before that. He'd been talking about making the best of things from day one, but once he'd dodged that bullet the day we'd gotten back from Croatia, he'd started to ...maybe not enjoy being Volturi, but he'd cracked jokes with Rolfe. He'd talked strategy with Demetri. I'd even caught him discussing Jane with Chelsea a few times.

"Bella, we are home," he'd told me.

The cloak didn't look strange on him any more. He wasn't wearing somebody else's clothes. They were his. He fit in.

I'd started to pull away, but he'd kept his grip on my wrist. "Do you know why?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. I'd heard it a million times. Because I couldn't get out.

He cupped my face in both hands. "Because it's where you are, Bella," he told me quietly. "You're my home."

He'd kissed me then, breathed my name and pulled me into his arms, At first he'd just held me, but I'd wanted more and before long, I'd heard the book fall off the table and hit the floor. I'd hoped it had broken its spine.

He'd felt so warm. None of our chaste kisses had been enough for me to notice how warm he was. Even his hands. A thousand poems, a million singing birds couldn't say how much I'd liked his hands. He'd tossed the edge of his cloak around my shoulders so that it covered us both. I'd stretched out the shield in my mind until I could see him like a light inside my head and he'd felt so good, like something strong and alive and fluttering between my fingers, and I'd kissed him back harder than ever. It was better than that day in the woods, better than the day he'd turned me. I'd held onto him just long enough to wonder if he would feel any different when we went all the way, but as soon as he started kissing my neck, I'd gotten distracted and everything snapped back.

And then my mind started racing. Last time, he'd stopped as soon as something had distracted him. I'd wondered... Would it break the spell if I said anything? Was he like this with me only because he was lost in the moment or did he think about it as much as I did?

"You can," I whispered in his ear, holding his hand against my hip with one of mine. "You can, Edward." Back in Croatia, I'd had a game plan. Get him used to the idea little by little, let him go a little further each time until he realized there was nothing to be afraid of, but things were never that simple, not with us.

Edward pulled back to arm's length and I'd wanted to kick myself, the book, the wall, the whole damned world. Couldn't just shut up and ride it in, could you, Swan?

"Edward," was the only word I could say out loud. I want you to, wouldn't come out. For the first time in months, I'd wished that he could just read my mind. I want it for me. For you. For both of us.

"Bella, we're not—" he took half a step away and I followed him.

"Yes we are," I'd said quickly. I slid my fingers across the back of his neck and felt a tiny thrill when his eyes closed. "We're old enough, we're ready enough, we're anything you could want." And the things we weren't were the things we couldn't do anything about.

Edward looked away for a second, and then looked back at me. I licked my lips, but he hadn't seemed shocked or angry or even hesitant. He'd looked like a center sizing up a half-court shot.

That look, that speculative, might-actually-go-for-it look lasted a full eleven seconds. Then he'd looked toward the door, as if he'd heard something.

"Aro," I said dully. Most people got to take the damned phone off the hook once in the while. Even Superman didn't fly off every time Lois Lane wanted a word. But then most people weren't slaves to a megalomaniacal supernatural dictator.

"I'd better go," he said in a voice just above a whisper.

Getting anything done in Volterra was a matter of stops and starts. Everything had to be slipped in between the master's wishes. They were like waves. I'd learned their rhythm. I'd have drowned if I hadn't.

I tried not to tap my foot on the floor. The vampires here respected the bond, but if Marcus or Aro wanted me, I would have to go. Which was why Demetri taking his sweet effing time to bring the team back was such a problem. Stupid wall clock said that it had only been three minutes.

Come on, Demetri, I thought. It was supposed to be easy for vampires to sit still, but I never could on homecoming days.

I closed my eyes and listened. Nothing but the pre-dawn traffic outside. Dammit.

What's the holdup, Demetri?

I should have gone to the Riserva. The damn thing was nice and big now, having unofficially merged with the old Riserva Montenero. Some of the farmland was still worked, but a lot of the private property had been allowed to go wild because of the rural population drain. Most of it had waist-high grasses spiked with little saplings. At least in the Riserva there would be little wild animals to kill.

Move your bony Russian ass, Demetri. Wait, was Demetri Russian or Ukranian? Oh, who cared? He was from the Republic of Slowpokistan.

There was no reason for this delay. No one was injured and nothing had gone wrong, so the only reason for the delay was Demetri being a fat dawdling jerk. No one was injured and nothing had gone wrong. I forced my foot to stop tapping against the floor because no one was injured and nothing had gone wrong. I had to keep the discipline, even in our own keep. I was a woman of the Volturi.

By now, I knew half the vampires in this compound by their tread. I could pick out Caroly on tiles, floorboards and cement and Edward everywhere. These steps were Jane's.

Jane smiled mildly as she saw me. Her second smile, I called it. The oatmeal smile, the victim smile, that would always be first. But I'd earned her trust. She liked me now, as much as she liked anyone. The universe had a sense of irony.

I didn't move from my place in front of the pillar. She stopped in front of me. "Are you waiting for Edward?" she asked.

"Yes, Jane, I am," I said. I tried to focus just on the eyes, twin pools of squishy red. I tried to imagine that iris as just a sphincter keeping light out of her eyes and nothing more. My habit of being here to see Edward come home was a bit of a local joke, complete with speculation about my appetites and his equipment. None of the other mated women bothered to do it every time. The nicer of the bloodsucking harpies who made up the Volterra rumor mill just assumed I was mother henning my students. Two of them had gone out under Caroly's supervision this time, Andrew and Stephen.

"Richard has been punished," she said.

"I was there," I said, trying not to sound snippy. Jane might not be insane any more, and her taserbrain gift never had worked on me, but there was no sense provoking her. "What did he do again?" I asked. I already knew, of course, but small favors. I still had to cultivate my friendships.

"He had a fight with Felix in the Piazza," Jane reminded me.

"That's right. You took care of Felix yourself, didn't you?"

Jane nodded, smiling her oatmeal smile.

Felix had taken up with a busty blonde named Laurel. They'd actually seemed pretty well-matched, meaning that he was big and brutish and she was big and sly. But then he'd come home from patrol to find her backed up against a pillar in the upper library with Richard.

About a third of the guard was mated, and less serious relationships weren't unheard of. Cheating, on the other hand... In a house this small, everyone knew everything about everyone. There was no chance of not getting caught.

Felix had ripped Richard's arms off, but that was pretty much par for the course. That evening, however, Richard and Felix had started shouting at each other in the middle of the Piazza de Priori. Two dozen humans had seen them.

It wasn't a serious crime, more like a breach of protocol. We could changes our haircuts and our wardrobes, but we weren't like nomads who could move on before the locals started to remember their faces, and Felix and Richard had just made themselves memorable.

They'd both been banned from the plum early evening R&R time slot, probably for the next twenty years, but an example had to be made. Because Felix had not been the instigator (and because of the masters' "old fashioned" ideas about men's rights over those who enjoyed their women), Felix had been allowed to choose the form of his punishment.

I had to hand it to him, he'd stood there and let Jane zap him like it was a badge of honor. Technically it was. The masters punished people with a diet of animal blood when they wanted to shame rather than harm. Putting Richard on the milk diet was a declaration that his strength was not necessary to the coven.

"How do you think he'll get back into the feasts?" I asked. There was always speculation about this. The pig-sucking vampire was always bombarded by cheerful, helpful suggestions. That was part of the punishment.

"If it were me?" Jane asked.

"If it were you, it wouldn't have happened at all," I said. There was a place in the world for flattery. At least I could choose the time and place of my ass-kissing.

Jane gave a tiny, snorting laugh. "One or two successful missions should do it, even if they're ordinary," she said. "But they won't send him out on real missions for a while. He could spend some more time on the library crew, discover something useful by himself. That should be enough."

I faked an irritated tsk. "I hope so. His dining manners are dreadful. He sprays pigs' blood all over the place."

Jane chuckled at that. She'd been absolutely mortified during her time as Edward's and my dinner companion, and those first poor pigs had been shredded. The suggestion that anyone else had been worse soothed her.

"If the holodecoy that he helped create for this mission works well enough, he might have earned his way back already," she said. "Small crimes require small boons. It wouldn't have to be anything like what I accomplished," she said.

I smiled and nodded. Jane's time of punishment wasn't exactly a taboo topic, but it was generally bad for your health to bring it up unless Jane mentioned it first. "That was a stroke of good luck," I said. "And skill," I added quickly.

"So kind of you to say it," Jane said. I watched her walk away and returned to my waiting.

The masters had kept Jane on animal blood for almost three years. Her eyes had turned yellow after a few months. She'd been furious. She'd been humiliated. But she hadn't hurt anyone else. Edward thought that it was only because she didn't want people to notice how much weaker she was without human blood backing her tiny body.

I'd timed it carefully, kept protecting her until just after her first meal. No one had noticed, not even Chelsea. I'd been so damned lucky.

During her punishment, Jane had been sent out on missions—always with more than the usual compliment of fighers as her backup muscle. Once, Edward had come to me ticking off his rumpled shopping list of hopes like a kid picking out snacks for a house party. Animal blood was making her sane, not mad, and the whole coven had seen it. She'd grown weaker, not stronger, and therefore less of a threat, and the whole coven had seen it. She seemed less aggressive, and could that be an effect as well?

"You miss Carlisle," I'd said.

That had sobered him up. "Not so loud," he'd answered.

I should have just answered him in kind. I should have told him that I liked that he was sharing this with me, even if I could never be the nimble-minded colleague that he'd had in Dr. Cullen.

One day, I'd told myself.

Jane had wanted off the animal blood right away, but she'd been lucid enough to see that wasn't happening. Aro adored her, but Caius had been too damned pissed off. I remembered feeling pretty smug about that. It was only once her punishment had gone on so long that the rest of the coven had started to worry for themselves—no one wanted to be put to the pigs with no way out—that Jane had stopped being Edward's and my unwanted dinner guest.

I'd been on shift when the library team had found him. His name had been Jozef, for all that he'd been going by José for the past three-hundred-odd. He'd been found lurking in Argentina, ever since the Rumanian uprising.

Jane had been sent to eliminate him. Now that her brain was back in her usual place, she could lead teams again. The masters had allowed her a tracker, Corin, and two of our yearling newborns as grunts.

I'd gone along as their mentor. It hadn't been my first mission without Edward, but it was the first one to take me an ocean away. I could still feel the weight in the air, heavy with water and strange insects. We'd caught the man mid-hunt outside Rio de Janiero. I'd been terrified. Of leaving Edward with Chelsea for so long, of making a mistake and draining a human, of making a mistake and getting one of my students killed. Most of all, I hadn't wanted to be punished. Jane's gift didn't work on me, but I was sure Caius and Aro would come up with a way. Force me to drink human blood, maybe.

Which was why I'd been shocked off my feet when Jane had decided not to kill Jozef but bring him back for interrogation instead. Corin had said something about disobedience, but Jane had answered that something about the situation didn't add up.

It had been a hellish captivity. She'd torn his throat so that he couldn't scream, put it in her pocket like a souvenir. We'd kept him tied up using steel rebars. He didn't have the human indignity of needing to go to the bathroom, so things hadn't gotten too messy, but I could remember cramps in my arms and legs just thinking about it. And what made him so different from us, really? That he'd fought on the losing side in a war hundreds of years ago? Then I remembered those people in Croatia, and I'd stopped feeling sorry for him.

Missing bits or not, he'd nearly escaped on the ship to Marsailles, and again in the Alps, when he realized where we were taking him. But he'd been brought back, first by Adal and Corin and the second time by Jane alone.

Once we'd reached Volterra, Jane had reattached Jozef's throat and immobilized him with her gift. When he lay on the floor, gulping and gasping, she'd dragged him before the masters by his hair like the prize he was.

It had been a fine bit of theater. Jane, as much the pride of the Volturi as she'd ever been, taking down a larger, stronger vampire, just like she always had, and a member of the traitorous Romanian coven on top of that, a war criminal. That had been a big deal to Caius, who was always going on about the provenance of everything in his art collection.

But it had been better than that. I'd seen it in Edward's eyes and in the way he moved, like a cat realizing that there was a rabbit nearby. He'd motioned to Aro, and I'd watched his face go grave.

It turned out that Jozef had known something. Edward had stepped forward and nodded to Jane. Alternating questions and bouts of pain, they'd made him spill his guts: He'd hadn't just been hiding out in Argentina. He'd been recruiting. It wasn't a large-scale operation, Edward told me later. It was slow; it was supposed to be, all so that we wouldn't notice. He'd been a point of contact to funnel interested parties to his masters in Europe. And he wasn't the only one.

We'd learned a few things about how they thought we operated, why they'd been able to hide from our library teams. Caius had made us all learn new procedures before the smoke of Jozef's body had left the air.

Before the next feast, the masters had called a special gathering. Even Edward and I had been ordered to attend. Caius had declared that Jane had saved lives, made the whole coven more effective, and that she deserved to be rewarded. Her eyes had been red as poppies by midnight.

That had started the tradition of earning boons. Calling in Jane for a little nerve-torture or Felix for some temporary dismemberment were still the masters' punishments of choice, but for milder offenses, for lapses in restraint or failures for which they preferred to humiliate rather than harm, they chose animal blood.

Even from here, I could hear the main entrance open, and it jerked me out of my memories. Before sunrise, at this quiet hour, there was no need to move through the tunnels. They'd come on the surface. Good. Fine. Whatever. I stood against the wall, visible but still. Inside, I was so damned excited that it was pathetic. I couldn't wait. I'd say, "So how was China?" and he'd say something witty, like we had a secret. Later, after the team had given its report, we'd sneak off together.

Demetri saw me but didn't break stride. Par for the course. At his right hand, Rolfe looked at me gruffly and then turned away. Odd. He usually tossed me a wink or something. Making fun of me was practically his hobby.

Edward was next, carrying something twisty and metal over his shoulder. I guessed it could be Master Caius's crossbow, but I didn't really care. After three weeks, just locking eyes with him was enough to make the room feel warm and right again. At least it did until I saw the warning in his gaze. Something was worrying him. Something hadn't gone right. I knew better than ask before the whole team had given their report. He would tell me everything later. He always told me everything.

Caroly came next with the case. I looked her over quickly as she blew a hank of her roofthatch hair out of her mouth. No new scars, no missing limbs. Good good good. She seemed upset about something, gave only half a smile when she saw me. Something had gone wrong then. Edward might be upset because a human had gotten killed, but if Caroly was rattled, then something was Volterra-wrong.

Last was Andrew, carrying something on his back, wrapped in a cloak. I'd trained Andrew myself, with Caroly's help. He'd been a good student but nothing special. He gave me the same nod he'd given me in lessons.

Demetri was already at the far end of the room, pushing open the doors to the feasting hall.

I actually left my place, walked toward the entranceway and peered around the corner into the passageway to see if Stephen was there.


I turned around just in time to watch the feasting hall doors close behind Andrew and whatever he was carrying, just in time to see the cloth part over a foot with a man's boot on it.


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