Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Vulnerable ( Chapter 47 )

[ 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.

I've been reading the Rick Riordan books for the first time (EDIT: have since read them a second time) and once they stopped trying to be Harry Potter, I found that they're actually darn good. Then I read The Lost Hero.

I am calling Renesmee on this, and if that isn't a thing, it should be.

For those of you who don't read the Percy Jackson series, after book five, Riordan retconned his universe to include an extra bunch of people who weren't supposed to exist and of whom the protagonists have never heard for reasons that make "a wizard did it" look like Pulitzer material. Also, it turns out that our heroes only won the day back in book five because these other guys were covering for them. It's one thing for a sequel to repeat the previous books, but it should never undermine them.

There was no reason for this. If he wanted to introduce these extra characters, he could have done it with Jason as a loner. If he wanted to take Percy out of the picture for a while, he could have said that no one's heard of the other camp because it was destroyed way back when and sent him off to rebuild it. I call shenanigans, Riordan. I call Renesmee-level shenanigans.

Camp Jupiter is Riordan's mutant half-human telepathic vampire baby with accelerated growth and pearly skin. We all kept reading anyway and most of the time it was a blast, but what the hell, Riordan? What the hell?


"Thank you for saving my brother," –Rosalie, New Moon


"Nine of us will be sent ahead to gather intel," Edward told Caroly and me but mostly Caroly, lacing up his boots full-speed with a practiced hand. "We need to find out where they're seated, where they're vulnerable. There will be two other teams—Corin and Felix in lead—but we'll work more or less independently." I nodded, trying not to look worried. Edward and Demetri and Caroly had done this dozens of times but never in a fortified compound armed with disciplined newborns and—according to what was left of Lydia—mature vampires with who knew what supernatural powers.

He was gleaming like a star in the part of my brain where my gift worked. Caroly too, even though Demetri was right in front of us, cleaning his fingernails with a knife. I'd barely been able to stand letting go of either of them since Aro had told the guard what they were up against. There could be vampires like Chelsea or Jane or Alec, and nothing to block them unless I could manage to—


For the fifth time, the words wouldn't come out. I didn't even have to snap my teeth down in front of them. He looked at me as I stammered. At some point, so subtly that I hadn't felt it, the lessons had sunk in. If Aro knew I had a gift, one I'd been hiding from him, I would be punished, and Edward and Caroly would share my punishment, maybe Rolfe, Renata and Demetri too. If Aro knew I'd used that gift against him, we would all be dead. And no one had needed Chelsea to put those thoughts in me.

Fight it, I told myself. I was not like this. I was not like this. I could make my own mouth say what I wanted it to. I could just tell Edward he had to work his mojo with the master and let me tag along.

But I could only blurt. "I want to go with you. So hard." There. I was just the pathetic little dutiful mate, all stammery with her googly-eyed devotion. That would keep me safe, and I hated it.

Edward took my hand, slipping my fingers in between his. "I will be careful, my love," he promised, kissing my fingers. "My duty demands that I go into danger—" meaning Caius and his stupid grudge had a hard-on for killing Romanians "—but I will give you as little cause to worry as I can. I swear it." He smiled. "Will you do the same for me?"

"I'll be careful. I promise," I said with a sick feeling. Caius's plan placed me in the middle of a half-dozen five-week-old newborns all eager to impress Teacher Bella. I'd be as safe as possible, maybe safer than the wives.

Now that had been a revelation. Old Bitch One and Old Bitch Two were along for the goddamned ride. The masters would not be leaving anyone in the compound—except our humans—and they felt the wives were safer with the guard than in the keep. I was still praying that I didn't end up in their honor guard. I didn't want to know what kinds of assistance they would need in the field, and the speculation was enough to make me miss nightmares.

I heard a deep-chested guffaw behind me and saw Rolfe walking up with a stack of pre-mission message tablets in his hands. I must have been more focused than I'd thought if I'd missed him clomping up behind me.

"They'll bring him back in one piece, Bella," Rolfe said cheerfully, clapping a heavy hand on Caroly's shoulder.

She gave a nervous laugh. "Right. Don't I always?"

Demetri's scratchy knife sounds stopped for a moment, then started up again.

Edward was rolling his eyes at Caroly's protectiveness. "You haven't let me down yet, dear girl," he answered quietly

"'Girl'?" She raised an eyebrow. "Technically I'm older than you. I think."

"If you mean your human body, you lied on your application. If you were a day older than twenty, I'll eat a room full of hamburgers."

"Good luck finding that much fresh meat. I was twenty-four and I used to have the birth certificate to prove it."

"Went into the furnace with the rest of your paper trail," Edward finished neatly, not letting go of my hands. "You see, Bella? I have a full-grown Caroly to watch my back and Demetri to disapprove of our attempts at levity. How could anything get past them?"

I must have been freaked out because I couldn't even enjoy the sniping. Jane got past them. Alec got past them. Chelsea got past them every damned day, and I was lucky that the way her gift worked or the way my gift worked let me reboot Edward to his factory settings, and that was a whole other set of worries. I hoped to God all the back-and-forth wasn't giving him vampire brain cancer. Outwardly, he didn't seem any the worse for wear except for whenever anyone—

"So are we going to talk about the real issue?" Caroly asked.

"Which real issue might that be?" asked Edward just as Rolfe came up with, "Again?"

"I'm just saying it's weird!" she protested.

"Well you've just been saying it for weeks," Rolfe answered, sitting down heavily on the edge of the sill. "The advanced teams are shipping out in twelve hours. If you have concerns, you should have brought them to the masters days ago."

Caroly shook her head and started counting on her fingers. "Lydia knew Vladimir and Stefan's names but not her handler's. She knew Romanian base was outside some town in India but she didn't know where she was going to be meeting Andrew's nomad next week—whom we're still calling Andrew's nomad. It's weird! Why be so secretive about the low-risk stuff but then drop bombs like that?"

Demetri put down his knife and swiveled toward us, "Caroly, if the Romanians were going to feed us false information, they'd make us work harder to get it. Vladimir is too canny to be this obvious about it."

"So we assume it's not a trap just because it looks too much like a trap? That's psychotic."

"Well that's what you're heading out for, isn't it?" Rolfe added. "You guys get there first, confirm the intel and then we squash this bug of a coven like we should have three hundred years ago."

"Caroly's right that it's off, but the masters know all about it," Edward reassured. "Caius is one of the best strategists the world has ever seen, Caroly. I assure you, none of this has missed his attention." He tapped the side of his head.

"You've been fooled before," Caroly pointed out. "If you couldn't be fooled, Lydia wouldn't have been able to spy on us in the first place."

"She concealed her thoughts. Badly. That is not the same thing as fooling me," said Edward. "For someone to pull off the kind of trick you're talking about, she would have to bury the knowledge that she was a spy so deeply that she actually believed herself to be loyal, and then she'd still have to collect all her information and send it off without thinking about what she was doing or why. That takes mental discipline and a deep emotional drive. It's a rare mind that can keep that up for even a while. Lydia was an ordinary woman. It was completely beyond her."

Demetri and I exchanged a glance. The truth was, we both knew someone who could do exactly that.

It had happened in Paris of all places. City of lights, romance and, I don't know, deep-fried French stuff. I'd have been thrilled to visit when I was human and could actually see the sunlight on the Sienne or hold hands with Edward at three in the morning, but I'd only been to Paris on missions, four times total, and I'd never found the place to be that great. In the city's defense, it was possible that ripping a woman's head off and burning her body killed the mood just as effectively as it killed nomads.

It had made so much sense that they would be there. I should have seen it coming. Edward had even told me that they liked to do it.

I'd been between newborns and Caius had wanted me to get more field experience, so when a spot for a fourth had opened up on one of Demetri's missions, I'd volunteered. It had been Edward, Caroly, Demetri and me, as close to friends-only as things got in Volterra.

The mission had already been over and we were getting ready to leave. Actually, when you don't need to sleep or pack a toothbrush, "getting ready to leave" usually means just "leaving." I don't know what Edward would have done if we'd still had a criminal to track down. He'd gotten very job-oriented since Aro had decided that he, Demetri and Corly were the holy trinity.

The sun wasn't fully set, but it had been a rainy day, and we were spread out, sticking to the shadows on our way out of town. Edward and Caroly were about half a block ahead of me when I saw him stop. By now, I knew Edward's in-the-field body language pretty well, and it wasn't his ambush reaction, it wasn't his found-the-prey reaction and it wasn't his hey-that's-funny reaction. The change in his posture was vibrant and immediate. I watched him motion to Caroly to stay put. Then he twisted looking over his shoulder at me and ever so slightly turned his head to the right.

And from the alley that I'd just passed, I picked up the scent of vampire. Exactly as if they'd seen or smelled us coming and ducked out of the way.

I remembered thinking that it was probably just nomads. That happened pretty often. Sometimes they got invited along on the mission as witnesses. Other times, they kept their heads down. If the Volturi were after you, they'd find you no matter what. If they weren't after you, there was no sense drawing their attention. Live long enough and everyone gets some little infraction or near miss that they don't want the law to know about. Things had gotten worse since Edward had gotten a reputation as Aro's pet telepath, especially considering that only a few people outside the family knew exactly what he looked like. Who knew which of the Volturi guard could be collecting incriminating evidence just by being nearby?

I made eye contact with Demetri, and he nodded. I was the smallest and least threatening member of our team. I would go first and establish that this wasn't an attack. I could still remember the feel of the concrete against my shoes as I walked in between those walls. There were a few perks to being part of the guard. One was that vampires twice my size tensed up in fear as soon as they saw me in my smoke-gray cloak. I couldn't pretend I didn't like that.

But "fear" would have been an exaggeration here, and "twice" would have been toning it down. This vampire was easily bigger than Felix and almost as good as projecting an air of power. He also knew his body language. I immediately registered the placement of his feet and the partial duck of his chin as defensive; he was telegraphing that he could hold his own without doing anything overtly threatening. The female at his side was more ordinary—combat-wise, at least. They were both dressed as tourists. She even had a shopping bag on her elbow.

"What do you want with us, Volturi?" he asked boldly. "We've broken no laws!"

I didn't move for a second, not sure how to respond. Finally, I raised my hands up to my hood and let it fall back. Some confusion passed over his face when he saw my yellow eyes, but by then, Edward had caught up, striding briskly into the alley with Demetri only two steps behind.

The big one tensed, exactly like a predator who knows he's outnumbered. What I didn't understand was why he was acting like he didn't know—

Edward pulled own his hood off in one smooth motion, stepping forward.

"Emmett, it's me," he said.

Demetri paused. "This is Emmett?" he asked.

Emmett's mouth hung open, and he took one step closer to Edward, as if he couldn't accept what he was seeing. "Wait, if you're..." then he pointed at me. "Then she's got to be..." I hadn't realized that I looked that different. "Bella!" he said, and the smile seemed to take up his whole face. "You really are alive!" And before I knew it I was two feet off the ground in the biggest bear hug of my life.

So of course Caroly picked that moment to join us. I registered the rasp of her snarl and the swish of her cloak just in time to twist in Emmett's arms and hold up a hand. "Wait!"

"Drop her, criminal!" she hissed.

"Caroly, it's all right!" I shouted.

"Who's this?" Emmett asked, as if a kitten had jumped up into his lap. "I'm Emmett. This is Rose."

"These are two of the Cullens," Demetri was explaining.

"Edward's old coven?" she asked. "But then why are they—"

Before anyone could get another word out, Rosalie moved, so fast I barely knew to look. Before I could blink she had her arms around Edward, holding him so tight I thought his skin would crack. Demetri's eyes widened, and I saw him shift his weight, but I put a hand on his arm and shook my head. Her shoulders were shaking. I knew sobbing when I saw it.

"It's all my fault. I'm so sorry," she said, as Edward repeated "It's okay. It's okay" over and over.

I didn't notice as Emmett put me down. Back in my human days, Rosalie had always seemed like a tower, a mountain of implacable defense. She'd only said two words to me because Esme and Alice made her. Deep down, I'd wondered why a nice guy like Emmett had settled for someone that mean. Then I'd come to Volterra and seen what most vampire women were like. Rose was a prize.

I should have realized. Of course she loved him. She'd lived with him for seventy years, and he was Edward. You couldn't know Edward that long and not love him.

"Why would you think it was your fault?" he murmured as he touched the sides of her face. "What's your fault?"

There was a vulnerability to Rosalie that hadn't been there before, or maybe my human eyes hadn't been able to see it. She was made of glass now. She rubbed a finger across each eye, as if they itched from trying to make tears, "I made that stupid phone call. If I hadn't made that call. And now you and her—" Rosalie looked at me like I was some Ming vase that she'd dropped on the floor. "Bella, I swear I never wanted this to happen to you."

Edward, put his hand on her cheek and pulled her back so she was looking at him. "Of course you called me. You thought I needed to know. "

Caroly stepped up to me and murmured. "What are they talking about?" I started to turn toward her to explain, maybe sweet talk Demetri into delaying our departure a bit, when Edward added—

"And everything worked out in the end."

I froze, suddenly glad that Demetri couldn't see my face from where he was standing. Emmet could, though.

"I get to protect our world, Rosalie. They let Bella and me get married. I don't have to pretend to be some dumb kid all the time. Sometimes it's pretty great."

I made eye contact with Emmett, hoping he could read my expression. I tried to say with my eyes that Edward was lying to make Rosalie feel better, but Emmett just kept looking weirded out.

Emmett stepped toward me, shaking his head. "She hears 'it wasn't your fault' from the rest of us ten thousand times, but she'll only buy it if it comes from him," he told me.

"He's very persuasive," I answered, glad to have something to do other than watch Edward with Rosalie. She seemed calmer now, though she still wasn't breathing evenly. It seemed voyeuristic, like peeping through a window.

"You should have seen her when we came to Italy to get you," he said. "Bella, she was a wreck about it. No one should have to get turned the way you did."

"This from a man who was almost bear food? It wasn't so bad," I said. "Other than hurting like hell dipped in lemon juice."

"Ha!" Emmett barked. "I missed you, little Bella!" And it sounded so completely different in Emmett's voice from in Aro's or even Rolfe's. He was talking to me as if I were his trusted confidante, as if I really had spent the past twenty years as his sister-in-law. I realized that I'd never seen him this close up before. Even with his enthusiasm for my presence in Edward's life, I guess I'd always been a little afraid of him. He nodded toward Caroly with a rough kind of courtesy. "Are you gonna introduce me to your friends?"

"Yeah, Bella," Caroly said darkly. "Are you going to introduce your friends?" I'd frowned, wondering what the heck she was so not-amused about.

"It's always a pleasure to meet vampires who obey the law," Demetri interrupted Edward's reassurances that the masters didn't make us drink human blood. "But I'm afraid our duty cannot wait for a social visit."

"We couldn't delay an hour, Demetri?" asked Edward. "It's been years since the master had word from Carlisle. I don't even know where they're living these days." But if the glance that Emmett and Rose tossed each other was any sign, the Cullens liked it that way.

"You should go, Edward," Rosalie said at last. "At least we'll be able to tell Alice that we saw you."

Edward answered without missing a beat. "Who?"

Emmett's mouth gaped open and I could practically see the words taking shape in his lungs. What do you mean "who"? Alice! Spiky hair, insatiable fashion sense and sees the future? Oh, and she's the one thing that Aro wants more than anything in the world and he'll suck the juice out of your brain to get the last little scrap of her.

"Oh, honey!" I said, touching Edward on the shoulder and hoping like hell that Emmett's thoughts hadn't already done the damage. "Jasper got married. Rosalie was just telling me before you joined us."

"He did?" Edward asked, like a child hearing that his favorite movie was on. "That's wonderful news, Rose. Jasper isn't the sort who should be alone. Maybe I'll get to meet the new Mrs. Cullen some day. I wonder what she—" and then his head jerked to the side as if Felix was using him for a punching bag, his eyes squeezing shut like they were full of acid.

"Uh, Edward?" Emmett asked, like a man talking to a leper and wondering which part would fall off next.

Edward blinked slowly, searching my face as if he didn't know why we were standing there. "What were we talking about?" he asked, one word at a time.

"Esme has a new garden," I told him.

"Of course. She does like to garden." He gave me a terrifyingly trusting smile. "You're so good to me, my love."

Demetri cleared his throat. "We should be going, Brother," he said.

Edward nodded and answered, out of long habit,"You're right, Brother." Then he stopped short, turning to Emmett, "I mean— He's..."

"Edward," I cut off his attempts to dig himself out. "Duty calls."

He didn't look over his shoulder as we walked away I led him away with my arm slung around his back. I did. I was in time to see Emmett pull Rosalie into his arms, murmuring something that I couldn't hear.

The trip home wasn't any better. Demetri had decades of experience choosing safe paths, and Edward could tell us when to run and when to slow down to human speed. When we did, we spread out, so that sometimes one or two of us would be alone. As we crossed back into Tuscany, Caroly fell into step beside me.

"Why didn't you tell them who I was?" she asked baldly.

"And who are you, Caroly?" I answered, suddenly pissed off.

"Not your friend," she said.

"What then?" I asked, turning on my heel so that we were eye-to-eye. "What are you that I'm allowed to say? Does the Master want Carlisle to know who turned you? Don't you think I want to tell people—" how proud I am, how lucky we are, how fucking sick I get whenever I remember that the red in your eyes isn't from Halloween lenses.

"Who's Alice?" she asked.

I gave her my best training room glare. "Someone we don't talk about."

"Was she Edward's mate before you?" she asked.

"Edward didn't have a mate before me."

"Was she someone Edward turned before me?"

"Edward only ever turned Marcell before you."

"Is she like them?" she asked.

I remembered Edward describing Caroly's gift to me, the way he'd wondered at the lines of loyalty and competitiveness and affection that she could show him flowing between people like water currents. What would Rose and Emmett have looked like with Edward standing three feet away?

"Why? What did you see?"

"Nothing!" she reacted, halfway to a shout. She recovered, setting her jaw. Her head fell back, the searching look forced out of her dark red eyes. "It's fine. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter."

The grass swished against our legs like tiny whips. It wasn't fine. Even though she didn't know, she should be able to tell that much.

"We're his coven now," Caroly insisted. "They can't have him back."

Before we could say any more, Demetri signaled for us to run again. Caroly and I weren't alone together for the rest of the mission.

Demetri hadn't seemed shaken up by what had happened in the alley, but I knew that he was. He'd seen something that he couldn't write off as a side effect of Carlisle's influence or as Edward-the-deviant being reformed by spending time among normal, well-adjusted vampires. But I could practically see him filing away every piece of information, putting it somewhere he could use.

And now it was coming out of the toolshed. It was possible to fool a telepath or to twist that telepath into a broken toy so that he could fool himself. If Lydia had hated the masters as much as Edward had loved Alice, then she could have done it. She could have helped her friends lay their own trap, and Edward and Caroly would be the first ones into its jaws.


I had my own duties to attend to, officially at least. I had ten newborns to prepare for an all-out assault against an enemy in an unknown location. I wished that I'd been busy enough to keep from worrying.

Four of my ten newborns were women. Of these, two would be assigned to the wives under Renata as full-time guards. The others... Most of the others would be under my command, which meant that I would keep them from losing control and either attacking the wrong people, attacking the right people at the wrong time, or breaking and running. At least, that's what I would do until I got my chance.

Marjane, our best tech any by some accounts my best graduate, had been given her own orders by Caius, privately. It wouldn't have made sense to keep secrets now that the spy had been caught, except it was Caius. His paranoia had paid off too many times. I'd been told to train two guards just for her. As Demetri, Edward and Caroly sorted out the last details before their departure, I went back to that.

It was all about the angles.

Vampire flesh was harder than just about anything. I mean, I knew of a creature whose teeth were tough enough to rip Laurant apart and save my then-human ass, but I wasn't planning on bringing that up at any staff meetings. Short of having a werewolf for a best friend, the only way to take a vampire down was with another vampire, and that took practice. The shape of the human body had evolved to meet the needs of bones and nerves and muscles, not stone and metal or whatever it was that we were. That meant that the body was weak in some places and strong in others. To kill a vampire, you had to make your enemies weaknesses line up against your own strengths. Problem was, they could do the same thing. You had to be better.

Genevivre and Letitia had been picking up the basics pretty well. I had them back on drills to keep their minds occupied more than anything else—not that that mattered when you could think as fast as we did.

We were at it in the practice tunnel when Marjane came down. She had her own preparations, but fortunately for me, she considered this to be one of them. We could have used a standin, but it wouldn't have been her height or move the way she did.

"Tightened up the routine since my day?" she asked in her husky voice. Her accent had thinned over the years. There was only a hint of Iran in her Italian now. I'd asked her to teach me Farsi, but her duties in communications and supervising Aro's engineering acquisitions left her little time. Her dark hair swished elegantly as she dropped down to the floor. Renata had updated her haircut, I saw. I was lucky to look young enough that I could get away with long hair all the same length, but Marjane had been nearly thirty when she'd been turned, and needed a grown woman's cut. Lucky for her, today's over-sharp blocked-in styles looked good on her.

"Your day was fifteen years ago, Marjane," I pointed out. "Do you think I wasted all that time?"

Back when Philip had been in the cage, I'd pulled Corin over and conned him into giving me a fresh lesson. Eventually, I'd convinced Demetri that it was worth his time too. Rolfe had been easier. I'd gotten good at asking Heidi for small favors. One by one, year by year, I got the best fighters to spill their guts. I also read army manuals and watched training videos from at least six countries, not just for the moves but for the way they were broken down and explained. I practiced with Renata and Caroly. I learned by trial and error.

Was I the best fighter we had? Hell no. Nothing could beat decades of real-world experience. Caroly loved to show off for the recruits by flooring me inside a minute. But after nineteen years, could I turn other people into fighters? Hell yes, and I could do it fast too.

The past five weeks had been insane. Now that the preparations were coming to a close, I finally had time to freak the hell on out, especially about what Caroly had said about this being a trap. Caius hadn't been lying when he'd told Lydia that the library teams already knew the Romanians were gathering. They'd even narrowed it down to northern India, but they hadn't known exactly where.

Ever since their first stronghold had been destroyed, the Romanians had been willing to move around every few years rather than sculpt one city to their needs. We didn't always know where they were. Because they hadn't explicitly broken the law—there were no rules against trying to build a fancier coven than Aro's—we usually didn't come after them even when we did know. But Caius liked to keep an eye on them. I hadn't forgotten Croatia. I'd created the weakness with my stupid plan, but I hadn't been the one to tell Jonas to try his little strategy. There were things in this world worse than Aro.

The countryside had gotten so empty from Italy's population drain that on cold nights I could even take my newborns out to the Riserva to practice fighting outdoors. It was too bad that the terrain was so different from what we'd be facing.

Unlike Volterra, which had only had about eleven thousand humans when I'd come there and had shrunk to about eight thousand since, Alwar was a good-sized city, a regional capital. At first, I'd wondered what made it such a good base. I mean, India was on the rise—the whole southeast was. The Indians had been making money hand over fist selling food and supplies to China even before the war, and they had a thriving quaternary economy. Most of the college brochures that I'd flipped through back in my last year of human life had each had a picture of at least one Indian student in them, but not any more. The schools back home were too good. As the developing world came into its own, the U.S. was losing its position as the destination of choice for education, and applicants from India had dropped off. It made more sense for Indian students to go to their own country's gleaming research institutions. Only the Ivy League still drew the top talent from countries like India, Korea and Vietnam. I guessed it was like an American student deciding to go to Oxford or the Sorbonne. Why bother crossing the puddle for anything but the best?

Some people even said that India would soon be the next big superpower, but I wasn't sure. They'd been saying stuff like that about Brazil since the seventies.

As a country became more civilized, it became harder for vampires to live there unnoticed—wild vampires, at least. Covens could manage if they were disciplined enough, but few covens were. The Masters had lived in Italy since before it was Italy, and they knew how to blend. Over the years, Master Marcus had shaped the city to our needs, guiding the architecture and installing vampire-friendly customs in the human populace. Every twenty years or so, gray cloaks became fashionable among young humans, allowing us to go outside during twilight without drawing too much notice. But the Romanians were foreigners in India. Judging by the newbors and minders who had been attacking us in the field, they weren't recruiting locally and still spoke Romanian among themselves. They'd stand out.

Marjane had been eager to explain. Alwar was one of the first cities in India to install a control system based on the Rio model. A few years before they'd hosted the 2016 Summer Olympics, the mayor of Rio de Janiero had commissioned a full-scale operation control center. They'd started out collecting basic data, like the locations of cell phones and what people posted on the social network sites that had been hot at the time. This had allowed them to track things like traffic patterns and economic activity, and dangerous weather conditions, all in real time. In 2015, they'd used people's social media updates to track a flu outbreak in real time. The technicians had mined the system for Twitter and Facebook posts mentioning illness, combined the information with location tracking, and sent messages to anyone who'd been within twenty feet of an infected person, requesting that they stay home from work. That flu season had been the shortest and least severe in the city's history. It had kicked off what people had come to call the Big Data movement.

Large-scale tracking systems like this one had never caught on in the fiercely privacy-conscious U.S. or in most of Europe, but they were very popular in Sweden and Finland, both of which had national systems. Both countries had also traded in cell phone systems for implants under residents' skin. There had been jokes about lojacking Swedes and Finns like pedigree Shi-tzus, but the number of missing persons cases had dropped to infinitesimal levels.

Far fewer vampire nomads chose to visit Scandinavia these days. It was too easy to get caught, by the police or by us.

Marjane had pointed out that if the Romanians had found a way to access or gain control of the city's system, they would have access to all that information: It wouldn't be hard to develop an algorithm to convert where people were, what they ate, and where they congregated into predictions of where they would be, the best places to feed, and patterns indicating when another vampire came near their territory. It would be the ultimate early warning system, more than making up for having to deal with the city's large and untrained human population.

Alwar made even more sense symbolically. It was the former capital of a princely state that had been subjugated by an imperial power. I didn't know if the Indians had an equivalent for "the South shall rise again," but the Romanians sure as hell did.

I motioned Marjane toward the center of the tunnel. Letitia and Genevieve stepped aside, like ghosts in their cloud-gray cloaks. "In combat, you'll probably be facing multiple attackers. For now, we'll practice with just the one. Drill five." And the tunnel slipped into rapid motion.

I practiced attacking Marjane and the girls practiced stopping me. While she was still. While she was in motion. While she was crouched over her equipment. They'd gotten better. After fifteen tries, I only touched her once.

"Were you here the last time?" Genevieve asked me tentatively. She'd been working in legal, but the masters had wanted grunts for this mission, and she was easily six feet tall. Her iridescent red eyeys blazed through the reddish-brown hair that had fallen across her face as she continued her question, "When the masters brought the Romanians down before."

"No," I answered, motioning for her to repeat the defensive move I'd taught her. Letitia hung back, watching. She was shorter than Genevieve, but only by a hair. I was sure Caius had picked her because they looked like twins with their hoods raised.

"The last major Romanian incursion was before my time," I answered. It had been in the fifteen hundreds, actually. Rolfe had told me about it. The Romanians had had a castle in the middle of nowhere. There had been an old-fashioned siege. This was going to be a completely different fight. We just didn't know what kind of fight yet.

There had also been more than a guard then. The masters had recruited witnesses, citizens of the vampire world to help tear down the coven that had violated the law so flagrantly, appearing in public before humans and drinking blood in their presence. Over the centuries, one of the Rumanian masters had been confused with a national hero, Vlad the Impaler.

This time... I didn't know whether the Masters would put out a call for witnesses, but they hadn't yet. The Romanians had attacked the Volturi, rebelled against the Volturi, but technically, that wasn't a crime so long as no one in the human world noticed. This thing would be all wrong even if Caroly didn't think it was a trap.

"Teacher Bella," said Letitia. I raised my head. She spoke to me with too much confidence, as if she were already someone important in the coven. She would learn. Or, more likely, she'd be ripped apart by vampires with ten times her experience with her illusions still intact. "When will the masters inform us of the plan?"

"The plan," I repeated, suddenly realizing what she meant. "You've been given your orders. You may be given more before we depart. If the masters want you to know anything else, they will tell you."

Sometimes I didn't believe the things I heard myself saying. This was not one of those times.

Well I had my battle priorities in order, the same order they'd been in for the past twenty-one years. Oh, I supposed wanted to win. After years of training soldiers I had developed something like professional pride. And everything I'd heard about the Romanians added up to them being brutes who should have gone up like Roman candles long ago. But if Edward got killed in the process, I wouldn't give a damn about any of it.

So I would nod when Caius gave us plans A through H (the later plans weren't there so much in case the first ones failed so much as for different possibilities; if the enemy chose an underground bunker, plan C but if it was an urban center, plan D; Caius ascribed to the Choose Your Own Adventure school of strategy).

Smile. Nod. Sneak away from my assigned duties and to the vanguard so I could shield Edward, Caroly, and heck anyone else who happened to be within my range whenever I wasn't too busy. The battle would be so nuts with my newborns running wild that no one would notice little old me.

Lucinda looked up at me and I could see something underneath her confidence. Something trusting.

"Thank you anyway. You're so good to us, Teacher."

I stopped moving. I was perfectly still. Fortunately, around here, that didn't faze anyone.

I shook it off. "Drill two," I murmured, but my heart wasn't in it.

Couldn't she have said anything else?

And a sick little voice in the back of my head whispered, Thank you for saving me in Croatian.

It was like Edward had told me so long ago. Consequences. They could make me turn back. My conscience was where my will was weak. If I'd been willing to do anything to get what I wanted, the two of us would have been free years ago. I wasn't. So we weren't.

So I'd do my job, or duty as Edward kept calling it, even though it sounded funny in an American accent. And I'd do what pathetic googly spouses with no superpowers had done for thousands of years: I'd pray.


Rio's operations center is very real. It's raising both interest about its potential and concerns about privacy issues. I owe this information to an NPR radio short detailing the project. The "maybe we can track a flu outbreak in real time" idea is projected but has not happened yet. The implants in Sweden and Finland are fiction, but considering their track record of preferring safety and services over privacy, the Swedes would be the first to go for it if anyone does.

drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu