Twilight Fan Fiction / Twilight Fan Fiction ❯ I Know My Duty ❯ Bait ( Chapter 65 )
[ 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 four 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.
"In Aro's head he saw me at his one side and Alice at his other. The present and the future, virtual omniscience. The power of the idea intoxicated him." —Edward, Eclipse
"Is there anywhere else?" Bella's hands nearly shook on the doorjamb of the empty Cullen house.
"My love, we've been through here twice," I said, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. Short of pulling up the floorboards, there's nothing here, and we should have left by now. Black warned us. Seth warned us."
She shook her head. "There has to be something."
"Why?" I asked. "For all we know, Carlisle and the others are either waiting for us in Denali or left word with Tanya and Eleazar."
"If everything were that easy, Emmett and Rose would have been waiting for us in Florida with a sportscar and a couple margaritas we could pretend to drink." She breathed out and seemed to compose herself. I couldn't deny that I'd harbored the same thoughts. It was enough to give me another headache. "But was there anywhere else? A place you left each other messages? Or a meeting place?"
"No, nothing but—" I cut short. "No."
She was on me like a barracuda. "What was that?" she asked, aiming what was probably meant to be a playful smile at me.
Even the tiniest flinch, and she caught it. "Nothing like that," I said. "There was just a boulder by a stream where prey would tend to run during hunts. But we never left notes there, only waited for each other in person. But between my gift and—" I blinked hard against a shooting pain in my head. "My gift and cellular phones, we didn't need it much."
"Well okay, let's take a quick look and—"
"It's in the middle of the woods, Bella," I snapped, "at the bottom of a huge gully, right where anyone in these hills will run straight past without even trying. We are no longer welcome here. We have to leave."
She pulled up short. I did too.
We'd lived in a world of orders and obedience for two decades. I had to learn ...not to be a ranking member of the Volturi. I was just her husband now. Even if I had to relearn every habit when Aro took us back, I had to unlearn them for the time being.
"I think I know what this might be about," I said carefully.
I expected a harsh look, but she almost seemed hopeful.
"Okay, Edward," she said. "What is it, then?"
I put my hands on her shoulders. "You don't want to think they'd really hurt us. You want to stand in front of Jake and have him prove you right about him." I rubbed my thumb against the coarse cloth of her shirt. "I feel the same way about Demetri and Renata. But if the Master ordered it, they'd hunt us like any other criminals. They might be doing it now."
She gave a sad smile, as if my answer wasn't what she'd hoped to hear.
"We might not always be enemies, but we are today," I said.
She looked sad but not defeated. I could work with that. I was more eager to leave Forks than ever. Black and her father had distracted her, and I needed her sharp. At this rate, either these new enemies would kill us or Aro would find us long before we reached Carlisle's allies in Denali, and we needed more time.
She folded her arms. "I'm driving."
If that was what she needed to feel in control, fine. My head was killing me anyway.
Forks wasn't exactly the easiest place to get to—or leave—by car. Heading north would put you right in the strait. Back when I had last lived here, there were frequent ferries across the sound to Seattle, but the schedules had been cut back in response to the way fuel had been reallocated toward the military. By car alone, you had to go east and south before you could go northwest. For a bunch of vampires trying to go unnoticed among humans, living in a geographic cul-de-sac was a plus: Not much human through-traffic. That also helped keep the population low, which meant less appeal for nomads and other covens, so we were more likely to be left alone, especially with what was left of Route 112 along the coast being the shambles that it was. Even here on Route 101, there was an occasional car headed west, but most of the smarter travelers avoided this highway.
I stared at the pockmarked gray moving past like a conveyor belt, Olympic National Forest stretching dark and inviting up the hills to my right, dropoff to more trees on the left. It felt like nearly every minute since we'd left Anwar had been a struggle. I'd come back to what had been my home—more than one place that had been my home—to find empty rooms and chunks missing from everything from the pavement to the mountains.
"It's not forever," I said.
Bella kept her eyes on the road and her hands on the wheel. I could see the tension in the side of her mouth.
"We live a long time and so do they," I said, trying to muster some feeling. If not for how much it seemed to bother her I wouldn't care if she and Black never spoke again. I'd prefer they didn't. "Forever is a long time for anyone to be angry."
"What if these other vampires don't follow us? What if they kill him today?" she asked. "Then he'll be dead because of..." she shook her head. "Not because of me but because of people who aren't his problem."
"They killed in his territory. They are his problem."
"You know what I mean."
I put my hand on the overhead bar and sat up. "Nothing they do is your fault," I said. "What could you possibly have done to offend these people that the entire Volturi guard didn't do? None of this is on you." I shook my head. "Whoever is behind this is probably angry with Aro or Caius, but they're both impossible targets, so they fixated on you because you were the closest to vulnerable."
"That's convoluted," she said.
"People are like that," I answered. "They deflect." Of course, most people didn't commit multiple murder and try to destabilize the planet's shadow government when they did so. "Whoever they are..." I looked toward the edge of the highway, where the rocks had been dynamited to make room for the road.
"They act indirectly," I said. Processing a killer's thoughts had always been Demetri's job. Perhaps I'd picked up some of his skill, like Watson learning deduction from Sherlock Holmes. "Whoever this is could have waited for you to leave Volterra on a mission and tried to kill you themselves. But instead they tried to frame you for treason so that Aro would kill you. Today, they tried to frame you for murder so that Jacob Black would kill you."
Her hands were very still as she stared ahead at the road. "Do you think they knew? That Jake and I were ...close, I mean?"
And had they wanted someone she loved to kill her? Well she hadn't loved Aro. "I don't think so," I said. It would be hard to go through the world knowing there was an immortal with an irrational grudge out there, and we weren't even sure what he looked like. Would they try to turn Carlisle against us? I allowed myself a smile. Let them try.
"Even Aro won't be angry forever." I said, feeling better. "The wolves may eliminate these new vampires but we will need to report this."
She nodded, eyes on the gray road. "Not before we're back with the Cullens and he can't touch us without an excuse."
I pulled in a long breath. This thought had been following me around like a shadow for weeks, and I'd have to point it out to her sooner or later. "Bella, eternity is a long time for our kind too. We could go back to my old family. We could live centuries with my old family..."
Centuries pretending to be human. Centuries pretending to be a teenager, repeating the same lessons in a grotesque, larval parody. An adult in short pants.
Her face was falling. She was waiting for me to finish, but her fingers were too tight on the steering wheel.
"But one day, we might want to—"
"No," she said.
"Bella, you feel this way now, but you know the expression 'Never if I live to be a hundred'?" Or he'd make us. Give him enough time to plan, and he'd find a way to make us.
"We are not going back," she said. "Chelsea tried to rewire your brain. They'd have killed us for stepping out of line. I did step out of line! Don't tell me Aro wouldn't smoke me without losing a wink of sleep. I mean—You know what I mean."
I closed my mouth. I missed my work and my brothers, but I certainly hadn't tired of my freedom after only two months, even if it was only freedom to never do anything important, but one day... There was no sense arguing with her now, but I had been working through it in my mind. Aro would execute us for Bella's decades-old crime if he caught us now.
Right now, Aro was smarting from a near-miss with two rival powers. But give him a few decades to enjoy Stefan and Vladimir's former prizes and he might forgive her, especially if Jane could be persuaded to speak for us herself. That was key. Find Jane out on a mission, talk to her alone. Aro would make us come back sooner or later. If we pretended to do it on our own, he might be merciful.
"We're going back to the Cullens," Bella said like a steel track. "To Carlisle and Esme and Emmett and Rosalie..." she looked at me sideways, "...and Jasper..."
I snapped a shakier breath, nodding as Lake Crescent came into view on our left. I pictured their faces. Jasper. And, that night in Paris, hadn't Rose said that he had finally found a wife— The breath was entering and leaving my lungs too fast.
Because when we did find ourselves Volterra again, when the Master brought us back, it was important that I never—
I shouldn't... Aro couldn't...
Bella's right hand was on my wrist and the car was slowing down. My head felt light. I couldn't hyperventilate, so why was I gripping the handle above the window? I stared at the edge of the giant pothole coming up, trying to focus.
"Come on," Bella was crooning softly, turning her face toward me. "You know why we can't go back. You know—"
There was a violent splashing sound in time with pounding feet and a flash of a fist like a sledgehammer down on the hood of the car so hard I could practically feel it hit the engine as the tires gave way underneath us.
"Bella!" I yelled as the Kia careened toward the blasted rock wall. "Bella, get the car still!" I shouted.
"What does it look like I'm trying to do, polka dance?!" she snapped, hands clamped hard on the steering wheel. Air hissed out through her teeth. "Steering's shot. Let's go."
I kicked out what was left of the windshield and we were on the pavement before the Kia stopped spinning.
Our attacker was a good distance behind us, rivulets of lake water leaving wet pools by his feet. The details flew to the front of my head so fast that I almost didn't miss Demetri. Gleaming skin. Blond hair. Big. Flexing the fist that he'd slammed through the hood of the car. The crash had snapped his concentration. His thoughts were wild and eager. He was only barely calm.
"He's dead," snarled Bella.
"He's a lure," I breathed. I managed not to turn and look behind me. Thoughts, shimmering and almost invisible, like heat waves, but showing at the edges now that I knew to pay attention. There were other vampires nearby, some still underwater, and they were under orders to head toward us as soon as we were distracted, say, when we stopped to rip their unlucky teammate into sections.
I couldn't tell if he knew he was being used, but I saw no sign of it on his face. Whoever his master was, he was as ruthless as Caius.
Ever quick on the uptake, Bella asked, "How many?" Bella asked.
"I can't tell," I said. "More than five."
By now the new vampire was on his feet and heading toward us, face a nameless snarl.
"We can't sit still now."
No functioning vehicle, no backup, facing an unknown number of semi-calm newborns who'd had at least seven weeks to learn every rock and hollow of a territory that hadn't been my home court in decades, and that was assuming that they hadn't scouted the area before they'd begun bleeding humans.
A ripple ahead. And another. I clenched my fist. If I were stronger, I'd have their numbers, their locations and half their plan plucked clean from their skulls by now—not to mention why in God's name they were after us.
The vampire was pushing himself upright, like a roaring bull with forelegs like tree trunks. The fool didn't know he was bait. Bella and I together had a good chance of beating any one vampire, newborn or no, but if we stopped to do that, his friends would be on us. By running, we'd probably tipped his master off that their thought blocking wasn't foolproof.
"They're expecting us to muscle through?" Bella asked as the unknown vampire rounded on us.
I shook my head. "Not necessarily. Or this one wouldn't have tried to damage the car." Otherwise he'd have gone through the windshield and started the fight in close quarters.
Bella wrenched the driver's side door off its hinges and made a move to haul me out by the scruff of my collar. I slid out after her. "Ideas?" she challenged.
We could double back and lead them straight into the town where her father was hospitalized.
"No," I admitted.
The blond vampire smashed his fists together in what he probably thought was an intimidating gesture. The ripples hadn't gotten any closer. Either he had no communication devices or it had gotten smashed when he'd plowed the Kia.
Bella darted her eyes toward me. "Can we make a break for it on the road?"
I shook my head, exhaling through my nose. "No," I said.
Her eyes flicked back toward the woods. I felt like swearing.
The new vampire snarled and spread his arms as I charged him. The look on his face was almost comical as I jumped straight over his head, barely managing a kick to his chin as I bolted for the treeline. A scrap of his thoughts shook free as my feet hit the ground. He was disappointed at being ignored. He'd had a whole set of moves planned.
I focused on the individual buds on the branch ahead of me, on the sound of Bella's feet behind, but nothing filled the numbness where that man's voice should have been. I could hear his hands against the asphalt as he got to his feet and feel the vibrations as he pounded after us, but I couldn't see his thoughts. It was like when a limb goes numb. There could be a mosquito or a knife or a machete through the flesh, and I would not have known.
I tipped my head to the left as soon as we hit the trees. Bella took the hint and ducked sideways, changing course. It wouldn't fool him, but at least it would make it harder to herd us. I doubled back and followed her. She threw her head over her shoulder, switching to Italian. "Well so far it's just one of them, so—"
"Bad move!" I snapped, turning sideways to head uphill.
"If we split up, we could run the line and find the wolves—"
"Bad move," I snarled. "You heard what he said; they'll hunt you."
"That's the idea!" she hissed in my ear. "I'll lead them back here!"
I should have seen it coming. I'd been married to her for twenty years. Why did I always think she'd do anything but what she thought would work?
"You go straight south," she whispered, "you're faster" and then her footsteps pounded off to my left. I turned just in time to see the back of her head as she skidded downhill with a crashing and snapping of branches that our pursuer would have to be deaf to miss.
"Bella!" I practically snarled. I actually stopped running. There were at least three flickering spots in my hearing, at least three enemies that I could only sense when I was still, and one of them was moving right toward her.
Two more were coming after me.
I never would have agreed to it, but now that we were in the woods, chasing Bella down and physically dragging her away would get me a lot worse than a century of angry spouse. She'd just decided by herself to risk both our lives on the off-chance that she could pull this off. Maybe I wasn't the only one who had to unlearn Volterra.
I remembered this area, mostly. There was a dropoff before the mountains took off, a valley gouged by the Sol Duc River. I'd caught a deer here once, chased it down until its neck broke. Hopefully I'd be luckier. With four feet hammering away behind me, I jumped.
I tried to keep loose but I hit the ground far harder than anything that wasn't Felix should be able to arrange. I heard a female shout as we skidded across the old leaves toward the edge. Good. Maybe they didn't know the area as well as I'd feared. When three fingers closed around my wrist from behind, I knew it didn't matter.
Gravity became the sun, the sky, the set of fangs snapping toward my neck as we tumbled down the defile. From the corner of my eye, I could see the gray-black pavement of the road that used to run south along the river. I managed to wedge my fingers against his neck and push back as we spun, hitting one of the stunted trees jutting out from the rock He gave a groan; I gave a shout. I could hear the female catching up with us. A third had joined the other two, red eyes blazing.
The incline shallowed out before we hit the bottom. I was on my feet first, reaching out first, kicking up a chunk of the cracked rock with one foot and lobbing it into his face. I turned his moment of hesitation into a neck shot like straw into gold.
Old reflexes kicked in—the plan had been chosen whether I liked it or not, and it was time to obey. I turned toward the Sol Duc and felt a buzz of even older memories. Just like a night out with Jasper and Emmet, I bolted across the streambed at a raw run and jumped across the thick current, landing hard on the other side. The female, a thick-wristed thing with mousy hair, was halfway to putting her friend back in order but left him sputtering on the banks to follow me across.
I cast my thoughts west. The wolves, Bella and her wolves, but I couldn't hear anything. They were probably still too far away. Seth had been thinking something about Jacob gathering his reserves. They were probably still there, focused on protecting their own families first and finding their murderer second.
Rocks up ahead, I dodged, I ducked, I dropped perfectly still. The pair, the male with a hard limp, ran past me into the woods.
"Where'd he go?" I heard her over the sound of the current. "Was he with the target?" I could see images of pointing and arguing. I skirted off to the left. The male put something to his ear. There was no way I could take all three by myself. Where the hell were Black and his wolves?
I felt my face stretch into a smirk as a faint howl, far enough to be an imagined sound, curled across the sky like a wisp of smoke, faint enough to miss.
I picked up a pebble and gave it a toss. It thudded against one narrow trunk before crackling satisfactorily against the dead sticks. Predictably, all three sets of eyes turned toward the sound. One of them was shaking his head but he couldn't dissuade the others from following.
They were sinking down, looking at the ground beneath them, circling. Someone had taught them the rudiments of tracking.
Which direction then? East, I decided. Away from La Push, to give Bella more time. The ridge just north of Mount Carrie was east of here. I could use that, even if there were ten of these newborns, plus this Riley person, if he was even still with them.
I closed my eyes and listened, focused on those shimmering heat waves that meant a mind was there. Two males perhaps thirty yards behind me at the top of the defile, one still stumbling on a poorly reattached leg. The female with them. Slowly moving away. I braced myself against the rocks behind me and jumped to a tree on the opposite side.
"What was that?" I heard.
"You know what that was. He's down there!"
"Who cares? The target wasn't—" but the first two were already moving.
I had to make it look real. I had to make it look like I was actually moving slow enough for them to catch me without actually letting them catch me. I had to forget that half my guard brothers weren't waiting around the next rise to help me tear these fools apart.
"I think I see him!" Shit.
"Hey, maybe she's with him after all. Shut up and use the radio!"
There was a buzz of feedback. Really? A walkie-talkie? Marjane would have died. What was next, semaphore? A darker thought sank like ice in my stomach. How many of them were there? Fifteen? Twenty? And this wasn't counting the ones we'd already killed. How could anyone have kept a number of newborns, even half-calm newborns, without them all turning on each other? How could anyone build a coven this big at all?
It was impossible. You simply couldn't do it. Not without Aro finding out at least.
I'd figure it out later. Criminals coming up with new and interesting ways to flout the law. I'd send Caius a long report about it. Maybe he'd even put Demetri back in the field to deal with the problem. But I had to survive first.
The problem wasn't how to steer them in the wrong direction. It was how to get them to keep going in the wrong direction.
I let my mind go still for a minute.
An idea grew. I smiled.
I held still, ready to bolt if they saw me, listening hard for the rest of their group. Their thoughts were half-closed to me, but I could still physically hear them. And I'd spent twenty years in a coven full of bored backstabbers who had nothing better to do than play tricks on each other.
I breathed in. I breathed out. I pitched up to the top of the rock and bolted straight at them. I had enough time to register the surprise on the second male's face as I ducked under the first one's guard and snatched the walkie right out of his hand.
"Get him!" shrieked the female.
I skidded halfway back to Sol Duc, bringing the walkie to my mouth as my pursuers realized I'd gone the other way. "We found the target," I imitated the man's voice. "Heading east. Toward Hurricane Ridge. Bring everyone." I didn't wait for a response, throwing the walkie into the river before anyone could have a chance to undo my damage.
The first of the males caught up to me, snarling.
It looked like I was going to have to be good enough to beat all three after all. Felix had always tried to corner me somewhere, but we were in the open now. I could use my speed. I turned on my heel and bolted back across the stream, ducking under a half-frozen branch. Sure as spring, the beast followed, overshooting me as I skidded and dropped to the ground. He saw his mistake and tried to turn, but by then I was at his neck, all metal skin and cartilage.
I left him sprawling. No time for dismemberment. I turned in time to see the other male, the one I'd taken apart earlier, trying to follow. I jumped, feeling his bones crack as my heel landed hard on his spine. I looked up to see where the third newborn had gone, why she wasn't stopping me from decapitating her partner.
I could hear footsteps bolting east. She'd probably realized what I was doing and gone to warn the others. I ran her down. She tried to dodge, but I had done this too many times to miss. Soon her head was off her body, and I allowed my steps to slow.
I had to hurry back, finish disassembling the first one. Then I had to mark the space so I could come back and burn—
A howl split the air and then another, far away, but east toward the highway, not west toward La Push. I dropped the head in my hands, listening hard.
The wolves were miles away, at the edge of my abilities, but they weren't trying to hide from me.
Fuck me. Jake's plan worked.
Holy shit, how many of them are there?
Words like bait and bloodsucker mixed with snarls and blazing eyes and the snapping of jaws. I put two and two together. Jacob Black wasn't as dumb as he looked. But the pack's blood was up. I had to get back to Bella before anything could happen. I couldn't assume she was out of danger just because she was headed toward La Push. Whatever was going down between the wolves and the newborns, if we didn't have to be in the middle of it, so much the better.
That one's trying to run! Brandon! Black's own voice ordered another wolf after a newborn that was escaping back into the hills—in my direction.
It was time to go.
Whoever these people were, they had to concentrate to block my gift, and being torn apart by a dozen wolves the size of cavalry horses tended to break one's concentration. What the hell is tha— dissolved into wordless chunks at the edge of the beast's fangs.
That's it, struggle you furry piece of sh— the thought died against the sensation of teeth like steel spikes sinking into his leg from behind, whole body twisting with the muscles of a powerful neck. The jaws of a real wolf were meant to sink and hold, to slow down the prey so that a packmate could take its throat. The La Push wolves were no throwback.
Remember what he said—get my arms around it, one was thinking.
Most of them cut and ran. But the pack was close behind.
I turned and ran west, listening as hard as I could with my gift and my ears. I thought no one was following me but I couldn't be sure. And it wouldn't take long for the wolves to sweep back toward La Push. That is, if they got the better of the battle. At this distance, there was no way for me to tell. I felt a pang about Seth. He'd seemed decent enough, and I wasn't sure he was up to this. Still, Black and his men had the right to make their own decisions, and they'd told me they didn't want my help. Except as bait for their trap, apparently, in which case I could argue that I'd served my part.
It was time to find my wife and go before anything else happened.
I let my gift stretch out before me. Watching for any shimmers. Listening for any wolfish voices as my feet strummed the half-frozen ground. If I remembered the terrain properly, I would pass not far from the old Cullen meeting place that I'd mentioned to Bella, but the idea that anyone would leave a message there and not at the house was—
My shoulders slipped down as a voice fell on my mind, heavy and warm as sunlight, so familiar that I at first thought it was my own thoughts in my head.
My steps dropped to a trot. I leaned one hand against a tree, as if the patterns in the bark could hold me up.
I could hear someone.
I held still, not daring to move. I couldn't identify the voice. My breath came in hard, but of course there was no scent this far away. I couldn't tell who it was but I knew that I knew them.
My chest was moving in and out too fast. I put my free hand on my collarbone. Then I put one foot in front of the other.
The old stone in the woods, I was sure of it. We'd picked the place in the valley, the thoroughfare. But who would be waiting in a forest full of murderous werewolves?
I turned. It was a little south of here. There was a gully where I'd caught a grizzly with Emmett. I headed up hill. Jasper had brought down the biggest elk I'd ever seen just there. And someone had clapped her hands and told him— I staggered as pain flared in my head. I shook it off. I wasn't trying to chase memories. Someone was here right now.
The voice got more familiar as I moved. It felt like it was pinging the nerves in my head, bringing some atrophied part of my brain back into use.
I quickened to a run, following the streambed. On reflex, I let my feet make a noise against the ground. This would be worth the I-told-you-sos from Bella. The Cullens hadn't left us a message because someone had actually come to meet us. I moved faster. Any ally that Carlisle sent near La Push would have yellow eyes, but it would still be better to get out of here.
I got close enough to tell that the voice was female. Was it Rose? I pressed my lips together as I ran. No, it didn't feel like her, but it was as familiar to me as my own right hand. It wasn't high and light like Tanya or smooth like Esme or—
The meeting rock came into view.
I dropped from a run and nearly stumbled. I blinked hard.
There she was, sitting on the rock with her ankles crossed. "Edward!" she called out, thoughts fitting into mine like a child taking her father's hand.
"You kept me waiting long enough," she said, hands on her hips.
I looked her up and down, not sure what I was seeing, but it was her. The same face, the same height, her same smile that I'd missed so much my heart had turned gray.
Her eyes blazing red as perdition.
Her name crept out of my mouth like a secret.
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