The Short Second Life (Chapters 14)

"I heard someone get hurt – Kristie needs me more than Raoul," he explained quickly.

"Are you… leaving us?"

Riley's face changed. It was like I could see his shifting tactics written on his features. His eyes widened, suddenly anxious.

"I'm worried, Bree. I told you that she was going to meet us, to help us, but I haven't crossed her trail. Something's wrong. I need to find her."

"But there's no way you can find her before Raoul gets to the yel ow-eyes," I pointed out.

"I have to find out what's going on." He sounded genuinely desperate. "I need her. I wasn't supposed to do this alone!"

"But the others…"

"Bree, I have to go find her! Now! There are enough of you to overwhelm the yel ow-eyes. I'l get back to you as soon as I can."

He sounded so sincere. I hesitated, glancing back the way we had come. Fred would be halfway to Vancouver by now. Riley hadn't even asked about him. Maybe Fred's talent was stil in effect.

"Diego's down there, Bree," Riley said urgently. "He'l be part of the first attack. Didn't you catch his scent back there?

Did you not get close enough?"

I shook my head, total y confused. "Diego was there?"

"He's with Raoul by now. If you hurry, you can help him get out alive."

We stared at each other for a long second, and then I looked south after Raoul's path.

"Good girl," Riley said. "I'l go find her and we'l be back to help clean up. You guys have got this! It might be over by the time you get there!"

He took off in a direction perpendicular to our original path. I clenched my teeth at how sure he seemed of his way. Lying to the end.

But it didn't feel like I had a choice. I headed south in a flatout sprint again. I had to go get Diego. Drag him away if it came to that. We could catch up with Fred. Or take off on our own. We needed to run. I would tel Diego how Riley had lied. He would see that Riley had no intention of helping us fight the battle he'd set up. There was no reason to help him anymore. I found the human's scent and then Raoul's. I didn't catch Diego's. Was I going too fast? Or was the human's scent just overpowering me? Half my head was absorbed in this strangely counterproductive hunt – sure, we would find the girl, but would we be ready to fight together when we did? No, we'd be clawing each other apart to get to her.

And then I heard the snarling and screaming and screeching explode from ahead and I knew the fight was happening and I was too late to beat Diego there. I only ran faster. Maybe I could stil save him.

I smel ed the smoke – the sweet, thick scent of vampires burning – carried back to me on the wind. The sound of mayhem was louder. Maybe it was almost done. Would I find our coven victorious and Diego waiting?

I dashed through a heavy fringe of smoke and found myself out of the forest in a huge grassy field. I leaped over a rock, only to realize in the instant I flew past it that it was a headless torso. My eyes raked the field. There were pieces of vampires everywhere, and a huge bonfire smoking purple into the sunny sky. Out from under the bil owing haze, I could see dazzling, glittering bodies darting and grappling as the sounds of vampires being torn apart went on and on.

I looked for one thing: Diego's curly black hair. No one I could see had hair so dark. There was one huge vampire with brown hair that was almost black, but he was too big, and as I focused I watched him tear Kevin's head off and pitch it into the fire before leaping on someone else's back. Was that Jen?

There was another with straight black hair that was too smal to be Diego. That one was moving so fast I couldn't tel if it was a boy or a girl.

I scanned quickly again, feeling horribly exposed. I took in the faces. There weren't nearly enough vampires here, even counting those that were down. I didn't see any of Kristie's group. There must have been a lot of vampires burned already. Most of the vampires stil standing were strangers. A blond vampire glanced at me, meeting my gaze, and his eyes flashed gold in the sunlight.

We were losing. Bad.

I started backing toward the trees, not moving fast enough because I was stil looking for Diego. He wasn't here. There was no sign he had ever been here. No trace of his scent, though I could distinguish the smel s of most of Raoul's team and many strangers. I had made myself look at the pieces, too. None of them belonged to Diego. I would have recognized even a finger.

I turned and real y ran for the trees, suddenly positive that Diego's presence here was just another of Riley's lies. And if Diego wasn't here, then he was already dead. This fel into place for me so easily that I thought I must have known the truth for a while. Since the moment that Diego had not fol owed Riley through the basement door. He'd already been gone.

I was a few feet into the trees when a force like a wrecking bal hit me from behind and threw me to the ground. An arm slipped under my chin.

"Please!" I sobbed. And I meant please kill me fast. The arm hesitated. I didn't fight back, though my instincts were urging me to bite and claw and rip the enemy apart. The saner part of me knew that wasn't going to work. Riley had lied about these weak, older vampires, too, and we'd never had a chance. But even if I'd had a way to beat this one, I wouldn't have been able to move. Diego was gone, and that glaring fact kil ed the fight in me.

Suddenly I was airborne. I crashed into a tree and crumpled to the ground. I should have tried to run, but Diego was dead. I couldn't get around that.

The blond vampire from the clearing was staring intently at me, his body ready to spring. He looked very capable, much more experienced than Riley. But he wasn't lunging at me. He wasn't crazed like Raoul or Kristie. He was total y in control.

"Please," I said again, wanting him to get this over with. "I don't want to fight."

Though he stil held himself ready, his face changed. He looked at me in a way I didn't total y get. There was a lot of knowledge in that face, and something else. Empathy? Pity, at least.

"Neither do I, child," he said in a calm, kind voice. "We are only defending ourselves."

There was such honesty in his odd yel ow eyes that it made me wonder how I had ever believed any of Riley's stories. I felt… guilty. Maybe this coven had never planned to attack us in Seattle. How could I trust any part of what I'd been told?

"We didn't know," I explained, somehow ashamed. "Riley lied. I'm sorry."

He listened for a moment, and I realized that the battlefield was quiet. It was over.

If I'd been in any doubt over who the winner was, that doubt was gone when, a second later, a female vampire with wavy brown hair and yel ow eyes hurried to his side.

"Carlisle?" she asked in a confused voice, staring at me.

"She doesn't want to fight," he told her.

The woman touched his arm. He was stil tensed to spring.

"She's so frightened, Carlisle. Couldn't we…"

The blond, Carlisle, glanced back at her, and then he straightened up a little, though I could see he was stil wary.

"We have no wish to harm you," the woman said to me. She had a soft, soothing voice. "We didn't want to fight any of you."

"I'm sorry," I whispered again.

I couldn't make sense of the mess in my head. Diego was dead, and that was the main thing, the devastating thing. Other than that, the fight was over, my coven had lost and my enemies had won. But my dead coven was ful of people who would have loved to watch me burn, and my enemies were speaking to me kindly when they had no reason to. Moreover, I felt safer with these two strangers than I'd ever felt with Raoul and Kristie. I was relieved that Raoul and Kristie were dead. It was so confusing.

"Child," Carlisle said, "wil you surrender to us? If you do not try to harm us, we promise we wil not harm you."

And I believed him.

"Yes," I whispered. "Yes, I surrender. I don't want to hurt anybody."

He held out his hand encouragingly. "Come, child. Let our family regroup for a moment, then we'l have some questions for you. If you answer honestly, you have nothing to fear."

I got up slowly, making no movements that could be considered threatening.

"Carlisle?" a male voice cal ed.

And then another yel ow-eyed vampire joined us. Any sort of safety I'd felt with these strangers vanished as soon as I saw him.

He was blond, like the first, but tal er and leaner. His skin was absolutely covered in scars, spaced most thickly together on his neck and jaw. A few smal marks on his arm were fresh, but the rest were not from the brawl today. He had been in more fights than I could have imagined, and he'd never lost. His tawny eyes blazed and his stance exuded the barely contained violence of an angry lion.

As soon as he saw me he coiled to spring.

"Jasper!" Carlisle warned.

Jasper pul ed up short and stared at Carlisle with wide eyes. "What's going on?"

"She doesn't want to fight. She's surrendered."

The scarred vampire's brow clouded, and suddenly I felt an unexpected surge of frustration, though I had no idea what I was frustrated with.

"Carlisle, I…" He hesitated, then continued, "I'm sorry, but that's not possible. We can't have any of these newborns associated with us when the Volturi come. Do you realize the danger that would put us in?"

I didn't understand exactly what he was saying, but I got enough. He wanted to kil me.

"Jasper, she's only a child," the woman protested. "We can't just murder her in cold blood!"

It was strange to hear her speak like we both were people, like murder was a bad thing. An avoidable thing.

"It's our family on the line here, Esme. We can't afford to have them think we broke this rule."

The woman, Esme, walked between me and the one who wanted to kil me. Incomprehensibly, she turned her back to me.

"No. I won't stand for it."

Carlisle shot me an anxious glance. I could see that he cared a lot for this woman. I would have looked the same way at anyone behind Diego's back. I tried to appear as docile as I felt.

"Jasper, I think we have to take the chance," he said slowly.

"We are not the Volturi. We fol ow their rules, but we do not take lives lightly. We wil explain."

"They might think we created our own newborns in defense."

"But we didn't. And even had we, there was no indiscretion here, only in Seattle. There is no law against creating vampires if you control them."

"This is too dangerous."

Carlisle touched Jasper's shoulder tentatively. "Jasper. We cannot kil this child."

Jasper glowered at the man with the kind eyes, and I was suddenly angry. Surely he wouldn't hurt this gentle vampire or the woman he loved. Then Jasper sighed, and I knew it was okay. My anger evaporated.

"I don't like this," he said, but he was calmer. "At least let me take charge of her. You two don't know how to deal with someone who's been running wild so long."

"Of course, Jasper," the woman said. "But be kind."

Jasper rol ed his eyes. "We need to be with the others. Alice said we don't have long."

Carlisle nodded. He held his hand out to Esme, and they headed past Jasper back toward the open field.

"You there," Jasper said to me, his face a glower again.