The Short Second Life (Chapters 16)

"She has surrendered," the redhead explained.

"Surrendered?" Jane snapped.

I peeked up to see the dark-cloaks exchanging glances. The redhead had said that he'd never seen anyone surrender before. Maybe the dark-cloaks hadn't, either.

"Carlisle gave her the option," the redhead said. He seemed to be the spokesperson for the yel ow-eyes, though I thought Carlisle might be the leader.

"There are no options for those who break the rules," Jane said, her voice dead again.

My bones felt like ice, but I didn't feel panicked anymore. It al seemed so inevitable now.

Carlisle answered Jane in a soft voice. "That's in your hands. As long as she was wil ing to halt her attack on us, I saw no need to destroy her. She was never taught."

Though his words were neutral, I almost thought he was pleading for me. But, as he had said, my fate was not up to him.

"That is irrelevant," Jane confirmed.

"As you wish."

Jane was staring at Carlisle with an expression that was half confusion and half frustration. She shook her head, and her face was unreadable again.

"Aro hoped that we would get far enough west to see you, Carlisle," she said. "He sends his regards."

"I would appreciate it if you would convey mine to him," he answered.

Jane smiled. "Of course." Then she looked at me again, with the corners of her mouth stil slightly holding the smile. "It appears that you've done our work for us today… for the most part. Just out of professional curiosity, how many were there?

They left quite a wake of destruction in Seattle."

She spoke of jobs and professionals. I was right, then, that it was her profession to punish. And if there were punishers, then there must be rules. Carlisle had said before, We follow their rules, and also, There is no law against creating vampires if you control them. Riley and my creator had been afraid but not exactly surprised by the arrival of the dark-cloaks, these Volturi. They knew about the laws, and they knew they were breaking them. Why hadn't they told us? And there were more Volturi than just these four. Someone named Aro and probably many more. There must have been a lot for everyone to fear them so much. Carlisle answered Jane's question. "Eighteen, including this one."

There was a barely audible murmur among the four darkcloaks.

"Eighteen?" Jane repeated, a note of surprise in her voice. Our creator had never told Jane how many of us she'd created. Was Jane real y surprised, or just faking it?

"Al brand-new," Carlisle said. "They were unskil ed."

Unskil ed and uninformed, thanks to Riley. I was beginning to get a sense of how these older vampires viewed us. Newborn, Jasper had cal ed me. Like a baby.

"Al ?" Jane snapped. "Then who was their creator?"

As if they hadn't already been introduced. This Jane was a bigger liar than Riley, and she was so much better at it than he was.

"Her name was Victoria," the redhead answered.

How did he know that when even I didn't? I remembered that Riley had said there was a mind reader in this group. Was that how they knew everything? Or was that another of Riley's lies?

"Was?" Jane asked.

The redhead jerked his head toward the east like he was pointing. I looked up and saw a cloud of thick lilac smoke bil owing from the side of the mountain.

Was. I felt a similar kind of pleasure to what I'd felt imagining the big vampire shredding Raoul. Only much, much greater.

"This Victoria," Jane asked slowly. "She was in addition to the eighteen here?"

"Yes," the redhead confirmed. "She had only one other with her. He was not as young as this one here, but no older than a year."

Riley. My fierce pleasure intensified. If – okay, when – I died today, at least I didn't leave that loose thread. Diego had been avenged. I almost smiled.

"Twenty," Jane breathed. Either this was more than she had expected, or she was a kil er actress. "Who dealt with the creator?"

"I did," the redhead said coldly.

Whoever this vampire was, whether he kept a pet human or no, he was a friend of mine. Even if he were the one to kil me in the end, I would stil owe him.

Jane turned to stare at me with narrowed eyes.

"You there," she snarled. "Your name."

I was dead anyway, according to her. So why give this lying vampire anything she wanted? I just glared at her. Jane smiled at me, the bright, happy smile of an innocent child, and suddenly I was on fire. It was like I'd gone back in time to the worst night of my life. Fire was in every vein of my body, covering every inch of my skin, gnawing through the marrow of every bone. It felt like I was buried in the middle of my coven's funeral bonfire, with the flames on every side. There wasn't a single cel in my body that wasn't blazing with the worst agony imaginable. I could barely hear myself scream over the pain in my ears.

"Your name," Jane said again, and as she spoke the fire disappeared. Gone like that, as if I'd only been imagining it.

"Bree," I said as fast as I could, stil gasping though the pain wasn't there anymore.

Jane smiled again and the fire was everywhere. How much pain would it take before I would die of it? The screams didn't even feel like they were coming from me anymore. Why wouldn't someone rip my head off? Carlisle was kind enough for that, wasn't he? Or whoever their mind reader was. Couldn't he or she understand and make this stop?

"She'l tel you anything you want to know," the redhead growled. "You don't have to do that."

The pain vanished again, like Jane had turned off a light switch. I found myself facedown on the ground, panting as if I needed air.

"Oh, I know," I heard Jane say cheerful y. "Bree?"

I shuddered when she cal ed my name, but the pain didn't start again.

"Is his story true?" she asked me. "Were there twenty of you?"

The words flew out of my mouth. "Nineteen or twenty, maybe more, I don't know! Sara and the one whose name I don't know got in a fight on the way…."

I waited for the pain to punish me for not having a better answer, but instead Jane spoke again.

"And this Victoria – did she create you?"

"I don't know," I admitted fearful y. "Riley never said her name. I didn't see that night… it was so dark, and it hurt!" I flinched. "He didn't want us to be able to think of her. He said that our thoughts weren't safe."

Jane shot a glance at the redhead, then looked at me again.

"Tel me about Riley," Jane said. "Why did he bring you here?"

I recited Riley's lies as quickly as I could. "Riley told us that we had to destroy the strange yel ow-eyes here. He said it would be easy. He said that the city was theirs, and they were coming to get us. He said once they were gone, al the blood would be ours. He gave us her scent." I pointed in the human's direction. "He said we would know that we had the right coven, because she would be with them. He said whoever got to her first could have her."

"It looks like Riley was wrong about the easy part," Jane said, a hint of teasing in her tone.

It seemed like Jane was pleased with my story. In a flash of insight, I understood that she was relieved Riley hadn't told me or the others about her little visit to our creator. Victoria. This was the story she wanted the yel ow-eyes to know – the story that didn't implicate Jane or the dark-cloaked Volturi. Wel, I could play along. Hopeful y the mind reader was already in the know.

I couldn't physical y take revenge on this monster, but I could tel the yel ow-eyes everything with my thoughts. I hoped. I nodded, agreeing with Jane's little joke, and sat up because I wanted the mind reader's attention, whoever that was. I continued with the version of the story that any other member of my coven would have been able to give. I pretended I was Kevin. Dumb as a bag of rocks and total y ignorant.

"I don't know what happened." That part was true. The mess on the battlefield was stil a mystery. I'd never seen any of Kristie's group. Did the secret howler vampires get them? I would keep that secret for the yel ow-eyes. "We split up, but the others never came. And Riley left us, and he didn't come to help like he promised. And then it was so confusing, and everybody was in pieces." I flinched at the memory of the torso I'd hurdled.

"I was afraid. I wanted to run away." I nodded at Carlisle. "That one said they wouldn't hurt me if I stopped fighting."

This wasn't betraying Carlisle in any way. He'd already told Jane as much.

"Ah, but that wasn't his gift to offer, young one," Jane said. She sounded like she was enjoying herself. "Broken rules demand a consequence."

Stil pretending I was Kevin, I just stared at her as if I were too stupid to understand.

Jane looked at Carlisle. "Are you sure you got al of them?

The other half that split off?"

Carlisle nodded. "We split up, too."

So it was the howlers that got Kristie. I hoped that, whatever else they were, the howlers were real y, real y terrifying. Kristie deserved that.

"I can't deny that I'm impressed," Jane said, sounding sincere, and I thought that this was probably the truth. Jane had been hopeful that Victoria's army would do some damage here, and we'd clearly failed.

"Yes," the three vampires behind Jane al agreed quietly.

"I've never seen a coven escape this magnitude of offensive intact," Jane continued. "Do you know what was behind it? It seems like extreme behavior, considering the way you live here. And why was the girl the key?" Her eyes flicked to the human for just a moment.

"Victoria held a grudge against Bel a," the redhead told her. So the strategy final y made sense. Riley just wanted the girl dead and didn't care how many of us died to get it done. Jane laughed happily. "This one" – and she smiled at the human the way she'd smiled at me – "seems to bring out bizarrely strong reactions in our kind."

Nothing happened to the girl. Maybe Jane didn't want to hurt her. Or maybe her horrible talent only worked on vampires.

"Would you please not do that?" the redhead asked in a control ed but furious voice.

Jane laughed again. "Just checking. No harm done, apparently."

I tried to keep my expression Kevin-ish and not betray my interest. So Jane couldn't hurt this girl the way she'd hurt me, and this was not a normal thing for Jane. Though Jane was laughing about it, I could tel it was driving her crazy. Was this why the human girl was tolerated by the yel ow-eyes? But if she was special in some way, why didn't they just change her into a vampire?

"Wel, it appears that there's not much left for us to do," Jane said, her voice a dead monotone again. "Odd. We're not used to being rendered unnecessary. It's too bad we missed the fight. It sounds like it would have been entertaining to watch."

"Yes," the redhead retorted. "And you were so close. It's a shame you didn't arrive just a half hour earlier. Perhaps then you could have fulfil ed your purpose here."

I fought a smile. So the redhead was the mind reader, and he'd heard everything I'd wanted him to hear. Jane wasn't getting away with anything.

Jane stared back at the mind reader with a blank expression. "Yes. Quite a pity how things turned out, isn't it?"

The mind reader nodded, and I wondered what he was hearing in Jane's head.

Jane turned her blank face to me now. There was nothing in her eyes, but I could feel that my time had run out. She'd gotten what she needed from me. She didn't know that I'd also given the mind reader everything I could. And protected his coven's secrets, too. I owed him that. He'd punished Riley and Victoria for me.

I glanced at him from the corner of my eye and thought, Thanks.

"Felix?" Jane said lazily.

"Wait," the mind reader said loudly.

He turned to Carlisle and spoke quickly. "We could explain the rules to the young one. She doesn't seem unwil ing to learn. She didn't know what she was doing."

"Of course," Carlisle said eagerly, looking at Jane. "We would certainly be prepared to take responsibility for Bree."

Jane's face looked like she wasn't sure if they were joking, but if they were joking, they were funnier than she'd given them credit for.

Me, I was touched to the core. These vampires were strangers, but they'd gone out on this dangerous limb for me. I already knew it wasn't going to work, but stil .

"We don't make exceptions," Jane told them, amused. "And we don't give second chances. It's bad for our reputation."

It was like she was discussing someone else. I didn't care that she was talking about kil ing me. I knew the yel ow-eyes couldn't stop her. She was the vampire police. But even though the vampire cops were dirty – real y dirty – at least the yel ow-eyes knew it now.

"Which reminds me…," Jane went on, her eyes locking on the human girl again and her smile widening. "Caius wil be so interested to hear that you're stil human, Bel a. Perhaps he'l decide to visit."

Still human. So they were going to change the girl. I wondered what they were waiting for.

"The date is set," said the little vampire with the short black hair and the clear voice. "Perhaps we'l come to visit you in a few months."

Jane's smile disappeared like someone had wiped it off. She shrugged without looking at the black-haired vampire, and I got the feeling that as much as she might have hated the human girl, she hated this smal vampire ten times as much. Jane turned back to Carlisle with the same vacant expression as before. "It was nice to meet you, Carlisle – I'd thought Aro was exaggerating. Wel, until we meet again…"

This would be it, then. I stil didn't feel afraid. My only regret was that I couldn't tel Fred more about al of this. He was going almost total y blind into this world ful of dangerous politics and dirty cops and secret covens. But Fred was smart and careful and talented. What could they do to him if they couldn't even see him? Maybe the yel ow-eyes would meet Fred someday. Be nice to him, please, I thought at the mind reader.

"Take care of that, Felix," Jane said indifferently, nodding at me. "I want to go home."

"Don't watch," the redheaded mind reader whispered. I closed my eyes.