I gave Jacob a hug goodbye, wrapping my small arms around his large, furry neck and squeezing tight, assuring him we'd be back as soon as possible. And if they had to leave the clearing, due to townsfolk showing in suspicion of a purple fire they'd thought they'd seen, then we'd meet them back at the first clearing in Vienna.
Having one-sided, vampire-to-wolf conversations with Jacob was easy. Everything he had to say, and did say—especially Jake—fell in his eyes and across his expressions. He was worried, that much was obvious. We all were. But he nodded in understanding and then huffed his somber feelings loudly, blowing the left side of my hair off my shoulder. Marcus and the wives were still alive. And doing who-knew-what to Alice, Charlie and Ahren as we stood here. Three vampires—if not more—was still a huge, deadly threat. And if Alice "saw" what just happened, would she tell Marcus, or keep that terror, nicely to herself?
Either way, dark trouble still hung ahead.
"Don't worry, Jake..." I scrubbed my fingers along the top of his head, then down the side of his neck. "We'll be back before you know it," I attempted to say comfortingly, wishing I believed it fully myself.
Jacob turned his head to narrow irate eyes directly at mine as he picked up on the rhythmic breaks, which I couldn't hide, in my unconvincing words and huffed loudly again, blowing all my hair back. I ignored his right to be angry with me.
"Remember what I told you earlier." I hugged him again.
He tilted his head slightly to the side, clearly questioning which of my many, earlier commands I was referring to.
"Take care of her," I reminded him, "if something should happen, okay?"
His eyes softened and his head fell low. Then, without any reason I could find, Jake lifted it and nudged me hard in my stomach, pushing me away.
"What was that for?" I glared at him, my hands planted firmly on my hips.
"He's tired of you telling him goodbye," Edward jumped in Jake's behalf. "He says, 'Get Charlie and Alice, then hurry up and get your butt back here'," he mimicked Jacob's attitude perfectly.
Jacob raised one shaggy eyebrow, waiting for a reply from me.
"You don't think that's the plan?" I snapped, causing him to lower is haughty brow back to normal. "I just need to know Jake, before I can even think about leaving her again, that she'll be taken care of. Humor me, if that's what it takes."
Jacob threw his head up in the air, rolled his eyes and glanced back at Edward.
"He says, 'Fine, consider yourself humored'," Edward mockingly repeated Jacob…and his mind-set.
"Thank you," I said without smiling, knowing we still had more to accomplish, and that I'd at least won that small battle. I patted the top of Jacob's head like a 'good boy' and gave him a light kiss on the muzzle. "Now remember—" I pointed.
He nudged me away softer this time before he turned and made his way back over to Embry, leaving me hanging with a mouthful of my own words, and no one to command them at.
I got the hint.
We hugged Esme goodbye as we gathered one last time, while being wished good luck from those who were staying behind, before taking off for Volterra.
"Edward," Carlisle called.
I watched and waited as patiently as possible while those two had their own silent, mind-to-mind conversation—Edward bobbing his head every once in a while as Carlisle 'spoke'.
It had only lasted about a minute before Edward turned to those of us who were going and asked, "Ready?" not making any eye contact with me. I assumed it was because I always asked him about his quiet conversations, and he apparently didn't want to say anything just yet. So I would wait until a more appropriate time. I had to know what Carlisle said…or warned.
The terrain at the base of the mountain spread out into wide open grassy plains and fields once we made our way around the city of Pistoia. We ran up and down large rolling hills, taking in the aroma of wild vines and fruits as we passed by several acres of various vineyards; each with its own house and guest house attached.
Hanging bitterly in the air, as we grew closer to Volterra, varied farming smells and several types of flourishing field scents surrounded us. Newly turned soil, stagnant and used gasoline, vegetables, fruits and fresh assortments of wild flowers ripped through my nose and into my lungs. Pined-up farm animals ran and hid in instinct into their barns and coups with squeals and panicked clucks when we flew by too close on occasion.
When the city lights finally came into view from the top of a hill we were on, Edward stopped us.
"Let me know when you pick up on anything Adriana," he spoke. "I'll keep traveling in until you tell me to stop and we have a count." She nodded, and Edward continued his quest towards the cities main fortress.
I paused after a few more hills, when I saw it for the first time...again. The large, medieval castle, that sat up high on a hill. The muscles in my body instantly tightened and I couldn't run anymore. I stood frozen, staring.
Even though Aro wasn't around anymore, the castle still held that old familiar eeriness about it. I knew what terrifying things happened there. And I believe it knew I was coming tonight. Even more, I felt it knew I was here—and that I was afraid.
My human memories taunted me as I replayed my last visit to Volterra, when I'd stood in the presence of the intimidating Volturi. The dark, cold, claustrophobic tunnels underground, the winding rooms we made our way in and out of, the main throne-room I watched innocent people file into and listened in horror as their lives ended in violent screams. Everything I felt then was coming back to me, flooding my mind. I couldn't do this.
Edward ran back by my side. "Bella, what's wrong?" he anxiously asked.
I was unable to speak. My eyes staring wide out in front of me, my breath halted.
"Is she ok?" I faintly heard Jasper ask.
"I don't think so…" Edward replied as he followed my stare in the direction of the fortress.
"Bella?" He tried to get my attention again. "Bella, we have to keep going."
I subconsciously saw out of the corner of my eye, Edward pull his phone out, look at it, then come stand in front of me, facing me. He was between me and the nightmare, blocking it from view.
"Do you need to go back to, Carlisle?" He put his hands on my shoulders and locked eyes with mine.
He'd distracted me from my trance just enough to allow me to hear his question and think a little more clearly. Go back to Carlisle, or face the fear in front of me? Go back to Carlisle...
I stared at him, still frozen, quiet.
"Bella, I have to know," he asked again, concerned and a little frustrated. "We have a mission and a time limit. Alice, Charlie, Ahren…they're counting on us. We don't have time to wait, love. We don't have time for this," his voice was hardened yet sympathetic.
The exact three names I needed to hear.
My eyes narrowed when my mind pushed out the memories I was fixed on, redirecting them to my loved ones and my sudden anger at their continued captivity.
I tilted my head and glared around Edward towards the castle as its hold on me twisted into unexpected bouts of sorrow. I realized the castle had also been a prisoner to Aro, and oddly, I was overcome with the need to free it, as well. To free the shadows of the fortress from the life-stealing nightmares that once haunted them. To free old, tired walls back to the people of Volterra. To free innocent the tourists from vampires that sought and tricked them for the last fifteen hundred years, and to free my family.
Power and anger filled my muscles as I clenched my jaw and fists. Three more, I told myself, that's all we needed to get past…just three more.
I focused back on Edward's eyes and shook my head slightly. "No, I'm going with you…" I insisted softly, nodding once.
"That's my girl." He grinned, moving out of my way and taking my hand.
My fear, then sorrow, then anger, turned to respect in an instant when I took one more look at the fortress. And to my gratifying relief, it didn't seem as frightening anymore. In fact, it looked beautiful. Worn, but cultured. I sighed with reprieve when I realized it was only the Volturi I had feared, not the ancient structure that stood majestically before me, decorated in light, hand-built stone. It was calling for us. Calling for us to undo its chains of captivity and end the last bit of horror that plagued it.
"Edward!" Adriana, who'd kept running, called from a few rolling hills ahead. "There are five!" she yelled back our way.
"Come on, Bella." He pulled at my hand, hauling me off to where Adriana and Marek were.
I smiled when my feet went willingly.
"Alright, if there are five…and two of them are ours, then that leaves Marcus and the wives," Edward said to everyone.
"I thought Charlie was human?" Tanya jumped in, questioning our mythical numbers compared to Marcus's.
Crap! She was right. If we were there to get Alice and Charlie, then the number Adriana picked up on…should have been four. How would we explain the extra one on our side? We wanted to keep the werewolves secret. We were warned against any other option.
Marek, Adriana, and everyone else in my family who knew about Ahren, looked to Edward. How would he explain this one?
"Yes, Charlie is human, Tanya, but Marek has a friend that is also being held somewhere around there. While we get Alice and Charlie, Marek and Peter will be on another mission," Edward casually explained as if things were perfectly calculated and all planned out with no worries.
Tanya looked at our faces, hesitantly at first, studying them to see if anything appeared out of the ordinary. We'd made no mention of anyone else being 'held' before now. And I'm sure she was curious, a tad suspicious even, after her eyes landing on mine had my own shooting off in another direction. But I brought them back and held them.
"Alright…" she replied as she relaxed her stare and nodded.
Edward never ceases to amaze me with the simple truths he comes up with. I don't know why I bother to worrying sometimes. He'd given her just enough information to satisfy her. Plus the Denali's are good friends. I assumed that's why it was easy for Tanya to accept Edward's reasoning to a second creature. She wouldn't have any motivation what-so-ever assume they were rescuing a werewolf, considering Marek and Adriana were vampires. And since everything was fine, I left me and nearly traitorous eyes alone with that.
We were about a mile away from the fortress when Edward announced we had fifteen minutes left before the first bell toll. Ducking between local shops, business' and markets…we'd found ourselves stalled a few times for several minutes, plastered up against block walls in dark, heavy shadows from groups of people walking the late-night streets.
They'd pressed us for time.
"What did Carlisle say to you, back in the clearing?" I whispered to Edward, taking the opportunity to ask as we turned to make our way along a tall, dark building.
He sighed as he pulled me silently by my hand.
"Edward?" I asked firmer.
I heard him surrender a frustrated breath. "He was warning me to be careful of Marcus," he answered curtly.
Be careful of Marcus? Because he can read relationships?
"What was Carlisle's warning?" I prodded when he didn't continue, knowing there was definitely more to their conversation than that.
Edward sighed louder. And growled rudely under his breath. Which I tended to compose in him sometimes.
"Marcus is expecting Aro to return," he continued before stopping to look, then bent around another shadowy pass with me in tow.
"Aaaand?" I pressed, becoming frustrated as if having to pull stubborn teeth from him.
"And…even though Marcus is the calmest of the three, he will not handle our arrival well. His demeanor becomes quite aggressive when he feels backed into a corner, which is exactly what we are about to do to him."
"Oh," was the best response I could come up with as anxiety ran throughout my bones while we continued ducking and making our way in.
Marcus was the calmest of the three, that was true, but he was still a Volturi. And apparently that didn't make our odds with him any better than if we were going to meet up with Aro or Caius themselves. I should have known dealing with Marcus and the wives was not going to be as simple as I once thought.
We froze at the base of the castle's hill when we heard it, the first bell toll on the plaza's grand clock. It was too low for human ears this far out, but we knew we would hear it just fine.
That left us one measly minute to find Marcus and stop him from doing anything he would regret.
"Edward, do you have a reading on where they are?" Jasper asked with sudden eagerness. Alice was one hill climb away and he was ready.
"Yes," he replied. "They're in the grand entrance room…" then something paused him. He looked down, but not at the ground, he was listening.
Toll number two.
"Jasper," he looked up and pursed his lips—because something had made Edward suddenly very angry. "Stick behind me please when we get there, and try to remain calm." Edward gritted his teeth.
Jasper's eyes widened, then grew hardened at Edwards words and furious expression. "Why?" he demanded.
"Because you're not going to like what you see," Edward warned with a whisper out the side of his mouth.
"Did he hurt her?" Jasper barked, ready to run and fight.
Edward put an arm out and held him back.
"No. But we have to be careful with Marcus. If we provoke him…he will."
Toll number three.
Blackness smolder in Jasper's eyes towards the castle. Edward knew what was coming, and needed Jasper to trust him.
Edward surprised me when suddenly gripped my waist and held me close to him as we began our swift climb. "Bella," he put his mouth up to my ear and spoke very softly, "Marcus has Charlie and Alice with him, and, like I told Jasper, you're not going to like what you see. None of us are. But I need you to let me do the talking, stay behind me, and please, make no sudden movements, alright?"
Toll number four.
"What did you hear?" I asked nervously.
"I need you to trust me…" was all he said as he continued to grip me tightly. Very tightly.
The last time he'd held me this way, was when a werewolf walked through Marek's door—and I wanted to kill it. Edward's warning and tight hold had me feeling more and more uncomfortable with each step. I fought back, as best I could, the grave images that wanted to cloud my mind with what I thought I was going to see. I reminded myself, that right now, I had to focus on the fact my father and sister were still alive and needed us.
Toll number five.
"I trust you, Edward." I swallowed nervously. It was me I was worried about.
"Thank you." He kissed the top of my head before stopping. "Marek, Adriana, Peter, Charlotte," he called. "Ahren is downstairs. There's a small entrance on the left side of the castle, at ground level." He pointed. "Take the first set of stairs down that you come to. You shouldn't meet with any resistance, he's alone."
"Thank you, Edward." Marek nodded, an anxious gleam in his eyes. "Are you sure you want us to go now? We can stay and help first?"
Toll number six.
"We'll be fine," Edward said convincingly. "Get Ahren, and meet us back in the clearing, or Vienna." He then grabbed Marek's arm and pulled him close. "And if you need to go straight home…you 'know' we'll understand. We'll meet you there when we come for our stuff."
"Yes, of course, Edward." He nodded quickly before taking off towards the back side of the castle with Peter, Charlotte and Adriana following him. No need for the others to smell foreign werewolf all over those four and start asking questions.
Or wanting to destroy Ahren…
Toll number seven.
We each weaved between the masses of gigantic, huddled trees as we neared the top of the castle's hill, leaving us as inconspicuous as possible as we jumped to the top of the wall, and down the other side.
Toll number eight.
We then followed the stone walkway around the outside of the turret towards a large stone archway. It was well over a year ago I had been on the other side of this wall. And my mind drifted, as if I was able to somewhat peer inside of it.
I gazed past the stones my hand ran along, remembering the placement of the three wooden throne chairs along the inside curve, and the drain that sat mysteriously in the middle of the room. An easy exit for a vampire, I'd assumed. I also remembered three dark cloaks surrounded by lighter ones, and others, in casual dress, waiting for Heidi's return, before…
Toll number nine.
Edward paused one last time distracting my memory, which was good. I'd had enough of that vision of history.
We eyed the large archway that would lead us to the courtyard, and then to the double doors of the grand entrance room.
"Tanya, Kate, Garrett, Zafrina, Benjamin," Edward called. "I think it would be best if you stayed here…incase anything or 'anyone' should try to escape," he said quickly.
"Kate, we'll need you to be ready." He nodded then glanced to her right hand with meaning.
She nodded back with a grin. "I will." She was already flexing her fingers.
"And Benjamin, here's this incase you should need it." Edward grabbed something from his pocket and held his hand out.
Benjamin took the item, looked down and grinned. A silver butane lighter sat in the middle of his hand.
Toll number ten.
Benjamin clamped it tight and nodded to Edward as well.
Edward sighed towards the building we were going to be heading. "Alright, let's go."
Emmett, Rosalie, Jasper, Edward and I, made our way into the courtyard and up to the large wooden doors. Edward took a deep breath, closed his eyes, then gave a light push on the doors. They didn't budge.
Toll number eleven.
We had one-twelfth of a minute left.
"Emmett! Hurry!" Edward yelled, backing away from the doors.
It took Emmett one thunderous shove before both doors flew open, flinging the wood slat that sat horizontal behind the doors, across the entryway in tons of shattered pieces.
I gasped loudly when I saw them...
Fury suddenly overwhelmed me like a tornado picking up speed, wanting to destroy everything that lie in its immediate path. My eyes narrowed and felt as cold as the winter's darkest night. Jasper erupted in a fierce growl as the two of us were ready to kill.
"Emmett! Grab Rosalie," Edward yelled as he grabbed my arm and swiftly pulled Jasper and I behind him to keep us from running to what we saw.
Toll number twelve.