"Impressive," he said.

Renesmee was fascinated with the conversation, and she reached out fearlessly toward Zafrina.

"Can I see?" she asked.

"What would you like to see?" Zafrina asked.

"What you showed Daddy."

Zafrina nodded, and I watched anxiously as Renesmee's eyes stared blankly into space. A second later, Renesmee's dazzling smile lit up her face.

"More," she commanded.

After that, it was hard to keep Renesmee away from Zafrina and her pretty pictures. I worried, because I was quite sure that Zafrina was able to create images that were not pretty at all. But through Renesmee's thoughts I could see Zafrina's visions for myself - they were as clear as any of Renesmee's own memories, like they were real - and thus judge for myself whether they were appropriate or not.

Though I didn't give her up easily, I had to admit it was a good thing Zafrina was keeping Renesmee entertained. I needed my hands. I had so much to learn, both physically and mentally, and the time was so short.

My first attempt at learning to fight did not go well.

Edward had me pinned in about two seconds. But instead of letting me wrestle my way free - which I absolutely could have - he'd leaped up and away from me. I knew immediately that something was wrong; he was still as stone, staring across the meadow we were practicing in.

Tm sorry, Bella," he said.

"No, I'm fine," I said. "Let's go again."

"I can't."

"What do you mean, you can't? We just started."

He didn't answer.

"Look, I know I'm no good at this, but I can't get better if you don't help me."

He said nothing. Playfully, I sprang at him. He made no defense at all, and we both fell to the ground. He was motionless as I pressed my lips to his jugular.

"I win," I announced.

His eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.

"Edward? What's wrong? Why won't you teach me?"

A full minute passed before he spoke again.

"I just can't... bear it. Emmett and Rosalie know as much as I do. Tanya and Eleazar probably know more. Ask someone else."

"That's not fair! You're good at this. You helped Jasper before - you fought with him and all the others, too. Why not me? What did I do wrong?"

He sighed, exasperated. His eyes were dark, barely any gold to lighten the black.

"Looking at you that way, analyzing you as a target. Seeing all the ways I can kill you .. ." He flinched. "It just makes it too real for me. We don't have so much time that it will really make a difference who your teacher is. Anyone can teach you the fundamentals."

I scowled.

He touched my pouting lower lip and smiled. "Besides, it's unnecessary. The Volturi will stop. They will be made to understand."

"But if they don't! I need to learn this."

"Find another teacher."

That was not our last conversation on the subject, but I never swayed him an inch from his decision.

Emmett was more than willing to help, though his teaching felt to me a lot like revenge for all the lost arm-wrestling matches. If I could still bruise, I would have been purple from head to toe. Rose, Tanya, and Eleazar all were patient and supportive. Their lessons reminded me of Jasper's fighting instructions to the others last June, though those memories were fuzzy and indistinct. Some of the visitors found my education entertaining, and some even offered assistance. The nomad Garrett took a few turns - he was a surprisingly good teacher; he interacted so easily with others in general that I wondered how he'd never found a coven. I even fought once with Zafrina while Renesmee watched from Jacob's arms. I learned several tricks, but I never asked for her help again. In truth, though I liked Zafrina very much and I knew she wouldn't really hurt me, the wild woman scared me to death.

I learned many things from my teachers, but I had the sense that my knowledge was still impossibly basic. I had no idea how many seconds I would last against Alec and Jane. I only prayed that it would be long enough to help.

Every minute of the day that I wasn't with Renesmee or learning to fight, I was in the backyard working with Kate, trying to push my internal shield outside of my own brain to protect someone else. Edward encouraged me in this training. I knew he hoped I would find a way of contributing that satisfied me while also keeping me out of the line of fire.

It was just so hard. There was nothing to get a hold of, nothing solid to work with. I had only my raging desire to be of use, to be able to keep Edward, Renesmee, and as much of my family as possible safe with me. Over and over I tried to force the nebulous shield outside of myself, with only faint, sporadic success. It felt like I was wrestling to stretch an invisible rubber band - a band that would change from concrete tangibility into insubstantial smoke at any random moment.

Only Edward was willing to be our guinea pig - to receive shock after shock from Kate while I grappled incompetently with the insides of my head. We worked for hours at a time, and I felt like I should be covered in sweat from the exertion, but of course my perfect body didn't betray me that way. My weariness was all mental.

It killed me that it was Edward who had to suffer, my arms wrapped uselessly around him while he winced over and over from Kate's low" setting. I tried as hard as I could to push my shield around us both; every now and then I would get it, and then it would slip away again.

I hated this practice, and I wished that Zafrina would help instead of Kate. Then all Edward would have to do was look at Zafrina's illusions until I could stop him from seeing them. But Kate insisted that I needed better motivation - by which she meant my hatred of watching Edward's pain. I was beginning to doubt her assertion from the first day we'd met - that she wasn't sadistic about the use of her gift. She seemed to be enjoying herself to me.