"We've been waiting for fifteen hundred years, Stefan. And they've only gotten stronger with the years." Vladimir paused and looked at me again. He showed no surprise when he saw that I was watching him, too. "If the Volturi win this conflict, they will leave with more power than they came with. With every conquest they add to their strengths. Think of what that newborn alone could give them" - he jerked his chin toward me - "and she is barely discovering her gifts. And the earth-mover." Vladimir nodded toward Benjamin, who stiffened. Almost everyone was eavesdropping on the Romanians now, like me. "With their witch twins they have no need of the illusionist or the fire touch." His eyes moved to Zafrina, then Kate.

Stefan looked at Edward. "Nor is the mind reader is exactly necessary. But I see your point. Indeed, they will gain much if they win."

"More than we can afford to have them gain, wouldn't you agree?"

Stefan sighed. "I think i must agree. And that means..."

"That we must stand against them while there is still hope."

"If we can just cripple them, even, expose them ..."

"Then, someday, others will finish the job."

"And our long vendetta will be repaid. At last."

They locked eyes for a moment and then murmured in unison. "It seems the only way."

"So we fight," Stefan said.

Though I could see that they were torn, self-preservation warring with revenge, the smile they exchanged was full of anticipation.

"We fight," Vladimir agreed.

I suppose it was a good thing; like Alistair, I was sure the battle was impossible to avoid. In that case, two more vampires fighting on our side could only help. But the Romanians' decision still made me shudder.

"We will fight, too," Tia said, her usually grave voice more solemn than ever. "We believe the Volturi will overstep their authority. We have no wish to belong to them." Her eyes lingered on her mate.

Benjamin grinned and threw an impish glance toward the Romanians. "Apparently, I'm a hot commodity. It appears I have to win the right to be free."

"This won't be the first time I've fought to keep myself from a king's rule," Garrett said in a teasing tone. He walked over and clapped Benjamin on the back. "Here's to freedom from oppression."

"We stand with Carlisle," Tanya said. "And we fight with him."

The Romanians' pronouncement seemed to have made the others feel the need to declare themselves as well.

"We have not decided/7Peter said. He looked down at his tiny companion; Charlotte's lips were set in dissatisfaction. It looked like she'd made her decision. I wondered what it was.

"The same goes for me," Randall said.

"And me," Mary added.

"The packs will fight with the Cullens," Jacob said suddenly. "We're not afraid of vampires," he added with a smirk.

"Children," Peter muttered.

"Infants," Randall corrected.

Jacob grinned tauntingly.

"Well, I'm in, too," Maggie said, shrugging out from under Siobhan's restraining hand. "I know truth is on Carlisle's side. I can't ignore that."

Siobhan stared at the junior member of her coven with worried eyes. "Carlisle," she said as if they were alone, ignoring the suddenly formal feel of the gathering, the unexpected outburst of declarations, "I don't want this to come to a fight."

"Nor do I, Siobhan. You know that's the last thing I want." He half-smiled. "Perhaps you should concentrate on keeping it peaceful."

"You know that won't help," she said.

I remembered Rose and Carlisle's discussion of the Irish leader; Carlisle believed that Siobhan had some subtle but powerful gift to make things go her way - and yet Siobhan didn't believe it herself.

"It couldn't hurt," Carlisle said.

Siobhan rolled her eyes. "Shall I visualize the outcome I desire?" she asked sarcastically.

Carlisle was openly grinning now. "If you don't mind."

"Then there is no need for my coven to declare itself, is there?" she retorted. "Since there is no possibility of a fight." She put her hand back on Maggie's shoulder, pulling the girl closer to her. Siobhan's mate, Liam, stood silent and expressionless.

Almost everyone else in the room looked mystified by Carlisle and Siobhan's clearly joking exchange, but they didn't explain themselves.

That was the end of the dramatic speeches for the night. The group slowly dispersed, some off to hunt, some to while away the time with Carlisle's books or televisions or computers.

Edward, Renesmee, and I went to hunt. Jacob tagged along.

"Stupid leeches," he muttered to himself when we got outside. "Think they're so superior." He snorted.

"They'll be shocked when the infants save their superior lives, won't they?" Edward said.

Jake smiled and punched his shoulder. "Hell yeah, they will."

This wasn't our last hunting trip. We all would hunt again nearer to the time we expected the Volturi. As the deadline was not exact, we were planning to stay a few nights out in the big baseball clearing Alice had seen, just in

case. All we knew was that they would come the day that the snow stuck to the ground. We didn't want the Volturi too close to town, and Demetri would lead them to wherever we were. I wondered who he would track in, and guessed that it would be Edward since he couldn't track me.

I thought about Demetri while I hunted, paying little attention to my prey or the drifting snowflakes that had finally appeared but were melting before they touched the rocky soil. Would Demetri realize that he couldn't track me? What would he make of that? What would Aro? Or was Edward wrong? There were those little exceptions to what I could withstand, those ways around my shield. Everything that was outside my mind was vulnerable - open to the things Jasper, Alice, and Benjamin could do. Maybe Demetri's talent worked a little differently, too.