The clouds rolled in, diffusing the light so that it could have been morning or afternoon. Edward's eyes tightened as he scrutinized the view, and I was sure he was seeing this exact scene for the second time  - the first time being Alice's vision. It would look just the same when the Volturi arrived. We only had minutes or seconds left now.

All our family and allies braced themselves.

From the forest, the huge russet Alpha wolf came forward to stand at my side; it must have been too hard for him to keep his distance from Renesmee when she was in such immediate danger.

Renesmee reached out to twine her fingers in thefur over his massive shoulder, and her body relaxed a little bit. She was calmer with Jacob close.I felt a tiny bit better, too. As long Jacob was with Renesmee, she would be all right.

Without risking a glance behind, Edward reached back to me. I stretched my arm forward so that I could grip his hand. He squeezed my fingers.

Another minute ticked by, and I found myself straining to hear some sound of approach.

And then Edward stiffened and hissed low between his clenched teeth. His eyes focused on the forest due north of where we stood.

We stared where he did, and waited as the last seconds passed.

36. BLOODLUST

They came with pageantry, with a kind of beauty.

They came in a rigid, formal formation. They moved together, but it was not a march; they flowed in perfect synchronicity from the trees - a dark, unbroken shape that seemed to hover a few inches above the white snow, so smooth was the advance.

The outer perimeter was gray; the color darkened with each line of bodies until the heart of the formation was deepest black. Every face was cowled, shadowed. The faint brushing sound of their feet was so regular it was like music, a complicated beat that never faltered.

At some sign I did not see - or perhaps there was no sign, only millennia of practice - the configuration folded outward. The motion was too stiff, too square to resemble the opening of a flower, though the color suggested that; it was the opening of a fan, graceful but very angular. The gray-cloaked figures spread to the flanks while the darker forms surged precisely forward in the center, each movement closely controlled.

Their progress was slow but deliberate, with no hurry, no tension, no anxiety. It was the pace of the invincible.

This was almost my old nightmare. The only thing lacking was the gloating desire I'd seen on the faces in my dream - the smiles of vindictive joy. Thus far, the Volturi were too disciplined to show any emotion at all. They also showed no surprise or dismay at the collection of vampires that waited for them here - a collection that looked suddenly disorganized and unprepared in comparison. They showed no surprise at the giant wolf that stood in our midst.

I couldn't help counting. There were thirty-two of them. Even if you did not count the two drifting, waifish black-cloaked figures in the very back, who I took to be the wives - their protected position suggesting that they would not be involved in the attack - we were still outnumbered. There were just nineteen of us who would fight, and then seven more to watch as we were destroyed. Even counting the ten wolves, they had us.

"The redcoats are coming, the redcoats are coming," Garrett muttered mysteriously to himself and then chuckled once. He slid one step closer to Kate.

"They did come," Vladimir whispered to Stefan.

'The wives," Stefan hissed back. 'The entire guard. All of them together. It's well we didn't try Volterra."

And then, as if their numbers were not enough, while the Volturi slowly and majestically advanced, more vampires began entering the clearing behind them.

The faces in this seemingly endless influx of vampires were the antithesis to the Volturi's expressionless discipline - they wore a kaleidoscope of emotions. At first there was the shock and even some anxiety as they saw the unexpected force awaiting them. But that concern passed quickly; they were secure in their overwhelming numbers, secure in their position behind the unstoppable Volturi force. Their features returned to the expression they'd worn before we'd surprised them.

It was easy enough to understand their mindset - the faces were that explicit. This was an angry mob, whipped to a frenzy and slavering for justice. I did not fully realize the vampire world's feeling toward the immortal children before I read these faces.

It was clear that this motley, disorganized horde - more than forty vampires altogether - was the Volturi's own kind of witness. When we were dead, they would spread the word that the criminals had been eradicated, that the Volturi had acted with nothing but impartiality. Most looked like they hoped for more than just an opportunity to witness - they wanted to help tear and burn.

We didn't have a prayer. Even if we could somehow neutralize the Volturi's advantages, they could still bury us in bodies. Even if we killed Demetri, Jacob would not be able to outrun this.

I could feel it as the same comprehension sunk in around me. Despair weighted the air, pushing me down with more pressure than before.

One vampire in the opposing force did not seem to belong to either party; I recognized Irina as she hesitated in between the two companies, her expression unique among the others. Irina's horrified gaze was locked on Tanya's position in the front line. Edward snarled, a very low but fervent sound.

"Alistairwas right," he murmured to Carlisle.

I watched Carlisle glance at Edward questioningly.

"Alistair was right?" Tanya whispered.

'They - Caius and Aro - come to destroy and acquire," Edward breathed almost silently back; only our side could hear. "They have many layers of strategy already in place. If Irina's accusation had somehow proven to be false, they were committed to find another reason to take offense. But they can see Renesmee now, so they are perfectly sanguine about their course. We could still attempt to defend against their other contrived charges, but first they have to stop, to hear the truth about Renesmee." Then, even lower. "Which they have no intention of doing."

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