Caius reacted oddly to Aro's soothing words, starting ever so slightly at the mention of witnesses. The anger drained from his features, replaced by a cold calculation. He glanced at the Volturi witnesses with an expression that looked vaguely... nervous.
I glanced at the angry mob, too, and saw immediately that the description no longer applied. The frenzy for action had turned to confusion. Whispered conversations seethed through the crowd as they tried to make sense of what had happened.
Caius was frowning, deep in thought. His speculative expression stoked the flames of my smoldering anger at the same time that it worried me. What if the guard acted again on some invisible signal, as they had in their march? Anxiously, I inspected my shield; it felt just as impenetrable as before. I flexed it now into a low, wide dome that arced over our company.
I could feel the sharp plumes of light where my family and friends stood - each one an individual flavor that I thought I would be able to recognize with practice. I already knew Edward's - his was the very brightest of them all. The extra empty space around the shining spots bothered me; there was no physical barrier to the shield, and if any of the talented Volturi got under it, it would protect no one but me. I felt my forehead crease as I pulled the elastic armor very carefully closer. Carlisle was the farthest forward; I sucked the shield back inch by inch, trying to wrap it as exactly to his body as I could.
My shield seemed to want to cooperate. It hugged his shape; when Carlisle shifted to the side to stand nearer to Tanya, the elastic stretched with him, drawn to his spark.
Fascinated, I tugged in more threads of the fabric, pulling it around each glimmering shape that was a friend or ally. The shield clung to them willingly, moving as they moved.
Only a second had passed; Caius was still deliberating.
"The werewolves," he murmured at last.
With sudden panic, 1 realized that most of the werewolves were unprotected. I was about to reach out to them when I realize that, strangely, I could still feel their sparks. Curious, I drew the shield tighter in, until Amun and Kebi - the farthest edge of our group - were outside with the wolves. Once they were on the other side, their lights vanished. They no longer existed to that new sense. But the wolves were still bright flames - or rather, half of them were. Hmm... I edged outward again, and as soon as Sam was under cover, all the wolves were brilliant sparks again.
Their minds must have been more interconnected than I'd imagined. If the Alpha was inside my shield, the rest of their minds were every bit as protected as his.
"Ah, brother...," Aro answered Caius's statement with a pained look.
"Will you defend that alliance, too, Aro?" Caius demanded. "The Children of the Moon have been our bitter enemies from the dawn of time. We have hunted them to near extinction in Europe and Asia. Yet Carlisle encourages a familiar relationship with this enormous infestation - no doubt in an attempt to overthrow us. The better to protect his warped lifestyle."
Edward cleared his throat loudly and Caius glared at him. Aro placed one thin, delicate hand over his own face as if he was embarrassed for the other ancient.
"Caius, it's the middle of the day," Edward pointed out. He gestured to Jacob. "These are not Children of the Moon, clearly. They bear no relation to your enemies on the other side of the world."
"You breed mutants here," Caius spit back at him.
Edward's jaw clenched and unclenched, then he answered evenly, "They aren't even werewolves. Aro can tell you all about it if you don't believe me."
Not werewolves? I shot a mystified look at Jacob. He lifted his huge shoulders and let them drop - a shrug. He didn't know what Edward was talking about, either.
"Dear Caius, I would have warned you not to press this point if you had told me your thoughts," Aro murmured. "Though the creatures think of themselves as werewolves, they are not. The more accurate name for them would be shape-shifters. The choice of a wolf form was purely chance. It could have been a bear or a hawk or a panther when the first change was made. These creatures truly have nothing to do with the Children of the Moon. They have merely inherited this skill from their fathers. It's genetic - they do not continue their species by infecting others the way true werewolves do."
Caius glared at Aro with irritation and something more - an accusation of betrayal, maybe.
"They know our secret," he said flatly.
Edward looked about to answer this accusation, but Aro spoke faster. "They are creatures of our supernatural world, brother. Perhaps even more dependent upon secrecy than we are; they can hardly expose us. Carefully, Caius. Specious allegations get us nowhere."
Caius took a deep breath and nodded. They exchanged a long, significant glance.
I thought I understood the instruction behind Aro's careful wording. False charges weren't helping convince the watching witnesses on either side; Aro was cautioning Caius to move on to the next strategy. I wondered if the reason behind the apparent strain between the two ancients - Caius's unwillingness to share his thoughts with a touch - was that Caius didn't care about the show as much as Aro did. If the coming slaughter was so much more essential to Caius than an untarnished reputation.
"I want to talk to the informant," Caius announced abruptly, and turned his glare on Irina.
Irina wasn't paying attention to Caius and Aro's conversation; her face was twisted in agony, her eyes locked on her sisters, lined up to die. It was clear on her face that she knew now her accusation had been totally false.
"Irina," Caius barked, unhappy to have to address her.
She looked up, startled and instantly afraid.