Caius snapped his fingers.

Hesitantly, she moved from the fringes of the Volturi formation to stand in front of Caius again.

"So you appear to have been quite mistaken in your allegations," Caius began.

Tanya and Kate leaned forward anxiously.

"I'm sorry," Irina whispered. "I should have made sure of what I was seeing. But I had no idea___" She gestured helplessly in our direction.

"Dear Caius, could you expect her to have guessed in an instant something so strange and impossible?" Aro asked. "Any of us would have made the same assumption."

Caius flicked his fingers at Aro to silence him.

"We all know you made a mistake," he said brusquely. "I meant to speak of your motivations."

Irina waited nervously for him to continue, and then repeated, "My motivations?"

"Yes, for coming to spy on them in the first place."

Irina flinched at the word spy.

"You were unhappy with the Cullens, were you not?"

She turned her miserable eyes to Carlisle's face. "I was," she admitted.

"Because... ?" Caius prompted.

"Because the werewolves killed my friend," she whispered. "And the Cullens wouldn't stand aside to let me avenge him."

"The shape-shifters," Aro corrected quietly.

"So the Cullens sided with the shape-shifters against our own kind - against the friend of a friend, even," Caius summarized.

I heard Edward make a disgusted sound under his breath. Caius was ticking down his list, looking for an accusation that would stick.

Irina's shoulders stiffened. "That's how I saw it."

Caius waited again and then prompted, "If you'd like to make a formal complaint against the shape-shifters - and the Cullens for supporting their actions - now would be the time." He smiled a tiny cruel smile, waiting for Irina to give him his next excuse.

Maybe Caius didn't understand real families - relationships based on love rather than just the love of power. Maybe he overestimated the potency of vengeance.

Irina's jaw jerked up, her shoulders squared.

"No, I have no complaint against the wolves, or the Cullens. You came here today to destroy an immortal child. No immortal child exists. This was my mistake, and I take full responsibility for it. But the Cullens are innocent, and you have no reason to still be here. I'm so sorry," she said to us, and then she turned her face toward the Volturi witnesses. "There was no crime. There's no valid reason for you to continue here."

Caius raised his hand as she spoke, and in it was a strange metal object, carved and ornate.

This was a signal. The response was so fast that we all stared in stunned disbelief while it happened. Before there was time to react, it was over.

Three of the Volturi soldiers leaped forward, and Irina was completely obscured by their gray cloaks. In the same instant, a horrible metallic screeching ripped through the clearing. Caius slithered into the center of the gray melee, and the shocking squealing sound exploded into a startling upward shower of sparks and tongues of flame. The soldiers leaped back from the sudden inferno, immediately retaking their places in the guard's perfectly straight line.

Caius stood alone beside the blazing remains of Irina, the metal object in his hand still throwing a thick jet of flame into the pyre.

With a small clicking sound, the fire shooting from Caius's hand disappeared. A gasp rippled through the mass of witnesses behind the Volturi.

We were too aghast to make any noise at all. It was one thing to know that death was coming with fierce, unstoppable speed; it was another thing to watch it happen.

Caius smiled coldly. "Now she has taken full responsibility for her actions."

His eyes flashed to our front line, touching swiftly on Tanya's and Kate's frozen forms.

In that second I understood that Caius had never underestimated the ties of a true family. This was the ploy. He had not wanted Irina's complaint; he had wanted her defiance. His excuse to destroy her, to ignite the violence that filled the air like a thick, combustible mist. He had thrown a match.

The strained peace of this summit already teetered more precariously than an elephant on a tightrope. Once the fight began, there would be no way to stop it. It would only escalate until one side was entirely extinct. Our side. Caius knew this.

So did Edward.

"Stop them!" Edward cried out, jumping to grab Tanya's arm as she lurched forward toward the smiling Caius with a maddened cry of pure rage. She couldn't shake Edward off before Carlisle had his arms locked around her waist.

"It's too late to help her," he reasoned urgently as she struggled. "Don't give him what he wants!"

Kate was harder to contain. Shrieking wordlessly like Tanya, she broke into the first stride of the attack that would end with everyone's death. Rosalie was closest to her, but before Rose could clinch her in a headlock, Kate shocked her so violently that Rose crumpled to the ground. Emmett caught Kate's arm and threw her down, then staggered back, his knees giving out. Kate rolled to her feet, and it looked like no one could stop her.

Garrett flung himself at her, knocking her to the ground again. He bound his arms around hers, locking his hands around his own wrists. I saw his body spasm as she shocked him. His eyes rolled back in his head, but his hold did not break.

"Zafrina," Edward shouted.

Kate's eyes went blank and her screams turned to moans. Tanya stopped struggling.

"Give me my sight back," Tanya hissed.

Desperately, but with all the delicacy I could manage, I pulled my shield even tighter against the sparks of my friends, peeling it back carefully from Kate while trying to keep it around Garrett, making it a thin skin between them.