I smiled grimly at him. "I am all over this."
Edward lurched away from me suddenly, his hand reaching out toward Carlisle. At the same time, I felt a much sharper jab against the shield where it wrapped protectively around Carlisle's light. It wasn't painful, but it wasn't pleasant, either.
"Carlisle? Are you all right?" Edward gasped frantically.
"Jane," Edward answered.
The moment that he said her name, a dozen pointed attacks hit in a second, stabbing all over the elastic shield, aimed at twelve different bright spots. I flexed, making sure the shield was undamaged. It didn't seem like Jane had been able to pierce it. I glanced around quickly; everyone was fine.
"Incredible," Edward said.
"Why aren't they waiting for the decision?" Tanya hissed.
"Normal procedure," Edward answered brusquely. "They usually incapacitate those on trial so they can't escape."
I looked across at Jane, who was staring at our group with furious disbelief. I was pretty sure that, besides me, she'd never seen anyone remain standing through her fiery assault.
It probably wasn't very mature. But I figured it would take Aro about half a second to guess - if he hadn't already - that my shield was more powerful than Edward had known; I already had a big target on my forehead and there was really no point in trying to keep the extent of what I could do a secret. So I grinned a huge, smug smile right at Jane.
Her eyes narrowed, and I felt another stab of pressure, this time directed at me.
I pulled my lips wider, showing my teeth.
Jane let out a high-pitched scream of a snarl. Everyone jumped, even the disciplined guard. Everyone but the ancients, who didn't so much as look up from their conference.
Her twin caught her arm as she crouched to spring.
The Romanians started chuckling with dark anticipation.
"I told you this was our time," Vladimir said to Stefan.
"Just look at the witch's face," Stefan chortled.
Alec patted his sister's shoulder soothingly, then tucked her under his arm. He turned his face to us, perfectly smooth, completely angelic.
I waited for some pressure, some sign of his attack, but I felt nothing. He continued to stare in our direction, his pretty face composed. Was he attacking? Was he getting through my shield? Was I the only one who could still see him? I clutched at Edward's hand.
"Are you okay?" I choked out.
"Yes," he whispered.
"Is Alec trying?"
Edward nodded. "His gift is slower than Jane's. It creeps. It will touch us in a few seconds."
I saw it then, when I had a clue of what to look for.
A strange clear haze was oozing across the snow, nearly invisible against the white. It reminded me of a mirage - a slight warping of the view, a hint of a shimmer. I pushed my shield out from Carlisle and the rest of the front line, afraid to have the slinking mist too close when it hit. What if it stole right through my intangible protection? Should we run?
A low rumbling murmured through the ground under our feet, and a gust of wind blew the snow into sudden flurries between our position and the Volturi's. Benjamin had seen the creeping threat, too, and now he tried to blow the mist away from us. The snow made it easy to see where he threw the wind, but the mist didn't react in any way. It was like air blowing harmlessly through a shadow; the shadow was immune.
The triangular formation of the ancients finally broke apart when, with a racking groan, a deep, narrow fissure opened in a long zigzag across the middle of the clearing. The earth rocked under my feet for a moment. The drifts of snow plummeted into the hole, but the mist skipped right across it, as untouched by gravity as it had been by wind.
Aro and Caius watched the opening earth with wide eyes. Marcus looked in the same direction without emotion.
They didn't speak; they waited, too, as the mist approached us. The wind shrieked louder but didn't change the course of the mist. Jane was smiling now.
And then the mist hit a wall.
I could taste it as soon as it touched my shield - it had a dense, sweet, cloying flavor. It made me remember dimly the numbness of Novocain on my tongue.
The mist curled upward, seeking a breach, a weakness. It found none. The fingers of searching haze twisted upward and around, trying to find a way in, and in the process illustrating the astonishing size of the protective screen.
There were gasps on both sides of Benjamin's gorge.
"Well done, Bella!" Benjamin cheered in a low voice.
My smile returned.
I could see Alec's narrowed eyes, doubt on his face for the first time as his mist swirled harmlessly around the edges of my shield.
And then I knew that I could do this. Obviously, I would be the number-one priority, the first one to die, but as long as I held, we were on more than equal footing with the Volturi. We still had Benjamin and Zafrina; they had no supernatural help at all. As long as I held.
"I'm going to have to concentrate," I whispered to Edward. "When it comes to hand to hand, it's going to be harder to keep the shield around the right people."
"I'll keep them off you."
"No. You have to get to Demetri. Zafrina will keep them away from me."
Zafrina nodded solemnly. "No one will touch this young one," she promised Edward.
"I'd go after Jane and Alec myself, but I can do more good here."
"Jane's mine," Kate hissed. "She needs a taste of her own medicine."
"And Alec owes me many lives, but I will settle for his," Vladimir growled from the other side. "He's mine."
"I just want Caius," Tanya said evenly.
The others started divvying up opponents, too, but they were quickly interrupted.