Aro, staring calmly at Alec's ineffective mist, finally spoke.

"Before we vote," he began.

I shook my head angrily. I was tired of this charade. The bloodlust was igniting in me again, and I was sorry that I would help the others more by standing still. I wanted to fight.

"Let me remind you," Aro continued, "whatever the council's decision, there need be no violence here."

Edward snarled out a dark laugh.

Aro stared at him sadly. "It will be a regrettable waste to our kind to lose any of you.

But you especially, young Edward, and your newborn mate. The Volturi would be glad to welcome many of you into our ranks. Bella, Benjamin, Zafrina, Kate. There are many choices before you. Consider them."

Chelsea's attempt to sway us fluttered impotently against my shield. Aro's gaze swept across our hard eyes, looking for any indication of hesitation. From his expression, he found none.

I knew he was desperate to keep Edward and me, to imprison us the way he had hoped to enslave Alice. But this fight was too big. He would not win if I lived. I was fiercely glad to be so powerful that I left him no way not to kill me.

"Let us vote, then," he said with apparent reluctance.

Caius spoke with eager haste. "The child is an unknown quantity. There is no reason to allow such a risk to exist. It must be destroyed, along with all who protect it." He smiled in expectation.

I fought back a shriek of defiance to answer his cruel smirk.

Marcus lifted his uncaring eyes, seeming to look through us as he voted.

"I see no immediate danger. The child is safe enough for now. We can always reevaluate later. Let us leave in peace." His voice was even fainter than his brothers' feathery sighs.

None of the guard relaxed their ready positions at his disagreeing words. Caius's anticipatory grin did not falter. It was as if Marcus hadn't spoken at all.

"I must make the deciding vote, it seems," Aro mused.

Suddenly, Edward stiffened at my side. "Yes!" he hissed.

I risked a glance at him. His face glowed with an expression of triumph that I didn't understand - it was the expression an angel of destruction might wear while the world burned. Beautiful and terrifying.

There was a low reaction from the guard, an uneasy murmur.

"Aro?" Edward called, nearly shouted, undisguised victory in his voice.

Aro hesitated for a second, assessing this new mood warily before he answered. "Yes, Edward? You have something further... ?"

"Perhaps," Edward said pleasantly, controlling his unexplained excitement. "First, if I could clarify one point?"

"Certainly," Aro said, raising his eyebrows, nothing now but polite interest in his tone.

My teeth ground together; Aro was never more dangerous than when he was gracious.

"The danger you foresee from my daughter - this stems entirely from our inability to guess how she will develop? That is the crux of the matter?"

"Yes, friend Edward," Aro agreed. "If we could but be positive... be sure that, as she grows, she will be able to stay concealed from the human world - not endanger the safety of our obscurity . . ." He trailed off, shrugging.

"So, if we could only know for sure," Edward suggested, "exactly what she will become... then there would be no need for a council at all?"

"If there was some way to be absolutely sure," Aro agreed, his feathery voice slightly more shrill. He couldn't see where Edward was leading him. Neither could I. "Then, yes, there would be no question to debate."

"And we would part in peace, good friends once again?" Edward asked with a hint of irony.

Even more shrill. "Of course, my young friend. Nothing would please me more."

Edward chuckled exultantly. "Then I do have something more to offer."

Aro's eyes narrowed. "She is absolutely unique. Her future can only be guessed at."

"Not absolutely unique," Edward disagreed. "Rare, certainly, but not one of a kind."

I fought the shock, the sudden hope springing to life, as it threatened to distract me. The sickly-looking mist still swirled around the edges of my shield. And, as I struggled to focus, I felt again the sharp, stabbing pressure against my protective hold.

"Aro, would you ask Jane to stop attacking my wife?" Edward asked courteously. "We are still discussing evidence."

Aro raised one hand. "Peace, dear ones. Let us hear him out."

The pressure disappeared. Jane bared her teeth at me; I couldn't help grinning back at her.

"Why don't you join us, Alice?" Edward called loudly.

"Alice," Esme whispered in shock.


Alice, Alice, Alice!

"Alice!" "Alice!" other voices murmured around me.

"Alice," Aro breathed.

Relief and violent joy surged through me. It took all my will to keep the shield where it was. Alec's mist still tested, seeking a weakness - Jane would see if I left any holes.

And then I heard them running through the forest, flying, closing the distance as quickly as they could with no slowing effort at silence.

Both sides were motionless in expectation. The Volturi witnesses scowled in fresh confusion.

Then Alice danced into the clearing from the southwest, and I felt like the bliss of seeing her face again might knock me off my feet. Jasper was only inches behind her, his sharp eyes fierce. Close after them ran three strangers; the first was a tall, muscular female with wild dark hair - obviously Kachiri. She had the same elongated limbs and features as the other Amazons, even more pronounced in her case.

The next was a small olive-toned female vampire with a long braid of black hair bobbing against her back. Her deep burgundy eyes flitted nervously around the confrontation before her.