Tonight?Seth repeated, shocked. Sam - think we should talk about this some more. Consult with the Elders, at least. You can't seriously mean for us to -

We can't afford your tolerance for the Cullens now. There is no time for debate. Youwilldo as you are told, Seth.

SetfYs front knees folded, and his head fell forward under the weight of the Alpha's command.

Sam paced in a tight circle around the two of us.

We need the whole pack for this. Jacob, you are our strongest fighter. Youwillfight with us tonight. I understand that this is hard for you, so you will concentrate on their fighters - Emmett and Jasper Cullen. You don't have to be involved with the... other part. Quil and Embry will fight with you.

My knees trembled; I struggled to hold myself upright while the voice of the Alpha lashed at my will.

Paul, Jared, and I will take on Edward and Rosalie. I think, from the information Jacob has brought us, they will be the ones guarding Bella. Carlisle and Alice will also be close, possibly Esme. Brady, Collin,

Seth, and Leah will concentrate on them. Whoever has a clear lineon - we all heard him mentally stutter overBella's name - the creature will take it. Destroying the creature is our first priority.

The pack rumbled in nervous agreement.The tension had everyone's fur standing on end. The pacing was quicker, and the sound of the paws against the brackish floor was sharper, toenails tearing into the soil.

Only Seth and I were still, the eye in the center of a storm of bared teeth and flattened ears. Seth's nose was almost touching the ground, bowed under Sam's commands. I felt his pain at the coming disloyalty. For him this was a betrayal - during that one day of alliance, fighting beside Edward Cullen, Seth had truly become the vampire's friend.

There was no resistance in him, however. He would obey no matter how much it hurt him. He had no other

choice.

And what choice did I have? When the Alpha spoke, the pack followed.

Sam had never pushed his authority this far before; I knew he honestly hated to see Seth kneeling before him like a slave at the foot of his master. He wouldn't force this if he didn't believe that he had no other choice. He couldn't lie to us when we were linked mind to mind like this. He really believed it was our duty to destroy Bella and the monster she carried. He really believed we had no time to waste. He believed it enough to die for it.

I saw that he would face Edward himself; Edward's ability to read our thoughts made him the greatest threat in Sam's mind. Sam would not let someone else take on that danger.

He saw Jasper as the second-greatest opponent, which is why he'd given him to me. He knew that I had the best chance of any of the pack to win that fight. He'd left the easiest targets for the younger wolves and Leah. Little Alice was no danger without her future vision to guide her, and we knew from our time of alliance that Esme was not a fighter. Carlisle would be more of a challenge, but his hatred of violence would hinder him.

I felt sicker than Seth as I watched Sam plan it out, trying to work the angles to give each member of the pack the best chance of survival.

Everything was inside out. This afternoon, I'd been chomping at the bit to attack them. But Seth had been right - it wasn't a fight I'd been ready for. I'd blinded myself with that hate. I hadn't let myself look at it carefully, because I must have known what I would see if I did.

Carlisle Cullen. Looking at him without that hate clouding my eyes, I couldn't deny that killing him was murder. He was good. Good as any human we protected. Maybe better. The others, too, I supposed, but I didn't feel as strongly about them. I didn't know them as well. It was Carlisle who would hate fighting back, even to save his own life. That's why we would be able to kill him - because he wouldn't want us, his enemies, to die.

This was wrong.

And it wasn't just because killing Bella felt like killing me, like suicide.

Pull it together, Jacob,Sam ordered. The tribe comes first

I was wrong today, Sam.

Your reasons were wrong then. But now we have a duty to fulfill.

I braced myself. No.

Sam snarled and stopped pacing in front of me. He stared into my eyes and a deep growl slid between his teeth.

Yes,the Alpha decreed, his double voice blistering with the heat of his authority. There are no loopholes tonight. You, Jacob, are going to fight the Cullens with us. You, with Quil and Embry, will take care of Jasper and Emmett. You are obligated to protect the tribe. That is why you exist. You willperform this obligation.

My shoulders hunched as the edict crushed me. My legs collapsed, and I was on my belly under him.

No member of the pack could refuse the Alpha.

11. THE TWO THINGS AT THE VERY TOP OF MY THINGS-I-

Sam started moving the others into formation while i was still on the ground. Embry and Quil were at my sides, waiting for me to recover and take the point.

I could feel the drive, the need, to get on my feet and lead them. The compulsion grew, and I fought it uselessly, cringing on the ground where I was.

Embry whined quietly in my ear. He didn't want to think the words, afraid that he would bring me to Sam's attention again. I felt his wordless plea for me to get up, for me to get this over with and be done with it.

There was fear in the pack, not so much for self but for the whole. We couldn't imagine that we would all make it out alive tonight. Which brothers would we lose? Which minds would leave us forever? Which grieving families would we be consoling in the morning?

My mind began to work with theirs, to think in unison, as we dealt with these fears. Automatically, I pushed up from the ground and shook out my coat.

Embry and Quil huffed in relief. Quil touched his nose to my side once.

Their minds were filled with our challenge, our assignment. We remembered together the nights we'd watched the Cullens practicing for the fight with the newborns. Emmett Cullen was strongest, but Jasper would be the bigger problem. He moved like a lightning strike - power and speed and death rolled into one. How many centuries' experience did he have? Enough that all the other Cullens looked to him for guidance.

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