"Tanya's mother created such a child. As with the other ancients, i cannot fathom her reasons." He'd taken a deep, steadying breath. "The Volturi became involved, of course."

I'd flinched as I always did at that name, but of course the legion of Italian vampires - royalty in their own estimation - was central to this story. There couldn't be a law if there was no punishment; there couldn't be a punishment if there was no one to deliver it. The ancients Aro, Caius, and Marcus ruled the Volturi forces; I'd only met them once, but in that brief encounter, it seemed to me that Aro, with his powerful mind-reading gift - one touch, and he knew every thought a mind had ever held - was the true leader.

"The Volturi studied the immortal children, at home in Volterra and all around the world. Caius decided the young ones were incapable of protecting our secret. And so they had to be destroyed.

"I told you they were loveable. Well, covens fought to the last man - were utterly decimated - to protect them. The carnage was not as widespread as the southern wars on this continent, but more devastating in its own way. Long-established covens, old traditions, friends... Much was lost. In the end, the practice was completely eliminated. The immortal children became unmentionable, a taboo.

"When I lived with the Volturi, I met two immortal children, so I know firsthand the appeal they had. Aro studied the little ones for many years after the catastrophe they'd caused was over. You know his inquisitive disposition; he was hopeful that they could be tamed. But in the end, the decision was unanimous: the immortal children could not be allowed to exist."

I'd all but forgotten the Denali sisters' mother when the story returned to her.

"It is unclear precisely what happened with Tanya's mother," Carlisle had said. "Tanya, Kate, and irina were entirely oblivious until the day the Volturi came for them, their mother and her illegal creation already their prisoners. It was ignorance that saved Tanya's and her sisters' lives. Aro touched them and saw their total innocence, so they were not punished with their mother.

"None of them had ever seen the boy before, or dreamed of his existence, until the day they watched him burn in their mother's arms. I can only guess that their mother had kept her secret to protect them from this exact outcome. But why had she created him in the first place? Who was he, and what had he meant to her that would cause her to cross this most uncrossable of lines? Tanya and the others never received an answer to any of these questions. But they could not doubt their mother's guilt, and I don't think they've ever truly forgiven her.

"Even with Aro's perfect assurance that Tanya, Kate, and Irina were innocent, Caius wanted them to burn. Guilty by association. They were lucky that Aro felt like being merciful that day. Tanya and her sisters were pardoned, but left with unhealing hearts and a very healthy respect for the law___"

I'm not sure where exactly the memory turned into a dream. One moment it seemed that I was listening to Carlisle in my memory, looking at his face, and then a moment later I was looking at a gray, barren field and smelling the thick scent of burning incense in the air. I was not alone there.

The huddle of figures in the center of the field, all shrouded in ashy cloaks, should have terrified me  - they could only be Volturi, and I was, against what they'd decreed at our last meeting, still human. But I knew, as I sometimes did in dreams, that I was invisible to them.

Scattered all around me were smoking heaps. I recognized the sweetness in the air and did not examine the mounds too closely. I had no desire to see the faces of the vampires they had executed, half afraid that I might recognize someone in the smoldering pyres.

The Volturi soldiers stood in a circle around something or someone, and I heard their whispery voices raised in agitation. I edged closer to the cloaks, compelled by the dream to see whatever thing or person they were examining with such intensity. Creeping carefully between two of the tall hissing shrouds, I finally saw the object of their debate, raised up on a little hillock above them.

He was beautiful, adorable, just as Carlisle had described. The boy was a toddler still, maybe two years of age. Light brown curls framed his cherubic face with its round cheeks and full lips. And he was trembling, his eyes closed as if he was too frightened to watch death coming closer every second.

I was struck with such a powerful need to save the lovely, terrified child that the Volturi, despite all their devastating menace, no longer mattered to me. I shoved past them, not caring if they realized my presence. Breaking free of them altogether, I sprinted toward the boy.

Only to stagger to a halt as I got a clear view of the hillock that he sat upon. It was not earth and rock, but a pile of human bodies, drained and lifeless. Too late not to see these faces. I knew them all  - Angela, Ben, Jessica, Mike.... And directly beneath the adorable boy were the bodies of my father and my mother.

The child opened his bright, bloodred eyes.

3. BIG DAY

My own eyes flew open.

I lay shivering and gasping in my warm bed for several minutes, trying to break free of the dream. The sky outside my window turned gray and then pale pink while I waited for my heart to slow.

When I was fully back to the reality of my messy, familiar room, I was a little annoyed with myself. What a dream to have the night before my wedding! That's what I got for obsessing over disturbing stories in the middle of the night.

Eager to shake off the nightmare, I got dressed and headed down to the kitchen long before I needed to. First I cleaned the already tidy rooms, and then when Charlie was up I made him pancakes. I was much too keyed up to have any interest in eating breakfast myself - I sat bouncing in my seat while he ate.

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