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Safe

Summary:
Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Her heartbeat drums incessantly in my skull. The scent of her blood is maddening. My whole body is tense, coiled like a snake, poised to strike. My throat is on fire. Experience the perspective of a newborn vampire. TNN Fan Fiction Winner banner


Notes:


1. Chapter 1

Rating 5/5   Word Count 8310   Review this Chapter

‘Safe!

Now let the night be dark for all of me.

Let the night be too dark for me to see

Into the future. Let what will be, be.'

- From Acceptance by Robert Frost

Dark.

Dark is safe. Dark is home.

Dark hides me from the bright - the white shapes that hurt, that twist my arms and pin me down in the room of light.

Light is bad.

Light hurts me; it claws at my temples and burns in my head. And I can't breathe, I can't see... all is Light...

Then I am back in the dark.

Dark is good.

Dark holds me, keeps me company as I wait for the pictures in my head to come back.

Light chases them away with the hurt... but the moving pictures always come back.

I watch - I always watch - but I don't understand.

The white shapes in the light room that hurts ask me if the pictures still come, and I don't answer.

I know, somewhere deep inside me, that I have a hole beneath my eyes that makes noise; words, that's what they are.

But I can't find that part of me. I am only eyes, and arms, and...ink - rivers of ink that fall across my eyes, that the white shapes sometimes yank away, making me hurt more.

Their...words, if that's what they are called, are odd and disjointed. Sometimes I wonder if I am still seeing the pictures - but then the hurt comes, and I know that I am not.

"...fractured... mental illness... treatment not successful..."

I learn to block it out.

Because Light is bad.

Dark... Dark is safe.

Dark has words, too.

I hear them better than the words in the Light. Dark's words do not hurt, so I listen harder.

Dark does not...speak...as much as the white shapes. I try to hold on to the words of Dark, but the hurt from the Light and the moving pictures steal them away.

I hear Dark now. I should listen.

"...so tragic... special... have a gift... protect you..."

There is a new noise. It...crumbles, somehow. A picture flickers behind my eyes: jagged shapes of black on an ebony canvas. It is so strange.

But I am not afraid.

Because the picture was of the dark. Dark is safe.

The crumbling noise stops. I wait for Dark to speak again.

Words come - quicker - I can't hold them, try to make sense of them.

So I sit, in the dark, and let them wash over me.

Dark will not hurt me; Dark never hurts me.

So I sit. And I listen.

"...get out... save... is coming... can't let...take you..."

I feel something on me.

It is hard, and cold - so very cold - but it does not hurt. For I am in the dark. Dark is safe.

The hard, cold thing touches the place below my eyes, but above the hole that is supposed to make noise.

My...cheek - that's what it's called.

It does not hurt. It feels nice.

"You will be safe," I hear from the Dark.

Yes. Dark is safe.

The jagged black fills my eyes again. There is...wet in the blackness. The wet is warm, and it burns...

More crumbling drowns out the jagged, wet, burning picture. Dark is broken by pale silver-blue. It is light - but not the Light that hurts. This light is part of the dark.

I do not fear this light.

Cold - ice and stone - surround me. Dark forms words again...so quiet...I do not hear them.

Then I am flying.

Silver-blue is everywhere. But Dark is still holding me, with icy hardness, and I am unafraid.

A warmth that smells - green, is that the word? How strange these word noises are - brushes against me on the other side of the cold stone.

The rivers of ink cover my eyes again, but the Dark, the dark that is home, moves it away. And Dark speaks.

"Don't be afraid."

No, not afraid. Safe. Dark is safe.

Jagged black shapes cover the silver-blue. Some part of me remembers the shapes...but I do not know why.

Dark is safe.

"There's very little time."

Cold - I feel cold on my cheek, above my eyes, and...

Ah. Is that my hole that makes words? The cold found it.

I can...taste...something in the cold. It is very nice...and sweet.

It does not hurt - like the dark.

Dark is safe.

"I will save you."

The jagged black floats above me, spinning. There is wet - wetness on me, on the blackness - and it is warm. Not warm...hot. Hot like the Light...

But I am in the dark.

Dark is safe.

Dark does not hurt.

The hot burns me - burns my head, my eyes, my cheek - all of me. It feels... it feels like...hurt.

Like the Light, and the room with the white shapes...

No.

I am in the dark.

Dark is safe.

The wetness does not hurt, I decide. And the Dark is with me, like always, whispering things that I will never remember.

But I am not afraid.

I am home in the dark, with the Dark.

--------

Dark.

It is dark for a long time. Light has not come to hurt me yet.

I am glad.

I stay in the dark. Dark stays with me.

There are no more jagged black shapes. There is only black - endless black.

The wetness is here, too... but it does not matter, even as it burns around my eyes like the Light.

And a picture comes.

Red. I see red.

Red that looks... that searches for something.

I do not like the red. I listen to the whispers instead.

Dark is still speaking - always forming words now.

Dark does not leave me anymore.

And I am glad.

--------

Dark.

No Light - only the dark.

Dark is cold now.

Cold around me, cold inside me... everything is cold.

The burning that was once hot is cold, like ice.

And there is...stone - smooth stone, colder than the burning - encircling me.

Red... the red is still looking, looking for something...

The red does not leave me.

Neither does Dark.

Dark holds me, like always, keeping the hunting red at bay.

Dark is safe.

--------

Dark.

"Almost...over..."

Dark.

Cold. Burning.

Red.

"...safe..."

Dark.

Cold.

Dark.

Dark is safe.

Dark is safe.

Red.

Dark is...safe.

Dark...is...safe.

Cold.

Dark...is...

Dark...

Is...

--------

The dark is safe.

My eyelids quiver, and blink once. Then they open.

The dark is different.

Where there was once black, endless black, I can see other colors: charcoal, pale gray, smoke, and ink.

There are shapes as well - jagged, dark shapes that seem to stir a faint sensation in the back of my mind, like a memory struggling to surface - but I cannot recall why.

I blink my eyes again, savoring the motion so it is not forgotten, and I think about what I do remember.

It is not much.

I remember that I have a face; that is where my eyes are. And I have a nose, a mouth, and ears, and I understand what each of these tools do. I will test them later, but not right now. I need to remember.

Underneath my mouth is my throat. I swallow once, involuntarily, and it aches. A most peculiar feeling.

I ignore it for now.

Past my throat are my shoulders, which are connected to my arms, and then my hands.

I raise them up, studying the slender outlines in the darkness that is not as dark as I think it should be, and flex the digits on each hand experimentally.

Then the fingers move to my face, tracing the smooth expanse of my forehead and along the planes of my cheekbones, until they slide delicately down my throat to my chest.

One hand flattens against the skin...and I feel my eyebrows furrow.

I realize then that something is missing.

Something important, vital.

It comes to me a second later.

A heartbeat. I do not have a heartbeat.

My waist bends abruptly; I sit upright, my palm pressed tightly to my silent chest. I do not know why, but the lack of a heartbeat is somehow...distressing to a part of me. Like it is not...normal.

A frisson of iciness crackles along my body, igniting those parts that I have not yet identified, as I think that term. My brain names the sensation ‘fear' a few eye blinks later. The idea of not being perceived as normal frightens that part of me that believes I should have a beating heart. How odd.

I pull my palm from my chest, and use both hands to measure the rest of me.

My fingertips brush over my torso; there are raised, curving shapes jutting out slightly on my sides. Bones - I pick the word out of my mind - the internal structure of my form.

Then I find my waist - it is very small - and my palms stop, hovering over a bunched mass of soft warmth covering the lower half of me. I study the shape curiously, scouring my cobbled together memory for something that will help me recognize the flowing heap of gray.

A blanket. Yes, that is what it's called. A piece of fabric used for warmth, for comfort, especially when one is sleeping.

My head tilts to one side, thoughtfully.

Was I sleeping? Is that why I am covered with a blanket? Did I cover myself? Or was someone with me?

I cannot remember...

The fingers of one hand grasp the folded material and toss it aside. My legs are beneath it, the skin bare from mid-thigh to the soles of my feet. I decide that the best way to test them is to stand.

I brace both hands on either side of me. I feel rough, coarse rock - tiny bits biting into my palms - as I lift myself up, bending my knees.

In a sudden gust of cool air, I am vertical. It was surprisingly easy, I muse to myself. I take a few cautious steps, heading towards the jagged circle of silver that I can see in front of me.

As I walk, I experiment with the rest of my senses.

With my nose, I can smell a dank, musty odor emanating from the cooler air around me - as well as a pleasantly mild, lightly sweet fragrance that seems to be coming from my own skin. And there is also a pungent, syrupy tang that is not quite as strong as the others...but it is steadily becoming more pronounced.

My mouth feels dry, and the ache in my throat is intensifying with each step. My stomach, too, is complaining; it seems hollow, and pains me in near-perfect cadence with my throat.

I must be thirsty. I will find some water to drink soon. For some reason, my brain has determined that water is what is best to quench the burning thirst.

The circle of silver widens, and the musty odor, the sweet fragrance - all other scents - are drowned out by that sickly-saccharine stench. I briefly cup my hand over my nose and mouth, but drop it soon after.

It does not block out the smell.

I pass through the silver...and my world explodes.

Throwing up an arm, I try to shield my eyes from the brilliant glare of a full moon, hanging low in a velvet-black sky strewn with millions of twinkling points of white light. The moonlight illuminates the jagged hunks of rock below my bare feet, glances off the spidery branches of the surrounding trees draped with moss, ignites every single blade of tall grass, and sparkles faintly on my extended forearm.

My eyes seem to absorb all of these intricate details before I can draw one breath - and when I do, I am once again overwhelmed.

The smells, the smells!

Even though the thick, overpowering stink permeates my nostrils, I am able to detect a sharp, salty brine that I instinctively recognize as an ocean breeze. And something else... something that smells - warm, and delicious... it makes the ache in my throat and stomach increase a hundredfold.

I want to find the source of that delightful scent. But then my last sense, the one I nearly forgot, abruptly blazes to life in my eardrums.

Sound.

There are sounds everywhere. The gentle rustle of grass in the salty breeze, the whisper of leaves upon leaves in the trees above my head, a scurrying noise in the dirt from tiny animals rushing to forage for food, the singing chorus of crickets, the brush of feathers as an owl takes flight...

So much. There is so much here.

Too much.

My knees collapse, slamming into the jagged rock. The cracking noise causes me to wince, and the crickets pause - just briefly - in their song.

I press my palms to my ears, trying vainly to dim the noise, and I screw my eyes tightly shut, the silvery moonlight muted by the lids. I hold my breath to stop the smells from entering my lungs... and all the while my throat is burning as though it is on fire.

I want it to end.

Make it stop!

Though my eyes are closed, closed so tightly that the skin is puckered at the corners, I see something.

The image flickers across my vision - distorted, but slowly becoming clearer.

I see a graceful, glossy brown shape. A doe, threading carefully through the silver-lined foliage, nibbling at the leaves. The world around me blurs, and a noise like a fierce wind echoes in my ears. The doe falls to the ground, her nimble body enveloped by a pair of white arms.

And the scent - the warm, delicious scent I had caught earlier - is coming from the doe.

I watch, as though from far away, as the owner of the white arms crouches over the doe... a river of ink covering the curved form... and lowers its face towards the doe's throat.

Teeth flash, gleaming white - and then there is red, a stream of red. So warm... it is mouthwatering...

And I hear a voice - feminine and soft and beautiful - breathing a whisper in my ear...

"This is what I am."

My eyelids snap open, and the image vanishes.

--------

I stagger to my feet; the horizon tilts dizzily, and I slump against an outcropping of rock to regain my balance. My mind is replaying what I had just seen over and over, hoping to make some sense of the imagery.

And one question repeats itself endlessly, throbbing inside my skull.

What am I?

Some part of me - the small part that cowers, shaking with terror in the farthest corner of my mind - is telling the rest of me that those images, the pictures I just witnessed behind my eyelids... is not normal.

I only want to know what I am supposed to do with what I have seen.

I want to stop the burning in my throat, the empty pain of my stomach.

Is that...vision...my answer?

A small sound - so quiet, so light - springs forth to my left. The muscles in my body tense, coiling for action, without my consciousness commanding them to do so. The scent... the warm scent that I cannot ignore... calls to me from the direction of the sound.

I take a slow step forward, and my spine curves, lowering me closer to the ground.

The small, frightened part of me shrieks in denial, demanding that I not move...but I do not listen.

A more potent, powerful part of me is telling me to follow that scent.

That is the part I decide to heed.

My body launches itself forward - and I am suddenly a passenger in my own form. Without my consent or orders, my legs pump out a steady rhythm, the world blurring around me like watercolors in the rain. The scent is growing stronger, and my body pushes itself faster, the scorching ache in my throat begging for release.

My eyes barely register a dark shape in the distance - and then I am airborne.

Sailing above the unbroken ground, the wind whistling shrilly in my ears, I collide with a warm mass of fur and muscle and sinew. The unbearably delicious smell consumes my senses, and I feel something stirring, faintly, inside my arms. My limbs tighten of their own accord, and the stirring ceases.

Allowing my body to react for me, I watch as it propels my face forward, burying it into the musky brown fur, and open my mouth. I bite down once, and a gush of warmth fills my mouth, coating my agonizing throat in blissful relief. I am so relieved that I whimper softly while the warmth flows into my stomach, appeasing the hollow ache.

I drink until there is nothing left, and then I pull back, sighing.

That is the moment that I return to my body. My eyes widen as I take in the scene.

The body of a dead doe, her dark eye glassy with death as it stares up at me, lies across my lap. My lips feel sticky; I swipe the back of my hand across them quickly, and glance at it.

The pale white skin is stained with a smear of crimson.

Blood.

I...drank...blood?

The voice from my vision - the vision that has somehow, remarkably, come to pass - reverberates in my head. "This is what I am."

What am I?

A creature that drinks blood?

This is how I survive?

I scramble to my feet, my frantic gaze still locked on the lifeless doe lying on the forest floor. I look at my hand again - and the stain of blood marring the skin. I have the bizarre urge the lick it off, but I fight it by scrubbing the blood off on a nearby tree trunk. My hand tears a hole in the bark, but thankfully, the stain fades to a less appetizing pink.

What am I?

I stumble through the tangled underbrush, my brain alight with a strange combination of revulsion, satisfaction, curiosity, and anticipation. Though I may not have the answer to that question, I am fairly certain that I can now label my inexplicable vision.

Premonition.

What I saw was the future - my future.

So, in lieu of that, and also my...eating habits... I am most likely something other than human. Which brings to mind a whole slew of new questions, but I push them aside for the time being.

If I am supposed to exist this way, then I need to discover what I am.

Monster... the shrinking, petrified voice in the back of my head accuses.

I shake my head, back and forth, in denial. I know what that word means, and that is not what I am. Since I have no memory of who I was before I woke up in that cave, I could have always been this way.

My lips part, and the voice from the vision - my voice - floats between them in a low murmur. "This is what I am."

The underbrush gives way to an open field. Blades of silver-white grass as tall as my waist sway gently in the breeze, and in the distance, waves crash musically on the shore. And I realize - because I am no longer plagued by thirst - I am able to concentrate more, to focus on a few details at once rather than becoming overwhelmed by my senses.

I tread slowly through the grass, trailing my fingers on the tips of the dancing blades...when I pass into a shadow hanging over the field. The shadow roils, undulating in the breeze, and it does not seem as...solid as the shadows cast by the trees standing sentinel behind me.

Then the smell, the unbearable stench - so sickly-sweet and heavy - slams into me.

I recoil, falling into the grass, and clamp a hand over my mouth to stifle the gag choking me. My eyes shift upward, and I see that the shadow is actually a column of smoke, twisting serpentine-like across the field from somewhere on the far right. The color of the smoke is strange, a muted violet.

Rolling sideways, I crawl on my hands and knees through the waving grass and follow the ribbon of smoke, until I reach a small clearing. The grass here has been broken and beaten down, a vaguely circular area, and in the center there is a pile of smoldering wood littered with clumps of white stone. The stone, along with the charred wood, appears to be burning as well.

Strange.

I take in a deep breath and hold it. Clambering warily to my feet, and steering well clear of the rolling purple smoke, I approach the woodpile.

The fire has nearly died; orange flames lick sporadically at the kindling and the lumps of white...and one nearby shape in particular catches my attention. I creep closer, tilting my head to the side as I study the piece of stone. The edges are smooth, and rounded - it looks too beautiful to be a simple hunk of rock...

Soon, I am standing right beside the fire, looking down at the white thing. And I understand, as the breath I had been holding escapes my lungs in a piercing scream, that it is not a chunk of stone.

It is a hand.

A hand just like mine.

Before the scream has completely left my mouth, I am running - from the white hand, the orange flames, and the writhing purple smoke.

My brain draws terrifying, certain conclusions on its own as I tear through the forest.

Someone - a...being just like me - had been killed, ripped into pieces, and placed on a pyre to be burned.

The heavy, too-sweet odor of the smoke is the smell of flesh, like mine, scorching in the flames.

Another shriek erupts from my throat, and I push myself faster.

I must get away. I must flee.

Whatever killed the one like me could still be out there... waiting for the opportunity to strike.

What if I am next?

My feet graze atop white, powdery sand, the waves roaring above the wind singing in my ears, and I skid to a halt. Eyes wide with dread, I look out across the horizon.

Water. An ocean of sapphire blue is spread out in front of me, moonlight glimmering like jewels on the white crests of the waves.

Escape. I must escape.

I spin on heel and sprint in the opposite direction. My gaze darts this way and that as the world streams into one color around me - alert for any type of movement.

Then, suddenly, my toes are hanging over the edge of an eroded cliff. My chest is heaving with quick gasps of air, but it is not because I am out of breath. Panic has seized control of nearly the whole of my being.

I turn once again and head back to the beach. Facing the lowering orb of the full moon, I start running. I run, and I run...and there is always an expanse of dark ocean on my left, and changing landscape on my right. Too soon, I am back where I started, my feet fitting neatly into the prints I left behind on the sparkling white sand.

An island.

I am on an island.

An island where one of my kin was brutally destroyed.

My hands begin to shake; my entire body trembles violently, like a dry leaf in a storm.

Trapped.

--------

My mind is past rationalization.

All I know is that I am alone. I am fast, and strong, and I can see into the future. I feed by drinking the blood of other creatures. I have no memory of how I got here... I do not even know my own name.

And, like an animal, I am caged on a small island surrounded by ocean on which another just the same as me has been slaughtered.

Maybe that is all I am - all I am meant to be.

An animal.

I sense that my thoughts are beginning to fracture, cracks spider-webbing like broken glass across the surface of my brain. I try to hold onto my earlier vision - the vision of myself, when the world and my place in it seemed more certain - but it skitters away from me as I cling to the verge between reality and insanity inside my head.

A rumbling noise wells up in my ribcage, vibrating in my throat, demanding for release. I throw my head back, my face lifted towards the stars, and a deafening roar leaves my mouth. The pure, animalistic nature of the noise causes me to crumple to the ground, and the snarl disappears into a dry sob.

And I know that I am slipping.

Perhaps I should just give in, fully become an animal, and I won't have to think anymore, or feel... there will only be instinct.

My mental grip loosens on that precarious edge, the darkness beckoning.

The vision slams into my skull, devouring all sense of time and space, and I watch the images unfold before me in awe.

I see a man. A man with white, marble skin... his hair is the color of wheat in the sunshine...

He looks at me with kind golden eyes.

And a hand - his hand - is offered to me. As I stare at him, stunned, he smiles warmly.

Behind him, I can see other...shapes...figures, waiting in the distance. Their faces are blurred, but I can make out a few details.

One is strong. One is beautiful. One is tender. One is soulful. And there is one more...but I can't see... the golden-eyed man is blocking them from my view.

I raise my hand, and grasp his fingers. His smile broadens. Then I know.

This is my family.

Their faces abruptly vanish, evaporating like the morning mist, and their absence cuts me like a knife. My thin, pale fingers grasp futilely at the empty air in front of me. "No..." I plead, whimpering. I felt so loved, so complete, in their presence. I belong with them.

I close my eyes, willing the vision to reappear, but all I see is faint, weak impressions from my own memory.

I concentrate harder, feeling my lungs deflate and expand in deep, slow breaths, and focus on the golden-eyed man's face. I can picture his kind expression so clearly in my mind...and his warm smile...

He is sitting in a dark room, by the fireplace, a book in his hand.

I watch him read, a soft, fluttering sensation in my chest. I watch him for a long time.

Then, I hear a door open, and he looks up, smiling. "Yes?" he says, and his voice is like warm honey.

Another voice, coming from someone I cannot see, asks quietly, "Do you have a moment, Carlisle?"

My eyelids blink of their own accord, erasing the vision, but I am not sad. The muscles in my cheeks flex, curving my lips into a grin of triumph.

I was able to have a vision all on my own, just by concentrating hard enough. So I did not have to wait until one came to me all the time... I could make one come to me.

And I had discovered the golden-eyed man's name.

Carlisle.

In my first vision, the emotions I felt for him were familial, comforting, like the bond that exists between a parent and its offspring.

Carlisle would one day be my father.

I have to find him - find all of them.

Scrambling to my feet, I head towards the center of the island, close to where I had woken up in the cave. There was a tiny freshwater pond in that area, and I have some cleaning up to do before I start looking for my future family.

I also need to pick a name, since I cannot remember if I'd ever had one.

The knowledge that I would not always be alone is energizing to me - even more so than the blood I had taken from the doe to slake my thirst. A thirst that, though it had been momentarily appeased, is once more beginning to burn the back of my throat. My excitement thrust it aside for the time being, but I would eventually have to find something else to drink.

The glass-smooth water of the pond looms before me, and I plunge in without pause, diving beneath the surface. The water feels cool, but refreshing, and glides like silk over my shimmering white skin.

I surface, and realize for the first time that I am wearing a torn and soiled dress that seems to be several sizes too large. I peel it off and throw it into the forest; it soars through the air more than twenty yards before becoming tangled in the branches of an ancient birch.

Of course, now I have nothing to wear. But I would rather meet my family naked than approach them in that stained sack of worn fabric.

I resolve to find something more suitable when I leave this island. Now that my head is clear of debilitating panic, I can think through things logically.

There has to be a mainland somewhere. I do not seem to get tired at all, and I am incredibly fast; I could swim until I found it. Then, I would be able to find some clothes, pick out a name, and begin the search for Carlisle.

With a plan taking shape in my mind, I wade to the edge of the pond, the muddy ground squishing beneath my feet, and let the nighttime breeze dry me. Rivers of ink - my hair - drape over my shoulders, back, and chest, the strands littered with clumps of algae, leaves, and twigs. Curious, I peer into the now-calm waters to see my reflection.

I am shocked.

That can't be me.

A tiny pale face with small features, a pointed chin, and large, almond-shaped eyes stares open-mouthed back at me. She is impossibly beautiful. Even with a knotted, dirty mass of black hair in a riot around her exquisite face, she looks like a creature of myth - too extraordinary to be real.

And she is me.

I smile, and a bright, impish grin lights up the expression of the girl in the water. The light dies on her face as I notice the color of the irises enclosing her wide black pupils.

Red.

A red that seems to almost glow, it is so brilliant - even in the darkness of night.

My body shudders, a half-remembered dream causing it to react fearfully to the shade of the girl's - my - eyes. The rest of me merely feels puzzled. If I am meant to be with Carlisle, the golden-eyed man, and his family, then why are my eyes different from theirs? Shouldn't we all be the same?

Maybe I can find the answer for myself.

Settling cross-legged beside the pond, I close my eyes, picturing his face in my head.

I tell myself to be patient as I stare at the backs of my eyelids, the minutes passing while crickets hum in the background. Finally, an image of Carlisle swims into focus. I cringe at the dark shadow of anger on his face as the vision sharpens...

I see him standing rigidly by a fireplace, addressing a shorter male who glares at him from across the room. He - the other one; my brother? - has his hands balled into fists, ocher eyes blazing from beneath a tangle of bronze hair.

Carlisle speaks, stern and resolute. "I will not have this argument with you again, Edward. You know my thoughts on this subject. We do not live off the deaths of human beings."

"Are they all so worthy of existence?" Edward snaps in reply. He looks so angry, and...dangerous. "Not all of them are as innocent as you would like to believe, Carlisle."

"It is not for us to decide who lives and who dies."

"Animals are not enough!" Edward cries out, suddenly shifting from rage to despair. "No matter how many I kill, the thirst never completely goes away. It's driving me insane!"

Carlisle steps forward, slowly, and lays a hand on Edward's shoulder. The younger one flinches, but does not withdraw. "I know," he murmurs quietly. "We are what we are. It is our nature to hunt - to take what we want without care for reason or consequence. But I could never justify to myself that just because I am tempted...I should give in to that temptation." His tone hardens. "We are powerful - you even more so than Esme or I - but we are not gods. It is not within our rights to extinguish the life of any human, regardless of how guilty or innocent."

Edward shoves Carlisle's hand from his shoulder and moves back, resentment plain on his features. "You're wrong. If this is what we are - what I am - then I am through pretending. I'm leaving."

Carlisle inclines his head, his expression filled with pain, though he responds calmly, "That is your choice."

Edward hesitates. The fury in his gaze dims for a moment. "I will not kill the innocent. I...do not think I could go through with it, and I want to respect everything you have taught me. My gift can help me find those who are truly evil - who do not deserve to continue walking this earth. I will only be dispensing justice."

Carlisle does not reply; he only gazes steadily at Edward for some time. Edward's eyes tighten, and he abruptly spins on heel, heading out of my view.

"You will always be welcome here with us, Edward," Carlisle calls after him. "Remember that."

And then there is darkness.

--------

I raise my eyes, leaning back as I take in a slow breath. My thoughts are hazy, as if I have been asleep, and I shake my head a few times, trying to clear it.

The vision was so intense. I felt as though I had been standing in the room with my future father and brother - an invisible observer to their emotional confrontation. I do not know when that event will come to pass, though I feel certain that it will. I find myself wishing that I were somehow able to contact them, to warn them of what is coming so that it might be prevented.
Carlisle was in such pain... Edward was so angry, and sad...

My fingertips massage the crease between my eyebrows, and I sigh heavily. The burning in my throat has escalated from a dull ache to an excruciating pain. I need to hunt.

But I did uncover the answer to my question, or at least I am almost positive that I did.

My family's eyes are gold because they do not drink from humans. Carlisle said that it was not within our rights to take another's life for our own gain.

And if I am to become one of them, then I should learn how to exist as they do.

Rolling forward onto my knees, I bend over the surface of the pond to meet the gaze of my reflection. As I stare into her red eyes, I promise in a low whisper, my words creating tiny ripples on the water, "I will never take the life of a human."

The vow rings through the stillness like a distant chime. I look up - and realize with a start that the moon is disappearing behind the treetops, and the sky is lightening with streaks of gold and pink on the horizon.

It is time for me to leave.

Thinking swiftly, I grab the hopeless confusion of black hair and twist it into a tail over my right shoulder. I use my teeth, which I have since determined are very sharp, like razors, to cut off the snarled excess. The abandoned tresses fall with a barely audible thump onto the ground, and the remainder of my hair swings light and carefree, the ragged ends tickling my collarbones.

I grab the hair, climb to my feet, and - though my brain is starting to feel the freezing tingles of panic - run towards the field of tall grass, where I found the remains of the murdered one like me.

I walk towards the pyre. The fire is gone, and the grossly saccharine smoke is very thin. All of the pieces of white stone have turned to gray ash, scattering through the grass in the breeze.

I place my hair atop the brittle, charred wood - an offering - and the few waning embers in the center of the pile blaze to life. The sharp aroma of burnt hair briefly fills my nostrils, before it is overruled by the salty tang of the ocean. I feel like I should say something, but when I open my mouth to speak, my voices fails. So I just stand, ash swirling around my bare ankles, and honor the fallen one by my silence.

Then, the wind shifts, subtly, and I catch the warm, appetizing scent of blood. Relinquishing control of my body to my instincts, I leap forward into the trees, weaving like mist through the brush, and tackle another deer - a buck this time. His blood is stronger; I drain it quickly. Scampering noises begin to fade within the denser part of the forest and I follow.

When I return to my senses, I am standing in the midst of three fallen deer, lying prone on the greenery.

I gather their corpses into a pile, avoiding the relentless stare of their dead, glassy eyes, and cover them with dry leaves and moist dirt. I hope that the blood of four deer is enough to sustain me until I reach the mainland; I refuse to break my promise.

I return to the white beach and watch the sun rise over the ocean, setting the waves ablaze with ribbons of gold dancing across the water. And, amazingly, my naked skin is affected by the sunlight as well.

I raise my arms in front of me, awed, as my skin glitters like crystal, throwing off tiny rainbows that sparkle on the sand. It is beautiful... but I think it would be wise if I keep to the shadows among humans, or wait until dusk before exploring civilization.

The waves lapping at the shoreline caress my feet as I step into the water. I glance one last time over my shoulder, surveying the island that I had once feared being trapped on, and now seem reluctant to leave. It has become almost a haven for me - a place that is familiar, when nothing else in my world is. But my family is waiting, somewhere, and I am destined to join them.

I rush into the water, running until it becomes too deep, and then I start swimming.

I do not look back.

--------

It seems like I have only gone a short distance - the sun has just risen fully over the horizon - when I detect a new smell, one that was not present on the island. It is robust, and vaguely sulfurous. Coal.

I follow the scent, and a misty blue-green shoreline grows larger in the distance.

When the water has receded to my chest, I pause, momentarily overwhelmed by the myriad of smells bombarding my nose. And the warm scent I have come to recognize as the indication of blood; it is everywhere, and so strong, so enticing... it smells so much sweeter than the deer's blood...

No.

I made a promise.

I continue on, wading onto the shore, birdsong echoing around me as I glance warily along the beach. There are some houses a few dozen yards away, but all the windows are dark, and the noises minimal. It is early enough in this world for humans to still be asleep. Which is good news for me.

Lowering myself into a crouch, I sprint to the shallow border of trees surrounding the houses, heading further inland - and a flash of faded blue gingham catches my eye. I freeze, curling downward until I am hidden by an evergreen shrub, and peer cautiously over one side.

Someone has left their laundry outside to dry.

Grinning widely, I dart forward, and snatch the gingham dress from the clothesline, throwing the garment over my head. It's a little big, but I tie the sash twice around my waist and it seems to fit. I straighten up, smoothing the hem of the skirt with my palms, and twirl once in place, feeling giddy.

Thud-thud.

My body stills. I stop breathing, though I feel my eyes widen and my nostrils flare.

Thud-thud.

A flicker of movement. The door of the nearest house opens, and a girl with lank honey-blonde hair steps out, carrying a basket. I spin sideways, flattening myself against a tree trunk.

Thud-thud.

The girl is young, no more than twelve years old. She walks over to the clothesline and begins pulling off the dried garments, folding and placing them in the basket at her feet.

Thud-thud.

Her heartbeat drums incessantly in my skull. The scent of her blood is maddening. My fingers dig into the tree bark, until I feel sticky sap under my fingernails. My whole body is tense, coiled like a snake, poised to strike. My throat is on fire.

Thud-thud.

No.

So thirsty.

Carlisle.

Just a little bit.

His golden eyes berate me: "It is not within our rights to extinguish the life of any human, regardless of how guilty or innocent."

So warm and sweet.

"I will never take the life of a human."

I squeeze my eyes shut, gritting my teeth. The girl finally finishes her work and goes back into the house.

My hands are coated with sap and splintered wood. I slump against the damaged trunk, sliding to the ground, feeling light-headed.

I kept my promise.

I want to feel proud, pleased with my accomplishment... but I only feel weak, emotionally drained.

And thirsty.

I sit there on the ground, taking in small, cautious breaths of air, as more sounds of the waking town resonate all around me. The sun is climbing higher into the clear blue sky; if I do not move now, I will be stuck here until nightfall. Though I am not entirely convinced that I can handle being in close proximity to humans, I want to look around - try to figure out where I am.

Before I can have any more second thoughts, I race forward - a white blur - following the concentration of noise and smells, in hopes of reaching the center of town.

The tightly packed clump of buildings is strewn with the shade of enormous cedars. A burst of relief flickers within me, relaxing the tight line of my shoulders. There are less than a dozen people milling around on the street. They greet one another, tired but pleasant, as each one heads to their specific store or office to begin the daily routine. It is so mundane and ordinary, and yet...I am surprised by a twinge of sorrow.

I can never truly be a part of this world. I can live in it, but never become one with it.

I chase away the melancholy with thoughts of my future family. That is where I belong.

As I watch, one building in particular grabs my attention. Through the paned glass window at the front, I can see row upon row of leather-bound rectangles arranged neatly on shelves.

I walk forward, keeping my gaze on my destination - to avoid temptation as much as possible - and struggle to listen only to the soft pat-pat of my bare feet on the sidewalk instead of the thundering pulse of any passing human.

I feel their wide-eyed stares on me as I walk by; a few actually stop in their tracks, their eyes following my progress down the street. I glance once at my reflection in a store window, but all I see is a petite black-haired girl in a blue gingham dress that is too big. Shrugging to myself, I push the door open and enter my building of choice.

Bookshelves fill the cramped space that smells of worn paper, leather, and dust. I scan the shelves, reading the titles embossed on the books' spines, waiting for anything - a word, a phrase - to ring with a note of familiarity in my mind.

I hear the owner's heartbeat from the back of the store before he reaches me a minute later. "Can I help you, miss?" he asks politely.

Steeling myself, I look up at the man with a smile. His brown eyes widen, and his jaw drops slightly.

I keep my smile in place, though his expression strikes me as a bit rude. "No, thank you," I return in the same tone he used.

He stammers a reply that I cannot quite make out, even with my enhanced hearing, and staggers away in a daze. I resume my study of the bookshelves, noting a few titles of interest that I will perhaps read at a later time. My eyes skim across one, its yellow binding worn and tattered, and a shock of recognition surges through me like a bolt of electricity. I snatch it from the shelf, and trace the embossed title and illustration on the front cover with a fingertip.

Flipping the book open, I read the first chapter in a matter of seconds. Intrigued by the story line, I keep going, turning pages every few minutes as my gaze roves eagerly over the printed words. It is a fascinating tale: a young girl, bored with her ordinary life, suddenly finds herself in another world where nothing is as it seems and anything is possible. The girl's name, each time I read it, causes a fizzle of energy to spark inside my head.

I finish the book in less than one hour, and replace it on the shelf. As I pass the counter, I wave at the owner, offering a bright smile as I call, "Good morning!"

I smother a giggle at the bewildered look on his face.

I cross the street - under the shadowed safety of the towering cedars - and stroll into the general mercantile. A plump, older woman with shiny silver hair in a bun atop her head looks up from sweeping the hardwood floor. "‘Mornin', darlin'!" she greets in a jovial Southern drawl, her smile friendly.

Her pulse thuds steadily in my eardrums, and her blood smells so delicious... I clench a fistful of my dress in a hand, hiding the gesture behind my leg as the woman continues, "What can I do for you?"

"I was wondering if you could tell me the name of this town, please," I reply, smiling without showing my teeth - which are grinding against one another as I fight my instincts to take what I want.

"A visitor!" The woman, with maddening slowness, sweeps a pile of debris to the doorway, pushing it outside. "We don't get many of those ‘round here. You got family in these parts?"

I manage to keep my tone gracious. "I'm just passing through."

"Well, hon -" she leans on her broom, her smile broadening, "- you are in the little town of Biloxi, Mississippi, Seafood Capital of the World!" She crosses her arms over her generous bosom, full of pride.

"Thank you." I start for the doorway quickly, trying to skirt past her without breathing.

"Hold on, now!" Her arm stretches out, blocking my exit. I pause, and for a split second consider ripping that arm out of its socket. Guilt floods me in the next second. The woman is watching me with the same casual openness, her apple cheeks flushed. "Don't run off. We haven't been properly introduced."

She sets the broom aside and extends her hand to me. I resist the urge to cringe away from the warmth, from the veins lurking just underneath the surface of the paper-thin skin, and look into her eyes instead. The irises are a deep emerald, like the forest on my island. "I'm Missus Stallworth."

I timidly touch my fingers to her hand. She wraps her large, warm ones around mine, pumping heartily. "You're freezing, hon," she comments with sympathy. I shrug noncommittally. "Well, you know what they say," she remarks with a loud chortle of laughter. "Cold hands, warm heart." Mrs. Stallworth looks me over, a twinkle of admiration in her green eyes. "My - you are a pretty little thing. Just like an angel. And what's your name, hon?"

A smile, the first genuine smile I have felt since early this morning, shapes my lips.

I had picked my name in the bookstore, and it rings true inside my head before leaving my mouth. Like the girl in the book, I am in a place where nothing is as it seems, trying to find my way home. This place - Biloxi - is the first step of my journey to Carlisle, Edward, and the rest of my family.

My future is certain.

"Alice," I tell her.

"My name is Alice."