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The Amaranthine Mirage

Summary:
Jasper has mercilessly been ripped from Alice's loving arms by Maria. Can the Cullens get to him in time? Or will they be too late to stop the beast he will become? sequel to visions of you!


Notes:


4. chapter four

Rating 0/5   Word Count 6426   Review this Chapter

Death leaves behind an unending detriment for the living but surviving death maims the soul at a higher expense. I'd survived death on countless occasions before I was finally given the curse of immortality. It wasn't easy to forget the sights and smells as the whole world faded around you. People panicking, hands pulling you out of the line of fire, the stench of blood and powder burning your nose until you wished you didn't have to breathe; death would be a relief. When you finally come to days later, alive and well, surrounded by worried souls, it's a shock at first. In no time at all, you're back to living only now you can't help but glance over your shoulder twice as often and jump at every little sound. It leaves unseen scars on the soul, slowly killing you from the inside out until all that's left is a calloused shell of a man made all the harder by countless altercations. The shift out of the world I knew into the hate filled life of a vampire had been the last my soul could take. I was lost, drifting at sea. Lucky for me, Alice had found a hole in my wall and managed to climb inside, slowly melting the thick confinements from the inside out. My heart had never been the same. Most, however, were not so fortunate.

As I observed the humans milling about from the shadows to the side of the famed Trevi Fountain, I wondered how many of these poor souls would go through a similar situation in the next few months. It had only been a few days since Nadia's failed attempt to erase my memory but already this job was beginning to tax me. It hadn't taken Maria long to throw me back into service as though nothing had happened between the last sixty or seventy years. In her mind, everything was exactly the same as it had been.

The trickling sound of water mixed with the hundreds of voices that belonged to the fragile life forms patrolling the street in front of the fountain. Their faces held many looks, some of them whitewashed by the bright lighting that illuminated the statutory and bounced back upon them. The humans continued to walk casually by, never noticing the dangerous predator hiding in the gloom, watching. The many heartbeats thumping through the damp night air mingled with the alluring scent of fresh blood tantalizing my senses until my mouth watered. I swallowed hard; I wasn't here to hunt. I was here to observe.

Millions of different emotions blended together in the climate around me: love, excitement, anxiety, grief, happiness, confusion and regret. So far I sensed no one who could be of any use to us. Maria didn't want to choose just anyone this time. She was more substance over numbers this go round, though I still had no idea what we were hoping to achieve. The situation seemed hopeless. Despite the masses of people, I couldn't find one that displayed what I was in search of. I wanted to give up. More than that, I wanted to go home, my real home, the one where I had a family and a semi normal life that wasn't devoted to killing. It was as though I'd picked up right where I'd left off, insecure, depressed, seeking escape. How could only a few weeks have brought it back?

I knew what would happen if I returned to Maria empty-handed. She wasn't a very forgiving commander. The very notion brought a stress filled sigh through my lips. Again, I was scouting for an army. How had I let it come to this? The only difference in my behavior was the pity I felt for the poor souls whose lives I would steal. Once upon a time it had been me who was tracked down, me whose life was mercilessly ripped from his fingers against his will, and now I was condemning others to the same fate. How many of them would be transformed in death to something not worth the pain? Monsters, that's what I was creating. That was what Maria wanted. She didn't care if they felt empty and useless. What did it matter to her? She simply threw them away once they'd outlived their usefulness. Life meant nothing to her, not even the life of the undead. Even I was becoming confused. The line between murder and necessity was beginning to blur. It was only a matter of time before it would cease to exist and that's when I would become the most dangerous predator of all.

The unobservant mortals didn't even notice the dark haired man with tawny eyes leave his position of leaning against the fountain to melt into the shadows and confer with the statuesque soldier scanning the crowd. Unfortunately, I found it a little hard to miss considering the smell.

"Do you see anyone useful," Palo queried, standing just behind me.

"No one of note," I responded stoically, barely moving my lips at all. I gripped my wrist, comfortably resting my hands in front of me, settling in a casual 'at ease' stance of sorts.

"What about the radiant beauty at the other end of the fountain?" He pointed his finger in the indicated direction.

I sighed, rolling my eyes just a tad as his lust waved over me. Some people's morals disgusted me. "No. I'm not gonna select based on your need to get laid. The very notion is absurd and you should be ashamed for suggesting it."

"Whoever said that I…"

"Every time you look at a woman you deem pretty, you're consumed with lust. Based on that fact mixed with your casual tone upon suggesting it, I'd wager to say that you have a one night stand in mind." Palo seemed affronted but I continued. "Where I come from we're taught to respect women. There's more to them than just a pretty face. You'd do well to keep that in mind."

Palo's emotions displayed rage now. "What gives you the right to dictate between what is right and wrong?"

My eyes continued their duty scanning the crowd as I responded calmly, "For a start, I'm a great deal older than you."

The mongrel seemed to contemplate this with his mouth agape, struggling for words. In the heat of his anger, he spat in a whisper, "You can't be more than nineteen!"

Both of us knew this didn't make sense and I could feel his chagrin as well as see it on his cheeks. I couldn't help but chuckle, "A hundred and sixty six… actually."

Silence was held for a while after that. The smirk on my face didn't fade right away but slowly it was replaced with the stoic seriousness that never seemed to fade with this lifestyle. Another sigh sifted through my nose. I felt as though I'd been charged with a puppy that had yet to be fully housetrained. This guy made Jacob Black look intelligent. Despite being twenty two, Palo understood very little of our world outside of brute fighting and murder. He was a loose cannon, fire near the hay bale. As I tried to concentrate, his peaking curiosity became a distraction. At first, I ignored it, but as seconds ticked by it got harder to disregard. I was just about to inquire on the subject when the small black cell phone Maria had given me began to vibrate in my pocket. My lips pursed. It could only be one of two people and I wasn't very keen on answering to either one of them. Obediently, I pulled it out and pressed talk. "Hello."

"Jasper, mi amor," Maria's voice echoed fluidly, "have you found anything?"

"Nothing yet," I replied in a low flat tone, "but I'll keep looking until I find one."

"Bueno. See? I knew I could count on you."

"Indeed," I muttered halfheartedly. Thankfully, Maria didn't notice my lack of enthusiasm. Come to think of it, I was rarely very loquacious around her.

"Take a little extra time to hunt when you're through. You deserve it."

"With pleasure," I mused flatly, though it wouldn't be quite so pleasurable at all.

"Take care, soldad. Come home soon."

"I will." My gut clenched at her words. This wasn't home, not anymore.

"Adios, mi amor."

In a fluid motion, I clipped the phone shut and stowed it back in my pocket, not even bothering to say goodbye. It didn't take much for me to become angry around Maria. Just hearing her voice was enough. It wasn't just the hate in the atmosphere; it was also the loathing of what she was doing. I knew if I didn't obey her I'd end up just like Peter. A pang went through my heart as I thought of him. He'd been my best friend for over a century and now he lay in ashes. I'd have to play along until I could work out a good strategy of escape. Just running wasn't going to do it this time.

Evidently, Palo had been staring at me through the entire conversation as though trying to fit the puzzle pieces together in his mind. After a few minutes, I couldn't take it anymore. "Just say it," I stated with slight venom.

"Who are you really?" He laid out the inquest in a voice of disbelief.

That was a question I hadn't been asked in a long time. I figured one of them would ask it soon. Most became curious after they witnessed my intelligence in tight situations and my ability to work through a crisis with a level head. It wasn't a normal behavior pattern but one that occurred because of years of training. My answer came out a tad sarcastically due to my current mood. "Major Jasper Michael Whitlock, Texas Calvary, 1860 until 1862 when Maria attacked me; for a century after that, I fought alongside her in the Vampire Wars and became an expert at evading the Volturi, one of the many reasons she values my service. In essence, I'm a born and bred soldier with intelligence that matches some of the world's greatest minds. I'm happily married and hating every bit of this job. Any further inquisition or are you through wasting my time?"

Palo held his hands up in surrender, "I was only curious."

"Yes," I muttered deeply in annoyance, "I know. Now focus on the task at hand so we can head back. I'm losing my patience."

The mongrel didn't say a word after that and I relaxed a little. My growing thirst didn't help my mood in any form. Though I didn't want to hunt, I knew I had to, and soon. It's sad how old habits creep up on you. This life had been beaten into my skull so hard that it was easy to fall back into. Bloodlust was not something that I'd ever had very good control over thanks to this lifestyle and now the only thing that could keep me sane enough to think straight and not be consumed by it was an ocean away trying desperately to find me. My mind was a tizzy of confusion. I didn't want to do this yet something inside me said I had to. I knew it was wrong and yet I couldn't stop. In times like these I could usually talk to Edward or Carlisle; they always knew what to say. Then Alice would kiss me and assure me with a smile that everything would be okay and I had no reason to doubt it. I sighed in vexation. Would everything be okay this time? My guess was no.

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted as I felt a sense of haughty emotions that I might be able to turn in our favor. The deep crimson of my eyes fell upon the young boy who gave them off and my lips pursed. He had to be near sixteen or seventeen. Dark curly hair framed his face and a bulk of muscle showed through his shirt. He would be incredibly strong once turned. Palo followed my gaze with a raised brow, "Are you certain?"

"Yes."

"Positive?"

"Mark him," I ordered with a slight growl hidden undertone. Why did he have to make everything so difficult?

Palo sighed and shook his head a little as he left the shadows and blended with the crowd heading for the boy that would soon lose his life. This would be the tenth human we'd found in the last three days. It was a hardly an army but we had to start somewhere. Palo made his way forward as I watched with a set jaw, my eyes narrowing as he got closer. He bumped nonchalantly into the youth who, in turn, shouted out a stream of obscenities in Italian. Only my trained eyes noticed the tracer that had been injected beneath his skin as several humans turned to stare at the commotion. Palo had skillfully hidden the needle before anyone could see. He began speaking with the now marked teen in their native tongue, probably some form of apology. I pulled a small electronic device from my pocket that strongly resembled a Blackberry. Upon the screen was a high quality map of Italy, zoomed in on Rome with another red dot added to the mix. The corner of my mouth twitched, a half smile there and gone. Mission accomplished.

I was fully prepared to find a quick meal and head back to Maria when I heard a voice carried softly upon the wind. "Jasper," it whispered softly. I paused in the middle of replacing the tracker in my pocket and looked cautiously about. I knew that voice. "Over here," it prodded gently. My head snapped in its direction and I froze in place, nearly dropping the small device. If my heart could beat, it would have stopped. Standing there, beautiful as the rarest diamond, was Alice. She giggled slightly and gave me that look that she always did when I did something she deemed adorable. All I could do was stare. Slowly, I returned the tracker inside my coat pocket, never taking my eyes of off her. I took a few steps forward. My brow furrowed. Something was off. Alice was clearly standing there but her emotions were absent. I felt nothing from her, not even a slight tremor of the joy that was written on her smooth marble face. I glanced in Palo's direction. He was still quite busy arguing with the boy in Italian and didn't even notice that I'd left the safety of the gloom and presented myself in the open. As always, people stared in wonder. Some heartbeats doubled in pace as emotions jumped all over the page. I ignored it, quite used to the cumbersome intrusion. My gaze fell back upon Alice. She beckoned silently for me to come to her. I took a few tentative steps forward. Just as I was near enough to touch her, she vanished in a smoky vapor as though she'd never been there at all. I sighed. Now I'd officially gone crazy. I'd been captive to the heat enough times to know a mirage when I saw one. You hear them and see them until you get close enough for the effect to fade away. I supposed my mind was trying to protect itself by reminding me there was still hope. Was there really?

"Jasper," her voice carried to my ears again. I looked up to see her standing at the other end of the street, leaning delicately against a light post. Once more she beckoned me and once more I couldn't help but wander towards her. This time I walked a little more boldly. Why did she want me to follow? Palo was still tied up, giving me time to slip away. For all he knew, I could be hunting. Alice nodded in encouragement and flashed the smile I'd fallen in love with so many years ago. As I reached the post, she once more vanished. I was about to growl in frustration when she called out to me again. She was walking around the corner at the end of the opposite street. I cast one last glace at Palo, ensuring I could safely get away, before I melted into the shadows around the corner and took off at a human paced run towards the alleyway Alice had disappeared down. Why on earth was I doing something so foolish? I knew why but I still couldn't believe myself. I was so desperate for answers, so desperate to escape my past that I was willing to walk blindly behind an illusion of the mind if it meant a way out.

The ethereal visage of my wife was nowhere to be seen when I rounded the corner of the dark alley. There were scarcely any humans back here aside from a random couple hiding in a dark section of the path to steal a kiss or two. I walked slowly down the cobblestones, shoving my hands in my pockets, ignoring the urge to kill them. My curiosity outweighed my thirst and I could always come back. For the moment they were safe. I walked on, averting my gaze. My eyes shifted about, scouting ahead for the mirage. What did she want? Suddenly she appeared right in front of me and I nearly jumped. A tight breath inhaled through my lips as I met her captivating topaz hues.

"Help them," Alice spoke softly, her voice echoing slightly.

"Help who," I queried in confusion. This was getting weirder by the second.

Alice, or whatever this ghostly being was, pointed down the dark side alley silently. My eyes followed her hand, adjusting lightly to the dark. I noted the couple. "Help them," She repeated gently. Now I knew I was insane. Help humans? Granted, I'd help Bella if she needed it but that was only because Edward loved her so much. My brow knit together in a very confusing pattern as I stared at the being wondering if I'd had some bad blood lately. I'd heard of the effects an alcoholic's blood can have but I couldn't recall ever drinking from someone who was intoxicated. I generally stayed away from those. "What exactly would you like me to do?"

She met my gaze with that look that I'd do anything for. "A man is coming down the street," she whispered softly. "He intends to harm them. You need a drink… kill him instead and you will have saved two lives." I couldn't believe this. Was this real? She leaned forward and left a gentle kiss on my cheek. My eyes widened a little. I definitely felt it but it didn't feel normal. It was like being kissed by the wind. "I have faith in you, Jasper," she whispered right next to my ear. In a swirl of color, she faded away leaving me dazed and confused.

Mere moments had passed but they felt like an eternity. I'd once heard of such insanities. In fact, Bella used to hear Edward's voice during the period we'd gone. This was different though. My imagination was definitely not that strong. I turned my gaze down a side alley that connected this one to the other. Sure enough, a young fellow in his mid twenties was walking briskly down the walk looking half crazed. I began walking towards him, ensuring we'd be out of view to the others. If Alice wanted it, I could manage it. At least I wouldn't be harming innocent people. Upon closer examination, I realized this man was not Italian but from the America's. I was almost certain I'd seen his face on America's Most Wanted a few weeks ago. As I got closer he drew a knife. "Wallet and valuables," He demanded.

"A little far from our usual proving grounds, aren't we," I queried, keeping my hands in my pockets. He finally got a glance at my red eyes and gulped a little.

"I said now," he spat a little more nervously. "Don't make me kill you to get it."

I chuckled deeply, a musical sound though not as merry as it had once been. The natural allure of my voice seemed to catch him off guard. "Let's be honest, shall we? We both know you're gonna kill me anyway. Why not get it over with and save yourself some time?"

He stared at me for a moment, trying to decide if I was serious or if I was mocking him. He flashed the knife forward. I didn't flinch. He studied me carefully. "Who are you?"

I ghosted behind him and felt panic rip through his soul as I leaned closer. "The means to an end," I whispered gruffly. His eyes widened a little but I didn't allow him to feel anything for long. In a swift move, I broke his neck. He fell to the concrete with a resounding thud. At least in this manner I could feed without his emotions intrusion. I shook my head a little to clear it of his fear and momentary pain. That part of the job would never be easy. It was what had led to my leaving so many years ago and it would be the end of me if I kept it up for too long. I drained his body thirstily and dumped it in the nearby trash bin after erasing all signs of my involvement.

A soft breeze tugged at my golden hair as I made my way slowly down the other alley, once more traipsing down the main street. At least now I didn't want to kill everything. Suddenly, I was shoved into the wall and a fiery eyed Palo was whispering furiously, "What do you think you are doing? You are never to leave my side! Is that understood?"

"What's the problem, digger? Did I make you sweat?" I mused sarcastically with hard eyes.

His eyes narrowed.

Roughly, I smacked his hands off of my coat with a frightening expression on my face. My voice was deep and full of seriousness this time, the playful manner completely gone. "Listen Fido, I'm here for one reason and one reason only, because Maria blackmailed me into returning. I'm not the same weakened vampire I was when you first met me. I've fed countless times since then and I have no qualms about ripping you to shreds. I'm sure my wife shares the same sentiment."

He fell silent, his brown eyes full of confusion that I had just fought back. "Who do you…"

"Don't start with me," I spat, the Major within not about to be outranked by a mutt. "I intend to survive this dang blasted war and get home to my family in any way possible. You can cry to Maria about it if you want but believe me when I say even she can't stop me. I outsmarted her before, I can do it again."

"I thought Nadia erased your memory," He questioned and I mentally cursed.

"If you say a word about it, you'll die in your sleep tonight… and I'll make it look like an accident. Are we understood?"

Palo merely stared at me. I examined his emotions carefully, keeping my face serious. After deliberating a little, Palo realized I was serious. He nodded, trying to disguise his fear but I still felt it. "Good," I stated flatly, "Now let's get back before Maria starts to worry."

It was amazing how, in the last few days, Palo had gone from the alpha dog to the omega, following my lead like a puppy who didn't know what he was supposed to be doing. His cocky mannerisms weren't present as often when he was around me. He was just another private who needed breaking. Maybe that was part of Maria's purpose in having him tail me. She of all people should know that she can't hide me from Alice.

When we arrived back at the hotel room, Maria seemed in a good mood. "Excellent work, mi soldad," she greeted, leaving a kiss on my cheek. I didn't utter a word but instead stood at ease beside the wall as she went back to her desk. Nadia was meditating on the porch while Victoria flipped through a magazine with bored emotions. "We are right on time," Maria whispered to herself.

"Beggin' your pardon, ma'am, but what exactly are we on time with," I inquired, tired of being left in the dark.

"You will know soon enough, mi amor," she cooed, folding up the papers and shoving them in her coat pocket. "Victoria and I are going to grab something to drink. Be a good boy, hmm?"

I nodded once but didn't utter a word.

She smiled and left a gentle peck on my lips. I tried not to cringe. Her lips were familiar to my living nightmare from so long ago, the very same that had tricked me into believing I was doing good when I was really murdering for no reason at all. "We'll be back before the sun rises," she whispered in my ear. In a blur, she was at the door. Victoria followed, smiling a little in my direction. Soon they were gone.

I took a deep breath and tried to ignore the disgust rising within me. Palo folded his arms and watched me intently. "Do you always play the guard dog so well," I questioned patronizingly.

He didn't move but I didn't really care. All I could think about was the strange happenings of this evening. Whatever it was, it had been more real than a mirage but not exactly tangible. I sighed in exasperation and ghosted to the balcony, knocking politely on the open glass door.

Nadia looked up into my somber face with a sympathetic smile. "Any luck?"

I nodded and walked at a humans pace to sit on the other chair. Palo leaned in the doorway, watching me like a hawk. I ignored him. He wouldn't say a word. He'd watched me work over the past few days and knew that I could fully carry my threat out if he crossed me. Men like him always had self preservation at the top of the list and I intended to use this to my advantage.

Nadia's brow knit. "Are you alright? You look as if you've seen a ghost."

"In a way, I have," I mumbled softly. I took a few moments to relay the evening's events to her in detail right down to how Alice's lips had felt on my cheek.

Nadia held her head in her hand. "Oh dear, I was afraid this would happen."

"What exactly do you mean?"

"It's a side effect of my toying with your mind. This visage is acting as your conscience. Since Alice seems to be your moral compass that's the form it takes. I'm so sorry… it must have driven you to insanity."

"Indeed," I murmured thoughtfully, "but it kept me from killing two innocent humans… it can't be all bad."

"Just be careful how much you listen to it," Nadia warned. "It's acting as your conscience… it's not completely you. It will gain a mind of its own the more you allow it to take control."

I nodded in understanding though I had no plan to heed her warning. In actuality, I now wanted to see Alice all the more. "Can we check up on her again?"

Nadia's face was grave. "It could end badly. If you're already seeing things then I fear for the safety of your sanity."

"I don't care," I countered, my southern accent a little stronger as anger threatened to rise up.

She sighed. "Jasper, this is not a game. This is your mind I'm messing with. It's not safe."

"Look, Nadia, I appreciate that you're tryin' to do me a favor but I need to know what's goin' on at both ends of the spectrum if I'm gonna find a way out of this."

"Very well," she muttered in defeat. "Just don't blame me when you go mad." She hesitated a little before gently touching her finger to my temple. The world faded around me and I was thrust into momentary darkness.

The parlor looked clean, cleaner than it did on a normal day. This could mean only one thing… Esme was worried. The loveseats were placed symmetrically across from one another on either side of the fireplace with a hand crafted coffee table betwixt them. A few book shelves lined the far wall full of novels from centuries past, medical journals and even the occasional fashion magazine care of Alice. The large mirror over the fireplace reflected the room beyond, catching the bottom of the staircase and the immaculate hallway. If the entire house was this sanitary I was more worried about Esme's sanity than my own. Sunlight glimmered through the wall made of window casting a bright beam across the designer carpet. Alice and I used to lie for hours near the windows just talking as the sunlight danced off of our skin. I couldn't bear the thought that I may never speak with her again. The antique clock on the mantle chimed the correct time just as voices began to pilfer through the air.

"You've got our attention Alice," Carlisle stated, his voice far off and misty. A moment later he faded into view near the fireplace, his arms folded and chin held in one hand. "What did you see this time?"

The rustle of movement sifted through the air. Emmett was painted in on the couch, lounging back against it with a somber expression. Beside him sat Rosalie, her arms hugged around herself as she rested them on her knees. She was none too happy either. Edward was hunched in a stressed fashion over the back of the couch, gripping it in a vice. Shortly thereafter, Esme appeared on the opposite couch with her arm around air and a worried expression on her face.

"It was very dark so I didn't see a whole lot," Alice's voice melted through Nadia's gift. Suddenly she misted into being beneath Esme's arm. "He was talking to himself, carried out a whole conversation. Afterword's he killed a mugger walking by instead of the first two humans he passed."

"Could you tell where he was?"

Alice shook her head. "It was dark. Just when he was approaching a street sign the mongrel showed up. There are several places it could have been and I don't know how much time we've got left."

"Don't worry, Alice," Esme soothed hugging her daughter tightly. "You saved him once before, you can do it again."

Alice sighed and nodded in agreement though I could tell she was still a little discouraged."Did you say he was talking to himself," Carlisle inquired, raising his brow a little in concern.

Alice gave a somber nod and met his gaze. The look in her eyes pierced through my unbeating heart. I strived so hard in this existence to prevent that face from ever surfacing and here it was presented all because of me. Did I have to ruin everything I touched? Carlisle's concern seemed to rise as he clasped his hands behind his back and took a few steps forward deep in thought. "In what manner was he speaking to himself? Did you hear both halves of the conversation?"

Alice shook her head in negation. "No, he was talking to someone but I never heard what they said. There was definitely nobody else there. He seemed confused."

"It almost sounds like he's seeing things," Carlisle observed.

"Well that fills me up with comfort and giggles," Alice stated sarcastically, sighing as she stared at her hands with an expression of sorrow.

"The mind does horrible things to itself when broken. I imagine his mind is trying to protect itself. If what he's told us of Maria is true then he's not in a very good position right now."

"Yeesh, doc, you're just full of happy molecules today, aren't you," Emmett stated though, for the first time since I'd know him, he lacked his signature smirk.

"I'm not trying to be pessimistic," Carlisle sighed, "simply realistic and practical. There's no use lying to ourselves."

I wanted to tell them so badly where I was in any way possible but something in my mind was forbidding it. This was agony. I just wanted to go home but even if I could, something told me Maria had a plan up her sleeve that needed stopping. At present I had no choice but to follow her orders. It was unfortunate but maybe, given time, I could find a way around it. I'd done so once before. "We can't just keep sitting here waiting for something to happen," Edward complained, looking up at Carlisle.

"What else can we do?" Carlisle replied somberly.

"I say we scour Europe," Edward stated almost heatedly, pushing off the couch to stand to his full height. "We can at least narrow down possible countries that he's in."

"What about school?"

"Say we're deathly ill… you're a doctor. Make it sound convincing," Edward smirked a bit.

Carlisle couldn't help but crack a wan smile. "Alright, but only you and Alice go for now. We'll stay to keep an eye out for our fourth party in all this."

Alice brightened up almost instantly. Emmett, however, wasn't as cheerful. "Aw, come on pop! Why do I have to stay here?"

"Because we need all the muscle we can get if we do find the other player."

"You've still got Rosalie and Esme."

"Emmett," Carlisle stated in a soft yet firm fatherly tone, "you're staying and that's final. I need you here."

Emmett sighed and muttered to his brother under his breath, "Bring me a postcard."

Alice jumped to her feet and threw her arms around our father whispering a quiet 'thank you'. He hugged her in return, a furrowed brow and the concern of a father present on his face. "Bring him home," he whispered softly.

"I will," Alice promised. "I won't rest until we find him."

Her final words were a little more distant and far away. Suddenly it felt as though I was being sucked through a tube. Everything went black.

I gripped the edges of the chair as the world came back into focus around me. My head was spinning so much that up and down was indiscernible. Nadia gripped my shoulders just before I fell to the floor and heaved me to my feet. The next thing I knew I was lying on the couch inside, staring up at the ornate carvings on the ceiling. "I knew that was a bad idea," Nadia whispered to herself. "Jasper can you hear me?"

I nodded feebly, feeling a little sick to my stomach. Did she really think I cared about my own well being? Even with my eyes staring straight ahead the room appeared to be spinning around me. I finally forced my eyes shut in an effort to make it stop.

"What's going on," Palo queried feeling slightly confused. I could tell in his tone that he was becoming confused over his allegiance. If I didn't feel so horrid, I might have given a wan smile. "Intrusion of the mind is not a normal practice," Nadia explained. "His body rejects it out of self preservation. If I'd held on any longer he might have gone crazy."

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say he already had," Palo mumbled.

"You really should cut him a little slack," Nadia sighed, placing a hand on my forehead. "He doesn't want to be here, he's being forced to. You and I… we chose this. He was ripped away from a family that loves him and a wife who's grieving over his disappearance."

"You sound like you know what you're talking about," Palo mused though there was a slight edge to his tone.

"I've seen it," Nadia stated.

"Look, Nadia," Palo sighed a little, "all I know is that I'm supposed to kill him if he steps out of line. That's all I really need to know."

"You disgust me." Nadia hissed slightly through her teeth.

"Why is that?"

"You lack compassion. It makes you ugly."

"What does compassion have to do with anything?"

"Without it the world would most certainly be dead," Nadia replied almost coldly.

And just like that the conversation was over. I would have offered my two cents if I didn't feel like vomiting. I didn't dare open my eyes for fear that the spinning would make me do just that. Having just recently fed it would leave an awful mess. I felt Nadia's hand brush some of my hair aside as worry consumed her. Palo was full of uncertainty. These two certainly made interesting company. As I waited for my body to come back under my control, my mind replayed the current conversation and studied the faces of my family. I didn't always need my gift to tell what someone else was feeling. One look at each member of our coven and all I could see was sorrow and concern. I hated that I couldn't change it like I did on a normal day. None of them deserved to feel that way, especially not over me. Where would this crazy circle end? Maria thought she could still take advantage of me without consequence, Victoria was secretly hoping I'd make a big enough mistake to be bumped off, Nadia was trying to hide her attraction for me with difficulty and Palo was just along for the ride with no idea what he was really doing. Still, through all of this, I had no idea why I was here. Ten people were marked for death, ten people. Three days and I'd gathered ten people. Why did I have to be so good at my job? Slowly, the world began to come back into orbit but I still couldn't open my eyes. It felt like I was on a ship at sea stuck in a violent storm but I would survive… I had to survive. My Alice was coming just like she always would when I was lost. All I had to do was wait…but how long could I wait? How much more could my mind take of this world before it was lost completely? I could feel it inside. I was dying. There wasn't much time left to save me from the worst enemy I would ever face…myself.