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Monster

Summary:
I'm nothing but a monster burning in a hell that only exists in my head. There's no hope left until one harmless glance chances logic and binds two eternal enemies together in a twist of fate. Can the escape from this hell be found in an infuriating dimpled grin? Or is this another dark, dirty trick of my own mind? A forbidden passion, heat, and intense anger—this is no fairytale.


Notes:
[Disclaimer: Monster is an originally plotted fic. The ideas within this fic are not to be copied in any way, shape, or form—I have not given my consent to any manner of copying. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of their respective owners. All canon concepts and characters are the property of the Twilight Saga's author, Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. Similarities are for the sole use of fan fiction, and no profit has been or will be benefited from the posting of this fic.] Emerging Swan Award 2012, nominated into Fandom Choice Awards.


37. The Tribal Tales

Rating 0/5   Word Count 9644   Review this Chapter

"Life on Earth is changing
Life on Earth is ending
And time on Earth is ending
And time on Earth is changing." - Band of Horses.

Chapter Thirty Seven

The Tribal Tales

Green. Everything is green and wet. Very wet. In a land of constant rain, there isn't much else to expect. But now, as I sprint through the green forest, everything is too green, and much too humid, even though there's little more than a breath of humidity in the air. Everything is supposed to be golden, like the color of Emmett's burning eyes. It's supposed to be much colder, like the smoldering chill of Emmett's hold. It feels so wrong for me to be out here.

It feels even less right as I collide into a firm, heated figure.

"Watch it!"

I snarl at the bitter tone of the figure, blinking, only to find myself face to face with an angry Paul. My fingers curl into my palms, deadly weapons that can tear through his throat, his face, and his skull in seconds. Paul meets my gaze as I turn, scowling.

"Oh, it's just you." Paul takes a few steps back, sizing me up. His gaze drifts over my hands and he backs up a little further. "Coming in after a nice little play date with your sucker?" he challenges, his dark eyes blazing.

Challenge? I can't back down from that. I'm right up to Paul: eye to eye, teeth to teeth, temper to temper. "To hell with that. Cry yourself a nice big river; drown in your damn tears for all I care. As if you have a right to question, while you're scampering around out here like you don't have somewhere to be."

Paul's jaw pops out as it tightens. He remains in place, unwilling to shrink away from my advance. "For your information, Jordan, I was only looking to make sure you weren't dead."

His venomous tone burns, blocking out all emotions that might have otherwise been triggered by his words. "I'm not gonna go anywhere, especially now that there's actually someone around who gives a shit. You're just as bad as the rest of them. Even thought I'm only doing it to help? To make things better for the tribe, and not just my own selfish little complaints?"

At least, at the start I was only doing it to help. But now those minutes shared with Emmett have blossomed into something much more than that. I leave that part out, though, knowing it will only spark a much bigger fire.

Anger radiates from Paul like heat from an oven. His eyes narrow into slits, his nostrils flaring as he breathes out steam. "Why him? He's not even alive, damn it! If it was me, I . . . I'd be right for you! But you don't even know that, because you're his eternal slave! You're enslaved to a leech!"

"Oh, so that's what this is about?" I take a step forward. "Not interested, Paul. I'm not going to throw a fit over your sudden interest. If you cared so damn much, you had two years to go after me and get me. A little too late now, don't you think?"

"You're blind!" Paul shouts, his eyes wild with fury. "You're blinded by the . . . imprint! You've lost your mind!"

My eyes narrow, feeling the sparks sizzle between us. They aren't sparks of attraction, though. They're sparks of pure rage, our natural tempers flaring. "I lost my mind long before he came into the picture. If I had a choice, I still wouldn't have run after you broken down like a pathetic, brainless puzzle. I'm not breaking down; I will not let go. I'm far gone, enough that it shouldn't be any of your concern."

Without thinking, Paul's hands clamp down on my shoulders. He shouts again, his words lost in the pounding of my heartbeat. Blood shoots through my veins, pumping heavily with the rapid beating of my heart. My hand clenches before swinging forward, crunching into Paul's nose. Red spills out, staining my knuckles. Paul howls out in rage, dropping his hands to crack his nose back in place.

The pounding in my ears fades to a ring. The whistle of it blocks out all other sounds for a long moment. I stand straight and tall, watching Paul's form start to blur. He looks up as he fixes his nose. I can see the wolf in his eyes, the anger boiling inside. His breath comes in heavy huffs through his teeth. I am quick to land a kick square into his gut, knocking Paul far away from me as he erupts into his wolf form.

In the heat of the moment, Paul's phasing is like an explosion. The blast of heat screams in my ears, bringing me back to the present. My eyes land on Paul just as he rights himself, readying himself to attack. On reflex, I bend and stretch, slamming down on my paws in a heartbeat. Paul is there as my paws touch the ground, his jaws spread and his aim directed right at my throat.

Everything happens in a blur. One moment, Paul seems to have the advantage, his jaws closing over my throat. The next, blood is pouring from his muzzle as he lay on his side on the ground. It takes every fiber within me, every ounce of the small portion of control I have, to hold my ground, playing defense. Paul rises again, throwing his weight at me. I lunge straight into his own, lowering my head like a bull as I slam into him just as his paws leave the ground.

As we break away, both of us fall back into our human forms. The ground is hard and cold against my bare body, the rain soaking me in seconds. Paul scrambles over the wet leaves as I sit up, trying to cover himself. I'm so used to phasing back abruptly by now, I don't think anything of it. My eyes catch a glimpse of Paul's figure, but everything is blurred together in a swirl of color. I'm no longer attracted to anyone anymore—there's nothing to see.

Paul has managed to duck behind a tree. He watches as I slide behind my own barrier, his eyes shining with a sort of new emotion. Something like respect. It's about time he learned his place. He has a thick skull—it only took a few ass kickings to get through to him.

For a few moments, Paul is silent. He swallows hard, sighing as he hangs his head, his hands covering his face as he wipes off the blood. "Sorry."

"Humiliation is a good enough 'punishment' for you," I muse. My tone is not as hard as I expected, more controlled than it usually is.

Paul frowns, subconsciously moving closer to the tree. "What do you mean?"

I nod to his hidden form. "Just wait 'till one of the pack comes by and sees you in all your glory. I'm sure that'll refresh your pride."

Paul glowers, as if the idea is repulsive. "Whatever you say, genius. How are we gonna get clothes?"

My head tilts to the side. I allow my senses to stretch out, exploring the forest around me. I listen past the light patter of rain on the ground, focusing on a dull hum. As I listen closer, the sound grows more distinct. I can pick out voices and the buzz of electricity. It's some sort of TV show, with gloomy music in the background. And TV shows come from TVs, which are in houses.

"Hear it?"

Paul cocks his head, leaning forward. He takes a few minutes to pick out the same sounds, but as he does, he nods quickly. "What are we gonna do?"

"We'll get to that."

I slip through the brush without saying anything else. The house is close, just a dozen yards out. We probably should be worried that the owner of the house has heard the fight, but by the sounds of it, he or she is much too interested in their TV show to even notice.

It doesn't take long for both of us to reach the house. Paul keeps a good distance away from me, his tension giving off his worry. He only tenses further as he picks up on Embry's scent. I smile slightly to myself, picturing the look on his face if his mother describes the whole thing to him.

We stop at the edge of the tree line, keeping only a couple of trees and a small yard between us and the house. I lean behind the tree, studying the small one-story house. A few minutes pass, and Paul remains in place. I shake my head, raising my voice as I speak so he can hear.

"We're on the rez. Nobody can afford motion detectors, Paul. Go ring the bell," I murmur.

Paul stares blankly in my direction, as if I've just murdered his only friend. "Ring the bell? You want me to walk up there naked?"

I growl under my breath in disapproval. Impatience gets the better of me. My fingers tear into the tree beneath my hand, tearing out a nice sized chunk. I lean around the tree, hurling the wedge of bark straight at a window. The glass shudders as the wood ricocheted off its surface. It holds together for a split second before it shatters. Glass rains down the side of the house, leaving only chipped shards wedged in the window's frame. Seconds later, a woman throws open the door, rushing out onto the porch.

The woman knots both hands into her black hair as she sees the glass, her eyes popping.

"What on earth happened?!" she shrieks. She scans the forest before peering over either side of the house. Seeing nothing, the woman gives a scream of frustration and crouches, gathering bits of glass into her palm.

Paul looks over at me, his eyes expectant. I shake my head quickly, gesturing for him to move forward. Paul's expression darkens, his mouth moving to form a silent curse. He bites his lip, leaning around the tree before he saunters forward, grimacing as he shifts into a bush. I earn a fierce glare, but Paul can't blame me for being born as a man. It was natural for him to walk around topless. A man can wear a bush much better than a woman can.

Paul shifts awkwardly in place. He watches the woman—Embry's mother—for a few moments, clearing his throat before he speaks. "Hey, uh . . . Mrs. Call?"

Mrs. Call's eyes widen as she whirls around, her gaze locking on Paul. "What . . . you . . . did you did this?!" Her eyes move to the tattoo on Paul's shoulder. She gasps loudly and stumbles back, one hand covering her heart while the other catches the porch to steady herself. Her face pales. "You're one of those rebel boys! Ack! I should have known!"

"No, I'm not," Paul says quickly. "I—"

"Don't you dare argue with me! You broke my window! What will Embry take from this?! Once I figure out what's going on with the group of you . . . oh, you will be—"

"I need some damn clothes, woman!"

Ms. Call stares, completely appalled by Paul's outburst. She remains frozen in place for a few seconds before she blinks, seeming oblivious to the fact that Paul's standing behind a bush for a reason. "What?"

I growl under my breath, bracing my hands against the trunk of the tree, positioning myself so my arms hide my breasts. I push myself around the tree, making my presence known without revealing anything unnecessary. "Both of us are naked, and we need clothes," I say slowly, as if speaking to a child. I pause for a moment, deciding to throw something else in to sound more human-like. "And we're freezing our asses off. Yeah, it's June, but we're only human. No match for mother nature, although some clothes would keep our human selves from getting sick."

I'm not sure how the average person reacts to two people coming up to them in the nude, asking to borrow some clothes, but Mrs. Call is a little too overdramatic about the situation, in my opinion. She frantically bats her widened chocolate eyes. The russet tone of her face darkens around her cheeks, her expression flooding with a strange mixture of understanding and pure embarrassment as she assumes the worst. Her mouth pops open, her gaze darting from tree to tree.

"What are you . . . you barbarians teaching my son?!"

Paul's mouth opens as if to speak, but my impatience has gotten the better of me. I am quick to cut him off. "Clearly not fashion sense. But that doesn't matter, because neither of us have all night to be standing around naked."

She makes a sound somewhere in between a frustrated scream and a horrified squeal before finally hurrying up inside, forgetting to shut the door behind her. My hearing picks up on the bash of a door into the wall and a sprinkle of expensive glass on the floor. Paul guffaws beside me at the noises coming from inside, but I remain locked in place, staring at the door.

There are a few more slamming sounds until Mrs. Call hurries back out the door. A bundle of clothing is folded neatly into her hands. She reaches the edge of the muddy lawn, standing just a few feet away from Paul. Her gaze moves up to stare at the dim sky as she reaches out, holding the clothing out.

"I-It's not much, but it's all Embry and I have," she whispers hesitantly.

"Yeah, it's cool. Thanks." Paul pulls out the pair of cutoffs from the pile, tossing the rest behind his shoulder without a second glance.

I neatly snatch the clothes out of the air and avert my gaze as Paul hitches the cut-offs up to his hips. The clothes are warm but damp, as if they have just been pulled out of the laundry. I can't complain, though. I'm lucky to have random sources of clothing around, especially since I seem to need them much too often.

The shorts are a little too revealing, meant for much shorter legs. I shake my head at them and turn the offered bra in my hands. It looks like it's meant for a thirteen-year-old girl and not a rather filled out woman. I snort and toss it aside, not bothering to attempt to squeeze it over my form and suffocate my breasts. Instead, I slowly start to force the dull-colored shirt over my head.

A patch of skin on my neck heats up. It's a warning, my body's own alarm that screams of an audience. I snort. Paul always has been a pervert. 'Privacy' isn't a word in his dictionary. Changing in the open is a mindless habit for me. I've been doing it for a while, so I think nothing of it. But Paul is Paul, and although Paul will always be Paul, I won't put up with his tricks. I should break a few bones for that, maybe even disable any chance of his reproduction. But I know better. The monster is still there, and the monster won't just fight. The monster either defends or kills. Nothing less.

To get the message across, I reach back to casually brush my hair over my neck. My hand trails over to my shoulder where I flatten out my hand, and in full view, stick my middle finger straight up. There's a muffled chuckle and a shuffle of brush before my body temperature returns to normal.

Once I've slid on the clothes, I glance back at Paul, who seems busy studying the ground. I clear my throat. "Ready?"

"Wait!"

I clench my jaw, turning my head as Paul does. Mrs. Call takes a wary step toward the shadows, and then thinks better of it and moves back. She gulps, her eyes darting between Paul and my nearly invisible forms.

"What's going on at the cliffs tonight?"

Desperation is clear in her eyes. She wants to know what's going on with her son, what he's really into. I speak smoothly, my words coming slowly for emphasis. "Tribal meeting. If you still want to keep your house, I suggest you stay home."

I don't wait for her answer. She's taken enough time from us as it is. I head forward, deeper into the forest, my pace already set into a steady jog as I hit the trails. Mrs. Call's stomping footsteps are audible even as I head farther into the distance. Eventually, they disappear completely.

That's when Paul starts to laugh.

He meets my stare, his lips spreading in a huge grin. "You're really good with people, Jord."

"Am I?" The sarcastic response comes out as a question.

Paul picks up his pace, trying to catch up with me. "Hell yeah! Did you see the look on her face?"

"I have two working eyes, so there's a good chance."

"C'mon," Paul says with a frown. "Don't be so down on yourself."

"Don't try to sweet talk me," I mutter. My speed builds, so Paul has to pump his arms hard to catch up. I keep my gaze focused only on the trail ahead, aware of the scent of ash in the near distance.

"It's hard not to when you're so awfully upset."

"And just what is it that makes you think I'm about to fall into a pit of depression?" My tone is sharp as the defensive instinct speaks inside of me.

Paul is quiet for a moment. He cranes his head, searching the forest as the trees start to thin. I remain silent as well, knowing better than to believe that he's dropped the conversation.

"Everything," he finally says.

I exhale sharply, trying hard not to clench my jaw. "Let's just get through tonight, alive, and worry about that later."

"If you insist. . ."

The trail ends abruptly, almost as if it's an ironic yet firm closure to our conversation. The trail stops before the smooth surface of a cliff. The cliff juts out of the middle of the forest, like a bare thumb on a gloved hand, although it looks perfectly in place beneath the inky sky. A fire dances in the middle of the cliff, and pack members are circled around it. All of them are on the ground, lazily sprawled out, other than the few elders who rest in lawn chairs. I recognize the faces of Billy, Old Quil, and Sue, who seem perfectly relaxed. The pack members are just as at ease, all of them seated in their own spot with the exception of Jared and a girl who he holds tight to his chest. Kim is her name—the girl that's always under the spotlight in his thoughts.

A few of the guys turn their heads as they sense our approach. They grin, calling out jumbled greetings. The voices trail off as eyes rest on me. Each grin falters.

Jared offers a nod, and Kim studies me curiously. Others turn their heads. Embry stares at me funny, his gaze set below my eyes. I take only a second to remember how flimsy my clothing is, barely covering my body. My gaze hardens, and Embry is quick to avert his attention. He looks over at Brady and Collin on the opposite side of him. Both fidget with pebbles from the ground, looking as if they're about to piss themselves.

Awesome.

Despite the disapproval, I continue to move forward. I can tell even from a short distance that the loose circle of the pack isn't filled in. Others are missing, and the pack seems distraught while being incomplete. Nobody is talking and laughing, and all joking seems to be out of the question. I'm not the only one to notice.

Paul drops down in front of the fire, scooching to the side to make room for me. "Where are Jake and Seth?" he asks.

I settle down beside Paul, making sure I have enough room to myself. There isn't any point for me to speak—the pack will treat me like I am empty air anyway. Instead, I amuse myself by studying the flames of the fire.

There's a noticeable silence as I take my seat. Sue, seated back with the elders, is the one to answer. "He went with Jacob to go get Bella, Paul," she says casually.

Figures.

"Why?" Paul snorts. "Can't they just leave her there? And if he's gonna drag her here, they could at least be on time."

Sue casts an annoyed look in Paul's direction. Billy is quick to start another conversation, forcing Sue to focus her attention on him and Harry. Jared is the one to answer this time, speaking across the fire as he strokes Kim's hair.

"Jacob's probably stalling. Probably scared he'll get attacked."

Laughter rises around the fire. I smirk myself at the indirect jibe. It's like a compliment, in my ears.

Embry shakes his head. "Or maybe he's spent so much time running double shift to watch her, he finally crashed."

"Dude, no," Quil grumbles. "That better not be what's taking so long. If it is, he'd better wake up quick. I'm hungry!"

Another round of laughter follows Quil's comment. The tension is melting as everyone realizes I'm not here to tear out their throats. Brady and Collin are even grinning, talking quietly between themselves, and chuckling.

Nicole is the only one who doesn't seem to be relaxing. Her expression is a sneer, as if she can't believe I'm here. She probably has been expecting me to not show up at all. Although Nicole appears oblivious to my gaze, it's clear she can feel it. She starts to speak, but the words aren't heard.

As if on queue, Sam and Emily appear at the end of the trail, making their way across the bumpy ground toward the fire.

"Who's hungry?" Emily calls out, her light voice ringing out over the cliff.

Various hoots and hollers rise up from the circle. Everyone is on their feet at once, and Emily hands each reaching hand a wire hanger. She smiles apologetically as she hands one to me, pausing for a moment before handing one to Paul. Sam comes up from behind her, his arms overloaded with a mountain of food. He manages to catch my eye from behind a bag of hot dog buns and nod his head in approval before he crouches down to sort out the food.

"How does this even work?" Kim whispers to Jared. She turns the wire hanger in her hands, her brow creased.

Jared doesn't answer. He has already flattened his wire hanger out and is lunging for the first hot dog. Kim giggles shyly, glancing around as if she's embarrassed before she follows his lead.

Soon, the whole pack swarms around the food, snatching whatever they can get their hands on. Hot dogs, pop, and super-sized bags of chips are tossed from one hand to the next. As the pack departs to move back into their spaces around the fire, there isn't a single scrap left on the ground.

Chatter starts soon after the food is passed around. Billy, Sue, and Old Quil, seated in the only chairs at the meeting, have their heads together, discussing something quietly among themselves. Sam and Emily cuddle up together, sharing a few hot dogs, while Jared and Kim laugh and shove food at each other's faces. The newer wolves, Collin and Brady, don't even have time to talk as they each snatch up a two-liter of Pepsi and proceed to chug it down as fast as they can. Quil and Embry follow after them, their light-hearted conversation trailing off as they cram a countless amount of hot dogs in their mouths.

The warmth in the atmosphere is comforting, like a family huddled around a fireplace on a cold winter night. Despite the easy-going feeling in the air, Leah remains cold, not thawing out the slightest bit. Sitting Indian style on the ground across from Sam and Emily, she holds out an empty wire-hanger in front of her and says nothing, her dark stare locked on the fire. Nobody has even bothered to sit next to her, seeming to want to give her space. I study her for a moment, starting to say something, but Paul nudges my side before I get the chance.

"She's just a little pissy. Don't mind it," Paul says around a large mouthful of potato chips.

I raise an eyebrow, popping a handful of chips into my mouth. "Ignoring her isn't what will fix things."

"Maybe not." Paul shrugs his broad shoulders, shoveling the rest of the chips into his mouth before washing them down with a large swig of Root Beer. "But it will keep anybody here from getting bitched at."

My hands put a hot dog and bun together as Paul speaks. "Lately, it hasn't been Leah who's been doing the bitching."

Paul studies my expression for a moment, clueless. "Leah? Not bitching and nagging?" He snorts. "I'll be aging again before that happens."

I shake my head, chewing through my hot dog before I answer. "Jacob's been the real pissy one lately. That's probably what happens when he wastes his time playing around with the leech toy."

Paul chortles at my comment, his expression relaxing with realization. He opens his mouth to speak but is cut off. Nicole, who has been picking at a chip beside Sam and Emily, suddenly has an interest in our conversation as Jacob's name comes up. Her icy eyes narrow.

"Shut up, Jordan," she spits.

Sam and Emily both turn their heads, their own conversation trailing off as Nicole speaks. I stare evenly at Nicole, holding her stare. Her shoulders tense.

"If you wanna be Jacob's piss on, feel free to get outta here and run after him like a whimpering fool. He's not worth it."

Nicole's eyes flash. She stares, her hands trembling. For a moment, it looks like she's about to phase, but Emily reaches out and touches her shoulder. Nicole's gaze rests on Sam and Emily, pausing, before she relaxes and turns toward the fire, fuming in silence.

Paul clears his throat beside me. I look over at him, catching the clear amusement in his expression. He winks at me before waving a hand over at Collin and Brady.

"Toss one over here, will ya?"

"No prob," Brady answers. He picks up a nearly burnt hot dog from his half-empty plate and flings it over the fire in Paul's direction.

The hot dog whistles through the air, turning over and over as it flies toward Paul. My eyes zero in on it, watching as it comes closer. I grab my crushed wire hanger and stab it through the air. The point of the wire hanger slides neatly through the middle of the hot dog, stopping it right in front of Paul's face. I smirk to myself.

Paul's dark eyes narrow. His eyes focus on the hot dog as he speaks. "Haven't you had enough?!"

I laugh at his expression, raising the blistered skin of the hot dog to my lips. "And you haven't?"

There isn't an answer. Instead, Paul glares, his eyes burning with fury. I rest my gaze on his, tilting my head slightly as I close my front teeth over the tip. Paul's hands ball into fists.

"Sheesh, calm down, Paul," Jared mutters from across the fire. He reaches around Kim and snags an untouched hot dog from his plate, throwing it straight at Paul.

Paul grabs the hot dog in mid-air, grinning as he slaps a bun around it. "Thanks, man."

Out of nowhere, my sensitive hearing picks up on a sound in the forest. It's more than just the scurry of rodents, or the howl of wind. The brush rustles, twigs snapping beneath feet. My eyes lock on the mouth of the trail expectantly.

Many members of the pack turn their heads as the sounds grow louder, coming closer. I pay no mind to the other wolves as I watch and wait. The unmistakable scent of vampire mixed with a strong tang of shampoo brushes my nostrils. He's coming, and he's bringing her along.

Seconds later, Jacob and Miss Precious herself arrive at the end of the trail. They're walking together, their sides brushing as they go. Jacob is going on about some sort of pizza incident, and Bella is smiling as if it's the funniest thing in the world; as if Jacob is her world. It's all a lie, a show she's putting on. Jacob is her puppet, tied to strings that are in her control. Strings that she uses to fling Jacob around like a rag doll.

What Jacob doesn't seem to realize is the second Bella's bloodsucker sticks his fangs into her throat, the strings she has tied onto Jacob will constrict him. He will be affected, just as many others will, all who have been blind by the selfish desires of the little bitch.

It's even worse that little Seth Clearwater tags along behind the two of them, grinning as he follows Jacob, so intent on looking up to a man who is making all the wrong choices.

Paul senses my stare. He leans closer to me, his lips barely moving as he speaks. "You'd think Seth was in love with him," he mumbles under his breath, nodding at our approaching pack mates.

Jared smirks from across the fire. "You got that impression too? Must be the twinkle in his eyes."

"Hey now. Can it," Sam mutters sharply.

I don't respond. My stare is dark, probably the deepest blue they've ever been. As Jacob and Bella come near the fire, they look up, both of them smiling as they move forward to take their places at the gathering.

"Hey, vampire girl!" Quil hollers.

Nobody else says a thing.

Bella smiles, just a weak twist of her lips. She doesn't care about Quil. She's only here to play with Jacob. Embry has always been buddy-buddy with Jacob and Quil, following after them without much more than a shy word or two. He is the quiet shadow in their friendship, but even he doesn't seem to agree with Jacob bringing Bella along. Embry glances at Quil and shakes his head, turning his gaze away from Jacob and Bella as if he doesn't even want to see them there.

News of Bella's approaching transformation has leaked into the pack mind. I've seen it before, in the background of Jacob's thoughts as he snaps and snarls at me. They've heard my words and seen the proof. The pack doesn't need any other evidence. Soon, Bella Swan will be an enemy. Soon, if she is changed, she will die at the teeth and claws of one of us.

The nearly nonstop chatter has stopped. Even the elders have quieted, turning their attention on the group of us. The fire crackles, and in the far distance, waves whoosh over the beach. Everything else has hushed completely. Even Kim, human, half-clueless Kim, hides in Jared's chest. Emily shifts and forces a small smile, but she doesn't meet Bella's eyes.

Bella glances around the fire, her eyes watching as Seth plops down next to Leah and helps himself to a bag of Doritos. There's a sort of sympathetic look in her eyes; the kind of look at bluntly says 'sucks to be them.' I want to laugh, knowing that she thinks being a wolf really is a curse. The only bad thing there is in this life is living to protect the little ass-kiss.

I smirk slightly to myself, holding back my critical comments, although other words spill through my lips without warning. "Gonna stand there and gawk, or can we get started?"

The pair of innocent brown eyes settles on me. Her mouth pops open in surprise, as if she hasn't even realized that I am here. She makes a small noise of surprise, her eyes widening. I grow slightly smugger as Jacob circles his arm around her, shielding her with his body. His jaw tightens, his deep-set eyes probing mine. For a moment, the fire flickers in his dark gaze, but he lowers himself onto the ground with Bella tight to his side, not saying a word.

A mumble runs through the pack, a senseless jumble of words dropping from each mouth. The tension is thick as the once easy-going feeling in the air is weighed down by Bella's presence. Bella continues to stare fearfully in my direction as if she is paralyzed beneath my steady stare. She takes a few minutes before she's able to swallow, and then a few more before she looks up at Jacob, whispering to him as if the group of us is deaf.

"I don't think this is the best idea, Jake. I-It's getting late."

A grin spreads over Jacob's face. He's making a point to ignore me now as he chews on his own hot dog. "Don't worry, we're only here for the best part."

Bella frowns, her eyes giving away her growing fear. "The best part? Does that include getting yelled at by a pack of angry wolf-men?"

Jacob shakes his head, forcing down his hot dog in one big gulp. "Stories."

Bella's dark eyes blink in confusion. She is really putting on an innocent act, looking like a damn lamb being herded into the barn for slaughter. "Stories?"

"The stories that have always assumed to be legends. The legends of how our tribe came to be."

Jacob's words are an indirect introduction. Half of the pack suddenly has better posture. Jared nudges Kim, helping her to sit up with him. Emily pulls out a notebook, her pen already sprinting across the page, recording early notes. Brady, Collin, and Quil lean forward eagerly. Seth mimics the action, while Leah glances at her brother, shakes her head, and closes her eyes. I know I should be just as eager, as it's my first time hearing the legends after my two-year absence. But I can already predict what Billy has to say before words leave his mouth. The elders lean back into their chairs, while Billy claps his hands together and clears his throat.

"Our tribe has been small from the beginning," Billy begins without further introduction. "The Quileutes are still a small tribe, but we have never faded. This is because of the magic that runs in our veins, passed down from generation to generation. Before there was the magic of shape-shifting, our people were spirit warriors."

Every wolf around the fire stares intensely at Billy, completely focused. My senses sharpen, and then un-focus. The world around me starts to fade as Billy continues on in a majestic voice, the words flowing effortlessly from his mouth.

"The Quileute tribe settled in La Push and became efficient fishermen and shipbuilders. As time passed, other people coveted their land and moved against them for it. The tribe was small and could not defend themselves, so they took their ships and left the land. . ."

Far out at sea, the tribal people sense the threat. They stare out at the thrashing waves, knowing that their lands are still there, poisoned by their enemy. The elders call upon a group of men, all of whom are set and ready to fight. The men huddle down on the ships, leaving their bodies in the care of the women as their spirits fly out of their bodies. The group of them disappear over the sea, heading out to the camp of the enemy. They target the thick-furred dogs, tied up to sleds. The spirits are nothing more than empty air to the enemy, although the dogs raise their heads as a few sports approach. The spirits speak to the dogs, who listen closely with perked ears, their gazes steady, although there is no reflection in their pupils. As the group of spirits work with the dogs, other disperse to head up to the caverns, where they gather large groups of bats. The spirits join each other once more, combining their forces. They wait for the enemy to ease into their calm time of dinner before they attack.

For a moment, everything in still. Then, out of nowhere, fierce winds burst into the camp. Deafening is brought through the whistle of the winds. Packs of dogs snarl through gleaming teeth, turning on their masters and breaking free from their sleds, attacking without any thought. The enemy tribe erupts into a panic. Many cover their ears and cry out, scrambling toward the trees as they abandon everything they have to their name in a rash need to escape. Men grab their spears, only to be swallowed by a swarm of fluttering bats. Women grab their husbands and children, hurrying out of the village while screaming curses at the harbor.

It only takes minutes. All the while, the spirits hover over the enemy tribe. They watch with glee as the enemy disappears into the forest below their eyes. A few of them drift down to speak to the dogs, thanking them for their help, while the others head back to their ships, returning to their bodies as victorious men.

"Man, it'd be like walking on air," Brady whispers.

"Dude, they are made of air!" Collin whispers back to him.

Brady frowns for a moment. "Oh . . . made of air, just like your brain!"

"S'okay, I get it from you!"

They start to snicker, playfully slugging each other on the shoulders. As the noise rises, Sam shakes his head, shutting them up with one look. Billy ignores the interruption, speaking straight over it.

"Generations passed, and the last of the great Spirit Chiefs came to be. Taha Aki was a man of peace and was known for his wisdom. However, there was one man named Utlapa who believed that they should use their magic to expand their control over the Hohs and the Makahs, building an empire. . ."

The spirits leave their bodies, joining each other once more. Their minds connect instantly, and Taha Aki is instantly informed of Utlapa's plan. He bans him from the tribe, watching as Utlapa returns to his body and hides in the thick forests.

Taha Aki remains on guard, protecting his people even in the absence of a threat. As the sun rises, he would leave the village and visit his sacred place in the mountains. His body lay unattended as he searches the forests and mountains for any threats.

One day, the spirit of Taha Aki leaves his body, unaware that he is being followed. Utlapa remains hidden behind a slab of rock, his stone knife clenched in his head. He moves forward once he is sure Taha Aki is gone, raising the knife. But, as Utlapa goes to kill him, he is struck with another plan. Utlapa leaves his body, enters Taha Aki's, and then uses his knife to slit the throat of his own body. Taha Aki has already seen the plan the second Utlapa has entered the spirit world. But, as he races to his sacred place, all that is left there is the dead body of Utlapa.

Utlapa, wearing Taha Aki's skin, returns to the tribe. Taha Aki watches from the spirit world, unable to reach out to his people. He holds only despair as his people are blind to Utlapa's presence, believing that he is truly Taha Aki. Utlapa is quick to make an edit: no warrior may enter the spirit world. As the tribal people question the strange idea, Utlapa is quick to claim he has had a vision of danger. The tribal people have no choice but to obey.

As time passes, Utlapa takes liberties with the tribe that no one ever dreamed of. He takes a second and a third wife, even though Taha, Aki's wife, still lived. Eventually, Taha Aki grew sick of Utlapa's doings. He sought out a great wolf in the mountains, guiding it down to kill Utlapa and free his people. However, as the wolf attacks, he kills a young man instead of Utlapa. Taha Aki pulls the wolf away from the tribe and flees, feeling a great weight of despair on his bodiless spirit.

Taha Aki is doomed, forced to hover in agony over the line between life and death. He slowly floats through the forest, the great wolf padding along behind him. Taha Aki casts a jealous glance back at the animal. He watches it raise its head, studying the spirit of Taha Aki. Taha Aki shakes his head. At least the animal has a body to hold claim to in the world. Taha Aki's spirit freezes, suddenly struck with an idea. He moves closer through the trees, approaching the patient animal. He asks the wolf to share a body, forming the words slowly and carefully. The great wolf listens, and when Taha Aki is done speaking, bows his head.

It is that moment that has changed the tribe forever.

As a single being, the wolf and the man return to the village. The people spot the wolf instantly, recognizing it from its earlier attack. In fear, they call for the help of the warriors' to kill the wolf. The warriors come with spears in their hands, circling around the wolf. They start to close in, but stop in surprise as the wolf retreats. The wolf tosses his head, letting out sharp yelps that are in tune with the songs of the people. The warriors murmur among themselves, knowing what the wolf is doing can only be done if the animal is being influenced by a spirit. One by one, each spear lowers, and each warrior steps away.

An old warrior, Yut, knows that the wolf is trying to say something. Disobeying the command of the false chief, he leaves his body in the arms of his wife and enters the spirit world. Taha Aki joins Yut in the spirit world, and the two instantly share the truth. Yut welcomes the chief, rejoicing.

In the back of the crowd, Utlapa has been watching. He realizes what has happened, and he races toward Yut's abandoned body with his knife. The other warriors stare in confusion, not quite sure what to make of the strange actions of their chief. Yut is quick to return to his bodies, but his struggle is weakened with age, and he doesn't get the chance to warn the others before Utlapa slits his throat.

Taha Aki, still in the spirit wolf, sees Yut's spirit pass on through the world to the next life. Taha Aki joins the wolf in his body, feeling a deep, hot rage. The warriors watch as the wolf's body shudders and shifts into a man right before their eyes. The man stands slowly, meeting the eyes of his warriors. He doesn't look similar to the body of Taha Aki, but instead, resembles Taha Aki's spirit-self, which the warriors recognize immediately.

The man does not look like Taha Aki's body, but like his spirit self, which the warriors recognize instantly. The tribe turns on Utlapa as they realize what has happened. Although Utlapa does manage to outrun the warriors, Taha Aki has the strength of the wolf, and he is able to take Utlapa down in one blow. As Utlapa goes down, the tribe cheers, rejoicing the return of their true chief. The sounds ring out over the village before fading out.

Suddenly, the memories are replaced by the sound of Billy's voice.

"Upon realization of what had happened, everything returned to normal. The only change he kept in place was the forbidding of spirit travel. From then on, he was known as the Great Wolf or the Spirit Man. He led the tribe for many years because he did not age. He fathered many sons, who in time found that they, too, could turn into wolves on reaching manhood. However, they were all different because the wolf form reflected the spirit of the man. Some became warriors like Taha Aki and did not age, others did not like to transform and started to age."

Emily raises a hand suddenly, causing the words to stop. Her pen races across the page frantically for a few moments. She looks up, smiling apologetically. Kim gives her a thumbs up and she smiles, looking down at the notebook as Billy continues. I lean back, my eyes closing, letting the story continue as I wait for Billy's words to paint more pictures in my mind.

"After Taha Aki gave up his spirit self, trouble began in the North with the Makahs. Several young women had disappeared. Instantly, the neighboring tribe of wolves were to blame. However, all the wolves knew it better than to accuse one of their brethren because their minds were still connected with each other, and each thought from each wolf was innocent. Taha Aki did not want a war, unable to lead his people any longer. He gave his eldest son, Taha Wi, the responsibility of searching out the real culprit. Taha Wi led five wolves in search through mountains looking for evidence. The wolves found no body, but they did come across a strange, sweet scent. The trail led to a journey that took them so far from the tribe that Taha Wi sent his two younger brothers back to inform the chief. Taha Wi and the other two never returned.

"A year later, two Makah maidens were taken from their homes on the same night and the Makahs called upon the wolves. . ."

A pack of wolves trot out into the forest, their heads raised with determination. A moon rises, and a sun sets. Only one of the wolves returns.

He breaks through the forest early morning. The tribe instantly is alert, calling upon the chief. The wolf waits patiently for his father to approach him before he lowers his head. Pieces of a cold corpse tumble out of his mouth.

The chief is stunned. He orders his son to resume his human form once more. The wolf nods his head, lowering his body to the ground. His eyes fall shut, and moments later, the body of the wolf has disappeared, replaced by that of Yaha Uta.

Yaha Uta describes what he can, speaking in the native Quileute tongue. He describes the scent leading to an angelic man: beautiful, but impossibly strong. One of the wolves, a youngest brother, is too deep in his need to kill the man, and he dies at the mercy of the man's hands. Yaha Uta and his other brother are careful as they advance, but the creature has astonishing speed. He matches their movements and closes his hand around the back of the second wolf. Yaha Uta's wolf catches a glimpse of the creature's throat and doesn't hesitate. He tears away at the man with all he has, until all that is left is a pile of cold, rock-hard chunks.

The bodies of his brothers never rise. Yaha Uta is too late, and is forced to return home without them.

The tribe is quick to move onto the pieces of the creature's remains. As they watch, the chunks start to pull together, starting to reform on their own. The elders are quick to set fire to the pieces before they have a chance to attach completely. They spread the ashes far and wide, except a small bag which Taha Aki ties around his neck. In a meeting the following night, they share the story and name the creature the Cold One and the Blood Drinker.

For many moons, the tribe lives in quiet fear, shuffling through their village each day without much life. It's not long before they are faced with another sweet scent. Yaha Uta warns the chief, and the tribe stands awake throughout the night. In the morning, a creature with skin as white as snow appears at the entrance of the village.

In the eyes of the tribal people, she is the most beautiful creature they have ever seen. While many men and woman stare, in awe, one boy starts to back away, clamping a hand over his nose. He whispers to his mother about the smell, claiming that it burns in his nose. A nearby elder hears this and suddenly understands. He yells at the tribe to get away, throwing up his arms as he rushes forward, trying to clear them all away. The Cold Woman bares her teeth, and the elder is the first to die as a victim.

Many helpless peoplemen, women, and children—are killed in the Cold Woman's sudden fit of rage. Her crimson eyes flash as she screeches in hatred, destroying anything that gets in her way. Yaha Uta is the first to charge forward, twisting into his wolf form. He throws himself at the Cold Woman as she stalks toward a child, but the Cold Woman is faster. She turns just in time, dodging the attack. Without missing a beat, the Cold Woman grabs the wolf's throat and sinks her teeth deep in his neck. The wolf yowls, his eyes bulging. Moments later, his body falls slack, and the Cold Woman drops the wolf at her feet.

Taha Aki is the next to attack. Strengthened by anger, he leaves the side of his third wife, turning into an old grey wolf right before the eyes of the tribal people. He is careful to allow the Cold Woman to make the first move, and the fight begins. Right from the start, the wolf is thrown down with a mighty boom, and it is clear that this fight won't last much longer.

The third wife's expression is contorted, stricken with utter grief. Her eyes gleam with fresh tears as she watches her husband's wolf throw himself into combat with the creature. The third wife cries out, but the large wolf and the Cold Woman continue to fight. Cracks and yelps ring out, and it is clear that there is only minutes, or maybe seconds, before the wolf will go down. Desperate, the third wife tears a knife out of the hands of her frozen sons. She drops to her knees, sobbing. The third wife draws in one final breath before she drives the point of the knife deep into her chest over her heart.

Blood pools onto the dusty ground. The Cold Woman notices in an instant, her head snapping up as the scent reaches her nostrils. The Cold Woman's eyes darken with hunger, and she drops her hands. Before she even has a chance to move, the wolf sees his opportunity and strikes. He manages to wrestle her down, although his bones shake with weariness. The Cold Woman thrashes and shrieks, seeming to get the upper hand once more.

Behind the wolf and Cold Woman, the wolf's sons quake with tremors. They let out an agonized cry before they all but explode into two giant, sharp-toothed wolves. The Cold Woman's eyes widen in fear. She turns her head to search for an escape, but there is no way out. The wolf of Taha Aki sinks his teeth into the Cold Woman's throat. The two smaller wolves, still shaken with anger, close in and tear away at the Cold Woman until she is nothing but bits and pieces.

The two wolves slump away from the mangled remains. They pause at the edge of the trees, looking back over their shoulders. Taha Aki's wolf, drained and weak, falls down next to his wife's body. He rests is grizzled, grey muzzle on her chest, just over her heart.

His body falls still.

The words cut off again, ending the whirl of images. Billy takes a shaky breath, as if he is tiring out. Old Quil pats his back, encouraging him to finish the story. He grimaces.

Images scroll through my mind. First a baby held in Taha Aki's arms, then a boy, a mana spitting image of Taha Aki— and then finally an elder, his hair flecked with grey. The images disappear for a moment, but then return. This time, there is three, first a baby, then a boy, and a man. There is no elder. This time, the men all pause, standing firmly on the grounds of their ancestors. Dead, empty crimson eyes reflect in their gazes as they explode into large wolves, taking off into the forest.

The wolves snarl and spit, their hackles raised and their muscles tense. They push forward, racing on and on, until they are face to face with a group of what they call the Pale Face. The wolves bare their teeth. Three against fiveit's an uneven match.

However, these Pale Face don't want any harm. They watch the wolves with yellow eyes, crouched to defend themselves although they aren't making any advance. One steps forward, holding up his palms. His mouth moves, and although I can't make out the words, it's clear that the Pale Face is speaking to the wolves as if they are men.

The leaderEphraimlistens suspiciously. He hears that these Pale Face are different, and that they will not be of harm. The yellow eyes are proof enough, and the large russet wolf dips his head. It is final: the treaty is formed, stating that the wolves will not attack without these Pale Face causing harm. The wolves retreat slowly, watching. Each yellow stare remains unblinking, even as the world around the wolves closes off completely.

"Over the years, the coven left and returned to Forks, but they always remained true to their word and did not harm the tribe."

Releasing a large breath, Billy concludes his story. The timeless glint in his eyes disappears, and his forehead wrinkles with worry. "There is a threat out there now. All of us can feel it in our blood. We must be aware of our strengths and use the magic now to defend our tribe at all costs, just as our ancestors have." His gaze flickers in Bella's direction. "No matter what the consequence."

Emily's pen scribbles a few final thoughts before it slows. The pack lets out one large, synchronized breath, putting out the final flame of the fire. The light goes out, and it's all over.

"Wow," Seth whispers.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Jared murmurs. In the darkness, it's unclear if he's speaking to a drowsy Kim or the mystified newbies.

"Always is," Jacob answers. His form moves in the darkness, cradling a limp body in his arms. "Well, better get her home."

Paul and I exchange a suspicious glance. How much has Bella heard? What will she take away from this? As far as we all know, Bella will report this back to her leech the first chance she gets.

I'm on my feet instantly, standing before my groggy pack mates can even move. Some part of me wants to trail Jacob, following him back to the line. I need to make sure there's no threat from Bella's presence. We can't afford to have a disadvantage.

Sam's dark gaze settles on me, visible in the dull light of the embers. He stares at me for a long moment, as if silently saying that I might as well consider my plans spoiled.

"You need to go too, Jordan?" he asks.

Sam's tone is lighter now, the hard edge absent in his voice. He seems grateful that I've come, but his words ring with a sort of warning. I can feel all attention resting on me now, waiting for my decision as if it's a sentence.

For a moment, an image of Emmett's face flashes in my memory. I hear his voice in my ears; I feel a cool breath of his words in my ear. Tomorrow.

I feel undone under the pressure of each expectant stare. Instinct wants me to burst into wolf form, fighting the threat back. But I've let go of most of that after I've given my heart away. Instinct isn't as strong as the rope of desire that has been looped around my neck and tied to Emmett. If I stay away too long, that rope will suffocate me.

Dramatics aren't really my thing, and heading back tonight is certain to spark something. I shake my head, feeling the gazes fall away at my words. "No, Sam. I don't."

The pressure eases off. I glance across the dead fire, only to see empty air. Jacob is long gone by now, and so is Bella. There is no point in sticking around any longer.

Without another word, I head toward the trees. The gathering has already started to break up as the time of the hour finally gets to everyone. I leave the last few people behind me, heading into the forest. The second I step into the shadows, the volume of my thoughts rise, becoming impossible to ignore.

Emmett is out there, somewhere, without me. The distance is so evident now; I feel it in a prominent ache in my heart. Do I really need to go? He could be waiting for me, right now, standing patiently by the line. He could be expecting me. . .

No, no, no. Tomorrow. He'll be there tomorrow. I can wait. I will wait.

Deep in my own internal conflict, my ears detect the sound of footsteps echoing my own, although I don't acknowledge the follower until he makes contact.

A hand catches my arm. I whip back around, only to find myself face to face with a grinning Paul. His grin widens at my expression.

"Hey, wait up a sec. I need to show you something."