Chapter 19: Denali
"How are you on your feet?" asked the vampire woman. She was gold-eyed - one of the Denalis, then, not some random nomad. Her platinum blond hair was pulled back into a long ponytail.
"It's nice to meet you too. I'm Bella." I hadn't received any detailed descriptions of the Denali coven - I remembered that there were three original sisters, and a mated couple who'd joined them together, and that Laurent had wound up mated to a sister called Irina and then there was David, but I couldn't determine who of four possible women I was speaking to. I didn't remember receiving a rundown of any witchcraft that the coven possessed.
She reached out and poked me in the shoulder, gently; nothing happened. "You're something, Bella," she told me. "I thought it was just your brain that was all locked up safe."
"And who might I have the honor of being poked by?" I inquired testily.
"Oh, sorry. I'm Katrina, you can call me Kate. Is this your newborn?" she asked, peering at Mr. Clearwater, still curled up on the ground and staring at her.
"Yes - what did you do to him?"
"Zapped him. I was trying to get you too, to be honest. Edward said you were a special one, but he's your mate, he'd say you were special if you'd tried to pulverize his head. Couldn't be sure that you hadn't just got into a normal newbie scuffle with this fellow. What's wrong with him, anyway? He should be up by now. I can only down people for a second."
"I don't know. I can't even tell if it's normal newborn behavior. I'm the only one I've ever met, and Edward wasn't just being a doting husband when he told you about me."
"I've had to knock David around some, but he gets right up," said Kate.
I still didn't want to tell the Denalis about the werewolves, but I had plenty of credibility to claim complete ignorance. "I didn't bite him," I said. "He was beat up pretty bad. I spat some venom into a bottle and poured it into a wound. Would that do it?"
Kate hmmed and looked at Mr. Clearwater. "Not sure. Never tried it that way. But you weren't bitten either, right?" I nodded. "Maybe he's got some witchy sense you're blocking and he's scared of you in particular?" she suggested. "He calmed down when I showed up."
I backed away, to no discernible reaction from Mr. Clearwater - but then he'd already quit fleeing at Kate's arrival. "What's his name?" she asked me, tipping her head to look at the crouching vampire from a different angle.
"Mr. Clearwater," I said. "He's a friend of my father's - I probably knew his first name at one point but I can't call it to mind now. I ran into him in Seattle when he was there to take his son to the Space Needle, and then he got hit by a car and I turned him - I didn't think he'd make it to a hospital."
"Mr. Clearwater," said Kate in a soothing voice, "can you tell me your full name?"
"...I'm... Harry," he said, flicking his eyes between me and Kate warily. "Harry Clearwater."
"Can you tell me why you ran from Bella, Harry?" asked Kate.
"She's..." He plainly didn't have words to express whatever concept he was using. He settled for, "She's wrong." I didn't protest; Kate was having much more success getting clear sentences out of him than I had.
"Am I wrong?" asked Kate. Harry shook his head, although he didn't look satisfied with the answer. "What's wrong with Bella?"
"There's nothing there," said Harry. "She's not - a person."
Kate furrowed her brow. "This sounds like something witchlike to me. We should take him to the house, and see what Eleazar makes of him."
"Fine by me," I said. "What does Eleazar do?"
"He's got a meta-power, like yours. He can tell what somebody does without having to ask them or watch them do it," explained Kate. "Maybe he can tell us why Harry here thinks you're "wrong"." She offered Harry her hand, and he took it and got to his feet - not that it was necessary, assuming he was physically normal, but it was a gesture indicating that his panic was just about me and not something fundamentally broken about how he'd turned.
Kate led me and Harry through the woods. We didn't run, just strolled. "So why'd you start yelling about a bear?" Kate asked me over her shoulder.
"I heard you and thought at first that you were a human - I didn't want Harry to run into you and eat you."
"Considerate of you." She led us to a cluster of three houses, all made of stone but otherwise different: one huge, obviously ancient home of grey rock, one somewhat newer one in a beige color, and one that could have been finished the previous week in white. She directed us to the second house; my guess was that the original coven built the grey structure, added a new house for Eleazar and his mate when they'd arrived, and only a short time ago put up the white manor for Irina and Laurent.
An olive-tinted, dark-haired vampire was sitting in the front room of the beige house, reading a book. For a moment I wondered if he was Laurent with a haircut, but Kate greeted him: "Eleazar," she said. "Bella and this newborn, Harry Clearwater, are here. He seems to sense something strange about Bella, and I thought you might inspect him and see what that could be."
Eleazar set down his book and looked at Harry, frowning with concentration. Harry fidgeted uncomfortably, and kept looking at me, still unnerved, but apparently Eleazar didn't share my disconcerting characteristic. "Interesting," said Eleazar after several seconds. "It doesn't surprise me that a shield like Bella would block him. His power isn't unlike Edward's in scope; he senses people. If I were him I would be quite alarmed to see a face with no detectable presence behind it. It reminds me of what Carlisle has said about his acquaintance Alistair, although I haven't inspected him."
"Edward didn't freak out and bolt when he realized I was inaudible," I said.
"Yes, well, Edward's power works via the sense of hearing - he doesn't use his ears, but he does experience the thoughts he picks up as though they were sound." This I'd known - Edward had told me that Carlisle had noticed his mindreading before Edward had, because Edward kept replying to thoughts as though they'd been spoken. "Harry gets his information on another level - it's about recognition, not sensation. Like seeing someone familiar and identifying them." Harry nodded emphatically, apparently finding Eleazar's explanation satisfactory.
"At range?" I asked, and Eleazar nodded, still looking steadily at Harry - I guessed that concentration was required for his power to operate.
"Maybe a better range than Edward's. It may differ for vampires and humans, though," allowed Eleazar. "A number of powers do."
"Okay. So, Harry, we know why I don't seem like a person to you, but that's just because I involuntarily block stuff like that," I said placatingly. "Please don't be scared of me. I'm totally a person." Harry looked at me uneasily, but nodded. I turned to Eleazar. "You called me a "shield" - does that have some special technical meaning? What are you getting from me?"
"Nothing, now," said Eleazar. "As soon as I said it you started blocking me, too."
"I didn't do it on purpose," I said. "I have no control at all - and this is the first I've heard of it ever lapsing. Edward doesn't hear stray thoughts on alternate Tuesdays or anything."
"My power requires concentration to work at full strength, and I was focusing on Harry, not you," said Eleazar, as Kate led Harry away on a tour of the house. "It's possible that I got through your shield only with my sense's indirect form, or only because I was thinking about how Harry's power relates to yours. I might get more information the next time I'm not paying attention to you or the next time I watch you shielding against someone I can examine normally. I'll let you know if it happens. At any rate, "shield" is a classification the Volturi use to describe defensive powers."
I sat on a chair opposite Eleazar and leaned my elbows on my knees. "I'm immune to Kate," I said, "and Edward, Aro, Jane, Alec, and apparently you and Harry. But not Jasper or Alice. I thought I had the pattern of it until Kate couldn't knock me over. I could see the current she was generating when she zapped Harry. That's not a mental thing. And Jasper's ability to work on me confuses me too."
"No two powers are the same," said Eleazar, "because no two witches think the same way."
I blinked. "Are you saying that I think of Kate's Taser like a mental phenomenon and not Jasper's empathy?"
"Not necessarily - it doesn't sound like you do, at any rate," he replied. "But I think Kate thinks of her power as operating on the nervous system in particular, which is electrical; and Jasper has always described his ability as relating to things like pulse and muscle tension and hormone levels."
"So you're saying Jasper works on me because I don't think of his power as mental more than he thinks of it as physical, and vice versa with Kate?"
"Something like that," Eleazar agreed.
Possibilities were bubbling up in my mind. "If I manage to teach myself to think of Jasper as operating on a mental level, could I add an immunity to him?" I didn't mention the analogous Kate possibility; even if my resistance to her shocks made no sense, I had no interest in shedding layers of shielding, even against an ally. I would just have to avoid thinking too hard about how absurd it was to consider electrical shocks a mental power.
"I would imagine you could, although I'm at something of a disadvantage trying to guess how you might develop," he told me wryly.
"Can you give me any tips - general ones - on how witches can improve over time?" I asked eagerly. I did like my power - it was essential to some of what I was doing - but I had been disappointed that I hadn't turned into a vampire and discovered that I could also become invisible or something similarly spectacular. I hadn't woken up better.
"Kate used to be limited in where she could project her current. She could only radiate it from the palms of her hands. She expanded it with practice - sheer use of the power. She got into the habit of keeping it active all the time."
"Mine is already active all the time," I grumbled.
"I refined my detection very slowly - not through continuous exercise, but by learning how to concentrate on it. It was most difficult while I was a new vampire," Eleazar went on, "and was more distractable. I've been able to cut down on the time it takes me to inspect someone."
That was more promising - if my power was controllable by a mental state which I just happened to be in all the time, learning to intensify or manipulate that state could let me gain control over fine detail. "Anything else?" I asked.
Eleazar pursed his lips. "Most people don't trouble to develop their powers, or if they try, they fail. I suppose Chelsea improved over time... but that was likely another case of mere practice. She is very busy."
"The Volturi guard member who breaks and bolsters relationships?" I asked, recalling Gianna's mention of her. Eleazar nodded. "I don't know if I'm immune to her or not."
"I would be very surprised if you were not; Chelsea thinks of her power as operating on a similar wavelength as Harry's, the instinctual realization of another person as friend or foe... Do you know if Marcus can see relationships you are involved in?" Eleazar asked.
"I don't, but Edward might have seen. I think Marcus was in the room when he and Carlisle and Esme picked me up from Italy, although I don't remember for sure, and as far as I know I didn't gain any new shielding when I turned. What would you make of that, either way?"
"I'd conclude more about Marcus than about you from that information. My prediction, though, is that he'd be able to manage it - I believe his understanding of relationships is derived from a human talent at reading body language, rather than from anything more abstract. If he can't see your connections, then I've misunderstood the basis for his power." I nodded. Eleazar named more members of the guard, who I hadn't met: "Afton? Corin? Demetri? Heidi? Renata? I suppose if you're alive you didn't test Renata..."
"What do they do?" I asked, after having shaken my head at each name.
"Renata is Aro's personal bodyguard. She's a shield, somewhat like you," he said. "Anyone trying to attack either her, or anyone within a few meters who she chooses to defend, will be diverted. She stays quite near Aro nearly always, and will protect Caius and Marcus as well if there is a need. They find themselves going in another direction without realizing it, not remembering what it was they wanted to do - it's a very disorienting sensation for a vampire, to lack a clear recollection."
I could imagine. "Well, I didn't try to attack anyone in the compound, so I don't know about Renata. What about the rest from your list?"
Heidi, Eleazar said, mesmerized - she was as beautiful as Rosalie, but could turn her allure to hypnotic effect. Eleazar noted when I asked that it wasn't a sexual attraction that she projected. Otherwise, he speculated, it would be overridden by mate bonds (which were also impermeable to Chelsea) and wouldn't function on paired vampires. It was just aesthetic intrigue, leading those she targeted to follow where she led so they could continue to look at her. The Volturi used her as a hunter: she brought them takeout, so to speak. "Hunting is illegal within Volterra itself, except when Heidi brings in humans to the Volturi's own compound," he explained.
Demetri was the tracker whose skill had rendered James unnecessary to the guard. But Eleazar thought that where James's scent-oriented power had served well in finding me, Demetri - otherwise infinitely James's superior - might be baffled. He followed thoughts, some unique quirk of the mind that he could trace wherever it went - and I might well be invisible to him.
Afton was Chelsea's mate, but his power was unrelated to hers. He could manipulate the inertia of his own body, as Eleazar described it: unless his opponent had an extra advantage that gave a boost in a physical fight, like Alice or Renata, he was nigh-unbeatable. He could add force to his blows, and check misplaced momentum, with better finesse than even the best-trained normal vampire. Eleazar thought that Afton might win in a sufficiently lengthy footrace with Edward, who was the fastest vampire of whom he was aware. I had no reason to expect to fare well against this power.
Corin was the person that the "shield" category was named after. His power wasn't so comprehensive as Renata's, and worked on a different level. He could throw up invisible barriers near his person that would repel any physical assault, but these barriers had limited area, took focus to create, and didn't move once he called them up except when purposefully dismissed or simply abandoned by Corin moving too far away. He could also only make one at a time. In practice, Eleazar summarized, this was like having an actual object shielding him, albeit an invisible one that could vary in precise shape, phase into and out of existence, and teleport. I didn't expect my own shield to be able to do anything about Corin either. I speculated that Edward could beat Corin up, on the grounds that Edward would know where the shield was by reading Corin's mind and would be fast enough to get around it before it could be moved; Eleazar agreed.
I asked Eleazar to tell me more about the categories. "They're haphazard groupings," he cautioned. "Thinking too much in terms of them isn't the best way to make predictions about what a given witch will be able to do. That said, the Volturi classify powers as one of six types: shields, weapons, illusionists, sensors, trackers, and pullers, to use the English terms. There's some overlap between categories, to the point that the only reason trackers have their own is that there are tactical differences in their powers' use. For example, Jasper's power has a sensory component, and if all he could do were detect others' moods, he'd be a sensor - but because he can adjust emotions as well, he'd be classified as a puller. So called because they "pull" the world around them in ways that suit them."
"So I'm a shield, Jasper's a puller, I'm going to guess you and Edward are sensors?"
"Yes, and Alice too - although I've never seen anyone else at all like her, whereas many other powers have similar counterparts in several witches, like Edward and Aro or Harry and Alistair. Kate is a weapon. You might think Jane would be too, but she's categorized as an illusionist, as is her twin. James and Demetri are trackers, obviously - I'd class Harry as one as well."
I nodded. "So if I've got the hang of this, I'm immune to all illusionists as far as we know, but it's a mixed bag for every other group, if your guesses about the guard are right."
"Yes, that's what it looks like. I wouldn't expect any power to line up evenly with those divisions, though, Bella. They're convenient inventions, not natural categories. You might meet an illusionist who can get through your barriers."
Kate re-entered the front room, having finished showing Harry around. "I hope you don't mind, Eleazar," she said, "but I offered Harry the green room. I don't want two newborns in the main house, and I doubt Irina and Laurent would appreciate sharing their living space so early on. Harry seems less wild than David, anyway, and you shouldn't need me around to knock him down on a daily basis."
"David's that hard to handle?" I asked.
"He's a newborn," said Kate, shrugging, and then she glanced at my eyes. "A regular one, I mean. Do you want to meet him?"
"Yes, please," I said. "I want to meet everyone before I go."
"Come on, then, we'll let Eleazar get back to his reading," said Kate with a smile, and she waved me along to follow her out the door.
We went to the main house, and Kate showed me in. Two women, one as pale as me with strawberry blonde curls and one olive-tinged with black hair, were playing chess on a checkerboard-patterned table. A man who I presumed was David was pacing before a picture window. When I walked in, he spun around and dropped into a crouch, snarling at me.
I looked at him, nonplussed; I could detect the little instinct jumping up and down in the back of my mind saying unfamiliar vampire! likely threat!, but it didn't seem important. I'd known he would be there, and Kate and the other two were present and known to be friendly.
David seemed totally owned by his instinct, though, and none of the other women were surprised by his reaction. Kate motioned for me to stay put and approached him slowly. "David," she said softly, "this is Bella. Remember that we told you Bella was coming? You've met Edward. She's his mate."
David looked like he was fighting with himself, like he wanted to run from me or bite my head off. But eventually he straightened up and, with only a slight grimace, said "Hello, Bella."
"Hi, David," I said. "It's nice to meet you."
This bland introduction out of the way, and David apparently unlikely to attack me, Kate turned to her sisters. "This is Carmen, Eleazar's mate, and this is Tanya," she told me, identifying first the dark chessplayer and then her fairer counterpart. It looked like Carmen was winning, but I hadn't thought about chess since turning and wasn't confident I remembered the rules. She did have more pieces on the board, though.
"It's good to finally have a chance to get to know you," said Carmen, looking away from the game. "We've heard some of your story, but we aren't in very regular contact with your family; we only know the basics. It's such a pity that it wasn't possible for us to come to your wedding. So tell me - how did it happen that you brought a newborn?"
"We're going to be Newborn Central at this rate," commented Tanya playfully. David started pacing again, like a cat plotting revenge on some innocent woodland creature. "I hope the one you brought is less of a handful."
"He seems to be. He doesn't like Bella much, though," joked Kate. She summarized what Eleazar had said about Harry's power, and repeated the fake story of how I'd come to turn him.
I watched Carmen and Tanya play chess, and answered questions about myself, picking up the corresponding information from them. The three original sisters, Tanya, Irina, and Kate, were all about a thousand years old - calendars had been iffy at the time of their origins, and they hadn't bothered to individually tot up every hour they remembered experiencing and figure it out that way. They'd been turned by a woman named Sasha, the mother of the coven in the same way that Carlisle fathered the Cullens.
"Oh, where is she?" I asked, and immediately regretted it - the wince on Tanya's face and Kate's hiss told me that this was not a pleasant story. When Kate made that noise it spooked David and he yowled, backing into a corner and cowering - evidently he was a little afraid of her, which only made sense, if she was in charge of keeping him contained and had to resort to her weaponry often.
"David," sighed Kate, "it's nothing to do with you..."
While she soothed him, Tanya began to tell me the story, in clipped tones. "The Volturi executed her and our brother, Vasilii. Her for turning him, and him simply for being what he was."
"What he was...?" I asked.
"An immortal child," murmured Carmen, and Tanya looked away, letting the less emotionally involved person take over. "There were many of them, at one time. Vampires would turn children barely more than infants. And of course they could not grow, could never mature or learn to control themselves. They could destroy towns with temper tantrums, they were impossible to keep from human notice, and secrecy was no less important then. The Volturi exterminated them. But it wasn't a simple matter, because they were so beloved - you've seen, of course, how the transformation affects adults, how things intensify, but can you imagine the protective instinct generated by a cute two-year-old who's been changed in that way? Entire covens would die to protect their immortal children, the vampire population was diminished immensely in the course of the destruction."
"Why did Sasha turn Vasilii?" I asked, puzzled. "And how did the coven survive when the Volturi came for her?"
"We don't know why she did it," Carmen said. "She kept him a complete secret - to the point that the sisters were held ignorant and therefore blameless, and spared punishment."
"Wait, what? She managed to keep an immortal child secret from her own coven? I thought they were uncontrollable," I said. "It's not as though he'd sleep sometimes and she could put in appearances that way - how could she supervise him without being conspicuous about it?"
Tanya hissed at that, which interrupted Kate's attempts to calm David; Kate muttered something about wishing Jasper could have taken charge of him and hauled the newborn out of the house altogether. "We don't know," Carmen said. "We have no idea where Vasilii came from, or why Sasha turned him, or how old he was when they were found, or how he was kept a secret."
"And nobody noticed that she was gone a lot or - I'm sorry," I said to Tanya, who swiveled her head around just enough that she'd be able to see me out of her peripheral vision. "I've been rude - I have this flippant streak, it's not that I don't feel for your loss. I'm so sorry."
Tanya pursed her lips. "We weren't as tightly knit a coven then," she allowed. "It was before we became vegetarians... living on animals seems to improve the ability to form close bonds. We traveled together in the sense that we would usually be within a few miles of each other at any given time, and touched base occasionally. We didn't live in houses like this where we could see one another out the windows."
I nodded. Then, wishing to get away from the hurtful topic, I said, "So what about you and Eleazar, Carmen?"
"We joined the coven after the sisters adopted vegetarianism," Carmen said. "He was a member of the Volturi guard -"
"What?" There had been clues - he'd kept referring to the Volturi witchcraft classification system, but for all I knew that was a standard thing, it didn't necessarily mean that he'd worked for them any more than all librarians were personally students of Dewey. He could have just visited them to learn all about their powers - Carlisle had visited, but not actually joined the guard. My mental image of Carlisle's time in Volterra had me thinking of him as something like a war correspondent, not an enlisted supporter for the bad guys. I'd simply lumped Eleazar into the same bag. Now I was picturing that gentle, patient person in one of those cowls, drifting across a floor to touch Aro's hand...
"He was a member of the Volturi guard," repeated Carmen slowly, puzzled. "They found it useful that he could identify witches and potential witches with less guesswork. He wasn't one of their warriors, if that's what you mean..."
"Oh! Oh, I see," I said, letting my eyes fly open. I pretended that this was all that had bothered me about the notion. Carmen was definitely not the place to seek ill judgment of Eleazar. "It was just... I was surprised that a former guardmember would join a coven with the history you just told me about as concerns the Volturi."
"We developed a very healthy respect for the law," muttered Tanya.
"Anyway," said Carmen, looking at me a little strangely, "he wasn't entirely happy with them. He understood the importance of having and enforcing rules, and felt he was working towards the greater good. But he wanted to leave with me, when we met, and he did. Eventually we met Tanya and her sisters." Carmen gestured at the blonde, who'd relaxed somewhat once we were off the topic of her mother and secret brother. "And never looked back. We like living this way; it suits us."
I nodded slowly. I wondered just how hard it would be to get the Denalis' support in my project of deposing the serial killers. Maybe Edward would have insights, but I would need to wait until the last possible moment to ask - although perhaps I was being paranoid, perhaps the Volturi missed momentous events going on all over the world all the time. Perhaps Aro was nearly as dotty as he often seemed, perhaps he only gave crown jewels to people he didn't suspect of crimes, perhaps he'd never read Edward again. Perhaps he had the least hazardous possible form of mindreading, and couldn't learn anything he didn't already suspect.
And perhaps caution still made sense, no matter how much I wanted to run to Edward and tell him everything as fast as my lips could buzz and beg for help.
Fleetingly, I missed Rachel, who could know everything because if she were ever found, an unsalvageable part of the jig would already be up... but it wasn't really Rachel I wanted. She was a friend, maybe over time she'd be a great friend. But she wasn't mine the way Edward was.
I would finish meeting the Denalis, and then I would fly to Québec, because Harry had busted a door and bled on the interior of my car and even if he hadn't flying was faster and I wanted my Edward.
Note to self: It is not fun to be away from Edward. It is not good for your psychological health to be away from Edward. Do less of that.
There had been a silence of a full second, long enough to be awkward for rapid vampires. "Do you want to meet Irina?" Tanya asked.
"Yes," I said at once, "please. Her and Laurent - I've technically met him, but I remember so little about it..."
"Oh," Tanya said, getting up, "Laurent's not here right now. He's used to being a nomad; he's in and out a lot. Irina's gotten settled over time and usually doesn't go."
In light of the note I'd just made to myself, this was... odd.
"They're... Edward told me that they're mates, not just..." I didn't know how to bring up the "succubus" thing gracefully. But I had definitely been given the impression that it wasn't just a case of Irina trying out a not-so-warm-and-soft boy toy for a novel diversion.
"Oh, they are," Tanya assured me hurriedly as she led me out of the main house. "It's obvious, the way Irina reacted - I don't know Laurent as well, obviously, but these things always match up from what I've heard. But he's... I'm not sure, actually. Some kind of introvert maybe, although he'd been with a coven... Anyway, he isn't here, but Irina is, and I'm sure she'll be glad to meet you."
I nodded slowly. "When is he expected back?"
"Any day now." His departures were measured in days? It wasn't a matter of popping into the Yukon for an afternoon occasionally? It didn't surprise me that he could. I didn't understand why he would. Was he activating a tribe of Inuits who turned into giant owls, supposing it was safer if his mate didn't know?
We reached the newest house. Irina was in it, draped over an armchair listlessly. Her hair was blonde like her sisters', silverier than Kate's straw-pale and more desaturated than Tanya's strawberry, and shorter than either - it hung just to her chin. There was an actual turntable record player on an end table, which had a record spinning in it - nothing I recognized, just something gently instrumental. "Hi," said Irina, twisting her posture so she wasn't looking at us upside-down. "You must be Bella."
"That's me," I acknowledged. "It's nice to meet you, Irina."
And then, really, there was nothing to say, because Irina had no metapowers to give her useful information, and I'd already poked at the family's old abcess enough, and there was no newborn convenient to punctuate our interaction at irregular intervals.
I sat down, even though this was pointless, even though my feet would never hurt and my knees would never creak and my legs would never sway if I wanted to stand still for a month. Tanya stayed put, but helpfully said, "The newborn that Bella brought us is called Harry," and then the sisters had a trivial question-and-answer session about the new member of the family. I ducked in now and then to fill in details that Kate hadn't repeated in Tanya's presence, but couldn't keep my attention on the conversation. Three or four times a second I would remember that Edward existed, and while this was true and important and good, it was hard to think around.
What was wrong with Laurent? I'd been away from my mate saving lives and I'd had to do it alone because I had a power that Laurent did not have which meant I could keep secrets at a level inaccessible to others. Also, Edward existed. What was wrong with Irina? Why wouldn't she insist on coming along on these trips of his? And Edward existed.
The door opened, and Laurent came in.
The first thing I noticed about Laurent was that he looked just like my (feeble, human) memory of him said he should look.
The second thing I noticed about Laurent was that he looked exactly like my (powerful, vampire) information said he had looked.
As he crossed the room, eagerly, with just enough restraint to leave the furniture intact, and embraced a joyful Irina, I processed this information.
His eyes were still entirely red.
He'd come to Denali months previously. I'd been a vampire for several weeks. And my eyes had a thin ring of orange around the edges already.
It was not, quite, damning evidence. For all I knew, a long-term human diet took longer (much, much longer) to be diluted than the mere starting supply of blood coloring a newborn's eyes. I could easily learn this information from Edward, who probably had occasionally consulted mirrors after swearing off the murder of murderers and would be able to tell me how long it had taken him to get his gold. In case I was wrong, I didn't even need to pose a question that made me sound unduly suspicious; I could be all proud of my orange, start a general conversation about vampire eyes. I had the wherewithal to check.
In the meantime, it was rather extremely dodgy.
To be fair, no one had as good as told me that Laurent had changed his dietary habits. I'd assumed it would be a prerequisite for joining the coven, that he'd do it for Irina. But Irina wasn't likely to be any less influenced by him than he was by her, and the taste of human blood was supposedly an overwhelmingly powerful sensation. It wouldn't have astounded me if he'd slipped once, twice, more, if his new family had forgiven that - but if he was gallivanting off on long trips without his vegetarian mate, for days at a time, that screamed calculation...
But I said nothing, I pasted a smile on my face and waited for Laurent and Irina to finish their hug that could probably have crushed coal into diamonds, I politely reintroduced myself when he'd set her back down on the ground and turned his attention to me.
Laurent, too, received the mostly-fake story of Harry; he too expressed his enjoyment in meeting me; and once, I saw Tanya flick her gaze to his eyes, frown infinitesmally for a sliver of a moment, and abruptly bring up an obviously recurring tease about Irina's choice of music playing equipment.
Also, my brain reminded me helpfully, Edward existed.
I had met all the Denalis, there were no further mysteries or werewolves that I needed to poke at or activate in this time zone, and I wanted to go.
I made my excuses. I ducked into Carmen and Eleazar's house to (carefully, avoiding anything that might cause alarm) bid Harry goodbye and make sure he had all the contact information he might need. I ran out into the wilderness, called around to a few airlines, and bought a flight to Montréal that I could just barely make.
I forced the busted door of my car onto its hinges, clamping metal onto more protesting metal until I thought it would stay put during the drive to the airport. I folded down the ragged edges of the hole as best I could. The window was a loss, but having a rear window missing wouldn't get me pulled over. I inspected my handiwork, decided it would have to do for the upcoming drive, and started out.
I sped. Near the airport, I waited for a moment when the highway was deserted before steering off the road; the car rolled over several times, acquiring enough damage to cover the strange hole and finger-shaped crush marks in the door. I kicked it a few more times for good measure after worming my way out, then ripped off the license plates and other identifying tags, which I buried under a small tree that I picked up and replanted.
I did feel slightly odd about deliberately destroying a functional car that could have just been cleaned and had the one door replaced and then been fine. Overriding this uneasiness was the fact that I felt very strongly that I needed to be in Québec sooner rather than later. I couldn't think of a nice way to give the Denalis such a damaged object as a gift - "Here, take the car that the newborn I just saddled you with took a chunk out of because I don't want to drive it home". Rosalie was not on the correct continent to fix the car, and auto body repair wasn't a skill I had. I had no realistic intention to pick the thing up from any shops I could leave it at in Alaska. And if I just abandoned it at a junkyard or somewhere else, however anonymous I rendered it first, the nature of the damage as it had been would be transparently unusual to anyone getting a decent look.
My clothes were something of a mess at this point. I didn't exactly look bloodstained and like I'd just suffered a car crash - but I did look like I'd gone a bit too long without a change of clothes and possibly like I'd obtained my current set by stealing them from their previous hobo owner. I found a dismal little store, bought a new outfit (clothing retailers were going to learn to recognize my credit card number on sight), put in new contact lenses, and proceeded on foot to the airport.
Once in the building, I promptly wished that I'd hunted more recently, but I didn't need to breathe much after checking in and getting through security via typical awkward "I have weird bioelectricity" rigmarole. On the plane I held my breath, pretended to nap, and moved my shoulders occasionally to make it look to the flight attendants and my neighbors like I was drawing in air.
I seriously considered stealing a car when I got off the plane in Québec City. I could note the plate number, get Jasper to look up the pertinent details with his computer hacking skills that might as well have been a second witchy talent, and mail its owner a fat check later, and it would be so much faster than bothering with a rental, which I would have to return later... I didn't have a way to pick a car that wouldn't be urgently needed when its owner arrived to use it.
Somebody else might be trying to get home to their Edward.
Or need to go to work or something like that, but my brain was very insistent that everything be about Edward. I gritted my teeth and tolerated the rental process, stumbling through it with inadequate French until the clerk let on that he knew English. There was not enough attention left in my head to be annoyed with his delayed language switch. I wanted to go, and it could not in any way make that happen faster if I were to chastise this inconsequential human for poor customer service.
I drove as fast as I could without running an unacceptable risk of being pulled over. (I wasn't like Edward, with a built-in police scanner...) I hadn't learned to read the traffic patterns and note the sort of slowing that came with a cop car in the area.
It was dark when I got to the house. As soon as I opened the door I could hear Gianna snoring. I didn't give her another thought beyond that for the next seven hours, which I spent not a thousand miles away from my Edward who not only existed, but was also every bit as pleased to see me as I was to see him.
Gianna was an early riser; I heard her getting up and starting to move around only a few minutes past dawn. Then she called her brother, who she spoke to in Italian that I could half-follow; I asked Edward and he translated the rest. It was easier to learn the language listening to a naturalistic conversation in it, and Gianna didn't mean for the conversation to be private if she was having it in the house.
It sounded like Ilario was handling vampirism better than Harry, but a little worse than me. Alice hadn't yet given the green light to test him near a human, but had indicated that she'd deem it safe "real soon now". He talked to Gianna at some length about how easy it was for the world around him to distract him, how strange hunting was and how unpleasant animals tasted. He had nice things to say about the portion of my family still in Norway.
He was dealing with some minutiae about getting his possessions and paperwork handled in Volterra - Carlisle had found it necessary to let out officially that Ilario was dead. However, Ilario was hoping that he could go back to living in Italy once he was shown capable of tolerating human presences, probably not in Volterra proper but possibly near Rome. He'd been informed of Gianna's agreement to serve as a surrogate mother, but wanted her to join him there after this service had been discharged.
"Speaking of that," I said, leaning on Edward and interrupting his translation, "it probably won't be long before we can send Gianna to Norway again and then run around South America looking for half-vampires."
Edward smiled and kissed the crown of my head. "Is that what you want to do next?"
"Since I already met the Denalis, yeah, that seems to be next," I said. And that reminded me of Laurent, and his eyes. "Hey, have you noticed anything different about me?" I asked, attempting to sound perky and proud of myself.
"Hmm," said Edward, placing his hands on my face to move it into a convenient location for inspection. I laughed while he made an exaggerated show of peering at my features, and then he said, "Of course I saw your eyes, Bella. You're right on schedule. They'll be completely gold in just a few months."
I grinned, kissed him, and said, "Is it the same schedule for vampires who ate humans first and then stopped?"
"Considerably faster, actually," said Edward, and my lips compressed. "I'm sure you've noticed that your eyes don't go black. Well, you haven't gone long enough without hunting to really see them go black - that takes a week or two and you've been very careful - but they don't darken, because you're a newborn and still using up the supply of your own human blood. A black-eyed vampire who eats an animal will immediately turn gold-eyed; a non-newborn who has eaten humans and has the burgundy colored eyes, who then switches to an animal diet, might take a few days."
Laurent was killing people. The Denalis all knew it, with the possible exception of David and likely exception of Harry (however temporary these exceptions might be). They weren't doing anything about it. They might or might not be aware that I knew.
Now, what was I going to do about that?
Quickly rifling through my information, I decided that there was little or no risk associated with telling Edward about Laurent. The Denalis had made no attempt to swear me to secrecy. The Volturi would certainly not care if Laurent was eating people as long as he covered his tracks, which he likely was, so there was no special danger from them if his transgressions became known.
Finally, a problem I didn't have to attack without Edward.
"But I saw Laurent at Denali," I said. "His eyes were still red."
Edward stilled, then held me a little tighter. He didn't look shocked, just protective. The information was not alarming to him - but he realized it might be so to me.
Then again, Edward classed his meta-killing, the slaughter of murderers, on approximately the same moral level as picking an arbitrary person off the street for no special reason and eating them. I tilted my head back to look at his face - yes, there was that familiar guilty look, begging my forgiveness like I was a divine being of some kind. If I judged Laurent aloud now, without assuaging that, he'd think I was classing them together.
"I don't think he's just slipping up," I went on, and I described the indications that he was planning extended hunting trips. "And he doesn't have a convenient way to make sure he's only eating people who were about to hurt someone." I snuggled closer to Edward. "I suppose it's possible that he's doing some kind of detective work and trying to find unsavory targets that way, but it doesn't seem likely..."
"You're right," said Edward heavily, "it doesn't."
"David might have no idea, and Harry almost certainly doesn't, yet," I said. "But the others have to know. They all still have gold eyes, so unless I came at a really odd time and they're omnivorous or whatever the euphemism would be for a mixed diet, it's just him. Why are they putting up with it?"
Edward spoke slowly, measuring his reply. "There's a few possible reasons... First, there's essentially no way they can control Laurent. You can't put a vampire in prison. It wouldn't be any significant deterrent to try to fine him or anything. The only way to make a vampire act, or not act, against his will, is by violence or the threat of it."
"Kate could take him," I said.
"I'm sure Kate alone, or any two or three of the others, could take him in a fight," Edward agreed. "But it's not a live option even if we assume they have no qualms about harming Laurent himself. If they hurt Laurent, they hurt Irina - possibly literally; she might back him in a physical confrontation. You remember how I reacted when Jasper was trying to talk about manhandling you during your first exposure to a human? That was when you were demanding, in so many words, that Jasper be allowed to rip your arm off if it would save "your experimental subject" and I barely managed to tolerate it. And I'm not sure what I would have done if he'd actually had to injure you. Laurent wouldn't be likely to reason with Irina in that way, so to attack him they'd have to contend with their sister as well."
"Okay," I said, "so they won't fight her to defend humans they don't know, but why is Irina tolerating it? Why isn't she getting him to stop? He'd have to listen to her."
Edward chewed on this question for a couple of seconds. "Well," he said, "the second reason is that the Denalis don't see vegetarianism in quite the same way we do. It was Tanya's idea to call it that, actually, and I think she considers it analogous to the plant-eating version practiced among humans. That is, it's a personal lifestyle choice, perhaps with a moral dimension to it, but nothing worth introducing social strife about."
"David and Harry -" I began in horror. David's eyes had been pale orange, but...
"They'll raise their children, so to speak, as vegetarians," Edward assured me, squeezing my hand. "I don't think you need to worry about David or Harry being encouraged to drink human blood any more than Ilario is now. They won't be stopped if they decide, on their own, to leave and join the ranks of typical vampires - I wasn't stopped either, for that matter - but if they stay with the coven, they aren't likely to. And Irina's probably not going to return to the practice herself. But she doesn't have enough of a motivation to evangelize that she'll risk relationship strain to argue with Laurent about it. If she did, she probably ran out of impetus months ago and they've settled into an uneasy compromise at this point."
"He's killing people," I said. "Not pigs and chickens and cows, people. That's not a lifestyle choice, that's dead mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters -"
Edward was not happy. I sighed. "Not that I'm saying that you should go back to the vigilante-justice-and-fast-food habit," I said, smoothing his eyebrow with my thumb, "but it's different. I really do think it's different. If I thought Laurent were capable of distinguishing good and evil people, and choosing to eat only the evil ones who were about to abduct children or set fire to orphanages or whatever, this wouldn't be the most thrilling information I could learn - but there are plenty of higher priorities in my life than stopping killers from being killed. If Laurent's eating bad humans, though, it's by coincidence."
Edward nodded mutely. "The third reason," he said softly, "is that there are a lot of vampires in the world, and just because Laurent lives in Denali now, it might not seem to the sisters and Eleazar that they have more of an obligation to control him than they have to control any vampire outside the family."
I realized that I probably sounded hypocritical to Edward, complaining about Laurent, because he didn't know that I was laying groundwork to overthrow the Volturi and thereby end a number of objectionable diets. I tried to think of a way to stop sounding like that without giving anything away. "Eleazar mentioned a friend of Carlisle's named Alistair," I said abruptly. "I assume he's not a vegetarian either and Carlisle calls him his friend."
He nodded, confirming this fact. "Well, insofar as Alistair has friends. He's the most misanthropic individual I've ever met, and he can stand to have a visit from Carlisle - his closest acquaintance, as far as I know - about once every hundred years. There are letters a little more frequently than that. I believe they last wrote in 1982."
"Are there any other friends of the family I should know about?"
Edward listed them: Jasper's old covenmates Peter and Charlotte. An Irish coven, an Egyptian one, one that lived in the Amazon Basin, solitaries Garrett and Mary and Randall in North America and the pair Charles and Makenna in Europe. "We've met others, of course," he said. "Chance meetings like our encounter with Laurent and his old coven. But those are the ones with whom we have some ongoing acquaintance. In fact, I think Rosalie and Emmett were thinking of going to Ireland soon to visit Siobhan and her coven - it used to be just the mated pair, Siobhan and Liam, but they've added a member recently."
"And these are all... non-vegetarians."
Edward nodded solemnly. "Vegetarian vampires are very, very rare, Bella. Vampires in general are merely uncommon."
"Has any effort been made towards deliberately convincing anyone who eats people to stop eating people? Or is it all a matter of waiting for them to show up by themselves - your return, Carmen and Eleazar showing up on the Denali's doorstep, Alice seeing herself and Jasper join up with us and doing so?"
"There have been some gentle attempts," Edward said. "They haven't met with much success. You don't know what human blood tastes like, Bella - it's not a small thing to ask someone to give up, when they've already decided that they accept the cost in human life."
"You know what it tastes like," I said. "Esme knows what it tastes like. Alice knows what it tastes like. Emmett knows what it tastes like." Jasper was a bad example, so I did not bring him up. "Tanya and Kate and Irina and Carmen and Eleazar know what it tastes like."
"Yes," Edward said heavily, "we do. Why do you think it makes it so much harder to resist, when you have that knowledge? Gianna's downstairs right now. I know what she would taste like. It takes a toll, whenever I'm around a human, that I have to know, that I don't need to merely imagine like you."
"How could it taste that good?" I asked, flopping dramatically backwards onto the floor. The house was irregularly furnished like other Cullen homes, and we were not in a room equipped with a bed - they had aesthetic purpose, which was why Esme's island had them, but were not necessary for comfort during sleep or at any other time. Gianna was lucky that there was, for some reason, one four-poster in Alice's room here.
"To give you an idea," said Edward, "before our wedding, I asked my brothers what to expect about the honeymoon, and Jasper's exact words were "second only to the taste of human blood". Emmett did not disagree with him."
I stared at him incredulously. "So you're saying that Jasper and Emmett think human blood is better than sex. Than vampire sex, not the human kind. And Jasper's never even run into a singer."
"What's your opinion on this issue?" I asked archly, striking a pose. "Don't feel like you have to lie to spare my feelings."
My husband's eyes raked appreciatively over me and he said, "I wouldn't have to lie to do that even if you were easily offended. I'm not sure what I would answer if I'd ever tasted your blood, though."
"I wonder if Irina and Laurent would be inclined to cast votes," I said. "Or any of the other friends of the family who have the relevant information."
"Well, I suppose you could ask them," he said, but his attention was clearly no longer on topic, and I didn't feel like dragging him back towards it right then.