Flash 4: Mimicry
Ritter Bauer worried about his littlest sister.
When Adelaide was two and Ritter fifteen, she was talking, but she didn't do it the way the four siblings between them had (seven, if you counted the ones who'd died as infants). Adelaide didn't struggle to pronounce things, and she didn't form new sentences, and she never repeated herself. Adelaide instead listened to someone speak - Ritter himself, or one of their parents, or another sibling, or someone who stopped at the inn the Bauers ran. She'd pick a word, she'd repeat it singular and clear and perfect and exact in a way no two-year-old should, and then she'd never say it again. She didn't cry if she'd spoken the word for some treat or toy and no one presented it to her. She didn't mean the words, only tasted them.
Ritter didn't point out to anyone how strange this was. And then Adelaide got the cough, and couldn't talk at all. During, or after.
It didn't seem to bother her, at age three or even later, that her throat was too damaged to form words. She developed an ad-hoc library of signs to communicate with the family, learned them quick and perfect (and did use those, instead of dropping them like she had her few spoken sounds). She heard perfectly well. She could be taught to do chores. She learned them fast, sitting watchful on a counter or a fence or a stool while someone showed her something, and then she'd do it herself, perfect and quiet.
She watched everyone, and Ritter watched her, the greedy pull of her eyes. She would turn up with inexplicable skills. When she was seven it was discovered that she could, somehow, sew gloves: she wasn't quick with them, but they were neat and perfect. The nearest glover admitted that he'd found her lurking in his workshop watching him stitch, but swore that as soon as he'd noticed her he'd sent her running along. When she was nine she materialized the ability to dance, any dance one cared to name, with or without a partner and graceful and smiling and perfect.
She slipped out more as she grew older, turned up everywhere from the blacksmith's to the old widow's henhouse. There weren't enough signs for her to explain herself. Ritter asked her to try anyway, to somehow account for her need to be everywhere and watch everything done, but she just waved him away, smiling a secret smile.
Ritter got married when he was twenty-three (Adelaide was ten) and his wife moved into the family inn with him.
Adelaide watched her.
Four days later, Ritter's wife turned up dead. It looked like an accident, like she'd fallen and hit her head in the stables.
Ritter asked Adelaide if she'd seen it happen, but she just shook her head, wide-eyed: no.
Ritter wondered if she'd ever had the opportunity to watch a clever assassin at work, and shuddered and put it out of his mind.
He remarried a year later, and the second wife didn't turn up dead and eventually he had his own family to deal with. Two years after that, the senior Bauer died, and Ritter took over the inn. Adelaide and a brother and three sisters still lived there, but Ritter didn't pay them as much attention as he had in the past.
Adelaide turned fourteen, and then she disappeared.
Ritter tore the town apart trying to find out who'd last seen his sister, and discovered that she'd been observed skulking about, following a traveling entertainer as he scoped out the best places to busk for coins.
Ritter couldn't leave the inn himself to look for his vanished sister, but he sent their brother Kaspar in the direction the entertainer had been seen to go. Kaspar was back a week and a half later with Adelaide perched behind him on the horse, smiling and carrying a fiddle that she could suddenly play (perfectly). Kaspar hadn't found the entertainer, but he'd encountered Adelaide, by herself, with the violin - like she was waiting for him to pick her up.
Ritter admonished her not to go on wandering away by herself - it was dangerous, he or Kaspar might not be able to find her if she went far. Adelaide listened, or seemed to. She went on leaving home by herself, but as though to oblige him, she played her fiddle nearly everywhere she went, duplicating birdsongs and everything drunkards at the inn belted out and once seeming to memorize all the sheet music in the church. This made her somewhat easier to find.
Adelaide was not an especially pretty girl, and while there were rude jokes swirling about town that her destroyed voice would make her an ideal wife, no interest was serious. She unnerved people, and could make a dreadful howling noise with her fiddle if she wanted someone to leave her alone (once she was bored with watching them, generally). She seemed uninterested in the prospect of marriage herself, shaking her head when Ritter asked. She didn't eat much, and inn patrons would throw money at her when she played music at home, so Ritter shrugged and decided to simply keep her where she was.
When she was sixteen, Adelaide was found holding the broken pieces of her fiddle and standing over a man's body. He was one of the local farmers, a burly, rough man, and it was generally agreed that a girl Adelaide's size - inclined a little to plumpness, but not tall, not strong - couldn't be responsible. She managed to communicate by pointing and signing that he'd been drunk, and fallen, and knocked her instrument out of her hands in so doing and hit his head on a particular rock.
Ritter didn't think of his first wife in this context until the following month, at which point Adelaide had disappeared again and returned (unaccompanied) with a piccolo. She couldn't, or wouldn't, explain where she'd gone or where the pipe had come from, but she played it as prettily as she has the fiddle, of course.
That was the last time Adelaide left town until she was twenty-one, and while Ritter wondered occasionally about his first wife and the drunken farmer, he mostly put it out of his mind. He had a lot else to think about, and Adelaide looked completely harmless, anyway. She did stare, but staring didn't hurt anyone. He'd never seen her hurt anyone, she only wanted to look around her and play music.
When Adelaide was twenty-one a pale stranger with black eyes and unearthly grace came to town. He stayed at the inn, but ate nothing Ritter could see, and slept all day, and spoke with a strange accent that disappeared over the course of the first night he was there. He said his name was Lutz Kirsch, but Ritter wasn't sure he believed him. It didn't matter very much, though; he was secretive and strange, but his money jingled properly.
Lutz Kirsch - or whatever his name was - had Adelaide's undivided attention.
How she stared at him. Ritter didn't think she was suddenly interested in marriage - she looked the same way at sheet music - but she was interested in something about the stranger for certain, as though she didn't dare blink. Occasionally she'd lick her lips in the oddest way. Ritter sometimes saw her sitting outside the door to Lutz's room during the day when the man was asleep, with her ear pressed to the door. He didn't pull her away, as she'd only go back when he wasn't looking and Lutz hadn't complained, but it disturbed him.
Lutz appeared to ignore Adelaide, until he'd been in town for two days, and then it was though he was as intrigued by her as she was by him. He let her teach him all of her signs, and then between the two of them they invented more, until Ritter couldn't follow the conversation - for Lutz was signing too, he could speak and she could hear but instead he was twisting his hands in the air for her to watch. She looked raptly, never seeming to miss a sign even though at least ninety percent of them had been invented an hour earlier.
"What are you saying to her?" Ritter asked Lutz once.
"If I wanted you to know, I'd say it to you," said Lutz with absolute contempt, and Adelaide smiled a fierce little smile.
Adelaide got up later every morning and stayed up later every night, "talking" to their dark-eyed nocturnal guest who never looked rested, and Ritter's sleep crept forward too as he kept an eye on sister and stranger, but then his wife complained and he resumed a more normal schedule. Kaspar was up nights anyway, to have someone available to take in odd arrivals.
"What do you like about her, anyway? Is she interesting?" Ritter asked Lutz, a few days later when he'd gotten up earlier than usual and Lutz was still awake. It hadn't occurred to him, before, that his silent littlest sister might be a good conversationalist, able to hold an otherwise bored man's attention for hours on end.
"More interesting than you," snorted Lutz.
"Look," said Ritter, "if you're - you know - you shouldn't be alone with her, all right? Flapping your hands at each other is fine, I guess, but make sure Kaspar is around or people will talk and I don't want to have to hurt you."
Lutz stared Ritter in the eyes, and said, "My designs don't resemble the ones you imply."
"Good. But still - I'll be checking in with Kaspar to be sure," said Ritter, not at all sure that he'd actually extracted a concession.
"Of course you will," said Lutz, looking away. He glanced out the window, at the vaguely pinkish approach of dawn, and then covered a yawn with his hand and retreated to his room.
Kaspar reported only conversations, endless inscrutable conversations, for the three further nights Lutz remained in the inn. Then on the last day of his stay, he left, during a cloudy midafternoon. Coin sufficient to cover the visit was left in the room he vacated.
Adelaide was gone too, when Ritter looked for her.
She left her piccolo behind.
Four other people were missing, too, the same day - the woodcutter and the butcher's eldest girl and a Jew from the north bit of town and the washwoman, all gone. Some people thought those four and Adelaide and Lutz were all victims of the same abduction, somehow.
Ritter thought differently, but he didn't know how to follow her anyway, or where to send Kaspar riding off to, and he had four children and a wife who thought Adelaide took up too much of his attention, and he had an inn to run, and he did have other sisters to worry about.
He put Adelaide and her strange, watchful ways out of his mind.
Ritter didn't see his youngest sister again until six years later, when he'd just got past his fortieth birthday, his (second) wife and his firstborn daughter were both dead of the fever that was going around, and the inn had half burnt down and been rebuilt on a substantial loan, which he was able - just barely - to pay down every fortnight as required. He almost didn't notice her. He was going back to the inn from the baker's, having adjusted the inn's regular order for bread. It was a bit past nightfall, and he saw a flash of white out of the corner of his eye.
When he looked around, Adelaide was standing at the edge of the road to the inn, smiling familiarly.
If she hadn't been smiling he'd never have recognized her, because her face had changed, and she had her hair tied up in complicated braids that wrapped around her head, and her eyes - he couldn't see the colors very clearly in moonlight, but they were darker. They used to be pale blue. She was more beautiful than she'd been, more self-assured in how she held herself. And she still looked twenty-one, not a bit like she'd been gone for half a dozen years. Ritter wondered if she'd died then, not just disappeared; if he was meeting her because he'd just now keeled over of a heart attack.
"Ritter," she said in a voice like an angel's, and then he was pretty sure he was dead, because Adelaide couldn't talk.
"How'd I die?" he asked, resigned, wondering if his sons would fight over the inn, with each other, maybe with Kaspar.
"You're alive," she said, moonlight glinting off her smile. "I'm only different, not dead."
"Where did you go?" he asked, vaguely dizzy.
"Switzerland," she said. "To start. I've been around rather a lot. And that's why I came back to thank you, Ritter."
"To thank me?" he asked.
"For being such an idiot," she clarified, still smiling that shiny smile. "You came closer than anyone else to not being an idiot, you know, but not close enough, and so I got through okay."
Somehow "you're welcome" didn't seem like the correct reply here. "Did that Kirsch fellow abduct you, or -"
She laughed, pealing and chiming, and Ritter realized - he'd never realized before - that when the cough took her voice it took her laugh, too, he hadn't heard it since she was two. She'd smiled so much and never laughed. "He made me better," she chuckled in a low voice, eyes some dark color reflecting the stars. "But he couldn't have, if you'd ever realized, when it was your wife or anyone after her. Who knows what might have become of me then?"
"Is he here?" asked Ritter. He wasn't sure what he'd do with the information. He wasn't sure what he'd do with any of this information. It just seemed like something to ask.
Adelaide shook her head. "I lost interest in him," she said, like she was explaining why she no longer played a certain piece of music. Ritter noticed there was a flute - made of glass, he thought, although it was hard to tell in the dark - hanging from a cord looped around her waist, and she wasn't wearing any shoes. "I don't know where he's gotten to now."
"And you're here to thank me," Ritter said slowly.
"Mm. We have other siblings, don't we?" she asked, tapping her chin in thought. "I don't want to see them, particularly, but I'm trying to remember. It's hard to make small talk when I don't know."
"A brother and three sisters between us," murmured Ritter.
She nodded once. "I should probably have asked Lutz to tell me when I was running about with him; he'd remember," she said. "Is there anyone you happen to want dead, as long as I'm here thanking you?"
Ritter thought of the moneylender and wondered if the debt would go away if he died. Probably not. "No," he said.
"All right, then. I'm going to Denmark. I'll most likely never see you again. Bye," said Adelaide with a silvery laugh. She loped away. She wasn't going too fast - Ritter could have caught up - but she didn't give the impression of exerting herself either. Like she was a soap bubble.
He watched her go, stunned. A bit of moonlight glinted off the tip of her glass flute, and music lilted after her.
Elspeth's power tasted bubbly and sweet but with an edge, like watermelon soda with a twist of lemon. (Addy was always intrigued by the way that powers tasted like food, the usual kind, without being disgusting - if she'd sipped actual soda she'd have felt compelled to spit it out, but she could compare power-tastes to the smells of things humans ate and come up with reasonable descriptions.) It was a cleaner taste than the cloying artificial-grape slush of Alec's power, which it first displaced. It was peppier than Renata's smooth cream, tarter than Chelsea's flavorless saccharine. It wasn't as intense as the shock of pepper! that was Jane.
But it was complex and had potential.
Potential was delicious.
Addy didn't use the power for anything immediately. She had to help track down the stray witches, and watermelon soda wasn't helpful there. She expected to get the tasty hybrid back eventually, but there were other things to focus on. She did not like having lost Vasanti (tastes like chicken) or Dwi (butter) or Benjamin (garlic and olive oil and parmesan and basil... she wasn't sure which represented which element, if it did at all).
She borrowed Jane (pepper!) and gave chase. Demetri's power (red wine vinegar) would have been more helpful, but he was away doing... something... (Addy thought of rosewater and didn't know why). Jane's power would do the trick as long as she got within sight of the fleeing prisoners; it would pin them down until Alec caught up with her. Other guards would keep humans well back, leaning hard on the Volturi's network of influence.
Addy, and the other guards on their own hunts, brought back almost everyone, from Li-qing (sweet potato) to Sukutai (fruit punch). Razi (salt, just salt, very thematically appropriate as salt went everywhere, and so delicious) was gone. There was no fixing that. She'd never be able to sneak up on him again.
She did get her watermelon soda, though, brought back from Denali along with Edward (root beer) and Jasper (whiskey) and Alice, tasty useful Alice who tasted of frosted carrot cake.
With Edward's power, she heard Elspeth talking to herself, and herself talked back. It wasn't like listening to a human who was ill and heard voices. It was something different, something in the power. Something new.
Addy wanted to know what the addition tasted like, so when she had a chance, she paid the girl a visit.
It was definitely different. The lemon was sharper, and Addy thought she almost tasted mint, although not quite. Potential. Tasty, tasty potential.
When she had a chance, she tried the bit of the power that let her talk to herself.
Addy wasn't sure in advance how many bits her own magic would manifest as - two, one for her native power and one for the girl's? Just one, for the both of them or one or the other?
There were two besides herself (if that was the correct way to think of the division), and they both looked like Addy: one with a predator's smile and the other in the predator's clutches, limp and staring into space but not actually unconscious. Elspeth had names for hers, silly alliterative designations - Addy named the grinning cannibalistic power Adele and the listless abductee Aide, more fragments of her name. She liked taking it apart.
"I think I can guess," she said to them, in the void the power created for them to occupy. "Mine." She pointed at the standing Adele with the raptorial smirk on her face. "And my copy of Elspeth's." Drooping Aide.
"Yes," murmured Aide.
"Interesting," Addy said, with a grin to match Adele's. Adele's hand adjusted Aide's hair in an oddly possessive gesture - "Why are you clutching at her like that, when I'll trade her for something else as soon as I have reason?"
"She's not ripe yet," Adele purred. "She can be better. I think she can be like Aro - like the opposite of Aro - with more control, more power, just think how delicious." Addy half-expected Adele to lean down and lick her captured prey, but it didn't happen.
Aro's power had an incomparably rich flavor, like some complicated broth, bayleaf and carrot and beef and soy and onion and goodness only knew what else. But it was finished. There was nothing that could be added to it, it was a soup unto itself, it had been simmering in the kettle for thousands of years until its tastes were mingled and impossible to disentangle. He couldn't grow.
Elspeth could. The lemon could sharpen, the mint could wake up the flavor, the bubbly soda-taste could develop more zest, the watermelon could sweeten -
"Raspberry," cooed Adele. "Pomegranate. Honeysuckle. Cranberry. Who knows what else she could taste like. Teach her. I want to taste it."
Addy smiled - with her real lips, outside the mental arena where she met her magic - and dropped her hand away from her face.
Elspeth wasn't going anywhere, so Addy took her time, but she did exactly that. The hybrid girl was biddable enough when she'd been spooked (and that was easy enough to do). Spearmint gave the soda a magnificent cooling taste, and a layer of raspberry tartness developed just like Adele's first guess.
Addy didn't find cause to talk to the incarnations of her magic (native and appropriated) again, but she did look at them occasionally. Adele handled Aide like the latter was a large and fascinating doll, propping her up or slinging her over her shoulders or cradling her in her arms. Always with the avid, covetous grin.
Addy had other responsibilites: she needed to borrow the power from Marcus (champagne) to help Chelsea. She needed to borrow Pera's (some sort of glazed meat, maybe apricot on mutton) to keep an eye on the reclusive new addition. She attended a small confrontation in the Alps for which she brought Zafrina's illusion power (tofu).
But, regularly, she coaxed Elspeth and her accompanying beverage to greater heights of sweet-sour-cold-fizziness, adding new facets to the magic with dizzying rapidity.
Addy did wonder, once, if powers other than Elspeth's would behave the same way that Aide did, letting Adele manhandle them while they relaxed and gazed neutrally at nothing. She couldn't check, since those powers didn't offer the same affordance to inspect them that Elspeth's did. Still, Charles's truth-detection (mustard) or Pyotr's compulsion (potato chips) and Emel's control of metal (pickles) seemed - insofar as powers could have independent personalities - like they might not tolerate this. But then, when Elspeth spoke to her own Magic, it (she?) didn't act like Aide did either. Aide wasn't just a version of Elspeth's Magic wearing Addy's face.
Then again, no one was holding Magic hostage, while Adele never let go of Aide given the chance to hold her. Magic's behavior might change if something equivalent were going on inside Elspeth's mind.
Addy was annoyed when she had to flee Volterra. But none of the powers she was leaving behind - not the vanilla ice cream of Taamusi's freezing power, or Abdelmajid's marjoram x-ray vision, or Emere's invisible knife that tasted like celery - was changing. She could always remember those flavors, the way those powers stung her tongue when she took and wielded them. Elspeth's was changing.
Addy didn't want to miss it.
And then there was Maggie, whose power (supposedly like Charles's, but reversed; he detected honesty, Maggie detected lying) tasted like skim milk and didn't hold Addy's interest for more than a moment. And then...
Siobhan's flavor hit Addy over the head like an anvil, bread, warm and yeasty and crisp.
While intense, it was a plain taste, and Addy understood how someone who went around with something so plain might not notice it was there. Bread carried other flavors; one used it as a substrate for jam or cream cheese or peanut butter or tuna salad or leftover turkey, and Siobhan's magic didn't bring any of those items to the table by itself. Unobtrusively, it carried information about the world, turned it into a spread or a filling of something manageable. Plan sandwiches. So simple, so useful. Addy abandoned Elspeth's fruity soda without a second thought. This power would let her get it back, and more, if she played her cards right.
She found Nathan, a stroke of very fine luck, and his power was mixed nuts, shifting between almond and pistachio and cashew and acorn and pecan and more whenever she posed it a question. She did miss the bready magic, but she wasn't liable to forget the plan she'd put together with its help; nutty timing power would be better for actually enacting it.
And she sat back, and waited.
She couldn't regret, much, the loss of many of the guards. She knew those tastes. There was a certain degree of annoyance at the deaths of Afton (pinto beans), Corin (parsley), and Heidi (fondant icing), among others... but Elspeth and her lovely, blossoming power were alive, as were many others.
Empress Regnant Isabella Marie Swan Cullen the Untasteable.
Addy knew the self-styled Empress was a witch, and if she stood close enough to Bella, she could almost taste it... but only almost, and unlike every other witch she'd approached in her life, touching Bella did nothing.
It was outrageously frustrating.
But Addy knew she had otherwise made out extremely well, and pasted a smile on her face and worked hard and made do with the available smorgasbord. When Harry the minor tracker (who she'd tasted before, at La Push before he died; he was a mild blueberry) got his power back, she wasn't especially interested. Didyme was new to her, though: chocolate. (Of course, chocolate - what else would an aura of happiness taste like?) And other witches crossed her path in the course of her duties as Imperial Factotum. She did a great deal of commuting, usually under the influence of Razi's salty magic, and there were new magics on a regular basis.
Elspeth went on improving, after she became willing to resume her lessons (either reduced coercion or increased age slowed her down, but she did get better), and soon the hybrid represented an enthralling array of sweet fruits (as well as mint and rhubarb, technically vegetables) all whipped into a bubbly potion of versatile power.
It took nearly thirty years before Bella was able (or willing - Addy didn't know how to distinguish the two) to let Addy in through her inner protection and sample that elusive shield.
Addy licked her lips.
It tasted of apple.