Chapter 12: Welcomer
I didn't keep track of time while I was under the wolf's paws. I just lay there and hoped my legs would be okay. I knew I could heal fast, but I didn't know how much the ability extended or how smart it was - would my hard skin make it impossible to set the bones without more damage? What if they healed wrong and I couldn't walk again? What if Santiago didn't know anything about half-vampires and broken legs would be fatal for some obscure reason that nobody could predict because we're so rare...?
There was more screeching from broken vampires, more barking and shouting from the fighting wolves, all muffled by paw-pads on one ear and soil on the other, and finally I heard a muffled woman's voice: "Let her up, Brooke."
The paws lifted, but I didn't move, and I screwed my eyes shut. Chilly vampire hands seized my legs one at a time and twisted them and pushed, and that hurt more than the breaks had, and I screamed and the wolf who'd been holding me whined.
"There, now," said the woman, and I opened one eye, and it was Santiago, businesslike even as a divot in her neck healed bright white and scarred. "Don't do anything foolish like trying to walk, and that should heal in a day or two, you won't even need casts. Brooke, you're her wheelchair, understand? Go get in uniform and pick her up."
The brown-and-cream wolf nodded once, trotted away, and walked back on two quieter feet. The "uniform" turned out to be a black sleeveless dress-like thing, held together with snaps and velcro that might let it survive a few phasings without tearing. She looked sort of like Quil, same curve to the lips and eyebrows, but even though all the wolves looked the same age she had a younger glint in her eyes. A little sister, maybe. I didn't ask, I just closed my eyes again and let her pick me up.
"Hey, Elspeth," murmured Brooke in my ear, adjusting me in her arms. "You let me know pronto if I jostle you wrong, okay? I don't wanna hurt you. We're just gonna take you home with us, and it'll be okay, all right?"
I made some whining noise, which could have been taken any which way, and stretched my neck just enough to look at the battlefield.
Heaps of vampire bits and shreds of clothes everywhere. Kate was reattaching one of her fingers, Eleazar was staring at what had to be the least interesting item on the ground there, while Carmen smoothed his hair. Tanya was looking away, standing stiffly and holding her arm on while it healed. Some wolves were limping, and one human-shaped one was applying some kind of suction device to a wound on another's shoulder - maybe removing poisonous venom.
Santiago surveyed the damage and frowned thoughtfully. "Harriet, Danielle, Iris," she said finally, "you three get the witches into boxes. We're taking all of them this time, I don't know what ever possessed Addy to leave the empath behind." Three wolves ran off and came back as girls with heavy wooden boxes; they carefully picked up pale shining fragments as Santiago directed and dropped them into the containers. "Wendy, torch the other -"
"Not David," pleaded Carmen. "Please, he's family. We could have argued him around if he hadn't needed innocent thoughts to trick Edward. He'll give you no trouble from now on."
Santiago pursed her lips and eyed Carmen, sizing her up. "He fought us," she pointed out. "Daphne will be out of commission for days from that bite." She inclined her head towards the smallest wolf, the white one with the nasty chunk out of her shoulder and bloodstains pinking the fur on that leg.
"But she's alive," Carmen said. "We can control David."
Santiago looked at Carmen speculatively, and said, "Fine. Wendy, torch the other two. Note," she went on, glancing back to the other vampires, "that I'm not the ultimate authority here. My decision can be overridden. But for now, you can keep him." A light brown wolf loped away, and came back in uniform with a lighter in hand. Santiago pointed her to the two piles that I guessed were Peter and Charlotte.
I closed my eyes. "TheywereonlyhereasafavortoJasper," I blurted.
I almost expected to be ignored, but when I peeked, Wendy looked my way, and then at Santiago, and I continued. "They didn't want to come. They only owed Jasper because he helped them a long time ago. If you let them go they'll give up and go home, you've already got Jasper and he can't ask them for anything anymore, you don't have to kill them."
"We would be willing to keep an eye on them," Carmen put in swiftly.
"What are you, the Denali Reform Institute for Vampires Who Were Only Criminals That One Time And Might Be Good Now?" asked Wendy in a snide undertone.
"Wendy," said Santiago sharply, and the wolf ducked her head apologetically and mumbled something. Santiago looked back at Carmen. "I'm not confident in your ability to handle all three of them alone. Keep them in pieces, all three, and I'll get in touch with an answer on which, if any, may live before they're liable to starve. If I find you've let them reconstruct themselves before hearing from me or one of my superiors it will not go well with you, do you understand?"
"We understand," murmured Tanya.
"Do you care what we do with her?" Eleazar said, pointing downward.
"Who?" asked Santiago blankly.
"I'm pointing at someone," he said. "Do you care what happens to her?"
Santiago peered briefly in the direction his finger was aimed. "Don't waste my time," she said, and Carmen looked confusedly at her mate. Santiago then turned to the three wolves who'd collected bits of Daddy and Jasper and Alice. "Did you get everything?" she asked, and they nodded in unison. "Good. Let's get ready to head out, girls."
The wolves who were still wolf-shaped phased and got into uniforms, and the whole ones put slings and bandages where they needed to be on the damaged ones. "Santiago," Wendy asked after putting her lighter away, "what about the other Cullens on their way here?"
"Why, our allies will receive them as welcome guests, of course," said Santiago, nodding to an uncomfortable Tanya. "And tell them that we must have captured their friends and family at the airport, because they never arrived and David, who went to meet them, never came home. And keep the pieces of David and the other two properly secreted away, because they wouldn't care to find out what happens if they don't. And encourage the rebels to use their home as a base of operations. And send us," she continued with a graceful twist of her hand, "a list, of every far-flung friend and acquaintance that Carlisle and his coven can bring here to help, and every one who he cannot. And do us the kindness of letting us know where we can find the disloyal in convenient, manageable groups, as when they go hunting or recruiting."
The Denalis were silent, and Santiago prodded, "Isn't that what you'll do? I highly recommend it," and Tanya nodded. Santiago looked at her, and then said, "Harriet, perhaps you should get another box for David. We can look after him in Volterra."
Carmen bit her lip, Tanya clenched her fists, Eleazar turned away, and Kate bowed her head, but no one protested while Harriet fetched a fourth box and gathered David's twitching shards into it, piece by piece. "Now then," said Santiago, when that task was complete. "I think it's time we went home, girls."
Santiago and the wolves had a big military-type helicopter, which Danielle piloted. Brooke held me and sat on the edge of a row of seats so no one would nudge my legs accidentally. They still throbbed, but by the time the helicopter lifted off into the air, the pain was starting to ease marginally. "We're gonna get you home to Jacob," Brooke promised. "He'll be so happy to see you! He was completely frantic, our pack and Rachel's had to absorb his wolves temporarily because he was com-plete-ly out of control. I wonder if we're gonna have to permanently reorg once he's better," she mused, pursing her lips.
"What's going to happen to me?" I asked, hating how squeaky I sounded.
"Oh, oh Elspeth honey, you're gonna be okay!" Brooke said. "I promise! Don't be scared! You're an imprint. You're an alpha's imprint. That makes you so special, you have no idea, you are looking at a really nice setup. You get to live in the village and you don't even have to work or anything like we do, you just have to spend some time with Jacob so he's not, you know, I'd make the swirling-my-finger-around-my-ear gesture but I'm not supposed to put you down."
"Mm-hm. That's where the wolves and the imprints and the puppies all live," Brooke explained. "And Cody, that's where they put him too, but he's in East with the Clearwaters - except I have no idea where any of us are gonna wind up after the reorg if there is a reorg, it's kind of complicated."
"East?" Brooke sounded like she was trying to be informative, but she wasn't very good at it.
"The village has four sections, East and West and South and North," she replied. "They've got nicknames but I think we should call them by the proper names that Santiago and Felix and Afton and Corin use." She nodded smartly, looking very proud of herself for this. "East is for Rachel's pack, and West is for us - we're Becky's. The pack members who don't have imprints, I mean. Boys with imprints, from whatever pack, live in South, and the puppies, if they don't have families to live with, live in North."
"You keep saying "puppies"..."
"The kids who can't activate yet," Brooke said. "That's just what we call them, since they're not just ordinary kids, but they aren't wolves yet, either. From the reservation back when, or who were picked up since, or who were born since. Every now and then one grows up enough and goes floof and then somebody's got a new packmate. Ashleigh just joined up with Rachel's crew last month. We had a party for her."
"Why," I asked, glancing at the rows of girls, all in the same uniforms with short haircuts and athletes' shapes, "are there only girls here?"
"We're a field team," explained Brooke. "We're not going to spontaneously imprint, so it's safer to have us running all hither and yon - "hither and yon", isn't that funny? Afton says it all the time." She said Afton's name like he was her favorite teacher, or wise general, or something. "The boys who aren't imprinted stay home, so if they see some girl she's right there where Chelsea can look at her and bring her into the village. And the boys who are imprinted are supposed to be making puppies." She giggled. I wondered how old she was.
"It doesn't... bother you at all, that Chelsea does what she does?"
"Yeah, like that's a big deal in the grand scheme of things," scoffed Brooke. She tilted her head self-consciously. "I don't think I'm any good at talking about the "grand scheme of things" and making it sound right. Corin does it better. Anyway, Chelsea's on our side. We're like cops! Magical wolf cops who stop vampires from going on huge rampages and turning everybody they see and destabilizing the world by being all chatty about it! We've already got Alpha orders from an Alpha no one picked because she was just born that way, and the boys have imprints which are totally random, there is so much wacky brain magic flying around in our heads that I'm glad at least some of it is directed by a person and not the forces of the universe." She frowned. "Corin does the "forces of the universe" thing better too. He's got a really grand way of talking, you know? You'll see when you meet him."
"Is Chelsea going to do anything to me?" I asked nervously.
"Probably a little," Brooke predicted. "I mean, you ran away the one time, and that was really hurtful to Jacob, and he's important. So she'll want to make sure that you can be happy in the village and not want to run away anymore. But without Chelsea, you'd still have to stay in the village, you see? You'd just need to be under guard all the time. It's better her way because you get more freedom of movement. And maybe you wish we didn't need you, but that's not Chelsea's fault, it's just that Jacob imprinted on you."
"But I don't want Chelsea to do anything to me," I said. "Doesn't that matter? To you or her or anyone?"
"Well, you know they'll never trust you alone like that, but I guess you could ask," said Brooke. She looked like she wanted to shrug, but this might have jostled me, and she was keeping quite still to avoid that.
"How old are you?" I asked, finally.
"Fifteen," said Brooke brightly. "I activated three years ago."
She would have been nine or ten when the Volturi swept into La Push. Nine or ten when they killed her family. Nine or ten when they took her to Volterra. Nine or ten when Chelsea made her not care about who she'd lost and twisted her to look up to the leaders they provided.
I wanted to be sick, but I can't actually throw up. (I tried once when I went out for brunch with a bunch of human friends and they all got food poisoning, except me, and I thought it was conspicuous.)
"Are you okay, Elspeth?" Brooke asked. She had large, dark eyes, full of concern that was probably genuine on some level. "Did I hurt you? It's a little choppy today, usually Olivia drives the helicopter but she got injured in Omaha so Beatrice took her home early."
I didn't answer her. I pretended to fall asleep instead, and after a while I really did.
When I woke up, I was on an airplane instead of a helicopter, and a different wolf girl was holding me. "Wha?" I said groggily.
"Brooke's sleeping, I'm Quinn," she said. "We only took the helicopter to the airport and then we switched to the plane, if you're wondering why it got more beige around here all of a sudden."
"Oh. Where are we now?" I heard wolves chatting with each other - such normal-sounding conversations, about somebody's baby and somebody else's knitting project and some third person's idea for a vacation to Rome.
"Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Do you need food? We've got food in here," Quinn told me.
"I could eat," I admitted.
"What do you eat?" she asked. "We've got all kinds of stuff."
"Anything, I'm not picky - assuming you mean regular food."
"Yeah, I mean regular food. Iris!" called Quinn. "Would you bring something for Elspeth to eat over here?"
Iris, presumably nearest the food, fetched an assortment of things and I started with an apple. I was glad my arms weren't broken; at least I could feed myself. My legs were feeling better too, although they still ached faintly.
"We'll be in the village in six, maybe seven hours all told," said Quinn. "Word from home is that you and Jacob get a suite - two bedrooms, he insisted, just like Brooke's brother and his seven-year-old - in South. There's plenty of extra room in the village since they were planning all along to have a growing population. So they don't even have to dig out a new home for you, which is good, because Addy's busy."
"It's... underground?" I asked between finishing my apple and accepting a tub of chicken salad.
"Yeah. But it's nice," she assured me. "Carved out of bedrock, not, like, dirt. And we have plumbing and electricity and Internet and good ventilation, there's skylights in most rooms - with one-way glass at the top, so anyone who wanders over us thinks there's just a lot of mirrors set into a field for some reason. I think it might be passed off as an art installation or something, actually, I haven't been up top to look for a placard. We get in through tunnels a ways from the village itself."
At least I would be imprisoned in a nice place.
I didn't make any more attempt at conversation; eventually Quinn struck up a chat with Iris about Iris's plans to redecorate West's lounge. I thought about ways to escape the plane. But even if I got away from Quinn in spite of my hurt legs and managed to leap out, I'd land in the ocean and eventually drown if I was left to my own devices. If I waited until we were overland, Santiago could easily follow me to the ground, catch me there, and find some less humane way to transport me to Italy.
Maybe I could get Jacob to help me escape, like Pera had done with Brady.
Maybe Chelsea really would leave my brain alone, and then I'd be able to think straight about what to do at my leisure.
Maybe Mama wouldn't be fooled at Denali, and she'd run away and think of a way to save me.
Maybe I would just live under a rock for the rest of eternity, prevented from even wanting to leave.
I finished my chicken salad, and before I started on the carrots Iris handed over, I put my hand on my face. I love my mama, one of me signed at the other of me. That's true. Remember that, okay, me? No matter what.
For the first time, the other me answered. It's true, she signed in reply. But that was all she said.
The wolves slept in shifts. By the time the plane landed, Quinn had handed me back over to Brooke, who'd since woken. We transferred from the plane to a bus. Brooke took this opportunity to tell me the village rules.
"You'll probably be allowed Internet. Puppies aren't, except supervised in lessons, since they don't know how to follow the rules about being secret properly, but imprints all have it, but they might not be letting Claire, but you're more mature than her, even though you're younger. So you'll probably be allowed it. Food and your room are free, but you get some money for other stuff. It's in euros but you can get some of it in dollars if you want something from America, or whatever other kind of money if you want something from someplace else. If you want more money you can do a job. You probably can't be on a field team, but you could babysit or teach puppies their lessons or cook or run errands outside - if they decide you're okay to let out, I mean, that'll probably depend - or whatever. If you have a problem with anybody you're supposed to go to your alpha first - but in your case that'd be Jacob so maybe he's not so impartial, so you might get told to go to one of the vampires first thing."
"The ones who are usually there are Santiago, Corin, Afton, and Felix?" I clarified.
"They're in charge - they take field teams out and basically run the place - but I don't know about "usually there" so much. They don't live with us, they live way down the northwest tunnel in the main compound. At least one of those four is there part of every day. And Chelsea visits once a day, during the assembly. You have to go to those, everybody who's home during an assembly is supposed to go."
"Does anything happen during an assembly besides Chelsea doing... her thing?" I asked.
"Yeah, of course," said Brooke, sounding surprised that I'd ask. "People - Rachel and Becky usually - make announcements about stuff, and since the village was started we've come up with traditions, except I guess it's a little silly to call things five years old traditions, but they'll be traditions in like, I don't know how long it takes, fifty years? But there's a few people who play instruments or sing - Gwyn dances! She got Santiago to teach her, Santiago is really good but doesn't perform usually - and sometimes they'll do that. And we have birthday parties if it's someone's birthday, and if somebody's marrying his imprint that happens during assembly too, and there's activation parties when a puppy gets old enough to phase. There was a funeral once, too," she added soberly.
"Who died?" I whispered.
"Eve Greene. She was one of Rachel's. Her brother Albert still is," said Brooke. "Bad vampires killed her in the field, three years ago. Albert named his daughter after her when she was born last year."
Brooke's natural cheer reasserted itself after a moment, and she went on. "In South quiet hours are from ten at night to eight in the morning. Everybody knows English but a lot of us are at least working on Italian - most of the puppies know both - and some people have some other language, to get along in other countries. Most people do their own laundry but a couple of the puppies will do it for you, for pocket money, if you want. Huh, I don't know what else you need to know, I moved in so long ago. You'll pick it up."
I didn't ask her any more questions, and after a long digression about how she was saving up her money to buy a new loveseat for her room but might change her mind and blow it all on a private stash of candy instead, Brooke finally fell silent.
In spite of the descriptions Brooke and Quinn had provided of the village, I'd worked myself up to the point where I honestly expected it to be a forbidding and dank network of cellars.
It wasn't. It was quite dry, and full of natural light, and while the stone itself was pale beige, a lot of the walls were painted - some flat colors, some murals, including some that were probably by puppies. Most of the doors had handmade signs on them, including names - Brooke pointed out her door to me on our way, and it turned out that she shared it with Daphne, the small wolf who'd been bitten. "You have to earn a single room," sighed Brooke. "I like Daph', but she snores. I roomed with Catherine before, but when Daphne activated there was a whole room shuffle and Harriet moved into a single for totally owning a bad vampire by herself it was amazing, and I got Daphne. She'll probably be sick for a week," added Brooke sadly. "Bites are not fun. I only got one that bad one time before, but I had a nip on my ear once too, and Afton had to clip out a notch to keep it from spreading. But then Embry told me my notch was cute. Embry is dreamy," she confided in a whisper.
Brooke walked me around the entire village so I'd learn my way around, on the grounds that Jacob was still sleeping. ("Alec had to put him under for a while because he was so worried about you," Brooke said, "and that messed with his sleep patterns a lot. He'll probably even be excused from assembly this evening.")
I watched children playing hide-and-seek in a brightly furnished playroom in North. ("The nickname for it is Nursery if you're being nice and "Norphanage" if you're not," Brooke explained.) I spotted Ruth there, and she recognized me and waved. ("Even puppies with parents play there a lot of the time; they just don't live there," I was informed.) In the halls, coming and going every which way, were wolves, in and out of uniform - there were white uniforms as well as black, which I guessed were linked to pack - and in and out of fur. All the halls and doorways and rooms were more than spacious enough to fit wolves.
I spotted more faces I recognized in South - Quil with Claire on his shoulders, Victor in deep discussion with a white-uniformed fellow, Emily carrying Paige into the room labeled "Sam, Emily, & Paige Uley". They all greeted me, but didn't seem especially interested in pausing to chat or even asking why I was being carried. I wondered if Chelsea had snipped their interest in me, in case I couldn't be retrieved and they had to make... some kind of alternative arrangement for Jacob.
I saw Cody's name next to Seth's on a door in East. Leah had a single, across the hall - "Leah is Rachel's first beta," Brooke said. "Betas are second-in-command and can take over if the alpha is asleep or sick or hurt. Rachel and Becky both have two - Leah and Vivian, and Olivia and Harriet."
A lot of the tour was like that, just names, cascading after each other. I filed them all away in my memory. Once I'd been introduced to the South laundry room, I asked Brooke, "How many people live here, anyway?"
"Hmm," she said. "There's nineteen of us in Becky's pack if you don't count the wolves from Jacob's that we're borrowing. And nineteen in Rachel's, also not counting Jacob's. Jacob and his are eight more wolves and seven more imprints counting you, but Esperanza doesn't live here yet, and she might not later either, since they're gonna turn her but Chelsea has lots of work to do first, since if she wants to leave after they turn her it'd be really hard to stop her. I dunno what the plan is there. But let's count her. And Jacob's pack brought three puppies -"
"Three?" I interrupted.
"Three," said Brooke. "I didn't learn their names yet. Sam has one, and Darren has one, and Victor has one, right?"
Natalie. I bit my lip. "There was another one. Victor has two daughters."
"Well, I guess I could have just not noticed her," offered Brooke, although she seemed more confused about my distress than about the possibility that an entire baby had gone missing. "And our pack has two imprints and nine puppies, and Becky's has three imprints and nine puppies, and there are twenty-one orphan puppies in North."
"Two imprints had nine kids in five years?" I asked.
"No," said Brooke. "Iris and Danielle already had their kids - one each - before they activated. The imprints in our pack only have seven between them. Iris still lives in West with us, not in South like boys with imprints, but she has a room for her and her kid. Danielle's married to another wolf, from before activating, but he's in Rachel's pack so if he ever imprints there's not so much drama, and they live in South together. A couple of Rachel's other wolves had kids before too. Like, Shawn had two kids before he activated, and then later he imprinted and had two more, and Vivian has one. So let's see..."
I did the arithmetic. "An even hundred, if you count me and Pera, and not Victor's baby," I murmured.
"Oh, hey, cool, round number," enthused Brooke.
A bell, signaling the time for assembly, rang just as Brooke had finished walking me through the halls of West. "Ooh," she said, walking more briskly; she probably would have jogged if it wouldn't have risked bouncing me uncomfortably. My legs were mostly healed, but I still didn't like the idea of sharp movement.
Rachel - who still wore the fluffy haircut Mama had described - announced that once her brother was deemed fit for duty, all of his original wolves would be returned to him except Zachary, whom she was retaining in her own pack. For gender balance purposes, she and Becky were each planning to transfer two female wolves to him; girls were invited to volunteer but would be chosen from on high if no one did. The next female activations were also planned to be assigned to Jacob.
"For the time being," Rachel said, "everyone will stay in the rooms they have now, although new uniforms are in the works - brown, to keep up with the fur color theme." She winked at the audience. "When things have settled down up in the compound and Addy has the time, she's going to carve out a new wing that we'll probably call Southeast or something similarly unimaginative, because everyone knows we always call the wings by the appropriate cardinal directions." Most of the white-uniformed wolves - clustered to one side of the hall in which the assembly was held - chuckled. Brooke pouted virtuously. I noted that even the people not in uniform seemed to have a lot of black or white in their outfits, depending. I wondered if I'd be going around in brown a couple of weeks later.
Then Rachel announced my presence. She summarized who I was - "You guys remember Bella Swan-subsequently-Cullen, right? The first wave knows who I mean!" There was some scattered laughter. I didn't know what they thought was funny. "Elspeth's her half-vampire daughter. She's got a long fascinating story that leads up to my baby brother imprinting on her, so she's one of us now. I expect everybody to welcome her the way we welcome every new imprint, and not to pester her while she's settling in. You can talk to anyone else in Jacob's pack and learn whatever you need to know - or talk to Cody, who's bunking with his brother Seth in case you've forgotten. And Elspeth," said Rachel, addressing me directly, "you'll need to see Chelsea personally after assembly, okay? Okay." I shivered, but Rachel had already moved on. She introduced a group of children who sang lispingly, and then it seemed to be over.
Brooke carried me towards the only vampire in the hall, a tall, elegant woman in a blue sundress. She had dark blonde hair with gray streaks in it at the temples, gathered into a ponytail - she must have been getting on a bit by the time she was turned. Or she colored it that way on purpose. Or she'd grayed early. I didn't know why I was bothering to speculate about her hair. It was probably her least important feature, considering. "Hello, Elspeth," she said. "My name is Chelsea. I'm so sorry we didn't have a chance to meet the last time you were in town." She had a vaguely pleasant smile on her face.
"I - I - I -" I needed to ask her to leave me alone, find some credible way to promise to stay in the village without tampering, and I was too terrified to spit it out. "I -"
"I'm sure Brooke has shown you everything you need," Chelsea went on, "but of course you can ask anyone here for help finding anything you might have trouble locating. Your suite already has some basic furniture in it, but it's all hand-me-downs. You and Jacob should work out what you want in your suite together. He's not going to have any significant work occupying his time to start out."
"You look nervous," she observed. "I don't mean to frighten you. I really do want the best for everyone here, yourself included. I promise that whatever terrible stories you've heard about what I do, it's not so bad. You didn't feel a thing, did you?"
"What?" I managed.
Chelsea tilted her head, the same mild smile shaping her lips.
"I wanted to ask - Brooke said maybe if I asked - please don't -" I exclaimed in a panic.
"Too late," said Chelsea, expression perfectly calm. She lifted a hand and brought her first two fingers together with a faint clicking noise, twice. "Snip, snip."