Chapter 14: Sharer
In the village, we only hear a little, every now and then, about what's going on in the compound.
Chelsea doesn't speak to us much when she comes to assembly - she'll always smile, of course, and answer anyone who talks to her first, but we all know that if Afton is there she'd rather be talking to him and if he isn't she wants to rush home to him as soon as she's done with her work.
Afton, on the other hand, is very talkative, but not so much about what's happening up the tunnel. He tells stories that are centuries old, or made up entirely; or he'll make general remarks about how this or that aphorism is true or misleading or meaningless. Or if Chelsea is around he'll come up with new ways to say how much he loves her. Everyone loves Chelsea, but he's hers first, and they're really sweet together.
Santiago is too businesslike for much chat. The most she ever opens up is when she gives Gwyn dance lessons. I asked to join in on those, and Santiago said I should learn from Gwyn first until I was closer to her in skill level and then she'd see about including me in the class, so I started meeting Gwyn three times a week after lunch when she wasn't too busy with work to dance.
Felix talks, but only to the wolves and only about fighting and strategy. He organizes tournaments and lessons and things like that, and he's gone with field teams more than the other three who ever take them out. He's very passionate about his work, and very good at it.
Corin's just plain cryptic. If it's possible to answer a question without actually answering it - by saying something about the Fates or the cycle of history or something else grand like that - then that's what he'll do. If it's not, he might not answer at all. It's not that he's not nice. He'll do things for people - he let puppies climb on his invisible shield, once, and it was the cutest thing - but he's just not a good source of news.
This meant that when I got to go to the compound, I was very excited about being able to bring back news to all my friends.
I'd been in the village for one week when Addy came to ask me up to the compound. I was in my room, peeling the sticky labels off my new shirts, and she knocked on the door. Jake answered it, and wrinkled his nose. (Wolves who've been here for a long time have gotten used to how vampires smell, but Jake got here only a little before I did.)
"Hello, Jacob," said Addy. "Is Elspeth home?"
"Sure. Elsie?" he called.
I poked my head out of my room. "Addy!" I said. I'd picked up the nickname from the other villagers, who told me she didn't prefer to go by her full name. "What's up?"
"I was wondering if you could help me with something," Addy said. "I've thought of a useful application for your power."
"Oh, okay," I said, holding out a hand so she could borrow it, but she shook her head.
"It involves sending to witches," she explained, "so I can't do it myself, since that part of what you do requires touch. Why don't you come up with me to the compound, and I'll explain on the way?"
"All right," I said. "How long will it take?"
"No more than a couple of hours." I hugged Jake goodbye and followed her out and down the hall, to the tunnel that led to the compound.
"I didn't hang onto your power very long when I had it," said Addy, "but it was interesting, very interesting. I would have come by to discuss it with you earlier, but I've been busy bringing back all of the witches who escaped. I'm sure you remember them."
"Yes," I said. "Are they all back now?" On the one hand, even if I didn't care personally about any of them, it was still very creepy. On the other hand, I couldn't honestly say that if they were all set free they wouldn't try to hurt some of my friends, and revenge doesn't sit right either.
"Most of them," she replied. "The fellow who teleports is a bit difficult to catch. I think you'll like my idea for what you can do to help. How much do you know about what Chelsea does?"
I almost reached for her, then remembered not to displace whatever power she was borrowing and just summarized instead. "She can cut relationships or build them up but to do the second thing she needs something to start with. Seeds."
Addy nodded. "The reason the witches had to be kept in the dungeon the way you saw, instead of joining the guard, is that there wasn't enough for Chelsea to work with. Before I came along, that meant that they didn't help us defend ourselves or keep order in the vampire world at all. Afterwards, well, you saw. But it would be much safer and better for everyone involved if Chelsea could work with them. And the witches would be happier too, I'm sure you can imagine."
I could imagine that. "Where do I come in?"
"I'm not sure it will work," she cautioned, "but I think you might be able to plant enough "seeds" that Chelsea can do the rest. It will only help with some of the witches - anyone with a mate, for instance, we need to handle with more care - but it may do for some of them, and even that would be a huge favor." She smiled at me.
"What do you think I should do specifically?" I asked.
"I'm not sure. That's why I'm going to borrow Edward's power and have Chelsea there, and let you know how it goes while you experiment," Addy replied.
"That's Benjamin," said Addy, pointing at one of the fragmented heaps. "He actually does have a mate, Tia, but the good news is we have her, right over there." More bits and pieces. "She's not a witch, but he's more than valuable enough to make it worth keeping her, if - and only if - they'll work for us." I felt sad about the two of them, especially once I learned their names, and almost said something, but then the feeling disappeared. If they weren't in bits, they might be trying to hurt me or my friends. Chelsea was standing silently behind me and Addy. Maybe it was her, helping me concentrate.
Addy touched a chunk of rubble from another pile. If I looked at the smithereens closely, I could see them twitching, and occasionally two of them would draw close to each other and they'd knit along an edge. It was kind of gross, and I closed my eyes; Addy said, "Go ahead and say hello to Benjamin, then, Elspeth."
I reached out blindly and laid my hand on some unidentifiable surface of a piece of Benjamin. "I - I don't know if I can make it work any old place, I usually touch people's faces or sometimes hold hands," I said.
"I'll let you know if he gets your message," promised Addy.
Hello, Benjamin, I sent - "He wants to know who you are," Addy murmured - my name is Elspeth. Tia's alive, she's right here and I can see her. "Tell him you can pass on messages from her, let him draw his own conclusions about how - tell her you can talk to him for her," Addy instructed. I put my other hand on the other pile, still holding my eyes closed. Tia, I'm Elspeth and I can pass on messages to Benjamin for you if there's something you want to say. "She wants to tell him..." Addy said something in a language I didn't know, and I passed it on word-for-word. Chelsea made a quiet, intrigued noise.
"This is tricky, I need Marcus," murmured Chelsea at one point, and she swirled out of the room, black cloak swishing behind her. She returned a few moments later, leading a brittle-skinned, glassy-eyed Marcus by the hand, and he looked at the piles of vampire I was touching and sighed and spoke to Chelsea very softly. He looked unhappy and didn't seem interested in the proceedings, but I was still slightly in awe - Marcus is one of what amounts to three kings of the entire nonhuman world.
Chelsea piped up, "Offer him revenge on Amun? We have reason enough to destroy him anyway, for hiding Benjamin's gift..."
"Should I say all of that?" I asked.
"No, just the first part, and to Tia too," clarified Addy. The Volturi are willing to offer you revenge on Amun, I told them, although I wasn't sure I liked that part... Addy said, "Elspeth, Amun deliberately hid Benjamin from the Volturi for many decades and spent that time trying to mold him into a weapon. I'll give you three guesses why." He planned to use Benjamin to attack us...? "Yes."
The bottlenecked conversation proceeded steadily, if slowly and awkwardly. Chelsea and Marcus talked to each other quietly - or maybe he talked to her and she talked to herself - and Addy told me what to say, sometimes in languages I knew and sometimes not.
My magic itched again, so I clarified quickly to Benjamin and Tia exactly how I was managing to relay their messages. Addy frowned without commenting on my unauthorized disclosure. "Why don't you show him the wolf village, Elspeth," she suggested. "Tell him that's the most significant thing I've used his power for since the seventeenth century, none of the mayhem and destruction he's worried about."
I gave Benjamin a virtual tour of the village. I live here, it's nice, I editorialized, swooping through a compressed view of the tour Brooke gave me when I first moved in. Addy borrowed your power to dig it out, and says it's the biggest thing she's done with it since the seventeenth century. "What happened in the seventeenth century?" I asked aloud.
"I visited Egypt, met Benjamin and his coven, borrowed his power, and there were assorted adventures that involved toying with the Nile and attempting to fly," said Addy. "I'll show you later, if this works."
That sounded exciting; I'd never been on the receiving end of one of my shared memories, but Addy could do exactly what she said. I kept passing messages. Finally, Chelsea said, "Ha, I've got it - just barely enough - Marcus, help me see what I'm doing -" and she closed her eyes, and her fingers twitched at her sides.
Addy smiled. "You can stop now, Elspeth," she murmured. "I'll take you back to the village. We'll try with someone else after seeing how this sticks."
I bowed quickly to Marcus - Quinn had told me that this was the polite thing to do if one saw one of the three Volturi or their wives, and I hadn't done so earlier only because I had my hands occupied. Then I followed Addy out of the room.
"Can I please see Pera and Brady before we go?" I asked.
"Mm, I'm not sure if you want to see Pera," said Addy. "She's turning at the moment. Brady can't bear to leave her, but he's not having a pleasant time of it."
I blinked. "Why isn't Alec helping her?"
"That's not customary," Addy replied. "Caius believes that the full experience is part of what makes vampires' witchcraft tend to improve after turning. Exceptions might be made for non-witches - though we don't often turn those ourselves; they come to the Volturi in different ways - but not for someone with a gift as valuable as Pera's. She'll be fine, though, don't worry. We've all been through it and come out all right."
"Why does Caius think that?" I asked.
"Jane is the best evidence by far," Addy replied. "Do you know what she does?" I nodded. "What might surprise you is that her power is very much like your own."
This confused me. "But she has range, and only projects pain..."
"Her power became much more formidable when she left her humanity behind her. But Jane's witchcraft has been exactly the same in what it does for her entire life," said Addy with a thin smile. "It did not change its nature when she became a vampire. What she does is project pain that she has experienced, just as you most readily project memories of your own life. Before she turned, this was limited to scraped knees and stubbed toes and the like. Since then, she's become one of the most powerful weapons the Volturi have, and the most widely feared. If I were human yet, and copied her power, I wouldn't be her equal, but because I turned normally too, I can wield it just as she does. It is unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibility, that Pera will find herself improved in some way for an unaided turning."
"I've been able to get better at what I do, and I've always been the same species," I said.
"Well, we don't have quite so much to go on regarding hybrids like yourself. I do think you are intriguing, though," said Addy. "I'd like to get to know you and your power better. I have something of an interest in witches, as you might imagine."
"Of course," I said.
Addy smiled at me, and said, "If you'd really like to have a peek at Pera and Brady..."
"You're probably right about it being a bad idea, but I really miss them," I said sheepishly. "And Pera might not come back to the village right away - there are imprints and puppies who smell like food."
"That's true," acknowledged Addy. "Up this way. I'll even let you try to take Pera's mind off what's happening for a few minutes," she offered, and I grinned at her while she led me up two flights of stairs.
The screaming was audible from a fair distance, and fluctuated as we approached between piercing wails and lower sobbing moans. I winced in sympathy, but Addy had said I might be able to help, and so I pressed on.
Pera was lying face-up on the floor of a fairly ordinary room, halfway between her human brown color and the olive cast to some vampires' skin. With another scream, she arched her back, knees and elbows pushing her off the floor while she leaned her head back and stretched her mouth open as far as it would go. Brady knelt beside her, nearly as much agony on his face as hers, though he didn't scream. He was holding her hand, and tears were continually renewing twin lines down his face while he whispered fractions of sentences to her. He looked like he hadn't slept in a couple of days and didn't plan to sleep for a couple more, and he didn't even glance in my and Addy's direction when we walked in. He was transfixed by Pera and she barely seemed to realize he was there.
I approached her quietly. "I'm going to see if I can help," I murmured to Brady, and he spared me a split second of eye contact before returning his stare to his imprint. I knelt and reached for Pera's face, which was already chillier than it would have been while she was human, and tried to decide what to send.
Eventually I settled on the same memory of sitting on the beach and watching the sunset that I'd shown back when Thea induced me to learn to add translations to sendings. I didn't translate for Pera, I just focused on the peace of the evening and the beauty of the sunset. Something in her breathing changed, but she didn't talk or otherwise acknowledge me; I glanced at Addy for feedback.
"Try something that's not a memory," said Addy. "One of your hypothetical situations, as devoid of content as you can make it. It's very hard to concentrate on positive things while in that much pain, but she might find it easier to accept something... empty."
I thought of the blank place with no color that I talked to myself in, subtracted myselves from it, and pushed that at Pera. She relaxed, letting her spine conform to the floor again, and Brady made a small noise as there was a pause in her screaming. "Yes," Addy said. "Very nice. You may go on for... three minutes, and after that you should be getting home."
"Why only -" began Brady.
"It wouldn't do to anger Caius, you understand," said Addy, inspecting her fingernails. "I believe we can get away with that long of a respite." Brady whined in the back of his throat, but asked no further questions. I sent Pera the blank place until Addy said, "Time is up. Come along, Elspeth."
I pulled back, and a groan forced its way out of Pera's throat and through her teeth. "Please," she choked. "Please. Please."
"Please," echoed Brady.
"Could we ask Caius -" I said, flexing my hands to stop myself from reaching out and offering Pera comfort without permission. She was one of us, but Caius was one of the three in charge, if people didn't obey him everything would fall apart, he had to be obeyed within the compound more than anywhere else - but we could ask perhaps...?
Addy looked at me speculatively. "I will be interested to see if you can convince him," she said. "Why don't we see how that goes?" She crooked a finger at me, and I scrambled to my feet to follow her out.
Caius was in a round hall I hadn't seen before, although from the slitted windows and the wooden thrones, I thought it was probably the room my mother had mentioned meeting the Volturi in. I didn't know how to match names to all the faces, but Caius was recognizeable by description. I bowed to him, and Addy made a little curtsey of acknowledgement, as we entered the room.
"What is it?" asked Caius bluntly from his seat. He was in second chair from the left, which was a short distance from the only other occupied seat on the far left. That one held an onionskinned vampire woman with a dark cascade of curls and a haughty expression, who, at a guess, I thought might be Caius's mate Athenodora. Addy caught my eye and nodded. Should I say it? I thought, recalling that she still had my father's power. She nodded again.
"It's about Pera," I began. "I wanted to ask permission to send her something soothing, to make it easier for her to turn - or permission to ask Alec to knock her out, he'd do it more thoroughly -"
"No," said Caius, and he looked at Addy and raised one white eyebrow. She smiled enigmatically at him. I ducked my head, not daring to push further.
"Oh, well," said Addy lightly. "Come, now, Elspeth, let's bring you back to your wolf."
Allowing myself a small sigh, I followed her out of the hall.
The next day, Addy visited the village again, just after I left Jared and Kim's. I'd been there to get Kim to cut my hair. It had come time to trim the ends, and in the absence of a compelling reason to do just that, I had her lopping off the mass of waves at a point in the middle of my back. "If I decide I don't like having it shorter, it'll grow back down to my ankles in about six months," I reassured her when she was reluctant to help with such a dramatic change. So she tied my hair up at the ends, scissored her way across the designated point, and handed me a detached bronze ponytail.
I thanked her and gave her a few euros - she was making her living as the village's barber, largely taking the place of Geoffrey's buzz-cutting service and Shawn's overenthusiastic stylings. Then I opened the door, only to find Addy standing there, poised to knock. "Oh, hello," she said, smiling at me. "What a charming haircut. Do you have some time?"
"Of course," I said. "Just let me toss this..." I held up one finger, and Addy waited for me in the corridor until I'd been and gone to the lounge trash can to discard the hair. "Do you want me to talk to another witch?" I asked.
"Not yet. We're still waiting for Benjamin and Tia to heal, and we'll see how they do once they're up and about before repeating the experiment," she said. "No, I only wanted to talk to you - or perhaps not talk." She winked at me and held out her hand.
I clasped hands with her, and Addy shut her eyes for a moment. "So interesting," she murmured. Do you know, Elspeth, that your power is expanded in more different directions than any other I've copied? I don't mean to say that it's undergone more total improvement; that honor belongs to Aro, or perhaps Benjamin or Pera, depending on how one measures. But you have learned to do more assorted things with it than any other witch I know of.
I didn't know that, I answered.
I'll show you a sampling.
And I was swept away on a tide of remembered sensations that were realer than reality and full of senses I had no names for.
The detail in the memory was too much to take. My real vision whited out, the quiet village sounds faded into static, I lost the pressure of stone on the soles of my feet, while my brain tried to process the crisp, high-fidelity overload of vampire senses. I might have made some noise; I couldn't tell. The colors alone threw me into confusion - what was that extra one? Was that ultraviolet? I always imagined some sort of whitish-purple when I tried to guess what it would look like, but it wasn't anything like that. There were sounds higher and fainter than my real ears could ever take in. Richer smells pouring thickly into my imaginary nose, piled on top of each other without losing nuance. Prickles of feeling along felt-as-though-remembered skin, describing shapes and textures underfoot and all the way up with precision that thundered into my mind too quickly to process as information, let alone feeling -
There was pain, too, a demanding dry burn scrubbing my throat raw, and the heat lurched and yearned at some of the layers of scent, and the scents were warm but they would cool the thirst, they needed to cool the thirst, it was very important that those scents turn into flavors and cool the thirst, and yet somehow the sear of unsoothing venom over the parched need for drink was marked "familiar", the urge was present, always, and managed, always -
And then on top of all that, beyond impressions that mapped onto senses I knew, demanding my attention before the colors resolved into objects or the sounds coalesced into meaning -
Something like taste, but not quite. More like the sensation of drawing food into my mouth, obeying but not satisfying the instinct to eat, chewing but not swallowing, only holding it - what? - there, turning it over with my tongue - but not my tongue - whose memory was this?
Abruptly, the intrusive excess disappeared. I was sprawled in an ungainly heap on the floor, staring up at a ceiling that looked faraway and blurry. "Ah," I breathed.
"I didn't know that would happen," said Addy, peering down at me and keeping her hands behind her back. "Have you ever done that by mistake? To a human, perhaps?"
I shook my head, mute.
"Really?" she asked with some surprise. "The difference between the complexity of the experiences should be similar..."
"I don't know," I panted, knitting my eyebrows at the strange sense of loss. The air held smells, but they were no longer key tools; they were just footnotes to the primary senses. Which were in turn also diminished, flattened by comparison - there was a missing color, not just absent in the environment but literally invisible, and I wanted it; there was an entire register of informative little noises, up high, and I had no way to detect them; the stone I lay on had character and give and pores that I couldn't feel under my hand. "No one ever fell over, or described anything like - that."
"How strange," said Addy.
"Whose memory was that?"
"Mine," she told me. "I'm very curious about what just happened, Elspeth; why don't we go settle somewhere comfortable, in your room, and try again?"
I sort of staggered into my suite, and Jake caught me when I nearly fell over again, frowning between me and Addy. "What happened?" he asked.
"A minor magical mishap," said Addy. She looked at Jake, tilted her head, and said, "Perhaps we'd best let you rest, Elspeth, before investigating more."
"Okay," I said, grappling with the lingering urge to charge across the hall and bite Kim in the neck. I leaned on Jake. Addy smiled at me and then turned on her heel and left.