Chapter 15: Sender
"A minor magical mishap?" repeated Jacob when Addy had gone.
"She borrowed my power," I said, "and showed me one of her memories, but it was - too much, and I don't know if it was because she's a vampire with really powerful senses, or what. That didn't happen to any imprints I showed stuff to, and they're human, and Addy's right that it should be about the same either way..."
"Can you show me what she showed you?" he suggested. "Maybe we can figure it out."
"Are you sure?" I asked. "It's really intense and I think I want to eat Kim now."
"You know you're not going to eat Kim," said Jake. "Here, I'll sit down first. Go ahead."
My hand trembled, but I held it to his face, and offered up the second-long experience. His eyes unfocused and he held his breath, but he didn't topple off his chair, and when the memory was over, he said, "That was sure something. Definitely a hop, skip and a jump up from your stuff. I wonder if it's just because of the extra sense, that... taste that wasn't a taste? The rest of it was seriously dense, but I don't think it could have knocked you over. You don't seem to have anything like that. Unless you're leaving stuff out, your power doesn't feel like anything to you."
"Sometimes it does," I said. "Just not often."
"Really? Can I see?" I sent him the little itch in my magic that had begun to trouble me. "Gah!" He made a bewildered face. "Okay, that's weird. It's like a really insistent hunch that something's wrong, except it's not a hunch... or anything else but itself. When does that happen?"
"I don't quite have a pattern for it yet," I said. "It never happened before I moved in here. Usually I can make it go away if I tell someone something that I've been leaving out - the first time it happened, I went to let you know how my legs got broken."
"Huh. Well, on top of all the rest of that memory, I think the sense you don't have might have done it. Maybe the next time Addy wants to experiment, you can get her to show you some non-witch vampire's memory? I'm sure she's touched Aro before, and that would give her lots to choose from."
"That sounds like a good test," I agreed.
"Addy's probably used to acquiring new senses and handling them all the time," Jake speculated. "Since that's what she does naturally. Maybe she figures out what she's got and how to use it by the non-taste taste."
"Maybe. I'll ask her next time," I said. Jake smiled and petted my newly shortened hair - which was starting to float up into a voluminous puff, relieved of half the weight that had pulled it down. "She's probably better equipped than anybody to help me figure my magic out. And that itch especially."
The next morning, before Jake got up, I tried to distract myself from hunger long enough to have breakfast with everyone else. I attempted to invent a new form of solitaire with the deck of cards Quinn left behind after we hosted the pack poker game. I read a chapter of a novel. I visited Karen, who had the night shift in North and was there to look after wakeful puppies if they got up and wanted glasses of water or hugs. She whispered and I sent, to avoid disturbing them, but conversation soon fizzled out, and I hugged her goodbye and wandered away.
I went back to my room, and leaned my face on my hand, and talked to myself again.
"Who are you?" one of me signed at the other.
"I'm me," the other replied.
"What part of me?" asked the first.
"I'm my magic," replied the other.
I jerked my head up, startled, and the blank place disappeared.
I could talk to my own magic?
I thought about this, and then decided it was awesome and pressed my palm to my cheek again.
"Why do you itch?" I asked my magic.
"I don't want to lie," Magic replied. "I won't help you do it. When you try I'll try to stop you."
"You never itched before, though."
"You never lied to yourself before," Magic said, "and that's worse."
"What am I lying to myself about?" asked the me-who-wasn't-magic. "Me" for short, I decided.
"You're making excuses for our new friends. You're refusing excuses to our old friends. You're justifying how Chelsea makes us feel even though you know she did it and could have done it to make you like almost anyone."
"I don't understand," Me said. "Of course I know what Chelsea does. But everything I've said about all our friends - past and present - is true."
"You're leaving things out," Magic said. "For example: Yes. David was trying to hurt Daphne. Yes. Daphne is thirteen. But. She is still a wolf, still dangerous, and she was attacking David, and he didn't know how old she is. We know that. If we didn't care about David or Daphne, that would still matter - perhaps we'd blame both of them or neither - but Chelsea tipped the scales, opposite from how they were before. So now you care about making Daphne look innocent because she's our friend, and don't mind if you have to do that by rationalizing at David's expense, because he isn't our friend anymore. But it's not that simple. And you know that."
I dropped my hand away from my face.
I felt very complicated all of a sudden.
Jake woke up shortly after that, and I distracted myself all day. I ate an enormous breakfast, loading and re-loading my plate until Jake started joking that I'd turned into a wolf overnight. I went to North and played with the puppies. I practiced dancing. I finished my book and started another one. I got into an hour-long argument with Grace and Quil about whether it was technically piracy for me to show people movies I'd seen, as long as I'd paid to see them in the first place. Brooke asked me for Portuguese lessons and gave up after ten minutes. I learned that Miles played piano and had one in his family's suite, and he taught me "Chopsticks" and a couple of scales. I did everything but think about how I was leaving things out.
I was very, very afraid of what would happen if I put them back in.
It's nice in the village. That's the thing. It really is comfortable and fun and pleasant. Chelsea alone wouldn't hold all of the villagers in some awful pit; at best she could make them leave in groups. The compound's different - set up for sleepless vampires, not wolves and select humans and the odd hybrid - but nice in its way for them.
Chelsea can hold a lot of us in a nice place like the village, because there will always be at least one person who wants the easy, happy life for itself, and Chelsea can make sure that no one can bear to leave that person behind or hurt them by tearing them away.
I was pretty sure that I was that person.
I didn't have to run from place to place without a permanent home. I didn't have to tell anyone my name was "Beth". I didn't have to be restrained in my use of magic.
And I didn't have to leave.
I could just stay. I could stay forever. I could learn to dance, and look after puppies, and read a lot of books, and let Jake dote on me, and research my power with Addy, and paint a new mural in the hall every few months.
If I just left a few things out, when I explained this decision to myself.
My magic itched.
"You had some very weird dreams yesterday evening," Jake told me over breakfast. I concealed my surprise by taking a large bite of my waffle. "Are you okay? I think maybe you should ask Addy to hold off on researching your power - at least beyond her copying it herself and using it as much as she can without your help."
"What did I dream about that makes you think it was Addy's fault?" I asked. "Did I have weird dreams the first night after she came by, too?"
"Well, no," he admitted. "Not the part that I watched, anyway. They were just... it's not like they had weird content. Same faces as always, villagers and vampires and whatnot. But the feelings attached were really unsettled, kind of sad and scared - and you used to have happy dreams. Are you not happy anymore?"
The way he asked the question made it really awkward to answer. He felt personally responsible for my happiness; if I told him "I'm fine" he'd know I was lying, but if I told him I wasn't fine there would be no way to put him off finding out what was the matter.
If I just told him, what would he do? Jake was the only person I could definitely count on, who would definitely put my interests first. So he might be safe to talk to. Aro didn't exactly show up at assemblies to check for seditious thoughts. And Addy could hear my thoughts from the compound, if she borrowed my father's power; it didn't seem that much more likely that she'd notice something amiss if I told Jake.
"There is something," I said. "I'd rather talk in private, though."
"Okay," he agreed, placated, and then stole a corner of my waffle. "Mm, chocolate chip."
Gwyn came and sat with us, and she and I spent the rest of breakfast planning to put on a small dance performance together at an assembly in a week's time. "Santiago says she'll come watch," Gwyn said. "And she'll decide then if you can start coming to my lessons. I think she'll let you. You're learning a lot faster than I did when I started."
I didn't have to feign excitement about that, exactly, but I did have to fight to make sure that was the dominant emotion on my face.
Jake and I went back to our rooms, and he said, "So - what's up?"
"I'd rather you didn't tell anybody else," I began, and he held up a hand.
"Hold it right there. By "anybody else" do you mean anybody else? The pack..."
I felt like a complete fool. Involuntary telepathy in wolf form with the rest of his pack - why had I forgotten? Maybe just because the pack were all my friends, and even if I knew I could get in some kind of trouble if an extra-loyal wolf knew of my unsettled thoughts, I couldn't feel it, I couldn't quite mistrust my friends. Jake might want to keep secrets for me if I needed him to, but he couldn't, not unless he scheduled his phasing for when Quil, Sam, Brady, Jared, Victor, Gwyn, Brooke, Grace, Quinn, and Darren were all on two feet. Which he wouldn't even be allowed to do, since the alphas had to telepathically coordinate field teams from safety at home, and his wolves were already in training to go out into the world and need his management.
Jake noticed me drooping, of course, and put his hand on my shoulder. "Hey," he said. "I'm sorry. If you need somebody to tell secrets to, you're not out of luck necessarily - just can't be me, if you don't want them going farther. I'd try, but I'm not that great at policing my thoughts. You could talk to Kim, or Amanda, or any of the other imprints - or one of the vampires - I don't know what it is, so I don't know who'd be best, but not everybody around here is telepathic."
I nodded, but tempting as it was to talk to Kim or Amanda or another imprint, there wasn't the surety there that they had my best interests at heart. Of course they liked me (Chelsea made them, I thought - but Kim had liked me at least a little before, and even without Chelsea I'd found that people liked me more than they "should"...). But Kim had Jared, and Amanda had Albert and baby Eve, and if they thought I was threatening the village somehow, then what would they do?
I'm going to turn into such a paranoid, I sighed inwardly, and Jacob pulled me into a hug. I snuggled up. I couldn't talk to him about my problem, but that wasn't the only comfort in the world.
I developed a habit of spending the time between dinner and assembly talking to myself. Jake called it "meditating", which I don't think is customarily done with one's hand on one's face while conversing with one's magic, but it was as good a word as any.
Magic is more frustrating than I would have expected a splinter of myself to be if I'd been asked before I "met" her. As a whole, I'm generally in favor of truth-telling, I prefer it and everything, but she's fanatical.
"If you'd work to make me sound honest even when I'm not, or let incomplete true things sound just as good as complete true things, it would really help sometimes," I told her.
"That's not how I work," Magic said.
"But you've changed how you work before!"
"Not like that. I'm here to be truthful."
I spent two days arguing with her about that. She didn't budge. She was, she said, a power intended for the exclusive service of truth and honesty and disclosure and other things that meant "Elspeth cannot lie, dissemble, keep secrets, omit facts, or otherwise be less than perfectly transparent with magical help".
The advantage was that when Magic said something, it was true to the very best of my knowledge, whether my revised social network let me like the truth or not.
The disadvantage was that this had me chipping away at Chelsea-induced perceptions of my "old friends" - and my family - to the point where she started giving me odd looks and standing closer to Jacob's pack's section of the assembly room every evening. She didn't say anything, and I didn't receive stern warnings from any of the higher-ups, but Chelsea could definitely detect that I needed more "maintenance" than most of the villagers.
Addy was gone from the village for a week before she came to see me again. She chose a time when Jake wasn't home - he was practicing coordinating field operations with the pack, and I wasn't supposed to be in the room in case I distracted him, so he was in an empty dorm room over in West. Addy barged in without even knocking, while I was busy composing word problems for the older puppies' math tests as a favor to Paul. I'd heard the footsteps but didn't know they were hers until she opened the door.
"Hello, Elspeth," she said. "Do you have a while?"
"Yes," I said. "Um, Jacob thinks that the reason I was so overwhelmed by your memory was because you have an extra sense that I don't, and the reason I wouldn't have knocked humans over when I sent to them is because my power usually doesn't feel like anything."
Addy cocked her head to the side, intrigued. "That could be. Did you think of the obvious test?"
"For you to send me a memory you got from Aro - you have touched Aro before, right?" She nodded. "Something from Aro that belonged to a vampire who wasn't a witch, or whose power didn't feel like anything at least."
"I can do that," Addy said. "You may want to stay seated anyway, though." I nodded, and she placed her fingertips along my cheekbone. "You're learning to dance, aren't you? Santiago's moved you into her classes with that wolf child?"
"Gwyn. Yes," I said. The performance had gone over well and I was scheduled to join Gwyn in getting lessons directly from Santiago the next day.
"You speak Spanish?" she inquired.
"Then you'll like this."
The first thing I do, when the pain is over, is stand. The second is mourn the loss of the effort of standing. I worked for the ease I had, I worked for the grace, I worked for the balance and the strength and the precision, and now it's not even just as natural as blinking, it's not even just as simple as breathing - I've become omnipotent through no work of my own, and my feet will point and lift me up without complaint, my arms will fly through the air without strain, and what can the work mean now? The pain in my throat is terrible, if dwarfed by the agony that just left me, but it's an afterthought to the loss of meaning. Am I still a dancer?
The mourning lasts a third of a second. And then I extend my hand to the man who took my work from me, and he accepts it, and we dance. Perfect footfall after perfect footfall, weightless catches and spectacular leaps and lightning-fast spins. He has what he wanted. I'm a miracle.
I have lost my work, and gained my art.
"She was a dancer before she turned," I murmured, when Addy took her fingers away from my face. "Even before. Who was it who made her?"
"An admirer of her work, who wanted it immortalized and had the wherewithal to arrange that," Addy said.
"She didn't think her real name," I grumbled. "Once I realized who it was, I was hoping she'd think it during the memory. Nobody knows it!"
Addy laughed. "She did think her name a few seconds later, but I wasn't sure if you'd care to see her first feeding. If you're so curious, Santiago's real name is Tamara Morales. Don't call her that. Or mention that I told you. I take it the experiment is a success? Non-witch vampire memories are within tolerances for you?"
I nodded. "And I think it might be partly just a matter of practice, too. I might be able to handle witch memories if I were used to memories like Santiago's first."
"Hmm," said Addy, smiling widely but showing no teeth. "What else might you like..."
I leaned forward eagerly, and she touched my face and sent.
- the last arpeggio, and they all applaud. It was some dozen counts of fraud to be permitted to perform here, but this sort of thing can't be arranged just by killing the right people -
- up and up and up! This is the way to climb a mountain, unencumbered, really feeling the thin air without the troublesome tendency to die of cold or falter from lack of oxygen. I wonder for a few moments if I could live here all the time, if there are enough climbers to sustain me; it's not like they don't die often on the trek already -
- he thinks I'm some sort of angel, maybe, glittering like an opal, but today I decide to let him live where any other day he'd simply have been out of luck; if he tells, who will believe? -
- the animals all run away from me, of course, so zoology is out, but I can still study plants, and in no time I've developed a reputation in the department for being willing to go on any field team under any conditions to collect specimens or just see sufficiently interesting trees -
- that's the last book in the library, I think the clerk who's been here the last several days in a row thinks I'm some kind of obsessive-compulsive who needs to turn every page without reading anything, before I can calm down -
- the last time I went to Paris was, oh, at least fifty years ago, and then I wasted my time on culinary tourism, sampling food that I can't believe I ever found appetizing next to real flavor. This time I want clothes - do I smell silk? -
- trying to decide on a pen name. Should I come up with an entire legal identity just for the author to go with the piece, or submit it anonymously? Maybe I could tell him that I wrote it, see if he'll believe that his rabbity editor could produce work like this -
- graffiti is the highest form of art, I think, because its transgressions are real, not hypothetical. I've been at it for years, but this stuff - "spray paint" - I think I like it -
- haven't gone near my son for a decade; I have control enough to be a little choosy about who I go near, who I kill. But I can't resist watching him graduate college, so I go, and look at him, he looks just like me - just like I always will - I wonder if I should ask her for a favor, to let me be a father to my son ten years too late? Would she do it? I haven't the strength to manage it alone, not without killing him -
- checkmate! It'd be an exaggeration to say I've solved chess, but no geriatric chump (a fraction of my age) who I meet in a park is going to beat me. I look just old enough that they don't think I'm some hotshot prodigy, just young enough that old men who've been doing this all their lives think they can defeat me with experience, but I've been the best chess player in the world since their great-great-grandparents were in diapers! I take his money - just my stakes, not all of it - and don't even kill him; he's a playmate, not a meal -
I lost track of time completely while Addy showed me memories, three steps removed from their origins, of all manner of spectacular things. I remembered being dozens of people, Volturi and just assorted vampires who'd passed through and had cause to let Aro read them. I remembered seeing the bottom of the ocean and the tops of the Alps, traveling through the desert and the jungle, visiting cities and deserted wildernesses. I remembered not just dancing, but painting and sculpting and singing and - once - fighting a pitched battle, although the pain of that was far enough removed that I didn't exactly suffer from it any more than I suffered to remember experiencing pain of my own. Sometimes the verbal thoughts hurtled past in language too archaic for me to decipher or in languages I didn't know at all, but there was more than enough else going on to hold my interest.
When Addy pulled her hand away, the bestowed visions went away so all I saw was the same thin wide smile on her face. I felt a little dizzy, but I thought it was more from exhilaration than excess. "Wow," I said, which seemed to sum up the situation.
Jake had apparently come in at some point while Addy was doing our show-and-tell, but he was just sitting at the table watching. "Having fun?" he asked me wryly. "It's nearly dinnertime."
"Yeah, that was definitely, definitely fun," I said, grinning at him and then at Addy, who blinked once in acknowledgement. "I could eat - Addy, when will you be back to try witch memories again?"
"Tomorrow, most likely," she replied. And then she touched my face one more time, but instead of a memory, she sent, I know the contents of your little meditation sessions. I had time for half a gasp before she went on, Don't worry your head over it. Until and unless you actually try to leave, I'm not going to interfere. I'm a student of witchcraft. If you can learn to beat Chelsea, well, wouldn't that be interesting?
I stared at her. "Elspeth?" said Jake.
"Just a sec," I murmured.
Aro, Addy continued, daren't annoy me too badly. In the unlikely event that he learns of what's going on, you will still be quite free to experiment so long as you don't attempt to actually leave, or induce anyone else to do so.
I blinked, and Addy brought her arm back and folded her hands. "I'll see you tomorrow, Elspeth," she said, and got up to go.