Chapter 19: Helper
The darkness pervaded everything. I couldn't feel my limbs, I couldn't tell if I was breathing, I didn't know if my eyes were open. No pain, no comfort, no warmth, no cold, no up or down, no plain taste of nothing in my mouth, or even the buzz of my own heartbeat. Nothing at all.
I wondered how long it would take me to go insane.
Alec, I guessed, but while it seemed likely that this was what it felt like (didn't feel like, rather) to be under his blanket of sensory deprivation, I didn't know why he'd be doing it to me.
Unless somehow - presumably without Addy's help - the Volturi were aware of my tinkering with Chelsea's work (I felt a moment of profound stupidity for not trying to get Addy's help directly with that - hadn't Chelsea been looking at me suspiciously for long enough that I ought to have asked? Wouldn't it be in Addy's interests, at least as she stated them, for Chelsea's suspicions to never get to the point of action as long as I wasn't trying to escape?) and had decided to kill me.
If they were going to kill me they would kill Jake too -
Jake. He was out of range, of course he was completely out of range, I'd only just acquired any range at all, but maybe I could learn very fast. Maybe if I regretted stalling enough, or felt stupid enough for asking about time off when I might need more useful powers later, then I would be magically saved, allowed to time-travel to the past and be more diligent and better and faster. Jake! Jake! JAKEINEEDHELP -
My power gave no feedback. If it was working I couldn't tell. We'd never worked on how to target people I couldn't see - in fact, I didn't even know how I decided to send to someone I wasn't touching; I hadn't thought about it at all. I could be accidentally calling for help to Sulpicia, or some random human in Volterra, or someone else similarly unlikey to benefit me.
I decided it would be safer to keep trying - to assume that everything I tried failed and then think of what the next thing to do would be. If shouting for Jake hadn't worked, what would be the next plan? Images were easier, I'd been doing images since I was a baby. Memories were easier than made-up pictures. I screamed a visual of myself, the most distressed expression I'd ever seen on my own face in a mirror, and then did it again, and again, ignoring the building tiredness.
Suppose that hadn't worked. What would be the next thing to try? Talking to someone more nearby - Addy, are you still there? Did she still have my power, or -
Memories crashed down into my mind.
- she'll take care of the kids, right? Oh, god, the kids, what if - seriously, vampires? -
- I didn't do it, there's been some mistake! -
- the ball is flying through the air, I'm not going to catch it, they'll win and everyone will laugh at me -
- it hurts, why did they hurt me, why don't they understand? I'll show them, I'll make them stop -
- hail Mary, full of grace -
- hm, I don't have that much - Pietro! Pietro, I need more flour! -
- the oats are doing well this year, but the turnips -
- well, your daughter has a face like a mule's! -
- Spices, exotic spices from the Orient! -
- he thinks I could become a master one day! That's it, that's the inspiration I needed to work twice as hard -
- pain fire burning it hurts it hurts what do you mean three days it hurts -
- Didyme, my Didyme, my Didyme, how I miss you -
- this dress itches, how am I going to keep from scratching in front of all of Father's friends and on such an important day -
- everyone must love me -
- but Ma, I think I'm in love with her! I can't stop thinking about her -
- I am never having another baby ever again as long as I live god damn this hurts why does anyone do it twice -
- I take the flowers and smell them and it's so romantic, except now there's a bee on my nose -
- I'm tired, it has been such a long day, do you really need me to deal with this right now or can it wait till morning -
- I don't know how to swim! Help! Someone help -
- lay a hand on my mate again and I will destroy you so utterly that the ashes of the ashes of the ashes of your ashes will burn, so help me -
- I love you. I will love you for every moment of eternity. Will you do me the honor of marrying me? -
- medical school, really? Mum, of course I'm happy for him -
- they say he is a great man, but I know him for a conqueror and a killer -
- I hate this uniform, I hate the way people look at me in this uniform, I hate the way I feel in this uniform, I hate its very buttons, why -
- an accomplished lady must be, among other things, competent in the art of conversation -
- claim this land in the name of -
- knit one, purl two -
- cereal again, I'm such a lazy ass, I should at least buy eggs and scramble them once in a damn while -
- welcome to Italy, miss, and enjoy your stay -
- I think you could eventually learn to hide other people as well as yourself, if you tried -
Fragments of memories competed for my attention, displacing each other in random sequence. I heard familiar voices and strangers, recalled places I recognized from my travels and ones I'd never seen in my life, watched thoughts march past in a hundred languages that had all acquired eerie familiarity, saw arbitrary snatches of life histories play out in vampire clarity and human blur.
It was almost a day before I was lucid enough, and had gotten sufficiently accustomed to processing the memories, that I could shove them aside and look at my surroundings in the present.
Later, I asked Addy what happened, and she showed me:
Vastly diminished efficacy, I report. Only a few seconds of the thoughts were new, of course - this will, I expect, be a matter of delay between uses rather than a simple situation where it's only effective against a given target once. It hadn't been disorienting at all to touch Aro, even the first time, and receive a much larger payload of memory; but that was a benefit of his power. Very convenient, how he can store memories so neatly, even pruning redundancies when he reads a person for the second time, without his being consciously disturbed by any items he doesn't choose to examine. It's a wonderful power - and completely still, doing only the exact same thing at all times; however he may flutter about envying Edward's range, he didn't work on his talent when it counted.
His power is a little like mine, actually. Both of us automatically helping ourselves to something of those we touch. Both living mostly vicariously. And to be honest, my native power hasn't changed since I turned and acquired it in magical form in the first place, but given what I can do, that's a technicality; there's a witch born every minute and one turned every month or so.
Before I have a chance to discourse further on the nature of witchcraft with my pupil, though, the dead, dark blankness of Alec's power creeps over me and I have other things occupying my attention.
Aro daren't attack me. He might have considered it before; in fact, I'm sure he has. But I've given Elspeth range! I can advertise what he'd rather have kept between us to anyone nearby, even through Alec!
Just in case Aro really is that stupid, contrary to all evidence, I'll -
The child is shouting for her wolf. By the current taste of her power, she can aim for him without seeing him, although I doubt she has the strength to make the signal carry that far. But I probably fell on top of her when Alec hit us, and she's still more oriented towards touch; I'm getting copies of everything. It really is a delicious power, and not as harmless as it first appears.
One of my questions is answered: Aro isn't that stupid. Caius is that ignorant. Dwi's voice chimes in my mind. [Caius feels there is reason to mistrust you, and with the witches of your collection all assimilated into our coven save one whom Aro can make use of more directly, you have lost a considerable portion of your usefulness. Do you have anything to say in your defense on either count?]
Damn it all.
Caius knows nothing; if I tell him, it would certainly do Aro harm, but take all my leverage away from me; the anarchy that would result might not be any more kindly disposed to me than Caius apparently is. Where is Aro? Perhaps Dwi will tell me - [Caius? Did he make this decision alone?]
[Marcus agreed to the plan.]
Marcus will say anything to make intrusive people go away and leave him to his pining; that's meaningless. Aro's out of town, then. What would have triggered Caius to act at this most inopportune time, when I can't blackmail my way out of it? [May I ask what prompted the choice? The witches have been up and about for a week and a half.]
There is a pause. The screaming girl is trying images now. Dwi tells me, [Chelsea has been noticing odd disintegration of Elspeth's attitudes towards the coven for some time now, but thought nothing of it until she spoke to Jane, who had also noticed odd behavior in the girl and believes you to be responsible for it. They brought the matter to Caius in Aro's absence. Do you have anything to say for yourself?]
[I would like the chance to speak to Aro, even if only through you, before -]
[Caius anticipated that request and has refused it. He suspects that you have some sort of unusual hold over Aro, and expects that Aro would be glad to have you gone even if he'd argue for your being spared given the chance.]
Well, I can't fault Caius's inductive powers. That's more or less exactly the case. [Why is Aro out of town?]
[A disruptive coven in Nicaragua may have an interesting witch in it, whom he might pardon. Chelsea is with him.]
The girl has another idea - Addy, are you still there? -
[Dwi, I imagine you don't like me much anymore, but we were friends, once,] I say, ignoring the child as a plan forms. [I have nothing else to say, but I want to ask you to let me know who's going to kill me, and when. I won't feel anything and I can't bear the thought of suddenly winking out of existence without knowing, Dwi...]
A moment's pause, and he said, [Saeed is going up with the saw. He'll start... now.]
And in that moment, I slam everything into everyone the hybrid girl's power will let me touch.
Alec's cloud of insensibility evaporates and I'm free. I'm on my feet in an instant; Saeed is listing limply to one side, and the saw clatters out of his hand to the floor, having left only one stinging nick under my chin. I don't know how long this will last, but I do know I probably didn't get everyone in the compound. If I'm lucky, I got everyone who knew what was going on. Time to make a break for it.
There's a window I can go out by; I can only care so much about the sunshine right now, but that's not what makes me hesitate. Elspeth, caught when I deployed her own weapon with my greater force, is even more insensate than Saeed. I'm not done with her yet. She'll slow me down, but -
Her wolf bursts through the door, wild-eyed, and takes in the state of the room. One of her screams must have reached him. He rushes to her and picks her up, a growl in the back of his throat.
"Peace. I don't want her harmed," I say, as quick as I think he'll be able to comprehend me. Her power won't let him waste time doubting what I say. "They might. You and she need sleep and I don't - I'll help you get away." I could kill him, but it would take longer than I might have before the incapacitated vampires come out of their fugues. Or I could blast him with the memories too, but I'm not sure that they'd be able to take his attention from his imprint - more than likely, mated vampires I've caught in the push are only so caught because their mates aren't in immediate danger.
I spin and throw myself out the window, and hear him following. I don't need to look behind me. He has nowhere to go; he'll follow me as long as I reassure him periodically that I'm not planning to hurt his girl.
I break into and hotwire a parked car, managing to do it without any humans noticing the shimmer on my hands or face; the wolf and the child go in the backseat, with her curled vacantly his arms while she makes confused noises. "Best defense is to stay in crowded places, full of humans with cameras," I say. "I don't think the Volturi are likely to be desperate enough to make a public scene, not when they can negotiate with me at any time through Dwi once they've recovered. It was difficult enough to pass off this May's jailbreak as a mass hallucination while only needing to kill fourteen people. Do you still have your pack or have they been moved already?"
"Uh, I'd have to phase to find out..."
"No room for that in this car. Very well. Let me think." I drive through Volterra, at a snail's pace, but there are plenty of people milling about with cellphones, and I can put up enough of a fight - and so can the wolf - that we cannot be apprehended fast enough to prevent all possible onlookers from snapping a picture and sending it to a friend impossible to identify or track down.
"What happened to Elspeth?" the wolf demands rudely, all out of patience. "Why is she - half-conscious?" The girl is mumbling words occasionally, but most of them aren't in English, so I can see why he wouldn't recognize them for what they are.
I send him a summary the simple way, avoiding the need to verbally compose a story. That shuts him up while I maneuver around the city. I need to decide where to go. My old friends are all either the new members of the Volturi guard, dead, or nomads nearly impossible to track down. The wolf's friends are all in the village. My pupil's friends are there too, and her former friends are, at least mostly, congregated in Alaska with the Volturi's reluctant spies, where they will be picked off for their disloyalty as it's convenient.
I would like nothing more than to find some isolated place to take the child and her pet. It might even work for a time. Demetri isn't in Volterra, he's off pursuing the inconsequential hobby or whatever it is that takes up so much of his time; he's gone as often as not, and he usually doesn't carry a phone on those excursions. For some reason he prefers not to be interrupted while he's away on his trips. But he'll return eventually and will be sent after us if they have any interest in our retrieval. I am excellent in a fight, but the feeble imitation of Jane that Elspeth has acquired won't let me hold off a team of memory-blast-immunized Volturi fighters on my own. Even a handful of allied vampires - witches or not - would give me a chance.
Briefly, I regret not finding Dwi and taking his power before departing. It would be handy right about now. I could use it to look up minor witch friends from long ago, too inconsequential in their powers for the Volturi to want them, and find out where they are and get them to join me.
I think I've gotten five miles away from the compound. Edward will no longer be able to divulge my thoughts to Aro if he should investigate the captive's memories.
Edward's power let me keep some tabs on what's going on in Denali. The Cullens have been busy collecting friends and allies. Last I heard, the Alaskan coven was playing host to not only their cousins, but also Zafrina's ordinary sisters Kachiri and Senna, an English friend of Carlisle's called Alistair with a minor power, and three powerless American nomad singles called Garrett, Mary, and Randall. A poor showing, but then, they probably could have gotten better attendance if the Volturi and I hadn't gone around snapping up all the best witches and their mates -
"How long is Elspeth going to be like this?" the dog demands.
"I have no idea," I tell him, polite in spite of his ill breeding. "Probably twice as long as the vampires in the compound I managed to get in the blast radius. She has a lot of memories to process, you understand. Every person Aro's ever touched, their entire life story from birth to the last moment he's come into contact with them - plus Aro himself, of course. He alone is nearly 2,500 years old, the other two Volturi and the two living wives and Chelsea similar, the entire rest of the guard at several centuries apiece at least, and the hundreds of thousands of humans Aro's eaten over the years to boot are good for another few decades each. And every random vampire who used to belong to the guard, or has ever passed through their hands, or who Aro investigated before having them executed, plus most of the wolves and imprints from your village, plus -"
"I get it! It's a lot!" the wolf snaps. "How long will it take her to deal with it?"
"I told you, I don't know. Longer than a few minutes, obviously. She sent me five and a half years once and I was inattentive for a couple of seconds, and I'm a vampire and she's not; extrapolating, she could be like this for the next couple million years, but somehow I doubt the results are quite that cumulative."
He makes an almost endearing whining noise when I say the word "million", but I don't think it will really be that long. If I did, I would have abandoned her in the compound; she'll be rather uninteresting to me comatose. Even without Aro's convenient automatic storage and sorting, there is no call for her to absorb the memories I gave her in real time. I will leave her and the wolf behind if she isn't better in a week - or if I really need to - but I suspect she'll recover quicker than that, at least partially. Sleeping may help her. That will be interesting to investigate.
I sift through her memories - is there anyone who might help her, other than the doomed rebels in Alaska? Someone with a known address? Hmm. The Irish coven is a possibility. They don't have a known address, and in fact they range over the whole island, but the vegetarian faction - Maggie and Gianna and Ilario - might have a permanent residence under their real names, if they take after the Cullens in that regard. I haven't heard of them migrating to Alaska as part of the rebellion, but Gianna gave birth to Elspeth and might feel something for her.
The three of them, possibly in addition to Siobhan and Liam, would give enough numbers that I and Elspeth's dog could probably defeat or escape the size team liable to be sent after us once Demetri returns. Four or five people, maybe half a dozen - sending large groups away makes Chelsea nervous and leaves her with too much to do too quickly on their return. They're unlikely to send wolves. It's too easy to use Elspeth as a shield, whom the wolves won't dare touch (...although what if her wolf died first? Then would she have that protection?), and anyway I highly doubt that any of the wolves have already been hit with the deluge of memory, so they'll remain vulnerable to that.
"Where are we going?" the dog wants to know.
"Ireland. A coven likely to be friendly to Elspeth lives there, and may be findable."
I do like the way this power makes me so believable.
I drive to the airport, locate an airplane headed for Ireland, and get us into the cargo hold, obtaining dinner on the way. The wolf looks away and clutches at his girl, but I really don't care; I'm not going to turn into a softhearted swill-drinker just because I'm traveling with this creature.
"Are you," I ask him, "planning to try to feed her solid food? She can probably swallow. I doubt she can chew."
He shudders. "I'll get her animals."
"You know, just out of curiosity as to what would happen, one of the guards tried feeding a captive witch under Alec's power animal blood once. She wouldn't swallow it. Apparently you need a fair amount of willpower to manage the diet; it's not the sort of thing that will happen by reflex. Elspeth might be different in that respect from a vampire, I suppose. Or she might be lucid enough to swallow deliberately. Or not."
He doesn't like this, but I wouldn't like him delaying her recovery by putting off feeding her what she needs until it's sufficiently painfully obvious. "We'll see," he says, looking worriedly at Elspeth.
"I wonder if she'd find you palatable."
"You, Jacob Black, werewolf, possessor of blood that smells rancid to me but doesn't to her. I wonder if she would drink it. I'm not saying you must make the experiment; that's not the sort of curiosity I am particularly insistent about indulging. But I do wonder."
"Well, she's not going to need food until tomorrow morning," he says stubbornly. His company is very tiresome; I don't make any further attempt at conversation. I start rummaging through the luggage in the cargo hold, looking for anything that might be useful, and obtain a pair of sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and lacy gloves that will provide incomplete coverage for my arms. It will be dark by the time we land, but this is easier than pulling off a burglary from a store once we're there.
Elspeth is still murmuring. A while later, she quiets, and her wolf holds her hand, watching her dream. He looks troubled. Eventually he starts yawning, and looks at me suspiciously.
I roll my eyes. "I want her alive, and have no particular reason to want you dead, not when you'll help keep her alive and make it inconvenient for your fellow wolves to attack her. Go ahead and sleep until we land. I'll wake you when it's time to go. With any luck there will be a safe place to go to ground once I've found her friends, and you can get more sleep."
"Okay," he says suspiciously, and he finds a less-uncomfortable place in the hold to stretch out with Elspeth under one arm and sleep.
I sift through my memories, mostly copied ones, to see what I know about Ireland and what strategies might work best for tracking down the coven. Eventually I recall a fellow with access to enough of the records of the Republic of Ireland that he will, if nothing else, be able to narrow my search to the island's northern tip if he finds no data on the family I seek. He is almost certainly still alive; the latest memory I have involving him is only eight years old and he was just in his forties at the time. It's hard to say whether he'll be cooperative, but that part I can probably arrange if necessary.
The wolf gets a total of two hours of sleep, and then I wake him and get us out of the airplane. I manage to avoid killing anyone, this time - which is good, because a mysterious airport-located death would let the Volturi find us without waiting for Demetri's availability - and I help myself to another car and take us to Cork. The wolf nods off again.
My contact is not pleased about being awakened, but he accepts without irksome curiosity the statement that I am "a friend of Tom's". (He has never heard me speak truth, and so the inaccuracy does not stand out.) Being a friend of Tom's, apparently, is enough to convince him to help me without any need for threats or pressure, beyond the mention of Tom's name. (Tom is dead, but this fellow doesn't know that or need to.) He has a work computer at home and can access the relevant records immediately, and finds an address in Wexford to match the names I give him. I change cars to make following me harder - the wolf has to be woken for this purpose, but falls back asleep readily - and head out.
Elspeth wakes up when I stop the car a few blocks away from their address, before the wolf does, and she seems to actually see what's in front of her.
"Where are we?" she asks blearily.
"The Trafeli household," I inform her. "It's so convenient that you're conscious. Let's see if they're kindly disposed towards you."