Chapter 2: Runner
"What? But Mama, I like this town - I told Kora I'd be here until June -" This wasn't the first time Mama's ever had us drop everything and leave, but it never gets easy. Easier, sure - not easy. And I really liked Kora, more than I usually like the people I latched onto.
"There isn't time to argue," Mama said firmly. "I have all our things. We need to go, now. Come on." She started out - east - and I followed. She can't pick me up and run in a populated place because she doesn't look strong enough to do it. But she can drag me by the hand, if I refuse to go with her; I tried that once when I was two and a half.
"Why do we have to go all of a sudden?" I asked. "What happened?"
"I smelled a wolf. Just a trace, but whoever it was will certainly have had the chance to notice our scents. We're going to Iowa City, we'll stay overnight, and then we're going to Peoria, where we will also stay one night, and then, unless I see anyone familiar or smell wolf again, we can find another town to stay in longer."
"Who was it?" I asked, jogging after her. We don't usually go to cities that big. They are more likely to have vampires in them, since humans are thicker on the ground and it's less obvious if one goes missing occasionally. Mama prefers towns big enough to have libraries, but only just. The sunnier the area, the bigger a town she'll risk. I guess she thought the wolves would stay out of cities or something.
"I don't know," she said tightly. "I can't tell one from another by scent alone, and I certainly didn't risk following the trail." We got out of (human, nighttime) visual range of the town. She turned around and picked me up so she could start running. Even carrying me and all our stuff, she's faster than I am. "They might or might not be directly hostile, depending on the pack, but we can't take the chance."
"Oh," I said. It makes me especially sleepy when Mama carries me, and I wasn't up for much more conversation than that. I nodded off.
When I woke up, I was in midair, and my ears were full of wolves snarling and Mama shouting.
It was still dark, and I was terribly groggy. I landed on the ground, slid, and blinked, trying to figure out what all the noise was.
"RUN!" Mama screamed. "RUN!"
There is one rule that Mama has that's very, very strict, but which I never actually had to follow before.
When she says run, I have to leave her and escape by myself if I can.
The rest of the rule is that I am supposed to go in a random direction as long as I can possibly stay awake. I am supposed to gradually make my way to New York City or San Francisco, whichever's closer, however I can. We have a rendezvous point in Central Park and one in Golden Gate Park, each of which I've seen once. I am not supposed to worry about her, because worrying will not help keep me safe, and she will have better chances if she thinks I am safe.
If I get stuck, or I'm in some kind of danger I can't get away from without help, or if someone finds out what I am, I am supposed to call Grandpa Carlisle rather than keep trying to meet up with Mama. (If he doesn't answer the phone I am supposed to try Grandma Esme, and Aunt Rosalie, and Uncle Emmett, and everybody in the Denali coven, and the Irish coven starting with Gianna, the lady who gave birth to me, in that order. This is in case someone has changed their number or has their phone turned off. If I can't get hold of any of those people I am allowed to try Grandpa Charlie.) If I go to the rendezvous point every day for a month and she doesn't get there, I am supposed to call for help then too.
I have a story memorized about how another vampire, not Mama, kidnapped me and was finally killed by a coven that decided to let me live. I am supposed to tell Grandpa Carlisle and the rest of the family this story instead of telling them that I was with Mama. I am supposed to pretend to be traumatized and refuse to show any of the memories from that time. It's possible that she could live through some things that would still keep her from meeting me in the right park, so it all still has to be a secret as long as that doesn't put me in danger. If I ever meet the Volturi named Aro, I am supposed to throw an absolute tantrum and beg not to have to be near him on the grounds that he killed Daddy. If I have to let him touch me anyway, then I am supposed to deliberately send him all the memories of the months of my life before Mama found me in case this can confuse him.
If they find out that Mama is or might be alive anyway, I am supposed to tell anyone who asks absolutely everything, and do whatever I have to to keep myself alive even if it means helping the Volturi find and hurt Mama. If I can, I am supposed to avoid the guard members named Chelsea, Addy, and Jane, and anyone else who is very likely to hurt me or make me think differently.
I'm not so sure about the part where I'm to cooperate with the Volturi, but I understand the part about running. Mama is very tough. She explained to me how she survived when the Volturi tried to kill her. She might be able to do the same thing again, although she hasn't had a need to try it twice.
But I can't expect to hold up in a fight against even the stupidest, weakest vampire in the world. I can't escape from one who wants to catch me, either, but they might let me go if I try anyway, because that means I'm not trying to be a threat.
I didn't get a great look at the wolves, but running away I definitely heard at least three of them, all barking at the same time. Mama stopped screaming once I ran. I couldn't tell if she wasn't able to scream, or if she didn't see any need to bother after I was away.
I ran, and ran, and kept running, and twenty minutes later when I thought I would trade my left arm for the chance to curl up in a ball and sleep, I noticed that a wolf was chasing me.
That was not part of the plan. I might actually be able to beat one wolf in a fight - maybe - if I'm not tired. Their advantage against vampires is only that they come in groups and work together well, so one of them isn't as dangerous even to someone who is not a proper vampire, like me. But I wasn't supposed to fight, I was supposed to run. I can't really outrun wolves either.
Being tired also makes it harder to run.
I was tired. I hadn't been going at top speed to begin with, and steadily slowed down from there, and I almost hit a tree. When I dodged it, the wolf was there to meet me.
It was huge. Mama told me all about werewolves, and how big they can get, but it's different seeing one up close. I only got a split second to look at it before it planted both paws on my front and shoved me into the tree I'd just gone around.
I don't know if I hit my head on the tree wrong, or if my need for sleep just picked that moment to force me unconscious, but I was out like a light.
The first thing I noticed when I woke up was that Mama wasn't holding my hand. She always did, even if we were running, no matter what, I'd always wake up with one hand in hers.
After that I noticed a lot of things in a row: somebody was holding me, carrying me someplace, but not Mama, or a vampire at all - too warm, and with a heartbeat. By the light filtering through my eyelids, it was past sunrise; I'd slept late. I didn't feel injured, although I could have started that way and healed overnight.
I opened my eyes.
Looking down at me was a boy. He looked about sixteen or seventeen, and Native American with long hair tied back in a ponytail. Probably a wolf, was my first thought, but no - in the sun, he was faintly glowing. Just like me.
"Hey, you're awake," he said.
"AAAAAAAAH!" I said. Sure, the last Mama heard was that Jacob's pack took Cody with them when they ran, but anything could have happened in that time, including the Volturi getting the third pack and Cody with them.
I tried to twist myself out of his grip but he held on. "Hey," he said. "I'm not gonna hurt you."
"Let me go!" I yelled. I drew on my power to make it convey how scared I was. If he didn't want to hurt me, he might not want me to be scared either, and if he did want to hurt me, it wasn't going to get worse if he knew I was afraid. "Please please let me go -"
"We have to keep running," he said. "The kept wolves are after us. If I put you down will you follow me?"
"I don't know what you know - okay, there's good werewolves and bad werewolves, and I'm with the good wolves, and some bad wolves found you and that vampire you were with back there, and some good wolves and me were there too, and," he huffed, "it's kind of hard to deliver exposition and run at the same time, so can I maybe ask you to just trust me? We're seriously like five minutes from camp and it's safe to stop there."
"Okay," I said meekly. My stomach rumbled.
"We've got food," Cody said encouragingly.
"Food-food, or blood?" I asked. He'd been carrying me around for goodness only knew how long; he had to have figured out that I was a half-vampire.
"I mean food-food. If you want blood you have to catch it yourself. You venomous?" he asked.
"Wolves'll be able to share prey with you, then, if you drag them back to camp once they're dried up. I can't do that. Have to eat my own leftovers." He winked at me.
"Will you put me down, please? I'll come with you," I said.
He tossed me into the air, and I was able to come down on my feet and keep up with him. "Nice landing. So what's your name?"
Did he not know? "What's yours?"
"Cody Clearwater. Look, I'm really not going to hurt you, and I'm already pretty sure you're Elspeth Cullen, but I'm trying to be friendly here instead of all creepy with the "I know who you are, wooo" crap."
"I'm Elspeth," I sighed. "And I knew who you were too. Wooo."
He laughed. "Up there," he said, pointing at a completely nondescript area of forest. I was pretty sure we were still in Iowa.
I followed him. He could have hurt me when I was knocked out, or asleep, or whichever I was, if he'd wanted. I'd need to go to New York eventually, but stopping for food and to get my bearings would probably help. "There's nothing here, Cody," I said.
"How do you think we're still all alive, with the kept wolves running around?" he asked. "Pera hides us. Pera! Pera, it's Cody and a friend!" he yelled at the apparently empty trees.
"It's not just that I don't see anything," I said, "I also don't hear or smell anything. I haven't tripped over anybody, either."
"Pera's good," he agreed, going a few feet forward to try again. "Problem is the hiding goes both ways. Except Pera herself, everybody she hides can only see other hidden people. So I have to get close to her in particular, not just any random person, and she doesn't have very good hearing. She might even still be asleep. Pera!"
I considered whether to run for it. I could go on to New York alone, maybe. After a minute's thought, I'd actually gone so far as to take two steps. If Pera's power would hide me from everyone and vice versa I'd never be able to find Mama until Pera let me go, and I wasn't sure I could trust her. But then Cody came back into existence.
"Welcome, Elspeth," said a woman. She was standing right next to me, one hand out like she'd just touched my shoulder. "I'm Pera." She looked sleepy and Hispanic and in her late twenties, or early thirties. I saw a few tents set up that hadn't been there before, presumably hidden the same way, and heard snoring and breathing and heartbeats. Between two of the tents was a chocolate-furred wolf, lounging on the ground.
"It's... nice to meet you," I said hestitantly. "Um, can someone please tell me what is going on?"
"Sure," said Cody. "It's safe here. Oh, and I promised food." He tossed me a granola bar from out of a paper grocery bag that was hanging from a branch.
I unwrapped it and ate. "So," I said. "My explanation?"
"Right," he said. "So, like I said, good wolves and bad wolves, where "good" means "don't want to eat your face" and "bad" means "might want to eat your face". I've been calling the bad wolves "kept". They work for the Volturi..." He trailed off. "Feel like telling me how much of the backstory you already know, so I can skip the parts that'll be repetitive?"
"I will if you'll tell me what you already know about me," I said.
"You're Elspeth Cullen," said Cody, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. "Your grandfather Charlie was a good friend of my parents before they died. Before your parents died, your mom was the one who activated the pack. She also turned my dad when my sister hurt him, delivered me when I came along, and forgot to warn anybody about a vampire from Alaska named Irina, who tipped off the Volturi about wolves existing when Becky's pack killed her mate. The Volturi showed up, Jake split off this pack and warned your mom, she and your dad showed up, Rachel and Becky and their packs had been completely brain-fried by a couple of the guard, and your parents both died. You were someplace else at the time, I'm going to guess your parents' coven, but who knows. And now, for some reason, you're in the middle of Iowa with a vampire - she a relative of yours maybe?"
"I know who the Volturi are, I know how wolves work, I know about the twins' packs working for the Volturi, I know what happened to my parents," I listed, not mentioning what I knew about Mama's status. I finished my granola bar and Cody threw me a bag of popcorn.
"Okay. So, Pera here is Brady's girl," Cody said, pointing at Pera. "Brady was with Becky's pack, back before your parents and mine were killed, and he was a kept wolf for almost a month. We - Jake's pack and imprints and me - were on the run that entire time. We're pretty sure the only reason we didn't get killed or captured was that the Volturi figured they could take their time and get us later. But then they brought in Pera, 'cause they like collecting witches and she's one hell of a witch."
"Thanks ever so," said Pera, in heavily accented English.
Cody grinned at her. "So," he went on, "before they could fry Pera's brain or turn her into a vampire, Brady laid eyes on her and poof, she's the center of his universe, you know how this works. Pera wants to not be fried or bit, so Brady defects packs, joins Jake's, and they get the hell out of Dodge. Where by "Dodge", I mean "Volterra". They find us via telepathy and since then we've had it way easier, courtesy of Pera being excellent."
"How would the Volturi have caught Pera in the first place?" I asked, puzzled, between bites of popcorn.
"They've got some hell-of-a-witch-es too," Cody said.
"I was betrayed by someone who I had thought was a friend," Pera said gravely. "I do not believe she could have captured me if I had been on my guard and had not trusted her."
"That part's a long story," said Cody. "Later. Anyway, when we're hidden we can't see or talk to anybody who isn't. Well, Pera can see everybody, but they can't see her when she hides. It can make a person kind of stir-crazy to have such a limited social circle. So sometimes Pera unhides a few of us because we don't want to start killing each other. Problem is that Demetri can tell where we are, and if anybody unhides while he's lurking with a pack of Volturi or kept wolves, we've got trouble. The good news is that they don't usually bother to stake us out, and they only use small teams for the purpose because they don't want to tie up large portions of the guard."
"But they were staking you out yesterday?" I surmised.
"Looks that way," Cody said. "Me and Jake and Jared and Victor unhid to scope out the area and what should we find but a few kept wolves. They're the ones attacked you and your friend."
"What happened to her?" I demanded.
Cody winced. "Uh... by the time any of us got on the scene she was... already in bits and on fire. The kept wolves ran off all by themselves - the smoke'll knock wolves out if they breathe it - and Jake and Jared chased Demetri. Victor and I went after you because we could tell by the scent you were a halfsie and I wanted to see who you were, but when Victor caught up to you and nabbed you you fainted, so we figured you were scared of wolves and he went to join up with Jake and Jared and I carried you this-a-way. Those three will be back any minute now - Any news, Quil?" he asked the chocolate-furred wolf. The wolf, apparently Quil, shook his head. I supposed he was in wolf form to serve as a walkie-talkie.
"Oh," I said. If everyone had run from the scene at the time Cody described, Mama was probably alive. Being on fire would hurt terribly, of course - but she could live through it. She would meet me in Central Park. I just needed to go there.
"Are... you okay, about your friend...?" Cody asked, leaning in. He looked concerned.
"I'm fine," I said. "I wouldn't call her my friend."
"What would you call her?"
"Marie," I said. Mama's middle name was her alias of choice only about a third of the time. But that was more often than any other single one. Jacob's pack - and the imprints and Cody - seemed to be against the Volturi. But that didn't mean I should tell all the secrets.
"...And?" said Cody.
"What?" I asked.
"Want to tell us what you were doing in the middle of Iowa with Marie?"
"Traveling. I need to go to New York City. I can find family there," I said. "Um, I guess Pera will have to unhide me for me to do that..."
A Native-looking woman's head poked out of one of the tents. "So help me," she said, "if all this chat wakes the baby again, I will sic Victor on you all when he comes back."
"Good morning to you too, Maureen," said Cody dryly.
Pera said, "Really, it is very early. I would like another few minutes of sleep before they return and I have to hide them too. Perhaps you could take your conversation elsewhere." She went into one of the tents; Maureen zipped hers back up too, and it was just me and Cody and Quil and a lot of tents in the woods.
"Let's go for a walk and talk," Cody suggested, and I followed him.
"So... explain Pera's power to me," I said. "The tents were hidden, but I saw the same trees before and after she hid me. So the trees couldn't be hidden."
"Wow, you go right for the tricky questions. I've lived with Pera most of my life and I barely understand how she works. Hmm... Okay, so you have the hiding place. That's where we are now. And you have outside, which is where we were before she hid us. Outside is where people normally receive their mail. Objects and plants and animals, on the other hand, usually exist both in the hiding place and outside, for some reason."
"But the tents..."
"Pera can touch stuff to make it exist only in the hiding place, and that's what happened with the tents - we didn't want someone stealing them or something. This also explains why we have tents, and food, and stuff. Sorry to inform you that you've fallen in with a pack of thieves. Pera just walks into places and hides whatever we want so we can walk out without it being noticed. If we pick things up without them being hidden first, people outside can see them floating - disappearances are easier to time so nobody sees it happen. I mean, the Volturi can't get much more out for our blood than they already are, but there's no sense leaving collateral damage by letting bystanders see too much."
"I guess that makes sense." Hiding all the time like that would make it difficult to pursue any sort of gainful employment. I've never stolen anything and I don't think Mama has either, but she gave me explicit permission to mug humans for money or their phones or whatever I needed if I ran out of pocket money on the way to a rendezvous.
"You think so? It confuses the hell out of me," he laughed. "Anyway. Pera can see, hear, and generally sense hidden things and outside things both, all the time, but she can only physically interact with stuff that's wherever she is. Except she can touch things in either place to hide or unhide them. She's hidden now, and she could hear me when I was unhidden. So I wandered around yelling "Pera, hey, Pera" until she woke up and poked me to hide me. Then I explained and she hid you too. You could walk into the nearest town and it'd be the spookiest thing you ever saw. Cars driving themselves and whatnot."
"Are our clothes hidden?" I asked, looking down at myself. I was a little scruffy from all the flinging that had happened to me overnight. "And are clothes on people outside invisible to hidden people?"
"Yeah. We're not sure why that happens. Anything that's really on your person, not just in your hand or whatever - like something that would stay put if you went completely limp and were levitated into the air - will come with you when you hide or unhide, and isn't in both places like other stuff."
"What would happen if someone or something went from the hiding place to outside while it was in the same place as something outside? Or vice versa?"
"Don't know," Cody said frankly. "Pera avoids that because she's pretty sure it couldn't be good. If I'm asking her to hide me, and she doesn't do it right away, I walk a few steps forward in case I'm intersecting something or somebody."
I nodded. "Okay. That's interesting. It's amazing she can do so much while she's human."
"Yeah. We all owe her our lives about a thousand times over."
"I do need to go to New York," I said, after a silence. Mama would surely be long gone from where she'd fallen by now, on her way to the park to wait for me. "It's not so urgent that I have to go right now, but I feel like I should be clear that I'm not... joining the pack, or anything. I really appreciate that you picked me up. I wouldn't have wanted to get gotten by the kept wolves. And it might make sense for me to hang out for a while if that's okay, at least until they and Demetri are gone. But - eventually, as soon as it's safe, I need to go to New York." I could put off setting out, if that would make the trip safer. Unlike me, Mama doesn't have a one-month limit on how long she's supposed to wait. She'll be worried if I take forever to get there, but she told me to take the safest route even if it's slower.
"That's okay," he said. "We move around a lot. Just to make it inconvenient for the Volturi and the kept wolves, so they have to haul out Demetri every time they want to know where we're at. And to avoid hitting places too hard with all the theft. I don't think anybody'd mind escorting you, as long as you're not in a hurry."
"Really? They're... I mean, you seem like a nice bunch of people, but why would you want to escort me halfway across the country?" I asked.
"Because I like you," he said, grinning. "You're the only other half-vampire I ever met, I kind of want to keep you around."
"And you're in charge of where the pack travels?" I asked skeptically.
"Well, no," Cody said, frowning. "I don't mean to give that impression. But we don't usually have any place in particular to go, so if you suggest one no one's liable to kick up a fuss. I'll just say, "Hey, Jake, let's take Elspeth to New York City where she needs to go" and he'll say "Sure, Cody, that sounds fine to me," and then next time we break camp we'll go in that direction and so on."
I nodded slowly. "So... this sounds like a fine plan to me," I said, and Cody grinned broadly. His smile changed his whole face, like he had a very limited version of my power: he could communicate I am happy, impossible to disbelieve or misunderstand. Traveling with the pack would certainly be easier and safer than trying to stretch the money in my pocket across half a dozen states. Mama would approve.
I'd just need to keep quiet about the details.