Chapter 21: Meditator
Right after Maggie said that, everyone's head jerked up at the sound of a yawn and, soon after, the pitter-pattering of little feet.
Gianna flew up the stairs, Maggie close at her heels. "Molly dear," cooed Gianna. "Want to have breakfast in bed today?" I could imagine that they would be hesitant to bring her into the kitchen where, among others, Addy sat - although I did wonder how many vampires would eat little two-year-olds even if they didn't have vampire parents protecting them.
"Mamma no," said a high, indistinct child's voice.
- "Mama?" I say again, even though I'm sure. It's the exact flowery-Mama-smell. I remember it right for sure. She's finally back! The puppy is unhappy. "Silly puppy," I tell it, but it still doesn't know not to be scared of my mama, so I put its leash on a tree so it will stay there while I go and see Mama. Yes, there she is, through the trees! She has almost no hair now. That's silly. But she's still my mama, and she picks me up when I run over to her. She's been gone a long time. I better show her all the stuff she missed -
"It'll be fun," urged Maggie. "We could bring you a tray with eggs and sugar toast and orange juice and app -"
"I ate all the applesauce," I murmured under my breath.
"- a banana," substituted Maggie swiftly.
"Want to down, Mummy," said Molly.
I heard Gianna's sharp whisper, quiet in my ears but not intended for me - "Adelaide, if you even look at her the wrong way..." The threat trailed off, and Gianna's voice resumed its pleasant coo. "Okay, darling. We have some... friends over. They're down in the kitchen." The three came down the stairs, Molly in Gianna's arms.
- home... in Mama's arms, dashing from place to place -
Molly was cute as a button, wearing a blue nightgown patterened with sheep and little bunny slippers. She took strongly after what I remembered human Gianna looking like - similar green eyes, but the hair and the skin each were a shade lighter. She leaned easily against Gianna's shoulder, looking at the visitors in her house with innocent curiosity. "Hi friendth," she lisped.
"Hi, Molly," I said. "I'm Elspeth."
"Ethbef," attempted Molly. The look of motherly adoration on Gianna's face was -
- Mama is so glad to be back! She's a snuggly mama -
- was adorable. Maggie looked -
- Mama's going to take me away with her. She missed me lots -
- looked fiercely protective. Addy was smiling peaceably, hands dangling at her sides nonthreateningly, but neither mother relaxed much. "Unclario!" squealed Molly when she spotted her uncle. Jake laughed quietly at the portmanteau.
"And that's Jacob, and this... is Adelaide," said Maggie stiffly, pointing them out for Molly.
"Jacob and Adalady," repeated Molly.
"You can call me Addy," invited Addy, and Molly pronounced that much more readily; Gianna frowned, but only a little.
"Sugar toast!" said Molly, pointing at Ilario, when the introductions were finished. He gently ruffled her hair and retrieved a slice of bread from the cupboard to turn into toast. Meanwhile, the conversation resumed at a speed and pitch inaccessible to Molly; I held Jake's hand and translated in silence when I realized his hearing was only a little better than a human's in two-legged form.
"We don't keep in very regular contact with Siobhan and Liam," Maggie explained, peeling a banana for Molly. "Especially since Molly came along. They... we really don't think they'd hurt her, but there's just no such thing as sure enough, not with Molly on the line, and even I have to get out of the house if she needs a band-aid put on because of my history."
"So you can't get hold of them?" asked Addy, frowning.
"We have a general idea of where they are most of the time, and they have our address, and they do own telephones but usually don't have them turned on. We see them about twice a year and tip them off if we think there are other vampires on the island. Since," she said, with a pointed look at Addy timed for when Molly was turned away, "it is their territory. I mean, there is that one fellow who lives the Isle of Man who we think sometimes sneaks over here to hunt but who they've never managed to catch. But us three are the only other vampires besides Siobhan and Liam technically allowed."
- "Are you really the only vampires in Ireland?" I inquire. "It's such a massive territory. No coven? No competitors carving out their own sections?" I've been around much of Europe, and everywhere I've found others of what I must now call my own kind, I've found feuds and territory disputes and the creation and breakage of alliances great and small. The Volturi were refined and civilized, after a fashion, even in violence. But Siobhan's life sounds... genuinely peaceful, at least most of the time. Her borders are clear, at least, not like the dividing river that had two covens at each other's throats over boating prey.
"None now," Siobhan says, "unless I miss my guess badly. There were several others before, though never so many as in your home country. I managed to divide them up and take them down or drive them out, depending on how stubborn they were. Occasionally there are... visitors... who come here to hunt, and I do not tend to chase them over the water if they come in and go out expeditiously. Not visitors like you," she clarified. "I've never met one like you before, restricting yourself to animals. Of all things..." -
That wasn't mine, it was Carlisle's again; it was getting easier to tell during a recollection whether I owned a memory or not, instead of the dreamlike feeling that I was whoever I remembered being, that I'd experienced right after the blast...
"It's very impressive that Siobhan's been able to keep the place to such a small vampire population," remarked Addy. "There are, what, thirty or forty vampires between England and Scotland and Wales? I imagine some of them swim abroad occasionally for more varied hunting, but it's much more densely populated by the undead."
"Something like thirty or forty, yes," said Maggie, "though I think England's got more than its fair share compared to, I don't know, Belgium. Actually, I'm not sure if there are any vampires in Belgium. There's probably at least one."
"Honey," said Gianna.
"Right," Maggie said, "Ireland. Just us and the other two. Actually, that's one reason I think Siobhan may be a witch, though she definitely doesn't believe it, so it'd have to be a subtle power - can't be making a buzzing noise in her head like mine does, or anything like that. And she definitely is good at making plans that wouldn't necessarily need magic to work."
Molly crunched her sugar toast. "Mummy th- sing?" she asked, correcting her lisp with some effort, and Maggie began crooning beautifully in Gaelic - which language, I realized after a moment of dizziness, I had all the resources necessary to understand fluently beyond the conversational level I'd previously had. Apparently I didn't have to explicitly process the memories of language-learning in order to use them; they must have been stored differently somehow, I decided.
"So all you know is that they're in or near Omagh," I whispered, trying to be inaudible to Molly like the vampires, "and have no way to pin it down. How can we find them?"
"We can try their phones," said Gianna, "it's just not guaranteed to reach them. We can try tracking by scent once in the neighborhood. One of us will need to stay home to look after Molly."
"You should probably do that," Ilario said to Gianna. Maggie was still singing, but she nodded a little.
Gianna dipped her head to press her cheek into Molly's hair. "I want to stay, but -"
- "We're going to let Grandma Esme and Grandpa Carlisle and Aunt Rosalie and Uncle Emmett take you to see some friends in Alaska," Mama says. I don't know what a laska is. Maybe they have nice food there? Do we have to go to the laska to get me nicer food from our friends? "But me and Daddy can't go, and we'll miss you." I don't know why Mama and Daddy wouldn't be allowed in the laska. But they'll miss me so that's okay. They're supposed to miss me if I'm not there because I'm important -
"Of the three of us you're worst in a fight, and most likely to be able to talk your way out of a Volturi execution, if it comes to that," Ilario said gravely. "We'll rearrange ourselves on Siobhan's say-so if she has a better idea, but for the time being it makes the most sense."
Gianna nodded, and caught Molly's toast in midair when she dropped it. "Ilario, would you try calling Siobhan and Liam?" she asked.
- "Carlisle, how did you meet Siobhan and Liam?" I ask during the swim across the Atlantic. Esme is ahead of us, futilely trying to play with a pod of dolphins that won't have anything to do with vampires.
"After I left Volterra, and decided to venture to the New World," he says, "I stopped briefly in my homeland, where I first encountered Alistair, and - most likely to get rid of me after I'd overstayed my welcome - he informed me of Siobhan's existence. It didn't take me long to find her, and she believed me when I described my intention to move on to America, so she didn't take much issue with my being in her territory. We kept in touch, even more frequently than I do with Alistair - that being due entirely to Alistair's preference for nearly unbroken solitude, of course. Liam I met in 1823 -"
Ilario turned the egg he had scrambled out of the frying pan onto a plate, deposited the food in front of Molly, and pulled out his phone. Siobhan didn't answer, but he tried Liam, and got a response. "Ilario?" said Liam's low, rumbling voice. "What is it?"
"Complicated," said Ilario. "Very. Maggie and I need to meet you, and bring some... people." He settled on the catch-all term after a momentary pause, maybe to deal with the fact that Jake, Addy and I were three different species. "It's somewhat related to the Cullens' activities, although I don't know how aware you are of those..."
"Only vaguely. We heard them out, but when Siobhan heard the precise nature of the Volturi's behavior, we agreed not to go."
"Yeah..." said Ilario. "We need to get together and talk."
"We're not in the middle of anything here," Liam said. "We could go to Wexford -"
"No, we'll come and meet you," interrupted Ilario. "Gianna will stay home with Molly. Just tell us where to go."
"We can meet you halfway in Dublin if you like," suggested Liam, and Ilario agreed and they worked out an intersection and hung up.
Maggie, Gianna, and Ilario each had a car, but Gianna's was tiny and Ilario's in the shop. We piled into Maggie's station wagon, with Ilario in the passenger seat and me wedged between Jake and Addy in the back, and set off - after Maggie and "Unclario" both had a lengthy farewell with Molly and Gianna. Maggie attempting (with mixed results) to tear herself away from Gianna was almost indecent to watch. It was full daylight by the time we got on the road, but with all the windows closed, that didn't make the vampires glitter.
I thought about Molly and her family, and about me and mine.
- snip, snip -
I had been terrified. I'd wanted to beg her to leave my affections intact. I'd wanted very badly to care about... It was even hard to remember who exactly I'd been so very desperate to love. Eventually I pieced together a list: my mother; my father; my grandparents, at least the ones I'd met; my aunts and uncles - but maybe not Jasper; the Denali cousins - although on reflection I didn't think even my pre-Chelsea self would still like Kate, Tanya, Eleazar, and Carmen after what they'd done; maybe my human friends; maybe, on some distant basis, friends of the family like the Irish vampires or the Amazons.
I could remember loving... some of the listed people. I had clear memories of it for my mother, Carlisle and Esme, Rosalie and Emmett, all five Denalis.
I could remember assuming that I must love the others, that it would be only natural and appropriate, that it would be strange if I didn't. But thinking of it after Chelsea, when it would in fact not be strange if I didn't love the father I barely knew, the aunt I'd scarcely met, the distant friends-of-friends I'd never encountered...
I wasn't sure I'd ever much cared for those people in the first place.
But what had never existed, Chelsea couldn't destroy.
I might one day to be able to meet my mother's parents, and explain to them who I am, and have this all go precisely the way it would if Chelsea never touched my relationships. I never met that set of grandparents. Maybe Chelsea found nothing to cut, between me and them. I didn't know because the last time Addy had touched Aro was before Jake's pack was originally captured, and so before Chelsea had ever worked on me; I didn't have any memories later than May 26 that weren't Addy's own.
That didn't help with the people I knew I did once love, though. With them there had definitely been some kind of loss. I didn't know what to do about it.
I leaned on Jake's arm, and put my hand on my face, and tried to "meditate".
The good news was, Magic finally made a "sound" instead of signing, and it wasn't even difficult to make it happen.
The bad news was, she was screaming.
"What?" I asked. "What is it?"
"I don't know what I know!" she yelled. "We know all this stuff! But we don't have a way to find it when it's important instead of other stuff that doesn't matter! How can we really tell the truth?"
I was somewhat nonplussed by her strong reaction, since I hadn't noticed any oddity in how my power functioned - I'd been using it as normal since "coming to" earlier that morning. "So why aren't you acting glitchy?" I asked.
"I have to give us my best guess, but I want a better guess," she whined. "We know so much stuff and we could be using it to tell better truths with but we can't handle it all, there's too much..."
"Well, I do seem to be pulling up memories that are at least sort of relevant to whatever I'm talking about," I said. "So maybe it's not that bad."
"I don't think that's how it's working," Magic said. "There's at least a million years of stuff! Uncountable amounts of stuff! Why would we be getting mostly memories from people we know? It's not just about relevance."
"We've been mostly talking about people we know," I pointed out. "And most of the memories are from a really long time ago. Humans Aro ate in the year 3 aren't going to have known much that's important unless we're trying to talk about them in particular, right?"
"But until we sort through it all I don't know if we're missing anything," she wailed. "I'm only supposing that I'll think of the right things. I don't know when to itch."
"You were already itching all the time," I said. "If you're confused enough to stop, that's kind of good, I think."
"But -" Magic cried.
I put my hand down.
"You usually meditate longer than that," observed Jake.
"My magic is upset," I said. "She's worried that I can't tell the whole truth if I don't have all the memories processed - like I'll miss something that Clarus said back in 89 B.C. and this will constitute lying by omission because I technically know all the things Clarus remembered about his life when Aro killed him."
"Was that an actual person Aro ate or did you make him up as an example?" Maggie asked.
"He was an actual person," I said. "He had a wife and four children and one granddaughter and he was a potter and - I really can't think off the top of my head that there's anything about him that's going to be important for me to remember if I'm talking about anything other than Clarus himself. Or maybe ancient Roman pottery."
"Maybe that shouldn't be your magic's job, figuring out what the whole truth is?" Jake suggested. Then he made a puzzled face, like he wasn't sure if what he'd just said had made any sense, but it gave me an idea. I had two of me: maybe I needed three.
That left the question of how to make there be that many of me, but a moment's thought had me putting both of my hands on my face at the same time.
And then there were three.
I experienced a momentary confusion while I tried to work out which of me was which, but it was much shorter-lived than the puzzlement before I figured out Magic's role. The third self was there for a reason: she was supposed to handle my massive store of memories. I named her - not very creatively - "Memory". "Hi," I said to her.
"Hello," Memory said, but she didn't just say it, she pulled up one of the millions of recollections of someone I remembered saying the word. There was no shortage; she'd probably be able to talk that way for the next few years before repeating herself unless she wanted to use very specific jargon or something. The one she'd picked was my father's memory of one of the times my mother had said hello to him, before she turned. Her voice had been very different before.
I couldn't think of anything else to say to Memory. If I came up with clever ideas for how to use or manage the store of extra knowledge in my head, she'd be the person to talk to, but none came to mind. Instead I looked over at Magic. "Is that better?" I asked hopefully.
"...Yes," she said reluctantly, "but it's not completely better."
"If I have any more clever ideas for how to deal with the memories that will be better, now I have Memory to handle it," I said. "Do I have any ideas besides making her exist in the first place?"
"No," admitted Magic. "I don't."
I put my hands down in my lap. Jake was looking at me quizzically. "Talking to yourself in stereo?" he quipped.
"Talking to myself and my other self," I said. "There's three of me now. I made a new one to help with the memories."
Jake laughed. Addy looked intrigued. "I wonder if you could have arbitrary numbers of sub-selves," she mused, tapping her fingertip on my ear to catch up with the new development in my power.
"I don't know. I only have so many hands," I began, but Addy interrupted me.
"I keep telling you," she said, "you shouldn't think of your power as being intrinsically based in touch. You have range for everything else now; why not this?"
"Because I'm always in the same place as myself?" I suggested. "I don't see how range even applies to talking to myself."
Addy nodded thoughtfully "Try taking off your shoes, then, and -"
"Or what?" I demanded. I had wished that I'd worked faster to improve my power, when I'd fallen under Alec's, but making new sub-agents didn't seem to have gotten harder as I added more, so if I found myself in a situation where I needed to put my feet together and thereby make Elspeth #4 appear, I could probably do it in a hurry. And Addy's power - or "leverage" - over me was gone. She could attack me directly, I supposed, but Jake, Maggie, and Ilario were all there to back me up if she turned it into a fight, and I knew she didn't want me dead or even too alienated to work with her. From the look on her face when I snapped at her, she was thinking of the same things and had come to the same conclusion.
"Elspeth?" said Jake quietly. "Is there something I should know?"
"You should know that it would be a bad idea to phase in this car," I said tightly.
"Elspeth," he said again, folding my thin hand in his broad one. "What was that about?"
"Don't phase," I said, and picked a starting point and an ending point (well out of the way of Addy's blast), and showed him.
Jake's head lolled for a couple of seconds, but then he blinked rapidly and sat up straight again. "I think I got that, whatever "that" is, but I don't have an extra me to help process it. Can I get the short version? What exactly would be making me phase here?"
"Remember when I said some of the stuff Addy wanted me to do was hard?" I asked in a monotone.
"Elspeth," warned Addy. "Is this the time?"
"I think so," cut in Jake, frowning at her. "I'll work it out myself if I have to, but it sure sounds like something I'd want to know, even if I wouldn't like knowing it much."
"Remember," I said, since that was the closest verb in English for calling up an implanted memory, "when I met... Jane?"
Jake's eyes closed, then flew open and he snarled. "Don't phase in the car," I reminded him firmly.
He maintained his hold on his shape, but only barely. "The hell, Addy! You sent Elspeth to go get herself tortured because she said she was bored?"
"I really don't think this is the time," Addy said coolly, eyeing the door on her side.
"Wait," said Maggie, "what?"
"I'd send it to you but I don't want you to lose control of the car," I said.
"Ilario can take the wheel for a couple seconds," Maggie said, and he leaned over to guide the car along the highway. "Now: what?"
I sent along the information; Maggie made a squeaky noise and waited for a moment before taking over the task of driving again, and then I gave Ilario the memories for good measure. "Jesus!" exclaimed Maggie. "Wow, I've killed a lot of people, but I never coerced a five-year-old into provoking somebody into torturing her so I could get my jollies playing with her power. Most Evil Person In The Car Award goes to Addy."
"I notice nobody is considering it a remotely extenuating circumstance that I volunteered to be the test subject for the result Elspeth extracted from the exercise," said Addy testily.
"You're not five," said Ilario. "...Why are you even in this group, exactly?"
"Do you think Elspeth and her wolf could have gotten this far without me?" asked Addy. "Do you think you can afford to shed numbers, considering the project you have in mind, just because I am unusually committed to my research? I'm still borrowing Elspeth's power, and even if I weren't, Maggie, you could tell if I lied to you - ask me whatever you like about my current loyalties or future intentions and you'll have answers that I think will be satisfactory. Maggie, as you say, you've killed a lot of people. You happen to have stopped. Should we kick you out of the group on those grounds anyway? It isn't as though I have a vast collection of five-year-olds in my back pocket who I plan to send marching to Jane."
Jake growled under his breath and put a protective arm over my shoulders. Addy rolled her eyes.
No one said anything for the next twenty minutes, when Maggie murmured, "Almost there."