Chapter 24: Torturer
Siobhan didn't seem too concerned about my reply, and shrugged. "Can I assume for my purposes that you're on board with your wolf's preferences?"
"I guess," I said. "I mean, what he said sounds good."
"What he said includes you being happy," Maggie pointed out. "If you don't know what you want how's he going to manage that?"
"I don't know," I said. "I mean, there are the obvious things. I wouldn't be very happy if I died or anything. Or if Jake did. But I still haven't sorted out how I feel about all the people I knew before I met Chelsea, and..."
Siobhan waved a hand. "Right. I mostly just need to know what projects you will and won't help with in exchange for what incentives, not all the details of your psychology. Let me know if that changes substantially from the obvious, okay?" She sped up her pacing. "Are Jane and Alec loyal to Aro personally, or do they stand a substantial chance of defecting after Marcus learns about Didyme?"
"Give me a minute," I said, and closed my eyes again.
- my throat is burning. Just my throat, though, so that's... better... but I'm so thirsty - "Water," I say, expecting a dry choking noise, but I sound like a bell. I think of standing, and I stand, without any time passing between the one and the other.
"It's not water you need, dear one," says the man. I recognize him. I've seen him before. He used to stand in dark places, and watch me and my brother. It was strange. What is he doing here?
"It's not...? What happened?" Still the bell, still the thirst, what does he mean water won't help?
"Don't worry, lovely," he says. He's so pale. I'd think he was dying if he didn't hold himself so tall. "What you need is just there. Help yourself." He motions behind me.
It's some... people, tied up and gagged. Recognizing them is like trying to find something small I dropped in a murky lake. There's something off about how I remember things, but I know...
I don't like those people. They're from my town. They didn't like me, or my brother, and they -
I breathe in, and taste the moisture in the air, and fall on them like some kind of demonic creature, just like they said. They said me and Alec were witches, they said we made deals with the Devil, they said that's why I can make them hurt and he can make them sleep, but I never did anything with the Devil and neither did he... I think. It's so hard to remember.
It tastes so good. The burning fades away, mostly. It tastes so good and it makes the hurt stop. Water wouldn't do that.
It's over in a few seconds. Just a few seconds. I don't know how I could tell how long it took, but I could. And it was fast. I'm fast. I never was before, I never could run away when they wanted to hurt me... I could now. I could run away from anyone.
I look down at my hands. They have blood on them. And they're very, very white, where they aren't red. Just like the man. What happened to me?
I turn around and look at him again. I'm fast as blinking, fast as a heartbeat. I don't... have a heartbeat anymore. What happened to me?
"Dear one," says the man. He has such a nice smile. He likes me, I can tell, not like... them. "How do you feel?"
"Better." I lick blood off my lips. It's so good. I tasted blood before, when they hurt me, and it didn't taste like this. What happened...?
I hear somebody screaming, and turn my head that way. It sounds familiar, but it's hard to remember.
"That's your brother," says the man. "Don't worry, dear one, he'll be quite all right. He got a bit of a later start than you. His injuries were not so great as yours, and I thought perhaps he could be allowed to grow a bit older first. But he took a turn for the worse and it was necessary to intervene."
"I... don't understand." I touch my neck, right under my chin, where the burn is already building up again. Thirsty. How can I still be thirsty? My skin feels so smooth. I move my head and there's no hair brushing my neck. I have clothes on, but they're not mine, and they're too big. What happened to me?
"What's the last thing you remember?" the man asks.
"They were saying we were... witches..." I whispered. "They blindfolded me and I couldn't stop them, and Alec was too slow... and there was fire..."
"Witches," repeats the man. "Interesting. Dear one -" I like that he calls me that, nobody ever called me a nice nickname before, except when Alec calls me Sister - "I am so terribly sorry that I was not able to rescue you before any of that happened. I had intended to wait until you and your twin were eighteen or so, at least, before I changed you. Unfortunately, it was only the most fortuitous coincidence that I was here in time to save your lives at all, and it was necessary to make you immortal at once to avoid losing you entirely."
"You saved me?" I ask.
He nods. "You're very special, you see. And your brother too. You have a unique power."
"I can make people hurt the way I do," I say, but he must know that, and he nods. "It didn't help."
He smiles. "You did mention that they blindfolded you. You need to see who it is you mean to harm, don't you?"
"Yes." Sometimes I almost thought I saw the harm, even. Like a lightning bolt. It used to be the best way to make people stop hurting me. I could make them feel it too. I was the one who spat out teeth and nursed cuts and limped and couldn't see out of swollen eyes - but the hurt I could make them feel just the same.
I don't hurt now except the thirst.
But I can remember it, the burning.
"Dear one," says the man, "some people with special powers find that after they've changed, they're more powerful than before. I wonder, is there anyone you'd particularly like to try that out on? Someone who hurt you?" He's smiling still.
"I don't remember who..."
He leans towards me. "I have a power too," he says. "With one touch, I can learn all about a person. When I saved you from the fire, I learned all about you, dear one. And I remember who it was who took you from your home to burn you."
"You do?" I don't think I want to remember all the things that happened before. I don't think I liked them very much. But if he remembers them, that's all right. He can tell me who I wanted to hurt.
"Yes." He smiles. "Dear one, I have had my eye on you and your brother for some years. I was very, very angry when I found that someone had tried to do away with you. In fact, I nearly killed him. But then I thought, perhaps you would like him saved for you? Perhaps you should be the one to exact revenge? Would you like that, dear one?"
"Where is he?" I look up at the man, and he smiles and pats me on the head - I have no hair at all; did the fire burn it away? Will it come back? - and he leads me through the village. My brother screams again but we aren't going to him, we're going to hurt the person who hurt us. Nobody should hurt me, ever, and if they do, they should hurt.
He's tied up and gagged, like those people I drank. He looks at me and he's very afraid; I see him shaking and his eyes are rolling in his head. I could kill him. But I don't think that would last very long.
I look him in the eye, and I share my pain -
"Jane is definitely, solidly loyal to Aro personally," I said. "Alec..."
- The first thing I see when I open my eyes is Jane. I know her immediately. She looks different - her hair's been almost completely singed away, her eyes are bright red, her summertime tan is gone and she looks like she's made of porcelain, but it's her. "Sister."
"Brother," she says happily. "You must be thirsty. Look there, Master has saved you some -"
I don't wait for her to finish her sentence; I've already taken a breath and spun round to see what she was pointing at and devoured it. Oh...
She's smiling girlishly, when I'm through and I turn around to look at her again. She looks happier than I've seen her in years. "Sister, what's -"
"Oh, it's the most wonderful thing," she says, and whatever has happened, whoever she's calling "Master," whyever she's smiling - it must be all right, if Jane is happy -
"Also loyal to Aro, but only because of Jane; if she could be pried loose somehow he'd follow," I said. "Both of them were his from the start - hasn't changed since. Chelsea's not under orders to make it otherwise. She gets her instructions from Aro and he doesn't see a reason to make anyone generally loyal if they're already specifically loyal. The twins like everybody else in the coven, but they only answer to him. The closest thing to breaking away either one has ever done was when Jane realized that Aro's the one who turned her with all that implies, and then he made it up to her pretty fast by choosing that time to ask her if she'd knock him over just once out of "curiosity". That was satisfactory to her... sense of justice."
"That's one way to put it," muttered Jake.
"Well, "her sense that anyone who treats her like less than an untouchable princess needs to burn" takes longer to say," I said.
"Is it just me," said Maggie, "or would it be really, really useful to have Bella around nowish? I have literally no other clue how anybody's going to deal with the twins and Renata."
"It's not just you," said Siobhan, "but we don't know how to find her. Elspeth, did you have no way to get in touch with your mother at all in case of separation?"
"No. She doesn't have a phone or a regular e-mail because she never wanted anyone to be able to keep track of her at all. Her work made her accept an e-mail address, but it only takes internal mail, it'll reject anything from a different server -" Siobhan was staring at me like I was a complete idiot. "What?"
Siobhan smacked herself in the forehead; it made a loud clunky noise. "Tell me who she worked for," she growled, "and I will arrange to send mail from the right domain, Elspeth, if that's all that's standing in the way of our writing her a damn letter."
Maggie said, "Okay, point that we can write to her and this really should have come up in conversation forever ago, but is she likely to be checking her work e-mail?"
"No, but it's a hell of a lot better than flying to San Francisco on a wild guess and wandering around in case she's there," Siobhan said. "Elspeth -"
"Right, right," I muttered, and I rattled off the name of the company and my mother's e-mail address with them.
"I guess on the bright side, you didn't, say, tell your dad how to get ahold of her because you'd have just been thinking "oh I can't e-mail her" the entire time you were around him," Jake said encouragingly, "so that means the Volturi can't communicate with her."
"They have Alice," said Siobhan, "they don't need Bella's e-mail address."
"They've had Alice since two weeks ago," I said. "And unless they hid it from Addy for some reason, they don't have my mother - one sec -"
- "I told you, Aro," Alice says, "I can't see her. It's always been spotty with her."
"But my dear, I thought that was only due to her association with the wolves, not an intrinsic property of hers," Aro says. "Addy, are you finding the same difficulty?"
The headache that always builds when I use Alice's precognition on anything difficult is forming behind my eyes; I try to ignore it and focus harder on the one who got away. In two senses of the word. I cannot stand that Bella is still alive, that we didn't manage to kill her when it looked like we did. I've never been more frustrated in my life than when I could almost, almost taste the power in that girl, almost reach out and make it mine - and find my mirror blocked completely by a heap of rubble. Practically no one can use their powers without the sense of location and lack of pain that is so neatly taken away by thorough breakage. Otherwise we could never have held onto a man who can teleport. Some can use their powers whatever number of pieces they find themselves in. Apparently Bella can. Can use it against me - that was like biting down, hard, on something that inexplicably wouldn't yield to my teeth. I almost expected my jaw to hurt, after I touched her.
I wish she'd died when we tried to kill her. I wish. I wish I could find her now, or that Alice could, so she could be hunted down and made to die properly this time and not go on existing as a mockery of my life's purpose.
But I'm not getting anything but a headache. "I can't see anything either," I reply. "Her... shield might have improved recently, or it could just be a coincidence in the first place that she was associating with wolves regularly at the time it developed this aspect."
"She could have found a half-vampire, besides Elspeth," Alice said. "The wolves are all in the village, right?"
"Yes. I believe we would have other means of detecting her presence if she were there," Aro says dryly. "Very well, I will have Joham contacted and inquire about the whereabouts of his daughters. There is no obvious way to rule out the possibility that she has located some other hybrid unknown to us, though." He frowns. "Keep checking for your erstwhile sister every hour or so, please, Alice my dear. She may not keep continual company with whoever is blocking you, if indeed that's the case. It seems unlikely that she is deliberately flouting you, as she has no way of knowing that you are alive."
"She did somehow change her mind about going to Denali," Alice points out.
"Yes," Aro acknowledges, "but that could have been any number of things. If your head bothers you too badly, do let Alec know that he's to serve as your analgesic while you do your prophesying." He pats Alice's cheek, looking avuncular, and she perks up a little at the opportunity to avoid the discomfort.
I have a less complicated way to avoid my headache: I take his statement as a dismissal, and go to the dungeon. It looks very empty with only Edward in it. I poke the heap of fragments with my foot; the headache and the flickers of foresight disappear and my head is filled with second sound.
Right on cue, he "speaks" to me, aware of the moment at which his power pushes Alice's away: Please, please, don't hurt Bella, please, whatever you have to do - you could credibly threaten to hurt or kill Elspeth even if Bella wouldn't believe you'd really kill me, she might do what you want if you try that, I know Aro wanted her added to the guard once, he only changed his mind when you couldn't - please, please, not my Bella -
I don't have any fondness for your Bella, I remind him.
She found a way to let down her shield for Jasper when she needed to! he tries desperately. Use Elspeth, make her do that for you too, you can get all the damn taste of her shield you want. God, she'll be furious with me for suggesting threatening her daughter, but Bella has to live, I spent five and a half years believing I lived in a world where she didn't, I can't do that again, my Bella has to live. Addy, you could never live with yourself if you let Bella die without trying as hard as you could to get the chance to copy her... the one power you failed to borrow when you tried... He's trying to be tantalizing, but he'd say anything if it gave his shield wife a better chance of survival.
Still... what would it taste like...? -
I snapped myself out of the memory, unwilling to spend more time listening to my father trying to get me hurt so the Volturi could control my mother. It was strange... on the one hand, I didn't love him, wasn't sure I ever had, and could only feel so betrayed by it. And it should have been predictable. He was a vampire with a mate in danger. Even without Chelsea, he might have wanted to trade me in for her, although I wasn't sure. But on the other hand I'd never mentally lumped him in with "the bad guys", either.
"Elspeth?" asked Jake, looking concerned for me. "Something wrong?"
I shook my head - to clear it, not to answer him. "Alice can't see my mom," I murmured. "At least not since the last time Addy heard anything. It's either something new about the shield, or my mother is spending all her time with a half-vampire or a wolf the Volturi don't know about. They got ahold of Joham and his daughters were with him and didn't know anything about it, and Nahuel was at home when they called and didn't know anything either. All the wolves and Cody are in the village. And I know it's not me."
"Is something wrong, Elspeth?" Jake prodded gently in a low voice.
I didn't feel like constructing sentences; I pushed the memory at him. While he processed that, Maggie said, "Well, can you think of any other place she'd get a half-vampire or a werewolf?"
I thought. "I guess there might be somebody like Embry whose mother didn't move to the Quileute reservation," I speculated. The vampires looked at me blankly, so I explained: "Embry turned out to be a wolf, but his mother was a Makah, and everybody had assumed his dad was one too who she left behind. If she hadn't moved, Embry would be an inactive wolf on the Makah reservation right now and his mom would be there too, and still alive. There might be somebody like her, who really did stay put with her wolf kid; my mom would be able to tell by going to their reservation and sniffing around."
"Interesting," said Siobhan. "That still leaves the question of why she would have changed course since Alice saw her heading for Denali, though..."
"So write her an e-mail already," said Maggie.
"It's still light out," said Siobhan. "Give it an hour, then we'll get hold of a computer and I'll see what I can -"
"That bastard!" shouted Jake suddenly.
"Who?" asked Maggie.
"Edward!" he fumed. "He was -"
"Jake," I murmured. "If somebody wanted to kill me and you thought you could save me by suggesting that they threaten - one of your sisters, or somebody -"
"Are you making excuses for him?" exclaimed Jake. "You're his daughter! That makes it his job to look out for you, not your job to be the sacrificial lamb so he doesn't have to wallow in even more self-loathing than usual - did you pay attention to that whine in his "voice"? Is that guy for real? Is -"
I wanted him to stop, and without thinking, I flung another memory.
One of my father's, from when he thought my mother was dead.
It was just a second long, so Jake reacted immediately. "Augh!" he said, flinching; tears popped up in the corners of his eyes. "Elspeth, what'd you do that for? That was the most depressing thing I've ever thought of in my life."
"That's why," I said. "I don't like what he did. I don't like it at all and I'm not just making excuses. But I can't just say "oh, my father must be a horrible person then" and let you rant about him, because I have all his memories up until... ummm, May twenty-second - and he's a person, just a person, and he loves my mother so, so much, and - and - I at least used to love her, too. She had to make a rule for me to follow that I was required to cooperate with the Volturi and let them hurt her if that would keep me safe. I must have loved her enough to need a rule like that, I must have loved her enough that I would have given myself up for her once, I must have loved her enough that my dad's idea would sound pretty swell to me -"
"It's a terrible idea," said Jake.
"I don't like it, I said I don't like it, but I gave you just one second of what it felt like to be my dad when he thought my mom was dead - I have years of that in my head - maybe he's being weak or a bad father or something, but he just doesn't want to feel that ever again, can you blame him? Do you want to repeat it? I've got lots more. Lots," I said in a rush. "It's like after Jane burned me I wanted to do anything she said, just to make sure she didn't do it again - he just doesn't want to think my mom is dead again. I can't tell you exactly what he was thinking when he said that, beneath the surface stuff his power could pick up when Addy had it, because the last time Addy touched Aro was before that day - but it's pretty obvious -"
Somewhere in the middle of this torrent of words, Jake's expression of anger at my father melted away and was replaced with unadulterated "imprint face". He reached out and pulled me in for a hug, and I leaned in. "Stuff is complicated," I mumbled into his shirt.
"Stuff is like that," he said quietly.
There was a silence, and then Jake sneezed. "Mold," he muttered. Maggie laughed awkwardly.
"So," said Siobhan, after another second of silence elapsed, "what else? Elspeth, any more convenient communication methods you neglected to mention?"
"She doesn't have a phone, doesn't have an address, doesn't have instant messaging or anything like that... I'm sorry I didn't mention her work e-mail before but I really, really don't think there's anything else," I said.
Siobhan nodded and glanced out the window. It wasn't sunset yet, but clouds were starting to roll in in some numbers. "Liam," she said, "go get a computer and find a way to e-mail Bella. Come back once you've managed it, with something that can receive a reply from her. And then we wait."