Chapter 34: Hunter
Esme distributed phones, and Carlisle recited a litany of phone numbers for us to memorize: every phone-bearing person in Denali and everyone in Britain whose number Cath had provided. We didn't program the numbers into the phones in case they were somehow lost - "it's not a terrible risk, but Siobhan thought that as long as we can just memorize the numbers, we should," Esme explained.
I did program Allirea's number into my phone, but I labeled it "Emergency" - not because Allirea would be the best emergency contact, but because that way I would be able to actually call it in an emergency.
"Siobhan wanted you to call her," Carlisle told me. "She should be clear of the house by now, so... Alice shouldn't present a problem."
I dialed Siobhan's number. She picked up immediately. "Elspeth, I need you to go to Biloxi," she said without preamble.
"...What?" I asked, failing to immediately figure out why I would need to be sent to Biloxi.
"James, 1920...?" Siobhan said. "Do I need to spell -"
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "No, I think I get it, one sec -"
- My Vicky, she knows me. She knows just what will strike my fancy. A neatly buttoned up loony bin, secure as can be, hard to get into and out of undetected... yet full of nibbles no one is likely to truly miss. Full of nutcases who were squirreled away here in the first place because their families didn't want them. The orderlies and the analysts and what all might be in a tizzy, but try getting the cops excited about a dead snack in a place like this. As long as my lunch is obviously a dead mental patient, not an escaped mental patient, they'll just pin it on another lunatic. Challenging hunt - simple coverup. Ah, my Vicky, she gives such lovely presents.
I smell two things, approaching the madhouse:
First, dinner - lots of it, crowded in close and warm and only a little soured with bughouse drugs (my Vicky picked me an institution that prefers flavor-preserving treatments like electroshock, my lovely Vicky knows me) - and one dessert. I don't think she's one of those "singers" I've heard about, or not quite...but she does smell delectable indeed. I've made up my mind to sink my teeth into whoever's leaving that trail the instant I breathe it in. There's no trail of her leading away from the place, so she's cracked, not a shrink or a nurse or anything of the kind.
Second, a vampire - not me, and not Vicky.
And that scent is laid down thick. This other vampire didn't just pop in here for breakfast and scurry off. This other vampire didn't just pass through the courtyard on his way to visit New Orleans and eat wayward Mardi Gras partiers. (Mm.) He's here every day. He's been here every day for a long time.
What is a vampire doing here like the inedible trinket in a box of Cracker Jacks? As a patient he'd be found out right away. The Volturi would be on this place in a blink. Is he working here? Or maybe prowling around unofficially? I don't smell a hunt on the premises. He's not sneaking maniacs onto his plate.
Is he going to get between me and my treat?
Wouldn't that be interesting?
I double back to my Vicky and thank her for the most fascinating present I have ever in my life received. Whatever the hell he's doing there, he's bound to give me an interesting time swiping my crazed confection off the dessert cart -
- I stake out the place around nightfall, hiding up in a tree, and watch personnel go in and out. The vampire hasn't been found out yet, so obviously he's on the night shift in this sunny weather. I spot him going up to the door, picking him out by gait first of everything. He's brazen as my Vicky showing off her shinies in the daylight to some morsel she's about to slurp up, but the humans aren't going to notice how nice and even he walks, how he smells like coconut and blood, how he's too pale and too pretty. Or they'll notice, but won't know what it means.
Nobody mentions his eye color when he goes in; they just call him "Dr. Carver", tell him good evening. Probably he's passed it off as some condition. Or he eats light, takes a couple days off, goes to work black-eyed. Didn't see him from that angle. But he works there. They know him.
I wait. He comes out of the building again before dawn. (Red eyes.)
And he smells of my sweetmeat.
He doesn't reek of her, and the other kooks have rubbed off on him some too. I'm sure he didn't have her for supper. But he did spend more time with the morsel than with any of her fellow fruitcakes.
This is no pediatric psycho ward. If my nibble were his mate, he'd have turned her already, without fear of the Volturi and their vendetta against immortal children. If he were going to eat her... why wait? She's not the newest bat in the belfry, the smell of her hangs around this place too heavily for her to be recent.
He left himself a good hour between quitting time and sunrise. Once he's well away, I climb down my tree, slide some shoes on to look presentable, and go in to investigate.
"Excuse me," I say to the first person I see - a nurse. "My name's James Carver. Is my brother here?"
She flutters her eyelashes at me. Vicky'd probably kill her for that if Vicky were here, but she's not. "Dr. Carver is your brother? I don't believe he's mentioned you."
"Yeah, brothers. Well, most people can tell, on account of the..." I wave at my eyes. Red.
"Oh, I didn't realize that ran in his family," she says. "I'm afraid you've just missed Dr. Carver. He's gone home."
"Shucks!" I'm just toying with her now, playing my role. "I was going to meet him here! He was talking about his patient in his last letter - been talking about her for some time now, but I've just got no memory for names, can't quite recall what he called her, might have had an E in it? - anyway he thought she was an interesting case study. I'm working on a book," I add.
"He's been particularly interested in Miss Brandon's case," the nurse tells me, raising an eyebrow.
"A B in her name, that was it," I say, snapping my fingers, "There any chance I could meet Miss Brandon now rather than waiting 'till my brother's back tomorrow? Only my wife's not well, I'd have stayed with her if I hadn't had this trip planned so long but she didn't want me to jeopardize my book to fuss over her, and I'd like to make all my observations quick and get home to her."
"I'm not sure..." The nurse wavers, looks at the ring on my finger, the earnest expression I'm putting on.
"I'll just be in and out, lickety-split," I promise. "I don't need to interview Miss Brandon tonight or even wake her up if she's sleeping. Just have to get a first impression of her to introduce her case in the book." And in fact I don't plan to eat "Miss Brandon" right now. That would be too easy, and too obvious to the people who look out for this sort of thing. But I do intend to learn where her room is, and leave a trail of my own for "Dr. Carver" to find. Let him make this interesting. I don't know why he's so interested in Miss Brandon if he's not going to eat her and she's not his mate, but maybe he'll make me work for my dessert.
Miss Brandon - "What's her first name? Did it have an R...?" "Mary, she's Mary Alice Brandon" - is a tiny restless tidbit. She's asleep when we go to her room, a miserable windowless cube in the basement, but wakes up soon enough, eyes unfocused.
"I'll let you be, I've got other errands," says the nurse. "You can show yourself out, I'm sure, Mr. Carver."
"Of course," I reply, my attention on Miss Brandon.
"It's you," Miss Brandon says. "Please - please don't -"
"What is it you think I'm going to do?" I ask her, amused.
"You want to kill me," she says, "but you're not going to do it today..." She fumbles her fingers through her hair, which they've shorn very short, probably to make her easier to wash. She sounds lucid, for a loon. And the statement about me is quite uncanny. But she might be a paranoid who thinks everyone wants to kill her. "I can't see..."
"It is dark," I drawl. Maybe Carver is interested in her for her entertainment value, although I imagine she'd get old after a while.
"I won't remember," she says, blinking wide eyes. "Sin."
"Little sin. I won't remember," she says again, sounding less and less lucid, "one way or the other. You won't kill me today, can I sleep, please?"
"Be my guest," I reply, smiling. I back out of the room as she slumps back down into sleep, and let her be -
- "I thought you would fight me for her, maybe move her someplace harder to sneak into!" I shout at Carver. He's standing over little Miss Brandon. She's halfway through changing, already undelicious, barely even screaming. "I thought you'd make it an interesting challenge! I didn't think you'd haul off with her and turn her!"
"You were wrong," he says. "Here she is. Do you still want her?"
"No," I snarl.
His lip curls up. Just a little too smug -
"Those ravings of hers..." I say.
"What about them?" Carver asks. "You did notice she was in a sanitarium -"
"Yes, I noticed she was in a damn sanitarium. She's a witch, isn't she? An unbalanced witch, but still magic and not just mental. She told you where to go to avoid me long enough and told you I wouldn't want her if she were changed!"
"I have to object somewhat to your giving her all the credit," he says. Too smug, too smug by half, he's barely even watching me for an attack. "It does take work to decipher what she says. She only sees, doesn't hear... she's thrown off by unmade decisions... often there are too many pictures for her to keep track of and she experiences dreadful headaches... I wanted to fully study how her power functions in its current form before turning her, but you've forced my -"
I throw myself forward, and he dodges and runs, but I chase him down and tear him apart.
He goes down easily. I don't even think about springing back and running and fetching my Vicky to help. He was counting on my wanting Miss Brandon only for her blood, and it's true I don't want her any longer... she's safe from me now... but him, him I am all too happy to kill.
I burn him.
I watch the witchy crackpot change. It's like she doesn't even notice the pain. She talks, sometimes - about "sin" and how she won't remember. When she's nearly done, I hide out and watch her. If she notices me, well, I can handle one newborn alone; if she doesn't, well, let her be, and who knows what she'll do, but I don't care anymore. My dessert's gone.
She opens her eyes, and it's like she's never seen the sun before -
-That's the sun.
I don't know how I know that.
I see a man. One day I will meet that man. I don't know where or when or how, but I will meet him one day, and we will love each other. I think I already love him. The vision goes away and I don't know how to make it come back, but somehow I can remember the face I saw anyway, all scars and blond hair. His eyes are red and I don't know why.
I don't know who I am.
I think my name might be Alice, or have an Alice in it. I think that's an okay name. Alice.
I don't know where I am.
I get up and look around, but I don't see any clues. It's a woods. It could be any woods. I think I feel very strong and very thirsty.
I don't know what I'm comparing myself to. I don't remember being weak or being without the pain in my throat.
I'd better go this way. If I go that way, someone will see me, and I'll be in terrible trouble -
"Okay, I don't think I understand after all," I said to Siobhan.
"Do you remember when your mother told Alice about what James told her?" Siobhan prompted. "And what Alice thought of that?"
"Alice was thinking she'd look herself up and figure out where she came from," I said. "She never got around to it."
"Elspeth, Alice is currently one of the most unanswerable strengths of the Volturi," said Siobhan. "Even when we can block her, that blocking is noticeable. We need Alice away from the Volturi's side and on ours. She's been Chelseaed to hell and back. But think about when Chelsea fails, Elspeth, you're a clever girl."
"Chelsea can snip relationships with dead people, people you've never met in person, people who are right there or far away - just about the only thing she can't do is mates, but I don't see how Jasper would be any easier -"
"Chelsea cannot snip your relationships with people who you don't know exist," said Siobhan, exasperated. "If you had a sister wandering around, and you didn't suspect that she existed, Chelsea wouldn't be able to affect how you would react to that sister upon meeting her."
"You think Alice has living relatives and doesn't know it," I breathed, finally making the leap.
"Exactly. Now, the tricky part is getting ahold of Alice and her mate in such a way that you can deprogram them and we can give her a relative to latch onto so she doesn't stick with the Volturi out of inertia - but the easy part is for you, invisible to Alice as you are, to go to Biloxi and look Alice up and see who there might be."
My head was spinning. The usual means by which the Volturi shed guards was death (like Demetri) or the discovery of a mate (like Eleazar). But on a handful of occasions, guards had learned that they had a child or grandchild or sibling unbeknownst to them, and - presented with a family that Marcus couldn't see coming and Chelsea couldn't have taken from them - decided to depart. Losing a particularly valuable witch this way (who'd abandoned the guard to be with his son, depriving the Volturi of his invisibility power) in 1602 had been the last straw for Caius, who'd called for more stringent relative-finding procedures - partly to check for heritable witchcraft, and partly to kill or controllably snip away stray kin.
They had not bothered with this for witches in their dungeon.
I expected that they would have started up with it after my seeding had left their prisoners up and about and capable of meeting such relatives.
But they wouldn't know where to look for relations of Alice's.
Alice's own memories provided no significant clue to where she'd come from - when she retraced her steps a couple of years after turning, to figure out where she'd been created, she'd found the place, all right - hundreds of miles west of Biloxi. Dr. Carver had moved her there, trying to buy her time in their escape from James.
My mother had later told her what James had said, but he hadn't named the city or even the exact year in the twenties. It would have been tiresome detective work to find out which hospital Alice had come from, knowing only the fact that she had woken up with an American accent, might have "Alice" somewhere in her legal name, and was in an asylum at some point between 1920 and 1929. I peeked, and noted that when my mother had begun explaining all of this information, Alice had actually balked at the implied tedium before even learning that James had been the source of the information. She'd never followed up later, either. It was a reasonable guess, but not one she'd bothered to make.
Aro had James's memories. But Aro had no reason to think James and Alice were connected. He'd only read the tracker to determine whether he was witch enough to bring into the guard, troublesome enough to kill. He'd relied on Santiago's memories about what James had said to apprehend the basic situation between the tracker and his captive... he'd chosen to read James merely to determine the nature of his witchcraft... he couldn't read my mother, from whom I'd heard the story... He certainly might be able to figure out whence Alice by idly browsing through James's exploits of a century previous, but with so much else to look at, he wasn't likely to find the information that way.
"Elspeth?" said Siobhan through the phone.
"Right, right," I said. "Alice, relatives, Biloxi. But - but I can't go. Jake is sick -"
"Did you get some food and water into him?" Siobhan asked, knowing as well as I did all the accumulated information about how to care for a bitten wolf.
"Yes, but then he had to phase..." I explained what my mother's power had shown her and how we'd determined that Jake still had at least one packmate, who had presumably been out of wolf form when I'd first asked about it.
"He's going to be fine, Elspeth," said Siobhan impatiently. "Eve is the only wolf who ever actually died of vampire bites, or even failed to make a full recovery eventually, and she had three bites, not one. He's not the first wolf to take one bite and have to wait out the sickness in human form. Do you think I can send Allirea to Biloxi? I'll take her help in a pinch, but I don't want to send her on a long-distance mission and rely on her loyalty to see that she ever comes back instead of running to her father and sisters, or her kids, or just off by herself where nobody can look at her. Do you have another half-vampire or werewolf up your sleeve? Can you suggest another person who will be able to explain to Alice's granddaughter or nephew or whoever you find this entire mess, believably, and get him or her to travel to Alaska to participate in the next step?"
"No," I sighed, smoothing Jake's hair again. "My shoulder is still broken..."
"You can walk, and it'll be healed soon enough," she replied.
"Do I have to go alone?" I asked softly. "Jake can't travel."
"No. You shouldn't go alone," Siobhan said. "You should take a non-witch vampire or two with you, to look out for you while you sleep, help you find Alice's relatives, and fend off unexpected threats. Any preferences?"
The non-witch part ruled out my mother, so I didn't waste time feeling guilty about finding the idea of bringing her awkward. I considered my grandparents, but decided Carlisle was probably an important rallying point for most of the local allies and shouldn't be running hither and yon. Especially the Denalis, who I decided against promptly - I didn't know how sure to be of their changed loyalties. I considered Kachiri and Senna, who I remembered through their captured sister Zafrina's eyes. I considered Carlisle's various friends who I remembered through his history. I spent all of two seconds considering Cath and Ilario.
"Rosalie and Emmett?" I suggested finally. "They have legal identities so they can fly normally. I can borrow someone else's, maybe, or go in a suitcase if there's a way to get me through the x-ray machine safely." My aunt and uncle had been familiar, but not cloyingly so - they were aware of the rift, even if they were only so aware because I'd gone missing from their lives for five years.
"You're a minor," Siobhan said. "You don't need ID to fly domestic. They can ask for proof of age, but they don't have to. I think if you tell them you're underage, they'll let you by. If it comes up, you are legally an American citizen just because of your parents - I suppose someone could make it into a fight over paperwork, but in case you thought being born in Norway made a difference..."
"Oh," I said. "Okay. I did know about the citizenship thing. I grew up in a series of libraries and read a lot of Wikipedia."
"So you did," said Siobhan after a moment to retrieve the memory. "All right. Rosalie and Emmett have agreed to go with you. We'll get you tickets - probably for tomorrow - and send you on your way."
"Should we get in touch with Peter and Charlotte as long as we're there-ish?" I asked.
"No, I don't think so. They're not witches, and might report us to the Volturi just so they can stay out of things. If we decide the thing to do is bury the enemy in bodies, better to do it with a newborn army than with a couple of people who would rather not be involved and feel beholden to one of said enemy more than any of us. We can reconsider it if we successfully pull out Alice and Jasper. However," she said thoughtfully, "perhaps you should fly into the airport near them, so as to have a plausible explanation for the trip, and then drive the rest of the way. Alice won't be able to see you, but if you travel legally there's a trail of records."
"Okay," I said. "What should I do if I find a relative of Alice's? Bring them to Alaska?"
"Tell them everything, answer their questions, ask for their help, and then call me," she said. "The plan could change a lot between then and now. We might need them in Alaska or Britain or Italy or in an inaccessible bunker in Antarctica. We might need them turned or human. Keep in touch, is the upshot of all this."
"An example of a place where one might build a relatively inaccessible bunker. I don't have plans for one; my point is that I don't yet know what to do with Alice's relative or relatives if and when you find one, and you'll just have to call me after the fact for an update. Go ahead and spend the rest of today looking after your wolf, and get a good night's sleep, and in the morning you and your aunt and uncle will fly out."
"Okay," I said.
"When Jacob wakes up next, if you can get him to tell you anything about the packmate, let me know immediately," Siobhan said. "I don't think, under the circumstances, that he'll have sent them anything they can use. Not as loopy as he's got to be under the venom and the painkillers, and not with as much cover for incriminating notions as his habit of watching you dream can provide. But I could be wrong, so - as I said."
"Right," I said, and Siobhan hung up.
My mother was looking at me sadly. I blinked at her, then shrugged my good shoulder and turned my attention back to Jake, still sleeping.
A few hours later, he woke up again, and I gave him more water and some of the non-sheep food that we had, and got him to blink me a confirmation that he didn't know who his packmate was or whether they'd heard anything. My mother was on the phone with Siobhan, going over the limitations of her shield and how she could be deployed in a fight, so I just relayed this information aloud, assuming that Siobhan would hear me. My mother nodded.
After dark, I found a way to lie down that didn't put pressure on my shoulder, tucked my hand into Jake's, and drifted off. The last thing I noticed was my mother gently taking my other hand.