Chapter 42: Driver
"I've got a job now?" asked Nathan, laughing. "That's an improvement over sitting around waiting for you to call and say "jump", I s'pose. What's my job exactly? I hope you're not going to ask me to just knock on the castle door. Remember what I said about how my power will go right ahead and tell me the best time to set myself on fire but -"
"But if you do something fatal at the best time it will probably still be fatal, I understand," said Siobhan. "No, knocking isn't part of the plan. What we're going to do is send you, Elspeth, and Allirea into the wolf village. Allirea will stick close to you and keep you faded, and your job will be to prevent wolves from sounding the alarm or trapping Elspeth before she's deprogrammed everyone there. Since Allirea will be faded herself, you won't be able to pay attention to her, but apparently you're used to doing things without knowing exactly why you're doing them anyway, which seems likely to help you follow through on a plan that calls for you to coordinate with her. As far as you'll be concerned, you're Elspeth's bodyguard who everybody, including Elspeth, will mysteriously overlook."
"All right..." said Nathan.
"Don't hurt the wolves if you can avoid it," Siobhan went on. "And definitely don't hurt the imprints, or the kids. You shouldn't need to, for one thing. You'll have every advantage in the world to tie them up if they won't hold still voluntarily - we'll send you in with a mess of rope or equivalent. That won't hold a determined wolf but it could give Elspeth the time she needs. The imprints are harmless but after everything settles down you don't want to have hurt one. The puppies are harmless too unless one chooses this day to activate, in which case it's just another wolf to deal with."
"And then what?" he asked.
"Then, you - and Allirea will follow you, but you won't know it - go into the compound via the entrance. You will choose optimal times to knock out Volturi you come across. You're not going to be able to attack Renata or the people she has directly covered, and you'll only catch Heidi with her power off if she's behaving abnormally today, but everybody else, take 'em apart. Don't set anyone on fire. Just break them. We'll sort out later who lives, who dies, and who gets to serve a sentence in the hiding place if Pera helps, after the fact. Breaking them will be enough for the rest of us to pour in and take care of Renata's charges and Heidi - or for Bella to do that, rather."
"And you lot will know when to pour in how?" Nathan asked. "Do I go in wearing a wire, maybe, and give word at the right time? I suppose you won't pay attention to me until Allirea lets up on her trick - I'll have some keyword or something to tell her when and know when to say that, maybe, and then she can back off and I can talk to you?"
"That works," Siobhan agreed. "One question regarding your power - and you might not know, we might have to have Eleazar look at you - but: best timing for whom?"
"Me, presumably," Nathan said. "I don't have a history of working in groups. Don't know how much it'll cover the rest of you. Is it a worry that I'll move around too fast for Allirea to follow?"
"No, I think if your power can handle Allirea at all, it'll keep you at an acceptable speed," Siobhan said. "You're not protecting her - she's protecting you. I'm more concerned that you'll find the best time to do something completely unhelpful, like volunteer to join the guard or run off by yourself."
"Well," said Nathan, "I did know when to call you and give you the info, didn't I? So one way or another the power knows I'm working with you. I'm not sure what else you want me to do to prove I'm on your side. I guess you could bribe me with goodies for after we win or something... in fact, feel free... but I'm all for a win for Team Us."
"Fair enough," murmured Siobhan. "I still want to show you to Eleazar and find out what he makes of you."
"Fine by me," Nathan said affably. "Hey, can you tell me what's going to happen after we win, by any chance? What kinds of goodies might I get bribed with? Do we all get to vote for president?"
"Current working plan is that Bella becomes queen of the world," Siobhan said. "Other configurations are also possible; we're not sure yet. Anyway. We'll be in London day after tomorrow, Nathan, and then we can inspect and experiment with your good timing. In the meantime, this would be a good time to -" There was a click as he hung up, and Siobhan said, "I could have seen that coming."
"I'm going to hang up now too," my mother said, and she did. She gave me a significant look, and I also closed my phone.
"What?" I asked.
"It just occurred to me," she said in a low voice, "that anyone who doesn't want me to be in charge after the rebellion, such as anyone who wants to go on eating humans with impunity, has a strong incentive to see that Edward doesn't live through this."
"Or just you," I said.
"I'm a more challenging target," she said, starting to pace and throwing Allirea a suspicious look. Allirea's black eyes looked back calmly. "I'm ambulatory, I'm shielded from several types of attack, and it requires significantly more attention to get me killed than it would to kill most people. Edward is still in bits in that dungeon, as vulnerable as it is possible for a vampire to be."
"...Yeah, he is," I said, not at all sure why she was telling me this. "Is there something you want me to do about that?"
"Renata would have gone with Aro and Chelsea to Nicaragua, wouldn't she?" my mother asked. "She wasn't blasted."
"Right," I said.
"If I point that out to Siobhan, and you volunteer to help, she might send you in to knock out Renata once Nathan and Allirea have done everything they can, instead of having you hang back in the village," she said. "Everybody on our side - that is, everybody who might have the information that I'm in the running for Queen and that this would most likely mean murder becoming illegal for vampires - hasn't been blasted yet except for Siobhan herself. That means that if you get into the compound when most of the guard is broken, and knock out Renata, you can also protect your father from anyone who might choose that time to harm him. David's there too, but I don't think anyone has an incentive to hurt him except insofar as it might be hard to tell him and Edward apart in their current state."
"But Siobhan eats people herself," I said, "and is blasted so I can't stop her from doing anything if she decides to do it. And Allirea could walk right by me. And Addy could show up and I can't blast her either."
"I'm trusting Allirea on this one," my mother said, although the wary look on her face suggested that "trust" was a strong word. "I think she's sufficiently cognizant of the fact that she can't fade from me that she wouldn't involve herself in harming my mate. Also, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but since she knows I won't put up with her killing humans she's not even bothering to hunt for sheep or anything else available around here. She's just eating normal food. I don't think she's that attached to the pseudo-legality of murder." She was talking like Allirea wasn't there, which after a moment's thought I decided could just as easily be deference to Allirea's own preferences.
"What about Siobhan and Addy?" I asked.
"Siobhan had every chance to make a bid for world domination or to come up with a better idea than me ruling the world," my mother said. "I don't rule out the possibility that she's concocting something behind my back, but since I don't currently have the resources to oppose her if she decided she wanted to take command, and she ought to know I know that, she'd probably have said something. She might be angling for some kind of dispensation. I might even have to give it to her. But I don't think she'd kill Edward even if she didn't want me to be queen; she has other avenues open. Anyway, if she tries it, there's common knowledge of the fact that you can't stop her. You wouldn't need to try to get in her way. As for Addy... I have no idea what she's doing, but I'd expect her to have a little extra trouble getting into the compound during or after the fight. She'd have to convince quite a few people to help her out before she got as far as the dungeon. I'm not counting on that."
"Addy could already be there," I said.
"Not in the compound," my mother said. "Alice would have noticed either Addy or a blank spot. She'd hide better in the village, but if she's there, Nathan will be able to kill her on your group's way in - she'd take his power, but that'd just evenly match them without third party interference, and he'll have Allirea's help."
"Should I tell Siobhan about this," I said, "since you don't think she'd be the one to worry about anyway and it's probably not a good idea to surprise her? I don't mean on the phone where anybody could overhear, I mean..." I tapped my temple with one finger. "Privately."
My mother thought for a minute, then nodded. "When you have a reason to be within range of her anyway. Don't make a separate trip for it."
"Okay," I said.
"I was a little concerned that I'd have to convince you," my mother admitted.
"I don't want murder to be legal any more than you do," I pointed out. "And if something happened to Dad you wouldn't be able to rule the world, and I don't think any other vegetarians are ambitious enough to try it. I can't do it. I'm five, so I don't think vampires in general would take me very seriously even if I were otherwise all set to go. And my major defense mechanism only works once per person, and we still don't know how well the coma holds up versus lethal force."
"Right," she said, biting her lip a bit and turning away. "To be fair, I'm twenty-three and I'm not sure if that's old enough to be taken seriously by the crowd we're talking about here, either. I hope Pera decides to help us... even if only after the fact and not during. What can you tell me about her?"
"She's very... skittish, I guess you could say," I said. "I'm afraid she's really going to resent you for trying to eat her. But she forgave everybody in Jake's old pack for how things were before he stepped up to the leadership role... or at least I think she did. She interacted civilly with them and hid and unhid them on demand, anyway. I might get some leverage for having done the blank sending painkiller thing while she turned," I conjectured. "Although it might only be enough to compensate for the fact that I told her it was safe to unhide you..."
"I should have held my breath," my mother muttered. "Shouldn't have inhaled. Had no particular reason to inhale. It's a habit and I did it anyway, I didn't even think of the possibility of a singer... at least she's turned now."
"She probably can't remember that very clearly, at least," I volunteered.
"Probably. But she still knows it happened. You saw me pull back, right? You can tell her I did? I don't think I would have actually eaten her even if it hadn't been for you and the wolves."
"I can tell her you did, sure," I said. I tilted my head and looked at my slumbering wolf. "I wonder if she still looks at Jake as an authority figure. He bossed around a pack with her in it for five years."
"Does Chelsea cut that kind of thing?" my mother asked.
"Only sort of. If she were obeying Jake because she liked him or even just respected him as a person, Chelsea would have gotten rid of that, definitely. If she were obeying him because he's an alpha, then no - but probably she's not identifying herself as a pack member anymore. Anything left would be just leftover habits, that she could break if there were cause."
"Safe guess," my mother sighed. "I guess we'll see."
The following afternoon, my mother got a text message; she read it, then turned the phone towards me to show me what it said. It read, "Pera + Razi are here. P won't hide you. You + Allirea travel A's way; Elspeth should take Jacob to houses to hide."
The next text had the flight information for the chosen airplane. My mother sighed heavily, touched my hair for a moment, then said, "All right, then. Allirea, go ahead and -"
I scooped up Jacob carefully, and, stepping gently so as not to wake him, trotted across the mountains and down to the houses. I didn't see or hear anyone, so I wandered around, calling, "Pera? Pera?" on the assumption that she'd hide me soon enough.
After a few seconds, all of the vampires who'd congregated in the Denali houses flared into existence around me, Pera closest with one hand on my shoulder and the other on Jake's forehead. She danced back a couple of steps when we were both in the hiding place, making a strange huffing sound that was presumably her attempt to clear her nostrils of Jake's wolf smell. Razi, who looked every inch the protective mate, popped into place beside her and clasped her hand in his.
"All set?" Siobhan asked. "Do you want to drive Jake to the airport instead of running, Elspeth? That'd probably be faster than you carrying him, although you'd need to be unhidden to avoid an apparently driverless vehicle careening down the highway and getting unwanted attention."
"I think I would actually prefer that," I said. "I've never driven a car before, but I do remember how..."
"You can take the blue one from our garage," said Tanya. "Keys are on the wall. We'll follow you and Pera can rehide you once you find a place to park."
I nodded, and Pera audibly quit breathing to tiptoe forward again and unhide me and Jake again.
I took my wolf to the Denalis' garage, found the blue car, and got him to wake up enough that he could sit up in the passenger seat, let me buckle him in, and flop against the door to drop back off to sleep. The wound on his neck looked no worse than a scrape by this point, but he was likely to be pretty groggy until we reached Europe. I slid in behind the wheel, mentally poked Memory, and pulled out of the garage.
I couldn't tell, but I assumed the vampires were close on my tail as I got onto the highway and headed for the airport. I tried to avoid speeding overmuch. I didn't have a license on me, and rather suspected that Pera would hide and eat (or allow someone else to eat) any cop who pulled me over, instead of letting the situation unfold more conventionally.
I got all the way to the parking lot without police attention, and a moment after I cut the engine, my door and then Jake's opened as though by the intervention of poltergeists, and we were hidden again. I picked Jake up, locked the car in case Tanya wanted it again later, and followed the nearly two dozen vampires to the airplane.
"Do you see Bella?" Siobhan asked Pera, once we were all on the flight, scattered throughout the cabin in clumps. I sat Jake in a window seat; he woke up long enough to mumble a complaint about legroom and then close his eyes again.
"No," said Pera, "and I can still think about her, so I think she must be in the cargo compartment." She paused again, and said, "Wait, why wouldn't I have been able to think about her?"
"Think about who?" I asked.
"Never mind, Elspeth," said Siobhan, rolling her eyes. She turned back to Pera. "And you never mind too."
Tanya laughed. "No, this is fun," she said. "Hey, Elspeth, y'know your dad?"
"We've met," I said, puzzled.
"Is he single?"
"Let her be," murmured Kate uncomfortably. "You know she'll remember it all once Bella's not being... what did happen to her, again?"
"Never mind, love," Garrett told Kate, pressing a kiss to the part of her hair.
I blinked, but shrugged off the oddity, leaned on Jake, decided it would be unwise to let an inflight magazine appear to "float" in front of goodness only knew how many humans, and closed my eyes to skim memories instead.
I didn't hit on anything particularly germane, mostly just amusing myself by processing remembered books and shows, but also getting myself up to speed on the guard we were about to attack.
It occurred to me that we'd talked about Renata mostly as a obstacle, rather than as a person, so I looked at what I had of her, but on inspection our prior inattention was justified: she was just staggeringly boring. I'd done more noteworthy deeds in the past two months than she had in the past millennium. She'd been scooped up by the Volturi thirty-six years after being turned by an unremarkable vampire, who she'd followed around hunting and scrabbling for territory and then abandoned without a second thought when offered the prestigious position of Aro's bodyguard. She had astoundingly little going on in her head for a vampire - she gave herself over to her senses more fully than most, swimming in sights and sounds and smells and textures and, when applicable, the flavor of blood, rather than pursuing anything more complicated. It would have been dangerous for any other vampire. It was a pretty newborn-like mindset, usually compensated for in actual newborns by the extra strength. When the strength wore off, the mentality was dangerous. But it wasn't dangerous for her, because all the dangers it could have exposed her to were flawlessly turned away by her witchcraft. (Jane and the like could still hurt Renata, but joining the Volturi had rid her of that hazard except for early moments when Aro wanted "testing" done.)
I thought about Sulpicia and Athenodora, the living Volturi wives. They were somewhat more interesting than Renata - they had hobbies, at least, they read books and talked and painted and played instruments and had recently ventured onto the Internet. But they were very solitary creatures except for their respective husbands and each other and Chelsea, the latter having insinuated herself into their small social circle regardless of whether she would have found natural welcome there. Athenodora and Sulpicia were considered serious vulnerabilities (justifiably so) and as such did not leave the tower to venture into a world full of people who didn't care for their mates. Caius didn't depart often, either, but Aro often found himself necessary on various field assignments due to his power.
I killed a good hour and a half just looking at Heidi through various people's memories. The effect was muted in recollection, so I didn't trap myself in an infinite loop of watching her forever because she was just that beautiful, but the aesthetic overload was still compelling. From Heidi's own perspective, she looked pretty, felt less so, and had mostly agreed to join the guard in order to get carte blanche to use her power on large groups. Before that, the threat of retaliation from the Volturi themselves had confined her to uninhabited areas most of the time. Imperfect control over her power could easily have her accidentally mesmerizing and having to cover up entire crowds of humans, which was conspicuous enough to get her into trouble. She'd turned up in Volterra and presented herself as a candidate for the guard when it occurred to her that they would probably not get her in trouble if she were useful to them.
After some time, earlier than I had the previous night because we were flying east, I fell asleep, holding Jake's hand as usual.
I woke up on a different plane, and discovered that Jake was alert. What had looked like a scratch on his neck before was completely gone. "Morning, Elsie," he said, sounding tired but lucid.
"Morning," I said. "You're up early."
"Some combination of jet lag and having slept almost continuously for a week, is my guess," he said. "Siobhan caught me up on what's going on. She said apparently the plan is for you to go into the village with the one vampire from the Isle of Man, and I asked if she was seriously sending in just the two of you, and she said yes, but made air quotes and rolled her eyes, so... do you know what that's about?"
"No... The idea behind sending me in is that the wolves won't attack me," I explained. "And Nathan has a witchcraft power that gives him good timing, so he's not in that much danger either... he can dodge and stuff." The explanation didn't feel complete, but it seemed like a recipe for bad results to mess with Siobhan's magical plans.
"I'd feel better about it if I were going in with you," Jake said, frowning.
"Well, think about it like this," I said. "The reason the wolves won't attack me is because I'm your imprint. But they can attack you if they feel like it. And if you died, then I wouldn't be your imprint anymore."
Jake paled a couple of shades, and nodded. "I'll go where Siobhan puts me. Got it."
We landed at Heathrow, and Siobhan exchanged a series of texts with Maggie (voice calls being unworkable due to the inaudibility of hidden persons) to determine where the British contingent was located. I wasn't sure why this required several texts, but Siobhan told me not to worry about it. Jake was able to move under his own power, and could have kept up even with me on his back if he'd phased, but Siobhan - sensibly enough - deemed this a poor idea. We went at his top running speed on two legs instead. When we arrived, Pera hid everybody there, rather than unhiding us ("Tactical reasons, Elspeth, and can you stop asking questions until you know why I told you to stop, please?")
Nathan and Siobhan were promptly engaged in a lighthearted (on his part) and exasperated (on hers) conversation about something unimportant. I killed time listening to Cath catch up with her assorted friends, most of whom seemed more than a little irked at her for getting them involved, especially since the ultimate plan didn't rely much on ordinary non-witch vampires and, except for Nathan, any of them could have stayed home. The London coven in particular weren't thrilled about sharing their territory. Ilario said something irrelevant that mysteriously calmed them all down.
After we'd been one excessively large group of vampires doing nothing in particular for about fifteen minutes, Pera made a little shrieking noise, prompting Razi to leave off the small talk with the Scottish vampires and appear at her side. "There they are!" she exclaimed.
"My mother and Allirea?" I guessed.
"Yes, they're right there, but I told you, Siobhan, that I didn't want to hide her -" Razi petted her hair, making soothing noises.
"So unhide me, Liam, Elspeth, Jacob, and Nathan, and keep an ear out for further instructions," said Siobhan tiredly. "It's time to hammer out the last details... and get started."