Chapter 8: Fader
She was nut-brown, lithe and broad-featured with dark hair shaved so close to her head that I couldn't determine its texture. She sat like a wild animal, clinging to the curved stone on the side of Carlo's head where his neck wound was and looking ready to leap or run or fight. There was a little blood on her lips, which she licked off as she returned my gaze with dark, considering eyes, but she hadn't gotten any on the drapey pale green wrap she was wearing. I thought the outfit looked vaguely Indian. But "drinks blood" plus "not pale" meant "half-vampire", and that probably meant one of Nahuel's sisters, and one of them would be Korean and one Swiss and -
"...Allirea?" I guessed quietly, and she nodded once, expression unchanging. The Aborigine sister, the witch who could make herself seem irrelevant, which would explain why I hadn't noticed her until she decided to show herself. I sifted through recent memories. I'd definitely seen her. But she hadn't been important then. I would have paid attention to individual grains of grit in the corners of the cell before paying attention to her. Trying to focus on the memories of her from before she'd shown herself felt difficult. They weren't worth remembering, and things that I didn't decide were worth remembering could be forgotten - I didn't recall if she'd been in the room with me when I'd woken or if she'd come in with Carlo - "Did you kill Carlo?" I asked, frowning, trying to think through mud.
"You were not going to eat him," shrugged Allirea. She had an Australian accent and a matter-of-fact tone. I was mildly surprised about the accent, because I knew she would have been born before Australia was colonized by English-speakers and there was no reason she should have that accent and not another. "He was not going to shut up."
I had a vague idea that I should be upset about that, but surely nothing Allirea had done before letting me notice her was at all important; it was just clutter in my thoughts, she hadn't done anything worth noticing then, that was all. I pushed the useless notion away. "Is the guard going to be upset if he hears me talk to you?"
And then she wasn't important anymore, and I sighed and wished the blood didn't smell so good. I picked at a loose thread on my sleeve. I wondered how long without food it would take me to get really impaired by hunger.
Allirea faded back in, and I blinked at her. "You didn't answer my question," I recalled vaguely. Well, an answer to my question would have been worth remembering, and I didn't remember it, so she hadn't.
"Saeed!" she yelled.
"Allirea?" asked the guard incredulously. He peered through the window. "The hell are you doing in there?"
"Demetri will be angry with you if I tell him you put me here," she said flatly.
"I didn't put - did I?" said the guard, presumably Saeed. "If I put you there it's only because you were fading, I didn't mean -"
"Demetri will not care," she said, her voice frosted with an imperious tone. "You are not a witch, you are not a useful fighter, you are only a minor guard of little use, and no one will object if he kills you. But perhaps I will not tell him, if you do something for me."
"What do you want?" asked Saeed suspciously. "I can't let the prisoner out, that would definitely get me killed..."
"You do not have to let her out," said Allirea, waving a hand. "But I would like you to go away for two hours, and let me out when you come back. Obtain for her something that humans eat while you are gone," she suggested. "Oh, and take this away." She shoved Carlo's corpse, the knuckles of her hand into his shoulder; I was disturbed by the inert way he flopped back to the floor.
Saeed muttered to himself, but opened the door with his rubber gloves, picked up the dead man by the nearest arm, and tossed him into the hall. It was more of the same dark stone that made up my cell. The angle was wrong for me to see other doors, if there were any. He shut the door, and I heard him dragging Carlo off to whatever fate awaited drained humans.
Allirea waited patiently, perched on the sloped floor, until he wasn't audible anymore. "Saeed is not very attentive. He is a poor guard, and would not have been likely to pay mind to our conversation even if I faded in and we spoke loudly. But now he is gone. I have been observing you. Did you know that your dreams leak out of your hands when you sleep?"
"Yes," I said uncomfortably. "Why have you been, uh, observing me?"
"Chelsea has not touched you yet," said Allirea. "She is very busy with the new wolves, who must be molded as a unit. So -"
"Are the wolves okay?" I interrupted. Allirea hadn't done anything hostile, so she might tell me, and I was worried about the pack too, although they were a distant second compared to Mama.
Allirea shrugged. "The puppies are in the nursery with the others, the wolves and the women are being seen to by Alec and Chelsea. While Alec is still there, there is something I need help with. Will you help me?"
After sparing a moment to wince at the idea of Chelsea working her witchcraft on the pack, I blinked at Allirea's request. "I don't think I can do very much. I'm in a prison cell."
Allirea waved a hand as though this were trivial. "I can shelter you in my magic enough to let you walk out with me when Saeed returns to let me out. If my plan works, we will be able to escape afterwards."
"...We can escape?" I asked, confused. "You and me? Why would you want to leave? It sounded like Demetri was your mate."
She leaned forward, sudden intensity sparking her eyes. "I am his mate," she snarled. "But you and I, the hybrids, the master race, do not have those ties, those obsessions, those insanities. Only wolf men, and vampires, have that parasite in their minds. Like Demetri." She spat his name. "And this means that I cannot fade from his notice, there is no magic that will let him ignore me, no distraction that will let him deem me unimportant, no plea that will make him leave me alone, and he can find me anywhere, track me to any corner of the earth, and he is faster than me and stronger. The Volturi value him and will not be deprived of his service for the sake of my will or my sanity, and so while I can threaten idiots like Saeed with his wrath and make good on the threat if I am willing to play the part of the wronged mate for a while, I am no freer than you are. I could walk out, yes, pass unnoticed through the front door and run wherever I liked, but he would find me and think I meant only to play a game with him and he would pick me up and laugh at my screams and claim his prize and carry me back to Volterra. I run away often. He finds me, always. This time I want to kill him. I will give you anything it is in my power to give if you will help me kill him."
A very ugly scenario spun into view in my mind, and I thought of the sickening sounds of a laughing vampire and a screaming girl who couldn't convince him that he wasn't welcome, that she didn't feel the way he did, that it wasn't symmetrical and fated and perfect. Trying to avoid imagining any finer detail of that - that, which I could vaguely understand I had only escaped by the sheer luck that Jacob was not a psychopath, which Allirea could not possibly deserve even if she killed people (and she probably did) - I said instead, "Master race?"
Allirea calmed a little and shrugged at me. "It is what Father calls us. His purpose in conceiving me and my sisters and our brother. We are born, not made; we have the recourse of sleep; we can survive on different foods if we must; we can bear children."
That last was startling. "We can -?"
"By humans or vampires, either," said Allirea, twisting her mouth into a grimace. "Perhaps by wolves, but that I have not tried." I shivered at the implications that she'd "tried" with a vampire - probably a specific vampire. "I have three, by humans, and they are much like us, a little slower perhaps. I managed to kill his children before they were born, my small revenge, but Noemi once took a vampire lover - not a mate, only a momentary interest - and her son is also quite like us, a little faster, less willing to eat plants and other repulsive items. We do have time to talk about these things," she added, "but first I want to know if you will help me."
"I've never killed anyone," I said meekly. "I - I don't think I can. Not just because it's killing someone, but he's a vampire -"
"We can kill vampires, given the opportunity," she assured me. "Teeth and matches and the element of surprise. That last is my weapon. Anyone other than Demetri may think me unimportant even as I take them apart - though Renata can turn me aside without knowing I am present, and Marcus can see me coming by the threads of relationships that are only half-me, and even I find Adalheid -"
"She goes by that, yes. Adalheid is too beautiful to kill, and I am not immune to Chelsea anyway or I think I would have managed to slaughter the whole of the guard for their crimes of inaction against me. But my plan does not call for you to try to kill Demetri, not by yourself. The trouble is that I think your power fights mine. I've tried to fade you, while you were asleep, and could not shelter you from notice half so well as I can others. Do you know how to make your... self stop announcing itself so loudly?" she asked. "If you don't I can kill Saeed and we might escape that way..."
"It calms down when I lie," I said. "The less truth in something I say - about myself, not just about anything necessarily - the less it works. Like - "My name is Jennifer, I'm from Memphis." Did that tone it down enough?" I asked. "I'm not Jennifer and I've never even been to Memphis."
"It helped," said Allirea. "Probably enough to get us out without my having to kill Saeed. You will need to mutter lies constantly, though."
"If... if you're not immune to Chelsea, how can you still hate Demetri?" I asked, drawing my eyebrows together in puzzlement.
She drew in a hiss through her teeth. "She needs something to begin with, material to sculpt her products out of. With Adelaide's help she -"
"Adelaide?" I asked.
"I do not call her by her ridiculous nicknames," said Allirea derisively. Nicknames? Addy? I guessed silently, thinking of the witch by that name Mama had told me about. Del? If they're the same person... "Nicknames are for children. When Adelaide helps, when she copies Chelsea and they work together, they are much more powerful than Chelsea alone, but there still must be a seed of something to coax it into bloom. I had a week to learn to hate Demetri before I was ever near Chelsea, and there are no seeds. I have made very sure that there are no seeds, because more than anything I am terrified of becoming attached to him and losing any hope of revenge or freedom."
"Oh," I said. My head was spinning with all the new information, and with the necessity of forcing down awful thoughts about Allirea and Demetri, and trying to think of sufficiently false things to say that they'd suppress my witchcraft and let Allirea hide me for her plan - "What's your plan?"
"Alec is holding the wolves and their women while Chelsea works on them," Allirea said. "You are not one of the wolves, who must be handled as a group, and you are not a weak and easily-molded human, so you are set aside to be separately handled. While Alec does work there, though, he does not watch over the witches in the dungeon. Often they are kept in pieces, but it has come time to feed them, and for that they must be whole, though not necessarily awake. Adelaide has borrowed Alec's power, and is keeping them unconscious while they are fed, which is a tedious process. Adalheid must bring extra prey, make several trips far afield. The guard given the task of feeding the witches must satiate themselves as much as possible so they can handle the blood without drinking it themselves. The witches' food must be extracted from the prey, the food poured into the witches' mouths by funnel and -"
"Wait, what? Witches in the dungeon?" I asked incredulously, interrupting the gruesome description of how to feed an unconscious vampire.
"With Adelaide, it is not necessary to win a witch's allegiance before he or she can be useful to the Volturi," said Allirea. "Even a witch with no seeds of loyalty for Chelsea to coax into flower can be copied. So of course such witches are broken into fragments, and allowed to heal and feed under Alec's - or Adelaide's - supervision before being broken again. But now, they are whole, and not watched by Alec himself, and with your help there will be a jailbreak."
"I don't understand what I can do," I said.
"Suppose," said Allirea, "that I go into the dungeon, faded as far as I can fade, and I tap Adelaide on the hand. She will copy my power and lose Alec's, and the witches will wake. But then she will be able to fade and, unnoticed, break the witches into pieces again. She will borrow their powers in place of mine as she does so, of course, but these are powerful, prized witches, and Adelaide is more than clever enough to use the surprise my fading will give her to put them all down in the right order."
I was starting to see. "But my power is completely harmless."
"Precisely," said Allirea. "I will fade you as much as I can, and you will mutter lies to force your loud power down, and you will tap Adelaide on the hand. She will have no advantage over the witches at all. At least some of them will escape their confinement, and freshly fed, they will have the strength to break out and scatter."
"And you're hoping that... one of the witches will be glad we did this and want to help you with Demetri?" I asked, finding the plan ingenious but not really clear on what purpose it served beyond freeing the prisoners.
"No," Allirea said. "I cannot plan on that; Chelsea has been unable to make these prisoners loyal to the Volturi, but she has cut every other tie she can, and that would not leave them sociable enough that I expect their gratitude."
"Then why do you want to do this?"
"What I expect is that when Demetri gets back, his next task will be to search for the escaped witches before he is permitted to look for me," said Allirea viciously. "I run away often, after all. I am always found and brought home again. I can be left waiting for him to retrieve me - but the secret of the witches in the dungeon is one the Volturi have tried hard to keep. It improves their reputation, when every coven that has seen Adelaide reports on her as bearing a different terrifying power. It maintains their facade of authority, when they are still rumored to kill those who defy them and leave lie those who obey their laws, rather than this half-death inflicted for greed and not justice. And so it will be very urgent that the witches be found and brought back, and Demetri is the tracker."
"So this is to give you a longer -"
"No," said Allirea, and her voice was alive with a strange glee. "Not entirely. Time is important, but not all I want. You must know vampires. Vampires who could help me. Or who would at least be defensive when Demetri turned up in their territory, alone because he has never needed help to capture me, and looking for someone that they do not acknowledge to be present. They might kill him."
"Oh." It was an elaborate plan, but if Allirea could fade me well enough to let me walk out of my cell, she could probably do it well enought that it would be safe for me to try her plan.
And I do know vampires.
I am supposed to call for help, if I run into trouble I can't handle on my own.
Being captured by the Volturi and likely to be Chelseaed at any moment seemed like it might be that sort of trouble.
"I'll help you," I told Allirea, and she gave me a savage grin.
"Remember," Allirea said for the tenth time, "you will not be able to think of me when I fade, and I can only shelter you while I am doing so for myself. You must form these plans without me there to remind you, you must mutter the lies to yourself, you must intend to walk past Saeed and by the path I described to the dungeons without waiting for me to show up, you must walk in as though alone and touch Adelaide without remembering quite how you are able to do it. You must mean to do all this enough that you actually will, when you cannot remember what lets you."
"I understand," I said, for the tenth time.
"Repeat what you will do," she insisted.
"When Saeed opens the door, I start muttering lies under my breath and don't stop," I recited. "I walk right past him, and go briskly but not at a run to the door at the end of the hall. I open the door, go down two flights of stairs, turn right, open the third door on the left, and walk in, staying behind the part of the room where the witches are so I don't walk into the field of unconsciousness. They won't notice me and I should accept that and not try to get attention in any way. I wait until the guard feeding the witches feeds the last one. Before he starts breaking the witches again, I touch Adelaide. There will be pandemonium but I have to keep muttering lies. Then I will be picked up and carried out of the compound and out of the city, and this won't seem important and I shouldn't try to stop it. I should keep up with the lying until I remember why I'm doing it."
"Good," said Allirea, letting out a breath. "Say it again."
I rolled my eyes and repeated the instructions again. "I can remember things I think are worth remembering just like you can," I told her.
"Even a vampire would have some trouble with this," Allirea said. "Saeed is only going to be able to let me out because he has years' worth of experience being punished by Demetri every time he ignores this sort of intention. It is not your memory I affect, not directly. Only your judgment about what is worth remembering. You will remember all the instructions, but you must fully intend to carry them out and be comfortable with forgetting why."
I frowned, but repeated the plan again, resolving as firmly as I knew how to take each step.
After the two hours Saeed had been told to spend out of earshot, I heard his footsteps - soft clunky noises of rocky vampire feet on the stone floor. He opened the door and threw me a paper bag with a grease stain on it - my food - and I was supposed to be lying, but I was really hungry, and I couldn't do a lot of lying with my mouth full, and eating seemed like a higher priority. I opened the bag and popped something that looked like a croquette into my mouth. But I did need to walk out of the room and I needed to start muttering lies first. For some reason. "I'm a polar bear," I mumbled with my mouth full, and I climbed out of the bowl of the floor and past Saeed, who seemed to be trying and failing to fix his eyes on me.
"I was born in Panama," I lied under my breath, and started for the door at the end of the hallway, briskly, but not at a run. I didn't really have a reason to go at that speed, but I didn't have a reason to go at any other speed, either, so it would do. I ate another croquette. "I spend my free time figure-skating. I've never been to Michigan in my life. I can't swim." Down one flight of stairs, I started on another. Maybe this was the way out? I didn't know why I'd have the layout of the Volturi compound memorized, though. Mama hadn't explored the whole thing, let alone told me about it all. There were windows, out of which I could see a sunny sky. "I've never met a werewolf before, it is dark outside, I have six legs -" Down the second flight of stairs.
I turned right. It seemed like a sensible direction to try. If I still couldn't remember what I was looking for when I got to the end of this route I could always try another, I reasoned. "I won a hot air balloon race last week. I have nine thousand pairs of shoes..." I reached the third door on the left, and turned the handle. "I'm a paraplegic. My name is Tamara. I work in accounts receivable..." I giggled, and then had the idea that might not be wise to giggle when I was supposed to be keeping up with the lies. "I didn't just giggle," I announced softly, and surveyed the room.
The room was about thirty feet long and half as wide. At the end near the door, facing the rest of the room, stood a plump vampire woman in a flower-patterned skirt and a T-shirt from the Associazione Volontari Italiani Sangue. I nearly burst out laughing, but instead told myself severely, "That is not even a little funny." Her eyes were burgundy, and sat in an innocuously bored-looking face. She had her brown hair in a careless bun, and if I'd seen her walking down the street in some more normal context with normal-colored eyes, I would have suspected she was a housewife. Given her actual location I thought she was probably Adelaide. "I'm a stockbroker," I murmured, moving carefully along the wall behind her so I wouldn't get in the way of the Alec-field she projected.
The other vampire moving about in the room, wrapped up in a Volturi cowl with the hood shadowing his face, was taking some care to keep out of the way too. He was hugging the walls as he walked. He held the funnel through which he was feeding the prisoners, and the container full of blood he poured through it, with long tongs. I glanced down at the witches.
None of them had any clothes on. That made sense, since they were just going to be shattered into tiny pieces which couldn't wear clothes again - or rather they would be if I didn't have my plan - I was pretty sure my plan involved the witches not being broken into tiny pieces. I wasn't too disturbed by that, after a few days living with the wolves and their occasional carelessness. "I am deeply offended by all this nudity," I said.
What was disturbing was the lifeless way they were laid on the floor. They had their eyes open, glassy unseeing red or black stares pointed in no direction in particular. Most of them had their hair in patches, a casualty of the frequent breaking and rebreaking. "There's nothing horrible about that at all," I whispered. I looked away again; the one witch's face I'd looked at closely was enough to tell me that I didn't like to watch them. I counted feet instead, and there were sixteen pairs of feet in two rows, facing towards the middle of the room. "I'm a zookeeper who works with pandas," I murmured. "I burst into flames in the sunlight, I run a flea circus, I'm going to run away and join the circus, I'm not running out of ideas for things to say - I'm ten years old, I'm eleven, I'm twelve -"
I continued counting up, mechanically, and bolted down a croquette every five sentences while waiting for the guard feeding the witches to finish. He was nearly through, only one more witch to pour blood into - the same one I'd looked at, with an olive tinge to his skin and a square jaw, nearest the door. I was claiming to be seventy-six when the last of the liquid was tipped into his mouth. It looked like swallowing was a reflex that Alec's power didn't affect.
I was supposed to do something, when the last witch was fed. I had this memorized. I consulted my memory, still counting. The guard put down the container that had held the blood and the funnel, and picked up what looked like a long-handled saw, except its teeth were real teeth - vampire teeth, I supposed, sharp enough to incapacitate a vampire at a distance so the guard wouldn't fall prone like the victim. I shivered and tried not to wonder who the teeth had belonged to. He hefted the saw, looked to Adelaide for confirmation -
I remembered what I was supposed to do and reached forward to touch Adelaide's elbow.
Pandemonium, as expected, broke out.
Adelaide made a choking sound, and there was a flurry of movement from the witches as they sprang into alert postures. The guard's saw was knocked out of his hand and I had to duck it as it went flying, and there was a horrible screeching as he was ripped apart by vengeful witches. Most of them bolted for the door, but one man vanished and two were cooperating on grinding the guard to dust first. All of them had the sense not to touch Adelaide, who looked very confused and was no faster than they were. She reached out for one, but he kicked her in the stomach and she hit the wall behind her, and her shirt got in the way of a power transfer.
I said I was eighty-five, and then glanced over at the witches who remained. The two who'd dismantled the guard dropped the last fragments and raced out of the room after the others. One was just standing there, staring into space nearly as glazedly as if he were still affected by Alec's power.
I stopped in the middle of the word "eighty-six", and spluttered, and looked again at his face. At the color of the patches of hair he had left. At his face.
"Daddy," I said, and that was not a lie, and Adelaide spun and looked at me.
Daddy looked at me too, red-eyed, and absolutely indifferent.