Chapter 16: Seeder
I went to assembly, and tried to feel something while Chelsea hovered behind the back row of villagers in our pack's section. But there was nothing, no sensation, no perceptible change in my dispositions.
I did notice that I always felt happier and cozier right after an assembly. That was part of why I did my "meditating" right before each one - it was just too hard to pick at that secure, warm feeling of being surrounded by all my friends when it was fresh. So I let myself go to bed with that just as snugly fastened as Chelsea could make it, and only when it had nearly a day to wear off on its own did I start poking at it.
It did wear off on its own, a little - as far as I could tell for something that felt like nothing. Magic told me that a major effect of Chelsea's witchcraft was to influence who I made excuses for, so I took inventories of how I was inclined to explain or condemn various people's behavior in various situations. I felt more neutral at lunchtime than bedtime. But on its own, without the people from my old life actually there to build new relationships with me, neutrality was all I ever approached.
It occurred to me to wonder whether I really wanted to be anything other than neutral. Being surrounded by friends was happy and cozy - and that was exactly my problem. If it weren't happy and cozy, then Chelsea wouldn't be so good at keeping the village penned up.
My relatives, on the other hand, never brainwashed me, but raising someone from early childhood could be almost as effective, and it would be awfully lucky if I'd just happened to be born into a perfect family who I really ought to consider faultless. So it might be that I shouldn't be all happy and cozy with them either.
Neutrality is very lonely, though. And I hate being alone.
I didn't explain to Jake what was going on, since I wasn't prepared for the whole pack to know, but I did start spending more time with him. Regarding me, at least, he was impervious to Chelsea. Ultimately, my choices were to hang around him or abandon him, and even if some of the affection on my end was fake, it still seemed like a mean thing to do when he was completely innocent.
I taught him to waltz, and when Daphne invented a ball game to be played on wolfback we gave that a try, and he told me stories and I showed him memories, and we always sat together at meals, and every evening he watched my dreams for a few hours before he went to bed. Jake was absurdly happy. That made me happy, too - and guilty, because it made it so much more tempting to stay put, and whenever I thought of doing it my magic itched.
I asked Magic one day, "What if I just like it here and want to stay? Why do you have to badger me into trying to leave?"
"We can make up our mind to stay if you decide that you want to live here, without leaving anything out when you tell yourself why," said Magic implacably.
And that, I didn't know how to do.
"Benjamin and Tia are still doing well," said Addy a couple of days later. She'd started dropping by daily, but usually just showed me a handful of her more innocuous memories for practice and then left. I was starting to get used to the sensation of tasting magic that she experienced when she copied a power (which was always, because she could only get rid of one by replacing it with a different one), and I could often even keep my eyes open and look at things that were really present while she sent along the experiences. "We've decided that Chelsea's work based on seeds you plant is no less stable than the ordinary variety."
"It's been almost two weeks," I said. "Did it really take that long to verify?"
"No, but it seemed wise to be cautious," said Addy. "If we got cocky and asked you to seed all of the witches at once on the grounds that Benjamin and Tia were acclimating, and we were wrong, I'm sure you can imagine the chaos."
I looked down. "You want me to seed the rest of them?"
"And their mates, where applicable," said Addy. She touched one finger to my chin and tipped my head up. "Elspeth, I said I wouldn't interfere with your meditations until you tried to leave, but I'm sure you can understand that it wouldn't take me reporting the behavior to get you in trouble, if you do something suspicious like refuse the job."
"I thought Aro didn't dare to annoy you too much?" I asked, wondering for the first time why that would be exactly. Addy wasn't immune to Renata; she couldn't attack Aro directly even if she borrowed some useful combat power, and while some long-distance witchcraft might help, Addy would still be outnumbered enough to have no chance at escaping with her life.
"And vice-versa, I'm afraid," said Addy lightly.
"You said if Aro found out -"
"Then you would remain free to experiment," said Addy. "Because that is - how interesting, the way your power interacts with honesty - that is what I want from you. I have no way to improve on borrowed powers by myself, you see. If I want the improved version of some ability, the witch who has the ability natively must master the new aspect. I believe you heard the story of how Pera was initially captured? We'd been acquainted some years before, which is how I got close enough to grab her, and I helped her develop her witchcraft for that reason; it's so much more useful now. Aro does not dare annoy me to the point of depriving me of your capacity to expand your power, so I suppose it is fair to say that you aren't going to die. But he knows exactly how little it would annoy me if, for example, you were to prove dangerous and needed to do that experimentation under... let's say, Jane's supervision."
I stared at her.
"Do you understand, Elspeth?" Addy asked.
"Well then," she said with a broad smile, "why don't we go introduce you to Zafrina?"
"I can't lie to her, not by magic," I told Addy while I followed her through the tunnel to the compound.
"I know. You don't need to," Addy replied. "Chelsea just needs seeds, not full-blown adoration. And the hard part with Zafrina is already mostly done; she has no mate, only "sisters", who don't miss her anymore and who she doesn't miss. She's very lonely right now, Elspeth, and you're going to fix that for her without telling a single lie. You only need convince her that things aren't as one-sided as they seem."
Chelsea met us at the mouth of the tunnel, and Addy asked me if I knew anything about Zafrina already.
"A little. She's from the Amazon coven and does visual illusions," I said.
"That's right," said Addy. "And once she knows you're there, that means she'll be able to communicate with you directly, by sending you an impression of writing. I'll still coach you, of course. However, I should warn you that she could be hostile at first, and might try to scare you off with distressing illusions. Closing your eyes won't help. So I actually recommend that you keep your eyes closed. That way you will know that anything you see is something she's showing you."
"Okay," I murmured.
I went to the dungeon with them, and Addy pointed at a heap of rubble, and I shut my eyes and reached out.
That day, I seeded four witches including Zafrina, all unmated.
After the illusionist, there was Charles, a truth detector. I remembered my mother describing Maggie to me, who was the opposite - and to hear Addy describe Charles's power, considerably less powerful. Charles could tell the difference between kinds of truth, and wouldn't be thrown off by sarcasm or misdirection. Essentially, he was only convinced that he was hearing something honest if the person talking to him was forthright enough to keep Magic happy - which made me probably the only person who could talk him into letting seeds sprout, even leaving aside the part where he was in pieces and difficult to speak to. "But," said Addy cheerfully, "even if you aren't absolutely transparent, your power does help you sound honest as long as you aren't truly lying! I think that will close the gap, should you happen to feel that you would be most effective by telling him less than absolutely everything. If it doesn't work, we'll come up with a new strategy."
It worked. Chelsea laughed.
Then there was Dwi, who - like Zafrina - could talk back without going through Addy. "He's a bit like your father," Addy explained when she pointed out his pile among the rows of them. "Except he has no range limit and goes in both directions - and only picks up and sends voluntary communications. He's a useful telephone, more or less - who works underwater, in silence, regardless of whether there's bars in the area or not." She laughed. "The wolves work nearly the same way, except that they can't speak in the form that lets them have the ability, and only talk to others in their packs, so Dwi's power is faster in emergencies. We could talk to him ourselves, but he wouldn't believe us and is particularly unfond of me - you, he'll have a harder time dismissing like that."
Li-qing was last for the day ("I wouldn't want to worry your wolf, and I'm sure you don't either," said Addy, "so four will do until tomorrow,") and she had what Addy described as "minor gravity control". "That is to say, she can designate a new direction as "down" within a limited range," Addy explained. "It's a fun one."
I felt sick to my stomach after we were done, and Chelsea humming happily to herself while she made little finger-twitches to accompany her work didn't help. Addy escorted me back to the village.
Jake asked me what was wrong, when I walked in.
"Tricky day at work," I murmured, and he hugged me.
Addy was back after breakfast the next morning, caught me in the hallway, winked at Jake, and led me by the hand up into the compound again. I listened in silence while she told me who I'd be seeding during the walk through the tunnel. "Alice and Jasper - you know them - I'd start with Jasper if I were you, he really rather approved of the Volturi before he thought we'd killed Alice. Go ahead and roundly blame all of that on my study of witchcraft; we can fix up his attitudes towards me later once he's thrown in with the Volturi as a group. I'd have grabbed him too and he'd never have needed to despair of her if only it hadn't been so tempting to try his power to fake her death. It was a marvelous piece of work - and he never suspected! I think Alice will follow easily once he's in hand."
I nodded once, concentrating on breathing and walking and the fact that soon there wouldn't be any more witches in the dungeon to seed and I could get on with - whatever I wanted to get on with.
"Next," said Addy, "you can see about managing Hao and his mate Kazuo. Kazuo's not a witch, but he shouldn't be hard to handle either, and Hao's a telekinetic. Limited, though. I worked with him for a solid six months back in 1805, and he's still stuck on small, inanimate objects in a limited range that he can see. Very dexterous, though. Ask him how much art he's going to get done as-is. Plus there's the mate angle, of course, you remember working with Benjamin and Tia."
I did remember that. I hadn't seen them since. I hoped they were comfortable.
"And then Sukutai, the walking - well, "slightly quivering" at the moment - perfect camouflage witch. Herself, anything she touches - she can fix it up to have whatever color she likes. You'll be able to tell who she is all by yourself; she likes to stay brown instead of being pale like the rest of us, although she can't do a thing about the sparkles. She's got a mate too, Okey. He's not a witch, and his color from Sukutai has worn off, but I'll point him out."
"Is that all for the day?" I asked softly.
"Yes, that will do," Addy replied pleasantly.
She watched and gave instructions, and Chelsea smiled and fluttered her hands, and I seeded.
There were two more days of seeding.
I listened attentively when Addy told me about who I was helping to brainwash, feeling like it was somehow better if I at least knew their names.
"Emere's from New Zealand," said Addy. "No mate. You know the drill. Her power is like Corin's, but she has an invisible knife, not a shield. Quite sharp enough to hack up a vampire if that's what she chooses to do with it, although she's fairly nonviolent considering. Taamusi melts or freezes water - I tried and tried and tried to get him working with vapor or at least steam, but it didn't work, most witches are so constrained - and he has a mate Valdis, whom you will also need to seed."
I nodded once.
"And then you will finish up by working with Pyotr. He doesn't have a mate. His power is unwieldy even at the best of times - he can't make it work at all, four times out of five, and I can't discern any regularity to it, which is frustrating - but when it does work, he's dangerous indeed. Compulsion. If he's functioning properly and he tells you to do something, that's what you shall do."
I looked at her hand on my wrist, pulling me along the tunnel, and permitted myself to think that I knew a little about how that worked.
The last day, I seeded Vasanti and her mate Mehul. They were both witches, but Mehul's power was minor enough that he wouldn't have been worth capturing on his own; he had slightly better hearing relative to an average vampire. Vasanti, on the other hand, was the only vampire in the world known to be non-repulsive to animals. They would willingly approach her - liked her, in fact, and would tolerate other vampires in order to be close to her as long as there weren't too many of them. And at her option she could possess one animal at a time, perceiving its senses as additions to her own and controlling its body like an extension of hers.
After that pair were two last, unmated vampires: Abdelmajid, who could see through solid objects, and Emel, a woman who could control metal the way Benjamin could manipulate earth and stone. Emel was last, because the teleporter Razi was still at large. "I caught Razi in the first place much the same way I did Pera," sighed Addy wistfully. "I got him to hold still and talk to me while I had Alec's power, and he needs his proprioception to jump from place to place so once I'd managed to knock him down he was all set, but now I'd never be able to keep him in sight long enough. He may be a permanent loss."
"Where is Pera, anyway?" I asked. "I would have thought she'd be in the village sometimes."
"And why would you think she would do that?" asked Addy, smiling.
"To visit Brady..." I blinked. "I... haven't seen Brady since two weeks ago, while Pera was turning. Is he living up here with her? Wouldn't that make Alice less useful?"
Addy just smiled at me.
I noticed that I did not miss Brady.
I let Addy take me home, and curled up with Jake on our sofa and tried not to cry.
Addy was back the next day while Jake was managing his pack on a field mission I was trying not to think about.
"I think it's time to see what new things you can learn to do," she told me.
I didn't answer her, just blinked.
She tilted her head, smiling at me. "You do realize, I hope," she said, "that while I like to keep witches around to borrow after they've hit their limit, this is entirely for utility purposes. None of the witches you've seeded are interesting anymore, with the possible exceptions of Pyotr and Alice; they're only useful. Are you useful, Elspeth?"
"I - I -" I stammered. "I did the seeding -"
"Yes, you did," agreed Addy. "You did a very nice job. And now the only witch we still have to keep in pieces is your father, who is uncontrollable because his mate remains at large and even if we had her, Chelsea wouldn't be able to work with her. I'm sure we will acquire more witches in the future, but Dwi will be able to talk to them, and while he won't be as convincing as you, it's very unlikely that there will be another challenge like Charles. Are you useful, Elspeth?"
"Brady..." purred Addy.
I shuddered. "Jake's an alpha," I said.
"So are his sisters. We made do with two packs for five and a half years, Elspeth."
I drooped. "What do you want?"
"Since you are only slightly useful," she told me, "I would like you to be interesting. Learn new and exciting things. Figure out the limits of what you can already do, and push them. I'll help you if you should slow down, of course. I do have a history of being good at helping witches improve."
A chill ran up my spine.
"Yes ma'am," I said.
Where itchy magic hadn't done the trick to make me want to leave the village, stark terror did. It was no longer particularly difficult to peel away the snuggly comfort of induced awe and respect and affection for the vampires who lived in the compound, although I retained what I thought was a justifiable level of sympathy for the other villagers. But I had no way of knowing when Addy had my father's power and when she didn't; and whenever she did, she could tell what I was up to - what I was thinking. She'd know if I decided to jump from my bed to the skylight and climb up to break through the glass at the surface. She'd know if I talked my way past the tunnel guards and intended to make a break for it once past the pawn shop. She'd know if I talked Jake into digging us out. And if she thought she wouldn't be able to research my power otherwise, she'd have every motive to turn me in.
As unwelcoming as the village had become, I was pretty sure my life could get worse.
I had no reason to believe that the Volturi wouldn't kill Jake if he protested at my treatment, so I had to make sure there was nothing (that he could see) about my treatment to complain about. I had to do what Addy wanted. I had to make it clear to her, to anyone else curious enough to investigate, that I was staying put and didn't need to be taken away from him.
Chelsea could non-lethally separate me from any of my friends except Jake.
If I misbehaved, he would die.
I catalogued how my power had progressed so far, hoping to collect ideas for what to try next. The first thing I ever did was transmit visual memory. Later I'd attached feelings. Dreams had started leaking out of my hands at some point - it could have been earlier than it was discovered, although not by much, if my parents hadn't held my hands while I slept before that night. I'd added senses to my shared memories, one at a time, and learned to construct hypothetical situations (tagged as such when I sent them to prevent me from lying with them). I pared down the hypothetical situations to just words so I could talk silently. My power started leaking on its own into my normal speech, adding credibility to my true statements depending on just how true and complete they were, and prompting me to say things in ways that my audience would understand. I taught myself to confirm guesses about other people in a horribly roundabout fashion. More recently I learned to summarize and translate memories, and in just the last few weeks I'd been talking to my own magic.
"Do you have any ideas for what to learn to do next?" I asked Magic one evening.
"I don't like this!" she fumed. "You're lying to Jake!"
"If I tell him what's going on he'll make trouble and he might die!"
"You're lying to Jake!"
"I have half a one-track mind, apparently," I signed at her. She didn't laugh; she never did. "Magic, I need to know what else you can do! I need it - that's true, isn't it?"
"Yes," she said obstinately, "but -"
I pulled my hand away from my face. I didn't know what Addy would do if I told her my magic wouldn't help me be interesting because it was unhappy. I didn't really want to find out. But I'd learned to do new things before my power became a personified truth-obsessed sub-agent of me, so maybe I didn't need Magic's willing cooperation. I started brainstorming.
Addy checked up on me (in person) a couple of days later, while Jake was playing poker in East with some other wolves. She'd sent me an e-mail at my village account telling me to arrange to be alone. It had been a difficult task to convince Jake that I was okay to leave alone, since try as I might I wore my heart on my sleeve and everyone, especially Jake, could tell I wasn't very happy, but eventually I persuaded him to go. I had a list written up for Addy, which I pushed across the table at her when she walked in. I avoided making eye contact.
"There's no need to be so upset, Elspeth," said Addy in what I could have chosen to interpret as a friendly voice. "I'm not at all impatient yet." She scanned my list. "Compression and speed... hm, you could be a little backwards Aro, wouldn't that be interesting? Range... that's good if you can manage it, especially since a lot of people who acquire range after starting with none can keep training it up a fair distance. You've crossed out "weaponize the disorientation effect", why's that? I'd find it very interesting... you can save it for later, though, if you prefer. Learning to talk to your magic via means other than sign language... not very useful, but it's something, I suppose, and we've established that you don't need to be particularly useful."
"Yes ma'am," I muttered.
She raised an eyebrow at me and smiled. "And have you made progress on any of these things yet, Elspeth?"
"You don't actually have to call me "ma'am", you know," she said gently. "I'm perfectly happy to be called Addy, or Del if you prefer."
"If you want," I said, looking away. "Addy."
She drummed her fingers on the table. "This is really more fun when my research partner is fascinated by learning about his or her power, too. I'd rather be working with you to achieve something interesting, but you went and balked at the seeding work, and I had to break out the leverage." Addy sighed. "Why haven't you started working on these things?"
"I'm stalling," I said, knowing perfectly well that she'd be able to detect it if I wasn't upfront with her. "As long as there are still things I might be able to learn, and I don't completely refuse to work with you, you'll keep me safe, right?"
Addy laughed. "I can be patient, Elspeth, but while you don't need to spend all of your time on this sort of thing - that would be suspicious-looking, wouldn't it? - I would like you to get on with it. Is that understood?"
I looked at my knees and folded my hands. "Yes, Addy," I said.