Chapter 17: Weaver

I started working with Addy up in the compound instead of in my room. Every day, she came and walked me up the tunnel and into some unused room, where we worked on some part of my power until she announced we were done for the day and escorted me home. She actually paid me for my time, as well as the seeding, so I could at least tell the villagers that it was my job.

I still didn't like it. But I was as susceptible as ever to the freedom of having no secrets, and - for my safety and others' - Addy was the only person for whom I had no secrets. (Technically my father could hear everything either of us was thinking too, but he wasn't in a position to do anything, and I didn't have a way to talk to him without being noticed, let alone a way for him to talk back.)

Addy and I made a habit of conversing only by sending - for privacy and, she said, for practice - while we worked. We started by trying to add range.

You already have range, in a way, she said conversationally, insofar as your power will carry with your voice - or hand signs or body language. What you need to do is learn to think about your witchcraft as something that can persist beyond you, as it already can. Let's start by releasing you from the dependence on your hands as the mechanism for sending.

She had me talk to her by standing barefoot on her toes, and when that worked after forty minutes of trying, she had me try it by touching elbows. I finally got a wisp of a Testing... testing... through to her out of my elbow after half an hour, and then she called it a day.

"I wish you could tell me what's wrong," Jake said softly when Addy dropped me off at home.

"I wish I could too."

Addy was actually a good teacher, and since I couldn't get away with any more stalling than she felt like permitting me, I made progress alarmingly fast. She wanted to let me get used to being able to use non-hand body parts to send before trying to work on range beyond touch, and over the next five days I worked mostly on sending faster and denser. There's no intrinsic reason why what you share should be in real time, Addy said. Especially not when you send memories instead of things you invent on the spot. You already have the entire memory, start to finish. Let's start small. Pick a five-second block of memory - something simple - and see if you can get it across to me in four seconds. The entire thing, though, not a summary.

I didn't really know how to go about trying that, but I sighed and touched her hand and tried to pick something out. I settled on five seconds I spent staring in fascination at an old grandfather clock in the Oregon house when I was four months old: simple, innocuous, and definitely the requested length. I sent along the memory with a little extra shove, from the same region of my mind where I felt my now-constant itch of magic.

Four seconds later, it was over, and I winced. I didn't like getting everything so fast when my interestingness to Addy was dependent on there being more left to learn.

Very good, Addy said, mental voice full of approval that was all the more unsettling for being sincere.

I shaved my time down to a half-second over the next few days. Magic complained, when I meditated after five lessons on speed, that she didn't like being "pushed around". I told her that if she wanted to tell me how to send memories quickly some other way, that would be fine with me, but reminded her that Addy was not safe to annoy, and losing an ability I was working on just because Magic didn't like it would probably annoy her. Magic didn't have anything else to say on that topic and spent the rest of the evening guilting me about lying to Jake.

"Why do I even do this anymore?" I asked rhetorically, dropping my hand from my cheek when Jake walked into my room to tell me it was assembly time.

"Am I supposed to know?" he asked, furrowing his brow.

"No," I sighed, and clung to his arm while we walked to our regularly scheduled brainwashing.

"You'll let me know if there's anything I can do to help you," Jake said, "right? Even if you can't tell me what it's helping with or how?"

"If I think of something, I'll tell you," I promised.

"But I might suspect you of misusing the opportunity if you say "hey, Jake, it's very important that you wear a pineapple on your head and waltz around the room for three hours straight," or something," he teased.

"You'd probably do it, though," I said, smiling just a little bit.

"Probably," he agreed, grinning at having successfully coaxed me into a smile.

Chelsea was still making a habit of standing in our pack's section. We were wearing a lot of brown, in keeping with the custom of matching the uniforms and alpha fur colors, but I didn't think she was standing with us because we matched her sandals.

I avoided looking directly at her - pretending that I thought, like everyone else, that she was just Our Friend Chelsea attending the assembly as always and unremarkable wherever she chose to stand. I let the announcements of the day wash over me as Rachel and Becky announced them - Elena's first birthday and Joel's fifteenth, the awarding of a single room to Marilyn for heroism in her last field engagement out in the Philippines, a trip planned for people with topside privileges to go to Venice for a few days.

The warm, cozy feeling bubbled up inside me - not Chelsea's direct handiwork, but a consequence. But it could only get so far without the freedom from secrecy I had when I first arrived, and I tumbled gratefully into sleep shortly after Jake and I went home.

The next day Addy wanted to turn me into a weapon. If you can work fast - and you have consistently cut your time as we practice - you might be able to act and react quickly enough to disorient an attacker, perhaps even a vampire attacker once you've practiced enough, she suggested. Unfamiliar witchcraft sensations are the obvious choice. Your itch, and whatever else you can pile into the same sending.

Will you send me more witch memories, then? I asked. I only know what the powers feel like through your own memories of copying them, and that's different since it all goes through your power. The other witches must feel things directly; they can't all taste their powers.

Fair enough, said Addy. Any place in particular you'd care to start?

I hesitated. Chelsea, I said.

Interesting choice, Addy remarked. I'll need to translate this one; it's from around 295 B.C. and they didn't have any languages that you're familiar with then. And she placed a finger on my forehead and pushed a memory at me.

I can never think of a good analogy for what relationships feel like. Maybe it's because they're all different. The ones emanating from Marcus are mostly like... perhaps cotton thread. Soft when loose, almost sharp when taut, full of little fibers fuzzing out but contributing to a longer twist of connection. Then there's the exception, glaringly obvious and impregnable no matter how I might hack at it, like a million threads coiled together for strength and then encased in diamond for good measure.

Master Aro wants me to keep Marcus with us - Marcus is essential; I can only grope around in the dark for relationships, not see them, not piece together all the details of how they work in motion. I can flail around and cut, I can seize loose tendrils and moor them where they belong and coax them into growth - but I can't see what I'm doing, and in the long term, that would render me ineffective at the scale Master Aro has in mind for the future.

That diamond-wrapped rope was pulling Marcus away from us, and all my work - on him and on Didyme - wasn't holding him, or rather them. He didn't love us enough to stay if it would suit her to be elsewhere. Master Aro and Caius weren't brothers enough to him; Athenodora and Sulpicia not sisters enough; I not friend enough.

Everyone must love me.

(I'm terrified that one day I will meet someone who lashes me to him with the same unassailable connection, and he will try to pull me away from Master Aro, and I will have no choice but to follow and every dream of glory will die so soon after our coven's creation! I'm indispensable. I made sure of that when I killed my cousin. Master Aro knows why I went back to that miserable hamlet and drank her, of course, and he didn't like it, but now she's dead and I'm the only cutter and weaver of threads in the world, and Master Aro can never be rid of me if he wants to achieve his ambitions. I'll be quite loyal to his plans as long as I'm guaranteed my place, and he knows that.)

But now Didyme is a memory (along with the coven who killed her, the fools - someday every vampire on the earth will know that it's a death sentence to trespass on our interests this way). She cannot wonder aloud if perhaps a quieter life in the north would be more to her taste, and she cannot lead him away by her diamond leash, even though it will always be there connecting him to the dead woman he loved.

Now, I can pull the drooping cotton tighter still, fasten Marcus to Master Aro and to Caius and to Athenodora and to Sulpicia (I was afraid, too, when she came along and caught Master Aro's eye so effectively, but she liked the picture of the queenly leisure he promised her, and will not entice him out of the group). And to me, of course.

Everyone must love me.

So I turn my hand at the end of my wrist, feeling along the invisible threads, and I let my fingers spread, and the string turns and grows and tightens.

Marcus looks at me with dim black eyes. He knows exactly what I'm doing, but I am not Didyme, and that sharply limits how much he can care about it.

Within that limit, though, he'll love me.

Everyone must love me.

I work for some hours, to be quite sure that Marcus won't slip off in a moment of our inattention and provoke the nearest nomad into putting him out of his misery. We must be too close to him for him to let us down. We must be too important to him for him to despair in loneliness. Cotton writhes in my trembling hands.

Finally, I think I've done enough for a short time; Marcus is at least tied enough that he can hunt alone and be expected to return to us. I tuck an errant strand of his hair behind his ear, and hold out my arms for a hug, which he provides dutifully before turning to find his dinner.

"Chelsea," Master Aro says, approaching from my left after Marcus has gone.

"Yes, Master?" It pleases him to be called that. I am the first subordinate of the Volturi, the first who isn't one of the brothers or their wives, and so I am the first to use the title for him. I don't care, particularly. Being in charge isn't as important as being essential. We could more easily lose Caius than me; I remain unsure why Master Aro made powerless Caius a part of the brotherhood to begin with, but there he is.

Most of the relationships stretching out from Master Aro feel like glass, spun into some improbable thin spikes or rods. The one that links him to Sulpicia is completely unlike glass - it feels warmer and has none of the brittleness; I could try to crush it and it wouldn't even dent.

"I feel that I do not have the luxury of grieving for my sister," Master Aro says evenly. "There is too much to do, and now that revenge has been taken on Didyme's killers, there is no value in continuing to lament her death. I would like you to assist me."

"Yes, Master," I reply. I find the thin tube of glass that used to point towards Didyme, crook my finger, and shatter it.

Master Aro relaxes considerably. "Thank you, Chelsea," he says.

I bow. "No thanks are necessary, Master."

He smiles slightly. "You have done me a significant service. I am unlikely to forget it, however much a matter of course it may be."

"Of course, Master." As long as he's standing there, I bend my thumb to catch the glassy tendril of gratitude - a bit more robust than I would have guessed, not that I have any way to measure precisely - and melt it into the spine of glass that points in my direction, bolstering its strength. Just because he is my Master doesn't mean that he shouldn't love me.

Everyone must love me.

Addy ended the memory there, and I fought the urge to twitch my fingers and see what the relationships floating around her felt like; I didn't have that power independently. She smiled at me. Will that do for Chelsea, or would you like another sample?

Another would be good, I said. This was more fun and less nerve-wracking than gradually running out of ways to work on my power.

This is from about 100 BC, she informed me.

I hate human towns. They're convenient places to find meals - although even for that purpose I'd prefer a longer, more pleasant rural hunt. That's the only virtue of habitation centers. The places are lousy with filth and vermin, and the air is hot with the smell of their blood, and that would be quite enough to make the towns unpleasant, but that's not what makes me hate them.

Human towns are full of people, and none of them love me.

It's not worth the effort to fix that, really. The humans are food or annoyances or useful sources of clothing, not subjects or friends or even stimulating conversationalists. I used to take over every miserable fief I passed through, spending a few hours to make the weak and easily sculpted humans worship me like a goddess for several days before I became bored and started eating them. I have more important tasks now - I'm indispensable to Master Aro! - and it's not a good use of my time.

But it still aches, all those humans rushing from place to place and never sparing me a second thought.

I'm only here for the trinkets Sulpicia wanted. She's amused by sending me on errands; I remain the only Volturi subordinate, as Master Aro wants to be very selective about how he grows our coven and no one except me has passed muster thus far without being the mate of one of the brothers. My core task is far more important than fetching toys for her, but it does not take up all of my time, and besides, every task I perform for haughty Sulpicia lets me entwine more of her dependence on my servitude into her love for me.

It's a few moments past dusk, but there are enough lamps and candles burning that even humans can see a little, and some of them are still out and about. There are two boys, fighting with pathetically well-telegraphed punches and ineffectual kicks over something or other. There is really no point to humans except as food; it's almost charmingly futile, the way they build their disgusting towns and form their trivial societies. Humans are clumsy and weak and ugly.

Well, one of those boys isn't ugly, really. And there's something about how he fights. His opponent is tough, and holding his own, but there's some - weight to the handsome boy's blows that doesn't seem normal. Some lightness to his body when he dodges.

I stand in the shadows and watch the better-looking boy - he's probably nearing twenty, not quite a boy anymore, even though anyone who hasn't gone gray seems that way to me at my two centuries of age - skillfuly pummel the ugly one until he yields. There is definitely an uncanniness to the way the comely one moves.

I follow him as he leaves.

He's headed home, apparently. He jogs - again the unusual momentum, more than a human should be able to put behind a stride! - through the towns, and I follow at a brisk walk. He's interesting. Perhaps the oddness in his motions is an extra ability, manifesting early as my gift did. Perhaps that will mean Master Aro will let him join us.

I want him.

I want him to love me.

Everyone must love me, but this young man in particular.

He arrives at home. It's a large family; the object of my interest has one living parent, to judge by their chatter, and six siblings, all younger than him.

He loves them and not me; I can tell, crouching outside his house in the dark and clenching my fists to feel the relationships coiling out from him like strips of leather. Perhaps if I take them away he will leave his house again, and then I can catch him and make him love me. I need him to love me.

Cut and cut and cut, and he's untethered. I hear the cheer in his voice falter; the leathery lines try to spawn themselves back, thin shadows of the originals but still not acceptable. Cut, cut, cut. Come out, come out, come out.

Eventually he does. I hear the excuse - he has a charming, rough voice. They let him go without protest, suspecting nothing. He walks back towards the center of town, and I push my hood down and step into his path. I'm beautiful - part of the package - and there's enough moonlight for him to see it. He stops.

"Hello," I say, leaning towards him. My hands flex. His admiration is just barely solid enough to grab hold of. Pull, pull, pull.

"Hello," he faintly gasps.

"Tell me your name," I purr.

"Afton." He's staring. That's good. Pull and pull and pull - and those other threads are still trying to grow back! I destroy them all again. He's mine, I want him.

"It's so lovely to meet you, Afton. I'm Chelsea." I'm still purring. It's not a sound I've had much use for in the past. He warrants it. Pull and cut and pull and cut...

"Chelsea." He's tasting my name, he knows that I'm very important and that my name is therefore important as well.

I want to keep him. He's mine. "Afton, will you wait right here for me, for just a few minutes?" I implore him. "Don't go anywhere. I'll be back very soon."

"Of - of course." I touch him, for the first time, my fingers threading through his messy brown hair to touch his scalp. He's very warm, and shivers at the touch but doesn't pull back. "I'll wait for you."

I force myself away. I'm far, far too distant from my last hunt to be sure of his safety if I try to preserve him now. I need to feed first, to completely gorge myself.

Those threads are back again.

Cut, cut, cut, and I know exactly who will be my food.

It's hard enough to force his last sister's blood down my throat that I'm confident I'll be able to leave him alive. I swallow as much as I possibly can, wipe a drop off my chin, and fly at top speed back to the spot where I left my Afton. A sweep of my little finger takes care of the last feelings for the dead family up the road; I shouldn't like him to be distressed. I reach out and pull him towards me.

"Chelsea," he murmurs, confused.

"I want you," I whisper into his ear. "I want you to be mine. Do you want to be mine, Afton?" He hesitates. My knuckles dig gently into his back and I force all the power I can into the one leathery rope that I've allowed him. "Won't you be mine?" I don't even care if Master Aro says later that I can't have him. I want him, and I'll have him even if I have to trade the chance to be part of the Volturi's planned conquest for it.

"Yes," Afton says, and carefully, ever so carefully, I sink my teeth into his throat.

The memory ended and I made some kind of strangled nonverbal noise.

Well, sent Addy. Didn't you think it was interesting?

I guess it was that, I said, shifting in my chair. Um, can you avoid showing me anybody eating humans, in the future? Just skip those parts or pick memories that don't involve it?

I suppose, she replied, tilting her head. If you really prefer. You do realize that those people died more than two thousand years ago? They don't benefit from your squeamishness at all.

I know. Just - you know, if you don't mind - skip those parts. I didn't like - or maybe I liked too much - the intense recollection of a flavor I wouldn't allow myself that probably wouldn't even taste all that good to my half-human tastebuds.

Very well. Now, see if you can combine your magic's itchiness with my sensation of witchcraft and Chelsea's into one sending...

I didn't manage that trick that day. Addy didn't seem particularly discouraged, and brought me home to Jake after I'd been trying to wrap up all three magical sensations into one package for an hour. Jake hugged me and patted my hair; it had grown down my back since I'd cut it. "You don't look so great," he said. "Actually, you usually seem worse right before and after you visit Addy..."

I tried, frantically, to think of a way to misdirect his attention that wasn't technically lying. "It just feels cozier here," I said. It did; the four-room suite I shared with Jake was just about the only completely comfortable place I had available to go to. "But I can't just stay at home all the time."

"Well, I guess not, that wouldn't be good for you," he agreed reservedly. "Or at least, in general staying home all the time isn't good for people, but..."

"I think it would be worse if I didn't go with Addy when she asked," I said firmly, and that was quite true. My magic itched, but its cooperation in making me believable was automatic. Jake nodded and relaxed.

"Let me know if there's anything you need from me," he reminded me.

"I will, Jake."

We went to dinner, and then I meditated and chipped away at Chelsea's fabricated "threads" that she would feel pointing away from me and towards the vampires in the compound. I didn't mind caring about the villagers. That was fine. But I did not want to be one of the people who Chelsea used to indulge her bottomless need for love. I did not want to look forward to working with my friend Addy. It was an unhappy, ineffective sort of rebellion, but the only one I had.

We went to assembly.

I could feel Chelsea's eyes boring holes into my back, and wondered what kind of texture threads she was trying to pull out of me.