Chapter 18: Teacher
I didn't have any luck with sending along all the witchy sensations the next day, either.
Maybe, I said after an hour of trying, you should send me another memory of Chelsea's. All the relationships felt different and maybe with more to draw on I could figure out what the common features are, and maybe that would work better. It was a transparent attempt at varying the exercises.
Hmm, said Addy, raising an eyebrow at me. No, I doubt that will help. Perhaps it's something to try later, when we run out of low-hanging fruit. Try it again - compose the sensations into one of the hypotheticals, and then try to subtract the "hypothetical" tag, it reduces the impact too much.
I'm sick of this, I've been doing it for the past hour, I complained. I didn't like making progress, at least not quickly, but I didn't like being bored, much, either.
Addy tilted her head. And you'd rather be doing something else?
Well, Addy replied, smiling thinly, there is another idea for how you could develop your power into a weapon which will probably be easier to arrange.
Yes, this will break up the monotony for you nicely, said Addy, and suddenly I didn't like the sound of her mental voice one bit. Do you remember how I said your power was similar to Jane's?
I twitched away from her outstretched hand. "No, nonono," I said. "I'll try again with the -"
"But you were so bored," Addy said. "And don't say you won't complain again; I really can tell, whether you say it or not."
"But - please -"
"It will be easy," she said pleasantly. She extended her hand again, tapped me on the nose. All you have to do is find Jane, mildly annoy her, spend perhaps a second or two acquiring your ammunition, and poof.
Please, please, no, I begged her.
Look on the bright side. The only way I get to find out whether this works is if you successfully try it on me, you know, she responded. Now, Elspeth, either you may go and find Jane yourself, and provoke her only as much as you must in order to get a reaction from her that lasts a few moments, or I can go find her, and pat her on the head and come back and make sure it really sinks in.
Do I have to actually annoy her, or could I maybe just ask -
Addy laughed aloud. I suppose you could ask, and she'd probably oblige you. Aro did that once, just out of curiosity. Just the once. But that would be a rather suspicious request to make of her, don't you think? You haven't spoken to her before, so it isn't a matter of learning more about your close personal friend Jane. And the story of your childish reaction to your injury in Alaska - oh, don't look at me that way, Elspeth, you're five years old and permitted occasional childishness - has made the rounds throughout the guard, so I doubt Jane will believe you're deliberately seeking out her unique experiential offerings on their own merits. No, I recommend that you simply walk into her room without knocking. That should do the trick.
I shivered. What if she wants to know why I'm there?
Tell her I sent you to fetch her for me, if she bothers to ask. If she comes to ask me what's going on, I can replace your power with hers and then tell all sorts of lies, and then you can go home for the day and recover.
I leaned away from her hand again, and paused to think. Addy allowed me fifteen seconds in which I came up with nothing, and then she said, "Go on, then."
"Yes, Addy," I murmured, and I got to my feet and went to Jane's room.
I knew the layout of the entire compound; there was a map on the wall of the lounge in West. I'd been there long enough to memorize it during Esta's baby shower. So I had no excuse for taking forever to find Jane's room, and Addy knew it. I walked, slowly but steadily, down the flight of stairs and down the hall. I took a right, and the first door on the right was hers.
She had to have heard me coming - at least if she was in her room, which she might not be. If she wasn't, maybe Addy would let me put this off or skip it altogether. I opened the door.
I saw a pair of brilliant burgundy eyes and then all I could do was scream.
It might really have been only a second or two. I couldn't tell. I was burning, I was not meant to hold that much pain, and that was all there was, wherever I tried to fling myself and escape there was only more fire, I knew I was screaming but couldn't even hear it over the anguish pouring over me like liquid iron.
Jane blinked, and it stopped.
I was on the floor, limbs sprawled crazily as though I'd been seizing, looking upside-down at Jane's angelic, calm expression, which made her seem as though she not only bore no responsibility for the torture but was also politely puzzled about why I had been making so much noise in the first place. Her dark blonde hair dangled above my face as she leaned over me. She looked so young - she looked younger than me - and so innocent. Like a porcelain doll.
"Knock," she said.
I successfully interpreted the word, agreed with the instruction enthusiastically, and nodded my head rapidly several times. Jane reached out, seized the neck of my shirt, and picked me up and set me on my feet with one hand. I wobbled but didn't fall.
Jane's room was decorated mostly in warm colors. She had carpet that matched her eyes, a lot of knicknacks made of gold, a cherry wood wardrobe, and pale orange upholstery on her sofa set. This made her slight figure, dressed in the black cloak of the Volturi, stand out like a blot of ink against the bright background. She looked at me expectantly from under her hood. "Well?" she said.
"Uh," I replied. I had a brain somewhere but seemed to have misplaced it.
"What," she said, "are you doing here? What do you want?"
"Um-um-um-Addysentme," I said, finding it exceptionally urgent that Jane get what she wanted without delay.
"And she didn't tell you to knock?" asked Jane, skeptical.
"No, she didn't." I reached for the wall to steady myself. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I will never ever ever walk in without knocking again. I'm so sorry."
Jane nodded to herself. "Well, I suppose I shall go see what Addy wants. You run along."
I bolted. Behind me, I heard Jane chuckling softly.
I went straight home, unaccompanied. Seth and Karen, guarding the tunnel, stopped me, and I told them that Addy told me to go home. This was only a slight stretching of the truth - she had said I should go home and recover, it was just that she hadn't quite specified whether I had to check in with her first. I forced myself to interpret her instructions as permitting me to flee home to Jake without her escort, and managed to convince the wolves to the point where they let me lurch past Karen without trying to catch me.
When I got to my door, I almost knocked. It took me three seconds of focusing very hard on my breathing and the fact that this room was not Jane's before I managed to turn the handle without foolishly rapping my knuckles against the wood.
Jake wasn't home yet. I slumped into the armchair and closed my eyes, hoping that my internal clock would spontaneously rejigger itself to let me sleep instead of being so miserably conscious. Of course no such thing happened.
Why did Jane exist? Could she perhaps be made to stop existing? How much of a chance would Jake have at killing her before she or someone else tore him apart, if I asked him to? Would he go, or was Chelsea thorough enough that he'd find a reason not to hurt one of Our Friends?
A couple of seconds later, the fact that I cared about Jake reasserted itself, and I decided that I should probably not send him into a nest of evil vampires who only slightly valued his life and tell him that one of them tortured me.
I went into our bathroom and looked in the mirror. There was a wild look in my eyes and my hair was mussed, but I didn't otherwise appear hurt. I combed my hair, and braided pigtails into it for good measure, and then went and flopped on my bed to try to relax.
When Jake walked in, I had my face buried in my pillow and couldn't see him, but I heard him open the door well enough. I startled badly enough to accidentally fling myself off my covers and onto the floor. "Elspeth?" he said. "Are you okay?" He walked up and helped me off the ground, hugging me in greeting as long as he was there. "You don't usually roll off of the furniture in excitement when I walk into a room."
"Eep," I squeaked. I wasn't fine, he'd smell a lie a mile away if I told him I was fine, but he had to believe I was fine, I would be so completely lost without Jake if they took him away and that meant he had to think I was okay because if he thought otherwise it would only make me less okay.
Jake put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me back a few inches to get a good look at my face. I tried to look normal, but my lip trembled and there was a little too much moisture in my eyes. An expression of severity and displeasure took over his face. "Elsie, what happened?"
I flung myself forward to go back to the hugging part, which involved less scrutiny and more warmth, but he just repeated the pushing gesture and stared into my eyes. "Elsie," he said. "I'm - I'm going out of my mind just a tiny bit wondering what's gotten you so jumpy and sad all the time. You dream like you need to be on Prozac and you look like you're afraid of your shadow and you won't tell me anything, and - and geez, Elsie, I'm here for you, that is the point of there being a Jacob Black in the world is for you, will you please let me help?"
"I can't," I sniffled. "I can't. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm -"
"Shh." He let go of my shoulders and I pitched forward again to be held; Jake started swaying back and forth. "Shh-shh-shh. You don't have to be sorry." A heavy sigh blew past his clenched teeth. "Can I have a hint, or... you don't have to, you don't have to do anything you don't want to, but -"
"Sometimes... the stuff Addy wants me to work on... is hard," I choked. He waited patiently for me to go on, and I collected myself for a couple of minutes, but couldn't think of anything else true I could tell him. Jake sighed again.
"Maybe you could take a day off, or two - a week?" he suggested. "You're obviously not feeling well, everybody else gets sick days."
"Maybe. I don't know. I'm not actually sick," I said.
"Can it hurt to ask?"
"Probably not," I admitted. But only probably, I thought.
Asking Addy for time off, when she came to collect me the following day, did not literally hurt. It didn't even figuratively hurt. It didn't get me any time off, either.
"Nonsense," Addy said when I tentatively suggested that I could skip a day. "You're in perfect health. I'm already being rather gentle by scheduling only a couple of hours of work each day. Did you know that when I found Benjamin, way back when, we did nothing but play with the elements for a solid week and a half? Come along, now."
I followed her, bizarrely inclined to resent Benjamin, and we settled into our practice room and she extended her hand; when I didn't touch it right away she seized my wrist and held it.
Go ahead and try the weapon Jane gave you, invited Addy, a crafty little smile on her face, and I scowled and did exactly that. Send and push -
Addy yanked her hand away from my arm and clutched at it like I'd burned her, but after a momentary hiss, she smiled. "There you go," she said pleasantly, and she took hold of my hand again. Not as potent as Jane, but promising, certainly.
I could just zap you until you leave me alone.
Addy laughed at me. Elspeth, I am considerably faster than you, I am considerably more accustomed to pain than you, and now that you have this power, so have I. If you wish to turn this into a fight, you will lose, and would even without the threat of my sharing your secret with the others. Shall we spend a few seconds seeing precisely how long it would take me to subdue you? Do you think it would be amusing to invent an excuse for your wolf when you come home looking that run down? Or shall we get on with our day?
I attempted to glare at her, but had a suspicion that it came off as more of a pout. She smiled brightly and went on, Let's go back to the range exercises. Then she released my hand, and waited patiently.
I shut my eyes and bit my lip and wished I could convincingly fake the attempt, but I couldn't. I pointed my hand at Addy, imagined it as an antenna of some kind, and thought as hard as I could about that memory of the ticking grandfather clock in Oregon.
Forty-five mind-numbingly boring minutes later (which were nevertheless mercifully empty of torture), Addy's face lit up with a bright grin. "I saw that," she exclaimed. "Marvelous. Do it again."
I forced another few seconds of clock-ticks through the air at her, and Addy smiled serenely. "Now add in the audio and other components. Take your time," she added generously.
Over the next hour I gradually grouped together the entirety of the minutes I'd spent staring at that clock, folding in all the senses and feelings. It was exhausting, albeit only mentally - I didn't want to sleep, so much as stare blankly into space. When the memory was complete, Addy tapped me on the nose to update her copy of my power. "Mmm," she said happily. She scooted her chair back a foot. "Again."
It was faster to get the extra twelve inches of range than it had been to get the first one, but I was completely drained once I'd managed it after thirty minutes of work. Addy finally acknowledged that I needed a break; she touched my nose again, and I sat, and looked at my shoes, and tried to relax.
"You can practice that on your own at home, I think," she said after a few minutes. "I think you should try to add at least a little bit of range every day without fail; if you skip days it runs more risk of sticking and becoming fixed. Oh, I wish I'd met more witches so young..."
"Is that why you won't let me have time off?" I asked.
"Yes. Generally, the newer someone's power is, the more flexible it's seemed to be, but I met one witch who worked every day on an arbitarily scalable feature of his craft - he was a telekinetic, but worked on a larger, less tidy scale than Hao, and upped his weight tolerance. By the time I met him, he was only increasing it by about a gram a day, but it was still going up and he was three hundred years old."
"Is that what you did before you joined the Volturi? Just went all over the place looking for witches to borrow and... help?" I didn't like using that word for what she was doing with me, but from the sound of things people like Pera and Benjamin had enjoyed a pure benefit from Addy's acquaintance until she moved to Volterra and started rounding up her old friends.
"Pretty much," she said cheerfully.
"What made you decide to join the Volturi?" I asked.
Let's practice while we have this conversation, she sent without touching me, and I was suddenly glad that there was no longer a reason I had to hold her cold hands in order to do the work she wanted. The cold didn't bother me, exactly. For a long time everybody I touched was a vampire, all the same temperature. But since moving into the village and starting to need comfort on a regular basis, my source of comfort became Jake, who ran a couple of degrees warmer than me and much warmer than a human, let alone a vampire.
Then I thought of Jane and how her eyes burned, and decided that temperature per se was irrelevant and I just didn't love touching Addy.
What made you decide to join the Volturi? I asked again in the approved way. Fatigue started to reassert itself, but ranged communication was getting easier.
Oh, I avoided it for a long time, replied Addy, a sigh in her mental voice. Slipped under the radar. They found me while I was traveling with Joham and his daughters.
Noemi and Iseul aren't witches, right? Is Joham?
No, he's not, she said. Anyway, a delegation of the Volturi showed up, looking for some half-vampires to learn more about them, and they had several witches along whose powers I'd never tasted before. I knew the Volturi had great witches among them and did want to learn about their crafts, but I'd avoided actually seeking them out because I thought it would be dangerous - and then they were right there, irresistible. I touched Jane -
You could just show me this, I pointed out.
I'm not going to do that. She didn't explain why, just continued the story. At that point Jane noticed me, and you've seen how lightly she takes her power, but I fought back instinctively; at that point they were a little too curious about me for me to escape notice. I decided to make the best of the situation - at least as a member of the Volturi guard I would get to sample some of the most carefully handpicked witches in the world. And it's been an interesting few years, and I've collected most of my old friends and some highly interesting prizes that Aro's had his eye on, so now I have a great deal of choices at my fingertips. But it's so static, now; there's not a one in the guard whose power is still changeable as far as I can tell. You, though, Elspeth, you're growing all the time.
I nodded slowly.
Let's go back to the speed tests, and see if you can send a compressed memory from here, instructed Addy, and I groaned out loud.
I lurched home an hour later, Addy at my shoulder, and flopped into Jake's arms when he got up at my entrance. Holding me up, he said, "Addy, I'm worried about Elspeth -"
"But Jacob," Addy said. "Do you want her power to atrophy? It will, you know, if she doesn't practice it. She could be more limited than she has to be, forever, based on a decision she made to avoid doing her homework at age five. Don't you want what's really best for her, not just what's easiest?"
It was the exact right thing to say to make Jake back off, and he frowned solemnly and nodded once, still cradling me.
"But it's such a blessing that she has you," Addy went on lightly, "to look after her." Jake smiled tentatively, and Addy gave a little wave, spun on her heel, and left. Watch yourself, she warned in my mind through the door.
"Did she actually assign homework?" Jake asked me.
"Yeah," I murmured. "Range practice. Can I do that when I'm done snuggling, though, please?"
"Of course," he said soothingly, and petted my hair.
The next day, Addy and I sat in opposite corners of the room to practice range and speed. She believed that I could eventually be a true "backwards Aro", only ranged and selective - he had no choice but to absorb the entire memory of anyone he touched, whereas I could define beginnings and endpoints to what I wanted to share and send only that, only to my desired targets. In fact, that may be your limiting factor here, Addy said, after I'd just barely squeezed a half-hour hunt into two seconds. Aro's beginning and end points are perfectly, automatically defined: birth and the moment at which he absorbs memory. You need to define your points deliberately, and you're accustomed to sifting along memories in real time, to decide as you go whether each second is something you want to offer or not. Let's break that habit once and for all. Send me everything.
I think you know exactly what I meant, Elspeth, replied Addy. Try to send me all of your memories from your earliest up to this moment. Here, if it will make it easier... She got up and crossed the room to take my hand and place it on her face.
I don't want - Something in Addy's expectant smile stopped me. I might get out of doing this right away, but it would be replaced by something I liked less and then suggested again later. Everything? I asked, forlorn.
Everything. Selectivity is holding you back. Don't be so shy; do you realize how many thousands of people's memories I have in my head? You have done nothing so unique and shocking in the past five years. This is not about me invading your privacy; I could do that by borrowing your father's power and asking embarrassing questions. This is about helping you break through your limitations.
I took a deep breath, bit my lip, and pushed.
Addy staggered away from my hand, and her eyes unfocused and her jaw went slack. She didn't fall, but for two full seconds, she wavered on the spot. Then, slowly, she straightened up and blinked, closing her mouth and looking very impressed.
That, she said, should you ever be particularly desperate, is a more effective weapon - at least the first time - than your variant on Jane's power. She held her hand out to me. Try it again, let's see if it works twice.
On the second try, Addy recovered much more quickly; I barely saw the dip of her posture before she caught herself and smirked. Vastly diminished efficacy. Only a few seconds of the thoughts were new, of course - this will, I expect, be a matter of delay between uses rather than a simple situation where it's only effective against a given target once.
And then the world went dark and silent and airless, as though I'd ceased to have a body, and I was completely alone with my thoughts.