Chapter 28: Traveler

I'd never met them, but I recognized them from the Volturi's memories - and their own, though they were thousands of years distant: Stefan and Vladimir, the previous rulers of the vampire world, deposed by the Volturi. They were a pair of small men, no taller than me, Vladimir with ashy pale hair and Stefan with dark brown. Other than that they were very much alike, looking out on the world through narrow burgundy eyes, and each with a less pronounced version of the powdery complexions shared by Aro, Caius, Marcus, Athenodora, and Sulpicia. Since the most recent recollection I had of them, though, they'd shed the flimsy cataracts over their eyes.

I had no idea what they were doing in Belfast, but they were standing around with the British and Irish vampires peaceably enough, so I opened the car door, closed it gently to let Jake sleep, and gingerly approached. They were both wearing black, conservative clothing that wouldn't look too out of place in the modern day, but resembled more ancient styling. "Good morning," I said.

"Ah," said Stefan. "She wakes." His voice sounded dusty and light.

"Every morning," I replied. "Why are you here? How did you know about the meeting?" I glanced around at the other vampires who were still in attendance; it seemed that overnight, our visitors from Cardiff, Oxford, Liverpool, and Manchester had all gone home. We still had the covens from the Isle of Wight, London, Bristol, and Manchester, the Scottish representative, and the Manx vampire, plus the Romanian newcomers. And Cath, who was hanging on Ilario with her arms looped over his shoulders and looking at him in a way I could only describe as gooey.

"One hears whispers," said Vladimir, negligently waving a hand. He spoke as lightly as his covenmate.

"We are here to witness the downfall of the Volturi," Stefan put in.

"And help, if we can," Vladimir said.

"Oh, how nice," I said. "But who told you where to find us?"

"Give up, Elspeth," said Maggie, sounding implausibly tired. "They're not telling. I did confirm that they're only here because they loathe the Volturi and want to assist or at least watch the proceedings, and that they don't particularly want to hurt any of us, and that they're not interested in ruling the world again with the state it's gotten into. It was probably only the gossip from -"

"Newcastle," I finished, nodding. "Did you not hear about the gathering in Denali?" I asked the Romanians.

"We heard," said Stefan. "We were not interested."

"Carlisle - do you refer to him as your grandfather?" Vladimir said, and I nodded and he went on. "Your grandfather cannot have any honest hope of winning in a direct confrontation against the Volturi, operating as he is."

"It would not be likely to go well with him even if his coven had not taken so many losses to the Italians' corresponding gains, although then we might have attended in case we were mistaken..." Stefan continued languidly, pursing his lips.

"But as it is, he can only be hoping to die publicly and tragically and arouse sympathy or paranoia in those who did not stand with him," said Vladimir.

"If he managed that," Stefan said, "we would help whoever massed a more plausible effort... but it seems we do not need to wait for the Volturi to get around to crushing him."

"It was particularly vindicating to learn of his cousins' betrayal," remarked Vladimir. "I do not know how often the Volturi remember us..."

"Caius usually remembers you exist once a year on the anniversary of the day you were defeated," I said helpfully.

Vladimir blinked at me, unimpressed. "Fascinating."

Stefan cut in. "At any rate, we have no desire to remind them without a significant chance that they will be defeated. We think this gathering, or what it leads to, might provide that."

"Most particularly due to the involvement of Siobhan, whose possession of a gift we are told has been confirmed recently," Vladimir said. "It was mere speculation before."

"Well, that's smart," I said. "Not getting attention, I mean, since Aro only left you alive because he thought it would be harmless and funny -"

Stefan growled softly, and Maggie said, "Elspeth, maybe quit with the color commentary."

Vladimir nodded graciously once in Maggie's direction, then looked back at me. "We've heard something of your exploits," he said, "Elspeth. You've broken out of the Volturi compound twice now, haven't you?"

"I had help both times - the second time I wasn't even lucid -" I demurred.

"Still," said Stefan loftily, "an impressive achievement. And you can reverse some of the web-witch's damage..."

"Chelsea? Only in myself and my - my wolf - so far," I said.

"Nevertheless, a tool," murmured Vladimir. "We did not have a resource like Chelsea in our day... we were obliged to manage things... differently."

"I know," I said. The Romanians had ruled by elaborate political finesse and intimidation, mostly. They'd controlled several manageably-sized, geographically far-flung covens of soldiers, who got along well enough to work together temporarily in a crisis but otherwise had little to do with each other. These covens weren't all satisfied with the situation, but they had a coordination problem on their hands if they ever wanted to overthrow the kings, and never managed it. That had taken the Volturi - armed with Alec and Jane.

Stefan and Vladimir themselves had migrated around a network of castles. It was actually something of an exaggeration to claim that they ruled the entire vampire world; they rarely went as far as the Americas, and only occasionally checked on Africa. (Australia was known to vampires then, who undertook nothing particularly hazardous in attempting to swim wherever they wished and visited a lot of islands before industrialized human civilization did; however, no vampires had settled on the island that early on. In fact, from what Memory pieced together for me, Joham would probably have been among the first vampires to spend any appreciable time down under. It was where he first started trying to father half-vampire children, although he moved on later.)

However, the Romanians never bothered with enforcing most of the rules the Volturi had invented - in fact, they publicized their natures to the local humans instead of relying on secrecy - and so they rarely had much ruling to do, apart from quelling territory wars that got out of hand and threatened to destroy the surrounding human infrastructure. (Said infrastructure being necessary to keep the food supply relatively stable, of course.)

When it was called for, though, they were also formidable combatants. Witches had been harder to come by back then. Addy had noticed an uptick in the witch population over her own lifetime; she attributed it entirely to population growth and extended lifespans giving witches more chance to crop up and more chance to live to discover their gifts. But during the Romanians' reign, they'd been almost unheard of and were rarely worth tactical consideration. Brute force and the vampire equivalents of martial arts were the typical tools.

At a guess, unless they'd deteriorated somehow since their defeat, either of the two could beat Siobhan in a fair fight - despite neither having witchcraft, neither being more than half her size, and the disadvantage their brittler skin conferred.

The skin condition was... strange. The top layer of skin had "died", I remembered from their memories and the Volturi's when they'd investigated the phenomenon, and while it wasn't any easier to make it come off than it was to remove chips of normal vampire skin, once it was broken it wouldn't heal back properly. That also meant that if they lost extremities and reattached them, the outer skin wouldn't knit, leaving a sort of scar and introducing a weakness at the fracture point. Vladimir had discovered this when he'd been temporarily deprived of a toe. They didn't know why it happened, but all my memories showed it only on the Romanians and the Volturi, no one else. The cataracts (cosmetic only, causing no deterioration in vision, but they hadn't attempted to discover if it made eye healing more difficult) were similar - but to look at Stefan and Vladimir now, apparently reversible.

While Memory sorted out all this background information, the Romanians lost interest in me and stalked off to listen in on a conversation going on between several of the Brits. I turned to Maggie. "Did I miss anything else interesting overnight?"

"I saw you looking about and taking roll, so I won't repeat the list of who's gone and who's stayed," Maggie said. "I made the ones who went away all tell me they weren't going to head for the Volturi about it. They could change their minds but not soon - if they were that changeable they couldn't have said it without at least wobbling a bit to my hearing. Actually Cardiff Bint told me she was going to head straight for Italy and she was lying like a rug, but it comes to the same thing, I suppose. Everybody still here is agreed on ousting the Volturi if we can pull it off, and our Scottish friend has called his coven and they're calling the other covens and should be here all nine in less than an hour from now. No e-mail from your mum, at least not yet. Siobhan has decided we can't risk trying to get David or Edward out of Volterra, so the next step'll be to get you safely in touch with the Denalis and seeing if you can bring them around without having David there."

"Okay," I said. "How are we going to do that?"

"Talk to Siobhan about it and we can all find out," Maggie said. "She's waiting for some info from you."

I made a grumbling noise. "When do I get to blast her?"

"She was saying something about how it would be most convenient to do her recovering on the way to Denali, presumably on an airplane since you and your wolf can't swim it and probably neither can a comatose Siobhan," Maggie replied. "We're probably going to all go there rather than hauling the folks there over here, not least because the Denalis will probably be most useful if they keep up appearances with the Volturi for as long as possible and suddenly flying to Ireland woud not accomplish that. Plan may or may not involve Ilario calling Carlisle and pretending that he changed his mind and wants to join up. It'd be him over Siobhan and Liam, who we don't want the Volturi considering involved until it can't go any other way, and over me and Gianna who - you know and Carlisle knows why we turned him down the first time."

I asked, Did Ilario tell Cath about Molly?

"No," Maggie muttered under her breath, "but he's come damn precariously close a couple times. God, I wish I'd rescheduled the last time I'd visited her so he could have come along then. Look at them. Bloody disgusting."

I glanced back over at the happy pair. I thought they were sort of cute, albeit maybe to excess - Ilario kept adjusting Cath's hair, which made her giggle every time he did it, and they didn't seem to be able to go for five consecutive seconds without kissing, which made their attempts at conversation very sporadic. Cath looked up at Ilario like she was vividly contemplating hauling him off somewhere private, again, and the rumpled state of their clothes and the fact that Cath had a couple of twigs in her ponytail made me suspect that she had failed to resist this impulse a few times overnight.

I looked back at Maggie. "You realize that you were pretty far gone when you met Gianna, too."

"Yes, I know, but I didn't hang on her like that," groused Maggie.

I diplomatically refrained from pointing out that she'd suffered from practical limitations due to Gianna's human fragility. "I'm not even sure why you're so annoyed by this," I said. "You like Cath. You like Ilario. Why wouldn't you like them together?"

"I like Cath," muttered Maggie, "but."

Is it about Molly? I guessed. I realize Molly's very vulnerable, but there's not actually a reason for any vampires to hurt her unless it's to get at you or Gianna, or Ilario. Hardly any of them eat children, just for reasons of blood volume.

"That doesn't stop me from worrying," Maggie answered. "And Gianna... I called last night and she said she was happy for them, and I hauled Ilario away from Cath long enough to make him talk to her too, but for a long time all Gianna had in her life was Ilario. And now she can't remember most of it. She wrote a few things down, but that's just stuff like what year she lived in which apartment, not the little day-to-day stuff that life's mostly made of. I don't want her to lose her brother."

"Did he lose his sister when you came along?" I asked.

"No," Maggie said. "But maybe he did when she turned, after she was mated to me like I was to her and she started forgetting... I'm not sure."

Something occurred to me. "Aro read Gianna, while she worked for the Volturi," I said. "I don't have everything from when she was human, since she left, but most of her memories, before it had a chance to get overwritten with vampire ones, he read. And that means I can give them back to her."

Maggie blinked at me. "You're a genius," she crowed, lunging forward to hug me. "I don't know if Siobhan would give us the few hours it'd take to haul you to Wexford and back and do that now - but they'll keep, right?" I nodded, and Maggie hugged me tighter and then let me go, a grin on her face.

"What's that like, anyway," I asked Maggie, "barely remembering being human?"

"Bit odd," Maggie conceded. "I know the major things. I know my mum died when she had my little brother, and I assume I was sad but I can't remember what it felt like. Maybe that's because I was four, though. And I know I didn't at all like my brother's wife when he got married later, but I can't really remember what her name was - I learned it like I'd never heard it before, when I found my family in that one book doing my genealogy research. I know I was eldest of three and fought with my sister all the time but I can't remember her face. I know I loved my da until he died, though I can't recall what killed him or what particularly I loved about him. I know I went to England to get away from the famine but not how I felt about that. I think I worked in a laundry or something tiresome like that once I got there. Cath told me about how she found me. Some bloke was chatting me up while I was at market one day, and he told me he wasn't married and that was a foul lie and I called him out on it. Cath was watching the street from up in a flat she kept while she worked on one of her vast overcomplicated embroidery projects. Doesn't like trying to sew homeless; gets her supplies all messy. Anyway, she thought I was maybe a witch, tracked me down later, bit me right on the neck without much ceremony and stuffed my mouth with a skein of yarn while I changed to keep me from bothering her neighbors overmuch. I woke up and she had lunch ready for me. Same bloke who'd been chatting me up, actually, she thought I'd find that charming - but she had to tell me who he was after I ate him; I had no idea."

"But some things stick," I said. "You've got the Irish accent still."

Maggie coughed and said, in flawless Received Pronunciation, "I can put on any accent I like." Then, sounding like she was from the middle of Kansas, she added, "But it's true, I woke up from the turning and talked as I always had. That's how I sound when I'm not paying any attention, and how I usually choose to sound. I didn't unconsciously pick up a Swindon-appropriate accent just because I was "brought up" there."

"Your usual accent suits you," I said, and Maggie smiled merrily at me.

"Elspeth!" Siobhan called from across the clearing in the park. She was standing close to the vampire from the Isle of Man. I trotted over.

"Do you know who Nathan here is?" Siobhan asked, indicating the man with her. He was blonde, and also the only vampire I'd ever (personally) seen maintaining facial hair - he had a tidy little mustache. (Memory was able to inform me of a handful of other vampires with beards or mustaches or both, and one who kept sideburns, but they were surprisingly few - Memory suggested that the pattern was that they did not wish to deal with the inconvenience of getting blood in their whiskers, which were more difficult to clean than a shaved face.) "Via any of your absorptions, I mean, I know you heard the greeting when he showed up here."

I blinked. "No, I don't seem to. I just know from last night that he's the Manx."

"You can tell," Nathan said, "because I have no tail." I giggled and he smiled roguishly.

Siobhan frowned. "Well, nonetheless," she said, "he's just admitted to hunting in Ireland on occasion, and he isn't taking my threat to kill him very seriously. You're a little hard to dismiss, Elspeth; do me a favor and tell him your honest assessment of how likely I am to be able to do that."

I looked at the smiling mustache-wearing vampire. "Are you any kind of witch?" I asked Nathan.

"Oh, no," he said, "not at all."

"Liar!" yelled Maggie in our direction.

"What kind of witch are you?" I asked.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Nathan said, grinning. "I'll tell you this - I've been hunting in Ireland at least once a year for the last hundred, and Siobhan's never caught me, and I still dared turn up at her gathering."

"It could be important," I said. "Don't you want to help? Maggie said everyone here agreed to help."

He shrugged. "I want to help, but I don't think telling you this would do that."

"Siobhan makes magic plans," I said. "How can she plan around you being a witch if she doesn't know what you do?"

"I wouldn't like her to plan around it," Nathan chuckled. "It'd interfere." He winked.

I glanced between him and the frowning Siobhan. "Well," I said, "I don't know how you've avoided getting caught this long. But if you're going to help, and Siobhan not killing you relies on her not knowing what your witchcraft is, you're probably in trouble, because Eleazar from Denali can sense witch powers. And we might also run into Addy again, and she can taste them."

"Well, when the time comes, then I guess I'll be in trouble," he said mildly.

Siobhan rolled her eyes and made a shooing gesture at him. "Get gone," she muttered. He ambled away and started whistling, although he didn't go far and she didn't seem to mean for him to. "I knew he'd been to Ireland uninvited, I just could never quite manage to be where he hunted when he was... Anyway. My current plan is that Ilario be peeled away from Cath long enough to phone Carlisle and announce a desire to join the Denali resistance. He asks to be met at the airport by the people there we actually trust, namely your grandparents or aunt and uncle. He brings you with him, and me. You'll blast me once we're on the airplane so I spend the downtime usefully coming out of my coma. And possibly others will be on the same flight, probably Cath who won't like to leave Ilario and your wolf who won't like to leave you and Liam who can look after me while I'm living thoroughly in the past. We should go in the cargo hold, since getting ID on short notice would be intractable."

I nodded. "Everybody else swims and runs over?" I guessed.

"Let me finish. Ilario asks to be met at the airport. Carlisle or Esme or Emmett or Rosalie or some combination show up to meet him, and, surprise, you're there too. You tell them the whole story. Spend the flight composing a good summary to throw at them in an instant, maybe. They give us more up-to-date information about what's going on with their cousins, and help think of a way get the four of them all in one place at one time without the opportunity to drop a note about it to the Volturi."

"One problem," I said. "If the Volturi hear from the Denalis that Ilario's joining up..." That might put Molly in harm's way, I finished silently, mindful of all the vampires milling about.

"Mm," said Siobhan. "Very well, then, we get Cath to call; she doesn't share that property. She says she heard from Maggie, she wants to help, etcetera etcetera, and wants one of your relations to meet her at the airport because Maggie has such nice things to say about them but she has never met the others and would prefer to see as familiar a face as possible. Any problems there?"

I couldn't think of any, and shook my head.

"You work your magic - literally and figuratively - on your cousins," Siobhan continued. "And from there we'll need input from your family to figure out how to proceed, but I'll be there - blasted, moreover, so you won't need to be consulted so often, I'm sure you'll be pleased to know. Meanwhile, all the Brits and the Manx interloper, and our Romanian additions, and Maggie, are waiting here - it wouldn't work so well to have them all in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when we decide we, say, want to launch a full frontal assault on Volterra, unlikely though that is. They wait here, and can sneak onto airplanes or jump into the sea or whatever else needs doing when the time is right."

"You're going to let them all wait on your island?" I asked.

"By "here" I mean the general vicinity. I think they should probably be located closer to London. It's got more air traffic to hitch rides on, with the added benefit of not being - as you say - on my island," Siobhan said.

I nodded slowly, examining the plan. "I think that works... as far as it goes. It's a big blank spot after we get the Denalis on board, assuming we even succeed there..."

"That's because there are fourteen people in Denali, and some of them you weren't able to tell me much about," said Siobhan. "I'll consult them and figure out how to plan for them once we're there. I'm not likely to suddenly come up empty." I nodded. "One more thing," Siobhan said. "If I'm not out of my coma by the time we land in Alaska, I want you to try to bring me out of it. Transmit some of what you did with your "subagent" - I realize that's probably at least partly dependent on your magic, but you were able to de-Chelsea your wolf pretty effectively without having tried it before. You can clearly use your power intuitively for novel purposes at least some of the time. It's worth a shot if I'm taking too long. Understood?"

I nodded.

Over the next half hour, the Scottish representative's coven and their allies arrived; Jake woke up; Siobhan explained the plan to everyone present; Cath was successfully induced to (briefly) disentangle herself from Ilario and make a phone call while everyone was very quiet; the phone call went as smoothly as predicted; everyone except for her and Ilario and me and Jake and Siobhan and Liam made for the water to swim back to Britain and make their way to London; and the six of us got into Maggie's car to go to the airport, Liam in the driver's seat so Siobhan could close her eyes meditatively beside him. (I sat on Jake's lap again, which meant that technically Cath did not need to sit on Ilario, but she didn't appear to find the middle of the backseat as appealing.) We stopped for a few minutes to pick up enough food to tide me and Jake over for the day, then wound up parked a couple of blocks away from the airport.

It was cloudy, so the vampires just carried instead of wearing the emergency hoodies and gloves stashed in the car's trunk. We snuck into the belly of an airplane with surprisingly little fanfare and no death at all. Ilario checked which flights were which on his phone so we knew which aircraft to get in, and then we just made a run for it. Without phasing, a surefire attention-getter, Jake was much slower than any of us. Siobhan convinced him to let Liam carry him, citing danger for me if his pace got us noticed.

Once the hatch to the cargo hold was closed, Siobhan looked at me and said, "Go ahead, then."

I scrunched my eyes shut, let everything in my mind blur together into one solid packet to fling all in a single go, and blasted her.