Chapter 31: Stalker

I was slower than the vampires, but I went around to the other side of the mountain anyway when they bolted to see what was going on. Jake jogged after me, having a little more difficulty with the terrain but gamely trying to keep up with me. I didn't slow down for him.

Demetri hadn't been in Volterra when Addy had issued her blast. That meant, in theory, that I could knock him out for more than long enough to let the others destroy him. But Addy's suspicion about mated vampires kept me from trying that immediately. She'd thought that vampires would likely snap out of their trances if their mates had been in danger. Similar was her brief consideration about blasting Jacob so she could kidnap me. I was inclined to trust Addy's judgment about what a power she was borrowing could do. And it would be entirely characteristic of Demetri to interpret three vampires attacking him on Allirea's behalf as a threat to Allirea.

So I stayed my hand on the big gun, to break it out in a case where conventional methods didn't work - if it didn't knock him out, it would give him an advantage. I hung back, clinging from an outcropping of rock. But I could see.

Allirea had screamed as soon as she saw Demetri, and when I got a look at the scene, she was hiding behind Esme, who kept between him and his mate with a fiercer look on her face than seemed to belong there. Demetri kept his eyes on Allirea, but peripheral vision is good in vampires, and he wasn't having any trouble paying attention to my mother and grandfather as they circled him. "I'm not here about you," Demetri said, holding up his hands in a gesture that looked peaceable but could turn into a brutal throw if someone ran at him. "Even though you're really supposed to be dead," he added to my mother, "that's not my errand and I didn't come here to take care of that. I just want my mate and then we'll be on our way."

"Not going to happen," my mother hissed.

Demetri didn't waver. He stood poised and sharp-jointed, like a drawn sword, and kept his narrow eyes fixed on Allirea. "Is this some kind of payback you've arranged about your mate?" he asked my mother in a low, careful voice. "Please. You can't keep my Alli the way they're keeping him, it'd kill her, please don't hurt her. I would trade you. If I had him on hand to offer for her I'd -"

"It's not about that," Carlisle said, while my mother made an incoherent snarling noise. Behind me, Jake caught up, and stood warily at the ready. "If you will listen to us -"

"No outcome of this encounter that involves me not leaving with my Alli - both of us intact - is acceptable," said Demetri flatly. "If you don't want to try to wedge me into a deal about Edward I don't know what you're about. You're thickheaded, Carlisle, but you can't expect me to abandon my mate to our enemies, can you? Be reasonable."

"On the contrary," said Carlisle, "Allirea's own wishes are important to us, Demetri, and you have an impairment in understanding them -"

"She plays little games," Demetri said, a fond smile tipping up one corner of his mouth. "Alli, I wish you'd found someone else to involve... I think this lot thinks you were serious, someone might get hurt if you don't explain to them... Precious Alli, the puzzles you set me. I wonder what the catch is this time."

A ferocious hiss erupted from my mother's throat suddenly as something caught her eye. "That," she roared, "is Edward's wedding ring."

Demetri glanced briefly at his hand. "Is that my hint? If I give you this, you'll let Alli go? I'm sure I would have figured that out eventually. Peace," he said, and no one sprang at him when he worked the gold band off his finger. "I can get another. We can get a matching set, Alli my love, we can stop at a jewelry store on our way home, you can pick out anything you like. Try as I might I'm still not sure what you mean when you explain what you're looking for in rings..."

"Give it here," demanded my mother in a dangerous voice, and Demetri tossed her the ring. "Elspeth," she said, "catch." She tossed me not only my father's ring, but also the other jewelry she kept on the chain around her neck. I plucked it all out of the air, strung the recovered piece onto the necklace with the rest, and slipped it over my head so it wouldn't be lost.

There was a beat, and then Demetri said, "Well? What am I missing now? Alli -"

Almost too softly for me to hear, Allirea spoke for the first time since her shriek. "How many times," she murmured, "must I tell you not to call me that?"

Demetri looked like he hadn't heard her at all. Her words just slipped past his understanding and landed somewhere else. Peering into his warped memories, even I could almost believe that Allirea was only playing, only teasing, only having a bit of fun -

- Tracking is so much easier when I look for someone I've met. Then I can just follow the pull, let it lead me across the surface of the earth towards my target. If the target's not moving fast I can even do some careful triangulation and pinpoint them. But that doesn't mean I'm not a fair tracker without my advantage. I'd probably never have developed the advantage without the skill, anyway. So when Aro says "we've heard tell of a fellow called Joham who, we are informed, has been siring half-vampires, and we would like to find him and his girls", I don't say "is that so?", I say "yes, Master" and hop to.

A little asking around - I know rather a lot of people - and I'm on my way to where he was last seen by anyone I'm on speaking terms with, following his description west. I catch up with him in Mongolia, going the last forty miles mostly by scent. Not Joham's scent, I've not met the man and wouldn't want to follow some arbitrary vampire halfway across China and lose my real quarry, but the odd fragrance of half-vampires that I learned in visiting his son. Sort of spicy, sort of fruity, but quite unique. I like the smell.

Predictably, given how I'm doing my work, I find one of the girls first. She's a slip of an Asian thing, quite young in demeanor - this'll be the youngest, Iseul. She's surprised when I call her by name and acts confused when I ask to meet her father and sisters.

"Sisters?" she asks, enunciating strangely. Maybe she's not familiar with this language? Should I switch? No, she'd ask if she needed to speak in some other tongue. English is usually a safe bet, and she repeated the word and she isn't staring at me bewildered and jabbering in Cantonese or whatever her native speech is.

"Yes, and your father," I reply. I loom over her a bit. Titchy creature.

"I can take you to our current home..." she says, backing up a step to look me in the eye.

"Please do," I say, and she takes me at a dawdling publicly-acceptable pace to an apartment. The spicy-fruit aroma is all over the place, and drawing in thoughtful breaths I can separate three flavors of it - the little one's, and her sisters.

Iseul goes in ahead of me, and promptly hugs in greeting a girl who must be the middle sister, the one with the Swiss mother - the blond hair and the blue eyes give that away. Noemi, she was called. Sitting on the couch by the window, a book in her hand, is the eldest. "Allirea" was her name, I remember. It's a pretty name for a pretty girl. She's got her feet tucked under her and looks up at Iseul and me when we come in, but Iseul ignores her completely. Some kind of sibling rivalry there? There aren't any hints from Noemi's body language. "Father will be home soon," Iseul says to me, and begins explaining my presence to the white sister. She's still ignoring pretty Allirea. So is Noemi. Why is that?

I was told that Allirea was the witch, one who could divert notice from herself, but if she were doing that, surely I wouldn't be able to see her either? There she is, plain as day, perfectly simple to focus on. Actually, easier to focus on than anything else in the room. Her prattling sisters fade into the background. I'll notice if they try to run off - I need to speak to the family entire - but I don't have to pay attention to them. I'm curious about the dark one with her book.

Allirea looks up at me, makes eye contact, and flinches. How strange.

"I'm not here to hurt any of you," I say. "Or your father. I just needed to find you because the Volturi are interested in having a half-vampire join our organization, and your brother wasn't interested." I look at Allirea. If she's not getting along with her sisters, maybe she'll be the one. I think I'd like that.

"I think you mean "either of you", not "any", Mr. Demetri," Noemi says in a helpful voice. "I made that mistake often when I learned English -"

"No, I mean "any", there's three of you." I point at Iseul, Noemi, and Allirea, and Allirea shrinks in towards herself. She looks panicky. Maybe her power is misbehaving, and she's not trying to hide, she's only accidentally blinding her sisters to her presence...?

Suddenly the both of them turn their heads towards her. "Allirea!" says Noemi, as though surprised. "What is it? Is something wrong?"

I am quite confused now.

"He can see me," says Allirea, a quaver in her voice. She must be nervous about her power malfunctioning, although if she's putting it that way it must be a matter of failing to cover me, rather than mistakenly covering her sisters.

Or maybe it just doesn't work on me for some reason. I wonder why that would be. I haven't been trying to track her with magic, so my advantage shouldn't be counteracting hers.

Her sisters twitter to each other excitably, a thousand times more irrelevant than she could ever be. Am I really the only person who can notice her at all times? Does everyone else really ignore her? But she's so arrestingly exquisite.

Wouldn't it be something, if she were my -

Ah! Now it makes sense. I open my mouth to say something about it, but Allirea says, "Stop looking at me!"

I'm confused again, but I close my eyes, and her sisters trail off midsentence as though they've forgotten what they're talking about. Perhaps she's hidden herself again. Why would that be? I hear the window opening, and then closing, and soft footfalls. She's off to do something, I suppose. And not used to having to let her family know when she comes and goes.

I open my eyes again, and sure enough, she's gone, but I know how to find her. I open my phone, call Jane and give her the family's address while I follow the pull of my power out of the building. I don't really need to stay in this apartment personally now that I've found who I was meant to find. In both senses of the phrase.

I flip my phone closed. A dim human memory floats fuzzily into my consciousness. Most of its details have been lost. But it's a memory of my older brother, telling me some advice that I think I found very useful between hearing it and undergoing my change -

"Girls like to be chased," my brother drawled.

I smile. It makes perfect sense, doesn't it, that I'd find a mate who likes to be chased? -

I blinked and pulled myself out of the memory. The expectation of being loved back was woven into the mate bond.

It wasn't as deep as the rest of it. My father never really expected my mother to love him back while she was a human, he only hoped, for instance. But that was against plenty of background knowledge about how humans work as opposed to how vampires work. Demetri didn't have any background knowledge like that about half-vampires. He didn't know, on any level whatsoever, that she wouldn't automatically react like his mate, and so he just acted as though she would.

Most vampires confronted with a human mate just turned, or got someone else to turn, the mate in question, like Chelsea had, or like Rosalie had, but that wasn't an option with Allirea.

Presented as he had been with a mate who didn't love him automatically and couldn't be made to, and no prior expectation of that misfortune... he could despair or fall into delusion, the latter infinitely more comfortable.

So Demetri did sort of have an explanation -

I snapped back into the present. Allirea was still cowering behind Esme, saying nothing. Of course she wasn't saying anything - he never listened. No amount of begging, running away, trying to bite his head off, or kicking and screaming made a dent in his fantasy world where she was only playing.

The vampires were still circling each other. No one was eager to make it a physical fight. The odds were too well-balanced, and as far as Demetri knew, Esme might hurt his precious Alli before he could stop her, if he attacked.

"It is difficult, but it is possible," Carlisle said, "to live without your mate. I have done it -"

"Your mate is right there, Carlisle," said Demetri. "Standing between me and mine. You clearly didn't do it very long. But I suppose if I could believe it of anyone it'd be you. Did you regret it? Leaving her?" he challenged.

I knew the true answer to that, and I knew Carlisle wouldn't lie, not about that, even if it would be the better thing for Demetri to believe - "I did," Carlisle said gravely. "But the circumstances were different. Esme did not ask me to leave. It was a judgment I made on my own."

"Alli's only joking," said Demetri, smiling and rolling his eyes a little, like he was trying to explain that Santa wasn't real to someone in their twenties who really ought to know better. "She does this all the time, we have our little globetrotting game."

"Half-vampires do not have mates," growled my mother, "or if they do, they have them in a way that isn't symmetrical to the way vampires have them." Her eyes were flickering over Demetri's stance, looking for a gap that wasn't there. He exhibited excellent form.

"Nonsense," said Demetri easily.

I sent to my mother: Is it actually tactically valuable to convince him that Allirea hates him? I might be able to do it - I'm not sure - but if I can I have no idea what he'd do at all. Blink once if I should try it, twice if I shouldn't. I could have had my grandparents cast votes, too, but if I was honest (and I generally am), Esme had no tactical prowess at all and Carlisle's idealism was only suited to more obvious problems than this. Carlisle would have to be facing down someone who was not plausibly "just misguided" before he'd really apply himself to the task of making them dead.

There was a long pause during which my mother didn't blink at all, and then, distinctly, my mother's eyes shut and opened. Once.

I touched my cheekbone, checked in briefly with Magic, and pulled up all my tendency to attract attention and all my forceful truth and all my certainty that the memories I had from Allirea were true.

I sucked in a deep breath, and spoke clearly:

"Allirea hates you," I said. "She wants you dead. She's been terrified of you since the first time she saw you. She's not playing. She never has been."

Demetri's eye twitched. "No," he said, but it sounded like a question.

"Yes," I insisted. "She runs away because she doesn't want to be with you. She begs you to leave her alone because she can't stand being around you. She tries to kill you because she wants you to die. She pushes you off of her because she hates it when you touch her. She's not playing. She never has been."

"No," said Demetri again. He looked shaky on his feet, but he didn't quite drop out of his stance, and neither my mother nor Carlisle found an opening to attack.

"Yes," I said again, loudly. "She hates the nickname and wants to gouge out her ears every time you say it! She doesn't want a ring because the idea of marrying you makes her sick! She lives in fear that you'll take it into your head to hurt the people she loves! She's spent long hours considering suicide because it's looked like that would be what it would take to get away from you! You've gotten her pregnant twice and she ran to her father to get him to help her abort both times even though normal surgery was impossible and her metabolism is too fast for painkillers to work and he had to do it by punching her in the stomach, because she couldn't stand the idea of having your children! And it's a miracle it was only twice considering the number of times you -"

An incoherent roar exploded out of Demetri, and he wasn't a drawn sword anymore, he was a fired arrow - aimed right at me.

My mother was on him as he flew past, but he kicked her off and she went flying through the air. Jake vaulted over me to get in the way and phased with a heedless snarl, rusty fur exploding out from his body and standing on end with rage. Carlisle couldn't catch up to Demetri before Demetri reached Jacob.

I decided it would be a bad idea to just stand there, and clambered up the mountain while Jake (and, after a moment, Carlisle) fended off attacks from Demetri. Demetri fought like he was possessed, but he wasn't trying to hurt Jake or my grandfather so much as get away from them and go after me.

I flung myself off the peak of the mountain and landed beside Allirea. "Please -" I began, but she got the idea and folded her arms around me, making it almost impossible for Demetri to attack me without hurting her. Esme stood her ground in front of us.

The motions of the fight were too fast for me to follow in detail. I saw the broad strokes: Jacob struggling to maintain his purchase on the rocky slope while he tried to crush some convenient part of Demetri in his jaws. Carlisle attacking conservatively, attempting to restrict Demetri's movement more than actually injure him. Demetri whirling with desperate but precise ferocity. My mother landed downhill and quickly righted herself, sprinting back up into the fray.

I was terrified that Demetri would bite Jake. I needed Jake. "Look!" I hollered at the top of my lungs. "She's protecting me! She could hide from everyone here except my mother and you, she's not in any danger from me or Esme, we aren't threatening her one bit, and she's trying to shelter me anyway! She wants you to lose! Allirea hates you! It's not a game! She was telling the truth every time! She was really afraid when she screamed, she was really trying to hurt you when she bit you, she was really trying to escape you when she ran -"

"NO!" bellowed Demetri, and the shout reverberated off the scenery. I wondered if we were close enough to the Denalis' houses that he'd be heard. "NO!"

"Yes," I insisted. "It's true. You know it's true."

Demetri launched himself towards me again, but Jake caught his leg in his teeth and wrenched it off with an earsplitting screech. The leg went tumbling down the hillside when Jake spat it out, but the change in momentum gave Demetri the chance he'd so far lacked to pull close to Jake and sink his teeth into the fur on my wolf's neck.

Jake let out an unwolflike scream of pain and staggered and collapsed, and rolled like a ragdoll down the mountain. My wolf, my wolf, my -

- "Daphne will be out of commission for days from that bite."

"But she's alive." -

- "She'll probably be sick for a week. Bites are not fun... clip a notch out of my ear to keep it from spreading..." -

- applying some kind of suction device to a wound on another's shoulder - maybe removing poisonous venom -

I broke Allirea's grip, surprised Esme enough to dodge her abortive grab for my shoulder, and chased my wolf downhill.

"ELSPETH!" my mother shouted, but didn't she have the scar to prove that she could survive being bitten, the baldness to prove that she could survive being powdered and ignited? She didn't need me. Jake did.

- "I wonder if she'd find you palatable."


"You, Jacob Black, werewolf, possessor of blood that smells rancid to me but doesn't to her. I wonder if she would drink it -

I felt a hand come down on my shoulder with crushing force, stopping me in my tracks. Demetri. I didn't even need to look around. I let out a screech, and blasted him.

Not with everything.

Just with the last five and a half years of Allirea's life.

"Pay attention when I tell you things," I hissed at him, and his hand fell away from my shoulder, which was probably broken, and I left him to the vampires and ran. My wolf, my wolf, my wolf.

Jake's fall was broken by an irregular jut of rock. He landed bitten side up and lay there, eyes open, heart still beating, still breathing, but not moving. I leapt on him and fell to. No biting - no more biting - just pulling tainted blood out of his veins. I ignored the taste. It didn't matter. I spat it out instead of wasting time swallowing. Pull out a mouthful of blood. Spit. Pull. Spit. Until the evil smell goes away, until the blood splatters pure red on the rocks instead of with droplets of clear, until my wolf is okay. My mouth was full of loose fur. Jake panted and whined. His heart kept ticking, but it shuddered and sometimes beat double.

Distantly I heard a screeching noise again, and people arguing. Nearer, footsteps. Carlisle.

"I think that's enough," he said, and I stopped. The smell of venom wasn't completely out of Jake, but what I hadn't gotten had enough time to spread that I could never get it out of the wound. It didn't heal as fast as it should have. A mouth-sized gash should have been scabbed over, should have looked weeks old already. Wolves with their super healing... "Your shoulder," Carlisle said.

"Set it. It'll heal," I murmured. I was gently poked and prodded, and then shoved abruptly into alignment and held that way for a moment and released. It hurt, but didn't I remember worse? Didn't I have high-fidelity memories of a hundred turnings in my head? Hadn't Jane burned me, hadn't Santiago broken my legs? Wasn't my wolf possibly dying in front of me? I ignored the screaming of my shoulder.

"Don't use the arm," he instructed, softly, "until it feels completely better."

I nodded, once. "Jake," I said.

"I don't think there's anything else to do," Carlisle said. "You thought very quickly."

I blinked at the wound in Jake's throat. It wasn't leaking more blood, but it was still raw, open, new. The venom that was left wasn't leaving him any spare resources to close it as quickly as it should have been closed.

"Demetri," I said.

"You threw him off long enough that Bella took off his other three limbs," Carlisle murmured. "Allirea wants to kill him, but -"

"So let her," I said.

"Elspeth -" began Carlisle.

"Let her," I repeated. "How many more people would he have to hurt and kill before you'd be willing to let him die? Let her."

"Elspeth," he said again.

I got up, carefully leaving the arm attached to the hurt shoulder limp and uninvolved in the process. I squeezed Jake's forepaw gently, and walked up the slope again. "Demetri," I said.

"It's not true," he was wailing, propped up against a stone with only a head and torso in his possession. "Illusionist. You're an illusionist, it's an illusion -"

"That's just a word," I said, looking at the dense clouds overhead. "Eleazar made it up to classify witches, he didn't find it written in the stars. It's all true. I can't lie with my power. It doesn't like it."

"Lies," choked Demetri.

"No," I said. "If it was a lie, though, Allirea wouldn't kill you, would she?"

"Precious Alli," he breathed. "My precious Alli, please, tell me it's not true..."

Allirea rose from her crouch behind Esme and went around her, walking with measured steps towards Demetri. Her face was perfectly calm. He looked up at her with a manic, confused hope in his eyes, and then Allirea said in a controlled, level hiss, "All of it is true."

He looked at her blankly, trying to ignore her the way he had a thousand times before, and then Allirea turned to Carlisle and Esme. "You will have to kill me to stop me from killing him," she stated.

Esme turned away. Carlisle put an arm around his wife, and looked sadly at Allirea, and said nothing. My mother was collecting the severed limbs from where they'd landed downhill.

I walked back to Jake, and knelt beside him, and combed my fingers through his fur, and ignored the screeching noises, and ignored the crackling sound of the fire.