Chapter 39: Hider

In the morning, I woke up to find my mother already on the phone discussing something with Siobhan.

"I kept Elspeth shielded all night," my mother said. "And she's still under it now. But if I extend the shield to cover Allirea, that part of it snaps back when I lose hold of my concentration for so much as a tenth of a second, and I still haven't managed to let Elspeth back through my inner shield at all. I'm not sure, but I think I could keep Edward shielded the way I can Elspeth - like the shield is reacting to my personal affections somehow. Good morning, Elsie," she added, glancing down and letting my hand go. I wondered if she'd been holding it all night in spite of the fact that she could no longer see me dream.

"Good morning," I said. "If you can't get around that limit on the shield, maybe it should be a priority to go in and get Dad out? Allirea might be able to get into the dungeon through the window and get him - and David, and maybe even Marcus if we want him - out. Then you can shield Dad and that's two people Jane and Alec and so on can't touch, which is worse than everybody on our side, but better than just one."

"Alice looked," said Siobhan, "and Marcus's other eye isn't in bits, it's sitting completely whole on top of the rest of him. We're not sure if Aro did that because he managed to think of a contingency plan regarding Allirea, or just because he figured he might as well, but without Bella able to shield Allirea, Allirea can't get the prisoners out of the dungeon undetected."

My mother's mouth was a grim line, but she evinced no surprise; this had been discussed overnight, apparently. "Damn it," she muttered, "I've managed to keep a shield over Allirea for hours at a time before... I just can't count on it..."

"Yes," said Siobhan, "you've said that repeatedly. Also, to catch Elspeth up, we have repeatedly gone over the fact that Addy might be willing and able to cover Allirea with your power if you knew how to open up your inner shield and let her copy you but you can't even let Elspeth in; we have repeatedly remarked on the fact that it would be very useful if there were a dozen of you; and we have repeatedly observed that you would probably have better control of your shield generally if you weren't trying to operate without ready access to your mate, in what you have repeatedly observed is a catch-22."

"Mama," I said, "besides me and Dad, do you like the others in the family enough to reliably shield them?"

"I haven't tried it yet," she said. "I'm reasonably sure I could do Carlisle and Esme, although maybe not as well as you. Rosalie and Emmett would probably be easier than Allirea, but I don't know by how much. I think I remember Jasper trying to kill me a little too vividly to protect him effectively before getting good general control. Alice... I don't know. I haven't talked to her much since you got back. I imagine she's different than she was before."

"Why haven't you tried it yet?" I asked.

"Because I keep trying to keep Allirea covered, except for right now because if I cover both of you you'll forget her," my mother said. "If I can pull it off - well, we have repeatedly observed that if I could shield Allirea reliably there would be no problem at all. It's seemed like the best area to focus my efforts." She sighed. "Maybe I should give up on that and concentrate on something else, like trying the rest of the family."

"I have a question," said Tanya's voice from Siobhan's end of the phone connection. It was quiet enough to be difficult to pick out, so I pulled out my cell and dialed in. "Let's assume we win - we kill or poach all the Volturi and the wolves, and we have a party to celebrate. Then what?"

"Good question," said Siobhan.

"Because I don't want to rule the world," Tanya said. "I think Kate would feel the same way, and Eleazar and Carmen, and while I haven't gotten to know Garrett that well yet, I think it would grate on his eternally-fixed revolutionary sensibilities. I think Carlisle would work in theory, but I imagine it'd fall apart in practice, and his kids are follower types, except -"

"Me," murmured my mother.

"I guess you're not a follower," Tanya agreed, "but if Edward doesn't live -"

"Don't say those words in that order," my mother hissed. She visibly brought her temper under control, and then said, "Please. If something dreadful were to happen... then I would probably not be in good shape to rule the world. I managed a very limited sort of life believing him dead, but it didn't involve anything so grandiose, and I couldn't have handled it if it had. But right now Edward is alive, albeit in... conditions I don't want to consider any more than I already have... and he may remain that way."

"So, you want to be queen of the world?" Siobhan asked my mother.

"It's crossed my mind before, but Tanya also has a point," my mother ground out. "Who else could do it? The power vacuum will need filling."

"I could..." mused Siobhan.

"You'd be good at it," I put in.

"Thank you," Siobhan said. "But I don't really have an interest in the world. I'm mostly concerned with Ireland. I suppose I'd take the queen of the world job, if I had to in order to prevent worldwide chaos..."

"Do we know anyone else who makes a decent backup?" my mother asked. "The Romanians are out, I think..."

"They don't even want the world the way it is now," Siobhan said, "according to Maggie, who thought to check. Too many witches, too much technology. They're only in it for revenge against the Volturi about losing their reign in the first place."

Names were tossed back and forth, mostly for completeness rather than any sense of plausibility. "Would you," Siobhan asked my mother during a lull, "enforce vegetarianism?"

"If I could figure out a way to do it," my mother replied evenly. "But it would be very difficult."

"Not if Pera lived and would work for you," I said.

My mother blinked. "That... would... work," she acknowledged, "if Pera herself were willing to go vegetarian... a hidden vampire couldn't eat anyone, although I suppose they could still wreak assorted havoc and rob blood banks."

"Elspeth," said Siobhan, "I'm not sure to what extent this already went without saying, so I'm going to say it: deprogram Pera if you possibly can. The only people she plausibly would not be able to singlehandedly defeat are Allirea - who would have her at a standoff that one of them wouldn't know was happening - and Kate, who she might not be able to affect fast enough to avoid being thrown to the ground by the charge. Even Renata's shield might not understand a light tap on the head as an attack."

"I will," I said. "If I see Pera I'll do it right away. My power doesn't go through hers, though, so if she's hiding I can't. I tried to send something to Mama before while I was hidden and she wasn't - before Mama blocked me out, I mean - and it didn't work."

"You shouldn't discount the possibility that your power will go through Pera's with regards to Pera herself," cautioned Siobhan. "It might not. But consider that Pera can see and hear and so on people who aren't "where" she is - she might get transmissions via your magic as well."

"I guess I can just periodically try to aim at her whether I spot her or not," I said dubiously.

"What would be more useful," my mother said, "would be if she'd instantly fall for one of the unmated guys who are with us - that's, let's see, Alistair, Randall, seven of the Brits who are still in Britain, and the Romanians?" When she said Alistair's name, someone - possibly Mary, one of the American visitors - laughed one loud ha. I shuffled through Carlisle's memories to dredge up the fact that Alistair was a complete misanthrope. I wondered how he was putting up with being in such a crowded area for so long. It was interesting to imagine him with a mate.

"Alice can check that, can't she?" I asked. "If they cooperate, I mean, each of them could decide one at a time to walk into the Volturi compound...?"

"If they decided to just walk in," Siobhan said, "Alice would probably see them getting killed, possibly before even crossing paths with Pera."

My mother said, "Not if they went in announcing that they were there to sell us out, or went in with one of the Denalis after some preliminary e-mails were lobbed back and forth."

"Wait," I said. "Alice was pretty much mated to Jasper - I'm not sure about the other way around - when she just saw a vision of him. Maybe Alice should just show a vision of Pera to all the single guys we have on our side?"

"That would work if I could see her," Alice piped up.

"You can't see Pera?" asked my mother, bewildered. "Like a half-vampire or a wolf?"

"Not exactly... I can look at her," Alice said. "I'm not blocked outright. But she's invisible. I can tell you where she is - it's the second room from the left on the third floor of the building, that's where my vision centers when I try to see her - but just like I don't see in, say, infrared when I use my precognition, I don't see through to her hiding place, any more than I could if I were standing right there."

"She must unhide sometimes," said Siobhan. "To stay in touch with the others and let Chelsea work on her, if nothing else. They wouldn't have turned her if they weren't pretty sure they could control her. Keep an eye out, Alice. If Elspeth shows memories of Pera to candidate mates, that might work where applicable, but we can't count on it, since unlike with yours there's no precedent, and anyway most of the single males on our side are in Britain and out of her range, whereas you have... no limit, is that right?"

"None I've run across," Alice confirmed. "I nearly drove Jasper bonkers from Italy while he was in Tennessee," she reminded us guiltily. I heard a mumbling attempt from Jasper to protest at this description, probably to soothe her guilt over her more active part in his sanity impairment.

"It's a near-certainty that Pera will unhide at some point in the future," my mother said. "Can't you get even a blurry look at that - even if you don't know when or where or whether she'll be standing on her head at the time?"

"It's very blurry," Alice said. "I don't think I'd recognize Jasper that blurry if I didn't know who I was looking at - someone who's never seen Pera before is probably not going to discover that she's his mate based on this mess."

"Liam, call Maggie," Siobhan said, and I heard beeping as her mate did as she asked. "So she can distribute the information over there so no one is caught too off guard by the visions when we figure out a way to do this." Liam's voice - and barely audible replies from Maggie - threaded their way through the phone, but I tuned them out to hear the conversation I was actually having.

"So if Eleazar or someone decides to e-mail Volterra," my mother said, "with... what would be a good excuse for a Denali to escort a vampire into the compound?"

"I don't think a Denali escort would help," said Siobhan, "since David is still there - it would be too plausible that they'd be there to try to bust him out, and Aro would insist on a read before they got anywhere near Pera, and then the jig would inevitably be up. I'm not sure there's any way to have such a person get in to see Pera before letting Aro touch them, in fact."

"Are any of the Brits witches?" my mother asked.

"Nathan, the one from the Isle of Man, is," I told her, "but he won't say what it is that he does."

"That's obnoxious," my mother pronounced. "Is he planning to enlighten us at any point in the future?"

"Unclear," said Siobhan disgustedly. "I'm somewhat tempted to pick up everybody here, consolidate in Britain, and throw Eleazar at him. Alice, can you see by any chance...?"

"No," Alice said. "He hasn't made up his mind about it yet, I guess."

"Speaking of picking up and moving everybody," my mother said, "I think Carlisle, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett are the only people with current paper identities. Or, I have a legal identity I could still pass for, but I'm legally dead. That leaves a lot of people to sneak onto an airplane or even two of them. If we're going to want to mass in Britain or whatnot soon, it's probably about time to start sending the rest of us running east."

"Jake is legally dead too, like everybody else from La Push," I said, "and can't be moved yet unless we really, really have to take him somewhere. And it would be hard to sneak him onto a plane in his condition, too."

"Maybe we should just get Carlisle to buy a plane," grumbled my mother. "Might not be able to get around all of the security that way, I don't know, but it seems like it would help somehow."

"I know how to fly one," I volunteered.

She looked at me, inscrutable, and then said, "Of course you do."

"So do Tanya and Randall and me, and Alice could probably figure it out via precognition alone," said Siobhan. "We aren't short on pilots. I'm not sure buying an airplane would help, though. But we might indeed need to wait until Jacob is able to move under his own power - that or get him a wheelchair and papers, and the papers might take longer than his recovery."

Jake chose that moment to groan and open his eyes. Squinting against the sun, he mumbled, "Elspeth."

"Here I am," I said, putting my phone away and picking up his hand. I looked around for food - I'd been too distracted by the conversation with my mother and Siobhan to eat yet - and started alternating between coaxing him to swallow nibbles from the stash of fruit and bread and junk food, and getting a few bites myself.

"Pera! I see her!" exclaimed Alice, distant through Siobhan's phone and my mother's. "She's going to unhide in a minute, I can see -"

"Well, quick, show her to somebody who might like what he sees," Siobhan prompted. "As many as you can show before the vision is past."

"All right," said Alice. There was a tense silence, except for me and Jake chewing, while we waited to see what happened.

"Blast!" Alice said after a couple of minutes. "Lost it. I got Randall and Alistair, and Nathan, and then Pera changed her mind or she unhid and then hid again and doesn't have concrete plans for when she'll reemerge."

"Just keep an eye out," Siobhan said. "So you can catch her when she next decides to pop up. Randall! Alistair!"

I couldn't catch their replies; presumably they were too far away to carry through the phone loudly enough for me. Guessing that, my mother tucked her phone between her shoulder and her ear and signed, "Both of them said no, it's not them." A moment later, the twice-transmitted voice of Maggie wisped through, and my mother added, "It's not Nathan either."

Somehow I suspected that Maggie had editorialized more than that, and I wished I'd heard, but I settled for the facts of the matter. "What happens if we can't find Pera a mate, and she can't be deprogrammed while she hides, and I don't spot her unhidden? What then?"

"Are we sure Pera's straight, just as an obvious thing we could be missing?" my mother asked.

"I guess she could have lied to Addy, but it doesn't seem likely," I said. "She was with Brady before he died. But what if we don't find her a mate and can't deprogram her?" I repeated.

"Good question," muttered Siobhan. "And definitely worth spending time on given the immense problem for us that Pera is currently set up to be. Let's both of us look through what Addy remembers of Pera, see if we get any ideas. You take the first half of the original visit, I'll take the second, more efficient that way."

"Mm," I agreed around a mouthful of granola bar. I closed my eyes and thought:

- It's a perfect accident that I find her. I'm here passing through this town, hunting, on my way to follow up on a rumor about a mysteriously accurate fortune teller who's based further north. Nine times out of ten, those are nothing at all (although I suppose it is mildly interesting how they manage to convince everyone they're something when they're not), and the remaining one of ten is usually such a minor power, so faintly tasted, that they're not worth the effort it takes to find them, but I look them up anyway. Just in case. Professional curiosity.

The girl doesn't expect anyone to be able to see her, apparently, when she appears. It is very dark, but of course that doesn't impair me a bit. Apparently she knows what she can do, but not about vampires. So when she pops into view, and the tantalizing hint of tartness twinges in the back of my mouth under the spicy tracker power I'm still carrying from Hector, I definitely notice her. Hm. To introduce myself and hope she doesn't vanish again, or to touch her without a by-your-leave, and learn to follow her...? Forget the fortune-teller, this is perhaps the most interesting witch I've encountered since Benjamin. What exactly is she doing...?

I leap down from the roof and brush a fingertip over the tip of her ear before she can react.

Everything goes brown. I can still see color normally - the moon is still silver, the witch girl I've just borrowed from is still black-haired and her shirt still pastel orange, it's all still there - but overlaid on top of it is a transparent sepia.

With an impressive reaction time, for a human, the girl turns herself whitish in place of the beige. She doesn't run, but she straightens herself to peer closely at me, frowning. (She can't see very well in the dark.) The white means she's somewhere else. I could walk through her if I wanted; I can taste it. She doubtless expects me to think she's vanished completely. She's gone to the same place she appeared from to begin with.

"I can still see you," I whisper conspiratorially, in Spanish.

She jumps nearly out of her skin and bolts. I whiten myself too, and follow her at an amble. "I can outrun you," I tell her.

She looks so frantic, and doesn't slow her attempts to flee. "My name's Del," I call after her, using the nickname I've switched to for this area. It's not that they can't pronounce "Addy", but the sounds don't spill quite naturally from the Spanish-speaking mouth, while "del" is already a word they know. As a name in the local tongue, it's innocuous enough to be silly - better than something off-color and not as profound as some meaningful noun. I'll take it. "What's your name?" I invite. She's not yet gotten the idea that she can't run away.

I chase her for four minutes and then she can't run anymore. I suppose she doesn't usually have to run; usually she can hide and stay put while everyone around her would think she'd evaporated into thin air. Or maybe that's a usual amount of time for humans to be able to run? I haven't had occasion to learn. At any rate, she stops, and I stop too, beside her. "What's your name?" I ask her again.

"Who are you?" she asks, fearfully, panting.

"I told you, my name is Del," I repeat patiently. I've met witches who took longer than this to be willing to talk to me, so I'm not discouraged yet.

"No, I mean - why are - who - how -"

"I'll answer more questions if you tell me your name," I encourage her.

"Esperanza Ortega," she murmurs.

"Mind if I call you Pera?" I ask.

"No... I guess not. How...?"

"Well, you know how you hide... here?" I ask, my skills in any language inadequate to describing the white space in contrast to the brown space. Or, I could probably compose a neologism in my native German, but she wouldn't understand it.

"And you can too," she murmurs, almost glowering at me.

"Not always," I correct, and I explain myself. I've delivered the speech several times before, although usually the witch I'm talking to will interrupt me to ask questions. Pera doesn't. She's a meek little thing, and it takes her the whole explanation to decide that I don't wish her any harm (I leave out the details of my diet; I'll feed when she sleeps) and finally relax.

"You want to help me?" she asks. That's exactly what I said, and exactly the case, but she wants it reaffirmed anyway.

"That's what I do," I tell her, "I find people like you, and teach them to do more -"

"I see Pera again," I heard Alice cry through my mother's still-open phone.

"Quick, then, get the rest of the Brits," said Siobhan. "You know who they are, don't you? Maggie's told them all by now to expect -"

"Got -" Alice started muttering names, and I dialed my own phone into the conversation so I didn't have to listen to everything secondhand through my mother's. She finished the list of finished shared visions, a few seconds spacing each of them, until she finally announced the last Brit.

"Liam, call Maggie back," Siobhan instructed. We waited, edgily, for the response to bounce back from Europe.

Through my own phone, I could hear Maggie just barely well enough to make out her reply when she'd finished asking around: "The one Londoner says she's a right pretty bird but he doesn't fancy her that much," she said. "Others are all less keen on her still. Bloke with the awful Glaswegian accent says he doesn't care for the olive tinting to her - want to bet he winds up mated to somebody who's got it or'll get it when she turns? - but no, this is a dead end."

"Damn," said Siobhan succinctly.

"My thoughts exactly," said my mother. "And Alice can't see ahead of time if anything Elspeth can do will work..."

"Pera's skittish enough that she might not fight for the Volturi if it comes to that, even if she's been willing to stay with them so far," I volunteered. "She might just run."

"But fighting us poses approximately zero risk to her," my mother said, confused. "If she just hides herself, and then hides bits of enemy combatants..."

"She doesn't necessarily know that it's safe for her to do that," I pointed out. "She doesn't know what kinds of witches we might have accumulated - heck, even we don't know what Nathan does yet. And she might not be calm enough to think of it anyway, once a fight started."

"Best case scenario, though," my mother said, "isn't if she runs, it's if she helps us."

"Well, I'll try deprogramming," I said. "I don't know what else we can do."

"When are we going to Volterra, anyway?" my mother asked. "That's been sounding like the plan, but with no timeline."

"I'm not sure," Siobhan sighed. "When we have a better idea of what we'll do there, I suppose. Starting with Elspeth and Allirea tunneling into the village and deprogramming the wolves is a good first step, but we don't have a clear idea of what's next. We can't take too long getting things done once we get the ball rolling, because the half-vampires and wolves need sleep and the village does communicate some with the compound."

"Jake should be ready to walk around tomorrow, or the next day," I said, "and once he's up the super-healing will work faster and he'll be in fighting condition within twenty-four hours."

"We need to figure out how to get everyone to Europe..." mused Siobhan. She and my mother and everyone else with something to say began one of those many-layered vampire conversations I couldn't keep track of. I pocketed my phone, on the supposition that my mother would tell me if anything requiring my input came up again.