Chapter 7: Prisoner

I grabbed Pera's arm and pulled her away, but I'm not fast enough to get prey out of the path of a vampire, and I think Mama might have killed her. Two things prevented that. One, Brady - and the other wolves - leapt forward as soon as Mama moved, and two, Mama checked herself, jerking away from the attack. The wolves were on her an instant later.

"No, don't, don't hurt her, just hold her, I don't know what's wrong, don't hurt her," I shrieked. I couldn't see past the huge furred shapes, but I distinctly heard an awful screeching noise... "Don't hurt her don't hurt her don't hurt her -"

A grey wolf with white frost to his fur was knocked out of the press of the pack against Mama. That was Brady, I knew, but I didn't see who'd pushed him aside. He snarled, but didn't get up.

A few more wolves stepped back, until there were only four, each pinning one of Mama's limbs with his forepaws. Rust-brown Jacob had her right arm, Victor's ochre paws covered her left, inky-black Sam and chocolate Quil held a leg each. It didn't look like Mama was broken, or if something had been fractured, it had knitted at once. Mama looked stunned, and wasn't breathing.

"What happened?" I asked her in a small voice.

"Singer," she choked on too little air, and didn't breathe again.

I turned to Pera, who was cowering against a tree. Brady whined, but must have been commanded to stay down, because he didn't get up and go to her. "Pera, you have to unhide her," I said. Pera shuddered ungracefully, and clearly didn't want to get anywhere near Mama as her witchcraft required. "Just do it, then it'll be safe," I pleaded.

Emily approached Pera and helped her up, gently leading her towards Mama. Pera gingerly touched one of Mama's feet, poking out from beneath Sam's claws, and Mama vanished and the four wolves tipped forward a few inches onto the ground.

Brady phased. Usually the wolves would trot off behind cover with a set of clothes to do that, but they weren't always careful, and I wasn't stunned or scarred for life by it after a few days living with the pack. "What," he growled, "was that?"

"I didn't know," I promised, "I couldn't have, and she couldn't either - but um - vampires sometimes find that a specific person smells much better than others, and Pera was bleeding already... that's what a "singer" is, a person like that. She didn't mean to hurt you," I said, turning to Pera, who was still shivering, and staring at something I couldn't see - probably Mama.

Zachary had trotted over towards where the clothes were kept, and he flung a pair of pants at Brady, who put them on and went to wrap his arms around Pera. She leaned on him and didn't speak; he murmured comfort in her ear.

"Please unhide me," I said, walking towards Pera. "I have to talk to Mama and -"

"No," said Jacob's voice from behind me.

I turned around slowly, bewildered, to see who he was looking at, what other comment he'd responded to, but he was looking right at me.

"What do you mean, no?" I asked, incredulous.

He shook his head slowly. "Elspeth, she just attacked Pera. I was willing to believe she was safe on your say-so, but she just attacked Pera. Nobody unhides until she's gone."

I stared at him, waiting for this pronouncement to turn into a terrible, badly-timed joke. I searched for humor somewhere in his expression, and found none. He was only sad - but firmly resolved anyway.

"She's my mama," I whispered. "She's safe. She raised me for five years. It's only the singer -"

"And what if you smell a little too much like Pera, after hanging around her all this time?" asked Jacob softly, his voice full of sorrow. "What if she hurt you, Elspeth?"

"Mama will never hurt me," I shouted.

"You said she wouldn't hurt Pera, either," Brady growled, and I turned to look at him over my shoulder. He looked like he wanted to kill somebody. Mama, probably.

"There was no way to know that Pera would be her singer," I said. "They're so rare - Mama's only ever heard of three before -"

"But it means her control isn't perfect, and I will not have you in danger," said Jacob. "Not even if you hate me for it." He sighed. "You can write to her, of course, I think that will be safe enough."

"My mama," I whispered. "She's my mama -" I whirled around, daring to hope that Pera would disobey Jacob. She could. It was within her power. But there was no mutiny in her eyes.

I turned back to Jacob, forcing my power into an almost-visible channel of pleading, but while he still looked terribly sorry to trap me, he didn't budge.

There's only a couple of things I can do that vampires can't, but one of them is cry.

I didn't let myself cry for long. I could at least write to Mama. I found the pen and the pad of paper, again, and started scribbling. Mama, are you still there? I held up the pen, loosely in my palm, so she could take it if she was.

The pen lifted out of my hand, and the pad with it, and Mama wrote back in her precise round letters, I'm still here. Is everyone safe? Can you stop hiding?

We're all safe, I wrote, with a glare in Jacob's direction. The singer is the same witch who hides and un-hides people. Jacob will not let her unhide anyone while you're here because he doesn't think you're safe. Even me. He imprinted on me, Mama, I added belatedly, wishing I could just send her things instead of having to write. Writing is even worse than speaking aloud.

Mama took the pen, but there was a significant pause before she wrote anything. Apart from not being free to unhide, are you safe, Elspeth? she wrote, finally. They aren't hurting you or harassing you or otherwise mistreating you apart from that? Jacob isn't pressuring you at all about anything related to the imprint?

Besides that, no, I scrawled back. I have very bad handwriting, and being upset wasn't doing anything to improve it.

Let's continue writing in a tree, where humans will be less likely to see the odd behavior of this pen, she wrote. The pen and paper appeared to float towards and up into the branches of a large, thickly-leafed tree, and I followed. Once Mama found a place that suited her and had given me a few seconds to sit within reach of the writing implements, she wrote, Do you think there is any chance you can convince Jacob to change his mind, or the witch to let you free without his permission?

I don't know. Maybe. Not soon, though.

Please tell me everything that's happened since we were separated, Mama wrote.

I wrote, haltingly and messily and with the liberal use of margin notes and arrows, about how I had spent the last five days and what I'd learned. I couldn't see Mama reacting, and I hated it, not knowing how she was taking anything I wrote, not knowing if she was disappointed in me for telling all the secrets or for kissing Cody, not knowing if she was angry at Jacob or at Cody or at Pera, not knowing whether she would frown at my summary of the Clearwater children's dialogue or smile at my listing of everyone in the pack.

Eventually I brought her up to speed, as best I could without being able to show her anything, and she plucked the pen out of my hand and wrote You've had quite a week, Elsie. And I'm not at all convinced that you're safe with the pack as Jacob suggests. Not with the Volturi impatient and willing to get "creative". If his motive is really your safety, and it probably is, he can be convinced to let you go.

I wrote, What do you think they'll do?

I don't know for sure, she replied. It's obvious that the Volturi haven't been trying to kill the pack members. That wouldn't be difficult. Things like setting the trees on fire are easy to escape, if it's only a few trees. They could have timed it differently so the camp would be ringed with fire and harder to escape. There has been nothing stopping them from attacking with poison gas or just getting hold of a bomb and setting that off. They've probably been trying to keep Pera alive, and have only harassed the pack to try to tempt them into giving up.

That hadn't occurred to me. There were really a lot of indirect, object-based attacks that could go from outside into the hiding place. The fact that the pack was alive - with no casualties - after half a decade did seem to mean that the Volturi hadn't wanted them dead. Do you think that's the sort of thing they'll try now? I asked.

Maybe, maybe not. There are other things they could try; I doubt they'd give up a gift like Pera's readily. Send Heidi wandering by and lead Pera where they want her, maybe, since you said Pera can see people whether they're hidden or not. The only reason I can think of why they wouldn't have tried Chelsea already would be if Chelsea can't work across the divide, like you. Perhaps Heidi can't either, but that seems less likely.

But Chelsea can't work on imprinting relationships any more than she can on vampire mates, can she?

She can't work on the wolves. I'm given to understand that it has no effect on the imprints themselves, who would accordingly be vulnerable. Did you notice some effect?

No, I wrote. I don't think anything happened to me.

Then it's unlikely that anything happened to the other imprints either. Chelsea should be able to work on them as well as anyone else. Perhaps she has to see who she's affecting, or something like that. I wish I could ask Eleazar. The pen paused in its path, tapped twice on the pad, and then wrote, You are almost certainly right about Cody being likely to have his mind read, and that means my survival is going to be known to the Volturi. As long as that's the case, perhaps I may as well tell the family. In any case, we should get out of New York. They'll know to look for us here if we're at all interesting to them.

Why would they want Cody? I wrote. They probably didn't just suddenly decide to let his brother and sister talk to him to be nice.

Probably not, Mama agreed. My best guess is they didn't want the pack to be able to turn Pera. Her power could expand considerably if she turned. Even if it was the same, she wouldn't need sleep - or die of old age or minor injury or illness. It could make them permanently, actually safe, instead of just temporarily inconvenient. Also, if she died she'd be forever unavailable to the Volturi. Based on how long they waited before killing Alice and your father, they can be patient, but Alice and your father were vampires. Cody was the only venomous person in the group. It was strange, reading Mama's writing about Daddy without the sadness I associated with it. Her penmanship didn't falter, but I could imagine her face.

Should I show this conversation to Jacob? I frowned to myself, resentful of him and inclined to petulantly deny him my presence. But if he could be convinced to let Pera unhide me, then that was more important than punishing him for having refused in the first place.

Yes. You might also mention to him that I was a singer, and survived. Control is possible. If Pera had not had a papercut, or if I'd been expecting her to be a singer, I wouldn't have attacked. There is absolutely no danger to you if you unhide, even if you smell as much like her as is physically possible. I will never hurt you, Elspeth.

I know that, I wrote, a mulish expression on my face. Jacob's just being dumb. I'll go show him this.

I hopped lightly down from the tree and stalked towards the alpha wolf. I thrust the pad under his nose, glaring at him.

He didn't visibly react to my hostility except for a twitch at the corner of his mouth. He took what I offered, and skimmed the writing. "Heidi?" he asked, when he got to her name.

"You don't know about Heidi?" I asked. "If nothing else I'd have thought Brady would have told you all about who works for them..."

"I didn't meet the whole guard," Brady said, an edge of a growl in his voice. He was still cradling Pera, who was behaving more like a rag doll than a powerful witch. "Just a handful of them. I'm sure there are plenty I didn't hear of. I never met Del until she showed up with Pera, for instance."

And even if one of them had heard of Heidi, they didn't have perfect memories. "Heidi usually works as the Volturi's hunter," I explained. "She's pretty. Magically pretty. People will just follow her around, so they can keep looking at her."

Brady drew in a sharp breath between his teeth and placed a hand over Pera's eyes. She didn't protest, just leaned against him more and shivered. I was beginning to see why her power was based around hiding. Jacob said, "I'll reconsider letting you unhide when we've gotten out of New York. In the meantime -" The pad of paper was suddenly ripped out of his hands. RUN, Mama's writing appeared across it, and then the pad appeared to shred itself. Confetti fell on the grass. My heart leapt into my throat. I am supposed to run - but I'm supposed to run to here -

"I hear something," murmured Pera.

I turned around, eyes wide, but had no chance to see anything before Jacob barked out, "Split!", and then there were several swift floof noises and Jacob actually picked me up by my shirt in his teeth and flung me onto his back, and we ran.

They caught us anyway.

Heidi wasn't involved. It was nothing particularly fancy at all. Mama was right about how easy it would have been all along.

There were nets, first, shot out of the sort of net-shooting gun that I thought only existed on TV. The nets were made of knitted links of metal that couldn't hold the werewolves, but could slow them down long enough for what must have been the smoke of a burnt vampire to knock them all out. There were more than enough nets, probably to compensate for our invisibility, and I was knocked off Jacob's back with the force of the one that caught me in the back. I clawed at it and couldn't tear it. But with concerted effort, I could bite through individual fibers of the net, one at a time, slowly. I nibbled at it as unobtrusively as I could, trying to ignore the unpleasant tang of the metal.

I couldn't tell how many Volturi were involved in the capture, but it had to be a lot. I saw Pera trying to hide the net one piece at a time to get through it the way she'd get through a hotel door. Surprisingly, no one interfered with this, but once she'd gotten a hole in her net big enough to get out and she unhid, I had no way to see what happened next - except that it didn't involve saving us. Del, I guessed, and not to be thwarted by a suddenly imprinted wolf this time - but Del wouldn't be able to unhide me, because I'm a witch and her power is involuntary and works by touch and so does Pera's -

Someone noticed I was chewing a hole in my net, and must have guessed where my head was located by where the hole was growing, and I felt a pain bloom in the back of my neck and fell unconscious.

I think I was knocked out until the time at which I'd naturally sleep, and then I slept, because otherwise I don't know how I got all the way to Italy without waking up. When I woke, I was in a strange sort of cell.

There were a usual number of walls, made of a usual sort of stone. But they were all sufficiently concave that I couldn't bite into them, or at least not readily; the floor was the same, which made it kind of uncomfortable to sit on because I kept sliding into the middle if I didn't pay attention and brace myself in a corner. There was a door, and it had a tiny square of a window that let in a beam of light, but it had a little sign on it that said "Warning: High Voltage" in Italian, and I wasn't quite ready to call its bluff until I had a better idea of my situation.

Other than that the room was very boring. I seemed unharmed, and nobody was actively threatening me, and Mama -

Mama had either gotten away or she hadn't, and it had already happened, and I wasn't supposed to worry about her because that would not help.

I worried anyway, I couldn't not. So I paced as best I could on the sunken floor, and I nervously picked at snarls in the inches of my hair past the braid's tie, and I tried to figure out what actual physical action corresponded to "twiddling one's thumbs" because I wasn't sure, and then I ran out of ways to worry and I just sat down and let myself slide into the bowl that was the floor of the cell.

I was lonely. The stranger in the cell with me didn't count. I grumbled to myself and eyed the door, but I couldn't tell without touching it if it was really electrified, and I wasn't ready to risk it yet.

I was hungry, but there was nothing to eat. I was bored, but there was nothing to do. I leaned back against the rock, put my hand against my face, and tried to talk to myself.

I didn't make any progress. I could sign at myself, greetings and the alphabet and random words, in the silent blank place, but it still made me dizzy not to know why this one was signing and that one was not. What distinguished me from myself? What let me break into halves like that? I gave up in favor of another round of pacing, and then I sat down again to watch dust motes float through the shaft of light that pierced the room.

I was really uncomfortably hungry. My record for how long I'd gone without food before was thirty hours. And that happened when one of my temporary friends had been even more of a morning person than me and had decided to visit me at my hotel room at six in the morning, so I couldn't gracefully leave to hunt and had to wait until he was ready to get lunch at a restaurant with very slow service. I didn't do it on purpose. I don't like being hungry at all.

I thought perhaps there was a guard outside the cell. Except for the since-healed strike to my head, I hadn't been injured any further. Whatever they wanted might not preclude feeding me. Giving the maybe-electric door a considerable berth, I called, "Excuse me! I'm hungry!"

"One sec," hollered a man's voice from the hallway. It had the smooth glossy sound I associated with vampire voices. I waited, and not quite a minute later, the little window was shaded by the vampire's face. "I'm gonna open the door," he said. "If you try to get out, I'll break your legs off and keep 'em." He didn't say it like it was a dire threat worth issuing with gravitas in a deep voice. It was simply what he planned to do if I tried to get out.

He opened the door (he was wearing rubber gloves, I noticed, so either they cared about the bluff or the door was really electrified) and shoved in a white-faced, trembling teenage human.

"Wait -" I said, but the vampire closed the door. "Wait, I don't eat people -"

"I'm not going to bring you a damn gazelle," yelled the guard. "Eat him or don't, I don't care."

"What about human food...?" I asked, rather lost. I didn't think I'd snap from hunger and hurt the human, but it didn't seem likely that they'd haul him out of the cell and turn him loose if I didn't, either.

"He's a human, he's food, I'm not the pizza guy, shut up," snarled the vampire.

I quieted. "Do you speak English?" I murmured to the human. He didn't answer me, so I guessed Italian next - I didn't know I was in Italy, but it was a good guess, and he'd probably been caught locally. He nodded. I went on in Italian. "I'm not going to hurt you, but I don't know how to get either of us out of here. My name is Elspeth. What's yours?"

"...Carlo," he said, eyeing me. "The, the beautiful angel led me into the tunnels, but..." He looked afraid, but there was a glazed look in his eyes like he was still dwelling on the memory of what Heidi looked like when she turned her power up. I assumed the beautiful angel was Heidi, anyway. "She is so lovely, how could she do this?" he moaned.

"That's her job," I murmured. "She gets people to follow her, by being pretty, but she's a hunter, not an angel."

"But she shone like a jewel, like a seraph! Her hair silken strands of mahogany!" exclaimed Carlo dazedly. I wasn't sure if his failure to get the point that Heidi's prettiness didn't make her a good person was more to do with her power or his personality, or some combination of both. I was treated to an overwrought description of Heidi's every feature - he claimed her eyes were "amethyst", which was an odd choice for a contact lens color; maybe half-melted blue ones showing a little red through? - and after a few minutes he started screaming, which was a bit odd.

I peered at him. He looked like he was in pain, but I hadn't hurt him, he hadn't touched the door, I would have heard if he'd hit himself against the stone of the cell... I supposed he could have had a heart attack, but that didn't seem likely in someone his age. The drops of his blood perfuming the air didn't have any scent of disease on them. It was peculiar, really. The only thing that had happened to him since he'd started his description of Heidi was that the stranger in the cell had sunk her teeth into his neck and started sucking his blood.

"What's wrong?" I finally thought to ask, but he seemed as confused as I and just gestured jerkily at his throat. A few seconds passed, and he stopped screaming. I touched his wrist and checked his pulse. He was definitely dead. Maybe he'd had a heart attack after all. It wasn't impossible for teenagers, and he was under a lot of stress. That wouldn't have anything to do with his neck, though - as far as I know. I'm not a doctor.

I puzzled over this for a few seconds, and then abruptly, the stranger in the cell stopped being unimportant. I swiveled my head and looked at her.