"Perhaps Eleazar should... tutor me," said my mother, sounding uncomfortable.
"I have a lot of his memories, too, up till he left the Volturi, and after that, I don't think he would have spent much time coaching witches besides Kate. And Irina remembered most of him teaching Kate, from eavesdropping on them," I pointed out.
"...Siobhan?" she suggested.
"Does not wish to be personally introduced to Allirea before it is absolutely necessary," said Carlisle, "and neither she nor you should visit the houses while there is value in letting... Alice believe that everything is as it was." He said his erstwhile daughter's name like a sad sigh.
"Allirea could go somewhere else and Siobhan could come out here..." said my mother, looking up at Allirea.
"Siobhan needs to be gathering information and planning stuff with it," I said.
"Planning stuff," muttered mother. "Right."
"We should probably go home," said Esme. "Actually, what we should do is go into town and buy you some cell phones, if you don't already have them. That will let us keep in touch without conspicuously leaving the house so often."
"I have mine," said Allirea, reaching into her pocket and dangling a phone from her fingers. She hesitated, then said, "I am going to call my son, as long as I must be unfaded... my little girl will be asleep at this hour..."
"I don't have a phone, and neither does Jake," I said. "Mama?" She shook her head.
"Three phones, then," said Esme. "We'll take care of that for you." She reached out and patted my hair gently, making me feel like I was four months old again, and then hugged my mother again.
"Thank you for getting the sheep and water for Jake," I said to my grandparents, and Carlisle smiled weakly, and the pair of them turned to go. Allirea, uphill, listened to her son's answering machine inform her that he was not home.
"Go ahead," said my mother, facing in the direction of the mountain's peak and apparently not talking to me or Jake, and then she turned back to me. "So...?"
"Addy usually starts by tasting the power she's coaching," I mused, "but even if she were here she can't copy you... That's actually why they tried to kill you, back then," I said. "If she could have copied you, they would have figured out some way to put you in the dungeon with Dad... the immunity to Alec would have been a complication but you could have been physically held down and force-fed or something. But she couldn't, you blocked her. Actually it really pissed her off and she might try to kill you if she sees you again. Unless you learn to drop your shield for her and then actually do it, I mean. Anyway, so even if she were here she'd have to skip that step. What does your power feel like to you?" I asked.
"I cannot describe to you how unnerving it is to hear you say things like that so calmly," she said.
"I've seen lots and remember more," I said. "What does it feel like?"
"Like... a blanket, or a skintight suit, or something, everywhere," she said, looking away. "All the time. I couldn't feel it before it pulled me together in La Push, but since then it hasn't gone away. It doesn't interact with other tactile sensations, though, I can't feel the shield that's over my arm on my fingers if I do this." She clasped her forearm in her hand.
"Does it vary at all?" I asked.
"When I let Jasper through it was like it was thinning, or getting cooler," she said. "And when I shield a second person it's like the outer half of it peels off to cover them. I can feel it at a distance, but it's under tension when I push it away like that. It reminds me of what I think I remember it feeling like to try to pull myself off the ground by one hand as a human - I can do it for a little while, but eventually my hands give out. Except it's not my hands."
"So it has a shape, it moves through space to cover whoever you cover?" I asked. "Do you feel the edges that aren't touching anyone - like if you shielded me, would you feel anything from over here?" I reached out to a point on the imaginary line between my good shoulder and my mother's opposite elbow.
"It has a shape, it moves through space," she said, "but the more area it covers the harder it is - I didn't have a lot of cause to practice that while Allirea was fading me, because she outright requires physical proximity, but sometimes - and that's just going to confuse you right now, isn't it."
"Hm?" I said.
"...It has a shape and moves through space and it's more difficult to cover more volume," she said, sighing, "so if I shielded you again I wouldn't have the surface pass through there; I'd pinch off the area between us to have less dead space. The thinnest point would be something like this." With one finger she described a circle about eight inches in diameter halfway between us. "I'm aware of the edges, I suppose you could say I feel them, but with much less definition than the edges that cling to whoever I protect."
"Can you do two people at once?" I asked.
"I haven't tried before," she murmured, and she closed her eyes and frowned, breathing oddly as she concentrated. "Gah - yes - but it's hard and I lost it almost at once - and - there was something - Elspeth, I think Jacob was mistaken, he has at least one packmate, get him awake and phased now before he thinks or dreams something compromising! If he hasn't already -"
I dropped to my knees beside Jake and jostled him as urgently as I dared, given his wound. Phase, phase, phase, Jake, phase, I sent. Phase phase phase -
Jake peeled one dark eye wearily open and contracted in size, his fur vacuuming itself into nothingness and leaving plain skin behind. It was more obvious this way that he was in bad shape - a lot of the color was out of his normally bright, coppery complexion, and his sedated, miserable expression was easier to read on a human face. The wound occupied a good quarter of his neck, but without fur in the way, I could tell that it had at least started to pull closed at the corners in a couple of places.
My mother offered him Esme's sweater to replace the clothes he'd destroyed when he went wolf, but between the venom - suddenly a significantly greater proportion of his blood volume - and the morphine - the same - he was in no shape to take it himself. I pulled it out of her hand and draped it over him to placate her preference for his modesty, although I didn't care, he didn't have the higher brain functions necessary to care, and I didn't think my mother was offering it for her own sense of propriety so much as a continued desire to parent me. It wasn't worth arguing about. I pressed my hand to Jake's cheek and sent him nothing, and his eyes fluttered closed again.
"What was that about?" I asked my mother in a low voice.
"I didn't notice when I had only one other person under the shield," she panted, "but I can feel the people I cover, little points of warmth - and there were more than yours and his, when I added him. When I only shielded Al- when I only shielded you, it felt warm, but I figured it was just how it felt to stretch the shield. But when I included Jacob it was different, the warmth had a division - three divided points, to be exact, but one of them wasn't the same as the other two and I don't know how. The only thing that would be, I think, would be if my shield covers his packmates the same way Jane and Alec's powers were able to propagate through the pack. There was an extra point of heat. Maybe the other person wasn't wolf-shaped when you asked him before, or Jacob didn't notice him or her for some reason, I don't know, but there was someone else there."
A chill ran up my spine. "What if it wasn't that? What if - if Pera's here, standing near Jake, or something? But "near" in not quite the same way?"
My mother winced at the name, probably remembering the smell of her blood or something. "Does that seem likely to you?" she asked.
"...No," I admitted, after some thought. "Whether she followed me or you or Demetri, there wouldn't be any reason for her to be still hanging around by herself at this point. If she were only here for recon there'd be no reason for her to still be standing there; she would have left once it was clear we were staying put. And there'd be even less reason for her to be hanging out if she were here to hurt us. She would have attacked or sent a larger force after us by now. She's still a newborn and since she can hide and unhide herself and anybody else she likes at will, she could pretty much kill an arbitrary number of people who weren't absolutely spectacular fighters all by herself, and... that's us. And that's assuming she wouldn't come with other fighters hidden too. Especially not now that we've gone and discussed the possibility out loud. That was stupid. I should have sent the idea instead."
"Right," murmured my mother. "So probably not Pera, probably a packmate of Jacob's."
"Probably," I said. "Practically no other powers go through to Pera's hiding place anyway." I smoothed Jake's hair as he fell back asleep. "Okay, so you can shield an entire pack of wolves if you shield just one. That could be useful to know."
"Very," she said. "Especially if you turn out to be able to deprogram the other wolves as you did yours, and they're willing to fight against the Volturi." She closed her eyes, probably remembering the massacre at La Push. If she'd been able to shield the packs from Jane and Alec then, they might have had a chance.
"Are you limited by distance?" I asked. "Try shielding just me, and then back away a step at a time."
She screwed up her face in concentration, balled up her fists at her sides, and started backing away from me step by deliberate step. I noticed Allirea, watching us from her perch several yards up the mountain. When my mother had gotten about twenty feet distant, she lost it with a great gasp for air. I wasn't sure why she would gasp for air to use a power that had no obvious connection with breathing, but she did it; maybe a habit leftover from humanity. "Hang on, I'm going to try to establish it from here," she muttered. "There... got you..." Allirea waved at me. My mother dragged one foot behind her and leaned onto it, and then cursed.
"Is the distance itself making it harder, or do you just need a break?" I asked.
"Need a break," she said, walking up to me and Jake again. Perhaps symbolically, she sat down on a rock. "This is exhausting."
I nodded. "Like I said before, it's very unusual for a power to be fueled by desperation or anything like it. Powers that require a mental state are uncommon in the first place. More often you see them responding to exertion of will - like Jane - or a condition like touch - like Aro - or they're just a continuous effect - like Marcus, or like most of yours. But Addy's seen a few."
"What were those like?" asked my mother tiredly.
"There's Heidi, there's Abdelmajid, there's Razi -"
"Details, not just names, please."
"Heidi's a weird one," I said, picking over my memories from her with bemusement. "Her power doesn't work on herself. In fact... she doesn't think she's beautiful at all. To herself she looks about as pretty as the average human, although even with her power turned all the way down she's objectively in Rosalie's league. But to other people's eyes, she gets more enchanting the more insecure she feels about her looks. Weird," I said again. "She's trained herself to go into and out of the state practically at will. She used to have almost no control at all and it'd fluctuate wildly depending on how much she cared about the opinion of whoever was looking at her, and how her hair was behaving on a given day, and stuff like that."
"Hmm," said my mother. "I'm almost certainly immune to Heidi. If I insulted her appearance in the middle of a battlefield would she be insecure enough about that that she'd blind everybody else with her magical beauty and I could go around taking down anyone else I liked?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe," I said. "She doesn't usually get negative comments on her appearance. It'd be too obviously false. But you're a good liar."
She nodded. "Abdelmajid?" she prompted.
"He sees through stuff," I said. "But he has to be calm to do it. When he's anxious at all, it cuts down on the thickness of what he can see through. Like, if he's completely, absolutely calm, he could see all the way through this mountain like it wasn't here -" I tossed my head to indicate the heap of rock we were sitting on. "That'd be about his limit. If he were really preoccupied, he could see through a sheet of paper - and he has a bad habit of looking through people's clothes - but nothing more than that. And there's everything in between. He has a breathing exercise he does if he needs to look through a thick wall or something."
"And who's Razi?"
"A teleporter," I told her. "The Volturi had him for a while, in the dungeon, but he got away during my first jailbreak and they couldn't catch him again. He's like the opposite of Abdelmajid and jumps from place to place when he's scared or distracted. In order to stay in one place he needs to be really absorbed in whatever he's doing - but he can jump wherever he wants, so sometimes if he's agitated but doesn't want to go far he'll just go an inch to the left and an inch to the right over and over."
"Interesting," she murmured. "How did the Volturi hold him?"
"He can't pick a destination when he doesn't know which way is up," I said. "His power won't send him to a random place without him selecting one even if he's feeling, you know, jumpy, but he's just naturally disposed to think of someplace else he'd rather be when he does feel that way."
My mother looked up at the sky, and said, "Are all the unusual behaviors of my shield likely to be run by the same emotion?"
"Yes," I said. "The basic shield - what it's like when it's not doing anything - probably is too, but in the background more."
She blinked once, slowly, and then said, "Elspeth, do you have any way to get in touch with Razi? He could be useful and might help - in general, not with my shield in particular."
"No - well, Dwi could talk to him, but Dwi works for the Volturi so I don't think Razi would answer him now. Razi didn't have a coven, doesn't have a mate, and never owned a phone or used e-mail. And he was pretty sure that a neighbor of his would have moved into his territory once he was gone, so he probably wouldn't have returned there."
"Of course," she sighed. "My shield works against what it works against without any attention or prompting. It worked to hedge Edward's mindreading out before I knew mindreading was possible. How could that be?"
"Well," I said, "my best guess is that it has to do with how you would have thought about mindreading if someone had told you it was going on. I don't currently know of any witches whose power is to fly, but if I met one there's some way I would feel about that. There was already some way you were inclined to feel about having your mind read before you got within range of Dad."
"Terrified," she murmured. "But I was scared of Jasper's power, at once, when I heard about it - and wasn't immune to it at first."
"Jasper doesn't think of his power as something to fear," I said, pulling up Alice's memories of conversations with him, since I didn't have her husband's own recollections of anything. "He can use it that way, he even does sometimes, but mostly he thinks of it as an extension of his charisma. But Dad has always felt intrusive listening to other people's thoughts. He does sort of think of it as something that it would be reasonable to find scary."
"Explains Kate," my mother said after a beat.
"Yeah," I said. "Kate thinks she's scary. Jane revels in being scary. Eleazar got a partial look at your power, when you first met him, right? Almost like you didn't immediately think it would be that big a deal, and then -"
"And then I noticed all the inferences it let Eleazar make about Harry..." she murmured. "Eleazar can still partially detect me, though."
"He's pretty strong; it could be a matter of him just incompletely overpowering you," I said with a shrug of my good shoulder. "He also doesn't think of it as something harmful himself. Anyway, I can't know. I can't read your mind, and neither can anybody else I remember who's tried. But I think your shield probably runs on fear. Were you scared about being knocked out for a few hours when I was about to blast you?"
"Yes," she said, unwillingly, tipping her head down again to look at me instead of the sky.
"But the first time you encountered my power I was the least scary thing ever: a tiny baby," I said. "And I stayed harmless and stayed harmless and then suddenly I wasn't, so now I guess your shield thinks I'm scary."
"I'm not afraid of you," she said. "And I wasn't particularly afraid in the moment I first developed an immunity to Jasper."
"Well, it's not all that specific, or I'd still be able to give you harmless sendings," I said. "But I could be totally wrong. This is the sort of thing Addy can taste directly, so I don't have a lot of interview techniques to go on and I'm making it up based on patterns in witches she's looked at before. But it seems like an okay guess, doesn't it?"
"Why wouldn't I have developed my own genuine immunity to Alice when I was afraid of her spying on my... extracurricular activities?" she asked after a moment's thought.
"Because your extracurricular activities didn't take place in your head?" I guessed. "Your power definitely isn't to be protected from everything that scares you, but it might be to protect you from mental witch powers that scare you. Plausibly-mental witch powers or death," I added, thinking of Kate, and my mother's two brushes with trauma that would have killed any other vampire. "I think maybe your immunity to Kate could have something to do with the fact that when she zaps people they lose control of their bodies for a moment - convulsing and falling over and stuff. It's not quite like she outright possesses them, since she can't control how they flail around, but it's close enough that your power might interpret it the same way."
"I'm not sure I think much of this theory," said my mother. "But I suppose it bears testing - if I could think of a good test, anyway."
"Well, the test would be if shielding a number of people for a long time got easier when you focused on something scary, especially something scary that you could otherwise prevent," I said. "But I don't think you should shield Jake again unless there's some kind of emergency, if you can't hedge out whoever the packmate is, because it would look bad for the packmate to suddenly be intangible to Chelsea's power or invisible to Marcus or whatever. So just focus on me for now."
"I have plenty to be anxious about, but there's nothing immediate here to be afraid of," she said. "I was briefly alarmed about the possibility of Pera being here, but I think you're right that it's too unlikely to worry about."
"I suppose I could attack you or something, but I'm not very threatening, especially since I can't blast you," I said. "And Jake would have a hard time threatening a houseplant right now." I shrugged my good shoulder. "Maybe we can figure something out with Kate? She could threaten to zap me... maybe after I'm healed," I added, looking at my bad shoulder and frowning. "In the meantime maybe work on the distance exercise again?" She stepped back to a distance of some twenty-five feet, closing her eyes and sighing. "I don't know what getting Tased with a broken shoulder would - Mama?"
My mother was staring past me; I looked around but couldn't figure out why. "Is something wrong?" I asked, speaking up over the meaningless murmurs coming from behind me.
"Elsie, come here," my mother said, slowly and carefully, without moving from her vantage point, but her voice trembled.
"I don't want to wake Jake," I said. "Why -"
"Elspeth Annarose Cullen -" she began shrilly, and then suddenly I noticed Allirea crouched over me with her mouth open near my throat, and I let out a startled eep.
"I was helping," announced Allirea, standing up from her crouch and folding her arms as she spoke to my mother, whose eyes were wide and furious. "If that helped, then you do not need to let Katrina electrify Elspeth. Isn't that preferable?" she inquired.
I looked around at Allirea. "You were threatening me to scare her?" I asked. "That sounds... like a really dangerous thing to do. For you, I mean."
"I would not have really harmed you," said Allirea. "I have no wish to, and Isabella would certainly have killed me if I had, although I was close enough to you that I could have managed some amount of injury before she would have gotten me away from you. But look," she said smugly. "I am completely faded, and you are speaking to me, and Isabella has not yet lost hold of her shield."
"...It did feel easier," admitted my mother slowly, still looking daggers at Allirea but not moving to take revenge for the scare. "And it feels stable now."
"Can I affect Elspeth if we are both under your shield?" Allirea asked.
"Let me check," my mother said.
"Check what?" I asked.
"Yes, apparently," my mother said, as Allirea flared into importance again beside me. "How odd. Unfade," my mother told Allirea, "I hear someone coming." I didn't notice any difference in Allirea. Over the next mountain, my grandparents came into view.< Previous Next >