"Mrs. Whitlock!" exclaimed Genevieve, getting up and shuffling to the door, leaving me and Rosalie and Emmett frozen in astonishment. "I wasn't expecting you tonight! Come in, come in. You too, Mr. Whitlock."
"Mrs. Whitlock?" I repeated. That was Jasper's last name from when he'd been human. I supposed they might have ditched the "Cullen" and "Hale" names, no longer needing to masquerade as an unmarried couple adopted separately by the family. I listened, and did hear another person breathing, besides Alice and Genevieve. Alice and Jasper both, then, and anyone else too far off for me to hear or holding their breath...
"Elspeth, Mr. Hale, Mrs. Hale, this is Alice Whitlock," Genevieve introduced brightly, leading Alice into the room with Jasper trailing warily behind them. "And her husband Jasper Whitlock. Alice, Jasper, these are -"
"We've met," said Alice delicately. Her posture was relaxed, but I knew that she didn't need to be in a combative stance to fight circles around -
Anyone she could see. So, if I were casting enough of a shadow, we might not automatically all die if she or Jasper decided to attack. Unless there were other Volturi lying in wait outside. Which there might be. I shivered.
Alice caught and held eye contact with me. I noted with some mild relief that her eyes were dark gold, and so were Jasper's... but that didn't necessarily signify any other break from the Volturi. Nobody would care if a couple eccentric vampires in the guard wanted to dine on animals. The fact that they did want to would have been more inspiring, if it weren't for the fact that Alice had started down the path without Cullen help and had no reason to consider vegetarianism equivalent to being a member of the family. I couldn't assume that their gold eyes meant anything more than a continuation of that independent habit.
"Oh, you know each other! My goodness!" said Genevieve, making an effort to sound pleased, but the fact that this was not a friendly chance encounter was obvious, and her voice was strained.
"Yes," Rosalie said, eyeing Alice and Jasper uncomfortably. "...Ms. Patterson, how did you meet Alice and Jasper?"
"Why, they're doing research on my mother - they're doing a project for a museum exhibit on the history of women in the armed forces," explained Genevieve. "Mother was an army nurse."
"Oh," said Rosalie, flat-voiced. "That's lovely."
"Isn't it?" said Genevieve, anxiously looking between Alice and Jasper, and me and Rosalie and Emmett. "I... I wasn't expecting you, Alice, Jasper. You said you would next come tomorrow morning."
"Something came up," Jasper muttered, exchanging a calculating look with Emmett.
"I don't understand," Genevieve said.
"Elspeth -" said Rosalie.
"Don't," interrupted Alice.
"Why not?" I asked. I wasn't sure what Rosalie had been about to instruct me to say, but Alice seemed to at least have a guess.
"Don't what?" asked Genevieve.
"Because they'll be able to find out where we went, and check," said Alice. "Don't."
Genevieve was still bewildered, but with a decent guess of who "they" were, I surmised she meant that knowledge of what was going on would be dangerous for Genevieve. At least Alice was still capable of wanting Genevieve not to be murdered for knowing too much.
"They don't know?" Emmett asked.
"What is going on?" exclaimed Genevieve, starting to look a little shaky. She lowered herself into her chair, gazing around between her five visitors with unnerved eyes.
"It's all right, Genevieve," soothed Alice, not taking her eyes off my group. "Perhaps we should discuss our own topics somewhere else, rather than continuing to impose on your hospitality. Rosalie? Emmett? Elspeth? Is that agreeable?"
"The little island due north of here," suggested Emmett, not letting her choose the location. "Should be empty."
"Very well," said Jasper. "Good day," he added to Genevieve.
"I don't understand," pleaded the old woman.
"Please don't worry about it, Genevieve," I said, and I followed the vampires out of the house. I wanted to tell her it was okay, but she wouldn't have believed it. I didn't.
We made our way to the little island, awkwardly. None of us wanted to drop our guard, so we left our car where we'd parked it and traveled on foot, shifting configuration from defensive formation to defensive formation every three steps but never making an openly hostile move. Rosalie and Emmett made sure that neither of the others had a clear path to me, and Jasper and Alice seemed to be silently arguing over who got to protect the other. I didn't notice any sign of (other) Volturi.
A quick swim halfway across the Black Bay later, we were on the designated island. (I was reminded of the time my mother conveyed me across Lake Huron when she first found me, although this time I made the trip under my own power; Rosalie and Emmett kept pace with me and hung close, and Alice and Jasper kept pace with them but swum a hundred feet off to our left.)
When we'd all pulled ourselves out of the water (Emmett shook himself off like a dog, and Rosalie carefully wrung her hair out), Emmett said, "So, again: They don't know?"
"I'll tell you that story if you tell us - let's make that, if Elspeth tells us - what you're doing here," Alice said.
"Go ahead, Elsie," murmured Rosalie, shifting to interpose part of herself between me and a flinty-eyed Jasper, but leaving my view clear.
I coughed, and, so Rosalie and Emmett could keep track of what I was saying and warn me if I veered into indiscreet territory, summarized verbally. "James's memories have a bit about you in them," I told Alice. "That told us where to look. We were hoping that we'd find Genevieve or someone like her, and would be able to convince you to leave the Volturi with her help, since you wouldn't know she existed and Chelsea couldn't have done any snipping." This was technically the entire story, without mentioning that "we" prominently included Siobhan.
Alice looked at me consideringly, and moved one of her longer patches of hair out of her face. "They don't know," she confirmed finally, "because the last time we saw any of them, they were all comatose."
I stared. "You weren't there when -"
"We hunt separately," explained Alice. "We came back and everyone in the compound was lounging on the floor, muttering. We checked in with the village and they were all fine, there, but those of the Volturi who were there were barely conscious."
"...So you decided to go to Biloxi? As is the obvious and natural reaction to finding your coven lying around on the floor for no clear reason?" asked Emmett.
Alice frowned, and Emmett winced, probably at the failed tease that would have been lobbed back to him with equal wit if it had been six years earlier. "No," said Alice. "We checked in with the village, made sure they were all okay for a few days in case whatever-had-happened took a while to go away if ever it did, and then we went on vacation to Madrid, on the assumption that someone would call when everything was back to normal."
"And then what?" Rosalie asked.
"Then, someone did call," Alice said.
"Addy," I guessed suddenly.
Alice nodded once. "She had the same general idea as you... only earlier, I suppose... and so as long as we were on vacation, we decided to come to town and look into my roots. We found Genevieve, obviously, and you heard the cover story we gave her so I could learn more about my sister and... myself. And just like it played out in your scenario, when a call from Volterra did come, we didn't answer it. I suppose Demetri will finish with whatever he's doing eventually and come find us. I don't know how long that will take - he's never visible on his excursions."
She sounded ambivalent about this, like she didn't really care on net if Demetri ever came knocking or not. I glanced at Rosalie and Emmett, who looked nonplussed, and said, "Why'd Addy call you?"
"I'm not sure," said Alice. "At the time we didn't know she'd broken with the Volturi - for all we knew she'd just been out of the way, like we were, when everyone in the compound fell over. So when she told me what had happened in Volterra and that I could go look for relatives in Biloxi, I took it as an instruction and went. But then Afton left a voicemail warning me not to touch her - or failing that, to have Jasper touch her if she managed to take my power - on the grounds that she was on the run and they didn't want her to be a precog."
"Huh," said Emmett.
"Did that earn me whatever you were leaving out of your story?" Alice asked me pointedly.
Rosalie looked hard at Alice, but didn't nod or shake her head; Emmett was frowning stonily. I wasn't sure what to do.
Then it occurred to me that my roundabout way of learning about other people was potentially a lot more useful, with a million years of memories in my head instead of five and a half.
"One sec," I said, and closed my eyes and started looking for good guesses.
Possibility: Alice and Jasper were really still working for the Volturi. Someone else - one of many candidates - had happened across James's memories and determined their relevance. Alice and Jasper were plants, waiting for me and whoever I was working with to show up, as part of the plan Santiago had mentioned where small groups from Carlisle's rebellion would be drawn out and picked off in manageable clumps.
Possibility: Alice and Jasper were working directly for Addy in some elaborate scheme, which I would have to be Siobhan to figure out because Addy still probably had Siobhan's power.
Possibility: Alice and Jasper were exactly as they appeared - they'd wandered off while Chelsea was asleep at the wheel, and weren't strongly inclined to go anywhere in particular except for the part where Alice was interested in hanging out with Genevieve.
I cradled my face in my hands, and conjured up Magic and Memory, and said to them, "Hop to."
"By "one sec", did you mean something like "half an hour", or perhaps -" Jasper began sarcastically.
"Shush," I said. "I'm thinking." I need a memory of an old friend, out of touch recently, who shows up to turn a former ally over to a powerful master...
- "Del! Is that you?" says Pera, appearing. I've been looking for her for a while now, but she's hard to find. I never expected to need to find her again. But no, of course I had to go back and hunt for her, there's no way I could get away with not digging up and dragging home every one of the most powerful witches I've ever met who're still alive. Caius is very curious about how Pera will react to turning. Frankly, so am I. Her power was one of the more extensible, and I think I was helpful to her. She was much more flexible afterwards than before. Once I've seen her, I draw on the chewy saccharine taste of Chelsea's witchcraft and snip away all of her connections, save the one twist of plastic wrap linking her to me. I'll be relatively able to hang onto her once I've got her, but if I'm lucky, she won't try to run off at all - ideally she'll have no one to run to. "I didn't expect to see you again," she says, opening her arms up for a hug.
I smile and gently hug her, and taste the tangy, metallic hiding power displace the oversweetened one, and watch a sepia tone tinge everything in view: these things are "outside", and if I saw anything tinted white instead, those would be hidden things. She doesn't seem to have hidden anything nearby. "Hi, Pera," I say. "How have you been?"
"All right," she says. "What brings you here? Did you think of something else to try?"
"You could say that..."
"What do you mean?" Pera asks. "Oh, let's hide, I don't like being out in the open like this for long when I don't have to be."
She changes her sepia color for white, and I follow. I can wait a little while before springing the news on her. I'm not in that much of a hurry -
"Well," I said to Magic, while everyone watched me to see if I was done thinking, "would it make sense to use that story as an analogy to what Alice and Jasper are doing? If I compared those things, would it make them understand something true?"
"No," said Magic.
"Next guess," murmured Memory, "someone participating in an intricate scheme at the behest of a third player on the gameboard rather than either of the obvious two..."
I watched a memory from early in the Romanians' rule of the vampire world, where they'd been fighting another coven for dominance and assumed that a certain vampire was allied with them. When she'd proven that this wasn't the case, they'd trusted her, only to come perilously close to defeat when it turned out that she was a spy for an unrelated coalition taking advantage of the instability in the area. Magic rejected this analogy, too.
My own memory of when I and my father had caught up to Alice after the jailbreak out of Volterra served as a proxy for the third: historical allies, out of familiar contexts and without most of their original ties, but with compatible goals and complementary skills. Even a parallel possibility of partial verification existed - my father had been able to read Alice's mind, and Alice was able to tell when I told the truth.
"Yes," said Magic, "this sounds about right."
"Good," I told her, and I let my hands fall to my sides. "Rosalie, Emmett, I think they're telling the truth." I paused, thinking, and added, "I think we should call Siobhan."
After getting the go-ahead from Siobhan to send summaries of everything to Alice and Jasper, I was attentive, but mostly not a participant, in the ensuing multi-way conversation. Maggie got on the phone when Siobhan wanted her to verify Alice and Jasper's claims more directly. They, and the four vampires with me, and various other people from Denali, all formed an enormous conference call with as many as a dozen of them talking in parallel at any given time. It was more than I could do to keep up with most of it.
Siobhan made a point of telling me that, no, it was not a waste of time for me to have done my version of a check on Alice and Jasper's loyalties when I could have called Maggie: the mere fact that Maggie was involved was significant information, and with Dwi in Volterra, spy-versions of Alice and Jasper could have instantly and undetectably relayed that information.
Siobhan was nearly as stumped as I about Addy's motives, though. "I'm not clear on what she wants," she remarked. "I doubt highly that she's working for the Volturi. But she must know that they're on borrowed time without her help, until Marcus finds out about Didyme." She then went on an extended rant about how much easier everything would be if Marcus used e-mail, owned a phone, or otherwise were at all possible to get hold of from a distance.
"Siobhan," said Alice dryly, "I can still share visions. You remember that I accidentally made Jasper think he was hallucinating by trying to communicate to him that I was alive, a few years ago."
Everyone went quiet for a moment at that, and then Siobhan said, "Right, I'm going to write the words "Aro killed Didyme" in large letters on a piece of paper over here. This piece of paper will definitely continue to exist well into the future, so you should be able to send a vision of it to Marcus, have I got that right?"
"Yes," said Alice. "This may take me a while. I've never tried sending a vision to anyone besides Jasper."
"Let us know - no, show us, if you can, what happens," urged Siobhan.
"All of you? I don't know if I can share with multiple people at the same time, and once something isn't in the future anymore it's no longer a vision and I can't share it," Alice said. "I'm not Elspeth."
"Show Elspeth, then," said Siobhan, "and she can reproduce it for us, later."
I had a lot of Alice's memories, so I thought I would be pretty well able to handle and sort out the visions she threw at me. I was mostly right. I wasn't fooled like Jasper had been by the sight-without-eyes. I was able to deal with the still slides shuffling past at high speeds like a flipbook for a long sequence of events, or scrolled sideways between possibilities. I knew to expect the dizzy blurring in uncertain spots, the wild shifting of vantage point, the unmoored sensation of having no sure idea when something was to happen unless the picture contained an accurate clock. I could draw on long years of practice piecing together disparate, incomplete, out-of-order pictures into coherent narratives. I'd acquired her ability to read lips.
The thing that made receiving the shared memories an unpleasant experience was that, unlike every memory I had of Alice's foresight, I didn't have the sense of control. It was the difference between piloting an airplane in turbulent weather, and being sucked up bodily into a tornado.
But though I promptly felt sick to my stomach, I was able to put together what Alice showed me.
Marcus was standing, as he always stood when he had nothing else to do, in the dark in his private room in the Volturi compound - staring, I knew, at the torn ribbon twisting in absent wind. Then there was a picture of him with his hands plastered to the sides of his head as though he might crush it between his palms, mouth open in shock or an inaudible scream - later (?) his eyes unfocused, his arm propping him up against the wall as though his legs had lost the power to hold him, maybe reviewing the memory that Alice's shared vision had prompted - sideways, he burst out of his room in a single explosion of motion, forward one image and he was in the throne room, forward another and he was hurling himself at Aro, forward another and he was halfway across the room, turned aside by Renata -
Sideways again, another possibility, he will pause and think, he will find Chelsea and speak to her, urgent warnings about the safety of the source of love she relies on so heavily, she will run to find Afton, the two of them will be in a car, the two of them will be in a car in Switzerland -
Sideways, he finds my father in his pile of rubble in the dungeon -
Images shred into nothing, possibilities disintegrate or fall into the past. Marcus will howl into the darkness of his room - someone will come running, it will be Chelsea/Alec/Santiago/Sulpicia -
It's Chelsea, he tells her everything, he has let her make him love her very much over the years and he has no better friend, she screams and runs -
It was Alec, and Marcus told him nothing, because Alec and his twin have ways of inspiring compliance and they're only children, they have no mates, maybe they never will (the picture disintegrates, that will not happen now, Alec must have made some decision that would prevent it because sideways -
Marcus will scream) and Santiago will come to him, the ever-professional guard, and he tells her it was nothing and she goes and he hurls himself against a wall, enraged -
Sideways, Sulpicia comes to the door. Marcus kills her. Marcus strikes her head from her shoulders and her limbs from her body and every particle of her from its neighbors until she's a scattering of fine, swirling dust, by the time Santiago comes running for the screeching sound Sulpicia is unrecognizeable, and he has a match on him and he lights up the room without bothering to leave it himself, because she is the only way he can make Aro know that same pain, that white ribbon, torn -
Disintegration, that possibility is gone -
Sideways, Marcus didn't scream, he found Chelsea. Marcus wanted to borrow her computer. Chelsea bowed politely, Chelsea's fingers twitched, Marcus's eye twitched but he took the laptop and brought it back into his room, and there, he will send an e-mail to Carlisle/Rachel/Caius, it will be in English, it was Latin, it's about the rebellion/who the wolves are really loyal to and whether they will obey him against Aro/whether Athenodora might be vulnerable -
Upstream, Marcus disbelieves the memory, he babbles to himself, lips moving in silent whispers in a hundred languages saying anything but that this murder he remembers happened -
Sideways, he pulls out his match, strikes it, touches it to his cloak sleeve, stands in place and calmly goes up in flames -
Sideways, Marcus will simply leave his room, and kill everyone he sees, until finally Afton/Jane/Alec/Benjamin/Li-qing/Pyotr/Pera overwhelms him -
Sideways, he finds Pyotr, and orders Pyotr to order Marcus to forget, over and over, until the command sticks and Marcus has no choice but to let the knowledge slip from his mind -
Sideways, Marcus got up, walked out the front door in broad daylight, ignored the cowled others following him and shouting, kept walking, walked and walked until Jane/Alec/Heidi/Chelsea/several of them managed to force/entice him home -
Sideways he goes looking for Sulpicia on his own, she's not under Renata's protection the way Aro always is -
Sideways he goes looking for Renata, asks to borrow her, finds Benjamin, quietly tells Benjamin to set Renata on fire from a distance so her shield won't be in effect -
Or he tries the same thing with Emere and her invisible knife, or he gets the saw with vampire teeth and gives it to Hao and tries the same thing, or he found Taamusi and asked him to freeze all the liquid in Renata's body so she will shatter and be of no hindrance, or he (disintegration)
He'll find Dwi, or he'll borrow a phone, and he'll get hold of the rebellion in Denali -
"Stop!" I shrieked, and the whirlwind of predictions came to a halt. Alice looked at me, puzzled. "That was -" I looked down; I was on my knees on the ground. "That was more possibilities than is usual."
"Yes," agreed Alice. "Too much?"
"Without being able to steer myself, yeah," I said. "Maybe even with - did you share the writing with him yet, or -"
"No, not yet, I just made up my mind to do it so I could look at what would happen," said Alice. "But that's sure a lot of possible reactions - he has almost no constraints on how he'll react, except that Sulpicia will be in serious danger and Renata almost as much."
By this time, it had been dark for some hours, and I got to my feet, just in time to lurch in Rosalie's direction and fall asleep in her arms.< Previous Next >