Once Pera had unhidden the smaller group, Allirea spoke first: "How long do I need to be unfaded?" she asked.
"Until I'm safely out of the way or hidden again," Siobhan said. "We don't know yet whether Bella's shield will prevent your power from "infecting" me and shouldn't count on her shielding abilities anyway, especially since I'm not Elspeth or Edward. Elspeth, did you deprogram Pera yet?"
"No," I said. "I probably should have done it on the plane, but she seemed occupied."
"Fair enough. Pera, please hide Elspeth again for a moment to let her do her job," Siobhan said. "As long as you won't occupy the same space as Bella." The configuration of people around me shifted again, and I looked at Pera, tilted my head, and ran through the now-familiar push of de-Chelseaing. Pera twitched, and Razi, who still had his arms around her, held her a little tighter, but she didn't say anything, and then reached out and unhid me again. I began to suspect that it would become very tedious to swap between the hiding place and outside whenever I needed to interact with a different set of people just because Pera didn't want to share a dimension with my mother. Siobhan asked when I reappeared, "All done?"
"Yeah," I said. Oh, and... I sent Siobhan my mother's concerns about incentives to do my father harm. I forgot to tell you that before because I forgot my mother existed when Allirea was fading her, and when Allirea was asleep I guess I was too. It occurred to me that I'd also agreed to relay some information from my mother to Pera, namely that the former had tried to stop herself from killing the latter, but I was otherwise engaged at the moment, so I made a mental note to do it later.
Siobhan didn't react visibly beyond glancing at my mother. "You'll also," she said to me, "need to show the Volturi to everyone who hasn't seen them already and doesn't already have a mate. May as well start with Nathan, since he's already outside with us."
"Set me up with the girl of my dreams," invited Nathan, grinning and spreading his hands.
"Just women?" I asked. "Pyotr is -"
"Stick to the females, please," Nathan laughed. "There might be a best time for me to explore the alternative, but no good time." So I showed him Heidi and Renata and Santiago and Emel and Emere (skipping Li-qing because of her own preferences), and then, supposing it was better to be safe than sorry, included Jane despite her young physical age. "First lady on that list there is very attractive, but no, none of them are making my unbeating heart swoon and compose poetry," he reported. "Sorry."
"Well, same deal with the rest of our friends, Elspeth," said Siobhan. "Pera, once more, please..."
I was hidden again, and went through all eighteen single vampires, from Tanya to the Romanians, sending images of candidate Volturi. No one reacted to the "slideshow" as though they'd just seen their mate, and Pera unhid me so I could relay this to Siobhan.
"Drat," said Siobhan, succinctly. "But at least we won't be caught off guard by someone who's supposed to be working for us spontaneously falling in love with the enemy."
"Did you show David to anyone?" my mother asked. "It wouldn't exactly be a disaster if we had his mate here with us and found this out during the coup, since he's not a Volturi, but it'd still probably be better to know sooner rather than later."
"I didn't, no," I said. "Pera -"
I was hidden again, and offered everyone who was single and attracted to men a memory of David, but again there were no takers. "I've seen David before, Elspeth," Tanya pointed out when I carelessly included her. "He's lived with us for about six years. I would have noticed."
"Sorry," I said. "Pera, if you'll unhide me again please..." She tapped me on the shoulder and I was back outside with my mother, Jake, Siobhan and Liam, and Nathan. "No mate for David," I said.
"Should we consider the possibility that Addy's going to wind up with somebody by the end of all this," my mother asked, "or do we have reason to exclude the possibility?"
"Addy's borrowed Alice's power," I said. "The first vision Alice ever had after she turned was of Jasper. I think if Addy had a potential mate walking around today, she'd have seen him in a vision when she first touched Alice."
"I don't think we can count on that," Siobhan said. "For instance, that would fail trivially if Addy's mate were - as an example - Nahuel. She wouldn't be able to get a vision of him, and yet we know the species combination to be possible." Allirea hissed quietly. "And we don't know whether Addy would necessarily have gotten such a vision even in the case of another vampire being the mate in question; Alice is a sample size of one. However," Siobhan continued, "I don't think it would be a good idea to actually wind up with Addy mated to anyone we're hoping to make use of. She has my power; that's just handing her a tool she can probably use as well as we can, and we still don't know what she wants. So what I'd like is to borrow Alice -" Alice appeared, mildly confused - "and have her and Elspeth try to figure out whether any of our friends would be interested in Addy without actually so interesting them. But, Pera, we can't actually do that, because Alice cannot see things that Elspeth is involved in, so while your proactive unhiding of people whose names I mention offhand is appreciated in concept, it is not called for in practice."
"I could do that one myself if I could see Addy, but she's still blanked out..." groused Alice.
"And I'd say go for it, if you could, but you can't," Siobhan said, tapping her foot. "I don't think we have any angle to figure out Addy-related mating avenues without actually showing her to everyone. The question is whether it's safer to do so or not."
"What would you do if we did have Addy's mate in our merry band," my mother commented. "keep him safe at home so he doesn't foul things up? We don't know where Addy is, so he couldn't really gallivant off to find her, on any reasonable time scale..."
"That's roughly what I'd do, with the possible exception of Nathan," Siobhan said, "Nathan being our only unmated witch and one of the most important individuals to our current plan of attack, unless you count Allirea and Elspeth."
"Should we count Allirea and Elspeth?" my mother asked. "As unmated witches, I mean, not as important to the plan. I suppose they've both seen everybody already, but we don't know exactly how half-vampires work. They might or might not be a "first sight" situation, for one thing. We only have guesses based on Allirea's case..."
"And on Elspeth's case," Siobhan pointed out. "Chelsea never detected anything out of the ordinary in Elspeth's feelings towards Jacob. It's a standard one-way imprint. So we know half-vampires don't mirror wolves - for that matter, we also know full vampires don't mirror wolves, or Brady would still be alive - and we know half-vampires don't mirror vampires. If they do something, it's not something we can use, because whoever our resident hybrids would be attached to wouldn't be attached back to them in turn. In any event... I think we've got to risk letting at least Nathan have a look at Addy, Elspeth. Better to know now and re-work the plan with Alistair or Bella in that role after all than to get a nasty surprise later. Hop to. I'd like to get this phase of the prep work out of the way. I'm not being theatrical about it, but the idea of weaponizing mating does make me rather uncomfortable." Liam touched her shoulder and she lifted her hand to clasp his fingers there.
Alice, who hadn't been rehidden yet, looked a little queasy at having it put that way herself. Then she disappeared back into the hiding place. My mother seemed comparatively unconcerned when I looked her way.
"Go on then," prompted Nathan, "let's see if I'm destined to be with... Actually, shouldn't finish that sentence, as if I am I imagine I shall regret it." I showed him Addy, and he tilted his head, then shook it. "The t-shirt from the Italian equivalent of the National Blood Service is witty. But the girl is not sonnet-prompting."
"Let's check everybody else, too," Siobhan said, and I was pulled into the hiding place and blanketed everyone there with the same image, to no enthusiastic reply, and Pera unhid me again. I shook my head in response to Siobhan's questioning look.
"Okay then," said Siobhan. "We won't find ourselves unexpectedly serving as matchmakers for Addy."
"What's next?" I asked.
"Next," Siobhan said, "unless I am very uncharacteristically mistaken, we go to Volterra."
Pera hid everyone except my mother and Allirea again, and we went back to the airport and piled onto another airplane, this time headed for Italy.
I ran through the plan in my head, over and over: when Alice said everybody was going to be in the compound (and, consequently, not in or within hearing distance of the village), Nathan and I would break a skylight to get into the wolf village. He would... somehow... (I had to trust Siobhan about this part)... be able to singlehandedly make sure that in addition to being unable to attack me, the wolves would also not trap me or get word to the compound. We'd both go in with our phones open and connected so Siobhan could hear what was going on. After I deprogrammed everybody in the village, Nathan would go on ahead and... somehow... (Siobhan knew what she was doing, right?)... break practically everybody in the Volturi guard, probably excepting only Renata, her immediately protected charges, and Heidi. When it got to that point... well, Siobhan hadn't told me yet if I was supposed to go in, blast Renata, and stand guard over my father. I sent her the question, in yes-or-no-format pieces, so she could nod and shake her head without divulging the details to anyone else on the plane, and she confirmed that I should do that - after she sent me a message telling me to do so.
Sometime after all of that, we would decide who lived, who died, who ruled the world.
"You're shaking," Jacob murmured in my ear.
"This is going to be really big," I mumbled.
"Yeah," he agreed. "But then we can stop running all over creation." He hesitated, then said, "I'm pretty sure you know this, but be careful in the village, okay?"
"They can't hurt me," I said.
"Well... I can't imagine hurting anybody else's imprint, either, if I knew she was an imprint, but I'm not sure about sending you in with just Nathan keeping them from calling in the vamps..."
"Siobhan thinks he can do it," I said.
"Yeah, I know." He sighed. "Assuming we win, what do you want to do - after?"
"Dunno," I said, leaning on him. "Stop running all over creation, I guess. I've moved around a lot. I'm tired. Maybe my family would let us go back to where I was born, in Norway? I bet they still own the house..."
"Elspeth," said Carlisle, from a few rows back, "that would be fine with us."
"And then we could just live there," I said. "Maybe."
"I wonder if I'm going to come out the other end of this with a pack to take care of," Jake mused.
"You don't sound excited about the prospect," I said.
"I'm not. I stepped up when I had to. I didn't want it. The first time I alpha-voiced someone... It's not nice stuff. Takes their will away. They can't disobey unless they defect packs. And that wasn't much of a choice when it was a choice between my pack or being a kept wolf in Volterra. I swore I'd never do it, early on, but I'm... I wasn't a good enough leader to hold everybody together without it. I managed, with, and I don't think anyone resented me that badly for it, but... if I'd been really born to lead a pack, like my genes think I was, I would have been able to do it myself."
"Do Rachel and Becky like it?" I asked.
"More than I do. I don't know if they like it like it. I guess we'll have a Wolf Convention after the dust settles and figure out, you know, the fate of our species."
"Well, don't worry," I said, "I'll stick with you even if you have to go somewhere totally random to run your pack again."
He gave me a half-smile and patted me on the head. "Glad to hear it, Elsie."
After some time, we landed.
I stood in what looked for all the world like a labeled, innocuous, but puzzling art installation: a field in the Tuscan countryside, full of semi-regularly arranged mirrors.
Minding my proximity to the "mirrors" - I didn't want to be spotted through someone's ceiling before I was ready to be noticed - I questioned Siobhan's decision to send me into the village completely by myself. I distinctly remembered a lot of discussion going on about how if I went alone, I'd be safe from direct wolf attack, but not immobilization and summoned vampires. Yet there I was, preparing to smash in a skylight and drop myself into my former home without any backup. I decided that I'd best deprogram everybody very briskly to compensate for this. I'd tried doing it from the field, but had no way of knowing whether it worked until I actually went down there. I didn't have data indicating one way or the other that eye contact or closer proximity was necessary. The experiment with Eleazar only told me that I didn't need to physically touch my targets.
I found the skylight that would drop me into the central playroom in North, where I could expect to land in a cluster of puppies and imprints and where the initial noise caused by my home invasion could be attributed to a pup knocking over something fragile. That, I thought, should prevent anyone from a neighboring room from being too alarmed too soon. I flattened myself against the grass and looked at the mirror. I didn't want to just smash it open - that would have broken glass raining onto anyone standing under the window and could hurt someone. Addy had created the village's physical infrastructure, though, with Benjamin's power to move the earth and stone and Emel's to work metal pieces. I knew how the skylight was installed.
I dug my fingers into the soil at the edge of the mirror and pried it up as carefully as I could, and then, not giving anyone a chance to react to the noise, swung my legs down into the angled hole and slid.
I landed half on top of the Stross twins and my knee clipped a rather pregnant Esta in the arm; the boys screeched and Esta yelped, but they didn't seem to be injured. I scrambled off of them, pushed myself to my feet and spun around to take note of who was in the room, and hit all thirty-five occupants with a single concentrated strike of deprogramming.
"Elspeth?" said Esta in her heavy accent, unbelieving.
The other adults in the room were Amanda, my former neighbor, her wolf Albert, and Kim without her Jared. Albert handed his daughter abruptly to his imprint and phased in an explosion of coal-gray fur, snarling low in his throat, but he didn't make a move against me. I knew he could be getting in telepathic contact with someone, but it wasn't likely; wolves weren't usually in that form during the day...
"I'll explain later," I said, and I danced through knee-deep confused puppies of assorted ages to peep into the girl orphans' dorm, then the boys', where I was able to catch another two and five little ones respectively in the deprogramming wave. I ducked back into the playroom, hearing no breathing or heartbeats from anywhere else in North, and found my way briefly blocked by Albert, but I ducked past him, finding him unaccountably slow to respond when I wove around and out the door.
Albert was in Rachel's pack; if he'd talked to anyone it was one of hers - so I went next to East, wrenching open door after door to find familiar face after familiar face, furred or otherwise. Ashleigh, dark silver and not grown yet but willing and able to yip at me... Gregory, too stunned to phase, standing there while I waved my hand in an unnecessary gesture to accompany my work... Joel and Ian, knocking over their Parcheesi board to turn into black and blonde quadrupeds and bark... Marilyn, chasing me down the hall slower than she could run, fearful of doing me harm...
Cody and Seth, in their room, watching an old Batman movie which played on in the background even after I yanked their door open, and Cody could hurt me, he wasn't a fettered wolf or a harmless human, but I could blast him if he tried. But he didn't, he just stared, and I met his eyes for a moment and then moved to the next door, and the next, the word truth gradually turning meaningless as I repeated it over and over in my head. Karen, Embry, Laurel, Ken, Leah, Calvin, Vivian, Zachary... the others would be in South if they were home, and I didn't know whether to think all of Jake's old pack had gone back whence they came... where was Rachel?
I hurtled into the outer hallway that encircled the village, made a right turn, took a moment to marvel at the fact that no one was chasing me, and burst through the entrance into the South common room. The door to the laundry was propped open and Danielle was there with a basket of towels on her hip, the entire Jarvis family was mingling with Sam and Emily and Paige, Miles was teaching his eldest Prima how to find the drawing program she liked on the communal computer. I stayed put just long enough to take attendance and push truthtruthtruth at everyone there, then flung myself through the opposite door into the dorm hallway.
I blew through South, ignoring the impulse to pause at my old room - my and Jake's old room - for longer than the split second it took to confirm its emptiness. Our names were still on the door... I made eye contact with every wolf, imprint, and puppy in the section, deprogramming in ones and twos and threes and ignoring the confused yells of my name, and then raced up the corridor to West.
There was Rachel, sitting with her sister in the West common area. They phased in the same moment when they saw me, black fur and white, but neither moved. I flung the newly well-practiced deprogramming at them, made a mental note to double back and talk to them when I'd gotten everyone, and moved on.
I found most of the wolves I hadn't seen yet in the dorms of West, and raced into the cafeteria to check there for the handful I'd missed. They were all there, getting snacks, and I flailed my arm in their direction as though physically flinging enforced honesty in their faces. I wished briefly that I could have just dropped into the cafeteria during a mealtime when everyone was eating and done it all at once, but Alice had noticed a vampire missing from the compound during or shortly after each such time, and having to run around a bit was worth the leeway on lag time between deprogramming the village and assaulting the compound.
I wished Siobhan had explained exactly how I was supposed to do that second part while the place was crawling with Volturi.
I jogged back to the West common room where I'd last seen the sister alphas. They were still both wolf-shaped, one fluffy and pale and one sleek and dark. "...Hi," I said.
Rachel contracted into her human shape and picked up the white uniform that had burst off (intact, thanks to the magnet-based fasteners) when she'd first transformed. Pinching it into place over her shoulder and down her left side, she said, "What in the hell are you doing here, Elspeth?"
"Um..." I considered telling her I was from the insurgency and there to help, and then decided that it was a bad time to let my mother's sense of humor manifest in me. "I learned to undo some of what Chelsea does. I came here to do that."
Rachel blinked at me. "Okay... thanks, I guess, although your entrance left something to be desired... and?"
That was encouragingly non-hostile, so I said, "And me and some other people are going to overthrow the Volturi."
"Uh... huh," she said. "Where do we fit into this?"
"That's... why I deprogrammed you, so you wouldn't, you know, help the Volturi while we did that," I said, feeling like a terribly inarticulate poster child for the cause.
"Right," said Rachel. "That makes sense. But I mean after you do that, assuming you can - who knows, maybe you can - what becomes of us? This isn't just a matter of making sure we don't consider the Volturi our close personal friends. They also, you know, employ us, and own the village we live in, and preserve enough secrecy that we don't get shot at by spooked random humans, and arrange things so it's feasible for us to go about our lives while legally dead."
"Well, um," I said, "someone else will fill the power vacuum and you'll work it out with them, I guess? It'll probably be my mother. She likes you. She'll figure it out."
"Your mother is going to singlehandedly fill the power vacuum left by the Volturi," echoed Rachel skeptically. Becky, still phased - relaying our conversation to the other wolves? - snorted as derisively as a wolf could.
"Well, with help," I said. "But she'll probably be the one deciding things. I don't think she'll leave you in the lurch."
"...Okay," said Rachel, "so... what are we supposed to do while we wait to hear about that?"
"Nothing, if you don't want to do anything," I said. "You can just wait here. I'm going to need to go into the compound and help in a minute, though."
"You know," Rachel said, "I went for a while thinking you had not inherited your mother's tendency to parasail into other people's basically satisfactory lives and unapologetically jostle them."
"Well, um," I said, "...I'm sorry?"
"At least you aren't doing this on your own, if I understand you correctly."
"I'm not," I said. "Except this first part." My phone buzzed, and I peered at it. There was a text from Siobhan. Go in and blast Renata now, it read. "I need to go meet up with the others," I told Rachel.
"...You're not going to do anything monumentally stupid, are you?" she asked.
"I guess that will depend on whether anybody builds a monument to it," I said, struggling and failing to remember why Siobhan thought this was a good idea, let alone why my mother had agreed to tolerate it. They were both smart people and neither of them wanted me to die, so... "But it should work."
"I don't want to listen to Jake screaming in my head forever if it doesn't," said Rachel. "Be careful, kiddo."
"I will," I said, and I turned and ran along the corridor that led to the Volturi compound.< Previous Next >