My footsteps echoed weakly in the long hallway between the village and the compound. I could have made the run in under a minute, but I was reluctant to sprint, so I went at nearly Olympic slowness instead - peak human speed, no more. When I got to the last hundred feet of tunnel, I slowed further still, wondering at the fact that no vampires from the compound had heard me coming and moved to intercept.
I stepped around the last corner, and saw the basement entrance, covered in snowdrifts of vampire fragments.
I couldn't tell who anyone was; although shreds of hair among the rubble gave me clues, there was no way to be sure from that alone. There were at least two, maybe three people's worth of pieces scattered haphazardly around the room. I gawked for a moment, then tiptoed through the mess and slipped up the stairs.
There were pieces everywhere. I saw more on the next floor, and the next, in chunks of increasing size as though someone had come via the same route as me and been in more and more of a hurry as they went. There was someone's hand, minus a pinky but otherwise intact, scrabbling around in the debris blindly; I shuddered.
I wished I could just let out an ambient blast, like Addy had twelve days previously, but that ran the risk of hitting anyone on our side who'd gotten within range, and Siobhan had told me in no uncertain terms that I was to hit only Renata (and Chelsea, if I happened to spot her in something other than a thousand pieces, but that was not likely since she didn't have any unusual protection from physical attack, and a lot of that had obviously been going on recently). I'd managed to communicate with Jake prior to my second escape from Volterra without laying eyes on him, but that use of my power had proven to have better range than the memory blast, as Addy had shown, or Jake would have been caught in that too. I had to actually find Renata.
When I climbed past the ground floor, I was able to hear the sounds of ongoing fighting. Awful screeching noises as vampires were torn limb from limb, incoherent snarls and screams of fury and a high flutelike shriek that I was sure belonged to Jane.
I went up and up stair after stair, dread mounting somwhere behind my collarbone, and burst through the open door into the throne room.
There was still more rubble in the huge circular room, but it was also full of whole and whole-enough-to-move vampires. I saw about half of the insurgency (no Jake, he was away to make sure that my imprint status couldn't be abruptly revoked) - I couldn't tell at a glance how many missing were scattered on the floor and how many had abandoned the cause at the last minute. In the center of the room was Renata in the center of a shifting ring of crouching, protected Volturi: Jane, her face a mask of fury; Alec, stoic yet wide-eyed; Aro with the necklace holding Marcus's eye to the nape of his neck; Sulpicia, trembling, not seeming to know what to do with her hands; Santiago, poised to dance her way into a fight as soon as someone got close enough; Chelsea, looking lost and waifish without her Afton; and -
My brain overloaded. I stared. She was just ideally put together, art defying reality with her resplendent perfection, ornamenting the world, too enchanting to be real... I took a step forward...
I heard my mother's voice shouting my name, and I stopped in my tracks and blinked, and there was Heidi, lovely but not overwhelming, in a combative crouch hissing at a cluster of rebels who were drifting her way. My mother growled wordlessly and the group - Emmett, Kate and her new mate Garrett, and Eleazar - snapped out of the spell abruptly and scrambled back. My mother, perched on the back of one of the huge wooden thrones with her face screwed up in concentration, was not looking directly at me, but I would be within her peripheral vision.
"Keep that damn shield up, Bella!" roared Siobhan.
"I can't!" my mother snarled. "Not forever!"
Siobhan, a quarter of the way around the circular wall to my right, was shielding Liam's eyes from Heidi's spell, and had her own tightly shut. I saw Maggie hiding behind one of the other thrones, protecting herself via more mundane means from Jane or Heidi or some combination of the two. "Elspeth, blast Renata and Chelsea now!" Siobhan cried.
I looked Chelsea right in her miserable, pleading red eyes, and obeyed.
They each dropped like a stone.
And then everyone was shouting, and Jane screeched, and Renata howled in pain and stood up again and swatted Jane across the face.
Jane hissed and burned Renata again, but only for an instant, and then she hit Chelsea too, then they were an intact circle around their shield again.
Siobhan swore loudly and my mother shouted over the din of snarling and hissing, "Elspeth, run!"
I went to the witch dungeon, hoping that my father at least, and David too for preference, were close enough to intact that I could put them back together and add help to the fight. My mother should be able to shield her mate, and shielded, he'd have a fighting chance against the circle, if Jane couldn't burn him and Alec couldn't knock him out and Heidi couldn't entrance him... in straight combat Santiago could hold her own against him, her skill to his mindreading, but if my mother could fight and shield him at the same time -
The door into the gray, dim dungeon was already open. Marcus's eye was perched on top of one tidy heap. Tufts of David's brown hair and an isolated curl of my father's bronze served to identify the other two consolidated piles, which were about halfway to healed according to what I remembered about the timing on the care and feeding of captive witches. I saw an elbow with a few chips out of it, a foot short three toes, a complete lower jaw, the front half of a shoulder. A freshly scattered fourth person, probably the day's guard on the dungeon broken by insurgents on their way in, was mostly in the hallway with a few bits in the dungeon. I fell to my knees on the smooth stone, beside my father's component parts, and started the puzzle, moving as fast as I usefully could.
Knuckle to hand, that sharp piece to that section of arm, half the attempts I made were mistakes and wouldn't knit together when I held them flush and then I had to find where the piece really went. That icy hemisphere was from an eye, there was most of the rest of it, those went under the pieces of the left orbit that I'd assembled, that didn't work, I didn't have the right eye socket yet, that was his knee and went there, the ankle connected to the shinbone, this would be a terrible time to start singing -
As he came together I paid more attention to broad structure than to the contiguity of his surface. The little pieces prickled my hands to handle, though there wasn't enough venom coating their surfaces to really do more than that. Once his cold hands were working and had a line of contact to his brain he could help with his own reassembly - even without his eyes, he'd be able to look through mine - I found the fifth finger of his right hand and pressed it into place. I fixed the corresponding wrist, filled in a gap in the arm, connected his neck to the base of his skull, found a large chunk from the crown of his head and half-flung it where it belonged. I pieced together his shoulder and the arm twitched in the first possibly purposeful motion it had made since I'd arrived.
With that arm in something like working order, I focused on his spine, collecting vertebrae and half-guessing, half-remembering the order they belonged in. His working arm was groping awkwardly but rapidly through the pieces it could reach, squeezing them together at the right edges and finally shoving a complete pelvis against the end of the spine I'd put together. I started work on his other arm, making sure I had a view of everything he could reach so he could use my vision.
When his second arm was intact except for the half-thumb Aro was wearing, I started picking through the tinier pieces to complete his eyes. I found what turned out to be the left socket, and put it in the correct place on his face, and looked for suspiciously rounded pieces for the eye itself. I finished the eye, put it under his brow, and started placing dry, almost venomless teeth into his jaw, drawing on the training of a dentist Aro had eaten once.
He'd put his own ribcage and its contents together by the time I finished that, although he hadn't moved from his prone position; I busied myself with his left leg. He found part of his neck I'd missed, put it where it belonged, and, weakly, drew breath. Just the once, like he was testing his lungs, and then he stopped.
After shy of six minutes, he was finished except for the stolen part he'd need to take off Aro and a couple of smaller bits that I thought might have been kicked into the hallway when the guard had been taken apart. I didn't know how to figure out which belonged to him, at least not quickly, and it was only a toe and a wedge-shaped piece of his thigh, nothing he would need urgently. He sat up, but was eerily still, and I wondered if he had the strength to move and fight immediately - he would have been fed the subsequent week if the normal schedule had been followed, but he also wouldn't have needed to get up at any point. He took a shallow breath. "Blood," he mouthed, barely producing sound.
I got up and ran to Vasanti's room. I didn't know what animals she had at the moment, but there would be some of them, and they would contain blood, albeit maybe not enough. Some of them would be in cages or otherwise restrained and couldn't have scattered during the initial assault. I found a mazelike network of tubing full of rats, a ten-foot terrarium-dwelling python, a pair of hooded hawks tied to perches, and a small dovecote with half a dozen pigeons in it. I tore a tapestry off of her wall, broke the birds' wings so they couldn't fly away, bundled up all the animals in the weaving without much caring if they got hurt in the process, and ran back to my father.
He drained the snake first, moving carefully as though afraid he'd disintegrate, but once he had that first mouthful of blood he visibly sped up. He ate everything except the last three rats, which he left scrabbling around in the wad of fabric, and then he tipped himself up to his feet and was gone in a burst of motion.
I sat beside David's pieces and began to solve the second puzzle.
David couldn't read my mind, but I sent him a stream of what I was looking at so he could help me once one of his arms was repaired. I spent what mental capacity I didn't need to seek and combine pieces, or share my eyes, on composing a summary of what was going on outside the dungeon. When he was together, he ate the three rats my father had left behind, but didn't immediately get to his feet. "Coppertop?" he whispered, when he could, looking at me and around at the room with Marcus's fragments and the few guard bits, and out into the hallway with more white and pale olive twitching debris.
I pushed the summary at him, and he shook his head slowly as though to clear it. "Can I help?" he asked, wheezy.
"I don't know," I said. "I don't know what's going on except as of fifteen minutes ago, and you didn't get much to eat..."
"I got enough," he said. "You go somewhere safe, Coppertop."
"But -" I was thinking of the fight with Demetri, how I'd been able to help even without blasting, but I couldn't think of any truths I could throw at the Volturi that would so much as slow them down. Even deprogramming them wasn't likely to help. They were hemmed in by people who saw them as a group, and had little choice but to work together. They also had some non-negligible real reasons to like each other that wouldn't evaporate if I deprogrammed them.
"Go," he said. "Go to the wolves, or outside, or - go."
He took off, towards the throne room, and I stood there in the dungeon beside the quivering fragments of Marcus for a moment, and then I went.
I didn't bother to run. No one was getting out of the throne room until the fight was decided one way or the other. I walked briskly down the hall, intending to re-join the wolves and maybe get a head start on explaining everything to them.
When I was halfway to the stairwell, someone I did not expect to see blurred around the corner, zipped up to me too fast for my reflexes to be of any help, and seized me firmly around the middle, pinning my arms.
"Addy?" I said, flabbergasted.
"So sorry to disappoint," she purred in my ear, "but you are absolutely right."
"Wh-what are you doing here?" I asked, trying ineffectually to break her grip. My arms slid around in their sleeves as I squirmed, but I couldn't even twist around to try to bite her. Kicking at her knees with my free legs wouldn't do anything beyond wear out my sneakers.
"Holding you still," she said. "I'm not planning to hurt you." She'd borrowed my power as soon as she'd touched me, and that sounded true, but... "I'm just going to hang onto you so your friends don't hurt me. They need to hear me out."
"What are you going to tell them?" I asked.
"Oh, come on, you don't expect me to spoil the surprise, do you?" she said. "You'll hear what I have to say when everything's calmed down in there."
"What's happening?" I asked. "Do you know?"
Addy tucked her free hand into her pocket and said, "Your mother's keeping your father shielded." This didn't sound true, but I couldn't think why it wouldn't be... "And he's managed to pull Jane away from Renata and fling her to the others to take care of, so that's the little torture device done for... and the same with Alec; he wasn't fast enough to anesthetize anyone before they took him apart... and your mother had to break Heidi herself, although the Romanians helped her some, with their eyes closed... Santiago got one good hit in against your father when he got too close to her reaching for Sulpicia. He probably could have taken it and been up to fight again under normal circumstances, but he's not in such fine shape right now in spite of your clever idea to feed him Vasanti's pets. So he's healing, slowly, while your mother tries to shield everyone else long enough to let them bypass Renata. She'd go in herself but Chelsea could break her, let alone Santiago, so shielding from a safe distance it is. She's not having much luck, but she'll manage it eventually, and the Volturi have no offensive power left. The intermittent shielding does mean Chelsea hasn't been able to get a secure enough grip on anyone's threads to do any cutting so far. I'm sure you'll be pleased about that."
"You're... lying..." I said, not accusatory, just puzzled.
She blinked at me. "Oh, no, not a bit," she said, pulling her hand out of her pocket and tapping me gently on the nose with her index finger. "Wasn't lying," she repeated, and she wasn't.
"You were looking for this?" she said, showing her teeth in a smug smile and pulling out of her pocket... a toe.
"Is that my father's?" I asked, staring at it.
She pocketed it again. "Who else? I'll give it back. I don't know where that other missing piece went, by the way. I think your "kicked out into the hall" theory was right about that. He'll find it eventually, I'm sure."
"He didn't tell me you were here... he'd have noticed..."
"Well, I sincerely don't wish you harm," she said brightly, "so I'm sure that wasting his energy on telling you I was here took a backseat to rushing to his mate's aid."
"...Oh. How were you invisible to Alice?" I asked.
She pulled a phone off a holster attached to her belt loop and dangled it from her fingers. "Guess how many wolves obsessively update their Twitter feeds," she said, almost singsong with self-satisfaction.
I stared at her, my head twisted around my neck as far as it would go to let me look her in the eye. "Twitter feeds," I repeated.
"I don't have to interact with a wolf to be blanked out," she lectured. "I have to have my actions affected by a wolf. Your mother noticed that, back when she was in contact with the wolves from across the world and giving Alice headaches. And you know as well as I do that they're allowed Internet access. It lulls a little during the local night, but there's always someone up late with a screaming puppy who has nothing better to do while rocking her than log on and type the baby will not go to sleep again omg this is the last kid I swear. If too long went by without anything new to read I was prepared to call Joham's grandchildren or something, but it didn't prove necessary."
"And it affects your actions when Trent is up with Chiara and posts that she won't sleep?" I asked skeptically, squirming again. She didn't relax her iron hold around me.
"That was Ken and Ken Junior, actually, but that's neither here nor there," Addy said. "Anyway, I wasn't watching the updates for my personal entertainment, I was doing it specifically to foil Alice. I made a variety of trivial but highly visible decisions based on the number of words in each message. And then, when they went unusually quiet, and the one post that did go up was Leah writing that she heard barking from North - phrased to make it sound to the outside world like she heard her neighbor's dog making a fuss, of course, but I knew what she was talking about - I risked approaching a little closer."
"How did you avoid my dad and Aro noticing you?" I asked.
"There I had to take a calculated risk," she said solemnly. "But I figured I was pretty safe hiding among the blast victims."
"...The who?" I asked, picturing amputees who'd stepped on mines or something and not finding this enlightening.
"Elspeth," said Addy patronizingly. "This compound is in a city. Humans live in cities. I wasn't really aiming when I busted us out of here, I'm sure you remember. I caught about fifteen human-type people in the radius, not just most of the Volturi. And it turns out humans do not recover at all well from the experience. And six of them were not readily turned into prey - intrusive family or too much publicity or something, I suppose. So the blast victims are in a hospital not far from here, babbling their little heads off about how beautiful Beijing was in 1142 and how ripe an opportunity for unrestrained feeding is presented by this Herr Hitler's new and exciting policies, and most of what they're saying isn't in Italian in the first place. They can't let much slip that's actually damaging - anyone who actually walks into the castle at their urging can be eaten or politely thrown out for trespassing or Heidi can show them out or Pyotr can order them to leave and keep their mouths shut as many times as it takes. And of course it wouldn't be at all unusual for one of them to be thinking rather a lot like me, so I gambled on it sounding natural enough if I hid among them until I was all set to dive in. I got the timing very neatly, apparently, although it was close. I climbed the wall and let myself into the dungeon, found the guard already dispatched for me, borrowed your father's toe, and hid out down the hall to listen in on what was going on."
"Oh," I said, badly wrong-footed.
She reached her free hand into her pocket again. "Oh, lovely!" she exclaimed. "Your mother's done it, apparently... I can't read anyone on your side, she's got the shield up nice and steady, but Renata is in just precisely the sort of pain I would expect if she'd been smashed up good and proper. Siobhan made short work of Santiago after that, and the Romanians ganged up on Aro and Tanya and Kate took Sulpicia. Chelsea's missing her hands, so she can't do anything, and now your mother's monologuing at her. I'll send you a copy of what Chelsea's thinking of that when she's done, if you like."
"...Thanks?" I said uncertainly.
"You're welcome," she said blithely.
"Are you going to explain why you did all this?" I asked. "Or why you sent Alice and Jasper to Biloxi, or why you ran away in Dublin if you're not actually out to get us?"
"When everyone's listening," said Addy, "like I told you. Why repeat myself?"
"Okay," I said, since there was nothing much else I could do but talk to her, "how did you know about the blast victims? You didn't find out about them before you left us behind in Ireland."
"You're right, I didn't," she said. "Leah tweeted the human news story about it. Or, well, she didn't tweet it directly, but she had enough suggestive remarks in her feed that I was able to find it on my own and figure out from there what the deal was. Aha, your mother's all done monologuing at Chelsea. Want to see? I got it via your father, so it won't be as high-fidelity as the memories from Aro, but it should do."
"...Sure," I said.
She touched my nose again - "Boop!" she said - and showed me.
- my hands my hands - fire - Afton! They mustn't burn him, no, no, no nononono not my Afton I need him kill me first kill me first if we have to die kill me first
She's not burning my Afton, she's just holding the lighter...
doesn't dare, with her friends on the floor too? might catch them in the fire?
He loves me
"Chelsea," she says, I couldn't feel anything off her, it's like she doesn't love anyone, like she can't, like she's a ball of hate that walks and talks and has the mindreader loving her like that anyway. And now my hands are gone and I can't feel anything, I can't even feel my Afton, but I know my Afton... but it's hard now that I can't feel it to know... but he loves me. He loves me, that doesn't just go away, even without my hands... right? But I can't feel it, I can't...
I don't answer her.
"Do you have any idea what you did to me?" she says, but I didn't do anything to her, I could never feel her, she's not even there, how could I do anything?
Her mate, she's holding him up with the other arm not holding the lighter (how can she have a mate, loving no one?) whispers in her ear, rests his head on her shoulder (I want my Afton)...
"Do you have any idea," she snarls, taking a step closer, clutching her mate (it's not fair) "what you destroyed? What you have casually ruined for everyone around you for thousands of years now? I'm given to understand that you put a lot of stock in love. You want everyone to love you, is that right?"
"Mmhm..." My wrists hurt, I want my hands back, I want to feel my Afton with me even if we're going to die, he loves me, doesn't he? He loves me...
"No one really does," she hisses. "You can't create that. The closest you have is Afton, and even him you could not leave alone, you couldn't just turn him and wait for it to happen on its own like any other vampire would have done. And because you don't have the real thing, I can't show you quite what you did to me. I literally do not know how to hurt you that badly. You ruptured my family. And I think I am vindictive enough, I am vengeful enough, I am pissed off enough that I would do the same thing to you. If you had one. You don't. And that really ties my hands."
"Me first," I say, "kill me first, me first, not my Afton -"
"My daughter doesn't love me anymore, you bitch!" she screams. "My husband doesn't love our daughter! If you had your way he wouldn't love me either, you utter plague on the world! And I don't think you would understand that even if I torched your mate in front of you. I don't think you can be made to understand that, because I'm the only one who feels it, and I can't get that hurt into your head out of mine for the same reason I'm not a third direct victim of your fucking around with my family."
"Me first," I whisper, "me first, not my Afton -"
She hisses and reaches forward and the fire touches my chin and catches, and it hurts it hurts, but he loves me -
"I think it's time to go up and say hello," said Addy with sickening cheer, and she hauled me along the corridor towards the throne room.< Previous Next >