We left Marcus and Didyme alone, or relatively so - we didn't go far, just went to talk about the other five blast victims in a separate room. "Don't turn her, at least not yet," my mother warned Marcus before departing, and he nodded once.
"We should probably bring in the families one at a time," my mother said, starting to pace. Renata followed her around, a blank, distant look on her face. "Addy, there's no way to get back the people they originally were?" Since Addy was more actively involved in the conversation, I took over translating for John.
"Not really, no," Addy said. "They don't contain those memories anymore, or not accessibly. If I'd read them ahead of time, maybe it could be done. As is, the best I can imagine doing would be to read their social circles and give them an idea of who they're supposed to be from outside perspectives. And I'm not sure if that would hold."
"Can we "turn them into" other dead people?" my mother wanted to know. "Or are they stuck like this?"
"It would be worth a try, if that were a desirable outcome," Addy said. "I think Didyme and John were resurrected, as it were, because they were very young at the time they were read. It's probably just a coincidence that they actually died shortly afterwards. Well, most very young vampires Aro read only when they were young did die shortly thereafter, but that's not why those two instead of someone older. There's no obvious reason that, say, this gentleman couldn't turn into the 400 BCE edition of Stefan... I just don't think we can turn him into the 500 CE version." She pointed at one of the mnemic overload victims who did indeed vaguely resemble Stefan.
"Stefan?" my mother asked.
"I'm not saying we need another Stefan. One is probably enough, and think of how confused Vladimir would be. I'm just pointing out that this guy looks sort of like him, only taller," Addy said. "Depending on how flexible the recognizing-oneself-in-the-mirror thing is, there's at least a dozen vampires we've got backed up that he could be convinced he is, and similar options for the others. If Sukutai hadn't left already, maybe she or I could mess with their coloring and get more variety. I suppose that much could be accomplished with ordinary hair dye and makeup."
"I see," my mother said, scrutinizing the patients with a frown. "...We need to bring in the families. Everybody in the immediate family of each patient, one at a time. Paola's first, since I imagine Didyme and Marcus want her turned promptly and I think they should know what's going on first. Addy, will you handle that? Call them and set up appointments with one family per day for the next six or seven? Tell them to come in through the office building entrance, and we can have you meet them there."
"Sure thing," said Addy, and she slipped out into the hallway.
"Elspeth, if you don't mind, I'll want you at those meetings to help the information be met with something other than inconvenient disbelief," my mother went on.
"And now that Jacob is no longer up at bizarre hours negotiating the long-term plans of the wolves," she added, "and is heading up the pack that works for me, tell him he needs to get his sleep schedule under control and have at least two wolves following you around as bodyguards. He should probably take at least one of those slots himself when he's awake. I don't think you're overwhelmingly likely to be attacked or I'd want you to stick with me and your daddy and Renata twenty-four hours a day, but it would be good to have you visibly guarded anyway."
I nodded, waited a moment for further instructions, and ducked out when there were none.
Jake was disgruntled about being awoken after only six hours of sleep, but grudgingly acknowledged that if we were going to be in town for another week dealing with blast victims, it was probably worth his time to become vaguely diurnal again. I told him what my mother had said about keeping a guard detail on me, and he summoned Grace to join him in flanking me everywhere I went for the rest of the day, and tagged Embry and Gwyn to take the first night shift.
"Is it pretty definite who's in your pack to stay, now?" I asked.
"Uh, let's see if I remember everybody," he said sheepishly. "Grace and Embry and Gwyn. Zach. ...Paul? No, not Paul. I have it written down somewhere," he added, fumbling around in one of the drawers in his room. Eventually he came up with a wad of euros and an untidily-scrawled chart of which wolves were going where, which I scanned and memorized. Jake's pack was the largest, Becky's the second even if one didn't count Cody, but none of the wolves under Jake were likely to bring children with them. "Hey," Jake said, "is Maggie still around or did she go home already? I owe her money." He brandished the bills.
"She's around," I said, "but might not be for that much longer. Her witchcraft doesn't totally overlap with my dad's, but it's close enough that I think she's just going to head back to Wexford and live her life like before with Gianna and Molly. I'm not sure what Ilario and Cath are planning to do."
"I don't owe Ilario or Cath money. Do you have anything pressing going on or can we find Maggie and pay her back?"
"I'm free until Paola's relatives show up, I think," I said, and I led him and Grace into the compound and along halls until we found the lie-detector's temporary room - she'd taken over Jane's, and I repressed a shiver as I leaned into the open doorway. "Maggie?"
Maggie looked up from Jane's jewelry box, which she was apparently looting; a string of pearls dangled from her hands and she'd already sorted the top tray into four piles. "Hi, Elspeth. What's up?" she asked.
"I believe I owe you a hundred euros," said Jake, handing over the money he'd counted out. Maggie plucked it from his hand, re-counted it, and put it in her pocket.
"Thanks," she said.
"Are you going home soon?" I asked.
"Yeah, I have a flight up tonight," Maggie said. "Would've gone yesterday when the bulk of the other nonessential personnel cleared out, but Cath and Ilario can't make up their minds about whether they're going to live with me and Gianna or in Swindon yet, and I'm trying to balance going home to my family pronto with being able to tell Molly when she should expect to see her Unclario again."
"Are you stealing Jane's jewelry?" asked Grace, peering at the pearls that Maggie was still holding.
"Jane is dead," Maggie pointed out innocently. "I asked Alec - you know, her only surviving relative and therefore totally the executor of her estate - if he cared what happened to her stuff, and he said no, so I'm looking through it. Why, do you want some of it? She had ridiculous amounts. I think Aro might have given her something expensive and shiny every time she had a birthday." That was actually true, although she'd worn out or lost or sold a fair fraction of the pieces over the years to avoid being buried under them. "This is box two of six."
Grace blinked, then glanced at Jake for permission, got a shrug, and started rummaging through what Maggie hadn't already claimed. "Isn't looting fun?" Maggie asked, humming to herself.
"I guess my dad probably knows what's going on and would tell my mom," I said dubiously, "and my mom would have said something if she objected, but..."
"Pfft," said Maggie. "She rules the world now. Why bother with how a dead evil girl's stuff is disposed of? I guess some of the stuff in the treasury would be worth her hanging onto - the historically significant antiques and whatnot - but she's not going to stop me from taking this bee-yoo-tee-ful hair clip, I think." Maggie tucked an enameled pin into her curls. "Or giving my mate a pretty bracelet. Other people are going through the other rooms. You could take some stuff, Elspeth, I bet you know where everything you'd like is."
Grace retreated from the heap of jewelry to stand at my shoulder again, newly ornamented, but I didn't want anything of Jane's. "I'll think about it," I said, idly contemplating the other deceased owners of nice things and what they'd have left behind. I didn't think I'd wind up taking any of it. I wasn't much for jewelry anyway, and somehow didn't think it was going to be a limited resource in my future if I changed my mind. My mom was having enough fun with being the Empress of the Golden Empire that I wouldn't be astounded if she had a crown made for me and insisted that I wear it to official functions, with such functions to be concocted out of thin air later.
Grace wanted to alert everyone else in the village to the looting opportunity, and I didn't have any reason to direct her elsewhere, so back we went.
Paola's relatives arrived that afternoon - just her parents and both of her brothers. Her sisters-in-law and her nieces and nephews were home; I suspected that it would be up to her more immediate family what, if anything, to tell them. Jake and Grace and I waited with Addy for them to arrive at their appointment. "This doesn't look like a hospital," said Giotto, the elder of the brothers, as they walked into the office building that contained one of several entrances to the Volterra compound.
It was in fact not even slightly a mental hospital - the offices in the building were mostly financial and legal - but we didn't stay in the building long. "This way, please," I addressed the Grecos, catching their eye.
"Who are you?" asked Rino, the middle Greco child.
"My name is Elspeth Cullen," I said, glancing at Addy.
"Dr. Cullen and I - I'm Dr. Bauer - are the world's leading experts on mnemic disorders," Addy inserted smoothly. Until we were in the compound itself, we weren't going to start telling the truth. "The facility where Miss Greco is staying is not here; this is just the most convenient entrance. Please, follow us."
Using the key that allowed the building's elevator to drop as far as the basement level, we accessed the tunnel that led to the compound. "What kind of hospital has a tunnel entrance?" Giotto wanted to know.
"It's not exactly a hospital," I said, incapable of keeping quiet about it anymore.
"I beg your pardon?" said Mrs. Greco. Jake tensed up beside me at the hostility in her voice.
"Paola's not really ill," I continued. "It's extremely complicated, and you're going to need to bear with me for -"
"Are you really a doctor?" demanded Mr. Greco.
"Sort of?" I allowed. I did have memories of medical school several times over. "I -"
"What do you mean, sort of?" insisted Paola's father. "What kind of answer is that?"
Rino actually stopped in his tracks, and his brother and then their parents followed suit. "What in the world is going on?"
"We're taking you to Paola," I promised. "Please just follow us and we'll explain everything."
"Humans can tolerate summaries, can't they?" Addy asked me.
"...Yes," I acknowledged, still a little wary of using my power on humans at all given the harm Addy had been able to wreak with it, "but -"
"If you don't want to do it, I can," Addy offered, holding out her hand.
"No," I said. Addy was borrowing Aro's power so she could read the Grecos when it was convenient; I didn't want to displace it. I sighed, turned back to the unsettled family, and created the most minimal, unintrusive summary I could compose to send to all of them.
"Bullshit," said Rino, uncertainly, and I sighed, half-wishing that I could compel belief outright.
"How did you do that?" shrieked Mrs. Greco, pressing the heels of her hands to her temples and breathing irregularly.
And Giotto stood stock-still, processing the information, and then lurched angrily at Addy, who ducked his attempt at an attack neatly and then seized his wrists so he wouldn't fall over. "I didn't realize you were going to include that tidbit," Addy told me dryly.
Mr. Greco grabbed his wife's elbow and turned to bolt, wheezing something about monsters; I sprinted around them to block the way, my wolf and his packmate at my heels. "Please," I said, "your daughter is -"
"Incurable!" shouted Mr. Greco. "If I'm to believe you, incurable! And going to be turned into a monster like - like you! If my daughter is gone -"
"The Paola you knew is gone but Didyme is still your biological daughter!" I cried. "Her genes didn't change, she's still related to you, not the family the original Didyme had thousands of years ago -"
"My daughter is dead!" roared Mr. Greco, and I ground my teeth.
"Your Imperial Highness," sang Addy, who was now holding both of the brothers immobile and looking exasperated with me, "perhaps we'd best escort our guests to the throne room whether they like it or not so their propensity to make nuisances of themselves can be evaluated by the Emperor? Somehow I don't think we want to "peel back the Masquerade" quite this fast."
"The who?" asked Giotto, as Mrs. Greco squeaked, "Imperial Highness? Emperor?"
"That's right," I snapped in frustration, taking a step forward and startling Mr. and Mrs. Greco into stumbling backwards, "I am the princess of the Golden Empire. I can erase a human personality with my thoughts. I remember more centuries of experiences than you can even count. I can resurrect the dead. And you are going to calm down and listen to me."
The four Grecos all went rather quiet at that, and Addy said, "Well then," and began marching Rino and Giotto down the hall briskly. I made an expansive gesture, inviting Mr. and Mrs. Greco to go under their own power ahead of me and the two wolves instead of needing to be hauled as their sons were. Mr. Greco's mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, but finally he put his hand on his wife's shoulder and they turned and continued towards the compound.
"Resurrect the dead?" asked Rino in a small voice, halfway to the compound.
"Select eligible dead individuals," I muttered under my breath, "subject to terms and conditions, side effects include human sacrifice, void where prohibited -"
"What?" he asked.
"Not Paola, I can't bring her back," I said a little louder. "She wasn't... backed up."
"Backed up? Like a computer?" asked Giotto, sounding queasy about applying digital terminology to his sister.
"Something like that. Paola was overwritten with the memories of a woman who was backed up right before she died," I said.
"And even if Paola had records kept, she was a human, and our theorizing suggests that being human would make her un-resurrectable anyway," said Addy.
"And now she's... Didyme," murmured Mrs. Greco, scrunching her eyebrows together as she processed the summary.
"Yes," I said, keeping it simple. I didn't think it would make them feel any better to describe how happy Marcus was to have her. In fact, it seemed likely to be a bad idea to require the Grecos to interact with Marcus... possibly ever. Anyone that happy about what was, to them, a tragedy would probably be painful to be around.
For her part, Didyme was very gracious to the Grecos. She clasped their hands warmly and greeted her brothers by name - having been coached ahead of time on what they were called - and her parents as "Mamma" and "Papà", which words she'd learned for the occasion in spite of knowing no other Italian. She endured their mistrustful, uncomfortable stares with an apologetic smile, and assured them through my translation that she was very sorry to have "arrived" at the expense of their Paola, but eager to be a part of their family anyway on the grounds of blood relation if they'd have her. Or willing to bow out quietly if they didn't want to deal with the stranger who had taken over their daughter's body.
Rino did most of the talking once the family was actually in the room with Didyme. He wanted to know about her, in her original incarnation - where she'd come from, what her life had been like, how she'd died - and she obliged them with enough details that one would think she was speaking to intimates and not approximate strangers. She even described how Aro had killed her - which she still didn't remember, and had only been told about - and this seemed to rouse some fraternal protectiveness in Rino.
"You're planning to be turned into a... "vampire"?" Mrs. Greco interrupted abruptly when Rino was halfway through asking Didyme about the fragments of her childhood she recalled. (I was actually better able to answer such questions than she was, since Aro had read his sister before he turned her and the new Didyme held almost exclusively vampire memories, but I knew Rino didn't want to talk to me.)
"Yes," said Didyme levelly, dipping her head and looking up at Mrs. Greco.
"But isn't that something that... this Aro person did to you, long ago? And then he killed you. I don't understand why you're going back to something like that," said Mrs. Greco peevishly.
"It is true that Aro turned me, the first time," acknowledged Didyme, "and that he did not turn out to be a loyal brother to me. But there are advantages to being a vampire."
"To being a monster," said Mrs. Greco, snappish, with a quick glare at me.
Didyme didn't take the bait. She said, "I am sorry if you do not approve. This matter is between me and my husband, with the kind permission of Her Imperial Majesty." (Didyme seemed to be adjusting very well to my mom being the ruler of the vampires; it might have been helpful that she'd lived during the Romanians' reign and they'd never impinged on her life while she fell under their technical jurisdiction.)
"Your husband," said Giotto faintly.
Didyme nodded and her smile got a bit wider at the thought of Marcus. "He is not here because it was thought that he would be intruding on our meeting, but yes, my husband. I suppose we have been married for more than two thousand years, now."
"You're not married," sputtered Mr. Greco.
Didyme tilted her head thoughtfully. "I suppose you are right," she said after a pause. "In a way. Legally I suppose I am Paola Greco, and Paola Greco is not legally married. But in the ways that matter, he is my husband and I am his wife."
"I want to meet this... person," said Rino suddenly.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"No, but take me to him anyway," said Rino with a resigned sigh.
Marcus was standing in the next room over, unwilling to get too far from Didyme and having compromised only that far because of the delicacy of the situation with her family. Since Rino seemed to be the only one interested in being introduced, I got up and led him next door, leaving Addy in the room with Didyme and the other three Grecos as backup translator.
Rino visibly recoiled when he first got a look at Marcus and his shattered face, but controlled himself; Marcus gazed back impassively with a slightly unfocused look in his eyes, and I suspected he was examining the relationships emanating from Rino more than Rino's person.
"Do you speak Italian?" Rino asked after a silence.
"Fluently," Marcus replied.
Rino chewed on the inside of his cheek a bit, and then said, "You're a vampire, right?" Marcus didn't even distinguish this question with a nod, let alone a verbal reply, and Rino moved on after an awkward lull. "How many people have you killed?" he asked boldly.
"I didn't count them," said Marcus, a low edge of menace in the sentence.
I laughed nervously and added, "Rino, um, killing people is illegal now, so however many it was, the number's not going to go up."
"I just want to know if... my sister... is safe with this weirdo," said Rino. He paused. "And what do you mean, illegal now?"
"I mean, illegal for vampires, as declared by an authority that could conceivably enforce it," I said. "For all practical purposes vampires have never been subject to human authority..."
Marcus, meanwhile, did not exactly draw himself up to his full height, because he hadn't been slouching, but he did adjust his shoulders and peer down at Rino in a way that Rino obviously found intimidating. "Suggest that I would mistreat Didyme again," he invited in a soft growl.
"I'm just concerned!" shrieked Rino, shuffling backwards almost into the hall. "Calm down! Last month my sister's name was Paola, and the most challenge I had to deal with in a given day was my daughter's colic, and you were dermatologically impossible!"
Marcus stared Rino down, in stony silence, and I piped up, "She's the last person Marcus would ever hurt, Rino."
Rino backed up a few more steps, looking warily at Marcus from narrowed eyes, and went back to the room with his parents and brother and sister.
The rest of the visit passed stiffly, although Didyme's sweetness was unfailing and her brothers, at least, were doing their best to adjust to the situation. Her parents were huffy and indignant by turns, casting about for someone more breakable than (unflappable) Addy or more detestable than (kind) Didyme to blame for the situation.
After having agreed to my parents' satisfaction and with various levels of irkedness that it would be a poor choice to go to the newspapers with the secrets they had learned, the Grecos finally took their leave. It was late evening, and they trooped out muttering awkwardly about keeping in touch via various media that Didyme did not know how to use. Me and Jake and Grace escorted them out to the office building exit - it wasn't well-lit, and while there weren't branching corridors to get lost via and going up from the basement didn't require a key, it seemed prudent to have them accompanied. When the Grecos were safely out the door, my wolf guards and I all headed back to the village, because I, at least, needed to get to bed.
After I was tucked in with my hand in Jake's, but before I nodded off, I heard from next door Albert and his imprint Amanda having some sort of dispute. It sounded more like Amanda was shouting and Albert was panicking about the fact that she was shouting, actually. Their baby Eve was fussing loudly, unaccustomed to disagreements in her vicinity.
They never fought - none of the imprints ever fought with their wolves - it didn't happen because -
Oh, I thought, just before I slipped into unconsciousness, it's my fault -< Previous Next >