When I listened at the door next to mine, Amanda was home, and had, apparently, kicked out Albert - I didn't think he'd have left her of his own volition, but he might have slunk away if she demanded it. I knocked.
"Go away, Albert," said Amanda's voice, muffled.
"It's Elspeth," I said.
There was a pause, and the door opened. Amanda looked at me, Jake, and Laurel wearily, and said, "I don't want to talk to all of you right now. Becky's already -"
"They're just acting as my bodyguards, they don't have to say anything," I coaxed. "Will you talk to just me?"
Amanda hesitated, and her mouth twisted in inexpressible frustration, but she finally stood aside and let us in. Jake and Laurel hung back, by the door, and I sat with Amanda at her table.
"Becky was here already?" I asked, hoping to get her started talking about everything so I'd have a better picture of what was going on.
Amanda nodded. "After I told Albert I wanted him out. He took Eve and he's in North with her or something, I think. Becky showed up on his behalf. I don't think he asked her, I think she just did it on her own, but it amounts to the same thing, right? One day I get snatched, literally off the street, because my flight home was the next day and they couldn't afford to let him go through the motions of wooing me like the local girls got... and since then my life has been about being Albert's imprint. As far as everybody here is concerned that justifies my existence. If I'd got married to a human my husband's boss wouldn't show up to tell me to give him a chance." She looked at me, and sighed. "I guess my next-door neighbor might either way."
"I'm sorry," I murmured.
"You didn't kidnap me. You were, what, three years old and looked eleven when I got gotten?" scoffed Amanda.
"I meant - you were happy, weren't you, until - recently?" I said.
"I guess. Once I didn't want to go home to my family anymore I got swept up in the fairytale aspect. Magical werewolf boyfriend cannot help but love me forever and wants to support me while I live in a secret hamlet full of friendly folks that works as an arm of the freaking Illuminati? I think I spent two minutes thinking "wait a minute, I was going to get my master's degree starting this fall and be a social worker" before Chelsea saturated me with Albert-on-the-brain to the point where I didn't care about anything that wasn't compatible with staying here. Because of course Albert cannot move to suit me, even though supposedly I'm the center of his universe, right? Albert needs to live with his pack. And apparently he still does."
"Do you want to go back to Canada?" I asked tentatively.
"I don't care if it's Canada particularly. I still don't really care about my relatives except that I think Eve should get the chance to know them, but they're scattered far and wide all over Ontario, so it's not like I could live near my mom and my dad and any of my siblings. But I want to go to school. And I don't want to be limited to the handful of schools that are within spitting distance of Nowhere, Washington, and my Italian's not good enough to go to a university here, and Jake's pack is attached to your lot and you're going to be moving all over the place, so... it boils down to leaving Albert, even though he's a decent guy and Eve's daddy who I don't particularly dislike, even if he's no longer the end-all and be-all of my life. Or going "whoops, I guess I'm okay with giving up what was stolen from me to suit someone else's needs after all, Nowhere, WA, here I come" and popping out another four or five puppies as seems to be the fashion and doing nothing else with my life."
"I'm... not sure that's quite your list of options..." I said.
Amanda rolled her eyes and looked away. "Becky told me about how Rachel went to college in Spokane and it's a reasonable commuting distance from La Push and a good school. But I don't think Becky understands... she got married when she was eighteen to move with, I don't remember what his name was -"
"Caleb," I said.
"With Caleb, to a state she'd never even visited before, and she was perfectly happy with that until the day she floofed for the first time. Becky never went to college, let alone grad school. Rachel went to a college that was about as far away from home as she could get and stay in-state, if I have the geography right."
"I'm sorry," I blurted again.
"Why?" asked Amanda.
"Because I wasn't careful when I was deprogramming everybody..."
"So you're sorry for giving me my brain back because now I'm going to make things inconvenient?" she said snappishly, and I cringed.
"No," I said. "I'm sorry because you're unhappy and I think it's my fault."
Amanda frowned, and sighed. "I still love Albert," she said, sounding uncertain, but then she shook her head to clear it and repeated herself more confidently. "I don't love him more than anything else in the world anymore, that's all."
I bit my lip carefully, then said, "Why does each pack have to stay together, anyway?"
"Are you asking me?" Amanda wanted to know.
"Jake," I said.
Jake coughed into his hand. "Um," he said. "...It mostly just seems right. I mean, before the massacre we were all in La Push. Now some of us have reason to be elsewhere, but we can still be elsewhere in groups."
"It mostly just seems right," repeated Amanda, putting incredulous pauses between the words.
"Well, that, and we kind of have a culture... and Eve ought to have it too," Jake added. "If you went to school in Boston or something and had Albert and Eve with you, Eve wouldn't grow up like a puppy, really."
"Won't she pick it up quick enough once she's activated? If she's activated?" challenged Amanda. "You're telepathic!"
"What is that you'd want to do, exactly, if Albert could follow you anywhere?" I asked, my brain working.
"I'd apply to a bunch of grad schools and pray one would take me," said Amanda. "Spin the time I've spent here as a long gap "year" that only incidentally involved getting married and having a baby. Mostly I'd look for schools in Ontario, I guess, but I'd need to do some research, see what places are ranked well for social work programs..."
"My mom is planning to put one of her regional capitals in Québec, but hadn't picked an exact site last I checked," I said. "If you were at school in the part of Ontario that's near it, and the capital weren't too far away, and Albert were in Jake's pack instead of Becky's, Albert could do some job at the capital. Keeping it partly open even when the rest of us are elsewhere, maybe. It sounded to me like my mom's eventual plan was to have them all staffed full time and she just doesn't quite have the numbers to do it yet."
"I could even see asking a few other wolves to stay there full time," Jake volunteered. "Especially a couple of them who sort of wanted to adopt orphans, but haven't because they didn't think it would be good to bounce them around that much and they also wanted to stick with being professional werewolves. Laurel?"
"Maybe," said Laurel, not relaxing her attentive posture, but there was a hint of something in her eyes.
"And maybe Nina and Calvin, too," Jake said. "If this were an option we might even keep some currently planning to go with other packs. Like the Delaneys, and possibly Vivian and Iris, they're mostly staying here in the village because they have kids - but they don't have imprints, so they aren't tied here by anybody's family relationships, the way the guys with Italian wives or the ones who imprinted back in the States are to Volterra or La Push. There really isn't that strong a reason to keep the pack all geographically together."
"So Québec can be permanently open and the others can rotate until there's the numbers to keep them all running full time," I said. "If my mom goes for it."
My mom went for it. "We can gradually add permanent populations to capitals one at a time," she said. "And may as well start with Québec if that would be convenient." But not before exasperatedly ranting that the wolves certainly had not behaved as though splitting up packs was an option back when they were staying up all night arguing about where to go.
Jake called in Daphne to take over his bodyguard post for a couple of hours, so he could go alert everyone to the change of circumstance and invite everyone to make new arrangements in response. I whiled away the evening in the company of both wolf girls, telling them about Esme's architectural plans and my job in the PRPR department and similar.
"Would you have wanted someone to adopt you," I asked Daphne, during a lull in the conversation, "if this had all happened three or four years ago?" Daphne was the second-youngest wolf, thirteen to newly-active Ashleigh's twelve, and had spent the early years of the wolves' time in the village as one of the orphans in North. I knew she considered herself an adult upon first phasing, and no one had seriously suggested that the active wolves close to her age needed adopting, but she'd have a perspective on the matter.
"Maybe," she said. She didn't elaborate immediately, but when neither I nor Laurel said anything to move the attention away from her, she went on. "At first there were only the three kids in the village with parents, and they were little and I didn't think much about them, but they got older and I could sort of see how having a family instead of just being another Northie would be nice. And then guys started imprinting and having puppies and that looked nice too. We were taken care of and everything. But it was like we came in clumps to the people who looked after us, because there were so many. I was the middle of the Gwyn-Daphne-Ashleigh clump because we were girls around the same age."
I nodded. I glanced at Laurel, and considered asking who she was thinking of adopting, but decided that she'd probably consider it unprofessional to discuss it on duty.
Evening came, and Laurel and Daphne were replaced by Kelly and Gregory, and I slept.
The next day there was another family. I was beginning to get the hang of explaining things, and managed to keep them all relatively calm while explaining what had happened to their daughter/sister/wife/mother (the woman's children were both grown, thankfully; I wasn't looking forward to talking to Benito's little boy). They unanimously wanted me to try "option one" - pushing their memories of their lost relative at her in the hopes that she'd wake up and behave something like herself.
Addy handled that, since there was some chance that if she composed the requisite summary, it would borrow intensity from her vampire mind that I couldn't offer. She read all the relatives, then borrowed my power, took a couple of minutes to extract the relevant portions of memory, and hit the patient with it all in one go.
Nothing happened. Addy reached into her pocket, which contained the dying piece of Aro. She tapped the woman on the forehead, and frowned. "Didn't stick," she reported gravely.
"Try it again?" I said.
She did, and she tried sending the summary to me so we could both blast the patient simultaneously, and we tried it while holding a mirror in front of the patient's eyes, but to no avail. She didn't react, and each time Addy checked, the information had slid out of her mind.
The family was disappointed, and there were tears, but they seemed understanding that we were not (quite) miracle-workers. (It probably helped that, again, they didn't know that Addy was responsible, and seemed to be under the impression that it had been a complete accident. This was close enough - since Addy hadn't set out to hurt the humans - that Magic only itched me a little.)
After much discussion, a little bickering, but no yelling at all, the family determined that their mnemically overloaded member was dead, and their choices boiled down to sustaining her as a confused vegetable or "donating her body to science". It turned out that she'd been intending to do the latter anyway, albeit in a far more conventional fashion.
We wound up with the green light to turn her into whoever we thought best, if we could, and no interest in putting that new person into contact with her new genetic relatives.
"Well," said Addy. "Now all we have to do is decide who, and hope it works."
"I think we also need to call the brothers' family, so they know that one of the choices on the table doesn't work," I said.
"I'll do it," said Addy, snagging my power again and pulling out her phone.
"Thanks," I said, and went (with Jake and Aaron following me) to see what my mom was up to.
My mom was contemplating how to deploy her forces to not only spread the news, but also the enforcement, about the new vegetarian regime to the world. Vampires tended to be at least peripherally aware of other nearby vampires, and so some word of mouth would do some of the work.
Peter and Charlotte had been called and were telling their neighbors, and between them and the Denalis (all of whom had gone home), the whole of North America might be expected to have the information inside of a month. Britain's vampires were well-informed and could communicate with counterparts on the European mainland. Sukutai and her mate had gone home to central Africa, as was Abdelmajid to Morocco; Benjamin and Tia knew a few covens and individuals on the continent too, although they were in more regular contact with the Middle East. Kachiri and Senna (who had not been able to convince their erstwhile sister to leave with them, and had eventually decided to join the Golden Coven rather than be permanently parted from her), plus Nahuel and Huilen, could cover South America. And so on. We had access to representatives of most regions.
But many vampires lived isolated lives and didn't welcome contact with others, and it wasn't that hard for one willing to accept an undesirable territory to go for centuries without meeting anyone. Nearest neighbors might be unaware of their existence. They would be harder to find. And every week that went by without their being reached and converted or contained meant human deaths. My mother appeared to view her having delayed as long as she had to be a considerable tragedy, but said that there was an unacceptable disadvantage to making decrees before the ability to enforce them caught up.
Nathan was key to her strategy for handling the matter, although she still grudgingly accepted that it could take years or decades before everyone knew about the Golden Coven the way everyone had known about the Volturi. Nathan, in his capacity as the Imperial Minister of Temporal Affairs, or Addy with his power, could coordinate with Razi or Alice - our two ways to figure out what was going on far away. He did so by suggesting the correct moments to look in on a list of locations. (Nathan's power only told him when it was best for him to do various things, but saying "now" to an ally to get an outcome he wanted counted as him doing something, so indirectly, he could combine his witchcraft with others.) They were thereby working, bit by bit, through areas of the world that weren't claimed by known vampires who'd hear the news through the grapevine.
Razi and Alice could then both double as messengers, and there was a written summary of the new order hanging on the wall of the throne room that Alice had, so far, shown to four people. Razi had visited only two (one of whom had attempted to kill him, to his amusement). He was going slower than Alice since his mechanism of sharing involved actually having conversations and took longer, but my mother planned to get pamphlets printed up for him to distribute so as to speed up the process. Once those were handy, Alice would switch over to a pure surveillance role to make sure that the new rules were being followed.
Alice was the first to admit that she certainly could not keep a constant watch on everybody. However, she could check the few thousand eyes' colors that would need monitoring each once a week (contact lenses were easy enough for vampire-quality vision to notice, and a week wasn't enough time for animal blood to completely cover up a tasty transgression) and then anyone who was misbehaving could receive more personal attention. (Sukutai, the camouflage witch, was the only person who would be able to thwart the eye check, since her color adjustments were much more unobtrusive than contacts when she wanted them to be. But she'd seemed sincere about being willing to go along with the new government when inspected, or she wouldn't have been released in the first place.)
This personal attention would mostly come in the form of Razi, again, who was muttering to himself about how much work he was getting. He could deliver warnings without fearing retribution, and he was also willing to be the executioner when called for (by incorrigible offenders, or anyone who was caught in the very middle of something untoward). Intermediate cases - where someone had just slipped up or broken some more minor rule - were to be punished by assorted sentences of hiding. Pera was grudgingly willing to temporarily loan a little finger or a toe to Addy, when called for, so that Addy could teleport with Razi's power, hide the offender with Pera's, and then teleport home again (either via Razi coming to pick her up, or via a similar loan from him).
My mother was somewhat concerned that Addy, equipped with pieces of Razi and Pera both, would be able to run rampant should she so choose without my dad being in range to detect the intention, but it was ultimately concluded that the team of Alice, Pera, and Razi would be able to take her down within a few tries if that occurred. Addy didn't seem offended by the suspicion.
Addy couldn't hide witches, so Pera herself would need to travel on the occasions that transgressors were gifted. But the general population of vampires included comparatively few witches and the Volturi had snapped up most of the more powerful, so this wasn't expected to be a frequent occurrence. Alice would spend a little time hiding every week, too, from which vantage point she'd be able to check on the "prisoners" and make sure they weren't causing what trouble they could. Misbehaving significantly, or after a warning, from the hiding place was going to have to carry a death penalty. Everything else one could do to prevent a vampire from misbehavior took too many personnel-hours (especially since my mom wanted Alec working in PRPR, anesthetizing turning vampires) or was also torture. Keeping vampires in bits, while theoretically feasible, had been shown to be impractical over the course of recent events.
What seemed to make my mom even more uncomfortable than the prospect of the rampant use of the death penalty was the fact that she couldn't see a way around punishing mates together. She could leave the innocent mate of an offending vampire alive, but that wasn't particularly merciful, and was not likely to encourage the living partner to remain innocent, either. I was pretty sure she was thinking in particular of Irina and Laurent.
"We can take it case by case, on whether they live when their mates are put to death," she said slowly when she'd gotten to this point in her consideration. "I was able to function, and didn't, on reflection, want to die when I thought Edward was gone. I might not be unique. But by and large, if one person is hidden, their mate will have to be hidden, and if one person is executed, their mate will have to die too." She sighed. "With any luck it'll encourage more consistent compliance with the law."
My guard changed, and another day came to an end.
"Is she up yet?" was the first thing I heard when I woke the morning of July 20.
"Who, me?" I asked, over Calvin's "I don't think so."
"Oh, I guess she is," said Marilyn. "Morning, Elspeth."
I peered out of my room to see who wanted to know whether I was up. Standing with my night guards was Cody, shifting anxiously from foot to foot. "Hi," he said awkwardly.
"Hi, Cody," I said. "What's up? Besides me?"
"That woman," he said, "up in the compound. I heard her family, um, donated her to science and she's going to be another reincarnated person." I knew what he was going to ask a split second before he asked it: "My parents."
I bit my lip and looked down. "It's not up to me."
"You can do it," he said. "If it can be done you can do it. And you won't get in trouble. You can get away with anything. And if you do it they won't punish her -"
"I'll ask," I said.
"What if she says no?" he demanded. "What if she wants someone who's been dead for a thousand years instead, who nobody misses -"
"What if she wants to dye the patient's hair blonde and bring back Irina, who has three sisters and two brothers and a new brother-in-law she never got the chance to meet?" I asked.
"Irina tried to get all the wolves killed!"
"Because some of them killed her mate - she can barely be held responsible for -"
"They killed him because he was hunting people! Even though he'd fallen in with a vegetarian coven and had every chance to stop - and - and Irina was too old anyway and her mate isn't backed up! My parents are perfect for -"
"I don't even - wait, why can you ask this? Didn't Chelsea get you?" I exclaimed, bewildered.
"I don't think she was very thorough," Cody said miserably. "Probably because I came of my own free will, before you guys were captured in New York. She let my brother and sister miss me. I don't think she did anything about the Blacks missing their mom, since the Volturi didn't kill her, she died when they were kids. And I... was willing to overlook the fact that my parents, they did kill. Self-defense and all. Leah and Seth aren't going to ask you this. Chelsea did snip that from them. But I want my mom and dad back, and there's a lady in there who could look just enough like her with a false nose and and a haircut and contact lenses, and just barely more than one month of her vampire memories inside your head. And you could get one of the men to look like my dad, too, so they could be together..."
"I'll ask," I repeated quietly. "But there's only one woman victim left alive besides Didyme, so if there's any other female vampire we... we need more... then she will say no, and I don't think we'd want to bring back your dad without your mom."
"Right," murmured Cody. "Right."
"Do you want to come with me when I ask her?" I inquired gently.
Cody shook his head, his ponytailed hair dancing behind him. "No. Thank you," he added sheepishly. "Um, I'm sorry I yelled."
"Me too." I sighed. "Um, there's no point to asking right now, since we don't know if any of the three men who don't have coherent people in them already are going to be "donated", and won't until the brothers' family gets back to us or the other fellow's relatives come in this afternoon."
"That's fine," he said, subdued.
"Are you looking forward to going to La Push?" I asked.
"I guess," he said. "I kind of want to meet your grandfather. He was friends with my dad."
"I kind of want to meet my grandfather too," I admitted. "And my grandmother. I guess I'll see them soon."
"Couple of days," agreed Cody softly.
"Do you want to get breakfast?" I asked.
I ate with Cody (and Calvin and Marilyn), and my conspecific did make jokes, but with a fraction of his usual cheer. He didn't seem too comfortable around me, but I wasn't sure if it was because of the recent shouting, or because since the last time we'd talked I'd been made a princess, or what. After we finished eating, I waited in the suite for Jake to wake up, underwent a change of guard, and led Jake and Danielle up to the compound to talk to my mom.
She was hammering out rules for how to regulate vampires turning others to make sure it was all consensual, and facing some argument from traditionalists in her employ who thought there was no reason to outlaw kidnapping and forcibly turning a human as long as that human was one's mate. "Mates are different!" protested Benjamin as I walked in, holding his Tia tightly by the waist. "Tia would be long dead by now if I hadn't turned her, and then I'd be no use to anyone, and then where would you and your plans for eleven massive capital buildings be?"
"Set back by about a week and a half?" my mother suggested sarcastically, pointing at Addy, where she was assisting Nathan, Razi, and Pera in their ongoing inventory of isolated vampires. "Tia," she said, turning to the midnight-haired woman at the elementalist's side, "if Benjamin had tried it, do you think you might have agreed to go with him?"
Tia gazed up at her mate, thoughtful. "Perhaps," she murmured. "It's hard to be certain, when I love him so now."
Benjamin pressed a kiss to Tia's forehead. "Bel- Your Majesty, be reasonable," he said. "You have my support in every other measure you've concocted, but forcing innocent people to endure the loss of their mates - to old age! - more than cancels out the fact that you've gotten rid of Jane in terms of ruthlessness... And I'm not even speaking out of self-interest. This is all the more ludicrous because the turned mate is virtually guaranteed to consent in retrospect!"
"If someone is disturbed by the possibility of mating to someone who doesn't want to turn into a vampire, they could simply avoid meeting humans who don't want to turn into vampires," my mother suggested. "That should be easier now that no one is supposed to be eating humans, and so it should be quite simple for concerned parties to avoid them altogether except for the ones who make it through the screening process and wish to turn."
"How are you going to punish people who do it?" I asked, recalling the discussion of how mates could only be punished together.
"Ideally," my mother said, "we would catch the perpetrator while the victim was still in the middle of turning, and hide the perp, leaving the victim free. I think the evidence we have available suggests that the victim won't mate to their creator until and unless they see them, which hiding prevents. That way the victim wouldn't be punished, and the hidden mate would, quite tidily. If," she sighed, "we don't catch them in time, then there's no clever trick up my sleeve, I fear." I looked at her sleeves. She was dressing very casually for an empress, in solid-colored cotton and denim, and only her usual jewelry. "So the sentence will have to be good and long to serve as a deterrent, and it will be very important that no one knows when in the week his or her eye-check falls, so they can't guarantee that they'll get around surveillance."
Emmett was hanging around in the throne room, apparently just watching the proceedings from what had been Aro's chair with Rosalie perched on his lap. "Big Sister is watching," he joked, throwing Alice a look.
"I get your reasoning, Bella," said Rosalie, a tightness in her tone, "but what about cases like mine and Emmett's? It was an emergency; he was dying, barely conscious. I couldn't very well have begged his permission."
"You'd have gotten it, lovely," Emmett said, nuzzling her golden hair. She smiled, but went on looking at my mom expectantly.
"In that case," said my mom, speaking slowly, "...if I allow the mate to be turned, then vampires with recalcitrant human mates have incentives to harm them."
"Who would do such a thing?" asked Benjamin.
My mother raised an eyebrow. "If Tia were mortal, and wanted nothing to do with you, and you could not convince her no matter how hard you tried that she should become a vampire... and there were this one loophole in the law, such that you could either let her die slowly of humanity, or almost die of some careful injuries and then be turned to love you forever, forgive everything you'd done...?"
Benjamin shuddered and turned his face into Tia's hair. "I'm not saying it would be common," my mother said gravely, "but I don't want to create the incentive. It may be possible to make exceptions if we can verify on the spot that the vampire had nothing to do with the injuries, but as a general policy, no. Emergencies can't be a free ticket to non-consensual turning. I'm sorry, Rosalie," she said, looking up at her sister. "...For what it's worth, in your case, Edward would have been able to confirm that Emmett was all for the notion of being with you forever."
Rosalie nodded solemnly. There was no further protest from Benjamin.
In the lull, I delivered Cody's request.< Previous Next >