A/N: Hey hey, back yet again. Hope you're all having a good year so far, though I can't believe how fast it's been going.
A bit of a plot-focused chapter this time. I tried reworking it a few times to make it a bit cleaner and read faster, but admittedly these often aren't my favorite types of chapters in actual books either. (But, I still had fun working on it, and hopefully it will fill in a few things.)
Thanks for all your thoughts and comments last chapter, and hope to see you at the end! :J
Chapter 11: Hope
I still hadn't gotten used to the fact I didn't have a heart beat. My chest felt too cold and still—especially since right now I had a feeling if I still had it, it would be pounding.
I stole silently across the desert expanse, keeping low to the stubby sagebrush that dotted the landscape and kicking up puffs of red sand as I went. I had kept to the forest as much as possible the entire journey, forced to choose discretion over speed in the light of day. I tried to keep to a path that kept me away from populated areas—which, in southern Wyoming, hadn't been hard for the most part—but now that twilight was falling, I cut through the shortest path to the rendezvous point Sulpicia had given me.
There was still some light in the sky, so I kept my jacket hood over my head, trying to show as little skin openly as possible, though both my nose and sharp eyes told me there wasn't anyone around for miles. Most of the people who would be out here were here for oil drilling, and the whiff of sulfur on the wind told me the areas to avoid.
I was nearing the meeting place now—I could see the barest edge of a forest up ahead, and as the wind shifted, I caught the scents of the vampires lurking there, just inside the treeline. Two, I thought, but of course, they were both unfamiliar to my new vampire senses, and I couldn't tell if one of them was Sulpicia. I didn't think so—because as I inhaled deeply, I didn't pick up anything strange that might have been the scent of a werewolf, and I was sure wherever Sulpicia was, Jules would be with her.
As I neared the forest, I slowed to a brisk walk, more cautious now. Of course there was no point trying to conceal my approach—they had probably seen me from miles off, and they already knew I was coming anyway. This was why I was here—to let myself into their clutches. No matter how my vampire instincts might protest.
As soon as I was beyond the shadow of the trees, I stopped, and my eyes scanned the area.
Two figures stepped out from behind a broad cedar, their long dark cloaks swirling around them like smoke. Although they both wore their hoods up, I could see their features clearly. I realized immediately that I knew them both—Sulpicia's two henchman, who had escorted Edythe and I into the heart of the Volturi's lair in Volterra, and had again appeared when they had come down to investigate the situation with Victor. Tacita and Cato.
Tacita's black hair was cut at the same severe angle as before, and she wore the same cold expression.
"We will escort you to Lady Sulpicia," she said shortly, without preamble.
With no further explanation, she turned and took off into the forest, her long cloak flowing out behind her as she ran. After a second, I took off after her, and Cato wordlessly came up behind me, taking up the rear. Making sure I wouldn't try to escape.
It was a short run. We took a straight path through the trees, until the smell of metal and gasoline touched my nostrils, at which point Tacita abruptly veered off, and it wasn't long before we halted before a deserted dirt road. A long black car was parked along the shoulder.
I felt a shiver of nerves—even if the road was out in the middle of nowhere, I didn't like feeling so near to civilization. Several times as I ran up through northern Colorado and through the desert of southern Wyoming, I had once again caught the scent of human on the wind. Though it had still burned my throat like a tongue of fire, I had been able to resist and keep going, perhaps because I wasn't in the mindset of a hunt. However, I still didn't like taking chances that way—I wanted to keep myself as far from any human as I could.
I couldn't smell anything from inside the car—its interior was completely closed up from the outside, including the air vents, and the windows were tinted black, so I couldn't see inside. However, I knew it wasn't humans in there—except perhaps one.
"Get in," said Tacita, coming to stand behind me.
I froze where I was, several feet back. Was Jules in that car? And if she was, being in such close quarters, would I be able to stop myself from attacking her?
"Get in," Tacita ordered again, and she took me roughly by the shoulder, pushing me forward.
I watched as Cato swiftly turned and went up to the driver's side door, in a moment disappearing inside. Then, reluctantly, I stepped forward. Tacita opened the door for me and, gritting my teeth and holding my breath, I climbed on in.
The interior was as luxurious as it appeared from the outside. The space between the fine leather front and back seats was generous, with a cooler set into one side in the broad open space between front and back seats, and because from the outside it vaguely resembled the car Edythe had gotten for me, I figured it must be a Mercedes, possibly with the tinted windows bullet or even missile-proof. It looked like the kind of car that might have been used by the drug cartel.
This took me about an eighteenth of a second to take in, before my eyes went to the occupants.
Cato was up in the driver's seat, of course, and there was another vampire sitting in the passenger's seat. A boy. I thought there was something about him that looked familiar—something from my dim human memories—but from this angle I couldn't tell. Sulpicia was, as I'd known she would be, seated at the very back, back perfectly straight and regal.
She was just as I remembered from our brief interaction in Volterra—her dark hair cascading in curtains around a face of oddly delicate, papery skin, crimson eyes misted over, her lips ever turned up in a soft, gentle smile. A small boy sat on the floor just in front of her, small hands clinging to the folds of her midnight black cloak, but as he seemed to curl in on himself as though trying to make himself invisible, the force of Sulpicia's presence overshadowed his, and it was impossible to pay him much mind.
However—it was the lanky figure laying motionless across the empty car floor in front of them that finally drew my eyes. Her rich russet skin contrasted sharply with that of everyone else in the vehicle, though at the moment it was chalky, almost gray. Her eyes were closed, and though I could make out no obvious injury, she didn't look well. I supposed even if they had been hurting her, it wouldn't show, as her natural healing would take care of it. Her breathing was shallow, her splayed limbs limp.
I could hear the steady beat of a heart, the rush of hot liquid through veins, and I felt venom fill my mouth. With a great difficulty, I wrenched my gaze away.
"Beau," said Sulpicia, and her voice was so warm and gracious she might have been welcoming an old friend. "I am so glad you are here. Come, sit down." She gestured generously to the seat directly beside her.
Warily, I did as she said. Tacita came in behind me, sitting on the far side with me separating her from Sulpicia. She was scowling fiercely, and not looking at all happy at the arrangements, but this must have been the way Sulpicia wanted it because she didn't try to protest.
The engine purred to life and soon we had set off down the road. I didn't speak, just sat rigidly in my seat, staring straight ahead. I didn't breathe, and refused to look down at the prone figure on the car floor in front of my feet. I could still hear her moist heartbeat, the rush of her blood through her veins. However, at the moment I was in complete control—I just had to make sure it stayed that way.
"It will help if you breathe," Sulpicia suggested pleasantly. "She may sound edible, but the smell—well, you may be a newborn, but I doubt even you will find one of her kind very appetizing."
I didn't answer. To answer, I would have to breathe in. I was silently appalled. Did she think this was a game? That I would be fine just experimenting with Jules's life?
"It will be difficult to carry on a conversation if you aren't breathing," Sulpicia added gently.
When I still didn't reply, she said, "I assure you, your friend will be in no danger from you. Her wellbeing is quite as important to us as it is to you, I would not put her at risk under any circumstances. But if it makes you feel better, Tacita will be on standby to take action, if necessary. I promise, even in close quarters, Tacita would have no trouble subduing you."
Her voice was still polite, but I read the threat behind them. Tacita would have no trouble subduing me if I stepped out of line no matter what the context.
"And," Sulpicia continued, "as added protection, we also have Brenden here. He could protect her from you in an instant, isn't that right, Brenden?"
"Yes, my lady," mumbled the vampire from the front passenger's seat.
My eyes shot upward and I stared. Brenden. I recognized that name. He had been that newborn in the clearing, the one Jonathan had almost killed, but had been saved because he possessed some ability Tacita thought might be useful. Now he was here, as one of Sulpicia's personal guard? He'd sure moved up in the ranks fast.
I turned my eyes away from him.
"I promise, there's no danger," Sulpicia said again, and though her voice was as gentle and polite as ever, I thought it sounded like her patience might already be wearing thin.
I carefully braced myself, concentrating, strengthening my resolve. Then I took a slow, shallow breath through my mouth.
Although I couldn't really smell anything, I could taste the air and, as Sulpicia had promised, I thought I tasted something unpleasant. Not appetizing, anyway.
It was enough that I chanced taking a quick breath through my nose. As Edythe had once told me, it was indeed uncomfortable being without a sense of smell.
Something seemed to sear up my nostrils like a tongue of flames—but nothing like the mouthwatering fragrance of human blood. Instead, the reek was hot, almost painful—there was nothing in my human life to compare it to, nothing that could begin to describe it. It was worse than an any animal I had ever smelled, worse than a festering corpse. I had to fight not to gag.
The others were watching me. The boy sitting at Sulpicia's feet, though still clinging to her cloak, had turned his head, and Brenden had turned around in his seat to stare at me with his bright crimson eyes. Even Tacita, though her head hadn't turned, was watching me out of the corner of her dark burgundy eyes. Sulpicia was smiling slightly.
I knew they were all waiting for some kind of reaction. I kept my teeth clenched together and the most they might have noticed was a slight tensing of my shoulders before I relaxed again. I breathed again, more slowly this time, and deeply.
I realized that I loved the horrid, absolutely repellent stench radiating from the form lying on the floor in front of us. Sulpicia was right, there was absolutely nothing even remotely appealing about the smell of that blood. And that would protect her. Even in the midst of a car full of vampires, she was safe—at least from someone accidentally losing control.
I breathed again deeply, savoring the burning, foul odor.
"Good," said Sulpicia, smiling. "You see, there is nothing to be afraid of."
I didn't answer, only gazed down at Jules, continuing to breathe.
"Now," said Sulpicia. "I suppose you must have many questions. Why you are here. Why this blackmail has been necessary—I will tell you."
I blinked. As a prisoner, I had been so little expecting an explanation of any kind it had been the furthest thing from my mind.
I forced the surprise from my expression, and I lifted my eyes to gaze back at her without emotion, unblinking.
Sulpicia reached out a hand toward me, as though to shake. When I didn't respond in kind, her hand reached forward, until her fingers lingered over where my clenched fist rested on my knee. Her delicate fingers were long and slender, each nail like the work of a manicure specialist.
"May I?" she asked.
I didn't answer, and she took that as an affirmative. Her hand moved down the final few inches and she pressed two fingers to the back of my hand. Like Edythe, her skin was no longer cold against mine, but the same temperature. However, even so, at her touch I felt an involuntary shudder down my spine.
I remembered what Edythe had said, about hoping to hear my mind after I changed. I knew she couldn't, but what about Sulpicia? Were all my thoughts pouring into her?
Several seconds passed. I noticed the atmosphere in the car had suddenly grown tense. Even Cato, who was not looking at me, was, I thought, gripping the steering wheel harder than necessary.
At last Sulpicia opened her eyes and withdrew her hand. "Still nothing," she pronounced. Her smile was wide, and everyone in the car seemed to relax. She said, "It seems that whatever mysterious power protects you did not develop any holes upon your transformation."
Once again, I didn't reply, but I was relieved. I didn't want Sulpicia to see all my thoughts. Especially those memories of what she had made me say to Edythe, which still burned in my mouth and lungs like acid.
As I stared back into her gently smiling face, I felt a sudden bitter wave of anger—I wondered if she found all this funny, toying with our lives like it was some kind of game.
Tacita must have sensed my hostility, because I felt her tense beside me.
I forced myself to relax. Getting in a fight with Tacita in here wasn't going to help Jules, or anyone else. My eyes dropped.
"Thank you for coming," Sulpicia said, just as she had at the beginning. "Perhaps it may not seem like it, but I am sorry all this was necessary. You see, Beau... we, the Volturi, and even the worlds of humans and vampires, need your help."
I stared straight ahead, out the windshield between the two front seats. Wondering what kind of elaborate story Sulpicia was going to try to weave for me to keep me doing what she wanted.
I'd had quite a bit of time to think on the run over. And, as tempting as it was to believe Sulpicia might be doing all this for her own amusement to alleviate centuries of boredom, I didn't really believe that. My impression of Sulpicia was that she was ruled by pragmatism, and she had to have a reason for going to these lengths, and the only thing I could think of was that maybe she was hoping to get some hold over Edythe and Archie. Was she planning to use me to get them to join her? Jules had been the leverage to get to me, now was I going to be the leverage to get to them?
"I am sure," Sulpicia continued, "that Edythe must have told you something of the events approximately sixty-three years ago."
It took me a second to slog through my human memories, but then I remembered. A conversation in the depths of the Volturi lair, as the Volturi guard feasted on the blood of humans.
I had to suppress another shudder, and I didn't reply.
"There was an uprising," Sulpicia said, "led by a vampire by the name of Josef von Weinrich. As a human, Weinrich held a high-ranking position in the Ministry of Propaganda in Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime, so his powerful and unique ability was perhaps fitting. Simply by making eye contact with another vampire, he was able to turn them, at least temporarily, into his mindless puppet—you might call it a form of mind control. His ambition knew no restraint, and he hoped he might use his power to destroy us, the Volturi, and take our place. With such a power, he might have succeeded, if not for the sacrifice of my brave little Mele."
Sulpicia was quiet for a long moment, her milky eyes distant.
I considered that. While Edythe had told me all that had taken place during World War II, I hadn't really thought of the events of the two worlds as actually connected. But the rebel leader's skills and aim for domination over the world had originated with his human life—it was a disorienting, unsettling thought.
At last, I spoke for the first time. "And what does that have to do with now?"
Sulpicia shifted her shoulders very slightly, in what might have passed for a shrug. "That rebellion has not been the only one. Over the centuries, many have risen to oppose us—I sometimes think if I were less merciful, if an encounter with us almost always meant death, whether the party was guilty or not, then perhaps there would be fewer inclined to get ideas of grandeur. But, I suppose speculating on such things has little bearing now."
She continued, "In any case, Josef von Weinrich was stopped back then. However, now a new threat has risen. Dante De Luca Salvatore—as you might guess, an Italian, as we are. He possesses a dangerous ability of his own, and has recently garnered many followers, collecting a few key allies with abilities that, brought together, represent a threat nearly as great as Weinrich over sixty years ago. We have been forced to abandon our stronghold in Volterra and flee, lest they come and annihilate us."
Sulpicia paused again, perhaps waiting for me to ask what power Dante De Luca Salvatore possessed. But the truth was, after everything Sulpicia had done to us, I realized I wasn't really sure I cared.
At last, Sulpicia went on, answering the question I didn't ask. "As it happens, Salvatore has the unpleasant power to look at someone, human or vampire, and see that individual's greatest weakness. That power has served him in ways you couldn't begin to guess, and his force has grown quickly. However, it's the two recruits that he's recently acquired that has turned him from an annoyance into what he is now. Still, I believe there may still be a chance—so long as we are able to assemble all the proper pieces on our side correctly."
She paused, and eyed me thoughtfully for a moment. "Tell me, Beau," she said suddenly. "As far as vampire abilities go, have you ever heard the term shield?"
I hesitated, then slowly shook my head once.
"I suppose no one has ever told you the formal classifications of extra talents associated with our kind." A hint of an ironic smile played at the corner of her lips. "Possibly because we, the Volturi, were the ones who created those classifications."
I was quiet, and finally my eyes traveled unwillingly to her face. This time, I couldn't entirely feign indifference—this was one subject I would have been interested in from a long time ago, if I had only known it existed. My freakish brain, on the wrong radio frequency.
"Of course," Sulpicia said, "there are so many abilities, many of them entirely unique. But we've found most fit into a few broad categories."
She smoothed out a crease in her cloak, glassy gaze staring straight ahead.
"First," she began, "the most common gift is tracking. The power to locate something that the user seeks, whether it be other vampires, prey, or even, in some rare cases, places or objects. The way the abilities work and how potent they are vary, but they all amount to essentially the same effect.
"Second, of course, are the offensive gifts—powers that allow incapacitation of an enemy in some way. For instance, the power to cause an enemy so much pain that he cannot move."
It was obvious who Sulpicia was talking about, and I didn't see a point in letting her beat around the bush. "Jonathan," I muttered.
Sulpicia continued to smile, but a dark look flickered in her misty eyes. "Yes," she said softly. "Like Jonathan. His is among the most intense I have ever seen. We would also consider his sister Alexa's power a type of offensive skill, too. You see, she can take away the senses of another vampire—not just one, but many at once. She makes it so they cannot see, hear, or feel—thereby rendering them absolutely helpless. She and Jonathan together have always been a lethal combination. They, together, can make it possible to destroy entire armies."
Memories of Jonathan flickered across my mind. Mostly one image stuck out in my mind—Edythe, writhing on a stone floor. My hands slowly closed, clenching hard into fists at my side.
Sulpicia went on. "Then there are vampires with gifts for gathering information—this class consists of mind-readers mainly. My own gift is the obvious example. Your Edythe is another—hers is particularly powerful, because it works over such a broad area, without the need for physical contact. Others possess mind-reading that is more specific—for instance, many believe Cato here to be a tracker, but in fact, his power is a form of mind-reading—he can see the locations of his chosen targets over vast distances through their own eyes. And of course, Salvatore is a mind reader of a kind, able to see the weaknesses of friends and foes alike. I would also probably classify the ability of Archie, of your coven, as one of information, though a rare outward gift of sight rather than one of the mind."
I didn't reply, only sat where I was.
"Of course," she continued, "there are also abilities like those of the leader of the last rebellion, who possess some power that allows them to, rather than gather information, or simply incapacitate an enemy, actively shape some part of the world around them. Josef was able to control other vampires. Jessamine, of your coven, has the power to influence physical emotion. Chariton—or so that was his original name—a former member of the Volturi guard, could influence emotional ties between people, breaking feelings of loyalty, or forging them."
I watched Sulpicia as I took this all in. It wasn't that hard to follow, at least not for my new quick vampire mind. But maybe that was why I was starting to get impatient for her to get to the point.
Sulpicia sighed slightly, leaning back in her seat, and as though sensing my feelings, said at last, "The fifth and final class of the major abilities are, of course, the shields. Shields are the antithesis to the offensive class, the defenders. Take Renatus—" She gestured to the boy sitting at her feet— "and Brenden here. Brenden, while his handle on his skill is still somewhat unstable for now, can form physical shields to either block an opponent's attack, or trap his opponent. Renatus, on the other hand, has a power a little more subtle—if he chooses, he can turn away anyone who would come near him or those around him by muddying their sense of direction. And there are other types of shields besides."
I considered that for a long moment. "So," I said at last, "you're saying there are five categories of gifts. And all the gifts you know of fall into one of those categories."
Sulpicia smiled like a teacher giving a difficult lesson to her brightest student. "Yes—although, not entirely. These categories are, of course, entirely arbitrary in some ways, and some gifts fail to fit very neatly into any of the categories, while some overlap and could be placed in more than one. Renatus's power, for example, is clearly a shield in terms of what it does, but because the power is actually a result of tampering with the mind, it might also fall within the fourth category. And, as of a little over half a century ago, I'm inclined to believe there to be a sixth category."
She knew she had my attention now, and I watched her with resentful interest.
"Back when Josef von Weinrich was at the height of his powers, I learned of a vampire with a very unique gift—and that was to utterly neutralize the effects of other vampire abilities, at least certain kinds. Riko Shimizu—that was her name—could break artificial links induced by powers that had an effect on the mind. In other words, if I could have convinced her to join our guard, she might have single-handedly stopped Von Weinrich."
Sulpicia's smile was rueful. "Unfortunately for us, it turned out Riko Shimizu's mate had been executed for a crime, for participating in the brutal territory wars that were going on in Japan back in the late seventeenth century. Consequently, she had been looking for an opportunity to have her vengeance on me. When I tried to find her, she fled from me, and in an act of vengeance sided with Josef von Weinrich against me. After we defeated him, and destroyed his armies, she escaped. I did not know where she was—not until recently."
I heard the foreboding in her tone, and I stared straight ahead. When she didn't immediately continue, I finally muttered, "What do you mean?"
Sulpicia sighed slightly, and though her mouth was still smiling, her eyes were sad and tired. "Riko Shimizu has found another rebellion to assist, I'm afraid. Her new ally used his power to see where we were weakest, and Riko used her gift to break the ties of two key members of our organization—Jonathan and Alexa. Now they have joined the enemy, and should they find us, we would be helpless before their powers."
Until now, I'd had no trouble keeping up. However, perhaps it was because my mind was working faster than it ever had before that I found myself voicing a question my old slow, human brain probably wouldn't have even thought to ask.
"But if she could only break artificial links..."
Sulpicia already knew where I was going and answered the question before I finished. "Indeed, Jonathan and Alexa's feelings of loyalty were not natural, but created by Chariton long ago. While the rest of the guard's commitment to our cause is genuine, I knew the possibility of Jonathan and Alexa leaving was too dangerous to leave to their own childlike, fickle loyalties—Chariton's power is extraordinarily long lasting, and so even though he left us approximately four hundred years ago, because of the long period of exposure the two had to his power over the centuries we were all together, they were still very much under his influence."
"Chariton left?" I said. My voice was quiet with suspicion—I wondered if left was really a euphemism for something else.
Sulpicia must have read my expression because the corners of her lips flickered in another smile. "Yes, he left. He tired of the strict, disciplined life we led, and he eventually asked if he and his mate might leave the Volturi, and seek a new life elsewhere."
"And you just let him go?" I said, disbelieving.
Sulpicia really did smile then. "I did. Of course, I asked him if he would leave his gift behind—after all, such a gift was a powerful tool for ensuring peace, and we the Volturi were in a position to utilize it in a way that he, as a roaming individual living for his own pursuits, could not. Chariton agreed—primarily because he realized that he would continue to be called back into service in times of crisis so long as he possessed a skill I found useful, and knew the only way to be truly free of the Volturi, and me, was to give it up."
Sulpicia's eyes glittered with quiet amusement. "And so, Mele took his gift, and gave it to someone else. From what I understand, he is going by the name Chester now, and is living quite happily. He occasionally sends me friendly greetings. The last I heard, he and his mate were traveling in South America."
"Who was it?" I asked in a low voice, still staring at the seat. "Who got the power?" My eyes flickered around the car, to the other guards. As far as I knew, they all already had abilities—even Tacita, who seemed to be some kind of fighting specialist, had some kind of close-range tracking ability, if I was remembering what Edythe had told me correctly. Perhaps Sulpicia had never said that a vampire couldn't possess two abilities, but I felt like it was implied, or else Sulpicia would surely possess more than her former mate's ability for herself.
Sulpicia shook her head. "For obvious reasons, it could not be given to just anyone. In the end, Mele passed it on to someone on whom I had ordered Chariton to use the power in the past, yet had willpower enough to still resent me deeply for that interference—but, that is a story unto itself."
Sulpicia let out a long, deep sigh. "In any case, you see where we are now. Jonathan and Alexa have been tempted away to join the enemy. Any army is helpless against those two—even one as experienced and well trained as ours. For millennia we the Volturi have maintained peace, kept the world from falling into one of chaos and excess. But it could all be about to fall apart."
My eyes had wandered away from her face again, to stare at the black leather of the seat at the front. I had to admit, it didn't sound good. But there was one thing about all this that still didn't make sense. One question Sulpicia had yet to answer.
"Why?" I asked quietly. "Why all this?"
I turned my gaze back to look at her. As I did, I saw my crimson eyes in the reflection of the tinted window behind her head. The hard face I saw staring at Sulpicia was a frightening one—cold, dangerous. "Taking my friend hostage, forcing me to lie to the person I care about most—why?"
Sulpicia gazed back into my furious face, her features perfectly serene, her misty eyes unfathomable. "I told you," she said softly, "I sought out Riko Shimizu, because she was of the sixth category, a vampire who could affect the gifts of other vampires—she would have had the power to stop that of Josef von Weinrich. We could have put him down with ease, and Mele would not have had to die."
Her hand gently reached out and touched mine. I flinched, but did not pull away—knowing that her touch did not take from me what it did from everyone else. That I was safe from her.
"You, too, are of the sixth category," she said softly. "You are a shield, yes, but a very special one—one who defends, not from physical attacks, but from the gifts of other vampires. Sixth-category vampires who can shield themselves from trackers are common, but yours is a power I have never seen. One that shields from all types of mental intrusion, no matter its category. Only with you, Beau, you and your power, may we have the chance to stand against the powers of Jonathan and Alexa. Stand against them, and destroy them, once and for all."
I stared back at her for a long minute. It was hard to believe that, all along, it wasn't Edythe or Archie she was after, but me. Plain, ordinary me with my thick skull. However—from the moment she started talking about Jonathan and Alexa, I'd already figured where she was going. That wasn't my question.
My expression unchanging, I said flatly, "Yeah, I get that much. You need my power to help you, or you hope it will. What I don't get—if you really wanted my help so much, why you put us through all this. You could have just explained all this from the start. Instead, you kidnapped my friend, and blackmailed me into lying to Edythe. How can I trust a thing you're saying? For all I know, you're just lying about everything, and the reason you had to get me away from Edythe is because she would have known it. After all this, why should I help you?"
Even as the tough words were leaving my mouth, I knew it was pointless. Whether Sulpicia was lying or not, as long as she held Jules in her power, I was helpless. I would have to do whatever she asked, no matter how much I might resent it.
I glared at the back of the seat again, waiting for her to smile, and gently remind me as much.
However, when she turned back to me, her misty eyes were almost surprised. "Why," she said softly, "I would have thought that part was obvious. Why these extraordinary lengths have been necessary."
I continued to glare for a minute, and when she didn't continue, my eyes flickered back to her. I finally muttered, "How's that?"
Sulpicia's expression was soft. "I could not get Riko to side with us because her mate was dead. You see, I have read into the depths of Edythe Cullen's mind, and I knew that, even if I were to have explained my reasons why I needed you, she would not have let you go. You must realize that. And so, very likely she would have gotten hurt trying to fight us—I did indeed force you to lie to her, break faith with her, and I was forced to use your wolf friend to give you adequate incentive to do so, but you must realize that this was the best way, the only way to ensure that she came to no physical harm.
"My way, we have no reason to harm her, and what is more, she will be safe from the fighting. You must understand, Beau, now that you are with us, your life is in as much peril as ours—that is why she would never have allowed you to come with us, and perhaps you might be glad that she is not with you now. Trust me, Beau, Edythe's wellbeing is quite as much a concern for us as for you. I would not have you lost to our cause in the same manner as Riko Shimizu."
I was silent. I turned my eyes back to staring straight ahead. Things were starting to almost make sense, and Sulpicia was right—if I was going to be getting involved in a war, then I was glad of anything that kept Edythe away. Still, I had trouble believing I would ever be able to forgive Sulpicia for any of this. Maybe Sulpicia was trying to do something good, keep the world from falling apart—but I couldn't help but compare her to Edythe, who had told me back when Victor had been coming for them that they wouldn't drink human blood, even if it gave them an edge—because they wouldn't compromise who they were. Sulpicia was of a different cloth. She had absolutely no qualms about manipulating whoever she had to in order to achieve her goals.
There were a lot of things I could have said, could have asked. However, at last, I only said in a low voice, "How do you know? How do you know I'll be able to protect anyone else besides me? I might not even have the power you want."
Sulpicia nodded, and now it was her staring straight ahead, focused on the future. "That is what we are going to find out. We are headed north—we are going to meet with a former member of the Volturi guard, and another member of her new coven, who are going to help train you to use your power, and determine if you can use it in a way that will be useful to us. We should all very much hope so—if not, then all is lost. You are our only hope now."
This was a dire pronouncement, and I chose not to respond. Instead, my eyes slightly narrowed as I stared out the front windshield, I only asked, "Where north?"
Sulpicia smiled. "Quite a ways. Where the weather is so cold, the humans find it unpleasant. It will take us a few days to reach the meeting point—the two I have called will be there, waiting for us. Perhaps you've already met them."
Her smile widened, and without meaning to, I found myself staring back into her darkly misted, unfathomable eyes. She said softly, "I do hope, Beau, you'll like Alaska."
Again I'll admit often these types of chapters aren't my favorite in books, but in the end I enjoyed working on this one. As far as I know the different types of categories of vampire gifts were never fully explored in canon, so I liked getting the chance to try to flesh out one approach. (I picture Sulpicia's system as slightly different from the hints we get of Aro's.) It was also important to fill in some of the gaps on Sulpicia's motivations for events a few chapters back.
Next chapter has been one of my favorites for this project, so I'm excited to finally get here. We'll see how it goes, wish me luck. :j (Also as a reminder, email notifications for pms are still turned off site-wide, so the only way to check for messags is to go into the account. I hope they'll turn it back on eventually, but I'm not sure how hopeful to be at this point.)
As always—thank you all so much for your thoughts and comments so far, it really means a lot. If you have a moment, let me know how you felt this time around, and hope to see you next time!