Murder of Crows Page 10

“If any of the Crowgard saw what happened, I’d appreciate the opportunity to talk to them.”

“Come by the bookstore in an hour,” Simon said. Fur suddenly covered his chest, brushing against the T-shirt he was wearing under a flannel shirt.

Injured prey. Fresh blood. He didn’t want to be in this monkey skin a minute longer, but if he shifted to Wolf …

“I have to go.” He walked away from Montgomery and got in the van. <Vlad?>

The Sanguinati didn’t answer—and there was no sign of him on the street.

Meg heard the Crows cawing and felt the awful prickling under her skin start to fade. She sighed with relief, then gave Nathan a tentative smile. “I’m sorry I tried to step on your foot. You were just looking out for me, and I wasn’t being nice.”

He stared at her with those amber Wolf eyes.

“Would you like a cookie?” Some of the Wolves had decided they liked a cookie that was actually a treat for dogs. They also claimed cookies they bought themselves didn’t taste as good as cookies they got from her. She suspected the taste didn’t change, but the fun of getting the cookies came from pestering her to pull out the boxes of different flavors and persuade the Wolf to choose two cookies.

Nathan stared at her.

“Two cookies?”

He stared at her.

“Three, and that’s my final offer.”

“Arrroooo.”

She took one cookie from each box. Nope. Too easy. So they went round and round until she correctly deciphered his sounds and the way he thumped the boxes with a paw and gave him three beef-flavored cookies. Which he didn’t take to the Wolf bed in the front room as he usually did. No, he sprawled in the most inconvenient spot in the sorting room so that she would spend the morning stepping over him or walking around him. And, oh, how he would howl if she accidentally stepped on him.

Wolves, she was learning, were sneaky when it came to payback.

She made a cup of peppermint tea and finally felt easy again, the prickling in her arms completely gone.

Then Nyx walked into the sorting room.

Vlad flowed just above the snow, searching for signs of the men who had been in the car. In smoke form, the Sanguinati were swift predators. But only when they had some idea of where to find their prey.

Stopping near a tree, he shifted to human form and looked around. If anyone noticed him, they would see a handsome man with an olive complexion and dark hair and eyes, dressed in a black turtleneck, black jeans, and chunky shoes that served as boots. As for what he was seeing …

Unfamiliar streets. Lakeside was a moderate-size city, and it occurred to him now how little of it the Others actually knew. He’d gotten an address from the car registration he’d found in the abandoned vehicle’s glove box, and he’d headed in the same direction as the fresh tire tracks, assuming they had come from the other car that had killed the crows. But the chase had taken him to a street that wasn’t in the neighborhoods surrounding the Courtyard or along a route the Others used to reach the things in the city that were of interest to them, like the nearby plaza or the railway station.

Foolish to go chasing blindly after the men who had tried to kill the Crows. He’d go back to HGR and study a city map, find the street, and then do some hunting tonight.

<Vladimir.>

Vlad tensed at the sound of Erebus Sanguinati’s voice. <Grandfather?>

<Return to the Courtyard now.>

<Has something else happened?>

<Our Meg is upset. You must return.>

<Meg was already upset when I left with Simon and Blair. Why—>

<Everyone else is accounted for, so you are the reason the sweet blood still begs for the razor despite having bled.>

She promised me she wouldn’t cut, Vlad thought grimly as he shifted to smoke and headed back to the Courtyard. Meg had promised not to cut, and she’d been guarded by Nathan and … <Nyx?>

A hesitation before she replied. <Come home as fast as you can. There is something the Sanguinati need to discuss. Henry has summoned the Wolfgard. He’s needed here too.>

A chill went through Vlad. What kind of danger had Meg seen that would threaten the Sanguinati? Or, since Simon was also called back to the Courtyard, was the danger to more than one kind of terra indigene?

Since the answer was in the Courtyard, he used all the speed he had in this form to reach his people.

<Simon, get back to the Courtyard. There’s a potential conflict among the terra indigene.>

Simon growled. When Blair glanced at him, he said, “It’s Henry.” <Trouble because of the Crows?> he asked the Grizzly.

<Conflict between Wolves and the Sanguinati.>

With trouble brewing among the humans, this wasn’t the time for two of the strongest groups of predators to be snarling at each other.

“Get us back home,” he told Blair, his voice grim. He looked over his shoulder at Jenni, Starr, and Julia. None of them had shifted to human form.

As they pulled into the Main Street entrance that serviced the Liaison’s Office, the consulate, and the Market Square, Simon looked in the office window and saw John Wolfgard in human form, leaning against the front counter and chatting with Meg.

<Why aren’t you at the bookstore?> Simon asked the other Wolf.

<Henry told me to stay with Meg,> John replied.

<Where’s Nathan?>

No answer.

Blair parked the van close to the back entrance of Howling Good Reads. Leaving his enforcer to deal with Julia, Starr, and Jenni, Simon hurried into the store and up the stairs to the Business Association’s meeting room. Along with its entryway and coatroom, the meeting room filled half of HGR’s second floor and held a ring of wooden chairs set around a low, round sectional table where they sat to talk over Courtyard business. It also had a secretary desk, filing cabinets, and a computer workstation they used for e-mail or placing orders with human companies.

All the terra indigene who were present were in human form, and there weren’t as many of them as there were sometimes for a business meeting. But everyone was standing and the room felt too crowded, especially with Erebus present and flanked by two male Sanguinati as well as Nyx. Tess stood between the Sanguinati and Nathan, and her hair was completely red and coiling—a sure sign of anger. Even worse, Henry wasn’t adjusting his hands to eliminate the Grizzly claws.

Trapped in the small space behind Henry and Tess, Nathan paced and panted, despite being in human form.

“What’s going on?” Simon demanded, moving around the low table and the surrounding chairs until he stood closer to Henry than to Erebus.

“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Tess replied, watching the Sanguinati.

“This one bit the sweet blood.” Erebus pointed a finger at Nathan.

“I did not bite Meg!” Nathan gave Simon a pleading look. “I was just trying to hold on to her while she was fighting with Nyx, and my teeth slipped.”

Before Simon could demand an explanation from Nyx, Vlad arrived, followed by Blair. Blair immediately took a position where he could help defend Simon and Nathan. Vlad carefully took a position between the two groups, not committing himself to either side. That earned him a cold look from Erebus, but Simon felt relieved. Not only did he and Vlad work together at HGR; they were neighbors in the Green Complex.

“Nyx?” Vlad said quietly. “You were at the Liaison’s Office helping Nathan guard Meg. Did he bite her?”

After giving Vlad a long stare, Nyx sighed and looked at Erebus. “It wasn’t Nathan’s fault. When I walked into the sorting room, Meg started screaming. There wasn’t any warning or sign of danger. When she pulled the razor out of her pocket, I grabbed her wrists so she couldn’t cut herself. But she kept screaming and struggling …”

“What was she screaming?” Blair asked.

“That’s not important yet,” Simon said. “Is it, Nyx?”

“No, it isn’t. Not now when …” She glanced at Vlad before continuing. “Nathan grabbed one of Meg’s ankles to hold her, and she jerked her leg away from him. That’s when his teeth—a tooth—scraped her through her sock. We didn’t realize anything had changed until she stopped struggling and …” Nyx hesitated.

“She started smelling lusty,” Nathan said.

Simon snarled, and his canines lengthened as he turned toward the Wolf he had trusted to guard Meg.

“I wasn’t trying to smell her,” Nathan protested.

“She stopped struggling and started saying the same things over and over,” Nyx said. “Glass jar. Smoke. Pickles. Hand.”

Erebus hissed. The sudden rage filling his old-man face made it terrible to see. As a friendly warning, Vlad had hinted a few times over the years that Erebus ruled more than the Sanguinati in the Lakeside Courtyard. Was, in fact, the dominant vampire in more than the Northeast Region.

For all Simon knew, Erebus could be the one giving orders to every Sanguinati on the whole continent of Thaisia.

“That’s all Meg saw?” Vlad asked, sounding puzzled.

“She saw enough,” Erebus snarled.

“Wait a minute,” Tess said. “I read this. It’s a horror story written by one of the terra indigene, I think. A Sanguinati goes out hunting one night in his smoke form. As he closes in on his prey, the human swipes at the smoke, traps some of it in a glass jar, and manages to run away. When the Sanguinati shifts back to human form, the smoke in the jar turns into a hand—the same hand the Sanguinati is now missing.”

“A truth and a warning hidden as a story,” Erebus said.

Everyone froze.

“That’s possible?” Simon said, turning toward Vlad, who looked shocked.

Vlad swallowed hard. “A horror novel published last month and written by a human had a similar storyline. I didn’t mention the book to any of you because I didn’t think such a thing was possible.”

“It is possible.” Erebus stared at Vlad. “You will give me the name of that human.”

“If the human dies suddenly, it will give weight to the story,” Simon said.

“You will give me the name of that human,” Erebus said again.

Simon looked at Vlad and nodded. The terra indigene who lived in the Courtyards were always at risk from the humans they watched. If the human who wrote the story knew this was an effective way to harm Sanguinati, he had gotten the information from somewhere or someone. Even if he made it up, there would be humans foolish enough to try to capture a vampire in a jar just to see if it could be done. And if even one human was successful … “Vlad and I will look for other books with similar stories—especially anything written by humans.”

“Why now?” Tess asked. “Why are stories about trapping Sanguinati being published now?”

“There have always been such stories,” Erebus said. “We will deal with this as we have done in the past.”

“How is that?” Simon asked.

“By giving humans a reason to tell a different kind of story.” Erebus looked at Nathan. “As for the Wolf …”

“My decision,” Simon said. “And Meg’s. If she wants Nathan to remain as the office’s watch Wolf, then he’ll remain.” He met Erebus’s eyes, refusing to back down. Erebus might be the leader of all the Sanguinati in this part of Thaisia, but he was the leader of this Courtyard.

“Yes,” Erebus finally said. “I will accept your decision.”

More truthful, Erebus felt a mix of wariness and affection for Meg, so he would abide by her decision.

“In that case, Lieutenant Montgomery will be here soon to talk to Jenni, Starr, and Julia about what they saw when the humans ran over the crows on the baited street. I’ll talk to Meg.” Simon took a step toward the door, then stopped. “And everyone in this room is going to think about why Meg went crazy twice in one morning!”

“She did not go crazy, Simon,” Henry growled.

“She was grabbing for the razor when she was already out of control,” Simon growled in return. “What do you call it?”

Not waiting for an answer, he strode out of the room, then rushed to the Liaison’s Office. John and Meg were in the sorting room. When Simon walked in, she bristled and said, “It wasn’t Nathan’s fault.”

“Go back to work,” Simon told John. He waited for the other Wolf to leave, then took a position on the opposite side of the sorting table from Meg. It occurred to him that they often had the table between them when they had something to discuss.

How many other terra indigene instinctively did the same thing in order to avoid touching her skin during a potential argument?

When Simon was sure they were alone, he said, “Let’s see the wound.”

“It’s not a wound. It’s barely a scratch.” Meg sounded snappish in the way of many small creatures when they were cornered and tried to sound threatening.

“It bled,” he snapped in return, showing teeth that were a little too long to be human. “It bled enough for you to slip into speaking prophecy, so let me see the wound.”

“Well, you can’t see it when you’re standing over there.” Snappish. Defensive. Scared.

Why scared? He wouldn’t hurt her. Okay, he used to threaten to eat her because she annoyed and confused him so much, but that was before she almost died leading the enemy away from Sam. Besides, he’d sensed from the very beginning that she was not prey and, therefore, not edible.

As he walked around the table, she put her right foot on the top step of the step stool she used to reach the higher mail slots in the sorting room’s back wall. She pushed down her sock.

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