Murder of Crows Page 15

“I understand.” Burke’s knuckles were white. “What if the people refuse to leave? Some of those families have lived on the farms or in that hamlet for generations.”

“Then they should have known what would happen when they attacked the Crows,” Simon snarled.

“Where are those people supposed to go?” Monty asked, echoing Burke’s question.

“The terra indigene leaders on the West Coast and in the Northwest are very angry,” Henry said. “They don’t care where the Jerzy humans go.”

“There is growing unrest in parts of Thaisia, as well as some other places in the world. Evicting the population of an entire hamlet will lend fuel to the Humans First and Last movement,” Burke said.

Simon linked his fingers, placed his folded hands on the table, and leaned forward—an exact mirror of Burke’s position.

“Namid did not make you from the earth and water of Thaisia. You came to this land from Afrikah and Cel-Romano and Tokhar-Chin and Felidae and the other places where the world made your kind. What you do in your pieces of the world is your concern—until what you do touches us and what is ours. But here? How much of Thaisia we share with you is our choice. We learn from other predators. We always have. We’ve learned enough from you that the terra indigene in Thaisia don’t need you anymore. You shouldn’t forget that.”

Burke’s face was white, but his voice remained steady. “I didn’t come here to fight, Mr. Wolfgard.”

Simon sat back and unlinked his fingers. “Nor did I.”

Monty stared at Simon’s hands. Had he actually seen the fingers resume a more human shape?

No one spoke. Then Vlad stirred. “Did you know that the islands that comprise the western Storm Islands used to be a single body of land that linked Thaisia to Felidae?”

“No, I didn’t know that,” Monty said. “What happened to it?”

“The humans who lived there began a war with the terra indigene. They had been given part of that land as a human cradle. They wanted it all. Now they have less. And every year, the storms sweep in and remind them of why they have less.”

“Warn your friend,” Simon said, watching Burke. “Jerzy isn’t the first human place that was reclaimed by the terra indigene. It won’t be the last. If humans on the West Coast try to stir up more trouble, your friend might want to find another place to live.” He hesitated, then added, “There’s nothing I can do about the West Coast. But I would like Lakeside to survive whatever is coming.”

“You think there’s going to be a fight?” Burke asked.

“Don’t you?”

“Not today.” Burke pushed his chair back and stood. “And not here. I thank you all for your time.”

Monty rose and hoped his legs held. The Others also rose.

“Tell this Roger to travel to Lakeside as soon as he can,” Simon said.

Burke nodded and walked out of the room.

Monty hesitated. “Has Ms. Corbyn recovered from Moonsday?”

Simon grunted. Vlad laughed. Henry said, “She is fine. Tomorrow she and the other girls will attend the Quiet Mind class that was canceled this evening.”

“How can anything be quiet with the way those females chatter?” Simon grumbled.

The anger and tension that had been in the room had been shaken off by the Others, like water shaken off fur.

Not their fight, Monty thought. Not yet. The Others weren’t going to forget about the men who had tried to kill the Crows. They had known—or Meg had known—about the body parts in jars, and they weren’t going to forget that either.

He bid the Others a good evening and joined Burke. Quickly donning their overcoats and boots, the two men hurried to the car. Relieved that the windows were clear of snow, Monty got in and waited for Burke to start the car. But Burke put the key in the ignition and then just stared out the window.

“Your opinion, Lieutenant?”

“Sir?”

“If the word ‘Intuits’ was suddenly being bandied about, for whatever reason, what do you think would happen?”

Monty thought for a moment, selecting his words carefully. “I think a freak tornado would appear soon afterward and destroy the Chestnut Street Police Station and everyone inside.”

Burke started the car. “Yeah. That’s what I think too.”

Vlad left the consulate minutes after Burke and Montgomery drove away from the Courtyard. He claimed he was going back to Howling Good Reads to make sure the store was closed up properly. Simon thought it was more likely that Vlad wanted to claim a couple of the new thrillers before putting the rest of the copies on display tomorrow.

Simon, on the other hand, made no move to leave the meeting room. He had still been chewing on the information that had come from the West Coast when he walked into this meeting. Now he studied Henry. “Why did you tell the police about the Intuits? They hide among the terra indigene to escape from the humans who hate them.”

Henry nodded. “Long ago, they were hated for their abilities. It would be good to know if they still are.”

He thought about that. “The West Coast leaders are going to offer the Jerzy land to the Intuits?”

Henry nodded. “It benefits both sides to have some humans living in Jerzy. Some Intuits from several settlements wanted a chance to relocate, and the terra indigene agreed to let them try running the businesses and dealing with the other kind of humans who would pass through the hamlet. They won’t be hidden in the same way as the settlements located deep in the wild country, but the Intuits on Great Island have successfully hidden in plain sight for many generations.”

The Intuits might be human, but their instincts were, in some ways, closer to those of the terra indigene. And their ability to sense things before something happened? How did that compare with Meg’s ability to speak prophecy? “I wonder if the Intuits know anything about cassandra sangue.”

“When you escort this Roger to Great Island, you should ask them.”

CHAPTER 10

“Phineas Jones is here to see you.”

The Controller gathered up the papers on his desk, put them in a folder, and put the folder in the bottom desk drawer before he said, “Send him in.”

Phineas Jones was a short man with sandy hair, faded blue eyes, and a sweet smile. He wore an off-the-rack suit with a waistcoat that was a little tight over his rounded belly and one of the bow ties that were his trademark. He looked like he belonged in a sepia print, a photograph of someone who lived a few generations ago. And that was one of his major assets: Phineas Jones looked quaint and harmless. His abilities as a mesmerizer made him the most successful procurer of blood prophets in all of Thaisia.

For more than twenty years, Jones had talked parents into giving up a troubled girl for her own good, and by the time the family realized the contact information they had was bogus and they had no idea where their daughter had gone, Jones had packed up and moved on. And the girl ended up in a compound in some other part of Thaisia.

Even if a family wasn’t willing to give up a child, Jones sold the information about the family’s location and habits, making a straightforward abduction that much easier.

The Controller didn’t like Jones and certainly didn’t trust him. But they’d done business on occasion. After all, families who carried the cassandra sangue bloodline could be difficult to ferret out—until the girl began cutting and called too much attention to herself.

“I was surprised to hear from you,” Jones said as he settled in the visitor’s chair. “It’s my understanding that you’ve been running a successful breeding program and would have little use for my services.”

“Even the best breeding program benefits from new stock now and then,” the Controller replied.

“Is that what you’re looking for? New stock? Or perhaps a reacquisition of previously owned property?”

So Jones had heard about cs759’s escape and the failure to reacquire her. “New stock. Doesn’t have to be prime grade.”

“My, my. That wasn’t what I expected. Several other gentlemen are looking to acquire new stock. It seems a number of girls have become unreliable all of a sudden. But those men are all looking for the best that’s out there.”

“I already have the best,” the Controller replied. “What I’m looking for is variety.”

Jones thought for a moment. “I think I’ll poke about in the eastern part of Thaisia. Haven’t been there in a while. I’ve made some excellent finds in some of the sleepy hamlets in the Southeast Region.” Then he smiled that sweet smile. “Although with spring so close, the Northeast will be coming into bloom. And I recall there was an incident near Lake Etu last summer. Something about a girl drowning in the river?” He gave the Controller an expectant look.

“I don’t recall hearing anything.”

“Could be nothing. Accidental drownings happen all the time.”

Of course, if it hadn’t been an accident, if the girl had jumped into the river to escape the visions she didn’t understand … Families that had blood prophets either hid among normal humans in solitary fear or gathered together. So a blood prophet in one family could lead to other girls living in the same area who were also cassandra sangue.

“Fine,” the Controller said. “Go east. See what you can find. I assume you’re splitting your expenses among all your potential buyers?”

“For the most part,” Jones replied. “Expenses for obtaining a particular girl for a private acquisition would be paid by the buyer.”

“Of course.” He considered a moment. “Some trouble will be stirring around Lake Etu. Just something to be aware of when you’re traveling.”

“Trouble tends to stir the pot and bring what is hidden to the surface.” Jones stood and tugged his jacket into place. “Well. I must be off. I’ll call you when I have a potential delivery.”

The Controller watched the man leave the office. He had sent trained fighters to the Lakeside Courtyard to reacquire Meg Corbyn. They had failed. More than failed. Perhaps Phineas Jones’s quaint looks and mesmeric abilities could do what guns and explosives could not.

Jean pulled the broken needle out of the seam of her slipper. It wasn’t much to work with, but she’d taken it while the Walking Names were distracted by another girl having a fit of hysterics.

No water in the girls’ cells. Nothing but a bedpan if a girl couldn’t wait for her turn to be taken to the toilet. And with the Walking Names preoccupied by what might be happening outside the compound, they weren’t following the schedule as diligently as usual, especially now that some of the girls had seen things so terrible even the euphoria hadn’t shielded them completely from the horror.

She knew about terrible things and horror. The wounds that were inflicted on her to harvest her blood produced visions too. But they gagged her because they wanted her pain, so she saw the terrible without anything to shield her mind.

She didn’t know if she was halfway crazy or all the way crazy now. Her mind worked. What she overheard, she understood, and she overheard plenty because the Walking Names no longer paid attention to her presence and talked about the other girls they had to deal with—girls who were breaking down mentally because of what they had seen.

Girls talked about cities in ruins, about fields burning, about people killing each other for the last bags of food in a store, about corpses damming a stream that provided the drinking water for a village. They talked about glass jars full of smoke, and a community swimming pool full of severed heads. For the past few days, it didn’t matter what the client asked about, whether it was business or politics or the best time to plant crops. The questions didn’t matter because all the girls were seeing things too terrible to forget.

She’d seen those things too, but the streets and buildings she saw didn’t match any of the training images for cities or towns in Thaisia, and the street signs were in a language she didn’t recognize.

The Controller and other men like him had set something in motion. They thought prophecies would help them control the world and everything in it. They hadn’t considered that they wouldn’t be able to control how people felt.

The Others weren’t anything close to human, but they had feelings too. They had lots of feelings.

Jean wet a spot on her nightie’s hem, then rubbed the needle clean as best she could. Pricking the skin deep enough to draw blood wouldn’t give her enough, but a scratch made by a needle would draw attention because the Walking Names would know it wasn’t caused by a razor or a beating.

There was one place they wouldn’t think to look.

Hooking the side of her mouth with one finger, she put the needle in her mouth and dragged the point along the lower left-hand side of her gum. As the blood welled up, she wiped off the needle and carefully put it back in the slipper, fighting against the building pain and the need to speak. As long as she didn’t speak, she would remember the visions, remember the prophecy. But without spoken words, there would be terrible pain instead of the euphoria.

The Walking Names. The ones who touched me today. What is going to happen to them?

She swallowed the blood and the pain … and saw the first visions of the prophecy.

Too much. Too terrible.

She grabbed her pillow and covered her face. Then she whispered, describing the images to no one. Euphoria rolled through her body as she spoke, replacing the pain and clouding the images as she described them.

When the prophecy ended, Jean lowered the pillow.

What she’d seen. It was coming here. Maybe not all of it, but enough.

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