Murder of Crows Page 29

But it was the old man with her who held Monty’s attention. His hands were knobby and veined, with thickened nails that looked more like horn. Like the woman’s gown, his clothes looked old-fashioned, but there was a smudged quality to the edges that made Monty wonder if the garments were actually made of cloth.

“Mr. Erebus,” Meg said, sounding surprised and pleased.

He smiled at Meg, a benign old man. “How is our Meg today?”

Something crawled down Monty’s back, something more primitive than fear. He was sure the slight accent was an affectation. It reminded him too much of the villains in the movies he used to watch as a boy for him to believe it was genuine. And it made him wonder what the voice might reveal without that affectation.

“I’m fine,” she replied, smiling at the old man.

“She needs to take it easy for a few more days so she heals properly,” Simon said. “No lifting mailbags or heavy packages. Right?” He aimed the last word at Dr. Lorenzo.

“I’ll be better able to judge after I examine the cut, but there’s no harm in being careful,” Lorenzo replied.

“Grandfather,” Vlad said, “this is Lieutenant Crispin James Montgomery and Dr. Dominic Lorenzo. Gentlemen, this is Erebus Sanguinati.”

Tess was the only one in the room who didn’t seem wary of Erebus, but her hair had changed from brown and wavy to green and curling with red streaks.

As the Sanguinati took their seats around the table, the door opened and four women walked in.

Monty recognized two of them. They had created the blizzard that could have buried Lakeside. Seeing them now, Monty didn’t need to be told that the outcome of this meeting could have terrible repercussions.

Simon nodded to the four women, then addressed the humans in the room. “This is Water, Air, Spring, and Winter.”

Lorenzo gave Monty a startled look, as if asking, Really?

Monty moved his head in the barest nod. Yes, really. The Elementals were sitting in on this meeting. Were the shifters and vampires feeling as uncomfortable as the humans were because of these additional attendees? After all, a blizzard could kill Wolves as well as humans.

Finally Simon looked at Vlad. “Do you have that list from the prophecy?”

Vlad handed Simon a manila envelope. “That’s everything.”

Simon opened the envelope, pulled out a sheet of paper, and set it on the table in front of Meg. “This is what I could remember of what you said. I think there was more, but …” He stopped and just watched Meg.

“There were more images,” Meg whispered. “I almost … remember.”

The fingers of her right hand moved restlessly up and down her thigh, digging into the jeans as if trying to reach the skin. The fingers of her left hand were digging into her right forearm. When her left hand reached for her torso, the fingers a claw of tense muscles, Lorenzo made a wordless protest. Simon caught her hand and said, “No, Meg.”

Tess went to one of the desks in the room and came back with a pad of paper and a pen. Leaning forward to catch Meg’s attention, she said, “Speak, prophet, and we will listen.”

Command and promise. Monty wasn’t sure if Tess was mesmerizing Meg or if it was the phrase itself, but after staring at Tess for a long moment, Meg focused on the paper with its list of words.

Her left hand reached for her right forearm again. Simon released her but looked ready to grab her at the first sign she might dig into the cut that was healing or do some other harm to herself.

Meg leaned forward and touched the paper, her fingers moving between the words “fin” and “smiling shark.”

“Donkey,” she said, sounding oddly tranquil while her brow furrowed in concentration. “Not donkey but like donkey.”

While Tess wrote down the words, Monty reached in his pocket for his own notebook and pen, then glanced at Simon for permission. Receiving a brusque nod of consent, he too wrote down the words.

“Car,” Meg said. “Sunrise. Car. Sunset. Geese and suitcases.” Her fingers moved down the list. “Fog. Water. Hide the children. Shark.” She stopped scratching at her arm long enough to brush her fingers over her left cheek. “Broken jars. Lumpy smoke. Scars.”

Monty shivered. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the slight tremor in Lorenzo’s hands. They had both seen the crime scene photos that had been sent from Talulah Falls before all communication was severed. Meg’s words were a vague but accurate description of what had been found in that basement in the Falls.

“Anything else?” Tess asked.

Meg stared at the list. “People-shaped cookies driving a boat.” Her hands relaxed. She blinked a couple of times, then looked apologetic. “That’s all I remember. I don’t know what any of it means.”

“Figuring out what it means is our part of the job, not yours,” Tess said briskly.

Simon rested a hand on Meg’s back. “You want anything?”

“Water,” Meg replied. “I’m thirsty.”

“I would recommend some fruit juice as well,” Dr. Lorenzo said, studying Meg.

“I’ll get it,” Elliot said. “Is the back door to A Little Bite open?”

Tess nodded, her attention on her list. “What’s a donkey but not a donkey?”

“Horse, mule, ass,” Blair said. “All good to eat.”

“But none of those animals have fins,” Monty said.

“No, they don’t.” Meg seemed to shrink into herself. Then she winced.

Simon gave Monty a warning look that clearly meant Don’t upset Meg.

A glance at the Elementals and Sanguinati who were between him and the door told Monty it wasn’t the Wolves he needed to fear right now.

“It’s all about images,” Simon said. “The images you see can have a different meaning when combined in different ways, right?”

Meg nodded.

“You mentioned cars this time,” Henry said. “Maybe there is a fin or a donkey painted on the car.”

“Sunrise and sunset,” Blair said. “East and west.”

“Someone traveling?” Tess said. “Coming from the west and heading east?”

“And traveling … Meg, do you remember which way the geese were flying?”

Meg closed her eyes. “North.”

“Something you see as a shark is traveling east and north,” Simon said.

“But a shark wouldn’t be driving a car!” Meg protested. Then she looked at the Others. “A shark wouldn’t, would he?”

Henry shrugged. “It’s not likely any of the Sharkgard would be around here since there isn’t the right kind of water to accommodate them shifting out of human form. But if you’re seeing a shark to indicate a predator that’s headed our way and is a threat to children …”

Wondering if this was how prophecies were usually extracted from the visions seen by cassandra sangue, Monty continued writing his notes. He would have to pull them together in an orderly fashion while this meeting was still fresh in his mind—and he would have to receive Wolfgard’s permission to distribute this information in case the Others’ interpretation about a threat to children was correct.

“Fog and water hide the children,” Tess said, looking at the four women who had remained near the door, listening.

“Fog needs to rest a while,” Water said. “He has worked hard the past few days.”

Spring looked at Air and Winter. “Fog is not the only way to discourage travelers.”

There was something too alien about the Elementals to pass for human. It was more than the shape of the face and the look in their eyes. It was the sense that their connection to a tangible shape was tenuous at best—and they liked it that way.

“Yes,” Winter said. “We can let Fog rest for a day or two. Thunder and Lightning would enjoy a run.”

“So would Cyclone,” Water said. “And Whirlpool is here with us now.”

Monty shuddered. Lakeside was still recovering from the last storm. He didn’t want to think about what another one would do to the area.

“Won’t the flowers die if you summon a storm?” Meg asked, sounding worried.

The Elementals stared at her. Then Spring smiled, and the air in the room became warmer and fragrant. “A thin blanket of snow won’t harm what blooms in this part of my season. And wind cleans away the old to make way for the new.”

“And I’ll keep Cyclone and Whirlpool to the river,” Water said.

“We can fly with the storm at night, and let the Crows, Hawks, and humans on Great Island keep watch for the enemy during daylight hours,” Winter said.

Meg smiled. “That would be good. And then the cookies can drive the … Mr. Ferryman! He was going to talk to people in his village about making Wolf cookies.”

“Sounds like a container or two are heading our way,” Simon said.

“That leaves the scars and smoke,” Tess said. Black streaks suddenly appeared in her hair as she looked at Erebus Sanguinati, who returned her look.

“One of the Sanguinati died, didn’t he?” Meg said. Tears shimmered in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Mr. Erebus. Maybe if I’d made the cut sooner, I could have—”

“No.” Erebus looked uneasy. “The sweet blood is both wondrous and terrible. It should not be shed lightly.”

“But it has to be shed,” she whispered.

“That is something for you to discuss with Simon,” Erebus said gently. Then he added reluctantly, “And with the human bodywalker.”

Lorenzo sucked in a breath, but that was the only indication he gave that he now understood how closely the Sanguinati watched Meg Corbyn.

Simon picked up the envelope again. He pulled out the photo and set it on the table. When Meg paled, he put an arm around her.

“Her designation was cs783,” Meg said.

“What was her name?” Simon asked.

“She didn’t have one. Didn’t want one. She … she wasn’t like Jean and me. She wanted someone to take care of her and she wanted to feel the euphoria when she was cut. That’s all she wanted. She liked being kept in the compound.” Meg shuddered. “Outside was nothing but the images she had to learn to describe the visions.”

“So she didn’t run away like you did?”

Meg shook her head.

No one spoke. No one moved. The Others waited with eerie patience.

“The Controller must have sold her,” Meg finally said. “Or sent her away for some reason.”

“You can guess the reason,” Simon said.

“She wasn’t … The Walking Names weren’t always careful about what they said around us. I heard them once when they were evaluating some of the girls. They said cs783’s prophecies were accurate but lacked range. She couldn’t see prophecies the way Jean can.”

“Or the way you can?”

Wolfgard was circling around what they had all originally come to discuss.

“It is time to talk about what happened yesterday morning,” Henry said. “Meg, what do you remember?”

“I had a bad dream, a terrible dream, and I woke up screaming because I was so afraid.” Meg said. “I was so afraid, but I didn’t know why, and I had to cut so I could see the danger. I should have called someone first—”

Simon growled.

“—but I couldn’t wait. It felt like my skin would split on its own, the need was so overwhelming.” She touched the side of her nose. “Like my skin split the night I dreamed about the blood and black feathers in the snow.”

“So you put a towel on the bathroom floor, laid down, and made a long cut,” Henry said.

“I don’t remember the towel or lying down. I don’t remember choosing where to cut. I felt so desperate, I just … cut. Then I tried to swallow the words and the pain because that’s the only way we can remember a prophecy.”

“Pain?” It was the first time Lorenzo spoke since the meeting began.

When Meg paled and seemed unable to reply, Simon said, “There is bad pain until the prophet begins to speak. There’s nothing but pain unless she speaks. That’s how the girls are punished—they’re cut and then prevented from speaking.”

Monty looked at Meg’s left arm, recalling the crosshatch of scars he’d seen when she’d been brought to the hospital.

“That confirms some of what I’ve been thinking,” Lorenzo said.

“What else, Meg?” Henry asked. “What happened after the cut?”

“Simon came, and he was Simon,” Meg said.

Simon looked uneasy. “What else would I be?”

“You were Simon, and then you weren’t Simon anymore. You turned soft and gooey.”

He jerked away from her. “I did not!”

“You did! You were fine, and then you licked—”

Erebus sprang to his feet, a terrible look on his face. “We do not drink the sweet blood!”

Simon sprang to his feet, his canines lengthening. “That rule is for your people, not mine.”

“You licked up my blood,” Meg said, her voice trembling. “You licked my blood, and it made you sick.”

“Not sick!” Simon snapped.

Now Meg stood and stared at Monty. “That’s why all these bad things are happening, isn’t it? That’s what made the Crows too sick to get away.”

He’s afraid for her, Monty thought, glancing at Simon. He doesn’t want her to tell the rest of them what she’s figured out.

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