Murder of Crows Page 41

“If we show her the right pictures, maybe Meg will not need to cut,” Henry said. He rose and stretched. “Enough. It’s time to rest.” He walked out of the library.

Since he should have decided when the meeting ended, Simon said, “It’s time to rest.”

After an awkward shuffle, the guests left the library. Which left him alone with Vlad and Tess.

“One cut,” he said. “I’ll ask Meg for one.”

“And if we need more information in order to narrow down the hunt?” Vlad asked.

Simon gave Vlad a sharp smile. “Once Meg tells us what she knows, we’ll ask our friends in the police to help.”

Meg sat in her living room, turning the razor over and over. Pretty flowers on one side of the handle, cs759 inscribed on the other side. A designation, not a name.

Were there young blood prophets in Lakeside? Girls who were just starting to show the disturbing tendency to cut? They had names, families, lives. Choices. Or were cassandra sangue born with this addiction, this need?

She opened the razor and stared at the blade. One-quarter inch wide—the perfect distance between cuts. Prophecies remained separated without wasting usable skin. Right now it would be so easy to justify cutting fresh skin because it would help someone else. Wouldn’t it?

A slow suicide, one cut at a time, Meg thought. Except very few of the scars on her body had been created by cuts that were her choice.

Phineas Jones was dead, and that was a relief. After returning to her apartment, she’d spent an hour recalling images of death that she had absorbed during her lessons at the compound. Why did he bite the sack of poison on his arm? Did he expect that kind of death to be quick, painless? She didn’t imagine being mauled by a Grizzly or torn apart by a pack of angry Wolves was painless, but …

He knew things he didn’t want the Others to know. If he was here to take girls who lived outside, then he knew how to find the Controller or men like him. He swallowed poison so he wouldn’t tell. But I want to tell. I just don’t know how.

The howling right outside her door startled her enough that she almost cut her finger with the razor. Closing it, she slipped it into her pocket before going to the door.

Simon stood there in Wolf form, holding one of those lengths of soft braided rope the Wolves used as a toy. He looked at her and wagged his tail once.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I know this game. It’s all ‘we’ll just take a walk,’ and then it’s ‘hold my rope for a minute,’ and then you’re chasing me all over the place because the person holding the rope gets chased.”

He cocked his head as if to say, Of course. Why are you standing there? Get your coat!

“Wait there.” She left the door open while she put on her coat and made sure she had her keys. Simon wasn’t going to like her decision, so joining him in playtime might make him less snappish when she told him she was going to make a cut in an effort to find the Controller.

That much decided, Meg closed the door and walked down the stairs with Simon right beside her.

Simon walked beside Meg, growling softly. Damn clueless human female. It wasn’t like she didn’t know the game. He’d offered her the rope a half dozen times since they started walking toward the fork that led to the Pony Barn, but she just strolled along with her hands in her pockets! What sort of game was that?

When she finally took her hands out of her pockets, he pricked his ears, anticipating play. But she just covered her mouth and yawned. He enjoyed taking a walk with Meg and having time to leisurely sniff at what was around them, but he thought she’d accepted his invitation for a game and—

She grabbed the rope so suddenly, he braced and pulled without thinking. Letting out a gleeful hoot, she released the rope and shouted, “You’re it!” Then she lunged at him. And he, being unprepared, leaped away from her. And she chased him!

<Wait! I’m the one who’s supposed to chase!>

Of course, she couldn’t hear terra indigene speech, so she chased him, trying to grab his tail!

Meg didn’t hear him, but the other Wolves did.

<Simon?> Blair called. <Simon!>

Suddenly there were Wolves racing toward him and Meg—Blair, Nathan, John, Elliot, and Jane. Even Alan, Joe, and Jackson had come along for an evening romp.

He saw Joe and Alan focus on Meg, probably assuming that she had turned aggressive. He understood why Joe would think that, coming from the Midwest and dealing with all the recent problems with humans. And most of Alan’s stories had deranged humans as the villains, so it wasn’t a stretch for him to react as if a Wolf were under attack.

Before Simon could snap out a warning, Blair and Nathan shoulder-bumped Joe and Alan, knocking them off stride, while Jane and Elliot blocked Jackson.

That’s when Meg pointed at him and shouted, “Simon has the rope!”

And that’s when all the other Wolves focused on him.

Simon spun and ran past Meg, who laughed so hard she could barely walk. Now clear about what game they were playing, the Wolves gave chase. Since he didn’t have to stay on the road to accommodate Meg’s lack of night vision, he ran hard, bounding up the rises and weaving through trees until he could circle back to the sneaky female.

When he reached the road again, with the rest of the Wolves nipping at his heels, he saw Meg trotting back toward the Green Complex. Nathan trotted along with her. He wasn’t sure if that was Nathan’s idea or Blair’s, but it was smart to have a guard with her when she might be mistaken for real prey.

<Your turn,> he said when Blair came up beside him.

Blair obligingly grabbed the rope and ran off.

<Go,> Simon told Nathan. He lunged at the other Wolf when Nathan hesitated. My Meg!

With a yelp of surprise, Nathan sprang out of reach and ran to catch up with the rest of the Wolves playing chase.

Not my Meg, Simon thought uneasily as he settled into a pace that kept him beside her. My Meg sounded like more than a friend. Didn’t it? And thinking that way could be dangerous. The human form was merely a convenience since humans couldn’t seem to interact with anything that didn’t look like them. But absorbing too much from the human form and becoming too much like a human could alienate a terra indigene from his own kind and leave him with no one and no place that felt like home. He was a Wolf, would always be a Wolf. Having a human friend wouldn’t change that. And he wasn’t the only one with a human friend. Henry, Vlad, Tess, Jenni, Jester. Even Winter claimed Meg as a special human friend. Did Nathan …? My Meg! Okay, he could share Meg the squeaky toy with another Wolf but not share Meg the friend with another Wolf? Except Sam, of course. Which was fair since Sam had been friends with Meg first. And he was still a puppy.

My Meg. Another confusion she’d brought into his life and something he would have to figure out later.

Panting, Meg slowed to a walk. Didn’t take that long for her breathing to even out, which pleased him. She was getting stronger, fitter.

“Simon, we need to talk,” she said when they turned into the Green Complex and approached his apartment. She opened his door and let him go in first.

He sighed. He needed to talk to her too, but talk meant human, so he went upstairs to his bedroom to shift and pull on a pair of jeans. When he came back down, she was waiting for him in the living room.

“Sam isn’t living with you anymore?” She sounded wistful, and it struck him that she actually missed the pup. He knew Sam missed her.

“Not all the time. It’s safer for him right now to be with the rest of the Wolfgard. But the next time he’s here, you could come over and spend the day with us,” Simon said. “We’ll even let you choose one of the movies.” And he and Sam would have a talk ahead of time about being polite even when you were bored silly by a movie that someone else was enjoying.

Meg smiled. “I’d like that.”

When he looked human, she was wary of letting him get too close. He sort of understood that since his human form was becoming more interested in hers in ways he was pretty sure didn’t fit with being a friend kind of friend. But she’d let the Wolf cuddle up next to her while they watched a movie. And getting licked by someone furry wasn’t threatening but being kissed by the nonfurred male was, which made no sense when the furry and nonfurred were the same person. Wolf. Whatever.

Maybe that was just Meg, who was more like a puppy learning about the world than an adult female. She didn’t smell like she was interested in kisses. Of course, he wasn’t interested either because they were friends and kisses that weren’t licks would cause more confusion.

Maybe he really did need to read one of those romances about humans and Wolves to figure out the inconsistencies in the female brain.

“Simon,” Meg said quietly.

Her tone reminded him of why they needed to talk—and why he wanted to avoid talking. “Meg?”

“Using prophets’ blood to make drugs that stir up trouble between humans and terra indigene. Grinding up a girl to infect meat so lots of people go temporarily insane. You have to stop those things or it will keep happening, and each time it will be worse. More anger, more hatred.” Meg raised her chin. “You need a prophecy to help you find the Controller. So I’m going to make another cut.”

She said exactly what he needed her to say. But that meant hurting his friend, so he bared his teeth and snarled at her. “I’m not asking you to put your foot in a trap to save the rest of us.”

“No, you’re not. But if one of the pack chose to do it, you’d accept her choice.”

His snarl changed to a whine. He didn’t like it, but she spoke truth. Then again, he didn’t think Meg spoke anything else.

“I’ll make the cut tomorrow morning.”

“No.” He shook his head. “First we’re going to find out whatever you can remember about your journey to Lakeside. That way your skin won’t be wasted.”

“All right.” She shifted her feet. “I should go home now and get some rest.”

He wanted to go with her, wanted to curl up beside her tonight. Then he heard the Wolves howling, a reminder that there were guests in the Courtyard who might become uneasy if they saw evidence of him being too friendly with a human—especially one who was Namid’s terrible creation.

CHAPTER 24

Despite Earthday usually being a day of rest for both humans and terra indigene, the next morning the guests crowded into the front part of Howling Good Reads. Henry and Vlad stood behind the counter while Tolya and Stavros Sanguinati floated near the ceiling in smoke form. Tess leaned against the doorway between HGR and A Little Bite. Simon waited for the four females—Merri Lee, Heather, Ruthie, and Theral—to join them.

Walking in from the stockroom, the girls hesitated when they saw the crowd of terra indigene, but they came forward when he wagged a finger at them. He’d called all of them last evening, telling them to come in for a full day’s work and he’d explain at the meeting this morning.

Before he could say anything, they pulled notebooks and pens out of the carry sacks they seemed to haul around everywhere. Meg carried a purse when she went to the office or the Market Square, but it was small and didn’t hold anything of particular interest. He knew that because he’d looked. But these sacks were big enough to contain all kinds of curious things, and he wished he’d poked his nose into one before now to find out what it held.

“Today we’re all participating in a special assignment,” Simon began.

The four girls opened their notebooks to a clean page, wrote the date at the top, then looked at him expectantly.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bobbie Beargard hunch her shoulders, shifting her body into a preattack stance. He noticed how many of the other terra indigene guests also stiffened.

If only one of the girls had done it, none of them would have thought about it. But all four? Was this something that was supposed to be done during a meeting? Did everyone have notebooks and pens, or only females? Was this a secret human thing, a subtle indication when making a deal or trying to buy merchandise that the other person wasn’t really human? If the human teachers the terra indigene paid—and paid well—to teach them how to interact with humans were omitting pieces of that training deliberately, what other ways had they been lying to the Others?

And most important, who could they ask when asking made them vulnerable to deceit?

Simon eyed Ruthie and thought he had the answer to that.

“Mr. Wolfgard?” Merri Lee said, glancing at all the terra indigene. “You were going to tell us about the special assignment?”

“The man who came here yesterday was …” Simon faltered, not sure how to explain since he didn’t want to tell them what would happen when the Others found their prey.

“Someone hired him to procure blood prophets,” Merri Lee said with a simmering anger that made everyone brace for an attack. “He tried to hypnotize Meg into believing she needed to come with him.” In contrast to the simmering anger in her voice, her eyes looked haunted. “He was a bad person.”

“Yes,” Henry, the Courtyard’s spirit guide, said with quiet authority. “He was a very bad person who would have brought harm to many other girls and their families. Meg’s warning to hide the children stopped him from taking anyone from Ferryman’s Landing.”

Merri Lee hadn’t killed Phineas Jones any more than Meg had. But their defensive attack had prevented the man from escaping, and being captured had ended with him dying by his own hand. Simon didn’t think it was as simple for the human female to accept as it was for the Others.

“We need to find a man called the Controller,” Simon said. “He runs the compound where Meg was held, and he keeps a lot of other girls there and treats them as property. He was the one who called Meg cs759 because property doesn’t need a name. We believe he’s responsible for manufacturing the drugs gone over wolf and feel-good—and for making the tainted meat that caused so much violence and death in a Midwest town. So what we’re all going to do today is help Meg figure out how she reached Lakeside and how she reached the Courtyard.”

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