Murder of Crows Page 50

Monty hesitated; then he and Lorenzo hurried past the Wolves who were feeding on one of the bodies and caught up to Simon. The Lakeside Wolf probably wanted to feed like the rest of the Others, but Simon, at least, recognized Monty and Lorenzo as more than meat, so it was safer to stay close to him.

A stairway led down. They followed it to more corridors. Simon stopped and looked at them. Red flickered in his amber eyes, and Monty wondered how much longer he would stay in control.

“I’m only here for one,” Simon said. “The Lieutenant can choose three.”

“What will happen to the rest of the girls?” Monty asked.

“That is for the Midwest terra indigene to decide.”

“They think these girls are poison,” Lorenzo protested.

“If you try to take more than five, the terra indigene will kill them all,” Simon said. He stepped away from them and howled. Then his ears pricked and he strode down the corridor, slipping a little in the blood. He turned a corner and disappeared, leaving Monty and Lorenzo facing a corridor of locked doors.

“Gods above and below, how do we choose?” Lorenzo asked.

Monty picked up a set of keys lying next to a body and opened the door in front of him. The girl trying to hide in a corner of the room was maybe a year or two older than his daughter, Lizzy.

He thought about Meg Corbyn, struggling with an addiction to cutting that would most likely kill her while she was still young. Would she have felt compelled to cut if she’d lived in a place where she could receive some support, where her skin wasn’t a commodity?

“We choose the young,” he said, looking back at Lorenzo. “We choose the girls who will have the best chance of learning how to live in the world.”

Handing the keys to Lorenzo, he walked into the cell and crouched in front of the girl.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m Lieutenant Montgomery. I can help you leave this place. Would you like that?” He held out his hand and waited.

She stared at him for a long moment. Then she put her hand in his … and broke his heart.

Simon smashed the door open, then stopped.

They would have done this to Meg, he thought, baring his teeth in a snarl.

Instead of showing fear, which would have been sensible since he’d just smashed through a door and was showing his fangs, the female smiled and said, “You’re Meg’s Wolf.”

Battered and scarred, she sat quietly on the narrow bed, her hands in her lap. One foot didn’t look right, and he wondered if she could walk on her own. She smelled foul, as if the humans had stopped caring for her and didn’t even let her try to care for herself.

“Jean?” He hoped she would deny it. How could he bring this creature back to Lakeside?

“Yes, I’m Jean. How is Meg?”

“She’s fine.” Reluctant, he stepped into the cell. “Meg is fine.”

“I helped her escape.”

“I know.”

“I’d like to ask you for a favor.”

He cocked his head to indicate he was listening.

“Don’t kill me in this room. Take me beyond these walls that I’ve hated for as long as I can remember. Beyond the compound. And use this.” She turned over her hands to reveal the silver razor. “They kept this locked in a drawer, so close yet out of reach, as a torment. But I knew that there would be a day when the Walking Names would forget to lock the drawer, and the next day Meg’s Wolf would come.” She brushed a finger over the razor. “So this is mine again. You should use it to kill me. If you bite me, it will make you sick.”

He took a step closer, then sank down to sit on his heels. “I didn’t come here to kill you. Meg asked me to take you away from here, to save you.” When she didn’t respond, he said what he thought Meg would want him to say. “She lives with us in the Lakeside Courtyard. You could come live—”

“No,” she said quickly.

He puzzled over that for a moment. “You don’t want to see Meg?” He wanted to see Meg.

“See her, yes, but not live in the same place.” Jean leaned toward him. “Meg is a kind of pioneer. Do you know that word, Wolf?”

He nodded. “The first humans to invade our land. Our first taste of the new meat.” He bared his teeth. “Meg is not a pioneer.”

Jean had a distant look in her eyes. Meg had that look when she was recalling images.

“Trailblazer,” Jean said. “Pathfinder. Someone who goes first, creating a path so that others can follow. Are those better words?”

“Better,” he agreed. At least those words didn’t mean an edible human.

“Meg needs to let go of the past.” Jean waved a hand to indicate her body. “I’m too much of a reminder, and she’ll think this happened to me because of her.”

“Did it?”

“Some of it, but it would have happened anyway. When she looks in a mirror, she has enough reminders of the past. She doesn’t need more.”

“Then what would you like?” he asked. Strange female. Crazy female? No, not really. The eyes that looked back at him didn’t belong to crazy.

“I don’t know. The images don’t make sense. Water falling. Mist rising. A sound that is a roar but not a roar. A jar of honey.”

“That’s where you’re supposed to go?”

“Yes. If I didn’t die here, that’s what I saw as my future.”

“Then it does make sense.” Simon stood and held out his hand. “I know that place. The people who live there are called Intuits. They can help you—and I think you can help them too.”

She held out the razor. “Hold on to that.”

He took the razor and shoved it into his pocket, not asking why she would let it go now that she’d just regained possession of it. Meg got nervous when she didn’t have control of her razor.

Meg the Pathfinder. The one who could show all of them the new path toward Thaisia’s future? That was a large burden for one short female, but he would help her. Somehow. He just hoped Meg leading the way didn’t mean all the blood prophets would do strange things to their hair.

“Time to go,” he said.

Jean struggled to her feet. She could walk, but she couldn’t have run away. Pity stirred in him. Had she seen what would happen to her after she helped Meg escape? Probably. And she’d said nothing so that Meg would run and not look back.

He let her hold his arm to help her walk. But he stopped at the doorway. “It’s bad out there. Maybe you should close your eyes.”

“Wolf,” she said gently, “I’ve already seen it.”

CHAPTER 31

Two Hawks drove them back to the train station. The Wolves and the Sanguinati had other tasks right now that took priority. That’s what Monty and Lorenzo were told when they loaded the five terrified girls into the minivan, followed by Simon and the battered woman he’d rescued.

Monty had the impression that Simon knew exactly what tasks the Midwest Wolves and Sanguinati were performing, but the Wolf didn’t volunteer any information and Monty didn’t ask. He wasn’t sure he could deal with anything else at the moment—and he knew he was going to have to deal with a lot more.

They boarded the same train, which had been held at the Midwest border and was now making the return trip to Lakeside. The conductor escorted them to the private car and assured them several times that no one would be permitted to join them for this trip.

Simon Wolfgard’s doing. Monty hadn’t thought beyond selecting the five cassandra sangue they could take with them and getting the girls away from the compound and the slaughter. Neither had Dominic Lorenzo. But the Wolf had realized that privacy would be vital for the return to Lakeside.

And when the train pulled out of the station and the girls began to scream, it was Simon who did the simple thing of lowering the blinds on the windows so the girls had to deal with new experiences only inside the private car.

“Simon, it’s Meg. I’m closing up the office now and … It’s not the first time you’ve had to go away, but it feels … different … this time. Empty. I don’t know. I want my friend to come home. I’m going over to Merri Lee’s to watch movies that we can cry about, but I’d rather be able to hide behind you and watch a scary movie. When you’re there, I don’t see too much of the scary. Anyway, see you soon.”

Simon put the mobile phone back in his pocket and left the toilet. He’d found the messages when they reached the train station—one from Vlad, assuring him that everything was fine at the Courtyard, and this one from Meg. The sound of her voice. Not as good as cuddling next to her and being petted, but close. And her comment about hiding from the scary had provided the clue he needed when the girls began screaming. He couldn’t hide them from the scary—too many of them for that—so he closed the blinds to hide the scary from them.

As he returned to the front of the car, he glanced at Montgomery and Lorenzo. Damn humans were floundering like deer in deep snow, and that puzzled and annoyed him. He was the only one with decent teeth here, so he needed to be on guard, and they should be looking after the prophet pups. But they didn’t seem to know how to do anything helpful.

Too much blood and half-eaten bodies at the compound? Had they seen too much? Lorenzo had grumbled about not being allowed to take more of the girls. By the time they arrived at the train station, he wasn’t grumbling anymore. He looked sick and scared. So did Montgomery.

Simon watched the men as they moved to the back of the car. Maybe they were still worried about the girls they left behind and wondering what would happen to them. Joe Wolfgard and the other Midwest leaders had been concerned about allowing humans to take away some of Namid’s terrible creations. After seeing the horrible things humans had done to some of the blood prophets, they didn’t want to release any of the girls into the care of humans. But Simon had assured the Others that Montgomery and Lorenzo were dependable, even almost Wolflike in the way they cared about pups.

Now he wasn’t so sure. Not that it mattered. Seeing the two men flounder, he’d made his own decisions about the girls and had spent the trip working out the details. By the time they reached Lakeside, there wouldn’t be much for Montgomery and Lorenzo to do.

But there was one thing he could do now that might help Montgomery later.

Slipping out of his seat, Simon approached the table where Jean was laboring to write a letter.

“Could I have a sheet of paper and an envelope?” he asked.

She handed them over, along with the extra pen.

He took them and retreated. It was hard to be around Jean because he looked at her and saw what Meg’s future would have been if she hadn’t been brave enough to run away—and if Jean hadn’t been brave enough to stay.

Standing at the back of the car with Lorenzo, Monty watched Simon fetch paper and pen from Jean before retreating to the counter in the kitchen area.

He’d disappointed the Wolf, and that stung. But he’d been too stunned by what he’d seen in the compound to function well. Now, nearing the end of the journey, he realized he’d left Simon to deal with all the practical care for six cassandra sangue.

It wasn’t the slaughter that disturbed him so much, although he’d never forget it. It was the girls. All those girls. The young ones who were being trained but were yet unmarked and untried. The older teenagers who already had scars over entire areas of their bodies. The fourteen-year-old who had held out her arm and shown him her first scar—and looked as if she wasn’t sure if she should be proud or ashamed of it.

Walking away from her had damn near killed him, but in the end, he and Lorenzo had chosen five girls between the ages of eight and eleven who had not been cut yet.

“What are we going to do with the girls?” Lorenzo asked, keeping his voice low. “I wasn’t thinking past getting them out of that place, but now …”

“I wasn’t thinking past that either,” Monty replied.

“We can’t put them into foster care. We can’t put them into a city-run home either. If word got out—and you know it will—that cassandra sangue were living in a place like that, they’d be abducted before the staff knew what happened. We can’t have twenty-four-hour security at foster homes. And do we need weekly checks to make sure no one cuts the girls for a prophecy?”

Monty looked at Simon, who had just licked the envelope and obviously didn’t like the taste of the glue. The Wolf had gone outside to make a phone call every time the train stopped at a station. In between, he watched the girls and he watched Jean, who was writing on the paper Simon had picked up at a kiosk in one of the stations. He’d also dashed out at the next stop to pick up coloring books and crayons for the girls.

It hurt Monty’s heart when he realized the girls were turning the pages of the coloring books to absorb the images and studying the colors of the crayons but didn’t understand how to use them. It worried Lorenzo that the girls went in and out of a catatonic state, their senses overloaded by the journey despite efforts to limit their visual input.

That had shown Monty and Lorenzo what caretakers would be facing. And it gave them some understanding of what Meg Corbyn had faced when she ran away from the compound—and what she still faced daily by living with the stimulation of a place like the Courtyard.

“A sealed ward in a hospital wouldn’t be much better than what they’ve known,” Lorenzo said bitterly.

“Do you think that’s what it will come to?”

“I don’t see much alternative, do you?”

“No, I don’t.” Monty studied Simon for a moment before adding, “But I think he does.”

Prev Next