Murder of Crows Page 9

“Nyx will come up to the office and stay with Meg,” Vlad said, breaking into Simon’s thoughts. “Grandfather Erebus is concerned about our Liaison. If something is wrong, Meg might tell another female something she wouldn’t tell Nathan.”

Nothing to be said about that, not even by the leader of the Courtyard. But Simon noticed that Tess’s hair had turned solid green and was tightly coiled—a sign she was feeling agitated or uneasy.

Only Henry knew what Tess was, but Simon had his own thoughts about that and was certain having her uneasy about the Sanguinati could be dangerous for everyone. A shape-shifter had little chance of surviving a fight with a Sanguinati. Would a vampire be able to survive a fight with an earth native like Tess?

He hoped that was a question that would never be answered.

“We have to go.” As he and Vlad got in the van, Simon heard the bitter cawing of the returning Crows.

A moment after that, Julia Hawkgard screamed, <Simon! Come quick!>

Monty rapped on the doorframe before entering Douglas Burke’s office.

The patrol captain of the Chestnut Street station was a big man with neatly trimmed dark hair below a bald pate. His blue eyes, like his smile, usually held a fierce kind of friendliness. Today the smile was absent and the eyes looked sad as he handed a piece of paper to Monty and said, “We got an answer.”

Monty read the paragraph, then read it again. “This happened on Trickster Night?”

“Yes,” Burke replied. “Months before our friends in the Courtyard gave us that cryptic warning.”

Not exactly cryptic. A few weeks ago, Meg Corbyn had cut her skin because she’d sensed something wrong in the back room of the Liaison’s Office and couldn’t identify the source of her uneasiness. The resulting visions and prophecy had revealed poison in the sugar lumps she usually gave the Courtyard ponies on Moonsday. Among the images she’d seen was a skeleton in a hooded robe, passing out sweets to children, and those children dying in the same way the ponies would have died. Simon Wolfgard had told him what Meg had seen on the chance that the police might find the place and the person in time to save the children.

But it had already happened months ago in another city.

If the police in that city had had access to a cassandra sangue like Meg Corbyn, could that tragedy have been averted? Or would a different blood prophet have seen some other prophecy, and the children’s deaths would have occurred anyway?

And was justifying the use of one group of humans for the benefit of the rest of them the reason a law supporting benevolent ownership had been passed in the first place? Was the argument that these girls would cut themselves anyway and keep cutting until it killed them sufficient justification for restricting their lives and using this compulsion for the good of government or profit?

Maybe it was better for everyone that the only blood prophet in the city of Lakeside was surrounded by the terra indigene.

“Lieutenant?” Burke said.

“Sorry, Captain. My mind wandered.” Monty set the paper on Burke’s desk.

Sighing, Burke sat back and linked his fingers over his abdomen. “My people immigrated to Thaisia from Brittania a few generations back, and I still have family over there. Went over to visit in my younger years and have kept in touch with some of my relatives, especially the ones who work in law enforcement. Brittania is about one-quarter the size of Wild Brittania, so the people there have few illusions about what watches them on the other side of the agreed-upon boundaries. Those of us living in cities like Lakeside have that in common with them.”

Not sure where this was going, Monty just nodded.

“According to my cousin Shady Burke …” Burke’s smile warmed for a moment. “Shamus David Burke, an officer of the law in Brittania. Usually goes by Shay, but there was already a Shay at his first posting, so my cousin was called Shay D., which quickly became Shady.”

“Unusual name for a police officer,” Monty said.

“He’s quick with his tongue and quick on his feet. Has to be one because of the other.” Burke’s smile faded. “Anyway, Shady is very good at mixing in where he can hear things of interest. Lately he’s been hearing rumors that somewhere in the Cel-Romano Alliance of Nations there is a factory building airplanes—machines that can fly.”

Still not sure where the conversation was going, Monty said, “Is that a problem?”

Now Burke gave Monty the typical fierce-friendly smile. “A hardship for the people, I would think, if another industry wants a share of the metal and fuel available to the nations. Shortages and stricter rationing would be just the start of the troubles there.”

For a moment, Monty considered the wonder of traveling through the air, high above the ground. The closest thing to air travel in Thaisia was hot-air balloons. Most of the time the balloons remained tethered to prevent them from wandering over land that belonged to the Others. Sometimes photographers or moviemakers were permitted to float over the wild country to take pictures and film herds of animals or places on the continent that humans couldn’t see any other way. Those trips were strictly supervised, of course, because the Others would never permit anything on or above their land that might pose a threat to them. “Why didn’t the terra indigene forbid such a machine from being made in the first place?”

“Cel-Romano is the largest land area in the world that belongs to humans, and those boundaries haven’t altered since the first record of human history. Gods below, the boundaries were set even before humans spread out to reach what we call the wild places. The Others understood before we did how much of the world the human race could claim, and they haven’t given humans a single acre more. One-third of all the humans on Namid live there. The terra indigene don’t care what humans do within the boundaries of human land, but the moment human activity touches their pieces of the world …” Burke gave Monty that fierce-friendly smile again. “Maybe the Others don’t know about the airplanes yet. Maybe they know but don’t care as long as the flying machines remain within the boundaries of Cel-Romano. But when ships sailing the Mediterran and Black seas can easily provide transport to all the nations, one has to wonder how the manufacturing of airplanes at this time might be connected to the Humans First and Last movement. You remember that slogan, Lieutenant?”

Monty felt a shiver of alarm. “Yes, I remember. Our previous mayor was trying that out as his campaign platform.” The mayor had died in the storm that had almost buried Lakeside, but he had died in his bedroom. Winter and some other Elementals had come calling on His Honor. So had the Sanguinati.

“Humans First and Last has become a rallying cry throughout the Cel-Romano Alliance,” Burke said. “Speakers are mesmerizing crowds, exciting them with the idea that they can have more. And since the nations in the Alliance have had a habit of expanding their cities and building over good farmland, even the wealthy there can’t always buy enough food anymore.” Burke’s smile faded but the fierceness remained. “That’s not a bad incentive if you’re looking to start a war.”

“War?” Monty groped for the visitor’s chair and collapsed into it. “You think there’s going to be a war?”

“Shady and some of his contacts believe the Cel-Romano Alliance is heading that way, if for no other reason than to winnow down their population. I just don’t think their leaders realize how much winnowing the terra indigene can and will do.” Burke paused. “There is no indication that the people in Tokhar-Chin or the human sections of Afrikah are aware of what is happening in Cel-Romano … or would be willing to risk their own people. And the humans who live in Felidae or Zelande are too far away to become involved in a confrontation with the Others living in the wild country beyond the Mediterran and Black seas.”

“What about us?” Monty asked. Gone over wolf was a drug that hyped aggression to the point where self-preservation wasn’t a consideration. That wouldn’t be a bad drug to have if you were looking to start a war. Was its appearance in some Thaisian towns at a time when trouble was stirring elsewhere in the world just a coincidence, or was Thaisia the testing ground for a bigger conflict?

“For now, war, like the airplane, is just a rumor floating to us from the other side of the Atlantik. Let’s hope it remains nothing more than a rumor.” Burke rubbed the back of his neck. “Lakeside is in the extraordinary position of actually having a dialogue with the Others who run the Courtyard. As long as we have that, we have a chance of protecting our own city. Maybe protecting even more than that.”

Monty felt a weight settling on his shoulders. He and his team were the contacts between the police and the Courtyard’s leaders. Elliot Wolfgard, Simon’s sire, was the consul who met with human government, but it was Simon who made the decisions that affected humans as well as Others.

“I’ll …” Monty began.

Kowalski suddenly appeared in the doorway, all the color drained out of his face. “Lieutenant, we’ve got trouble.”

Blood and black feathers in the snow. Broken bodies.

Flanked by Blair and Vlad, Simon walked down the middle of the street and looked at every dead crow.

If not for Meg’s warning, many of them would have been Crowgard.

<Jenni and Starr are in that tree up ahead,> Vlad said. <I don’t see Julia.>

<She’s in the air,> Blair said. <So are a few other Hawkgard.>

Keeping watch. Keeping potential enemies in sight.

<There’s a man on the ground near the garbage truck,> Vlad said. <I’ll find out why.> He moved toward a crowd of humans while Simon and Blair continued to the end of the block, listening to the sirens coming from several directions.

“It stops here,” Simon said.

Blair stared at the next block. “The killing was done on this part of the street, but that doesn’t mean the next block wasn’t baited too.”

“How are we supposed to find out?”

“We don’t need to find out. It doesn’t matter if the monkeys baited one block or two; the intention was the same.” Blair grabbed Simon’s arm and pulled him to one side as an ambulance turned the corner and slid to a stop when the driver saw the bodies scattered in the street.

They can’t reach the injured human without running over some of the crows, Simon thought. And they’re afraid of what we’ll do if they make that choice.

“That’s Lieutenant Montgomery and Officer Kowalski,” he said to Blair when he saw the men getting out of one of the cars at the other end of the street. “Tell the lieutenant I’ll be with him in a minute.”

As Blair ran up the street, Simon looked at the EMTs and twirled a finger to indicate that the man in the passenger seat should roll down his window. “I’ll move these bodies out of the way so you can reach your injured.”

“Thank you.”

Simon nodded, then began moving the dead crows, the ambulance crawling behind him.

Under different circumstances, Hawks and hawks might have snatched up the crows for the meat, and he wouldn’t have spent time moving roadkill out of the way of another vehicle. But the humans, not knowing if they were seeing Crows or crows, had stopped, unwilling to drive over the bodies. The least he could do as leader of the Courtyard was show the same respect for Namid’s creations—and reinforce that good behavior in the humans. After all, at another time, it could be some of the Crowgard lying in the street.

Blair and Kowalski came running back to help while Montgomery headed for the crowd around the injured man. As Blair passed the crowd, he hesitated, drawn by the smell of blood.

When it looked like the ambulance had a clear path, Simon growled, “Enough.”

Kowalski looked up, startled. Then he stood and took one careful step away from the Wolves.

“That’s enough,” Kowalski agreed.

<We have to leave,> Blair said. <I can’t stay around wounded prey much longer.>

Simon glanced at his own hands. While handling the crow bodies, his hands had shifted enough to be furry and clawed, but he’d gotten them back to looking human, and he didn’t think anything else had shifted. But he doubted he and Blair would pass for human right now.

<Get Jenni and Starr. Meet me at the van.> He looked around and didn’t see his other companion. <Vlad?>

<This car that crashed,> Vlad said. <It belongs to some of the attackers. Keep the police busy a minute longer.>

I’m not sure I have a minute. And it wouldn’t help matters if his control snapped right now and he ripped out Montgomery’s throat.

But he walked up to Montgomery, who moved away from the injured man.

“Lieutenant.”

“Mr. Wolfgard.” Montgomery’s voice held the same quiet courtesy as usual. “Were any of your people injured?”

“No. They returned to the Courtyard before—”

“Is Ms. Corbyn all right?”

Easy enough to understand the question. If the Crowgard escaped the attack that was similar to the one in Walnut Grove, it was because they’d been warned. And only one person in Lakeside could give that kind of warning.

“She’s fine.” He needed to get back to the Courtyard and confirm that.

“One of the vehicles smashed into trash cans and, as you can see, ended up stuck in the snowbank. The men in the car ran off, but we’ll find them and the men who were in the second car. We will find them, Mr. Wolfgard.”

“They didn’t hurt any terra indigene, so it’s strictly a human problem.”

He said the words. He knew they weren’t true. So did Montgomery.

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