Vision in Silver Page 4

“Meg made a cut.”

Vlad’s hands closed into fists, but he stayed seated.

“We planned it for this morning,” Merri Lee said hurriedly. “A kind of experiment.”

Let her talk. “Something upset Meg?”

“No. See, that was the whole point. Making a controlled cut when nothing was pushing her.”

A thousand cuts. Supposedly that’s all a cassandra sangue could make before the cut that would kill her or drive her insane. And it wasn’t just the cuts made with a razor. Any injury that broke skin counted as part of that number. Most of those girls wouldn’t see their thirty-fifth birthday, and here was Meg cutting without a reason.

Addiction was its own reason. That would explain why Meg had chosen a time when Simon Wolfgard and Henry Beargard were away from the Courtyard. But that didn’t explain Merri Lee coming to see him.

He needed to sound calm, reasonable. Merri Lee was a member of Meg’s human pack, and the two girls had shown an ability to work together to interpret prophecy. “Was the experiment successful?”

Merri Lee nodded. “It was different from the last time I assisted. After the initial . . . discomfort . . . Meg began speaking. Lots of images. I think she heard some things too, but the sounds were part of the images. I wrote them down.” She handed him a sheet of paper.

Vlad studied the long list. “What does that mean?” He pointed to a P in parentheses after some of the words.

“It’s a pause,” Merri Lee said. “That was different from the last time. This time Meg paused, like a rest in music, so I thought each group of words made up a picture.” She handed him index cards.

He took them reluctantly. “What was the question you asked?”

“We asked what the residents of the Lakeside Courtyard should watch for during the next fortnight.”

“Residents? Not just the terra indigene?”

She hesitated. “No. We said residents, not just the Others. So what Meg saw applies to everyone who lives in the Courtyard.”

Which meant everyone included Meg and Merri Lee.

Vlad looked at the “stories” on the index cards and felt chilled.

Help Wanted: NWLNA

Trail Fire (blaze/inferno?). Path Compass/Compass Path?

Pregnant girl on dirt road. Silver razor. Blood. “Don’t! It’s not too late!”

Girl crying. Silver razor. Broken deer beside highway (roadkill).

Brown bear eating jewels.

Vegetable garden. Paws digging, hands planting.

For Sale signs.

Some of the “stories” meant nothing to him. But if he was interpreting others correctly, all of the terra indigene would need to act swiftly.

Vlad studied Merri Lee. Some of the “stories” meant nothing to him, but they did mean something to her.

“Which ones do you understand?” He placed the index cards on the edge of the desk where she could reach them.

She hesitated, then pointed to “Help Wanted: NWLNA.” “Above the door of the Liaison’s Office are the letters HLDNA, which stand for ‘Human Law Does Not Apply.’ NWLNA stands for ‘No Wolf Lover Need Apply.’” She swallowed hard and wouldn’t meet his eyes. “In the past week, quite a few employment ads in the Lakeside News have those letters at the end, and I’ve seen a couple of those signs in shop windows.”

“I see.” And he did see. Label anyone who wanted to keep peace between humans and the terra indigene as a Wolf lover, especially if that person directly interacted with the Others in any capacity, and force those people to choose between having a job and feeding their families, and opposing the fools who would provoke a fight that would end with many, many humans dead or driven out of the city.

Thinking about the humans who worked in the Courtyard and two basic things everyone needed—food and shelter—he asked, “Are these letters applied only to jobs or also to housing?”

Merri Lee didn’t answer him, and that was answer enough.

“What else?” Vlad asked.

“It . . . It’s not for me to say.”

He leaned forward. She flinched.

“Say it anyway,” he suggested.

“Ruth Stuart and Karl Kowalski. Everyone is being encouraged to make some kind of garden this summer and grow a few vegetables to supplement what you can find in the market. Well, Ruth and Karl bought the material and built the raised vegetable bed for their apartment building with the understanding that they would be able to use half the bed and the other tenants in the building, including the landlord, would share the other half. But once the work was done, the landlord gave them notice, said they’re unacceptable tenants. He wants them out by the end of Maius because he’s already got acceptable people moving in on the first of Juin. That gives Ruth and Karl three weeks to find another place and move. They signed a lease for a year, and they’ve barely had time to get settled in their new place. That man says he isn’t going to reimburse them for the materials they bought or return their security deposit or the last month’s rent, which they paid when they signed the lease. If they were acceptable before they did all the work, why are they unacceptable now? And if this guy gets away with it, what’s to stop the next landlord from pulling the same thing?”

What was to stop this landlord from pulling the same trick on the next tenant? Sounded like it could be a human-versus-human problem. Humans cheated one another all the time.

But Karl Kowalski was one of the police officers who worked directly with the leaders of the Courtyard to keep any minor collisions between humans and Others from escalating into a major fight. If Kowalski was being branded a Wolf lover and was being driven out of his home because of it, the Others needed to pay more attention to things that on the surface seemed strictly the business of humans.

On the other hand, if Ruthie was the unacceptable tenant because she actually worked for the Lakeside Courtyard now, then the trouble with this particular landlord was no longer strictly human business, was it?

Something to discuss with Grandfather Erebus.

At least Merri Lee, all fired up now in defense of her friends, was acting more like her usual self rather than a flinching bunny. She was telling him about Ruthie and Kowalski, but she was also revealing what she and Michael Debany were facing. Debany was another police officer who dealt with the Others, and Merri Lee worked for the Courtyard. Right now, she lived in one of the efficiency apartments above the seamstress/tailor’s shop, but sooner or later, she and Debany would want to live together as a mated pair and would face the same hostility.

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