Vision in Silver Page 74

“I am here.” Connection. Companionship. Touch.

“Touch of a hand works too when you’ve got an audience.”

Something to think about. Meg smiled. “Are you going to leave Vlad at the checkout by himself?”

“He yelled at me, so I’d let him fend for himself, but I think Ruth could use a hand right about now.”

After Merri Lee left, Meg opened the delivery door and pulled the handcart into the sorting room. She needed to get the mail sorted before the ponies arrived to have their mail baskets filled.

But after she dumped the mail on the table, she just stood there, making no effort to work.

Connection. Touch. I am here.

Definitely something to think about.

CHAPTER 35

Moonsday, Maius 14

While Simon drove up River Road to Ferryman’s Landing, Henry answered one phone call after another. When a full minute passed without the mobile phone squawking at them, he said, “Problems?”

“Messages,” Henry replied. “A policeman has arrived from Toland and wants to interview the Lizzy. Captain Burke asked if the meeting could be held at the consulate.”

“Smart move. Why didn’t Lieutenant Montgomery ask? He’s the one who usually works with us.”

“Perhaps because the Lizzy is his child and his asking would cause some trouble we do not understand. Stavros Sanguinati also arrived this morning. He and the policeman from Toland must have taken the same night train.”

“Do you think Stavros insisted on riding in the private executive car?”

Henry bared his teeth in a smile. “If one of those cars was part of the night train, I’m sure he was riding in it.”

In Thaisia, the terra indigene could travel by train anytime, anywhere, in exchange for the railroads being allowed to build tracks through the wild country to connect human communities. But until Simon, Lieutenant Montgomery, and Dr. Lorenzo had gone to the Midwest during the hunt for the Controller, the Others hadn’t known there was usually a car that had luxuries, like leather seats and its own little kitchen and shower, and didn’t stink of so many humans. Now the Others did know, and the humans who used those cars could no longer count on the travel time between cities to privately plot and plan against each other—or against the terra indigene.

Even when there wasn’t a vampire or a shifter in the car, the terra indigene now watched the humans who used those cars. It was fortunate for humans that the Elementals, and some of the usually unseen forms of earth natives, paid little attention to the clever meat unless provoked.

“After the police talk to the Lizzy, Lieutenant Montgomery will talk to Meg about the flowers and the human who delivered them,” Henry said.

“The bad mate.” This male had driven Theral away from two other jobs in another city. Being kin to Officer MacDonald and living with his parents in Lakeside provided her with some safety. Working in the Courtyard provided her with more.

Was it enough?

Simon wanted to shake off the human business that stuck to him these days like burs in fur. He knew why things had changed, and he didn’t regret Meg’s presence. She not only made it easier to deal with other humans; she provided entertainment for everyone in the Courtyard, making the press of all those humans living in Lakeside more bearable.

But that didn’t mean her presence wasn’t confusing.

Take her friendship with Nathan. He was glad they got along. The Liaison’s Office wouldn’t run smoothly if Meg and the watch Wolf didn’t get along. But sometimes Simon resented looking out the window and seeing his squeaky toy romping outside with another Wolf when he had to deal with stupid human paperwork.

But Nathan was what humans called a work friend. Meg didn’t spend much time with him away from the Liaison’s Office. She didn’t cuddle up with him to watch television or movies. She didn’t share a bed with Nathan whether he was human or Wolf.

Those were things she did only with him because he was a different kind of friend. It was almost . . .

A scent, a feeling in the air, caught Simon’s attention, scattering his thoughts and reminding him of why he’d made some of the choices he’d made over the past few years.

“If the terra indigene who work in Courtyards become too human, do we become the enemy?” he asked softly.

Henry turned his head, his shaggy brown hair whipped by the air coming in the windows. “Are you asking for yourself or for another reason?”

“Do you smell it?”

Henry looked away and said nothing. Then, “Yes, I smell it. Their scent wasn’t here the last time we drove to Great Island. It’s a reminder of how far removed we are now from the earth natives who live in the wildest part of the wild country.”

It also meant that the ripples caused by rash actions the humans had made over the past few months had reached the primal wild country, disturbing the kinds of earth natives who usually didn’t come this close to human habitation when their intentions were still benevolent.

The wild country was a term for all land that humans weren’t allowed to use, but the wild had different levels, like the circles of a target. The center was a human place. The first circle contained the terra indigene who could shift and pass for human, at least long enough to interact with the interlopers and receive the agreed-upon goods that were payment for use of some land—that is, the Others who worked in the Courtyards or lived in their own settlements near human villages in order to keep watch. The next circle were terra indigene who liked some of the things humans made but didn’t want contact with them. Those two circles made a buffer of a few miles between humans and the wild country that was unmarked by human influence in every way. Beyond that buffer . . .

The forms they took when they didn’t walk in their true earth native form had no names. Their footsteps were a silent thunder felt beneath stone and grass. Even powerful shifters like the Wolves, Bears, and Panthers were no match for them. They were Namid’s teeth and claws.

The rest of the terra indigene referred to them as the Elders.

“Log cabins,” Simon said. “Wells. Farms. Spinning wheels and looms. Windmills and water wheels. Years ago, when humans were erased from a part of Thaisia, what was left behind became homes for other beings or quietly became part of the world again. The absence of humans made no difference. The terra indigene had learned how to build their own log cabins; how to spin and weave the cloth and blankets we wanted; how to farm in our own way and store the harvest for hungry days. We could do all that without absorbing too much from this form. But now . . .”

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