Written in Red Page 107

“But you knew he was bad,” Simon argued. “You knew.”

“Not because I cut myself! Not because of a prophecy. Did you hear me describing a vision?”

“You don’t have to say the words out loud!”

She didn’t understand why he was so angry about the possibility of a cut. It was, after all, her choice now. But she realized there were things he didn’t understand about the cassandra sangue, and judging by the way he kept looking at the scars, he knew they weren’t right. He knew that much.

“Most people hear only about the euphoria, the ecstasy that blood prophets feel from a cut.”

He cocked his head to show he was listening.

“And there is euphoria. There is ecstasy that is similar to prolonged sexual pleasure. But first, Mr. Wolfgard, there is pain. When the skin is first cut, in those moments before the prophet begins to speak, there is a lot of pain.”

He didn’t like that. She could judge how much he didn’t like that by the red flickering in his amber eyes.

“Do you know how a girl like me is punished?” She raised her right hand and traced the diagonal scars on her left arm. “She is strapped to the chair, as always. Then she is gagged. And then the Controller sits in his chair while one of the Walking Names takes the razor and slices across old visions, old prophecies, and makes something terrible and new. All those images jumbled together with no reference point, no anchor. And because she is gagged, the girl can’t speak. The words need to be heard, Mr. Wolfgard. When a prophecy isn’t spoken, isn’t shared, there is no euphoria. There is only pain.”

He took a step closer to her, his eyes still on her arm. He raised a hand, but the fingers still ended in Wolf claws that hovered over her fragile skin.

“Why did they punish you?”

More than once. He could count the number of times she had tried to defy the Controller and Walking Names. One section of her arm was a crosshatch of scars. What she had seen and endured could have driven her insane. Instead, the images had come together in a pattern that had shown her how to escape.

“I lied,” she said. “There was a man. A very bad man. He was a favorite client of the Controller who ran the compound where I was kept. This man did bad things to little girls. He traveled a lot for his business and he had found two girls he liked in different cities. One prophecy told him he could take one of the girls without anyone knowing. But if he took the other girl, he would be found and caught and he would die. He paid for another prophecy that would tell him which girl he could take and avoid being caught.”

“You gave him the wrong images, the wrong place, led him to the wrong choice.”

She nodded. “Before he could hurt the girl, the police found him and caught him—and killed him.” She tried to cover the scars with her hand, but there were too many of them. “The Controller received a lot of money from this client, so he was very angry when the man died. I was strapped to the chair and punished several times because the client died.” She swallowed a feeling of sickness. “The pain is terrible. I have no images that could convey to you how terrible it is. So I wouldn’t have cut myself and kept silent, Mr. Wolfgard. Not without a good reason.”

He looked less angry, but she didn’t think he was convinced yet.

“If you didn’t cut, how did you know the deliveryman was bad?”

Now she allowed herself a little of her own anger. “I pay attention, and he didn’t behave like the other deliverymen who come here!” Because the feeling worried her enough that she wanted someone else to know about it, she added, “And that awful prickling started under my skin as soon as he walked into the office.”

Simon cocked his head again. “Prickling?”

“I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s maddening! It used to be I felt this prickling only just before I was going to be cut. Now I feel it every day, and I want to cut and cut and cut to make it stop!”

He studied her. “Maybe this is natural for your kind when you’re not caged. Maybe this prickling is your body’s way of warning you that something is wrong. If I hear a rattling near a game trail, I don’t have to get bitten to confirm there’s a snake there. Maybe now that you’re living outside the compound, your instincts are waking up. To a Wolf, that’s a good thing.”

She hadn’t considered that.

“So what did your instincts tell you about that man?” Simon asked.

His face had shifted all the way back to human. Except the ears. They were smaller than they’d been a minute ago, but they were still furry Wolf ears, and it was hard to concentrate on words when the ears swiveled to catch sounds outside the room and then pricked toward her when she spoke. And something about the way he looked at her told her he wanted to test the soundness of her instincts.

“All the delivery trucks or vans have the company name on the side or on the back, and they park in a way that I can see the name before the driver comes into the office,” she explained. “The men have their names sewn on their shirts or have a badge with their picture, and their jackets usually have a company name or logo. They want me to know who they are and where they work. That man didn’t have a badge or even a logo on his uniform. There was no name on the van. The back license plate was packed with snow and couldn’t be read. And the package!” Now that she was warming up to all the things that weren’t right, her voice began to rise. “He couldn’t tell me the company that had shipped it, couldn’t tell me who it was for. The label didn’t have a company name, and the writing was so bad, I couldn’t tell who was supposed to receive it. No company who did business with the Courtyard would have sent a package like that!”

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