Written in Red Page 132

When she stepped into the room, a sickening rush of images filled her mind. Old hands, young hands, male hands, female hands, dark hands, pale hands. All reaching for something and . . . Shrieks of pain. Cries of anguish.

Meg stumbled out of the back room, shaking. Was she sick? Was she going insane? Was this what happened to cassandra sangue when they didn’t live in the compounds? Was this why they had originally been brought to live in such isolation? Maybe this was the reason the girls were allowed so little personal experience, why their lives were so sterile.

She rubbed at her arms, at her legs, at her belly, at her scalp, wanting to dig and scratch and claw until the painful prickling went away. It had never been this bad, and she had never seen actual images before a cut.

But there had been that moment on the road the other day when she had slipped into a vision without cutting.

Bracing her arms on the sorting table, Meg fought to think.

Sensitive skin. She had overheard the Walking Names once when they were reviewing the value of the girls. They said prophecies from her were the most expensive because her skin was so sensitive, it became attuned to the visions even before she was cut. She just had to be around something connected to the prophecy.

And Simon had speculated that this prickling was a sign her instincts were waking up because she was living and doing and experiencing for herself instead of seeing the world as labeled images.

Was the prickling under her skin not only a warning but also a measuring stick? A little tingle that was annoying but faded quickly indicated a small choice that wouldn’t have major significance, while the harsher, painful buzz . . .

Meg returned to the back room, staggering as the images flooded her mind again. But she couldn’t figure out what was causing the reaction.

“Something there,” she whispered, fleeing to the sorting room. “Have to do it. Have to cut out this vision hiding in my skin.”

But she needed a listener this time, because whatever was struggling to break through was too big for her to endure alone. And she was scared that she wouldn’t be able to sort out the images of the prophecy, wouldn’t be able to recognize the warning or put the pieces together.

Who to call? Not Simon. He’d be angry that she didn’t call him, but he’d be angry about the cut too, and she felt certain that they didn’t have time to argue.

She tiptoed to the Private door. Jake and Nathan were still napping. She closed that door as quietly as possible and turned the lock. Then she called A Little Bite, hoping that whatever guardian spirit looked after prophets would guide Tess’s hand to answer the phone.

“A Little Bite,” Tess said. She sounded cheerfully annoyed, which meant the coffee shop was busy.

“Tess? It’s Meg.”

Silence. “Is something wrong?” Tess’s voice was no longer cheerful or annoyed. Now there was something in it that made Meg shiver.

“Yes,” Meg said. “I need your help. It’s urgent. Can you come now? Just you.”

Tess hung up. Meg hoped that was a positive response. Going into the bathroom, she thought about what she would need and what Tess would need. She almost reconsidered, almost called Henry. But she didn’t call him for the same reason she didn’t call Simon: it just wasn’t smart to be in a room with a carnivore when she slit her skin and spilled her own blood.

* * *

“I have to go,” Tess told Merri Lee. “Call Julia. Tell her to come in as soon as she can. Tell Simon you need Heather to help you until Julia arrives.”

“He’ll want to know why,” Merri Lee said. “What do I tell him?”

“When I know why, I’ll tell him,” Tess replied. She pulled on her coat and left by the back door, striding toward the Liaison’s Office.

Why didn’t you call Simon, Meg? Why call me? Do the prophets have any idea what I am? Did you call me out of knowledge or ignorance?

“Thanks for coming,” Meg said, locking the back door as soon as Tess slipped inside the office.

“Why didn’t you call Simon?” Tess asked.

“I thought this would be too dangerous with a predator in the same room.”

Ignorance, then, Tess thought. If Meg was trying to avoid predators, she wouldn’t have knowingly called one most of the terra indigene feared.

“I need to cut,” Meg said, her words tripping over one another. “Something terrible is going to happen, and there is something in this room that is a part of it.”

“But you don’t know what it is?”

Meg shook her head.

“What do you need from me?”

“I need someone to listen to the prophecy, to write down what I say.”

“All right. Where?”

“In the bathroom. It’s private there.”

“What will I need?”

Meg pointed at the items on the small table. Her hand shook, telling Tess how much effort it was taking for Meg to hold on and not slash herself indiscriminately. “The tablet of paper and the pen. When a cut is made, the images come as they come. Write them down. Then someone will have to figure out how they fit together in order to understand what they mean.”

Tess tipped her head toward the front of the office. “What did you tell Nathan?”

“He and Jake are sleeping.”

The Wolf wouldn’t be sleeping much longer. Their breed of earth native had keen senses, and the lack of sounds in the sorting room would alert Nathan just as much as an unfamiliar one. Once the Wolf realized Meg was locked out of reach, he’d call the enforcer and call his leader, and there was no telling who else would respond.

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