Written in Red Page 135

Simon turned on his heel and went into the back room.

“What’s going on?” Jester asked.

“You need to handle the mail today,” Tess said. “Tell the ponies there isn’t a treat.”

“It’s Moonsday,” Jester protested. “There’s always sugar on Moonsday, and they all come up to see Meg. Even old Hurricane.”

“Not today,” Tess repeated.

Simon came back in, carrying Meg. Her cheeks were a blaze of color. His cheeks had fur forming and receding as he struggled to hold the shape he needed instead of the one he wanted. His fingers had Wolf claws instead of fingernails, but Tess noted how carefully he set Meg on the makeshift bed they had made for her.

“Would you like something to eat?” Tess asked.

“No,” Meg replied. “I’d just like to rest.”

Meg’s voice sounded pale, and Tess struggled with her own urge to respond. The death color had faded from her hair, but that pale sound brought strands of black back into the red.

Simon adjusted a pillow under Meg’s head and covered her with the other blanket. Then he leaned close. “Nathan is here to guard. Don’t lock him out again.”

A grumpy arrrooo from Nathan before the Wolf sat next to the table.

“Close those outer doors,” Tess said. “We still have a few minutes before the ponies arrive, and Meg should stay warm.” She flipped the lock on the Private door, then opened the go-through and kept going. She turned the sign on the front door to CLOSED and turned that lock.

They gathered in a corner of the room, far enough that Meg probably wouldn’t hear them, especially with the Private door mostly closed to keep the room warm.

“Something in the back room disturbed Meg enough that cutting her skin for a prophecy was needed,” Tess said. “She asked for my help.” She pulled the papers out of her pocket and handed them to Simon. “These are the images she saw.”

Henry and Blair leaned over his shoulders to read.

“Makes no sense,” Blair muttered.

“Pieces of a puzzle,” Henry replied. “We need to put the pieces together to find the answer.”

“The answer is poison,” Tess said quietly. “Skull and crossbones is a human symbol for poison. That is what Meg was trying to tell us. Someone poisoned the sugar in order to kill the ponies.”

Jester whined. Vlad took the papers from Simon to read the words for himself.

“This skeleton in the hooded robe and the children,” Vlad said. “That’s not about us.”

“Maybe this poison was used before or is about to be used elsewhere,” Tess countered. “Maybe these images are the only way the prophet can help someone identify this particular kind of death.”

“That means calling the police,” Henry said.

Simon nodded. “Montgomery.”

“Do we let him into the back room?” Vlad asked.

“No,” Simon replied. “But we’ll give him the box of sugar, let his people figure out the poison.” Now he looked at Tess. “What can we do for Meg?”

“She says she was given food and rest when she was cut before,” Tess said. “The back room and bathroom need to be cleaned and all the rags burned, along with anything that has Meg’s blood on it. I’ll do the cleaning. Merri Lee will help me.”

“After the police are gone,” Simon said. “After the poison is gone.”

Jester looked at Simon. “After the ponies have the mail, I’ll tell Winter. But I think she’s going to want to talk to you.”

Simon nodded. Then he looked around. “Where is Jake?”

“Probably informing the entire Crowgard that something happened to Meg,” Blair said sourly.

“Vlad, get a shipping box and packing tape from Lorne,” Simon said. “We’ll put the box of sugar lumps in that. I’ll call Montgomery and have him come here. And I’ll take care of any deliveries that come until the office closes for the midday break.”

Vlad opened the front door and flipped the sign back to OPEN as he walked out. Jester slipped back into the sorting room and returned with the stacks of mail, which he laid out on the front counter before going outside to wait for the ponies.

“Let the Crows spread the word that the Liaison will not be making any deliveries this afternoon,” Henry said before he left.

Blair walked out without a word to anyone, leaving Tess and Simon.

“I’m not sure the euphoria is worth the pain that comes before it,” Tess said softly. “She didn’t make that cut for herself, Simon. She did it for us. Remember that before you snarl at her.”

She walked out of the office, then hesitated before she headed for the sidewalk instead of staying within the Courtyard. She’d forgotten her coat, would have to fetch it later. As she walked the short distance to A Little Bite, her coiling hair turned red and black in equal measure, and she allowed the smallest glimpse of her true nature to show through the human skin.

And everyone who looked upon her died just a little.

* * *

Simon walked into the sorting room, looked at Nathan, and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. <Out.>

Nathan showed his teeth. <I’m guarding.>

<I want to talk to her. Go in the other room. Come back when I’m done.>

The Wolf wasn’t happy about it, but he went into the front room.

When he was alone with the troublesome female who kept him confused, Simon leaned close enough to feel her breath on his face, to breathe in her scent.

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