Written in Red Page 152

* * *

The team that set fire to the Pony Barn raced toward the Corvine gate. The leader looked over his shoulder and bared his teeth in a grin. Stupid f**king animals. If you left a gate open, that was an invitation to come on in, wasn’t it?

The Crows winging a few feet above the snow, following them, would have made good target practice, but his orders were to get out of the Courtyard as soon as the assignment was complete.

Shooting one of those ponies hadn’t taken extra time and was a bonus distraction. Besides, what did the Others use ponies for anyway? Transportation? Food?

Then fog suddenly surrounded him and his team, so thick he could barely see the headlights on the other snowmobiles.

“Halt!” he shouted, hoping his men wouldn’t run over him. How could fog roll in so fast? And where the f**k was the road that would take them to the gate? And what was that sound?

A gust of wind pushed the snowmobile forward, and heavy rain drenched him.

Rain? When it was this cold? What the . . . ?

The last man in line screamed as spinning winds and punishing rain turned snow into an ice field. The snowmobiles slid away from one another, lost in the thick fog that should have been blown away with the wind—and wasn’t.

Gasping for breath, the leader tried to see something, anything. “Report!” he shouted.

“Here!” a member of his team answered.

The leader didn’t have time to shout a warning before a funnel of snow appeared out of the fog, snatched the man off the snowmobile, and turned away in a move that didn’t belong to any natural storm.

Another shout. The lights of a snowmobile headed right for him. He revved the engine of his own machine, then realized with a shock that the runners were frozen to the snow. The other man veered at the last minute, clipping the leader’s machine enough to break it out of the ice before the other machine suddenly pitched forward, tossing the rider over the handles.

The fog lifted as quickly as it had arrived, giving the team leader a clear view of one of his men struggling and thrashing and screaming and sinking into the snow.

And he suddenly had a clear view of a horse the color of sand standing beside the odd snow, watching him.

Snow acting like quicksand. Gods above and below, what kind of place is a Courtyard anyway that snow can turn into quicksand?

Seconds later, only silence. A snowmobile, its nose buried. Unmarred snow that gave no indication that a man had just died beneath it. And a horse staring at him with hate-filled eyes.

He raced away, ignoring the twisted machines and twisted bodies, intent on outrunning the horse that raced after him.

The right side of the snowmobile sank, pitching him off. He rolled, then tried to get to his feet, but the snow sucked his legs down. Unbalanced, he fell back, and his arms sank to his elbows, pinning him.

“Help me!” he shouted. “Help!”

The Crows winged in, and the horse ran off. Before he could free an arm, they were on him, shifting into three naked females and one male. They yanked off his goggles, ripped off his ski mask, tore open his parka.

“What do we do with him, Jenni?” the male asked.

The one named Jenni cocked her head to one side, then the other. “He killed a pony. And he’s one of the monkeys who were trying to take our Meg. So I say one for me.” Her head shifted from human female to black-feathered Crow. She grabbed his head in strong hands and plucked out one eye with her beak. Tipping her head back, she swallowed the eye, then shifted back to a human female with a few black feathers still mixed with her hair. “And one for you.”

The male’s head changed. The Crow plucked out the man’s other eye.

Ignoring his screams, they were gone in a flutter of wings, leaving him blinded and bleeding and half buried in the snow.

* * *

Meg slowed the BOW to a crawl as she drove over Ripple Bridge. The sky was a dark gray that made it hard to see without headlights, but the headlights would have made her easier to see.

Once they crossed the bridge, she rolled down her window and listened, then looked at Sam. “Do you hear the bad men?”

He whined, which she took for an affirmative answer.

Rolling up the window, she drove as fast as she could to the Chambers. She had to get this much done. She had to.

The interior roads weren’t clear of snow, and the BOW slipped and slid and a couple of times almost got stuck. Finally reaching the gate in front of Erebus’s home, Meg jumped out and held the door open for Sam. Before he could dash off, she picked him up and staggered to the gate.

“Mr. Erebus! Mr. Erebus! We need help!”

The door opened, and Erebus glided over the snow-covered walkway.

“Why is our Meg out in such weather when an enemy is among us?”

She tried to lift Sam above the gate, but couldn’t do it. “Those men,” she panted. “They’re after Sam. I know they’re after Sam. Please take him, Mr. Erebus. Simon is protecting the Courtyard, and there’s no one else who can keep those men away from Sam except you. I know it’s against the rules for anyone to enter the Chambers, but he needs your help. He needs you.”

Sam began to squirm and struggle, but she held on to the pup while her eyes stayed fixed on the old vampire. “Please help us.”

Erebus pulled open the gate. “Come in. Both of you will be safe here.”

She heard snowmobiles approaching from two directions. They didn’t need to stay on the roads, so they must have split up in the hopes of trapping her. And that meant she had run out of time.

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