Written in Red Page 154

Vlad was so startled by the words, his smoke form condensed into a partial human shape. Punishment was a death that took days and broke the mind before it destroyed the body. Only the most hated enemies were condemned in that way, and the words told him the depth of Erebus’s hatred for these particular humans. So Grandfather’s next words didn’t surprise him.

<Vlad. Find our Meg. Keep her safe.>

As his kin surrounded the two intruders, he sent a message to Simon. <Sam is with Grandfather.> Then he shifted fully to smoke and pursued the men who were pursuing Meg.

* * *

Asia picked herself up, still not sure what happened. They hit something. Or something hit them. But she’d heard the sound of bone breaking before the driver went flying and the snowmobile went up a snowbank at a bad angle and tipped over. Lucky for her, she bailed out before it tipped, but . . .

Had she really seen a giant bear made out of snow just before the accident? Impossible!

Asia glanced at the dead man and swallowed hard. Then again, something had swiped off the man’s face.

A howl rose from behind her. She didn’t know squat about the supposed tonal qualities of Wolf howls, but that particular Wolf sounded pissed off, and she didn’t want to run into him.

She took a step toward the snowmobile, thinking she could right it and drive out of the Courtyard, maybe all the way back to her apartment, where she would pack and be ready to leave town as soon as the driving ban lifted.

Something nearby growled.

Stepping away from the snowmobile, she began walking toward the Market Square and the parking lot. She didn’t give a damn about the driving ban. She’d just get her car unstuck and get out of town.

Nothing growled as she continued walking, but another howl was flung to the night sky—and was answered.

Asia broke into a jog.

* * *

Meg braked too hard and did a 360-degree spin before regaining control and stomping on the power pedal. She’d be scared later about what she’d just done. Right now, she had to get to the lake. She wasn’t sure if Winter would be there, but Spring would be. Maybe Air and Water too. She hadn’t met Earth or Fire, the other two cousins, but she’d filled a couple of library requests for each of them in the past week. If they were around, they would help her. Wouldn’t they?

A yellow triangle next to the power bar warned her that the BOW wasn’t going to run much longer. Behind her, she glimpsed lights. Those men, the enemy, were still after her.

Almost to the Courtyard Creek Bridge. And once she crossed the bridge, she would be in the Elementals’ part of the Courtyard.

* * *

Simon stripped off his clothes, shifted to Wolf, and burst out of the Wolfgard Complex, followed by Blair and Elliot. <Meg!>

<She’s headed for the lake,> Vlad reported. <There are three intruders behind her, and I’m behind them.>

The lake. Not too far from the Wolfgard land, then. Not far from him.

He took off, running, loping, bounding into and through drifts in the road, moving steadily toward the lake and Meg.

* * *

As Thunder and Lightning galloped toward the lake, Jester hung on to the front seat of the sleigh. Every time the horses’ hooves slammed into the ground, the potential for another storm grew in intensity. It could fade; the storms did sometimes. But Jester doubted this one would fade.

Humans often said payback was a bitch. Well, Winter was looking for payback.

Having survived the results when Winter was in full temper, he almost felt sorry for the humans.

Almost.

* * *

The yellow warning triangle was replaced by a blinking lightning bolt—the “charge me” symbol. A few seconds later, the BOW rolled to a stop within sight of the bridge. Meg got out, poised to run across the bridge. But the snowmobiles roared into sight, the headlights blinding her.

She knew what it felt like to be free, to have friends, to have a life. To have people she loved. She wasn’t going to let anyone take that away from her.

She bolted down the bank that led to the frozen creek. Harder to catch her, harder to disappear with her if she could reach the creek where she would be in the open and the Others could see her.

Her feet went out from under her, and she slid to the edge of the constructed retaining wall next to the bridge. As soon as she lowered herself to the creek, she screamed “Help!” and began shuffling across the ice.

“Stop!” a man shouted behind her. “Stop, you stupid bitch!”

Meg kept moving toward the other bank, slipping and sliding while men shouted for her to stop.

“Winter!” she yelled. “Winter!”

“Meg?” The voice seemed to come from everywhere—from the snow and from a coldness that was so bitter, Meg felt like she was breathing ice.

“Stop!” a man shouted.

The crack of gunshot. Something hit the ice near Meg’s right foot. Shards struck her, and she jerked to her left, still moving toward the bank.

Cracking sounds under her feet. Remembering Spring’s warning, Meg veered toward the right. Another shot sprayed shards of ice that had her turning back toward the weakened ice.

Winter suddenly appeared on the bank.

“They have guns!” Meg shouted. She tried to hurry and get off the ice before her friend was noticed by the men with guns. Just another step, she thought. Just another step.

“Meg, no!” Winter screamed.

As she took the last step, her hands reaching for the stones that acted as a natural containment wall on this side of the creek, the ice shattered beneath her feet, and Meg went under.

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