Written in Red Page 51

“Don’t ask me how I know these things,” Tess said in a rough voice. “Just know that they are true.”

“Tell us,” Simon said, struggling not to make any changes that would look aggressive.

“Cassandra sangue,” Tess said. “Blood prophet. A Thousand Cuts. Apparently, someone determined that was how many could be gotten out of one of these girls. The distance between cuts is precise. Too close and the prophecies . . . smudge. Too much space and skin is wasted. A precise cut with a very sharp blade to produce the euphoria and the prophecies. The girls become addicted to the euphoria, crave it beyond anything else. Which is what kills them in the end. Unsupervised, they might cut too deep or nick a vein and bleed out while their minds are within the euphoria and prophecies. Or they cut too close and the mixed prophecies drive them insane. However it happens, most of them die before they’re thirty-five years old.”

“Then the caging is done as a kindness?” Henry asked, sounding reluctant.

“You’d have to ask someone who has lived in that kind of cage,” Tess said. “While she has any skin that can be cut, Meg is a valuable asset to someone—a source of potential wealth to someone. Like every other kind of creature, the cassandra sangue have different levels of ability. A cut on a thick-skinned, thickheaded clunker is still worth a couple hundred dollars. A sensitive skin, combined with intelligence that has been educated? Depending on what part of the body is being cut for the prophecy, you’re talking about anywhere from a thousand dollars a cut to ten thousand or more.”

Blair whistled. “That raises the stakes.”

Simon looked at the people around the table. Yes, that raised the stakes. Meg could be worth thousands of dollars to the human who had controlled her.

What is she worth to us?

“I gather the reason you called us here was because of the potential fight if we allow Meg to stay,” Vlad said.

Simon nodded.

“Then Nyx and I would like to add some information that the rest of you need before you make a decision.” Vlad looked at Nyx, who nodded. “Meg met Grandfather Erebus.”

Everyone jerked in their chairs.

“She came by delivering packages,” Nyx said, “and she fretted over one that wouldn’t fit in the boxes. It had been in the office for a while, so she didn’t want to take it back, and she wouldn’t leave it in the snow the way other humans would have done. So Grandfather gave her permission to enter the Chambers and place the box in front of his door. It turned out to be the box of old movies he’d been waiting for these past few months.”

“He has decreed that the sweet blood may enter the Chambers to deliver packages, that the Sanguinati will do nothing to harm or frighten the sweet blood within the Chambers or anywhere else in the Courtyard,” Vlad said.

“Sweet blood?” Simon said. “Does he know she’s a cassandra sangue?”

Vlad shrugged. “Does it matter? There is a sweetness about her that appeals to him, and he’s made it clear what he expects from his own as far as Meg is concerned.”

Simon didn’t comment. Meg had an annoying appeal, but he wouldn’t call her sweet. Puppylike in some ways, which would interest Wolves, but definitely not sweet.

Now Julia and Jenni shifted in their chairs.

“She met the girl at the lake,” Julia said.

Jester whined.

“Which one?” Blair asked.

“Which one would be out there skating, wearing nothing but a short-sleeved white dress and shoes?” Julia replied.

“Winter,” Simon breathed. “Meg talked to Winter?”

“The Hawks and Crows were warned off. Apparently, the Elemental didn’t want to share the conversation. We don’t know what was said, but she and the Meg chatted for a while, and then the Meg left.”

So at least one of the Elementals also had an interest in Meg. And Winter, if provoked, could be a terrifying bitch even for other terra indigene.

They looked at one another. Then they all turned to him and nodded.

“Meg stays,” Simon said in confirmation. “And we’ll make sure Meg—and the police—know we consider her one of us now.”

“How are you going to do that?” Tess asked as the black threads faded from her hair.

Simon picked up the razor and the wanted poster. “With a slight change of address.”

* * *

Meg didn’t need to see the deliveryman suddenly tense to know Simon was standing in the Private doorway. When the man left, she continued to stare out toward the street rather than look at the Wolf.

“Should I close up the office?” she asked.

“The office is closed from noon until two p.m., and it’s almost noon,” Simon said. “So, yes, you should close up until you reopen for afternoon hours.”

Now she turned to look at him. “I can stay?”

“With some changes.”

“What kind of changes?”

“Close up, Meg. Then we’ll talk.”

She closed up the office, put on her coat and boots, then followed him out the back door, which he locked before she could pull out her keys.

He led her to a BOW parked near the door and stuffed her into the passenger’s seat. By the time she got herself sorted out, he was behind the wheel and headed into the Courtyard.

She started to ask again what changes she had to make, but he was frowning more and more. Then he hit the brakes, and the BOW slid sideways before it stopped.

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