Written in Red Page 58

In the absolute silence that followed, she heard a window slam shut.

“You’re going to get me in trouble,” she told Thunder in a loud whisper.

The pony wouldn’t look at her, which confirmed he had been responsible for that roll of thunder.

“Now,” she said firmly. “Lakeside mail carriers are good-mannered ponies. Anyone who can’t behave will have to go home.”

She couldn’t actually make them go back to the Pony Barn if they weren’t good mannered, but she just stood in the doorway of the sorting room. The ponies stared at her as if trying to decide if she was bluffing. Then they sorted themselves out in a neat line, with Thunder in his usual first position.

“Thank you.” Giddily triumphant, Meg went to the table and picked up the stacks of mail for Thunder’s baskets. As each pony shifted in the line, she filled baskets for Lightning, Tornado, Earthshaker, and Fog. Going back to the table for the last three batches of mail, she wondered about the ponies’ names. If Thunder could make so much sound by stamping his foot, what could Tornado and Earthshaker do if they pitched a fit?

Couldn’t think about that. Just like she wouldn’t think about having Wolves and vampires living in the same apartment complex that she did—or why she felt safer being around them than the humans she had lived with in the compound.

Just like she wouldn’t admit to being curious about seeing a Wolf in Wolf form. She didn’t have a training image of a terra indigene Wolf, just images of the animal. Even her Controller, with all the money he acquired from the use of his property, hadn’t been able to buy a photograph of a Wolf to use as reference.

Shaking off those thoughts, Meg fetched the treat bowl and held out two carrot chunks for Thunder.

He looked at her, looked at the carrots, and shook his head.

“Carrots,” Meg said. “You liked carrots last week.”

Another head shake. Thunder lifted a hoof, looked toward the consulate, and put the hoof down carefully.

Meg studied the ponies and felt her stomach flutter. Oh no.

Retreating—and becoming aware of just how cold the room was because she’d already had the door open too long—she hustled into the front room, grabbed the calendar and a marker, then hustled back to the ponies.

“Look.” She made a big S on Moonsday, then turned the calendar around for the ponies to see. Not that she thought they could read, but they seemed to understand words. “We had sugar lumps on Moonsday as a special treat. We don’t get sugar lumps again as a treat until next Moonsday, which is here.” She made another S on the calendar. “Today we have carrots as our treat.”

She put the calendar and marker down, picked up the treat bowl, and returned to the doorway. “Carrots today.” She held out two carrot chunks.

Managing to convey disappointment and resignation, Thunder ate his carrot chunks and headed out to deliver his mail.

All the ponies ate their carrots, including the ones who must have shown up today because they expected sugar.

Meg closed the outside door, checked the front room to make sure no delivery trucks were pulling in, then went into the back room to make herself a cup of peppermint tea. If they were going to have a treat discussion every day, she was going to put on her boots and stand outside from now on. At least that way she could warm up afterward.

* * *

Simon hung up the office phone and sat back in his chair. That was the third West Coast Courtyard leader to call him this morning, asking if there had been any peculiar attacks in the Lakeside Courtyard’s territory.

Something new had found its way among the humans. Something that was absorbed by the terra indigene when they ate the meat. Humans were turning savagely aggressive, and not just among their own kind. They were attacking some of the Others. Mostly Crows were being attacked, were being ripped apart in both forms, by packs of humans that were so aggressive, they had no survival instincts. The top predators in those Courtyards had taken down the monkeys, then began to fight among themselves soon after consuming the meat.

Just as disturbing were the Wolves and Grizzlies and Cats that were suddenly so passive, they couldn’t defend themselves against an attack by a gang of humans.

The bodywalkers, the healers among the terra indigene, could find no evidence of poison or drugs, but something was making humans behave strangely and was also affecting the Others.

More humans in the bigger cities took drugs that not only damaged their lives but also spoiled them as meat. But none of the incidents being reported were in the big cities. This new danger was happening in small farming hamlets or industrial centers that had a few hundred citizens. The kinds of places where the Others had minimal contact with humans and wouldn’t know there could be reasons not to eat a kill.

The kinds of places that, if the Others felt threatened and decided to eliminate those humans, the number that were killed would be howled at as tragic on the television or in the newspapers, but in truth would be no more than an inconvenience. Another group of humans would be selected to work the farms or run the machines, would scrub off the blood and move into the houses—if the Others didn’t get there first and simply reclaim the land and property for themselves.

Didn’t humans understand how expendable they were? The terra indigene were as old as the world, as old as the land and the seas. They learned from the top predators and became more than those predators. Always adapting, always changing as Namid changed. They would be forever.

The terra indigene in Thaisia didn’t need humans anymore in order to have the material things they wanted. If the monkeys became a real threat, they no longer had enough to offer to make their presence endurable. If that day came, humans would follow the same path as other creatures before them and become an extinct meat.

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