Written in Red Page 8

<Vlad,> Simon said.

Vladimir smiled, revealing elongated canines. “I’ll take this one back to the Chambers. Grandfather is watching some of his old movies and will appreciate a fresh snack.”

Simon dipped his head in acknowledgment.

“Nyx and I will come by later to sort out whatever might be useful and dispose of the rest.” Still smiling, Vlad ripped the rifle out of the man’s grip, got a good hold of the heavy winter coat, and headed back to the Sanguinati’s part of the Courtyard, running easily as he dragged his prey.

Following the trail the humans left, Simon studied the broken junipers that had been planted as a screen to keep the Courtyard private from cars driving by—and from unwelcome eyes that might be watching from the park on the other side of the road. Standing on his hind legs, he shouldered between two bushes.

The trail led from a car parked on the shoulder of Parkside Avenue, its flashers blinking. The car would be reported when the next snowplow went by, but no one would come asking questions until morning—if anyone came by at all.

He trotted back to his prey.

Several Wolves were happily ripping the other body apart. Elliot waited near the unconscious man. When Simon approached, Elliot looked in the direction Vlad had gone.

<That was our prey,> Elliot growled.

<His too,> Simon growled back, showing his teeth. <We share.>

<Waste of meat.>

<Not a waste.> True, the Sanguinati didn’t use the meat, but after Vlad’s family had dined, he would call Boone Hawkgard, the Courtyard’s butcher. Tomorrow there would be a discreet sign in the shop’s window informing the terra indigene that special meat was available.

A change in the man’s breathing indicated a return to consciousness. Now it was time to eat.

Front toes elongated into strong, furry fingers with heavy claws. Simon and Elliot tore open the winter coat, ripped off the scarf, flannel shirt, and T-shirt, and shredded the jeans and long johns from thighs to ankles.

A gasping breath. The man opened his eyes.

Baring his teeth, Simon bit into the belly while Elliot tore out the throat, cutting off the man’s scream.

Rip. Tear. Gulp the hot, fresh meat. Simon pulled out the liver and gleefully devoured it, leaving the heart for Elliot. He ate his fill, then moved away, shrinking his front toes back to Wolf form as he rolled in fresh snow to clean his fur. When his friends had eaten their fill, Simon howled the Song of Prey. Any other Wolves who were out running tonight would swing by for a bite or two.

We share, he thought, looking at the arm he’d torn off the body at some point during the feeding. He picked it up and retraced his steps back to the Courtyard’s main road. Then he trotted off. He crossed over the Courtyard Creek Bridge and passed the Wolfgard land, finally leaving the arm in the Corvine part of the Courtyard. The Crows would appreciate an easy breakfast tomorrow.

A minute later, Elliot caught up to him, lugging part of a ribcage. His sire might not like sharing a kill, but when they had moved to Lakeside, Elliot had agreed to follow Simon’s lead.

Yes, the Crows would eat well in the morning. And by the time everyone else had had their share, there wouldn’t be much left of the monkeys to burn and bury.

CHAPTER 2

This is a car, this is a train, this is a bus. . . . Skull and crossbones means poison. . . . Shh. Be quiet. This is another lesson. . . . Pay attention, cs759. Watch what happens to someone who is poisoned. . . . This is a dog, this is a cat. . . . This video shows a woman riding a horse. . . . This is a child, this is a hammer. This is what happens to a face when . . .

A rumbling sound jerked Meg out of a restless sleep. Heart pounding, she stared at dark shapes defined by gray light, trying to remember where she was while she listened for footsteps in the corridor that would indicate the Walking Names were coming to begin the day’s spirit-breaking “pampering” and lessons.

The caretakers and other staff in their white uniforms with nametags pinned above the breast pocket. The men in white coats who poked and prodded and decided what the girls needed to stay in prime condition. And cs747 screaming at them that she had a name too, her name was Jean, and just because she didn’t have her name pinned to her shirt didn’t make it less true.

Jean had been restrained for weeks after she stole one of those name tags and used the pin to carve her name in big letters across her belly, ruining all that expensive skin. After that, the uniforms had the names sewn on with thread. And when Jean returned to the training sessions, she referred to everyone who worked in the compound as a Walking Name, refusing to give them so much as a distinct designation.

The Walking Names hated Jean. But Meg had listened to the older girl’s ravings and dim memories of a different kind of life, and had yearned for something she had glimpsed only through the images that made up the lessons. Thinking of herself as Meg instead of cs759 had been her first silent act of rebellion.

Another sound, more a steady crunch than a rumble.

She wasn’t in the compound anymore. Wasn’t within reach of the Walking Names or the Controller who ran the place. She was in the Lakeside Courtyard . . . within reach of the terra indigene.

Slipping out of bed, Meg crept to the side of the window where she could look out without being seen.

Another rumble as a big truck came down the street, its heavy blade clearing the snow in its path.

Snowplow. The ones she’d seen in training videos hadn’t made a sound, but that was typical. Identifying sounds was a different lesson from identifying images. Except when the girls were being shown video clips, sounds and images weren’t often used together.

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