Marked in Flesh Page 114


“At least one of the storms will reach us by tomorrow.” His arms tightened around her as he rested his cheek against her fuzz of hair. “You’ll be all right, Meg.”

“We’ll be all right.” She wanted to believe that, but would believing it be enough to make it true?


Watersday, Juin 30

Jesse Walker opened the general store’s door, glad to have even that much relief from feeling closed in. She’d pulled the shutters over the store’s windows just before the storm hit. Prairie Gold hadn’t lost electric power—yet—but the lights kept flickering and annoyed her enough that she’d shut the damn things off, preferring the twilight and the reassuring hum of the refrigerated units to the constant reminder of how much food they could lose if the power went out in town.


“Rachel, honey, that’s enough. Come in now.”

The juvenile Wolf had shown up shortly before the storm hit and had stood outside the general store howling and howling. And her howls had been answered by two Wolves who had arrived in Bennett the day before—the new leader and dominant enforcer of the Prairie Gold pack. Jesse had expected them to continue on to the terra indigene settlement once they reached Prairie Gold. Instead, they had taken one of the rooms at the truck stop motel.

The howling of the wind and the howling of the Wolves started at pretty much the same time.


The Wolf looked at Jesse, then resumed her howling.

Jesse stayed in the doorway to keep Rachel company and because she had a feeling she would learn something important if she did. Besides, the wind had finally quieted and the rain was more a drizzle.

Gods above and below, no one would be able to travel on the dirt roads until they dried out some—assuming that the roads hadn’t washed out completely. At least the storm had passed over them quick enough. She saw some trash that had blown into the street, and a few shops had a shutter or two missing, but it didn’t look like too much damage.


A shimmer in the rain was the only warning that something moved out there. More than one. Intelligence and power. She’d felt that when she’d taken the human children and terra indigene youngsters to the hiding place in the hills. That same sense of something out there, thinking. Judging.

They moved on past the town. Jesse sagged against the doorframe, realizing only then how much they frightened her.

“We are here,” Rachel said, now a naked, shivering teenager. “That’s what we told the Elders. We are here to take care of the land, and you’re helping us.”

So they passed us by, let us live, Jesse thought. “Honey, either put your fur back on or come inside and dry off before you catch a chill.”

“Do you have warm milk?”

The girl sounded so hopeful, Jesse had to smile. “I can warm some up for both of us.”

Rachel followed her into the store, full of curiosity and questions about the unfamiliar human things piled on the shelves. The danger had passed, and the fear was shaken off like water shaken off fur.

As Jesse warmed up milk for them, she thought the Intuits would be wise to learn that skill, because she had a feeling that the Elders would never again be a danger seen from a safe distance.


Watersday, Juin 30

Stavros watched the passengers boarding the ocean greyhound. So many of the wealthy HFL supporters were taking the last ship leaving Toland before the storm descended on that part of the coast. They were going to Cel-Romano to see for themselves the triumph their money helped bring about.


And there was Nicholas Scratch in a “disguise” that wouldn’t fool a human, let alone one of the terra indigene. Of course, most of the people coming aboard had talked to Scratch—or at least seen him enough times that he couldn’t really believe a disguise would work for the length of the voyage. He had probably told the elite that this was a ruse to escape his “enemies.”

Scratch did have enemies now among the humans. Toland’s elite might still support him, or still believe there would be some reward for that support once they reached Cel-Romano, but those who understood the connection between the human places that were disappearing and the HFL movement were now pointing fingers and calling Scratch a charlatan who had deceived them.

Stavros had found this epiphany quite entertaining since it came in the wake of Scratch’s final speech, in which the man stated he could not be held responsible for actions other people took because they misinterpreted his motivational speeches as a call to commit violence against the terra indigene. Every man should be held accountable for his own actions.

Scratch had slipped away before the stunned crowd could react.

Stavros smiled. Now Nicholas Scratch was here, and so was he. And somewhere in the waters just beyond sight of land, the Sharkgard waited.

• • •

Stavros flowed from one shadowy place to another, observing, waiting—and wishing he’d fed before coming on board. Was there no one on this ship who wasn’t inebriated? There was the captain, but the water had turned rough—Ocean’s version of foreplay—and he didn’t want to weaken the man. And he didn’t want to dull his own senses by consuming alcohol thinly disguised as blood.

He’d overheard enough throughout the evening to realize the HFL supporters had some wildly romantic ideas of being hailed as heroes for providing food and steel and whatever else they’d helped Cel-Romano acquire under the table. But now, with a bounty of land newly won by the Cel-Romano armies, those supporters were no longer needed. There was only one human on this ship who would be welcome in Cel-Romano.

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