Marked in Flesh Page 124

Tess pushed the hood off her head. No need to maintain a veneer over her true form in order to lessen the impact of looking at her; the fog would serve that purpose now. After all, she wanted to harvest enough life from her prey to make them fatally ill but not immediately. Let them scurry back to the cars parked across the street or their companions in the Stag and Hare who probably had cheered them on when they proposed striking at the terra indigene under the cover of the storm. Too bad they hadn’t realized that the storm had been shaped for the benefit of the other predators who moved through the city now.

Clear stripes in the fog, as if something had raked claws over a gray blanket. Tess saw figures approaching. Four, five, six. Did they have weapons? She had to assume they did, and even one of Namid’s most ferocious predators couldn’t afford to be careless about weapons like guns.

<Nyx, six monkeys are in the delivery area. Can you block the access way in case any of them get past me?>

<I’ll help if you agree to let two get past you,> Nyx replied. <I’m hungry.>

<They’re full of liquid courage.>

Nyx sighed. <I don’t want to get drunk on a meal. One, then.>


Six flashlights turned on, beacons that said, We’re here, come eat us!

Seeing no reason not to oblige, Tess moved swiftly, heading in the direction of the man who was closest to the shoulder-high brick wall between the delivery area and Henry’s yard. Her shoulder hit an arm. The man swore and looked directly at her as he tried to grab her.

She pulled away from his weakened grasp, relishing the kind of sustenance she rarely allowed herself to consume since coming to Lakeside. Moving away from him, she heard him stumble toward the street.

The other five turned toward her, flashlights aimed so the light would hit her face and blind her. But she kept moving, looking into their eyes and then looking away from the blinding light. Fatal sips. But the one who swung a piece of chain and managed to hit her leg . . . Tess held his gaze long enough to make it rain inside his skull.

<Tess!> Nyx shouted. <Get inside!>

She had a moment to understand the quality of the sudden silence before two of Namid’s teeth and claws rushed out of the access way and went straight for the illuminated prey.

It was like the fog had turned into huge furred shapes that defied description or naming.

Tess turned to dash into the Liaison’s Office, but the one leg wasn’t working right. She stumbled and hit the brick wall. She reached up, felt air. There was nothing graceful about her scramble over the wall, but she heard claws scrape the bricks as she fell into Henry’s yard and pressed herself against the wall in an effort to hide.

A little too close, she thought. But not a serious attempt to catch her. <Nyx? You okay?>

<Meg left the little window in the bathroom open partway. That was the fastest way into the office. I’m going to have to talk to her about keeping the toilet lid down. I came too close to landing in the bowl.>

Tess clamped a hand over her mouth. <Don’t make me laugh. I’m hiding in Henry’s yard, so I’m not technically inside, and my leg is banged up enough that I’m not going to be able to run for cover.>

<You shouldn’t let humans get close enough to hurt you,> Nyx scolded.

<I miscalculated.> Tess tried to breathe very quietly. There were sounds on the other side of the wall—not exactly feeding sounds, but definitely nothing that came from the humans. In fact, she hadn’t heard one human scream, which told her a lot about the speed of these earth natives.

The quiet scrape of claws on the bricks above her head. The smell of something earthy and so very wild leaning over the wall to sniff her.

Did she dare move enough to meet its eyes? And if she couldn’t harvest enough life from an Elder, could she weaken it enough to get away before it tore her open?

It suddenly occurred to her that her form of terra indigene was one of Namid’s most ferocious predators until you crossed into the true wild country and met the earth natives who lived there.

The Elder withdrew.

More sounds. It took the second splash for Tess to identify that the Elders were batting human remains into the water-filled street. She would try to warn Montgomery and his men before they went out and found . . . whatever they would find.

Then she heard another sound that had her struggling to stand up. They were going into the Liaison’s Office? Why?


<I know. Another one came in through the back door and is sniffing around.>

<Can you get out?>

<Smoke isn’t tasty, so I’m not that worried.> A pause. <I think a couple of them are in the sorting room now.>

One of Meg’s constant places that helped her deal with all the things in the Courtyard that changed. Well, she and Nyx would have to put it back together before they let Meg see it.

Assuming the Elders weren’t caching special meat in the cupboards.

Tess tested the sore leg. Hurt but not broken, and not bleeding.

<Tess, get down,> Henry said.

Her hair had changed to more green than black, so she dared glance in the direction of the studio, confident that a look wouldn’t harm the Grizzly. He stood at the studio door, watching the Liaison’s Office.

She caught a whiff of that wild scent that had never been touched by anything human—until now. Then it was gone without so much as a splash, and the oppressive silence, like the fog, lifted.

Henry stepped out of his studio and approached Tess. “Foolish to take on six enemies when they couldn’t see you well enough to die.”

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