Home > Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(8)

Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(8)
Author: Anne Bishop

That was a good question. The female was terra indigene. That much Tolya sensed. But the form? Something dangerous. Something lethal, even to the rest of them. Something even Virgil had hesitated to confront, despite another Wolf and two Sanguinati supporting him.

Tolya shifted to his human form, the movement drawing the female’s attention. When she straightened and turned to face him—and streaks of black suddenly appeared in her gold, blue, and red hair—he felt the unpleasant sensation of being genuinely afraid.

Harvester. Plague Rider. A rare form of terra indigene that, for the most part, were solitary because they were so deadly. When a Harvester’s hair turned solid black, he or she could kill another creature with just a look. The Sanguinati mostly lived on blood taken fresh from their prey. A Harvester took the prey’s life energy, turning organs into black sludge.

She looked human enough to pass for human at a distance, if her hair wasn’t coiling and changing color at the moment she was seen. But her eyes were black or so dark a brown to make no difference. That and a feral quality no human could match meant that, up close, she would never pass for human.

How many humans had she killed before she had learned the form this well? She wore a mishmash of clothes that looked more like layers of rags—and she looked half starved.

He moved toward the Harvester, giving her a reason to focus on him. He knew Virgil was tensed, waiting for the moment he could dash over to Barbara Ellen and pull her out of immediate danger.

The Harvester must have sensed the tension in the Wolf, because she turned to face Virgil—and her hair changed to broad streaks of red and black with threads of gold and blue.

“Stay away from her,” the Harvester said.

Protective? Barbara Ellen was an adult female, but there was something bouncy and puppyish about her that tugged at protective instincts. He just hadn’t considered that this female would respond the same way.

“He means her no harm,” Tolya said. “He is the sheriff. That means she is under his protection. And mine.” He flicked a look past the Harvester. “Barbara Ellen, please go with Isobel.”

“No.” More of the Harvester’s hair turned black.

Tolya swallowed his frustration. If they all survived this day, he was going to say some sharp words to Barbara Ellen Debany about approaching strangers who were, quite obviously, more than a little strange.

“Mr. Sanguinati is the leader of the town, and my boss,” Barbara Ellen said. “I should do what he asks.”

Her expression said she didn’t understand why he was acting like such a … Well, he didn’t know what the human term would be that matched her expression, but he was sure it wouldn’t be flattering.

“If you’d like one of the canaries, I could bring one over to wherever you’re staying,” Barbara Ellen said.

The Harvester turned to face the girl. “This is food?”

Barbara Ellen’s eyes widened. “No. A canary is a yellow bird that sings. I thought you might like one for company while you’re here.”

“Company.”

The word was spoken softly, but Tolya suddenly knew what had brought this female to Bennett. How much courage had Simon Wolfgard, the leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, needed when Tess had shown up looking for company, for a place to belong? And did he, Tolya, have that much courage? There were no Plague Riders in Toland. Or there hadn’t been before the Elders and Elementals had unleashed their fury on the human-controlled cities.

“Are you looking for work?” Tolya asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “I heard … words. I followed the words here.”

Just how far had the Elementals flung his request for terra indigene to come to Bennett? Obviously far enough for a Harvester to have heard and responded.

“Let’s go up to my office and we’ll discuss what kind of work you would like to do,” Tolya said.

The Harvester took a step toward him, then turned back to Barbara Ellen. “I would like a yellow bird that sings. For company.”

Barbara Ellen smiled. “I’ll select one for you and bring it …” She hesitated.

“I will let you know where to bring the bird,” Tolya said. He extended his arm in the direction of the government building. “My office is this way.”

The Harvester followed him, the black streaks changing to mere threads in the gold he assumed was her base color. She looked over her shoulder and bared her teeth. “The Wolf will bite the Barbara Ellen human.”

Tolya looked back. Virgil had closed the distance and now stood with his back to them, blocking their view of Barbara Ellen—and her view of one of Namid’s most ferocious predators.

“No, he won’t,” Tolya said. He suspected Virgil would do a lot of snarling that would display his teeth, but he wouldn’t use them. Not on Barbara Ellen.

Still, there was no reason to take chances. <Isobel, stay with Barbara Ellen until I’m available to talk to her.>

<I will. Virgil is angry.>

He hadn’t expected anything different.

“I’m Tolya Sanguinati,” he said as he and the Harvester crossed the street. “What is your name?”

“Scythe.”

Blessed Thaisia. “Welcome to Bennett.” He opened the door of the government building. “Let’s see what we can do about finding you some work.”

* * *

* * *

Virgil waited until Tolya had gotten the Plague Rider out of sight. Then he grabbed one of Barbara Ellen’s arms and hauled her over to the jail. She tugged and pulled, finally realizing she had done something wrong. She yipped and yapped at him. He ignored the yipping and yapping, glad to see Kane racing ahead of him and shifting to a human form to open various doors in the sheriff’s office.

“He shouldn’t be naked in public,” Barbara Ellen said, taking a break from the yipping and yapping about Virgil hauling her to the jail.

“Virgil,” Isobel warned.

He ignored Isobel too. Barbara Ellen had too many ties to the Lakeside Courtyard for him to do what he should do, which was force her down until she showed her belly in submission. He figured, for a human, this would be the closest thing.

He grabbed her other arm and lifted her until she was trotting on her toes and too unbalanced to realize what he intended until he put her in one of the cells and locked the door.

She stared at him, shocked. “You’re arresting me? For what? Being polite?”

“You’re like a puppy trying to befriend a rattlesnake!”

She blinked. “She’s one of the Snakegard?”

“No, she’s not Snakegard.”

“Then why did you say—”

“She’s dangerous!” The words came out as an angry howl. It was good she was in the cell. The bars kept him from biting her.

“I thought she was someone like Tess,” Barbara Ellen said. “Her kind of terra indigene, I mean. And Tess isn’t dangerous.” Her forehead wrinkled. “Unless someone makes her angry. My brother told me several times to get gone if Tess got angry.”

What was he supposed to do with a human who could recognize a Harvester and still didn’t understand she was dealing with a deadly predator?

Keep her here and let Tolya deal with her, that’s what he could do.

Virgil looked at Isobel, who had followed him to the cell block. <Can you find something that will keep her busy while she’s here?>

<I’ll find something,> Isobel said.

He walked out with the Sanguinati, closing the cellblock door to muffle the renewed yapping.

* * *

* * *

Tolya stared at Scythe. “You want to run a saloon? The kind that would have been here when Bennett was a frontier town?”

“Yes.”

“Why? How do you know about such a place?”

“My … kind … have hunted in such places since humans first came to this part of Thaisia. I like the stories about the olden times. I thought this place might …” She looked around, disappointed.

Even among the rest of the terra indigene, so little was known about Harvesters. Scythe looked to be in her late twenties but she could have been a hundred. From what she’d said, she’d had no formal human-centric education, but she’d learned to read and do sums and had listened to the teaching stories that were the accumulated knowledge of her kind. And she had learned to take the human form to mask her true form, whatever it was.

He didn’t doubt for a second that nothing but another Harvester could look at that true form and survive—the possible exceptions being the Elementals and Elders, and he wasn’t sure about the Elders.

Leaning forward, Tolya rested his hands on the desk. “So you want to run an old-fashioned saloon. With … girls?”

“Yes.”

“For … mating?” Human mating practices were much different from those of the terra indigene, but he found the idea of bringing human females to Bennett and permitting them to be … used … extremely distasteful. Perhaps some females enjoyed mating with several males, but if the males weren’t a united pack of some kind, they wouldn’t work together to raise the young that came from such mating, so he didn’t see the point of that kind of behavior on the female’s part. It wasn’t practical.

“No,” Scythe said coldly. “I want to run a saloon, not a brothel. The girls would dance and talk with customers. They would sing to entertain. Any male who tried to have more than that …”

She smiled, and something in her black eyes told Tolya that males who tried to have more suddenly wouldn’t have enough energy to make it out the door on their own, let alone do anything else.

A hunting ground, and not just for Scythe, who would be able to take a little sip of life energy from many people instead of draining—and killing—one person. The Sanguinati could also help keep things calm. They didn’t have to bite to feed. In their smoke form, they could draw blood through their prey’s skin.

“I have not read stories about frontier towns,” Tolya said. It was a hole in his education that he would have to remedy quickly. He would ask Jesse Walker to recommend books. He should be able to find her suggestions among the books in the houses or in the bookstore or library, which were still closed because they couldn’t spare anyone to work in those places. “What else did humans do in such a saloon?”

“They played games involving cards. Usually for money. Sometimes a human cheated and there was fighting. That I will not allow.”

Which meant Scythe’s saloon could be a place where the Simple Life folk who would be working on the ranches could come and socialize and not become prey for other kinds of humans.

“I think I know a place that would suit you,” Tolya said. “There is even a suite on the second floor for the owner and a small office on the ground floor.”

She watched him.

“I would suggest that you use a stage name for your business dealings with humans.” He smiled, showing a hint of fang. “With humans, there is such a thing as too much honesty.”

   
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