The next day was maybe the strangest I’ve ever experienced.
To start with, I woke up in my bed at home. The wound on my leg, which had been covered in bandages when I went to sleep, was entirely gone. I didn’t even have a scar.
The next thing I noticed was that, according to the computer, it had been three days since the fight. When I called Kyra, she confirmed this, but seemed confused that I found it surprising. Apparently I’d called her several times to assure her that I was healing properly, but it would be some time before I felt well enough to be up and about.
Enrico had gotten lucky and survived to become a werewolf. He was currently living with the pack and learning the details of what he’d become. I felt a little guilty about that—Enrico was hardly the ideal candidate for lycanthropy, and I was sure that this was a little more than he’d intended when he said that he wanted to get involved with the supernatural—but at least he was alive.
All of that was strange enough. But what really threw me was how much seemed to have changed in the few days that I was unconscious, or whatever happened there. The murders had already been pinned on a gang with a wolf fetish, with impressively thorough evidence. There were weapons improvised from the claws and teeth of wolves and dogs that matched the injuries, transcripts of incriminating conversations, and reams of personal correspondence. DNA samples from the scene, which had somehow been overlooked before, were a perfect match. The accused protested that they were innocent, and in fact didn’t know each other at all, but in the face of the evidence their claims rang hollow for the jury. They all received a long prison sentence.
I watched the coverage of the trial afterwards. It wasn’t until that point that I realized that one of the supposed gangsters had been the same asshole customer I’d intimidated at Val’s shop. I was pretty sure the Twilight included him in the frame-job purely as a favor to me, and made a note to never get on their bad side.
I’d also slept through Conn’s big reveal, which was televised live by most of the news outlets in the world. There were public letters, and testimonials—including one by the Colorado Springs Police Department. Christopher had apparently sealed the deal with them, although I hadn’t known about any of it beyond my conversation with the Chief.
Conn isn’t taking any chances with this plan, and he isn’t rushing things. The videos and letters were all delivered anonymously, including the live films. Quite a few people have publically admitted to being werewolves, a lot of them fraudulently, but most of the actual werewolves are keeping it very quiet. There are still rules against doing anything werewolfy in public. Only a handful of trusted, reliable people are allowed to talk about it at all.
My name was signed to a couple of the letters, apparently, and for me to deny it would raise some serious doubts about the other alleged werewolves. So, for the sake of Conn’s publicity stunt, I wound up publically admitting that I was a werewolf, even though I technically wasn’t.
The universe seems to delight in such small ironies.
When I woke up, I found a number of things had been left in my house. The first was an envelope containing several thousand dollars in cash and a note from the Khan asking that, in the future, when I was planning to do something idiotic beyond the wildest nightmares of sane individuals, I let him know in advance so that he would have some small chance of saving my stupid ass. In exactly those words. I smiled and took the money.
The second thing was a green glass vase containing a bouquet of roses in a plethora of colors, all of them perfect blossoms. The attached card read, simply, Excellent work. I’m not sure who it was from, but I threw it out immediately. I wasn’t sure whether they’d put some kind of spell on it and I didn’t want it around me.
And the third thing was Tyrfing, resting neatly on my mantle. It looked…satisfied, somehow. Kyra still had all of my other weapons for safekeeping, and when I asked her she didn’t know anything about how it had gotten back. I chalked it up to the weirdness Alexander had told me about and stuck the sword in a closet for the time being.
As it turned out, the first house I found Black in had been provided by his employer. She arranged for it to be given to me as a sign of her gratitude. I spent most of Conn’s money refurbishing it into my new lab. It’s nothing like Alexander’s setup, but it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing, which is what I had previously. I even have a skeleton to add ambience to the place. Aiko pieced it together out of a dozen barghest corpses and gave it to me as an April Fool’s Day gift.
Speaking of Aiko, we’ve been sort of dating, which I guess I should have seen coming ever since that party at Ryujin’s palace. I say sort of, because neither one of us is quite right in the head, and I think we bring out the worst in each other on top of that. The first time we went out to dinner was a Mexican place. She dosed my drink with some sort of hallucinogen, and I bribed the cooks to put finely chopped habanero all through her fajitas. The resulting night was…amusing.
Aiko and I were both invited to the formal investiture of Kyra as the next Alpha, two days after I woke up. It was a rare privilege to be extended to a nonwerewolf.
It was held at noon in a small clearing in the woods, not too far from the city. The whole pack was there, of course, about twenty-five werewolves in human shape. That was on the small side for a pack, thanks to the numerous deaths of recent months—and, before that, more deaths under Roland’s rule. Kyra stood at the center of the pack, surrounded by her people.
Aiko, Enrico and I weren’t part of the ceremony. It was something for the pack alone, and none of us was a part of that. Enrico might be soon, but the pack wouldn’t take a new wolf until they made at least one full moon without dying or going crazy, and the ritual proper wouldn’t take place until the next moon after that. We stood at the edge of the trees and watched. Enrico had a thoughtful, faintly disturbed expression on his face, and made no move to speak with me or Aiko.
The kitsune asked me, “Why so glum? I’d have thought you’d be proud of her.” Her voice was quiet, so as not to disturb anyone.
“I am, ” I said quietly. “But I wouldn’t have wished this on her.”
She looked at me as though confused. “Isn’t it a step up?”
I sighed. “Maybe. That kind of power…it changes you. She won’t be the same person after this.”
We were silent after that for a while. In truth, her new position was changing Kyra already. It was there, if you knew how to look. I did. I could see it in her stance, in how she moved as though when she spoke, the world would bloody well listen, in the way the pack looked at her. She was becoming the axis around which they moved.
That was what the Alpha was. The cornerstone, the solid point around which the pack was built. It was inevitable. It was necessary. My personal feelings on the matter were irrelevant.
So, for that matter, were hers.
“Everybody changes,” Aiko said eventually. Her voice was quiet and sad.
I nodded. I mean, I knew that from my own life. I’d probably changed as much in the past few months as Kyra would under the burden of her new position.
“I’m kinda curious, though,” she said. “You didn’t get this broken up over your cop friend over there. Isn’t that worse?”
“Probably,” I admitted. “But he made his choice knowing what might happen to him. She didn’t.” I sighed. “Kyra never looked for power. She didn’t even choose to be a werewolf. But she’d rather die than betray what she sees as her duty.” I shook my head briskly. “You about had enough of this?”
She looked at me and smirked. “I,” she pronounced gravely, “have had enough of werewolves to keep me for at least a year or two.”
We left together. She tripped me into two different snow banks, but I laughed harder than she did. It wasn’t like I could feel the cold anyway.
Not every change is bad. It’s important to remember that sometimes.
Kyra drew me aside when we reached the pack house. I wasn’t sure where she’d come from; she just appeared next to me while Aiko and Enrico were getting into their respective cars. I’m not sure either of them noticed when I disappeared.
Kyra ushered me silently up into the study, where she shut the door behind us and sat down, looking a little dwarfed by the huge desk. “Christopher never told anybody about you joining the pack,” she said without preamble. She didn’t elaborate, letting me draw my own conclusions.
I thought about what Kyra had said about the pack still being in flux. I thought about how much worse it would be now that the Alpha was changing too. I thought about Christopher lying to me. I thought of all the beings who were starting to show an unhealthy amount of interest in me, and how little concern they were likely to have about collateral damage.
“I think,” I said slowly, “I’d better wait on that. It’s not a good idea right now. Maybe someday.”
She looked at me soberly, and I got the impression that she had seen pretty much the entirety of what I’d been thinking. “Maybe that’s best,” she said quietly.
I walked home, lost in thought. On the way I dodged, almost without thinking, a remote control plane rigged with explosives. There was confetti involved.