It was oddly peaceful on the ramparts of our castle. The night air was cool, and I could feel the creatures of the forest going about their business, making preparations for the coming winter. Down in the castle Aiko and Alexis were doing something similar, laying in supplies and shoring up the defenses. I had been helping earlier, but I’d mostly just been getting in the way, so I’d wandered up here instead.
It’s funny, Snowflake said, echoing my own thoughts. You can’t tell that anything’s wrong from here.
I know, I replied, reaching down and scratching her ears. She hadn’t been more than a couple feet from me in the four days since I’d left police custody.
Not that I could blame her. I hadn’t exactly been trying to get away from her, either.
Looking south, I almost fancied that I could see a lightness to the sky, a redness. It was probably my imagination, but not necessarily. News was hard to come by at the moment, but from what I’d heard Bucharest was burning.
A lot of the world was burning.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d expected to happen after Loki’s little speech, but it hadn’t been remotely as bad as what actually did. An awful lot of people had been awfully repressed for the last thousand years or so, and now that the rules had been lifted they were making up for lost time with a vengeance. Packs of werewolves roamed the streets, vampires stalked the night, and faeries kidnapped children from their homes in broad daylight. The Guards were trying to maintain sanity, as were the Watchers and various local powers, but they couldn’t be everywhere. Where there were gaps in the coverage, the fires spread.
Everything I’d heard suggested that things were bad out there, and getting worse.
The odd thing was that many of the problems could have been avoided. There were plenty of people out there who knew the rules, the logic by which these things worked. They could have told the uninformed to carry iron to ward off the fae, that werewolves weren’t so bad as long as you stayed out of the way, that they should never invite a stranger—or even a familiar face, really—into their home. Simple rules, tips and tricks that could negate a lot of the minor threats people were confronted by. That, in turn, would leave the greater powers with more time to handle the major problems.
Humanity already had the advantage of numbers, and modern weapons, and they had quite a few allies in the supernatural world. With just a little bit of knowledge and organization, they could have kept things together.
But most people had been caught wholly by surprise, unprepared to deal with things they’d been taught were fictional. They were confused, they were scared, and the government wasn’t doing all that great a job of making them less confused and scared. A lot of people didn’t know the old stories, and even those who did couldn’t really say which parts were accurate. There were places where people had held together and maintained order, but by and large they hadn’t. Unrest encouraged unrest, and in cities around the world there was rioting and chaos as a result.
But here, in one of the more inaccessible reaches of the Transylvanian mountains?
Things were peaceful here. Quiet. Calm. Outside, the creatures of the forest followed the same routines they’d followed for thousands of generations. Barring extreme changes in how the world worked, they would keep following those routines for thousands more.
It was, in an odd way, both reassuring and intimidating. To know that life would go on, that the current chaos was fundamentally transient, that was comforting. No matter how bad things got, something would be left to pick up and carry on.
But at the same time, there was something deeply unsettling about it. This was huge, probably the single biggest thing I’d ever seen, let alone had a part in. To know that it was, in the grand scheme of things, not terribly important or significant—that was terrifying. It was a reminder of just how small I was.
I sighed and went back inside. Soon, I knew, this illusion of peace would be shattered. Alexis was leaving in the morning, going back to live with her family in Oregon. Her membership in the Guards was all but certain by now, but she still needed a certain amount of combat training, and I wasn’t equipped to give it to her. She was going to be taking lessons from Moray.
For my part…well, I still had a city to govern. And now, more than ever, I had to actually do the job I’d laid claim to. If I wasn’t there to keep the peace in such troubled times, I might as well give up any pretense of being a jarl. And if someone wasn’t there to maintain order, things might get very bad before they got better.
Inside, the work was almost finished. I did a bit of heavy lifting, moving various blocks and beams into position, and then we called it a night. Alexis went to her room to finish packing. Aiko and I went upstairs, where she kissed me with an intensity that spoke of desperation more than passion.
Neither of us had mentioned what she’d been about to say, when we were interrupted. It had taken days for me to return to a more-or-less normal state of mind, and once I did it had become clear what the state of the world was going to be. Talking about emotions, our relationship, the future—it all seemed ridiculous in the face of such upheaval, such uncertainty about what tomorrow would bring.
But for the moment, I could be satisfied with tonight.