“Coma,” the vet said firmly.
“Are you sure?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from showing any emotion.
Apparently I wasn’t doing a great job, because he looked at me with an odd expression. I wasn’t sure quite what it meant. “Absolutely,” he said. “Traumatic brain injury leading to coma. Probably cranial hemorrhage as well.”
I swallowed hard. “Can you fix it?”
“Maybe,” he said doubtfully. “Probably not, especially if she’s bleeding internally. And even if she wakes up, she’ll probably never walk again with the damage to her shoulder. It’s probably kinder to let her go. She’s suffered enough already.”
This time there was no mistaking what his tone meant. Accusation, plain and simple. Just as well, I supposed. If a vet saw a dog with severe trauma, a missing eye, and teeth replaced with metal implants, and he didn’t feel a certain amount of condemnation towards that dog’s owner, he wasn’t a very good vet.
“Fix it,” I said, more firmly. “I’ll see to it you have whatever you need.”
“A hospital,” he said instantly. “I don’t have the equipment to treat this kind of injury in my clinic. If you want her to live, she needs to get to a hospital immediately. And it’ll take a neurosurgeon to deal with it if there is a hemorrhage.”
I nodded. That made sense, I supposed. Vets probably didn’t have much call to treat comas. “Selene,” I barked, turning away from the scene. I couldn’t stand to watch Snowflake lie there, so close and yet utterly beyond my ability to help.
She appeared next to me so fast that she must have been just standing there waiting for me to call. “Yes?” she said.
“Take the housecarls and take over the nearest hospital.” I racked my brain, trying to think of which hospital that was, but I couldn’t remember, so I left it at that. “And recruit a neurosurgeon.”
“How should we handle this?”
“Do what you have to,” I snapped. “Bribe them, threaten them, whatever. You’re smart, you’ll figure something out.” Turning back to the vet, I asked, “Is that everything?”
He pursed his lips and nodded. He clearly still disapproved of this, on numerous levels, but he wasn’t arguing. Offering someone a quarter of a million in cash, up front and no questions asked, tended to have that effect on people.
“Good,” I said. “Because I’ll blame you if anything goes wrong.” Turning back around, I saw that Selene was still standing there, and glared at her. “Why are you still here?”
She cleared her throat. “Blind Keith got in touch while we were on our way here,” she said. “He named a location in London for your meeting, and says he expects you there in two hours.” She held a piece of paper out to me, which presumably had directions written on it.
“Shit,” I muttered to myself, glancing back at Snowflake. She was lying on an examination table, her breathing labored, although at least if the vet was right she was too far out to feel any pain.
I wanted to be there with her. But I knew I couldn’t do anything to help her now, and if I didn’t go to meet with Blind Keith things were liable to get even worse.
“Don’t screw this up,” I told the succubus, before stalking out of the room. It wasn’t the best stalk, if only because it still hurt to walk. Not just a little, either; I’d gotten a few minutes of rest on the way to the vet’s, but the inactivity only served to emphasize how bad of shape my body was in right now. It was letting me know in no uncertain terms that I would need some rest, and soon, or it was going to give out on me entirely.
Not that I had any idea of when I could manage that rest. There were just too many things going on, too many balls in the air—as evidenced by this message from Blind Keith. I’d almost forgotten that I was supposed to be meeting with him, and now that was coming back to bite me, since I hadn’t prepared for it at all.
I tried to plan as I walked to the edge of the road. Two hours wasn’t much time, not enough for me to really do anything else first, especially if I wanted to show up early. I hated to waste a moment right now, though, so I thought I might pick up the werewolves before going to London.
“Where are we going?” Aiko asked, falling in step beside me. She’d been watching the area, making sure that Katrin’s people weren’t planning a follow-up attack while we were distracted.
“London,” I said. “Blind Keith wants a meeting. With a stop in Wyoming on the way to get the werewolves.”
“Cool,” she said. “Staging point in Faerie, I’m guessing?” She turned to the edge of the road, starting to spin magic out into a portal without waiting for me to answer.
“I can get it,” I said.
She snorted. “Sure,” she said dryly. “But it’s obvious you’re pretty much dead on your feet, and I’m feeling decent. I can handle this one.”
It only took her a few minutes to open the portal, dropping us into the middle of a small glade in the deep woods. It was a quiet, isolated place with a small stream running through it, one of Aiko’s favorite staging points.
She was obviously more tired than she’d let on, because opening that portal took something out of her. She wasn’t even fully recovered by the time I’d finished the next portal, so I went to Wyoming without her. I was feeling too hurried to wait for her, and she would be safe there. It was one of the more secluded places in Faerie, and she knew her way around.
It was a short walk from my destination point in the forest outside Wolf to town. It felt a lot longer today, with how overwhelmingly crappy I felt, but I didn’t waste time feeling sorry for myself.
All I had to do was think of Snowflake, crippled and maybe dying on that table, to drive those thoughts out of my mind. I’d gotten lucky. I’d gotten very lucky.
And if I had anything to say about it, Katrin was going to die slowly and in a great deal of pain for that. Trying to kill me was one thing. I expected that; it was nothing personal, for either of us. But what she’d done to Snowflake, that made it personal.
Once I got to town, I spent a few moments trying to think of where I could find the people I was looking for, then snorted. I was still thinking like a human. If there was anywhere in the world, any single place, where I could reliably use my magic to find someone, it was this town. A decent chunk of the population here were werewolves, probably eighty percent or more had some kind of pet that I could work with, and I knew the terrain as well as anywhere. It had been years since I spent all that much time here, but nothing much had changed.
Nothing much had ever really changed, here. That was part of why I’d had to leave. Even with the current turbulence, the way things everywhere were changing dramatically and permanently, I had a strong suspicion that I’d be able to come back in another ten years and still recognize almost everything.
It took me a couple of minutes, but I eventually found them in the town’s only real bar. They were sitting around with the attitude of people who’d been sitting around for a while, and were starting to get pretty tired of it.
I hurried to get there, as best I could, and it was only a couple of minutes until I pushed open the door and stepped inside. My left leg gave out as I did, with spectacularly inconvenient timing, and I had to grab at the door to hold myself up. I still stumbled forward, knocking over the sign that had the night’s specials written on it.
The clatter from that ensured that everyone present was looking my way. I could practically see the bartender debating whether he should go for the shotgun he kept behind the bar, but luckily he was smart enough to look around first. Kyra gave him a thumbs-up, and he relaxed again.
I walked over to their table, managing to avoid any more embarrassing incidents, and slumped into one of the open chairs. “Hey,” I said. I would have said more, but that one word triggered a coughing fit that went on for a few seconds and left me breathing hard and biting my tongue to keep from making embarrassing noises from the pain.
“Damn,” Kyra said. “You look like crap.”
“I feel worse,” I said, grabbing her beer and taking a sip to try and keep the coughing down. There wasn’t enough alcohol in it to matter to me. “Got in a fight with Katrin a little while ago.”
She frowned, then suddenly blinked. “You mean the vampire? How’d that go?”
“I lived,” I said, shrugging, and then wincing at the pain that caused my ribs. “Snowflake maybe didn’t. She’s in surgery right now, brain injury, some broken bones, maybe internal damage.”
I was a little surprised at the reaction that provoked. I’d expected Kyra to care, but Ryan reacted as well. Even Daniell, the other werewolf Kyra had brought with her when she came to Wyoming, looked concerned.
The only person at the table who didn’t seem to care was Unna. But then, that was to be expected. The selkie had to be more personable than most of the fae, given that she and Ryan had apparently been married for a couple of years with a reasonable amount of happiness. She still wasn’t human, though, or anything like it. Even if she cared, it was pretty unlikely she’d show it in a way that I could recognize.
Kyra was looking at me oddly, and I realized that she must have said something that I missed. I shook my head, trying to shake some sense into it. I needed to focus. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Missed that.”
“I asked what you’re doing here while she’s under the knife,” Kyra said patiently. She had her tough face on, but I knew her well enough to recognize that she was covering up genuine concern, for me or for Snowflake. Probably both, now that I thought about it.
“Have a meeting in London,” I said. “Big, nasty fae that might want to eat me. I thought I’d pick you up on the way. Hopefully you guys can track Katrin’s people back to their hideout and I can take her out during the day.”
“So you just left us hanging until you needed something,” Ryan said. I thought he sounded upset.
“How long have you guys been here?” I asked.
“Most of the day,” Kyra said. The anger in her voice was more deeply buried, but I knew her well enough to pick up on it. “Eight or ten hours, I think?”
“Crap,” I said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I’d kept you waiting that long. Too many things to keep track of right now….” I shook my head again. “I’m sorry. I need to get moving if I’m going to make it to that meeting on time. If you don’t want to come with, I understand.”
“Of course we’ll come with you,” Kyra said, clearly exasperated. “Let’s go.”
London was dismal. It had been close to dawn in Wyoming by the time we left, which put it closer to noon in England, but it was overcast, the air somewhere between a heavy mist and a light rain. I’d reluctantly stopped long enough to take a massive dose of painkillers, enough to have a little bit of an effect even with my metabolism, but even with an accompanying dose of stimulants it hadn’t done much to shake me out of my near-daze. Determination and chemicals could only take you so far beyond the limits of your body, and the result was that at the moment was that I felt almost the same amount of pain, exhausted, nauseous, a little dizzy.
How long had I been awake, now? It was hard to remember. Almost twenty-four hours, I thought. Pretty close to that. And I’d been moving pretty much nonstop the whole time, a couple of fights, a couple of high-stress meetings, the time in between spent trying to organize everything.
Not the best state to be meeting one of the scariest predators in Faerie, I had to admit. But there wasn’t much I could do about it.
Blind Keith had given me an address, but it took a while to find it. I’d thought that London would be better off than most of the world right now, and in a sense I’d been right, but one of the things that was easy to forget when you weren’t a local was that London wasn’t really a city in the same way that I was accustomed to. It had built itself organically over the last two thousand years, and the result was a city that had so many neighborhoods, boroughs, and regions that you could spend your whole life there and not see more than a tiny fraction of the sprawling mass of streets that was London.
Blind Keith had chosen one of the very worst parts of that mass, a back street near Soho that had never really gotten its act cleaned up from when that part of town was a scary one. It was the kind of place you went to do things that were legal only so long as nobody was watching too closely, and that had been before the shit hit the fan.
Now, well, it was worse. My portal location in London was a good distance away, and the streets weren’t in much better shape than those back in Colorado. Maybe worse, in areas. Our stolen car was decent, but it still took a while to reach our destination.
The building he’d selected was a small one, dingy and easy to overlook. There were bars on the windows, and only a small sign in one of the windows identified it as a sex shop. I didn’t see anyone around or inside the building, no customers, no employees.
Where were they, I wondered? Had they just chosen not to go to work today? Had they shown up, but been scared away by Blind Keith so that we could have our meeting?
Or had he chased them through the streets, hunting them down, their lives ended in blood and pain and fear?
I tried not to think about it too much.
The door was unlocked, and the interior of the building was dark except for one light above a door. I went to that door, carefully, flanked by Aiko and Kyra. The other werewolves were waiting outside, watching for trouble.
Kyra whined a little as we crossed the room. Discomfort over being there, or thinking about what might have happened, perhaps?
Or maybe it was the aura of fear, of primal heart-pounding terror, that Blind Keith carried with him. I could feel it myself, a little, although I might not have recognized it as unnatural unless I’d already encountered him. It was just a nagging sense, at the back of my mind, that this was bad, that I should turn and run right now, because there was something very very very bad upstairs and if I kept going I was going to die, I was going to run and scream and bleed and die and there was nothing I could do….
I pushed that feeling away, although it was a struggle. Blind Keith’s magic was designed to speak to a part of me that didn’t have a lot in the way of reason or control, an instinctive level of my hindbrain that just wasn’t capable of too much in the way of rational thought. He scared people, made them revert to hunted animals at the mercy of anything lurking beyond the firelight, and then he capitalized on that. If I wanted to survive the next few minutes I had to keep that part of my psyche tightly controlled, because if I let it control me Blind Keith would eat me alive, maybe literally.
For a moment, I considered walking away. If I could run far enough, or find a good enough hiding place, I might be able to get away. I’d have to abandon the responsibilities I’d taken on to do it, of course, but I could be safe. I could give up the power that had been thrust upon me, that I’d never really wanted but felt that I had to take, for one reason or another. I could stop dealing with gods and monsters. I could stop having nightmares about these things.
Then I sighed. It was a nice thought, but in the end I knew I wasn’t smart enough to back down now.
I opened the door and went inside.