I insisted upon digging out Jason’s body. Aiko clearly thought this was pointless, but she didn’t argue. I wasn’t in a state to be argued with.
It wasn’t easy. There was an enormous amount of stone there, the whole tower having crumbled to the ground. I was guessing he was around the top of the heap–he had, after all, been at the very peak before it all fell apart. But that still left a considerable pile of rubble to dig through.
I dug. Slowly, silently, and alone, I dug. Most of the stones were easy enough to move, at least for me. A few thousand pounds was nothing; I could pick those pieces up and toss them aside almost without even trying. The largest ones, the parts that represented significant pieces of the tower’s structure, were little more trouble. I cut them into manageable chunks with Tyrfing and threw those chunks aside.
It was easy work. Repetitive, mindless. I felt like I was in a daze, looking out at the world through a fog. I wasn’t sure how much of that to attribute to Snowflake’s death, and how much was because I’d finally started putting the pieces together, and I didn’t like what I was seeing.
I didn’t care. It was enough that I was still comfortably numb. Later I could go to pieces, and I probably would. For now I had to keep working, keep moving.
I was vaguely aware of Aiko’s presence, far enough from the wreckage to be safe from the pieces I threw aside. She didn’t step in to help. I was just as glad for that.
There were other things in the stone, here and there. Things that I’d seen on that long climb up, bits of furniture and weapons, which had by some quirk of chance and physics wound up higher in the pile than they had been before it fell. Then, at last, I caught a glimpse of a familiar sculpture and I knew that I was getting close.
I found Jason a layer down, surrounded by the pieces of the sculptures he’d made. If they’d had any meaning, it was lost now. There was nothing there but broken pieces, and once the picture’s broken it can’t be perfect again.
I should know. Seeing him there was like looking through a mirror.
He was dead. He was really most sincerely dead. Aiko had cut off his head–it was a minor miracle that head and body had landed as close together as they had, really. He hadn’t fared well in the fall, either. Between the fall and the jostling from the rocks on the way down, the corpse was in…poor condition.
I hauled him out anyway, and dragged him a ways away from the fallen tower. By some chance or fate or whatever you could call it, I stumbled upon Reese’s body as well, and stopped there. I stood there and stared at them for a while.
Aiko approached more closely at that point. She was carrying Snowflake’s body. She still didn’t say anything.
A lot of bodies, for something that had supposed to be an easy job.
I drew Tyrfing and decapitated Reese, then dismembered both his corpse and Jason’s with slow, mechanical strokes. It was better to be very careful with this sort of thing.
When that was done, I stood there for a minute staring down at them, then sheathed Tyrfing. I was still moving with that slow, dull numbness, feeling almost like I was watching myself from the outside more than controlling my body. Maybe I was.
“Can you get us out of here?” I asked, the first thing I’d said since going to dig through the pile. My voice sounded distant, cold, empty.
“Yeah,” Aiko said. Her voice was hushed. The kind of voice you use in graveyards and churches, with raving lunatics and people standing on ledges.
I nodded. I’d expected as much. Jason wouldn’t have made this hideout without a way to leave. “Can you destroy this place?” I asked.
That question took her more by surprise. “What?” she asked.
“This world,” I said. “Can you destroy it? Break it and send it back to the void?”
She considered that for a long moment. I just stood there as she did, unmoving, not even breathing. I didn’t look at her, just stared unblinkingly down at the corpses.
“Yeah,” she said at last. “I think I can. Most places I couldn’t, but this one…yeah.”
“Okay,” I said, turning towards her. I extended one hand, and without asking, she handed me Snowflake’s body.
Aiko didn’t follow as I walked back up the pile of wreckage from the broken tower, to the very top. I was vaguely glad she didn’t.
I stopped up there, setting Snowflake down. Then I stood there, looking out over the plain that extended to the horizon.
I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t find the words. What the hell was I supposed to say? Should I apologize? Say that I would miss her? None of it would matter. Words never fixed anything, and she wasn’t here to hear them anyway. This wasn’t Snowflake. This was just an empty shell.
It felt strangely, sickly amusing. Alive, she had been vibrant, unique, extraordinary.
Dead, she was meat.
In the end, I stood there silently for a long time. Maybe minutes, maybe hours. I wasn’t sure how to tell, wasn’t sure it mattered.
Finally, I knelt and unclipped her collar. My fingers brushed against her fur as I did. It was stiff and spiky, the blood dried. The body was already cold.
I felt a quiet tingle of energy as I stood again, holding that braided leather collar in my hand. It was tempting to think that it was some echo of Snowflake, some remnant of her. I knew better. It was the magic I’d woven into that collar, into the spikes and stones and bits of tooth and bone.
I wanted to cry then, found I no longer had the eyes for it.
I turned and walked away, leaving her there. The bloodstained collar dangled from my fingers.
I got to the bottom, where Aiko was waiting for me. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice a hushed whisper. She’d been crying. “I’m so sorry.”
I nodded. “Do it,” I said.
She seemed about to say something else, turned away instead. I smelled magic, dark and abstract, something like and unlike the power of a portal.
At first the effects were subtle. A quiet waver here, a ripple of an unnamable color there. Then it grew gradually more extreme. Streaks of absolute blackness wrote themselves through the air before reality asserted itself again.
Then, out at the horizon, the plains started to vanish, replaced by the endless darkness and mad colors of the void.
“There,” Aiko said, turning to face me. She sounded tired. I wasn’t sure how long it had been since she started working the spell. “Now for the portal.”
I nodded, staring out into the chaos. She finished a few moments later, the hole in the world unfolding next to us, but I didn’t move, just stood there as the void rolled slowly closer.
I considered just standing there and letting it consume me. Everything had gone so wrong, so very, very wrong. I’d done the best I could, tried my hardest. And yet still, in spite of everything I’d done, it had come to this.
In comparison to the pain of that, of knowing just how badly I’d fucked up, oblivion sounded…pleasant. Restful.
But I knew that Snowflake wouldn’t want me to do that. And there were other people who cared about me, other responsibilities that I couldn’t ignore.
I turned away from that broken tower, and stepped through the portal.
So died Snowflake. She was an unrepentant murderer, a killer, a monster. But she was my friend, a better friend than I deserved. She came into being because of my choice, a choice I made without understanding the consequences. She suffered for my sins. She died so that I could live, and all the power at my command could not keep her by my side.
I left here there, the ending of that dead, empty world as her funeral pyre.
Last one out, please turn out the lights.