Dealing with the aftermath of the Daylight attack was hard, on numerous levels.
The first, and most obvious, was just the damage that had been done. It wasn’t as bad as it might easily have been, in some ways. The collateral damage hadn’t been nearly as extensive as I’d feared, the property damage nearly nonexistent. Most of my allies had suffered relatively few casualties. In fact, in an unusual turn of events for me, it was my own organization that had taken the worst hits.
But those hits had been…serious, to say the least. In the hours after that final fight the casualty reports rolled in, as we tallied up just how bad it had been. Over the course of those hours my reaction went from shock, to dread, to a sort of cold numbness.
Jibril, of course, was one of them. I’d seen him die myself, and any remote hope I’d had that he might survive after all was dashed when his death was confirmed afterwards. That, on its own, was potentially disastrous. He’d been the leader of the ghoul faction I was allied with, and the one most inclined to helping me. With him dead, it seemed likely that they would split up and go their own way, and even if they stayed together I wasn’t particularly confident that they would stay with me. On the whole, it seemed there was a good chance I’d just lost the ghouls who made up a significant proportion of my minions.
Vigdis was dead. Apparently, after telling her team to run, she’d gone charging in to keep the enemies busy. She’d managed to bring down another of those huge ogres, and held off the Sidhe long enough for the rest of them to get away. On the whole, Vigdis the Howling had died like a hero, and I thought she’d probably be well satisfied with how she went out. But still, she was dead and gone, and in the end how she got there didn’t change much.
Haki, too, was gone. He’d been part of a group with some newbies, mostly small fish and new housecarls. While I’d been fighting with Ryan, they’d run into a more mischievous group of fae, and the new guys hadn’t had the experience or discipline to deal with trickster fae. They’d fled or died, and left him standing alone between the Daylight forces and a large group of the wounded. Haki Who-Fights-Alone had lived up to his name, but even someone of his skill couldn’t take that whole group alone, and he’d died.
Kyi was alive, but…in bad shape, to put it lightly. She’d been badly injured, and then the bit of blood magic she’d used to conjure up that ice took a lot out of her. She was still in a coma, with no way to guess when or if she might wake up. Even if she did, she would most likely be crippled, the damage to her legs so severe that she might never walk properly again.
Jack died covering for the other mages as they escaped. I couldn’t really feel too strongly about that one; he’d been an employee, not a friend. I’d hired him because he was skilled at violence, and in the end he wasn’t quite skilled enough; there wasn’t a lot more to say about it. Still, he’d been an exceedingly useful employee, and his loss was a serious one.
Those were the most personal losses for me, and probably the most important individual losses on an organizational level. But there were more, many more. Quite a few of the housecarls that I didn’t really know had died, as had ghouls, mercenaries, one of the werewolves, some of the independents, some of Jackal’s crew…the list went on. About the only major group that hadn’t taken losses was the Guards, and they were more tense allies than really my people.
That many casualties was…well, it was serious. Very serious. It was the kind of thing that made me consider the future. The Daylight Court would, I thought, not try to attack the city again, at least not soon. As many of people as had died, they’d still given worse than they got, and not even the Courts could afford to casually throw that many lives away. Not to mention that Aoife would need to find a new patsy to use as her champion if she wanted to set me against a near-equal.
Even if they didn’t attack, though, this might turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. I wasn’t sure that I could hold the city with how many of my people had died. At a minimum, I would need to make some adjustments, which I was really not looking forward to doing.
First, though, there was a conversation that I wanted to have even less, but which I couldn’t put off any longer.
Walking into Wolf felt…odd. It was small, for one thing. Somewhere along the way I’d gotten accustomed to the grandiose structures I dealt with now, the castles and the mansions and the insane structures that could only exist on the Otherside. The city was less impressive, but even there I had the mansion, and of course skyscrapers were impressive in their own right. By comparison, the small houses and unassuming stores of a small town were…less than impressive.
The next thing I noticed was how quiet, how peaceful it was. I could hear birdsong. The sun was warm, with the stretched feeling of afternoon edging slowly into evening. The infrastructure of the town seemed wholly intact. People walked along the streets and they weren’t in a rush, they didn’t carry themselves with an edge of fear.
No surprise. This town was too small to attract the same degree of trouble as the larger cities. Not only that, it was Edward Frodsham’s personal territory, and he wasn’t the sort of werewolf you pissed off lightly. On the whole this was probably one of the safest, most stable communities in the country right now.
It used to be that Wolf made me feel comfortable, at home. Even before the world fell apart it had been a refuge, a peaceful place that largely stood outside the march of time. I remembered being comforted by the way that it was insulated from the outside world.
Now, I mostly just felt out of place. I was an intrusion of that world into a place it wasn’t welcome. I didn’t belong here, anymore. I was too broken. I felt unwelcome, like I was a disruption in that peaceful atmosphere and the sooner I left the sooner it could go back to being the way it was.
It was, I reflected, hard to get away from the ugliness of the world when you carried it inside you.
Kyra was, last I heard, back in school, finishing her engineering degree. She wouldn’t be at school right now, though. Most schools were out right now, things too unstable to really continue the usual curriculum and schedule, and as a werewolf she would both want and need to be with her pack in troubled times. Not only that, but I’d called ahead, and this was where she’d told me to meet her.
She’d asked why I needed to talk to her, over the phone. I hadn’t answered, which was really all the answer she needed. Oh, she couldn’t guess the details from that, but she would know it was bad news.
I found her not far from the forest, leaning against a building. Of course; she knew where my connection point was, where I’d be coming from.
She looked good. Physically, of course, she’d always been in good shape, but there had always been an ugliness to her, a hint of darkness hidden under the surface. Her scars were not so well concealed as some. Now…she looked relaxed, comfortable. Waiting, she was looking at something on her phone. Through the eyes of a dog walking past, I heard her laugh, and it sounded genuine and wholehearted, without an edge of anger or bleak despair.
She looked good. She looked happy. I wasn’t sure what it said about me that I wasn’t entirely glad for that. Oh, I was glad that she was happy, of course I was, but…it was hard not to feel a bit inadequate when everything I’d tried to do to help her hadn’t been as good for her as just being without me.
I pulled myself back together, pulled on the jeans and t-shirt I’d brought, and walked out of the forest to greet her. I tried to rehearse what I was going to say on the way. It felt like I didn’t have nearly as much time as I should have before I was walking up to her.
“Hey,” I said. I started to swallow, remembered that it was just a useless habit; it wasn’t like a dry throat was a thing that could happen to me anymore.
Kyra looked up from the phone and grinned. The expression was a touch forced; she was glad to see me, I thought, but she was worried after I’d been so vague on the phone earlier. “Hey,” she said. “Where’s Snowflake? Did she not come with you?”
I paused, and she could probably guess what I was about to say from that pause alone, but it needed said. “She’s dead,” I said, the words coming out a bit harsher than I’d intended.
Kyra froze, then put the phone in her pocket, the fake smile fading. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, Winter, I…I’m sorry.”
“It was just a few days ago,” I said, feeling numb again. I knew that I should be sad as I said this, that I was sad, but I just felt…empty. Hollow. “I meant to tell you sooner, but things have been…busy. And I’m still trying to adjust.”
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s…yeah. What happened?”
“I picked a fight out of my weight class,” I said. “Or, well, I guess it picked me. The guy that killed me.”
“Aiko said you weren’t dead, that it was a fake.”
I forced a smile, one that probably looked even faker than hers. “Not quite,” I said. “I’m…alive, but I’m not what I was. This, this body? It’s not really real.” I held up my hand and let the mask of flesh fade from it, revealing ice and darkness underneath.
“Jesus,” she said. “How are you taking it?”
“It’s taking some adjustment,” I said. “And then Snowflake dying…hit me pretty hard. Like I said, I think it still hasn’t really sunk in.”
“I’m almost scared to ask now,” Kyra said. “But…Aiko?”
“She has her own things going on,” I said. “She…made her choices. She made a deal. Signed on with the fae, for good. In a roundabout way that’s what I’m here to talk to you about.”
Kyra looked almost stunned. “What do you mean?”
I took a deep breath, out of habit rather than any sort of necessity, and then spoke. “It’s about Ryan,” I said. “He made his choices, too. He signed up with the fae, on the opposite side as Aiko. I’m officially her minion, so he was on the opposite side from me, too. They sent him to take me out, and I…I killed him.”
Kyra was silent for a long, long moment. “Okay,” she said at last, in a tone that strongly suggested she was struggling to keep her emotions from showing in her voice. “This is a lot to take in, you know?”
I snorted. “Yeah,” I said. “Trust me, I’m well aware of that.”
She managed a smile, though it was a badly faked one this time. “Good point,” she said. “Look, I’m going to be honest with you. You’ve been a good friend. You stuck with me through some pretty dark times, and I’ve tried to do the same for you. But this…all of this at once…I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t want to do something I’ll regret. So I think I should go and let this sink in for a while, okay?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I understand. And I’m sorry. About Ryan, and…well, everything, I guess.”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” she said. “I’m sure you didn’t want to do it. Sometimes that’s how it goes, I know that. It’s just…I think I need to be alone right now. And I should tell Edward about this.”
“I understand,” I said again.
“Good,” she said. “I’ll go do that, then. I’ll be in touch if you need someone to talk to.”
“Thanks. That means a lot.”
“No problem,” she said. “Until later, then.”
“Goodbye,” I said, and then I watched Kyra walk away.