Spring has come to Kuni no Kori. The last of the winter snow is melting, and the rushing of the streams can be heard again. Songbirds, back from the south, rejoice in the spindly arms of the trees, hiding among the translucent greens of new leaves. The wind blows softly, with a kinder, gentler disposition and brings warmth. The sky, which was washed out by the winter’s cruelty and snow, has regained its vibrancy, and the sun burns through the blue, bringing warmth to the earth below.
The ride into the city is a long one. They take Uncle’s flatbed truck, with Zuru in a cage on the back. The cage is secured and covered with a tarp. Zuru barks and yips, but Ruse ignores him. Jett sighs and gets into the truck.
Zuru is digging himself a den. Jett is sitting on the porch, watching the fox dig. The .22 is nearby, just in case a wolf decides that it is prime time to take revenge for Wolf’s death. Zuru’s paws are still wrapped in bandages, and Jett worries he will have to wash the wounds again before the day is out. Zuru doesn’t mind; were he strong enough to take a human form, he would probably suggest a mutual bath. Since he is not, however, he will settle for being fox-handled.
He has dug a fair-sized hole, for the earth is pliable. Still, he is not necessarily pleased with it, as he’d feel rather more comfortable if he had two or three alternate exits. Jett is apparently displeased with Zuru’s den-digging zeal and hauls the fox up out of his new foxhole.
Marina stood knee-deep in the snow, watching Ilya’s ghost brush the snow from his corpse. She watched the look of shock come over the apparition’s face. She’d hoped that, with Timmo gone, she’d been done dealing with monsters and spirits.
But Ilya had apparently followed them home. It had taken weeks for her to realize that the strange force knocking things over, occasionally blocking her doorway or even trapping her places, was actually a thing. It had taken her longer to see Ilya’s face, and longer still to hear the spirit speak – a whisper that she could only hear because she was listening for it.
The tundra was empty, the wicked wind sweeping across it, shrieking in their ears. None of them spoke as they floundered through the snow drifts, heading toward the western edge of the world. The sun went before them, teasing them, dipping down beneath the horizon and engulfing the world in unending darkness. The wind howled through that lonely space, the only thing that told them they existed still.
“How far to Rus?” Ville asked at last, his voice trembling with the cold.
“From here?” Freja’s voice lilted. “I have no idea.”
She paused, glancing over her shoulder at the man as he darted down the marble steps that led into the Ministry building. She flipped down her sunglasses, as if to acknowledge that she was speaking to a superior. “Sir?”
“We’ve had a very interesting report.” The wind whipped his tie up, whisking it to the side. It fluttered in the breeze, like some kind of pennant. The tails of his jacket flowed out behind him.
A slow smirk spread across his face; she was aware of every single wrinkle, every freckle on his pale skin.
The palace was brightly lit, even at the late hour. Hundreds of lanterns burned softly in the darkness, eating away at it. Their soft glow made the white marble walls of the palace seem even more evanescent. The walls themselves seemed almost luminescent. It was bright, it was white, and somehow, it seemed so pure. It almost burned at Ilya’s eyes.
The blond man grabbed him forcibly by the arm, dragged him past a brightly-uniformed guard, flashing some sort of sign to the man as he went by. Ilya wanted to watch, but he couldn’t; the light hurt his eyes.
The rain poured down, punishing the earth. Raindrops rattled off the tin roof of the makeshift shack with regularity, some maddening rhythm, and he stared up at the ceiling. He could feel the muscles in his eyes straining with uncontrolled rage. He wasn’t sure what he could do, however; there was no one to stab and the rain would only stop when the storm had passed. With a sigh, he hauled himself out of bed.