It’s lonely at the top.

Director Jamadingi Renuka had been aware of this for years, but never so intensely as now. For the first time since coming to Angelus she’s truly alone, separated from almost everyone around her by virtue of her rank as Director, her talents as a sorceress, and the stigma of her impending divorce.

It’s a far cry from her childhood home on Bali, where she’d enjoyed the sun, sand, and surf, while being schooled in the art of spirit calling by her grandfather. Even at a young age, her talent for magic was noticeable, with her grandfather proudly informing everyone how Jamadigni was going to be the most powerful sorceress the Renuka family had seen in centuries. Her parents had been overjoyed at the news, doubly so when Alice Cadbury had arrived to see about putting Jama’s talents to use in Angelus.

And that’s when it started—her slow climb into isolation. It wasn’t her status as a magician that brought it on, it was being recruited into XSWAT. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she was placed in the newly re-created 9th Squad, the original members of which had vanished one-and-all during a disastrous trip into Omega Sector. Not the best of beginnings for someone who understood the power of omens, symbols, and perceived ill-fortune.

Still, she’d had friends. It took most of a year, but yes, her fellow officers in the 9th Squad had become the closest of friends. They were bonded by adversity, hardship, loss, and in the end, victory.

And then she became Director and everything changed. Yiska left the service, Richard went to prison, Nathan went to the Enochians—only Tyger and Malachi stayed. But not all was lost. First Malachi gave her Corporal Cadbury the Maine Coon—her constant companion, confidant, and friend—and then introduced her to his son, Mitch.

Recruited initially to be her chauffeur (due to his training in evasive driving techniques), he ended up her lover and finally, her husband. But he was more than that. He comforted her in times of grief, shared her joy in times of happiness, understood what it meant to be a member of XSWAT, and was her pillar of strength when storms of criticism had threatened to overwhelm her.

And now he was gone.

To make matters worse, it wasn’t just Mitch who’d left. There was Nathan, dead from the lingering effects of Gurzotath’s curse. And Yiska, who looked worse with each passing day and seemed not far behind. Richard, so determined to save his city Jama wondered if he knew how far he’d gone—and if he would ever, could ever, return. Even Malachi had almost been taken from her, brought back by only the slimmest of margins. Only Tyger seemed to be his usual self, but she could tell Nathan’s death had affected him deeply.

So here she sat, secure in her tower, alone in her office, with Corporal Cadbury curled up in her lap. He could feel how upset she was and had tried, but failed, to distract her. Finally he decided the direct approach worked best and had simply leaped up into her lap. After a few concerned trills, he curled up on her thighs. Jama smiled at the cat’s antics, her spirits lightened, even if for a moment, and buried her hands in his thick coat, eliciting a rumbling series of purrs.

Her husband was out there, somewhere, in the depths of Epsilon sector, opposing Oyabun Ryuzo and the Yamaguchi-gumi. It should have been her, but she had her duties as Director to think about. As much as she’d like, she couldn’t take to the field again. To do so would risk everything she’d spent the last decade building up, after Gurzotath had done his best to tear it all down. So she’d sent her husband in her stead. Sent him because he’d encountered Ryuzo before, sent him because the cards had said to, sent him because the Yamaguchi-gumi had infiltrated XSWAT and he was the only person she could trust with a mission of this magnitude.

And then she waited. She read the reports, felt elated at the progress they made, and despair at the losses. The Yamaguchi-gumi had no compunction about killing either APD or XSWAT, and despite all Mitch’s Crash Team had done, there were still funerals to attend.

She had attended too many funerals. Far more than anyone person should have to endure. But it was the price XSWAT paid for being the first line of defense against the supernatural and mankind’s darker nature. It was dangerous work; she knew it, and she made damn sure her officers knew it. They were the only thing that stood between Angelus (and the rest of the world) and ruin. Even today there were still parts of Angelus that hadn’t been fully rebuilt after Gurzorath’s attack, but at least there were people around to make the attempt. But if Ryuzo had his way, and his Destiny Engine succeeded, there might not even be that.

Is this how it had been for Alice Cadbury? She too had sat alone in the top of her tower, watching and waiting as the 9th Squad had fought on her behalf. She had acknowledged their victories and had been there when they’d ‘buried’ Graham Burton. But she’d been pragmatic enough to realize that there was no guarantee the 9th Squad would prevail. It was almost certain she had other squads ready to take up the fight in case the 9th had failed.

Jama closed her eyes and tried not to think about the possibility to losing Mitch. There was talk his posting to Epsilon was an attempt by her to get rid of him as revenge for the divorce. Nothing could be further from the truth, but she couldn’t tell anyone that, now could she? And if the Crash Team did fail, then she would have to assemble another squad, and if need be, another, and hope for the best.

Pressing her face to Cadbury’s soft pelt, she stifled a sob. She felt so helpless, so powerless, it almost hurt. She wanted to be at her husband’s side, supporting him and his team as they battled the Yakuza, XSWAT bureaucrats, and city meddling. But instead, she remained up here, in her tower, alone, waiting and watching. Hoping that one of the funerals she knew she’d be attending again in the near future wouldn’t be for Mitch Brogan. Hoping it wasn’t for anyone on the Crash Team. Hoping that she’ll still be able to hope, and not be wiped out of existence by some power-hungry mad-man’s desire to change all of reality to suit his whim.

So she sat, and waited, and watched, and faced the stark reality of the life she’d chosen for herself—it’s lonely at the top.