spine

This case is not going well.

It’s currently Thursday and I’m still just sitting here, listening to this case unfold.

This courtroom smells exactly the way I imagined a courtroom would smell. Not that I’ve spent overly long imagining what a courtroom would smell like. There’s this strange level of unreality about this case because it’s a setting I’ve seen on tv like a zillion times but never thought I’d actually be part of. The creaks of the wooden benches are such a specific thing to be exactly the way I imagined them, you know?

There’s a possibility I’m a little bit dazed right now. Because again, this case, despite overwhelming evidence, is super not going well.

It’s not even that’s it’s just not going well, I feel like I’m watching society crumble. Not that I ever had faith in the law. I mean, even without the tangled mess of state sanctioned violence and oppression that has haunted this country since its inception — and really, what more evidence does one need than that? — I literally watched the man in charge of finding my best friend turn out to be the man at least partially responsible for her disappearance, so no, faith in law is not one of my major character traits.

No, what’s getting me right now is that I never once in all the months I’ve been on the road with the Hawthornes learning about all the wonders of magic and creatures from other worlds, paused to consider what it means for some people to have the magical ability to just do LITERALLY WHATEVER THEY WANT.

And there’s absolutely NOTHING we can do about it.

At recess we approached Cosima Caro, but we couldn’t even get a word out before she was stopping us.

“No,” she said, stone cold. “I promise you, Pernidia will not walk away from this. Now, if I see you again, I’ll have you booted from this courtroom, do you understand?” And then she clicked off in her very high heels.

The Hawthornes deflated.

“What the fuck are we going to do?” Neal said.

Which was pretty much what I was thinking. Because it’s pretty clear that this case was fucked beyond repair. He was going to walk. He was going to get away with it.

“Can’t Lana do something?” I said, because I did NOT listen to all the fucking atrocious bullshit this man did for two days, just for him to walk free.

“She has been,” Julian replied. “Where do you think our sorcerers came from?”

But OBVIOUSLY that hasn’t been good enough. “Can’t she do something else?”

“Like what?” Neal said.

“Send someone to like… imprison him or something?”

“And how do you recommend we arrest him?” Neal asked. “We don’t have anyone powerful enough to force a group of sorcerers this powerful to do anything they don’t want to do.”

Take a moment to digest that.

Pernidia will not face justice because we don’t have anyone powerful enough to force him to.

I floundered to comprehend how that was possible. I mean I still am sort of floundering to wrap my head around it.

How do we make rules? Why does ANYONE follow the rules? Why hasn’t the world fallen into a Mad Max style wasteland full of bullet farmers and people eaters? I know too many humans to know that it’s not because we all have either iron-strength moral backbones, or a natural fear for authority. Most of the people I know have neither of those things.

I was raised to believe that even in the face of insurmountable evils, the collective will of individuals must eventually prevail. But like, okay Mom, that might work out (theoretically) in the face of like… tyrannical governments, and big business, but you didn’t give me a how-to guide for handling A SORCERER WHO DERIVES HIS POWER FROM MAXIMALLY TRAUMATIC MURDER.

But we don’t have the collective power of the general public. We don’t have anyone more powerful than him to exercise justice upon him. There is no contingency plan for a rogue sorcerer who tortures people in order to use their pain to gain more power. What do you do with people who exist beyond the law? I mean obviously no one is beyond the law in theory, but our laws weren’t written with magicians in mind, and to be honest, I’m note even confident that our laws apply equally to everyone even excluding deranged sociopathic sorcerers, so HOW are we supposed to solve this problem???

“I gotta get out of here,” Julian said. “I can’t watch any more of this.”

“You okay?” Neal asked, which actually meant, are you going to change into a eldritch monster and start killing people?

“I’m fine,” Julian said. “I’m just gonna go do some research. Maybe I’ll find something useful.”

“Yeah, I’ll stay,” Neal said. “Keep you posted. What about you, Shi? Stay or leave?”

I chose leave. I’m sick of just sitting there useless, while Pernidia gets closer and closer to freedom.

Holy shit I think we found… something? I mean I have absolutely no idea if it’s… something useful. Or even relevant. In fact, I’m fairly confident that it’s not relevant. But it’s definitely… something.

So Julian and I have been just doing random research. I wasn’t really sure how they do research. I thought they had some kind of system, and I don’t want to be unfair to them or anything, like usually they follow leads and make phone calls hahaha. But today we didn’t even know what we were looking for. Julian started going through one of the books he has scanned on his iPad, looking for something to do with mind control.

“What should I do?” I asked.

Julian huffed a sigh. “Honestly, I don’t know. Just follow a hunch. I don’t even know what we’re looking for.”

But see, I don’t have any magic books scanned into my iPad (YET how’d he get those in there?!) so instead I got online and started googling what constitutes a mistrial.

The problem though, is that I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at hahaha. I was starting from absolute zero, no idea. So I wasn’t making any progress there whatsoever. So instead, on a whim, I went on the internet, and looked up Cosima Caro.

She was easy to find. I mean, she’s a young, beautiful, hot-shot lawyer. She graduated top of her class from Colombia. Her grandma comments on all of her Facebook photos, and she always responds. There she was, drinking mimosa’s with her friends, smiling with her younger sister, and what I initially thought were young cousins, but turned out to be young half-siblings.

I clicked through to their profiles like a total creep. The younger kids didn’t have much on their profiles obviously, because who under 30 uses Facebook, but they were tagged in their mom’s photos, which led me to their mom’s page, and there, right near the top, was a photo of her family in the early 00s. There was little Cosima, her sister, her mom, and her dad, a big Italian man with a mustache and a bit of a gut.

In the caption Cosima’s mom explained that this was the 15 year anniversary of her abusive husband’s sudden death. She described the event in surprising detail considering how traumatic it must have been. Apparently he was drunk, had cornered her in the kitchen, when suddenly he just crumpled and died, right there in front of her and Cosima.

That was the first death I found. Wasn’t particularly surprising though, right? Like, people’s dads have heart attacks. But something about the way her mom felt compelled to describe the incident, a little flag waved in my head.

But I didn’t really see it yet. Instead, I went back to look deeper into Cosima’s career. Three things stood out:

First, she is really good at her job. People got prosecuted when she was on the case.

Second, she got a lot of recognition for it. She was known, and sought after, maybe even a little bit infamous. She was mentioned frequently in the paper.

Third, she seemed to go after really rough cases. In an interview she said, “I don’t want to prosecute drug charges. I don’t care if you’re doing drugs, or selling drugs. I don’t give a shit if you shoplift. What I care about is making sure that people who hurt other people, have to face what they did.”

So, I started down a wormhole, searching through her case history, and that’s where I started seeing them. Dead people. Not many, but enough. In one case, a police officer was pronounced not guilty for shooting an unarmed citizen, and died right there in the court room. She was just a student in that case, but I saw her in a photo on the steps of the courthouse afterwords, so I know she was there.

So, I just started plugging shit into google. There was a kid in her middle school who dropped dead unexpectedly, but the one that made me finally understand, was an incident outside a bar where a man dropped dead after cornering young law student, Cosima Caro.

“Julian?” I said.

He was still deep in his magic book. “Hm?”

“I think… I found something.”

So I showed him what I had, slightly breathlessly, fumbling a little bit and jumping around in my logic hahahaha. At first he was just humoring me. But slowly his brow began to furrow.

“Shit, Shiloh,” he said. He looked up at me and smiled. “This is good work.”

Ah, how my little heart sang hahahaha.

“What does it mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” He looked at me. “I’m not sure it means anything. But it’s definitely strange.”

So we texted Neal, and he just texted us back that it was time to get back to the court house. The jury is deliberating.

The jury ruled him innocent. They had the decency not to look thrilled about it at least, but it doesn’t matter: Pernidia is free.

He went out and told all the cameras that he is just grateful that the truth is out, and how he hopes those poor people get justice.

Why couldn’t Julian go full monster there hm?? Why not just rip him apart with his teeth right there in the street???? Like I get why not in theory, but can’t we make an exception just this once? Just for this one asshole?

It was like watching Sheriff Marlow continuing to run Madelyn’s case when I knew he was the reason she was gone. I wanted to do it with my hands.

Well, that was pretty much where the boys were too evidently because we followed that son of a bitch all night.

We followed him to dinner and picked at our food while he ate at his table with his sorcerer friends. We got a drink in the same bar that he did after his meal. And when he was done, we followed him when he went into the alley, just a little drunk, for a cigarette.

I wasn’t sure what exactly we were planning to DO, but on the other hand, there was ✨violence✨ in the air. And I’m not exactly saying we were going to kill him in the street. But I’m also not saying we just wanted to get a cup of coffee with this guy. Like it was definitely going to be ugly.

“We shouldn’t do this,” Julian said quietly. He’d bought cigarettes too, for an excuse to follow Pernidia out. “It’s suicide.”

“You have a better idea?” Neal asked.

“Can’t Celeste —?” I began.

“Witches and sorcerers stay out of each other’s way,” Neal interrupted. “Mutually assured destruction.” He was tracking Pernidia’s movements with his eyes, and finished the last of his drink in one long drag. “You two should go.”

Julian rolled his eyes.

“Yeah fucking right Neal, Jesus.”

“What are we gonna do, let him get away with it?” Neal demanded. “After all the months of work we did to get him? Nolan would —”

“Nolan would never let you go after a sorcerer half drunk, unarmed, and on your own,” Julian snapped back. “And you know it.”

Neal argued back obviously, but meanwhile I heard clicking footsteps in the alley, and looked around them to squint down into the shadows.

There was a woman in a trench coat and a hood walking down the alley. She was wearing very high heels.

“Guys?” I said, but their whispered argument was too engrossing to notice a little thing like an innocent, lone woman approaching our known brutal serial killer.

She must have asked him for a light because he was fumbling in his pocket.

“Guys,” I said more loudly.

“What, Shiloh?” Neal snapped, which is funny, because I had not noticed until that exact moment that Neal very rarely snaps at me. I mean almost never.

I just pointed to where the woman was leaning back against the alley wall, deep in her hood while Pernidia leaned closer with his lighter.

I heard Pernidia say, “You’re that lawyer! What are you doing down here?”

When she spoke, I knew it was Cosima Caro. “If I were you I’d take a last drag.”

“What?”

“Too late,” she said, and I swear to god, he was mid laugh when he suddenly just dropped, crumpled like a sack of spuds, for no apparent reason. There was no cry of pain, no clutching at his chest, not so much as a pause or shudder. He wasn’t bleeding, or writhing. Just laying there, still for no reason, on the cracked bricks.

All three of us froze.

The woman in the hood flicked the cigarette without having a single drag.

“Hey!” Julian called down the alley. She looked up but the hood was too deep for us to see her face. She turned quickly and sped off the other direction down the alley.

“Wait!”

Neal took off after her, and Julian knelt to check Pernidia’s pulse.

“Dead,” he said. Down the alley, Cosima slid into the passenger seat of a car, and pulled off the curb easily, leaving Neal alone in the street.

“No wounds,” Julian said, turning him over. “No blood.”

“Then how?” I asked, as Neal jogged back towards us.

“Who knows,” Julian said. “She must have assistance. Or magic.”

“I very much doubt she’s a witch,” Neal said. “What’s that leave, Shiloh?”

🙄🙄🙄 I don’t fucking remember that right now Neal, we’re standing next to a fresh corpse.

(The answer is sorcerer, warlock, or alchemist)

“I doubt she’s a sorceress,” Neal said. “Or Pernidia’s buddies would know it by now. She could be an alchemist, though I’d be very surprised. More likely a warlock. Which means she’s got a little friend helping her out. But what’s she got?”

“No idea,” Julian replied. “But whatever it is, she’s had it a long time.”

We called an ambulance from the rabbit, already on our way back to the motel. No reason to risk some innocent person finding his body out there.

We were all restless that night, sitting in the hotel.

“We’ll go see her tomorrow,” Neal said. “Ask her how she’s doing… whatever she’s doing.”

Naked and Afraid reruns were on. We got like 800 snacks from the vending machine. Julian compulsively scrolled through his iPad.

“But the thing is that I’ve never seen alchemy work so quickly,” Neal said, as if continuing a conversation we’d been having all along. “And I really didn’t see any creature, or evidence of any creature.”

“We couldn’t do a particularly sophisticated examination of the body though, either,” Julian pointed out.

Neal was quiet for a long time. “Something feels off about this one.”

Julian was quiet for a long moment. “I know.”

Cut to this morning.

We got up good and early. Got dressed, showered, grabbed breakfast. They bought an extra coffee for Cosima Caro.

Pernidia’s death was all over the radio.

She was already in her office, we could see her in the window from the street. How did we get in? We walked. Nothing prepares you for how far a purposeful stride and a general idea of where you’re going will get you.

She was deep in typing on her computer when we came in and didn’t look up at first.

“We didn’t know what you drink,” Julian said. “So we grabbed you a non-dairy latte.”

Her expression went from surprise and fear, to guarded neutrality.

“We don’t mean to scare you,” he went on.

She flickered an even smile. “You’re doing a terrible job.”

Neal smirked. “Something tells me that if we wanted to hurt you, we wouldn’t last long.”

She looked at him, then and Julian, then folded her hands in front of her on her desk. “Why are you here?”

“Do you mind if we come in?”

She gestured that we might as well. Julian closed the door, and went and sat in the chair across from her.

“I was very sorry for how your case turned out,” Julian said. “It was a well-run case. But sometimes things just don’t come together.”

She smiled thinly. “For me, they usually do.”

“I assume you saw the news this morning.”

Her expression didn’t flicker. “I haven’t looked.”

“Hm,” Julian said. “Well, you’ll be interested to find that Pernidia is dead. He was found in an alley last night.”

She didn’t respond for a long moment, and then said, “I can’t say I’m sorry.”

Julian smiled. “I can’t say I am either.”

“Did you kill Pernidia?” Neal asked.

“Of course not,” she said, no hesitation.

Neal smiled slowly, hid it a little behind his fingers. We had her. “How did you do it?”

She blinked at him. “I didn’t.”

“Did you have help? From someone or something?”

“Are you crazy?” she asked.

“Answer the question and we’ll get out of your hair,” Julian said, soothingly.

“No, I didn’t have any help,” she snapped. “Because I didn’t do anything.”

The Hawthornes exchanged a look. “You’re telling the truth that you didn’t have help,” Neal said. “But you’re lying when you say you didn’t do anything. We’re just trying to figure out what you did.”

“I didn’t —”

“You’re not on trial, Ms. Caro,” Julian said. “And in fact, we’re inclined to appreciate your intervention. Pernidia was a monster. If you hadn’t put him down, we would have.”

She gave us absolutely no expression.

“The trouble is,” Neal said, “his kind of monster doesn’t go down easy.”

After a moment’s pause, Caro said, “You’re trying to decide if I’m a bigger monster than he was?”

“More or less.”

She didn’t say anything for a long moment. “Who are you?”

“Our names are Julian and Nathanial Hawthorne. This is our apprentice Shiloh.”

“And you’re fake FBI, agents,” she said.

“Our job is to keep people safe,” Neal said. “Specifically from paranormal threats. Do you understand?”

“That’s insane,” she said.

“Is it? After everything you’ve seen on this case?”

Cosima fidgeted, seemed to cast around for an expression. “Are you calling me a paranormal threat?”

“Not at all,” Julian replied. “If anything, your history suggests that we’re on the same side.”

She froze, and I thought of the trail of dead people in her wake.

“I don’t know anything about anything even remotely paranormal,” she said.

Neal narrowed his eyes. “That’s almost true. Not quite, though.”

She glanced at him with round, wide eyes.

“How are you doing it?” Julian asked, so warm and gentle.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she croaked.

“It started with your dad, right?” I said, maybe a lil eagerly cuz that was my research bitch what up. “He was abusive.”

“He was hurting your mom, and you couldn’t stand it,” Neal said. “So you did something about it.”

“What did you do?” I echoed, excited to be included hahaha.

“It’s okay, Cosima,” Julian said. “We’re not here to judge. We just want to help you. How did you do it?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered and a tear coursed down her cheek. “I didn’t mean to.”

“But you meant to last night,” Neal said.

She dashed her tears and her expression hardened. “Yes. He deserved it.”

“I agree,” Neal said. “How did you do it?”

She hesitated. Then she said, “I just did it. I’ve always just done it.”

We were all quiet for a moment.

“Do you regret it?” Julian asked, trying to parse her out.

She gave him a strange look. “I never regret it.”

Neal leaned forward, bracing himself on her desk with his palms. “Why not?”

“I can’t do it if I’ll regret it,” she said. “I have to be sure.”

This wasn’t what I was expecting. I don’t think it’s what any of us were expecting. It was Julian who understood first.

“How old were you when this started?”

“Nine,” she said. “A dog attacked my cat and killed it.” And then after a moment. “I’ve never told anyone this. How did you know?”

Julian took a long moment to answer. “We have weird powers, too.” And then, to Neal, “we need to call Jade.”

“What kind of weird powers?” Cosima asked.

And then I said, “Holy shit she’s a Dog Saint?”

“Are you gonna tell someone it was me?” Cosima asked.

“No,” Neal said, dismissive.

“You could never prove it,” she said.

Neal laughed. “Just, on a hunch,” he said, ignoring her. “Do you know a man named Jon Cooper. He’s a cop out in REDACTED.”

She blinked. “What? Yeah, he dated my best friend in college. You know Jon?”

Neal cursed elaborately. Julian just got on the phone.

And then, anticlimactically, her secretary poked her head in.

“Oh, I’m sorry Ms. Caro, I didn’t know you had company.” She hesitated. “It’s just — your 10 o’clock is here.”

“You have to go,” Cosima said. “This, whatever this is… it’s not my life. It has nothing to do with me. You have to get out of here.”

And that, unbelievably, was that. We’re gonna meet her after work, but for now, that’s all I know.

We found another Dog Saint. Her name is Cosima Caro and if she truly believes you deserve it, she can kill you without even trying.

I mean, we don’t know that for sure or anything. But we just got off the phone with Jade, and listen, she seemed like she believed it.

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