The good news is that when Lana arrived, she seemed to already know how serious the situation was. When we called her Wednesday night, she didn’t pick up because she was already on a plane.

Wednesday night was very long. We were all exhausted though, having not slept much, so instead of heading back out to the Infirmament (literally the stupidest name) we stayed in the hotel and tried to get some rest.

None of us rested easy. We were all worrying about Cara.

Lana arrived early in the morning and essentially banged down our door.

“Alright, tell me what you know,” she said, brushing past Julian into our hideous little on-the-run motel. “God, this place is awful, you know there’s a perfectly good Holiday Inn like a mile from here.”

She’d brought a whole entourage with her, and they all piled into our room, hauling equipment. Of the 5 people with her, I only knew Lily, though I recognized a few of the others from being at Palefish.

“We’re avoiding cameras,” Julian said.

“Oh right,” Lana said. “I forgot. The cannibal incident. Sloppy work, boys.”

Which — okay, unfair. I’d like to see how she fared if she was being followed across the country by a pair of dogged FBI assholes. Idk what she expects us to do differently.

“Good morning Lana,” Neal said, rolling over and pulling the sheets over his head.

“Get up,” she snapped at him. “It’s time for a briefing. I’d like to handle this case as quickly as possible.”

Lily managed a sweet little wave at me, but apart from that Lana’s crew was, as always, all business. They brought their own damn white board haha. Neal didn’t even get out of bed, he just gave input from under the blankets as they planned a whole tactical hit.

The thing about going into a situation with Lana and company is that there’s no need for subtlety or detective work. Once Lana’s there it’s go time. They’re like a sick magical swat team. Their whole plan was essentially just, we’re gonna go in, we’re gonna kick some ass, we’re gonna trap this asshole Kelvin and we’re gonna force him to tell us where he’s hiding the creature they call Great Snake, and all the people they’ve potentially infected with fog.

“Are we gonna go in with them?” I asked after their whole whirlwind discussion when everyone was busy repacking their rental car.

“Yeah,” Neal said, finally getting up and pulling on a shirt. “Lana doesn’t have a great deal of experience with trying to keep the creatures she encounters alive.”

Julian rolled his eyes, but when Neal snapped, “am I wrong?” he held up his hands in surrender.

We rolled up to the Infirmament in three separate cars at maybe 10 o’clock that night. Gonna be honest — felt pretty cool. We were so conspicuous rolling through those quiet suburban streets on an absolute war path.

Someone must have called Kelvin to warn him, because when we arrived at his house, the woman who answered his door was apparently unsurprised to see us there.

“Hello,” she said. “You must be here to speak to Diviner.”

LMFAO Diviner?????? That is so fucking DUMB. Neal openly snorted and Julian had to nudge him to shut him up.

“We’re here to speak to Kelvin Rademaker, whatever you call him is your own business,” Lana replied.

The woman stood aside. Inside it was a totally normal house that could have only been decorated by white people. So many cultures iconography shamelessly appropriated and thrown up on the walls without context. It smelled like incense and there were tapestries hung in all the doorways instead of doors.

Kelvin was sitting on a pillow on the floor, wearing a white linen robe. He had long hair and a beard and was clearly going for a whole Jesus thing. He smiled when we came in.

“Do you seek healing?” he asked.

“Ew, no,” Lana said and it was so fucking hard not to laugh. I saw something flicker in Kelvin’s expression, something that probably would have been dangerous to any of his followers and for a moment I wondered if maybe we shouldn’t be a little more cautious.

Then I remembered that Lana has literal super strength and he’s a middle aged man dressed like Jesus.

“We’re here because it’s come to our attention that you’re hiding a creature here that has the power to heal the sick.”

There was a long moment of quiet.

“We don’t allow just anyone in His presence,” Kelvin said. “Not without —”

“We’re not asking for permission,” Lana replied. “We’re here to conduct a search.” She gestured behind her and her team — Chase, the dude, started opening doors and shining a light inside.

Kelvin watched evenly, but I could see that under his calm facade, there was something churning.

“Are you a police officer?” he asked Lana.

She rolled her eyes onto him. “No,” she said.

“But you’re used to wielding a certain amount of power.”

She hesitated.

“There’s nothing wrong with having power,” he said. “Some of us are meant to be leaders. Are you meant to be a leader?”

Lana smiled thinly. “You have no idea.”

“But you’re struggling with it, aren’t you?” Kelvin said and the smile vanished. “That’s okay. Leadership isn’t supposed to be easy. Why don’t you tell me about your troubles. Maybe I can help.”

Lana said nothing, just watched him.

“There is a way to unlock the potential in every individual so that they are able to find harmony with their peers. And when they are in harmony, only then can we seek our true purpose, all of us, together.”

Lana stared at him for a long moment. Then she turned towards another of her teammates. He was a tall man, white blond, scary in a hot way. I had yet to hear him say a single word. “Endo — keep an eye on this one,” Lana said.

Which was evidently NOT what this dude wanted to hear, because he called after her in a rush: “Would you believe me if I told you magic was real?”

Lana turned slowly to fix him with a look, and I think he thought he had her, because he smiled and opened his mouth to say more. But before he could, Lana’s hot blond — who I have since found out is named Endymion — crouched down and lifted his lip to reveal FANGS. And my head went !!!!! VAMPIRE !!!!!!

Kelvin recoiled, and Lana answered his question with a simple, “Yes.” Then she turned to the rest of us.

“We need to search the house, and find the caves. Masks on, everyone, we’re not taking risks with the fog.”

“Fog?” Kelvin repeated, voice mounting. “Now wait just a second —”

“Hey,” Endymion said and snapped in front of his eyes. “Nuh uh.”

No one found anything that crazy in the house, which is honestly unsurprising — obviously, this guy had limited access any actual magic, or we’d be in a lot more trouble. We were all starting to feel a little bit strange about busting down this dude’s door, especially since the neighbors started coming over to see what was going on. They came unarmed and unafraid. They weren’t even defensive, they were just checking in.

“Everything is okay,” Kelvin said as these people peered at the doors and windows. “We have some new voices who are curious about what we’re doing here.”

What had started as a righteous mission was quickly becoming something else though. I could feel it as every new person appeared in the house, looking more wounded than anything, the energy of the situation was changing. I couldn’t help but squirm a little. They were just all… normal. Except for the fact that no one had called the cops, they seemed really normal.

That is, they seemed really normal until we found Cara unconscious in the basement.

“Neal!” Lana called up the stairs and the urgency in her voice had us running to the top of the stairs. Lana carried her up, limp, greasy hair tangled on her forehead.

“Oh, I can’t recommend disturbing her,” Kelvin said. “She’s in a very sensitive place right now.”

“Cara,” Neal said, kneeling beside her as Lana lay her down on the couch. Julian came in with a glass of water, which Neal took and poured on her face. “Cara, wake up, come on.”

She winced away. “Neal?”

He groaned in relief, lolled forward to rest his forehead on hers, and asked her something in what I’m assuming was Fenecan. She smiled and signed something in response.

“What is she on?” Julian asked.

“Just a sedative,” Kelvin said. “It was totally voluntary. Cara is in the first stage of coalescing.”

HAHA okay, yeah no, insane cult man.

“Neal,” she croaked. “It’s underground. Under the manhole.”

And just like that we were in motion. Lana had someone stay behind with Cara and the rest of us rushed back out of the house, pushing through the gathering crowd.

The manhole was right there in the middle of the street, completely unremarkable. The Hawthornes hoisted it and shoved it aside, and they would have been the first ones down the hole too, except Lana intervened, and sent another of her guys (another vampire, this one named Icarus. Which btw, I actually think Rook mentioned them to me at that bonfire when we were at Palefish?? He called them her muscle I think?)

Icarus went down first, then called up to us when he’d poked around to be sure it was all safe. We all masked up and followed him down.

Did I like being down in the tunnels? No. However, I will say, it’s easy to fool yourself into a sense of false security when you’re in a big group of people with superpowers.

At first we weren’t really sure what we were doing down there, but then we came to a place where the wall of the sewer broke unevenly into a dark chasm, beyond which was natural cave.

“Lily?” Lana said, Lily picked forward over the uneven terrain.

“There’s lots of power down here,” she said, and they exchanged a look. Yeah, the thing about a sorceress having access to lots of power is that it’s probably a bad sign. Lily took a deep breath and closed her eyes, and slowly, around her, little lights flickered to life in the air.

I’ll never get used to that.

We were standing over a cavern, the bottom of which was maybe six feet down. There were two lines of cots, maybe 20 in total, and the people in them were waking up, blinking in the light.

“What’s going on?” someone called, and even from there, I could see the fog stream out of her mouth.

Barrels and buckets lined the walls. We couldn’t see how far up the cavern went because the ceiling disappeared in the fog.

“Oh my god,” Julian whispered.

“Lily, seal this in,” she said.

Lily hesitated. “Lana —”

“We can’t risk it,” Lana snapped. Lily looked like she potentially had more to say, but she didn’t say it. Instead she obediently began sealing up the cave. I couldn’t see the magic she was doing, but I could feel it in the air, a sort of strange, jumpy electricity.

“What are we gonna do with them?” I whispered to Julian, but he just shook his head.

“I don’t…”

“For now they stay here,” Lana said, unwavering. “We’ll figure out what to do with them later.”

“We’re just gonna leave these people down here?” Neal said and there was a DISTINCT rustle of unease. Nothing concrete. Just a few sideways glances.

Lana turned to face him head on. “Yeah,” she said. “Unless you want to take them above ground. See how spreading the fog goes.”

“They shouldn’t be exposed more than they already have been,” Neal replied.

I could feel the eyes of the whole group flicking between them, holding their breaths.

“Lily,” Lana said. “See what you can do about getting the excess fog bottled.” And then with a severe look at Neal, “That’s the best we can do for them for now. You two should go top side. Keep an eye on Cara.”

Neal stood frozen for a moment, their eyes locked. I didn’t totally understand the battle they were having, only that I didn’t like it.

“Come on,” Julian finally said, nudging Neal. “Cara needs us.”

On the way back up, Julian said in a low voice, “you shouldn’t push her.”

“We try to save everyone,” Neal snapped back. “Not just the convenient ones. Otherwise what’s the point?”

“Who do you think is going to be making decisions about what happens to Cara next?” Julian pointed out and Neal dug his fingers into his brow.

“I know,” he said. But I didn’t get it yet.

Up top, everything seemed to be settling down. Kelvin had managed to calm his people, but there was something about Kelvin himself that had come a bit undone. Before, he’d seemed very calm, almost holy, but there were cracks appearing now. His resting expression was a deep frown that lined his face and made him look older, and his hair was messy, tangled, not shiny.

Lana and the others rejoined us some half hour later. Cara was awake, but not volunteering information, and the boys didn’t push her.

“We’re going to need everyone in town to evacuate,” Lana told Kelvin and for a second I thought he was going to fight us, but instead he just agreed, which honestly made me uneasier than if he’d put up a fight.

It wasn’t until later, when Julian straight up asked what was going to happen to Cara that I realized that something was going to happen to Cara at all.

“We don’t have to do this right now,” Lana said.

“I think we do,” Julian replied, which surprised me because usually Julian’s pretty sensitive to people’s shit. It surprised Lana, too, I think because she became suddenly defensive.

“Well Julian, I’ve got a person here who knowingly sold man-eating fog, and that would have been bad enough. But a single google search would have been plenty to indicate that this was not a group of people it was safe to be selling dangerous magical ingredients. You were at Fog Town, you saw what it was doing to people. What do you suggest I do with her?” And then when Neal opened his mouth she held up a hand. “Not a word from you. Anything you say to defend her is only going to piss me off.”

“If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else,” Cara said and I felt a horrible overwhelming sensation that is maybe comparable to like… humiliation? Guilt? Horror? At the time I was just really overwhelmed but now I know like… I knew in theory that there was a reason Cara was an outlaw. But in my head I think I was pretending she was like Robin Hood.

She’s not like Robin Hood. No matter how much I happen to like her, she’s a thief. And this wasn’t even so much thievery. It felt more like weapons dealing.

“Then you should have let it be someone else!” Lana cried, and then closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “You don’t want to go down this road with me.”

“She called us,” Julian said. “She called and told us she was in trouble.”

“And when you couldn’t come? What did she do then?”

“She stayed,” Neal said. “Tell her, Cara.”

But Cara didn’t say anything, she just glared.

“It doesn’t matter if she stayed,” Lana said. “Did you even ask them why they wanted the fog?”

“I don’t ask questions,” Cara said stiffly and I knew that was the wrong answer. Lana’s expression flared with rage and both the Hawthornes deflated.

I spent the night outside in the rabbit because I couldn’t bare to be near the others. I over heard Neal and Lana arguing in the morning, too low for me to hear until finally Lana said, “You know what she did! I know what she did! We all know the punishment for that is!”

Neal started to argue, but Lana interrupted him. “The punishment is rifting. It’s always been rifting, and I’ll stand by that.”

Now, my heart constricted, because I’ve heard of rifting, right? It’s when you’re sentenced to being sent through a rift into a strange world. I was expecting Neal to freak out, so I was surprised when he relaxed.

“Thank you,” he said.

“The Walthers aren’t going to like it,” Lana said. “No one’s going to like it. They’re out for blood.”

“I know,” Neal said.

“You don’t know,” Lana said. “You have no idea. Do you know how the summit at Hedgewood ended?” Neal shook his head. “This is it, Neal. Do you know what it’s going to be like soon? We need to present a united front against whatever comes next or we very well could lose a lot more than a few friends. There are hunters already pushing the Walthers to organize.”

“Maybe they should organize,” Neal said.

Lana laughed. “You know how that would end just as well as I do. They’re violent, Neal. We’re teetering towards disaster, I know you can feel it.”

“That’s not Cara’s fault,” Neal said.

“I know,” Lana snapped back. “That’s why I’m taking her home with me rather than leaving her for the fucking Walthers to deal with.”

I asked Neal about later when we went into town to get food.

“Oh you heard that did you?” He rolled his eyes. “Rifts never stay open long enough to put someone through them. Rifting is just code for Cara’s gonna spend some time at Palefish where everyone can keep any eye on her.”

“Some time,” Julian repeated.

Neal sighed. “A lot of time,” he admitted. “But it’s better than the alternative.”

So that’s where we’re at right now. The town is organizing their evacuation. Lana and her team are trying to figure out what we’re going to do with all that fog, and all the people who’ve been ingesting fog underground. We called Hedgewood, and they’re sending a healer or two, to see if there’s something they can do.

It’s a weird energy out here. Everyone seems to be watching us.

We still haven’t seen the Great Snake. Kelvin won’t tell us where it is.

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