Hi, Merry Christmas if that’s a thing for you, apparently it’s not really a thing for me since I like basically forgot it was happening.
We’ve had an eventful few days, though not in the direction we expected.
Remember on Wednesday, when Julian finally put his foot down and decided we were going to look into this girl like she’s a case? Well, that turned into like two hours on the phone with people — we called Protsman, the Emporium, we still couldn’t get hold of anyone at the Crossroads, but we talked to Knock, Daryl and Rook and every said the same thing: sounds a bit like a siren. But it wasn’t a siren. I swear to god, it was a normal girl. So we called the Scelerats again, and as far as they know, no one with any ties ties to witchcraft is in the area. Now, they don’t necessarily know all the comings and going of all the witches in the world, and we’ve already seen witchcraft appearing out of the blue. Plus, that doesn’t say anything about any sorcery that might be in the area.
But the Hawthornes just don’t think it’s a witch. Why not? No idea. They just don’t.
“We just need to talk to her,” Neal said. “I won’t do any talking! You can do all the talking and I’ll just —”
“Sit in the car,” Julian said. “No, stay in the hotel room. You’re not allowed to see her at all.”
Neal scowled. “She could lie to you and you’d never know.”
“What if she’s dangerous?”
Julian made a face. “Is she?”
“No,” Neal admitted, and Julian said, “Well okay then. You’re staying here.”
And I said, “Wait.”
They both looked at me.
I asked, “How do you know she’s not dangerous?”
Julian blinked. Neal opened his mouth to explain, found he couldn’t, and closed it again.
“We need to go see her,” Neal said, with renewed vigor. “And I need to be there.”
And Julian agreed this time, but he got weird and quiet after that. I could see his gears turning, and didn’t miss the wary looks he gave Neal as we tracked her down.
Neal already knew where she was. Or at least, where her car was. Apparently Bass keyed in to the cameras with magic to find her the little forest green slug bug. We drove to it in like twenty minutes with traffic.
It took us a little longer to find the girl herself. We checked a couple restaurants on the street, then the library but when we saw the little, forested park on the corner, we knew where she was. Neal was like… crackling with energy trying to find her.
She was sitting at a picnic table with a book.
“Neal,” Julian said, “I am dead serious. You keep your mouth shut, alright?”
Neal didn’t even answer he was staring at the back of her head with an intensity that was like, super uncalled for. He was staring at her like she was literally flying down from the sky on feathered wings.
“Okay,” Julian said. “I guess we just…”
But she was just sitting there in the cold by herself, and here we were, getting ready to just walk right up to her? The two dudes who chased her down the street the other day? In the middle of an empty park?
“Maybe I should open this conversation,” I said.
“Yeah that’s not a terrible idea,” Julian admitted. “The game’s infiltration, right?”
Yeah, somehow I doubted that I’d be infiltrating her defenses with any particular success, but it was a good idea to try.
Maybe if Neal hadn’t been being so god damn weird I would have second guessed myself more, but as it was I just wanted him to stop acting like a psycho, so I just walked right up to her and sat down.
She glanced at me, and went back to her book.
I cleared my throat. “Um,” I said. “I’m Shiloh.”
She turned to look at me. “Hi,” she said, cautious, glancing around as if searching for danger. Which was when she saw Julian and Neal.
She froze. “How did you find me?”
“Please —” Julian began, but her panic got bigger when Julian began speaking.
“We asked our friend to help find you,” I said, and in a split second, decided to take a risk: “His name is Bass. He’s a um. A witch.”
She turned to look at me.
“Look,” I said. “I’m super sorry we’re scaring you. And trust me, I’ve been there,
“What?” she asked, aghast.
I glanced at Neal and Julian. Neal gave me somewhat sarcastic thumbs up.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“My name is Julian Hawthorne. This is my brother Nathaniel.”
“Neal,” Neal corrected.
“And this is our apprentice, Shiloh.”
“Apprentice?” she asked.
“We’re cryptid hunters,” I said.
“Like… monsters?” she asked.
We all smiled at her queasily, an awkward, three-headed idiot.
Slowly, Eden said, “I’m not a monster.”
“Of course not,” Julian said quickly, brow creasing.
“But you already know why we’re here, don’t you?” Neal said, entirely too eagerly. “Can’t you feel it?”
Eden’s round eyes widened. “But I’ve been so careful,” she said. “Please, I’m sorry, I’ve tried so hard.” She was pleading with us, as if we were there to punish her.
“So hard to what?” Julian asked, and when she couldn’t answer, Julian knelt to look her in the eyes. “I think… I think we have something in common,” he said. “Do you know Jon Cooper or Cosima Caro?”
I did a total double-take and Neal made a weird croaking sound as he opened his mouth to argue, and then thought better of it.
Eden blinked, suddenly uncertain. “You know Cosima?”
“Only a little,” Julian said. “She has a very unique ability. Did you know that?”
Eden shook her head.
“I also have an ability,” Julian said. “So does Neal. And so, I think, do you. Is that right?”
She stared at him, blinking those huge, beautiful, giraffe eyes. Then she stood abruptly.
“Please,” she said. “Please leave me alone.” She started across the park.
“Wait!” Julian called, but he didn’t follow her, and he held out an arm to stop Neal, too. “Please, I think we’re supposed to know each other.”
Eden turned so she was walking backwards, shouting, “stop following me! I don’t want to force you, but I will!” Then she ran.
We all stood silently for a long, stunned moment. Then Neal said, “How did you know?”
“I guessed,” Julian replied. He started making his way back to the rabbit.
“How?” Neal demanded, skipping to keep up.
“We don’t know I’m right yet,” Julian replied. “I could be totally off base.”
“She knows Cosima and the way she was talking, it definitely seems like she has a power — a bad one, if she was so insistent that she didn’t use it. Seems like a dog saint to me. How did you guess?”
“Because we ran into her, by accident, in a random crowd, and then you became obsessed with her,” Julian replied. “I figured she had to be powerful.”
“You figured she had to be powerful?” Neal repeated, disbelieving.
“Powerful, and mostly likely, very good,” Julian replied, grimly.
Neal made a face. “What?”
Julian just set his jaw. “We need to talk to Cosima, and we need to talk to Jade.”
We didn’t start making calls until we made it back to the hotel room.
We started by calling Cosima, but she didn’t pick up, so instead we called Cooper.
“Everything alright?” he asked, before even saying hi.
“More or less,” Julian replied. “We’re actually hoping to speak to Cosima, but she’s not our biggest fan. You think you can get her on the phone?”
“There a reason?” Cooper asked.
“Yeah,” Julian said, and then after a moment’s hesitation, he explained that we have a lead on our potential fifth dog saint, and that her connection to us is through Cosima.
“What does she do?” Cooper asked, maybe somewhat eagerly.
“No idea,” Julian replied. “It’s just a guess. We need to talk to Cosima.”
They decided a group call was our best option, since our relationship with Cosima has been both brief and under a certain amount of duress, but for Cooper, she did at least pick up.
Who knows how he explained to her that she needed to talk to the us, but by the time we got into the call, she was already grouchy.
“Well, well,” she drawled. “You sweep into my life, tell me I’m part of some ancient mythical society, then disappear entirely, and now you need something from me?”
“Yeah,” Julian said, completely ignoring her implied irritation. “What do you know about Eden Nemerebai?”
Cosima was quiet for a long time. She cleared her throat.
“They ran into her, and they think she’s one of us,” Cooper explained, when she didn’t say anything.
“You found Eden?” Cosima gasped.
“What do you mean?” Neal asked.
“We knew each other when we were young,” Cosima said. “But she started running away when we were kids. She’s… unstable. Never happy to stay in one place. I haven’t heard from her in years.”
“We found her,” Julian said. “We approached her earlier, and she gave us reason to wonder if she has an ability. But she’s not receptive to us — she’s suspicious, and frightened —”
“Can’t imagine why,” Cosima said.
“— and it would be easier, I think if we could approach her with someone she knows.”
“You mean you know where she is right now?” Cosima gasped. There was a bunch of air and crunching noises on her end of the phone. “I can be there tomorrow,” she said after a moment.
After that they discussed the details for a bit, and then Cosima had to go. It was all surprisingly easy. They hung up and Julian sighed with some relief.
Then he dialed another number. “Jade?” he said after a moment. “I need to ask you something about dog saints.”
Neal made a face and reached for the phone but Julian stood up away from him.
“Oh now you want to talk about dog saints,” Jade said.
She scoffed. “I’m no expert on dog saints,” she said. “You should be on the phone with Palefish, not me. Protsman is the one obsessed with old paperwork.”
“I know,” Julian sighed. “But I can’t go to Lana with this.”
Jade was quiet for a long moment. “Nolan trusted her.”
“Not with this.”
Jade sighed. “It is a cyclical spell, trigged when magic begins blooming again in the world,” she said. “Each time there are five dog saints. Each dog saint gets one of ten different powers. There’s no way to predict who will get what. Those are the basics. I don’t know much more than that.”
“Do you know about the different powers?” Julian asked.
Jade made a clucking noise. “I do, more or less. I’ve had to do some research, since you keep dumping stray dog saints on my doorstep.”
“I just need to know the details about one of the powers,” Julian said, and Jade took a long moment of pause.
“Neal’s,” Julian said.
“You’re going to need to be more specific than that,” Jade replied.
“You don’t already know?” Julian asked, and to be honest I had sort of assumed Jade knew their powers too. Since she took one look at me and seemed to know pretty much everything.
“Don’t presume to understand my psychic abilities,” Jade snapped, and then, more gently, “this amount of old magic fogs my vision.”
Julian sighed, massaging the back of his neck. “Neal knows when you’re lying.”
Jade was quiet for a long time. “The Eye,” she said. “Interesting. It doesn’t suit him.” Neal rolled his eyes, and Jade added, with a tone of might have been amusement “— and it does. He sees the truth of all things.”
“All things,” Julian repeated. “What does that mean?”
“I don’t know more than that,” she said. “That’s the only description the records give.”
“Neal saw a girl,” Julian said. “He’s obsessed with her. He bullied Bass Scelerat into tracking her down.”
“He’s obsessed with her?” Jade said. “Does he want to harm her?”
Neal made a face. “No!”
Neal opened his mouth, and then closed it. “I don’t know,” he said.
There was a long pause.
“How do you know when you can trust someone?” Jade finally asked.
Neal rolled his eyes. “I find I don’t need to trust people often, what with knowing when they’re lying.”
“No,” Jade said. “There’s more to trusting people than whether or not they tell you the truth.”
Neal rolled his eyes.
“And you know, don’t you?” Jade said. “You know when someone is safe to put faith in?”
Neal shifted, visibly uncomfortable. “Everyone does.”
“But you know more,” Jade pushed. “You have an instinct for knowing which people you should get close to, and which you should avoid.”
Neal rolled his eyes. “It’s not that simple,” he said. “People are complicated, you can’t just look at someone and know whether they’re —” he stopped.
“Whether they’re what?”
“I don’t know,” Neal said.
“Yes you do,” Jade said. “You know. What about me?”
“What about you?”
“Can you trust me?”
“Yes,” Neal said at once.
Neal rolled his eyes. “More or less.”
“Hey!” I cried.
“Why me and Julian and not Shiloh?” Jade pushed.
“No, that’s not what I meant,” Neal said. “Jesus, of course I trust Shiloh.”
“But why did you hesitate?” Jade asked.
“Because —” he stopped, and his eyes landed on mine. He looked at me for a long, long time, and my heart hammered. Then, slowly, he said, “she has a lot of power, but it’s untested. She could go either way.”
“Yes,” Jade said.
My eyes had filled with terror tears hahahaha. I glanced at Julian and he was staring at Neal, unnerved.
“And this stranger?” Jade asked. “Do you trust her?”
“Yes,” Neal said, instantly, no hesitation.
Neal squirmed. “I don’t know.”
“Yes you do, tell us why.”
“Because she’s incredibly powerful,” Neal finally burst out, frustrated. “And she never hurts anyone.”
We all sat in stunned silence staring, wonderingly, at Neal.
“Is she a dog saint?” Julian asked.
“No idea,” Neal said with complete confidence.
“Yes,” Jade answered instead. “Spells that old and powerful are too bright for me to see much in them, but I’ve seen enough of you by this point to be familiar with the imprint. Unless there’s another chosen one spell kicking off, my best bet is she’s a dog saint.”
Julian took a breath. “Okay.”
They hung up. None of us said anything for a long time. My heart was still RACING, but instead of talking about that, Julian looked up at me. “And now I guess we wait for Cosima.”
And what did I say? Did I demand to know why no one had thought to tell me that apparently I’m a ticking time-bomb of bad-assery? No. Did anyone decide to ask Neal any more questions about this judgmental-ass ability he apparently has? No of course not. I sat there quietly and felt shell shocked.
We all did I think because we were very quiet and awkward for a long minute. Julian took a breath as if to say something, but Neal interrupted: “One disaster at a time, okay?”
Julian shrugged. “Good idea.”
Hi so it’s now the next night, and I’m reporting in to tell you the nice disaster that we’ve had.
Cosima arrived first thing in the morning. She met us in the hotel lobby, which was funny because it clearly confused her when we came downstairs looking like we were there to rob the place.
“This is how you travel?” she asked.
“Only for the holidays,” Neal grumbled. He was in a foul mood. He could scarcely look me in the face, which is great actually because now he can’t trust me or look at me.
Cosima was dressed casually, which is to say, wearing sleek little boots rather than her usual pumps. She had a small gold chain on the outside of her camel colored turtleneck and her long, dark hair was swept back up off her face. There was not even a hint of airplane on her.
“I can’t stay in town long,” she said. “I need to be back in the office tomorrow at the latest.”
Neal rolled his eyes. “No you don’t,” he said.
Cosima opened her mouth, and closed it again. “I’d prefer to be home tomorrow,” she corrected herself. She gave him a thin, insincere smile. “Better?”
He just grunted at her and lead the way out onto the street.
Cosima visibly shrank away from the rabbit when she saw it, but when she realized we weren’t joking, she ducked into the back seat next to me without a word.
Did I sort of love watching her tug her very expensive coat as close around herself so it touched as little of the car as possible? Yes I did, very much. But she didn’t say anything about the state of our little nightmare mobile. Instead, she got straight to business.
“Where is Eden?”
Julian was already on the phone with Bass, and after just moment, answered, “She’s parked under a bridge.”
And maybe because I’ve slept under a bridge before, I’d already guessed what that meant. Cosima didn’t seem to understand though, as we drove towards warehouses and old industrial buildings and storage units.
“What is she doing down here?” she murmured, looking out the window at the broken glass and stuffed dumpsters and empty, smoldering drums.
None of us answered as we pulled up to her little green slug bug and found her bundled up, asleep in the drivers seat.
My heart ached.
“You’re gonna have to approach her,” Neal said to Cosima, squinting at Eden, and I could see in his face that his heart ached too, seeing her out there, all alone, windows fogged up in the freezing cold.
Cosima looked like she was going to argue, but then instead she squared her shoulders, straightened her coat, and got out of the car. She paused only a moment before knocking on the window.
Eden jolted awake in plumes of her own cold breath. She scrubbed a clear spot in the condensation in her window, and we all saw her mouth Cosima?
Her door was frozen shut, and wouldn’t open until Cosima poured her coffee on it.
The first words out of Eden’s mouth were, “How did you find me?”
And that was when Cosima stood aside, and Eden saw us. Her face fell. She began to sink back into her car.
“No, no, please,” Cosima said. “They don’t mean any harm. They’re just trying to help. They called me here to help you.”
“I don’t need help,” Eden said and Cosima looked up and around.
She asked, “Aren’t you cold?” And Eden’s eyes hardened, but she said nothing. There was nothing really to say. Sleeping in your car under a bridge in December is a point at which you need help.
“Please,” Cosima said. “I know it’s been a long time, but I need to talk to you.”
“What about?” Eden asked.
“Come on,” Cosima said. “They’ve got a room at a [nice hotel I’m not telling you just in case]. You can have a hot bath, we’ll order room service, and we can have a nice talk.”
Eden closed her eyes as if imagining it, but then she said, “no, I prefer to stay away from hotels.”
“Why?” Cosima asked.
“Too many people,” Eden replied, stiffly.
None of us quite knew what to say to that. Cosima said, “I still talk to your mom sometimes. She still sends me a Christmas card.”
Eden’s mouth twisted. “You can’t tell her you found me.”
“Why?” Cosima asked, slightly desperate. “Why do you keep running away? Don’t you know how much —” she stopped.
“Yes,” Eden said. “I know exactly.”
And Neal twitched a little next to me.
“Then why —” Cosima began, but Neal interrupted her.
“How?” he said.
“You said you know exactly how everyone feels when you run away,” Neal said. “And you were telling the exact truth, no exaggeration at all. You know exactly how everyone feels. How do you know?”
Eden hesitated. “It’s a figure of speech.”
“No,” Neal said. “It’s not, is it? How do you know what people feel?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eden said, but I didn’t need to be Neal to know she was lying. She was sinking back into her car.
“No,” Cosima said. “Please don’t go, it’s okay. We’re not upset with you. I know you’ve gone through things, and I know it feels easier to be alone. But we all really care about you.”
Eden stopped. She gave Cosima a gentle, sympathetic look. “You don’t know me,” she said. “You don’t know anything about me. We were friends when we were little kids.”
“You don’t know me either,” Cosima pointed out. “But you opened your door just now.”
Eden managed a smile. “I can’t be close to you,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I never wanted to hurt anyone. But I can’t stay around.”
“I think all of us here know what it’s like to fear we’re putting those we love at risk by staying close to them,” Julian said. “Some of us have hurt people love.”
Cosima glanced at him, no doubt wondering if he meant her. How was she supposed to know they had the whole patricide thing in common?
“We’re all just trying to find a way to survive the world with the curses we have,” Julian went on. “We can help you.”
Eden laughed. “You think you are cursed?”
Julian smiled sadly. “I know I am.”
“Why do you love me so much, Cosima?” Eden said. “We were friends when we were just kids, and you haven’t stopped thinking about me since, have you?”
“Do you want to know why?” Eden’s voice wasn’t kind anymore.
“We were friends,” Cosima said. “You disappeared. I missed you.”
“But you never got over it,” Eden said. “Didn’t you ever wonder why not?” When Cosima didn’t answer Eden said. “I made you love me,” she said. “I thought you were amazing, and I got scared you’d forget me when we changed classes, so I made you care about me more than you cared about any of your other friends. I attached you to me. I made you feel like I was part of your soul and you’ve never forgotten me.”
Cosima stared at her open-mouthed.
“Did you fly in when you heard they’d found me?” Eden asked. “Weird, don’t you think? To drop everything over the holidays to see a friend you haven’t seen since you were 8?”
Cosima just shook her head, mutely.
“How did you do it?” Julian asked.
Eden rolled her eyes. “Does it matter?”
Julian smiled. “Yes.”
She shrugged, crossed her arms around herself. “I don’t know. I didn’t really mean to do it back then. I don’t do it all now — not if I can help it.”
“What is it you do?”
“You won’t believe me,” Eden said.
Neal smiled, a very different smile than Julian’s. “Try me.”
Eden hesitated. “What are you people?”
“We’re the same as you,” Julian said. “We understand what you’re going through. I’m a shapeshifter. Neal’s a lie detector.”
“You’re a shapeshifter?” Eden said. Julian nodded. “So what… you turn into something else sometimes?” She shook her head. “That must be hard for you.”
I felt myself getting my hackles up at that point. This bitch can be as sad as she wants but what we’re not gonna do is think Julian is understating how difficult his particular brand of shape shifting is.
All Julian said was, “What is the nature of your ability?”
Eden just shook her head.
“I kill people,” Cosima said. “I just… realize that the world would be better without a person in it, and that person dies. Just like that. No pain, no time for surprise, just here one minute, gone the next. Whatever you’ve got, it can’t scare me.”
Eden spilled out in somewhat maniacal laughter. “Want to bet on that?” She laughed more covering her face with her gloved fingers. “I can feel what you’re feeling,” she said into her hands. “I can feel all of you, and all of you are strange. Please, please just leave me alone.”
I looked up at Hawthornes, alarmed.
“Ah,” Eden said softly. “There it is. Just a little apprehension. Not enough.”
“Eden, if you can feel what I’m feeling, tell me,” Julian said.
She looked up at him. She took a slow breath. “You have an ordered mind. You feel nothing. Just stillness.” She cocked her head. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It must be difficult to feel so little.”
Julian laughed. “You have no idea.”
“What about me?” Neal asked.
Eden turned to look at him. “I don’t like to do this,” she said. “It’s invasive, and overwhelming.”
“I’m inviting you,” Neal said, shrugging. “I want you to see.”
Eden made a small, frustrated noise, and then turned to focus on him. I watched her eyes grow wide.
“Do you see how I see you?” Neal asked.
She gazed up at him, open-mouthed. “How —” she began, and I could see she was beginning to believe. But then, she screwed up her face against him and said, “no, please, I need all of you to leave. Cosima — would it be easier if you cared less? I can fix what I did to you now, if you’d like me to.”
“What?” Cosima reached to take her shoulders. “You haven’t done anything to me. We are friends.”
Eden sighed. “You don’t understand. I changed you. I felt you beginning to forget me, and I changed you, I made you remember, made you never able to forget. I forced you to.”
Cosima shook her head. “And I murdered my father. I don’t care, Eden, we’ll figure this out.”
Eden shook her off. “No!” she said. “I don’t know what it is you people are, or what you want from me. But you want to know why I can’t just let you try to figure this out? Fine. Fine! I will demonstrate.”
And suddenly it was like the sky was falling on top of me.
I’ve been scared before. Any time a gunshot goes off I literally become inanimate. But I have NEVER been that scared. NEVER. I was so inside my own head terrified that I didn’t even notice that Julian had changed at first. It happened so fast, one minute it was nothing but the endless horrible fear, fear I’d have offed myself to stop — then distantly I was aware of Julian’s owlish face, that melodic voice screeching — then suddenly, all calm. Julian was on all fours, his clothes shredded, breathing hard. Neal scrambled to his feet, but Eden had already begun scrabbling at her car door.
“WAIT,” Neal cried, and she whirled on us.
“LEAVE ME ALONE,” she screamed, and listen NEVER AGAIN will I not listen to Eden Nemerebai. Julian was spluttering and in shock and only partially decent in the middle of the sidewalk. Cosima was sitting on the curb, her arms still over her head, sobbing silently.
“Okay,” Neal said, hands up in surrender. Eden got back into her car and with some chugging and spitting, she got off the curb and drove away.
“We gotta get out of here. Come on.” Neal hauled Julian up by the shoulder, then reached to help Cosima up. We all stumbled to the car and sat there shell-shocked and silent for a long time. Then Neal said, “Well. Next time I say someone’s worth looking into, maybe we should just believe me, yeah?”
Julian laughed helplessly. “You win, you piece of shit.”
By the time we made it back to the hotel, Cosima had recovered.
“What do we do now?” she asked.
But we had to get out of town. Julian changed in broad daylight for fucks sake, and while there weren’t like a lot of people around, there people passing on the bridge above us, and on the street as well. It wasn’t private.
“I can’t leave her here,” Cosima said. “She needs help.”
Which like… yeah, she does. But according to Eden herself, Cosima’s feelings on the subject are potentially muddled by some old magic. Either way, Cosima is going to call Cooper and see if they can’t work something out.
We’re on the road big time. Julian is exhausted — he’s always exhausted and sore after changing, even if it’s just for a second — and Neal’s been having a weird week, so I offered to drive first shift tonight. Yes, I have been practicing a little bit hahaha I’m not as bad as I used to be.
We were all reeaal quiet in that car hahaha. We were pretending it was because we were trying to let Julian sleep, but we all knew there was a lot we weren’t saying. For example, we were NOT talking about what it meant that we’ve now found all five dog saints. We’re not talking about the fact that the information we need to understand everyone’s powers is out there and we’re actively not seeking it out. We’re not talking about what’s looking more and more like a near future full of cryptids and what I can only assume will be increasingly dangerous magical incidents.
We’re not talking about Neal straight up admitting that he doesn’t trust me.
Or at least, I thought we weren’t talking about it until he said, “I do trust you.”
I’d thought he was asleep, which was why I was playing sleepy songs to drive to.
“She could go either way?” I said, which were his exact words.
“It sounds bad when you put it that way,” he admitted.
“You put it that way!” I hissed at him, because I wanted to yell, but poor Julian really did need his sleep.
Neal was quiet for a long time, unhappy, and usually I would have made him keep fighting, but the combination of not wanting to know whatever it is he knows about me, and having to actively focus on the road or we would ✨crash✨ I didn’t. I just let it sit in the air.
Literally 20 minutes later he said, “You know how colorblind people sometimes don’t know they’re colorblind?”
I saw where he was going, so I just gripped the wheel and waited for him to go on.
“When we were younger, Nolan asked us if we wanted to know more about our abilities and we said no. Well, Julian said no so I said no, too. Solidarity.” He sighed. “I’ve always told myself it was a simple power. When someone lies to me, I can tell when they’re lying. I can’t tell what the truth is, just that the lie exists. Simple.”
He gazed out the windshield.
“I think I’ve known for a while that it was a bit more than that, though. Do you remember Robert Jukes?”
LOL. What’s insane is that it genuinely took me a second to remember the serial killer. Remember the serial killer we caught? Months ago?? The guy who was trying to get that rift to reopen by killing a bunch of kids? Yeesh.
“I knew it was him the moment we saw him. It’s not visual or anything, just… there was something sick about him, twisted. I knew, the moment we saw him that he was killing kids, but not because he enjoyed killing kids. I knew that Alec, Dennis and Rosie were trying to trick us, I just didn’t know how. Or Celeste, the whole crew — Bev, Cara, Jasper — all hated her, she was this prickly, prissy, know-it-all, but I could see that she had an IRON moral backbone, and I couldn’t help myself, I had to know more. And when I met you…”
He hesitated, searching for the right words, and I realized that the speedometer was inching higher and higher and I needed to calm tf down.
“Most people are just normal,” Neal said. “Just.. you know. Nothing particularly interesting in either direction. Most people don’t have the power or daring to be truly despicable or virtuous. You were like that. Just a normal kid. Nothing to set off any warning bells. But then you died.”
He paused again, and I wanted to pull the car over and throttle him.
“The moment I saw you in that hospital bed, I knew —”
“What?” I demanded.
“I don’t know Shiloh. Before you had the same scope as everyone else — the same ability to cause damage or healing as anyone does. And now you have so much more. More than anyone I’ve ever met before. That girl Eden? I don’t know what her ability is, but I know that however she’s been using it… I mean she’s a damn saint, I’ve never seen anything even remotely like it. But you…” He shrugged helplessly. “Whatever power you came back with, you could seriously fuck shit up with it.”
And THAT was when I pulled the car over hahahaha.
“Give me a minute,” I said. I gripped the steering wheel for dear life hahaha.
When I wasn’t feeling quite so frantic, I asked, “Is that why you brought me with you?”
Neal shifted. “No,” he said, but then. “…and yes. Every reason we offered to take you with us was true. But I might not have been so desperate to keep you away from Steva and Mulligan if I couldn’t see… whatever it is I can see.”
“And Julian agreed because…?”
“Look, just because we don’t talk about the details of my power, doesn’t mean that Julian doesn’t know to trust my judgement. I said we should take you with us, and he believed me.” And then after a moment, he added, “plus, Julian’s liked you from the moment you showed up at that old haunted house we were squatting in. He called you grumpy Nancy Drew.”
Which — UGH that’s sweet. Sweet enough to calm me down?
It took a long time for me to have the fortitude to ask the question I needed to ask: “So I’m here because you’re trying to keep me from going full super villain?”
It was the worst thing I could imagine lmao my heart was literally in my hands like a tiny dying bird asking this question, and what did Neal do? He LAUGHED.
“Please, you think I’m capable of that level of foresight? You’re here because a bunch of wannabe witches came for you and your loved ones and you faced them down without blinking, even though it ruined your life. Like literally, that case killed you. And you came back, and I took one look at you in that hospital bed, and you were just…” He laughed helplessly, rubbing the back of his neck. “You were a like a feral half-drowned rat, what we were supposed to do? You think anyone in your life was prepared to handle you in those first few months? You remember what it was like.”
Heh, here’s the thing. I’m not sure I do remember those first few months. Like, even after I started writing here again, there are things I wrote down that I don’t really remember.
“We took you with us because it was the right thing to do,” he said and then, as a casual aside, admitted, “initially, our plan was to bring you to the Emporium.”
“And leave me there?”
Neal laughed at me again. “Listen, you’d have been better off. He’d have trained you with all the creatures, gotten you some actual therapy. Sent you to the best art school money could buy. You’d have your own room. Your own bathroom. Some friends, maybe. But then —” he trailed off.
“But then?” I demanded, still outraged that they were planning to leave me at the emporium like a corn wolf.
He shrugged, and didn’t meet my eye. “But then we didn’t.”
“We still can,” he said, misinterpreting my silence.
Y’all they kept me 😭 I’m the cryptid they kept
“How many times do I have to tell you I want to stay?” I asked.
“At least once for every time we nearly get you killed,” Neal replied.
“When my incredibly badass power shows up, you’re who I’m taking it out on,” I replied and he smiled.
“Deal. Now drive this car before someone decides to see if we need help.”
So I pulled back onto the highway, and I focused on the road, not on the fact that at some point whatever power I picked up when I drank from that stream is going to materialize. And then apparently have the potential for infinite good or evil! It’s fine everything’s fine!