the teams

We’re back at Infimament, but genuinely if it weren’t for Lana and company still being there I wouldn’t recognize it. It looks like a big wave crashed into it and just leveled the whole town. We pulled up yesterday morning before the sun had fully risen after having driven all night, to find it already bustling. Headlamps and lanterns beamed through the morning. There were more people there than just Lana’s initial crew — at least a couple dozen people now. Some were clearing rubble, others bustling around a big ass white army tent, erected in one of the clear front yards.

“I guess that couple of hours of sleep we were banking on isn’t gonna happen,” Neal said, scanning the activity through the windshield.

“The Walthers are here” Julian asked, and I scooted towards the middle seat to see where Julian had gestured.

Sure enough, dragging what looked like siding off the road, there they were in their flannel and denim.

“Fantastic,” Neal sighed. “I’m sure all of this is going to run smoothly.”

“Thank god Cara’s not here,” Julian said.

I haven’t seen the Walthers since White Pyre, which is literally so long ago I can’t even really remember what their deal is, except that all the other hunters sort of defer to them. They just looked like… I mean your classic, Very Serious Man. They look like they don’t know how much they can bench press because they use their strength for actual tasks, you know the type? Like, if they have a basement it’s probably full of very organized canned food, propane, and like… six different kinds of crossbow.

Lana was nowhere to be seen. It was Lily we finally found. She was sitting in the tent, absentmindedly nibbling a piece of toast, bent over what looked like town blueprints.

She jumped violently when we arrived.

“Oh,” she said, smiling when she realized who we were. “Sorry, hi, sorry. You’re here. That’s great.”

“Where’s Lana?” Julian asked.

“She’s bringing Kelvin back,” Lily said. “We’re struggling with the caves.”

“How so?”

“We can’t find the snake,” Lily said, and looked up with this expression of exhaustion and helplessness. The weeks we’ve been gone have not been easy here, it was all over her face.

“Then how do you know it’s awake?” Julian asked.

“Because I was down in the tunnels when it woke up,” Endymion, Lana’s muscle, said. I jumped. He was standing in the corner of the tent, so still I hadn’t even noticed him there. “And some part of it came crashing through the ground, destroying the tunnel I was in.”

There wasn’t a scratch on him, but that doesn’t mean much. Idk how healing works for vampires.

“We’re lucky I was the only one down there,” he added. “Just 12 hours earlier and everyone infected with fog would have still have been down in the major corridor and that would be that.”

He said this with no particular opinion in either direction as to whether that was good or bad.

“Are there still people down there looking?” Julian asked.

“Cierva witches arrived yesterday,” Lily said. “There are two groups down in the tunnels right now, with witches to keep the tunnels as safe as possible. At great personal risk.” She looked exhausted. “We have to find the snake.”

“What’s the plan once you’ve found it?” Neal asked.

Lily didn’t answer, just looked at him. She was just opening her mouth when beneath us the ground rolled. It felt like we were trying to stand on the ocean. I collapsed, just absolutely folded hahaha. No standing for me.

It only lasted 20 seconds or so, and then was still again.

Lily went to the tent door and shouted “TWO,” at the top of her lungs, and around the camp people started counting off. At the end she said, “You three are 25, 26, and 27. Any time there’s a shake you’re gonna have to shout that number off. If any of your group are absent for any reason, you become responsible for shouting out their number, provided you know where they are. The last thing we need is to start losing people because we’re just not paying close enough attention.”

She took a deep breath.

“Lily, what do you need?” Julian asked. She smiled gratefully at him.

“We’re going to need more from you later,” she said. “But for now the Walthers have taken on getting the roads cleared so we can at least get around the neighborhood. I’m sure they have work for you. And don’t forget to sleep. When Lana gets back we’ll need you sharp.”

And then we spent literally the ENTIRE DAY clearing the neighborhood.

The shakes won’t fucking stop dude, it’s a fucking nightmare. I feel like I’m getting seasick just walking around. Meanwhile, people have been rolling in all day offering to help. The Kellihers are here! You remember Jessamine and Lodge Kelliher, from the lemniscate case? They’re the only ones I know well enough to like… talk to. Apart from Rook, Knock and Daryl, of course — they got here at about noon yesterday. The count-off is up to 43, and things are weird.

As we know, slowly but surely, word of the resurfacing Dog Saints has been getting around. For the most part, we’ve been noticing that people know because they sorta… look at us funny. Maybe watch us a little too long, or maybe they like weirdly avoid looking at us at all but in like an obvious way?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just the literally insane circumstances, but the vibes are NOT ideal right now.

It’s Wednesday morning right now. We slept in the car. Lana’s not back with Kelvin. The boys are starting to get anxious about what’s going on, but they also refuse to just call her, or like… go ask Lily. At first I thought it was just a boys-hate-asking-for-directions thing, but I was wrong.

“Look around camp, Shiloh,” Neal said. “What do you see?”

Well, I saw a bunch of exhausted seasick cryptid hunters.

“Well, yeah,” Julian said. “But look. You can tell who’s connected to who, can’t you?”

And I could, I totally could. I don’t entirely know how to explain it, except that you know how if you go to certain weddings, you can kind of take one look at the people and see who’s on who’s side of the family? Like, something about the way they dress and carry themselves, you can just tell, oh yeah, bride’s side.

Well you can see it, distinctly, who was an on-the-road cryptid hunter, and who was there because of Lana. And even if there hadn’t been any difference in general demeanor, you could tell who belonged to who by where they went for instruction.

Half of the people went to the Walthers. Half of the people went to Lily.

Remember that conversation I had with Rook, months ago at Palefish, about how people sort of have their gangs? (We might have mentioned Warrior Cats🙃) Yeah, I’m starting to see that.

Lana’s back, and she found Kelvin. All he’s said so far is that there’s no way we’re getting down there, it’s too deep in the earth.

When Lana arrived, she brought Kelvin directly to her own tent, and her close lieutenants immediately all joined her there. We didn’t, not at first.

I know that Neal and Julian are trying to fly a little under the radar, what with people sort of looking at them funny. But also Kelvin is back, and like politics aside, Neal is like… a genuinely valuable asset in trying to figure out how to handle this guy. Not that anyone knows that but us, of course.

The rest of the hunters all watched Lana’s people go into the big tent, and shifted towards the Walthers, to see what they would do. At first everything was real uneasy for a second.

One of the hunters, an older man named Ray, started the conversation: “I’m just gonna out and say it. The solution to this whole issue is no different than any other damn hunt — you find the thing, you kill it, everyone goes home happy, right?”

There was a murmur of agreement, and everyone looked to the Walthers.

Silas Walthers, the older one, said, “That sounds like a plan to me.”

“But,” Danny, the younger one, went on, smoothly, “we’re not the only ones on this case, and none of us has ever dealt with anything of this size before. Little as any of us likes it, we need Palefish’s resources.”

That was how he said it — little as any of us likes it. The crowd — 20 or so people — all rustled with discontent.

“Don’t see why,” Ray said in his growly voice. “Ain’t never needed magical nonsense to kill anything before.”

I wasn’t aware that the big plan was to kill the giant snake at all. And it’s not like… an illogical conclusion to reach, I guess. Lol, actually I feel like… people enter cave to slay giant reptile is actually a staple of human story telling, this really shouldn’t have been surprising at all.

It’s just that in my experience kill the monster is not our first order of operation. It’s more like… rescue the cryptid from being lost and alone as quickly as possible, before anyone else gets hurt.

But like… I recognize that a snake big enough to cause huge earth quakes up and down the west coast is probably not something we can lead out into the sunlight and make a home for at the emporium.

Still I feel sort of uneasy about this whole problem and I can tell Neal and Julian aren’t loving it either.

We don’t really fit in with the other hunters. I should have put that together sooner than this I think, but for whatever reason, I didn’t. The other hunters are wary of us. Danny and Silas Walthers are careful to be extra nice to us, but idk it just feels a little weird — and why does it feel weird?

It feels weird because the moment the hunters went back to their work, grumbling discontentedly, the Walthers went to join Lana in the big tent, representatives for the hunters, and we followed them.

And it finally all came together for me in my head: There are two sides — the Walthers’ side with hunters and guns and blue denim, and there’s Lana’s side, with their big old school, and their ties to witchcraft.

It’s just like how Rook told me, all those months ago by the fire — this whole weird cryptid secret society has two teams hahahaha. Two teams — plus the Hawthornes, who just sorta… do stuff. Fight with everyone hahaha.

It’s taking me forever to write this realization out, but at the time the understanding finally fully hit me in the time it took to walk into the white tent and take our place against the back wall of the tent behind Lana, where Neal could get a good look at Kelvin’s face.

It was crowded in there, with all Lana’s people watching. The disgust and outrage was palpable, but apparently unspoken. Endymion was standing right behind Kelvin, silent and watchful. I’d have been shitting myself.

Kelvin was infuriatingly calm, sitting there with that blank fucking smile on his face.

Lana went and sat across from him, hands clasped, watching him with a carefully even expression.

“We need to get down to the snake,” Lana was saying.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Kelvin replied. “But I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

Lana took a long pause. “I think you can. I just need you to draw a map.”

Kelvin regarded her for a long time, still smiling that benign smile. He said, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to do that.”

“I’m afraid you don’t have much of a choice,” Lana replied.

“What will you do, when you meet the snake?” he asked. Lana didn’t respond for a moment, and Kelvin said, “Your plan is to kill it.” Not a question, an observation.

“I’m not sure what kind of options we have,” Lana replied. “I don’t think any of us wants to harm a creature so mysterious, but as it stands half of California is without power. There are fires, and landslides. People are already dying. This creature has already caused a great deal of damage, and it’s only going to cause more. I’m afraid you’ve backed us into a corner.”

Kelvin paused again, a long pause, before answering. Those long pauses are agony, I can feel myself itching to cover the silence, and I’m not even the one talking to him. I think it bugs Lana, too — she does a better job of gritting her teeth and bearing it than I would, but I could see her heel tapping under the table.

Finally, he said, “You’re very confidant that saving the snake is the wrong option.”

Lana stared at him.

“Well,” she said. “Yes, I suppose I am.”

“This creature is one of a kind, older than time, bigger than any of us can know,” he said. “It is a scientific discovery beyond anything anyone could have ever dreamed possible —”

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” Neal grumbled.

“— and on the other hand we have the United States,” Kelvin went on as if Neal hadn’t spoken. “A cesspool of hypocrisy, suffering, and violence. Our leadership serves only our wealthiest population, while the marginalized fight for scraps. Our planet is slowly succumbing to overpopulation, and humanity is eating itself from the inside. I’m not suggesting we should allow all of these people to die. However, if there is a way to save both, doesn’t it seem like we should find a way to do so?”

Lana’s lips pressed into a line. “I’m open to suggestions,” she said. “Provided you have any.”

“Well, as far as we know it’s always been asleep down there,” Kelvin said. “Surely we could put it back to sleep.”

Lana closed her eyes, but I saw her eyelids flutter, which definitely means she was rolling her eyes underneath them.

“Yes, we will discuss snake lullabies at the next meeting, but at this meeting, I just need a map of how to get down to that snake,” she said.

Kelvin smirked. “Well,” he said. “It’s a complicated explanation. I’m not sure I could draw a map of it.”

“But you know how to get there?” Silas Walther said.

“Yes,” Kelvin assured him. “But I’ve never tried to do it without being in the caves. I’d hate to send anyone in the wrong direction by accident.”

Neal’s nostril’s flared, and he glanced at Julian, which I knew meant that Kelvin was lying.

“You want to come down there with us,” Neal said, and it felt like a super strange interruption. “Why?”

The room sort of shifted, as if surprised he would speak up. I saw Lily and Chase — another of Lana’s inner circle — exchange a look.

“I’ve never seen the snake awake before,” Kelvin replied, twisting in his seat to get a look at us.

“Is there any other reason?” Neal asked.

Kelvin looked up at us. “You want to kill the most magical creature that has ever existed on this earth — a creature I know, who I care for very much. I’d like to be there when it dies. It deserves that much.”

“A yes or no answer will do,” Neal said and Kelvin turned to give him a sort of sharp look.

“No, I have no ulterior motives,” he said.

Julian glanced at Neal, who nodded minutely.

“You know going down there will be life threatening,” Lily said. “Tunnels are collapsing.”

“I trust that necessity will encourage you to keep us all safe,” Kelvin said.

I saw rage flash across Lana’s face, and then she said, “We plan on taking care of this problem, because if we don’t no one will, do you understand?”

Which made my blood run absolutely cold because yikes someone really is going to have to go down into the caves and kill a gigantic snake and in all likelihood that person isn’t coming back out.

Shit Neal’s coming over here and he looks stressed. He’s been discussing the details of what this snake hunt is going to be like, so this can’t be good news

Guess who’s going down into the earth to kill a gigantic snake and in all likelihood not coming back out hahahahahahahaha.

I’m such an idiot.

Kelvin pretty much convinced Lana that he should come down into the caves with him. Neal and Julian discussed it afterwords, and I think it actually makes sense.

“He’s lying in that he can’t draw us a map,” Neal explained, clearly unhappy. “But he’s not lying in that he can’t draw us a comprehensive map, and who knows what the caves are like down there. We might need his knowledge.”

“And he’s not plotting anything else.”

“Nope,” Neal said. “Somehow, he’s not plotting anything. He just wants to be down there.”

The next question — how to kill it — we’re going to have to figure out on the fly. Apparently Palefish has a huge library full of the whole history of cryptids in our world, and apart from like… dragon slaying myths, there’s no solid evidence of anyone having killed anything like this creature. So we’re heading down into the earth to slay an unknown beast, and we’re bringing a fucking sword, just in case.

And yes, I do mean we as in me included.

You can imagine what that conversation went with the Hawthornes. They sat me down like they were telling me they were getting divorced hahahaha.

“We’re going down into the caves,” Julian said. “It will be us, Lana, Lily and the Walthers.”

“We promised we’d always give you a choice,” Neal said. “So that’s what we’re going to do. That said, you would be a damn idiot to come with us.”

And what did I say, without even thinking about it? “I’m coming with you.”

Julian steepled his fingers over the bridge of his nose. “I understand why you think this is something you want to do — this is likely a once in a lifetime case and…”

He went on but lol I’m not going down there for the snake I’m going down there because I can’t bear the thought of them being down in the bowls of the earth, while I stay up here waiting for news. Nope. No thanks. Do I want to see the big snake? Sure. But mostly I just can’t stand the anxiety of waiting, I would rather salt and pepper myself and climb into the snakes mouth.

“…but you have to understand —” Julian was finishing up, and Neal interrupted him.

“We’re the ones who have to call your mom if you get crushed in a collapsing tunnel. So please, for our sake, think carefully.”

Ah yes, my strong suit: thinking carefully.

But then Julian said, “if we all die down there, they might never know what happened,” and that actually did give me brief pause.

The solution?

Rook, Knock and Daryl are stying topside. Rook was NOT excited about that, but Lana’s coming down with us, and there are only so many hunters Palefish readily trusts, so.

I came and sat beside him at dinner, where he was bundled up in a camping chair with his little bowl of soup on his knees. Literally he’s so cute.

I dragged a seat up next to him so our knees were bumping.

“Hey,” I said, and put a piece of paper in his hand.

“What’s this?” he asked, already smiling, and I smiled back instinctively as I said, “This is the number I need you to call if I die tomorrow,” and that boy’s face fell so fast, it was like watching bird hit a windshield.

“Shiloh —”

“Just in case!” I said. “It’s just my mom, she’s super nice don’t worry.”

Yes Rook, if you have to call my mother, who I have not spoken to in like… 11 months, and tell her that I died in a pit, don’t worry, she’s super nice.

His spoon was frozen half way to his mouth the poor boy.

“I’m gonna be fine,” I said. “But you know… just in case. If something happens.”

And then he dumped his soup on the ground leaning up to kiss me and like for maybe a split second I had an inkling of how dramatic it is of me to go down into a cave system to kill a gigantic snake, but now it’s been like an hour or so and reality has worn off again and I’m back to dealing with my life the way the gods intended: with deep, profound denial.

It’s funny, I remember a time last year when I was facing certain death was something I only did because I was MAXED out on rage and desperation. Now I’m like… the terror of potential death is less bad than the terror of waiting to hear about the deaths of the people I love, so

I guess once you’ve died once, your self-preservation instinct gets a lil ✨damaged✨

Tonight, I’m spending the night out under the stars with Rook. It’s cold, but the earthquakes are unpredictable so we can’t exactly build ourselves a shelter.

In the morning we’re going underground. You’ll hear from me or you won’t!

Maybe I should add this website to Rook’s To-Do-If-Shiloh-Dies List

But then he might look at the blog

Yeah no

Can’t have that

If I die down there it’s been rad

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