This rift situation is shaping up to be a truly horrifying family reunion.
Lana rented out a big ass tourist-friendly hunting lodge, the whole thing. It’s the kind of place where all the railings are made of polished branches and there are buffalo and moose heads mounted on the walls. There’s a whole wild-life scene of ferns and boulders and taxidermied mountain creatures in the center of the big open room, like a Cabela’s. The crown jewel of this creation is a grizzly bear, upright, gazing out at us with blank glass eyes, it’s lips and teeth painted with gloss so they seem like they could be wet. It’s the kind of place a guy who carries a crossbow might convince his wife is a good idea to come for a family vacation.
Goodness knows what the staff thinks we’re doing here. Lana and her company are hilariously out of sync with the place in their tweeds and heels and floaty fabrics. Meanwhile, the Walthers and the rest of these grizzled hunter-types are the real deal. They make the decorations look even more hokey and unreal than they actually are.
The Allens are here. Our eyes followed each other as we passed through the lobby this morning, heading up the wood-plank stairs to find Lana. They were sitting at a small table under that grizzly bear, surrounded by other grizzled hunter-types, spread at other tables, in their flannels and trucker hats, knives on their belts or wearing out the dye in their jeans pockets. I could feel all them watching us, tracking us up the stairs.
My skin crawled.
Lana’s room was, as always, bustling. She was on the phone, and Endymion, her very hot, very scary vampire muscle, stopped us at the door, which of course Neal hated. Endymion seemed to see this, too, because he was smug as a cat watching us wait in the hall.
“Is she here?” Julian asked, and Endymion’s lips twitched but otherwise he didn’t respond.
We waited literally like ten minutes before Lana finally called from within and Endymion stood aside.
Everyone was waiting for us. They’d rearranged the room to make it less a bedroom and more an office, and though they’d only been here a few days, the room was already full of stacks of papers, maps, phones and laptops. What are they even so busy coordinating all the time anyways? (they’re running a school, largely from a distance, so probably that, but I’m still annoyed that it always seems like we’re just one thing on their long list of things to deal with)
It wasn’t just Lana’s and her inner circle waiting for us in there. The Walthers were there, too, standing by the window like a pair of lumberjacks.
It felt like we’d walked into an ambush. We were surrounded, and everyone was watching us warily. Only Beverly got up from where she’d been sitting on the end of the bed to come stand beside Julian.
Neal took one look around and said, “so you’ve decided you’re going through with it.” Not a question.
“Neal, you know we don’t want to,” Danny Walther, the younger one, said. “We’ve known Cara just as long as you have, we’ve watched her grow up.” He sighed, heavily. “We wish we’d been able to steer her in a better direction, but she’s made her choices, and now our hands are tied.”
“So you’re gonna send her through a rift,” Julian said.
“The Allens want her shot,” Silas Walther, the older one, replied. “They think we’re being too soft on her. They’re not convinced she won’t just find a way back into our world first chance she gets. Would you rather we shoot her?”
“We don’t believe in the death penalty,” Julian said. “We all agreed on that.”
“No, you all agreed on that,” Silas replied. “And the rest of the hunters out there, they put up with it.”
“You might as well just shoot her,” Neal said. “It would be faster at least.”
Lana sighed. “We sent a goat through the rift on a rope this morning,” she said. “She went in and came back out perfectly fine. She spent a full hour on the other side and was totally fine. She spent all last night through the rift, and when we tugged the rope this morning she came on back through, happy as a clam. Wherever we’re sending her, it won’t necessarily mean death.”
Neal laughed disbelievingly. “Well in that case, it’s fine then.” He looked right at Silas and said, “You’re all cowards.”
Lana sighed. “We’re not cowards —”
“Great, then go tell the Allens right now that we’re not doing this.”
“And when the Allens and their allies decide they don’t care what we say and decide they’re shoving her through anyways? Or more likely, that they’re going to cut to the chase and shoot her after all?”
Julian replied, in a low voice, “they can try,” and I shivered, because when Julian decides to be scary, he’s really really scary.
“The girl’s a criminal,” Silas said, in a hard voice. “She didn’t make a small mistake. People — many people — are dead.”
I saw the frustration pass over Lana’s face, but she buried it quickly. “You two have worked very hard to keep out of all diplomacy and politics,” she said to the Hawthornes, which seemed barbed to say the least. “So you don’t understand what it takes to organize this system of hunters, magicians, councilors and mediums. But our ability to keep this world safe hinges on our ability to work together. Already this year, we have cases going unsolved. Keeping magic and monsters out of the news has become a full time job. And thanks to our ambassadors at the witches summit, we know this is only going to get worse.”
She folded her hands on the desk and fixed Neal with a long look.
“The Allens, and many hunters like them, have been in this game for long enough that they remember when there weren’t consequences to killing anyone — cryptids, magicians, or people, it didn’t matter — they deemed a threat to society. It’s a law that continues to frustrate them.”
“I refuse to apologize for agreeing that they shouldn’t go around murdering people —” Neal began, but Lana continued over him, very calmly.
“Be careful what you argue here.” She met his eye. “Or were you not responsible for the sorcerer Pernidia’s death?”
Now, we didn’t kill Pernidia — that was Cosima Caro’s doing. But were definitely going to try, and though I didn’t think of it as murder at the time, yeah he was for sure human. Like, I’m just as confidant as Cosima that he deserved it, but still technically we were planning some like… revenge murder.
“We convinced them to stop killing humans, only by promising that in bad enough cases, we rift people instead. Going back on our word would make the law useless.” Lana paused a breath, then said, “I know you love Cara. No one in this room likes the idea of rifting her. But given the alternative, how can you expect us to make an exception for her?”
And the horrible, nightmarish part, is that I could see her logic. I could see it all clearly and I wanted to scream. Worse, I could feel in the room that anyone who had been harboring doubts before were convinced now.
Neal was clearly winding up to argue with her anyways, but then Danny said, “This world will be a safer place without her in it.”
There was a long quiet.
“You all feel this way?” Julian asked.
I didn’t exactly see anyone nod, but I could see in their faces that they did.
Julian said, “Can we see her?”
They were keeping Cara in the suite next door, and not only were there guards at her doors, but there were guards outside her windows, too.
The moment we opened the doors, Cara had launched herself at us. Neal barely caught her.
“Finally,” Jasper said, unfolding himself from where he was lounging, drinking wine in bed. “Where have you two been?”
“You’re here,” Neal sighed, relieved, leaning onto him while Cara planted a big kiss on Julian’s cheek and then finally rounded on me.
“Little Shiloh,” she said, cupping my cheeks. “You made it to my going away party!”
Which was not what I was expecting. I glanced at Neal, who gave me the briefest, sympathetic nod, so I smiled uncertainly at her, and to my immediate horror, my eyes filled with tears.
“Oh angel, no,” Cara said, and pulled me close, fitting her chin over my head. “This isn’t that kind of party, someone get baby a drink!”
And then we started drinking.
That was like… four hours ago? Lana essentially told Chase to get us anything we ask for, without letting anyone else know that’s what he’s doing, and we are absolutely taking advantage of that fact.
It is currently Tuesday night. Everyone is drunk. They put on a playlist of music from like 2007 and Cara and Beverly are jumping on the bed, scream singing along to — you guessed it — My Chemical Romance. Apparently Neal’s emo thing is a group-wide.
I feel strange and alone and I don’t know what to do, so I’m writing.
It feels like the end of the world. I don’t know what to do. Like I’m really trying not to make this about me, it’s not me losing my best friend through a hole in the universe, which isn’t to say I don’t love Cara with the weird earnestness of a younger sibling, like I know I’m allowed to be upset on my own terms, but this is for sure not my tragedy.
But like… I’ve lost a best friend through an unbreachable portal and this all just feels so familiar and I keep having all those feelings as if they’re fresh and it’s so overwhelming I want to go to a dark, silent place by myself and never leave.
The drunken partying didn’t last.
I had fallen asleep on the couch, but woke up in the blue pre-dawn because Beverly was sobbing and Cara was comforting her. I couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying until finally Beverly sobbed, “Cara, how could you do this?”
Which is, I think, the question we were all asking.
“I’m sorry,” Cara murmured, soothing her, and then I heard a rustle of sheets as Beverly sat up.
“Don’t apologize,” she said. “Explain it to me. How could you?”
Cara hushed her gently. “You’ll wake everyone.”
“We’re awake,” Jasper rumbled, turning over. Julian sat up, too, just a silhouette against the curtains.
Cara was quiet for a long time. Then she said, “I didn’t know.”
“How could you not —”
“It was an old contact,” Cara interrupted. “Someone I’ve known for years, and trusted. Just a collector. She has a fascination with weird occult stuff, totally harmless. I didn’t know she’d joined a fucking cult. And I certainly didn’t know what they meant to do with it.”
There was a long quiet. I held my breath, heart thundering because that was an actual explanation. All this time I’ve just been like… not thinking about it. I love Cara, I adore her, but Neal and Julian warned me from the start that she’s… well, she’s a criminal. I didn’t think she was a sell-fog-to-a-dangerous-cult kind of criminal. I figured she was a plucky, chaotic, self-serving femme fatale, not a weapons dealer for terrifying megalomaniacs.
But selling fog to a trusted collector? I could actually believe that, and boy I wanted to. But it wasn’t until Neal finally sat up and said, “That’s the absolute truth,” that I actually did. “Have you told Lana?”
Cara was quiet.
“Cara, for fuck’s sake!” Neal cried, not whispering anymore. “Did you tell her?”
“She doesn’t trust me,” Cara said. “And does it change anything? All those people —”
“Cultists,” Neal corrected. “What did they tell you they were buying fog for?”
“You know I never ask —”
“I swear to god, I swear to god, do not lie to me,” Neal said, and he was pissed. “What did she tell you?”
Cara was quiet for a long moment, before finally saying, “She said she wanted visible proof that magic is real. That’s it. She implied it was going to sit on a shelf in her office.”
“And Lana knows that?”
“It changes nothing,” Cara said. “I sold them fog and if it weren’t for some lucky witchcraft, the whole world could have been like Fog Town. You almost died.”
“Did you imagine for even a second that your buyer would start feeding it to people?” Neal demanded.
Cara said nothing for a long time. She glanced around at everyone, looking for permission to escape, but we were going to make her answer, even me.
“No,” she admitted.
“And when you realized what they’d done, what did you do?” Neal said. Cara said nothing, just sat in the messy bed, red-eyed and glaring. “You called me,” Neal answered for her, and his voice hitched.
“What?” Beverly gasped, as if this was new information to her.
“Neal please —” Cara began, eyes welling.
“But we wouldn’t come,” he said over her, merciless. “So what did you do?”
Cara glared at him and shook her head but couldn’t answer.
“Cara,” Julian said, very gently. “Why were you unconscious at the Infirmament when we got there?”
She wiped her eyes furiously. “Look, you already know I was never any good at solving cases, alright? I got fucking caught, what do you want me to say?”
“How long had she been in the cult?” Neal said and Cara’s brow furrowed.
“How long had your friend been part of the Infirmament before she contacted you?”
“Why would I know —”
“Did Kelvin specifically target her in order to contact you?”
Everyone stared at her, fixed. Cara was shaking her head.
“Tell us,” Beverly said, reaching for Cara’s hand.
“There’s no way to know for sure,” Cara hedged.
“But you think so,” Neal said.
“Yes.” I couldn’t hear her say it, but I saw her mouth make the shape.
Cara pulled her knees to her chest, hid her face and spoke into her lap. “She called me,” she said. “She tipped me off, told me what Kelvin was up to. She said Kelvin had been pressuring her to contact me for several months before she did it. She said she didn’t know what he was planning to do with the fog, only that he wanted it.”
“We need to talk to her,” Beverly cried.
But even I already guessed the next part of the story.
“She was gone by the time I got back,” Cara said. “I think she’s dead.” And then, “her name was Delia.”
We were all quiet for a long moment. Beverly especially looked horrified.
“Does Lana know?” Neal asked, softly, but with a dangerous intensity.
Cara unfolded, and crawled across the bed to get in his face.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “It makes no difference.”
“Does she know?” Neal repeated.
“I sold a dangerous substance —”
“So we can send you to prison,” Neal snapped. “Does Lana know this was an accident?”
Cara was silent, shaking her head.
“Answer the question, Cara,” Jasper said, and there was some disgust in his voice, but it wasn’t for Cara.
Finally, she nodded.
Everyone was silent for a long, breathless moment. Then everyone started moving at once.
Jasper literally had to body block Neal from storming into the side room and confronting Lana right that moment. “Look at you! Look at you, you reek of alcohol, you haven’t slept. We’ll talk to her in the morning!”
But Neal was pissed and ready to go toe to toe with Lana that exact moment, which I would have loved to see, because I was also fucking pissed. Neal pushed Jasper, and he pushed Neal back, and it was going to devolve — which I was down for, I was pissed and I wanted to fucking fight — except that Beverly (wisely) stepped in.
“Lana’s been misleading us,” she said, putting her hands between them to keep them apart. “People don’t know the full story. I didn’t know the story, I’m sure no one else does! Give me 12 hours, and we can make a real case here, do you understand?”
Neal pushed his hair back, pacing, breathing hard, but then, finally, he looked at Cara, and he the fight went out of him. He nodded and brushed Jasper off.
And listen, I actually was feeling pretty heartened by that. But then I saw Cara’s face. I don’t know how to describe her expression. Resigned, maybe?
They’re all sleeping it off right now. I think we’re going to start making phone calls when everyone wakes up.
I can’t sleep