We ended up getting into Reno late, and decided to wait until the next day before making any moves. By the time we made it into town the likelihood of everyone in the Red Eye being drunk and ready to fight was too high, and that’s not the direction we were hoping this conversation would go.

So instead, we waited until the next day at 2 when the bar opened. It gave us a full 12 hours to think.

Our little motel felt especially seedy, the walls especially thin, and I couldn’t tell if it was because I was just more sensitive because I was nervous, or if it was actually especially gross in there.

I don’t think I was the only one feeling uneasy though. I woke up in the middle of the night to find Julian awake too, and doing research. When I got up to see what he was doing he glanced up and smiled tiredly.

“Whatcha got?” I asked.

He leaned back, stretching and yawning. “I’m just looking into everyone these guys killed,” he said. I leaned in to look closer at the screen, and found a facebook page for a woman named Alexa Polzin. A very quick glance at the profile was enough to see all the RIP comments.

“What are you finding?” I asked.

“A lot of heartbroken families,” Julian replied, massaging his eyes with his fingers.

I think the trouble is that we were trying to decide the degree to which any of them deserved to be hung, and that’s just like… an impossible question to answer. Does anyone deserve to be murdered? There are people who would, from a certain perspective, be easier to do away with. I’ve watched my share of true crime. The sorcerer, Pernidia, for example, needed to be gone, and honestly, his sudden, unexpected, painless death, is more than I think he deserved after spending a few days listening to what he did to his victims.

But on the other hand, remember the siren? She was killing people, and she was likely to keep killing people despite her best efforts, and we let her live, because they just couldn’t stomach killing her. That might have been the wrong call. Idk where the fucking line is.

“These people were brainwashed and manipulated,” Julian said. “They genuinely believed they were going to save the world.”

I squinted closer at the facebook page. Julian had scrolled up to where this woman Alexa had last spoken in her own words. It was just a short comment, which said

I have seen things beyond what I ever believed could be real in this life. I have never felt such hope, even now

My skin prickled.

“It feels bad,” I said.

“Yeah,” Julian agreed. “Lana’s whole rationalization for rifting Cara hinged on hunters not dealing out death penalties, and now this?” He glanced over my shoulder at Neal, asleep on the bed. “He won’t let this go, and it’s going to get messy.” And then after a pause. “I’m not sure I can let it go either.” He massaged both his temples with one hand, fingers on one side, thumb on the other. “We can’t just kill people.”

“What about Pernidia?” I asked.

“We didn’t just kill Pernidia,” Julian replied, and I thought he meant that Cosima Caro had done it, but then he added, “Not the first time. We put him in prison so that civilian law could handle him. They cheated the system using magic, so we had to right that imbalance. I know that’s some mental gymnastics, but this is real life, not a philosophical exercise. Pernidia was going to kill more people, and needed to be handled. We don’t have any long term prison that can hold him in.” He sighed, and gestured helplessly. “ And maybe it can be argued that Kelvin deserved this fate, but Alexa here? Or Katie? They were no danger to anyone. This was just revenge.”

I watched as he scrolled up past pictures of loved ones and long facebook eulogies and leaned against his chair.

“What are we gonna do tomorrow?” I asked.

Julian shook his head, face lit up by the screen.

The bar opened at like 11 am, and we were already waiting in the parking lot when it did. It was a real hole in the wall, the kind of place you might assume was shut down, no matter how many neon lights they put out.

“Hey,” Neal said, and nodded towards one of the signs — bright green and in the shape of an eye with a tooth in the middle. So it was officially a hunter bar, then.

Inside was dark and smelled like stale beer. The ground was sticky.

We ordered three beers and huddled in a corner to wait, but we didn’t have to wait long. It was the sort of bar with a morning crowd, and they were clearly confused to find us in there.

I wasn’t sure how we were going to recognize Tracy and Devon, but we shouldn’t have worried about it. They recognized us.

“Well, well,” Tracy said, coming to lean against the booth beside Neal. “The Hawthrones in the skin. What have we done to earn such an honor?”

She was maybe 40, in low-rise jeans with a thick brown belt. She had very straight hair and thick dark spider-leg mascara.

“You must be Tracy Monroe,” Julian said, smiling and offering a big hand. “I’m Julian Hawthorne.”

She didn’t take it.

“I know what you are,” she said, coldly, and that’s when I felt a cold kick of apprehension. “What can we do for you?”

“Come sit down,” Neal said, scooting sideways in the sticky booth to make room for her, and she laughed.

“Why don’t you come join us, instead,” she said. “There’s a room in the back. A little more private.”

The whole bar was looking at us now. Maybe they had been from the beginning.

The back room was dim and dingy as the rest of the bar, and had a round card table in the center, at which two men were sitting. The first was very clearly Devon Monroe — he had a handlebar mustache and cowboy boots on, and Tracy took a swig of his beer.

The other man looked entirely out of place. He was wearing expensive athleisure for one thing, and sleek titanium-frames for his glasses. He was typing away busily on a sleek little macbook, and sipping a green smoothie.

“Oh,” he said, looking up and smiling. “Hello, you must be the Hawthorne brothers. I’ve heard about you.”

“Have you,” Neal said, pulling out the chair directly across from him.

“Tracy and Devon have been showing me the ropes of this business. They say you’re some of the best in it. Trained by the Walthers themselves, with ties to that big school. You’re practically legends around here.” He lowered the lid of his laptop and smiled. “How can we help you?”

“We just had some questions about what happened at the Infirmament,” Julian said. “Are you William Ace?”

He laughed. “Oh, please, call me Billy.” He offered a hand and Neal shook it, then, after a brief moment of hesitation, Julian also shook it. I saw Tracy and Devon exchange a glance.

“From what we understand, you might be the people to answer those questions we have,” Julian said.

“About the Infirmament?” Billy Ace said. “Sure, we could answer some questions about that.”

“Did you kill all those people?” Neal asked in a low voice.

Billy took a long breath, settling back in his seat. He wasn’t particularly good looking — his hairline was receding, and his eyes were a bit close together — but he was the kind of fit, rich and clean that sort of tricks you into thinking he could be, you know?

“Which people?” Billy asked.

“You know which people,” Julian replied.

Billy sipped his green smoothie, and watched us through narrowed, thoughtful eyes. “You mean the folks at the infirmament.”

“That’s right,” Neal said.

Billy shrugged, shook his head. “No, I don’t know anything about that.”

Neal exhaled just hard enough that I knew he was lying.

“Though I will say,” Billy added, looking into his green smoothie cup as he swirled it. “I’m not particularly sorry about it. In fact.” He smiled up at us. “I think I owe whoever did it a drink or two.”

Neal smirked, and I thought there was some admiration combined with his disgust.

“We were so sorry to hear about your son,” Julian said.

I saw Billy’s expression flicker just slightly.

“Mmhmm,” he said. “Thank you. It hasn’t been easy.” And then, after a slight pause. “I never prepared myself for that kind of grief. Now I’m just looking for peace any way I can.”

We were all on the same page, and we all knew it.

“Well,” Julian said. “Welcome to the business. If you need anything —”

Tracy let out some sound of contempt and Julian stopped. My heart was racing but I couldn’t put words to the reason.

“I’m sure we won’t be needing much,” Billy said. “I’ve appreciated so much learning about this neat little system you have running, but I prefer a little more independence. I’m sure you know how it is. I’d go nuts if I had someone over my shoulder, keeping an eye on how I spend my money and sending me off on hunts.” He smiled. “I admire you folks, so dutiful, but… I just ah.” He shrugged and leaned back into his chair. “I guess I don’t have that kind of obedience.”

The Monroes both grinned toothily, like this was a huge burn on the Hawthornes, as if they weren’t literally acting like this prick’s body guards.

“Well,” Julian said, getting up. “In that case. It’s been a pleasure to meet you. I’m sure we’ll see you around.”

Billy smiled. “You drove all the way out here just for that?”

“We got what we needed,” Neal replied, and aahhhh it was so delicious, this smug bastard, acting like he’s so slick.

Literally the moment we were back out on the street Neal said, “It was them. 100% guilty, no question.”

“What do we do?” Julian asked, and I really thought Neal was going to say it was game on.

Instead, he paused, and took a deep breath. “You know what I want to do,” he said. “But you’re gonna have to make the call.”

Julian laughed humorlessly. “That’s it? No fight?”

“Oh, I want to feed that man his own ears,” Neal assured him. “I’d love an excuse. But you saw Tracy and Devon in there. They know about you. Only way I can fathom them getting that information is from the Allens, and if they’re working with the Allens, we already know where this is going.”

Julian dragged his hands through his hair. “Yeah.”

“So it’s up to you,” Neal said.

Julian didn’t say anything until we’d made it back to the rabbit. He slammed the door shut and said, “We pass it forward.”

And when Neal didn’t reply, Julian added, “they set a precedent with Cara last week. Let’s see if they hold to it.”

“And if they don’t?” Neal asked.

“That’s a bridge we’ll have to cross when we get to it.”

I expected our first phone call to be to Lana, but it wasn’t. Neal called the Kellihers.

“Hey,” Neal said. “Is that rift still open?”

Lodge Kelliher hesitated. “It is,” he said finally. “Why?”

“Just curious,” Neal replied and hung up.

Julian smirked and shifted in his seat. “That’s going to stir up some questions.”

“Good,” Neal replied, and then he called the Walthers.

“We know who killed Kelvin Rademaker,” he said, skipping hello. “We’re sending you everything we know.”

When he hung up I said, “…so, we’re hoping they rift this guy?”

Because look, the hypocrisy of not rifting him would be fucking infuriating, and that smug asshole sucks, and most of the people he hung didn’t deserve it. But I was in the room when Cara went through the portal, and I don’t want that to happen to anyone. No one.

“No,” Neal replied. “We’re hoping they admit they’re a bunch of bastards.”

“What we’re hoping,” Julian corrected, “is that they realize immediately that we need to adjust our rules. Right now, when everyone remembers fresh how bad rifting feels. If we can start this conversation right now, we might never rift anyone else.”

Which on paper seems like an okay plan. But they weren’t there in that cabin with us when Cara went through. They didn’t feel the weird shift, the blame falling onto Lana, the general uncertainty and the beginnings of anger.

I don’t know exactly what kind of cake we’re baking right now, but I’m nervous.

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