I probably could have written about this on Monday when we got back, but tbh I was really tired and overwhelmed.
We waited in the car for this shindig to get started, watched as cars rolled up, and groups of people went inside. We waited until it was nice and crowded before going in ourselves, figuring that we’d at least try to blend in.
A big man with dark tattoos winding up his arms stopped as at the door.
“Password?” he asked and we hesitated.
Julian was just opening his mouth to blow out some bullshit, when Billy Ace himself appeared at his elbow.
“They’re okay,” he said, smiling somewhat slyly at us. “Come on in. Come see what we have to say.” We followed him in, brushing by crowded tables. “I’ll let you get comfortable,” he added. “Go ahead and get a drink, it’s all on the house tonight. We’re about to get started.”
We didn’t get drinks. We squeezed between people and slid into an inconspicuous booth towards the back of the room.
“What do you think?” Julian murmured.
“This bastard’s richer than we knew if he’s offering drinks on the house to a bunch of fucking hunters,” Neal replied, eyes scanning the crowd.
Now, I thought that the Scelerats pretty much bank rolled all hunters, but according to Julian that’s not quite the case.
“The Scelerats run a delicate operation,” he said. “They’re very generous about who gets money, but they can’t just give it to anyone who picks up a knife and calls themself a hunter. Someone has to vouch for you.”
I looked around the room — they were all strangers as far as I could tell, but what do I know lol. “So these people aren’t… vouched for?”
But there wasn’t time to answer, because Billy at that moment stood up and and spread his arms wide. He was wearing nice dark jeans and a black t-shirt, those titanium glasses nowhere to be seen.
“Welcome,” he called to the room. “Welcome everyone! I’m so glad you’ve all made it here.” He paused a moment, smiling slightly as if the room was reflecting warmth back to him, when actually everyone seemed skeptical if anything. I wonder what it’s like to have the self-assuredness of a rich white man.
“I’ve called you all here today because we all have something in common: we know that what we have right now — this system for hunting— is not working.” He paused for gravity, looked directly at us. “Most of us get our jobs from what — scanning social media? Reading newspapers? Phone calls from people we happen to know? It’s inefficient. We can’t expect one 23 year old girl to coordinate the hunts for hundreds of hunters all over the country.”
All three of us — Neal, Julian, me — bristled. Like yeah, it’s insane the work Bev and Valerie have been doing. But his tone when he said it was just a little too dismissive. Like he wasn’t commenting on the massive workload she was barely managing, but suggesting that she simply wasn’t up to the task.
“And maybe you’ve been told this system works, more or less,” he went on, eyes scanning the whole crowd. “But how many of us have lost people to monsters or magic? How many of us would be here at all if the system was actually sound?”
There was an uncomfortable rumble through the audience, and I felt my stomach plummet — like, he sort of has a point. How many generations of girls in Black Lake woke up in the woods inexplicably before Madelyn died?
“This world has no leadership,” Billy Ace went on. “You have few laws, and the ones you do have we’ve already proved you don’t have to follow. There are no consequences.”
Amusement and satisfaction passed through the crowd. My blood obviously curdled, and from the look on Neal’s face, he felt a similar way. Julian’s expression was totally smooth in that way I knew meant danger.
“Worse, the consequences there are… banishing a girl to some unknown world? Some world we’ve never seen and know nothing of? Your laws are impractical and inhumane. And how can we be surprised by that? Who chose your leadership? Which of you chose Lana Sorley?”
“Holy shit,” Neal breathed.
“Some thing chose her,” someone piped up, and though I’ve only heard him speak a few times, I knew it was Merl Allen. “But it was none of us.”
“Magic,” said someone else, someone I didn’t recognize, and he spat on the floor.
“So,” Billy said, gesturing to them. “Why don’t you choose someone else?”
From a booth across the room, another familiar voice piped up — remember fucking ALEC?? The guy who tried to trick us into telling everyone they weren’t murdering people with poisoned pelts? “Because if we break her rules, she takes away all our money!”
But that’s not what even happened?? They were using Scelerat money to gamble and the Scelerats cut them off, Lana had nothing to do with it.
That didn’t seem to matter to everyone though — they all seemed to agree.
“It seems to me,” Billy went on, “that we need to remove magic from this equation entirely. This is the land of the free, is it not? We vote. And to that end, I have an offer to make.”
The whole room waited with baited breath.
“My son is dead. My old life… it has nothing left to offer me. But have funds, and connections. I’m willing to dedicate the rest of my life to making this world safe from magic and monsters, but I need all of your help to do it.”
Everyone was on board, the air was practically electric.
“You make your calls, bring all your people together. And then we vote for proper leadership. What do you say?”
And a cheer went up.
“We need to get out of here,” Julian said, leaning close so we could hear him. “C’mon. Right now, we gotta go.”
And I think he was right. We slipped out the back door, and though people were standing to get a word in with Billy, or to discuss things with each other, I could feel eyes following us as we slipped out.
“We have to call Lana,” Neal said as we hoofed it to the rabbit.
“Yeah,” Julian said, but he was doubtful.
We’re in serious trouble. No idea what we’re going to do now.
How dare those fuckers rally around Cara’s rifting. If it weren’t for them she’d still fucking BE here.
And calling Lana weak for not actively punishing them for MURDERING people? Like I know why we’re calling her out for that, but why the fuck are they calling her out for that???? They’re the murderers???????
But the scary thing is that it doesn’t matter whether their bullshit makes any fucking sense. It doesn’t matter. They believe it, and they’ve all lost people, and they have the numbers.
I genuinely have no idea what we’re going to do.