Wow coming home now — way less stressful than coming home last time. WAY less stressful hahahaha, and actually sort of nice. We arrived first thing in the morning, and my mom had coffee waiting for us when we got into town? Dr New Guy (his name is actually Oliver lmfao) was on his way out the door but he’d ?????cooked for us?????? So we came into the house and there were plates of bacon and eggs and hashbrowns on the table? We all sat down together and like… passed orange juice around? My mom wanted some hot sauce so Julian grabbed it out of the fridge? Idk it was just like… nice hahaha.
When it came around to how we were going to handle this case, it actually turned out to be a pretty simple game plan.
“I mean, Billy Ace is either going to find what he’s looking for or he’s not,” Neal said, mouth full and stabbing eggs onto his fork. “The way I figure it, we’re best off finding the creature and seeing what we can do to protect it.”
Luckily, finding the creature — the unicorn, like it’s a unicorn, right? — shouldn’t be too difficult. We’re gonna get some sleep and then go try it this evening.
Alas, how little our plans work.
Celeste called us at like 11, when we were all piled in the living room, trying to get a little sleep in after our overnight drive.
“Who is Billy Ace?” I heard her tinny voice say through Neal’s phone speaker.
He was groggy, just waking up. “What?”
“Billy Ace,” Celeste repeated. “Apparently he just arrived at the girl’s place asking questions about Shiloh.”
I snapped awake. “What girls?” I asked, raising my voice so she could hear me.
“What girls do you think?” Celeste snapped. “He was out at their homestead this morning.”
And that’s all I needed to hear. I was up and searching for shoes.
“Shiloh, it’s okay,” Julian said as I whirled around the room looking for my leather jacket. “We don’t know what he asked them, I very much doubt they’re in any danger —”
But I don’t give a fuck if they’re not in any technical danger. This guy comes into my MY hometown and starts questioning MY best friends slash ex girlfriend? Let’s not tech bro
I drove. Neal and Julian barely had time to get in the car before I was driving.
At the old coven homestead, I stormed up onto the porch steps and banged on the doors.
It’s only been a few weeks, but their homestead has changed even more. There were chickens picking around the coop and the garden had been expanded by several yards.
Sophie got the door.
“Oh,” she said, and beamed at me. “You’re here!” And then she shouted back into the house for the others.
They were confused to see me. Which isn’t to say they weren’t glad to see me — they ushered all three of us into the house, and Georgia and Warren Miller each gave me big warm hugs (Tilly awkwardly hung back a little bit, and I didn’t want to like force her to interact with me, so I didn’t approach her first, but now I feel weird because is it weird that I just like… let it be weird? I don’t fucking know how to have an ex and she’s so pretty and cool and I just want everything to be okay)
We didn’t come in long enough to get settled, I just sort of spilled the moment we were in the house.
“Did you guys meet someone named Billy Ace?” I asked.
They all exchanged a glance.
“Yeah,” Georgia finally said. “He stopped by this morning asking questions.”
She said this totally casually, and I just stared at her — like what do you mean he just stopped by to ask questions?????? But Georgia was totally unfazed. “People stop by asking about you and Madelyn like all the time,” Georgia said. “Your case is sorta infamous.”
HAHA I guess I should have expected that.
“You called Celeste,” Julian began and Sophie laughed.
“We always call Celeste,” she said. “What do you think we’re taking on the delicate work of reformulating a lapsed coven on our own without any supervision? We’re barely witches ourselves.” She laughed, slightly condescendingly — I forgot that Sophie is like… a handful, love her but boy.
“We assumed he was just another reporter,” Tilly said.
“Or podcaster,” Warren added, with some detectable derision. “Or blogger, or youtuber, or casual citizen wondering why everyone was calling you a cannibal for a minute…”
“He’s not,” I said. “What did he ask you?”
I watched them all scroll back, trying to remember what exactly he seemed to want.
“How did he approach you?” Julian added helpfully. “Did anything stand out about his demeanor?”
“He was polite,” Tilly said, leaning back against the counter and crossing her arms. “Arrogant. He said he had a standing interest in finding out what happened to you.”
And that’s where it started. I didn’t see it coming is the thing, which still blows my mind — like I live with The Fear every single day so how is it POSSIBLE that when it raises it’s primordial head, I’m ever surprised ever?
I asked, “What did you tell him?”
Georgia snorted. “Nothing,” she said. “We never tell them anything.”
“How much did he know?” I asked, noticing in a distant way that my voice had hitched an octaves, which earned me a look each from the Hawthornes.
“He was playing his cards pretty close to his chest,” Tilly said. “But he did ask specifically if someone shot and killed you in the woods.”
Which was all I needed to know. My brain raced ahead of me like a rabbit down a warren. I could see it so clearly — in my head he knew everything. How did he know? Doesn’t matter. How have any of the hunters heard the rumors about me in the last year. He knew everything and he was going into the woods and he was going to find the creature, which meant he was going to find Madelyn and after that I couldn’t know what would happen, but I knew who would get hurt — men like Billy Ace get what they want or they find a way to create consequences.
I literally just wheeled and and went for the door.
“Shiloh,” Neal said, already moving to intercept me but I shook him off. I was way deep in The Fear and had no time for anyone telling me to calm down. I literally just set off in the direction of the clearing.
“Shiloh!” Julian called after me, and Neal had to literally jog and put himself between me and the trees to get me to slow down.
“Hey,” he said, “take a breath. We’re gonna go together with our heads on straight, right?”
To which I said something slurred and desperate about how he was going to hurt Madelyn and he very calmly talked some sense into me, and like, you and I know we’ve been here before a bazillion times since last April lmfao but this time everyone from my old life was watching me have a full breakdown from the porch of their beautiful little cottage with expressions of dawning horror.
God how humiliating.
He was super right though — with just a few minutes of communication, an obviously shell-shocked Georgia was able to tell us that they’d cut a path straight to the clearing in the woods.
“We wanted to be able to help the girls who woke up out there this year,” she explained, and in retrospect, she was nervously over explaining, but at the time all I could think of was charging off into the woods.
They all literally had to chase me.
And what did I do the moment I made it to clearing in the woods? Well, I shouted, “MADELYN,” into the trees of course.
Honestly, it’s probably good that I was already in manic desperation mode by the time I made it to that clearing, because who KNOWS what I would have done if I’d come to that clearing for the first time since I died there when calm.
No one answered me when I called. I mean of course not, what was I expecting the secret unicorn that’s been living in Black Lake to come when called like a dog?
Someone was saying something, probably trying to make a plan. I wasn’t listening.
Remember that archway? Remember the brambly little cave beyond it?
I know better than to go down there, what with the magical creature with unknown abilities living inside it.
I did it anyways.
Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how it happened that I ended up going by myself because it for sure goes against everything the Hawthornes about taught me about facing magical creatures. But I think Hawthornes actually stopped the others from following me, and I think I’m glad. This one I needed to do solo.
I think I was genuinely expecting that same cave I woke up in with Madelyn when I died, but of course that was absurd. This was just a brambly thicket. It wasn’t even particularly dark, not during the day. It was only a few yards of ducking through the brambles before reaching a little cave, formed with the roots of an enormous cedar tree. I didn’t pause even a second I just shimmied down inside.
I had to crawl, but not far. The den was dry and mossy and at the end of it, glowing softly, was the unicorn.
I froze and stared at it as it blinked slowly awake and raised its head to l o o k a t m e.
Aaaaaand that was the end of my manic desperate scramble to save this creature. The calm in it’s expression was miles deep.
“Hi,” I said, like a total dork. “You um. You have to leave. Someone is coming here to find you.”
She cocked her beautiful head and blinked her beautiful eyes serenely.
I tried again. “A man is coming here to use your powers. He’s a murderer and he wants to bring his son back from the dead.”
She looked at me for a long time and then unfolded herself and pushed onto her little hooves. She paused in front of me blinked twice and bowed her head as if to offer me her horn. So I did the obvious thing and leaned down to touch my forehead to her horn.
I am… not entirely certain how to explain what that experience was like.
You know how orcas have a whole part of their brain developed entirely around their complex social structure that we literally don’t have and can’t really comprehend? Yeah, well, I imagine that if you could access their mind it would feel something like this. Just totally alien.
Not scary. Not at all scary. Actually, it felt deeply, profoundly safe and unafraid which was like HA wow very foreign to me.
It also wasn’t a language. It wasn’t even images. It was just… impressions, I guess, a whirlwind of impressions. I couldn’t explain it if I tried. I don’t know how I’d draw it. I mean how do you explain what your thoughts feel like? Trying to even understand what she was trying to communicate to me felt like trying drink the ocean one handful at a time.
I could feel Madelyn in there though. Not like… her voice or anything. But her essence, distinctly recognizable.
When the creature moved away I had to take a second to collect myself within my own head. It felt weirdly dark, cold and empty in there after this creature was in there with me.
“Okay,” I said aloud, and scrambled backwards out of the den.
What I knew post unicorn horn:
1. If Billy Ace wants to approach her and ask for something, I have to let him
2. There is no danger that scares a unicorn, which makes sense when you take into account that they don’t have to worry about dying because
3. Death means something very different to a unicorn
4. Just because she’s not afraid, doesn’t mean that she entirely understands the ways that people might use her abilities to further their own agenda, which is what I should actually be afraid of, and which from her perspective, unfortunately knocks me off my moral high ground
And then finally, unrelated, but with a quiet, curious certainty:
5. Whatever it is that happened to me last spring when I drank from the stream — I’m going to understand it soon. And that is what I’m still thinking about now, hours later.
There is nothing I can do to convince her that Billy Ace is dangerous, and I shouldn’t try. I have no right to stand between him and the unicorn. She’s going to have to deal with him herself.
No, what I’m thinking about now is that she knew what it is that’s going to happen to me, and she presented that knowledge to me — and my mind had literally no way to comprehend what she was trying to communicate