I did not foresee experiencing another summit here at Hedgewood hospital this year, but here we are. This summit is a lot more accessible to me than the last one.
It isn’t a big summit. This secret world of cryptid hunters is held up by only a few pillars.
First, the Scelerats, who fund the whole operation. They sent Jill, Veronica and Bass, and arrived late Saturday night.
All of them eyed me suspiciously when they came in. Bass waved from a distance but Veronica put a hand on his shoulder and steered him away from me.
Second, Mercy and Zinia, who came in place of Jade on behalf of the psychics and mediums. I’m not sure there’s a real psychic network, but I think Jade asked them to come, so here they are.
They’re very obviously avoiding me. Like I entered a room yesterday and Zinia immediately had to leave it. According to Neal, they don’t know what happened, and I’m just like… unpleasant to be around because of like ??? residual magic whatever? He said this like it was supposed to be somehow comforting to me. It wasn’t.
Third, Beau Meinmarre, Paul and April all came from the Emporium — and they didn’t have any knowledge of anything I have or have not done in the last two weeks, and they were just happy to see me. Especially Beau, who literally has only met me twice, but he’s just like… the best. He always fawns over the Hawthornes of course because they always bring him fun creatures, but he fawns over me just as much. He calls me an honorary Hawthorne, and told me all about Freckles’ progress (she’s doing great and is able to hang out with the other fawns without a hood — though they do keep a cover on her antennae just in case)
Fourth, Louie came from the orphanage. Apparently Lodge and Jessamine Kelliher stayed back with the kids. Louie’s lost weight since last time I saw him. There’s something hard around his eyes that wasn’t there before.
Finally, Beverly arrived with Jasper and her mom Valerie from the Crossroads. They were exhausted, but they hid it when they first arrived for everyone’s benefit.
The Hedgewood witches have been generous with their space. I’m staying down in the greenhouse with the Hawthornes, while everyone else is upstairs in the medical wing. They’ve offered us a long fish-bowl room they call the sun room for us to meet in. Our meetings officially start this afternoon, though I’m not really sure why they’re all being so formal. We all know why we’re here.
These are the people that keep the hunter world running. The only additions are Cooper (who we called Friday night and arrived Saturday morning) and, of course, me.
Speaking of Cooper, ha — last time we saw him we’d just literally killed Merl Allen, so he had a lot to catch us up on.
Also — I don’t know what it is, but I feel really attached to him now. Like, when he walked in the door, looking all clean and sleek and uncertain in his trainers and a jean jacket, perching his sunglasses on top of his head, I felt a little rush of unexpected relief and affection that really came out of nowhere.
It wasn’t just me either. Neal got up and they hugged and slapped each others backs, and Cooper got a huge kick out of my shaved head, he scuffed my bristly hair and laughed at me and I acted like I did it for fun not because I was having an absolute mental breakdown and my poor hair had to pay for it.
I guess certain things bond people together and the whole situation with Julian and Merl was one of those things.
We did sorta have some stories to tell each other, too — like, for example, where he’s been since he handled the chaos that started after Neal killed Merl Allen. Or, you know, how Julian came back from the dead.
I wanted nothing to do with that conversation. I’m still solidly just trying to lie in the green house and watch the butterfly creatures laze around.
Neal said we don’t have to tell him anything at all if I didn’t want to, but I dunno. Cooper was a total ride or die when we really needed him to be, so I don’t want to lie. I told Neal to handle it, so he did — without the details. Just like, the basic parts.
“He actually took it pretty well in stride,” Neal said last night as we were walking back from dinner. “Resurrection is right there in the top three reasons to use magic according to genies, so people who don’t know how magic works pretty much assume it’s a thing.”
Which is good in that Cooper isn’t treating me like I’m a freak of nature (like all the magic users are) but also like… I mean I just hope he doesn’t get any ideas about death being impermanent because this whole thing was a freak accident.
I don’t know man. I feel a little bit better now that everything is sorta beginning to go back to normal. Better enough to be glad as shit that I can go ahead and start forgetting that I got myself fucking KNOCKED UP lmfao yeah I’m literally in the process of rewriting that entire memory right now.
N E V E R H A P P E N E D
I’m not sure it’s ever gonna sink in that Julian literally died and we just like… don’t have to deal with that. Like he was GONE dude, and now here we are two weeks later planning what we’re gonna do about this psychotic silicon valley tech bro with a god complex who’s trying to low key take over the world. Okay not world that’s a little dramatic. But definitely the like… cryptid hunting under world lol.
It’s finally time they decide what comes next.
The big meeting didn’t feel like a big meeting, it felt like a gathering of friends. Grim, exhausted friends, yeah, but friends none the less. Compared to what we saw that day when Billy Ace gathered all his followers together, it was like… I mean it was incomparable to that.
Everyone gathered in the sun room.
Was it awkward to enter a room in which literally half the members refused to meet my eyes and shifted uncomfortably away from me?
Yes it was.
There was also a brief moment of awkwardness when quiet fell, and everyone in the room came to the realization that we’re not all here as friends. We’re here as organizers. I mean, not so much me, I’m just here. But the rest are here as organizers.
“Bev, why don’t you tell us what happened last week,” Julian said and everyone shifted to listen.
Beverly let out a huff of humorless laughter.
“It’s a pretty simple story,” she said. “We were busy, as usual, and ten guys came in with weapons. They told us that while our — god, what was it they said, Jasper?”
“While the world was grateful for our services, they’re no longer necessary, and the USHO will take things from here,” Jasper said.
“USHO?” Veronica Scelerat asked, at the same time that April said, incredulously, “So they just stormed your private property?”
“US Hunter Organization,” Julian supplied for the first question. “That’s what they’re calling themselves.”
“Their argument was that because the land is purchased with magic money, it doesn’t really belong to us,” Beverly explained. “They’re saying it’s only just to take that property back to better serve the people.”
“They are in fact already rising questions about the ownership and business licensing on the land,” Jill Scelerat said. “Those records are pretty well established, and with our increasing powers, I expect to be able to solve any legal problems.”
“But it’s not the legal issues we’re really dealing with, are we,” Jasper drawled. “They came in with semi-automatic weapons and told us to leave. Not much we could do.” And then, after a moment, “Alec was with them. He was so fucking smug.”
Remember Alec? Literally fuck that guy
“Which brings us to why we’ve all come together,” Julian said. “Billy Ace has attracted a number of people pulled into the hunting lifestyle by the swelling amount of cryptid incidents that have occurred over the last year, and offered them the illusion of organization and control — which they understandably crave, given that their perception of reality has been recently and irrevocably changed by magic, and often, grief.”
Leave it to Julian to make this all sound like a perfectly reasonable situation I’m learning about social studies.
“Unfortunately,” Julian went on, “between their incomplete understanding of the way magic works, and some input from established hunters with an… unsavory understanding of magic and cryptids they’ve adopted some —” he hesitated “— extreme view points.”
I glanced at Neal and sure enough, he was scowling and had his mouth clamped shut because he was for sure about to say some unhelpful shit hahaha
“I think our first order of business,” Beverly said, “should be to acknowledge that this is largely our own fault. We have failed, epically, and on every front, to rise to meet this threat.”
This was not what I was expecting and I am absolutely certain that I must have made a face.
“We should have foreseen this issue, and laid the groundwork to bring in these people into the fold, instead of leaving them to draw their own conclusions and take their own actions.”
“I’m not sure that’s entirely fair,” Louie said gently. “Those of us in this room are not, after all, the people who we generally turn to for whatever unofficial leadership we usually need.”
Which is absolutely true. Because you’ll note — Lana and the Walthers were not invited.
“He’s right,” Valerie said.
“No, I know,” Beverly said. “I’m not asking that we self flagellate. I just think we need to acknowledge that in our reluctance to take action, we had a hand in making this mess, and we can have a hand in cleaning it up.”
She glanced at the Hawthornes when she said this, and I dunno if she like consciously meant to suggest that they should have done more to take leadership or not but either way, Julian barely contained his sour expression and Neal became suddenly very smug.
“I think you’re absolutely right,” he said. “And I think our first order of business should be to choose leadership.”
“I agree,” Beverly said, slightly cautious as if sensing a trap.
“As do we,” Mercy said, and she was for SURE looking at Neal and Julian.
“Perfect,” Neal said. “We’re nominating Beverly.”
Poor Beverly was taking a smug sip of her tea and spluttered at the sound of her name.
“We discussed it,” Julian said. “It should be you.”
Beverly looked between the Hawthornes, and then at the rest of the surprised, but considering other faces. She laughed. “You must be joking,” she said, but when it became evident they weren’t she added, “I’m sitting at a table with three dog saints and you think it should be me?”
“We do,” Julian said, perfectly confident, and when Beverly just scowled at him, he added, “they’ve already tried to kill me, Bev. Somehow I doubt I’ll be ruling with the consent of the people any time soon.”
“And come on,” Neal added, smirking. “We already have Lana, we can see how allowing the chosen one to lead us works out.”
“That’s hardly fair,” Beverly began, but her mom interrupted her.
“No, they have a point, I think,” she said. “Lana has left non magical hunters to fend for themselves. She’s made it clear that access to magic is not for us. It’s alienating, and it’s why they’ve turned to Walthers for so long.”
“What about the Walthers,” Veronica Scelerat asked. “What do they have to say about all this?”
Neal shrugged. “They’re not friends of Billy Ace’s people,” he said.
“And they dislike magic,” Mercy added. “We can’t trust them.”
There was a long pause, and then, April said, “Do you have ideas about how to solve some of the situations we’re in?”
Beverly hesitated. “I mean, I have some ideas,” she said. “But not like — a solid political platform, jesus. And I certainly don’t feel comfortable making decisions for people or —”
“We’re not asking you to do it alone, we’ll all problem solve of course,” Neal said. “And we’re not asking you to just declare yourself ultimate overlord of the underworld. We’d have your back.”
“And you have shown over the last year that you’re willing to step up and take responsibility,” Louie added. “Even three minutes ago, you were taking responsibility for our role in our current predicament.”
“The Crossroads has long been a strong ally for us at the red rock,” Jill Scelerat said. “And until recently accessible to hunters from all over the spectrum of attitudes toward creatures and magic. Politically, it makes sense.”
“Wait,” Beverly said, holding up her hands. “If it’s not going to be a dog saint, even though they literally have magical abilities to assist their leadership, shouldn’t this go to someone with more experience? Like — and actual adult?”
Which is funny because Beverly IS an actual adult, but you can’t really blame her for not seeing herself that way. I mean she’s technically younger than Neal and he’s literally a child.
“She has a point,” Paul said from where he was sat to Beau’s left. “Someone older might seem more attractive to outsiders who don’t know her work well. If it comes down to a vote.”
“Maybe,” Zina murmured. “But there are people who want to see the dog saints come to power. Beverly would be an easier sell to those people — much easier even, if the alternatives have no connection to magic at all.”
There was a long pause, and then Beverly let out a huff of breath like a horse. This was clearly not going the way she had expected it to.
“We vote,” she said. “I’m not a dictator, jesus.”
“Of course,” Julian said. “All we’re doing here is deciding that you should be our candidate.”
Beverly looked down at her hands and when she looked up I could see the uncertainty in her dark eyes. But all she said was, “Okay.”
Easier than we thought honestly.
There was further discussion — near endless discussion it seems like — but by dinnertime it was agreed. We’re going to start spreading the word that Beverly is running for leadership. We’re going to start reaching out to other new hunters.
“It’ll force Billy to acknowledge that there are choices,” Cooper said. “And if he refuses to hold a vote, at least he can’t just take the power he so clearly feels entitled to unopposed.”
So all that’s left to do is call Lana and the Walthers. Jury’s out on how they’ll react. But spirits were actually sort of high after this meeting. I think we can finally see a way forward.
Also — I mean why wouldn’t they feel optimistic. We’ve got a fresh new leader, and the potential for new ideas. We’ve been intentionally vague about the details of Julian’s situation, but there is a strong rumor going around Julian literally rose from the dead last week.
Maybe I should be more optimistic, too. I really think that Beverly will be a good leader. I mean, she’ll at least listen to good ideas, you know?
But I can’t shake the feeling that there’s going to be a cost to all of this. I mean — Julian’s back, but it wasn’t an immaculate miracle, right? It’s been decidedly painful and bloody. And to be clear here — I have no regrets. Today a butterfly creature landed in his hair like a big colorful hat and he went a little cross eyed when he looked up at it and I had this horrible twisting realization that we could have lost him forever and I was so relieved it made me a little weepy.
But blind optimism feels too easy. I’m waiting for the bloody part.