Aaaaaaaaand right on schedule, things have gone south.
Remember how Beverly was calling together more hunters to show Ace’s followers that we’re not evil and we should all work together? Well SOMEONE couldn’t keep their mouth shut, and Lana found out.
And once Lana found out it was game fucking over.
We got a call yesterday morning, and when Neal saw the caller ID he visibly winced, braced himself, and answered it. Immediately, Lana’s tinny voice:
“IS JULIAN ALIVE?”
“Hi Lana,” Neal said.
“NEAL I SWEAR, I SWEAR TO GOD.”
“I’m okay, Lana,” Julian said. “I’m right here.”
“Well that’s good news,” Lana cried. “Do you have any idea what kind of rumors are flying around right now? And Beverly flat refuses to tell me damn near anything —”
“Lana,” Neal began but she cut him off.
“What are you all pulling right now?” Lana demanded.
“We’re trying to deal with Billy Ace,” Neal said.
“Billy Ace is an ineffectual Silicon Valley rich boy with a god complex,” Lana snapped. “We have bigger problems. Do you know the Kellihers left a Heleboar case yesterday? Just straight left a hunt. Three people died. The FBI is now there, and I’m forced to send in clean up, which stretches my already thin resources even thinner, which by the way, leaves my school full of students vulnerable — and now I find out that the Kellihers pulled out on direct orders from Beverly Oshmar?”
“I know,” Neal said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It wasn’t an easy decision but —”
“Not an easy decision? Three civilians gored to death Neal, and you know we’re going to have to kill the heleboars too.”
“We didn’t mean for that to happen,” Julian said.
“It put my people at risk!” Lana cried. “I’ve never known Beverly to be so irresponsible, I thought I could depend on her!”
I think calling Bev irresponsible is what finally pushed Neal into his usual boneheaded obstinance.
“You’re the one who called her with the giant snake eggs problem,” Neal snapped.
“Yeah, and I needed a couple people to go in and steal them back!” Lana cried. “You two could have done it blindfolded in a few hours, but instead she’s calling in the whole damn network and people are dying.”
Neal and Julian were quiet for a moment.
“Lana, I think you misunderstand what’s going on with Billy Ace,” Julian said, as calmly as he could.
Lana scoffed. “Oh please,” she said. “What is he, rich? We deal with bigger threats than wealthy tech nerds on any given Tuesday—”
“He’s pulled in a lot of support,” Julian said.
“— and I’ve always believed in a pretty hands off approach to freelance hunters, but for fuck’s sake Neal, now I’m hearing rumors that you shot and killed Merl Allen?”
Neal laughed absolutely humorlessly. “That is such bullshit, Lana, it was hands off when you shoved Cara through a rift?”
“Enough,” Julian said, cutting across them. “Lana, Neal did shoot Merl Allen.”
There was a moment of surprised quiet and into it, Julian continued: “He only did it because he caught the Allen brothers along with a whole handful of Billy Ace’s followers red handed in my murder.”
Lana was silent and Neal was looking utterly betrayed.
“Don’t look at me like that Neal, it was my murder, I can tell who I like,” Julian said. “The Allen brothers witnessed my dog saint power emerge some months ago, and Ace used that information to convince his followers that I am a dangerous out of control monster. So you see,” he went on to Lana, “our perspective on how dangerous Billy Ace is might be a bit different than yours.”
“Oh, my god, Julian —” Lana began. She managed, “what is your power that they’d think they need to —” and then, inevitably realizing the much bigger mystery: “how are you alive?”
Julian glanced at me and hesitated. “…that I can’t tell you.”
Lana was speechless.
“Billy Ace is using the current situation to scare new, vulnerable hunters into following his lead,” Julian said. “We need to bring these people onto our side. Right now. Before any of this gets worse. So yes, we pulled the Kellihers off that case and we brought them here. We need them. It’s all hands on deck.”
We all listened hard for sounds on the other side of the phone, but all she finally said was, “why did no one call me?”
I glanced at Neal, waiting for him to jump on that opportunity to go for her, but it was Julian who spoke.
“Frankly?” Julian said. “Because you sent Cara through that rift, and none of us quite trust you.”
Lana let out a sharp breath, but didn’t say anything for a long time. We all waited, holding our breaths.
Finally she said, “Okay. Fine. In that case I’ll handle the issue with the snake eggs myself.”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” Neal said. “We’re dealing with that —”
“Clearly not,” Lana said. “Because people are dying. Tell your people whatever you feel they need to know, but I will be there to handle this issue tomorrow.” And she hung up.
And Neal said, “Oh fuck.”
So that was the first disaster, and then the next disaster was that she was 100% true to her word.
Lana was banging down our door by like 8 am the next morning.
We didn’t know it was her — Neal made Julian hide in the bathroom before opening the door, but it was just Lana. She was flanked by Lily and Endymion, each looking stony and inexpressive.
There was a beat, and then Neal stood aside. “Come in,” he sighed. “Julian! It’s Lana.”
Lana and Lily came into the room, but at a brief nod from Lana, Endymion stayed at the door.
“Alright,” she said. “I need to know a few things from you two.”
“Hello Lana,” Neal said. “It’s lovely to see you.”
“I need you to tell me what your dog saint powers are.”
The Hawthornes went quiet and Lana waited a few moments before adding, “I need to know why they killed you, Julian. I don’t need details, I’m not going to ask you for anything, but I need to know what I’m getting into when I’m in that room.”
Neal began, “We don’t owe you —”
But Julian cut across him. “I occasionally lose control and physically transform into a monster.”
You have to hand it to him — he knows how to silence a room.
“I don’t remember what I do in that form, but it is unconnected to me, uncontrollable, and from what we can tell, indiscriminately bloodthirsty.”
“Oh,” Lily said faintly.
“I’m incredibly dangerous, and if we’re honest, they have every right to be concerned about my existence,” Julian went on which was when Neal could take no more.
He said, hotly, “Julian hasn’t hurt anyone since we were kids.”
“That’s not true,” Julian said. “I put you in the hospital only a few months ago.”
Neal rolled his eyes and said, “we have it handled.”
Lana was quiet for a moment longer and with a horrible sinking feeling I thought this was going to go horribly wrong. I thought she was going to send him off to be alone somewhere he couldn’t hurt anyone, or some awful thing.
But when she spoke, all she said was, “You’ve been managing that ability on your own all this time?”
This took us all by surprise.
“I’m sorry?” Julian asked.
“Christ Julian.” Lana sat heavily on the end of Neal’s unmade motel bed. “Why didn’t you come to us?” And before either of them could answer: “why didn’t Nolan come to me?”
The Hawthornes glanced at each other. “He said he wanted us to have options,” Neal said, somewhat defensive.
Lana laughed faintly. It sounded more like a whimper tbh.
“According to records, your power is known as the tooth,” Lily supplied into the awkward quiet. “In the surviving records, it’s infamously the rawest and most violent of the available dog saint abilities. They’re very rare, and tend to only appear in the most dangerous cycles.”
“No kidding,” Neal grumbled but I could feel a quiet door opening in my mind.
“The last tooth that came into rotation,” Lana said, basically through clenched teeth, “sat in a temple all day, eating grapes and writing poetry until their abilities were needed.” She turned to look him in the face. “They were waited on hand and foot, and had a whole sacred wood for running free when they needed to. And you —” She jammed a finger into his chest. “You have been hunting? On the road? Full time? Julian, why?”
None of us said anything.
“You never thought to do research? You never wondered how other people handled the same condition?”
Again, a very long quiet.
Neal said, “he deserves to be able to make his own choices.”
“Of course he does, for fuck’s sake, he’s a marvel, handling this on his own?” Lana cried. “But don’t you think you’ve been a bit reckless living like this? Just the two of you against the world?”
“I haven’t killed anyone since before I knew I had this power,” Julian said, but he couldn’t quite meet anyone’s eye.
Lana closed her eyes. “Christ on a cracker. We can deal with this later.” She got up. “I’m going to get those snake eggs.” We all began to get up but she gestured sharply. “No. You two stay here.”
So I said, “Can I come?”
And to my ABSOLUTE surprise, Lana said, “Sure.”
And when Neal and Julian both began to protest — rightfully hahahaha — Lana added, “She has the right to make her own choices, right?”
The Hawthornes evidently had nothing to say to that because they both seemed at least temporarily mollified and I followed Lana and Lily out the door before anyone could stop me.
It was a short drive to the bar. Endymion drove very fast and without a word.
“I don’t want to engage them,” Lana said as we hurtled towards the bar. “We go in, we get what we need, we leave. No fight.”
“Aw,” Lily said, with a dopy little grin. “You sure?”
Lana cracked a smile. “Sorry Lil. We’ll have to find another way to feed your blood lust.”
Lily waved her off bashfully. “Oh stop, what’ll Shiloh think? I just wanna knock their heads together a little bit.”
The bar was crowded, I could tell from the parking lot.
“You sure you’re coming in?” Lana asked. I nodded, and she said, “stay close.”
She really did just bust in through the front doors, and when that whole room of overwhelmingly dudes turned to see who she was, she announced in a clear, loud voice, “We’re here for the eggs.”
There was a moment of confusion as someone slipped into the back room.
“Hello Ms Sorley,” Billy Ace said, emerging from behind the swinging doors. “Goodness, what on earth have we done to deserve such an honor?”
His followers all knew this was a jab at Lana, but she seemed immune.
“I’m giving you one opportunity,” Lana said, lifting her chin. “You can either work with us or not at all. Working against us is no longer an option.”
“Oh so now you want to work with us?” Ace said, and looked over us to his own hunters. “Once again,” he said. “Once again you come in here with your witches and your militia, and you offer us what is already ours,” he said. “We already have our democracy. If you want to join it, you’re welcome to vote with us. Your voice will count for one, just the same as ours does.”
Billy Ace is so infuriating because he says words I agree with, but he does it WRONG (lol I know how that sounds). But really — he says he leads a democracy, but the only people welcome inside it are the people who agree with him.
Lana laughed outright. “Which of you murdered Julian Hawthorne?”
There wasn’t even a moment of discomfort.
“The beast you call Julian Hawthorne was tracked and neutralized, same as any other creature we have hunted to keep this world safe,” Ace said. “It was an unpleasant job, but it had to be done.”
“What sort of monster was he, exactly?” Lana asked.
A flicker of performative confusion crossed Ace’s expression. “Do you deny the claim?”
Lana just shrugged. “No I’m just pointing out — you killed Julian Hawthorne on the word of Merl and Rudy Allen.” She shook her head. “Did you bother asking them what they were doing that day they discovered Julian’s ability?”
There was a moment of confusion as everyone shifted to find Rudy in the crowd.
“They’d taken civilians sport hunting for hailu puppies,” Lana said. “Do you know what those are?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “No, of course you don’t. I could tell you. Any of them could tell you, Neal rides the damn dogs with a couple days of training, but no you idiots prefer this clueless buffoon —”
“You’ll find,” Ace said over her, “that this company doesn’t much care about sport hunting, so long as the job gets done.”
A rumble of approval went up. Lana stared around at them, wondering and full of horror.
“You’re all children,” she realized. “And you’re a waste of my time. I’m here for the eggs.” And she swept past them towards the bar kitchen. Several people moved to intercept her, but Lily gestured and they froze in place. There was a low ripple of anger from the crowd, but Endymion raised his lip to reveal one long fang and the crowd nearest shrank away.
Was it deeply satisfying to watch Lana and her people turn the place upside down, find the eggs, pack them up and take them, with Ace’s people helpless to stop it? Yes, it was.
But not as delicious as when Lana paused on her way out and raised her voice: “if I should find that any harm whatsoever comes to Neal Hawthorne I will find the parties responsible and I will kill them very painfully, do you understand?” Then she locked eyes with Rudy Allen and said, “You asked for capitol punishment.” And she left. Endymion held open the door for me. He winked as I followed them out.
I’m like still riding the high as I write this. We’re back at the hotel and everyone is arguing so I’m hiding in the corner. Beverly is PISSED, she’s shouting at Lana about how much damage she’s done to all our negotiation, and Lana is basically shouting back that she doesn’t give a shit about our negotiation.
Oh wait holy shit
She just got in Beverly’s face and shouted, “you want to cooperate with these people? You want to compromise? You think you owe them something? Well good luck to you, but don’t forget — I was keeping my word to those ungrateful bastards when I sent your best friend to die alone on another planet.”
And then she STORMED OUT.
She’s got a damn point, too — because she sent Cara through a rift to keep her promise to the Allens and their ilk, and then the moment they found out they didn’t like that, they turned on her instantly.
YIKES it’s so nasty in here right now.
Beverly just stormed off and wouldn’t even let Julian follow her.