I honestly hadn’t really given much thought to quitting, even when I realized that Jo and George probably wanted to. I hadn’t because I felt like this was what I needed to do. Not just for Ollie and his family, as penance for unintentionally getting them killed, but for all the supernaturals out there who didn’t deserve death at the hands of Hunters. But…Cynthia was right about one thing. There would always be more people out there to protect. If I let that be my reason to never quit, then I’d be doing this every day for the rest of my life.
It was undoubtedly true that I hated killing people the way we did, but I didn’t see another way to deal with Hunter clans safely. We’d tossed around ideas for years and this was the best solution we could come away with – the one that involved fewest deaths and the least risk. That didn’t mean I liked it, though, and maybe that was why George and Jo often tried to handle the darker side on their own and put me in charge of helping Gil with the second chances. They didn’t want me to have to live with the guilt of what we did.
I did, though. There were nights I woke up drenched in sweat and remembering all those faces. Faces of Hunters who’d done awful things, true, but faces that were sleeping when they breathed their last. It felt wrong, in a way. George had argued that they went peacefully, so at least there was that – and Jo had grumbled that peaceful deaths were more than they deserved – but sometimes I still felt guilt for their deaths anyway.
Would it really be possible to walk away from doing all that? Leave it behind? Let someone else take up the work of hunting Hunters?
But that was the problem, to me. I didn’t know of anyone else doing what we were doing, anyone who was proactively trying to stop Hunters before they murdered more supernaturals. Instead, they were usually reactionary, responding to a Hunter threat and attempting to take them out – sometimes succeeding – but rarely did supernaturals hunt down Hunters. That was the problem to me. As much as I hated what this job entailed, unless I knew someone else was trying to protect supernaturals from Hunters, I wasn’t sure I could just walk away. No matter how much I wanted to.
I blinked, sitting up straight. But then…that meant I just needed to find replacements, right? Find a way to make sure someone was out there doing this? I’d suggested recruiting more people to Jo but hadn’t been entirely serious, but now I began turning the idea around in my head more. Maybe there was a way to quit without feeling like I was leaving supernaturals unprotected. Maybe there was a way we could help all of us out.
We were approaching the 4-month mark of our break, and though no one talked about it specifically, I felt like we were all kind of skirting around the idea without really addressing it because we were afraid to. We were afraid to admit we didn’t want to do this, afraid to leave our friends when they needed us.
I’d been busy lately, holed up in my room scribbling stuff in a notebook, then researching on a computer, then back to the notebook. The others had clearly noticed, but thankfully none of them questioned me about it.
Tonight, though, I was ready to talk to them. Ready to get rid of this whole awkward atmosphere and ready to present a solution that might work for all of us.
I waited until everyone was at the table eating, so no one would manage to escape if they got worried about what I wanted to talk about.
“I have an idea for us all. About our future.” I took a deep breath, and then just got on with it. “We’re not sure about moving forward and we don’t need to pretend otherwise. But we’ve also felt like we’re always lagging behind Hunters – there’s only four of us, five if you count Gil, and who knows how many hundreds of them, plus we only act against them after they’ve killed some supernaturals. But I think I may have an idea to sort of help all those problems.”
I wasn’t usually the idea person, but they were all listening quietly, no one with judgmental looks on their faces or expressions that said they were already doubtful, so I forged on.
“What if we…changed our focus a bit? What if instead of the four of us chasing after Hunter clans, we instead taught supernaturals how to fight Hunters? And how to recognize signs of Hunters in their area?” I noticed Cynthia sit up a little straighter as she started turning the idea over in her head, and I hurried to finish explaining. I’d thought this out for weeks now, and I really wanted to explain the full idea.
“There’s only the four of us. We can only do so much, and it takes us months to deal with a single clan. Meanwhile, we know there are other clans out there murdering supernaturals, but we don’t have any way to stop them all. We keep trying, but there’s only so much we can do.
“But if we taught supernaturals how to fight Hunters so they wouldn’t be as disadvantaged during fights? Then the police or individuals – whomever came to our lessons, I guess – would have the tools necessary to fight back against Hunters. Better, at least, than they can now. There may still be casualties, but if supernaturals had a better idea of how to fight Hunters, it could prevent a lot of supernatural deaths. And then if we also taught city officials – police or whomever – how to recognize when a clan is in the area? And even how to find and stop Hunters from recruiting? We know how to pick up on clues that a clan is in the area. We know how to track down a clan. So if cities know how to do that, they can alert their people that a clan is in the area. Warn people not to go out alone until the clan is found and stopped by the people trained to do so – probably supernatural police and the like, but the point is, they’d know when to be extra alert. We also know where Hunters try to recruit, like on forums with me. What if we gave the tools to cities to know how to stop those recruitments from happening – not to mention, the cities might be able to save some supernatural lives if we can shut Hunters out of places where curious humans are talking about supernatural things they might have seen.” Like I did with Ollie.
“But,” I went on, “that’s only part of it. So we teach supernaturals how to fight, we teach them how to know clans are in their area, we teach them how to stop or slow recruits – and all of that will hobble all Hunter clans. Not just one at a time, but every single town that we could teach things to, suddenly that entire area would be harder for Hunters.”
“Put the tools in the hands of the supernaturals to protect themselves,” George murmured. “Then you have a lot more people prepared to face them than just us.”
I nodded, but I wasn’t finished yet. “Then to really cinch it, I think we need to go after the source. Well, of their weapons.” I took out a couple of throwing stars and dropped them onto the middle of the table. “It’s the one thing Hunters guard most closely, and even a lot of clan leaders don’t know the truth about the weapons, but it’s pretty obvious, right? They’re anti-magic. That’s the main thing that gives them an edge against supernaturals to begin with – something that can negate magic. But creating them would take magic, right?” I looked at of my supernatural friends, who were nodding slowly, while Lynn reached forward curiously to pick up one of the stars.
“Which means Hunters are huge hypocrites, because they’re relying on supernaturals somewhere to fight all of the rest of the supernaturals. Even if those supernaturals are prisoners like Lynn was, the point is, they’re still using magic despite condemning it. And supernaturals generally.” But that was really beside the point.
“So if we were to find the source of their weapons and end it? Stop the supernatural helping them or free them or whatever is necessary?”
“Hunters would die out,” Cynthia said slowly. “Eventually the clans that have weapons would lose them to supernaturals who know how to fight them, or they would break, or something, and they wouldn’t get replacements. Eventually, Hunters would simply become humans who may know more about us than your average humans, but they would lose their sting. They wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous.”
“That part will take a lot of resources,” I warned. “But I think if we start with arming the supernaturals with knowledge, then hopefully they can help with that part. It’ll probably be a long term thing because they’re not going to give up the location willingly, but maybe with more resources from cities helping us, we’ll have a better chance.” I hesitated. “I think it’s time for us to stop waging war against Hunters alone. I think we need to let other supernaturals in on it.
“Now I know,” I added a little nervously, with a glance at Jo and then George, “that if we do this, it will mean some delay in any other careers. I’ve taught you two pretty much everything I learned from Hunters and I think with the three of us together, we could teach cities better than just one at a time. Or maybe we could teach more at once if we split up, I don’t know. But, um, if we tried training people, it would mean I would need help from both of you, at least for a while. Maybe a couple years, I don’t know.”
“We,” Cynthia corrected. “We would need help. And we’d stick together, August. Don’t be an idiot.”
“I’d have to go back to school anyway,” Jo pointed out with a shrug. “I can take online classes or something while we do that. Gives me a few years at least before I’d even be able to start being a therapist, so I have the time.”
“I’m game.” George actually sounded pretty eager. “And you’d be happier doing this, right? You’d be able to help people learn to defend themselves, you wouldn’t need to put your life on the line and then kill people. We all know how much you hate it, even if you’re good at it.”
Cynthia suddenly started smiling widely. “And we could finally protect you! Well, one of us. But you could finally be accepted by supernaturals as a protected human instead of being viewed with suspicion!”
“We should all think about it,” I cautioned them. It was my idea, and I was on board, but this whole thing was new to them.
But apparently my warning went unnoticed.
“Taking care of one clan at a time is one approach, but this way, more supernaturals would have the tools to protect themselves!” George seemed excited about the idea. “And wouldn’t we do more good for supernaturals in the long run? Potentially ending the Hunter threat overall?”
Jo was nodding, starting to pull out a map on her phone. “We should start with that one city that was willing to work with us. They’d probably be more open to the idea. Then once we have some references, so to speak, we can expand from there. Let people see from other places how useful what we can teach them is.”
“I can talk to my techno vampire friends. Honestly, I should have thought of it before.” Cynthia shook her head, a slightly disgusted look on her face. “They could totally set up warnings for towns or blogs or forums or whatever – programs that would check for the very things we do and then warn the city that there could be a Hunter clan in the area if a certain number of red flags are present. They might even be able to screen Hunters out of chat rooms and forums and stuff. I mean, that is a lot of potential work, because you’re talking about basically the entire internet, but if anyone can do it, techno vampires can.”
“I haven’t figured out about second chances,” I admitted. I’d thought about suggesting that cities contact us if they discovered a Hunter clan in the area and then would could take care of it, but I was pretty sure that cities wouldn’t want us to take as long as we did; that there might be more calls for help with clans than we could manage; and, well, we were trying to pull back from that. Unfortunately, I hadn’t come up with any good alternatives. “I’m assuming cities would mostly go on the defensive if they realized a Hunter clan was in the area and try to protect its people. If so, it might make it harder for Hunters to kill supernaturals, and well, maybe the second chances would end up leaving – really, anyone who isn’t super dedicated to the cause.” I shrugged, not sure what else to say.
Cynthia looked thoughtful. “We could also point out to cities that there are different kinds of Hunters – those who are psychopaths and enjoy watching people get hurt; those who are true believers and want to protect humans; and all the ones who get caught up in it for other reasons. Maybe the cities wouldn’t term it as second chances, but if they realize that some Hunters aren’t dedicated and some are just trapped into the life? That might be enough for the cities to know that anyone taking on the Hunters should pay attention and take advantage of that. Because those people might react out of fear, but not if given the opportunity to surrender, maybe. I’m not sure, but we can work that out – see if the information we provide to the cities about Hunter clans wouldn’t help them avoid killing those we’d normally give second chances to.”
That was as close to a way to protect the second chances that made sense and didn’t involve us doing our current job, and maybe was more fair to supernaturals. I suspected some of them wouldn’t like the idea that we’d let some Hunters walk free – minus some memories – just because they hated the idea of Hunters. Still, I couldn’t regret the second chances. To me, that was part of what made us different from Hunters – the fact that we recognized that not all of our “enemies” were truly evil and beyond redemption.