Voodoo Queens of New Orleans

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Chapter 18: Unprecedented Alliances

The moment we reached the safe house, the vampire hunters quickly hauled Evander out of the car. His wound had worsened; he was nearly unconscious. I was afraid that he had vampire venom inside his bloodstream.

Mama and the rest of the Coterie immediately came outside when she saw us. Her face was too far away to distinguish; I was thankful. I didn’t want to see her fury just yet.

“What happened?” she asked, nearing us with the rest of the priestesses behind her.

We had to lie. We didn’t know if Mama would believe it, but there was no way we were going to admit where we really went.

“We found him in the forest,” Kizzy explained. Mama was close enough then—she was clearly distraught, confused and upset that we—I—had left again without her knowing exactly where I was. I wondered how long had been back for.

Jonathan and Heather didn’t say anything to Mama; they didn’t know what to say. This woman—this voodoo ‘witch’ as Midas referred to us—could save Evander’s life. The wrong words exchanged could easily change that.

“You found him in the forest?” Mambo Nene asked, staring at Kizzy—her novitiate—as if she was waiting for the truth to come out. Kizzy stared on wide-eyed. My heart began to beat faster; I imagined Mama grabbing the bag in my possession and finding a vampire-killing blade inside.

Bad enough we were accompanied by a group of vampire hunters.

The Coterie was going to interrogate us further, but Mama stopped them and had House members help bring Evander inside. Kizzy and I didn’t look at each other. We were scared that the wrong look, sound or even posture would tip the Coterie off; they were onto us.

Serj and Azari stayed outside as Heather, Midas and Jonathan followed the Coterie closely. Midas studied everyone—what they wore, how they walked, expecting something more from the faction. But Jonathan was more concerned with the deteriorating state of his comrade, and he made Midas carry the same mentality with just one disapproving look in his direction, making Midas retract his glare and remain expressionless.

“On the table,” Missus Taima ordered. “Quickly!”

In their ceremonial clothing, the ensemble looked like a white ocean carrying Evander to the designated spot. Kizzy swept her arm across the table, knocking everything off onto the ground loudly in order to create room for the body that needed to go there. The House members set him down on the dining room table, the light illuminating the state of the bite on his neck. His skin grayed every passing moment, sleek with perspiration and blood. His chest rose faster than it fell as he fought for breath.

“How’d this happen?” Mama asked Jonathan specifically; urgently. It was as if she knew he was the group’s leader.

“A Leech,” he began to explain. “We were hunting them in the woods. My men thought they had eradicated the last of them until one attacked Evander before it was slain.”

Mama’s face fell once she knew exactly what Jonathan and his crew were. Then, she slowly turned to us—Kizzy, Rocio, Esther and I. Her eyes burned like a blue flame, disappointingly examining us until one of us would cave in and tell the truth. But none of us would; Esther tensed her body up and shut her eyes because she knew she would confess if she looked at my Mama much longer.

“Madam Dumont,” Imani called out to her, “his wounds are severe. We don’t have much time.”

Her gaze didn’t break from us for exactly ten seconds; I counted. I don’t know what I was more afraid of—Mama’s disappointment or Aubade in her possession. The blade was depleted, but I had some sliver of hope that there was a way to revive it for the purpose I had in mind. But if it was in Mama’s possession?

Game over.

Imani called out to Mama again, and suddenly she stopped staring so deeply at us and rushed over to the table. Esther exhaled before sobbing quietly while Kizzy finally looked at me. I didn’t know what to say or how to say anything, in fact. Her eyes scanned her backpack on my shoulders. She raised her eyebrows—is it still there?

I avoided her eyes—something is wrong with it.

Kizzy frowned—what did you do?

I rolled mine—it wasn’t my fault. I’m sure it’s fine.

Kizzy’s lips pursed—you used it, so of course, it’s your fault.

“Mambos!” Mama called out, and immediately, all the priestess began to circle around Evander as everyone stood back and watched. The last priestess to join the circle was Miss Aza; she was too busy staring at me to quicken her pace. And as I locked eyes with her, I knew.

She knew.

**

The moment the Coterie successfully placed Evander in stable condition, Mama started asking questions.

Jonathan and his group were upstairs with Evander, accompanying him as he rested. Mikael and Imani were there with them; Mama didn’t trust the vampire hunters, but she didn’t have the heart to turn them away. I was unsure if this was selflessness or selfishness; maybe the vampire hunters were valuable to her in a way that I didn’t know. That, or Mama genuinely wanted Evander to heal properly. I hated judging her character so harshly, but she was a character I knew little about, even though she was my own mother.

The four of us sat on the couch in the living room as the entire Coterie stood before us—all eight members left. Mama stepped forward and started the interrogations; Evander’s blood staining her white skirt bothered her not.

“What were y’all doing out in the woods?” was her first question.

We exchanged glances with each other, the girls and I. Silently, we were conjuring our lie.

“Esther told us that she was having visions,” Rocio said. “Visions of people hunting Leeches—the vampire hunters.”

“Nearby?” Mother Babette asked.

“Yes,” Kizzy answered quickly.

“And you thought it would be a good idea to go on and investigate?” Mama questioned.

“We only investigated because Esther said that one of them was badly hurt, Mama,” I said. “That’s why Kizzy brought her crossbow. As a precaution.”

The Coterie began to convene about our testimony. Mama didn’t believe us—she only pretended to be skeptical instead of certain that we were a lying lot.

After a moment of mumbles, the queens faced us again and began taking turns questioning their novitiates—first Mama Hepzibah questioning Rocio, then Mambo Nene with Kizzy, seeing if their stories added up. Rocio and Kizzy didn’t even stutter with their confessionals, which matched perfectly: we took the SUV into the woods to see if Esther’s vision was true, and found Evander wounded in the arms of the vampire hunters.

Finally, Missus Taima walked closely towards Esther, puffing out smoke from her cigarette and combing her fingers through her graying hair. Esther began to stress sweat.

“Esther,” Missus Taima started, “is it true you had these visions, girl?”

Esther didn’t even look Missus Taima in the eye; it was clear that Esther didn’t want to be the novitiate that lied to her priestess.

“Yes ma’am,” she croaked at the ceiling. Rocio held her head down and rubbed her eyes.

Please don’t break, please don’t break.

Missus Taima smiled and looked at Mama, “For sure,” she said. “I don’t think my novitiate would lie to a little old woman such as myself. Right, Esther?”

Right. All Esther had to say was “right” and we were in the clear. But Esther couldn’t say it. Her cheeks puffed out like a pufferfish, eyes watering up at the ceiling.

“Right, Esther?” Taima said again, slowly.

Kizzy, Rocio and I waited with bated breath for Esther to blow our cover, but instead, she did the opposite:

“Right, Missus Taima. That’s exactly right.”

The Coterie was surprised; Esther was a tender soul, incapable of hurting a fly; loved fried plantains and okra. Took her prayer seriously. Never hurt anyone’s feelings. Now, she was lying straight to her priestess. Kizzy commended her silently, but I knew that it really affected her.

Mama wanted to continue interrogating us, but the rest of the Coterie seemed convinced; they thought Esther was just traumatized by what she saw. And she was, but the story didn’t stick all together.

“Go on and get yourselves cleaned up,” Mama told us. We knew that the Coterie had a lot to talk about; they were under the impression that Leeches were stalking close to our territory.

As we got up, Esther trying to hold back her guilty sobs, Kizzy came close to me once we were hidden by the staircase.

“Meet us in the attic once you’ve showered,” she told me. All I did was nod, but I wasn’t sure on what she meant. I wanted to ask, but the queens were still around, Mama skeptical about our testaments. So, I went on and showered quickly, putting on some Capri pants and a tank top, and hurried to the attic. My hair was still a wet, knotted mess, dripping all around me as I ascended the staircase to the attic. Apparently, my room wasn’t the attic like I thought—just one of the higher rooms. The entrance to the attic was down a hall through the Coterie’s meeting room. I climbed the ladder that was brought down for me and made sure to pull it back up once I was done. It was dark, damp and hotter than fish grease in there. A few lamps were lit, the couches covered with sheets as well as other unknown items in the corners. The only window that the attic had was covered with a sheet as well; a conspicuous room, indeed. Ominous. Secret.

I saw someone in the corner, standing idly by. It looks like Kizzy; I recognized the tall woman despite the darkness.

“Where’s everyone else?” I asked her as I walked closer. But Kizzy didn’t answer. I called her name again, but once she turned around, my skin suddenly ran cold.

Miss Aza came into the light, holding Aubade in her grasp. The blade spun slowly in her decorated fingers. My body stood immobile, mimicking the act of a mime.

“Now, how did you get your hands on this beauty, Alisande?” She asked. It was hard to read her intentions through her voice—her soft, almost seductive voice.

I didn’t know how Miss Aza could have gotten her hands on Aubade. I made sure to hide the bag in my room, double checking to see if the dagger was in there before I left to shower. Did she steal it? Did someone give it to her?

I exhaled shakily. “I...I...”

“You don’t have to answer,” she said. Her long braid swayed like her white skirt as she walked towards me. “I know what you girls went to do.” She pointed to my neck. “You traded with a witch, didn’t you?”

I was sweating bullets, bile in my throat. She was going to tell Mama—the entire Coterie. I just knew it. I didn’t know how severe Mama’s wrath would be in response. Knowing this, I weighed my options: I could beg her not to tell, I could lie (a horrible idea), or I could tell her the entire story. These options raced through my mind, but nothing came out of my mouth.

The attic door opened behind us. I turned around—the vampire hunters began climbing up, Kizzy, Esther and Rocio with them. They stopped once they saw Miss Aza—the girls knew that a queen’s presence, with Aubade in her possession, meant immense trouble. But Miss Aza was unbothered by their frightful, confused stares. Kizzy pushed past everyone and entered the attic first. She was going to say something to Miss Aza—an empty explanation—but Miss Aza spoke first.

“The blade’s depleted,” she said to us, staring at the orb in the quillon. “Completely.”

Kizzy’s mouth fell open, wide enough to let those pesty Louisiana bugs inside. Our silent conversation hours before in the dining room was completely deciphered—this is what was wrong with Aubade; what I tried to tell her when we watched Evander holding onto life.

“That belongs to us,” Midas said, coming into the attic. His face was a tad disgusted in Aza’s presence.

“Not anymore,” Kizzy managed to tell him. “We traded for that. It’s ours.”

“But what use is it if it don’t work?” Aza asked rhetorically. She was right. She also knew something that we didn’t know.

At this point, everyone was in the attic. The vampire hunters stood behind Jonathan while the girls stood behind Kizzy. I was the closest to Aza. Jonathan knew that there was more to Aza’s intentions as she held the blade—their blade, rightfully.

“So...what do you suppose we do?” I asked her unsurely.

Aza smirked. “The right thing for me to do would be to bring this to the Coterie and have them decide what we should do with it. This is a powerful weapon, belonging to a damn powerful fraction of a group.”

The vampire hunters didn’t say anything; if Jonathan didn’t speak, then they weren’t going to either. He was thinking hard, his blue eyes a dark abyss of thought. Those dark eyes flickered to me once. I looked away from them.

“But?” Jonathan finally said to Aza.

“But, I’m sure that y’all had more in mind for this dagger. Again, it’s no use to you like this. It needs to be blessed.”

“Blessed?” Asked Rocio, but Heather immediately knew what Aza’s words meant.

“We have one of the High Priests in our Order bless our weapons before we’re able to use them,” Heather explained. “No High Priests? No power.”

Bingo. I knew exactly what Aza was doing, and so did Jonathan—it was like our minds were synced. Aza was a priestess. A powerful one. She could easily bless the dagger and restore it to its rightful power. But for what price?

“What do you want?” I asked Aza. Aza smiled widely at me and my quick wit.

“My intentions aren’t masked, child,” she replied. “All I want is the demise of Abraham’s clan. I found this in your bag; was this your way to avenge for our stolen artifacts?”

I breathed deeply, which was answer enough.

“You wanted to kill Hezekiah?”

“Yes,” Kizzy answered anxiously.

Aza shook her head. “I appreciate your sentiment, but really think about this first. What good is a dead Elder? He’s more valuable to us alive.”

I put the pieces together in my head. Aza wanted to help us behind the Coterie’s back but under clear conditions?

“So, keep Hezekiah Mercier alive?” Azari clarified before scoffing. “No fucking way.”

“Have some respect for our priestess!” Rocio snapped at her, but Kizzy stopped her.

“So, if we agree to use Aubade to keep Hezekiah alive, you’ll help us?” She asked bluntly. Aza’s silence meant ‘yes.’ My heart was pounding.

“How are you going to bring Aubade back?” Midas asked, ignorantly at that. But Aza’s was entertained by Midas’ ignorance.

“The Loa will help me,” she said to him. “I have one spirit in mind that would gladly help me.”

**

I’m so sorry I haven’t updated more frequently. This book is one of the hardest stories I’ve ever written; it requires more brain power than the rest, oddly.

By the way, how do you guys like the new cover? Lisa’s momma is looking as beautiful as ever on the front.

And if you guys are interested, I made an instagram page for this book. I haven’t posted anything on there yet, but give it a follow if you’re interested - @voodooqueensofneworleans

-Hailey

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