Chapter 47: Death Mission
I was scared to open the door.
I had my hand on the handle for a very long time, stress sweating, unable to bring myself to open it and walk into the hallway. I had to face Aza; there was no other option. But what would I say? Would I apologize?
Eventually, I mustered up the courage to open the door, but the person standing on the other side startled me; Aza. I expected her to be downstairs at the head of the dinner table, trying to rid her brain of what she saw, but frankly, she was more inclined to meet with me face to face instead of waiting until dinner was over. We met each other’s eyes in an awkward fashion. I knew the image of Hezekiah fucking me from behind butt naked was burned into her memory. She looked uncomfortable, leaning against the hallway wall with her arms crossed over her chest, looking into me. I said nothing. Then I said something, then I cut myself off and remained silent.
“I really wish I didn’t see that,” Aza said. Her expression was teasing on a grimace, but I could tell she was refraining from showing me how disgusted and uncomfortable she really was.
“I’m sorry,” I said, my head burning. “I just...it just...I -”
“Don’t say nothing.” Her hand was held up between us. I was taken back by this sudden change in her - this seriousness in her. “You don’t need to explain yourself. I just want you to listen.”
I was listening.
“I’m a lot more carefree than your mama,” she began. “I’m more understanding. But one thing your mama and I can come to an agreement on is that you and Hezekiah is not a good idea, especially now.”
“What do you mean? It was just sex. It didn’t mean anything -”
“It always mean something,” Aza interrupted, gradually becoming cross with me. “You two is a complicated situation. Very complicated. More than you can understand. And not only is it ’cause you two might have known each other way back when, but because Abraham is Hezekiah’s master, Lisa. He’s made this known to us several times that his loyalty will always be with Abraham, no matter what. Always. Sure, he might got you thinking that he’s on our side, and he’s my granddaddy, so I’m more inclined to believe him. But at the same time, I know that if we ever gain the upper hand on Abraham and he end up not finding this ritual, Hezekiah gone be right back at his side. It’s in his nature; every vampire is like this. When they master call them, they got to listen.
“The relationship that Hezekiah got with Abraham dates back centuries; Abraham has let a lot that Hezekiah has done behind his back go because of how much he favor him. He think of Hezekiah as a son. There’s no other bloodsucker above Hezekiah to Abraham, and Hezekiah knows that him being here with us is the ultimate betrayal. If he had to choose between us and Abraham, he would choose Abraham. And you need to understand this.”
I thought back to the missing letter. I was still under the impression that Hezekiah and I having sex was his way of trying to distract me, as he had done before. This made Aza’s words sting because I knew how honest she was; I knew she would never want to lead me astray. I thought about Hezekiah traveling back to Abraham and showing him the letter that Russell Van Doren had written to me.
“I do understand,” I responded, but in reality, I didn’t want to.
Aza was disappointed in me. I could see it. I could sense it. I was disappointed in myself for being seduced by him, and I was embarrassed that it was Aza who caught us, his granddaughter.
She nodded towards the staircase, “Come on,” she said. “Let’s go eat.”
My interactions with Aza over the next few days were odd and awkward. I thought that we had gotten over what she had caught Hezekiah and I doing, but it still bothered her. I thought it probably had to do with the fact that the Council’s party was fast approaching - an understandable reason for stress and detachment. But this was different - she could barely look at me.
No one else knew of what Hezekiah and I did together; no one knew of just how ‘acquainted’ him and I were, in the past and the present. It was going to stay this way; I trusted the girls, but the details of tempus summatum were still unclear, and the only way that they were going to become attainable was if I visited Sajida the Shunned, which was an endeavor that was fast approaching.
Part of me thought that the reason Aza was so distant had to do with the fact that someone told her of our plan to visit the Bayou of the Shunned. This gave me heightened anxiety, especially since Aza was spending considerable time with Mama and the Coterie the days leading up to the forsaken Thursday evening.
I was nervous - it could have been anything.
Kizzy and I met up in Aza’s garden on Monday afternoon as we helped tend and pick the weeds growing near the ceremony clearing.
“Aza’s been acting weird,” I told her, in which she nodded in agreement.
“I know. She’s been acting that way with all of us. I think she knows.”
“Aza’s smart. Even if none of us said anything, she could have easily put the pieces together herself: Sajida’s outburst and our history of insubordination are clear signs that we would probably go see her, if not entertain the idea.”
Fuck. That’s the only thought that went through my head. That, and the thought of Aza tipping off Hezekiah about our plan so he could intercept.
“The Council’s dinner is on Thursday,” I said. “If we can somehow manage to keep our cool until then - ”
“I don’t think we’re going to last that long.” Kizzy shook her head down at the grass. “She’ll get to us before then.”
I wanted to tell Kizzy about Hezekiah and me, hoping that perhaps she would agree that this accounted for the reason why Aza was so distant from us. But even I didn’t believe this all the way. Somehow, I knew that if I didn’t act soon, I wouldn’t be able to act at all. Mama would go to unspeakable lengths to keep me far away, and if she knew about me meeting with Sajida, she wouldn’t hesitate to lock me away. I gripped the sheers and lost myself in thought. I felt like I couldn’t rely on anyone, even though I had the girls and Mikael who vowed to help me. Hezekiah, someone I felt like I could eventually trust, was now back to being untrustworthy; our past history meant nothing to me, as he made it clear we were only messing around. Aza was right; his master was Abraham, and he would always go back to him. I couldn’t rely on him, even if he wanted to protect me.
I couldn’t rely on Mama, either, who intended on shutting me out. And sadly, I couldn’t rely on Aza, who let the fact of Hezekiah being her ancestor make her loyalties hard to place. I realized that I had to do this on my own. And whether this was the direction the loa wanted me to go, I had this gut feeling that it was the right choice.
I didn’t tell Kizzy about this. I only remained quiet as we continued to tend to the garden. The day dragged on into the night. I was in the living room, waiting to hear the back door open and see Hezekiah walk through. But I reminded myself that Hezekiah wasn’t going to come back. All of us sat in the living room, with Aza and Ben having trotted off to Mama’s shop again. I had a plan in my mind, but I couldn’t build the courage to act upon it.
The clock was ticking unusually loud in the living room as we sat in the quiet. I looked at the time - 11:32 PM. It was nearing the golden hour. I made it visible to everyone that I was tired and would be going to bed, in which everyone began to scramble to figure out who would shower first. I volunteered to go last, and everyone else before me walked upstairs without the slightest idea of what I was going to do.
I was alone in the living room. I looked at the clock again, at the space filled with blankets and pillows that we have made familiar, and my bag of clothes and belongings underneath the staircase. Quickly, as everyone was distracted upstairs, I went to my bag and changed out of my night clothes. I put on a pair of pants, a tank top, and a dark blue plaid button up over it, undone. I put on a pair of sneakers, emptied out my bag and the rest of the unnecessary contents in it. Then, I went into the kitchen and put a couple of water bottles, snacks, and medicinal needs inside; I didn’t know how long I’d be gone.
I went upstairs quietly, tiptoeing by Aza’s room where Imani and Rocio were talking. About me.
“It’s a death mission,” Rocio said, sitting on the foot of the bed.
“You don’t have to go if you don’t feel comfortable.”
“And what if I don’t? Risk being skinned alive by the Coterie for letting their princess travel to see that witch alone? Please.”
Imani didn’t respond. I wanted to say my piece, but decided against it; I was teaching myself to pick my fights wisely, and I wanted to save my energy for the endeavor that was soon approaching. I finally made it to Aza’s study, which was suspiciously unlocked. I looked at all of the potions and plants that lined the room, the vials that reflected off of the dim lamplight. I needed to find yugantis root and the potion that accompanied it. I didn’t know the spell, nor was I trained in the art of knowing it, but it never hurt to be cautious. However, there were so many potions, with the labels in a language I was unfamiliar with. I cursed under my breath, trying to quickly look around for what I needed. I saw the yugantis root by the window and picked a hefty bunch into my hand, but the potion was a lost cause to me.
A lost cause, until Medusa appeared.
I heard faint slithering sounds from the fourth shelf above Aza’s desk. I turned around and saw Medusa slowly coiling her body around a tall vial filled with a dark colored potion - I knew what it was upon seeing it. As her body tightened around it, she looked at me.
Take it, she seemed to say with her small, black eyes. I slowly reached up, and the closer I got to the bottle, the looser her body became until eventually, she slithered away back to her post around the lamp pole. I read the label on the vial: Sana juvo - ‘heal assist’ in Latin.
“Sana,” I said to myself before putting it into my bag. Sana and I, from that point, would become very close friends.
I had everything I thought I needed. Everything except the bravery it took to walk out of the house. I was going to do it - I was going to go see Sajida the Shunned on my own, by myself. If I didn’t do it tonight, it would probably be too late. I couldn’t risk waiting to be confronted by Mama or Aza or even Hezekiah. The journey was last minute and impulsive, so I knew that the girls and Mikael would be opposed to the idea and waste time trying to work their way around it to our original date. But this needed to happen tonight; it was now or never.
So, I snuck through the hall and downstairs, and before leaving, grabbed Kizzy’s crossbow and some arrows. I was in the garden now, and in the blissful yet dangerous blanket of night, I crouched through the tall plants and flowers while trying to quietly make it to the gate that led to the sidewalk. I moved fast, almost hurrying to a run when the stone path to the back wooden gate became clear. I felt that in any moment, I would be caught. I thought Aza would jump in front of me with Mama at her side, or even Hezekiah on my trail, waiting for me to touch the gate before grabbing me and pulling me back into the house. But when I finally made it to the sidewalk, where street lights were illuminating the path for nightwalkers and cars on the street, I exhaled out of relief; shortlived relief.
Because someone was behind me.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and jumped back far and high. I almost screamed but knew better not to, as we were still close to Aza’s house. I pulled up the crossbow and aimed it ahead; the figure jumped back in alarm and raised their hands up into the air.
“Woah, woah! Calm down, it’s me!”
Mikael, with a sweat-stained shirt and deepened brow, stood before me. I immediately lowered the crossbow and glared at him.
“Mikael, what are you doing?!”
“I heard someone in Aza’s study, and when I realized it was you, I followed you out here.”
I rolled my eyes. “So, now you’re following me now?”
Mikael shrugged. “Well, when you’re sneaking out with a bag on your back and a crossbow in your hands, I’m kind of inclined to know what’s going on.”
It took him a moment, but when he knew just where I was planning to go, his eyes went wide.
“Are you going to go see Sajida alone?”
I didn’t care to entertain him anymore. I turned around and walked to my car parked down the street. I opened the trunk and threw the crossbow inside. And of course, Mikael followed me.
“I don’t need to explain myself to you,” I said.
“Lisa, you know how dangerous it is for you to go see her by yourself.”
“Since when have you cared about what I get myself into? Any of you?”
“You think I’d be able to sleep knowing I let you go off to the Bayou of the Shunned on your own?”
“It isn’t your job to worry about me.”
“We were supposed to go together -”
“Yeah, well plan’s change. People change. Now, I’m going on my own. No use putting your lives in danger.”
I wanted the conversation to end there, but Mikael didn’t want it to. He was frustrated in the predicament I was putting him in, but really, I wasn’t making anything difficult for him. I didn’t want him to come with me; I made it clear that I wanted to come alone. But as he stood on the sidewalk, looking back at Aza’s front porch, then back at my little Toyota Corolla, he groaned and pulled on the door handle.
“What are you doing?” I asked him on the other side of the car.
“I’m coming with you.”
“The hell you are,” I laughed, but when he came over to the other side and blocked my door, I knew it wasn’t a joke to him.
“I’m not letting you go alone. It isn’t just Sajida that’s dangerous. It’s the entire Bayou of the Shunned. It’s filled with trapped souls and prisoners. It’s a dark place that no one should travel to alone, and since you’ve been there before, I would think you more than anyone would know this.”
I only stared at Mikael after he said this. I had never seen him so demanding; so authoritative. He wasn’t going to let me leave alone. And if I somehow succeeded, I knew he’d follow me. I knew he was traumatized after what Abraham’s clan did to his House, and yes, Mikael did many things that made me crossed with him, but him inviting himself on this journey said a lot about him.
I stared up at him before caving in and unlocking the door. He walked around, opened the door and climbed inside. I threw my bag in the backseat once I was in the driver’s seat. We had to make haste; it was a long drive to my Aunt’s, and it wouldn’t be long before we were both missed.
I closed the door and sat for a moment, “Mikael, I don’t -”
“Just drive,” he said. “Last thing we need is Kizzy banging on the window wondering where her crossbow went.”
I wanted to laugh, but the air didn’t call for it. I started the car and pulled off from the curb. My hands were tight on the wheel, and Mikael wouldn’t stop tapping his foot. But this was needed, what I was doing; what he was doing.
By dawn, I would know the truth. Sajida the Shunned, my aunt, would tell me the truth.