Chapter 54: The Council (Part I)
I had locked myself in the guest bedroom with the black box as my only form of company that night. No one came to me; I was left alone, which heightened my suspicions about the truth I had brought to them.
I sat on the floor, still dressed in white and covered in dirt and dried sweat. The ball gown lied on the bed, staring back at me. I thought about trying it on; I didn’t need to know how it fit, since Jeffrey assured me that the dress was correct to my measurements. But I wanted to see myself in this dress. Is this how Russell Van Doren remembered me one hundred and fifty years in the past—wearing this gown when it was common attire at the time?
I expected Hezekiah to knock on the window and let himself in the room, trying to explain himself and his actions; his reasoning for keeping my father’s identity a secret from me. But that never came, either. It was just silence. Unbearable silence. This made me even more suspicious of everyone. I could only trust myself.
As the night dragged on, I felt the weight of tiredness pulling at me, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to achieve sleep. The Council’s party was tomorrow night, and I had intentions on finding information on my own, but how would I achieve such a task? It was easy to tell myself that I was going to confront Abraham when I saw him, but when the moment finally arrived, what would I really do? Would I freeze in place, or do something that would lead to the Coterie’s demise? Regardless of whether or not Abraham was my father, he still had an agenda that he was hell bent on completing; he was a Vampire Lord. Cunning. Deceitful. Wise. Strong in the physical and figurative sense. He was nearly unstoppable, and I was a huge piece in the puzzle to acquire the ritual that would give him absolute power over everyone, including the Council.
Even though I was his daughter, there was a possibility that he didn’t see me as anything more than a catalyst for his own desires.
As the world began to crumble around me, I heard a knock on the door. I was given little time to compose myself before Mama came in. She inched into the room slowly like I was a wild animal ready to attack. I stood up from the ground and held my back taut. I somehow wanted to show dominance over her and the situation before; I wanted her to know that it would be impossible to sugar coat and lie to me any longer.
She said nothing as she entered the room. Her eyes were purposefully vacant; she didn’t want me to know what she was thinking.
Her eyes then averted to the gown lying on the bed. She studied the intricacy of the dress and began to lose herself in it, like she was imagining what I would look like with it on. Then, her eyes were back onto me. I forced myself to be emotionless, too.
“Where did you get that?” she asked me, referring to the gown.
“It was given to me.”
“I know that,” she replied, trying not to sound snarky. “Who gave it to you?”
“Jeffrey Atkins,” I told her honestly; I had hoped that transparency from my end would inspire transparency from hers. When she heard his name, her body went stiff. Not only did the mentioning of Jeffrey’s name make her uncomfortable, but knowing that Russell Van Doren had gifted me the gown did, too. But I didn’t want to dwell on this. I wanted to dwell on the elephant in the room:
My biological father.
“Were you ever going to tell me?” I asked her, knowing that if I didn’t initiate the conversation, we could have possibly been standing in silence for long moments.
Mama couldn’t look at me. She looked back at the dress; the gown was some type of distraction from what was needed to be discussed.
“Mama,” I said. “Look at me!”
“Not here,” she said. “Not where people can hear.”
“Everyone already knows the truth now, Mama. There’s no use keeping secrets—”
“At the house. We can talk there. In private.”
She meant our house—the house I grew up in. The house with the familiar walls and the shop on the first floor that was uncomfortably crowded on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Our house.
I was surprised that Mama was willing to speak to me about this secret at all. Despite my plan to acquire the information I wanted from Abraham himself, being face to face with Mama and hearing her offer transparency was like a glorious oasis to the wandering traveler. Her face had become genuine; there was trust in her eyes, despite the extensive distrust she previously displayed.
I agreed to go with her.
Her and I walked through the hallway, down the stairs and into the living room. The entire house was empty; even Aza was gone.
“Where is everyone?” I asked Mama.
“I sent them to Mambo Nene’s shop. Hezekiah’s been spending too much time here. We need to move our sisterhood to a place that he can’t taint with his influence.”
Mama spoke about Hezekiah with an unsurprising yet toxic amount of disgust. It was constant; it never let up.
I offered to drive us to the house. I got into the driver’s seat, looking at the cracked window that Hezekiah left behind. The entire drive was quiet and tense. I had so many questions to ask her, but I let them float around in my head until we arrived. I wondered if Mama would be completely honest with me or just dance around the subject to try and keep me in the dark like she had done successfully all this time?
When we got to the house, the street was quiet, save for a few people walking about and enjoying the night. We got out of the car, and I followed her to the front door. Once we were inside, Mama turned on the lights. I jumped at who I saw.
Aza stood in the seating area, waiting. I let relief wash over me too soon at the sight of her.
“Mama invite you here, too?” I asked her. Aza didn’t answer; there was this sudden wave of guilt that she wore, and immediately, I knew something was wrong. As mama stood behind us by the open door, I begged Aza wordlessly to tell me what was really going on. All I needed was the look in her eyes; my instincts kicked in quickly. I turned around and tried to leave, but two men were standing in the doorway, blocking my path. They were both familiar, but they didn’t belong here, nor did they belong with Mama and Aza.
The first man was Tekoah—one of Abraham’s Elder vampires. The shapeshifter who fooled me into chasing after him into the alley when he turned himself into Mama. The man next to him was Hezekiah.
His presence needed no reminding.
I didn’t know what to think when I saw Hezekiah again. He still had the angered look he had when we last saw each other on the sidewalk outside of Aza’s house. When we looked at each other, I felt more and more like a fool. So many instances where Hezekiah had betrayed my trust, but I continuously let my walls down and let him in. Now, it was too late to build up defenses. Even when I figured out that he and Mama had lured me down here for some unknown purpose, it was too late to save myself. But I tried to. I was a resilient spirit, and had grown more so ever since the events of my life had spiraled into what they had become; I was determined to escape.
I sprinted for the back door; I was fast, but Hezekiah was faster. I barely made it past the display case before I felt his arms wrap around my waist and pull me into him. I screamed with all the air in my lungs, yelling every profanity I could at him. I kicked with all my strength. I did everything to try and get out of his hold, but we all knew it was a task that was done in vain.
“Get the fuck off me!” I banged my fists into his back as he hauled me over his shoulder like a sack of clothes. “Mother fucker!” I screamed. “Put me down!”
“I’m sorry, Lisa,” I heard Mama say; the whole world was upside down. “I’m only trying to protect you. All I ever wanted to do was protect you.”
Common interest. Hezekiah and Mama, though their animosity for each other was strong, put aside their differences for an hour when they became aware that I knew the truth about Abraham. They put aside their differences when the dress Russell Van Doren promised to send me finally landed in my hands. Their common interest in protecting me led them here to devise this plan. Aza’s role? Maybe she was the mediator who brought them together on the basis of their common interests; Hezekiah’s ancestor and Mama’s colleague. They knew that their plans could possibly unravel if I attended this party and spoke to Abraham. They knew that their goal to stop him could be thwarted if he became aware that I knew of our relation.
So, the only option that remained was to leave me in the dark. Literally.
Hezekiah began to walk towards the staircase as Mama apologized profusely to me. I didn’t stop screaming, even when I knew that all hope of escape was lost. I screamed and kicked as Hezekiah effortlessly carried me upstairs. This went on until Hezekiah was at my bedroom door. He opened it and walked inside; it was dark. The windows were covered, and my lamp was gone. I stopped fighting.
He set me down on the bed and looked at me. I didn’t know if he felt sorry for what he was doing to me; if he did feel remorse, he didn’t show it at all. It was just this darkened evil that was fueled by something, but what this “something” was? I was unsure. It could have been his desire to protect me. Or his desire to destroy the Council. Perhaps it was his desire to stop his master from turning himself into a tyrant. All of these desires would be nearly impossible to achieve with me in the way.
I got up again, put Hezekiah pushed me down.
“Stop fighting,” he ordered. “Just sit down.”
“Fuck you!” I snapped at him before spitting at his face. This act was of the utmost disrespect, but I didn’t care at the moment, just like how Hezekiah didn’t care about what he was doing to me. I suppose I was the fool for not seeing this coming—Hezekiah made it clear that there would be consequences if I accepted Russell Van Doren’s invitation. Mama hid the identity of my father from me and intended on me never finding out.
These two reasons are perfect motive to lock me away.
This wasn’t the first time that Mama had put me in a room and thrown away the key. The first time was when I went to speak to Hezekiah in the undercroft when we had kept him prisoner there. Only that time, Mama’s djab had possessed her; it wasn’t clear if Mama was acting upon her own will, or if Marie II was acting through her. However, in this instance, I knew Mama was of sound body and mind. When I saw her in the doorway, I didn’t see Marie II’s eyes. I just saw my mama’s eyes—her true eyes.
Hezekiah slowly wiped the spit off of his face and used every fiber of his being not to explode into a bout of anger. Instead, he looked to the doorway where Mama and Aza stood and walked towards them.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I asked—demanded—of them.
“It’s for your protection, Lisa,” Mama said. “This party ain’t safe for you to attend. It best you stay put here. There’s a vitamin supplement drink on the bedside table that will fill you up until we get back.”
“You can’t just leave me here!” I screamed. “You can’t do this! You can’t fucking do this!”
“It be for your own good,” Mama said, believing every word she told me. In the darkness of my bedroom, I found whatever I could and threw it towards the doorway—pillows, books, hangers, anything to show them that I wouldn’t be neglected and ignored. But as I threw these items, they hung still in the air; Aza, with her remarkable magic, stopped the force of these hangers and books with the wave of her hand. And when I realized my effort was doing no good, she let the floating items fall onto the floor between us. Her face didn’t match her power; her face wasn’t strong and confident. She looked sad and displaced.
Mama then used her magic to close the door on me. The doorknob glowed before the door swung shut, leaving me in the dark as my screams and curses echoed and bounced against the walls.
I could have used the time I spent alone in the dark to speak to my djab, but the two phases I went through during this period of isolation wouldn’t allow the guidance of my djab to enter my mind.
The first phase I went through was fury and denial. Mama and Aza both placed enchantments on the door and window so I couldn’t escape, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I grabbed my bedside table first and tried to break the planks on the windows, but it only served to shatter the night stand into pieces. The lamp was gone, so all I had left was the bookshelf, bed and desk, but all of these items were too big. I screamed for what felt like hours as if Hezekiah, Mama and Aza were still downstairs and could hear me. But they were gone, and I was left alone.
The second phase was depression. The sun had come up; I could see the rays through the planks on the windows. I was getting hungry, but I refused to drink what Mama had left for me. I laid in bed staring at the ceiling, waiting. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, I just waited. I wondered if Mikael knew where I was? I wondered if Kizzy knew; would they believe any lies Mama and Aza would tell them? My mind drifted to Aza, who agreed that we couldn’t trust the Coterie, yet helped Mama devise this plan to keep me here.
Marie was probably screaming at me, having given up. I wouldn’t let her in; my mind was blank and rid of any hope. It was blank for the entire day until night came around and the room became dark again. I caved in and drank what Mama left for me. It was disgusting and sour, but she was right—it was filling and satiated my hunger. I would eat again when they let me out of the room; when the party was over. At this time, it was already nearing 9 o’clock. They were most likely getting ready for the party, the Coterie. So much missed opportunity; Mama would miss her chance at power and dominance and instead would most likely fall for the Council’s plans, or even Abraham’s plans. She refused to see the truth in front of her, and refused to use it to her advantage.
I contemplated the idea that perhaps I was going crazy. I felt nothing as I laid in my bed and stared at the ceiling, playing scenarios in my head about what everyone else was doing; I wondered if this party would welcome death from either side?
Don’t y’all touch nothing. I’ll know if you took anything!
I sat up promptly at the sound of a voice—a female voice. I knew this voice very well; my heart began to swell in my chest.
I got out of bed and walked to the door. The hallway light flickered on, and footsteps slowly grew louder as they neared the door.
“H-hello?” I said, but no one answered. Instead, there were a few clicks of the doorknob before it began to turn all the way, unlocking it and releasing the door from the enchantment placed on it. I stepped back and watched as the door opened and light poured into the room. I squinted my eyes as my vision adjusted, but once they did, I saw the woman I could match the voice to. Perhaps I was dead and this was some limbo I was trapped in, or maybe I was sleep and brought into this dream sequence by the loa. Regardless, seeing Sajida’s figure in the door was unreal. It was something I wouldn’t have been able to imagine happening.
Sajida, with the wave of her fingers, pried the planks off the window behind me. I watched as they tumbled onto the floor, a sharp pour of streetlamp light entering the room from the sidewalk. I could see Sajida clearly now—she wore a black ball gown that was surprisingly modest—long sleeves that flared out in lace at the ends and a collar that went up to her neck. Her hair was tied up into a bun, and she wore black jewelry. Her eyes seemed to glow against the darkness of the corners that weren’t illuminated.
“Damn, girl. You smell ripe,” was the first thing she said when she walked into the room, covering her nose with her gloved hand. Her eyes scanned my body up and down before she spoke again.
“Are those the clothes you wore during the lave tet?” she asked, disgusted yet finding it comical.
I was still in shock that Sajida was in front of me that I didn’t know how to respond. She huffed, amused.
“Well, what happened here?” she asked, though I was sure she knew the answer. Still, I entertained her with an explanation.
“Mama locked me in here so I wouldn’t make it to the Council’s party,” I said. “Her, Aza and ’Kiah.”
“’Kiah?” Sajida said, surprised. She puckered out her lips and nodded her head. “So, he playing both sides now? Wonder how long that gone hold up?”
Sajida knew I was upset about the situation and wanted to get the rest of the story out of me.
“What cause them to keep you prisoner?” she asked.
“I told Mama I knew,” I said.
Sajida walked closer to me. “About what?”
Sajida needed to hear nothing more. A smile stretched across her face at the news. “So, that’s what you saw during your lave tet?”
I didn’t respond. She began to laugh.
“It’s amazing to witness,” she said.
“Watching your mama turn more into our mama day after day,” she said. There was a silence that carried while Sajida shamelessly allowed herself to be lost in memories I knew nothing of. Then, she snapped back to the present.
“Well, go on and get cleaned up. I don’t like to wait too long.”
I cocked a brow, “What do you mean?”
“You stink, Lisa. You can’t put on that dress smelling musty. It’ll ruin the whole outfit.”
The party. Sajida was under the impression that I was still going, whereas I was under the impression that I wasn’t; I didn’t even have the dress with me.
“Sajida, the dress is at Aza’s house,” I told her, but she cut me off quickly.
“I already took care of that,” she said. “Kira!”
Suddenly, Kira came up the staircase with the same black box Jeffrey gave to me in her hands. She handed it to Sajida as I stared at it in shock.
“How did you get that?” I asked her, though I should have known she wouldn’t tell me how. She just smiled and urged me to shower.
And so I did.
I showered, I washed my hair, and I treated myself to my mama’s perfume that she forbade me to touch as a child. Kira helped me put the dress on, and it fit like a glove, but looked one of a kind on me. Everything happened so fast that I barely had time to process what was happening. Soon, with the gown on my person and the red jewels adorning my neck, the three of us walked out of the door and out into the sidewalk, where a black SUV was waiting for us. Tourists commented positively on our outfits, assuming we were attending a costume party instead of a party run by vampires who enjoyed to wear outfits that everyone once wore long ago.
The driver stepped out of the car and opened the door for us. Of course, he was a leech; his eyes were red and youthful, eager to get us into the SUV safely. Kira sat in the front while Sajida and I sat in the back. The windows inside were covered by black blinds that clicked locked on the bottom with no intention of them of being unlocked, and there was a black divider between the driver and us. I didn’t need to ask Sajida what these precautions were for; the location of the party and how to get there was meant to be secret.
It was like Cinderella and The Handmaid’s Tale mixed into one fucked-up pot.
I was so nervous that I was shaking. Everything was happening at a speed I couldn’t keep up with. I didn’t expect to attend this party, but now, we were en route. I wanted to ask Sajida how she knew where I was? Did someone send her?
I was too nervous to ask.
The drive was long and uneventful. There was no scenery to look at from any direction, and I was left guessing where this party would be held. But after an hour and a half on the road, I was left guessing no more. The car began to slow down until it was brought to a stop. We were parked for a few moments before the door opened. Another leech extended his hand out to Sajida, then to me, before closing the door behind us. We stepped onto a walk that was surrounded by trees, black SUV’s parked all around us on the grass. But the real eye-catcher was the house in front of us—a huge mansion, all white, with six large pillars holding up the second floor. The balcony railing was the only thing that was a different color off from the white. I sucked in a sharp breath at the sight; I had never seen a house so big. It was intimidating to look at; it loomed over you.
There was music and a large array of voices heard from inside.
“We’re late,” Sajida said, though I knew she barely cared. In fact, I think she enjoyed being late with me by her side; she smiled as she stepped aside for me to walk ahead of her. My shoes clicked against the stone of the walkway that led to the stairs of the front porch. At the front door, two leeches stood at the edge of the entrance and seemed to know who we were, because no type of identification was asked of us.
We walked into a very large foyer with staircases on both sides leading to the second floor. A glass chandelier hung from the ceiling, giving the house an array of crystalized light. The interior was crisp and antique, with dark burgundy furniture, a grand piano that was being played, and gold framed portraits hanging on the walls, all oil painted.
I only had a few moments to take in the interior before everything went quiet.
The music still continued, but the voices stopped. On either side were vampires, but not the normal vampires we were used to encountering—they were of the elite. They held themselves with prominence and stature. And it was my presence that drew them into silence and caused them to stare. Their bright amber eyes and pale skin followed me as Sajida and I walked through the large foyer. I didn’t know where we were going; Sajida advised me to keep walking straight.
People parted like the red sea once we walked through. And further into the foyer, white began to turn to black—black vampire clans, many of which I had never seen before, were standing on the edges of the room, observing the crowd and watching out for danger. But their surveillance was cut short by our arrival. They stared and whispered among each other, though the whispers were too low to understand; there was no sign of Abraham and his clan.
On the right side were voodoo houses that stuck together like glue, glasses of wine in their hands. Their eyes were wide, their expressions shocked. But none could match the expression of my mama, who stood with the entire Coterie and their co-workers near the staircase. I only allowed my eyes to linger on her for one moment, but as they did, I was sucked into her gaze and choked until near death; I had never seen her look this way. I thought she might collapse, but I never got the chance to see it happen if it did, because we were at the end of the burgundy carpet and nearing five individuals who stood closely in a circle, talking as if the entire ballroom didn’t exist. They were given a considerable amount of space from the crowd; they were the most important. The most influential. The most powerful.
This was the Council.
Sylvia Lange, the Council’s head mistress of Sorcery, stood on the far left and was the first to acknowledge our presence which prompted the four others to face us; her ball gown was a deep indigo with yellow accents. A man with one working eye stood next to her. He had a slit-scar over his other eye, which was glossed over in gray and swollen. The two others on the right side consisted of a woman with gray hair and a large nose but even larger eyes that looked like two suns. The gentleman next to her was young in the face but old and experienced in stature and gaze.
The man in the middle was Russell Van Doren—not only the Louisiana Charter of the Council’s leader, but the founder of the entire Organization and the head Chancellor for all of the United States’ Charters.
Russell was the last one to turn around towards us. And the first thing he did when he turned around was look at me. I had this image in my mind of what Russell looked like before I saw him that night; I imagined an old man who, although escaped death, hadn’t escaped age before he was turned into a vampire. But my initial image was completely void when he turned to face me. Russell was a very tall, lean man with dark brown hair that was gray in some areas. He didn’t bother to shave his beard; once a vampire’s hair was shaven off, it wouldn’t grow back. However, it was groomed and cut close, making his face all the more alluring. I felt ashamed at the fact that I thought Russell was a very attractive man, even in un-death—his eyes were captivating not only in the dark-honeyed color they were, but in shape; they were narrowed in almost like a wolf’s eyes, staring into you and trying to dissect your being. His nose was strong and sharp at the end; roman, which oddly seemed to make his appearance all the more authoritative and intimidating. There were two gold rings on either ring finger that glistened in the chandelier light, and like the rest of the men at the party, he wore black trousers with a matching black tail coat accompanied by a white shirt, a white vest, and a black tie.
Before, he had a very slight smile on his face, but when we made eye contact, this smile faded a little. His muscles visibly tensed at the sight of me; his eyes grew wider, and his eyebrows raised ever so slightly. An attendant to the Council introduced Sajida and I to him, but he didn’t respond, resulting in a lingering quiet that everyone was aware of. He just continued to stare at me.
“Sir?” Sylvia said, touching his arm. He blinked a few times before pulling himself out of his trance. He smiled at Sajida first and bowed as she curtseyed.
“I hope the journey here fared you well?” he said to her. This man was definitely German or Dutch; his accent was enough proof of such.
“It did, thank you,” Sajida said, though she purposefully made conversation short with him.
Russell looked at me again, and I mimicked Sajida by curtseying. His bow was delayed, but it eventually came, followed by him grabbing my hand in his cold one and kissing my knuckles gently. My face tingled and grew hot as the entire room saw this and began to whisper amongst each other; even the rest of the Council exchanged looks when he did this, but Russell didn’t care. He held my hand for a moment longer before finally letting go.
“Words cannot express how delighted I am that you have decided to accept my invitation, Alisande” he said to me, his eyes tracing the designs of my gown. “And the dress...it looks stunning on you. Though I expected nothing less.”
I smiled. “Thank you.”
Russell looked as if he wanted to say more, but he just decided to take me in again, staring at me without restraint. I wanted to know what memories of us were playing in his head.
“Mister Van Doren,” the youngest-looking member of the Council whispered to him as he stood by his side. “There are other guests in the room who might also acquire your attention.”
Russell blinked rapidly again. “Right,” he said, before turning to look at the crowd. “Forgive me, as it has literally been centuries since I’ve hosted a party and it seems to show, does it not?”
The crowd began to laugh, breaking the awkward air. I turned to my right to get a look at the people invited again, and froze still when I saw Hezekiah having just arrived with his clan. Abraham was next to an older woman who had people next to her; she must have been a clan leader. Hezekiah had seen the entire exchange; I know he did. He looked bothered and upset, uncaring that Abraham caught wind of Hezekiah’s shift in mood. Abraham and I locked eyes, and I was brought back to the vision of us in the chapel. He smiled at me, and in a split second of fear, I turned away.
Sajida, laughing to herself, grabbed a glass of wine from a server walking with a tray of glasses. “Let the party begin,” she said before downing the entire glass.