Uh oh. What have we gotten ourselves into now? I mean, I’ve gotten used to crazy stuff happening by now. But stuff this weird? Madre mia.
It all began fairly low-key, truth be told. We were hanging out at Dora’s (which has changed a bit lately, by the way. Somehow it has become ‚greener‘ – organic ingredients, fair trade coffee, and so on, and for a while now the clientele has been comprised more of members of the environmentally conscious scene than of cops. But I can’t say I mind the change. The new donuts are really tasty, and I simply love Dora’s homemade bagels with scrambled eggs and salmon), when a guy, who, judging by his clothes and his insecure behavior, obviously didn’t travel to the city from the Glades very often considering his clothes and his insecure behavior, came into the shop. He looked around, made a beeline for our table and asked whether we were the ‚pretty men‘. Grrrrr.
And Roberto even answered ‚yes‘. Let him speak for himself, dammit. But whatever the name, the man had obviously found the group he had wanted to find and now introduced himself as Samuel Elder. Yes, one of the Elders. The werecrocodile clan from the Glades. Cousin or uncle or something of Selva Elder’s, the owner of the Waystation, the Accorded Neutral Ground where the Storm Children were to be auctioned off back when I first met the guys.
Anyway, this Samuel Elder guy said he had heard that we helped people, which was a statement that made us blink. How and when the hell did that rumor come up? Ah, well. Actually, it’s kind of true. Especially when we are approached by someone who seems as… well … helpless as this Samuel Elder.
He was worried about his Niece Ilyana, he said. She had gone to town a few weeks ago and hadn’t come back since. She had gotten involved with the Santo Shango, but she belonged home in the Glades – the big city and the Santo Shango in particular were not good for her. She wouldn’t listen to her uncle, but perhaps we could try talking to her. Perhaps she might listen to reason from someone not directly involved, he said.
Ah, well. We could certainly give it a try, but we couldn’t – and wouldn’t – make any promises. And that turned out to have been a prudent decision, because when we arrived at the Santo Shango headquarters, we didn’t even get to see this Ilyana.
We watched the building for a while before we attracted attention and were granted – I almost wrote ‚ an audience‘, and that’s actually not a bad word for it, so let’s use it – an audience with Cicerón Linares. Fortunately, we’d never had any reason to pick a quarrel with him, nor he with us, so the conversation went quite peacefully. Peacefully, but unsatisfactorily.
It was impossible to talk to Ilyana at the moment, Cicerón explained, because she was undergoing training as a priestess to Shango. The ritual that was currently being performed would take a few days and must not be interrupted. Once this step was complete, we would be allowed to see her. Mierda.
But even though we didn’t get to talk to Ilyana, Linares had two other pieces of information, and one was as worrying as the other. The masks of Yansa, Oshun and Eleggua had turned up, as the gangster announced in a meaningful voice and with an equally meaningful glance at Alex and Roberto. The news was obviously supposed to tell them something, and from their reaction it certainly did. Good for them – as for me, I had no clue what Linares was talking about. Okay, almost no clue. Oshun and Eleggua are Santería orishas, and Oshun is Roberto’s patron saint while Alex sees Eleggua as something like his ‚boss‘. I had known that, of course. Now I learned there are masks, which have existed for centuries in fact, that allow their wearer to channel and use the power of the respective orisha without the practitioner being possessed, or ‚ridden‘, by the orisha.
None of which sounds too Christian, actually, now that I come to think about it. Up until that point I had always understood that Robertos patron saint was the Virgin Mary filling him with her spirit. Naive, Alcazár, incredibly naive. You wanted to understand it that way. Enough with the self-deception. Two of your friends are pacticing voodoo one way or the other. Admit it. Deal with it. I mean, one of your buddies is a freakin‘ vampire, for Christ’s sake. And your best friend is some kind of werewolf, while we’re at it. Get a grip.
Anyway. These loa masks, which were kept a secret by their respective priesthoods for centuries so that they would not fall into the wrong hands, have been stolen, it looks like. Or at least have resurfaced. Somebody hadn’t kept their mouth shut about the masks, Linares said. He also indicated that he had a great interest in the Yansa mask, and if we were to bring it to him, he could certainly arrange for us to talk to Ilyana. Hah. Incredibly powerful voodoo mask in exchange for a few minutes of conversation? Yeah. Right. Ah well, said Cicerón, he hadn’t really thought we’d agree, but he’d thought it couldn’t hurt to express his interest in the thing in general. Double hah.
He also told us that the Orunmila had problems with the White Court. And that little piece of information, Romans and countrymen, worried Roberto and Totilas, and thus by definition us others as well, almost more than the story about the masks. For if the Orunmila are in trouble, why didn’t Roberto know about it, who has a relatively close connection with them? And if there are problems with the White Court, why wasn’t Totilas in the picture about it? Very strange indeed.
In any case, there had not just been an isolated case, Linares continued, but several incidents had occurred, and all of them had been perpetrated by a group of people who had left no doubt about being connected to the White Court. They had worn black paramilitary uniforms and had all been worn a bracelet with a certain symbol on it. For instance, a botánica was raided and devastated a few days ago. Yesterday or the day before yesterday, the same group had beaten up a few youngsters from the neighbourhood at a bus stop, and just today a house had been set on fire.
It went without saying that we followed up on this information. First Edward contacted his office and had the details of the incidents and the perpetrators described to him as far as they were known. Totilas knew the symbol on the bracelets – it was a stylized version of the coat of arms of House Raith.
Then Edward spoke to one of his acquaintances at the fire department, who was able to give us the following information about the fire: it had been caused by arson, and according to witnesses, a red-haired woman had been observed at the scene throwing molotov cocktails. Or at least they must have been molotov cocktails, even if no traces of incendiary bombs or the like had been found yet. No people had been injured in the fire, however, because the woman had made sure to chase everyone from the house. Interesting – an arsonist with scruples. And most probably a magically gifted arsonist with scruples, to judge by the lack of traces pointing at incendiary devices of any kind.
A red-haired fire mage… So who do you think was the first person who came to my mind? Not good, Romans and countrymen. Not good at all. You could have built a wall with the bricks I shit at the thought, if I may put it so bluntly. But a description of the lady revealed that it couldn’t have been Lady Fire, and neither could it have been Christine, her mundane spokeswoman from the „Fiery Places“ shop. I’m sure you could hear the weight tumbling off my mind all the way to Orlando. Oh, and when the woman chased the people from the house before setting it on fire, she loudly and clearly had given them „best wishes from Gerald“. Mierda.
Totilas immediately called his grandfather, who vehemently denied that the White Court wanted to make trouble for the Orunmila and instructed his grandson to take care of the matter.
Next we went to see the youngsters hanging out at that bus stop and got their side of what had happened. One of the boys had just stepped behind a tree when the thugs showed up, and had wisely stayed out of sight, only to stay on their tail when they left. He followed them to a big flashy car where the thugs met with a“gorgeously hot babe“ with dark, shoulder-length hair and „cool silver-colored contact lenses“ which the boy could see after the woman had made out with the leader of the thugs for a long moment and had obviously taken his breath away, judging by the way that his knees had turned to jelly. This bit of information told us one thing – the hot babe clearly was a White Court vampire. Luckily, the kid had been able to memorize the license plate. A call by Edward to one of his police contacts later we knew that the vehicle was part of the Raith clan’s car pool, another piece of information that Totilas was able to give his grandfather.
We then went to see the Orunmila – after all, this whole mierda is all about them. We found Macaria Grijalva at the district’s community centre, where she was in conversation, or rather in a fierce dispute, with two men whom Roberto pointed out to us as elders of the Santería community. We didn’t hear what the argument was about, but I suspect they were having words about precisely the latest events. Macaria was quite brief with us, but explained that the White Court probably had it in for the Orunmila because of „that thing in Fort Lauderdale“. She did not say what exactly had happened in Fort Lauderdale, just alluded to some fight, some confrontation where the Orunmila had allegedly stabbed the white vampires in the back. The allegation was not true, Macaria insisted. But there were rumors, and ever since the rumors started, there had been these attacks by the White Court. But yes, said Macaria the Orunmila do have some kind of relations with the Raiths, so the connection doesn’t quite come out of thin air. But the allegation of treason was not true, Macaria repeated. As regarded the loa masks, she reluctantly confirmed to us that their whereabouts was not a secret any longer. Angel Ortega, Roberto’s special ‚friend‘ from that one time with the ghost beast, had let slip that the masks were kept by the Orunmila. Which meant that now, of course, the whole world was after the things. And because of his indiscretion, Angel had been banned from the Orunmila until further notice. (This last bit of news, not surprisingly, drew a small, gleeful smile from Roberto.)
The people in the neighborhood, by the way, almost immediately recognized Totilas as a white vampire and treated him to lots of glowers and more than one swear word, but things didn’t get violent. Phew. But because it probably wouldn’t have been very healthy for our Raith buddy to hang around Little Cuba until fighting broke out after all, we beat a strategic retreat. Alex had a buddy who was incredibly good at drawing and who used the descriptions given by the tenants of the burned-down house to create a sketch of the fire-haired arsonist.
The rest of us didn’t recognize the woman in the picture, but Roberto did. And he didn’t just know her, but she was actually a relative of his. A cousin to be exact, by name of Ximena O’Toole. Her mother, Roberto’s aunt, had married an Irishman, hence the weird combination of names. And that’s why the hair too, I suppose.
Ximena O’Toole – that name had also on been the list that Spencer Declan had put together for us back during the coyanthrope case when we had asked him who in the city was powerful enough to perform such a ritual. We just never had gotten around to talking to her because it soon turned out that Angel Ortega had summoned the beast by mistake and we didn’t have to go further down the list. Tsk, tsk, Roberto. Couldn’t say back then that the name rang a bell, could he?
But anyway, this relationship now turned out to be a good thing because Roberto could easily get Ximena’s current address and phone number from his parents and then simply called his cousin.
The conversation we overheard on Roberto’s speaker was highly amusing in that it was a classic case of misunderstanding. Roberto didn’t get a chance to state the purpose of his call or even just introduce himself beyond his name at all, because O’Toole interrupted him at once. „Oh, you must be the new player! You’re playing a dwarf, right? We meet at eight tonight.“
Roberto, completely overwhelmed, only got out something to the effect of „yes, yes, okay, see you then“ before he hung up. Going by his bewildered face, he had never played Arcanos before, so I explained a little, especially because the term „role-playing“ made him and Totilas think in a completely different direction at first. Sigh.
Then we decided that it would be better if I attended the evening’s gaming session instead of Roberto, because I used to play Arcanos in college and would be able to act like the „new player“ more credibly than Roberto, who has never participated in a tabletop role-playing game.
But there was still some time until thing, so we drove out to see Jack in the commune to find out whether he could tell us a little more about the whole mierda. He didn’t know much about the loa masks themselves, but then voodoo isn’t really White Eagle’s specialty. He did know that Ximena O’Toole was wizard material, not quite at White Council level, but not so bad either. She was actually pretty cool, he said, but lately she had been getting out of control a bit. Hm. Okay. Better treat the lady with a little caution. As if we hadn’t known this due to her recent tendencies to set houses on fire.
The gaming session took place at a fellow student’s of Ximena’s. Besides me there were four other players, Ximena the only woman among them. At first there was some confusion, because apparently it had been agreed that a girl should be recruited as the fifth player, and I am definitely not a girl. One of the guys, Cole by name, was pretty pissed about that, while another player, Gary, recognized me as soon as I walked in the door and almost had a heart attack because he liked my books so much. Oh dear. I mean, of course I was happy meeting such a diehard fan, but on the other hand Gary wouldn’t stop talking about the books. I tried to deflect him as best I could – after all we were there to play Arcanos, not The Eric Albarn RPG, but it got so bad that the gamemaster had to admonish Gary to defer the off-topic chatter until later.
Ximena was also out for a fight. When she heard who I was, the first thing she did was accuse me of copying all my Eric plots from a guy named Grant Walton. I don’t even know who this Grant Walton is in the first place. Memo to self: read some of his books and see if they really resemble my own stuff so much. Her gibing didn’t get much better all night, even after we switched to portraying our characters. But maybe that was because she played an elf while I played a dwarf and whimsical disputes between members of the two fantasy races are just part of genre cliché. It was fun, anyway.
When the gaming session was over, I offered Ximena a ride home, hoping to find out more about her, but she was there by bike and didn’t necessarily want to join me in my car. Of course. If she is as magically gifted as she seems to be, then modern technology is probably quite prone to failure in her presence. And James does have an onboard computer and all a whole lot of other electronic components she might have shot to pieces.
But as we stood there in front of the house, she asked me outright if I was one of the ‚pretty men‘. Gah. Not her too, dammit. Well, I couldn’t really deny it, or at least not the fact that I hang out with the guys and that somehow this stupid name had gotten stuck on us. Anyway, when I reluctantly confirmed the claim she said that whenever we needed help or wanted a job done, she’d be available. She even gave me her card, and I was surprised that it didn’t say „Wizard for Hire“. I didn’t ask her about the burnt-down just yet, though. I wanted to tell the others about the meeting first.
Gerald Raith had found out something about the license plate that Totilas had given him. It belongs to the limousine that his mother Camerone uses all the time. Camerone Raith, who doesn’t get along with her son Gerald at all. Camerone Raith, who almost managed to seduce Roberto last Halloween. That Camerone Raith. Yay.
So we drove to the Biltmore Hotel, where the lady has been residing for more than a year like the rest of the family. Or rather, where she had resided for more than a year. When we got here, Camerone wasn’t around. Her hotel suite was still booked and paid for, but she hadn’t been in for a few days. Mierda.
Now that we knew about Camerone, I contacted Ximena and asked for a meeting. Then I confessed to her that I hadn’t joined the roleplaying group all that accidentally last night (which, needless to say, didn’t surprise her very much). She did not admit to setting the house on fire, nor did she say who her client had been, but a series of „if“s and „assuming“s and „hypothetically speaking“s from both sides made relatively clear that she was responsible for the fire. She agreed to deliver a message to her client, but otherwise was very uncommunicative and did not want to say anything, obviously felt obliged to her professional honor. She just shrugged off our warning that she shouldn’t rile the Warden with slogans as dicey as „I’m as good as Declan – only cheaper“. If Declan wanted to mess with her, let him try, she said. He’d see what came of it. Whoa. Gutsy attitude. I mean, we’re not going to tell Declan, but such talk could still get back to him faster than she’d like.
Since we had no idea how long it would take Ximena to get in touch with Camerone or whether Totilas‘ great-grandmother would even be willing to talk to us as requested, we decided to go look for her ourselves. Most of her things were still in her hotel room, including a pair of shoes that seemed to have been worn recently and which Edward used to conduct a search ritual that helped us find her.
The ritual led us to the same community center in Little Cuba where we had talked to Macaria Grijalva before. There Roberto got into a religious dispute with a priest who was holding a one-man demonstration against Santería and tried to convince Roberto that he had chosen the wrong path. The sermon obviously did get under Roberto’s skin to a certain extent because he seemed very thoughtful afterwards. (And I have to agree with el padre in one thing at least – Christian is not the right term for what Roberto is doing.)
Anyway, we snuck in to listen. Unortunately it didn’t take too long before they caught us and kicked us out. But while we were in there, we heard Camerone Raith offer an alliance to the Orunmila. She told the three elders that she had been hired by Gerald Raith to cause trouble for the Orunmila, but that she would rather work with the Santeríos now because Gerald was a thorn in her side and she wanted to get rid of him. Macaria Grijalva did not look particularly happy with the idea, but the two other elders accepted the white vampire’s offer. And that was the moment when we got caught. Mierda.
Outside, we waited for Camerone Raith next to her car, completely out in the open, no hiding. It took a while before she turned up – she probably had to fix the exact terms and conditions of their alliance with the Orunmila first or something. And of course Edward and Camerone had to lock horns. Sigh. But one good thing at least came of the quarrel – the vampire let slip that she used to own one of the loa masks, Yansa’s that is, that she made use of it during the time that she owned it – 80 years ago or so, I guess – and that she wanted it back. We didn’t get to hear any specifics, because then she drove off.
While we were still standing around thinking about what to do next, we saw Angel Ortega staggering by on the other side of the street, clearly drunk. Of course we wanted to hear his side of the story, too, so we cornered him, sobered him up a bit and got him to talk. Not that it took too much of an effort, mind you.
Angel was absolutely miserable. Everyone hated him now, he said – he had even been kicked out of the Orunmila because they said he had blabbed about the masks – even though he couldn’t remember having said anything like that at all. But Carlos Alveira had told the whole neighbourhood that it had been him, and now everyone believed the allegations to be true.
Carlos Alveira. Roberto’s brother, who also is a member of the the Latin Kings, the same gang that Enrique was in before he was sent to prison. Speaking of Enrique – I’ll have to visit him again sometime soon, it’s been weeks since I went. Last time I was there he asked about Alejandra; I really have to think about whether I should take her with me the next time I visit my brother or whether it’s better if I don’t… I think I’ll take along some pictures first and bring ‚Jandra at a later stage. Perhaps that’s better.
Now that we knew about Carlos, of course Roberto went to see his brother. Yes, said Carlos, Angel had talked about the masks at great length. But he also said that Angel had been stone-drunk that night – and as far as we know, Angel never gets drunk. Except for today, obviously. But his getting plastered today perhaps is not all that surprising given all that has happened.
While Roberto went to see Carlos, Totilas called his grandfather. Gerald flatly denied having ordered Camerone to hassle the Orunmila – he insisted that this was a lie on her part. He professed to not knowing any specifics about his mother having owned the Yansa mask in the 1930s, and anyway he was in something of a hurry, said he had to go take care of some stuff out in the swamps. Something about the Raiths‘ pot fields and the Elders. Then he hung up on his grandson. And Edward put his hands over his ears and hadn’t heard anything. Talk about drugs with him being a cop and all. Ahem.
At that point we really didn’t know what to do next. Somehow we had completely run out of leads. And we couldn’t talk to Samuel Elder’s niece Ilyana either, because her preparation ritual will take a few more days.
But Alex had an idea. He performed a small ceremony, concentrated and then opened a gate to“some important place“. After all, he is the Emissary of Eleggua, and this whole mierda does involve an Eleggua mask, after all. So Alex hoped his patron orisha would have some interest in the matter and lead him to the right place.
And it was the right place, Romans and countrymen. Or an important place at any rate, because Alex’s portal took us right onto a battlefield. Little Cuba, back in front of the the community center, where the Orunmila and a gang of toughs in black paramilitary uniforms, such as had already been described to us, were engaged in a fierce battle. For a moment, we were completely stunned, just stood there, perplexed. We were trying to orient ourselves when suddenly someone or something appeared – a figure, or a tornado, or both. Savage and uncontrollable and cruel and terrifyingly effective. This person tore her opponents, the paramilitary fighters, to pieces without meeting any resistance and without taking damage herself. When one of the Orunmila happened to step into her path, she tore him apart without any qualms, as well. Yansa. Or rather, someone who was wearing the Yansa mask… Oh madre mia…
(The German version of this post originally appeared here.)