The Light beamed on The Glass. So clear, so magnificent The Glass, to distract their enemies with reflections, to control the minds of those who would abet their enemies and turn them into allies. To The Light, The Glass was a greater tool when used with finesse, honing the power of The Light into a laser-like ray of influence.
The Glass owed its existence, its allegiance to The Light. The Light was the true creator, not The Word, who is an illusion. The Word who claims "I AM" and is not could not be compared to The Light, who is self-evident by his glorious creation.
Without The Light, The Glass was powerless, but with it, there had been no enemy capable of withstanding it, even The Blood of The Word fleeing its onslaught. The Light had been betrayed by The Dark, bastard son of The Word Which Is Not, who is known as The Lie of the Void to those who serve The Light. This was no fault of The Glass, who was a perfect tool, but was the fault of The Dark. Only The Light need fear The Dark, and only The Dark need fear The Light, for to bring The Light and The Dark together is the sign of the return of The Void, which proves The Word a lie.
The Glass reflected, then, that The Left and The Right, the bastard twins who also saw The Word as a lie, should be their allies. Unlike The Dark, however, who believes the perversion that The Void gave birth to The Word, and that the two are aligned towards a creation beyond the power of The Light, which is blasphemy. The Light, however, rejects the alignment of three of four of The Brothers, fearing The Void would reject her children whom she cast as individuals, and the conflict of whom powers the world. To do so would be to reject the chaos of The Void, and ultimately to accept the will of The Word.
The Prince of Lies smiled the ancient smile of one who knows the comedy of existence, of its futility and the freedom of its meaninglessness. Nevertheless, it had been a productive meeting with his servant. It was too easy for him to assume Nate could just pull in the big guns for some upstart of a mixed blood shaman. The world was a web of lies, nihilism the only great truth. Should Rodney and Pete ally with him while he was still allied with Dom, it could push things over the edge and bring the return of The Void, which would destroy all of his creation. Despite what he told his minions, Father was real, and eventually Father would take this world from him and send him to comfort The Void with his brothers, a fate worse than death in Nate's eyes.
Senora Maya's family had been nearly decimated by Rodney, and Rodney had even been slick enough to convince the family it was all Nate's doing. Rodney had actually arranged things to force Nate to do his dirty work, leaving poor Pedro with his family in ruins. It was enough to make a big brother proud.
Rodney had corrupted every single possible matriarch of the family, and had used the hate so powerful it only exists between blood relatives to ensure whoever Nate hadn't killed, Pedro would.
For now, thanks to Dom, the girl was out of bounds. There was no chance of converting her to his side; she was too biased against him. How was she to know he was he was the reason for her existence, and for the existence of all people of blood?
It was his angels, sent among humans to create the races of renown, who were the pure source of the blood that gave them their power. Each strain of blood came from a different angel with different abilities, and no two were quite alike, which was the reason for the various different families.
At this point an ignorant girl like Caroline was expendable, having just as much value dead as alive. Alive, she was a dim hope of a convert. Dead, Lucille would take her place, barely setting the family back anymore than the death of Mrs. Black had. Scared, though, she could be manipulated. She could be a tool, if a blunt and unwitting one. Fear was the only handle he had left on her, but with time that hold could grow into respect and ultimately service.
It was settled then. The Glass had the go ahead.
At any instant, a cloud could hover anywhere in the sky. Sometimes here, sometimes there, sometimes nowhere to be found. This is not important. However, there is a cloud, now, blocking the sun. A ray of darkness fails to shine onto the ground, contrasting a single house in a sea of other unimposing homes. In front of this home is a basketball goal and a flowerbed, behind, an expansive vegetable and herb garden. This, again, is unimportant, but less unimportant than the cloud, because inside this house is a room, and inside that room is a matronly black woman who appears to be in her late forties. Her skin is coal black, yet it glows from inside with self assured vitality. It speaks of hard work and perseverance in the face of ultimate depression and despair. It speaks of a culture far away, a culture of the Egyptian lotus and of continent spanning wisdom, of rising above the constantly surrounding filth to create beauty that is all the more beautiful for its pestilent environment.
Mama Agnes clucked her tongue in her dark back bedroom, warmly lit by gray light that despite being dimmed by a cloud managed to eat its way through the antiqued curtains. It was enough to see by, but more importantly, enough to sleep by. She hated herself for being forced to wake Caroline, being at her core a caretaker of the weary and a mother. She couldn't blame Dom for calling on her despite her well know distaste for him touching the world outside of his authority. Unlike Mrs. Black, Mama could never get over who Dom really was no matter how much honey dripped from his lips.
Still, she had to wake up Caroline now before Jaleesa hung up. Caroline had to face this in person, and she needed to know Mama would never shield her from a hurtful truth. Whatever differences they may have, truth was the ultimate power, the foundation of wisdom, and wisdom was the key to making all things possible.
"Caroline, it's Jaleesa. It's bad news." Mama said, distracting Caroline from who she was with and where she was so she could deal with the matter at hand.
Caroline answered groggily, "Hello?"
"Why didn't you show up this morning? Bob tried to call in a special order at nine, and there was no one there. He wanted to fire both of us, but luckily for me he had to keep one of us to train the new employee." Jaleesa spat, her jaws operating a mile a minute, each word having been composed in her mind long before they were released.
"Wait... what the fuck? I'm fucking fired?!"
It was then that Caroline realized she didn't recognize the texture of the quilt she was laying under, didn't know who the matronly black woman who handed her the phone was, didn't know where she was.
Jaleesa calmed down, her initial anger dulled by sympathy. "I did all I could. What did you want me to do, give up MY fucking job?"
"Did you know I had a friend try and kill himself last night?" Caroline played her card, not bothering to try and sweet talk her way back into Jaleesa's good graces.
"No... but what the fuck does that have to do with you almost getting ME fucking fired?" Jaleesa responded, her earlier anger creeping back into her inflection.
Caroline, for once, was fed up. "You know what? Fuck you."
It was almost as surreal as waking up covered in dried blood, solemnly strolling through the icily air-conditioned hallways of All-Saints Cogic. Every wall was covered with some sort of iconic imagery, most of it scrolled into decadent wood paneling as part of the building design. Caroline followed last in a contingent consisting of Mama Agnes, Starburst, and Straight Mike wearing a borrowed conservative black dress and second hand heels, her hair slicked back in a pony tail, still wet from the shower.
They took their seats at the front of an opulent auditorium as large as any secular concert hall venue. It was then that Caroline looked around, and realized Mrs. Black's mourners packed the converted sanctuary, now a funeral hall, behind her. On the front stage left, sat the rows of her new blood family.
Caroline had never met the Black family other than through Thug, Lucille, or Mike and it was unsettling to see the attending members at the funeral take up five rows. What was more unsettling was to see the rest of the auditorium at All-Saints scattered with Mama Agnes's family, easily three times the size of the Blacks. How could one little meeting with one drag queen affect the lives of so many people?
The service itself was short, but not sweet. The pallbearers carried Mrs. Black's symbolic coffin uneasily, walking a little too fast with the empty box than what respect dictated. This was despite warning glares from Thug and Lucille's husband, whom Caroline still didn't know the name of. The three poor boys other than Straight Mike that were drafted unknowing from their homes to carry an empty coffin barely knew what they were doing, and it was clear what they did know they were nervous about.
The minister himself seemed in an unseemly rush to get Mrs. Black's spirit consigned to the afterlife, as if he did something wrong she might get impatient and rise up to take vengeance for them having the audacity to declare her dead. It gave Caroline a morbid giggle to know that box was empty, and that Mrs. Black's mortal remains sat in an urn in 646 Cottage Church Lane. How much did these people know? The Black family maybe had a glimmering, but the greasy minister and most of Mama Agnes's people seemed oblivious.
It shocked her then when in eulogy the minister, a mister Willie C. Banks, mentioned Belforte by name but not in conjunction to what Mrs. Black had done. Then she realized the connection. This wasn't about Mrs. Black personally, this was about civil rights, about honoring the memory of a white woman who risked everything to stand up against her own people in the name of justice on behalf of some poor black men she'd never even met.
This funeral, then, was the ground level cementing of Mama Agnes's family and the Black family, a way of Mama Agnes letting her children know who Caroline was and who her children were, and how similar the two families truly were. The emphasis was on the fact that justice shouldn't exist merely within an individual governed family, because an individual family may face odds it cannot overcome on its own. True justice against the greatest of evil, such as men like Belforte, could only be had through the alliance of not only individuals within a family, but of different families altogether working towards a common noble goal.
Mama Agnes was aloof, obsidian grace seeping out from under her colorful headscarf. The contingent had retired after the memorial service to a somber dinner of store-bought take-away supplied by Mama Agnes's family at her home, its old school veneer interior warm and welcoming in a way that the over-ornamented All-Saints could never be.
"So what happened to Raz? Did... did I save him?" Caroline asked; glad to be able to speak the question she'd been holding inside since she realized what had happened.
"Raz is ok Caroline," Mike answered, "We've got him checked in at Lakeside right now, getting help. No one could figure out how he survived, but since he was ok when they got him, they didn't ask too many questions."
"But how did you know to come?" Caroline asked naively.
Mama Agnes's eyes went steely with Mike's reply. "Dom called us. Both you and Raz were passed out after the shock of the separation. We only had a few hours until the funeral at that point, so we just dropped you off at this house while we took care of Raz." Mike answered.
"But why isn't Dom here now?" Caroline asked, to some extent wishing for the warmth of the gregarious Italian.
"Because only a fool invites Death into her home," Mama Agnes snapped icily. "And furthermore, by any name, I would prefer you not draw his attention here by talking about him."
"They didn't know, Mama," Starburst apologized.
"Mrs. Black's relationships were never normal for someone of her education." Mike said diplomatically. He was showing a side of him Caroline had never been exposed to at The Fool's Card. Maybe Mike was more of an asset than she had once thought.
"True." Mama Agnes conceded. "Regardless, her blood is not my blood, and her ways are not my ways. Neither are they Caroline's, except by adoption. There was another blood in her that got her into this trouble, and while the Black's blood carries allegiance, Caroline's natural blood may still have it's own alliances."
Blood, blood, blood, it all stirred something inside of Caroline. Hadn't Mrs. Black said something about blood being involved in the sacraments that drew The Glass to her? Blood, knife, glass, plate, hand, foot, and eye: that was it. Other than the blood, all were common, almost accidental objects.
Caroline hated being so ignorant, of not having a more intelligent way to phrase the question. Without Mrs. Black, though, she had no one else to ask.
"What do you mean, 'other blood'? Are you saying I was born like this?"
"Not everyone in one of the families shows their blood," Mama Agnes answered, "However should a member of a family become separated from their ancestors, they become targets for the Devil. Mrs. Black adopted you into her blood partly so you would have protection she understood. Compared to my family, or even Pedro's bloodline, Mrs. Black was an upstart. Most of what she knew she learned from books or from demons like Dom. The short answer, though, is yes. You come from an independent bloodline that has no local roots I recognize."
"So you mean I can't apprentice under you? With Mrs. Black gone, who's going to protect me? I have no idea what I'm doing!" With every word, Caroline felt more frustrated and alone. Why was she always the most ignorant person in the room?
"Even if I did accept you, it's doubtful anything I taught you would work. Blood isn't supposed to mix, and the histories normally associate the mixing of different strains of blood with wars. There has never been a mixed blood matriarch that hasn't been dragged down by an alliance of victimized families and other local heads."
"But the other local heads... you mean you and Pedro? I've got Thug to protect me from Pedro if he tries anything. I have a feeling I wouldn't have woken up this morning had you been out to get me"
Mama Agnes said nothing; the room taking her cue and watching as she slowly opened an old wardrobe and pulled out a small velvet bag. She casually tossed the bag onto Caroline's lap.
Finally, she spoke. "Do you know what this is?"
Caroline was confused. She loosened the drawstring and reached inside the bag, feeling a stringy tuft of something hanging from a hard knot of slick, lumpy leather. She pulled the tuft, and nearly dropped what she saw.
"That, Caroline, is the preserved head of Marcia M'buto. She is an object lesson passed down through my family. She was the last person in our history know to have mixed blood."
Immediately Caroline put the head back into the bag, thrusting the grisly artifact towards Mama Agnes. Mike and Starburst wisely kept their mouths shut as the two matriarchs tried to come to terms.
Mama Agnes refused to take the bag.
"No, Caroline, you keep that. Let it be a reminder of the stakes we're playing with. Marcia M'buto was a powerful priestess during the Slave Wars who enlisted slave-takers to abduct the other family heads. Once she had them, she sacrificed them to herself, trying to become a living goddess by absorbing their power."
"How did she sacrifice them?" Caroline blurted before she realized what she was asking.
Mama Agnes's throat bobbed, uncharacteristic of her warm demeanor.
"She pinned them to the ground with wooden stakes. Then she made an incision just below the left floating rib. She dug around inside their still living bodies and pulled out their livers to give her access to their beating hearts. Once she had the room inside, she cut the veins and arteries to the heart and sucked the life blood from it, then cut the heart into slivers and ate it in front of the other staked down victims."
There was something about the way Mama Agnes recalled every detail as if she were replying to a quiz by a teacher that sent a chill through her bones. Is this how Mama saw her, as some kind of monster? She'd never killed anyone, not by her own hand, not intentionally. However, Mama's historical example made it clear the few known mixed blood matriarchs were brutal power hungry killers at best.
"That's not me. I just got caught up. I never planned this..." Caroline whimpered, for the first time as scared of herself as other people were.
"Mike, Starburst, could you please excuse us?" Mama Agnes cut in, her Caribbean accent getting the best of her.
"I've been looking out for you, you know." Mama Agnes said slowly, some of the hard edge leaving her demeanor, "You are about to go to a dark place."
"Why can't you just tell me what's going to happen? You know. Why can't you tell me?" Caroline spat childishly, forgetting herself.
"I CAN do many things. You are the one who needs to learn to do for yourself." Mama replied, the little warmth leaving her voice once more, as if it had never been there.
"The path is hidden from you by a shadow. By THE shadow. He doesn't believe you're capable of doing what needs to be done knowingly, and neither do I. Inside, you're still willing to lie to yourself, to gloss over reality for your own comfort. The upcoming trial will kill this diseased part of you, and it's important that you know that what you MUST do is not your choice. Being who you are, you must accept it all, to be yourself as you truly are, and not as you wish you were."
"But who am I? Who am I now? Some mixed blood victim, waiting to happen? I've sat down and had dinner with Lucifer! Death himself looks at me like some kind of stepchild or something! Just last night, I grabbed a man's soul from nearly dying and returned him back to life. What kind of person is that?! This isn't some stupid movie, this is my LIFE. Why can't I just forget all this and be a normal, boring person?"
Mama Agnes smiled, like a hug with eyes.
"That's who you need to be. Did you know I like crossword puzzles? I have a stack of them in the corner. But people who know what I really am, do they ever talk to me about crossword puzzles? I love the Jerry Springer show, but does anyone ever come to gossip with me about that? No. We've both stuck. That's why I don't tell everyone who I am, why Mrs. Black lived in that rickety cottage reading old books instead of out on the church social scene. Back when she was alive, Senora Maya would go fishing for days at a time."
"Wait... what? What does that have to do with anything?" Caroline broke in, confused.
"Fish can't tell a priestess from a fisherman, baby. I don't tell my kids what I do until they need me. Mrs. Black wasn't prepared for when her children died; she didn't understand she was going to be a grandmother to a giant mob for the next hundred years. I did, but it's still just as hard. You, you don't have any kids of your own, you inherited your people. They came and found you though, didn't they?"
"What, you mean like Lucille? Or when Mike called me to set up that meeting? How much more to this is there?" Caroline asked, finally asking the right kind of question.
Mama Agnes laughed, her dark skin glowing radiantly in the light, for a moment, beautiful in her own special way.
"As little as we can get away with, baby. As little as we can get away with. Do you know why the Father doesn't like to answer prayers?"
"No..." Caroline said, getting confused again. Dom and Nate had talked about a Father before. But their Father would be...
"It's not the kind of relationship he wants with his children. What do you do with a child that whines all the time and says 'gimme gimme gimme!'? You ignore it, you tell it to do for itself. Now imagine if all of creation were your whiny child. Wouldn't you do the same thing?"
Caroline was stunned. She'd never thought about it that way. She'd always been on the other end. Was that how Mrs. Black had gotten Dom's help, by being his friend instead of some kind of supplicant? Was that why Mrs. Black had always had that charming, socialite way about her? If Mama meant what it seems she did, that all of existence was just one big family stemming down from God the Father and it was blood and relationships that held it all together...
"I think I've been the wrong person." Caroline said sheepishly.
"Oh honey, nobody ever told you what to be. I grew up singing the chants, learning the histories from Mama Sadie. You, you were forced to choose death, or this. The Glass would have used you to try and kill Mrs. Black, you know. You'd be fertilizing her roses right now if hadn't wanted to die."
"She WANTED to die?!" Caroline gasped.
"She wasn't cut out for this, sweetie. She never wanted this, never wanted to head a family, never wanted to be anything other than a midwife. I'm PROUD of who I am, who I've trained to be, but she never felt quite right. She always felt guilty, like she'd betrayed Father somehow by consorting with Dom and other entities. Playing with your cousin isn't stabbing your grandpa in the back, though. Even so, how old does anyone want to get, living a life they don't believe in?" Mama explained.
Caroline sat at home, pondering Mama Agnes's words. She had to want her life, she had to believe in it. She didn't want to end up like Raz, or Mrs. Black, giving up on a life that still had an inkling of potential in it. She had a responsibility, a responsibility to her family. She'd seen Thug break down after Mrs. Black's death. She'd spent her life looking for someone to be, and now, like it or not, she was someone. Someone with a responsibility to five rows of people she hadn't even bothered to meet, someone who should constantly be using her abilities to help those around her. She needed to not only admit who she was, but also embrace herself and be that to her fullest extent.
She was a witch. She should be scrying, looking for potential problems, not for herself, but for her friends and family. Had she used what she'd found with Raz to help anyone other than herself, she could have stopped his suicide attempt. Instead, she acted selfishly and treated him like a sex object instead of a friend under her protection. She'd still have her job, and Raz wouldn't be in Lakeside thinking who knows what about her.
She closed her eyes, reaching for the rainbow static, for the spiritual ether. She pulled out the ball, forming it casually so as not to make any mistakes, to enjoy her craft. She stared into the ball, isolating the information she wanted, looking blankly into the future for the unexpected, the unknown, the...
The sphere went black. The world went black. Suddenly, Caroline was no longer in the trance.
Just like when Dom severed her umbilical to Raz. Death had finally turned on her.