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- [16:43:18] Ana Mariela Castillo: Little Havana's religious locales are, unsurprisingly, dominated by the catholic faith. A number of churches are dotted out in the area, but this one was Ana Mariela's favorite. She was married here and most people of her family, if she had any chance to influence it (and she often had!) were wedded in this church too. But while this house of God should, in theory, have brought her nothing but joy, today's topic of the preacher was a far more dire one. It was a sermon for those who had loved and who had lost. With the loss of her son in fresh memory she had figured that attending such a sermon might help her... recover. She couldn't go alone however and her cousin had agreed to come, only to have to cancel right the day before.
- [16:43:57] Ana Mariela Castillo: Pulling at her hair she came to think of Tempest and had contacted her, more or less out of the blue, asking the younger woman to join her. To Ana Mariela's surprise, she had agreed without hesitation. The two women were seated in the back row of the benches, and Ana Mariela noted that this place had been full to the brim with people when she was a little girl. Despite the preacher's best efforts, the crowds found joy in other spiritual activities these days. Ana Mariela had been touched by his words, at least. He had spoken of grief, but also of hope, and what the future might hold for the people who are still with us. Silent tears had streaked down her cheeks hearing him speak and from time to time she had reached out to squeeze Tempest's hands in her palm. She wanted to take care of poor Tempest too, of course, still sending thoughts to her former in-law at the yearly memorial of the loss of Tempest's family.
- [16:44:10] Ana Mariela Castillo: "Through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, God spoke to the people of Israel when they had lost everything and were exiled in a foreign land. To those ancient people grieving their loss and to us modern people grieving our loss, God says: 'I know the plans I have for you, plans for your well being and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.' You and I, who have loved and lost, need a future with hope." Ana Mariela clasped both her hands together, offering a few mumbled words of a prayer. She was dressed modestly enough, with a long skirt and a blouse reaching beyond her elbows. Large sunglasses had been prepped up into her hair, happy to wear them anywhere she went in public in these days. It hid her eyes from curious onlookers, veiling the deep sadness burrowed into her soul.But in these trying times, she found herself obsessed with the thoughts of her missing son. The preacher spoke up, reaching the final point of his sermon.
- [16:44:27] Ana Mariela Castillo: "Through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, God spoke to the people of Israel when they had lost everything and were exiled in a foreign land. To those ancient people grieving their loss and to us modern people grieving our loss, God says: 'I know the plans I have for you, plans for your well being and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.' You and I, who have loved and lost, need a future with hope." Ana Mariela clasped both her hands together, offering a few mumbled words of a prayer. She was dressed modestly enough, with a long skirt and a blouse reaching beyond her elbows. Large sunglasses had been prepped up into her hair, happy to wear them anywhere she went in public in these days. It hid her eyes from curious onlookers, veiling the deep sadness burrowed into her soul.
- [17:08:51] Tempest Pax: Pax had been a shade surprised when Mama Ana had reached out to her, but had accepted the invitation reflexively, well aware of what she was going through - who wasn't? the news was everywhere - and acting on her own visceral empathy. Two women sharing losses so close to home, even across the better part of a decade, was unhappy but potent timber with which to build a bridge. She sat there, now, taking the woman's hands when they were offered, squeezing them warmly in both gratitude and encouragement. In her heart, Pax felt much more for Ana's condition than she did for her own: not knowing was worse. The uncertainty, the delicate tightrope walk between the despair of grief and the comfort of hope - it would be a lot for anyone. For a mother...
- [17:08:52] Tempest Pax: So despite having a radically different take on spirituality due to her own nature, Pax was there, and she went through the correct movements at the correct time, though the sermon's message itself, she took much more to heart. Underneath all the finery, the messages were usually the same, and so close to Rio's birthday, it came as a comfort. Mane of blonde tumbling down her back and shoulders like an aureate waterfall, cascading when she ran a slender-fingered hand through it, Pax was dressed in wine red dress pants and jacket, the effect made more feminine by a flowing white blouse underneath. Just shy of six feet tall, even modest heels made her stand out, but she never did seem to shy away from that.
- [17:15:52] Ana Mariela Castillo: Ana Mariela moved in to embrace Tempest by the end of the sermon as the previously silent listeners now started talking to each other in mumbled voice. Comforting each other and discussing what they had heard. Some people approached the priest for a private conversation, but Ana Mariela was good there in the back, some sense of privacy achieved at least. The hug didn't last for too long, Ana Mariela found that the more people she hugged, the more she cried. She'd pick up their scent - or rather the lack of. Her little golden boy Gabriel had his own scent, of course. Just the other day she had found herself folding his clothes, again and again, and picking up one of his shirts to smell it. That's when she decided that she couldn't do this alone anymore.
- [17:15:56] Ana Mariela Castillo: She had intended to speak to her cousin but... Perhaps Pax was a better option after all? She was close, but at the same time distant. And whatever Ana Mariela said, if Tempest didn't believe her, could be rationalized away as Ana Mariela going mad with grief. She took a deep breath. "Thank you, Tempest. It means a lot to me that you came." She brushed her eyes with the back of her hand, jesting. "What's the point of even putting on mascara these days..." She laughed softly.
- [17:26:44] Tempest Pax: She wrapped the long wingspan of her arms around Ana, warm and tight if brief, as opposed to polite and perfunctory. "The challenge," Pax had chirped back at Ana with a sad, rueful smile, producing a tissue and offering it to her. "We do it for the challenge. And I'm glad you asked me to come. It gave me something I didn't know I needed." She canted her head just slightly to the side; Pax had pale amber eyes, bright almost to the point of strange, but it could almost always be explained away by the light, or what she was wearing. Right? Right. She pushed a wall of air out of her lungs with a deep, inaudible sigh. "How are you?" she asked, ripping the bandaid off.
- [17:32:05] Ana Mariela Castillo: Ana Mariela sat back down and leaned against the bench now that the hugs were over. She noted the eyes but rationalized rather quickly. Her mind was elsewhere, after all. "It's a question I am asked a hundred times every day it feels like. I'm going crazy from how often Ernesto asks me that question." There's a flare of irritation. "My sweet husband, we've been married for over thirty years. By now, you should figure how I feel." She said to an imaginary, scolded Ernesto before sighing once more. "I think I am going crazy, to be honest." Her voice carried some hesitation as if she was balancing on a knife's edge. Tempting fate. Her jaw tightened a little bit, glancing sideways to the younger woman. "Will you swear to keep a secret for me? No matter what, Tempest?"
- [17:32:06] Ana Mariela Castillo: Her voice was... rather serious, but also desperate in a way. Like she desired to tell Tempest something very, very badly. Tempest might even recognize the body-language from a client about to reveal something that would mess up her entire case. 'Actually, I AM guilty, just so you know'.
- [17:39:01] Tempest Pax: Pax reflexively grimaced at the rejoinder; she should have known better than to ask, but curiosity conspired with concern to overtake common sense. She nodded her head guiltily - /who/ else could provoke instant shame from Tempest Pax? - but her chin stopped bobbing when Ana turned towards her with a tentative, nigh-trepidacious question. Pax's capacity for secrets was well-known, and well-regarded, in known circles as well as others, so it did not particularly surprise her to be approached with such an inquiry, though the circumstances and the inquirer gave her a moment of pause, reflected by a subtle arching of a dark blonde, meticulously manicured eyebrow, clocking Ana's body language almost immediately but keeping her face a mask. "Yes," she nodded her head again, more definitively, and she reached out a hand to coil it around Ana's and give her a delicate, reassuring squeeze. "I will."
- [17:44:57] Ana Mariela Castillo: She leans closer, her voice a whisper. Like conspirators in an ancient court, afraid the rest of the throne room might hear them, Ana Mariela keeps her voice low and glances sideways to make sure no one approaches them. "They will never find Gabriel. My sweet boy Gabriel..." She raises a hand to cover her lips. Dios mío, it felt like her chest was bursting. For months she had walked around with this... this terrible secret burrowed deep inside. From the police. From her friends. Even from her family. "I saw him. I saw him right before he... he went missing." She gasped. The burden of secrecy lifted, at least partially, from her chest. It was as if the angels and devils fighting upon her shoulders, choking her, finally decided to relieve the pressure, even if only for a bit. "I saw what happened to him."
- [17:47:17] Tempest Pax attempted poker face with 7 dice and got 2 successes. View Roll
- [17:51:42] Tempest Pax: Pax doesn't stare at Ana Mariela because she knows it would make the exchange more suspicious, and every 'suspicious' red flag has essentially already been raised for long-bodied attorney, but at the admission, her pupils dilated and she held her breath; the grip of her hand around Ana's wrist instantly changed to something less delicate, and more alarmed. She turned her head to look at Ana Mariela, tawny eyes rounded and searching the woman's for more meaning, more understanding, eyebrows creased together. "What... did you see?" she asks slowly, the words low and pregnant with caution.
- [17:56:57] Ana Mariela Castillo: "I swear to God I do not lie to you. In his own house, I swear to him." Ana Mariela insisted, feeling the grip on her wrist intensifying. It did not serve to soothe her, quite the opposite, she felt even more like opening the vault and letting it all out. She looked downwards, into Tempest's lap. She knew what she was speaking was madness, but she knew what she had done. "I was spending... a late evening with Gabriel, playing cards." She smiles, out of nowhere. "He always cheated. He hated losing. I saw it every time, of course, he slid the cards into the sleeve of his shirt. He was an awful cheat but I let him have it. He'd always been a lonely and sensitive boy, and what harm does it do to---...."
- [17:57:00] Ana Mariela Castillo: She paused, realizing she was sidetracking. Judging from her voice she was very affectionate for the young man that was her son. "I went to the kitchen to get a drink and I heard a sound from the yard. Like something had been knocked out or something. I looked up and I... I saw Gabriel." She gasps, hand over her mouth again. Fighting tears. "He was being dragged away, fighting and struggling like a lion he did, but he couldn't stop it."
- [17:57:28] Ana Mariela Castillo attempted Does she think I'm crazy? with 6 dice and got 3 successes. View Roll
- [18:04:48] Tempest Pax: Pax's eyes narrow subtly, by degrees, rather than all at once, as Ana Mariela relates what she saw, or what she obviously believed she saw: it was hard to say which, although a knot formed in the pit of the blonde's stomach at the mention of Gabriel being dragged away. Oh, the things about Ana Mariela's family that she didn't know, but that Pax did, those dark and important, horrific and axis-snapping secrets. And Mama Ana -had seen it-. She ran a hand through her hair, puffing out another deep breath at the confession. "Wait," she entreated gently, waving a hand in the air as if she was confused. "Dragged away by whom?" 'Whom', she asked. Not 'what'. Never 'what', not here, not in front of Ana Mariela.
- [18:10:17] Ana Mariela Castillo: "I don't know. It was so dark. I... I don't know what I saw." Ana Mariela suggested, taking a moment to recover. "When I shouted his name, I suddenly saw him, in the corner of my eye, standing right there in the kitchen. Asking why I was shouting. I looked out to the yard and... and there was nothing. He was right there. I thought I had seen something that... wine or... or the stress." She tried to excuse, explain, rationalize. "I hugged him so hard I thought I might break his bones and sent him to bed. I cleaned up and just... to ease my mind I went outside. There were no tracks but... But I found something." She opens her handbag. She had prepared to speak to her cousin, after all, so of course, she brought it.
- [18:10:48] Ana Mariela Castillo: A hand presented her 'evidence': a pair of crumpled up playing cards and what seemed like the torn-off sleeve of a white shirt. She looked at Tempest as if she was meant to understand, but then felt forced to spell it out. "It's from his shirt. See?" She flipped the shirt over, revealing the neat embroidered thread work. "I bought it for him to wear at his cousin's wedding..."
- [18:20:17] Tempest Pax: Pax took the cards and the shirt into her hands, which her lawyer brain told her was stupid, that she knew better - this was evidence! don't muck it up! - but her wolf brain told her that no mundane officer should ever, ever get their hands on this. She passed those pale amber eyes around the interior of the church to ensure that they were outside of earshot and interest of anyone in the vicinity. "Mama Ana," Pax said, voice still low, wavering with that caution still, as much for what Ana Mariela was telling her as for what she could -not- tell Ana Mariela. "You saw Gabriel get dragged, then he was in the kitchen, and then you found this... and then... he was gone? He never came downstairs again?" she asked, trying to sort out the available facts.
- [18:23:24] Ana Mariela Castillo: "I hadn't imagined it. I hadn't. I had seen him... him dragged way." She spoke with more fervor now, like she had prepared this speech in front of the mirror a thousand times. Like she had looked at her husband and opened her mouth but no words came out when she had tried. She was working herself up, raising her voice but quickly lowered it again as a glance came her way. Her heartbeat was thrumming away furiously in her chest and Tempest's sensitive nose could no doubt pick up, hidden beneath the well-scented perfumes, was just a trace of cold sweat building up along Ana Mariela's back. From shame and fear. Terrorized at the thought that Tempest might reject what she just heard as madness or worse, lies.
- [18:24:27] Ana Mariela Castillo: Once she was somewhat calm she continued, taking a deep breath. "I just... knew it then. I knew it with every cell of my body that... that the thing I had sent to Gabriel's room was not Gabriel. He just was not. He just..." She shakes her head, repeatedly. She gave off the vibes of a crazy woman indeed, but at least she was playing subtle enough not to have the whole church staring at her. After finally cooling her nerves as best as she could, she looked up, seeking eye-contact. "I killed it." Her voice was hard, as hard as her jaw-line and despite her maddened state there was a certain air around her as she spoke those words. As if she didn't regret it. Like a Queen who had just executed a subject and would be shocked at the audacity if anyone dared question her.
- [18:26:28] Tempest Pax attempted check for lying tells with 7 dice and got 1 success. View Roll
- [18:33:19] Tempest Pax: A single word was lighting up in Pax's mind, seven feet tall and neon, but she had no way to confirm it, and Ana Mariela seemed too stressed, traumatized, confused for the attorney to extract more details out of, or at least, the details that Pax would be after. "I believe you," she assured Ana Mariela while she was still making up her mind whether she did or not. The warm smell of anxious musk tickled her nostrils and they flared ever-so-slightly, the smell mingling with the dirt and the blood on the artifacts in her hands, the perfumes and soaps and lotions that either woman wore, the old wood of the chapel, humid from the climate, even in the dead of winter. She studied Ana Mariela with an inquisitive, amber gaze, taking in her affectations, her gestures, facial expressions, the way she intoned her words: to Pax's mind, clearly, she was telling the truth, or at least believed she was. And probably more of the truth than she realized.
- [18:33:20] Tempest Pax: And then... the admission. Pax froze, poker face be damned. "Mama Ana," she said cautiously, breath coming shallow. This could crack wide open at the wrong word. "You killed it," she repeated, whole mind straining to encompass what she was being told, what it meant, what it must have meant in the moment. "What..." she paused, biting her lip, searching for the words. "What happened after that? To the body?"
- [18:42:54] Ana Mariela Castillo: Ana Mariela looked like she was drowning at sea and when Tempest said she believed her, the woman was saved from the ravages of the sea. Tempest believed her. Thank God she believed her. She had feared that she'd be shunned, turned her back to... Hell, someone might even call the police if a woman mad with grief just admitted to murdering her own son. But Tempest seemed to give her the benefit of the doubt. She felt somewhat in power when she was called Mamá Ana as if addressed with a royal title. Reminding her of her status in society. She straightened her back a bit. And then Tempest said something. 'What happened to the body'. Now, she could, in theory, mean: What did you do with the body. But considering what happened to it, that was too specific of a question. Most people would've asked... How did you kill your own son? Where did you hide the body? Not... *what* happened to it.
- [18:43:09] Ana Mariela Castillo: A spark in those eyes. A hint of that intelligence that had made her the power broker she was this day. The intelligence that made sure she always the first to know who cheated on who whenever there were large meetings. "You know something." She said with incredible certainty. Boom. Those eyes who had looked to Tempest as a savior suddenly had a dash of suspicion in them. A hand reached out, grabbing onto Temptest's wrist, nails into the cloth. Now... Ana Mariela was a woman who had celebrated her fiftieth birthday already. She was not strong. But in this case, she was very passionate, and without meaning too, she could theoretically pinch so hard that it might even hurt. "As it died it writhed and twisted and... and turned into clay and straw, right there, in my own house. I went insane, or so I thought."
- [18:46:05] Tempest Pax: FETCH. FETCH. FETCH. Like a scream, like a keening wail, the word burned in Pax's mind and wrote itself on the back of her eyelids when she blinked. A FETCH. Gabriel had been taken by the Gentry and replaced by wicked fae magic; it couldn't be anything else, it couldn't, Pax was so sure of it, and her mind almost heaved at the revelation, so distracted that the nails in her arm only hardly registered. She nodded at the accusation. "Mama Ana, I need you to listen to me. I believe you." She squeezed the woman's hand, passing the cards and the torn shirt back into it, covering those with her own hands; now she meant it. "I do." She paused. How much did she dare say? "You know that I deal with unusual cases sometimes," she covered. "And there are other people who have experienced things just like this, okay?" Better to keep herself out of the limelight for now.
- [18:46:07] Tempest Pax: "But you can't," she passed her eyes around. "You can't just go mentioning this to anyone. I don't know what made you come to me but Jesus Christ did you luck out." She glanced over at the cross at the front of the chapel, almost apologetically for the minor blasphemy. She closed her hand around Ana Mariela's. "Look me in the face," she entreated, training her wolfish amber eyes on the woman's. "This is real. Entiende? This is real."
- [18:55:02] Ana Mariela Castillo: Ana Mariela was gasping for air as Tempest admitted to knowing more. And how she believed her. And how she... she might know something. And then scold her. It was too late. Ana Mariela was howling, crying loudly and pulling Tempest into a tight embrace. She heard the woman repeat that it was real. It was a relief, in a strange way. Her son was alive. Surely he was alive. It wouldn't take him to... to eat him. He must be out there somewhere. He must be. She cried loudly, sobbing and shivering, a thousand emotions washing across her features and she, in turn, left wet stains on Tempest's shoulder. Tempest noticed the priest come over, attracted by the loud sobbing, and a few of the other visitors were whispering to each other.
- [18:55:03] Ana Mariela Castillo: His hand came upon Ana's back, rubbing and patting it a few times as he spoke softly in his deep voice. "You must never give up hope, Mrs. Castillo." He offered and as he did, Ana Mariela began to slowly recover. Deep breaths. Rising to her feet and hugging the priest, who returned the favour. She even apologized to him, and a few other patrons, for causing a scene, but they were quick to explain that it was alright. That her circumstances made it more than understandable. Ana Mariela was too good at this, really. Pretending like she couldn't shoot herself through the roof of the church from what Tempest had just said. Forced to save face, she socialized for a minute or so with the priest, took his hand and shook it and then finally excused herself. She glanced towards Tempest, and nodded towards the door. Whatever Tempest could tell her, this was not the right place to continue this conversation.
- [19:04:01] Tempest Pax: Pax took the hint, making polite, side conversation with some of the other patrons that had come over to offer affection and warmth to the aggrieved mother. She dropped a hand on Ana Mariela's shoulder and gave it a warm squeeze, and began to willow her long body out through the pews, towards the exit, until she was outside and leaning against the wall of the church. Ice water in her veins, but some things are just built out of fright, and the body reacts accordingly. She dug her phone out of her bag and fired off a text message to Ana Mariela. "Later, in private," was all it said, with a heart emoji afterwards. The little pixelated shape looked ridiculous alongside the implication, but she sent it anyway, and then she was gone.
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