Case Files 4: Camazotz, Strix, and Heroes

Camazotz

The Camazotz are known primarily from the ancient Mayan tale of the hero twins. Now, you know Mayan history is fun because these two were particularly well known for being athletes in the Mayan ball game. Their father and uncle were summoned to the the land of the dead by the lords of the underworld, played a game, were defeated, and were sacrificed for it. Their mother winds up fleeing, carrying the twins, and gives birth post-death, like the trooper she is. The two twins grow up, return to the land of the dead, fight the lords of the underworld, and wind up defeating them in a ballgame, becoming the sun and the moon.

I don’t want to be culturally insensitive, but I’ve never understood people who were that big into sports. Also, ‘Land of the dead’ is one word for it, but the proper translation is supposed to be something like ‘Place of fear’. Alfred made me put this part in. (Alfred: Because it’s damn evocative.) Camazotz was a bat from the House of Bats, and was the only challenge to actually get one over on the boys in the extant myth, cutting off one of the brother’s heads and forcing the other one to bluff till he could get it reattached.

The reality of the matter is… blurry. From the texts I’ve read, the vampiric Camazotz predates the classical Mayan period, making them older than the birth of Christ. Like most Undead, it’s not entirely clear where they come from. The Camazotz were supremely selective, only taking full-blooded Mayan children, and raising them from birth with the knowledge of their great destiny. Apparently, there was one for each god, which could mean quite a lot- I’ve heard that there were as many as a hundred Camazotz at times. However, the fall of the Mayan civilization and the invasion of the Europeans nearly wiped out their normal breeding pools and circles of power. They were still vastly powerful on their own, but chose not to reveal themselves, allowing their people to be wiped out.

Megan Smith: In truth, if the great variety of forces of the supernatural world had arrayed themselves behind native populations, perhaps we would have been able to drive the Europeans back. But we were ourselves divided, more interested in our own ongoing feuds and struggles than what had happened to the world while we were not watching. The Camazotz made their choice. Like so many undead, the prospect of extinction did not seem to overly frighten them. Each one was, after all, decades old at least when the Mayan empire fell. They seemed confident that they could patiently wait out eternity.

But I am beginning to think there may be another possibility. Their malaise may simply be an aspect of the Cities and their seals. I suspect that any powerful supernatural creature found itself in a torpor that grew worse as the Cities grew more numerous. It would explain why they were so uninterested in the fall of their own civilization… (Atina: Really need to ask her about this in more detail.)

Powers

From what I’ve gathered, the Camazotz were pretty unique. Megan and Nelly’s information and histories suggest that they really thought of themselves as genuine gods, though they were still undead. The idea was that by being sacrificed- drained and restored by one of the other Camazotz- the mortal in you was drained away, and replaced with the stuff of gods. You could only create a new Camazotz when one of the existing ones died, although they found ways to get around this- For example, many Mayan gods were ‘manifold’, existing simultaneously as a single divine entity but which had multiple incarnations.

Chaac, as one example, is named for the Mayan rain god. By all accounts, a god of fertility and other good things, though there’s a lot of storm god imagery there as well. Historically, Chaac was a male, but then so was Hun-Came. I’m not certain exactly what the real Chaac is capable of, but the mythological one could call storms and bring forth thunder and rain with his axe. She’s one of the youngest of the Camazotz, but that still makes her ancient. She’s probably the strongest thing in Binghamton right now, Hun-Came aside.

As for Hun-Came herself… Well, honestly, I just don’t know what her deal is. There are some old myths about the way that Mayan death gods worked, but there aren’t many records of these characters. Hun-Came was, in mythology, a primary adversary of the hero twins; It might suggest some ancient pact made between humans and the Camazotz, or it might simply be a convenient name. The only person who’d know would be Hun-Came.

Alfred: History is suggestive. Chaac used to have worshipers who were thrown into cenotes to drown- or, more optimistically, be fished out and provide oracular visions. This certainly sounds like a vampire preying upon people who believe she’s a god, and making pacts with those who strike her fancy. The oracular abilities are curious- Whether they were visions of the future briefly glimpsed, or maybe bringing forth beneficial storms when they said there would be one, I cannot be sure. Hun-Came, on the other hand, was mostly known as someone you prayed to to keep away bad luck, from what I can see. One interesting thing… Hun-Came, traditionally, used a bladed rubber ball to decapitate young men who disturbed him. (Polly: Man, sounds like my kind of sport.)

Politics

The exact dates of the Bloody Wars are unclear, but certainly they had started by the time the Mayan Empire fell. Nonetheless, the wars were a primarily European affair; While the Camazotz were recognized as vampires, they stood separate from the other lines of vampires. With little interest in the overall politics of blood, they went unscathed through the wars, and have remained relatively untouched to this very day. There’s a reason why the Camazotz are one of the few vampire lines that would be welcomed in Binghamton.

Ultimately, they’ve spent most of the last few hundred years being neutral parties, not getting in anyone’s way, and being of no offense to anyone. So why start killing them now? What could have happened to change things? Was it a response to the fall of Zion? But it started years before that. Was it some plot of these mysterious ‘forces’ that Megan alludes to, but refuses to name? Was it all just one gigantic fucking poorly timed coincidence? I feel like if I can understand this one thing, if I can know why the hell the Camazotz are being murdered, I’ll be on much steadier ground.

Megan Smith: In the pre-Colombian days, there was not a great deal of long-distance travel for the Camazotz. They were as vulnerable as any other Undead to the harsh rays of the sun, with one exception. Nevertheless, word would occasionally arrive from one of them, or one of them would travel across the vast desert plains, glutted with blood to sustain them. On these occasions, we would speak of things; rumors, plans, interesting new inventions, philosophy, religion. The one to most often make this journey was an old friend of mine, who is now known by the name K’inich Ajaw. He took great pleasure in travel through the sun-soaked lands to make his way to the Great Plains, and when I learned that he was dead, beheaded and his bones left to bleach in the sun, it was a great tragedy. But violent death seems to be the only death that immortals can hope for.

Nelly: By the time I actually learned about the Camazotz, the Notte Nostra had been forged by the Strix. We invited them, but they stood apart, as was always their way. I hated them for that for a long time, until I realized how pointless it was to hate them. They survived by not doing anything that would merit killing them. They lived on, knowing that when their enemies had forgotten them, their line could spring up again. I talked with Hun-Came about this once or twice. She believed a time would come when her enemies, all of them, would either have died, buried their grudges, or become friends. In the abyss of time, everything evened out in the end. I hope she’s alright.

Past Cases

There’s not a great deal of case law on the Camazotz. Before the Mayan civilization fell, they were thoroughly above the law. After it fell, they mostly didn’t disturb anyone. There is one case that I managed to pick up, however. This happened down in Texas, around the turn of the 20th century, in a little mining town on the slopes of Needle Peak. A Latino woman was found with the body of a man who had been drained of blood. They’d put her in the local sheriff’s office in the holding cells, till they could have a federal marshal show up and put her under arrest, take her somewhere where she could be tried. They said that the woman was found raving about the bats. People took her for a drug addict.

Now, keep in mind, this town is a bit out of the way. Not a big town, no more than a few hundred people, and a dusty telegram office. The federal marshal arrives, two or three days later, and the town is completely empty. Not a living soul is left, no sign of violence, no sign of anything. Beds left unmade, meals sitting uneaten on tables. The holding cells were torn open, from the outside. This shit’s bad enough, but it’s the next part that really weirds me out. See, the town was set on top of a rich coal mine, thick strata of the stuff. From the size of the veins, they thought they’d be mining it until judgment day. When the corporation that set up the town sent inspectors to check the mines, y’know what they found? Nothing. Not a goddamn sign of the coal, or the miners. The mountain was practically hollowed out, like every drop of coal had been ripped out of the place.

So, what makes me think this was Camazotz related? Well, it was right on the border with Mexico, and it involved a woman raving about bats, and the disappearance of a town. There aren’t many things that could do something like this. I don’t even know if one of the Camazotz could. But what the fuck is the coal about?

Strix

Most vampire myths, let’s face it, the basis is pretty obvious. Leeches, mosquitoes, lampreys, certain kinds of finches and bats. The Strix, though, are bizarre. There are no blood-drinking owls. As far as I know, the closest related animal is the Oxpecker, which more often feeds on ticks and other parasites than the actual blood itself. What owls do have going for them is being frankly terrifying in the night. They’re silent, more silent than practically any animal in existence. They’re fierce predators, and their cries can be downright terrifying. And when you see one unexpectedly in the night, it’s not unreasonable to think that it would scare the hell out of someone.

Now, it’s worth noting that actual owls are remarkably inoffensive creatures, even quite beneficial to humans. But the Strix were considered omens of intense ill fortune, bringers of civil war and civil strife. They were one of the major breeds of vampire in Europe, and the Strigoi, Nosferatu, Vampyr, and half a dozen other major lines can all trace their lineage back to the Strix. They were also a sister breed of the Lamia, a somewhat more esoteric breed of vampire that also arose in Greece around the same time, as well as the Greek Empusa and Mormo. Many times, these breeds are difficult to distinguish from Gods and Goddesses that were the basis for the myth; The actual queen Lamia, and the other monstrous creatures which shared her name, for example. (Megan Smith: These were not actual gods, or goddesses. They were simply the first of their kind, and thus, very powerful.)

The fall of the Roman Empire was, ironically, not very hard on the Strix. They weathered the period of Attila, the rise of the Holy Roman Empire and Charlemagne, the fall of Constantinople, and the rise of the Italian city-states, all while living a relatively nomadic existence throughout much of Europe. They did not have great and mythological power, and compared to other forms of vampires, were not tracked nearly so closely by the other undead.

Nelly: The Notte Nostra started as an idea. In the wake of the Bloody Wars, we realized that we had become pariahs. Our kind were hated by those undead who should have been our natural allies because of years of neglect and mismanagement. The Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, started out of a need to provide security when the government could not do so. We were much the same. The truth of vampires is that we botched things fairly badly, and we nearly were wiped out for this. The Notte Nostra was a way for us to be useful enough to justify our existence.

We provided a sanctuary for young vampires, somewhere where they could become powerful. We even had dreams, one time, of finding a way to offer shelter to elder vampires of other lines, so that it would truly be Our Night. But… Well, principles and ideals so seldom survive in the face of power, do they? I fear that the Notte Nostra has lost its way. Or maybe it never had that way to begin with…

Powers

The Strix, historically, have been very insular. There aren’t any records I can find of Strix making contracts with traditional Postmortologists, and the few records of pacts tend to be with Mafia strongmen. My own experience in fights with the Strix- the whole single fight I saw- is that Parsons was fast, and his nails could cut through things like knives. He took a beating and a half without even being slowed, and he could see through Alfred’s illusions. I’m not sure whether he sees in a spectrum other than pure visual, whether it was sheer visual acuity, or worse, whether it was some actual magical capacity to pierce illusions, but it was pretty frightening. I still have no idea what their weaknesses are.

Nelly: We never mixed business with the Cosa Nostra, but we did mix personnel. There were humans in the Cosa Nostra who were good for making pacts, who we could use. They were our knives in the dark, and in return, they gained power that made them more effective at foxing the mortal authorities. You might wonder how Al Capone could survive, even thrive, despite living much of his life with syphilis eating away at his brain. I can take some credit for that.

For obvious reasons, I’m reluctant to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the Strix in general. Such revelations were the downfall of many vampiric lines over the years; I should hope I can at least learn from their mistakes. But I can say that the three children I have in Binghamton are troublesome ones. Parsons is a deadly bastard, but the worst one is Sofia. I don’t know if it was in her nature or an unusually strong resurgence of the old bloodlines, but she’s chaos itself. Strife and suffering seem to follow her like a pair of hounds. I strongly doubt she was born on the date she claimed before the Night Court, but it would not be difficult for her to fox any attempt to prove that. Her talents for confusion and chaos are… a real pain in my ass. (Atina: Wouldn’t do me any good even if I could prove it; Just another path to a mistrial.)

Politics

The Strix don’t generally show up much in history, or in political structures. There aren’t any major courts that have Strix on them, they aren’t mentioned in most accounts of the war with the vampires, and the Notte Nostra, while occasionally referred to, doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot of respect behind it. Mostly, they remain an enigma.

Nelly: The Strix were, ultimately, unimportant in the Bloody Wars. We did not have the great noble lines or sheer power that many vampires of Europe did. We did not own castles or countries, and that is what saved us. We had large families because we trusted each other, unlike the insular and often violent lines of other families, where betrayal was always expected. Vampires could have ruled the world with their ties through blood, save for the fact that they never would have trusted each other. It was rare that most Vampires had more than one spawn at a time. We were looked down upon by our relations, and now, we are their only hope. Not through violence, but through coexistence.

That was the ultimate purpose of the Notte Nostra. Providing a haven for those vampires who were fleeing the persecution of those they had oppressed, or who their ancestors had oppressed. We took in the dispossessed, the wastrels, and provided them meaning. There was violence, and blood, and things better left unsaid, but it was the way we kept our people alive. We became middlemen and criminals, a lubricating force between the law and reality. And at a certain point, the power we got from that became more important than sharing the night. I suspect that is why my children betrayed me. Seeking a chance to split off, to create their own thing. That is the way life goes, isn’t it? You give them everything, and it’s never enough.

Past Cases

Let me level with you. As a kid, I was fucking terrified of UFOs. I can’t explain it other than saying it involved episodes of Unsolved Mysteries that I watched while I was way too young. Even thinking about the stuff makes me tear up nowadays. There are a few of them that scare the hell out of me. The Valentich Disappearance is the worst- Even now, I can’t hear the words ‘It’s not an aircraft’ without feeling a certain primal fear. Almost as terrifying for me, though, was the story of the Flatwoods Monster.

I’ll give you the short version; A group of West Virginia folks in 1952 see a bright object cross the sky and seemingly land nearby. They go to check it out, and have their dog spot something and run off, whimpering. They reach the top of a hill, and find a pulsating red ball nearby, and a pungent odor. They notice a couple of strange glowing lights near the ball of fire, and swing their flashlights towards it, revealing the Flatwoods Monster. A large creature wearing a pleated green skirt and nearly seven feet tall with small clawed hands. It let out a shrill hiss, gliding towards them before turning towards the red light, at which point they panicked and ran. I’ll spoil it for you right now: Their description sounds exactly like a bunch of panicky people spotting a barn owl and startling it into flight. The light was almost certainly an aircraft beacon. The ‘bright object’ was probably a meteor. All very simple.

Except, except, except. What if the thing that they saw wasn’t a barn owl? What if it was something else? Like, say, one of the Strix? That’s the fucking thing about this knowledge. How do you tell the hoaxes from the genuinely supernatural? How do you tell if it was a barn owl, a UFO, or some nightmare owl vampire from the heart of Italy? It’s one thing to be able to say ‘No, no, there’s nothing unexplained or strange in the dark.’ But now, I know that’s a lie, and it’s so damned hard to figure out what’s real, and what isn’t.

Nelly: It was a Strix. A bootlegger, as it happens, he was shocked when a group of locals found him while he was loading a still, and tried to frighten them off. He wound up having to break down the still and move it to keep the authorities from finding out.

Atina: That is simultaneously a great relief, and the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard. “The supernatural is real and it was spotted running an illegal still.” That’s kind of depressing.

Nelly: Well, I never said that he was bootlegging alcohol.

Heroes

This file is password-protected. If you’re somehow reading it, stop. It’s just for my personal thoughts, and you’re being very rude.

There were people, in the old days. People who won. People who could bring forth a happy ending. People who didn’t just beat the odds, who didn’t just scrape by, but who were fighting with fate on their side. The Hero is a concept that started with the Greek mythology. You find it more often in some cultures than others, but every culture has them. Sometimes they’re purely human, sometimes they have the blood of the divine. Sometimes they are blessed by the gods, many times they’re cursed by them. And they stand up to the myths and the monsters.

The original meaning was literally a protector- a Hero is someone who protects others. But that protection only protected some people. Almost all heroes were killers, and their heroism was shown in the skill and efficiency with which they killed others. Like that old saying, ‘Kill one man at the wrong time and you’re a murderer, kill ten men at the right time and you’re a hero.’ I may be misquoting that, whatever. There’s a suggestion of honor and decency as well, but what this usually means is fulfilling the ideals of a society while ignoring its strictures. There are examples of heroism being simply a form of considerate sociopathy- Heroes are people who ignore society’s rules and mores, but nonetheless care more for other people than themselves. And I always thought they weren’t real.

Sure, we call many people heroes. We call fire fighters heroes. We call cops heroes, though that one’s pretty questionable nowadays. We call Mother Theresa a hero and Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks heroes. They suffered greatly for the sake of others. But they don’t really stand out in the same way, do they? Maybe it was the advent of firearms. God made men tall and small, but Sam Colt made them all equal. Sometimes I thought that was the reason nobody stood out as a hero anymore- Because it’s become so easy to kill even the greatest of men, now. But if Megan Smith is telling the truth, I was wrong about all of this.

The way she puts it, the Cities were responsible for there being no more heroes. The way that they made the world mundane, less chaotic, meant that heroes were drawn to them. Maybe that’s why the world’s gone so mad for celebrities in the last century. The need for heroes, sublimated towards the only thing we have left that’s even close. Megan told me that people are born heroes, traditionally. There used to be new heroes, but for the past few hundred years, there haven’t been any, so far as she knows. Maybe the world just isn’t conducive to heroes anymore.

My feelings on the subject are… mixed. There’s the old saying, ‘Pity the land that needs heroes.’ By their very nature, they’re violent. People who enforce justice when every other method has failed. Violence is the least persuasive argument, but the most final, in many ways. It goes against everything that I try to live my life by, and I doubt I’d ever be considered a hero. But when someone uses violence against you, is there any real defense besides more violence? And I can’t stop thinking about what Polly said on the beach. If some people are heroes, special, born to win, then what does that make the rest of us?

Powers

This is where things get interesting, and a bit scary. See, I’ve always worked on the assumption that making a pact is selling your soul. You’re giving someone hooks into you- Power, at the price of your independence. I’ve never met a supernatural creature that didn’t work that way, and I thought that there were none. Then, Megan Smith told me about the Sisters. Four goddesses, personifications of the natural world, who give power to the worthy, rather than those who can pay the price. Frankly, that sounds crazy to me, and Megan Smith confirmed that the gifts could be misused quite badly, and sometimes had through history.

But it’s the old human dream. Right making might. Power being given to those who were noble and righteous, to those who would use it to make the world a better place. And it’s something I’ve never heard Alfred even mention. Did he know about these kinds of powers? Did he hold it back from me? I can’t imagine why, though. That suggests that the wizards don’t know as much as they usually claim, which is all too easy for me to believe. But if they learned about this… Well, I imagine a lot of wizards wouldn’t qualify as ‘righteous’, but Alfred certainly might.

The other thing is fate. Heroes are born to win, to be drawn towards what they need. It’s hardly a guarantee, but the overall flow of the world is in their favor. Kind winds take them to those who will teach them, and shelter them from enemies who they can’t hope to defeat. One in a million chances work out for them when it would defy probability for a normal person. Basically, everything- that’s conducive to their destiny, anyway- is just a bit easier for them. Things work out.

The very idea of it fills me with a white-hot rage. How fair is THAT?

Politics

Alright. I’m going to talk a bit about my position here, not because I think I’m a hero- I know for certain that I’m not- but because this is important to understand the consequences of the idea of heroes. There are three kinds of human ‘ranks’ among the supernatural creatures I know. Tools, food, and threats. Tools are people who can help. It’s the wrong word, because honestly many supernatural creatures aren’t the objectifying assholes this suggests they are, but it still describes the basic relationship: You’re controlled by the supernatural creature. They prefer to use supernatural methods, like with the pacts they make with wizards, but they’ll settle for cash, as they do with me. Food describes the vast majority of humans, and again, it’s unfair, but gives you the gist.

Threats are people strong enough to kill one of them, who they can’t control. Technically speaking, I’m a threat; I know a lot about supernatural creatures, and while money is a useful way to get me to help, it wouldn’t stop me if I got an ideological motivation. They tolerate me because I’m useful, because I’ve got friends in high places, and because deep down, they don’t think that any human without supernatural power could be a real threat.

Now imagine, for a second, what it would mean for wizards to have the option to make a pact with these Sisters. Imagine what it would mean for anyone to make a pact with these Sisters. It’d mean an end to one of the major sources of power that the supernatural world holds over humans. It would mean chaos, and civil strife, and possibly people being at each other’s throats. Maybe I’m being overly grim, but then, that’s what lawyers are paid to do.

Past Cases

I asked Megan Smith whether Alfred was a Hero, in the sense she was talking about. She said that she didn’t think so, but that she couldn’t rule it out. It’s difficult to tell if someone’s a hero if they haven’t started following their fate. Sometimes that begins at birth, sometimes at puberty, but sometimes it’s much later in life; Odysseus was a king before his odyssey began.

The reason I asked was because, of everyone I know, Alfred is the closest to a genuine, bona-fide hero. He can be a bit of a womanizer, but frankly, Odysseus fucked around on his wife almost constantly on his journey home. There are much worse flaws in a hero than being easily swayed by pretty girls. He also has that kind of aura of being born lucky. I know his mother is a very powerful fae, and that she made a pact with him- Not to control him, but because she loved him and wanted to protect him. That kind of dedication in a fae is damned unusual, and it sounds a lot like the way the Sisters operate.

I’m never going to be a hero. I work for money, or for my own self-interest. I protect people, but as a job. And to be blunt… I’ve never been in a fight that I won. I’m big, and strong, by human standards. But I’m just not any good at violence. I can’t use it, and while I might fantasize about getting even, I know that I’m always going to wind up trying to reconcile with people, even when they’re trying to break my face in half. The ideal solution for this whole situation, for me, is making sure everyone is safe and happy, even that fucking bastard Parsons. Maybe if I stabbed him, instead, I’d be a hero.

Or maybe if I just had the guts to put up a real fight.

One thought on “Case Files 4: Camazotz, Strix, and Heroes

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