Portrait of a Murder Character Lore
You know the drill by now: New original chapter, new original lore.
Jonah Vasquez saw the truth behind the veil. His gifted mind understood numbers in a way few could. Sunsets, architecture, a blade of grass–he saw more within them than eyes could gleam. He understood the language that explained them–mathematics–complex equations that continually played out around the universe to determine why and how we exist. Structures. Patterns. A law unbroken: physics.
His gift would have been overlooked had his family’s history of poverty continued for another generation. But some patterns are meant to deviate from their common course, and Jonah’s father strived to better his family with every muscle he had. What started as a job picking fruit near Fresno, California, eventually led to him owning a small mangrove. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to provide Jonah a stable childhood and education.
Though placed in advanced classes, there were few signs of Jonah’s brilliance to his peers. He was a normal boy with a few close friends, a passion for baseball and an interest in ancient civilizations. However, when he was alone, his mind turned to numbers–and these, to Jonah, were the most fascinating of marvels. He delved into Fibonacci and Recaman’s sequences and was soon poring over complex equations from history’s leading mathematicians.
On his 16th birthday, he received an unaddressed card. There was nothing within but the following numbers: 8, 25, 19, 44, 1; -20.37, -69.85; 13, 2, 26, 11, 1.
It was a puzzle. Perhaps a gift from his math teacher or a relative who knew of his penchant for solving brainteasers. But somehow this was different. While he immediately recognized the GPS coordinates, quickly discovering they led to a location in Chile, the other numbers meant nothing to him. Every attempt he made led to failure.
Over time, he abandoned the puzzle, convinced it was flawed. He went on to university and, upon graduation, was hired as a codebreaker by the CIA. On his first day, written in his employee handbook, were the numbers from years ago: 8, 25, 19, 44, 1; -20.37, -69.85; 13, 2, 26, 11, 1. A tension in the back of his neck materialized, a feeling that he was being toyed with. He returned to the puzzle, only to discover that his years of experience would reveal no new information. He couldn’t dwell on it–he had a job to do.
He was put to work deciphering messages from signal stations around Europe. Archived footage found that for twenty-three years dozens had been operating in an unknown capacity. Simple blinks of light his complex codes that revealed disjointed information. It wasn’t much to go on, but he discovered the messages seemed to involve powerful and wealthy individuals from around the globe.
The project was abruptly shut down. All agents involved were transferred to other assignments. Jonah was moved to a covert task force in the newly formed democracy of Kwantana, where he intercepted and decoded messages from bands of rebels. His work enabled the U.S. to target numerous rebel locations. Then the bombs dropped.
It was discovered too late that the messages were decoys. Civilian casualties were staggering, the true numbers covered up by officials. Jonah blamed himself. He saw firsthand the damage done and the families torn apart. He took a leave of absence but remained in Kwantana, surveying the damage. He had to do something. He cashed in his favors with one of the CIA’s digital security experts and infiltrated the rebellion’s computer network. From there, he took stock of the numbers, made changes he thought no one would notice. Small amounts of money were siphoned from the rebels to those who lost their homes and loved ones.
It seemed like a smooth play, undetectable and bloodless–until the day the gunshots rang through his suite. Jonah hit the floor as glass shattered and holes punched through his walls. Grabbing his laptop, he broke his kitchen window and leapt to the neighboring building’s roof. Before he could even rub his throbbing ankles, the small house exploded into flames. He ran, not looking back. He climbed down to the alley, made his way to the slums and concealed himself among rickety shanties of cardboard and rotting wood. A week later, he arrived at an American embassy, exhausted, dust-ridden and defeated.
Before he could take a breath, he received a call from his chief officer at the CIA: “Was it worth it? This crusade of yours?” (side note, the actual thing reads as "Was it worth it? You this crusade of yours? or something along those lines, but since that is not how grammar works, I fixed it).
He felt powerless. And so, he returned his focus to what was simple, what was black and white: numbers.
His chief officer gave him a new assignment, one classified to all but a few. His research on the signal stations had reached someone high up, and the project was re-opened under a veil of secrecy, Jonah dedicated his time to deciphering the codes, partly out of fascination and partly to forget the guilt that resided within him. What started with signal stations led him to something even more baffling: horror podcasts.
In the stories of campfire thrillers and slasher tales from around the world were carefully concealed codes. Sometimes numbers. Sometimes words. Each time, as if being a secret password or handshake, he found the following message: Sacrifice is rebirth. Hidden in the code was information on a network of powerful people, all working towards what, he didn’t know. There was chatter of summonings and rebirths, sacrifices and hunts. Jonah assumed much of it was red herrings attempting to mislead. Up late that night, he analyzed another code–this time in a story of vampires. What he deciphered sent a chill through his spine: 8, 25, 19, 44, 1; -20.37, -69.85; 13, 2, 26, 11, 1.
The numbers had returned. They haunted him. He saw them when he closed his eyes. They clung to his sleepless mind, begging for attention. He checked the coordinates as he had years ago–it was nothing but a Chilean graveyard. He logged into the CIA and searched the history of the location. Only one hit came up: a cold case where bodies were found in the area, the corpses eaten by hundreds of crows.
Jonah couldn’t let the mystery go on any longer. The numbers had followed him all his life and he was ready to follow them. Knowing his chief officer wouldn’t approve, he booked a ticket to Chile without anyone’s knowledge. It was time to see what was so special about the coordinates. Less than 24 hours later he arrived at -20.36, -69.85. He found himself under the sweltering sun, standing in the graveyard of a ghost town.
There was nothing but dust and bones. Jonah spit into the dirt and puzzled over the numbers once more. He slumped next to an old grave, under the eyes of a watchful crow. He missed home, he missed the mangrove, he missed a time before the complexities of the universe crashed down on him. He looked out at the old derelict buildings on one side and the sweeping desert on the other. There were similarities to Fresno–the dry heat, the sunset that cast an orange glow on the dusty ground. But it wasn’t home. Not to him. He looked at it from the eyes of a man who didn’t belong in this place.
And then Jonah understood.
He was analyzing the code from his own experiences, his own view of the world. There was so much he overlooked. With feverish devotion, he considered what the numbers could signify for other cultures: ancient Egyptian measurements, Persian currencies and… antiquated calendars. He finally understood.
He sifted through his knowledge of ancient civilizations before coming to the Tanyrian calendar. Plugging in the numbers as dates, he converted the first half of them over to the Gregorian calendar. He wasn’t prepared for the number it would reveal: his birthday. The world spiraled around him. With sweaty palms, he calculated the remaining numbers. It gave him another date: today.
The code… it was about Jonah, at this location, at this moment. His hands shook. His heart pounded against his ribs. Was he part of a prophecy or had someone led him down this path? He didn’t know. For once, numbers no longer made sense.
A heavy fatigue came over him and the world shifted in impossible ways. He knew the equations behind nature, he knew what he saw couldn't be. He witnessed his father’s mangrove beyond the desert and felt overwhelming comfort. Crows cawed in the distance and the smell of citrus wafted on the breeze. He considered that he was once more a child, and the numbers nothing but a horrible dream. Trapped in nostalgic thoughts, he didn’t notice the dark fog seeping from the grass, swirling its way towards him. Crows flew from the branches, screeching relentlessly, flying in a circle above. It was too late when he realized the scent on the breeze was no longer citrus.
It was blood.
Carmina Mora was a gifted artist who carried the guilt of her young brother’s death. Growing up in a rugged coastal village in southern Chile, she sketched the sublime landscapes of Patagonia. Sitting outside, she painted dramatic fjords while feeding the crows nested in the tree next to the house.
She grew up carrying the guilt of her mother’s sudden departure. Her father blamed Carmina for her mother’s abandonment, which added to her grief. She became the caretaker of Matias, her little brother, despite still being a child herself.
A year later, Carmina was painting with Matias outside when the telephone rang. Her father remained in the yard, drinking his beer. Carmina rushed to the house to answer the phone and hung up a few seconds later. When she returned outside, Matias was nowhere to be seen. She asked her father, but he had paid no attention to Matias. She called her brother’s name, looking for him everywhere. While searching, she saw a bright red coat floating on the narrow creek by the house–Matias’s jacket. She jumped into the creek and found him floating on the surface with vacant eyes, unblinking. He had fallen and drowned.
Her scream tore the sky. Her father found Carmina sobbing on the creek’s shore, clutching her brother’s body in her arms, surrounded by a murder of crows. Her father snatched Matias’s body away from her, and she cried until her voice broke.
The following morning, the world was cloaked in darkness. Her father did not say a word, because he did not have to. Carmine knew it was all her fault. Months passed, yet her loss was as fresh as morning dew. Crippled with self-loathing, she could no longer paint. Without Matias, life had no meaning.
On the bleak morning of Matias’s birthday, Carmina walked to a narrow bridge several blocks away from home. She was convinced that nothing could bring her relief. Her mother was gone, her brother was dead and her father blamed her for it all. She was convinced that she had nothing left to live for.
Carmina walked to the railing of the bridge that stood over the turbulent river. Locals had nicknamed the spot DeathLeap. Several cars drove by Carmina, but none stopped. No one seemed to care. She climbed over the railing and her legs wobbled as she stood on the lip of the bridge. She looked down, watching the fierce river smash into a giant boulder. She closed her eyes. See you soon, Matias. (side note, both instances of it use "DeathLeap" with no space, but her add-on O Grief, O Lover uses "Death Leap" with a space)
Suddenly, a cacophony of caws filled the sky. Carmina opened her eyes and saw a black cloud of feathers flying toward her. The cloud split open and glossy black crows dove from the sky. One landed on her shoulder and stared intently into Carmina’s eyes, as if peering into her soul. Her grip on the railing loosened and the crow cawed raucously. Carmina stared at the crow, confused.
Soon, a flock of crows were covering the railing of the bridge, staying close to her. She felt their heavy stare on her, calculative and enigmatic, as if they were assessing her. She looked down for a second and a thunder of caws interrupted her dark impulse. The crows seemed to care about her wellbeing. As she dangled over the edge with the wind blowing through her raven hair, Carmina felt akin to them. For the first time since Matias had died, Carmina did not feel alone.
She returned home, giving life another chance. The crows left but Carmina suspected that if anything happened to her, they would return.
Inspired by her ordeal, Carmina picked up a brush. In the weeks that followed, she painted her experience, using black ink to depict the DeathLeap with a black cloud of feathers, the murder of crows that saved her life. The experience was transformative and launched her signature, black-ink surrealist art.
After several years, some color pierced the darkness, and this shift of medium expanded her art form. She painted large-scale murals on busy street corners, designed grandiose costumes and recited militant poetry. Carmina’s art displayed local, intimate tragedies on a large scale, making them impossible to ignore. And everywhere she performed, crows followed.
Her performances grew bold and drew the attention of artists who found her style invigorating. She grew close to a group of painters who understood her iconoclastic vision. Her performances launched the Large-Scale Surrealist movement, which became a phenomenon.
Her renown grew enough to attract the commission of a multinational enterprise, the Vack Label. Carmina investigated the group, discovering that they gifted art pieces to select disreputable congressmen. Vack’s commissioned artists seemed to disappear afterward.
The following week, Carmina painted a giant mural on a cemetery’s columbarium, displaying the Vack Label logo as a surrealist grim reaper harvesting the fields of Chilean families. She wore a theatrical dress as she painted, on which she had stitched a poem about political revolution.
The piece sparked a radical debate about corruption. The controversy painted a target on Carmina’s back. After receiving anonymous death threats, she took refuge in her father’s house, bringing along her closest friends for safety.
That night, a gang of masked gunmen broke into the house. They swiftly subdued Carmina and her friends, threw them in a van and drove off.
The following morning, a dry breeze blew sand on Carmina’s face, awakening her. She was seated in a chair in the middle of the desert, with her legs tied and her hands handcuffed. Her friends are lying on the ground, tied up. A shadow fell over her face. Carmina looked up.
A man dressed in a long robe with his face hidden in a dark hood approached her. He pulled a silvery knife from his robe.
He grabbed her hands and recited a hymn in an unfamiliar language. Carmina held his gaze. He paused and brought down his blade with a sudden blow.
She cried in agony as her friends woke to a terrible sight; Carmina’s severed hands falling in the sand.
The hooded man smiled in satisfaction. How are you going to paint now? Carmina cursed and screamed at him, wriggling against her bonds.
The man grabbed Carmina’s chin. She spit in his face.
He grunted and pried her mouth open, pulling out her tongue. Carmina struggled against her handcuffs. In a violent blow, he chopped off Carmina’s tongue.
She howled in anguish. The man wiped his blade on his robe, leaving a trail of blood. How are you going to recite poems now?
Sorrow swelled in Carmina’s chest, sharper than pain. Overwhelmed by uncontrollable rage, grief and loss overcame her senses. She had lost her little brother. And she had lost the only way to cope with such pain. Carmina screamed like on the day her brother died.
Raucous caws echoed through the wasteland. The sky was obscured by a cyclone of dark clouds. Black feathers fell on Carmina’s bleeding arms. She looked up and saw a torrent of crows erupting from the clouds, diving on the hooded man.
As the ravenous crows pecked at his flesh mercilessly, Carmina smiled, watching her Surrealist art coming to life.
But her heart lurched with rage when she saw the crows move on to their next target, her friends on the ground. She screamed as waves of pain, guilt and fright overwhelmed her. But it was in vain, the ravenous crows were uncontrollable.
Darkness fell over her eyes as her friends’ agonizing screams grew more acute. Death was coming and again, it was her fault.
A deep, black fog engulfed her.