Palenque Temple Ruins, Mexico
Camazotz watched as the young priest glided in. Acan landed on the limestone temple platform and collapsed his wings. He walked up to Camaztoz.
“You could have told me about Elena.”
“No reason. I found her with her husband and two houseguests of his. I had not expected this intrusion, but it is here and we must deal with it before they bring over the others.”
“You are speaking in tongues. Who came this time?”
“Others like us, but are not like us.”
Acan frowned. His lips curled. Narrowing his eyes, he stared at his god’s immobile face. Camazotz eyes didn’t mirror Acan’s nor did his thick lips change from their frozen grin. Acan sighed.
“Who are they and why us?”
“Land grab. Has not changed since the metal-clad warriors came and enslaved our people. They want our land to further their empire.”
Acan shook his head.
“Did not know that others like us wanted more land than they could handle.”
Camaztoz grinned, lips curled like Acan’s, but it came across as a giant sneer.
“They will have their own priests, priestesses, and followers. I saw them dressed and seated on those large dogs with Señora de Gonzales husband.”
“He . . . came . . . back . . . from the dead?”
“He never died. No, I think Roberto has his own plans.”
“Do they include Elena?”
Before Camazotz could answer, Chac half-ran and half-flew up the granite stairs. Arriving at the mid-platform of the temple, he stood trembling in front of Acan and Camazotz.
“The sacrifices are readied. Only one question remains: obsidian or jade?”
Camazotz looked past Chac and in the distance saw a small black spec climbing the temple steps.
“We have company. Chac, Acan, go back to the temple and wait for me. Prepare a bowl of blood pudding for our guest, Tairino Gabrielle. For the young boys and old men, prepare a meal of blood-corn cakes and give it to them.”
“What do I with Tairino Gabrielle?”
“Leave him to me.”
Señor Gabrielle awoke from a nap he never meant to take. Stretching his arms high above his head with hands clasped, he arched his chest backward and sighed. He noticed that he wasn’t alone. Arranged in a semicircle around him were all the boys in his Spanish class plus several male tourists. As each one of his students struggled awake, the room grew louder, filled with chattering voices.
“Señor Gabrielle, where are we?” Asked one in fractured student Spanish.
Tairino flicked his eyes around the granite stone structure. The walls leaned inward. Raising his eyes and head toward the ceiling, he saw the solid ceiling platform overhead.
“We’re inside a structure, a temple of some sort. Wake up the rest of the class and let’s see how fast we can get out of here.”
“What about them?” asked a student, referring to the tourists.
His Spanish teacher shrugged.
“They’re on their own. Come on before the owners of this joint come back. I’ve got a bad feeling about this place.”
Trying to stand up, Tairino wobbled to his feet. He blinked his eyes trying to focus them and struggled to stand up straight. Tairino noticed that the boys were having the same problem. Four of them collapsed on the floor, knocking over the boy he sent to awaken them all. He fought to keep his balance and with effort staggered over to a recess that appeared to be a door of some sort. Falling against the granite wall, Tairino craned his neck around the wall’s sharp-edged corner and peered out. Darkness shrouded his sight. Shaking his head, Tairino pulled his head back and faced the boys.
“Crawl if you’ve got to, but we must get out of here fast.”
“There are stairs leading up to this room and the same stairs lead back down to the ground.”
“And then,” the first boy asked him.
“We’ll hide in the jungle and hope for the best.”
“Is that all you can do? Hope for the best? We’re hungry and tired. You’re the adult.”
“And right now, that’s all I can do until I figure out what’s our next move going to be . . . unless you want to choose and follow the leader.”
The boy hung his head.
“Sorry, I’m just scared.”
“Me, too. Now, let’s get the rest of the class on its feet and find the girls, especially Francesca Coleman. It’s bad enough her stepmother couldn’t make it, but if we don’t find her, the school board will never hear the end of it from her father. He made this trip possible.”
The boys lurched to their feet and stumbled to where their Spanish teacher stood. Leaning against the granite wall, Tairino counted heads and then shook his. Where was the rest of the class? Pushing himself off the wall, Tairino turned the corner and bumped into Acan and Chad.
“Our warriors are up. We brought you food and drink,” Chad said.
“We’re not hungry,” Tairino said.
He tried pushing himself past Chad and Acan. Unfolding his wings, Acan blocked the doorway. Tairino closed his eyes and then re-opened them. Dropping his hand to his pants pocket, his fingers searched for something. Aan and Chad watched his every move as did the boys waiting behind them. Crowding together, they peered over each other’s shoulders as their Spanish teacher withdrew from his pocket a silver cross. Cringing behind the Catholic symbol of power, Tairino thrust the cross into Acan’s face.
Acan laughed. Chad reached out and struck the cross from Tairinio’s hand. Acan lifted his foot and grounded the cross into the stone floor. Pieces of silver skipped across the floor. The waiting boys stared at the symbol of universal peace and retreated in a disorganized mob back into the cold room. Tairino gulped and felt the warmth of his blood swarm up his chest and stream into his face. Acan’s hand pushed Tairino down until the Spanish teacher dropped to his knees. His head drooping, Tairion’s viewed the scattered pieces of the silver cross on the floor. Broken, the cross had no power.
“That crossed T means nothing to us,” said Chac. “It holds no power here in the realm of Camazotz. Eat the corn cake our woman have baked for you. It will give you strength, and then you can leave.”
The boys tore the food out of Chac’s hand as he gave them each a piece. Tairino eyed the corn cake. His belly growled. He hadn’t eaten real food in more than five hundred years. His hand shaking, Tairino accepted the corn cake and nibbled at it. Chac and Acan watched the Spanish teacher take two bites from the corn cake’s corner. The boys ate their pieces without complaint.
“Can we have some water?”
Acan nodded. Chac reached behind him and produced a large pottery vessel.
“It is a shared cup. Two or three sips now more later when we bring more vessels.”
The boys nodded. Tairino gnawed at the corn cake. His blood raced in his ears as his heart doubled its beating. Tairion felt his heart escalate its frequency, thumping into his throat. Short of breath, Tairino clutched his chest. His inner ears magnified his heart’s thumping sound. The beat increased. Tairino gripped his head and howled.
The boys’ eyes glazed. Their breathing lengthened. Their bodies swayed, mimicking snakes coupled for a mating dance. The floor soon cradled the bodies of the boys and Señor Gabrielle.
“Is he asleep?” Chac asked.
Acan tapped Tairino’s body with the tip of his boot.
“He is awake and waiting. Waiting for his god to claim him.”
“I am here,” Camazotz said, as he flew down from the sky and landed next to Tairino’s body. He looked down. Tairino’s glazed eyes stared back up at him.
Tairino slowly rose to his feet and faced Camazotz. Inside, Camazotz connected with Tairino Gabrielle’s soul.
“You have come back, but not as yourself, but one of them.”
Tairino Gabrielle’s soul shrank within him. His breath came out in fits and starts. Acan and Chac walked behind him and supported the Spanish teacher with their giant wings.
“I had no choice. They forced me.”
“I give choices Gabrielle. This is your first choice. You can tell me why your Masters are here in Chiapas with Señor Roberto Gonzales or we can bleed your boys until no life is left in them.”
“You wouldn’t dare. Where would you put the dead bodies? It’s too risky. I’ll try my luck with them.”
“Here’s your second choice,” Camazotz said as if he didn’t hear Tairino speak at all. “Your second choice is I take the bodies of your dead warriors to the ceynotes. There’s a big fish that swims in the temple’s water with large, jagged teeth. It eats what it finds floating in the water or lying on its floor.”
“It’s called a bull shark. You wouldn’t do that. Even when your people sacrificed their children, they got status. This way, these boys might as well be sacrificed.”
“First, we milk the blood in small doses so they last a month,” Chac said.
Tairino spat on the floor, and then froze. Camazotz hand slipped down to the floor and scooped up the remnants of the cross. Tairino cringed wringing his hands together.
“Not to worry. This crossed T will have no effect on you. I made sure of that when you ate the corn cake. You have drank of my blood, Gabrielle. You are one of us.”
“And these boys, are they now one of us as well?”
“We can see how well they do in their next game of Pok-A-Tok, and only then I will decide. What did those two counts tell you about how they would provide for you once you came here to live?”
“Or did they forget to mention that part of the plan?” Acan asked.
Tairino Gabrielle shrugged.
“I have no idea. I followed them because they are the descendants of the first priests who took me in and taught me my letters. It wasn’t until later I noticed that while other priests aged, my guardians did not. Time went on. Still their faces remained smoothed and fresh. I grew into a man. Took my orders and planned on coming back to Chiapas to teach our people the new words and work that they must do to live in this brave new world of ours.”
Turning to his god, Acan asked.
“Can you believe that?”
“He speaks truth. Blood tells me many things, Acan. He cannot lie to us. My blood forces the truth from him. Those two men with Señor Roberto Gonzales. What do they want?”
“Land like everyone else. But not just your land. They want all of Mexico, Central and South America. That man whom you call Roberto Gonzales made a blood pact with them. I saw him. He pricked his finger and sealed the deal in blood. His wife won’t stand a chance with him or those two men. Women don’t figure into their equations.”
“You leave Elena to me. She is not your concern. Neither is that young girl – what is her name, Acan?”
“Francesca Coleman. She belongs to me.”
Gabrielle swung his eyes from Camaztoz to Acan.
“My stake is Miriam Coleman. She’s mine.”
Camazotz locked eyes with Gabrielle.
“She has a mate. What are your plans for him?”
“He’s a useful sort of guy. Easily bought and sold. Francesca told me all about him and their relationship. Miriam will do better with me. Far better. She’s at the hotel sleeping. I mean to pay her a visit.”
Camazotz laughed. It came across as a series of short coughs.
“Miriam Coleman is in a stone building on the outskirts of Ocosingo.”
Gabrielle swung his arms together. Enfeebled by the Blanche and the blood corn cake, his hands fell short. They plopped against his thighs.
“What about these children?”
Camazotz eyes scoured the floor.
“When we’re done using them, I will decide. As for Miriam Coleman, she can wait. I want you to go back to those two men of Roberto’s and keep an eye on them.”
“What happens if they find out I belong to you?”
“You will not die in the light of the yellow Orb that circles the sky, but when you are with them, you will keep pretending that the yellow orb will kill you if caught out in its light. These counts of Roberto Eduardo Gonzalez do not know you are really a sun worshipper like that child bride of Acan. Besides, my blood runs through you. You are protected. Do not forget that giant meat-eating fish. My blood does not protect you from his sharp teeth.”
Gabrielle squared his shoulders, and then slumped forward.
“When they see that I don’t die in the light, they will know.”
“I told you. My blood runs through your veins. When and if that time of day or night comes, I will visit their minds and make them see you die. Chac will come and get you. Those are you choices.”
Gabrielle laughed, a sour, bitter sound.
“There are a lot of them across the sea. Their followers wait for them to come back, and then come and take the land from the mestizos, Lacondons, the drug lords, and anyone else who stands in their way. What will you do?”
“We will do what we have always done. Play Pok-A-Tok. Winner takes all.”