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"No," she said sadly. "I am forever scarred by
that battle. But it is again the year of Ce-Acatl. He
was created in the year Ce-Acatl; He bore Atsbilan
in the year Ce-Acatl; we defeated Him in the year
Ce-Acatl; and the Book declares that He shall
come again in the year Ce-Acatl." Her hair
streamered back from her slanted face; her eyes
were feral. "You know that His coming means the
end of Tzcatlipoca's reign over Xich Chih. Without
His protection, the balance we fear shall be
restored and we shall perish!"
There came a cry from far above them and
Ronin raised his eyes to the top of the stepped
pyramid, saw the tall blackgarbed figure of Cabal
Xiu before the Temple of Tzcatlipoca, heard the
deep booming voice as it echoed out over the wait-
ing empty city:
"Oh, Itzamna, Lord of Heaven, son of Hunab
Ku, creator of the world, Thou art no more,
dethroned by Chac.
"Oh, Chac, Thou deserter of the true Majapan,
friend of man, traitor to Tzcatlipoca, great was the
power that sent you from us "
It was a summoning of power and, as Cabal Xiu
intoned, the Sacred Pyramid seemed to shine more
brightly, as if the moon, hanging like a platinum
teardrop in the black, spangled river of the
heavens, had grown swollen with light and energy.
Ronin turned to the big man Iying beside him.
"Moichi, can you move?"
The navigator shook his head. No.
"What have they done to us? The last I
remember, the Chacmool "
"They knew our movements from the first," said
Ronin quietly. "Perhaps even before we reached
the city. Those eyes in the jungle "
"The Red jaguars ?"
A dim crackling came from the Sacred Pyramid's
summit and they lifted their eyes. Cold flames,
white and blue, had begun to flicker, twisting in
awesome splendor from the Temple of Tzcatlipoca,
throwing the figure of Cabal Xiu into sharp
silhouette.
"Oh, old and tired deities," the priest continued
to intone, "thy time has ended, so the katun of the
Long Count in the
60 Eric V. Ims1:bader
Book of Balam has decreed. Thy power had faded
and crumbled "
The flames writhed higher: liquid, silvered,
unnatural. Cabal Xiu lifted his anus to the waiting
moon.
"The time is now come. It is once again the
katun of CeAcatl. It is the dawning of the sixth
age "
Ronin blinked, for now it seemed that the black
figure throbbed and grew.
"Come, Xaman Balam!"
The flames streamed at his back.
There came a grinding roar, as his corpus
ballooned, blurred.
The night turned platinum.
Ronin and Moichi covered their eyes and when
they could look once again toward the Sacred
Pyramid's summit, there were four figures
descending, eschewing the central stairs, striding
across the immense steps of the structure.
"It is done," breathed Kin Coba, her slanted
face even more alien in the unnatural light.
"Xaman Balam lives again!" She turned to look at
Ronin.
"Who is it?" he said.
"The One-Who-Is-Four," said Uxmal Chac. He
took a step up the face of the Sacred F,yramid.
"He who survived the cataclysms of the ages. They
who held up the four corners of the world in the
Old Time when the great flood came, reaching up,
grasping the stars for support, lest they slip into
the deep."
They were identical, these four, with long
blazing eyes, neither of man nor beast, long noses
like the trunks of elephants, narrow, tapering
skulls gleaming in the frosted light, wide mouths
with thick, curling lips. One was garbed all in red,
one in white, one in yellow; one in black.
Simultaneously, the four mouths opened and
four identical voices rolled eerily down to them,
inundating them:
"I am come now, unstoppable: Xib, Sac, Kan,
Irk. Xaman Balam speaks after lo these many
katun." Moichi shivered at the sound of the
voices.
The figures continued to descend, until they
stood on the penultimate step nearest the ground.
"The summoning of Tzcatlipoca is at hand and
when He comes He shall lead the Majapan back
from the deep to the land of the Chacmool, to
Xich Chih, most holy of cities!"
Pale green lightning crackled in the air and its
sharp stench
DAI-SAN 61
invaded them, borne from the place where Xaman
Balam had been birthed.
"With the gathering of sides, the Sacred Sacrifice
commences." They pointed to Ronin. "You will
play against the forces of Tzcatlipoca, just as it was
done in the Old Time, for without contention,
without the spilling of blood, He cannot come.
You will ascend to the fourth step." Ronin
counted. There were nine steps in all. "The
boundaries," they continued, "are contained across
this face of the Sacred Pyramid "
And abruptly, Ronin found himself able to
move. Yet still not in control, he watched his legs
take him up the central stairway to the fourth
level.
"The skull," said Ek, the black aspect of Xaman
Balam.
Xib, the red aspect, stood directly above Ronin
on the seventh step. He wore a mask of a grinning
skull.
"The vulture."
Sac, the white aspect, in a swooping bird's mask,
stood on the sixth step, to the left of Ronin.
"The crocodile."
Kin Coba, in a mask that was all jutting jaws,
stood also on the sixth step, but to Ronin's right.
"The monkey."
Kan, the yellow aspect, stood on the fifth step,
on Ronin's far left.
"Flint."
Uxmal Chac, in a towering, angular mask, stood
on the fifth step, on Ronin's far right.
"These are your adversaries," said black Ek,
ascending to the Sacred Pyramid's top step. "As
they are arrayed against you, they will attempt to
force you downward, off the face of the pyramid.
When they succeed in this, you and your com-
panion will die and in so doing you shall be
catalysts in the summoning of Tzcatlipoca. Your
severed heads, your steaming hearts, shall bring
Him once again to His beloved Xich Chih."
"And if I win?" said Ronin.
Ek smiled, his teeth pointed and black, shining
with saliva. "If you should manage, by some
miracle, to ascend to the summit of the Sacred
Pyramid, then you and your companion shall be
free to depart from there." The strange eyes
bloomed like poisoned flowers. "But I tell you now
that there is no hope. I know that you have seen
the statue of Atsbilan, HeWho-Sets-The-Sun; I
know that you have seen the vandalised temple of
his defeated Father, whose name must not be
men
62 Eric ~ I`ustbader
tioned. But they were driven out of Xich Chih and
the memory of the Majapan at the time of the
Sundering. The book of Balam has been rewritten
and we have nothing to fear. The power of
Tzcatlipoca is supreme in Xich Chih !"
"If this is a game," called Ronin, "then there
must be sides. Where are my forces?"
Ek laughed, his eyes like beacons: "Find them,
mighty warrior!" And his deep voice resounded in
the close valleys and stepped hills of the stone
city, precise, geometric, deserted.
Now from above him, Kan, in the rippling
brown monkey mask, advanced. He brandished a
staff, hooked at one end, carved into the head of
an animal.
Ronin drew his sword in time to parry a flicking
jab of the long staff. Over and over, the monkey's
weapon slashed at him, blurry, indistinct with
speed, powered it seemed by the merest
movement of the wrists. Again and again it
slammed against him with explosive force.
Green and blue lightning ringed the theater of
combat, emanating from the temple behind Ek at
the summit of the Sacred Pyramid.
The monkey pressed his attack, the blows
constant and unremitting and Ronin moved slowly
backward under the intense assault along the [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]