Home > Nightshine (Kyndred #4)

Nightshine (Kyndred #4)
Author: Lynn Viehl

PART ONE

Golden Gate

September 29, 1520

Templo Mayor

The lord of deception and fate stared out at Sokojotsin from the invaders’ eyes. He recognized the great deceiver by how he had cloaked himself in that blackness, the color of the north, the color of death. He had lured the stinking, filthy dogs over the great waters and across the marshes and maize fields to surround the twin jewels in the center of the world. The serpent wall had not kept them out; nor had all the warriors of the House of Eagles.

They had not, for Sokojotsin had himself opened the city to them. He had welcomed them, these foul creatures, and demonstrated his superiority by bestowing many gifts on them, and permitted them to dwell among the people so that he might know them as he had known the others who had come before them. But their priests had deceived him, and he soon discovered that none of them had ever walked the path of the beautiful death. In his anger Sokojotsin had released the thousand blades to kill many of them, and drive out the rest.

That rage had been his greatest mistake of all.

The dogs had run away in fear, but their greed soon overcame their cowardice. So they made treaty with and gathered his enemies, and with them marched on the city, and conquered it in the name of their faceless God. For all of seventeen days they had drenched that indifferent altar with the blood of those they had butchered. The rest they imprisoned so that they could be questioned . . . and questioned they had been, until they died of it.

Sokojotsin was one of the last left alive. Soon they would come for him, he knew. They would come and pierce him with their ugly blades, or separate his head from his neck. His heart would die in his chest. His death would have no meaning.

He had railed at them through their smiling, cringing priests, roaring of his magnificence, of his splendor. He who had been bathed every fourth hour, who had never donned the same garment again, who had never f**ked the same woman twice in a year, the sun god, the ruler of the universe, son of the silent death, the warlord and the rain, beloved of highest clouds and coldest air, the light of war, the skinner of souls.

No more. The dark metal of the gods had cast him down cruelly before the invaders, and he was undone. Now there would be no coming forth of flowers for him, no dances in his memory, no offerings of jade and serpentine. He would be tossed into one of their pits and left to rot among the peasants, without so much as a few grains of maize placed on his tongue.

He glanced at the pile of bread sitting beside the gap in the bars through which they pushed it each day. Green-gray mold covered it now. Dust and dead insects floated on the untouched water in the pail. They did not understand why he would not eat or drink, but they would not enter the cell to force it on him. Cowards, all of them.

“Sinner.”

Although the scribe was one of the few dogs that spoke his tongue, Sokojotsin did not look upon his squat, robed figure hovering outside the bars. He would not pollute his eyes with the scribe’s meekness.

“Sinner, I have been sent by the captain to ask you one last time,” the scribe said in his pompous fashion. “Give me the secret of the thousand blades, and your death will be quick and merciful.”

Sokojotsin caught one of the beetles burrowing happily into the heap of moldy bread and held the squirming bug between two of his broken fingers. “That I could be as you, little glutton, crawling the stones and cowering in shadows so that I might eat of the shit of these dogs.” He crushed the beetle and tossed it to the scribe, who scuttled away.

“You have transgressed against the one and only God,” the scribe ranted. “You are cursed for all eternity. This is your last chance to save your soul.”

Sokojotsin closed his eyes against the burning light streaming into his cell and waited. They would next bring one of his nineteen children before him, or perhaps one of his wives. His beloved ones would not beg, but the dogs would threaten to rape the women before his eyes or cut the throats of his sons unless he confessed. That was their way.

“Majesty.”

The deep, soothing voice of his ambassador seemed to come from within Sokojotsin’s dreaming, and he smiled a little until he smelled his blood. He opened his eyes to see his most trusted one standing on the other side of the bars.

Beads of blood welled on Tendile’s cracked lips as he spoke. “I am brought to beg you, Majesty; do as they will of you. Could I bite the tongue from my mouth, I would, but . . .” He smiled, showing his torn, empty gums. “This kindness I would show myself, they have taken from me.”

With some difficulty Sokojotsin rose and hobbled over to the bars. He could no longer stand straight, but neither could Tendile; nor would his most trusted one meet his gaze. “Look upon me, pipiltin.”

His ambassador’s bloodshot, pain-clouded eyes shifted with such reluctance that compassion filled Sokojotsin’s heart. “Sire, I am the rot of the temple before you.”

“Not so, my child.” Sokojotsin fit his hand through the bars and graced his most trusted one with a touch to his swollen face. “It is I who sent you, and I who have failed you. You and all my people.”

Tears trembled on the other man’s lashes. “Majesty, we have brought this disgrace. In our shamed eyes you are as the sun.”

“Your strong heart could never fail me,” he assured him. “So I would see you end as beautiful as it is.”

Too overcome to speak, Tendile nodded.

The scribe appeared beside his ambassador. “Enough of this nonsense,” he said to Tendile. “Tell him—” His words dissolved into a girlish scream as blood sprayed into his face.

Sokojotsin jerked his hand out of his most trusted one’s chest, bringing with it Tendile’s heart, which pulsed once more before it went still. He lifted it up to the sunlight, praising the warrior’s soul before he brought it to his mouth and drank.

The bars opened, and spiked cudgels struck Sokojotsin over and over before the dogs dragged him out. Tendile’s offering had given him enough strength to lash out at them, but he did not resist or strike back. He would not give them the dignity of death.

They hauled him through the prison they had made of his palace to the temple, where their captain stood and watched over Sokojotsin’s metalworkers. The scribe spoke quickly in their graceless tongue while he pointed and capered around the bloody prisoner.

The captain jerked up Sokojotsin’s head by his hair and spit out a handful of words.

“You have committed the mortal sin of murder,” the scribe translated out loud. “You will burn for it and all your other transgressions unless you tell us now. Tell us the secret of the thousand blades.”

Sokojotsin kept his eyes closed as he licked the last of the blood from his lips.

“So be it. May God have mercy on your evil soul.”

They dragged him to the pounding stones, where they used dark metal to lash him in place. He would die on his knees, but in a few moments he would join those who had gone before on the star path, the most beautiful path of all.

“Give it to me.”

Sokojotsin felt the heat against his face, and opened his eyes to see the captain standing before him, his heavy gauntlets wrapped around the shaft of the vat dipper. Inside the deep bowl yellow-white molten ore bubbled, so hot that tiny flames danced around the edges.

“Open his mouth.”

Chapter 1

June 1, 2010

“She says I don’t understand women. Right before she gets up and walks out of the restaurant,” Vincent O’Hara said as he reached out the driver’s window to empty the last inch of cold coffee from his thermal mug. “Just like that. So I get to spend our first date sitting there by myself and eating seventy bucks’ worth of lobster and prime rib.”

“You don’t understand women.” Charlotte Marena yawned as she flipped through the completed incident reports on her clipboard and signed the bottom of each. “Why didn’t you ask for a take-home box and go after her?”

“I was hungry.” Vince scowled at the sound of her chuckle. “Well, I was, Charlie. Besides, if I’d gone after her, she’d have made a federal case out of whatever I did and starved me for a couple more hours.”

“I warned you about dating a Botoxed bulimic,” Charlie told him.

“She’s not like that.” Her partner sounded less certain now. “You’re not always right about them.”

She thought for a moment. “Let’s see, the last one was separated, not single. The one before that had just gotten out of rehab, and the one before her was already pregnant. So, yes, I am always right about them.”

“Yeah, yeah. So how could you tell this time?”

Informing her partner exactly how she knew his new flame was a botulism and binge junkie wasn’t an option. “First two things I noticed about her.” She pointed to the center of her forehead. “Needle marks.” She brought her finger down and touched her lips. “Perpetual Listerine breath.”

Vince grunted. “You could have mentioned it after I slept with her. Which also didn’t happen.” He checked his watch before he moved into the turn lane. “Time to pack it in. By the way, I did stop by her place on the way home to make sure she was okay. She wouldn’t answer the door or her phone.”

“Probably too busy gorging on whatever she planned to puke up.” She covered a yawn with her hand. “You should date someone on the job. We’re too tired to be neurotic.”

He scoffed. “You keep turning me down.”

“I’m waiting for Taylor Lautner to be legal.” She reached for the radio mike on the console. “Dispatch, this is Echo one-M-seven.” After the dispatcher at EMSC responded by repeating their rig’s call sign, she added, “Ten ninety-eight to switch Adam, en route SFGH.”

After a short pause the dispatcher replied with, “Echo one-M-seven, advise your twenty.”

Surprised, Charlie glanced at the GPS. “Dispatch, we’re about two miles southwest of Doyle Drive bay-side.”

The call came back at once. “Echo one-M-seven, respond code one to GGB viaduct, report of multivehicle collision with injuries, eleven eighty-one, CHP on scene.”

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