FOREVER IS NOT ENOUGH: An Elena Duran/Corazon Negro Story by Vi Moreau & Julio César email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Disclaimers: This is not our universe, and we aren’t using it to make any profit. This story is a work of fiction and just for fun. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of our imagination or are used fictitiously, and we don’t intent any challenge to the trademarks or copyrights concerned by Rysher, Gaumont, and Davis/Panzer. We would like to thank: Robert for his usual selfless helpful betareading; Shelley for writing some of the Connor MacLeod sections; and each other--we've created such a great internet/international lifelong friendship! The setting of our saga is a harsher, crueler version of our world. It is a stark, desolate landscape where nothing is what it seems. It is truly a world of Immortality. Because of the mature themes presented within, reader discretion is advised. Enjoy! ====================================================== "Immortality would be unbearable." José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) Spaniard Philosopher. CALLI/HOUSE In Cem-Anáhuac Yoyótli Ce Tochtli (The Heart of the Only World. Year One-Rabbit/1454 CE) The sun was going down, between the hour of the light and the darkness, when it's neither day nor night. The God of life in heaven was getting ready to let his sister the Goddess moon take over the earth, and each moment the daylight diminished more and more. The Eagle Champion, Corazón Negro, strong and tall, and dressed in his full Eagle armor, ran like the wind. The eagle feathers on his helmet, and the wooden shield decorated with intricate designs of battles hanging on his back shook with his movement. In his right hand, he carried his inseparable Maquáhuitl, a flat stave of the very hardest wood, a man's-arm long a man's-hand wide, with sharp flakes of obsidian imbedded all around it. The weapon's handle was long enough for wielding the mace with one or two hands, and it was carefully carved to fit the grip of Corazón Negro. The obsidian chips were not merely wedged into the wood; so much depended on that sword that even sorcery was added to it. The flakes were cemented solidly with charmed glue made from precious perfumed resin and fresh blood donated by the priests of the war God Huitzilopóchtli. Quickly he ascended the last forest's hill, almost breathless as he reached its pinnacle. Once on his destination, he took a long breath, happy to be home again. He removed the eagle- helmet from his head, then closed his eyes and let the coming night's wind touch his long hair. Suddenly, he opened them. For a while, the view was nothing out of the ordinary: the green-tinted forest he knew so well. The sun was slowly cloaking itself in the radiance of its sleeping gown by the time he reached the valley. He walked faster; he could feel it, he was closer with every step he took. As he did so, the sun drew the dark covers of night over its bed, and the sky went purple. The mountains to the west, directly ahead of him, looked suddenly as sharply outlined and dimensionless as if they had been cut from black paper. Above them, there was a shy twinkle and then a bold spark of light. The sky rumbled again, assuring him that this was only one more of his many nights on earth, not the last and everlasting one. Then a second light appeared in the valley below, this one low beneath the jagged line of black mountains. Then there came another point of light, and another, and hundred upon hundred more. He saw Tenochtitlán one more time. Not just a city of stone towers, rich wood-worked, and bright paint, but a city of light. As the lamps, lanterns, candles and torches were lit—in windows openings, on the streets, along the canals, on building terraces, cornices and rooftops—the separate pinpoints of light became clusters, the clusters blended to form lines of light, the lines grew into the outline of the metropolis. Corazón Negro breathed hard, closing his eyes one more time, nodding his head in salute. After a long time, he was finally at home again. The valley was under him. The valley of his People. The valley of Anahuac. The most populated part of all In Cem-Anáhuac Yoyótli. The Heart of the Only World. It was a great depression in the plateau. The lake made the area so attractive to human habitation. The lagoon was enormous, pinched in two places by encroaching highlands, so that there where three large bodies of water connected by slightly narrowed straits. The smallest and southernmost of these lakes was of fresh water, fed by clear streams melting from the snows of the mountains there. The northernmost lake was of reddish and briny water, because lands rich with minerals, which leached their salts into the water, surrounded it. The central lake, the one called Texcoco, bigger than the other two together and composed of their mingled salty and fresh waters, was thus of a slightly brackish quality. Even at this hour, all the lakes bored a constant traffic of canoes, coming and going in all directions, like hordes of water striders. Most of these canoes were little ones, with fowlers or fishermen, made from a single gutted tree trunk and shaped like a bean pod. But other canoes ranged upward in size to the giant sixty-man war canoes. "You are truly the Heart and Center of the Only World," Corazón Negro whispered as he walked over. He had been so transfixed with enchantment that he had not noticed the tear that was running over his painted in black cheek. After a last long walk, he entered the city to spend the night. ======== He awoke on a pallet on the floor of an unremarkable room in an inn. Smiling, he leapt to lean out the window opening—and for a moment he felt lightheaded at seeing his altitude above the stone pavement below. He lifted his eyes to the city beyond the dockside area. The metropolis shone, she pulsated, and she glowed white in the early sunlight—it made him proud. Her buildings were constructed of white limestone, plastered with white gesso, many of them frescoed and inlaid with bands and panels of vividly colored paints and mosaics, but the dominant effect was of a city so white, so nearly silver, that it almost hurt Corazón Negro's eyes. The city was absolutely magnificent, and full of life. The lights of the night before were all extinguished now. Only a still-smoldering temple fire somewhere sent a trail of smoke into the blue sky. As he observed he saw that the top of every roof, every temple, and every palace inside the city, from every high eminence had a flagpole with a banner. They were not squared or triangular like battle ensigns; they were pennants many times longer than they were broad. And they were all white; except for the colored insignia they bore. Those banners of Tenochtitlán were woven of feathers from which the quills had been removed and only the lightest down used for the weaving. They were not painted or dyed. The flags were intricately woven of the feathers' natural colors: egret feathers for the white grounds of the flags, and for the designs the various reds of macaws, cardinals and parakeets, the various blues of jay and herons, there where all the colors and iridescences that could come only from nature, not from man-mixed paint pots. But most marvelous, those banners did not sag or flap, they floated. Although there was no wind that morning, the movement of people on the streets and canoes in the canals stirred enough air current to support those tremendous but almost weightless pennants. Like great birds unwilling to fly away, content to drift dreamily, the banners hung full-spread on the air. The thousands of feathers flags undulated gently, soundlessly, magically, over all the towers and pinnacles of that magic island-city. By daring to lean perilously far out his window opening, Corazón Negro could see the two volcano peaks away to the southeast. They were called Popocatepetl, the eternal warrior, and his sleeping bride, Ixtaccihuatl. In this second volcano, New Moon, Corazón Negro's mortal wife, rested in peace for all eternity. His eyes narrowed as he thought about her. Inside his soul, the old pain emanated like a friend. He sighed one more time. Though it was the start of the dry season and the days were warm, both volcanoes were capped with white snow, and the smoldering incense deep inside Popocatepetl wafted a blue plume of smoke that floated over him as lazily as the feather banners over Tenochtitlán. "Take her for me," Corazón Negro whispered toward the volcanoes. "Take her for me until the day I die. Then I'll see her again—but not today." Saying this, he hurried from the window. Corazón Negro washed his body twice a day, so he walked toward the cold-water bath of the inn. But this love of personal cleanliness was general between the Aztlantaca, and everyone bathed daily. Although they didn't have true soap, some of the substitutes available were the fruit of the soap-tree and the roots of certain plants, which could produce lather. He entered the bath near his room. Every dwelling had its bathhouse, a little hemispherical building shaped rather like an igloo with a low doorway. Against it was a fireplace, and the blaze warmed the adjacent wall of the bathhouse until it glowed red-hot. At this stage, the bather crept into the house and threw water onto the hot wall until the interior was filled with steam. To increase the flow of perspiration and to gain full benefit from the treatment, Corazón Negro switched himself with twigs and bundles of grass. The process was completed with a massage, followed by a period of relaxation, and Corazón Negro lay stretched out on a mat. Both men and women used the steam baths, not only for ritual purifications and the treatment of certain diseases but as a normal part of everyday hygiene. Finally, he dressed himself with his Eagle Armor, painted his face with black colors, paid and left the inn. Once on the street, he walked northward into Tlatelólco. That portion of the island was separated from the southern part only by a broad canal crossed by several bridges. Tlatelólco was a neighborhood of palaces and Teocalli—it was the city's marketplace appendage. Its immense open market area was full of people and noise. Walkway aisles separated the area into squares where the merchants laid out their wares on benches or ground cloths, and every square was allotted to a different kind of merchandise. There were sections for goldsmiths and silversmiths, for feather workers, for sellers of vegetables and condiments, of meat and live animals, of cloth and leather goods, of slaves and dogs, of pottery and copperware, of medicine and cosmetics, of rope and cord and thread, of raucous birds and monkeys. Mirrors were made from pieces of burnished iron pyrites or from obsidian, a kind of black volcanic glass, which was cut and polished into discs up to a foot in diameter. These were provided with wooden frames or with loops of cord so that they could be hung on the wall. Though it was early in the morning, the place was already thronged with customers. Most were commoners, but there were Lords and Ladies too, imperiously pointing at the wares they wanted and leaving the haggling of price to their accompanying servants. Corazón Negro watched his comrades around him. They were mostly short and stocky; few were as tall as he was. Their skin color varied from dark to light brown, and the typical Aztlantaca face was broad with a prominent, and often hooked, nose. Their eyes were black or brown almond-shaped, and frequently with epicanthic folds at the outer corners. Hair was coarse, black, and straight. Men usually wore it cut in a fringe over the forehead and allowed it to grow to the level of the nape of the neck at the back, but the priests had their own distinctive hairstyle and the warriors wore pigtails and various kinds of scalp lock. The women let their hair grow long. Normally it was allowed to hang loose, but on festival days as today it was braided with ribbons. Some wore more elaborate coiffures created by binding the hair into two plaits, which were wound round the head with the ends projecting like two little horns above the eyebrows. Hair on the face was considered unpleasant, but nature collaborated with art by endowing the men with only meager beards. Shaving was therefore unnecessary; facial hair was plucked out with tweezers, and, as a further aid towards good looks, Aztlantaca's mothers applied hot cloths to the faces of their young sons in order to stifle the hair follicles and inhibit the growth of whiskers. Only old or distinguished men—who could afford to ignore fashion—wore beards, and these were at best thin and wispy. Both men and women had great powers of endurance, and from childhood the ordinary people had been used to hard physical work. Even the women were accustomed to walking great distances, following their men folk and carrying a share of equipment as well as the newest baby. People of importance prided themselves on their behavior, and tried always to move gracefully, accompanying their conversation with dignified gestures and assuming an expression appropriate to the occasion. The Aztlantaca's skin was naturally brown or bronze-colored, but the fashionable shade for a woman's complexion was yellow. To achieve this effect the cheeks were either rubbed with a yellow earth or anointed with a cream containing axin, a waxy yellowish substance obtained by cooking and crushing the bodies of fat-producing insects. Travelers also used axin ointment as a salve to prevent the lips from cracking in frosty weather, and to protect the skin from the effect of cold. The kind of make-up worn by fashion-conscious women, in particular by the courtesans who were the companions of the young warriors, was dry, colored powder, colored with yellow ochre, or with bitumen. They feet were anointed with an unguent of burned copal incense and dye. Some had cut their hair short, so that their hair reached their noses. It was cut and tinted with black mud so did they place importance upon their heads. Some had it dyed with indigo, so that their hair shone. The teeth were stained with cochineal. Their hands and necks were painted with designs. The smells of the marked hit Corazón Negro's nose. Perfumes, rose water and incense were popular, and a kind of chewing gum—made of chicle mixed with axin and bitumen—was used to sweeten the breath. As always, the appearance and manners of the young people did not meet with the approval of the older generation, and Corazón Negro heard a familiar father's admonition to his daughter as he walked by: 'Never make up your face nor paint it; never put red on your mouth to look beautiful. Makeup and paint are things that light women use shameless creatures. If you want your husband to love you, dress well, wash yourself and wash your clothes'. This day, most men had painted their faces and bodies for the ceremonial occasions, following the example of their Otomí neighbors who covered their arms and chests with tattooed designs. Corazón Negro knew that the fifth month of the year was the time when incisions were made on the chests of children as a mark of citizenship or tribal identification. They all were inside the market for the same reason Corazón Negro had returned to the city: they needed incense for their offerings. "You are fortunate in arriving early, Eagle Champion," a salesman said to Corazón Negro. "In this hour, I still can offer you the most distinctive delicacy among all my foods for sale," the man said, extending his hand toward Corazón Negro. He looked at the little wooden spoon the man was offering him. It contained snow. "This was brought in ten one-long-runs from the crest of Ixtaccihuatl, by relays of swift-messengers racing through the cool of the night, and I kept it in thick clay jars under heaps of fiber mats. I could sell you a small portion for twenty cacao beans." "That is an entire day's wage for the average workman anywhere in the Aztlantaca nation," Corazón Negro said. The salesman smiled. "I know what you're thinking, that for four hundred beans you could buy a passably strong and healthy slave for life. But snow is more expensive, by weight, than anything else inside this market, even than the most costly jewelry of the goldsmiths' stalls." Corazón Negro nailed the salesman with his gaze, but then he relaxed. As every Aztlantaca, he was a good citizen, rather conservative and tied to tradition, with his competitive and aggressive instincts held in check by good manners and self-control, ceremonious in his dealings with other people, sensitive to beauty and to the symbolism which underlies philosophy and religion, inclined to be pompous and perhaps a bit humorless, honest and hard working, proud of his position in society, superstitious and fatalistic in his attitude towards life. Besides, he himself had been a salesman in a life that now seemed to him long ago. "I did not come here to buy snow. I want incense for the offers. However, I'm sure these noble men walking toward here could afford a taste of your refreshment. I have no doubt you'll sell your morning's supply before it melts." "Incense it is then, for your offerings, great Eagle Champion," the salesman said, putting away the snow and grabbing a portion of the aromatic fragrance. He held it out to Corazón Negro. "Five beans." Corazón Negro took out his shoulder bag and counted out the five cacao beans. The merchant examined each of them to make sure it was not a carved wood counterfeit or a hollowed out bean weighted with dirt. Then he handed the incense to Corazón Negro. Corazón Negro nodded and walked south again, toward the center of the city. Although many of the ordinary buildings of Tenochtitlán were two and even three stories tall—and most of them made even taller for being set on pillars to avoid dampness—the island itself was nowhere more that two men's height above the waters of Lake Texcoco. So there were in those days almost as many canals as streets cutting up and down across the city. In places a canal and a street ran side by side; the people walking could converse with the people afloat. At some corners Corazón Negro could see crowds of people bustling back and forth in front of him; at others he could see canoes gliding past. Some of those were passenger craft for hire, to whisk busy persons about the city faster than they could walk. Others were the private canoes of nobles, and those were much painted and decorated, and held awnings aloft to ward off the sun. The streets were of hard-packed smooth clay surface; the canals had masonry banks. In the many places where a canal's waters were almost at street level, its footbridges could be swiveled to one side while a boat passed. Just as the network of canals made Lake Texcoco practically a part of the city, so did the three main avenues make the city part of the mainland. Where those broad streets left the island they became wide stone causeways, along which a man could walk to any of five different neighborhoods on the mainland to the north, west, and south. There was another span, which was not a walkway but an aqueduct. It supported a trough of curved tiles, wider and deeper than a man's two arms could stretch, and this brought to the city sweet water from the spring of Chapultépec on the mainland to the southwest. Since all the roads of the land and all the water routes of the lakes converged at Tenochtitlán, Corazón Negro watched a constant parade of the commerce of the Aztlantaca nation, and of others nations as well. Everywhere around him were porters trudging under the weight of loads heaped on their backs and supported by forehead tapelines. Everywhere there were canoes of all, sizes, piled high with produce going to and from the Tlatelólco market, or the tribute from subordinate peoples going to the palaces, the treasury, the national warehouses. Corazón Negro walked among multicolored baskets of fruit. There were guavas and custard apples from the Otomí lands to the north, pineapples from the Totonáca lands on the eastern sea, yellow papayas from Michihuácan to the west, red papayas from Chiapán far to the south, and from the nearer south Tzapotéca lands the tzapótin marmalade plums which gave that region its name. Also from this country came bags of the dried little insects, which yield the several brilliant red dyes. From nearby Xochimílco came more kinds of flowers and plants than Corazón Negro could believe existed. From the far southern jungles came cages full of colorful birds, or bales of their feathers. From the hot lands both east and west came bags of cacao for the making of chocolate, and the black orchid pods that make vanilla. From the southeastern coastland of the Olméca came the product which gave that people their name, the óli, strips of elastic gum to be braided into the hard balls used in the Aztlantaca game of tlachtli. Even the rival nation of Texcála, perennial enemy of the Aztlantaca, sent its precious copali, the aromatic resin for making perfumes and incense. From everywhere came packs and panniers of maize, beans and cotton; and bundles of squawking live turkeys, and baskets of their eggs; and cages of the bark less, hairless, edible little dogs to eat; and haunches of deer, rabbit and boar venison; and jars of the clear sweet- water sap of the maguey plant, or the thicker white fermentation of that juice, the drunk- making drink called pulque. Corazón Negro was watching all those things when a voice interrupted him. "For just one cacao bean, my lord, I will tell of the roads and the days that lie beyond your future." Corazón Negro turned. At his elbow, much shorter than his elbow, stood a man who looked rather like a cacao bean. He wore a tattered and dirty loincloth, and his skin was the color of the cacao: a brown so dark it was almost purple. His face was creased and wrinkled like the bean. He might have been much taller at some time, but he had become bent and crouched, shrunken with an age Corazón Negro couldn't estimate. He held out one of his old hands, palm up, and said again. "Only one bean, my lord." Corazón Negro's eyes narrowed, and then he shook his head. "I'm not interested in the future. Not anymore." "Don't you want to know why you were chosen?" The bent man asked him. "Don't you want to know why Quetzalcóhuatl recognized you instantly as a Dreamer?" Corazón Negro looked surprised and blurted, "You don't know who I am. Do you have visions? Then why—?" "Why do I go about in rags with my hand empty? Because I tell the truth, and people little value the truth. My lord, upon you the endless time had left its mark. Around you, the wind said the word chieftain and warrior, for all eternity. You see? The truth is so cheap I can even give it away." Corazón Negro tried to smile. "You are an amusing old trickster. But I have much to do elsewhere." "Wait," said the man insistently. He peered into Corazón Negro's eyes. Then he murmured. "Any seer can look far along the roads and the days. Even if he sees something that will truly come to pass, it is safely remote in distance and time, it neither avails nor threatens the seer himself. But your destiny is to look closely at the things and doings of this world, and see them near and plain, and know them for what they signify." Corazón Negro sighed patiently and reached into his bag. He didn't want to hear more. No more prophecies. Not never. "No, no," the man said to him. "I do not prophesy happy days for you. I do not promise you the founding of a distinguished lineage. The Black Flower is yet too far into your future. You will see the truth. Unfortunately, you will forget that truth, just as you forgot the teachings of mighty Quetzalcóhuatl. You will suffer the pains of life like no one else in this world. You will see everything disappear in front of you, and like Quetzalcóhuatl warned you, you won't be able to avoid your destiny. In a far away distance, you will fight against the ultimate power within your kind, the bringer of death, the red-haired witch. I feel pity for you. For such black prediction, my lord, I ask no gratuity." "Take this anyway," Corazón Negro said, pressing on him three cacao beans. "Just do not predict anything more for me, old man. Even if what you say is the truth, I told you before. I don't care anymore." ======== CÓHUATL/SNAKE Rapa Nui (Easter Island) South Pacific Ocean West of the Chilean coast November 1996 Corazón Negro was running along a huge beach. Sweat covered him, dripping off onto the sands. His bronzed muscles shone under the ravaging sun that was dying above the horizon. His breathing was heavy. He wore just a white loincloth as he tried to reach his Power, his Dream, with each step he took. For a moment, his head turned left, and he saw the Pacific's blue waters mixed with the everlasting sky surrounding them. The day was gone. Soon enough the night would be a serenade of stars. He turned right, and his gaze fixed on the land around him. Three extinct volcanoes formed the island. Swept by strong trade winds, the area was warm throughout the year. Indigenous vegetation consisted mainly of grasses, but potatoes, sugarcane, taro roots, tobacco, and tropical fruits were grown in the fertile soil. The prime source of fresh water was the rain that gathered in the crater lakes. He had been living in Rapa Nui for the last year. The island was Holy Ground. It was the perfect spot to reach his Dream. He was running on the beach of an island of considerable archaeological importance. Rapa Nui was the richest site of the megaliths known as Moai of the Pacific island groups and the only source of evidence of writing in Polynesia. For a brief moment, Corazón Negro's thoughts wavered in what little was known about the people who made the Moai—the human heads on torsos carved in the male form from rough hardened volcanic ash. It was supposed that the original inhabitants of the island were Polynesians who migrated there some 2,400 years ago years before Christ. Archeologists believe that the descendants of these Polynesian settlers erected the statues. His path lead him to run next to burial platform, an Ahu, which was used to support rows of statues. The display place was on a bluff with a commanding view of the sea. It was constructed of neatly fitted stone blocks set without mortar. The burial platform supported fifteen statues. This particular Ahu was known as Tongariki. He closed his eyes and kept running. His mind should be able to forget his body in order to make touch with his Power. He ran faster. He needed one last spring to reach his state of mind. He lost track of the time. His legs moved as if they had life of their own. His mind floated inside the endless sea of time, but his thoughts were confused. Deep inside his soul, he felt them more than heard them, ghostly voices around and within him. Such voices, screams of sorrow and rage, came from the past. Corazón Negro's gaze narrowed. He knew from where came the feelings that were spinning inside his being. Rapa Nui was Holy Ground because the entire island was a graveyard. The voices came and went like the waves of the sea besides him. Inside the mist of his mind, he could see the population of Rapa Nui had reached its peak, and that more than 10,000 souls had exceeded the capabilities of the small island's ecosystem. Resources became scarce, and the once lush palm forests were destroyed–cleared for agriculture and to move the massive stone Moai. In this regard, Easter Island had become a metaphor for ecological disaster—a vivid example of what could happens if the men were not in touch with their Power, with the eternal circle of life. The Spiral of Time. The Dream. Corazón Negro saw a thriving and advanced social order decline into bloody civil war and, evidently, cannibalism—a concept that he understood very well. Eventually, the islanders themselves tore all of the Moai standing along the coast down. The Aztec knew all of the statues now erected around the island were the result of recent archaeological efforts. At last a familiar voice came to him: the voice of his Dream, the inert voice that had been with him since the first time he had reached the world beyond. A loud voice that seemed to fill the whole creation. LOOK AND LEARN, SON OF THE WOLF. WHAT YOU ARE FEELING RIGHT NOW IS LILITU'S INFLUENCE ON THIS LAND. EVEN WHEN MIGHTY QUETZALCÓHUATL LIVED IN THIS PLACE BEFORE YOU MET HIM, LILITU'S POWER WAS STRONG ENOUGH TO DESTROY THE PARADISE HE HAD CONSTRUCTED. ARE YOU GOING TO LET HER WIN AGAIN? "No," Corazón Negro whispered. "I won't." THEN REMEMBER AND NEVER FORGET THE DEVASTATION IN YOUR SOUL. BE A MASTER, NOT A SLAVE... At that moment, Corazón Negro gazed off into the infinite. Nothing could disturb the strength of his run. His body moved in familiar forms with the grace of a deer and the strength of a jaguar. Sweat ran down his face, chest and legs and collected under his arms, dripping onto the sand. The stars were shining above him. ======== He kept running, breathing, sweating, and letting himself be absorbed by the vortex of his Dream. But in his moment of greatest concentration, he suddenly felt ill. A strange feeling hit him, chilling him in spite of the warmth he had generated in his run. A cold and slippery sensation ran like a snake from his tailbone into his skull, and he almost fell. He stopped abruptly, putting his feet firmly onto the sand, regaining his balance, grounding himself. He had no idea what had happened—then he bent over with a strong feeling of nausea, clutching his stomach. Then an incredible pain hit his right eye. His hand covered his features as a cry of pain escaped from his throat. He felt something enter his eye, scooping it out with a vicious movement. He knelt screaming, and then he drooped onto the sand. He felt an infinite pain running across his body. But even inside the whirling of pain, he knew his soul was inside someone else's body. He crawled upon the sand, trying to avoid the feeling, but a woman's voice screamed with fear. "¡No! ¡Por favor, no más!" the familiar voice cried out, obviously reacting to another presence in the darkness, the presence of another Immortal. Where was he? Inside who? He watched the blackness flying all around his soul. He felt himself strapped naked to a metal chair. Leather bindings wrapped around his wrists and ankles; bands were strapped tightly across his waist and forehead. The torturer picked up a sword and examined it carefully. "An exquisite work of art. Toledo, of course. Oh, don't worry," he said smiling. "I promise I won't use it to behead you." But then he did something far worse. He clamped the sword in a vise, and then leaned his weight against it suddenly, snapping it. Corazón Negro wailed inside the other Immortal's body, grief and sorrow flooding over his rage, knowing he would remember the sound of the broken sword forever. Even before anyone was identified, he knew who it was. Curi-Rayen—Elena Duran! "I will break you, Maria Elena Duran, just like I broke your blade," the torturer hissed directly in his face, his breath visible in the cold, windowless basement. NO! BY THE LOVE OF ALL THE GODS! NOT CURI-RAYEN, NOT HIS LOVE, NO! PLEASE NO! "What toy should we use today, Elena?" the torturer asked, his echoing voice filled with amusement and anticipation; the only sound Corazón Negro ever heard anymore, except for his own whimpers, his own pleadings, his own screams. "The sledgehammer? The knife? The branding iron?" The Immortal picked that up out of the coals in the small grill on the table and studied its glow. "Being burned is your least favorite, isn't it?" NO! PLEASE GOD! MAKE HIM STOP!!! MAKE HIM STOP!!! BY ALL THAT IS SACRED, MAKE HIM STOP!!! Corazón Negro yelled inside his mind. Corazón Negro whined, a hurt animal caught in a trap, feeling what Elena, his beloved Curi- Rayen felt—the pain, the fear, the anguish, the desperation—and the hopelessness. Burning, he was burning; his thigh—her thigh—was burning, again, God, no! MAKE HIM STOP!!! WHAT IS HE DOING TO HER??? LET ME GO!!! I NEED TO SAVE HER!!! "Choose, Elena. Choose, or I'll use them all." The torturer came near Corazón Negro, and he could feel the heat of his body as well as the hotter fire of the metal, as it came near his cold skin. "No, please, please, the... sledgehammer," Elena whispered inside Corazón Negro’s head. NO, FIGHT CURI-RAYEN!!! PLEASE FIGHT!!! FIGHT AS YOU ALWAYS HAVE!!! Corazón Negro yelled again inside his mind. But she didn't fight back, and the torturer lifted the sledgehammer high above his head. I'M GOING TO KILL YOU, YOU BASTARD!!! PRAY GOD I NEVER FIND YOU!!! Corazón Negro howled as he felt her and himself give in, completely surrender like a whipped, beaten dog. "CURI-RAYEN!!! CURI-RAYEN!!!" Corazón Negro wept as he lay on the sand. The Moai looked down on him, silent and speechless witnesses. ======== Corazón Negro opened his eyes. Instinctively, his hand flew toward the eye he was sure he had lost. His eyeball was there, but his hand was wet. He smelled it, recognizing that familiar sticky feel. It was blood. The sound of the waves came to him like in a dream from a far away land. He tried to stand, but he found his body reluctant to obey him. "Stay calm," a cold and familiar voice spoke behind him. Corazón Negro turned his head to see. The light of the bonfire hurt his gaze. "Where am I?" He asked, swallowing hard. His mouth was as dry his soul felt. "We are inside a cave under the cliff," the voice answered him. Corazón Negro recognized the voice. ""We are still in Rapa Nui," it said. Corazón Negro sighed out one word: "Zarach." The blond Immortal smiled. "Who else?" For the last eight years, the two Immortals had been constant companions while Zarach trained Corazón Negro to be the next Dreamer, the champion against Lilitu when the time of the last Gathering would come. Suddenly, Corazón Negro remembered the pain, the desperation, the sadness, and the rage. "Curi-Rayen!!! She needs me!!!" he yelled, trying to stand up again. This time he got as far as his knees before he collapsed once more. "Relax" Zarach said in calm voice. "I'm glad you're back. You've been delirious for more than two weeks. You are weak and need to recover your strength." Corazón Negro grabbed his head. He felt a thousand knives carving inside his brain. "Two weeks?" "I found you lying on the beach," Zarach said putting another dry branch inside the bonfire. "You'd had a vision." "It was not a vision, it was a nightmare. Curi-Rayen was being tortured." Zarach lowered his two-colored eyes. "I know. Bethel did it." "Oh God!!!" Corazón Negro yelled. "Tell me it wasn't true, the pain, the rapes, the burning! Tell me it was a nightmare!" he pleaded, covering his face with both hands as an infinite agony invaded his soul. Because he knew he'd seen the truth. "I wish I could," Zarach declared, ashamed, then sighed. "Lilitu kept her word as she always has. She sent Bethel to hurt Elena, just as she promised to do ten years ago. You were there, remember?" Corazón Negro was sobbing, the tears dripping down onto the sand. He was afraid to ask, afraid to know the answer to his next question. "Is Elena…? Is she…?" "Dead?" Zarach ended for him. "No, she escaped." The blond Immortal paused to make sure Corazón Negro understood his words. "Connor and Duncan MacLeod helped her a month ago," he finished. Corazón Negro's cry continued. "A month ago? How—?" "Does it really matter how?" Zarach said, raising his eyes. "She is alive, although—she's broken." The Aztec shook his head. "Is she safe, then?" At Zarach's nod, the Aztec continued. "I need to go to her!!! She needs me!!!" Zarach watched Corazón Negro for a very long time, his two-colored eyes shining like the charcoals of the bonfire in front of them. "That might be a bad idea," he finally said. Corazón Negro had managed to sit up. "What are you talking about?!" he spat at Zarach desperately. "I should never have left her in the first place!" Zarach sighed again, his eyes narrowing. "Maybe that is Lilitu's plan. She knows that you would go to Elena. It could be a trap. It's a big risk. Besides," he said studying the Aztec, "you're not yet recovered. Your Dream possessed you strongly this time. You are not ready yet to go—" "You go—to hell, Zarach!!!" Corazón Negro exclaimed, standing up awkwardly, taking big gasping breaths, trying to push down the pain for his beloved that threatened to send him back to the ground again. "This time you won't be able to stop me!" he yelled, swaying. Zarach stood up to catch the Aztec before he dropped down into the bonfire. "Listen to me. I know your pain, and believe me, some day you'll have your revenge—we all will! But right now, you need to recover your strength. You are in no position to make a stand against anyone." Corazón Negro grabbed Zarach strongly by his arms. "There is a way Zarach! You know there is a way!" Putting his face closer to Zarach's, he demanded, "Kill me now! Kill me now and my body will recover all its strength by the time I revive! A couple of hours—no more!" "I won't—" "Don't you dare say you won't, Zarach!!! Not now!!! Not to me!!!" Corazón Negro yelled, grabbing Zarach by the shoulders, his fingers digging into the other man's torso. "You are the Son of the Endless Night!!! Many times I've trembled thinking about the kinds of aberrations you've committed during thirteen millennia! So don't tell me you cannot kill me right now! I don't believe you!!!" Zarach sat Corazón Negro gently down beside the bonfire. "Listen to me; I…" "You do it or I will!" Corazón Negro interrupted. "I need to go to Curi-Rayen!!! She needs me!!!" "You are not listening," Zarach continued with infuriating calm. "I'm not afraid to kill. That is the easiest part. What worries me is what you're going to do afterwards? I told you Elena is safe now. She has not heard from you in eight long years. She has a new life, with the Highlander. Let her be." With the Highlander? The words echoed in Corazón Negro head, and he wondered which MacLeod, but then dismissed the thought. It didn't matter. "I know we're not together anymore," he admitted more to himself than to Zarach. "It was my choice to leave her then, just as it's my choice to go to her now. Don't you understand that she's part of my soul?" Pulling himself to his feet again, trembling like a candle in the wind, he stated, "I am going to Curi-Rayen, with or without your help!!!" Zarach sat besides him, nodding in understanding. "I'm worried about you, my friend. Your training is not complete. However," he said looking toward the shining sunlight that started to hit the earth outside the cave. "I see you're determined. The Dream has it's own will— maybe this is another test in your training. Maybe the Spiral is calling you toward the continent." At the moment Corazón Negro didn't care about the Dream, the Power, or the Spiral. "Will you do it or not?" he asked one last time. Zarach smiled. Then he took out a strange rock carved with bizarre symbols. "I found this yesterday under the Ahu of Akivi, the sanctuary and celestial observatory built by Quetzalcóhuatl in this island, around the year 1500 before Christ, more or less. I found the writing beneath the seven Moai that look towards the point where the sun sets during the equinox," he said, showing the piece of stone to Corazón Negro. "It's written in Rongo- Rongo, the original language of the natives of this island. There are only twenty-one known tablets in existence, scattered in museums and private collections—I guess no one knows about this one." Corazón Negro took the offered stone and studied it. It was a tiny piece, with remarkably regular glyphs, about one centimeter high, highly stylized and formalized, and carved in shallow grooves running the length of the tablet. "Oral tradition said that scribes used obsidian flakes or shark teeth to cut the glyphs and that writing was brought by the first colonists led by Hotu Matua. Watchers know about these tablets," Zarach explained. "But the Watchers don't know that Quetzalcóhuatl, called Hotu Matua, was the one who brought the original inhabitants to this island. The Watcher brotherhood was unable to decipher any of the twenty-one tablets." Corazón Negro closed his eyes, remembering his Immortal father. He sighed and returned the carved to Zarach. "Do you want to know what this one says?" The ancient Immortal asked, taking the stone, and without waiting for an answer, he started to read, left corner to right, then turning the tablet over to finish. "The Mother of all abominations of the earth will unleash four of her powers on the planet, but a woman clothed with the sun and the moon will vanquish this army of darkness." Zarach lowered the tablet and gazed at Corazón Negro. "This is one of the prophecies of Quetzalcóhuatl, my child. Some months ago Lilitu reunited the Four Horsemen, but an ancient enemy of theirs vanquished them. Your friend Duncan was also involved. So was my Immortal son Kadosh, the one known as Death." Zarach paused, staring into the bonfire for a moment. His voice danced as the flames when he spoke again. "Last night I dreamed about a face I haven't dreamt of in a very long time, not since Quetzalcóhuatl's death." Zarach sighed, still looking into the fire. "I dreamed about the Witch of the Donan Woods. The Priestess Cassandra." "Who is she?" "She is the Mother of the Voice of Death," Zarach answer. "At one time she was a great Priestess, but right now she is but a shadow of what she once was. However…" Zarach said, thinking. "What is the connection?" Corazón Negro asked, troubled. This was not bringing him closer to helping Curi-Rayen. "The Horsemen were Headless Children, like the Dreamers you met in Haiti, and the Immortals in Argentina. Maybe Mother is going to kill Cassandra for destroying her Horsemen," Zarach thought for a moment, then said, "Add another to her list." Impatient, the Aztec said, "I don't care about the witch! What about Curi-Rayen? Are you going to help me or not?" Zarach gave his student a patronizing smile. "No. I won't. You must let Elena go. Remember your Dream. Remember how the two of you parted. Remember." Corazón Negro noticed the other man's two-colored eyes shining suspiciously, but he fell under that spell as he always had. "You must keep in mind those terrible days. Are you ready?" he finished, standing up and facing the Aztec, who nodded. "This is going to hurt." It hurt more than he hoped, but not physically, especially since Zarach didn't kill him right away. First Zarach did something worse. He made Corazón Negro remember... ======== XÓCHITL/FLOWER Duran Estancia near Buenos Aires, Argentina 1991 The road to Curi-Rayen's home was a bright one, and he felt the world around him along the way. Life had gone on, unaware of the secret beings who danced in the dark, hidden in the shadows of time. He stared at the road in front him. Why must he abandon Curi-Rayen forever? he asked himself for the thousandth time that day. For the sake of the world? For the command of his Dream? For his destiny? No answer could calm his tormented soul. For an instant, his eyes watched the clouds on the horizon. The vapors shone majestically from their place in the blue sky. "Why? Why Quetzalcóhuatl? Why me?" he asked in soft voice. He drove through the village of Veiloso. Soon enough he would be on Curi-Rayen's lands. It seemed like the same children were there, watching him, although he knew most of the ones from six years ago were not children any more. Some of these were still barefoot and dirty, but not starving, unlike so many children all around the world who were suffering the effects of Lilitu's influence. Not to mention those who would never get to grow up—unless he did his duty. As he left the town behind, all he could see again was the tall pampa grass. "Why?" he asked out loud this time. "Tell me, Old Snake? Why was I chosen? Why not someone else? Why must the life of a Dreamer be so painful? Why do I feel myself a slave to this Power? And why must I be alone—why can't I be with the woman I love?" Curi-Rayen's estancia was just past the village; he drove faster both eager and afraid to tell her he was leaving her perhaps forever, knowing he had to see her, tell her to her face. Behind him, the memories of a lost life were frozen in time, his mind lost, maybe forever more. "Tell me why!" he yelled for the last time. Silence answered him. As it had always been since the beginning of time, the Gods answered their faithful with silence. But then he felt it. A familiar sensation ran through his back and up to his neck. Something was wrong. Something terrible was about to happen with his life. What was it? He stopped the Jeep as he felt the loneliness around him. Then the vision hit him like the kick of a mule: he saw Curi-Rayen; a confused Curi-Rayen. She had a Dream too. She was trying to find her peace of mind. But she was not alone. Another presence, an evil one, was after her. Lilitu. THERE IS YOUR ANSWER, his Power said inside him. YOU MUST LET HER GO, BROTHER. YOU MUST LET HER GO, OR SHE WILL BE IN GREAT DANGER. LET HER WALK HER PATH. REMEMBER WHAT QUETZALCÓHUATL TOLD YOU: YOU MUST SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM THE WORLD IN ORDER TO BECOME A TRUE DREAMER. Corazón Negro opened his eyes in disbelief and finally, realization. Curi-Rayen and he needed to be apart, to fulfill their own destinies. His presence was a danger to her. Regardless of his great love toward her, he understood. He must let her go. Finally he arrived at the estancia.. The place hadn't changed much over in the four hundred years he had known it. The same colors and smells. The same place full of life. And as always, the loyal Oniocos working in harmony inside it. They were the only mortals. He drove through the main gate and parked his rented car by the stables, then walked back up to the house itself. He'd last been here late in 1985, right after the devastating Mexico City earthquake, which had been caused by the decapitation, on Holy Ground, of his Immortal father Quetzalcóhuatl by their Immortal enemy, Lilitu. That incident had put Corazón Negro into a kind of coma, and Curi-Rayen had come to him, brought him here to her home, loved and cared for him and endangered all her people to protect him until he was able to return to real life on his own. Then she'd followed him all over the world in his hunt for Lilitu until she decided she needed a break from the constant battles, the constant killing. Although she had returned home to Argentina three years before, he was confident Curi- Rayen would be glad to see him. For centuries, even when they were not physically together, the bond that held them had been strong enough to make them one, and they had never let each other down ... until now. More extensive stables, a new coat of paint, more people and horses—otherwise the estancia was the same bustling place as before. The smell of horseflesh, leather and sweat filled the air, and a group of gauchos crowded around a paddock to watch one of their number breaking in a young stallion. Closer to the house, the Aztec paused by the blacksmith's to see if José Prieto was still there, wielding his hammer. Corazón Negro knew he was delaying the inevitable meeting with Curi-Rayen, whom he desperately wanted to see but didn't know quite how to say a final goodbye. Although he had not yet sensed an Immortal, he knew the denizens of the estancia were aware of his presence, and indeed before he got inside the blacksmith's door he was accosted by three large barking dogs, closely followed by a man he knew, Juanito Onioco. "Corazón Negro!" the young man called out, then, "¡Basta, sinverguenzas!" to the dogs, who stopped barking but came up to sniff Corazón Negro eagerly. The Immortal turned to Juanito Onioco. No longer a youth in his twenties, Juanito had grown into a fine, although relatively short man. Like almost all the other men who worked here, Juanito was dressed in a white shirt, dark pants and boots and a worn leather hat. His bronzed skin and callused hands testified to the hard outside work this man had done all his life as a gaucho and the son of the foreman of the estancia. "How are you?" Juanito said in a curious rather than entirely welcoming tone, and didn't come too close. Corazón Negro knew why—as a visiting Immortal he was suspect, although he'd hoped he could be the exception. Time to put the young man at ease. Corazón Negro smiled his warmest smile and held out his hand. "Juanito! I am fine, and you're looking very well! I hope your father Carlos and your grandmother Carmela are healthy!" he said, shaking Juanito's hand. The smile that had come to the young gaucho's face disappeared behind a shadow. "Abuela is still going strong, but my father... was killed last year. It was a car accident in Buenos Aires. A drunk driver... he hardly ever went into the city, but..." He broke off, and Corazón Negro knew quite well how deep and slow-healing the wound caused by the death of one's father could be. "I'm so sorry to hear it, hombre. I was going to say hello to José Prieto if he's still here, but I guess I should go on to the house and—" The man in question came to the open door of his workshop and took the Aztec's hand, pumping it enthusiastically. He was the only man in the estancia who had ever been actually bigger and broader than Corazón Negro, with bulging muscles and a ready smile under his black mustache. "Corazón Negro, I thought it was you! Welcome back! I am sure la Señorita will be very happy to see you, as I am!" Corazón Negro felt like his right hand was caught in a vise, but he put his other hand on the blacksmith's shoulder in camaraderie. "Thank you for saying so, José. I'm glad to see you're still at the forge, keeping those horses shod," he added, noting the other man's dirt-covered face and worn leather apron and remembering he had never seen José Prieto clean or dressed otherwise. "God has good honest work for all of us, mi amigo. I do the best I can. But don't waste any more time with me," he said, releasing his death grip. "I am sure La Señorita is dying to see you," he added, winking and smiling broadly at Juanito, who shook his head and smiled back. Corazón Negro caught the exchange but not the joke, although he knew there was one, and felt sure he'd find out what it was soon enough. But he also sensed that everything was not right, and he asked Juanito, "Has something happened?" Juanito sighed. "Yes, but everything is calm now." "Now?" Corazón Negro asked, his eyes narrowing. He could tell that obviously this man was not happy with his visit. "What do you mean?" Juanito led him toward the house as they talked. "A couple of days ago, one of your kin came. He is dead now. La Señorita took care of him as she always has." Corazón Negro nodded sadly, understanding. "I see." Maybe that was why Juanito seemed angry with him. Maybe he thought the same about all Immortals but Curi-Rayen—including himself. He tried to explain. "That is the nature of the Game. That's the nature of our lives." "Really?" Juanito asked bitterly. "Well, I suppose you Immortals can get used to it, but we mere mortals cannot." Corazón Negro decided to end the 'welcome home' chat and get right down to business. "Where is Elena?" "She and a friend went out early in the morning to ride." "Yes; I remember that Elena loves to ride every morning. May I wait for her in the meantime? Maybe I could help you with something while I wait." Juanito was about to answer, but a woman's voice interrupted him from the kitchen threshold of the house. "Of course not! Mariaelena would kill us if she finds that we put her love to work just as he arrives! How are you, mi niño?" she asked him, flinging herself into his open arms. Carmela Onioco was even shorter than her grandson, but had the smile and heart of a giant, in Corazón Negro's opinion. That, and the large warm kitchen, the familiar odor of baking bread, even the dogs still underfoot, made him feel at home. He should have known he could count on Carmela for a good welcome at least. Corazón Negro hugged her back fiercely, then pulled away, without letting her go completely, to look at her. She was older, but the wonderful smile and the enormous heart were still obviously there. "I am very glad to be here, but I'm so sorry to hear about Carlos," he whispered. Her eyes filled instantly, and the Aztec felt his heart tighten. "My son is with God, but we miss him every day. Juanito has taken over and is doing a superb job," she continued proudly. "La Señorita has told us how happy she is with him, and how confident she is in his judgment and training." "Of course," Corazón Negro said, glancing at the other man. "He had a wonderful father to teach him. While I'm here I would like to pay my respects to him at his gravesite, if I may." Corazón Negro never failed to visit several gravesites at the small cemetery of the estancia, including that of Elena's father, Don Alvaro Duran, and of several Oniocos Corazón Negro has known over the years. "Of course you may. But Mariaelena is not here—as you probably know. Don't you remember that she goes riding every morning after breakfast? She's with Maria." "Ah, yes, the morning ride," Corazón Negro repeated then asked, "Maria?" The friend Juanito had mentioned. Her name was not familiar. Carmela nodded. "Some things have changed since you were last here. But I will let Mariaelena tell you everything. In the meantime, make an old woman happy and tell me that you're hungry!" she said. Corazón Negro laughed, realizing that grandmothers' need to feed their loved ones had not changed in centuries and probably never would. But before he could answer he sensed the buzz of an Immortal. "She's back," he said, and went back out to through the kitchen door toward the stables to meet his love. And there she was, astride a horse! She looked strong, happy, and absolutely beautiful—her black hair shone and her gray eyes were filled with joy at seeing him. The first time he'd seen Curi-Rayen she'd been on a horse looking down on him. It was where she looked best, and where she belonged. His heart leaped in his chest now as it had then, with joy and expectation, and other less happy emotions this time. Her people had obviously told her it was he, and she swung her leg over the saddle horn and leaped down, running to him, and he braced himself happily. There was no hesitation on her part, no thought that he was an Immortal and therefore possibly dangerous, and she threw herself into his open arms with the same force she always used, making him rock onto his heels. "Corazón Negro!" she whispered, pressing fully against him. But now her usual greeting changed, because instead of kissing him full on the mouth as he expected, she gave him a soft peck on the cheek and stepped away from him, turning to the other woman who had ridden in with her. Well, three years hadn't been that long! he thought, confused, as his eyes followed Curi- Rayen to her riding companion, still in her saddle. This young woman, who had to be Maria, was in her mid-twenties, golden-haired, and had the greenest eyes Corazón Negro had ever seen—eyes that were studying him with no small measure of ... what was it? ... fear? Oh, yes, it was fear, no question. Maria was not even attempting to hide it. Curi-Rayen saw it, and went to Maria. "No os preocupeis," she said soothingly, putting a hand on Maria's left thigh. "I told you he's an old and dear friend, and no danger to us. In fact, we're actually safer with him here than we were two days ago." She turned back to Corazón Negro and with a proud smile, said, "Corazón Negro, meet Maria Isabel Alonso." And with those words and Curi-Rayen's body language Corazón Negro understood three things—that Maria knew about and feared Immortals, that she had seen the Immortal who had come to the estancia, and that Curi-Rayen and Maria were more than just riding companions. For one long moment Corazón Negro felt an unreasonable total jealousy. Curi-Rayen was 'his' woman! She always had been, since the seventeenth century—even when they'd been apart he'd always known he could come back to her. And now this little girl, this upstart, thinking she could replace him in Curi-Rayen's affections! He could swat her like a fly...! These thoughts galloped through his mind, even as his heart said to him, who do you think you are? How can you even consider hurting this child!? What gives you the right—the fact that you're a big strong man!? Then his Dreamer soul possessed him. He was a new man. He must be beyond such carnal thoughts!—and shame filled him. He lowered his eyes, grateful he had a moment to compose himself while Maria dismounted. He glanced at Curi-Rayen, who was studying him closely, and realized Curi-Rayen had deliberately given him these few minutes. He forced calm into his mind and a pleasant friendly expression onto his face as he smiled at the girl standing, still fearfully, in front of him. Curi-Rayen was as tall as his chin— Maria didn't even reach his shoulders. Gingerly he held out his hand while he let out a long breath. "I am very happy to meet you, Maria Isabel," he whispered. "Anyone who is a friend of Curi-Rayen is automatically my friend, for life." He glanced once at the stable boy who had come up to silently lead the horses away, then brought his concentration back to Maria. Maria looked puzzled. "Curi-Rayen?" she asked. "You mean Elena?" she said, looking at the other woman. "Yes," he explained, "that is Elena's Mapuche name." He was still holding his hand out; she had not taken it, but he was determined to be charming and friendly. "It is part of her heritage, as I believe Mexico is part of yours." Under Maria's Spanish features he had noted what he was sure was her Aztec lineage. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Curi-Rayen nod slightly, so he knew he'd guessed correctly. "I am an Aztec by birth—we have this in common, you and I." It was exactly the wrong thing to say. "The Aztecs were very bloody—didn't they have human sacrifices?" she asked, fear leaping back into her eyes like flames in a fire. She actually shrunk back a little from him, and Curi-Rayen—no, he'd call her Elena while he was here—put her arm around Maria's shoulders. Corazón Negro put his hand down—there was no question of Maria's shaking it now, while Elena said, "Maria, why don't you go on in to lunch? I'm sure Carmela is dying to continue her mission to fatten you up." The girl hesitated, and Elena pushed her softly in the direction of the house. "Corazón Negro and I need a moment. We'll be right in." Dubiously Maria agreed and walked away, not without looking back once at the Immortals. As soon as the girl went into the house, Elena turned to Corazón Negro. "You scared her," she accused him. "I know I did, and I am ashamed." She shook her head. "We had an unwelcome visitor two days ago. He came after me while Maria and I were riding, and he was so eager for my head he practically dragged me from my mount. Even though I sent her away she saw the beginning of the fight. His decapitated body fell on me and I was covered in blood—I had to literally jump into one of the canals to clean myself off a little, then burn my clothes. The whole thing absolutely terrified her." "So Juanito told me. And now here I am, making it worse. I'm sorry. It was a moment of weakness, and it will not happen again," he stated firmly. She studied him for a moment. "The Corazón Negro I know would 'never' harm an innocent young woman. I just want to be sure your hunt for Lilitu hasn't changed you, hasn't turned you into someone else," she said, watching closely for his reaction. He was hurt. "Of course it has changed me, but not that way, Curi-Rayen!" Maybe he shouldn't have come. Running his fingers through his hair, he added, "However, if you feel—" "I feel that I love you as I always have, and that hasn't changed, mi vida," she assured him, putting a hand on his chest and smiling at him. Her smile warmed him. This was his old Curi-Rayen, not the cautious woman of a moment ago. She continued, "I'm even a little flattered that you feel jealous. As long as you understand that I'm with Maria now, and—" "I understand perfectly," he said, thinking, I hope you will understand, too. He needed to break with her honestly, to her face. He owed her that much. "Then you don't disapprove?" "No. I'm glad that you're happy. And I promise I will be all smiles and soft words with Maria. That is," he added, "if you want me to stay..." "Of course I want you to stay! You have been welcome at this house since 1642. 'That' hasn't changed either." She hugged him hard enough to make his ribs feel it, and he hugged her back. Then she moved away, saying, "I hope she didn't see us out the kitchen window. She's very sensitive. An artist. We all have to tread lightly with her." "I can be soft," he said. "I remember," she smiled back. Curi-Rayen welcomed him and loved him as she always had, making him feel guiltier by the hour. And the girl Maria never quite lost her fear of him. It wasn't until two days later when he finally found an opportunity to tell Curi-Rayen—Elena—why he'd come. ======== They were riding on the Pampa on two beautiful sibling mares, Ester and Sara. For once Maria had not come with them. Try as he might, Corazón Negro had not managed to win her over, and since he had to leave anyway, get back to Zarach, get back to the hunt which was his whole life at the moment, he decided this was as good a time as any to say goodbye to Elena. The morning was glorious. The sun still hung low on the horizon, promising light and heat to come. They dismounted to remove their ponchos and look at the rising day, and so Corazón Negro could make his daily obeisance to the sun. He knelt to salute the leading star. In the brightening light the horizon turned gold, russet, and flaming red-orange before the advancing morning put the bright colors to work for another day. Corazón Negro bowed in respect, taking from beneath his shirt his Maquáhuitl, raising the weapon toward the sky. "Thank you for letting me live another day, Great Spiral of Time," he whispered. When he was done Elena was sitting on her folded up poncho, watching the sunrise. This was the time, he decided. "I came here to tell you something," he began. "You mean it wasn't just the pleasure of my company, or Carmela's cooking?" she asked, laughing, then sobered at the seriousness of his expression. "Tell me," she whispered. Corazón Negro gazed at her. His face was a mask of sadness. "Three years ago you told me that you couldn't hunt Lilitu forever." He paused, trying to find the right words. "You had that choice. I never did." Elena's eyes narrowed. "Meaning what?" Corazón Negro sighed. How could he possibly explain this to her? "All my life I've been trying to find the meaning of my existence. Even with my full life and all I've accomplished, I always felt that there was something missing within my soul. There was always a deep, deep hole inside my heart. Your love has filled that missing part for the last four hundred years." Corazón Negro hesitated. He didn't want to continue, and she seemed to know it. "I know you won't lie to me," she said, getting up and walking to him. She took his hand and looked hard into his eyes. "Tell me," she pressed. He ran his free hand back through his hair. "You must understand that I wish—I need to know what Lilitu is after. Sometimes I have the feeling she is marking time in preparation for some incomprehensible abomination. Such is the destiny of one who masters eternity and is consumed by evil." Elena's face twisted in confusion. "You are avoiding the point. Why?" Corazón Negro nodded. "I have a destiny, beloved. While it has never been properly explained, Zarach and myself have theorized the Dream is calling me toward itself. We think living beings and the constant movement in the universe generate something like the field of life, and that it wishes me to be with it. Early humans suspected its existence, and Quetzalcóhuatl found the way to reach it, yet remained ignorant of its potential for millennia." Corazón Negro paused. "The Dream is the power of the Gods. Some believe it directs and control our actions. Knowledge of the Dream and how to manipulate it is what gives Lilitu her powers." Corazón Negro stared at Elena until she began to fidget uncomfortably. When he spoke again it was in a tone so gray and shadowy that Elena jumped in spite of herself. "I must learn the ways of the Dream, my love, if I'm to fight against Lilitu; especially if I'm to defeat her. Nothing else must be on my mind. No other feeling must fill my being. In order to understand the Dream, I must be alone, away in body and spirit—away from 'you.'" For a long silent moment she just stared at him, shaking her head. "I thought you would always be there for me," she murmured with such sadness and disappointment it hurt his heart. The pain he felt inside his soul was overwhelming him. Making a maximum effort he spoke again. "I will always love you, Curi-Rayen!" he exclaimed, meaning it. He wanted so much to touch her, to love her, to express with his body the love he felt in his heart and mind for her... but he knew he couldn't. All he could do was squeeze her hand, waiting for her reaction. And he knew what that would be. She pulled her hand out of his and moved away abruptly, taking up the poncho, folding it, tying it behind her saddle—all in deathly silence. He could only imagine how badly he'd hurt her, and got a glimpse of it when she looked fully in his face and said, "Go, then. I want you out of my house and out of my life right away, this very morning." She swung onto her mare without bothering with her stirrups and looked down on him. He would have preferred if she yelled at him, but her voice was cold and steady. "The first time we met was on the pampa, just like this, remember? I looked down on you from my horse and thought you were the most magnificent man I had ever met. I've never doubted your love for me, your loyalty. Until now." She turned her mare's head, and urged her forward, calling back over her shoulder, "Don't come back." Corazón Negro watched her go. A tear burned down his cheek. Soon, Elena's figure disappeared in the flat view in front of him. He lowered his head, letting his feelings for her taking over his senses. He thought of her hand, a hand he would never touch again. He remembered the smell of her hair, the love in her gaze—her love for him. Gone forever. Everything was gone, never to return. Then he thought that maybe the suffering of one man was the suffering of all. Distances were irrelevant to the Dream. He was afraid that if Lilitu was not stopped her evil would eventually reach out to engulf all humankind, whether they, Immortals, opposed her or ignored her. He was about to oppose her and didn't even know if it would work, if he could defeat her. But all he could think of was Curi-Rayen. He raised his arms and yelled toward the sky: "Damn my soul for making her suffer like this!" ======== Rapa Nui (Easter Island) South Pacific Ocean West of the Chilean coast November 1996 Corazón Negro recovered his senses, tasting the bitter flavor of Curi-Rayen's final goodbye five years ago. He turned his blazing gaze toward Zarach. "Now do you remember?" the blond Immortal asked him. "Let her be, child. Let her go. You are a Dreamer. You must accept things as they are." "I must?" Corazón Negro said rising from the ground of the cave. "Why? I never asked for this gift. You know I need to see her." Even with the pain of this vision still in his head—the pain that Zarach had put there—Corazón Negro would not be swayed. Curi-Rayen was hurt; she needed him; that's all that mattered to him right now. "I leave tonight, Zarach, with or without your help. What is it going to be?" Zarach nodded, apparently giving up. "I will do what you ask. After all, altruism is part of your being." Then a strange look appeared in his two-colored eyes. "But remember, you can't undo what has happened." A smile of perverse youthfulness suddenly filled his face. "Every one who seeks the truth deserves the punishment of finding it." ======== Two days later The view in front of him was a familiar one. It had been nearly past midnight when the plane landed at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires. Corazón Negro's loneliness had done nothing but increase during his trip. He had only slept a couple of hours since he had left Zarach for the first time in eight years, since both Immortals had joined together to find Lilitu. Useless. Not even the Power of the Dream had helped them succeed in their task. But their setbacks were not the worst for the Aztec: inside Corazón Negro's soul, Curi-Rayen's love still burned like a flame. He knew he would never forget her. That emotion would remain inside him forever. He felt guilty for not being with her when she told him eight years ago that she was tired of hunting Lilitu, the most powerful and evil Immortal on the earth. Since Corazón Negro defeated one of Lilitu's evil pawns in the fortress of Alamut in order to save Curi-Rayen, both of them had understood that the only way to get rid of 'Mother's' danger was for them to find her and destroy her; a task that had been difficult since the beginning. Searching a possible lair of the witch, they had traveled all over the world, digging in every possible hole where their enemy could be resting. From T'ai-shan, the Sacred Mountain of China, to the Island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. From the sacred lake of Tajt-I-Sulayman in Iran to the Pyramids of Egypt. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They had delayed their plans to marry because of their hunt. "Let's get this done first," Curi- Rayen had said. "When you're my husband, I want you all to myself; I don't want to share you with another woman, not even Lilitu." But eventually Curi-Rayen had found the hunt pointless. No matter their efforts, no matter their will, Lilitu was gone. Curi-Rayen had left for Argentina shortly thereafter. But before she went, she had told him that he was welcome to return to her anytime. He had returned, in 1991, to say a final goodbye to her, but this was different. She was hurt and she needed him. Corazón Negro felt a few curious eyes watching him as he approached customs. He offered his passport—fortunately he had traveled extensively enough to know what do and say in case he was challenged. The officer openly stared. "First time in Argentina?" "No," he answered, and his own voice sounded like someone else's inside his head. "I'm here for business," he explained. He knew he looked odd; he hadn't slept or shaved in almost three days and felt drained, tired, squeezed dry. Looking in the mirror, he had seen a stranger with a lost, faraway look. It was a relief when he finally was able to rent a Jeep to go toward Curi-Rayen's estancia. He sat behind the wheel and drove. How would she welcome him? Was she alone? Was she still with Maria? Or was she with somebody else? Zarach hadn't known these details about her, and Corazón Negro hadn't asked. But he'd find out very soon. ======== MIQUIZTLI/DEATH Duran Estancia near Buenos Aires, Argentina November 1996 Duncan MacLeod had left Elena Duran crying on the grand staircase of her estancia, but she didn't stay there for long. After only a few minutes had passed, Carmela, Elena's old housekeeper, came to her mistress. "M'hija," she whispered. "Can I do something for you?" Elena raised her head, heavy with weeping. "I must be such a horrible creature!" she said, feeling sorry for herself. "I'm worthless, and I drive everyone away!" Carmela took Elena's hand. "You are not worthless!" she insisted. "And you will never drive the Oniocos away—we will always be here to welcome you to your home." Elena shook her head. "If you're here because of an ancient promise made by your ancestors, I release you from that burden!" she stated, sobbing. "No!" Carmela insisted. "The promise is important, yes—but so are you, you personally. Don't you know how much we love you? Don't you know Juanito and I, and others here, would die for you, for Mariaelena Duran? You are a wonderful loving child, a precious part of God's creation!" Bethel was a part of God's creation too, Elena thought. She looked at Carmela, searching for the love the old woman had spoken of and finding only pity. And she didn't need pity. Abruptly, Elena rose and walked through the dining room and into her dojo. At the threshold, she turned and snarled at Carmela, "I don't want to be disturbed. By ANYONE. For ANYTHING!" she yelled, realizing as she slammed and locked the door that if an Immortal came ... well, they'd interrupt her for that; she was sure. Exhausted in body and spirit, she pulled out an exercise mat and practically collapsed onto it, falling into a fitful doze, and immediately starting to dream. She was dreaming of a time and place she hadn't known before. But in a bizarre way, she felt she knew what she was looking at. A large number of armed fighters were marching toward war. She was looking down at the army from a safe, high place, and mysteriously, she could understand the words she heard, the symbols she saw, and even more. For a moment, her mind became mixed in with the men's collective soul. Their thoughts were hers. Even through the rain, it was a magnificent sight: the great Aztec army forming up on the empty ground east of Lake Texcoco. The plain bristled with spears and sparkled with bright colors and everywhere the sun glinted from obsidian points and blades. There must be more than ten thousand warriors. The great army was walking toward the city of Texcála, an enemy nation of the Aztec Empire. And Corazón Negro was their battle chief. FLASH! Suddenly, Elena Duran was no longer a mere spectator from afar—she was in the middle of the battlefield, although the painted warriors around her didn't notice her. The thunder of the massed drums started violently. Not even the muffling rain all about could mute the earthquake rumble to anything less than bone shaking. Elena had fought guerrilla, hit-and- run warfare against the Spanish, but she had never been a part of such a huge battle. She trembled with fear and excitement. The sounds of battle began when the Texcaltéca rushed after Corazón Negro's Aztec warriors in full force, neatly falling into Corazón Negro's trap. The air was filled with the whoop of war cries, the shrieks and curses of wounded men, and above all, the whistling of arrows and warbling of flung javelins, pointed and bladed with keen obsidian. As if they exulted in their intent and ability to deal death, the projectiles sang as they flew through the air. All around her Elena saw men fall, wounded and dying, screaming and bleeding, then break and run back for the near side of the river, and she ran with them. In the middle of he chaos, Elena watched Corazón Negro fight with his Maquáhuitl, dressed with his Eagle Champion armor, his face painted black. Through the drizzle sound of the rain and screaming pain around her, she heard Corazón Negro encouraging his warriors, hitting with his weapon any enemy around him. Blood covered Elena's soul. Even though she knew it was a dream, and she was not there, she could smell and taste the flavor of the red fluid, the mud, the pain of the warriors injured, the courage of their attack, and the sweet aroma of the Aztecs' upcoming victory. FLASH! Then her vision changed again. The scene was not of celebration or even tranquil enjoyment of victory. Most of those warriors of both sides who had not been badly wounded lay about in postures of extreme exhaustion. Others, less lucky ones, writhed and contorted, screaming or moaning in agony while the physicians moved among them with their medicines and ointments, and the priests with their mumbled prayers. A few able-bodied men assisted the doctors, while others went about collecting scattered weapons, dead bodies and detached parts of bodies: hands, arms, legs, even heads. It would have been difficult to tell which of the men in the wasteland of carnage were the victors and which the vanquished. Over all hung the commingled smell of blood, sweat, dirt, urine and feces. In the middle of it all, Elena gagged. FLASH! Elena's vision was altered one more time. Now she was among the Aztecs who marched back home, along with a two-mile-long column of guarded captives. They finally reached the city onto the causeway over the water of Lake Texcoco, which led to Tenochtitlán. All along their path, civilians as well as the garrison of soldiers protecting the city cheered and owl-hooted, pelted the victorious army with flowers, and drummed and thumped, shouting war cries, pounding their spears on their shields as if their victory had been the greatest ever known. But all Elena could remember of the great victory was the carnage. FLASH! Elena looked at the Temple and gasped. It was the tallest edifice in Tenochtitlán, dominating the city. It was an awesome spectacle, for the twin temples on top it stood proudly, arrogantly, magnificently high above every other thing visible between the city and the Mainland Mountains. To a man standing at the very bottom of the Great Temple the structures on top were invisible. From the bottom he could see only the broad dual staircase ascending, appearing to narrow, and seeming to lead even higher that it did—into the blue sky, or, on other occasions, into the sunrise. Elena felt that a prisoner must have felt that he was truly climbing toward the very heavens of the high Gods. But at the top, the prisoner would find first the small pyramidal sacrificial stone and behind that the two temples, one to Huitzilopóchtli, God of war, and the other to Tlaloc, responsible for the harvests and peacetime prosperity. Those temples atop the Great Temple were but square stone rooms, each containing a hollow stone statue of the Gods, his mouth wide open to receive nourishment. But each temple was made much taller and more impressive by towering stone façade of roof comb: Huitzilopóchtli's indented with angular and red-painted designs; Tlaloc's indented with rounded and blue-painted designs. The body of the Great Temple was predominantly a gleaming almost-silver gesso white, but the two serpentine banisters, one along each flank of the dual staircase, were painted with reptilian scales of red, blue and green, and their big snakes heads, stretching out at the ground level, were entirely covered with beaten gold. However, one detail attracted her attention. The Great Temple's stairways were covered with blood, sticky and gleaming red in the sunlight. Suddenly, Elena understood. She was about to witness the horror of the human sacrifices! FLASH! The ceremony was resplendent, populous and awesome. The Heart of the Only World was a solid mass of people, of colorful fabrics, of perfumes, of feather plumes, of flesh, of gold, of body heat, of jewels. One reason for the crowding was that lanes had to kept open—by cordons of guards, their arms linked, struggling to contain the jostling mob—so the lines of prisoners could march to the Great Temple and ascends to the sacrificial altar. FLASH! Horrified, Elena saw that Corazón Negro himself welcomed the first prisoner-sacrificial victim atop the Temple. The prisoner looked at him, as was customary, because Corazón Negro had trapped him, and asked Corazón Negro the routine question. "Has my revered father any message he would like me to convey to the Gods?" Corazón Negro smiled. "Yes, my beloved son. Tell the Gods that I wish only that you be rewarded in death, as you have deserved in life. That you live the richest of afterlives, forever and forever." The prisoner nodded, and then, walking between the priest, he went up the remaining stairs to the stone block. The assembled priests performed their show; then the high priest wielded the obsidian knife. The plucked-out heart was handed to Corazón Negro, who took it in a ladle, carried it into the Temple of Huitzilopóchtli, and fed it into the God's open mouth. ======== Filled with horror, Elena screamed inside her dream, and she woke up, opening her only eye, expecting to be covered in blood from head to foot. But she was in the dojo in her estancia, lying on a training mat. Good—this had nothing to do with Claude Bethel; Claude Bethel was dead, Connor MacLeod had brought her Bethel's head, and she was safe—she was safe then. More important, that horrible dream was not real; it was not true, she told herself, even though she knew in her heart that it was, indeed, an old truth. She closed her eye, as she unwillingly remembered the dream. !Madre de Dios! She had seen what Corazón Negro, the Aztec warrior, had been really like! And he was a monster! How could she love a man like that? How? A man who killed for fun, for false gods! And worse—a man who enjoyed it, just like Bethel had enjoyed it. She buried her face in her hands, trying to think of an answer. For a moment, she remained where she was, her gaze cloudy, trying to clarify her confused mind. Her heart told her that the man she had known— the Corazón Negro she had loved all these years—had been a different person from the one in her dream, a kind and righteous human who cared about living things. But it was not enough. Her soul told her that no matter who Corazón Negro had been when he'd first come to her over three hundred years ago, he had been then, and would always will be, an Aztec. The son of another time. The child of another world. She sat up stiffly on the mat, which was not designed for sleeping. She didn't want to sleep anyway—sleeping just brought nightmares, mostly about Bethel, now about Corazón Negro, too. She wished Duncan were still here with her. But he'd left her—deserted her too, just as Corazón Negro had, and she felt alone and unloved, and she wished... Shaking her head, she looked around her and noticed that it was mid-morning and she was dressed. She remembered coming into the dojo; then she must have crashed, fallen asleep, exhausted from crying about Duncan. Had that only been today, this morning, a few hours ago? And why, now, was she dreaming about Corazón Negro? Because both 'loves' had abandoned her? She felt the tears come again, and she rubbed her eye almost angrily. She couldn't keep crying. She couldn't cry forever for what had happened to her, for her torture, for her near- blinding by Bethel, for her horrible quarrel with Connor MacLeod, for Duncan subsequently following his 'cousin' and leaving her. ======== New York City October 1996 Elena was still strapped to the same chair, hungry and tormented by thirst, sitting in her own blood and vomit, urine and feces. It had been bad; worse than she could have imagined. Bethel had come in cheerfully with scissors and a straight razor and had cut off all her hair, her beautiful hair! then shaved her head; she had felt every scrape of the cold, hard steel slowly cutting along her scalp. Then he used a branding iron, saying, "We had shaved heads and tattoos at Bergen-Belsen, but tattoos fade so quickly on Immortals. I found a brand to be so much better..." "!No! !No mas, por el amor de Dios!" she finally whispered. She started sweating, gasping in anticipation of his arrival, knowing what was coming, knowing she would scream, writhing impotently against her straps, screaming so loudly and so long she shredded her vocal chords, her nostrils filled with the stench of blood and of her own scorched flesh... Then it was over, and he left her, the lamp shining brightly in her face, keeping her awake, alone, starving and parched with thirst, naked in a cold, cold room. Until he came back, again. "Now, Elena. Let's start over. From the beginning," Bethel would say. Eventually she told him everything he wanted, anything he wanted. And every time he left her, strapped to the chair or to the cot where he raped her, the lamp shining brightly in her face, keeping her awake, alone and naked in a freezing room, starved and thirsty, she sobbed with rage and self-revulsion for what she had done, promising herself that she wouldn't tell him anything more, and failing the next time. Then she sobbed with fear and pain for what had been done to her and what would be done to her again. But after a while the rage and self-hatred were gone, and only the fear and pain remained. When she had told him everything he wanted to know, he started to tell her everything he wanted ‘her’ to know, things she didn't want to believe. He told her she belonged to him, body and soul. He told her she deserved to suffer, because she, too, had tortured others. He told her that Don Alvaro had never loved her—God, how she didn't want to believe that! Then Bethel told her how Connor MacLeod had betrayed her by sexually abusing Elena's little friend, the Japanese pre-Immortal child, Miyu. And in the end she believed everything Bethel told her because her world had shrunk in on itself, and the only two things left in it were Bethel's voice and her own pain; and the only way to stop the pain, even briefly, was to believe, truly believe, Bethel's voice. But then he told her something she wouldn't believe, no matter how much he hurt her... He told her Duncan MacLeod knew. When she refused to accept that, Bethel said, "Believe me, Elena. It's so obvious, but you can't see what's in front of your face! They have eyes, but they cannot see. Well," he shrugged. "If you insist on being blind..." That was the worst day of all. That was the day he cut out her right eye. So she sat in her chair, awake, exhausted, her throat raw from thirst and from screaming, from pleading with Bethel, from begging him, the empty space in her eye socket throbbing with remembered agony, alone and naked in the cold and dark. "I'm going to turn out the lights, Elena, so you will know what being in total darkness is really like." Pain and fear and nothing else. ======== Duran estancia near Buenos Aires, Argentina November 1996 After escaping New York, with Connor's help, she fled to Argentina. When Connor came to see her, she 'confessed' to Connor. "B-Bethel ... he told me ... I believed him, Connor ... he told me that you betrayed me, and Duncan knew ... and that the price for your betrayal was Miyu. B-Bethel, he described to me, in intimate detail, how you abused her, used her." Connor made a raw, strangled sound—the laughter of someone too shocked, too suddenly and freshly bruised to speak. "You thought ... you thought I ..." he stopped, still laughing mirthlessly, and turned back toward Elena, his face pale, as if he were ill. "He told you I did this to a defenseless ten year old girl, under Duncan's care. And you ..." "... I believed him." What in heaven's name had made her tell him? Why couldn't she have just gutted it out, kept it inside? "Please forgive me, Connor." She looked into his unyielding face, hoping for the impossible. "Forgiveness is like trust, Elena. It can't be demanded. It can only be accepted when offered. "I helped you escape," he whispered. "I let you put the people I love in danger. The people under my protection. Remember what you've been given, Duran-–before you ask for anything else." Connor MacLeod walked away from her. Duncan turned to her the moment she and Connor walked into the house. "What's happened, Elena? What did you say? What's going on?" His voice was rough, demanding, full of alarm. Elena shuddered inwardly. "Duncan, I..." Her eyes met Connor's, and she felt a wave of anger coming from him, a clear warning. And Connor was right –she couldn't tell Duncan this! She'd already made a terrible mistake 'confessing' to Connor! But of course, Duncan would insist –and she'd just have to refuse. If Connor wasn't going to hurt his kinsman, she wasn't either. "What happened between you and Connor, Elena?" Duncan asked her the next day. She spent all night trying to figure out what to say to him and still had no idea-–except that she would not tell him the truth. "Duncan, I told you I betrayed you, all of you, Connor, Richie, Don Alvaro. It was the first thing I said to you, remember?" He looked at her closely. "Tell me what you said to him. Whatever ... whatever hurt him so badly. You're afraid it will hurt me, too. Is that it?" "Duncan. If you love me, you will please, please let this go. Please. Do this for me." She put her hand on his chest, like she'd put it on Connor's chest the day before. Duncan thought it over. Then he shook his head again, taking her hand in his, pulling it away from his chest. "I need to know about this, Elena. I have to know." But she refused, and Duncan turned away and walked back to the house. Twenty minutes later he came down the stairs with his long duffle bag. To be parted from him, like this, maybe forever—and forever was such a long time for them! After what they'd been through together; the feelings they had for each other! All given up! And for what? Because she had turned against Connor, somehow, and didn't trust him, Duncan, to understand; didn't believe in him! Didn't believe in either of them. "I betrayed you. All of you," Elena said. And she had. ======== When Duncan had truly gone, and she could no longer sense his presence, Elena had collapsed onto the bottom steps of the wide staircase of her beautiful house and wept like a child. But now she had to get herself together, gather her forces. She had to be strong. She was still alive, and she was an Immortal. Immortals couldn't keep crying, couldn't keep feeling sorry for themselves—it would get her killed, and after all she'd been through she very much wanted to live. And so she would. Taking long deep breaths for calmness, and saying several prayers—she shakily pulled herself to her feet. Waiting until her legs were solidly underneath her, she glanced over at the far wall, the wall covered with weapons, weapons she'd never be strong enough to use again... that thought made her cry once more. "¡No!" she said out loud, shaking her head and deliberately going to pull down an old rapier. She slid it out of the scabbard and examined its gleaming length. All the weapons were dusted, but they had not been cleaned in a long time, probably not since the last time she'd been in Argentina. Dirty weapons were useless, and she went to the nearby trunk to get out the rags and the oil. That soothing ritual would help her, and there were many more swords to clean, and she'd have many more uses for them in the future. So what if Duncan had left, Connor had stormed off, Corazón Negro hadn't even contacted her in years? She had lived alone, fought alone, and died alone for centuries, and she didn't need anyone. She was Elena Duran, and she was an Immortal. ======== Veiloso, small village near Duran Estancia same day Corazón Negro saw the Jeep approach long before he sensed the Immortal inside it. Squinting into the brightness of the day, he noted there were two men in the vehicle, and he quickly recognized one of them, the more important one of the two, the Immortal. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Here in Argentina, this close to Curi-Rayen's home? What was Duncan...? And then Corazón Negro remembered Zarach's news that the two MacLeods had aided Elena's escape. Well, now it made sense. Obviously the two had brought Elena home to Argentina and now Duncan was going home, leaving the other Highlander, Connor MacLeod back at the estancia with his beloved. Unfortunately Corazón Negro got along better with Duncan, but the Aztec could deal with the harder-edged Connor, too—and begin by making it perfectly clear to the elder Highlander that Elena was Connor's and that Corazón Negro had no designs on her whatsoever. He had just come in answer to a terrible nightmare, to help her if he could. He pulled over and Duncan's driver did the same. Then the two tall, dark men got out of their vehicles and met on the main road that intersected the village. "How are you, amigo?" Corazón Negro asked, holding out his hand in friendship. Duncan didn't hesitate to shake hands. "It's good to see you, Corazón Negro, but I wish I could say things were going well," Duncan answered, looking depressed. Corazón Negro nodded. "I know about Elena," he volunteered. "I know she was tortured by an Immortal named Bethel—I had a dream..." Duncan smiled slightly. "Ah, yes. Your dreams." "This was more like a nightmare," Corazón Negro said, his eyes bright with fury. "I trust this Bethel is dead." "He is. Connor took care of it," Duncan said simply. Corazón Negro nodded. As Curi-Rayen's current ... lover, it would have fallen to Connor to avenge her. Of course, Corazón Negro wished 'he' could have avenged Elena. But he didn't have the right. He had no claims on her—except maybe friendship. "And how is she?" he asked. He wanted desperately to see her, but was afraid of what he'd find. "Not good." Duncan took a deep breath, running his hand through his hair, down his neck, then along his jaw. He had obviously not shaved recently, and he looked exhausted. "But sometimes ... sometimes Elena makes her own life more difficult." "Meaning what, amigo?" the Aztec asked, puzzled. "Hey, maybe she'll talk to you," Duncan suggested, ducking the question. "I'm afraid I'm not following you," Corazón Negro said. "What's going on, Duncan?" "She won't tell me what's going on," he answered, then nodded. "You'll have to ask her. Anyway, I have to go. Vaya con Dios, amigo," he said, putting a hand on the Aztec's shoulder and squeezing lightly. Then he got back into his Jeep and rode off, leaving a confused Corazón Negro. ======== EHÉCATL/WIND Corazón Negro drove through the gate to a fairly deserted estancia. He remembered that in the past, when an enemy Immortal came, Elena always sent all the mortals to their homes, to safety, so she could deal with the trouble. But surely he was not in that category. Two dogs, a large black one and a smaller one, came to bark at the Jeep, and when Corazón Negro turned off the engine and put one foot on the ground, the barking became a low, angry growl. But by this time Corazón Negro had seen Carmela Onioco approaching, and he waited for her to shoo the animals away. He got out of the Jeep and rose to meet her, glad to see her but puzzled not to be greeted by the ever-vigilant and always paranoid Connor MacLeod. Where the hell was Connor? Corazón Negro wondered. "Mi niño!" Carmela exclaimed, walking into his open embrace and putting her arms around his waist. "I'm so glad to see you! A horrible thing has happened, horrible! Mi niña, Mariaelena, she is badly hurt!" she said sobbing on his chest. "I know, mama, I know," Corazón Negro told her, caressing her hair, trying to comfort her. She felt frailer in his embrace than she had on his last visit, but her love was still like a physical presence that enveloped and warmed him. "That is why I'm here. I need to see her, mama. Where is she?" Looking up, he noticed Juanito Onioco approaching slowly. No longer a boy, he was a grown man in his prime, but Juanito was walking slowly, almost bent over, and the grief showed on his face. Juanito nodded at Corazón Negro. "Welcome, hombre," he said. "Thank you. I know things are bad," Corazón Negro answered. "But I am glad to see you both. Now I need to see Curi-Rayen." Carmela stepped back away from him, wiping her eyes with her apron. "Ay, mi niño! I don't know how to tell you...." "Tell me what, mama?" Corazón Negro asked softly. Carmela sighed, trying to find the right words. "I just spoke to her. She locked herself in the ballroom—" "Her dojo?" Corazón Negro interrupted. "Why would she do that?" "It was the escoces, MacLeod. Her lover. He was here—but then he left her. I have never seen her cry so hard. I think her heart must have broken." "Left her? I just saw Duncan MacLeod on the road," Corazón Negro said, surprised. Duncan MacLeod was her lover, not Connor? "Isn't Curi-Rayen with 'Connor' MacLeod? Where is he?" "The other one? The cousin?" Carmela said. She shook her head. "Mariaelena arrived with the dark one, Duncan. But there was a quarrel of some kind..." Her eyes filled, and she couldn't continue. "He's gone," Juanito said angrily. "They're both gone." "Duncan MacLeod is her lover? He left her?" Corazón Negro said, incredulous, realizing that's what had been wrong with Duncan. That was so unbelievable that he asked, "But why? How?" "I don't know the details," Juanito filled in, putting an arm around his crying grandmother's shoulders. "But they left when she needed them the most. Good riddance, I say." "Well, I'm here," Corazón Negro said, thinking Curi-Rayen would need him now more than ever—even though he, too had left her once. He began to walk towards the dojo, but Carmela stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Wait. No. You see, she ... she dreamt about you, and she was very upset." "She dreamt about me?" Corazón Negro asked in disbelief. How many more surprises were in store for him today? "How—?" His eyes wide, he asked, "What did she dream?" "She sensed you coming, and we told her it was you, thinking she'd be glad! Someone she loves who would be with her now, when she really needs someone who ... who understands her! But she told me in her dream she saw you in another time, in the past of your life. She saw the kind of man you were." Carmela paused, looking straight into Corazón Negro's eyes. "She saw you making human sacrifices, and ... getting pleasure from it," she said, crossing herself. Corazón Negro lowered his head. He couldn't believe the gods had sent this vision to Curi- Rayen. How could he possibly make her feel better now?! He took a deep breath. "I see," he whispered. Then he faced Carmela, shaking his head. "It was a long time ago, centuries ago. I was a different man, mama, you must understand," he pleaded with her, holding out his hands. Carmela tried to smile. She took his hands and squeezed them. "You don't need to explain yourself to me. As far as I'm concerned, you're still the kind man I've always known, mi niño. I can see it in your face, in your eyes. As for your past, I love you as a son, and a mother can forgive everything." She caressed Corazón Negro's cheek. "But Elena loved you as a woman. That's a different kind of love. And she has just been through a terrible experience with a cruel, sadistic man. And ..." She stopped again. "Please say it, mama," Corazón Negro said. Carmela looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. She told me to tell you ... she said she was sure you were just like him, like the man who hurt her. A monster." "A monster," he repeated softly. By all the gods! Carmela turned her eyes away. "She told me to say that you are the last person in the world she wants to see, and for you to go away and never come back. I can't ... I won't tell you the rest." Corazón Negro blinked. He had expected an angry Curi-Rayen. But not this. "Please tell me; it's all right," he reassured her, trying to reassure himself, putting a hand on her shoulder. "That you are dead to her," the old woman finally whispered. Corazón Negro remained silent and still, feeling the hot breeze in the yard bringing with it the familiar odor of animals. He found it hard to breathe—pain consumed his soul. He knew Curi- Rayen well enough to know she really meant it. He was dead to her. That was it, simple as that. He closed his eyes as the sorrow actually made his knees weak, and he stumbled slightly. Would the agony that was his life ever end? He was cursed, condemned to being alone, always. The sins of his past returned like a wave, banishing every hope. But his love for her was stronger, and love never failed. "No. I need to see her," he said, pulling his hands out of Carmela's grasp. "No!" she said, grabbing him by the arms as he physically dragged her along with him for a few steps. "Listen to me! Go away, my beloved son. Go away without looking back. Listen to me!" she yelled, reaching up and turning his face toward hers. Corazón Negro blinked, confused. His mind was in chaos. Inside his soul, his love for Curi- Rayen was battling against his training as a Dreamer. "If you love her so much," Carmela said, "then respect her wishes. Do it for her and do it for you … Listen to me—you have the gift of time. You can wait. Perhaps in the future, when she's not so badly wounded, she will welcome you again. But if you force yourself on her now, if you use more violence against her ..." Corazón Negro's eyes narrowed; then he sighed with pain as he looked toward Curi-Rayen's house. His desperate hope that she'd come out to see him was dashed. There was no sign of her. Slowly, he looked at Carmela, a mortal who was being wiser than he was at this moment, and finally nodded. Carmela hugged him with a fierce grip. "I'll never forget you, Son of the Wolf. I'm old— perhaps I'll never have a chance to see you again, but know that we Oniocos will never forget you." Behind her, Corazón Negro saw Juanito Onioco nod in agreement, his eyes bright. "Go now, mi niño. Go with my blessings and with my love. And give God a chance to heal her. Don't give up your love. Que Dios te bendiga," she said finally, kissing him gently on the cheek. Then, tears in her eyes, she let him go. Like a zombie, Corazón Negro turned and started to walk right past his Jeep, paying no attention to it. He went to the nearest paddock. Inside was a beautiful black mare that whinnied a greeting to him. The sight of her made him think of his beautiful Curi-Rayen, so proud and free, and now so badly hurt ... and he could do nothing for her! He sighed unhappily. From beneath his shirt he took out a black rose. Gently, he put it down on the ground by the paddock gate. Then, without turning back, as Carmela had told him, he got into his rented car and drove off the estancia. Thirty minutes later he was driving back through the main road through Veiloso when he sensed an Immortal. He wondered if Duncan had come back to Curi-Rayen, thank God, maybe ... but it wasn't Duncan. It was an Immortal in a black sedan, driving towards the estancia Corazón Negro had just left. It wasn't anyone he recognized—a very young-looking blond man behind the wheel. A young Immortal heading toward Curi-Rayen's house? Why? Who was he? Was he a friend of Curi-Rayen's—or an enemy? A headhunter, perhaps. Corazón Negro snuggled his seat belt tightly and signaled to the other Immortal to stop. If he did, fine; but if he didn't stop ... Corazón Negro intended to stop him and talk to him. And that's just what he had to do, by swerving his Jeep at the last minute and smashing it into the driver's side of the other car. There was a loud crunch, and Corazón Negro unbuckled, then ran out to the other man. "We need to talk," he said in Spanish. The other man hadn't been wearing his seat belt, and his head was bleeding—but he was conscious enough to mutter an obvious curse word in Greek at Corazón Negro. Realizing he would get no cooperation, and noticing out of the corner of his eye that others were coming toward the scene of the 'accident', Corazón Negro reached in abruptly through the open window with an open hand and broke the young man's nose, driving shards of bone into his brain and killing him instantly. ======== The freezing cold burned into Corazón Negro's bones, but he didn't want the Immortal to revive and get away, so the Aztec waited in the hospital morgue in the company of several dead bodies. He had been in morgues before—in a few cases as a resident of them—and they always had the smell of cold finality about them. If this guy was a friend of Curi- Rayen's, Corazón Negro would apologize, but he had a feeling ... Finally he heard a movement to his right, a gasp, and the sheet fell to the floor as the previously dead Immortal suddenly and explosively sat up in his gurney. An exclamation—me thou—definitely Greek and invoking God. Well, if this boy was after Curi- Rayen, God was not going to save him. The young man looked around, trying to get his bearings, obviously frightened, and Corazón Negro asked him in Greek, "Who are you? Why are you here?" The young Immortal finally focused on the Aztec. In spite of the fact that he was naked, alone, and unarmed, he tried to smile confidently. Standing up and pulling the sheet around his waist, he said, "All right, you got me. My name is Alexander Carropoulos, and I'd rather talk with my sword in hand—unless you intend to cut me down as I am." "The police took your sword," Corazón Negro informed him, coming closer, "and I don't think you can ask them for it back. Now you'd better answer my question, boy—what are you doing here?" Alexander sighed, still smiling quietly. "Business." "Business with whom?" Corazón Negro asked. "Not with you," Alexander replied. "And what the hell do you care? Who the fuck are you, anyway?" It was the wrong answer to give, because it proved to Corazón Negro that the boy was a headhunter. He was hunting Curi-Rayen, who was an easy prey right now and possibly in no condition to defend herself. The young always had to hunt; childish ones had to kill. They were too hungry to do it any other way. This Alexander was too inexperienced to survive, even with luck, for another year in the Game, given his attitude and carelessness. Why wasn't he with a teacher, someone to advise him, to protect him? Did they really think in these modern days that adolescents could survive the Gathering? "Let me give you a little piece of advice," Corazón Negro said, trying to sound calm and quiet, even though the pain inside his soul was being replaced by anger. "You cannot destroy Curi- Rayen. I won't let you. So, get some clothes on and get the hell out of here while you still can." Alexander was caught off guard and blinked seeing Corazón Negro's fiery gaze. At first he seemed confused, but then he became scornful. He finally came up with the answer, "Fuck you!" and tried to get past the Aztec toward the door of the morgue. Corazón Negro's hand grabbed the boy's sheet. "Last chance to leave while you still can." Suddenly he was seeing the world under a red color. His blood felt like it was boiling. He hadn't been there when Bethel tortured Curi-Rayen, hadn't been able to stop that monster. But this time it was different—he was here to stop Alexander, and by God, he would do it! Trying to pull away, Alexander yelled, "I don't even know who this Curi whoever is. And you go to hell, you motherfucking Indian!" Corazón Negro moved with astonishing speed. With his left hand he grabbed a surprised Alexander by his neck, lifted him in the air and walked him toward one of the walls. The Aztec slammed Alexander face first into the wall. Plaster cracked from the force of the blow. Blood spurted as Alexander's nose broke into pieces. He screeched with pain. "What is wrong with you?!" Corazón Negro yelled, ignoring Alexander's sounds of pain. "Curi- Rayen is Elena Duran, and you 'will' leave her alone!!!" Corazón Negro pulled Alexander back a few inches. "Do you hear me, bastard?! Leave her alone!!! Don't you dare to come near her, ever!!!" He slammed the boy into the wall a second time. "I'll rip your fucking heart out!!! Do you hear me?! I'll crucify you and skin you one piece at a time!!!" Corazón Negro slammed Alexander a third time, then a fourth. By now, the young Immortal was no longer screaming, and a bloodstain had appeared on the wall of the morgue. "I'll make you curse the bitch who brought you screaming into this world!!! Do you hear me?! Stay away from Curi-Rayen!!!" Finally, Corazón Negro released Alexander, who slid right down the wall onto the cement floor as the Aztec pulled out his Maquáhuitl, raising his weapon to behead his enemy. As the boy lay there, unmoving, Corazón Negro was consumed by hate. He needed to kill Bethel before he could hurt Curi-Rayen! He needed to stop Bethel before it was too late! He needed to save his love! He needed to save Curi-Rayen from Bethel!!! Bethel? The name reverberated inside his head. Wait a minute. Bethel was dead and rotting somewhere, for all eternity. Connor MacLeod had taken care of that. The dead man in front of him was not Bethel. It was some poor bastard named Alexander. By all the gods—he might even be a friend of Curi-Rayen's! Why had he killed this boy, and why was he preparing to behead him? And how could his soul hold so much hate inside? He was a Dreamer, a man supposed to care about and protect life. He was not the beast holding his weapon. He was not the monster thirsty for blood that needed so desperately to finish killing the dead man lying man in front of him. How could he do this? The answer came to him suddenly: love. His love for Curi-Rayen was too much. Pain. Pain was another answer too. Curi-Rayen's pain was his; he felt it in his bones. The loss of her love was another sore point. For her, he was now a different being. No, not quite different. He was confused man. A useless Dreamer. At last, he understood Quetzalcóhuatl's words. In order to be a true Dreamer, he needed to stay away from the world, away from mundane things such as love. But is that what he wanted? Maybe the world needed him—but what about his needs? Slowly, he lowered his weapon, closing his eyes, trying to focus himself. He panted, gathering his thoughts. Standing in this cold room full of dead people, he finally turned away and walked out of the morgue, and out of Curi-Rayen's life forever. ======== Rapa Nui (Easter Island) South Pacific Ocean West of the Chilean coast December 1996 Zarach was walking barefooted on the beach, enjoying the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. The sun was setting when he sensed Corazón Negro's presence approaching. He looked up— the Aztec left a long shadow on the beach as he came close and stood beside him, gazing off into the horizon. "Did you accomplish your goal? Did you see her? Are you happier now?" the ancient Immortal asked. Corazón Negro's eyes narrowed. "I came back to say goodbye to you, Zarach," he stated. Zarach sighed. "No. You are the Son of the Wolf. You came here to dream about the path in front of you. Feel the Spiral of time. Feel the One that is changing. The Dream is whole again, and you can grasp it." Corazón Negro opened his mouth, looked at Zarach, and finally yelled furiously, "No! Leave me alone! I damn you to hell, Zarach! You and the Dream!" Zarach remained calm. "Feel the Power, my friend. The Dream is possessing you right now. I can feel it—dance with it." "No! I'm finished with the Dream and with the Dance! I don't want this burden anymore!" His tears overflowed, carving irregular paths down his cheeks. "Enough!" Zarach ordered angrily. "You are what you are! Do not fight against it!" "No!" Corazón Negro half shouted, half sobbed. A familiar, yet different voice rang in his ears—the Dream's voice. LISTEN TO ZARACH. LISTEN... Bewildered, Corazón Negro turned his head. Then he sensed another Immortal presence. He raised his gaze only to see another tall man walking toward them. He was slim, dark-haired, and had a large nose. Zarach waved the stranger closer and looked Corazón Negro over carefully. "Strong character," the new arrival said, smiling at Zarach. "Much like you described him." Zarach nodded in agreement, then looked at the Aztec. "Corazón Negro, may I introduce you to Kadosh, better known as Methos?" Hesitating, his mind still on that imagined voice—or had it been it real, just as Curi-Rayen's hatred of him was real?—a confused Corazón Negro nodded toward Methos. "Nice to meet you," Methos said pleasantly, his eyes dancing. Ignoring him, Corazón Negro sat on the sand, his head falling into his hands. He tried to fathom the depth of his loss. It was unfathomable. His first feeling was one of boundless grief. For himself, for Curi-Rayen, for life itself. How could their love be gone forever? It felt like a black, bottomless hole had filled his heart, where the part that was Curi-Rayen’s love had lived. Corazón Negro had known the passing of love before, with his first wife, the T’ol-te-kan princess named New Moon. It was helplessly sad, and inexorably, a part of his own growing as an Immortal, and now a fraction of him as a Dreamer. And for the thousandth time in his life he asked himself the same questions: Is this what coming of age was, then? Watching beloved ones pass away? Watching dearly loved friends grow old and die? Watching old promises be gone? Was it the way of gaining a new measure of strength or maturity from their powerful passages? Of course it was. A great weight of hopelessness settled upon him, just as the light in heaven flickered out. For several more minutes he sat there, feeling it was the end of everything, that all the light inside his soul had flickered out. Right now, he was the loneliest soul in the world. He was the new Dreamer, an abandoned person, sitting on sands, while Lilitu plotted her last war, her last sin, her Endgame. A chill came over him, though, disturbing the nothingness into which his consciousness had lapsed. He shivered and looked around. Zarach and Methos exchanged looks, regarding the Aztec quietly for a while. Finally, Zarach knelt on the sand and placed a gentle hand around the Aztec's shoulders. "There wasn't anything you could have done," he whispered comfortingly. "I can't believe it, Zarach," Corazón Negro replied, his voice a ghost of a whisper. "I know I said goodbye to her, but I always thought ... I can't believe I've lost her completely." "I know how you feel," Methos said. "I too, lost a love last year. Her name was Alexa, and she was mortal. At least Elena is alive, and you may have another chance with her," he said. "I also lost a good friend; a brother—one I killed with my own hand." Corazón Negro raised his gaze toward the red horizon. His teeth flashed in a lopsided grin of understanding. "I know who you are. You are 'Death', the last Horseman, Zarach's Immortal son." Methos grinned, apparently impressed. "You are in touch with your feelings. You are exactly right. Tell me—do you know what I am thinking now?" Corazón Negro closed his eyes, focusing on Methos' feelings. "You feel guilty about Cassandra. And you miss Duncan. Duncan left Elena, too, you know. Deserted her—just like I did." He stared with vacant eyes at Methos, but he could feel something old and unpleasant shining in the back of them. Methos smiled, apparently amused. "So what? Elena intercepted Bethel, who might have been meant for you. She unwittingly gave you a chance to get away. Do you want to waste that? Do you want your pain wasted—her pain wasted? In any case, she suffered because of her relationship with you. Are you going to let Lilitu win this time?" "No," Corazón Negro answered softly. Giving him a reassuring smile, Methos gestured to Zarach. "There you have it." Corazón Negro blinked as he felt his skin burning. He looked at the red bloody sky around them. Slowly, he stood and started to walk along the beach. The pain inside his head burned him as a last gust of wind invaded his being, destroying the fragments of his soul. 'Forever', he had said to Curi-Rayen when he'd met her centuries before. Two bodies and two minds, but one heart and one soul, forever. Eternally. The word echoed like thunder within his heart. But there was no forever—not anymore. "The time is near. The Spiral is changing again," Zarach said, walking up behind the Aztec. "We have our Dreamer," Methos commented as the stars rose in the sky and started to shine. His voice seemed to fill the world and reach the heavenly bodies. "Soon enough we are going to form the Ancient Gathering again," he said. "And this time, it's forever." "No," Zarach disagreed. "Forever is not enough, child. It never was." His voice turned dark as the night around them. "Perhaps, it never will be." THE END Florida-Mexico November 5, December 8, 2001 Authors' final notes: ABOUT THE CHAPTER TITTLES: 1. CALLI/HOUSE: The protector of day Calli (House) is Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain. Calli is a good day for rest, tranquility and family life. Not a good day for participating in public life. Best spent cementing relationships of trust and mutual interests. 2. CÓHUATL/SNAKE: The day Cóhuatl (Snake) has Chalchihuitlicue, as its protector. Cóhuatl is the day of the snaking river that always changes without changing. It signifies the fleeting moment of eternal water. A good day for humility, a bad day for acting on self-interests. 3. XÓCHITL/FLOWER: The protector of day Xóchitl (Flower) is Xóchiquetzal. Xóchitl is a day for creating beauty and truth, especially that which speaks to the heart who knows it will one day ceases to beat. Xóchitl reminds us that life, like the flower, is beautiful but quickly fades. It is a good day for reflection, companionship and poignancy; it is a bad day for repressing deep-seated wishes, desires and passions. 4. MIQUIZTLI/DEATH: The protector of day Miquiztli (Death) is Tecciztecatl, God of the conch, symbol of Metztli, the Moon God, sometimes identified with Tezcatlipoca. He has the conch as an attribute, which is associated with the feminine. Miquiztli is the Unknown, that which emanates shadow. It is a good day for reflecting on your priorities in life, a bad day for ignoring possibilities. It is a day of transformation, signifying that briefest moment between old endings and new beginnings. 5. EHÉCATL/WIND: The protector of day Ehécatl (Wind) is Quetzalcóhuatl. Ehécatl is a bad day for working with others. Its influences are inconstant and vain. A good day to root out bad habits. ABOUT EASTERN ISLAND: Easter Island has long been the subject of curiosity and speculation. How and why did its inhabitants carve and transport the massive statues, which surround the island? What remains of this culture today? What lessons can we learn from their legacy? Easter Island is over 2,000 miles from the nearest population center, (Tahiti and Chile), making it one of the most isolated places on Earth. A triangle of volcanic rock in the South Pacific - it is best known for the giant stone monoliths, known as Moai, that dot the coastline. The early settlers called the island 'Te Pito O Te Henua' (Navel of The World). Admiral Roggeveen, who came upon the island on Easter Day in 1722, named it Easter Island. Today, the land, people and language are all referred to locally as Rapa Nui. The population of Easter Island reached its peak at perhaps more than 10,000, far exceeding the capabilities of the small island's ecosystem. Resources became scarce, and the once lush palm forests were destroyed - cleared for agriculture and moving the massive stone Moai. In this regard, Easter Island has become, for many, a metaphor for ecological disaster. Thereafter, a thriving and advanced social order began to decline into bloody civil war and, evidently, cannibalism. Eventually, the islanders themselves tore all of the Moai standing along the coast down. All of the statues now erected around the island are the result of recent archaeological efforts. Contacts with western 'civilization' proved even more disastrous for the island population, which, through slavery and disease, had decreased, to approximately 111 by the turn of the century. Following the annexation by Chile in 1888, however, it has risen to more than 2,000, with other Rapa Nui living in Chile, Tahiti and North America. Despite a growing Chilean presence, the island's Polynesian identity is still quite strong. Easter Island is the world's most isolated inhabited island. It is also one of the most mysterious. Easter Island is roughly midway between Chile and Tahiti. Small coral formations exist along the shoreline, but the lack of a coral reef has allowed the sea to cut cliffs around much of the island. The coastline has many lava tubes and volcanic caves. The only sandy beaches are on the northeast coast. Today, the inhabitants of this charming and mysterious place called their land: Te Pito o TeHenua, 'the navel of the world.' It sits in the South Pacific Ocean 2,300 miles west of South America, 2,500 miles southeast of Tahiti, 4,300 miles south of Hawaii, 3,700 miles north of Antarctica. The closest other inhabited island is 1,260 miles away - tiny Pitcairn Island where the mutineers of the H.M.S. Bounty settled in 1790. Archaeological evidence indicates discovery of the island by Polynesians at about 400 AD. In 1722, a Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggeveen, sighted and visited the island. This happened to be on a Sunday, Easter Sunday to be precise, and the name stuck: Easter Island (Isla de Pascua in Spanish). What he discovered on Easter Island were three distinct groups of people, Dark skinned, Red skinned, and very Pale skinned People with red hair'. The Polynesian name of the island is Rapa Nui, which is a name given by a Tahitian visitor in the 19th century who says that the island looked like the Tahitian island of 'Rapa,' but bigger, 'Nui.' Inhabitants are of Polynesian descent, but for decades anthropologists have argued the true origins of these people, some claiming that ancient South-American mariners settled the island first. What many early explorers who visited the island found, was a scattered population with almost no culture they could remember and without any links to the outside world. The Easter islanders were easy prey for 19th century slave traders, which depreciated even more their precarious culture, knowledge of the past, and skills of the ancestors. ABOUT THE MOAI: When we think of Eastern Island we think of huge stone carved figures – monoliths— that dots the coastline. They are called Moai and are carved from island rock. The Moai are seen all over the island, and in different shapes, sizes, and stages of completion. Many Moaiare left unfinished at the quarry site. No one is sure yet as to what purposes did the Moai serve, but outside scholarly research together with accumulated local knowledge, shows evidence that the Moai were carved by the ancestors of the present inhabitants. Ron Fisher in his work Easter Island Brooding Sentinels of Stone mentions as one explanation for the statues 'two classes of people, the-so-called Long Ears and Short Ears, lived on the island. The Long Ears, who forced the Short Ears to carve the Moai, enslaved the Short Ears. After many generations and during a rebellion, the Short Ears surprised the Long Ears killing them all, which explains the abrupt end of the statue carving. Many of they were buried up to their shoulders and thereby appearing as disembodied heads. All of the Moai were toppled in tribal wars about 250 years ago. Many have recently been rebuilt –starting in the 1950's. They sit on rocky lava strewn about telling a story of fallen monuments of a long lost civilization that created them. The Moai were depictions of their ancestors. The Rapa Nui were ancestor worshipers and only had one diety –Make Make. The Moai were excavated for the first time by Thor Heyerdahl in the 1950's and were photographed at that time. ABOUT AHU: Ahu Akivi is a sanctuary and celestial observatory built about 1500 AD, which was the subject of the first serious restoration, accomplished on Easter Island by archaeologists William Mulloy and Gonzalo Figueroa, with excellent results. As in the case of many religious structures on Easter Island, it has been situated with astronomical precision: its seven statues look towards the point where the sun sets during the equinox. It is also aligned to the moon. Ahu Akivi is an unusual site in several respects. A low Ahu supports 7 statues all very similar in height and style. The site is odd in that it is located far inland and the statues were erected to face the ocean. The only site where this was done. Like other Easter Island sites the statues were found knocked off the Ahu, lying face down in the ground. In 1960, Archeologist William Mulloy's team spent several months raising the statues to their original positions. During the excavation and restoration of this site many cremation pits were uncovered behind the Ahu. The pits contained fragments of bone, shells, fishing implements, and obsidian flakes. Whether sites like these were used regularly for cremations and or burials is not certain. At other sites skeletons have been found buried within the Ahu structure, but these burials are believed to have occurred after the statues were toppled. Folklore holds that its seven Moai represent the seven young explorers that legend says the Polynesian King Hotu Matu'a dispatched from across the seas, probably from the Marquesas Islands, to find this new homeland for him and his people. They are among the few Moai that face the sea. These seven stone giants may well symbolize those seven explorers, but no one knows for sure. Just as no one knows what any of the Moai really represents or why only a few of them face the sea. The generally accepted theory is that these majestic stone statues were built to honor Polynesian gods and deified ancestors such as chiefs and other figures important in the island's history. Most of them are attributed to the 14th and 15th centuries, although some were erected as long ago as the 10th Century. Their function, it is believed, was to look out over a village or gravesite as a protector. They may also have been status symbols for villages or clans. The seven at Ahu Akivi each stand about 16 feet high and weigh about 18 tons. The tallest Moai on the island exceed 30 feet. Moai in the range of 12 to 20 feet are common. Even the occasional tiny Moai that you come across are at least 6 feet high. The Ahu of Easter Island vary in length - the longest one is 300 feet, while some that hold one Moai are only several feet long. Each Ahu has a stone masonry base that slopes upward to a high terrace upon which the Moai rest. Some terraces are as high as 15 feet above ground level. All are fairly wide –the bases of the Moai that stand upon them measure as much as 10 feet long by 8 or 9 feet wide. The island's volcanic rock from which they were carved is softer and lighter than most other rock, but even the smallest Moai weighs several tons. Some of the Moai have been estimated to weigh as much as 80 to 90 tons. Many of the Moai –there are hundreds of them– are erected at sites miles from the quarry at which they were carved. How could so few people move them even a couple of feet, let alone several miles, and without breaking them? And once they did move them, how did they erect them? Even today, using powerful cranes, it would be no simple task. THEORIES ABOUT HOW THE MOAI WERE MOVED: Many Rapa Nui people believe that the statues were moved and erected by 'mana' a magical force. Great kings of a long-gone era simply used their mana to command the Moai to move to the distant sites and stand there. Mana is a word and concept you hear frequently in South Seas lore. The people of Rapa Nui believed that the Moai also possessed mana, which was instilled at the time their white coral eyes were put in place, and that the Moai used their mana to protect the people of the island. Today none of the Moai has genuine coral eyes –and thus the mana is no more. The intervention of Extraterrestrials –the most infamous of these writers is Erich Von Daniken who suggests that a small group of 'intelligent beings' were stranded there and taught the natives to make 'robot-like' statues. His main thrust is that the stone from which the statues are made is not found on the island–a complete fabrication. This links with theories that Easter island was once part of the lost civilization of flying machines. Other theories include men sliding the Moai along on layers of yams and sweet potatoes. The generally accepted belief is that they were transported on sledges or log rollers and then levered erect using piles of stones and long logs. ABOUT RONGO-RONGO WRITING: Rongo-Rongo is the hieroglyphic script of Easter Island. It has remained a mystery since its discovery. For over a hundred years, controversy has raged over the meaning and source of these enigmatic characters. There are only 21 known tablets in existence –scattered in museums and private collections. Tiny, remarkably regular glyphs, about one centimeter high, highly stylized and formalized, are carved in shallow grooves running the length of the tablets. Oral tradition has it that scribes used obsidian flakes or shark teeth to cut the glyphs and the first colonists led by Hotu Matua brought that writing. Last but not least, of the twenty-one surviving tablets three bear the same text in slightly different 'spellings', a fact discovered by three schoolboys of St Petersburg (then Leningrad), just before World War II. In 1868 newly converted Easter Islanders sent to Tepano Jaussen, Bishop of Tahiti, as a token of respect, a long twine of human hair, wound around an ancient piece of wood. Tepano Jaussen examined the gift, and, lifting the twine, discovered that the small board was covered in hieroglyphs. The bishop, elated at the discovery, wrote to Father Hippolyte Roussel on Easter Island, exhorting him to gather all the tablets he could and to seek out natives able to translate them. But only a handful remain of the hundreds of tablets mentioned by Brother Eyraud only a few years earlier in a report to the Father Superior of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart. Some say they were burnt to please the missionaries who saw in them evil relics of pagan times. Some say they were hidden to save them from destruction. Which side should we believe? Brother Eyraud had died in 1868 without having ever mentioned the tablets to anyone else, not even to his friend Father Zumbohm, who was astounded at the bishop's discovery. Monsignor Jaussen soon located in Tahiti a laborer from Easter Island, Metoro, who claimed he could read the tablets. He described in his notes how Metoro turned each tablet around and around to find its beginning, then starts chanting its contents. The direction of writing is unique. Starting from the left-hand bottom corner, you proceed from left to right and, at the end of the line; you turn the tablet around before you start reading the next line. Indeed, the orientation of the hieroglyphs is reversed every other line. Imagine a book in which every other line is printed back to front and upside-down. That is how the tablets are written! Jaussen was not able to decipher the tablets. There are also many zoomorphic figures, birds especially, fish and lizards less often. The most frequent figure looks very much like the frigate bird, which happens to have been the object of a cult, as it was associated with Make Make, the supreme god. When you compare the tablets, which bear the same text, when you analyze repeated groups of signs, you realize that writing must have followed rules. The scribe could choose to link a sign to the next, but not in any old way. You could either carve a manikin standing, arms dangling, followed by some other sign, or the same manikin holding that sign with one hand. You could either carve a simple sign (a leg, a crescent) separate from the next, or rotate it 90 degrees counterclockwise and carve the next sign on top of it. All we can reasonably hope to decipher some day is some two to three lines of the tablet commonly called Mamari. You can clearly see that they have to do with the moon. There are several versions of the ancient lunar calendar of Easter Island. ABOUT THE PETROGLYPHS: On Easter Island, petroglyphs are located in every sector of the island where there are suitable surfaces. Favored locations are smooth areas of lava flow (called 'papa' in Rapa Nui), or on smooth basalt boulders. Most of these surfaces occur along coastal areas and often are associated with major ceremonial centers. Some important Ahu have, as part of their structure, elegantly carved basalt stones (pa'enga), with petroglyphs on them. Paintings survive in caves or in some of the stone houses at 'Orongo where they are protected against the weathering process. Thousands of petroglyphs –rock carvings– can be found on Easter Island. Many represent animals, notably birds or anthropomorphic birdmen. One of the most famous motifs on Easter Island is that of birdman –a half-man, half bird image that was connected to cult events at the sacred site of 'Orongo. A bit of background on the culture is necessary to explain this unusual cult. After the demise of the statue building, in the last days before the invasion by Peruvian slave traders, there arose a cult of the Birdman (Tangata Manu). The birdman was seen as the representative on earth of the creator god Make Make, and eventually, this cult surpassed the traditional power of the king Ariki. Once a year, representatives from each clan would gather at the ceremonial village of Orongo and swim to Motu Nui, a nearby Islet to search for the egg of the Sooty Tern. On his return, the competitor presented the egg to his representative who was then invested with the title of Tangata Manu. He then went down to Mataveri and from there was led in procession to the southwest exterior slope of Rano Raraku, where he remained in seclusion for a year. The Birdman ritual was still in existence when Europeans arrived on Easter Island –therefore historically documented. It was also featured quite prominently in Kevin Costner's film 'Rapa Nui'. In Hanga Roa –a sprawling and pleasant community where the island's 2,775 residents live because it's the only area on the island with electricity and running water. The most interesting souvenirs are miniature wood and stone carvings of Moai, though some stone samples up to 6 feet tall are available. ABOUT THE MOAI KAVA KAVA: A bearded emaciated man whose ribs and vertebrae are grotesquely extended. It is said to represent the spirits of dead ancestors. According to the local tradition, as Chief Tuu-ko-ihu was returning home, he saw two such spirits who had protruding ribs and hollow bellies. These Aku Aku later appeared to him in a dream. Other Rapa Nui woodcarvings include: statues of female figures (Moai pa'a pa'a) , paddles (rapa), clubs (ua), staffs ('ao), lizards and birdman images (tangata manu). Today, most of the original wood sculptures reside in museums around the world –estranged from their ancestral home. The islanders still carve these statues; continuing a tradition which, to this day, commands respect and admiration from visitors. ABOUT CANNIBALISM: Every Easter Islander knows that his ancestors were kai-tangata, 'man-eaters'. Some make jokes about it; others take offense at any allusion to this custom, which has become in their eyes barbarous and shameful. According to Father Roussel, cannibalism did not disappear until after the introduction of Christianity. Shortly before this, the natives are said to have eaten a number of men, including two Peruvian traders. Cannibal feasts were held in secluded spots, and women and children were rarely admitted. The natives told Father Zumbohm that the fingers and toes were the choicest morsels. The captives destined to be eaten were shut up in huts in front of the sanctuaries. There they were kept until the moment when they were sacrificed to the gods. The Easter Islanders' cannibalism was not exclusively a religious rite or the expression of an urge for revenge: it was also induced by a simple liking for human flesh that could impel a man to kill for no other reason than his desire for fresh meat. (Man was the only large mammal whose flesh was available) Women and children were the principal victims of these inveterate cannibals. The reprisals that followed such crimes were all the more violent because an act of cannibalism committed against the member of a family was a terrible insult to the whole family. As among the ancient Maoris, those who had taken part in the meal were entitled to show their teeth to the relatives of the victim and say, 'Your flesh has stuck between my teeth'. Such remarks were capable of rousing those to whom they were addressed to a murderous rage not very different from the Maly amok .
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