Innocent Blood
by Eilidh17
innocentblood_1
Teiuc blinked slowly and, wrinkling her nose, became aware of the stink from the men surrounding her.  Their painted bodies and feathered headpieces signaled their stature amongst the temple guards, but she didn’t care, Teiuc wasn’t afraid of them.
She feared nothing anymore, what was the point?  Hatred burned in her soul, and she loved no one, cared for nothing, and despised them all.  At first the cold of nothingness had been just a dull ache in her chest where her heart had once been, but like a cancer it had spread.
Like the soreness that came with the progression of old age, it worked its way from her chest into her very essence and through her body, and she let it.  Welcomed it like a lover.  From this nothingness she would draw strength and the knowledge that more would be lost at the end of this day than just the life of another innocent child.
All around, the cloying scent of maleness disturbed her. Dressed in the finest of feathers and cloth, their lean bronzed bodies shone with sweat, their biceps glistening in the heat. The women of her village looked cooler in knee length, deep green skirts dyed from the leaves of the Auahan plant. Curling her lip, she watched them rustle softly past her, their stink assaulting her as well.
“Fools!”  Biting back her loathing, swallowing her hatred, Teiuc clamped her eyes shut and waited patiently.
Jumping as a sudden cheer went up around her, the sounds of jubilation bouncing off the stone walls of the ancient temple, she winced as her body betrayed her the smallest of sobs.
“No!” Rough hands grabbed her arms and dragged her through the frenzied crowd to the bottom of a set of giant steps leading up to the stone altar.  This was Teiuc’s right, this was her place.  Blinking slowly, she stood straight-backed in the place of honor where all the proud parents stood as their children took their place amongst the chosen of the God, Tlaloc.
It started softly at first, a whisper prickling incessantly at the edges of her mind.  In a mantra, the small crowd chanted Tlaloc’s name over and over, the volume rising incrementally with each word.  Teiuc’s head pounded, she was no stranger to this madness, she’d heard this too many times before, and had been a willing participant.  Slamming her eyes shut in a futile attempt to block the noise, Teiuc tried to cover her ears but strong hands just gripped her even harder. Even that small mercy was denied to her.
Teiuc’s mask dropped.  The carefully schooled look she’d been trying to display on the outside crumbled like rock as memories of her children scrambled across her mind.
One by one her babes’ lively animated faces, so full of life, were replaced with the mask of horror from their violent deaths. Her children who would never know the god they were dying for.  She heard their cries again, beseeching her, calling out to her. Hyperventilating, eyes wide with shock, they kicked desperately, their faces begging for their mother.
One swift motion and it was done.
The lives of her laughing, brown-eyed children were taken.  No more laughter, no more kisses, no more joy. The blood that sprayed from their tiny bodies drenched the attendants and soaked the altar, its sickly sweet smell whipping the crowd into a frenzy.  Wild eyed, their faces contorted with madness, the people roared and sank to their knees while the priest raised the still beating heart high in the air.
Pulled back to the present by bile burning her throat, Teiuc dragged in a ragged breath as a hand grabbed her hair and pulled her head backwards forcing her to look up at the altar.  The bright glare of the suns momentarily blinded her and she blinked furiously till her eyes adjusted.
Standing atop the dais were five men.  Four of them were partially clad, their upper bodies bare and coated with oils and paint.  Small feathers, the tips brightly colored, were woven through long hair that flowed over their muscular shoulders.  Standing behind the four men was a fifth.  Head and shoulders taller, his ornate headwear and long feathered cloak stood him apart from the rest.  Despite the turquoise mask covering his face, Teiuc could easily recognize the man.
Matlal.
Her dark eyes stared at Matlal.  Anger, revulsion, hatred all vying for dominance across her tear streaked face.  She had loved this man all her life.  He was her bonded husband since birth, the High Priest of her small world, and the father of her babes.  After each ritual, after another one of her babes had been sacrificed by his hand, she had forgiven him.  It was the Aztec way; she accepted this.
Face contorting with hatred, Teiuc knew the well of her forgiveness had just run dry.  To sacrifice was to give life; this is what she had believed, but no more.  Never again would she watch a child slaughtered.
Teiuc bowed her head, her hatred needing to be hidden.  This was the way it was for the Yahtepec people and it was a tradition that had long since lost its meaning in the passages of time.  The ritual of human sacrifice was another such tradition so ingrained in the Yahtepec that no one ever questioned the reasoning behind it.
Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility, demanded sacrifices to ensure plentiful rainfall for the coming season’s crops.  His wife, the beautiful Goddess of the Water, Chalchiutlicue, required no such homage.  She was the giver of life and protector of children.  In Teiuc’s mind, she could see no reason for their bonding and yet she prayed with passion to Chalchiutlicue, prayed the rains would fall and the rivers would burst.
Greatly feared by the Aztecs, it was well known Tlaloc preferred his sacrifices to be drowned.  No quick death, they would be subjected to the cold terror of a river in its winter thaw.  Held down to almost the point of death, they would be hauled onto the banks, their tears collected as part of the ritual and submerged again.  Whoever believed drowning was a peaceful death had never met Tlaloc.
Teiuc had no such preference.  Whatever reasoning there was behind the practice was lost when it became an act of blood lust and desperation.  Her once strong belief system had been systematically torn down by grief and the gnawing realization that no matter how many children had met their death in Tlaloc’s name, the Yahtepec people were no closer to appeasing him.
Despite all of this, Teiuc had prayed for rain.  Death by drowning was a far better option to what awaited their children on top of the altar.  What meager food she had spare, Teiuc left as an offering at the temple to Chalchiutlicue.
Fearing this wouldn’t be enough, she’d walked for a day to find the flowers of the Lhatzu.  Favoured by the goddess, its aromatic bud was only in bloom for seven days in the summer.  The walk had been long, her shoulders had blistered in the scorching heat from the twin suns, but the Lhatzu flowers had been worth the effort.  Or so she thought.
Chalchiutlicue wasn’t listening though.  The rains never came, but her husband had.
Teiuc’s memory of that last evening spent with Itzli was fractured.  Buoyed with assurance from Matlal that Itzli would not be chosen at the naming ceremony, she stayed home to prepare a meal of Hetcul stew.  Matlal had promised her no more of their children would be given to Tlaloc.  That they had served their god well and provided more noble sacrifice than was required.
Heart heavy with her past losses, Teiuc swept Itzli into her arms and tickled the bare flesh on his tummy.  Giggling with glee, his soft brown eyes bright with the joy of living, Itzli tossed his head back and kicked his chubby legs in play, his voice floating through the air like song to his mother’s ears.
The evening had been enjoyable.  Upon Matlal’s return from the naming ceremony, he’d cradled Itzli in his broad arms and twirled around the shelter with him.  The food, though overly spiced to make up for its natural blandness, was well received and shared, and the wine Matlal’s mother had made last summer was strong and heady with the aroma of dried Hetcul leaves.
Teiuc was happy and tired.  Sure the worry of the naming ceremony was the cause of her weariness, she quickly cleared away the remnants of dinner and bid Matlal goodnight.  Settling down on her sleeping mat, an arm curled around her beautiful Itzli, she found herself quickly drifting to sleep.
Teiuc woke with a start.  Head throbbing with the after effect of too much wine, she struggled to sit up.  Scrubbing a shaky hand across her face, and shivering despite the warmth inside the shelter, she reached out to wake Itzli.
His sleeping mat was empty.
Scrambling to her feet, panic ripping through her very being, Teiuc searched every corner of the shelter.  With no sign of Itzli, she pulled back the privacy screen and stepped out into the courtyard, ignoring the harsh suns beating down on her semi-naked body.
Pushing through the crowds, Teiuc searched with a desperation tinged by mania. People moved out of her way, some held their ground, but still she searched, fear in her dark eyes. The square was busy and lively, but she knew better; this was no market day, this was a terrible day.
The aroma of the rich xental oil was thick, and her mind swam with its intoxicating scent.
Feathers, their tips died in the greens and blues of Tlaloc and Chalchiutlicue, woven so neatly through the seas of hair, seemed to fly at her from all directions.  Pushing her way through the throng, Teiuc called for Itzli, searching the wall of humanity that clamored past.  Then she saw it, the look of anguish from women she had known all her life.  They knew her child was marked for death.
Despite everything, despite all the promises, the sacrifices she’d made, Matlal had taken her baby.  Itzli was gone.  Sinking to her knees, Teiuc struggled for breath, her heart wanted to beat out of her chest.  Ignoring the stares of the milling crowd, she sobbed her rage and frustration.  Looking up, she watched the villagers hurry to the temple of Tlaloc.  Everyone would be there to witness her grief.  Wrapped up in the fervour of the ritual and their unwavering faith in their gods, Teiuc knew she was alone in her loss and grief.
Her gods had abandoned her, and with a stab of pain, she knew she’d abandoned them as well.
Making her way to the temple as if in a trance, Teiuc pushed her way towards the front of the crowd. Squinting, her hand raised against the sun’s glare, she saw a small figure ushered onto the platform.
“Itzli!”
The chanting voices around her fell into hushed silence as all eyes watched the tiny figure shuffle in his overlong robes.  Head down, the small child stumbled and tripped as he took the final walk of his very short life.  Soon, Teiuc would be forced to bear witness to Itzli’s savage death, sacrificed in the name of a faceless god she now detested.  Arms aching to hold her baby, Teiuc’s eyes never wavered.
The little boy, so used to love and tenderness, was adored by his mother and loved by his family, but today none of that mattered. Stumbling, Itzli sobbed for his mother. Instinctively lurching forward, Teiuc felt her arms yanked painfully behind her back.  Nothing would interfere with the child’s sacrifice.
The harder she struggled, the crueler her captors became.  “Be quiet, woman!” The rough voice ghosted her ear; its sharp tone leaving her in no doubt that any further outbursts would be met with even deadlier force.  With a transfixed horror, Teiuc watched her husband raise the dagger, and with a cry, she saw it plunge downward.
Around her the cries of the crowd drowned out her screams.

“Well this is… interesting.”
Daniel Jackson looked up at the sky, and wincing, adjusted his clip-on sunshades while pulling his boonie hat down over his forehead.  The twin suns of PR6-991 shone down relentlessly on the planet’s hard baked earth, creating shimmering mirages in the distance. The planet was a desert and its terrain inhospitable and dangerous. Everywhere, the harshness of the world was obvious.
Dry and withered trees, branches long stripped of foliage, dotted the area, and Daniel was vaguely reminded of a scene from a horror movie. With a grimace, he sighed and muttered sourly, “Wow, Jack is so going to love this place.”
Raising his hand to shield his eyes, Daniel shivered; a ghost walking over his grave disturbed his peace. “Okay, that’s odd.”
Hearing the telltale movements of SG-1 behind him, he listened as the familiar voices floated over to him, and figured they were setting off to scout the immediate area. Turning and jogging over, Daniel felt sweat trickle down his face while he patiently waited for his orders. Finely tuned to the protocols of off-world missions, SG-1 knew what they needed to do long before they walked through the gate.
Scuffing his booted foot across the dusty ground, Daniel frowned at the poor quality of the soil. Looking over at Sam, he shrugged and said, “Doesn’t look like this place has seen rain in a good while.”
Squinting against the sun, Sam glanced over and nodded, a single bead of sweat trickling down her cheek. “Atmospheric sensors on the UAV confirmed very low levels of water vapor in the atmosphere.  Combined with a strong prevalence of high pressure systems, this planet is definitely headed towards becoming a desert in a few centuries.” With a quick frown, her fingers deftly dancing over the pad of the small palm pilot she held, Sam added with a sigh, “Orbiting so close to dual suns isn’t helping either.”
Leaving Sam to her analysis, Daniel unclipped his backpack and let it slide to the ground. Rolling the crick from his shoulder, he focused his attention on the small statue to the left of the DHD.
“Hello!”
Made from grey stone, Daniel figured from some local quarry, the statue stood about two feet tall on a raised rounded pedestal base. Pocked and chipped, its distinctively feminine features were still recognizable despite the tyranny of time and foul weather.  The statue had probably been there for centuries, and the archaeologist wondered briefly against what or whom she had stood guard.
Reaching out to caress the shoulders and bust of the figure, Daniel squinted, trying to read its etchings. Small lines of pictographs, barely noticeable under the glare of the hot suns, leapt out him. “You’re an Aztec,” he whispered.
“I thought you already knew that.”
“Jack!”
“Yes?”  Jack clasped a hand firmly on Daniel’s shoulder and peered over at the figurine. “Like I said, I thought you already knew that.”
“I, ah, I did.  The MALP image wasn’t as detailed as I’d hoped, and the damage to the surface didn’t allow for an accurate identification.”
“Right.” Jack let his hand drop from Daniel’s shoulder, and bending over, peered directly into the statue’s face. “So, who is he?”
“She.”
“What?”
“It’s a she.  Chalchiutlicue, to be exact.”
“I’m not even going try and repeat that one.”  Standing up, Jack rocked back on his heels, his P-90 resting snugly in the crook of his right arm.  “Damn ugly if you ask me.”
“Actually, Jack, she was considered to be one of the most beautiful of the Aztec goddesses.”
“Well,” Jack huffed. “Just goes to show they had no taste whatsoever.”
Casting a cynical look at his friend, Daniel resisted the urge to argue back and forth, deciding to investigate the overgrown pedestal. Brushing aside the dead weeds and brambles, he murmured, “Whoever lived here used this as a shrine at some point. I’d say it hasn’t been visited in a long time. Odd really.”
Running a hand across his brow, Jack flicked the sweat onto the ground, frowning as it sizzled away in the blistering heat.  “Why is that?”
“Well…”  Throwing Jack a sympathetic look, Daniel pushed his boonie back and unclipped his shades. “Unless they’ve all died off in the last few months, it’s highly unusual for the Aztecs to leave their shrines in such a state.”
“Like an offence to their god?”
“Exactly.” Freeing the pedestal base from its debris, Daniel took out a small brush and began sweeping around the bottom, running a finger lightly behind the brush as he went.
“Looking for something?”
“I was hoping to find…” Leaning in closer, Daniel could just make out a faint band of script ringing the base of the object. Slipping into lecture mode, ignoring the soft groan from his team-mate, Daniel tapped the base with triumph. Whirling around, his face creased into a grin. “Gotcha!”
“Got what?”
“Sometimes, depending on the ruler at the time, the Aztecs used to leave a blessing around the base of their most sacred shrines.”  A small frown marring his face, Daniel rocked back on his haunches and sighed. “Most of the pictographs have worn away.  I’m guessing from exposure to the elements or a high acid content in the soil.”
“Or maybe it’s just been here a long time.”
“Yes, helpful, Jack… thanks.”
Jumping effortlessly to his feet, Daniel placed his brush in his vest and dusted his hand against his pants. Turning around in a neat 360° arc, his expression almost comically quizzical, he stared at the gate and the surrounding area, all the while drumming his fingers on his thigh. “Mm, now that really is odd.”
“Odd?”
“Tlaloc.”
“Okay.” Jack let out a tolerant sigh. “T, who?”
“Tlaloc.  Chalchiuhtlicue and Tlaloc were husband and wife.  Quite often where you found a statue of one, you’d find one of the other as well, but there’s nothing here.”
Tilting his cap back, Jack’s gaze wandered over the vista. “I got nothing but dust and dead trees.”
“Yeah, me too,” Daniel muttered, his words tinged with worry. Something didn’t add up and the more he thought, the more it bothered him. With one, there was always the other.
“Right, so why don’t you sound so happy about that?” Circling Daniel, and gazing harder around him, Jack moved in closer. “Daniel?”
Bristling under Jack’s stare and stepping backwards, Daniel shook his head. “Jack, stop rounding me up, there’s nothing here but us and a million flying bugs.”  Casting his gaze back at the weatherworn statue, Daniel frowned, “Tlaloc was known in Aztec mythology as the god of rain and fertility.”
“Fertility, you say?” Jack tapped the side of his P-90 playfully. “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad to me.”
“He was also known for his floods and droughts, and need for human sacrifices, particularly children. Parents were known to drown their children to appease him.”
Jack turned his gaze back to the statue, eyebrows raised, and swallowed visibly. “Sacrifices?”
“Jack, the early Aztecs were a pretty blood-lusty lot.  Human sacrifice was a way of life for them.”
“Not much of a life, if you ask me.”
“It was all they knew.”
“I’m just saying.”
“O’Neill!”
Teal’c tinny voiced boomed out from the radio on Jack’s vest, and taken unaware, Daniel couldn’t help shuddering. Jack tilted his head and raising his eyebrow, mouthed, “Its Teal’c!” Grinning at Daniel’s perfect eye roll, he smothered a snort and keyed his radio, “What ya got, buddy?”
“We are not alone.  A small band of people are approaching from the south.”
Daniel watched as Jack visibly tensed. Instantly alert, his hand tightening around his P-90, Jack snapped his head back and forth, finding his bearings. Taking his cue and slipping his own hand down towards the Berretta, Daniel paused mid-action, the urge to arm himself giving way to playing devils advocate in the face of a first contact.
“Carter, what’s your position?”
“Coming up on your left, sir, fifty feet.”
Squinting against the glare, his snap on shades momentarily forgotten, Daniel spotted movement through a grove of dead gnarled trees, and with a quick tap on Jack’s shoulder, he pointed towards the approaching visitors. “Err, over there!”
“Behind me, Daniel.”
“Jack?”
Face schooled, a finger raised in the air, Jack put paid to Daniel’s now silent protest. “You’ll get to do your intergalactic traveler routine when I’m sure they’re not planning on using us for target practice.”
The tell-tale sound of boots on the dry ground behind him told Daniel the rest of his team had returned, and with a barely perceptible nod, Teal’c and Sam moved to flank him, their weapons primed and at the ready.
Gaze darting from the tip of Teal’c staff weapon to the small band of natives now clearing a rippling mirage, Daniel bit back a witty retort threatening to trip off his tongue. The words “We come in peace, shoot to kill” suddenly stuck in an annoying loop in his mind, but placing his hand back on his Berretta, his relentless training finally won. Watch and listen, time enough for questions and answers later. Jack was right.  Friend or foe was the sixty four thousand dollar question.
Watching as Sam and Teal’c slid smoothly into position, Jack kept his tone low and direct. “Heads up, kids.”
Walking through the rippling mirage, a small group of warriors strode into the clearing near the gate. Dark skinned, lean and well muscled, they were naked from the waist up, and oozed a predatory presence. Their skin painted in a vivid blue, wearing skirted waistbands, the warriors looked at the invaders with interest.

The tent city was vast, spilling chaotically from two stone-hewed temples.  An oxy-moron of beauty and starkness, it was set against an arid wasteland, and with a pang of sadness and regret, Daniel conceded it reminded him of Nagada.
Shielding his eyes from the glaring suns, Daniel looked over the bustling vista and marveled at the view.  Sitting upon a barren knoll, the pyramidal shaped temples seemed to ripple with life as the setting suns dipped behind them.  Deep orange and purple colors from the walls bled onto the city below, washing it like a living canvas.  Daniel sucked in a deep breath, and with the pang of Abydos’s loss suddenly awakened in him, he marvelled at the city’s simple beauty.
Surrounded on all sides by their Aztec hosts, Daniel kept his emotions in check, not letting the familiarity of the setting draw him away from the uneasiness he’d felt ever since Luc and his entourage had intercepted them at the gate.
A growing discomfort gnawed at Daniel, and stealing a sideways glance, he checked to see if Jack had picked up on his uneasiness.  Jack’s face was grim, and Daniel figured the easy manipulation of his team bothered him.  Subtly and with stealth, the Aztec warriors insinuated themselves between them, and glaring, Daniel knew it was a bold move.
Despite his extensive knowledge of Aztec history, these people were aliens, and he wondered if their culture was diverse enough not to panic.  Looking at the warriors, resplendent with short bows and brightly tipped arrows, made Daniel’s stomach churn.

The musty smell of spice permeated the air, and sniffing, Jack’s eyes began to water.  With a longing look at the mud hut’s only door, he began to formulate a fresh air escape plan.  Getting past his minder, though, could prove problematic.
Uneasiness settled in Jack’s stomach like a mouthful of bad milk, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a lot more to their new friends than what Daniel had discovered.  Which, admittedly, wasn’t much.  The walk into the shanty village had been hot and long, though the locals took it in their stride.  Jack wasn’t surprised in the least.  His affinity with chilly Minnesota days was often at odds with Daniel’s love of all things hot and sandy.  Acclimatization was the key.
A kaleidoscope of brightly painted bodies, feathered heads all bobbing with supposed excitement, greeted them along the winding path through the village.  Daniel was in his element.  The earlier apprehension he’d felt had eased somewhat, and with language being no barrier—English appeared to be a universal constant—Jack looked on as his friend chatted amicably on a range of subjects from herbal medicines to religion.  All of which bored Jack to distraction.
And there were plenty of distractions.
Bare-chested seemed to be the norm here.  Male and female.  Jack knew nothing of Earth’s Aztec culture beyond what he read in magazines and what little information Daniel provided him.  Of course, that depended on whether he actually remembered it or not.  Choosing the ‘dumbed down’ version of most of Daniel’s long winded and overly animated lectures, Jack had a tendency to only take on board information relevant to the mission.
With very little data available on PR6-991, Jack was confident his archaeologist had no idea that bare-chested-ness extended to the women of Yahtepec as well as the men.  Comparative social customs aside, Jack found the whole situation mildly distracting and suddenly developed a curious interest in the roof thatching methods of the Aztecs.  Perhaps, along with an eye-watering version of the modern-day room freshener, the Yahtepec people could add their roof technology to Daniel’s small list of items-of-interest.
Jack pulled his cap down across his eyes, and peered beneath it, quiet and unobtrusive.  He looked at Teal’c.  Straight backed, hands clutched behind him, his face was unreadable. Hmm, Jack thought, nothing different there.  Twisting his neck, still looking lazy and disinterested, Jack stared at his 2IC.  Carter’s face was red, and beads of sweat trailed down her cheeks.  Hot and bothered, she still watched her surroundings, ever the good soldier.
The last of his team mates caused Jack the most consternation.  Arms flying, Daniel was enamored with his latest audience and Jack wondered wryly if Daniel’s mind was either his best friend or his worst enemy.  Today, in this primitive hut, insects buzzing and the smell of fermenting fruit filling the air, O’Neill decided it was Daniel’s best friend.
“Jack!”  Speak of the devil.  How did the kid do that?  One moment he’s sitting like the chief storyteller at a bonfire, and the next he’s standing in front of him.
“Daniel?”  Jack looked across at Luc and the other Yahtepec, all paint, feathers and smiles, then back at his friend. “Something you need to share with the rest of us?”
“This is just amazing!  We’ve seen so many examples of displaced cultures deviating from their Earth equivalents that I was expecting the same here.”
Patting the space next to him, Jack shuffled over to make room.  “And you’re not seeing that here?”  he ventured with a smile.
“Not really, no, well, some traditions have died off over time, and obvious environmental issues aside—”
“Aht!” Eyebrows raised and finger in the air, Jack put paid to Daniel’s building rant.
Daniel put on a look of resignation, and with a shrug and roll of his eyes, carried on regardless.  “My point is, the modern Aztecs of today—”
“The Mexicans?”  Jack smiled.  He liked to think he knew his history.
Eyebrows raised, Daniel peered at Jack over the top of his glasses.  “Can I finish?”  He said, bumping Jack’s shoulder as he slid down next to him.  “The Aztec society of today has pretty much lost its cultural ties to the past.  They maintain their language and some of their religious beliefs but that’s about it.”
Mouth open, Jack scrubbed his chin back and forth with one hand.  “You know, this is all good stuff, but what does it mean for us?  Cultural imperatives aside,” he added mockingly.
Daniel blinked and flicked away a bead of sweat from his eye. “Ah, it’s interesting?”
“Interesting? Right!”  Jack smacked his thigh and stood up, cringing as his BDU pants stuck to his bottom.  Damn this blasted heat. “Carter, Teal’c, pack it up, kids, we’re heading home.”
“We can’t just leave!”
Jack shrugged on his pack, hating the added warmth against his already overheated skin.  “Daniel, they’ve got nothing of value to trade and you’ve already admitted the culture is not that much different from the one we had on Earth.”
“Sam.” Daniel stood up. Grim faced and eyes pleading, he waved at his team mate. “The Yahtepec have this plant, it’s the only thing they can grow under these conditions.  According to Luc, it has incredible medicinal properties.”
Mouth open, about to put an end to Daniel’s plea, a flurry of movement caught Jack’s attention and he zeroed in on Luc.  Head bobbing in a lively discussion, the Aztec leader herded his men to the front of the hut, effectively blocking the team’s only route of escape.
Eyes flashing his concern at the military half of his team, Jack clapped Daniel on the shoulder and steered him toward the exit.  “Carter can get her samples and we’ll bid these lovely people goodbye.”
As if on cue, Luc and his followers turned and suddenly pressed all around them, their spirited and animated faces now flush with concern.  Jack couldn’t give a damn.  Hot, tired, and smelling like a rancid mastadge, he had no compunction about pushing his way through the crowd to fresh air and the path back to the Stargate.
“Jack!”  Daniel shrugged off Jack’s grip and turned to face him, eyes icy cold and face grim with determination.  “I told Luc we’d be staying for their evening meal.  They have herbs and other medicines they’re prepared to share, on top of those ‘cultural imperatives’ I’d like to learn more about.”
A finger strumming the side of his P-90, Jack’s temper, like the heat inside the inferno of a hut, was slowly creeping past boiling point.  “Well, un-tell them, Daniel,” he said with the barest thread of self control and drawing out Daniel’s name deliberately.  “There’s nothing here we need to stay for, and should Carter’s samples turn up anything worth further investigation, I’m sure the General will approve a return visit.  Right now,” Jack gave Daniel a firm shove towards the door, “I’m hot, feeling hemmed in, and in desperate need of a long shower and a beer, so make good with the chief and let us get the heck outta here.”
A commotion at the end of the hut put paid to Jack’s rant and he reflexively tightened the grip on his weapon.  A cutting glance at Teal’c and Carter had his team closing ranks around Daniel, and he could sense their sharp minds already searching for another escape route.
Feathered heads bobbed in unison, and with an almost festive like cheer, the small crowd of Yahtepec men parted to let four young women through.  Faces impassive, long black hair flowing over their full breasts, they each held a large platter above their heads.  Heaped with some type of steaming food Jack had no hope of identifying, the women swung the platters down and settled them on a nearby table.
With a silent groan and sigh of resignation, Jack bit back his anger and flashed a ‘we’ll be discussing this later’ look at his youngest team mate.  The slow shrug of shoulders and grimaced half smile told him Daniel had received his message loud and clear.
Brightly colored earthenware jugs joined the platters on the table, and Jack stared at the cup thrust into his hand with some suspicion.  The pungent clove scented wine tickled his nostrils and Jack flashed the server his best ‘thank-you’ smile, biting back a low groan as yet more villagers filled into the already cramped space.
The feast was a meager affair.  Plates of thinly sliced red meat were dotted around the long serving table, their juices pooling and congealing quickly in the steaming heat of the hut.
Cutlery and napkins unheard of here, Jack picked up a portion, and with a feigned smile to appease the watching Luc, took a small bite.  The meat was sweet but stringy, and as Jack was about to swallow, he caught sight of a rat scuttling across an overhead rafter and pushing its way through the straw roof.  With a cough and roll of his eyes, he forced down the portion and wondered belatedly where they obtained their food sources.
Teal’c and Carter were seated off to his left and seemed to be just as cautious about the meal as he was.  Sam appeared to have spotted the rats in the rafter, her gaze constantly flickering back and forth from her plate—largely untouched—to a point high up in the roof.  Only Daniel appeared in his element, once again stuck in a lively conversation with Luc, he tucked into his meal like he was dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet, the company seemingly a bigger distraction than the ill tasting meal and twenty sets of rodent eyes spying on them from above.
The only thing Jack could agree on was the wine.  Its heady scent was easily forgotten over the course of several refills, and though Jack was always cautious about drinking anything off world, whatever was in the smooth brew was very easy on the pallet.  Obligatory toasts to friendships and possible trades over—though for god-knows-what Jack wasn’t sure—and he could feel his mask of concentration starting to slip.  Blinking slowly, and taking a long assessing look at Sam and Teal’c, he cursed silently.
They all looked drunk. No. Drugged.
Staring down at the cup and then across at Luc, he caught the other man’s attention just as Daniel was slumping sideways into his firm embrace.  The welcoming smile was gone, replaced with a lip curling grin.  Hands roughly pulling at his shoulders and forcing him from his seat and onto the ground, Jack tried to fight back but failed.  Limbs numb and consciousness fading, the last thing he saw was Daniel being hefted onto the shoulders of a warrior and taken from the hut.

Malinche eyed the latest supplicant with a look of satisfaction and anticipation.  With the ever increasing long gaps between sacrificial rites, she hoped fervently Tlaloc would be pleased with this offering.  Few people visited the Yahtepec.  Their isolation and poor resources, hardly worthy of even the most desperate of passing traders, left them a needy people at the mercy of malevolent gods.  Gnawing hunger and desperation burned in their bellies, so whenever travelers arrived through Tlaloc’s door, there was always cautious celebration.
Cursed by her inability to bear children, Malinche considered her work at the temple of the utmost importance; after all, there was more than one way to serve her god.  As was her stature amongst the temple workers, she wore the responsibility of caring for new supplicants like a badge of honor, and took pride in her work.
Her latest charge was a handsome man, but as a child, he would be truly beautiful.  Eyes the color of the sky and hair glinted with gold, Malinche was sure Tlaloc would look positively upon this sacrifice, forgetting he was not of the Yahtepec.  Holding the vial of mocuepa tightly in her hand, she stood over him, pulling him forward by his clothing.
Groaning his displeasure at being disturbed, the man tried to push her away. “Wha’s ‘h’ppen’ng?”
Malinche would have none of it.  The sleeping drug still held the man fast in its grip, and taking advantage of his confusion, she pulled him forward by his hair.  Twisting under her hold, his head thrashing back and forth, he gagged as she forced the bitter liquid between his teeth.  Grunting, she shoved him back against the wall, cursing as he spat the mocuepa back into her face, stinging her eyes.
“You!”  Gripping his chin in her hand, she forced his mouth open and poured down the rest of the contents of the vial, clamping a hand over his mouth, forcing him to swallow.  Within moments his struggles ceased, and his panic filled eyes closed under the numbing influences of the mocuepa.
Malinche wiped the liquid from her face, and stood back watching as the drug worked its magic.  After all these years she was still in awe of its potential as the man’s pain filled body contorted and writhed, growing ever smaller with each passing second.

Nausea wasn’t a feeling Teal’c was especially familiar with.  Decades of carrying a symbiote had protected him from a variety of maladies any normal humanoid would have succumbed to. His later reliance on the drug Tretonin, whilst not as effective, was preferable over the death that awaited any Jaffa without a symbiote.
It was the low cadence of unfamiliar voices that stirred Teal’c from his slumber, and he wondered idly why he was sleeping in the company of others.  Prying his eyes open briefly, he could make out hazy figures moving across his line of sight.  Not immediately recognizing his surroundings, he snapped them shut before anyone noticed he was awake.
They’d been drugged.  Memories of the feast filtered somewhat slowly into his sluggish brain, and stilling his now racing breath, he tried to maintain the illusion of being asleep.  The voices were louder now.  Whoever it was wasn’t bothering to hide the topic of their conversation, and now alert to their predicament, Teal’c keenly listened in.
“I am unsure as to why the mocuepa failed.”
Luc!  Teal’c recognized the voice of the Yahtepec leader.  A heightened sense of preservation, and the need to know the location of the rest of his team, kept Teal’c from lashing out at his captors.  Face schooled, and body appearing lax, Teal’c knew information would be more useful than brute force.
“We can’t worry about that now, Luc.  We must dispose of these three before they awaken.”  Three? A brief pause in the conversation, and Teal’c could hear the sound of feet scuffing across the dirt floor near his head.  “We cannot risk them escaping through Tlaloc’s door and alerting the gods to our failure.”
“There must be something different with them, a reason why the mocuepa didn’t work.”
Teal’c could hear Luc pacing back and forth across the room, his agitation seeming to increase with the speed of his footfalls.  “This one,” Luc jabbed at Teal’c’s right shoulder with his foot, “bears the mark of some distant evil god.”
“Perhaps he would be a worthy sacrifice to Tlaloc,” the other man suggested, a tinge of anticipation creeping into his voice.
With a grim sense of foreboding Teal’c understood the man’s words.  Jaffa knew all about sacrificing to one’s god, and he listened to the misguided words of yet another fanatic with sadness.  Forcing a calmness he didn’t feel, he knew this wasn’t the time for such thoughts; he would be needed to rescue his friends.
“Another sign of our continued faith and following of his ways?” the man continued on, and Teal’c could imagine the look of want spreading across the man’s face.
Luc growled deeply.  “Perhaps you would be a more worthy sacrifice, Zolin.”
Hearing the brittle laugh returned, Teal’c listened as the voice became softer. “No,” Luc laughed lightly, seeming to finding the other man’s reaction amusing, “have Tochtili take them to the quarry cliffs where they can meet their fate.  The failure of the mocuepa is a sure sign from Tlaloc he would not favor their sacrifice.”
Silence an affirmation of compliance, Teal’c listened till he heard both men leave the hut and the rickety door close.  Opening his eyes he let his gaze wander around the small, dimly lit space.  Night had obviously closed in and a small candle provided the only light in the room.
O’Neill and Major Carter were both stretched out on the floor several feet away, and the twisted position of their limbs and lack of any bedding left Teal’c in no doubt the Yahtepec held their prisoners in little regard.
Inching forward as quietly as possible, Teal’c reached out towards the pulse point on O’Neill’s neck.  Steady but slow.  Reaching across his team leader’s body, he gently grabbed Sam’s bicep and pulled her closer.  The reaction he got was faster than he could have anticipated.  A fist struck out and hit him squarely on the jaw, and he recoiled under the unexpected attack.
“Major Carter!”  he whispered, raising his hands to fend off any further attack.
Eyes wide, face pale, Sam Carter drew in a ragged breath and blinked furiously.  “Teal’c?”
“We must remain quiet,” he cautioned, cocking his head in the direction of the closed door.  “The Yahtepec leader may still be close-by.”
Sitting up slowly, Sam knuckled her eyes and ran a shaky hand through her hair.  Looking back and forth around the room, she flashed Teal’c an inquiring look.  “Daniel?”
“He is not with us.”
“Damn,” she muttered. “We need to get out of here before they return.  I’m not too sure the trip to the quarry cliffs is one we really want to take, and finding Daniel is a priority.”
“You heard?”
“Some of it.  Only woke up a few minutes ago. I’m guessing they drugged us with something and whatever it was wore off quicker than they expected.”
“We must use that to our advantage.”
Sam reached out and shook the colonel’s shoulder.  “Sir?”  With no reaction she checked his pulse again and winced. “He’s not going to wake up any time soon.  Will you be okay to carry him?”
Teal’c nodded and rose to his feet.  Suddenly dizzy and biting back nausea, he took a moment to steady himself.
“Teal’c, you okay?”  Sam asked only moments before her own face took on a decidedly green hue as she made to stand.  “Oh boy!”
Teal’c watched quietly as Sam gathered herself and began tapping the hut’s back walls lightly, recognizing this to be their only means of escape as the most obvious routes would be guarded.  Waiting until she’d removed the last of the panels, he hoisted the colonel across his shoulders in a fireman’s hold.
Night blanketed the Aztec village.  Smoke curled from the cooking fires of several nearby huts, and the mutterings of muted conversations drifted on the calm night air.  The buildings seemed sparsely situated and Teal’c wondered what part of the vast city they’d been taken too.  With no landmarks to guide them, and only the light from a single moon lighting the landscape, Teal’c could only guess they were on the outskirts of the village.
Thankful he wasn’t left having to make his escape carrying both his team mates, he looked on as Major Carter, armed with nothing but a paling from the hut wall, scouted the vicinity for guards.
Teal’c kept his frame as flat as possible against the rickety hut, the colonel’s body resting securely across his shoulders.  With a quick nod, Sam darted into the darkness only to return minutes later.
“I counted one guard,” she huffed, sucking in a lung full of air.
Eyes dark, Teal’c frowned, “Clearly they weren’t expecting us to escape.”
Sam nodded. “Whatever the reason, I don’t see that we have much time.”  Pointing to the rear of the hut, she motioned him forward.  “It looks like we’re on the outskirts of the village,” she whispered, her gaze sharp and focused as she swept the area for trouble.  “I spotted the indentation of a dry river bed.  The rocks should cover our tracks.”
“What of Daniel Jackson?”
Sam reached across and tapped lightly on the colonel’s cheek.  “One problem at a time, Teal’c.  We need somewhere safe to hide and work out where we go from here.  We’re out-manned and un-armed.  Leaving is our only option.”
A cry of laughter and the rustling of heavy fabric caught them off guard.  Pushing Teal’c back against the wall of the hut, she peered out around its corner and abruptly pulled her head back in.  Clearly there was movement in the village.
“Leaving now is a better one.”

Staring into the starless night sky, the old woman sighed softly, her bones aching from sitting on her haunches for too long. As her thoughts wandered back in time, she smiled; remembering the sounds birds made as they bickered and fought in the trees, but that had been centuries ago and now her planet was dying.  “Not any more,” she mused sadly remembering their sharp keening shrill as they aimed their feathered bodies downwards in the hopes of securing a live meal.
Dragging herself to her feet, arthritis paining her, Teiuc thought the birds hunted to extinction were better off than she was.  She supposed that maybe they existed somewhere on this unforgiving rock, but if they had any good sense, they would stay well away from the Yahtepec. Still, she couldn’t complain, unlike the now extinct birds, she had only suffered the indignity of banishment by her people.
In a final act of contrition, she’d turned her back on her gods and the only way of life she’d ever known.  Fearing she’d be sacrificed for her crimes, she was stunned when the warriors of her village merely looked on as she fled with her meager possessions.
Setting up a hovel outside the city border, she lived her life in quiet solitude with no one to bother her, but a whole life time of memories to keep her company.  The only problem was… Teiuc’s memories were the stuff of nightmares.
The distant crunch of feet on rocks pulled Teiuc from her melancholy and she tilted her head in the direction of the sound. “No!” she hissed, snuffing out her shelter’s only candle and pulled the door covering closed. “Not after all this time.”  She had no visitors, no one cared if she lived or died.  In exile, it was as though Teiuc never existed. “Why now?”
Pushing the door covering back a fraction, she let her eyes adjust once again to the darkness, and with a stifled gasp, she caught sight of movement beyond the edge of her garden.  The intruders were close, and their odd scent confused and alarmed her more.
“What is this?”
Ancient, Teiuc was a survivor, and grabbing the hardwood branch she kept by her door, she waited and listened, heart pounding with fear.
Two figures stumbled through the darkness and with a hiss and curse, the smaller of the two tripped and fell to the ground face first.
“Major—”
Major?
“I’m fine, Teal’c, just a few loose stones.”
“No!” Teiuc whispered, stunned at what played out before her. No woman was allowed beyond the village limits after darks.  The gods would not allow it.
With a start, Teiuc shuddered as a terrible and familiar sound carried across the night air.  She knew something was afoot, but what?  A sacrifice?  Call to war?
The strangers appeared to hear the cry as well, their hushed whispers falling silent as they staggered to clear the dry riverbed.  Burdened or injured, she couldn’t tell, but the taller of the two was moving much slower, his gait awkward and unsteady.  In the dead of night Teiuc couldn’t tell which.
Furtive looks over their shoulders told Teiuc the intruders hadn’t come for her.  They were being herded just as surely as she had been centuries earlier, and she was in no doubt as to why.
Familiar voices drifted up the riverbed, growing louder with every passing moment.  Doubt giving way to clarity, and pushing her fears aside, Teiuc threw open her door and ran out into the night.
“Over here!”  She beckoned, scuttling across the hard ground and motioning them over. “I can help you.”
Stopping dead in her stride, the female turned to look at her, her body tense and eyes wide.  Teiuc knew instantly she was not of the Yahtepec.  Hair as yellow as the sun framed the stranger’s face like a halo, and for a brief moment, Teiuc wondered if she was a goddess.  Pushing the thought aside—after all, who would be chasing their goddess—she swallowed her fear.
“Please,” she begged, keeping her voice at a hissed whisper, “move faster, they will be upon you soon.”  With a quick thanks to the gods she no longer believed in, Teiuc studied the huge man with skin of ebony.  Fear caused her eyes to widen; this one bore the mark of the evil gods.
“Who are you?” she asked, almost instantly regretting what his answer might be.
Shifting the weight of his unconscious companion on his shoulders, the man nodded curtly, ignoring both her question and her wide-eyed stare, and moved past her.  Teiuc knew it was too late to withdraw her offer of help.  What was done could not be undone, and she of all people knew this to be true.

Sam crouched down to her knees, and moving silently to the door, peered through the crack. Blinking, her eyes adjusting to the night, she tracked the shadowy figures moving beyond the edge of Teiuc’s meager garden.  The warrior’s dark skin blended perfectly into the night, and Sam wondered if they’d substituted one problem for another.
The old woman’s rheumy eyes were wide with fear, and Sam sighed softly, aware she may not be quite so keen to help them now that warriors crawled all around her hut.  Couldn’t blame her, she needed to be sure they weren’t betrayed.  Narrowing her eyes briefly, Sam wondered why the woman appeared fixated on Teal’c.  “Great,” she muttered under her breath, “they know the Goa’uld. This just keeps getting better and better.”
A shadowy movement dragged her back to the warriors and again, Carter regretted taking refuge.  Cutting the first break of the night, Sam blew a relieved sigh as the sounds of the warriors drifted away, and for the moment they were safe.  She hoped.
Smiling at the brave old woman, Sam felt a stab of sympathy for her gnarled old body.  She was very old, and the bravery she’d shown three strangers was admirable.  “Thank you,” Sam whispered. “Thank you very much.”
Her stare still firmly fixed on Teal’c, the old woman appeared to ignore Sam completely.
“He won’t hurt you.”
Shaking her head slowly, and sucking in a deep breath, the woman slid her gaze across to Sam, and muttered, “This one is a servant of evil.”
So it is the Goa’uld she’s afraid of.  “No.” Sam shifted over next to Teal’c and rested a hand on the colonel’s chest.  Steady and deep, just keep it that way, sir.  “Teal’c used to serve the Goa’uld but he is allied with us now.”
“Goa’uld?”  The woman stumbled over the word like it was unfamiliar to her.
“Ah, the evil?”
Giving Teal’c one last quizzical look, the old woman nodded, and her lips turned up in a small smile.  “I am Teiuc.”
“Teiuc.  I’m Sam, this,” she pointed towards Teal’c, “is Teal’c, and the sleepy one is Colonel O’Neill.”
Looking down at Jack, Teiuc frowned and patted his cheek with her hand.  “He has been touched by the mocuepa,” she said suspiciously, turning to light up a small candle.
The what?  Sam frowned. “Excuse me?”
“You have come from the village?”
“Yes.”
The flame flickered before settling on its wick, providing just enough light to fill the space with a shimmering yellow hue.  “Then you have all been touched by the mocuepa,” Teiuc announced as she placed the candle on the floor between them. “None who visit the Yahtepec leave without being touched by the mocuepa.”
“Mocuepa?”  Sam rolled the word off her tongue; it seemed familiar somehow.
“I believe that was the word Luc gave to the drug he tainted our wine with, Major Carter,” Teal’c offered in answer to her unspoken question.
“Yes!”  Teiuc nodded stiffly, with suspicion making her expression hard and her voice brittle.  “Mocuepa!  Those the mocuepa does not work on are put to death.  It is not something that occurs very often.”  Eyeing Sam and Teal’c up and down, she cocked her head to the side in a surmising gesture.  “There must be something about you three that stopped the mocuepa from working.”
“Teiuc, there is another of us.  A friend.  When we woke up, he was gone.”
Teiuc shook her head at Sam, eyes flashing briefly with sadness. “He is lost to you. The mocuepa changes people quickly and its effects are equally as brief.  Soon he will be taken to meet the Gods.”
“The Gods?”  Experience taught Sam that anything through the Stargate that concerned ‘Gods’ was never a good thing.  “I need you to work with us here, Teiuc, please, it’s very important we understand what you’re saying. What is mocuepa, and what does it do to people?”
Teiuc sighed and rubbed her hands together.  Looking across at Sam and Teal’c then down at the still sleeping colonel, she sat back on her low stool, chewing on her bottom lip, eyes intense.  “Although I am no longer part of the Yahtepec, there are some traditions I still uphold.  I can tell you what I know if you are prepared to listen.”
Sam looked down at Jack.  Eyes darting under their hoods, she could tell the drug was starting to wear off.  Any time you’d like to wake up would be fine with me, sir.  “If it will help us get Daniel back, then yes, we’ll listen.”
“I guarantee nothing, only that it will help you to understand why you cannot help your friend.”

With a shiver, Daniel wondered briefly why he was cold.  Egyptian nights were quite cool, he knew that, but why was this so cold?  Confused, he patted around for his bedclothes, but finding none, he curled in tighter and shivered again.
On the cusp of sleep, and needing a distraction from the crisp night air, Daniel let his mind wander to the delights the breaking dawn would hold for him.  He loved Saqqara, loved looking at the distant and massive sand dunes that swept down from the horizon and crashed into the temple complex like ocean waves.  Not that Daniel had been to the ocean, but he’d seen pictures in books.
On calm days when the wind barely ruffled his long hair, he would sit in the large washing pail and pretend he was the captain of a mighty vessel pounding the waves and shouting “ahoy” at passing goat herders.  Tonight though, Saqqara was cold, and getting colder by the moment.  Daniel wrapped one arm around his knees and reached out for his blanket with the other.  Hand slapping a hard surface, he jerked instantly awake and sat up.
The world had changed.  Panic washed over him as he surveyed his new environment, and with a choked whimper, he scuttled into the nearest corner.  The room he occupied was poorly lit.  Fading threads of daylight filtered in from small window just below ceiling height giving off enough light for Daniel to tell he wasn’t in his home.
“Mommy?”
Time spent wandering through temple complexes and funeral chambers at the dig site in Saqqara told Daniel the room he was in was made from stone.  Roughly hewn, it bit into his bottom and back, no position he tried was comfortable as the cold numbed him even more.
“Daddy?”
Rocking gently back and forth, he could feel the scratch of course fabric on his cold skin, and fingering the material, he swept his hands down his front until he reached the hemline.  Whatever he was wearing was long, and pulling his knees up to his chest, he dragged the garment over his legs and feet to lock in some warmth.
“Garai?”  Daddy had warned him about slavers—men that wandered the barren lands of Egypt seeking out women and children to sell to others.  If you see anyone you don’t recognize, come to us or Garai. You understand me, Danny?  Danny understood well enough, and Garai, his language teacher and family friend, was never far away.
Daniel always believed it was a story designed to keep him from exploring past the confines of the dig site and their camping grounds.  Now he wasn’t so sure.  Did they take Mommy as well?  Were they even aware he was missing?  Thoughts reeled through his scared and tired mind, and as fast as that fear was escalating… so were his sobs.
Small hiccups soon became choked and strained.  His laments echoed off the cold walls of his prison and back to his ears, making him cry even harder.
A small ball of misery, Daniel didn’t hear the low moan of wood being dragged across the stone floor as the door was opened and a slightly built woman entered.
“Be quiet!” she yelled, teeth bared and nostrils flaring. “You will learn silence or I will teach it to you.”
Feeling like he’d been slapped across the face, Daniel dragged in a ragged breath and curled tightly into the corner.  He gazed up at the woman through wet lashes and shuddered at her snarled expression.  Long black hair peppered with streaks of grey swept over her bare chest and down to a short green skirt tied loosely around her waist.  Skin the color of honey and eyes as dark as night, she was definitely not Egyptian.
Choking back a threatened sob, Daniel clutched at his shirt and tucked his head down to his chest, avoiding her eyes.  “I-I want ma-my mommy.”
“You have no mother.  You belong to Tlaloc and Chal now, and you will do their bidding.”
The woman spoke with such force that her words flew at Daniel in a hail of saliva, coating his face and arms.  Recoiling in horror, unable to make sense of what was happening, Daniel turned towards the hard wall and tried to block out her image.  A rough hand grabbed at his bony shoulder and yanked him around as a cup was shoved into his chest.
“Drink.”
Daniel looked at the cup then up at the woman and shook his head.  “No.”
Eyes flashing and mouth set in a sneer, the woman snatched a handful of Daniel’s hair forcing his head back and his mouth to drop open.  The cup was pressed roughly against his lips, liquid forced down his throat.
Coughing and spitting, lungs burning as the liquid went down the wrong way; Daniel doubled over in agony.  “Mommy!”
“I told you she’s gone. You are worthless.  Your life is no longer your own.”
Daniel felt a heavy numbness wash over him.  Tired and cold, he struggled to sit up but his body felt heavy and kept pulling him down.  Giving up, he turned onto his side and dragged his knees up to his chest, and with no energy left to draw on he ignored the cold and slipped into a fitful slumber.

“Tlaloc and Chalchihuitlicue—the Sun and the Moon.  The Yahtepec people have worshipped them since life began for us.  The twin gods of fertility, they created us from their image. Tlaloc was also known as the god of rain, and it was long known that when the clouds were full and the rivers swollen, Tlaloc was happy and pleased. His wife, Chalchihuitlicue was the goddess of the waters and protector of children.  Together they ruled over this world, and for many millennia, the Yahtepec lived in harmony with their gods.
Our verbal history tells of a time when no sacrifice—beyond food for their tables and wares for their households—was required by the Gods to appease them.”
Sam raised her hand. “Wait!”  she asked looking puzzled. “Food and wares?  Your ancestors provided them with goods but did they ever actually see them?”
“The Gods? Of course they did.” Teiuc laughed lightly, her smile accentuated by the wrinkles in her leathery skin. “Tlaloc and his bride resided in separate temples, the seats of their worship.  Tlaloc was a solitary figure, choosing to communicate only through the daily offering service.  Chalchihuitlicue was his opposite.  Said to be as beautiful as she was intelligent, she wandered through the city blessing the children and visiting the fields during sowing season.”
Sam looked across at Teal’c, a worried frown on her face. “Do you think?”
“Indeed.  It is possible they were Goa’uld, although I do not recognize their names beyond what Daniel Jackson told us.”
Teiuc coughed lightly, clearly annoyed at the interruption.  “May I continue?”
“Yes,” Sam urged, wincing, “sorry, please do.”
“Tlaloc and Chalchihuitlicue never left Yahtepec,” Teiuc continued, closing her eyes as she spoke. “There was never any need to.  The quarry provided minerals that Tlaloc had sent through his door, though my ancestors were never sure for what purpose.  Life was good until Tlaloc and Chal left.”  Teiuc’s face twisted into a scowl as though she was recalling something unpleasant. “The quarry had ceased giving up its bounty and very soon Tlaloc received visitors through his door.  Our oral history became weak at this point and some believe that Tlaloc and Chal left through the door to attend to other duties, never to return.  Others still, are of the opinion the visitors were vengeful gods who, angered by Tlaloc’s failure to provide the minerals, had them overthrown. Most though, felt that Tlaloc and Chal fought with each other and locked themselves away for eternity in their temples.”
“Which do you believe is most accurate?” Teal’c asked.
Teiuc appeared to study Teal’c for several moments as if weighing up her answer against what she should really tell.  A shrug of her shoulders and flicking back of her long greying hair gave away her answer. “In truth, I have about as much idea where they went as those amongst the Yahtepec that truly believe they know.  What I can tell you though is that these lands used to be rich and fertile.  The riverbed, a scant throw away from here, was so full and wide, it couldn’t be swum.  Animal and bird life was plentiful; crops were abundant.  Whatever became of Tlaloc and Chal, my ancestors believed was their fault, and being the god and goddess of water and fertility, there was only one way they knew of to win back their love.”
Sam sucked in a breath and tried not to meet Teiuc’s piercing stare.  No slouch with the history books, she knew the ancient Aztecs of Earth were a bloodthirsty race, believing that to give life was to create life.
“You’re talking of human sacrifice, aren’t you?”  Sam whispered, her eyes dark and downcast.
“I am, but not just any sacrifice.  Tlaloc, as much as he was a recluse, was a lover of children, and a father himself.  My ancestors, in their soul tortured ways, believed that only child sacrifices would appease Tlaloc and Chal, and in return, they would bless them with bountiful crops.  Parents, deluded in their belief their child would become beloved of the gods, clamored to sacrifice their children, but as the summers grew longer and harsher, and crops continued to fail, the sacrifices became more frequent and bloody.
Occasionally, every few years, the rains would come but this only fed their fevered belief that the more they gave of themselves, the more Tlaloc and Chal listened.  Unfortunately the opposite was true as well.”
Sam could feel the walls of the hut pressing down on her.  Schooling her face, she tried not to let the old lady see her barely suppressed emotions.  Off to her right she could tell Teal’c was having the same problems.  Fists clenched and jaw set, the anger in his eyes was evident.
“How does this help us rescue Daniel?”
“For you to have listened to this much, you must hear the rest before you can truly understand.”
“Daniel?”
“Sir!”  Sam scrambled over to the colonel’s side and slid her arm behind his neck as he tried to sit up.  “I think you should probably lie still.”
“Where are we?”  Blinking furiously, eyes glazed and unfocused, Jack’s breath quickened, and with a low groan, he turned onto his side.  “I’m gonna puke.”
Teiuc was faster than Sam gave her credit for.  In one motion she slipped from her stool and thrust a wooden bowl under Jack’s mouth, barely seconds before his last meal made a less than dignified appearance.
With a cough and a spit, Jack rolled onto his back and stared up at Teiuc.  “Carter, you’ve changed.”
Rolling her eyes, Sam waved to get his attention.  “Over here, sir.”

If waking up with the hangover from Hades wasn’t enough, then finding out Daniel was missing topped it all off.  Back to the wall, Jack sat with his head between his legs, vainly trying to hold in what stomach contents he had left.  Daring to raise his head, he locked eyes with the old woman. Emaciated, bones poking through her paper thin skin, the ancient crone rolled her tired shoulders, her tiny sagging breasts jiggling with her every move.
Slamming his eyes shut, Jack forced them open again, only to see the withered old woman in full glory once more.  “I can not have been this bad,” he muttered, deciding to close his eyes once more.
“Carter?”
“Sir?”
“Tell me again why I feel like crap?
“It’s the mocuepa.  Teuic says you should be fine in a few hours.”
“Easy for her to say,” Jack mumbled between breaths as his stomach clenched and churned, forcing bile up his throat.
“What was that, sir?”
“Nothing.” He let his head slump down on his knees. “Everything’s just peachy.”
“Teal’c and I managed to get you out of the village before Luc had us executed.  We’re not exactly sure what they’ve done with Daniel yet.  Teiuc offered us shelter from the Yahtepec warriors and has been filling us in on some of her people’s history.”
“And we’ve got time for a history lesson with Daniel missing?”
Sam smiled ruefully and let out a small sigh.  “According to Teiuc, before we can understand what’s happened to Daniel, we need to get acquainted with her people.  Their lives are guided by tradition and oral history.”
Jack rubbed a hand across his tight stomach and bit down hard on his lip.  “I don’t suppose she has an abridged version?”
“I do not believe so, O’Neill,” Teal’c offered with a deep growl that normally signaled his own growing frustration.
“She and Daniel would make a wonderful couple.”
“Your friend will be coupling with no one from this time forth.”  Teiuc’s neutral tone sliced into the conversation like a knife.  Quiet and unassuming, she wielded silence in her presence and commanded attention like a General at a mission briefing.  “I will continue and you will all pay attention.  The Yahtepec warriors will not return here until after the next offering, so you would be wise to listen to the story.  At least you can tell your leaders for what reason your friend died.”
“Dead?”  Panic suddenly took hold and Jack pushed off the ground, holding onto the flimsy wall for support.  “You said nothing about death.” He cast a sideways glance at Carter and Teal’c and grumbled, “What is she talking about?”
Teiuc interrupted before either of his team mates could.  “As I have already told them, your friend will soon go to meet Tlaloc and his goddess, Chal.  There is nothing you can do for him.  He is very much lost to you in body and in mind.”
“I know I’ve said this once today already, and I’m gonna say it again.  Kids, pack up your gear, we’re leaving.”
“Sir?”
“Carter, I don’t—”
“O’Neill, we have neither the resources nor the backup to rescue Daniel Jackson at this moment.  I believe the Yahtepec will most likely have the Stargate guarded, knowing this is our only avenue of escape.”  Teal’c paused and rested a hand on Jack’s shoulder, encouraging him to sit. “For us to have any hope of assisting Daniel Jackson, we would be wise to listen to Teiuc’s story.”
Looking around the small hut, Jack could see neither their weapons nor their packs and assumed they were taken after his team was drugged.  Choiceless and still suffering from the effects of the mocuepa, Jack tucked his legs up again and groaned.  “Go on,” he said, head down and hand waving in the air, “I’ll be here taking notes.”

“As I explained earlier, human sacrifices were not originally a part of religious life for the Yahtepec. Our ancestors lived a comfortable life, eking a living from crop sales to distant villages, and occasionally through Tlaloc’s door.”
“Whoa, back it up there.”  Jack cast a bleary stare at Teiuc. “Daniel said that name, something about a statue?”
“Tlaloc is the primary god of the Yahtepec.  He ruled these lands with his wife, Chalchiuhtlicue.”
“Yep, and her as well.”
“Tlaloc and Chal’s disappearance many centuries ago preceded a decline in the Yahtepec way of life.  Years of blistering summers and mild winters with little rainfall led to poor crops and a starving population.  The Yahtepec High Priest was convinced the people had defied the gods and this was their retribution.  The daily sacrifices of crops and other goods were left untouched, and in desperation, the priest turned to the one thing our gods treasured most.  Children.
The thought was hideous at first.  History tells of women who ran into the distant mountains before giving birth to escape the sacrifice ritual.  Some died alone under the harsh sun, taking with them their unborn child.  Others were hunted down by the village warrior caste and returned only to have their child ripped from them as penance for their defiance.  They were cruel times, but the High Priest’s words were law, and that law had been decreed by the gods.
Before the onset of each season, twenty children were offered to Tlaloc and Chal and sacrificed in a manner that was hoped would appease both gods—death by drowning.  On the first night of the first full moon, the village would gather at the shores of the Animas to watch the High Priest drown each child one by one.  The ritual was a solemn affair, for to have it any other way, would be to offend Chal, the nurturer of children.  It was only after two seasons that the Yahtepec saw their first decent rainfall and the crops flourished.
The High Priest in all his righteousness decreed that the sacrifice pleased Tlaloc, and only through their continued offering could they receive their blessing.  With full bellies and plentiful supplies to last through the winter months, my ancestors began to see the wisdom in the sacrifices.  So they continued, and each season another twenty children met their fate in Animas’s cool still waters.
Years flew by, rains fell, crops flourished, and the population grew fat and healthy on the back of its lost children.  Many preferred the loss of a newborn baby over an older child, but when the seasons began to change again, children were selected at random to make it fair on those who had already given a sacrifice.
Those times didn’t last long, and barely a century after the sacrifices were accepted by the gods, it appears my people defied them once again.  The climate changed again, this time worse than the last.  Rainfall was non-existent, and our deep wells were feeling the strain of keeping crops watered.
This time the High Priest was convinced it was not Chal who was angry with them but the mighty god Tlaloc, bringer of floods and droughts.  The Yahtepec were most fearful of Tlaloc, for he above all was thought to control the seasons, and in turn the very lives of the Yahtepec people.  With the rivers dry from the drought, and no sign of rain, drowning was not an option so they turned to Tlaloc’s temple and its high walls.
Safe in the knowledge they were respecting Tlaloc on his own ground with an offering of children, the High Priest was dismayed when the crops continued to fail and the seasons bled into one never-ending summer.
There was one turn of good fortune amongst the bad.
Where everything, save some spice plants, had died, the Hetcul plant survived and appeared to flourish. A sturdy plant, it required little moisture and would grow tall and healthy in the most arid of soils.  Fortunately for the Yahtepec, both the fruit and flesh from the stem of the plant were edible, and the people were mindful of counting their blessings.
With their food supplies and crops now gone, Hetcul was the only thing keeping the Yahtepec people alive.
This did not stop the sacrifices though.
The rains failed to arrive for yet another year and the deep wells were almost dry.  Angered by Tlaloc’s apparent disregard for his people, the ritual sacrifices became violent, and the High Priest decreed nothing but the continued giving of the young would appease the god.
The sacrificial process grew over the decades but the population did not.  The number of births fell but the people seemed to be living longer.  The High Priest was vehement Tlaloc was angry and this was his retribution, and that the only way to please him was to offer more of our children.
Many felt Chal was the reason so few children were being born.  That in their haste to please Tlaloc, they had abandoned Chal, and now both gods were raining down their displeasure upon the Yahtepec.  People started to question the High Priest’s reasoning at their own peril, but they were helpless to argue against the servant of their god.  To offer less to Tlaloc would anger him further, and yet to offer more children in his name would bring down Chal’s wrath.  A solution was needed, but none was forthcoming.
This way of life continued on for many more centuries.  Those that survived were living longer than ever before and yet the number of children born dwindled to a bare handful a year.  In the end the High Priest had no choice but to lower the number of sacrifices for the sake of the Yahtepec as a people.”
Teiuc cast her gaze low and lifted trembling hands to her face. “The last child born to the Yahtepec died a little over two hundred years ago,” she muttered from behind her hands, before lifting her head again. “He was a beautiful child, and the holder of my heart.  I was so sure he’d be saved in favor of an adult offering, but my husband deceived me and stole him away in the night.”
“Two hundred years ago? But that would make you…” Sam’s head snapped up at the revelation. “He was yours?” she said, undisguised disgust in her voice. “How could… he was his father. I don’t understand—”
Teiuc dropped her gaze to the floor and shifted uncomfortably. “You don’t understand, which is why I’m here to tell you.  Matlal was more than Itzli’s father and my husband.  He was also the High Priest of Tlaloc.  In his eyes everyone existed to serve their god… and none was above exemption.”
Jack looked up from his spot on the ground and fixed Teiuc with a piercing stare.  Eyes dark and jaw set, he knowingly set himself down the path of a question he didn’t want the answer to.  “The High Priest carries out the sacrifices, right?”
“He does,” Teiuc answered sharply.
“And that would involve what?”
Teiuc swallowed hard. “The child is led to the altar, placed roughly upon its surface and held down by four attendants.  The High Priest then cuts open the child’s chest with a sacrificial dagger, pulls out his still beating heart and offers it to Tlaloc as a gift.”  She uttered the ritual with such calmness and detachment that Jack could feel his blood run cold.
“Oh, god,” Sam clamped a hand to her mouth, eyes wide.  “He sacrificed his own son?”
Teiuc nodded and reached up to brush away an errant tear, flicking it to the ground like an annoyance to be rid off.  “I have borne three children to this world and all three have met their deaths at the hand of their father in the name of a faceless and malevolent god.  To my eternal shame I was a witness at all of them, even encouraging the first two.  To offer a child for sacrifice was to see that child become beloved of the god, but our gods had deserted us, and the ritual was for nothing,” she whispered, her lined face crumpling with long held pain.
“And it only took the death of two children for you to wake up to this?”
“Don’t mock our ways, Colonel,” Teiuc shot at Jack, her voice flushed with frustration and anger. “You know nothing of our culture save what I tell you, and that is but a small portion.”
Jack shook his head and stabbed a finger at her face. “Lady, what you’ve told us has squat to do with Daniel and everything to do with your poor choice in religion.”
“It is no longer my religion, if it was I would still be living amongst the villagers, not out here as an outcast.”  Teiuc sucked in a ragged breath and appeared to mutter inaudibly under her breath.  After a few moments she cocked her head to the side as though scrutinizing Jack.  “The mocuepa is the key to the Yahtepec’s continued survival, or so they believe.”
“Again with the moco stuff,” Jack sighed and palmed his eyes in weary frustration. “We get that it’s some type of drug, but you’ve been mighty vague on the details unless there was something I missed while I was…” Jack pointed to the ground.
“Asleep, sir?”
“I was going for unconscious, Carter.  Look, I appreciate you giving us shelter, and I respect your people have led a difficult life but thus far you’ve told us squat.  Now my team mate is out there and we need to find him.  If you’ve got nothing useful to offer up then we’ll be on our way.”
Teiuc looked sceptical. “Where is it you intend to go, Colonel?”
Jack waved a hand towards the door. “Back to the village. Where else?”
“You will not survive the return trip.  The Yahtepec warriors will be hunting you.  They cannot risk anyone returning through the door to tell of what happens here.”
“See,” Jack stabbed a finger in Teiuc’s direction and frowned, “this is exactly what I mean.  Squat, diddly, you’re talking in riddles.”
Teiuc rose up from her low stool and crossed the room to a small wooden chest propped up against the far wall.  Adorned with pictographs and covered in the remnants of faded paint, the chest’s hinges whined and protested as she lifted its lid and foraged through its unseen contents.  After only a few moments, Teiuc turned back to SG-1, a small vial clutched tightly to her chest.
Sitting back down, she held the vial up, letting the light from the candle bounce of the glass, reflecting the dark amber liquid it held.  “This,” she whispered, her voice thick with fear, “is mocuepa.  I took this with me after I killed my husband, hoping it was the last of the cursed drug, but I was wrong.  There was a greater supply held in store at Tlaloc’s temple that I was unaware of at the time.”
Jack swallowed, “You killed him?”
“He left me no choice.”  Teiuc held the vial out to Sam who took it and held it up towards the light, appearing to study it further.
“After Itzli’s sacrifice, my shame was complete.  As a parent taking pride of place at my child’s sacrifice, I showed no courage, and no love of Tlaloc and Chal as Matlal took his life in their name.  Altar guards dragged me back to my home and stood watch outside while I awaited my husband’s return from his ritual duties.  My punishment would be exact and in accordance with Yahtepec law.  At worst I would be sacrificed at the next offering in a ritual of dishonor and shame, at best I would be thrown from the cliff tops above the old mines.  A more pleasant death.”
“Obviously there was a third option,” Jack said with a note of sarcasm as he looked about the small hovel.
“Murder is never an option, Colonel, but I hoped Matlal’s death might bring about pause for my people, a moment of time to look at what they’d been doing, and perhaps usher in some changes.”
“And did it?”
“No.” Teiuc gave him a wry smile. “But it did give me some peace.” Shifting on her stool, and appearing to fuss with her hair, she continued, “When Matlal returned from the temple, he was furious.  My emotional outburst during the ceremony had caused him embarrassment, and in his eyes, I had further angered the gods.  Citing his deception as a cause for my distress I was able to placate his anger for a short while, long enough to feed him the oil from the Lhatzu flower in his wine.  As fragrant as the flower is, it has an oil filled sac below its bud that is lethal when ingested.  Even skin contact with the oil can be deadly if not treated swiftly.  Matlal died quickly and I couldn’t even afford him the dignity of dying in my arms.  Instead I clamped my hand across his mouth as the poison coursed through his veins and he bled out from every orifice.”
“Nasty,” Jack said with a wince.
“Waiting for nightfall, I slipped through the rear of our home, and taking only what I could carry, made my way away from the village towards the Tepan Mountains, and the dead forest that leads to Tlaloc’s gate.”
“Wait.” Jack held up his right hand, brow bunched in thought. “I don’t recall passing through any dead forest on our way to the village.”
“There is more than one way,” Teiuc said, offering Jack a half shrug as she reached up to pull her hair away from her face. “The Tepan Mountains are farther away but the forest offers greater coverage despite most of the trees being dead.”
“And they made no effort to hunt you down?”  Sam asked, dragging her attention away from the vial of mocuepa for the moment.
“They never did.  Oh, the warriors of the Yahtepec found me with no problem.  Weighed down by my belongings and exhausted from the events of the day, I barely made it past the edge of the village.  Fearing their intentions I tried to run further but they simply walked behind me, pushing me slowly along the path to the Tepan forest until they turned and left.  Knowing I was now considered in exile, and still unsure as to why I was allowed to live, I took this as a good sign and made my home here.”
Jack’s frustration was reaching boiling point, and showing a modicum of restraint he rested back on his hands, chewing on his bottom lip. “This brings us back to the mocuepa… again.”
Gesturing towards the vial Sam still held in her hand, Teiuc snorted and screwed up her face in a show of distaste, “The mocuepa is a drug my husband procured from an off world trader in exchange for fifty of our fittest young men and women.  Given the unique properties of the drug, it appeared to be a more than fair trade.  Most of our people don’t know of the drug’s existence, and the loss of so many of our people was easily explained away when the drug was accompanied by large quantities of food supplies and livestock.  Once again the Yahtepec were living off the lives of their young and no one dared question the High Priest’s decisions.”  Teuic reached out towards Sam and gestured for her to hand the vial over with a wiggle of her fingers.
Holding the vial up, Teiuc licked her dry lips. “You must understand that I only know of the drug because of Matlal’s position as High Priest of Tlaloc, and I can’t be sure that what I know is entirely accurate.  I overheard Matlal speak of mocuepa to his aide, Zolin.  He claimed it was used by evil gods to maintain their youthful looks when they traveled away from their kingdoms.  The effect of the drug worked differently on those that were not of the gods or their warriors, and was a blessing to the Yahtepec.  At first I did not understand what this meant until I saw it used for the first time.  Two travelers came through the door, and after being escorted to the city, they were subdued at the temple and given the mocuepa.  I was attending Tlaloc’s Cuauhxicalli—”
“What is a Cuauhxicalli?”  Teal’c asked.
Teiuc looked up at Teal’c with a blank expression followed by a frown—like she hadn’t understood the question.  “The Cuauhxicalli is a vessel that holds the hearts of those that have made sacrifice.  It was my duty as Matlal’s wife to attend the vessel daily and ensure it was properly maintained.  It was during this time that I witnessed the effects of the mocuepa.”  Teiuc coughed and straightened her back. “I saw the two visitors being carried into the temple, and knowing I was not supposed to be witnessing temple duties at this level, I hid behind the Cuauhxicalli.  One of the men woke and thrashed against the temple guards who pinned him to the ground.  Matlal pulled the vial out from under his cloak and tipped its contents down his throat, clamping a hand over his mouth to stop him from spitting it out.  The effect was…” Teiuc’s voice softened and trailed off, and she appeared lost in her own thoughts.
“Teiuc?”  Sam called softly, reaching out to stroke the old woman’s arm.
“I am sorry.”  She shook her head and raised her hands to her face. “I have never seen anything like it.  The man changed before my eyes.  His pain was obvious and I can still hear his screams in my sleep.  Twisting against the guards, he just seemed to get… smaller.  But it was more than just his size that was affected.  He became younger, his skin softer and lighter, like someone who has not been in the sun.  In a matter of moments he was a child of no more than four or five summers.  I knew at that moment that this was what the mocuepa did.  It took the old and turned them young, but it only worked on visitors through the door, and as I soon learned, it didn’t work on every visitor.
Matlal tried the drug on our own people in desperation but nothing happened.  We could only guess that something in our physiology was blocking the drug and preventing it from working.  Whatever was causing us to live longer and have fewer children could well be preventing the drug from working.
Zolin was furious but Matlal placated his fury claiming that unless we were offering a true child of the Yahtepec, Tlaloc would not want a false one created by this dug using his own children—us.  It was fortunate the drug did not work on the Yahtepec.  However, Matlal, in his misguided and desperate mind, believed a child created from off worlders would be accepted. I never saw the logic behind this.”
“There isn’t,” Jack fumed in a low grumble, his lips pursed, “but at least we know what they’ve done with Daniel.”
“This means ever since the last true Yahtepec child was sacrificed—”
“Itzli,” Teiuc interjected with a hiss.
“Right, Itzli,” Sam continued, “your people have been using mocuepa on unsuspecting visitors through the door and sacrificing them in the name of your gods?”
“That is correct.  I don’t live in the village any longer and so I’m not privy to exactly what goes on but I have seen visitors being escorted from the door never to return again.”
“I know of this drug,” Teal’c said softly, his far away look a sign that he was searching through his vast wealth of experiences. “It is called Ta’hati by the Goa’uld and was indeed used when they could not access a sarcophagus, but the drug was deemed dangerous, and its use discontinued.  Although it achieved the desired aging effect, it most often sent the symbiote mad after prolonged use, and was only suitable for use on a hosted humanoid.”
“So? What? Some enterprising Goa’uld took it upon himself to sell off his excess stock?” Jack asked with a sarcastic sting in his voice.
“It is most likely, O’Neill.”
Jack shook his head.  This is nuts, he thought leaning against the wall of the hut and running his hands through his sweat soaked hair.  “The drug obviously worked on Daniel or he’d be here with us, and they’re going to do what?  Sacrifice him?”
Teiuc nodded sharply, her eyes downcast.
“Not this time, lady.  Daniel’s used up his quota of wakes and this is one party we’re not going to have.  When will this sacrifice take place?”
“Mocupea can only be given to each chosen three times before it loses its effect and the child becomes an adult again.  I am not sure of the time frame between doses but I would guess that the sacrifice will take place at next dawn.”
Jack stood up on shaky legs and groaned at the queasiness still churning in the pit of his stomach.  Stepping towards the hut’s door, he pulled back the canvas and peered outside.  “How long till dawn?”
“The sun will rise in about eight hours.”
“Carter?”  Jack turned back to his 2IC as she tapped on her watch and muttered a few calculations to herself.
“Based on the rotation—”
“Just the answer, Carter.”
Sam tilted her head from side to side still concentrating on her watch.  “I’d say we have about six of our hours, sir.”
“Great,” Jack scuffed the toe of his boot into the ground and sat back down, “six hours, no weapons and no GDO.  We’ve been in worse situations before.”
“Name one, O’Neill.”

Soft feathers flowed downwards from the neck of Luc’s tlimatl, brightly dyed plumes in various shades of blue echoed power under his touch, and he smiled in anticipation of the coming ritual.  It was the only hint of satisfaction he would allow himself in the face of the off worlders’ escape.  He knew they were hiding with the old crone, Teiuc.  The temple warriors had tracked them as far as her hovel but no further, still clinging to their superstitious belief that the woman was possessed by one of the Evil ones through Tlaloc’s door.
Luc’s golden chalchivitl clasp and black robe were spread out on the table before him in preparation for the sacrifice.  Picking up the robe, he ran the fabric between his thumb and forefinger before pulling his hand away.  Dried flecks of blood clung to his skin, not from one person, but from the thousands of children who had walked the path to Tlaloc.
The robe was ancient.  Passed down from one High Priest to another, it was worn under the small feathered tlimatl and quite often drenched with the blood of many sacrifices by the end of each ritual day.
Time and years had passed in a bloody blur, and the robe remained unwashed.  An abomination, the smell was rank and the weight oppressive. Even though he knew the tears and pain that wove through the weave, Luc smiled in triumph.  Soon, it would be slid over his shoulders, and the thought of such power made his nerves tingle.
The number of sacrifices had declined over the last few centuries with their reliance on the mocuepa to provide suitable supplicants, and this latest batch had proven to be a disappointment.  Neither he nor Zolin knew why the mocuepa had failed on the other three off worlders, although Luc was sure the servant of Evil probably had some resistance to the drug.
Tlaloc’s sacrificial mask stared out at him from its resting place on the far wall of his small temple sanctuary.  It made the whole ritual all that more important and necessary for it was the face of the god himself.  Large circular eyes representing pools of water sat amongst blue dyed clay lozenges and feathers, all holding a particular spiritual significance for Tlaloc.  The mask was hideously heavy and he sweated profusely when he wore it but the closeness he felt to his god washed away his discomfort and left him euphoric.
“Luc.”
Luc sighed and placed the robe back on the table.  “Yes, Malinche.”  He didn’t bother turning to greet the temple servant, her gravelly tone and the rustle of her skirt had already alerted him to her presence.
“The supplicant has been given the second dose and is asleep in his room.”
“What of his memories?”  He turned his head to the side, just catching Malinche’s slightly kowtowed form near the sanctuary door.
“He has been calling for his parents.”
“He has no parents!” Luc turned to face Malinche head on, the force of his words causing her to shuffle a few steps backwards.  “He is a gift to the gods and his fate is sealed. You be sure he knows his place, Malinche!”
“I-I have,” Malinche stammered, “he is strong willed this one, but the mocuepa is breaking down his barriers. I will be giving him the final dose soon and he will remember nothing by the time the ceremony is upon us.”
Barreling his chest, hands on hips, Luc hardened his gazed at Malinche before dismissing her with a flick of his wrist, and turning back to the mask, muttered cruelly, “I hope you are right or you may take his place at the altar.”
Sandals scuffing the stone floor, the rustle of her skirt, and Malinche was gone, leaving Luc alone in blessed silence.  The mask and ritual robes called to him again and like a true devotee, he let himself be pulled along by their siren as he reached out to caress the tools of his trade.

Part 2

 

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