Nightshine, p.37
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       Nightshine, p.37
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         Part #4 of Kyndred series by Lynn Viehl
Page 37

 

  Stanton had installed a shallow indoor pool in the center of the room and edged it with a deck of tiny, brightly colored tiles that formed an intricate mosaic of a flowering garden. Reflected on the surface of the pool was a wall made up of curved, shallow recesses. Only a dozen or so were illuminated by built-in lights, but those held small, primitive ceramic statues of male and female figures, each with the head of an animal.

  Drew saw Stanton behind a sheer curtain at the other end of the pool, where he was handing an ornate goblet to a large, shadowy figure sitting on an odd-looking bench. The Englishman spoke in a low voice to the shadow before he emerged and dismissed the guards.

  “Mr. Riordan. ” Stanton offered him a chilly smile. “Our most gracious master has decided to forgive you for your transgressions against him, and will permit you to rejoin your brothers and sisters. From this day he expects you to serve him with the love and the loyalty of a devoted son. ”

  “He does. ” Drew glanced at the curtain. “Maybe you should tell him that I’m an only child, I already have a terrific father, and . . . oh, yeah. I don’t serve bloodsucking monsters. ”

  Stanton scowled, but before he could speak, a deep, rasping laugh echoed around the room.

  “This one has a bold heart,” the laughing voice said in heavily accented English. The figure lumbered to his feet, sweeping aside the curtain with a flick of his hand. “Come closer, boy. See what the beautiful path makes of a god. ”

  At first Drew thought the flickering of the torches made the peculiar patterns of light and shadow on the towering body approaching him. The man appeared to have painted his skin white and black, and bedecked himself with so much heavy jewelry that his movements sounded metallic. Then Drew saw that his skin wasn’t painted, and the gold on his body wasn’t jewelry.

  The gold was his body.

  What might have once been human stood nearly seven feet tall and wore an open white linen robe over a black loincloth. His legs and arms were partly covered in pale, dead-looking flesh that had turned black around the rough gold that formed his joints and most of his muscle. From collarbones to waist no skin was visible; his torso appeared to be solid metal. Gold also slashed across his face, covering one eye and bisecting his nose and one corner of his mouth. The hair growing from his scalp fell around his ghastly face in long, two-toned strands that were black hair at the roots and then became thin gold wire.

  Drew expected to smell decay from the exposed dead tissue, but the only scent that came from the master was hot and acrid, the way metal smelled when it overheated.

  Suddenly the copper Gracie had slipped him felt too tight around his wrist. “How did this happen to you?”

  “Not easily. ” The bottom half of the master’s ravaged face split to show two rows of golden teeth. “You are not afraid? Most men cower when they look upon me. ”

  “I can cringe and whimper with the best of them,” Drew said, “but I’m more interested in finding out what’s happened to my friends. Did you abduct them? Are they here?”

  “Mr. Taske and Ms. Marena have joined the master’s other children,” Stanton said. “We’ve seen to it that they now have a very happy and comfortable life together. Don’t you agree, Agraciana?”

  “Yes. ” Gracie, who stood pale and silent beside Drew, looked at the floor. “The master is very good to us. ”

  “So good he has to kidnap people to get them to join the family?” Drew looked into the golden eye of the living statue. “What’s really going on? Are you keeping them somewhere so you can feed on their blood? Is that how you’re able to live in this condition?”

  The master laughed again. “I am a god, boy. When Cortés realized he could not end my life, he had his men dig deep beneath the temple, and there put me in the ground. Five hundred years I lay trapped in the earth, waiting for my children to come for me. But I was forgotten. ”

  “I found him under a temple some workers uncovered in Mexico City,” Stanton said, his voice filled with pride. “It was my blood that brought the master back to life. ”

  Drew had never been much of a history buff, but even he remembered the name Cortés. “So you were an Aztec. ”

  Gracie drew in a quick breath, and the master’s smile faded.

  “This is the last king of the Aztecs, Mr. Riordan. ” Stanton gave Drew a pitying look. “This is Motecuhzoma. ”

  “That was the past,” the master said, making a dismissive gesture. “Now I am Energúmeno, returned to life and restored to my people. I have found my children, and saved them from the dogs who would butcher them. With my protection and care they will be safe, and in return, they will give me back my House of Eagles. ”

  “The Eagles were once the king’s warriors,” Stanton explained. “They devoted their lives to battle in his name. ”

  Drew’s stomach turned. “Harvesting their DNA to make your Eagle soldiers is a waste of time. My ex-boss has been trying to do the same thing for years, and he still isn’t able to make it work. ”

  “We’re not cutting them up the way Mr. Genaro does, Mr. Riordan,” Stanton said. “We’re allowing them to reproduce naturally. This guarantees that their offspring will inherit their unique attributes. ”

  Drew’s jaw dropped. “Are you saying that you’re breeding them? Like farm animals?”

  The Englishman shrugged. “In a few weeks the first child will be born, at which time it will be brought to the master to be trained as its parents were. As soon as the rest of the women give birth, we will take their children, switch their partners, and begin again. Within fifty years we will rebuild the House of Eagles with an army of superhuman warriors, ready to fight. ”

  “To fight for what?”

  “My kingdom,” Energúmeno said.

  “Our warriors will take back the land stolen by Cortés and those who came after him,” Stanton said. “When Mexico has been purged of outsiders and interlopers, then he who was Motecuhzoma will resume his rule. Your sons and daughters will be among those who restore our king to his throne, Mr. Riordan. They will change history. ”

  Digging up the rotting Aztec vampire had probably driven Stanton crazy, Drew decided, and abandoned the idea of reasoning with him. “Look, Your Majesty,” he said to Energúmeno, “I’m sorry about what was done to you. No one should be made to suffer. . . . ” He gestured toward the vampire’s grotesque body. “But this happened hundreds of years ago, and the men who invaded your kingdom are all dead. The world has changed and moved on. We’re civilized now. No one goes around conquering other countries. ”

  “Indeed. ” Energúmeno seemed amused. “I have been watching man since I was set free, and it seems that very little has changed since my first rule. You have better weapons and larger armies, but you still battle over land and power. You invade distant lands and kill those who oppose you. I have watched these wars being fought on your television. CNN. ”

  Drew felt frustrated. “It’s more complicated than that. ”

  “No, boy. When it comes to war, it is always very simple. What you take belongs to you. ” He made a sweeping gesture. “This land and its people are mine. ”

  “No matter who you were, the Mexican government won’t hand their country over to you,” Drew warned. “They have their own military, and they can call on the American government for help. Your ‘children’ may have powerful abilities, but they’re no match for the kind of weaponry used today. Don’t start a war you can never win. ”

  “We’ve already begun, and we are winning,” Stanton said smugly. “The master has brought all of the major drug traffickers in Mexico under his control, and is using them to eliminate their smaller competitors and take over key territories. Doubtless you’ve seen the news reports about how vicious the street fighting has become over the last few years. The effectiveness of our campaign has convinced authorities on both sides of the border to virtually abandon these regions. Once the police and the foreigners retrea
t, our patrols see to it that they don’t return. ”

  “You can live the life of a prince, boy,” Energúmeno said. “Or I can feed on you until your veins run dry. How will it be?”

  The thought of Mexico being gradually turned back into the Aztec empire seemed as improbable as America handing its states back to the British. But an hour ago Drew would never have believed anyone, human or otherwise, could survive being buried alive for five centuries. Stanton couldn’t pull off this war on his own; without Energúmeno, he would be powerless. And while Drew had never used his talent to kill, he knew he couldn’t permit the vampire to force the Takyn to breed his new army.

  “Answer the master,” the Englishman snapped.

  The dark kyn are difficult, but not impossible, to destroy, Matthias had once told him. Some of the old texts claim that a dark metal is poisonous to them, and that complete decapitation will kill them.

  “I wouldn’t mind being treated like a prince. ” The copper band around Drew’s wrist grew warm as he used his ability to fold it over and over, increasing the metal’s density as much as he could before stretching it out into a razor-edged, foot-long blade. “Do I get to pick out my own princess?”

  Gracie turned and slapped his face, at the same time giving him a desperate look. He nodded slightly and let her shove him away from her. As he pretended to stumble toward Energúmeno, the copper blade tore through his sleeve before whirling across the space between them.

  The Aztec shouted as he threw up his arm and the blade buried itself in a section of decaying flesh. Yellow-streaked blood poured from the wound as Drew pulled the blade back and brought it around, this time sending it toward the vampire’s neck.

  As Stanton shouted and lunged at Drew, Energúmeno moved in a blur of motion, seizing Gracie and using her body as a shield for his own.

  “Drop the blade. ” Golden knuckles bulged as the vampire clamped his hand over Gracie’s mouth. “Or I will tear off her head. ”
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