By Michael Rappa
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, organizations, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2016 by Michael Rappa.
All rights reserved.
Cover by Michael Rappa.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and may not be re-sold or given away to other people. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means without permission in writing from the author, except in the course of writing a review, for which short excerpts may be quoted.
The following short story is part of a series of tales excerpted from my novel, The Eyes of Mictlan. Although the novel is primarily a dark fantasy, I designed the flashback chapters to be self-contained origin stories that would allow me to play around in different genres. The installment you are about to read, Xavier, blends historical fiction and mythology with the supernatural. Some of the text has been slightly modified from what appears in the novel in order to make the narrative stand on its own.
All of these stories are available for free as part of my The Eyes of Mictlan Origins series. If you enjoy this story and would like to venture deeper into this world, I invite you to read the full novel, which can be purchased for $0.99 at all major booksellers. Visit for more information.
Thank you for reading,
It was the most astounding city he had ever seen—and he knew something about great cities. Xavier had walked the streets of Constantinople and Rome and sailed the canals of Venice, but never had his eyes gazed upon a city such as this. The natives called it Tenochtitlan. Situated in the middle of a large salt lake, the city was a marvel of engineering, particularly considering that the Aztecs, a civilization looked down upon by the Spanish as primitive, had built it.
The four major causeways connecting the city to the mainland featured bridges under which the Aztecs paddled their canoes. The entire city itself, much like Venice, was a series of canals, enabling anyone to travel from one end to the other either by boat or on foot. All of the advances and amenities one had assumed only existed in the best European cities were evident here, including aqueducts, sprawling stone buildings painted in beautiful red and gold colors, a sophisticated network of roads, grand plazas, markets, temples, schools, ball courts, public latrines, and even organized garbage collection (making it one of the cleanest cities Xavier had ever seen).
Most striking of all was the huge pyramid at the city center that towered over everything, dominating the landscape. The dual-steps of the pyramid led to twin temples at its apex some 200 feet above ground. Xavier had visited the world’s largest pyramids at Giza but they were relics of a dead civilization. To gaze upon a pyramid of this size, still in use by an active society, defied description. As for the society itself, only in Constantinople had Xavier seen more people in one place. Unlike his fellow conquistadors, who saw them merely as primitives to be conquered and civilized, Xavier was truly fascinated by the Aztecs. He did not find their rituals of sacrifice the least bit revolting. If these natives only knew of his true powers they would worship him as a god and make him their supreme ruler, but unfortunately for the Aztecs, Xavier’s plans required that they be destroyed.
For over a thousand years Xavier had wandered the known world in search of a talisman that, according to prophecy, would give him the power to rule the land of the dead. After coming up empty for so long, he had begun to lose hope that it even existed, but when word spread throughout Europe about the discovery of a new world, Xavier knew that his talisman must be somewhere in the Americas, so he departed for Spain in hopes of joining one of the many expeditions leaving from there. He spent a couple of years hanging out in the towns around Spain’s southern ports and learning the language. Eventually he bumped into an ambitious young man named Hernan Cortés. The two became fast friends and, when Cortés departed for Hispaniola, Xavier joined him.
During the journey, Xavier had to feed. He would often stalk the deck of the ship in the middle of the night and pick off a sailor on the night watch, throwing him overboard when he had finished. After a while he was forced to cut back on his feeding as the men grew suspicious of all the disappearances and whispers of mutiny nearly caused the captain to turn the ship around. Although Xavier could go several days without feeding, the extended periods of undernourishment began to take their toll and he spent the latter part of the voyage in a weakened state. Sometimes it wasn’t easy being a vampire, not that Xavier would ever want to go back to being a feeble human. The tremendous power he wielded more than made up for the need to drink blood and avoid long hours under the sun.
Xavier had very little memory of his life as a human, other than fleeting images of being stabbed by a group of angry men on the streets of Jerusalem. He guessed that he might have robbed them; his intuition told him he had likely been a thief. The next thing he remembered was emerging from the ground in the potter’s field where he had been buried, suddenly alive again—or as alive as a reanimated corpse could be. It took some time to get used to his new existence and realize exactly what he was, but instincts took over and he soon became a skilled hunter.
The only other memory he recalled from his human life was attending the crucifixion of a preacher claiming to be the son of a god, following a sham trial in which he was always going to be found guilty. Xavier was now well aware of the significance of this event, as Christianity had become the dominant religion in the civilized world, and it was not lost on him how fiercely the Spanish believed in this particular mythology. Xavier had no time for religion and did not believe in any particular god, but he was not above exploiting someone else’s faith for his own ends—and the devout were easily manipulated.
Although Xavier never revealed his true nature to Cortés, he had used his abilities to help the young conquistador out of many jams. Cortés knew there was something strange about his friend but chose not to ask questions, as long as the results were in his favor. Xavier, in effect, had become Cortés’ brain, never asking for rank or title, but feeding him ideas and information from the shadows.
After spending seven years in Hispaniola, Xavier convinced Cortés to join Diego Velázquez in his conquest of Cuba—not that the highly ambitious youth had required much prodding. After the conquest of Cuba had been completed, however, Cortés met and fell in love with the sister-in-law of Velázquez, Catalina Xuárez. Cortés eventually settled in Cuba and married Catalina, living in relative bliss for several years as the mayor of Santiago.
This did not sit well with Xavier, who needed to get to the mainland to search for his talisman. He would never get there now unless he could convince Cortés that the grass was greener on the other side. Thus, he conspired to break up Cortés’ happy marriage by paying young women to seduce him (once again, Cortés did not require much prodding), all the while whispering in his ear that he deserved a greater destiny than his current mundane life. Xavier hounded Cortés relentlessly, finally convincing him that he was a superior man to Velázquez, who had become the governor of Cuba. Cortés soon came to believe that the only way to escape from the shadow of Velázquez and secure his place in history would be to conquer the Aztec Empire.
Cortés eventually persuaded Velázquez to send him on an expedition to do just that, but the governor soon revoked his charter after learning that Cortés had been cheating on Catalina. Xavier, however, egged Cortés into ignoring the governor and going anyway.
Xavier advised Cortés during his march into the heart of the Aztec Empire as his right hand man, even convincing him to massacre thousands of unarmed members of the nobility at Cholula and burn the city to the ground as a warning to any native rulers who might be contemplating resistance. It was also Xavier’s idea to enlist natives from neighboring cities hostile to Tenochtitlan in order to swell the ranks of Cortés’ army. Xavier had an ulterior motive for this strategy as well—the endless buffet of human prey that he could enjoy on a nightly basis. After all, who would miss the occasional native?
All the while Xavier kept his ears open in the hope of hearing some word of the talisman, though he realized that if the New World proved to be as large as Europe and Asia, he could spend another thousand years searching for it. In the meantime, he would enjoy the thrill of conquest and riches Cortés had promised to his men.
In his wildest dreams Xavier had never expected to discover the location so quickly, but then he met Marina, a lover of Cortés. Her native name had been Malintzin Tenepal, but she was forced to take the Spanish name of Marina after being sold to the Spaniards as a slave after their capture of Tabasco. Though she eventually rose above the bonds of her slavery into a position as a trusted translator and romantic confidant of Cortés, she nevertheless bore a secret resentment toward the Spaniards for invading her land and massacring her people. Xavier had picked up on this resentment and exploited it to seduce her into becoming his secret lover. Sure, he could have used his mind control abilities on her, but that effect was always temporary. A more permanent solution called for good old-fashioned human guile and seduction—and she had fallen head over heels for him. Xavier no longer felt anything resembling love for anyone, but in their time together he had developed quite a fondness for her, so much, in fact, that centuries later he would sire a vampire and convince her to take the name of Marina.
Xavier became interested in Marina when she told him of a legend surrounding a cult of Aztecs in the capital city of Tenochtitlan. They were reputed to possess a stone that could open a door to the underworld. Xavier could not believe his luck. This had to be the same talisman for which he had been searching all these years. At long last, the end of his quest loomed, but first he had to get to the Aztec capital city and see for himself. He did not want to wait any longer, so he and Marina took turns prodding Cortés until he finally agreed that the time had come to invade Tenochtitlan.
Upon their arrival in the city they had been welcomed with open arms by the Aztec ruler, Moctezuma, and lavished with gifts of gold. Xavier, who had been exploiting the religious zealotry of the Spanish throughout their march toward the Aztec capital by planting the idea in their heads that the Aztecs were godless savages that needed to be converted to Christianity, saw this as the perfect opportunity to kick that strategy into high gear. He convinced Cortés to order pagan statues removed from the top platform of the Great Pyramid and replaced with Christian symbols. When Moctezuma protested, Cortés imprisoned him in his own palace and threatened him with execution if the natives revolted.
Meanwhile, Xavier had instructed Marina to insinuate herself among the natives in an effort to learn more about the legend of the Aztec cult. She was very skilled at leveraging her incredible beauty to persuade men to talk, and eventually she returned with the desired information: the cult indeed existed and met secretly in the bowels of the Great Pyramid. They were known as the Cult of Mictlan and exclusively worshipped the Aztec god of the underworld. According to rumor the cult had opened a portal to the underworld and built their own temple where once a month they laid to rest the deceased members of their cult. As luck would have it, the latest ceremony was scheduled within the next few days.
Nudged by Xavier, Cortés and his men were busy plundering the city for all the gold it was worth, sampling the native women, and imposing Christian will on the populace. The growing chaos allowed Xavier to sneak into the left temple of the Great Pyramid and wait. Marina had learned that this temple contained a secret passage to the heart of the pyramid known only to members of the Cult of Mictlan—not even Moctezuma knew of its existence. In order to remain concealed in the temple, Xavier changed into a bat and lurked in the shadows of the roof.
Shape shifting was a dicey endeavor, undertaken in only the rarest of circumstances, for it sapped Xavier of all of his power. As far as he knew, only he possessed this ability—none of the vampires he had sired over the years were able to change their shapes. He wasn’t quite sure how it worked; he only knew that if he concentrated long enough on a specific animal he could assume its shape, regardless of its mass. He had no idea where the rest of the mass went when he became something small like a rodent, or where the extra mass came from when he changed into something larger like a horse, but now that he knew about the existence of other worlds, he thought that perhaps the extra mass was sucked into and drawn from such a world (he could only imagine what the leftover mass looked like on the other side).
Through trial and error, Xavier had discovered that he could become any creature whose blood he had consumed. However, on occasion he would find himself unable to change back, wandering for days in whatever shape he had assumed. Consequently, he had not used this ability in decades.
To prepare for his metamorphosis into a bat (and the subsequent weakened state in which he would find himself), Xavier had indulged in as much blood as he could drink over the prior week. His feeding frenzy also provided the perfect opportunity to further stoke tensions between the Aztecs and Spanish as he killed members of both sides, leaving the bodies where their brethren would find them.
After two days Xavier’s vigil was finally rewarded as he spotted several cult members entering the temple in the middle of the night. He watched as one of the men grabbed the head of a statue on the wall and pulled it forward. A loud grinding noise accompanied the opening of a large circular hole in the floor. The cult members entered the hole and descended a series of winding stone steps until they disappeared into the darkness below. Moments later the statue on the wall returned to its original position and the hole in the floor closed.
Xavier resumed his human form (with considerable effort and drain on his energy) and approached the statue. He pulled the head forward and watched the hole open. Moments later he descended the stairs. After about thirty steps the light from the temple chamber above disappeared, leaving him in the complete darkness of a damp, cold, narrow stairway. Such a predicament might have frightened an ordinary human who would have to feel his way down the stairs, but Xavier had no problem seeing in the dark.
As he continued down the staircase the air moistened to the point where Xavier’s hair dripped freezing water down the back of his neck. He soon wondered, as the minutes passed by with no bottom in sight, whether he had descended further than the entire height of the pyramid. Finally, a light appeared in the distance below, together with the sound of multiple voices chanting. Xavier hurried to the bottom and entered a tight, short corridor.
He reached the end of the corridor and pinned his body against the wall, creeping slowly around the edge. His eyes popped wide open as he gazed upon a massive underground chamber larger than the base of the pyramid. A giant lake occupied almost the entire floor except for a small patch of land at the near end of the chamber on which knelt dozens of Aztecs before a stone block. On each side of the block sat two large wooden bowls.
An ornately adorned Aztec who Xavier assumed to be the high priest of the cult stood behind the stone block brandishing an obsidian knife. To his right stood four slaves in a line being led by two aides to the priest. The first slave voluntarily walked up to the block and lay face up on top of it. The two aides grabbed his arms and legs, arching the slave’s back up. Then, in a jarringly swift motion, the priest thrust the knife into the slave’s chest and pulled out his heart. He presented the heart to his congregation and then tossed it into the left bowl. The slave was then picked up and held chest down over the bowl. Further cuts were made by the priest to allow the blood to flow freely into the bowl. After the slave had been bled dry his body was thrown into the lake. The process was repeated for the remaining three slaves until both bowls had been filled with blood. Xavier marveled at the willingness of the sacrificial victims to meet their brutal demise.
At this point the priest pulled from behind the altar two large, round pieces of obsidian. He placed one in each of the two bowls, immersing them in the blood. A deafening noise like a winter’s howling wind suddenly filled the chamber as a swirling array of light materialized over the lake. The priest turned and walked out into the water toward the light. His two aides lifted one of the wooden bowls with the piece of obsidian and moved carefully after the priest, who stopped and allowed them to pass. In another moment the aides disappeared into the light, followed soon after by the priest. The kneeling cult members then rose and lifted several wrapped corpses over their heads as they marched into the light. A few of the cult members remained behind and stood guard over the other wooden bowl.
So, the talisman is actually a charmed piece of obsidian, and there are two of them, Xavier thought. Even in his weakened state Xavier was confident that he could overpower the few remaining natives and take the stone that had been left behind, but he wasn’t sure if only one of them would work without the other, so he decided to take both. The Aztecs were not dumb, however, so if he took the one stone now he would never get anywhere near the other—he needed to take them both at the same time—and this was where the seeds of discontent he had been sowing between the Aztecs and Spanish would bear fruit. He would instigate a major distraction, during which he could return for the stones and sneak out of the city. He just needed to wait for the right time.
The perfect opportunity arrived when Xavier learned that Cortés needed to leave Tenochtitlan to face an army sent by Governor Velázquez to arrest him for mutiny and treason. In his stead Cortés officially left his deputy Pedro de Alvarado in charge, while unofficially, Xavier wielded just as much power.
Xavier had been fomenting unrest between the Aztecs and Spanish for some time with targeted killings, but with the Aztecs set to celebrate a major festival, the time had come to kick things up a notch by exploiting the greed and religious fervor of the conquistadors, so he struck up a conversation with Alvarado.
“Are you going to let them get away with this?” Xavier asked
“What are you talking about?” Alvarado replied.
“This heathen festival of Toxcatl, worshiping false gods. It’s an insult.”
“What would you have me do?”
“I don’t know, but doesn’t it bother you that these primitive nobles are going to be dancing around and flaunting all of their riches in front of us? How much gold have you and your men received since this campaign started? Don’t you think you deserve some compensation?”
“Cortés will take care of us; he always does.”
“Cortés isn’t here, and what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Why should these godless savages with their satanic human sacrifices be allowed to keep wealth that by divine right should be ours?”
“It is disgusting the things they do,” Alvarado agreed.
Xavier could tell that he was getting to Alvarado and he threw in a bit of his mind control ability to seal the deal. The effects would be minimal as his powers were still weakened from his recent metamorphosis, but it would not take much to push Alvarado over the edge. “And don’t forget the bodies of our soldiers that have been turning up around the city. I think it’s time for some payback.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“After the festival begins, when the nobles are all in the main temple, we take what is ours.”
Xavier engaged in similar conversations with other ranking members of the Spanish army. Meanwhile, he told Marina to rile up the natives with talk of the Aztec bodies that had been turning up, as well as how the Spanish had been suppressing their religion and stealing their gold.
By the time the festival finally began, tensions had reached a boiling point.
Xavier walked the streets of Tenochtitlan and gazed upon its majesty for the last time, knowing he would be gone before morning. Part of him lamented the fate he knew would befall this city after tonight. There would be much bloodshed on both sides and Cortés would not take it lightly (provided he survived his encounter with the army from Cuba, of course). He would show no mercy. When he returned he would burn the city to the ground, as he had Cholula before it. Xavier admired the Aztec people and what they had created here, but his needs had to come first, and they of all people would understand the necessity of sacrifice for the greater good. So he took one last look around and said his mental goodbyes before ascending the steps to the temple.
The festivities were well underway. Xavier peeked inside and observed the natives singing and dancing—blissfully unaware of what was coming. Marina spotted him from within the temple and stepped outside to join him.
“It’s almost time,” Marina said.
“You know what to do,” Xavier replied.
Marina nodded and turned back toward the festival. “It’s a shame, isn’t it? It’s really quite lovely.”
“Indeed. But I need those stones.”
“I know. And I need you. Are we still meeting at the same place?”
“Yes, the end of the west causeway, across the lake. You’re sure you want to come?”
She lowered her head. “Yes, there’s nothing here for me now. I’ve betrayed my own people and I’m sleeping with the enemy. I despise Cortés; I don’t want to spend another night with him. I want to spend my life with you.”
“And I you.” Xavier didn’t love her—he didn’t love anyone—but he also knew that he would never feel about another woman the way he felt about Marina.
At that moment Alvarado appeared at the bottom of the steps leading a large contingent of conquistadors armed with swords and shields. Xavier could see that the men had already been whipped up into a frenzy. Alvarado stopped before Xavier and gave him a nod, which Xavier returned.
Alvarado then turned to his lieutenants. “Block all of the exits. Nobody escapes.”
The lieutenants took a few men toward the exits while the rest of the host followed Alvarado into the main entrance. It took some time for the reveling Aztecs to realize something was amiss, but the first severed head took care of that. The music and dancing stopped, replaced by ear-shattering screams of horror and pain as the Spanish relentlessly cut down over 600 members of the Aztec upper class, ripping the jewelry from their still writhing bodies.
Xavier nodded to Marina and she ran down the steps into the city screaming in the native language. “They’re killing us! They’re massacring our nobles and captains! Help! Help! Gather your arms! Rise against the Spanish murderers! Avenge our warriors!”
Before long a mob of Aztecs had gathered in the streets armed with spears, javelins, arrows, and any other makeshift weapon they could get their hands on. Uttering battle cries and shouting, “Get out of our city!” they stormed the temple, overwhelming the conquistadors before they knew what had hit them. By the time the Spanish responded, half of their numbers had dwindled as they struggled to hold their position.
Meanwhile, Marina, after successfully stirring up the Aztecs, turned her attention to the idle Spanish soldiers around the city, screaming, “Come quickly! The savages have ambushed our soldiers at the festival! They mean to expel us from the city!”
The soldiers promptly assembled and joined the fighting, helping Alvarado’s remaining men to escape their pinned-down position in the temple. As the fighting spilled out into the streets Xavier slipped into the left temple of the Great Pyramid and down the secret passageway. At the bottom he encountered two cult members guarding the sacrificial block. He quickly dispatched them, but not before one managed to pull an overhead rope on the near wall that Xavier had not previously seen. Nothing happened when the rope was pulled but Xavier could only assume that some sort of alarm had been raised, so he quickly grabbed the two stones from a compartment behind the block and dashed up the stairs.
When he reached the top he ran headlong into more than twenty cult members gathered in the temple, fronted by the priest, who hollered something in his native language and pointed at Xavier. The cult members shouted a response and rushed at Xavier. Under normal circumstances he could have killed them all, but he still had not recovered from his shape-shifting episode and had used most of his remaining energy to kill the guards in the chamber below. He used his very last reserves to sprint past them with his super-human speed, but only had enough energy left to get about thirty feet down the pyramid steps before the Aztecs realized he had slipped by them. They immediately raced after him. At this point, with his vampire energy tapped out, Xavier was no faster than a normal human and he struggled to stay ahead of them.
He reached the bottom of the pyramid to find the streets lined with bloodied corpses as the skirmish between the Aztecs and Spanish raged on. The sounds of clashing melee weapons, whizzing arrows, and guttural screams filled the air. Xavier weaved in and out of the combatants, hoping to lose his pursuers, but they followed right on his tail.
He ran straight ahead toward the west causeway only to find the road blocked by ferocious fighting. He tried to push his way through but one of the cult members caught up to him and swung an obsidian-edged club at his head. He fell back to avoid the blow, losing one of the stones in the process. The warrior dove to the ground, seized the stone, and leaped back to his feet in one fluid motion before disappearing into the crowd.
Xavier screamed in anger over losing the stone, but there was nothing he could do about it now—the rest of the cult was virtually on top of him. He got back to his feet and took one last look toward the west causeway. Still blocked. Sorry, Marina. Xavier turned and fled around the left side of the Great Pyramid toward the north causeway.
He finally made it back to the mainland but had not gained any ground on the Aztec cult members. He thought that if he progressed far enough away from the city that the Aztecs would give up and turn back but they remained on his heels several hours later.
Hours turned into days. Xavier could not understand where these natives got their energy. Their relentless pursuit had forced him to keep running, only able to stop when the Aztecs finally rested for a few brief hours per night. The constant flight had prevented Xavier from restoring his powers, and the extra time spent under the sun had nearly killed him on numerous occasions, but he was able to gradually revive himself during these brief nightly interludes by hunting wild animals. Still, the rejuvenation process was slow and he found himself on the run for months.
His Aztec pursuers had completely abandoned their homes and former lives to maintain the chase. However, he had not seen the high priest since the early days of the pursuit, so he assumed that the remaining hunters were all underlings. It was amazing what a charismatic religious leader could get his subjects to do for him. That these men would never see their homes again did not even register with them; they were blinded by faith. That zeal, however, would only carry them so far, for their days as hunters were numbered—Xavier had decided it was time to stop running.
He still hadn’t gained enough strength to take them all on, but he began to pick them off one by one over the next several months—and with each kill he grew stronger. By the time the Aztec numbers had dwindled down to less than ten, Xavier was powerful enough to finish them off.
Now the task became finding a new home. He could not begin to contemplate how far and long he had been chased, but he thought it likely that he now walked on land no European had ever seen. He needed to find human subjects on whom he could test the remaining stone to see if it still worked. He had missed a golden opportunity to test the stone when, in his rush to eliminate the Aztecs and restore himself to full strength, he had consumed all of their blood. Since then he had tried using animals but their blood had failed to affect the stone.
Xavier continued to wander for months on end, subsisting on animals, without ever seeing another human being. His loneliness gave him time to reflect on Marina. He lamented having to abandon her. He should have turned her into a vampire when he had the chance. Now she would live a pathetically short human life and he would never see her again. On the other hand, Xavier was not a romantic, so he knew he would soon get over it and find another partner. In the meantime he would open the door to this new world and build an empire—if, that was, he ever found a human subject on which to test the stone.
Finally, on a balmy fall day during his pursuit of a deer, he encountered a tribe of Natchez Indians in an area that would one day become southern Mississippi.
Yes, he thought. They’ll do nicely.
About the Author
Michael Rappa has been writing stories and poetry since early childhood, eventually parlaying his love of the written word into a Communications degree from Rowan University. The Eyes of Mictlan is his first novel. Michael is also an avid traveler and photographer who blogs about his experiences at . In the real world he works as a web designer in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife Jen and his dog Oliver.
Follow Michael on Twitter and Instagram at @njrappa, on Facebook at , or visit his website at .
Xavier is an ancient vampire who has wandered the world for over a thousand years in search of a talisman that will give him the power to rule the land of the dead. His quest has led him into the heart of the Aztec Empire as the right-hand man of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. Now in the majestic capital city of Tenochtitlan, Xavier has finally discovered the talismanâ€™s location, but to get his hands on it he must set in motion a chain of events that will lead to the destruction of the Aztec civilization. "Xavier" is part of "The Eyes of Mictlan Origins" series, a collection of free short stories excerpted from the dark fantasy novel, "The Eyes of Mictlan."