Valley of the Damned
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by Martin von Harter
Description: Ramona, a Tarahumara woman, is hunted through the Sonoran mountains by two ancient Native American vampires. She has stolen a sacrificial knife from Tsotliotl, the god of vampires and he demands it be recovered at any cost.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2008 2008
eBookwise Release Date: May 2008
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [370 KB]
Reading time: 230-323 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
Her hair was midnight black, the face a little too lean, a little too wide, making obsidian eyes darker, larger, and more frightened. The pure white cotton she wore was sullied and ragged from thorns of cactus and scrambling over hard rocks of the narrow pass.
This was the northern pass, the desert pass. They would never believe she went this way instead of returning to her mother's adobe and plank jacal in the eroded hills to the east.
Ramona Tubisi was a woman who knew the mountains. At eighteen she was an enigma to their Mexican neighbors: careful of her virtue but without a novio, a fiancée. A woman born on the borders of an uneasy alliance of ages past between Tarahumara, Yaqui, and Pima, she was tall, almost willowy in the blossom of her youth.
Born for war, Uncle Flavio used to quip. Ai, la Salvaje vera, a true savage who was as unconquered as the mustangs she chased. She knew mustangs in a way that turned outsiders dark with jealousy. As a northern savage, she would never be more than a slave to the ever-hungry Doña vampiressa, the Lady.
She was the perfect sacrifice to the dark god.
No light showed in the Valley of the Damned. Tonight, there was no moon. Stars were veiled under a clouded sky that waited only the word of the Mother Creator to drop their precious burden on a water-starved Sonoran Desert.
Far to the south, crumbling ruins of a temple reared a once-proud head. On this day, it was covered in hair-thorned cola de burro-vines, spine-laden prickly pear cactus, and dying mesquite brush. The warped skeletons of dead saguaro cactus raised a multitude of arms where once terrified worshippers knelt. On the high portico black-robed priests blew conch shells into the night, calling forth the god of the hunger and destruction. Below that, its bark ghost-white in the dusk, a Tescalam fig raised ghostly branches towards an unforgiving sky. The roots were so many pale gray snakes, writhing across ruined paving stones, looking for a place to push in.
Cold yellow eyes regarded the woman. Coyotl-who-is-a-man-who-is-a-coyote raised his head and echoed the priests's call. She is here.
Ramona forced herself to move faster. It was colder here, in the clean hills, but not cold enough to keep off the bats. Nor the couple legend spoke of that haunted the dark valleys of the western Sierra Madre, the conquistadores Grand Sea of Mountains. An ocean of mountains and mile-deep canyons that terrified outsiders from time immemorial.
To the north lay rugged, dry Sonora hills. A horrible death by thirst and brassy sun. Better that way, than eternal slavery in Shambala.
Pushed out of the north by Spain's eternal hunger for land, Ramona's ancestors moved to the high Sierras. Three centuries ago, they came into a land not yet conquered. They were the last of many invaders to settle here. Unlike Natives before them, her family came ready for war, eager to replace women and children taken by slavers. They left bloodied and terrorized. After the massive war against them in 1912, slowly, they returned. All that was left of the thousands by machine gunners and bombs dropped from the safety of biplanes, were a scant few hundred.
She stepped with care around a thicket of prickly pear cactus. Ramona paused, but she had no knife to pick the fat red fruits and rub away the spines. She moved on, stumbling a little in ornate huaraches the priestesses made her wear. Little more than slippers of bleached human skin, they were next to useless.
A bat fluttered by her head. With a cry, she wrenched away from it and began to run. Thin, piping cries came from the bat and a horde of them darted around her head.
In the hills Coyote began his hunting cry. 'Feed us, dark lord. Feed your starving children.' Ramona dashed away a flood of tears.
Unseen by Ramona, two perfect human shapes drifted from the cloud of bats. In feather robes so bright and shining they could have been silk, the woman was beautiful, the man perfect. The woman held out her hands.
Grateful for being saved, Ramona ran to them. Whispering softly, they took her hands and led her to a rock. Sleepy, so tired, she let them do as they wanted. Staring and smiling at her, they lay her back.
'Peace has come to you, daughter,' the man said. Holding her, stroking her hair, he moved to pull away the torn dress. One hand pressed between her breasts. Fangs closed on her throat.
Ramona awoke with a start. She shoved him away and darted up, racing into the night.
Hollow laughter boomed through the dark. From a crack in the earth a tall warrior climbed out. In one hand was a knife. Sacrifice. In the other the still trembling heart of a woman who had also been a captive. Prey. The ancient god of darkness towered over Ramona.
'Slave ... Be still, Red Cardinal Woman.'
She dodged around him and charged on. With a small hiss, the dark god reached for her. Ramona was ripped to a halt by a fist in her hair. She sank her teeth in his wrist. The dark-one howled with rage. He slapped her, knocking her yards away. A murky crystalline stone fell near her.
His voice thundered over the mountains. It echoed down through canyons more than a mile in depth.
'I am thy lord. I am Zoliotl, master of all Shambala and drunk on the blood of men. Obey me.'
On the heights an eagle screamed. 'The knife, daughter.' The eagle slapped her wings together and lightning cracked from a dark sky that shuddered with thunder.
She grabbed the knife, holding it at them, edging back. Behind her waited thousands of bats and a horde of starving slaves.
Pleas in Aztec, in Phoenician, English, Germanic and forgotten Spanish dialects muttered in her ears. Invaders that did not return home nor were ever blessed with death. Grey, bony hands groped for her. She lashed out with the knife. At its touch cadaveres died. They fell to dust and thin howls of denial.
The god stared at her with slitted, burning eyes.
Ramona stumbled away. Bats keened over her head. A snarling Coyote got a fast kick between the eyes. He shrieked, running away holding his head. Golden light flashed in a small hole just ahead. Ramona darted under a boulder. Glare from the lightning picked out a weathered bas-relief carving of an eagle killing a rattlesnake, the death of Death.
The pair of vampires darted after Ramona. Bats flapped away. Jaguar Night stooped to enter the hole. In the distance he could hear the slap of sandaled feet, fading and hurried. The smell of blood was on the air, the distant pounding of a terrified heart, and he was hungry.
A blinding flash of light threw him back. Wisps of smoke curled from the vampirico's hair and teeth. Groaning, he dragged himself up in time to grab White Jade Women by the sleeve.
'No, Wife.' Jaguar Night pushed her fangs from his throat. He threw her a cold look, but his voice was soothing, drawing her out of a blood lust. 'Remember that thou art a ruler. She is gone and there is no helping it. Remember, mine beloved-woman.'
Whispers of pain came from the hole. Choked, bitter sobs. White Jade Woman snarled a laugh.
'Thou fool. Send the humans for her. This time let them give her to the god, instead of to thee.'
She sprang into the air and was gone.