When the Shadows Over Mexico book came out, giving setting and background information, my friend (whose family, at least on his father's side, hails from Mexico) was ecstatic. Mexican vampires! Cool, nifty-flavored powers! New myths to incorporate into vampiric history! Ancient enmities translated into a supernatural setting!
So of course, we had to create characters to play with it. And those characters needed a backstory.
So we created one. An ancient family, one that knew of the existence of vampires but considered them "god-touched," who incorporated vampires seamlessly into the ancient Aztec rituals. One that adapted, as it had to, when the Spanish arrived, but which still clung to older ways in secret. (No joke. I memorized a poem in Nahuatl for this character.)
And we hit a snag. See, I wanted to play a Nosferatu - the "ugly", scary vampires. (Mostly because I had recently come into a treasure trove of stage makeup and wanted to play with it.) But according to the book, the Nosferatu - the "Xolotli" - were damned, according to Aztec vampiric myth, and had been virtually wiped out until the Spanish arrived. So how had our ancient family come to have any?
This is how.
(Cut for length. CN: racism, imperialism, violence, torture, denial of agency.)
How the Nosferatu Became Part of La Familia Ispano
The year was 1638. The warm evening breeze carried the scent of jungle flowers to Yaxotl as he peered through the vines at the large ship with the white sails.
Over the last 150 years, he had learned to fear, then to hate, the tall ships and the invaders they carried. Hate them for the temples they desecrated. Hate them for the wasted blood, spilled carelessly and disrespectfully, lives ended not to feed the gods nor their priests, but out of convenience. Hate them for what they did to Micuantli, for her defiant screams calling down the vengeance of Huitzilopoctli even as her beautiful skin crackled and burned in the moments before her ashes scattered to the winds. Hate them for the humiliation of his family, for the compromises they made to survive, the new names they took to appease their conquerors. For his great-great-granddaughters, who used what Micuantli had taught them to catch the cold pale eyes of the invaders, to take their names and bear their children. They chose their fate to secure safety for the family and the hope of future strength, but for the white savages in their beds, for the light skin of the children of the last two generations – for these reasons and more, Yaxotl watched these ships with hate. Until now.
Now, something new had been brought on the ships. He had seen it, every night for the last two weeks. Seen it stalk, seen it hunt, seen it kill. It was god-touched, like he was, that much he could tell even without going close enough to sense it, but not like any he had seen before. Hideously deformed, with a strength to match his own, and the ability, so it seemed, to not only inspire fear – as any can do, given the proper training – but to actually wield terror itself like a blade. He had never seen such a thing… but he could give a name to it. Xolotli.
And so the hate fell back to fear, and the fear, in turn, fell back to curiosity, the same curiosity that had gripped him when he was but newly god-touched and the ships had first appeared, mistaken in his youth and ignorance for messengers from the gods themselves, so tall they were and so white their sails. And over the last two weeks, the curiosity gave way to desire.
He left the shore, retreating further into the jungle, and went to find his brothers.
* * * * *
Tlamicaxni, who had witnessed the death of all of his descendants save one young boy whom he guarded zealously said, "If it is a Xolotli, we should take the family from this area. Avoid it at all costs and do not risk the touch of its curse."
Teozotl, the pious, who still regretted that he did not fall at Micuantli's side defending the sacred alter, said, "If it is a Xolotli, it is damned, and a taint on our land. We should destroy it at once. The gods themselves reject them, and through their weakness we are all polluted."
Xipaque, the youngest, who did not remember a time before the Spaniards but who still visibly chafed at their rule, said, "If it is a Xolotli, we can use this! We could have driven the metal men from our shores long ago, had we, the god-touched, the noble priests, but banded together! Surely, the news that horrors from myth walk the night once more will be the catalyst needed to unite us. Surely, this time, with this incentive, we can succeed!"
And Ixcintec, as usual, watched and listened in silence, her dark eyes opaque in the shadows.
Finally, Yaxotl held up a hand, and the rest fell silent. "My brothers," he began. "You speak as those who have not thought." He glared around the small circle, and watched as their eyes dropped. All except Ixintec. "Do you truly think that this is the only one there is? That if we leave it alone, those who come after it won't follow us? That if we kill it, there will be no more?" He looked at sullen Xipanque, and though his words brooked no argument, his tone was kind. "If we had united when they first came, yes, we might have won. If we had the same numbers now that we had then, yes, we might still win. But we didn't, and we don't. And if we fight again now, we lose the footholds we have gained, and with them all hope of future triumph and vengeance."
Xipaque said nothing, because whether he liked it or not, he knew his eldest brother spoke the truth. But Teozotl, made bold by despair, questioned him. "What do you propose, then, brother? Should we simply accept the monsters in our midst again?"
"If it is a Xolotli," he began, calmly, "then I want him."
Three voices rose at once, and it took several seconds for Yaxotl to regain command. "We decided years ago," he reminded them. "The individual is nothing. The family must grow strong. Only then can we ever have a chance to take back what is ours. We will fight them fair, we will fight them dirty, we will fight them on their ground and our ground and everywhere in between. We will strike at a moment's notice or we will wait decades or centuries to find the right moment. And though it cost us our lives, our pride, or our honor, we will never allow the enemy to possess an advantage that we do not have."
He paused. "Xolotli or not, the new god-touched is powerful. It has abilities I have never seen before. And, deformed as it is, it is still clearly one of them. Do you want them to retain that advantage?" He looked, hard, at his siblings. "We will take it from them, and we will make it our own. After all these years, the dread power of the Xolotli will again be used in the service of the gods, and not in their mockery. Our family will be made stronger. And in the end, we will prevail."
His eyes met theirs. Xipaque, as changeable as he was passionate, looked ready to go bring the creature in himself, right then. Tlamicaxni looked thoughtful. Teozotl's eyes were truculent, and Yaxotl suspected he was about to voice a complaint, when another voice spoke.
It was soft, hollow and reedy like smoke through a flute. "This is wisdom," Ixcintec said quietly, leaning forward into the light. "This is wisdom."
Yaxotl paused, waiting for anything else, but nothing more was forthcoming. Their sister's tool was silence; when she spoke, even Teozotl would not argue. Finally he turned back to the warriors. "Alright, then," he said. "Here's the plan."
* * * * *
The five of them gathered around the tree; five, and one more. Beatriz stood there too. Lovely Beatriz, first of the first generation of children of Spanish blood. Neither encroaching age nor light skin dimmed her beauty. Her mother had raised her to smile prettily, first for her Spanish father, later for her Spanish husband, but in her heart, Beatriz was Mexica, and she knew it – and so did her children.
Yaxotl met their eyes and nodded. Without a word, he stepped forward, and in one smooth movement tore the feathered spear from the heart of the thing bound before them.
As it began to stir, Beatriz spoke. Her voice was low and melodic. "Know this, creature: you are outside. We have seen you use fear as your weapon; if you use it on us, we will surely run. And in the morning, you will surely die."
Yaxotl couldn't see the creature's eyes, hidden behind a cloth, but its face contorted as it snarled in rage. It writhed, testing the strength of the bindings that held it. Yaxotl was not concerned. Anything that could hold him could hold anything. Finally it stopped fighting, and spit furiously at them, "What do you want from me?"
"Your blood," she said softly. "Your gift. And your curse."
For a moment, there was silence; then, incredibly, it began to laugh. The stream of Spanish that followed was too rapid for Yaxotl to follow, but Beatriz, who had grown up speaking the language, listened calmly and merely nodded. At the end, she said simply, "Yes."
"And then what," the creature said, once it had slowed enough to be again comprehensible. "I do this for you, and what? You let me go? I get a reward?"
Yaxotl could feel Xipaque's eyes on him, though he did not turn to look. His youngest brother had been put off by the necessity of lying to the Xolotli. Yaxotl didn't like it much himself. The Spanish do not fight honorably, he reminded himself. For the family, we will do whatever it takes.
"Yes, to the first. You will be released. As for the second…" She paused, as if considering it. "Perhaps. Perhaps if you were to teach the boy to use your gifts, a reward could be arranged. After."
It snarled something more, and then subsided. "Fine," it said, sounding suddenly weary. "Bring your person here."
Tlamicaxni raised a small bone whistle to his lips and blew, three sharp, shrill notes. A minute passed, and then Jose Carlos Yax de Ispano, Beatriz's youngest son, stepped into the clearing.
At Tlamicaxni's urging, they had allowed Beatriz to make the drink for him, to dull the pain, but both Yaxotl and Teozotl had taken the youth aside and advised him not to drink too much. "You will be made a living sacrifice. You will be touched by a god," Teozotl explained. "It is good to feel some pain." Evidently he had listened. His movements seemed dreamlike and langorous, but he was steady enough on his feet, and his eyes were not drugged enough to hide the small flicker of fear behind his stoic expression. He knew what this meant, knew what the legends said about the Xolotl, first of the god-touched and first to betray the gods, barred even from the afterlife. He was given a chance to refuse. To our own, we can still show honor. His mother watched him approach, pride and grief mingling in the tears that streamed down her face.
Jose approached the makeshift altar and stretched out upon it without waiting for instruction. Yaxotl, Tlamicaxni, Xipaque and Ixcintec took hold of his arms and legs, though Yaxotl privately felt that this would be unnecessary. Jose looked up at them, his eyes full of courage and fear and wonder, and nodded.
Teozotl's knife was sharp and his movements sure. In moments the youth's veins were opened, red blood spilling down runnels carved into the altar to pool in large depressions near the bottom. Later they, the priests, would drink, sending the energy of the blood to the hungry gods, but not now. Now, Teozotl watched with a practiced eye as Jose gasped his last breaths, struggling not to make a sound or show pain, waiting for the moment just before death.
The moment came. Swiftly, Teozotl pulled the bound creature to the boy, slicing into his flesh and allowing the blood to drip down into Jose’s waiting mouth. The boy swallowed, and Yaxotl watched, waiting for the moment when the change would happen and vitality would return to the dying body before them.
The creature laughed, the sound like a harsh bark in the silence. “You fools,” it sneered. “You think you can force me to –“ and here he used a word Yaxotl did not know – “against my will? Kill me and have done with it, and bury your dead.” His voice dripped with hate.
For a moment, no one spoke. Then laughter – quiet, gasping laughter, laughter racked with pain, but laughter none the less – issued. From Jose. The creature’s mouth dropped in sudden shock, and a moment later, Ixcintec’s low, rasping chuckle joined in. “Bury our dead?” Her Spanish was rough, and heavily accented. She shook her head. “You misunderstand. We can keep him alive as long as we need to. How long do you think I can keep you alive, Xolotli, long past the point where your body should disintegrate?” She smiled. It was not comforting. “Long before the sun rises, you will want to make this boy like you. You will want many, many things, Xolotli, before I let you die.” She turned to look at Beatriz, once, as she reached to take Teozotl’s ritual knife from him, and her eyes were almost pitying. “You should go.”
Far above, an eagle took flight into the night, as the scent of flowers and blood and the sounds of screams were carried by the warm Mexican breeze.
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