THE JADE JAGUAR — Prologue
The rain blistered the jungles of the Yucatan as the hurricane pushed ashore, with strength and power enough to still thrash everything in its path.
The huge man plowed ahead under the green, canopy, brushing past massive ferns and slashing palm fronds while torrents of water splattered off his head and shoulders. He clutched an ancient artifact to his chest, and he squinted now and then to make out the partially submerged and much-traveled, slippery path before him.
The rains are good, he told himself.
He shoved through a patch of thick branches where the jungle had taken back control, thinking about the beauty of the rains. They filled the cisterns with life and brought forth the deepest greens of his jungle. They washed away the rising filth. When they washed his world clean, he could once again ignore his part in it—for a time.
He slogged along for several miles through the hurricane, following the same route he had followed for the past fifty years. An arrangement had been made for another ceremony, and one of the high priest’s emissaries would be waiting at the designated spot at the designated time.
A growing roll of thunder sounded, finishing with a violent crack, startling him enough to make him glance up. He slipped on the uneven ground throwing an empty arm out while clutching the artifact like a precious child to his chest with the other. Regaining his balance brought his focus back to his path and his other thoughts. He stood and looked silently into the dark walls of the jungle. For the first time he began to doubt his role in what he was doing here. He didn’t want to do this; he didn’t have to do it. He thought about turning around. Another flash of lightning, a burning whiff of sulphur—memory of the war—and just like that he gave the past too much time to catch up.
Taking a deep breath, he marched on.
The ritual was honored by the priest’s faithful. They even adhered, through their blind devotion, to the version of the ancient ceremony their priest forced upon them.
He knew it was wrong; but here he was again—not for the priest, but for himself—going once again to the secret cave to retrieve the symbol that validated the cruelty of the priest, carrying it in his hands under the black skies of the raging storm. As an act of penance for the crimes he’d committed fifty years ago.
He was its steward, yes; but he knew in his heart that the ancient artifact he had murdered for during World War II and carried to them now was really theirs. It had always been theirs.
No, he would not interfere.
He slipped into the clearing, pausing to let the young Mayan’s eyes seek him out in the storm whipped shadows.
The Indian finally turned, and a frightened yelp escaped him and he stumbled backwards, shocked by the enormity of the man he had come to meet. He gathered himself and took a brave step forward, careful not to look long into the piercing eyes of the legendary giant. With his head bowed he slowly reached out his small, shaking hands.
Lightning ripped across the sky spewing a crack of thunder while a blast of wind howled. In a furious show of power, the night erupted into countless streaks of light and earsplitting snaps. The flashing arrows of light darting between their fingers were like jagged pieces of multifaceted greens, greens erupting violently in flares of exploding brilliance, piercing the lashing wind and rain with the razor-sharp ease of a ceremonial knife, thrusting the mystical energies of its source into the unsuspecting world as the two men passed from one time-worn pair of hands into the childlike other the ancient and powerful jade jaguar.