Irixoqui pressed herself into the shadows of the antechamber. The temple guard stared at the patch of darkness where she hid for what seemed like an eternity. She could almost feels his eyes piercing the veil of her hiding place, seeking her out. If she were found, she would certainly be brought back to the High Priest's chambers. She shuddered at the thought of going back there. She thought of trying to overcome the guard and knock him unconscious, but the moonlight glinting off of the obsidian head of his spear convinced her otherwise.

She was certain that he would hear her heartbeat thundering in her chest, or he would smell her fear and would sound the alarm at any moment. She imagined the cold, razor of the spear splitting her ribcage open and shattering on the stone wall behind her, her lifeblood spilling out in a crimson pool on the floor. The guard took a step forward into the darkness, and Irixoqui held her breath. She could feel the still healing scar over her right eye burning in the cold night air, and imagined it flaring red in the darkness like the coals in the brazier where she had burned herself. She imagined that the guard could see it glowing there in the shadows, like the light from an animal's eyes reflected from a fire.

Her lungs ached from holding her breath, and she knew she could not hold it much longer. Doubtless, her flight to freedom was about to be cut brutally, and mercilessly , as suddenly as he had entered, the guard turned and left the chamber. Irixoqui had to remind herself that it was safe to breathe again. She had somehow reached the Temple of the Moon. She had sneaked out from the Priestess' rooms in the Temple of Anza where she had been ordered to stay until the day of her sacrifice had come. Many were called to serve as priests and priestesses in the Temples, and all were honored to serve the Gods which had chosen them.

Irixoqui was one of the few who were chosen to be sacrificed to the Goddess Anza on the next Holy Day following her fifteenth year. She was one who had been born with a special gift that made her a most desired sacrifice. Many who had gone before her, went so willingly, and with great honor. When she had been chosen to be one of the sacrificial priestesses, she was also very honored, and wished to serve her Goddess in in whatever way she could.

She had travelled with her father and mother to the Temple almost five years ago. She had been ten years old, and despite the excitement, had been more than a little frightened. Her parents had reassured her that this was indeed a great and momentous day, and that the Gods would smile upon them and bless the fields with bountiful crops. So she had swallowed her fears, and when they arrived at the Temple grounds, she saw the hundreds of other children from the surrounding villages, all wearing their finest dress. She even saw several of her friends, but it was known that silence was required during the selection, so she could not talk to any of them. There were, however, looks of envy from her friends and their elders, as well as looks of beaming pride from her mother and father as Irixoqui was one of the very first to be selected to serve in the Temple of Anza. Her sacrifice would ensure a bountiful future.

She had not seen her mother or father since that day. It was the way of things. Once chosen by the Gods, a supplicant lived within the Temple grounds and served there for life. She had once considered that a great honor, and even though she wished that she could see her family one last time, she knew it was better to have them remember her as she had been that day, being led away by the priests with her head held high, rather than as a heretic, and a blasphemer, skulking away under cover of darkness.

When Irixoqui sneaked away from the priestess' rooms, she did not know how she was to escape from the Temple complex. The guards patrolled the grounds with great diligence. The trained jaguars that accompanied them were fierce and strong, and could overtake her, and tear her to shreds in mere moments. She struck out into the darkness along the outer wall and stayed in shadow as much as was possible. It was not an easy task with the gibbous moon leering at her from the cloudless night sky.

She was puzzled to find that the guard patrols seemed to be diverted from their regular routes. She crept from shadow to shadow not seeing more than a glimpse of a guard as he went around another corner, away from her. It was as if Iona herself was guiding her escape. A pang of guilt twinged through her at the thought, and she silently cursed herself and the old woman for filling her head with such utter garbage.

Yet, here she was. She had made it to the Temple of the Moon, but she was not certain how she got there. It was as she had started to leave, that the guard had entered the antechamber, and she had found herself trapped. Now with the guard gone, she could make it to the relative safety of the jungle beyond. Slowly, Irixoqui crept to the temple entrance. She craned her neck around to see if the guard was nearby before she darted for the wall. No sign of the guard. She took several deep breaths to prepare herself. The sprint to the wall was not too far, just under a hundred paces. but the wall itself was at least five times the height of a tall man. She knew that she could make that run, but negotiating that wall with someone on her tail, would mean certain failure.

It was now or never. Irixoqui crouched into a runner's stance, and just as she was about to dart out into the flagstone courtyard, she felt a slight tug in her was like snagging the hem of her tunic on a branch as she passed by, but then again, it was like remembering something that you had not known she had forgotten. She hesitated, and turned back towards the door that separated the inner rooms of the temple, from the antechamber. Walking deeper into the temple, she felt something calling her from the other side of the door.

She reached out and pulled the great door open. There inside the central room, was the Altar to the Moon. It was here, that seasonal rituals were performed on the lesser Holy days. There was a hammered bronze chest upon the altar. The chest gleamed dully in the moonlight that emanated from the opening in the central chambers ceiling. She felt as though she were being drawn to the hammered bronze chest. She knew what was inside the chest. It would contain the robes and ritual tools required for the ceremonies performed here. Although she did not take part in these lesser ceremonies, she was required to know what happened here.

Priestesses of Anza spent a great deal of time being instructed in the ways to please Anza, and apparently, the fastest way to please Anza, was to please her priests. She had not thought much of this for the first three years she was at the Temple. The priestesses were kept drugged, so as to insure their submission to the priest's desires. A frisson of anger coursed though her at the thought of the hight priest's hands on her body again, and she knew she could not spend another moment in this place. She thought of the old woman, and the anger was briefly replaced by a bitter sadness that she wiped away with the tears that threatened to well up in her eyes. It was only after the old woman had come to her, and had begun teaching her of Iona, that she had begun to feel as if she did not belong here. That was almost two years ago. Irixoqui slowly walked to the other side of the altar, and placed her hands upon the bronze chest. This action was an affront to the Gods and would certainly result in her death if she were caught.

Irixoqui lifted the lid of the chest and a faint reddish light lanced out into the darkened room. Her eyes grew wide as she saw what lie there in the bronze chest. It was a ceremonial dagger. A bloodglass dagger. These items were not altogether rare, but they certainly were not commonplace to say the least. Bloodglass was a very special thing to find. It's origins dated back to when Irixoqui's people were created by Iona to drive the Dragonspawn from the forests. When the blood of the Dragons was spilled, it sunk into the earth, and mixed with the molten elements deep underground. When it was found, Bloodglass was typically in small pieces. These pieces were hand shaped and polished, to be set into the handles of ceremonial tools.

But this was different. This was a rough shard of bloodglass in the shape of a dagger, a bit longer than her forearm. It appeared to be in one solid piece, with what would be it's handle, bound in stained leather wrapping. It lay there, glowing dimly in it's bed of linen robes. As Irixoqui stared at the blade, she saw deep into it's rough surface. There. Inside... Some dark stain. An imperfection? Bloodlgass was typically very clear, even more so than rubies, so she thought it strange that this piece, with it's obvious ceremonial importance, should be so flawed.

She reached down and picked up the blade. She held it up to the pale light from the full moon that flooded the chamber from at the imperfection, she saw that it was in the shape of a black flame. The flame seemed to dance within the depths of the crimson shard. Then, as she stared at the dancing flame of shadow, it changed before her eyes. A bird. Black as night, it's wings outstretched to cover the world in darkness. Then, the bird became a snake, one of the creatures belonging to Itzamna, the Thunder God.

It was then that she heard a shout. A call of alarm. The shout was quickly followed by the sound of men running, and the near strangled sound of trained jaguars. They had found her missing. Irixoqui quickly placed the dagger back into the bronze chest and replaced the lid. She ran for the chamber door, but rethought her plan when she could see several dark shapes converging on the courtyard. Orders were barked out, and fingers pointed.

The guards began running for the Temple of the Moon. Irixoqui's heart leaped into her throat. She ran back to the altar and climbed atop it, moving the bronze chest to give her more room. She gauged the distance to the lip of the opening over the altar, coiled the strength in her strong supple legs, and jumped. Her fingers grasped for purchase on the stone lip, but did not find it. She slipped and fell to the top of the altar with a grunt. There was a metallic thud as the bronze chest was knocked off of the altar, and onto the floor.

Irixoqui was trying for another jump when she caught a glimpse of the bloodglass shard lying on the stone floor. The black stain within the blade was indistinct. Quickly she jumped down from the altar and grabbed the shard. It was both hot and cold in her grasp. She almost dropped it from surprise. Climbing back onto the altar, she tried to remember what the old woman had said to her about the abilities that she possessed. The ones that the priests of Anza had found in her, that had made her such a worthy sacrifice. The old woman had said that the power was raw. Rough, and unfocussed. It needed to be honed, like a blade. Irixoqui looked down at the bloodglass shard in her hand and at the black shape within it's crimson depths. Honed. Like a blade.

Irixoqui slid the shard into her belt, crouched again, and prepared to jump for the opening. This time she quieted her fear, and remembered the simple exercises that the old woman had taught her. She visualized the energy within her, coalescing, gathering within her limbs. A sudden crimson flash in her mind caused her to draw in a sharp breath. She looked up, and could see the full moon framed within the edges of the opening in the ceiling. She released the energy that had gathered in her body, and felt a new strength coursing through her. A guttural sound, like that of a jaguar escaped her throat as she sprung through the opening, clearing the stone sill, and landed in a feral crouch on the roof of the temple. She could see the guards below, in the full light of the moon, and they could see her as well. Their spears sung in the night as they whipped through the air towards Irixoqui's perch.

A spear that would have pierced her heart whistled past her as she dodged the missile with animal agility. She turned to leap from the temple roof, as a second spear shattered on the stone where her head had been a heartbeat before. She landed on the stones of the courtyard as silently as she has upon the roof, and, chancing a quick look behind her, she saw three of the trained jaguars closing fast. She could see that the wall was still a hundred long paces away, and she bolted for it.

The night wind whipped through her long black hair. Her feet flashed over the cool stones of the courtyard and she felt as if she were flying. Before she had been chosen, she used to race with her holder brothers, but they had always won. She wondered if they would win against her now. She heard the angry growls of the of the trained cats recede in the distance behind her. The wall was rapidly approaching. Irixoqui poured all of her remaining strength and speed into the remaining distance, and leaped for the top of the wall. She felt her muscles moving within her body with a fluid grace like never before. She felt herself leave the ground and as she did, the scream of a great jungle cat burst forth from her lungs. She imagined the trained jaguars lying down in defeat as they watched her vault to the top of the wall.

She did not, however, reach the top of the wall. Irixoqui's eyes widened with fear as she watched the top of the wall approaching. It was higher than she had thought. She was not going to make hit the wall at full speed with her left leg. She was certain that she heard the wet snap of bone that accompanied the razor line of pain that flashed up her leg.

She found herself tumbling through the darkness on the other side of the wall, then she hit the ground, the wind leaving her in a great rush of expelled air. Another flash of grinding pain as broken bone ground together, and she almost passed out. Irixoqui lay there gasping like a fish, as she tried to regain her breath. She tried to listen, but could hear no sounds over the thundering of her heartbeat within her own ears.

She felt for the shard, and finding it still safely tucked in her belt, she slowly dragged herself into the verdant darkness of the jungle, praying to Iona that the guards and their cats wouldn't find her.