Citalicue stood before the small altar in the courtyard of the calcemac pricking herself with a cactus thorn. One hundred times she would do this. Each finger of each hand, then each toe of each foot. Up each thigh and down each thigh. Up each arm and down each arm. And then in places she did not want to mention. Each time she cut herself blood flowed forth –her life for the life of the world. Her fellow students watched. This time it was no honour. She had been caught talking and giggling with Obsidian Butterfly when she should have been calculating date names. Next time, the teacher said, next time it would be two hundred cuts.
Pain. Pain which gives life.
Citalicue: Star Skirt: bearer of the tecpatl, the obsidian knife blade. She who brings death, and thus life. Without her no blood would be shed; without her the sun would die. Beating hearts fly across the altar like the sun across the sky. Food for the gods. We are all food. We eat the Zapotec and the Tontonac. The gods eat us. And so it continues, each sun weaker than the one before it. This, the last sun, the weakest of all. Time running down –running out. And then what?
She was not permitted to look down or to close her eyes. She had to look at her teachers and at her friends. The pain built, and it became harder to maintain a stoic expression. The pain built, and so did the shame.
Her teachers said that Tezcatlipoca, the smoking mirror, would spring forth from his place deep in the bowels of the earth and devour us and the universe and the gods with us and What-Is would Be-No-More. Tezcatlipoca: One Death. Yaotl: Enemy of Both Sides. Lord of the Lords of the Earth. We are his slaves.
Without her blood. Without those beating hearts: Nothing. Food for the gods.
But Cital wondered. Had not this ending already begun? There were rumors that Quetzalcoatl had returned, just as his prophets promised, that even now he was marching up from the coast from which he had departed so many years ago. Prince Topiltzin: he who had faced down the priests and lost: he who would face down the priests and win. Still the sun rose over the milpas, over the fields of squash and beans. But for how long?
There were rumors of revolt in the subject altepetls, especially those along the road to the eastern sea. The tlanoi had sent out teams to investigate. Armies to repress the rebels would follow if necessary. But for now her people continued the Old Ways. She thought of what that boy from Tula had told her, the one she had flirted with before he was sacrificed. So beautiful, so brave. They brought his right thigh to the calemecac and she and her sisters cooked it with tomatoes and chili. Now he lived in her and she through him. His life for hers. Her life for that of the sun. But for how long?
Cital heard whispers: the women in the market when she was sent to buy herbs. Quetzalcoatl, the women said, has his own priests. They kill their god daily: building a new universe to replace the old?
Each cut hurt more than the one before it. The pain built, and so did the shame. Pain fed her thoughts. It fed her will. It was life.