The Sons of the Sun and of the Shadows.
Lieutenant Lope de Vega's account of his astounding travels to the land of the Aztecs.
"Holy Christ," cried captain Cortez, astonished by the strange rite we beheld. We found the savages half-naked. They were throwing balls of silver and gold at each other. They laughed as if demented, clearly maddened by some heathen drug. And yet, should one of them fail to catch the ball thrown in his direction, the poor devil was seized and dragged off to be sacrificed in their temple.
As we discovered, this frightful game was a ritual most holy to them, and symbolized the movement of the heavenly bodies. The dropping of a ball foretold a catastrophe. That is what the Aztecs believed, in their godless ignorance. Their countless deities could only be appeased through endless human sacrifices. The victim's heart, which was still beating, lay in the hand of the murderous priest.
The interior of the temple was surprisingly cool. The weight of our armor, our exhaustion, even the burden of our suffering ... they were all banished by a sense of awe that the crudely magnificent altar instilled. In the tomb-like silence, a deep voice chanted an incantation. The majestic statue of the water goddess Chalchihuitlicue seemed to throb with vitality.
This massive stone, draped in a golden cloak and studded with precious stones, was coming to life before our very eyes.
Horror of horrors! The granite eyes of the statue, empty of life only moments before, were now injected with blood. We staggered back in amazement. Dom José was taken by a fit of convulsions. He tried to raise up his crucifix, as if to ward off an attack by demons. The heathen priest laughed cruelly. The statue's mouth cracked open in a deathly grin, baring teeth sharpened to dagger-points.
Captain Cortez cried "Attack!". But it was no use; we were glued to the spot.
Despite our efforts, we were unable to move. Our armor seemed to be bolted to the temple floor. Our legs weakened and we collapsed in a thunder of steel. Only Cortez had the presence of mind to unsheathe his dagger. He hurled it at the cackling priest ... Four inches of the finest Toledo steel buried itself in the heathen's face. His blood spurted, splashing the now lifeless idol. We picked ourselves up with difficulty.
Never will I forget that terrible moment. My companions, naturally enough, told tales of devilish enchantments cast upon our armor. Whatever the truth of that, I could not deny that the supreme god of the fourth universe had treated us as mere playthings. I am convinced that a terrible energy is yet contained within that heathen statue; a power strong enough to change a proud conquistador into a helpless puppet.
Drawing of Chalchihuitlicue by Dom José De La Sierra done before the destruction of the Aztec temple of Tenochtitlan.