“What’s this?” Jade moved to the TV and raised a hand to
trace the stylized figures of six men arranged in an
asymmetrical pattern, two on the left, four on the right.
Five wore elaborate, feather-worked headdresses made from
the skulls of jaguars and coyotes, along with protective
shielding that covered only one side of their bodies. The
sixth stood at the far right, apart from the others.
Wearing a musician’s loincloth and lacking a headdress, he
held a conch shell to his lips. Glyphs emerged from the
crude instrument as though they were musical notes, though
no such scheme had been identified for the ancient Maya.
The paint colors ranged from pale mauve through rusty red
to charcoal black. The earthy hues reflected on Jade’s face
as she frowned, trying to parse out the glyphs.
“Don’t bother, it doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “The
current theory is that the artist was illiterate, and just
copied a bunch of cool-looking glyphs from other places.
It’s just gibberish.” He didn’t say why he’d been studying
the painting, why it was important to him.
Under other circumstances, with another woman, talking
translation would’ve spoiled the mood. With Jade, though,
it only served to heighten the sense of intimacy provided
by the small, quiet cottage and the rust-red light. They
shared a love of language, and although he couldn’t
honestly say he was more attracted to her brains than her
body, the two together had made a hell of an impression
when he’d first met her.
Or rather, once he’d gotten past her habitual reserve,
which came across as shyness, but he’d learned was her way
of hiding in plain sight. They each suffered from their own
cultural conditioning, he’d long ago realized, though hers
had come from a too-demanding winikin and a set of writs
rather than a disappointed family and the gods of football.
“There’s something …” She trailed off, still frowning at
the glyphs, but then she shook her head and turned back to
him, expression going from intrigued to warmth with a hint
of nerves. “Never mind. We’re here for a different reason,
Which was true—it wasn’t like this was just about sex, for
either of them.
There was a far larger goal, one that hung over them,
weighing on him as it had for nearly half a year now, only
this time edged with a sharp sense of anticipation.
Determination. He was getting his ass into the library,
whatever it took. And if that meant that the Nightkeepers’
needs and his own desire to be part of things wound up
getting all mixed together with the desire he felt for Jade—
had felt for her from that first day they’d worked together—
then that was part of the Nightkeepers’ culture, wasn’t
Sex was magic, magic was power, and power could save the