"Nourishment?" Alice asked, trying to remember her sketchy knowledge of ancient mexican rites. Something in the way the priest's eyes flickered and lowered to the ground gave her a bad feeling. He hesitated before speaking again.
"Human blood," he said. "The gods need human blood to stay alive."
Images of a huge white pyramid flooded into her mind. At the summit, two feather-clad indians held a captive against a stone while a third raised a huge obsidian knife over the victim's chest. She couldn't remember where she'd seen that picture, but the image crashed so vividly through her mind that she let out a gasp and stumbled backwards.
"What..." No words could express the horror she felt. She turned around and tried to run away, but crashed headfirst into Leo's chest. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against him.
"Alice! Alice, calm down!" Alice stopped struggling for a second, feeling her helplessness amidst his muscular arms.
"Some people view it as barbaric, I admit," the priest said. "But you have seen firsthand that the gods do exist. They are getting angry because the nourishment has been scarce these days."
"I don't want to hear about it!"
"Alice, listen," Leo said. "Remember that pendant that is protecting your mother?" Alice froze for a second. Her brain had already made the connection, but her conscious mind refused to acknowledge it. Leo loosened his hold on her and she took a few steps back into the center of the room. "That amulet could only be created and bestowed with its protective powers because of a willing sacrifice that bestowed it with the power of the gods." Alice shook her head, moving her mouth like a fish out of the water, trying to reconcile all the thoughts running around her head. "You asked to come with me."
"I... I did."
"Look," the priest said to Alice. "The tzitzimime have already had a taste of your mother's flesh. They'll try to come back as soon as the power of the amulet wanes. We'll have to keep producing new amulets for her. Willing sacrifices are hard to come by, but not impossible" Alice closed her eyes. Not even the deliberate inclusion of the word "willing" could repress all the moral qualms bubbling up inside her.
Leo put a hand on her shoulder, but she pushed him away. She wanted to run away from that place, but deep inside her she knew she'd never be able to.
"What then?" she asked.
"First, we need to get rid of our unwanted guest," the priest said. "You're more than welcome to attend the vanishing ceremony, if you wish."