Read an Excerpt
If asked, Enoch Nakai would say he has no brother. And he would be telling the truth. Yet I am his brother. I am Navajo, just as he is. I died in childbirth, a twin seldom talked about. Since that day I have remained in the world of my ancestors, watching over my brother, as I would have done if I had lived. I am Tobadjishchini, the one who distracts the monster while my brother kills it.
Enoch Nakai, my brother, is the Nayenezgani, the monster slayer. The Navajo sing songs of our deeds. They have for centuries. They sang of future events and did not know it. Often, for my people, the difference between past, present, and future is not important.
But now is the future. It has arrived with one twin alive and the other only a spirit. I stand ready, even though my brother does not yet know of his place or his duty.
This is the story of how the monster is fought. This is how it starts.
* * *
The scattered mesas had lonely duty over the dark New Mexico night. The slight gold in the western sky was a faint reminder of the long, hot day; the silver in the eastern sky the promise of a cold night, soon to be guarded by a full moon. But for now the rocks, the red sand, the brush stood mute as the blackness crept in over the high desert and arroyos that twisted between the scattered rock mesas. Above it all the sky was peppered with thousands of stars, casting very little light on the animals and insects that hunted in the magic time between day and night.
Near the base of one small mesa, a puma crouched on the warmth of a flat rock, its huge golden eyes watching a small group of wild boar feed among the scrub. The cat's fur wasthe dusty color of the red-and-gold desert dirt, brush, and sand. When not moving, the cat was almost invisible.
Not a muscle twitched as it waited. It was a patient hunter. It wouldn't attack the entire group. Even with its speed, strength, and razor-sharp claws, it wouldn't stand a chance against the pointed tusks of five boar. Boar were nasty creatures, often not worth the effort it took to kill one. The cat had been injured once, a long time ago, by a wild boar. It had never forgotten the pain. Since then, it had killed dozens of boar, but always cautiously, carefully, never making the same mistake twice.
As it had done many nights before, the big cat watched for the chance that one of the boar might stray just a little too far from the rest. Then the cat would take its prize.
Until that moment came, the cat would wait.
It didn't have to wait long.
A very faint breeze, still warm from the day's sun, brought the odor of boar downwind. A boar was close. It was snuffling, searching for something that smelled good in the dirt. The cat watched.
Behind the cat, the first sliver of the full moon broke above a nearby mesa, casting faint silver shadows among the scrub and rock. The cat didn't move as the boar rooted, making enough noise to attract a dozen other hunters. But in this instance, only the big cat waited.
Suddenly the stars above the desert were shoved into the background by a bright light. Then the quiet of the night was overpowered by a thunderous roar.
Not more than a few hundred feet over the boar pack, a black shape flashed past, rustling the brush and swirling up small clouds of red sand and dust. In its wake, it left a wind that smelled of metal and the tang of fuel.
The cat remained deathly still, its eyes only slits.
All of the boar squealed in fright and broke into the brush, scattering as if the shape in the sky had landed in their midst instead of just passing over. The big cat, ignoring what had happened among the stars, moved, placing itself between the stray boar and the rest of the pack, cutting off any retreat. The boar, already panicked from the light and noise, now smelled the cat. The beast ran, squealing and snorting, moving farther away from the others and the safety of numbers. If it were cornered, it would turn and fight. It would kill if it had to.
The sky above had returned to normal, and after what seemed only a moment the desert seemed to forget that anything had interrupted the normal course of the night.
But events had changed. Soon the cat would feed. The cat ran after the single boar, steadily, silently, making no mistake, remaining hidden, even as it gave chase.
On a slight ridgeline just above the big cat another figure stepped up, surveying the surrounding desert as if it owned it. This figure did not belong in the high desert. Its massive, humanlike shape was alien to everything around it. But like the cat, it too was a hunter. And now it stood silently, watching the cat follow the boar through the rocks and brush.
The moon had risen higher, gloriously full. If the cat had looked up from the desert floor, it would have seen the figure outlined against that bright circle. The moon illuminated the intruder's shape and reflected off the armor on the knees, thighs, arms, shoulders, and head. Thick claws extended from its fingers and toes, and thick snakelike strands of hair hung from under its almost flat-topped helmet. A necklace of bones hung around its neck, draping over its chest.
But because it was downwind, the big cat missed the creature looming above it. Instead, the cat's attention was focused completely on the boar. The boar had settled down slightly, thinking it had lost its pursuer. The boar still smelled of fear, but the scent was receding. The cat crouched, motionless. The boar was about to make its first and final mistake.
The boar glanced over its shoulder, saw and smelled no predator, and then rooted in the dirt. The cat's muscles tensed. It was about to spring, to tear out the boar's throat in one massive bite, when suddenly a blue bolt hissed through the air like a snake striking.
The big cat froze as the snaking energy struck the boar just under the head and exploded, killing the prey instantly.
The cat had seen animals die like that only once, when humans were present. And the cat knew that if the human saw it, the cat would die too. So the big cat turned and vanished silently into the brush and rock.
But the cat was wrong. There were no humans. The only two-legged being was the alien above, the alien watching the cat as it went, nearly invisible against the darkened landscape. The alien nodded with approval. One hunter always appreciates the skills of another. Then the alien moved down to the body of the boar and, with a quick slice of a hidden blade, cut its neck. It held the bloody head up in the air, as if offering the prize to some unseen god among the stars.
Then, hooking the boar's head onto its belt, the alien started off through the rocks and desert brush, moving silently through the darkness.
The big cat also moved on, searching for new prey.
The smell of the boar's fresh blood would bring out the desert scavengers to clean up the remains of the kill. Within three days there would be nothing remaining but scattered white bones, bleaching in the heat of the day. Thus was the way of the high desert.
The alien glanced in the cat's direction, tempted by hunting such an experienced hunter. But in the end, the alien decided to move toward its primary target. There was an enclave of humans not far from here. They, the alien knew, were worthy prey.
They would give him a challenging hunt.