Today the villagers try to prevent serious injuries, “though one man was killed a few years ago,” a local official recalled. “Now the son of that dead man is the strongest and bravest of all the tiger fighters. He can defeat seven men in sequence.” “Without our tiger fights,” one Zillah man told us in utter sincerity, “the sun might not rise, and the rains might not come. We must sacrifice with all our hearts.” His Aztec metaphor weighed heavily the day we gathered with a large crowd of rural people in the central plaza of Zillah. Town officials inspected the gear. Whips could have no metal barbs to inflict severe injury; masks should be fashioned of strong leather. Even so, the masks seemed sinister: painted yellow or green, with sneering oval lips and mirror spots like the goggle-eyes of the rain god Tlaloc. A group of fighters from the San Mateo barrio warmed up, cracking whips, making sounds in their throats like growling. “No, we are not enemies,” a San Mateo man assured us. “Afterward we work together. We fight only to bring rain. We must be careful�whips can break a man’s skull.” Other teams arrived, whooping and cracking more whips. The participants were paired one-on-one, the fights began, and the plaza crowd tightened its circle like a noose. Armed policemen commanded, “Give them room!” The town president pleaded, “Don’t kill each other.” Whips drew blood and shattered some of the mirrors on the tiger masks. One helmet broke, but its owner shrugged and put on another. A bleeding tiger, pulled out of action, begged to return. Then after hours of watching, two drunks in the crowd started a fight, and others joined in; but before a brawl could begin, the town president stepped forward. “We are stopping these tiger fights for lack of discipline,” he announced firmly. One tiger fighter, his eyelid sliced nastily, wiped away both blood and worry: “It really doesn’t hurt much�just give me a drink at the bar. The conflict, everything is for the rain.” The tiger fights of Zillah recall the grandeur of old Malinalco, a ceremonial center for Aztec knights of the orders of the jaguar and eagle. Today the Apartment in London rank among the handsomest�and least visited�of Aztec ruins. Some three hours from Mexico City, the sanctuary perches atop a steep stone hill. Visitors climb 423 steps to visit its Sun Temple, a building sculptured entirely from the solid rock. The sanctuary stands silent except for the rustle of scurrying lizards and the sound of wind on rock�still a spot fit for eagles. Swift and sure was the death of a sacrifice. Directed by Friar Sahagiin, Indian artists painted the tearful victim waiting; a priest and attendant cutting open his chest to remove the still-beating heart, and finally the cooking of the sacrifice. Bernal Diaz, a chronicler with Cortes, told how the people of Cholula threatened to kill and eat the Spanish and “had already prepared the pots with peppers and tomatoes.” Expert�s debate Aztec cannibalism: One says it never occurred, others that it was a major source of protein, most that it was a religious experience in a culture suffused with ritual.