In this epic historical adventure, ten years after the Conquest Orlando de Bolonia reaches the steamy coast of Vera Cruz, New Spain, as a relatively innocent Franciscan friar. He has come to the Americas to seek the meaning of a troubling vision he once had of a sacrifice in front of a crimson pyramid. Orlando does gain converts to the Faith, but because of his sensual nature and restless curiosity, his own transformation is even more radical: He takes an Indian lover, Itzel; and he samples sinicuichi, the hallucinogenic "sun opener" tea.
The Inquisition imprisons Orlando for supporting the Indians in their struggles against powerful Spanish landholders at the time of the Mixtón Rebellion. After his release Orlando quits the Franciscan Order to grow chilis on a flower-covered mountain overlooking Lake Chapala. Peace still eludes him, though, because his Indian friends require a sacrifice to save their world. The secret to helping them lies with Black Tezcatlipoca, the god of the Smoking Mirror.