looked up at the sun, noting its place in the sky. It would soon begin to sink into the sea and signal the beginning of the ceremony. As she walked beside her husband, she wondered if truly believed if would return with the ultimate sacrifice. He seemed like a man in a position from which he couldn’t lose. It was infuriating.
“Have you seen ?” asked her.
“No, I suspect he is in his chamber.”
and carried on in silence until reaching the end of the palace gallery, where they were joined by armed warriors. They were supposed to be escorted to the temple of Huitzilopochtli, but seemed to have divined a better plan.
“I feel that has been overly affected by the death of his son. I haven’t asked him why he betrayed me, but I’m sure he had valid reason – furthermore I need him for tonight. Go and fetch him for me, we must speak about his disapproval of my plans.”
“I will send someone.”
“No,” said. “My men will escort you there.” The warriors split and took position without argument. regarded with a callous glare, as if waiting for her to defy him.
“Thank you, my lord. I will leave at once.” bowed and remained with her dispatch of 4 soldiers while and the remaining 12 carried on. The princess could hear the roar of the crowd as their lord met them at the palace gates. The air of celebration was everywhere, and rumour of a great offering had spread quickly through the city.
The princess could only wonder what would unfold today at sunset. There had been no sighting of since his encounter with and it was impossible to know if he had managed to achieve what he set out to do. And as for his father, , the man seemed content to die in a cell, held captive by his brother while his son is killed. The situation filled her with an element of dread. may be her last resort for escape, but she had by no means run completely out of options. If it ever came to it, she knew exactly where to make the cut on her neck that would see her in in an instant and forever out of reach of royal seed.
“Let us go, guide me to the High Priest,” ordered. The soldiers obliged with stony silence as they marched, two in the front, two at the back. She waved to her hand maids, who were never far behind her. Wisely they stay put.
Inside the palace was silent as most of the servants and guests attended the temple. It was surprising that would still be here. Over the years he seemed immune to feelings, and zealous in his practice of worship. It made feel warm inside. The fearsome High Priest brought to his knees with grief for his son!
and her escort arrived at quarters. What met them was a gruesome mess. The bed was drenched in blood, and blood smeared the floors and walls. The bodies of three Eagle warriors lay on their backs on the floor, their chests wedged open and their insides mangled. recoiled at the sight of the scene; even her battle hardened escort were silenced. There was no sign of and no sign of body. Panic was rushing through the princess’ blood.
“Quick, we must inform lord !” turned to run when the chamber was doused in glowing bright colours, as though a rainbow had sprung from the floor. A sound began to approach, like the dust unsettling beating of a rug, steady and powerful. It was coming from above, and had no desire to see it. She left the chamber just as terrible clash of stone and sword erupted behind her.
Cautiously peering back into room, she saw the bodies of the four men assigned to guard her laying dead on the floor. A creature stood tall above the body of one, its back unseen behind powerfully built wings, its legs bent backwards like a bird of prey, ending in menacing talons that gripped into the ribs of the dead warrior beneath it. Without another sound slipped away and ran for the safety of the temple.
Shadows of wandering clouds gathered around the summit of the mountain as and arrived on the back of . The goddess had said nothing all journey, and even now after scaling the majesty of the mountain she was silent. pointed to the bright light that signalled the gate, and padded forward. They went through the passage with no fanfare, arriving back in the mortal world with a frosty exhale of breath and chill lick of wind.
had been baiting the goddess all journey and now went in again with another verbal barb. “How does it feel to know you will never see your home again?” Her amber lips remained silent. prodded her with his elbow, “Why should anyone have to be killed to please you!”
walked around the pool where had fought - the god’s gelatinous brain festering on the spot where it had been pinned with an arrow. shook her head as they passed the sight and at last she spoke. “May we stop for a moment? There’s something I must do.”
“He is not dead, he still lives, but he is in agony. Let me help him.” She leant forward as though to slip away, grabbed her by arm firmly, holding her like a vice until he was sure he hurt her.
“I thought I killed him, but knowing he’s is in agony is even better. I think I’ll leave him as it is.” eased his grip, but didn’t let her go as he urged to pick up the pace.
“I will return to my lands once again,” said. “ has shown me the end, and it does not end with you.”
was a name that no one in the city used. While the peoples of the city venerated their chosen gods with sacrifice, father taught him only to accept, and that acceptance was . It was odd to hear it from an all powerful deity. “We all live off sacrifice,” said. “But it doesn’t please me to see thousands brought to their knees and slaughtered in my name. If they but knew, a thousand enemies, would never equal one love. But humanity insists on it. Sacrifice and war are the waters on which your world floats. I can’t stop that, and neither can you. But I will help you.”
“You are going to lie on altar and die in my brother’s place. That is all the help I need from you.”
Chiconahui turned to look at the young warrior, adjusting herself until she could meet his eyes. “I have already promised myself I would help, I understand your fear... and your recklessness. If you only knew what you have done, the destruction you have brought down on your own people! Soon gods and men will fall alike, swept aside by a swift wind, coming from far beyond the bounds of this world. There is no one to love the sky and protect your world from vision, no one to gift you with revitalising rain as and when you desire. These are the things your triumphs have succeeded in. It will be the legacy of your father’s curse. But it is a fate that we all must accept. We have lived a pure life, but it is soon coming to an end.”
“Have you said enough?” Itzli growled, “Talk all you want, your words will not change me. Look at your dead gods and then tell me again of my fear! And once my brother and father are safe, I will exact my revenge on Huemac and his city.”
“Your fear is not a fear of gods, but it’s a fear of weakness. And a fear of what men will do with your weakness. That’s why you came for me, that is why your hands are stained with the blood of the ones who loved you. You would rather face the unknown, than face the fact that you were humbled before Huemac, humiliated, and then set free like a broken dog that now crawls back. Your father accepted his fate, your brother accepted it. But you, you alone could not accept it. And you alone will suffer for it as you come to realise the magnitude of your actions and what you have started.”
Itzli wanted nothing more than to punch his fist deep into the goddess’ golden amber mouth. But as the deep cloud above them retracted from the mountain to reveal a wonderfully blue sky, he was forced to stay his hand as the jingling of jade heralded the presence of the magician, the sun god Tonatuih.
Xolotl growled fiercely against the approaching brightness, baring his jagged teeth as his lips curled back. Itzli shoved his heel into the dog’s side, silencing him as the light eased. “Magician, I have a goddess,” Itzli said, indicating to Chiconahui by pushing her head from behind. He looked above him to find the sun crawling to the end of the afternoon. His bowels tightened as he realised there was no way, even if he ran Xolotl at full speed that he would reach Huemac’s palace in time. “You have to help me get to Huemac’s palace, it will nearly be sunset!”
Tonatuih looked over Chiconahui, and then stepped beside the heaving side of Xolotl. He was smug, but the aged crevices on his face didn’t reveal much of a smile. “Itzli, have I not favoured you like a son? Of course I shall help.”
“Good. Move me with the light, like you did before.”
“I’m afraid it is not that simple,” Tonatuih said. “Your extra strength, the extra power, the magnificent weapons have all been fashioned from me. And now I grow weak, I need something to sustain me if I am to go on helping you.”
“What do you need? I shall find it.”
“Offer this mount to me, it should suffice to perform what you require.” Tonatuih regarded Itzli with sombre eyes, sunken in years of age. “This Xolotl should not be far trusted. He was once the loyal companion of the great Quetzalcoatl, who knows what he may be planning.”
“Very well,” Itzli made to dismount when Chiconahui held him. She said nothing, instead peering deeply into him. His mind rattled with words, warnings, cautions, fears. “Do not try to twist my thoughts,” Itzli yelled as he pushed her away, letting her slip from Xolotl’s back to the floor. In one swift motion Itzli jumped to the ground, drew his sword and opened the throat of Xolotl. The beastly dog didn’t flinch, it didn’t even resist the slow death. With its four legs swaying under it, it turned to follow Itzli as though awaiting his next word.
Tonatuih at last smiled as the young warrior came before him. “Tonatuih, take this offering. Let it strengthen you enough to assist my cause.”
Behind them the Xolotl crashed down, his dark blood pooling about his body. Tonatuih glowed warmly as he stepped away. “A fine offering, Itzli. I am grateful. Now there is one last thing I need you to do for me.”
“Do not play with me, magician...”
Tonatuih floated upwards as a spot of light descended on them, until merging into the brightness of the sun above. Yet his voice was heard at ground level, “There is one last thing, but it isn’t important now. If you live long enough, I shall request this thing from you. But until then, go and rescue your family - that is what I have come to help you with.”
Itzli retrieved Chiconahui from where she knelt beside Xolotl’s corpse. Her eyes had welled with tears, and she resisted his attempts to pull her up. “You are the lowest form of man to walk the earth. Is there nothing in you but selfishness?”
“And what makes you think you are better!” Itzli shouted. “Would it be better for me to not love my brother and father, let them die?”
“Love is acceptance,” the tearful goddess said. “That is Teotl - you know this.”
“All of you gods tell me is to accept what is about to happen to my family. I will accept whatever happens to me once you accept what I will do to you. I’m not afraid, I’m not running from anything. I took a chance, a chance that a god would be easier to catch than it would to bring down a thousand armed men, and I will do whatever it takes to make this work for me. Now get up!”
Without any further words, Itzli hauled Chiconahui up from the ground where her robe had been stained by the thick clots of blood still shooting from Xolotl’s slit jugular. Standing beneath where he felt the warmth of the sun the most, Itzli called skyward for the sun god. He was answered with a shocking blast of white hot light. Just like before he felt weightless as he watched the very parts of his body separate into smaller and smaller pieces, until the droplets himself vanquished as they were carried upwards on the intensifying heat.