Sunday, November 24, 2013

Majo's Tale, Part Three

Joeia smiled before moving forward, pointing and barking orders as he went. Several warriors went into the jungle to gather fallen branches, while the warrior from earlier came porting a sealed vase of Octli, easily half the size of the man himself. Placing it at Majo’s feet, Majo used his obsidian dagger to cut through the waxen seal, savoring the sour smell of the potent liquor that wafted up from the ceramic jar. Turning, he watched as the men used their spears to hook the torsos of the dead, dragging them into a relative pile. Three Dead lay upon each other, flensing the hide of one of the fallen comrades with the tentacles, blood slowly oozing from the wounds of the cold dead flesh, to be greedily lapped up by the twisting tentacles like the tongues of thirsty dogs.

Hefting up the heavy jar, Majo nodded to the soldiers with the gathered underbrush to form a partial circle for around and atop the twisting Dead, careful to stay clear of their reaching tentacles. As they did, Majo followed behind, pouring the milky liquor out atop the monstrosities in light splashes, smiling as the white fluid seemed to seep into their bodies just as easily as blood.
Once he’d emptied the jar, he tossed it aside, ignoring the sounds of shattering ceramic as he reached for the flint he always carried with him.
“We wish you to be cleansed,” Majo said to the sucking, gulping mound of writhing dead, “in order to protect our people and provide for our families.”
And with that he sparked his flint against the hard edge of his spear, sending a shower of sparks down onto the liquor soaked creatures, who screeched long and loud as they burst aflame, the underbrush quickly catching fire and spreading the flame amongst the fourteen Dead, burning away the taint that had persisted through death. The warriors gathered around the acrid smelling pyre, some leaning on their spears more than others from their various wounds, while others whistles and laughed as the dancing flames split the pale flesh apart, sending thick greasy trails of fat splattering to the blackening stone beneath them.
Majo merely stood insolence, and wondered what other horrors awaited them in the Place of the Gods… in Teotihuacan.
The slaves asked a flurry of questions in what little Aztec they knew, demanding to know what all of the screams were about, and what they were coming from. As they were led back onto the road, next to the pyre full of twitching bodies now charred black, tentacles having burst in a gore-filled shower of fat and blood engorged tissue. To the slaves, Majo realized, it merely looked like the warriors had fought a battle with mortal men and were now burning them. He shook his head, closing his eyes as he felt a headache coming on; if only they knew the truth. Pulling some coca leaves from his side satchel, Majo chewed on them thoughtfully as he watched the solider leading the slaves force each to drink three full ladles of the Octli, something most of them were more than pleased to do, as they had been forced to fast for three days prior to this march.
Majo merely stared into the flames at the groaning monstrosities, watching as the fire cleansed them of the God’s influence. He didn’t even notice as Joeia came up to stand beside him until the old man spoke.
“By the time we reach the city, the slaves will be full of Octli; the tether will be the only thing keeping them upright.” Joeia said, looking at the fanning flames. “By then the Old One will know we are there, and what we have done with his servants.”
“Do the priests know of this?” Majo asked, never looking away from the skull staring back him, its eyes having long ago been reduced to ash.
Joeia nodded slowly. “Some do, most do not. They think we travel to Teotihuacan to make sacrifices to Quetzalcoatl in hopes of a good harvest, or luck in times of war. In truth the Old One sleeps because we drug him, fill his belly full of Octli and blood until he drifts back to sleep.”
Majo looked at Joeia with suspicion. “Why is it you are telling me this?”
Joeia sighed. “Because I am tired of doing this, of aiding with these rituals every few seasons. What you have been told is a list of half-truths and outright lies.”
“What do you mean?” Majo demanded, stepping closer to Joeia so they could speak lower.
“The Dead are not mere monsters that arise from the ground to test our skills as warriors. They are direct servants of the Feathered One. It knows what we’re doing, and it doesn’t like it. The first of the Dead was spotted nearly a week ago by a hunter, who only barely managed to escape before being caught.”
“How? I would have heard of this!” Majo argued, only to grow silent at Joeia’s silent stare.
“The priests heard of it and silenced the hunter, using him as a sacrifice the following day. They then assembled us, ordered us to take these slaves off to Teotihuacan, drunk as can be. I’m here to perform the sacraments, pushing each drunken slave close enough to the Old One for it to be taken and drained. Right now the Old One is weak, hung-over if you will. Such an unnatural thing, it cannot handle its liquor very well and takes years to awaken from its drunken slumber, and weeks to regain its full strength. During those weeks, the Dead hunt for it, bringing it fresh blood to sober it up.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Majo demanded once more, looking around to make sure none of the other warriors were listening.
Joeia merely turned away, walking over to an open jug and pulling a ladle full of Octli for himself, drinking deeply of the sour liquor. Facing away from the fire, he stood straight and tall, before letting loose a fierce war cry.
“Brothers! We have defeated the evil creatures that seek to prevent us from making our sacrifice! Drink deep of the liquors our slaves have ported for us, and think of the two that have fallen here today. Drink to their memories, to their families and most of all, to their bravery!”
A rousing cry came from the warriors, who cracked into the jars with fervor, ladling mouthfuls of pungent liquor between themselves. As Majo moved to stop them, Joeia held up a hand.
“Do not take from them the chance to enjoy a simple drink. For what they will soon see, they will need the courage.”
Majo didn’t have a response prepared for the, so instead he moved toward the line of slaves, feeding them ladles of liquor to their parched lips. Some drank greedily, while others drank slowly, suspicion behind their brown eyes. Majo didn’t blame them; they must have known enough of their language to have heard their fate as sacrifices. If not that, then the reputation the Aztecs carried for their sacrificial tendencies would have led them to believe what their fate very well would be.
One slave, an older man with heavy bags under his eyes, smiled as Majo walked closer. “Here to offer an old man a drink, eh?”
Surprised, Majo looked at him carefully, before realizing that the man wasn’t a Tarascan at all, but a fellow Aztec! Eagerly handing him the ladle, he leaned in close to the slave as he drank gluttonously.
“What are you doing here brother? This is a sacrifice of enemy soldiers, not of our own!” Majo asked, looking at the tired old man as he drank another ladle of Octli, the soupy mixture running in rivulets down his chin.
Smacking his lips, the man dunked the ladle in the jar before looking Majo in the eye. “I’ve heard them call you Majo… my grandson is named Majo. What a coincidence…”
Majo took a handful of the man’s torn shirt, dragging him close. “Answer me dammit! Why are you here?”
The old man laughed, holding his bound hands high as he did so. “I’m here because I’m a criminal, just like the rest of these louts. Unlike them, my crimes were not against the Empire, but against a fellow merchant. I have no proof, but I know Bajaan had something to do with me appearing in the sacrificial cells with these Tarascan brutes.”
“You were a merchant? What did you sell?” Majo asked, watching as the man took another few moments to drink down a ladle full of Octli.
“Why, liquor of course! What better way to get a drink than to sell the stuff, am I right?” The old man laughed as he drank, spilling a spare few drops on his chin and chest. “I haven’t been able to touch the stuff in four days now… you have no idea what torture it is to be cut off from the sweet nectar that is this milky liquor!”
Majo looked at the old man, disgusted by the way he guzzled the drink as quickly as he could. Looking back at his own soldiers, getting drunk from three jugs, he merely shook his head. Majo did his best to avoid the substance, as it left you addle brained and witless. He preferred the numbing coca leaves instead, which allowed him to think clearly while still soothing his worries.
Taking the ladle away from the drunk, he made his way down the line, slowly feeding the liquor to the slaves as he listened to both his men revel, and the old man whine for more. Once he’d emptied two jars on the slaves, who were now all glassy eyed and far more pliable, Majo went to gather his men and continue on with the procession to Teotihuacan, in hopes of ending this horrible night as quickly as possible.
Majo found his men, leaning against each other and smiling drunkenly, with an equally drunken Joeia, who merely sat atop an empty jug, watching the men with a small smile on his face. When he caught sight of Majo, that smile died.
“Alright men!” He called out, getting their attention. “It would seem our time for celebration is at an end. The fire burns low and the embers are dying, I say we get a move on!”
The men, each taking one last swig from the ladle, all picked up their weapons and moved to gather the slaves. The same young warrior that had been holding their leash grabbed hold once more, pulling them along drunkenly, moving around the embers and smoke rising from the pile of bones in the middle of the road. Despite their drunken state, the soldiers all moved with purpose, years of training outweighing their inebriation.
Majo walked alongside Joeia, who remained silent, for the next hour or so, taking in the sights and smells of the jungle after a fresh rainfall. The sticky humidity smothered them, causing all of the men, slave and soldier alike, to sweat as they marched. Every few miles Joeia would call for a halt, and allow the slaves to drink deeply from the jars, ignoring how the warriors would steal a few glugs for themselves.
Majo was able, despite the general atmosphere of celebration, to keep the warriors in rank and file as they approached the gates of Teotihuacan, having long since abandoned the fine stone pathway for the overgrown cracked walkway that was left. Workers didn’t come this far out to maintain the roads, and so the jungle did its best to claim them for itself.
As they reached the wide stairs, composed of large stone slabs expertly cut and laid to rest in a precise order, Majo was nervous. They hadn’t encountered any more Dead, or any sign of them. The men were now drunk beyond reason, and the slaves were stumbling from their intoxicated state and lack of sleep. Only Joeia, who was only mildly drunk, was able to keep the mob in a semi-orderly line.

“S’okay! This is where we ‘ve been coming, this whole time!” Joeia said as he turned to the soldiers, who merely gave a tired cry of jubilation. “It is here… that we will make our offering to the Feathered Serpent, who will bless us with bountiful crops and strong children!”

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