Sunday, June 29, 2014


 “Machado, are you ready for the sacraments?” Asked another priest, pulling back the flap of animal skin that kept the high priests home separated from the rest of the city.

Machado tugged at his white leather vest, looking himself over to make certain everything was in its appropriate place. His dagger was in a sheathe, the obsidian blade as sharp as Machado’s growing temper. This would be the first sacrifice that he led, the first that he would do in the name of the Feathered Serpent, and of the Sun. He hoped he could please them with his actions, so that they would remain content with the harvests of the city.
Picking up a bowl, Machado poured from a clay decanter a glug of Octli, downing it before it had a chance to settle. The milky alcohol definitely took the edge off of any worries Machado had, hissing to himself as he pulled on his feathered headdress, the brilliant colors of the tropical birds woven into a tumbling shower down his back.
Looking back to his doorway, he wondered how nervous Ixtli was. This was his first service as a priest to the Feathered Serpent after all. The young man had risen through the warrior ranks, claiming divine power, until he had been introduced to the priesthood. There he had devoured the texts they had on the God’s and what they required to be made happy. The man was in charge of acquiring the sacrifice for today, something the warriors had done with general ease no doubt.
Hopefully the family understood what an honor it was to amongst those chosen to be sacrificed.
Throwing back the animal pelt covering his dwelling, Machado stepped out into the morning light, squinting as he greeted the Sun with a bow. Ixtli was waiting for him, the muscular youth dressed in a similar cloak of feathers as Machado’s own headdress. Turning to begin marching up the side of the great temple, they walked in silence. In the distance drums beat rhythmically and the grumble and rabble of a crowd was heard coming from the steps at the bottom of the great temple.
“Are you ready, Ixtli?” Machado asked conversationally, waiting for the third priest to meet them on their way up.
“I am prepared for my role in the sacrifice High Priest, so long as you are.” Ixtli said haughtily, stressing Machado’s title. Machado nodded and ignored the jab at his own knowledge of the rites and rituals to take place this morning.
Emerging from a side chamber built into the pyramid, resplendent in white leather greaves, tunic and bracers was Zuma, the thin Priest of the Sun God. He was a reedy fellow with protuberant eyes and a small voice. He fell into lockstep next to Machado, visibly ignoring Ixtli as they continued on up the pyramid.
“Good morning High Priest,” he said, looking down and picking a bit of straw from his bracers.
“And good morning to you as well Priest Zuma. Did you rest well?” Machado asked, looking up at the apex of the pyramid which they were slowly approaching. He could hear the cries of the sacrifice already. Apparently this would be a resistant sacrifice… how unpleasant.
“I rested well, though I was plagued by visions I know not of which they can possibly mean.” Zuma said regally.
Ixtli snorted. “You probably got drunk last night off of the new batch of Octli and had nightmares you old fool.”
Machado silenced the both of them with a glare. “No fighting. Not when we are this close to the Gods.”
The two nodded solemnly, knowing Machado to be right. They were at the apex now, where four acolytes stood with Machado’s ceremonial staff and robes, along with a blade for both Zuma and Ixtli. The two of them quickly gathered their weapons, one out of eager anticipation, and the other out of measured practice. Machado merely turned to look down the slope of the towering pyramid at the crowds gathered below. Allowing the acolytes to dress him in the robes, he took hold of the staff, the long piece of weathered wood with a human skull topping it, and held it high, silencing the crowd below.
“Brothers and sisters! We are gathered here to offer our prayers and reverence to the Gods. To the Feathered One for granting our warriors swiftness in battle, and to the Sun for our crops. We face troubled times ahead of us, as our vassal state to the south is choosing to rebel against us. Twelve squads have been dispatched to the city, where the Feathered One will guide them into an overwhelming victory. To aid us in our time of need, this sacrifice comes from that city, the daughter of a merchant. For the next seven days, we will sacrifice a member of the merchants family, ending with the merchant himself. The Gods have chosen us to be the rulers of the world, and as such we will not allow such acts of rebellion to go unpunished.”
The crowd below cheered, the mindless sheep. Ixtli, to Machado’s right, waved down to them, while speaking out of the side of his mouth. “Who will this sacrifice go to?”
Ignoring him, Machado continued on with his speech. “The daughter has been ritualistically bathed and cleansed, as well as fed and allowed to rest with the Gods in the highest room the temple has to offer. Now, her heart will belong to the Gods, split down the middle and burned to please The Feathered One and the Sun. That is the will of the High Priest, thus it is the will of the Gods.”
Machado turns, leaving Ixtli to look murderously after him as he moves to get ready for the sacrifice. Both Priests move and light a fire beneath brass skillets, one shaped like a feathered serpent, the other a round disk with flames sprouting from it. The girl, no older than fourteen years, is brought up by two warriors from the other side of the pyramid and thrown onto the altar, where they grab her legs and hands, and begin to bind them so she can’t get away.
Machado sets aside his staff, passing it to an acolyte before drawing his obsidian knife. The girl was screaming plaintively for her father, while Zuma moved to stand at her feet and Ixtli stood at her head. Zuma stood stoically, his hands behind his back, while Ixtli laughed at the girls cries.
“This is because you’re people don’t know their place child,” he said, laughing as she screamed for help. “Nobody can save you from this child, so just lie back and enjoy.”
“Ixtli!” Machado chided, giving him a look of annoyance. Ixtli stood his ground, raising his chin in defiance. After a moment, Machado move up to the child, moving one hand to her head, wiping away her tears.
“Hush child… these are the same Gods you and your family worship, are they not?”
“Y-yes…” she muttered, averting her eyes from Machado’s.
“Then you will join them in Heaven, where you will bask in their glory for all eternity. This sacrifice will bring you closer to them.”
She fell silent, her sobs wracking her body as if it pained her to cry. “Will it hurt?” She asked after a moment.
“For but a moment,” Machado lied. He knew from experience as the former Priest of the Feathered One that it took a minute or so to cut into the chest and remove the heart, which would then be split and cooked at the God’s respective altars, the fumes rising up into the heavens above for the Gods to enjoy.
“Priests,” Machado intoned, causing the girl to look at him. “Grab her and hold her in place.”
“What?” She said, looking as Ixtli and Zuma took firm holds of her arms and legs, pressing them into the stone of the altar.
“To The Feathered One, I offer you this child’s bravery! To the Sun, I offer her youth!” Machado called out before plunging his dagger into her chest, stabbing directly into the sternum. Her shrieks became blood curdling as she twisted and fought to be free. Machado pulled his blade free and, raising it overhead, brought it down again into her chest, shattering her sternum. Grabbing her side, he began to saw at the broken sternum, blood welling up and dribbling from the cuts as he slowly cut away the protective bone casing around the heart.
The girl went into shock, her head lolling to the side as Machado dug his hands into her chest, finding the warmth to be surprisingly relaxing. He gripped the heart and pulled, sliding it out of the wound where he held it aloft, calling out to the Gods for their blessing before slicing it in half and handing each half to the respective Priest, who hurriedly took it and threw it onto the searing pan.
Looking down at her body, Machado could feel his hands shaking, his digits growing cold from the dripping wet gore covering them. His heart beat heavily within his throat and his eyes were wide with excitement.
What he’d been dreading had turned out to be one of the best things to happen to him in his entire life. Sacrifices were amazing, allowing him to connect with the very essence of life and rip it away, granting him the power of the Gods…
Machado licked his lips, watching as the warriors took the body away.

He wanted more.

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