Fiction - Path of the Avatar




[A little less than a month ago, I started on this story; it may not look like it at first, but it is a CoX-related story. I'm posting it here serially in the hopes that it might garner feedback, but if I decide I'm happy enough with it, I may turn it loose in the main RP section.

The character in the story is drawn from my own research into Aztec culture, mythology, and folklore; where possible, I've tried to include footnotes that shed light on distinctly Aztec concepts (though the spellings I've learned apparently differ from Wikipedia's preferred spellings).

Please enjoy.]

The fire at his feet was what pulled him from his slumber, its happy crackling boring into his dreams and reminding him, reluctantly, that there was a world beyond his. His brown eyes opened and he looked up at the night sky above him: unnumbered glittering points, each an implacable envious enemy of the sun[1], blinked back. The-rabbit-in-the-moon. He immediately connected these things with their right and appropriate contexts. The stars would fall one day, he knew, as the sun drew to its close. That was not something to be feared, but one more reminder that, like his life, nothing was permanent. The moon was a castoff, a braggart who was, at his heart, too meek to sacrifice his life for the good of others. For his reluctance to embrace his duty, he was forever marked about the face with a rabbit cast upon him by the other gods[2]. That was how the moon came to be the moon and not the sun. No matter how great his accomplishments might become, he knew, he must strive to be like the sun instead. Straightforward. Modest, but dedicated to accomplishing all he could. Of few words, but giving of himself.

He sat up with the intention of looking at the fire that had broken his reverie, and was immediately relieved as a previously-unnoticed sharp rock was removed from his back. In light of that, he considered where he had lay: a modest patch of dirt, covered over with dry grass. In the dancing flame-light, he caught sight of his arm for the first time since his stirring. It was dark-complected, smooth, and almost entirely bereft of hair[3]. Part of his mind protested that as the dreams composed for him in the darkest parts of his soul fell away. He remembered. He remembered spots there, and fur. Markings of a great destiny.

He remembered these things, the markings and the fur, as though he watched them pass him by in an early morning mist, and he felt it must have been a vision. The arm he saw—broad, scarred, and sinewy—was his, and rightfully so. Letting those thoughts fall behind him, he at last turned to face the flames that warmed him. From behind them, he saw something that gave him a start: a child. A girl. Her face was like the children of his home, with its pleasing broad features, but her hair was the pale yellow of the dried grass he’d used for bedding. She watched his actions, unblinking and unspeaking, with eyes the color of a bottomless lake…eyes that did not belong in her dark-skinned face.

His sleep-fogged mind had more difficulty providing context for the child’s presence. The moon and the stars, he recognized as old friends. The girl…the girl, and the path she’d taken to him, evaded his recollection. Perhaps seeing the uncertainty on his face, she looked at him imploringly. The urgency in her large, opalescent eyes was obvious and painful, and he was flooded with a sense of need that defied words, that made them obsolete. Matlactli Omei Tecpatl[4], he could imagine her saying in a whisper, Gather your weapons. We have far to travel today.

Matlactli Omei Tecpatl looked down, on either side of his makeshift bedding. On the ground at his left, there was a great, flat club edged with dark glass[5]. On the right, there was a spear and shield. He seized the club first, his fingers curling around its handle and finding well-worn grooves there, grooves that welcomed his grip as the trees welcomed the sun. This, too, was his. This, too, felt right.

With one hand still gripping his war-club, he looked past the fire and past the child. Far off, in the east beyond, the sky was tinged vermillion. He spoke. He found his voice to be deep and rich, dauntless and projected. His voice. “The sun will come soon,” he intoned. “We should welcome it with the proper rites, so it knows it is not forgotten.” He remembered, with the elation of pride and the sting of expectation, that he had not missed his morning rituals for so long as he could remember.

The girl frowned, her forehead creasing in a fashion that reminded him, almost comically, of the plodding turtle. She stood—her full height barely taller than his seated torso—and walked around the fire to him. She grabbed his hand and tugged at it pleadingly. She was so small, so helpless, and so earnest that it stirred his heart. So he stood, then knelt down to quickly gather his weapons and his modest traveling supplies. Inwardly, he resolved, he would perform his rites as best he could. But if she felt traveling was so urgent, he knew it had to be so.

From somewhere behind him, and to his left, he heard a low, throaty rumble. Before he could turn to face it, its source had vanished, leaving him with only the faintest sense of familiarity. It was a sound he knew, but from where?


As they walked together, the girl before him, morning did break. As the sun creased the horizon, he pierced the skin of his ears with a long thorn that had been so painstakingly placed in his few personal belongings. As the blood fell from the wound, he caught it in blank parchments that had, too, been so carefully selected for his use[6]. These papers themselves, he saved: as soon as he could, he would offer his blood to the gods over an open flame. The smoke would carry up the signs of his devotion to them, and they would know they had a true-hearted servant in the world of men.

The activity, the travelling, was good for him. The stirring stimulated blood in his body, vitalizing him and clearing the last of the evening’s cold fog from his mind. He could easily recall, he found, how the girl had come to him and why he was so devoted to following her.

The priests foresaw her birth. A child, born with light-colored hair and eyes, would carry gifts of knowledge from the Feathered Serpent[7]. She would say little, but when the time was right, she would lead a noble-hearted warrior far away from their hidden village. She would lead him north, to the land of the Old-People[8]—cousins almost forgotten to time. She would lead him to a place where worlds could be connected, to a place where the gods themselves could be found. It would be there that a great portion of the destiny of his people would be fulfilled.

Those memories came back to him quickly once he began to walk, sandal-bound feet shuffling over broken ground and into dense, humid forests. What lasted far longer was the sensation that, just behind his back, something was missing. Something very important, something from his night’s visions, something that should have been there was gone, and it gave his steps an unnatural feel. Once, when he turned to see what it may have been, he thought he caught a glimpse of a golden shadow melting into the trees.

He could not tell if it was an omen of good or ill.

[1] Tzitzimime, the star-spirits, attempt to consume the sun during a solar eclipse.
[2] Nanahuatzin became the sun through the sacrifice of his body; a showier god, the original intended sacrifice, had balked. Wounded pride spurned him to sacrifice himself after the fact, but the gods wouldn’t suffer a blowhard to glow as brightly as the sun, so they darkened his face with a rabbit.
[3] Like their Native American (and, by inference, Asian) ancestors, the Aztecs typically have little body hair.
[4] Lit. "Thirteen Flint (Knife)." Some Aztecs were named for the date of their birth. The thirteenth day marked the end of any "week" (trecena), and the day-sign "tecpatl" signified an upheaval of order associated with a violent death that would make way for other life.
[5] The macahuitl was a signature Aztec weapon: a glass-edged wooden saw-sword. One particularly famous account details how an Aztec warrior decapitated a Spaniard's horse with one bow from his macahuitl.
[6] Auto-sacrifice appears in some reports of Aztec culture and religion.
[7] Quetzalcoatl, a god that brought knowledge to the Aztecs. He is also called Ehecatl, or "The Wind," in other appearances with other aspects.
[8] The Aztecs prized anything that could be connected to antiquity. The Olmecs and Toltecs were particularly well-regarded.

Newton: I observed Mercury's perihelion moving 43 arc-seconds per century more than it should. Is this WAI?



They walked. They walked for hours in the warm, damp air: a stern warrior led by a small child. All about them, there was life. Insects. Snakes. Birds, great and small. Monkeys chattering above. These things all had their places, as did he. His place, that day, was to walk at the edges of their world as a guest, and he behaved as a guest without formal invitation should: he did all that he could to minimize his impact on their house.

Life was all around him, and stillness was before him. He reflected on the girl that was guiding him. She had said nothing, though she would periodically turn to look at him with those watery, sky-colored eyes. Perhaps, he thought, she was making herself certain he still followed her. Perhaps she feared being left alone. Perhaps it was something else.

It was stillness farther forward still that brought him from his ponderings. The birds had grown quiet, he realized, and the monkeys were no longer chattering. His brown eyes narrowed, and—though he could not see them—briefly looked to be slitted vertically, as a cat’s. He hefted the warclub in his left hand and his spear in his right, feeling the gentle grips worn into both, worn by his fingers through long use.

“Wait.” His word was the first to pass between them since they’d begun their travel that morning. He listened, and he could hear the blood in his ears. Past that, he heard stirring in the leaves all around them. Without hesitating, he dropped his club and shifted the shield over his left forearm downward. Clutching his spear, he called out. “I am Matlactli Omei Tecpatl of the People-from-the-Forgotten-Home.[9] I greet you properly, as friend or enemy.”

All around, he heard the response: deep-throated cheers that began to build on one another. The sounds of weapons and feet slapping against the ground in unison. The beginning of a chant, timed in rhythm to each stomp. And he caught a glimpse, a flash of bleached ivory, that told him who had bothered to creep about him so: Death-Heads, his people called them. Disorganized tribes that wore the skulls of their enemies as head-caps, where they functioned as trophies and as protection.

More than anything else, they resented his people for the stability they enjoyed and the refuge afforded to them by Coyote[10]’s protection. He had already identified himself boldly, proudly, with name and tribe. He knew that made all those around him into his enemies.

A man stepped out of the forest in front of him, carrying an axe carved from wood and headed in flint. It looked heavy, and it was painted with red about its blade. The man, wearing the head-bones of a former enemy over his face, raised the axe over his shoulder. The gathered in the brush fell silent. That man, apparently their leader, gave a lilting cry. The cry was answered, and others began pouring from behind trees and within the scrub.

There was only one way forward: a path paved in blood.

“Behind me!” Matlactli cried, stepping forward to tuck his precious charge to his back. With a twirl, his spear flashed into action with his hand resting at its midpoint: the first enemy to step forward found it ready to greet him, piercing his chest. The warrior pulled his weapon clear with a violently strong spin and twist, exacerbating the damage and flinging his opponent away in one motion. His shield, covering the child as a mother hawk’s wing might cover its young, deflected a smattering of darts.

A second fighter sprang forward to meet him, and was about to meet the same fate as the first when Matlactli felt a hand on the butt of his spear. Behind him, a second enemy was trying to immobilize his weapon. Thinking quickly, he threw his weight backward, driving the blunt end of the spear into the man’s chest. That liberated the weapon, allowing Matlactli to whip it forward. With a spin that brought the girl—clutched to his side—about, the spear’s obsidian blade found purchase in the first man’s throat [11]. By the time his feet had come to rest, the opponent who had been behind him was before him, and was dispatched with a second powerful lunge.

That flourish was enough to give the next three adversaries reason to pause. With only one hand and a spear, he had taken down three of their bravest in what felt like a single heartbeat. Sensing their hesitation, Matlactli leaned forward and bellowed out to them. “I greet you properly!”

The men closest to him stepped back. The ones lurking in the undergrowth nearby quailed in near-total silence. Somewhere nearby, a serpent slithered across the forest floor.
The moment was shattered by the sound of a tree limb breaking. Matlactli turned to face the disruption, being careful to keep his ward protected under his shield. Heavy footfalls pounded into the air around him. The Death-Heads began chattering to one another in a language he did not know. His grip on his spear tightened.

Finally, the source of the footsteps came into view: a mountain of flesh and blood and bone—two heads taller than Matlactli himself--with twitching arms and a sickly green undertone to its skin. It carried a club, fashioned makeshift from a recently-snapped tree limb, and its body was festooned with elaborate paintings. The Tainted, he realized. The strongest of the Death-Heads, he had heard, earned the right to drink from the sacred pools of their gods. What gods they were, he knew not, but he feared for any people whose gods disrespected them so: the honored Death-Heads grew and grew stronger from the draught, even as their spirits decayed. Worse still, they required ever-more of the spiritual poison as time passed.

And they had the gall to believe they commanded their gods.

He had heard stories of the Tainted, but he hadn’t seen one before that day. Matlactli’s eyes narrowed. There was a presence in the shadows near him, something that instinct said should not be feared. Quite the opposite, in fact: simply feeling it nearby heartened him. He knew, somehow, that he would win. His destiny did not lay with the Death-Heads or their warriors who were honored with Taint. His destiny lay with the girl clutched beneath his left arm, and that alone would carry him.

With a great bellow, the Tainted threw itself at him. He sprang away from the girl; no matter how much he hated to leave her, he would have to try to finish his battle quickly and return to her before the gathered Death-Heads could harm her. The Tainted swung its great club, and Matlactli deflected the blow with the shield on the back of his hand. Still, the impact was enough to stagger him onto the heels of his feet.

Behind him, and to his left, he heard a rustling sound. The sound of a body falling through leaves and hitting the hard earth. The sound of flesh rending under some jagged weapon. The sound of a muffled scream. He could only afford a glance toward the source, where one Death-Head warrior looked down at something laying at his feet, eyes wide with stunned horror.

There wasn’t time to think, though. A thundering step and a swing loud enough to cut into the air forced Matlactli’s attention back to the Tainted. Bracing himself, he caught the wide arc of the Tainted’s club against the shaft of his spear, which groaned in protest. The Tainted’s eyes widened; rather than pull away for another swing, it ground its feet and pressed with renewed strength.

After a moment more, the spear reached its limit. Shattering into a dozen pieces—the largest of which, with the head still attached, remained in Matlactli’s hand—it flew impotently into the air. The Tainted chuckled, its chest and gut quivering like so much over-rotted fruit, its club resting against the ground as it reveled in its opponent’s weakness. Matlactli looked down at his hand, which still clutched the nub of a proudly-made weapon, and he looked up at his gleeful opponent.

When the forest was torn apart by footfalls again, it was with the lighter steps of the more agile warrior. Before the Tainted realized it, Matlactli had closed the distance between them. Bracing one foot on the half-held club and the other on the giant’s shoulder, he spun the spear-shard in his right hand and made eye contact with his opponent.

The Tainted had ceased its laughter.

“You do not value your opponent,” Matlactli intoned. “I send to you to the Realm of the Dead for that!” It was without hate or malice that Matlactli drove the spearhead into the Tainted eye. It was with a sense of accomplishment and pride that he felled his opponent, but not with contempt. It may well have been his heart that beat its last that day.

The Tainted fell onto its back and Matlactli whirled around, suddenly aware of the silence all about. The girl stood, exactly where he had left her, alone and untouched. The Death-Heads that had circled the battlefield had fled. The warrior’s instincts told him that it wasn’t from the sight of their strongest felled. “Wait there,” he commanded the child, then began to stalk toward where he’d heard the rustling-falling-ripping sounds moments before.

He did not have to draw much closer to see what he expected to see. A clearing, half again the length of a man’s body, beaten into the growth by violence. All around, clinging to the bright green leaves, there was the red of blood and gore. And in the midst of it all, there was a single Death-Head, splayed upon his back, with brilliant rows of gashes in his chest and at his throat. His head, tilted to one side, leaned against the ground at an unnatural angle: the side hidden from view crushed by some great force[12].

Without thinking, Matlactli lowered his head respectfully. The Conquerors[13] would have called what he did “praying.” He preferred to think of it as giving respect where respect was meant to be given.

The forest itself had aided him, had helped him rout his enemies. He could not forget that debt.


Matlactli had gathered his belongings, save for his broken spear—that would serve as a reminder to the Death-Heads of what would come should they face him again--and departed quickly. They had far to travel. As the two of them walked on, the humid heat of the day followed, making it so that simply moving amongst the air felt as if it would leave hollow trails in the winds behind them. During the hottest part of the day, they had stopped briefly. Matlactli shared the food he’d brought with the girl: dried turkey and seasoned corn-meal flatbreads[14]. It was not enough to truly stave off hunger, but it was enough to survive for another day. She ate quickly and showed her appreciation with a bowing of her head, but remained as silent as a lake’s surface on a still, cold night.

That was her way, he’d surmised: the gift of her knowledge had apparently come with its own curses. She’d always lived a life apart, speaking only in private and only to the priests of the Feathered Serpent. It was decided that she knew far more than she could ever say to most, and that simply having some of the gods’ wisdom had been a sufficiently heavy burden to render her silent. Others had compared her to the owl[15]: bringer of silent death in the midst of darkness. All that mattered only little: the silence did not trouble Matlactli. His path was chosen for him, and he would walk it as far as he was able.

The forest grew thicker about them as they passed the day, trekking slowly northward. The late day brought only one meaningful event: they crossed a shallow river only a short distance from a great waterfall. It was not directly along their intended path, but he still heeded the water’s sound and took the time to lead her down to the pool that the falls emptied into. The girl watched it all--the bright strands of water spilling over themselves and into the troubled pool beneath--with those glistening, unflinching eyes. Whatever her thoughts were, they were her own.

Likewise, making a camp for the night was easily accomplished: he started a fire with flint and tinder, and the two of them shared another meager, silent meal. As the sun set, he finally burned the papers he’d kept safely in his personal belongings; as he contemplated the wafting of the smoke up to the sky, his eyes narrowed. He felt the gods were pleased by this, but he also felt as though he’d failed them. Nothing, he promised them silently, would stop him from enacting the appropriate rites to welcome the sun the following morning.

With those thoughts, he fell into a sleep, and his sleep fell into dreams. He dreamed of a far-off place, a place filled with light-skinned people with hair of all colors and houses that went up so far that they threatened to touch the sky itself. He dreamed he was there, stalking the high places and watching over those peculiar people in their peculiar world. There, in the world of his dreams, it was his job to aid them, and aid them he did: he brought his strength into battle, and the gods followed with him.

For a second time, he jumped from his slumber, awakened by the last embers of a dying fire. For a second time, he looked down at his arms and was shocked at how bare they seemed. For a second time, he looked past a watery-eyed girl to scan the eastern sky. As she had the day prior, she would watch him insistently, wordlessly trying to goad him into action. When he tarried, she again walked around the fire to pull at his arm feebly.

“We must greet the day properly,” his deep voice intoned. Her tiny jaw clenched at those words, but she did not act until he began to unroll his pack to search for his ritual thorns. At that, she began to resolutely stomp into the early morning darkness, alone and unprotected. Matlactli sighed, lifting his eyes to the east. Before rising, he pierced the skin between his thumb and forefinger on his left hand with a single stab, then quickly bled the life that came forth onto another parchment. Before it had even time to dry, he cast it into the smoldering flames of his campfire.

He longed to stay, to watch the smoke again make its way to the sky, to think about the world and his place in it, but he had fulfilled his task to the gods. He had a task of his people to complete. Quickly, before the child could pass from his view, he gathered all he brought with him—all except his beloved, broken, and abandoned spear—and trotted after her, quickly closing the distance between them.

[9] "Aztec" literally means "people of Aztlan," the mythical homeland of the Aztecs (who usually referred to themselves as Mexica or nahuatl, literally "Clear Speakers," or cynically "People who Speak Our Language").
[10] Huehueycoyotl (lit. "Old, Old Coyote") was a minor Aztec deity whose presence is greatly enlarged in the backstory of the protagonist.
[11] Aztec spears were often bladed down the length of the sizeable head, giving them a modest amount of slashing ability to complement the spear's natural use as a piercing weapon.
[12] There is only one large predator I personally know of that preferentially kills its prey by biting through the skull.
[13] Conquistadors.
[14] Turkey and tamales were Aztec staple foods.
[15] Note the deliberate contrast with European mythology: the owl was associated with wise Athena in Greece; in most Native American and Mesoamerican cultures, the owl was associated with silent death. Other contrasts exist, and I'd be happy to chat more about them in PMs.

[More to come tomorrow.]

Newton: I observed Mercury's perihelion moving 43 arc-seconds per century more than it should. Is this WAI?



The day passed much as the one before it had: with so much water in the air that he could almost taste it, Matlactli found the heat all the more oppressive. Still, the girl led him ever-farther onward, toward some place only she knew of, a place-she-had-to-see because it was a place-she-could-see. She walked on, tirelessly and without complaint. She was already a testament to the unbending spirit of her tribe, he thought, and he did all he could to embody her example.

There were the forest sounds from before, the sounds of snakes slinking and birds beating wings, but he also heard, twice, the sounds of something creeping through the leaves. Whatever that other sound was, it caused the birds near it to fall silent, but his heart told him that it was nothing to fear. By the time the sun was at the midpoint of its journey, he’d begun amusing himself in straining his ears, trying to pick out the padding and rustling near them.

It was not long after their mid-day meal—at which they consumed almost all their food—that they came to another flowing body of water. This one, a stream, was far shallower than the river he had carefully led the girl across the previous day, but that only made the laughter of the creek’s waters higher-pitched and more pleasing to the ear. He picked his way across first, seeking the safest route before returning halfway across to offer his right hand to aid the prophetess, while his left clutched his warclub. She reached for his outstretched palm, then froze in place. Those azure eyes looked past Matlactli, toward something on the far side of the stream. Following her gaze, he turned to see what troubled her so.

What he saw startled him. It was a man, or a monster in the form of a man: it was slightly broader than Matlactli, and it wore only a tied cloth about its waist. Its face was hidden behind a featureless mask of beaten gold, with only eyeholes punched completely through. From its shoulders down—all the wanderer could see of it—its furred skin bore a familiar pattern: rings of dark blue circles staggered on a bright golden background. The marks of the jaguar, he thought, in dishonest colors.

“Go back,” he whispered to the child. Though he wasn’t looking at her, he thought he felt her nod. He could certainly feel her hand slowly withdraw from his. Turning to face the new figure, he tightened his grip on his warclub. “I am Matlactli Omei Tecpatl,” he greeted in his deepest voice. “I am one of the People-From-the-Forgotten-Home who live to the south of here. I mean you no harm, but I must pass.”

The jaguar-man with the false skin said nothing. Instead, it tensed its fingers. With a familiar tearing sound and arcs of crimson, long claws extended from its fingertips. Matlactli resolutely stared into its eye-holes, showing no sign of retreat. The jaguar-imposter somberly shook its head. Then, it lept.

With surprising speed, it pounced toward Matlactli. The warrior readied his shield, which he lifted just in time to halt his foe’s advance. With surprising force, three of the finger-tip-claws sundered his shield halfway down. The warrior took a careful step back to absorb the impact, placing one foot on a damp stone and leaning away from the blow. With surprising sharpness, he found three claws resting atop his forearm. The warrior looked down at the trails of blood sprouting at the faintest of touches.

There weren’t any other options. Matlactli cast aside his shield. The mysterious man-beast, its claws still sunk deep into the wood, was thrown off-balance by the sudden shift in weight. His suddenly-free left hand lent the right one support on the base of his warclub, which he brought up toward the jaw of his enemy. It recovered footing enough to avoid most of the blow, though Matlactli still found purchase in the enemy’s own forearm.

As it lept away, Matlactli pressed forward. Battle-ready eyes caught sight of the three bleeding trails the jagged blade of club had cut into his opponent’s arm, and he smiled. Caught unprepared, he’d responded to his assailant in perfect measure. He had no intention of stopping: his glanced down long enough to find his steps as he surged forward, splashing his way over the tops of shallow, smooth, green rocks.

That brief distraction almost proved deadly. When he looked up again, he had only a heartbeat to throw his head to the left. Four catclaws sliced past where his head had been, coming to rest atop his right shoulder. Matlactli grunted at the pain of having his flesh scored, but he knew he had to press forward: his heavy club would be difficult to use if he could not plant his feet on solid ground. To dislodge his enemy, he swung upward as best he could, wincing as flames of pain made their way from his shoulder to his back.

In response, the false-skinned jaguar did spring away, but not quickly enough: the glass-blades in the edge of his warclub bit into his enemy’s side, striking a glancing, bleeding blow. More importantly, the way forward was open: Matlactli threw his weight behind the momentum of his swing, gritting his teeth to block out the pain as his shoulder collided with his foe. The two of them tumbled onto the ground, a pile of blood and blades.

Matlactli rolled his way forward, onto his feet. The open wounds on his left arm ground into the rich soil as he stood, his mouth open and his body throbbing with a burning desperation. Pushing that aside, he readied his club in front of himself as the mockery of the jaguar sprang to its feet lightly. Though he’d matched it, wound for wound, Matlactli noticed the man-in-false-jaguar-skin did not bleed. Where it had been scratched, there was nothing. No blood. No sign of a heart.

His enemy was without a true spirit. Perhaps that was why it could move so easily after being injured so, while his own shoulder and arm begged for a cessation to the battle. He did not need his thoughts to tell him that he would have to end the battle quickly: the sound of his heart and the burning in his flesh told him that he would not withstand his enemy’s attacks forever.

With that in his soul, he lept forward. Swinging his mighty warclub was an arduous task under the best of circumstances; the wound on his shoulder slowed him enough to allow the bloodless enemy to dodge, moving away. Matlactli followed up as quickly as he was able with an overhead swing. He met with nothing but the earth.

That left him open. The next attack came in a rush, and Matlactli could barely lift his weapon quickly enough to shunt aside the blow. He felt the skin of his shoulder slip past itself where it had been gashed, and he set his jaw to block out the weakness. Instead, he planted one foot in the ground and gave a single, powerful kick.

That, at least, connected. The foe-without-a-spirit staggered away. That was his opportunity, and he seized it like an eagle diving for its prey. He raised his club and, with the jagged glass edged into it facing outward, swung horizontally with all his body’s might.

Then, he heard it again. A deep, throaty rumble, sourced behind a rock near the riverbed. His experience knew it, recognized it as a friend. His enemy was not so familiar with the strange sound, and so looked away to seek its source.

The error was a mortal one. The sacred glass[16] of his warclub tore into the enemy’s flesh, slipping easily between its ribs. When it lodged, it was almost touching the breast-bone of the soulless. Matlactli looked into its featureless golden mask, meeting his adversary’s dull eyes. With one great tug, he pulled his weapon directly out of the enemy’s chest, leaving a deep, bloodless gash that permitted view of the abomination’s ruptured, still heart. Without so much as a gasp, it fell onto its back with one clawed hand outstretched.

Sensing the end of battle, Matlactli fell onto his knees and dropped his weapon to grasp his shoulder. Halfway to his feet yet, he shambled over to his enemy’s corpse. He found himself compelled to know, for reasons he could not understand. Fate, perhaps, moved him to brace his bloodied fingers beneath the strange man-thing’s mask and wrench it away with a single, sharp tug.

What he saw was his own face, as he’d last seen it in a sacred mirror. The visage lacked the black sheen imparted to it by the mirror’s glass, though. Instead, it was covered about in the jaguar’s fine fur and spotted with that pattern, that color of the hummingbird’s bluest wing-feathers.

Uncertain, he fell back onto his shins and began to pant, lifting his eyes to the skies above and clutching his wounded arm anew. He could ask the gods what it meant, but he was no priest. Should the gods see fit to reply to him, he would not comprehend. All that he would have to answer the questions in his mind was already given to him. Letting doubt or anxiety fill his heart, letting his faith waver, would undo his spirit.


They did not travel much farther. The girl, perhaps, took pity on him. Or perhaps she felt they were nearly to their destination, and so did not feel the need to press onward. That night, by the fire, Matlactli mended the glass edges of his warclub as best he could. That task complete, he knelt and offered his most sincere benediction. He drew blood from his wounds and offered it to the Hummingbird. He drew from his tongue to give to the Feathered Serpent. He drew most generously from his ears and hand. That blood, he offered to the Lord of Near and Nigh, who he began to think was offering him special favor.[17]

It was favor he returned as best he could until sleep finally came to claim him. As he lay on the cold bedding on the warm ground, he again dreamed: he dreamed again of the place that was of his world, but not. He dreamed of gods unknown to him, gods named electricity and genetics that lit the streets and healed the sick. He dreamed of a people that thought themselves in control of these gods, and—though he wondered at their hubris—he dreamed of fighting their battles for them against forces they often lost precious time in trying to comprehend.

The fire had died by the time he awakened the next morning. His ward did not pressure him as he carefully applied salve, prepared by the priests of his home, to his battle-wounds. The ones atop his shoulder were red; he could feel the blood rushing near the surface of his skin there, a sign of a corruption. Perhaps it had entered in a moment of weakness on his part.[18] He would have to become stronger to endure the trials ahead.

He reflected on that, on his shattered spear and the shield he had cast into the river in a bid to save himself. He regretted none of that, he found, but he resolved to take the time to craft tools so fine as those should he return to his home. He would do this, he told himself inwardly, and he would leave the replacements in a temple. In this way, he would offer up all his trials.

The child did not pressure him, even as he drew one more portion of blood to greet the sun. With no flames to take his life-stained paper, he felt obligated to strike up a new spark with his flint. This he did, though the jarring motion unsettled his arm and made him wince. Finally, he completed his rites and took the time to watch the smoke drift to the sky. Once that part of him had been completely consumed, he stood and collected the last weapon he had: his edged warclub.

[16] The obsidian used to edge Aztec weapons also had religions connotations, especially in divination: it was associated with Tezcatlipoca (lit. "Smoking Mirror"), the god of (among other things) fate.
[17] I want to be clear here: I've tried to thoroughly annotate what came from my own research. However, associating sacrifices from different parts of the body with different gods is, to the best of my knowledge, my own creation. The honored deities are Huitzilopochtli, the god of war; Quetzalcoatl; and Tezcatlipoca, here referred to by one of his many honorifics.
[18] Like medieval Europeans, the Aztecs--whose views on sin have been ironically described as "Puritannical--believed sickness could enter the body through a weakness of spirit that led one to commit a transgression.

[Last part's tomorrow.]

Newton: I observed Mercury's perihelion moving 43 arc-seconds per century more than it should. Is this WAI?



Very nicely done.

Originally Posted by vulpish_one View Post
[12] There is only one large predator I personally know of that preferentially kills its prey by biting through the skull.

"Goodbye, Jean-Luc. I'm gonna miss you... you had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end..." -- Q



Originally Posted by Major_T View Post
Very nicely done.
Thank you. I had a blast writing it, and I was pretty proud of how it ended. There are parts that are kind of hard to follow if you don't know the character, but the footnotes are supposed to help with the more oblique cultural references. In hindsight, I'm afraid it may come off as pretentious.

That's the only one I know of. I'll be stringing along a few secrets until tomorrow, though. Best I don't say much.

Newton: I observed Mercury's perihelion moving 43 arc-seconds per century more than it should. Is this WAI?



Agreed, very nicely written.


Beware the attack cat



I promise not to tell anyone the ending.

<slaps duct tape on her mouth>

City of Heroes taught me that when the world is burning, you don't just stand by and watch, you grab a fire extinguisher and do whatever you can to stop it-even if it's not much at all. Sign the petition to keep City of Heroes alive HERE.

@MissKyo, Leader of the Teamsters coalition on Protector



Once they began to walk, the pain in his arm eased itself loose. Still, he found he carried his weapon in his left hand. To carry it in his right angered his shoulder somewhat. He walked with leaden steps behind the girl, who checked her speed to keep with his fatigued pace. Even so, he found her slowing even more before the sun had even crested in the sky. When she stopped completely just beneath the lip of a hill, he knew their destination was at hand. Those lake-blue eyes looked at him beseechingly, then looked up to the top of the hill. He could also tell that she wanted him to go ahead of her. He obliged, ignoring the protests of his arms. He foresaw the clearing atop the hill from the way the trees parted for the sun’s light.

That a man should be standing in the clearing surprised him.

The man was taller than Matlactli, but not so tall as the Tainted. He wore a golden helmet like the false-skinned abomination, but the helmet did not obscure his face. Even from those paces away, Matlactli could see an imperious face behind the mask, pale and with blue eyes. More gold, glittering and dancing in the sun, adorned his shoulders and waist. This man was dressed for war in the fashion of the Conquerors, with auroral plates[19] on his chest and thighs, though he carried no weapon. Behind the man, there was a cliff face. Before the cliff face, just behind the man, Matlactli could just discern a different sort of glitter: the clear twinkling of sunlight cast on the surface of water.

Seeing Matlactli, the man spoke. At first, his words made no sense. They came in a jumble, a mixture of sounds both more and less intricate than his own. The babbling was harsh--not at all like his direct, lively tongue--and it came with many words. Yet, it sounded familiar. When he closed his eyes, he could hear words like those, words formed in the land that only existed in his dreams: words from the land of distant, lifeless gods and lights that did not respect the night and people that changed the land at their whim.

He could hear, and—through effort—he could understand. “If you leave this place now,” the man before the cliff said in a commanding tone, “you will not be harmed. If you try to take this place for your own, I will strike you down.”

Matlactli looked down and behind him. The child, gifted of the Feathered Serpent, only looked back at him with her blank, blue eyes. She had led him that far. Clearly, it was not his place to cower in fear. Setting his feet, Matlactli brought his club to the ready. “My destiny lay beyond you,” he said, picking words from that foreign tongue with effort. “I will not be turned away.”

“Then you will be destroyed utterly.” The reply came, not with malice, but with distance-of-spirit. The man in the golden armor raised his fist and charged at Matlactli. With the distance between them, the warrior had time to steady himself.

Again, he found himself unprepared for his foe. Planning first to block the blow with his club, Matlactli had raised it with the edge facing his opponent. The blow still landed, though it moved through the weapon as much as against it: though a shard of black glass seemed to contact between the man’s fingers, he did not check his swing. Instead, it was the glass that yielded: Matlactli looked on with dismay as part of his weapon’s edge shattered under the attack.

It was a test of strength to simply stop the man’s punch, and Matlactli felt his shoulder buckle in protest as he staggered away from the blow. Before he could ready a defense, a second attack came. Feebly, the warrior lifted his club to deflect his doom as best he could. Bravely, the club took the impact. As it shattered completely, despair found its way into Matlaclti’s soul.

He did not remember the blow that followed, nor the next four[20]. When his senses returned to him, he found himself shaking the heaviness from his head, suddenly aware of rivulets of blood making paths down both sides of his head. He wondered if that was his fate: to be crushed, as his people had been, by one wearing the armor of the Conquerors. If that were true, he told himself, he would face it with all the pride of his people: on his feet and unflinching.

His knees felt like water, though. They would not take his weight. Instead, he rolled to his back, ready to look the inevitable in the eye and set his face. He would not beg. He would not cry. He would not let his enemy break his spirit.

Prepared for death, what he saw instead was hope. While he’d been recovering his wits, something wondrous had happened: a flash of gold and black had darted from the cover nearby. It had pounced onto the back of the man, a snarling mass of muscle and fang and claw. His salvation, he saw, carried the form of a jaguar.

The man in golden metal futilely flailed, grasping over his shoulders for his new opponent in golden fur. The great hunter sank its teeth into the man’s helmet, poised to give a skull-crushing bite. Its back claws found a toehold in the man’s opulent golden belt, and its foreclaws—the color of obsidian—pressed into the man’s throat. Unlike the blade of his club, though, those claws drew blood from flesh.

When the jaguar saw Matlactli, it made direct eye contact with him, and it pressed its claws further into the soft skin of the foe’s neck. Then, another desperate gyration of the man’s body turned both of them away from Matlactli, who looked around where he lay frantically. Bits of broken wood and sacred black glass, all that remained of his precious club, were strewn about him. He needed to fight, to fight with all of his spirit, but he had no weapons left.

With no other options left to him, Matlactli followed the example of the great cat: he gathered flakes of obsidian that had once made his noble weapon’s serrated blade. He looked at his right shoulder with dismay, then selected the three longest, straightest pieces of glass he could find.

Without so much as a whimper, he drove those shards into the skin between the fingers of his left hand, embedding them as deeply as he dared. Blood seeped out as the sharp edges buried themselves into his flesh, and he could only grit his teeth as he closed his hand into a fist. Then, at last, he found his feet.

The man in the golden armor again whirled around, still desperately locked in a struggle to free himself from the jaguar at his back. The motion brought the man to face Matlactli, who again saw the beast’s wise eyes, and the warrior gave the barest of nods. The animal tore itself away from the man, ripping at his throat as it did so. Shocked by the pain, the man lifted his hands to grip his neck.

He would never have the chance. Matlactli struck at that moment, swinging with his left hand. That glass—that sacred, blessed glass—struck true: where the skin of his enemy’s throat had been peeled away. The blades sank deep into both Matlactli and his adversary, but Matlactli pushed on.

They struggled, locked in that dance, for a few frantic seconds. Finally, there was a wet gurgling sound in the back of the man’s mouth, and he collapsed at Matlactli’s feet. When the warrior straightened his fingers and withdrew his hand, the shards remained in his enemy’s neck. Matlactli’s entire body—his head, his shoulder, his hand—was alive with a pain he only suspected could exist, but he forced his back to stand straight. So it was that when he lowered himself before the jaguar, who was sitting behind their fallen enemy and cleaning its forepaws with its tongue, it was with the greatest respect.

He was going to speak, to offer his thanks to the beast and to the gods that sent it to his aid, when his ears pricked. The girl had come from her hiding-spot, her blue eyes unconcerned with the sea of red that was growing against the green grass. Instead, she walked onward, transfixed by the rock cliff-wall the man in gold had been guarding. Pushing his pain as far out of his mind as he could, Matlactli stood and began to follow her. When the jaguar—his brother-in-war--followed silently, he was unconcerned.

The girl did not speak as she crossed the clearing to stand before the cliff face he had seen earlier. As he drew nearer, Matlactli could see what had caught the light before, and he found he was correct: it was a pool of water, a pool sacred to the Old People[21]. Alongside the girl, he leaned forward to examine it. Holding back his bloodied hand—so the waters would remain untroubled by drops of his lesser spirit—he peered into its depths. It was as clear as any water he could imagine, and—save for a single rock shelf near where he stood—it went down as far as he could see, and farther still beyond.

Tearing his eyes from the water’s depths, he looked up. The rock before him, he noticed for the first time, carried on it faded carvings. Pictures of gods and men told a story, with day-signs carefully etched into corners here and there. Some of the gods were unknown to him, but one—one with the face of both a man and a woman—resonated with him. This god, the Lord-Lady[22], was revered among some of his ancestors as the creator of all that was, the father-mother of all gods.

And there, before him, was a carving of a man—carrying a warrior’s shield and spear—entering a sacred well with a small girl. And then, there was a carving of the Lord-Lady emerging. His mind struggled to believe what this meant, even as the girl at his right side tugged at his hand. She was already in the water, up to her ankles. He noticed he could not see her feet, though the water was clear as air. Insistently, she pulled at his arm.

Is this my destiny, he thought, to become unto a god? It would be the first god, he realized, reborn to create all-that-was again. He let himself be pulled a step closer, his toes almost in the water, when he felt a renewal of the stinging pain in his left hand. He looked down. The jaguar was there, at his side, holding onto his hand with a bite that was as gentle as it could manage. The pain from his mangled sinew was still fire-hot.

As he looked into the wise hunter’s eyes, he remembered the central teachings of his people: there was an aspect of the sacred in all things. Everything that was, physically, would pass away. This would make way for what was to come in the future.

In order to create life, death must first come. In order to recreate all-that-was, all-that-was would die. It had happened four times before . Would he bring about the fifth?
The child pulled at his right arm. He looked back to her. Her eyes were brimming with water, though her lips did not curve up or down. If this is what must be, he told himself, then it must be. It would be my honor to take part in this.

The jaguar began to resonate with a low, warning growl. Matlactli turned his head again to the beast. He recalled: he recalled the battle with the Tainted, and how some unseen force had frightened the Death-Heads into retreating. He thought of the battle with the soulless shell of himself, and he thought of how his opponent had been distracted at the perfect moment. He thought of the battle in the clearing, and how the jaguar had opened the way for his fatal strike.

The animal was more than a brother-in-combat. It was too wise to be anything except the avatar of a god. Should I respect its wishes?

For the first time since he’d known her, the girl made a sound. She began to whimper pathetically. When he cast his eyes to her face, tears were streaming down her cheeks. The water dangled from her chin for a moment, then fell into the waters below. The ripples spread outward to the pool’s very edges, but Matlactli’s eyes focused on how her feet had vanished. He looked back to those large, ever-watery eyes.

And he made his decision.

Throwing his weight away from the girl, he tumbled onto the dry ground. The flames beneath his skin, sourced in his hand and shoulder, reminded him that he still lived, was still human. He did not have time to reflect on that: the girl, thrown off balance by the lack of his weight, fell backward into the pool. He lifted his left hand to shield his face from the splash, only to have the open cuts dappled with the clear water instead.

He had thought his hand in pain before, but he discovered he was wrong. Where the water mixed with his blood, the fire of a thousand embers raced up his arm. His heart quickened at the feel of it: his pulse beat into his ears, and his eyes bulged from the exertion. In those moments, he knew an agony that surpassed anything he would ever be able to put into words. His spirit quaked and trembled until, at last, the relief of darkness fell over him.

The last thing he felt was the warm, moist breath of a great cat upon his ear. It gave him comfort, it eased the burning within. With it, with that, he knew he would be safe. He could rest there until he awakened in the other-world of his nightly visions to return to his physical life.

[19] The Aztecs used cotton-padded armor--with slick coatings of feathers reserved for the elite. Metalworking was almost unknown to them before the conquest, as was platemail.
[20] The numeral five was often associated with bad omens to the Aztecs.
[21] Cenotes--pools that emptied into underwater caverns--were sacred to several Mesoamerican cultures, including the Maya. They apparently were believed to be portals to non-physical worlds.
[22] Ometecuhtli (or Ometeotl, literally "Two Lord," "Two Spirit," with ome also being translated as "dual" or even "one-two") was the hermaphroditic ur-deity of the Aztec pantheon.

Newton: I observed Mercury's perihelion moving 43 arc-seconds per century more than it should. Is this WAI?



I am now confused, but I suspect the confusion will be explained in the next part of the story.

The girl wanted him to enter the pool with him, and she is a special child, blessed with gifts from the gods, if I understood correctly.

On the other hand (no pun intended), the jaguar which had been following them for the entire story, seems to be an agent of the gods to ensure that he is successful in his journey with the child, does not want him to go into the pool with her.


"Goodbye, Jean-Luc. I'm gonna miss you... you had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end..." -- Q



Originally Posted by Major_T View Post
I am now confused, but I suspect the confusion will be explained in the next part of the story.

The girl wanted him to enter the pool with him, and she is a special child, blessed with gifts from the gods, if I understood correctly.

On the other hand (no pun intended), the jaguar which had been following them for the entire story, seems to be an agent of the gods to ensure that he is successful in his journey with the child, does not want him to go into the pool with her.

I'm afraid that's the end. One of my proofreaders put it together about a day after she read it. I did my best to incorporate a lot of symbolism there, but the problem with deeply symbolic stories is that they tend to be somewhat opaque. I was kind of going for something that would make sense on a deep, intuitive level without necessarily being logical (which fits the motif of a "vision quest," so to speak).

I can probably post a sort of "key" to some of the bigger concepts, but I'll probably wait until tomorrow for that, in case anyone else wants to read and speculate first.

Newton: I observed Mercury's perihelion moving 43 arc-seconds per century more than it should. Is this WAI?



You could just assume that the cougar was trying to ground the hero, remind him to be wary of the possibility of completely losing himself to the avatar he was becoming.

There's a book I once read, The Waterborn, where such a thing almost happens to a main character and she becomes the avatar for the vengeful and destructive River. Filled to bursting with power, she starts helping the River on its quest to "break the world," and is fortunately stopped by a childhood friend as he helps her remember who she is.

My Stories

Look at that. A full-grown woman pulling off pigtails. Her crazy is off the charts.



Let me take another crack at it...

The child is supposed to go into the pool, but she is to go alone. It is not his place to go with her. The desire she had for him to come with her was the child's fear of the unknown and the need for a companion on her journey into the water.

Matlactli's responsibility was to get her safely to that destination. He was not to go with her, and the Jaguar's action is to prevent him from following the child's path; it is not his destiny to go with her.

"Goodbye, Jean-Luc. I'm gonna miss you... you had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end..." -- Q



Hm. Well, one thing is obvious to me by now: I need one more thing, a capstone to sort of tie it all together and sum up exactly what happened and show why this is actually a story that takes place in the CoX-verse. In an attempt to tell a literal story with metaphor, I may have have been a bit too subtle. After all, only one or maybe two of my readers have put the story together unprompted.

Thank you all. That's certainly very valuable information to have. Now, I just need to figure out how to act on it.

Newton: I observed Mercury's perihelion moving 43 arc-seconds per century more than it should. Is this WAI?



Oh, I'm sure you'll figure it out. And until you do I'll be here. Waiting. Impatiently.

City of Heroes taught me that when the world is burning, you don't just stand by and watch, you grab a fire extinguisher and do whatever you can to stop it-even if it's not much at all. Sign the petition to keep City of Heroes alive HERE.

@MissKyo, Leader of the Teamsters coalition on Protector



I caught a couple of pieces that related this story to the existing universe, for example...

He dreamed of a far-off place, a place filled with light-skinned people with hair of all colors and houses that went up so far that they threatened to touch the sky itself. He dreamed he was there, stalking the high places and watching over those peculiar people in their peculiar world. There, in the world of his dreams, it was his job to aid them, and aid them he did: he brought his strength into battle, and the gods followed with him.
As you added a great deal of information about Aztec history, it lead me to believe that this was the back-story of a hero that was destined to make it to Paragon (and his dreams were visions of the future). I read it and concluded that this tale was to give us a glimpse into how he came to be and how his personality was shaped.

Apparently, my interpretation was not what you intended.

Now that I think about it a little more, was this actually the reverse? Was this story the dream of a hero who is already in Paragon City?

"Goodbye, Jean-Luc. I'm gonna miss you... you had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end..." -- Q



My friends, my comrades. Fellow warriors, heroes, Paragons-of-Paragons. These are the sights, the sounds, the sensations that came to me over three nights. There, all-that-was was reversed, a river flowing uphill. I was a warrior there still, a warrior watching over a girl with a gift from the gods themselves, left to visit this world, the world in which we sit, in dreams and visions while I was awake-in-the-here.

I struggled with this, with the signs and meanings of the signs and the gods that were present and what they represented. I am no priest; discerning the will of the gods is difficult for a simple fighting hero. I was ashamed, at first, of my cowardice: I refused the sacrifice asked of me. A warrior should not fear death. Then, one of you came to me with news, news of your world. News that something had changed, changed for all of us.

I understand what has happened now: I have been visited by a foreigner in my world. It did not belong, so it came with the hair of Outsiders and eyes of Water. It promised that it would lead me to my destiny, the destiny I have yet to meet, the destiny that will eventually take my life, as destiny claims us all. The Unknown-from-Beyond led me past enemies, enemies long vanquished: the half-hearted masses of youth who wear the Skulls of their enemies. Their misshapen, green-skinned allies—Trolls--their minds, hearts, and souls ruined with tainted water.

At a river’s crossing, I was confronted by an image of myself—the body I have here, in your world—in blue and yellow, wearing a mask. An abomination, a false life, a body without a spirit. Here, they are created in the name of “science” and called “Protectors.” Then, blocking me from my fate, there was an Emperor in the armor of the Conquerors, colored in gold…a Tyrant.

Following my path, I had an unseen ally: the heart of the wilds. The greatest predator known to my people, the greatest warrior in our living world. The incarnation of a god, and the being that marks me in this world, gives me its shape and skill. It is the being that will bring me to my true fate, the priests have foreseen.

Then, came the moment of decision, the moment of sacrifice. I should not have been surprised to see that the heart within me would take my wounded hand and pull me away. I know now what waited for me. Had I fallen into that Well with the girl, I would have become unto a god.

I would have gained the powers of a god. I would have lost myself, become a tool of this Source-of-Power with its eyes of water. That did not happen. Instead, part of its power, the Water-that-Gave-the-Power-of-the-Gods bled into me, through the wounds I inflicted on myself to be more like the warrior within.

It seeks who it will find, those that it deems worthy of its power, and it seeks to consume them for its own ends. It may come for you, my powerful friends. It will try to submerge you. It will promise power. It will promise fulfillment. You must be cautious. Do not let it mislead you. You must be brave. Do not be afraid to stand up to it, to tell it that you will not follow it to your ruin. I would not see any of you used so heartlessly as I almost was.

[Not sure how I feel about this. I've completely rewritten this section twice now... Still not 100% happy with it, for some reason. My first attempt was more narrative, but I kind of like having the character monologue a little, too.]

Newton: I observed Mercury's perihelion moving 43 arc-seconds per century more than it should. Is this WAI?



I like it.

City of Heroes taught me that when the world is burning, you don't just stand by and watch, you grab a fire extinguisher and do whatever you can to stop it-even if it's not much at all. Sign the petition to keep City of Heroes alive HERE.

@MissKyo, Leader of the Teamsters coalition on Protector



Metaphors! Now I understand!

"Goodbye, Jean-Luc. I'm gonna miss you... you had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end..." -- Q