Part 13 - The Serpent

The dried blood of Quetzalcoatl cracked and peeled from his skin as Itzli ran under the empowering rays of the sun. Equipped with his new weapons he headed back towards the mountains with powerful strides that ate away quickly at the distance. Taking a last glance at Huitzilopochtli’s palace as it began to fade away, he was met with the menacing sight of Xolotl prowling the ground where he had been only moments before. Even from the distance he had reached, Itzli could feel the beast’s black eyes marking him. The young warrior was on his way to kill the dog’s master, and he was sure the beast knew.  
The sun was moving slower than he had ever known it to as it hung suspended at morning height. Yet it only added to the wonder of this land. Itzli had never seen stars fill the sky during the day like they did here. They were like tiny pin pricks in a giant pale blue canvas. There were no clouds to interrupt the view, but the sky still felt lively as the stars rolled across the blue canvas. 
The ground on which he ran was also peculiar. For the longest time he ran across incredibly flat and expansive grass, stretching far into the distance. Yet from time to time when he would look to his left or right, there would be wondrous anomaly. At one stage he ran by a gathering of giant stones, stacked on top of each other as they huddled in a circle. Their arrangement made awkward shapes and shadows as the sun peered under them, casting an impossibly long silhouette that joined on to Itzli’s own. Continuing on his run, he passed an even greater sight, a mountain-like pyramid made of golden bricks. These were things that only gods could have made, and there were more. The horizon came and went as though offering its secrets and retreating before they could be taken. Even when Itzli tried to retrace his steps, he could find no sign or sight of them, like they had never existed. 
By the time he had reached the base of the mountain, the sun had moved only a little but he had felt as though he had seen a thousand new worlds in that time. It inspired a curiosity in him that he seldom explored, but he refused to indulge it. Now at the mountain gateway, he searched for signs of Quetzalcoatl, and found the biggest one in the sky above. The giant sky serpent snaked through the air, heading west faster than any wind could move a cloud. Itzli followed eagerly, his mind on the business at hand.  
Quetzalcoatl swam serenely through the glittering blue ocean above, unaware or uncaring of the violent intent that stalked him below. Itzli persisted, even though the god began to gain speed and pull away into the horizon. The mountain gateway was soon lost somewhere behind, and the ground underfoot gradually grew more broken and dusty until breaking into sun-burnt and coarse sand. The feathered serpent was now a dark slither in the far distance as the young warrior struggled to keep up in the loose sand which trapped and tripped his feet. It wasn’t long before he had lost all sight of him. 
Itzli still carried on, fighting his way over the desert sand until the ever-changing landscape of Aztatlan revealed what looked like a forest with no leaves. As Itzli got closer he was able to see the uniform nature of the structures. In the dryness of the desert, standing tall above the sand was a field of monoliths. The towering stone intricately carved into sections reading upward until finally coming to a colossal statue on the top. As he drew closer, Itzli could see each pillar was dedicated to one of the gods, the carvings on the various segments picturing their story. The gods he had met were recognisable, in particular the gruesome statue of Toci, complete with snake skirt, time-ravaged face and haggard naked chest. Tlaloc the god of water and caves was represented with a stone giant, infinitely larger than the one Itzli had drowned at the mountain. There were many other statues, none of which he knew. 
Passing between the pillars Itzli’s head was constantly skyward. Standing beneath the towering monoliths, it was hard to see the refinement in their construction as the sun began to encroach on the middle of the day and cast detail into shadow. It was in this shadow that Itzli spotted the outline of Quetzalcoatl wrapped around the top of a pillar. He was an absolute monster in size, whether statue or real it was nearly twice the width and length of the other giant structures 
Itzli decided to take no chance and readied his bow. Knocking one of his new shiny tipped arrows he took aim. There was no wind where he stood, and the bow, although weighty at first pull, settled into a steady draw as Itzli brought his hand to the reference point on his cheekWith breath held he released the arrow to watch it fly as well and almost as direct as a beam of sunlight. Itzli couldn’t see where it had hit, but he was for certain sure that what he had hit was alive as fiercely green eyes pulled open and glowed down at him from the shadowy serpentine thing curled around the top of the pillar. 
Quetzalcoatl unwound himself, and came down like the sound of landslide as his pillar crumbled to the sand. Quicker than Itzli could react a wall of sand was folding over him as the feathered serpent whipped his tail at the ground. The weight of the hot and golden grains was crushing as they engulfed the young warrior. Itzli fought his way to the surface. Wiping the dust from his eyes, he could see Quetzalcoatl hovering above, snaking in and out of the pillars as his tongue flicked at the sky.  
“I can still smell my blood on you, human,” Quetzalcoatl said. “Why have you not returned to your lands? Leave and forget this place, it is not a world for mortals.” 
“I’m just as mortal as you! And I’m here to smother this sand with your blood!” Itzli cried. 
Quatzalcoatl groaned, a deep tremor of a sound, “So, it is the son of Necalli... I’ve heard yours and your father’s words on my winds many times. I had hoped that getting past Tlaloc would be enough to satisfy your wounded pride. You have bested a god, yet you still want more – it is an issue with man.” 
“Now it is your issue! I am in this land to take the goddess, Chiconahui, and lay her down as sacrifice in place of my brother, and I don’t care who I have to kill to do it,” Itzli said. “I know what you all are, and I’m not afraid.” 
Quetzalcoatl wound his way around until bringing his head high above Itzli to look down on him with forward facing eyes, eyes that peered deeply into his mind, and a mouth that spoke without movement. “Your father, your brother, both captured, both less than a day away from death – yet you are by far the one with the most fear. You are strong, and you’ve been guided well, but why kill me when it was a man, lord Huemac, that captured your family? Surely isn’t your father, Necalli, a man, even more so to blame –was he not the catalyst with his random act of cruelty to a pregnant young girl? You could have fought Huemac until the very last breath ebbed from your lungs but you didn’t. You chose to run. 
Itzli loaded another arrow and brought his bow to aim at one of the feathered serpents glowing green eyes, “Enough talk! Grant me safe passage or I will send this arrow through you.” 
“You have come here to die, that is not my art. But I have seen the world you are creating. Through fear you will deconstruct the divine construct. I cannot have this.” Quetzalcoatl peered deeper into Itzli until his eyes lost their luminescence, and turned a pale and stony grey. The deeply red feathers that framed his reptilian head began to stand as the wind picked up and blew the sand into golden wisps of dust. “But I shall forgive you,” the serpent said. 
Itzli snapped his fingers back, the arrow shot out and raced into the depths of Quetzalcoatl’s right eye. The gods cry was like crashing thunder as gusts of wind pushed and pulled at the young warrior. Itzli had to run as the sky serpent’s tail licked the ground and kicked up a tidal wave of sand. Leaping on to one of the giant pillars, he found handholds in the deep carvings and climbed to safety.  
Quetzalcoatl turned the air and sand as he whipped himself about turbulently. Blindly swinging his tail out, Itzli had to jump clear as the top of the pillar was brought down. He had to find a way to get closer, but while the god twisted and turned there was none. Knocking another arrow Itzli let it fly into the maelstrom of giant scales and sand. Quetzalcoatl screamed again, as though a flaming brand had been driven into his side, he peeled away and uncoiled into upwards flight. 
The weapons he had been given were potent, and Itzli noted to retrieve each arrow from the serpent’s scaly skin once dead. The young warrior readied another arrow when Quetzalcoatl blasted back at him with a powerful gust. Several pillars toppled, tumbling slowly to earth, while Itzli and a world of sand were blown away. 
 There was a moment of darkness, he couldn’t tell how long but when he sat up he found his ears oozing with blood as a piercing sound echoed between his brains. The powerful noise of the wind had become a meek murmur, and as he at last got his bearings, he found himself blown far from where he had been. Almost half of the tall pillars had been reduced to nothing but black stumps, with giant debris littering the gold of the sand. Somehow he had clung on to his bow, even though the readied arrow was nowhere to be seen. Checking his quiver, he still had a dozen left. 
The clarity of sound was not returning, but the tumult of Quetzalcoatl rummaging for Itzli’s dead body was loud enough. The colossus snaked through the air with the hot sand just under his featherless belly. His forked tongue licked for the young warrior’s scent. Swinging his bow over his shoulder Itzli ran back to the fight.  

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