Part 14 - Captured

Half of the once magnificent field of statues now lay scattered across the golden sands in a thousand pieces. Itzli pressed himself to the man sized shards of black stone, sneaking closer to the writhing form of Quetzalcoatl as the god shot out blasts of air to turn the sand. Never staying in one spot for too long, Itzli skipped from one stone to another as though the sand was on fire. The tongue of Quetzalcoatl commanded the serpent to turn as he sunk lower until the scaly length of his underside shifted on the loose ground.  
The feathered serpent was as fast on the ground as in the air. The harsh grind of sand under his stomach was relentlessly close, as Itzli ducked out of his latest place of hiding. At this rate, Quetzalcoatl would have him. The young warrior sought a better vantage point for attack, finding one in the stump of a statue that still stood almost as high as the tallest temple in Huemac’s palace. Itzli ran for it as the hiss of the serpent slid closer. He threw himself at the stone, gripping on the deeply carved lines and ascending like a spider. As he climbed, he saw the shiny red feathers that lined Quetzalcoatl’s back as the serpent followed his scent belowHurling himself onto the plateau of the felled pillar Itzli doubted he would get a better shot and in a heartbeat had an arrow ready to fire. 
Quetzalcoatl’s tongue flicked up, tasting Itzli’s climb, but the young warrior loosed his shaft, sending it into the snout of the god. With his red feathers standing all to attention Quetzalcoatl wailed. His one good eye jumped wildly around searching for the attacker. Itzli didn’t dare waste the moment, unsheathing his new sword he squinted his eyes against its glimmering edge of shiny material. Leaping from the stump of stone with the glimmering blade in his hand, it was like dragging a fallen star to earth. Itzli let off a tremendous war cry, and with a mighty two hand swing sought to cut open the space between the feathered serpent’s head and neck. But the new blade only cut through air and sand as his murderous swing missed its target. 
Quetzalcoatl reared upwards before snapping down. The sight of his awesome fangs emerging from a stony mouth rushed towards Itzli, who himself sprung forward, diving just under the lethal bite. The roar of sand was like crushing water as an unnatural amount fell from the sky as the god emptied his mouth. Before Quetzalcoatl could withdraw, Itzli plunged his sword into the soft flesh directly under the jaw. The god’s reaction was almost instant, with cries that lapsed into thunderous calamity he fled skyward. 
Before the last tail feather could escape him Itzli grabbed hold and was carried into the heavens. Itzli swung his sword back into its sheath and hung on tightly as Quetzalcoatl pushed through the air faster and faster. The sandy desert was a shrinking image as the colossus serpent carried on deeper into the atmosphere. The wet coldness of the thinning air turned Itzli’s bones to ice. Shifting his grip he wrapped the length of the feather on which he held around his arm, tying himself tightly to the feathered god. 
Looking below he saw a thousand glittering flashes pass under him, as from nowhere they soared above an endless view of blue water. Itzli clung on tightly and tucked his head firmly into the god’s body as he watched the sparkling water hurtling towards him. Quetzalcoatl spiralled down, whipping his body against the ocean surface. Itzli’s grip slipped under the blows, but he was anchored by his tied hand which jerked under the strain. Unable to get rid of him, Quetzalcoatl again went skyward. With his body soaked from the ocean waves, the wind chill froze the young warrior even quicker. Only his tied hand held him to the giant serpent, who ploughed through the sky. The pin holes of star light in the Aztatlan sky blurred closer and were interrupted by spots of darkness as the heavens changed from a calm and pale blue to a savage and cold black. Itzli struggled for breath, and strained for sight. His body floated away from Quetalcoatl as if it weighed nothing. With sight fading, he could have almost felt awe at the sight of the earth before him, curving at the edges like a ball of blue brightness. But his lungs were on fire, while his skin burned with frost. 
Perhaps he had lost consciousness, but the next thing he realised was the horrible shooting pains coming from his tied arm. Then there was the roar of air blasting by his ears, and finally the sight of red hot earth flying towards him. They had returned to the atmosphere at some unknown location above a gaping hole in the earth that spat chunks of molten rock above its blackened surface. Quetzalcoatl swooped down, first circling the volcanic pit, before aiming to dive right at its core. As the god’s tail skimmed over the surface, Itzli took his sword and cut loose the feather that held him. He tumbled along the black and ashy rocks before thudding to a halt. Quetzalcoatl madly guided himself headfirst into the molten pit, catalysing a jet of red hot liquid to rise, as if a vein of the earth had been cut open. 
Itzli’s left arm hung dead, the pain from it crawling up to his shoulder and back. He shielded his eyes as droplets of melted rock fell around him. The ground shook, and frustratingly he had to flee as more ash and rock came down. The earth split at every step, blasting hot choking gas that blocked the sun and wore Itzli down. 
As far as he could see, the ground was covered in blackened ash and the burning embers of what was once a glorious forest. The skeletal trees were now all that remained, and all that served to assist Itzli to stay on his feet. The more he ran, the deeper his intake of the acrid air. He was close to collapse when a violent tremor brought him to his knees. Behind him, spewing from the pit rolled a burnt and blackened giant. Quetzalcoatl’s once gloriously red plumage was no more than burning decorations, and his thunderous cry was a sickly murmur. Yet he charged forward, snaking across the ground as blasts of gas heralded his presence. The blackened remains of trees were swept aside like grass until the god was before the young warrior. As Quetzalcoatl’s reptilian head bore down, Itzli summed his strength into one last leap. A sudden blast of wind blew past him, devastating the land where he had just been. 
Quetzalcoatl reared up to deliver another blast when Itzli surged forward, sending his sword deep into the soft tissue on the gods underside. As the serpent recoiled and try to fleeItzli kept the blade pressed against him, the god’s very action of flight pulled his abdomen over the blade, creating a fountain of crimson between the ashen sky and earth. 
Quetzalcoatl tumbled from the air, his head flopping at last to the ground in a cloud of black dust. Almost on one knee, Itzli finished the job, slicing open the god’s underside and unleashing a flood of rejuvenating blood over himself. The young warrior fell face first into it, feeling the strength come back to his dead arm as he lapped at the thick red liquid, and smeared it over his face and chest. As he anointed himself in the blood of his enemy, he could hear the god groaning something, asking for his attention, but Itzli ignored him until his groans finally stopped. There was now nothing to stop him taking Chiconahui back to Huemac, his mission was nearly over – he just needed to get home. 
Once he had smothered himself from head to toe in the fallen god’s blood Itzli felt his strength returning to him tenfold, even exceeding what it had been before. His senses were now sharper than ever. Sharp enough to feel the ground feeding on the life liquid of Quetzalcoatl as it drained away, and sharp enough to sense the life in the blackened and burnt forest vying to return to fruition. But above that, he could hear the padding of four paws stalking him in the distance. The dog, Xolotl, didn’t stay hidden for long. He was a picture of savagery, his furless head pitched low as he snarled. With only the body of the dog’s former master between them, Itzli readied his bow.  

The sky still stood pale and blue above as Itzli rode on the back of Xolotl. The sun was at its highest, but the strength he felt in his lungs and limbs was even higher. The young warrior’s laughter filled the land as he thumped the giant dog on the head, urging it faster. For all of his visual ferocity, Xolotl had succumbed to his new master with little resistance. 
In the distance of the Aztatlan horizon, Itzli once again saw the palace of Huitlopochtli rushing towards him. He was eager to see it now, willing to leap into the depths of its labyrinthine walls and corridors and flush out any hiding god or goddess. Just as before the horizon lanced forward and the palace came at them so suddenly that Xolotl had to stop himself with his front legs resisting a smash into the heavy wooden gate.     
Itzli jumped free of the dog, and furiously strode to the palace, untying the sword that so easily defeated the colossal Quetzalcoatl. A slit of rainbow coloured light opened up before the door of the palace and out stepped the gods he had seen earlier, led by Paynal and then Toci, and Chiconahui behind them both. Paynal’s face was a picture of misery, Toci’s gnarled features were unchanged, but even she had a glimmer of grievance in her eye. Itzli bound forward, each step whittling away the height and grand stature of the gods before him. His final step brought him within striking distance of the gods who now met him at eye level. 
From over the shoulder of the old and haggard TociChiconahui regarded Itzli with eyes made unsteady with their anxiety. Looking at himself, Itzli could see he still had the dry blood of Quetzalcoatl on his body, which was fuelling the fear of him. “You!” he pointed his sword at the shaken goddess of fertility. “Come here.” 
“You are a fool!” Toci snapped. “You have brought destruction on your world, ruin to the way of life we have strived for an eternity to protect. Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl, you have no understanding of how much they loved humanity. No understanding of how we showed you the way from these lands to where you dwell now. We have done everything for man, yet you show us only hate...” 
“And I have plenty more of that. Now give her to me,” Itzli barked, losing his patience. 
Toci was about to speak again, when Chiconahui clasped her around the shoulder. “Don’t waste anymore words, mother. No one else needs to get hurt. I will go with him.” Chiconahui silently stepped away from Paynal and Toci and came before Itzli. Her skin glowed subtly from underneath, like hidden gold in a stream, while her textured hair was like the plumage of an eagle. Her steps were measured and careful, and infuriatingly slow. Itzli felt like dragging her along, but thought it best to keep the tip of his sword pointed at Toci and Paynal. 
Xolotl lowered his head to allow Chiconahui to mount him. Itzli jumped onto the beasts back, keeping the goddess before him. As the beastly dog began to turn away, Itzli glanced over his shoulder as the horizon withdrew as rapidly as it had come. He would make sure that the gods knew what it was like to feel loss. 
Xolotl carried Itzli and Chiconahui with no effort, and bounded south across the expanse of Aztatlan, in the direction of the mountains. 

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