Part 16 - The Eagle

Zyanya arrived at the entrance to the temple shaking with fright. She rattled the door as she slapped on its surface, demanding to be let in. She was unsure if the creature in Momotzli’s chamber had followed her, but she was taking no chance by remaining on her own. She continued to hammer the door until at last it was opened. 
A priest popped his head through, “The ceremony has begun. We can have no disturbances.” 
“I don’t care about your ritual! Tell lord Huemac that some thing has killed his men and is wreaking havoc in the High Priest’s chamber. Tell him I have seen it, I saw it kill his men with my own eyes. Now let me in.” 
“My lady, I am a priest, not a fool. Leave us holy men to do our task. Perhaps if you had done yours this ceremony would not be required...” The man shut the door in Zyanya’s face. Only a holy person could escape with such behaviour - it wasn’t surprising that the men who looked up to Momotzli also shared his dislikes. 
Zyanya kicked the door in frustration and ran back to the palace gates where two soldiers were always stationed. People were beginning to gather around for the ceremonial parade and she had to act quick. “Guards,” Zyanya said, “Lord Huemac is in danger, you must come at once.” Without a word they followed, all the way to the temple door. “The ceremony has gone horribly wrong, and lord Huemac is trapped inside. Can you break this door?” 
The soldiers nodded and went about throwing themselves at the wood, aiming at the hinges they quickly brought it down. Zyanya swiftly stepped past them, rushing to the rear of the temple where Huemac would be. She found the ruler sat on his golden throne, wearing his gold plated head piece. His eyes flickered as they travelled further and further upwards on the clouds of intoxicating smoke from the burning leaves and roots around the altar on which Tenoch lay. She was about to call him from his trance, when his eyes fell open and rolled directly on to her. 
“What is the meaning of this?” Huemac asked, the smoke dulling his anger. The two guards at last caught up, looking bewildered as they found no one in danger. 
As Zyanya began to speak, she saw how a priest strode up beside the sedated ruler.  It was Momotzli, holding her with a cold and empty stare from eyes that sat in cave like recesses on his face. “My lord,” Zyanya began, “I reached the High Priest’s chambers with the men you assigned to me. Some kind of monster attacked us, killing your men. Whatever it is, it’s still out there and could be heading here, now. We must leave at once. 
Her words were met with displeased whispers from the delegation of priests in the temple, even Huemac could not keep his anger hidden with the intoxication running through his veins. “These two,” he pointed to the soldiers who had broken the door, “They assisted you?” 
“Yes,” Zyanya said. 
Huemac stood quickly from his throne, unsteadily bounding towards her. Zyanya felt her throat run dry as his hand came up and then cracked down on her face. “The parade will begin now. And you will follow it, obediently. And once the curse has been lifted, I will remove this rebellion from you once and for all.” Looking to the two stunned soldiers, Huemac gestured for them to untie their swords and kneel.  
Zyanya didn’t watch as Huemac ordered them to take their own lives, running the obsidian edge of their blade over their throats. They had no choice – to deny Huemac was to die regardless, every soldier knew that. The slow gasping of their weakening breath carried on behind her, adding weight to the princess’ own respiration. She could feel a growing sense of madness enveloping events as they moved closer to the time of sacrifice. Momotzli still glared down at her, his drained features making him seem a walking corpse. She had tried to warn them, but her words were not heeded. As the altar on which Tenoch rested was lifted by servants the way out was cleared by priests. 
Outside, the city had come to see the offering, decorated a god of fertility. They lay fresh grain and harvested vegetables along their path, all of which were collected by the priests and their servants and would form part of the might feast that would follow. People cheered as they lay sight on the heavily perfumed and painted man, robed and bejewelled beyond recognition to conceal his disfigurement. As Zyanya followed behind Huemac, she wondered if they would have the same level of enthusiasm if they were to see the cursed nature of Tenoch’s body in its entirety.  
Zyanya kept an eye on the sky, refusing to be torn to shreds by that monster if it came down. It was a long day, and a nervous one for the young queen. The parade took them around the city markets where more gifts and food were offered forward; the hearts of beasts, gold and fine fabrics. Zyanya kept her attention on what was happening above her. When they at last made it back to the temple, the area had been readied for the ceremony of sacrifice. The sun hung precariously low in the sky, but there was more than enough light for the privileged spectators to see. Briefly Zyanya’s attention was taken by the ragged form of Necalli, beaten, bruised, and bound to a tree behind the first four rows of spectators. It seemed whatever help her late night visit had given him had been kicked out, especially by the sight of his son and the colourful parade that surrounded him. 
Momotzli raised a wiry arm above his head to signal the end of the parade, just before the temple door. Tenoch was brought forward and placed before him, and all that remained was for the sun to finally descend. It was a disheartening sight to see as Momotzli received his ceremonial dagger and began his incantations to HuitzilpochtliThe wait was awful, the noise of merriment from the crowd almost unbearable as the blue of the sky threatened to deepen furtherZyanya’s eyes were unwilling to watch. She looked to Huemac, to see his smug face, but found him looking at floor. She followed his gaze to the end of his shadow as it stretched long on the floor. Huemac looked up to the sky, impatience obvious.  
The crowds’ eyes too followed their rulers, as they stared upwards at the ball of fire above them, still ablaze at the turning point between day and night. Their celebratory cheers mellowed into curious whisper the longer they waited. But as the anticipation grew, the thoughts of all present reached an audible level. The sun was not moving. 
 Zyanya’s first thought was the creature in Momotzli’s chamber, perhaps it had cast some type of evil spell. But as she looked to the High Priest, he was awash with confusion until Zyanya blurted out her excited intuition. “It’s Itzli... the sun has stopped for Itzli!” 
Huemac broke his public stoicism and smiled openly from ear to ear. Momotzli cursed and with a two handed grip plunged the dagger downwards. To the gasps of the crowd, Huemac flung himself at the High Priest, knocking him to the floor and sparing the defenceless Tenoch the blade. With no word of an order, Huemac was assisted to his feet, while swords were aimed at the scathing High Priest. 
It was then that a shadow passed above the crowd and the soldiers below. As Zyanya joined the people of the city looking to the sky she screamed as she saw the silhouette of the monster from Momotzli’s chamber. Her scream catalysed the attending denizens into panic, but no man ran until the beastly and winged thing fell down on the crowd with the full piercing force of its talons. A red mist erupted as it crushed a man underfoot and the people scattered in fear. 
Zyanya ran to where Huemac stood in terrified awe of the winged creature, screaming at the soldiers nearby, she ordered them to return to their senses. “Don’t just stand there, kill it!” The men who had been standing over the fallen Momotzli ran to where the beast was tearing shreds from the fleeing and crying city people. Their bodies were too quickly left in bloody and shredded piles.  
Zyanya thudded Huemac until he at last tore his eyes from the unearthly monster ripping into the flesh of the people around it. “Do you see it now?” the young queen screamed. Huemac had no reaction for her, he was expressionless, but not in the usual regal sense. When at last he regained his senses, his questions were only for the High Priest. 
Momotzli, what is that? What have you brought upon us?” Huemac said.  
The High priest stood from the floor weakly on legs that swayed like saplings in the wind. “The blessed water of Tlaloc and the hearts of his loyal subordinates has given my son life again – a life acknowledged by Huitizlopchtli so that our world can be saved from that reckless child!” 
Zyanya heard the cry of the monster behind them as it pulled the body of a soldier into two with its bloody talons. Everyone able to run had now fled from the temple as dozens of dead and dying bodies lay on the floor, darkening the temple forecourt with blood. More soldiers were no doubt on the way, but Zyanya feared she would be dead long before then. The monster charged forward to where the young princessHuemac and Momotzli were, surged on by a terrible blast from its wings. Within heartbeats it was on them. Zyanya saw the face of the thing - so much like Yaotl - before shutting her eyes on the monster’s hummingbird blue feathers as they franticly beat the air 
She soon found that even with her eyes closed, she was unable to keep out the brightness of the light which was forcing its way in. Perhaps she was dead. She could still hear the monster approaching, screaming as its talons tore up the ground beneath its feet. And at the moment she was sure her body was to be stripped of its flesh, she heard the thing tumble as a strong thudding sound struck into it, rapidly followed by another. The brightness forcing its way through her closed eyes began to relent, and very carefully she opened them. She just caught the sight of the light returning to the sky, leaving a woman and a man she quickly recognised as ItzliSlinging his bow over his shoulder and taking the hand of the woman he ran forward keeping careful eye on the wailing monster who was pinned to the floor with two arrows through its wing. 
It took a moment for Zyanya to realise she was still waiting to exhale. She readied her words of gratitude to lavish on the young warrior, but he ran past her, going straight to Huemac. He threw the woman he had with him before the ruler’s feet. Huemac sheepishly stepped back, still in a dumb awe over the events unfolding.  
“Here is a goddess, do with her what you will. But I am leaving here with my brother and father.” 
Zyanya was about to turn when she heard the shouts and orders of soldiers finally on the approach. Bursting into the temple forecourt, they were met with mutilated and dead bodies, and weakening groans from those that still lived. Zyanya looked to Itzli and Huemac, who seemed locked in silent conflict, oblivious to what was happening. As curious as she was about this goddess, she waved at the soldiers, pointing at the pinned monster. “It’s here – kill it quickly!” 
Bravely the soldiers went in, swords drawn, and bravely Zyanya watched. She wanted to see the horrible thing dead. She wondered if the creature knew fear, as its screams intensified, and it’s very human face cried from a mask of anguish. It yanked at its pinned wing, but the arrows Itzli had shot it with were like stone anchors. The soldiers fanned out to circle it, slowly pressing in closer. Zyanya thought it pitiful that it could still think of escaping, even now. But as the monster pulled, something finally gave way. It was as if the thing had removed an ornate glove as it’s trapped wing slid off, revealing a down feathered arm, shiny with mucus and bloodZyanya turned to warn the others, but found Itzli already charging towards it.  

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