The Road to Xibalba – Part 1

Here is the story of Taavi and his love for Hadassah, a love so great that he would brave the trials of Xibalba, and the Lords of that place, to save her.

Taavi was tall and strong, his eyes dark and sure. He was a warrior, the son of a warrior and grandson of a warrior. When he first saw Hadassah at work in the market with her father, it was love. The very next festival day, they were married before the gods and men. Together, they danced and danced, Hadassah never once leaving the strong arms of her Taavi. But as the night drew down dark and the torches were lit for the celebration to continue, Hadassah let out a cry of pure grief and fell to the ground, a wicked serpent slinking away from her. Taavi dropped to his knees, cradling his new wife in his arms as the spirit left her.

He mourned alone in the jungle, praying that the serpent which had taken his Hadassah from him on their wedding day would return to take him too. As the moon climbed higher and higher into the sky, he wandered further and further from his home. The darkness of the jungle closed in around him until he found himself at the edge of one of the cenote, staring down into the dark water so far below. If he leapt, he wondered, would the gods reunite them?

“Taavi.”

The voice came from just behind him and he whirled about. A woman stood in the shaft of moonlight, beautiful and silent. She raised one hand, beckoning him back from the edge. He heeded her call and knelt before her.

“Lady Ixchel, why do you call me back when I could jump and be in paradise with Hadassah?”

“Because, Taavi, if you are as brave as they claim, if you are as brave as your father and your grandfather before you, then you could have your Hadassah back with you in the land of the living.”

Taavi stood and took a step towards the goddess.

“Only tell me where to go, Lady Ixchel. I will face any challenge and brave any obstacle to return my love to my side.”

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Candles are How We Keep Fire as a Pet

The mage sat behind her desk, a notebook open while she scribbled notes down. Her partner was somewhere behind her, humming to himself while he worked on a dissection. She tilted her head to the side, catching the strains of the song. Recognizing it, she smiled to herself and picked up the tune. A candle sat on the desk opposite her but it was unlit. Extending one hand, she touched the wick and watched the flame spring to life. Fire was dangerous, unpredictable, beautiful, and magical. Maybe that was why she’d always been so good with fire. It was like her.

The humming behind her stopped and was exchanged for the sound of the taps turning on. Was that man singing the goddamn lab safety song they’d learned in junior high under his breath? She smothered her laugh and turned around to watch him. His instruments were all in the sanitizer and he was washing his hands. Gods, she loved him.

“All done, babe?”

“Yeah. You?”

She gestured towards her workspace and the diagrams spread out across it.

“I’ll be done for real sometime next millennium. But if you’re done, then I’m officially calling it lunch time.”

He chuckled quietly and swapped out his protective lab glasses for his normal ones before hanging up his smock on the peg by his workspace. She leaned forward to blow out her candle and stopped. Instead, she shaped a spell around it to keep the flames from spreading. She would have to watch it in case the flames decided to test her spellwork, but she wanted to keep this one for now.

“Ready?”

He had one hand on the light switch and was watching her with curiosity.

“Yeah, sure.”

Playing Catch-Up

Marcy was starting to wonder if this guy’s scowl was a permanent feature or if she had just managed to piss him off that much.

“You have yet to explain how you came to this world, Weaver of Silken Words.”

That last part sounded more like an insult and she barely suppressed the urge to make a retort. Play by the rules. Play their game.

“Ah, but I did. As I said, I wove my way between the worlds.”

He took one step to close the distance between them, glaring emerald daggers down at her.

“I grant that you have the smell of the wild spirits about you, but you are mortal. Mortals do not walk the worlds unaided and you cannot lie to me. I am not some mewling whelp of a Faerie kitten, I am the Prince of Thorns and Knives. Now tell me who brought you here and why, in truth, before I decided to flay the flesh from your bones.”

She started to open her mouth and the air shimmered just to her side.

“If you touch my friend, blood-brother, I shall be so very vexed with you.”

The Prince turned, his dark curls bouncing just slightly.

“So do you claim this mortal, Cliff?” Then he paused. “You did not have her when you were here earlier. Is she your pet or have you forgotten my sister?”

Cliff’s voice was soft, tender even.

“I could never forget her. You know that.”

The Prince had the grace to look embarrassed.

“You have my apologies, my brother. But, how do you come to look so very different from when Mother’s servants went to your mortal world to fetch you?” He gestured at Cliff’s hair, shaved on the sides and let grow some on top. “Your hair was much longer and you have never been a one for frequent glamouring. There is too much of truth in you.”

Chewing his lower lip for a moment, Cliff made a rapid decision. Obviously the Prince had seen Kate and might know where she was.

“That wasn’t me. They took my twin sister.”

The Prince grabbed Cliff by the shoulders, Marcy entirely forgotten now. Alarms showed in his eyes.

“A pageboy took your sister to begin the quest meant for you. The quest given by the High Queen.”

“Oh shit.”

“My sentiments entirely, brother.”

“Tell me where to find her. You must know.”

The Prince nodded quickly.

“Come, both of you. We will need to travel quickly.”

No Going Home

If there was one thing that could be said to be true about Charlie Madison, it was that she genuinely did not want to be out on the side of the road that Friday night. If she had had her way, she would have been just about anywhere else. Her own bed for preference, if we’re going to get down to it. But instead, she was walking on the roadside well past the sunset and well into the shadows. She drummed her fingers on her thigh as she stopped to study the highway. It wasn’t much of one, really, just an old 2 lane that fancied itself to be an interstate. She reached for the cell phone stuck in her back pocket and stared at it in confusion. Why was the screen cracked? When had that happened? She wasn’t sure. Shaking her head to try and clear the cobwebs, she tried to turn her phone on anyway. Maybe someone could come pick her up? She stopped, looking around. Something was wrong. Where was her car? The more she tried to think, the more it was like trying to think through television snow. Nothing but static and noise and the idea that maybe somewhere behind all of it was a picture that made sense. Lights surged around the corner and Charlie looked up, shielding her eyes with her arm. It was a car but she couldn’t make out what kind. Something on the smaller side. A four-door or maybe a hatchback? Certainly not a truck. She couldn’t make out the silhouette, just the lights and the general idea of ‘car’. With a silent prayer, Charlie stepped out and tried to flag the car down. Maybe she could get help, maybe she could go home. But there was no going home for Charlie Madison. The car shot through her and she screamed. For a moment, the world went white and then she was standing by the side of the road once more, just as lost and disoriented as she’d been before.

The Past

The ink on the letter glistened ominously as she read the address at the top.
“Regina.”
No one called her that anymore…except for her father. Groaning, Reggie unrolled the letter, grumbling to herself.
“Email, Dad, it’s not hard. Seriously…” But then she began to actually process the words on the page.

“My darling Regina,
You must be aware by now that dark doings are afoot in our world. Your one-time classmates have been vanishing one by one, all save for Andarien, who I am certain you must remember. He has managed to secure for himself a position on the High Council and I fear that perhaps there is a connection between Andarien and these disappearances. For your own safety, watch the shadows.
I love you always,
Father”

With a sigh, she rolled the letter back up and jammed it into a drawer with the others. She didn’t have time for her dad’s crazy conspiracy theories, or for the magical world she’d left behind. Curtain call was at seven tonight and maybe if she impressed this crowd, she’d get a better gig next time. Pausing to lean against the counter, she closed her eyes. Yeah, she could remember Andarien alright. She would never forget him, or the look in his eyes when he’d held his wand with its tip pressed just under her chin and told her never to challenge him ever again. It wasn’t all that surprising he’d gone down the path of the dark arts and still managed to worm his way onto the Council. With a frustrated groan, she moved away from the counter. None of that mattered. She wasn’t going to be waving around a real wand anytime soon. And she had a magic show to put on.

Come Out, Come out, Wherever You Are

Jack took a breath and looked the human teenager over. He was hugging a book to his chest and staring at her through his too-large glasses with a respectable mix of fear and awe. That was a problem. He could see her. That definitely was not supposed to happen. The Reaper took another breath and lowered her scythe.

“Okay, you’re problem two on my list for today. But I need to go catch the first one before I can deal with you.”

He pulled himself to his feet and adjusted his glasses.

“The…the shadow, right? That’s what you need to catch?”

Jack scrubbed at her face.

“Of course, you can see that too. Of course. Okay, what’s your name, human? Clearly, I’m going to have to drag you with me until I catch my jailbird.”

He took a moment, shoving the book into a backpack.

“I’m Travis. Jailbird? Was that thing a prisoner?”

Jack didn’t answer. She was looking at the ground near the gate. There were indentations there, almost claw marks. That didn’t bode well for the human population near here. That meant this particular denizen of the afterlife had managed to regain a corporeal state already. Anything that could pull it off this quickly was going to manage quite a few other exceedingly more dangerous tricks, and fast.

“Yeah. And I’m the one that got the bounty. So, come on, nerd boy. You’re going to help me make sure it comes home with me and not too many humans have to die in the process.”

Return to the Mortal World

A dark-haired teenager lounged in a chaise, a book of battle tactics open in his hands. His build was toned and athletic and his piercing green eyes were sharp and intelligent. Physically, he appeared to be about seventeen years old, in truth, the lordling was approaching 575 years old. As he tilted his head to the side as he read, his hair shifted, revealing the pointed tips to his ears. He wore a dark green tunic of fine cloth over a white shirt and hose. There was a sword belt on his waist that showed much wear and bore the marks of a sword and dagger that were not currently hanging from it. A short, rotund grandmotherly figure known as the Bean-Tighe sat in a corner, plying away at her knitting. She looked up as the lad sighed and turned the page.

“Not enjoying your studies, Master Hayden?”

The teenager looked up at his nursemaid and smiled wanly. He closed the book and stretched.

“I have done nothing but studying for the whole day and the Weapons Master is not to come by today. Mother said he has important business in mortal country. Why go to mortal country, I said. But she refused to tell me.”

The Bean-Tighe frowned slightly, her eyes intent on him. She lowered her knitting to her lap. It was that time again, as it had been many times, but now Master Hayden was old enough to venture out if he so chose. The problem was that if Hayden chose to venture out into mortal country, the illusions on him would fade and his true nature would be revealed.

“Master Hayden…” She said slowly. “Perhaps you could practice on the dummy yourself? Or perhaps one of the guards would oblige you with a match?”

“Maybe.” He seemed resigned. The Bean-Tighe watched him carefully. Master Hayden was attached to his parents and he knew as well as any did that when it was time for a walk in mortal country, one of them would be venturing out.

The boy stood, stretching, and walked over to the weapons rack in the corner. He gazed at the weapons for a moment, his eyes measuring each blade, until he reached out and picked up a single practice weapon. It was a fine blade, even for just a practice weapon, with a perfect balance and a leather-wrapped hilt that fit his hand perfectly. He stepped up to the practice dummy and made a complex pass at it.

“But why go into mortal country in the first place? Is it not a wild and lawless place?”

It took the lad no extra effort to speak while he practiced his fencing. He was in quite good physical condition.

“Not exactly, Master Hayden. The mortals are much like we are. They have likes and dislikes, hopes and fears. They have their own rules and ways of looking at things. Before you ask, it has been years since last I was in the mortal countryside.”

Hayden frowned, he had been about to ask more questions. He thrust at the dummy, ducking in close to move in past his pretend opponent’s guard. Hayden had always been curious about things, especially all things mortal. Most children of Faerie didn’t even know that mortals existed, but Hayden’s father was one of the border lords, defending against the possible threat of mortal incursion. He had never heard of mortals invading, but it was considered to be a possibility by those who were in a position to know.

“But what about-”

Hayden didn’t get to finish his question. The door to Hayden’s room opened suddenly, his mother appearing in the doorway.

“Hayden…” She said slowly. “Hayden, my son.”

“Mother?”

She looked distraught as she came towards him. She caught him up in a hug and the sword fell from his grasp to the floor.

“Hayden, my dear little boy. You have to understand, please understand. They found us out, my foundling boy. I hoped to never have to tell you, oh how I hoped that never would they catch us…”

“Mother?” Hayden’s voice was startled. His mother sounded like a crazy woman. “Mother, please, what is going on? Are you alright?”

“I am fine, my lad, but you need to know. Come sit down, Hayden. Please…I have a story to tell you. And please, no matter what I tell you, please tell me you will not hate your father and I.”

Hayden sat where she directed him, leaving the practice saber on the floor.

“Mother,” he said slowly, almost afraid to startle her. “I could never hate you. Tell me what is happening.”

She sighed, ringing her hands, as she gazed at him, her eyes full of memory.

“It was almost 600 years ago by mortal reckon, that I found the list of names on your father’s desk. The names belonged to mortal children all around their world. One of them, was…well…you, my son. I went out into the mortal country, to a small village in the countryside, found you and stole you away before the king’s men could find you.” She couldn’t look at him, not with tears streaming down her cheeks as she finally let the truth burst forth. “We have a treaty with Hell, for what I am unaware. But every few decades, they demand a tribute of souls. We call it the Tithe, my son. I stole you away. I refused to let Hell win, and taking you from the mortals, from where the king’s men could find you. It was my way of beating the Tithe, even if just for a few years.”

Hayden could only stare at his mother in shock. None of that made sense. No, he knew he couldn’t be mortal. He was a Faerie, like his mother and father. There was no way it was possible. His hand reflexively combed through his short black hair and he felt the pointed tips of his ears.

“This is not true.” He said, his voice expressing his disbelief.

“I’m so sorry, Hayden. I’m so, so sorry. You have to go to mortal country. They’ve found us out and they’re coming for you. The spell on you will fade when you get there and you’ll look like a mortal once again. Your time in Faerie Land has no doubt affected you, but you should be able to blend in until your father and I can come for you.”

The Bean-Tighe approached suddenly, a pack in her arms. There were tears streaming down her withered old face as she looked up at her mistress and the lad she’d spent all these years raising. Niamh took the pack from the Bean-Tighe and handed it to Hayden.

“This should be everything you need for a month or so, my son. We will come for you as soon as we can. But you have to go quickly now, if you stay in Faerie Land, I fear the king’s men will find you and…” She couldn’t bring herself to state her fears, almost as though giving voice to them could make them true.

Niamh stepped back from her son and turned to the open air. She made a complicated pass at it, light surrounding her hands as she did so. Slowly, a doorway opened up. As the light streamed forth from it, a sound began to be heard from outside the room: the tramping of boots. Hayden turned towards the door to his room just in time to see one of the house guards flung backward by a spell followed by seeing a man in the uniform of a royal soldier.

“Hayden, go!” hissed Niamh.

He looked at her in shock for just a moment and then the Bean-Tighe pushed him slightly and he half stepped, half fell through the portal. As he fell away, he watched his mother cry, and he watched the soldiers come in. To his horror, they had swords out and advanced on his mother and the faithful, old Bean-Tighe. Niamh stared at them defiantly. When one of the soldiers moved to cut her down though, the Bean-Tighe stepped in the way. Hayden screamed his defiance of the act even as he fell away from it. He watched the blood as though it was in slow motion and then everything went dark.