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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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.

The Hidden Princess

“Hey! Ellie!”

The dark haired girl turned, grinning broadly. Two of the girls from her sorority were walking towards her waving a flier excitedly.

“Carmen, Lex, what’s going on?”

“Party up at ZOT tonight. They’re putting a cover to raise money for the animal shelter. How sweet is that?”

Carmen was practically cooing. Lex beamed proudly.

“It was John’s idea. He’s just so smart and he knows how much I love animals.”

Ellie smiled at them both, really smiled. It was so refreshing living among mortals. There was so much more honesty, and even then, the backbiting was nothing compared to what the Peers of the Seven Halls got up to when the High Queen wasn’t looking.

“Sounds great. Spread the word, alright? I’m gonna go call Tanya. There is no way I’m letting my Little miss this one.”

“Come on, Lexy. We’re girls with a mission now.”

Ellie laugh as they joking saluted her and marched off. She turned slightly to pull her phone out of her handbag. Just as her fingers brushed the plastic of the case, she froze. Had those shadows moved? She started to reach instead for a bronze figurine, a sword and shield crafted in the likeness of the ones she’d trained with as a child. Her eyes didn’t waver from that shadow until she was quite convinced it had just been her eyes playing tricks. There was no way anyone could have followed her, could have found her here. Her mother would surely have done something to prevent just that. Wouldn’t she? Taking a few breaths, Ellie tried to relax. She would just enact a sending to her brother later. Felix would know if there was anything going on at home that she would worry about. Punching the call button, she let the tension ease out of her shoulders.

“Hey Tanya, wanna grab lunch? We have got so much to talk about.”

As the Princess of Shooting Stars and Falling Leaves walked off towards the student center, two sets of eyes opened in the shadows and followed her progress down the street.

When the Gods Turned On Us

Another fireball scorched the land and I pulled further into myself. I could hear the others nearby. They were shaking, crying, some even praying. As if that did anything any more. When this had started, people had said the gods had abandoned us. I wish that had been true. It would have been a lot better. The very earth burned as we tried to hold out in one of the bomb shelters left over from one of the last wars of man. The faded yellow of circular symbol above the door was a reminder of the times when only man had tried to destroy man. One of the little ones crawled into my lap. I wrapped my arms around them without even checking to see which one it was. There weren’t many these days. Only three of the very young children were left in our group. It had been bad enough when the attacks had just come like this. Fire from the sky, storms, seas that literally fought us. Those things are bad enough. Then they started to come in the night taking the children and leaving sticks or leaves in their wake. We’d broken into the library to find out what was going on. Of course, the Tuatha de Danaan were stealing children. Glancing up, I wondered whether the one attacking now was Apollo again or a different one. Did it even matter? The gods didn’t abandon us, didn’t turn their backs on us. They turned on us.

Trust

He took a deep breath.

“Do you trust me?”

I looked this man over, knowing that I was still shaking and covered in blood.

“Do… What?”

He stepped a little closer, holding out one hand.

“Do you trust me?”

“Look, I don’t even know who you are and-”

He cut me off, closing the distance between us. His hands went to my shoulders.

“You have to trust me, or else you’re going to end up in a lot of trouble. Do you think people are going to believe you if you say he was a vampire? I don’t. Now come on.”

Reluctantly, I followed him towards the truck he’d left at the mouth of the alley. He was probably right and that was the problem. No one else would believe me and I did have to trust him.

“Where are we going?”

I asked it as I slid into the passenger’s seat.

“Somewhere where you’ll be safe while you get some training. The fact that you survived that means you’re good enough to learn to hunt those things.” He grinned a little and tossed me a jacket. “Throw that on so everyone we pass can’t tell you’re covered in blood. We’ll get you clean clothes on the road.”

The Trap

The temptation to set up a magical way to slow the boy down was rising. The location wasn’t far, he’d said. It was in a static location, he’d said. What he hadn’t said was that it was only accessible by passing through the gods only knew how much moorland and swamp. Kate certainly wasn’t fastidious, but she would have murdered for a pair of wellies in that moment. She was trying to extricate her cloak from a particularly clingy thornbush when Gawain stopped.

“We arrive, Sir.”

She gave one more tug and caught up with him. Before them lay a perfect circle of destruction. It looked like the whole of the area had been sliced off with a hot knife. Only the bare, burnt, barren patch remained.

“This…this is horrible. And no one knows what happened?”

Gawain shook his head, keeping well back.

“No one, Sir. A sprite passing through reported it, else we may have never found it.”

Looking again at the circle, Kate knew one thing for absolute truth. This had been formed by magic, and not the kind she had seen her brother using. Faerie Glamour could do a great many things, even shape a seeming of what she was looking at. But it certainly did not feel like this. This magic made her skin crawl and the closer she got, the more she wanted a long, hot shower to scrub and scrub until she finally felt clean again. This was mortal, pure and simple. Well, not pure. Unless it was pure destruction. A smile slowly crossed her face, despite the carnage. At least this was something within her bailiwick. She turned to look at Gawain, arms crossed over her chest.

“First thing’s first. I’m not Cliff. I’m Kate, his twin. Second, you’re lucky I’m not Cliff. He’s shit with mortal magic and that’s what this is. Any questions?”

His eyes were huge and he was looking her over in confusion.

“But..you…”

“Identical twins. He’s my brother. I need you to send word to someone in charge. Whoever makes sense. Let them know this is mortal work and…” She stopped, kneeling to look more closely at the bare, scorched earth. “And quarantine anyone who’s touched it, entered it. Anything like that. You got me?”

“Wh-what?”

Kate rubbed her temples, standing.

“Where’d I lose you?”
“Got you?”

“Did you understand the rest?”

“Oh!” He bowed quickly. “Yes, Si- Um. Lady. I will go quickly. Do you intend to stay here?”

He gave her a look that screamed as loud as if it was lit up in neon and thirty feet high ‘please say no.’ She just sighed.

“There are things I can do to figure out just what happened here. So, yes.”

He hesitated then.

“Lady, if I may?”

Eventually, she decided, she would figure out how to get him to call her Kate.

“Yes?”

He fidgeted nervously, bouncing on the balls of his feet and looking more like a nervous teenager than she’d seen him thus far.

“Why… If we were mistaken, why did you not correct our perception of your identity?”

That hit her. Why hadn’t she? She could have just said ‘oops! I’m his sister, take me home!’ and everything would have been fine. Why had that not occurred to her? She took a breath, trying to find the answer.

“Because… I felt I had to.” She looked at the blighted soil and then back at Gawain. “And I was right, so don’t argue and don’t tell anyone. But if Cliff does show up looking for me-”

“Then I shall endeavour to bring him hence, Lady. Subtly.”

“Oh good. Th-” Again she stopped herself. “Take care.”

As he jogged off, she turned back to the circle and frowned. This was a hitherto unknown level of worrying. She could almost feel the bog iron and salt. And she was purely human.

“Gods…” she muttered, kneeling down once more to check the edges. “Geometrically perfect, or as close as makes no difference and strong enough to kill a Changeling like Cliff… But why?”