The ancient prophecy will come true he will return the morning and evening star raise steps up to the heavens he returns from across the impossible sea he is the king and prince creator of the universe the union of sky and land where the divine meets the physical the feathered serpent god we must sacrifice to the undying lord of all
Zuhixtli looked down upon the prisoners, brought back by the latest Garland War. He watched them file, defeated, up the steps of the Pyramid of the Quetzalcoatl, stripped of their feathers and armour. The priests continued the ceremony with great solemnity, opening their chests and removing the pulsing hearts with serene elegance. The screams of the dying fell gently over the watching populace, and blood soaked down the temple's plastered steps.
He handled his macana proudly, glad to be a warrior of the temple. Under his gaze, the prisoners were cowed and accepting of their fate. But it was a good fate- they died so the world would live. Only constant sacrifice would keep the sun in the sky and the primordial in the dark, deep places of the universe. For a moment, he contemplated failure- and shuddered. There was no horror in sacrifice, but in annihilation, reduction to chaos, only the madman could find hope.
The sacrifices no longer filled the streets- the priests always managed this with the greatest efficiency. The last few waited patiently on the temple's front, chains around the necks, despairing and empty. But it was not only men that were offered, and the cages of butterflies and hummingbirds sat around the temple dias.
Perhaps these warriors had wives, children, parents that depended upon them. But the community could look after them- always, they would leave enough men to care for the population. They culled the weak, strengthening the peoples from which sacrifices were drawn. They would need good warriors, as despite the offerings, the end would come- it was just postponed by their efforts.
Auehmoc came up behind him.
"Brother, the ceremony is almost over. But dark portents have been seen in the city."
"What has been seen, brother Auehmoc?"
"They say a fire spread over the great lake Texcoco, and a blazing shape was seen in the sky like a head of corn, that outshone the evening star as it travelled through the heavens. A two-faced man stood by the temple and a woman could be heard weeping in the streets, though there was no-one there."
Zuhixtli's eyes widened in alarm. "Then it is true. The year is One Reed- this is that year in which he said he would return. It is the year when Xochitl reminds us that life, like the flower, is beautiful but quickly fades. Quetzalcoatl is coming."
A group of Eagle Warriors had gathered in the plaza, lining up between the torches. They wore ornate eagle headresses, great beaks over their faces and long feather headresses. Breastplates of hide and cotton, treated in brine for great strength, protected their chests. They bore atlatls- javelin-throwers- bows and knives, and stood to attention before Zuhixtli and Auehmoc.
Auehmoc adjusted his Jaguar hide and tied his shield to his arm. "We are on a sacred mission from the priesthood. You have been chosen, as the best of your order, to accompany us to the city of those who have found the path of the gods. We shall stand upon the great Temple of Quetzalcoatl there and entreaty him for mercy."
Zuhixtli nodded. "It is but twenty thousand land-rods from Tenochtitlan, and we should make the journey in three days."
The porters now arrived, picking up the supplies and stretchers of equipment. There was maize and fish and meat, rope and axes, and a number of dogs to eat.
The priest Alumatz beckoned the brothers from the temple steps, leaning on his staff and bearing a grim expression not caused solely by his age.
"My sons, I place the greatest trust in you. This mission of yours I would give to no yaoquizqueh or sergeant, but only warriors as pious as yourselves. There are things that live around the city, and to stand within it is to take steps where no man was meant to tread. Not all your foes are human, but you must remain steadfast even in the greatest horror."
The brothers bowed low, and Auehmoc spoke. "We shall please you and the Order, father Alumatz."
The old priest nodded, and turned away. The Order was not like the other orders of the Aztecs- it was a society, founded by the priests, there to protect the Mexica from the demons and, to an extent, the gods. Without it- who could imagine the devastation? The things that they had chained within the pyramids of the forests and under the earth- it did not bear thinking about.
The forest around Tenochtitlan was warm and humid in the midday sun, but moving through the dappled shade was tolerable for the Aztec soldiers.