Chapter 130:

Xaltocan, the otomí kingdom

Elyon - Gods among us

Using four jars of chocolatl, just as Rodrigo, Tania, Ana, and Epona did, they were able to recover from the mortal wounds inflicted by the three Camazotz beasts. Tul realized that only three jars remained, which greatly concerned her. However, Tania and Ana, instead of worrying, congratulated their friends for finally breaking through the barrier.

—I'd love to celebrate your progress— Tania remarked, —but we still have a long way to go—

—But what were those beasts doing flying around this area?— Tul asked in confusion.

—It's very simple— Loki commented.

—This so-called new king of Tula must be expanding his empire, and the kingdom we're heading to is either under attack or destroyed— he explained.

—To think he seemed like such a good person... To think he was our enemy from the start— Ana commented indignantly.

—He must have just been mocking us— Epona added.

—I don't think this is the time to discuss that— Anpiel remarked as he stood up. —We need to find a place to rest, considering more monsters like those might attack us here at night— he said.

—I'm still fine, Anpiel— Ana quickly replied, standing up.

—Fine? You're far from it!— the angel retorted angrily. —A monster decapitated you, and you nearly died!— he shouted in fury.

—I'm in top shape thanks to Tul's chocolatl— Ana responded, lifting her arms to show off her biceps.

—Ana, please, rest. None of us are okay— Rodrigo replied conciliatorily, seated on a pile of rocks.

—Rodrigo and Anpiel are right, Ana— Tania interjected, standing up and listening to the conversation. She then turned to look at Tul, who was preparing medicine to use for future needs.

—Tul— Tania inquired, —how far are we from the nearest kingdom?—

—As I mentioned earlier— Tul replied, —if we cross those mountains, we'll reach a valley with a huge lake. That's where several Otomi kingdoms are located—

—I have an idea— Menrva said. —Rodrigo and I will cross the mountains, and if we find any standing villages, we'll teleport back here—

—Do you think you can teleport from that far?— Tania asked in surprise.

—At this point, I think I could even go back to the Zacateco kingdom— Menrva explained, her power having increased the most among all of them.

—Alright, Menrva. I'll go too— Rodrigo agreed.

Rodrigo and Menrva together crossed the vast mountains and reached a gigantic lake, just as Tul had described.

—Look, Rodrigo, I see a city from here— remarked the Etruscan goddess, —and it appears to match the city of Xaltocan, which Ehécatl told us about—

Indeed, on one of the lake's islands, where only the moon's reflection was visible in the darkness, there was a town with lit bonfires. The gods decided to land away from the town to avoid unnecessary attention.

The two gods removed their totemas and wore the clothes they had bought in Chaco. They were concerned that such clothing would draw attention as it wasn't the dress style in the region.

As they approached the city, they saw patrolling soldiers. These soldiers had their faces painted with red lines and wore maguey tunics, clubs, and shields. They all seemed to be gazing up at the sky.

—Are they looking for those bats that attacked us?— Menrva asked Rodrigo.

—Do you think it's a good idea to bring Tul to talk to these soldiers?— Rodrigo countered.

—But Tul's appearance... well, it's not like we've had issues with that so far— Menrva reasoned.

The goddess teleported away and, upon her return, she had Tul with her, her face fully veiled.

—I don't think that was necessary— Rodrigo thought.

The gods approached the town, and the patrolling soldiers stopped them.

—Hello, hello— Tul greeted in Nahuatl. —We're travelers from the north looking for a place to rest—

The men examined the gods' attire and realized they indeed hailed from the north.

—How did you get through the Chichimeca kingdoms?— one of them asked.

—And why are you covered up, woman?— another inquired.

Tul didn't answer.

The men conversed in Otomi amongst themselves. Unfortunately, Tul couldn't understand that language.

After their discussion, one of the men approached Tul, who was somewhat anxious about being discovered.

—We can't guarantee you anything since some beasts have been attacking our kingdom. It's best you return to where you came from— the soldier said.

After Tul mentally translated the response to all her companions, Menrva instructed her: —Ask if the creatures they're referring to were bats—

Tul inquired about the bat-like creatures, and the soldiers looked at each other.

—Did you see them? How did you survive?— a man asked.

—Tul, ask how many creatures there were— Menrva telepathically ordered Tul again.

—There were three beasts that have been attacking Xaltocan at night, the capital of this realm. But we suspect more creatures must have emerged across the Hñahñú territory— a soldier answered.

—Though they haven't appeared today— another man commented.

—Well, that's because we destroyed those monsters— Tul stated and took off her veil, revealing her rabbit face to the men.

—A rabbit woman?— a soldier wondered.

—My name is T'uul Uj, and I'm a servant of the great Ixchel from Mayapán— the rabbit goddess proclaimed, while the men stared oddly.

The men, after a moment of hesitation, promptly bowed to the Mayan deity, a gesture that made Tul blush, unaccustomed to such formalities.

—Lady T'uul Uj— the man began, still bowing, —we thank you for vanquishing those beasts that tormented us. It's the least we could expect from a warrior of the powerful Ixchel from Mayapán—

—Actually, it was my friend who took down one of them— Tul said, pointing at Menrva. The Etruscan goddess noticed she was being pointed at and nervously waved at the people.

—We appreciate your help— the men said, although the Etruscan goddess didn't understand their words.

Tul then explained that her friends came from across the world and were on a mission to reach the great pyramid in Cholollan. But for the night, they wanted to rest. The men happily agreed. Two soldiers headed into the city to report the arrival of gods who had saved the Otomi realm's capital.

Swiftly, Menrva and Rodrigo teleported the entire group into the city of Xaltocan. However, upon their arrival, they saw soldiers escorting a silver-haired man to meet them. The man's reddish eyes sparkled like rubies. His face painted like his soldiers', in red lines. He carried an air of leadership, draped in a red and white cloak fastened at his shoulder.

He immediately bowed deeply before Tul, still taken aback by such customs. —Great Moon Rabbit, servant of Ixchel; I, Otontecutli, wish to thank you for saving my realm's capital from the terrible Ttzinacan— he said in Nahuatl, still bowed.

—Please, do not bow to me— Tul said, flustered.

—There are very important matters I must discuss with you, Moon Rabbit— he said, —but please rest in my humble realm tonight, and we shall talk tomorrow—

—I appreciate your hospitality, Lord Otontecutli— a bashful Tul replied, as the man stood.

The king then looked at the group approaching Tul and bowed to them as well.

—Are you the gods rumored to come from across the sea?— he inquired in the divine language.

—Are you the god of this realm?— Tania asked in surprise.

—Indeed, my name is Otontecutli— the man replied, —and I am the god of the Hñahñú realm; but I wish to thank you for destroying the beasts that tormented my people—

—Lord Otontecutli, please raise your head; we aren't fond of such gestures— Anpiel remarked.

—Yes, I understand— the Otomi god said, lifting his face. The gods looked at him curiously.

—Why were those monsters attacking you?— Menrva asked, approaching the Otomi god.

—Please, rest for today, and tomorrow I will speak to you about the tragedy that has occurred in these territories— he replied.

The god excused himself and left, escorted by his guards. The soldiers then signaled to Tul that they were welcome in Xaltocan. All instantly made way, paving an entry path for the gods of Orniskem.

Outside the city, vast cornfields could be seen, many destroyed and in poor condition, clear evidence of the monsters' havoc. In the distance, a red and white wall safeguarded the city. Soldiers on the wall kept watch for any returning monster.

Stone-paved roads, massive red pyramids, and rectangular structures adorned the city. However, traces of battles with the beasts were evident. The smell of death and fire lingered everywhere.

The gods were led to the main palace in the center of the city. It faced a vast plaza. To the left of the plaza stood a gigantic pyramid, much larger than the one they had seen in Tlacuitlapán. On the plaza floor, there were red drawings that seemed to depict a sun and some birds. These drawings were enormous, covering a significant portion of the vast structure.

The grand palace itself was a rectangular building, and it required climbing stairs to reach the main entrance. The staircase was so wide that it was divided into three separate sections. In front of the entrance, wooden posts with elaborate shapes rose like guardians of the structure.

—Each city we visit looks more and more exotic— Ana remarked in amazement.

—I hope you'll visit Chichen Itza someday— Tul added. —It's one of the most impressive cities you'll see—

—Of course, Tul. I wouldn't miss it— Tania said, giving a smile to the rabbit goddess.

Inside the palace, servants quickly showed them to their quarters. It was a massive room with palm leaf sleeping mats called "petates." On a central table, there were fruits such as guavas, melons, avocados, and nanches, along with a jug of chocolatl and a set of tamales wrapped in corn leaves. None of the gods were familiar with what they saw, but Tul quickly explained the local cuisine to them, and they enthusiastically started eating.

The vast room also featured a huge bath, which included a large tub with warm water and a set of toilets. The warm water in the tub was maintained by an ingenious heating system through pipes.

—It's very similar to the baths in ancient Rome— Menrva commented in surprise.

At that moment, there was a knock at the door. When Ana opened it, female servants brought a variety of clothing for both men and women. The gods noticed that the clothes they had acquired in Chaco were already quite damaged and dirty. Tul approached and thanked the women for their gesture before they left.

After freshening up and eating, the gods finally went to sleep, exhausted from their long journey and the deadly battle upon arriving in Anahuac. However, Rodrigo stayed awake, conversing with Ehécatl.

—How did you end up in that state, Ehécatl?— Rodrigo asked.

—In Tula, before Quetzalcóatl was condemned to die— the wind god explained, —I tried to help Quetzalcóatl escape when he was captured by Yayauhqui's men, but I was mortally wounded and took refuge in the mountains of the region after they sacrificed my lord—

—That's terrible— Rodrigo replied.

—Thanks to medicine, I survived, but my internal injuries were severe— Ehécatl continued. —But my oath is what has motivated me to keep going in my search... to find you—

—How did you know it was me?— Rodrigo inquired.

—Your resemblance to my lord— the god replied. —Besides, his energy, the element they call Venus, feels very similar to yours—

—Thank you to the explorers from the other side of the world; I was able to escape this barrier and began searching for you all over the continent. But after more than fifteen years of searching, I felt your energy in Chichilcitlalli and rushed there as fast as I could— Ehécatl explained.

—Where is that?— Rodrigo asked, puzzled.

—Oh, sorry. I heard it's called Mars— Ehécatl responded.

—I see. You saved my life that day— Rodrigo said.

—I apologize for not intervening in the Ttzinacan attack, Lord Rodrigo— Ehécatl said. —But I felt it was your duty, the living, to fight against those undead creatures—

—What do you mean by undead?— Rodrigo asked, confused.

—Huitzilopochtli has brought these creatures from Mictlán, the underworld— Ehécatl replied. —These creatures were eliminated a long time ago by my people and ancestors, but..—

The wind god fell silent for a moment.

—Is something wrong, Ehécatl?— Rodrigo asked.

—It's about what happened to your girlfriend, Epona. You remember, don't you?— Ehécatl commented.

—You mean the monstrous creature that was inside her?— Rodrigo asked.

—Exactly, but these creatures died a long time ago, and they used to be, still, reasonable beings— Ehécatl explained.

—What do you mean?— Rodrigo inquired.

—These creatures have become mindless shells, monsters seeking only destruction— the wind god replied. —You must find out who is controlling these monsters to prevent further disasters—

—We are facing a very difficult and complicated situation right now— the young man replied, with a concerned look on his face.

—Nevertheless, we will depart for the ruins of Cholollan tomorrow, Lord Rodrigo— Ehécatl continued. —Your friends should stay here because if Tollan learns that three of their monsters have disappeared, they will attack again—

—Do you think it's wise to leave them in such a situation?— Rodrigo asked, nervously.

—Yes, Lord Rodrigo. You must have faith in them— Ehécatl responded. —It's part of the essence you now call Tawa—

Rodrigo nodded and turned to Epona. The goddess was sleeping next to him, her lips slightly parted. Rodrigo leaned in and kissed the woman he loved. Epona woke up startled.

—Rodrigo, what's happening?— the Irish goddess asked, but Rodrigo kissed her again.

—The first time I saw those lips of yours, I dreamed of kissing them, Epona— Rodrigo said after kissing the Irish goddess.

—It's not like you to be so affectionate— Epona commented, resting her head on the young man's chest.

—I'll be leaving for the ruins of Cholollan tomorrow, Epona— Rodrigo said. —You all need to take care—

—Did you wake me up for that, you fool?— Epona asked, slightly annoyed. —I already knew that, but I have complete confidence in you—

—And I have confidence in you and the others, Epona— Rodrigo replied. —But I can't help feeling a little nervous—

The two gods lay down, embracing each other until they fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning, female servants brought dishes of shrimp with squash, iguana with fried grasshoppers, and more chocolatl to the gods' room.

—Are these insects?— Epona asked, nervously.

—Well, I thought you'd like the cuisine of these lands more because they eat very little meat— Anpiel replied.

—But I'm not sure if I can eat insects, and they kind of give me the creeps— Epona continued, looking at the fried grasshoppers.

At that moment, Tania and Menrva started picking up the insects with their fists and eating them.

—Try them; they're really good— Menrva said as she ate. The scene reminded Rodrigo of Athena eating grapes while talking. —Would she be okay?— he wondered.

Then, Susanoo noticed that a small bowl contained some sauce. —Mina-san— he said, —I think you're supposed to dip the shrimp and insects in this sauce—

The god tried a grasshopper that way when suddenly his eyes turned bloodshot, and he remained silent for a moment.

—What happened, Susanoo?— Freyja asked, concerned. —Is it poison?—

—Tsurai!— the Japanese god shouted as he stuck out his tongue and started drinking chocolatl by the gallons.

—Hey, Susanoo, don't finish the chocolatl— Loki complained.

Tul burst into laughter. —Yuum Susanoo, you have no tolerance at all—

—Wasabi desu!— the oriental god shouted as he continued drinking.

—I assume it's a spicy sauce— Tania commented.

The goddess then dipped an insect into the sauce and tasted it. She made a surprised expression. —Wow, this is quite strong— she said. —But it's addictive—. With that, she continued dipping her food into the sauce.

—No wonder a fire goddess has resistance to spicy food while a water god doesn't— Freyja joked, getting up to try the sauce as well.

—Hey, but it's really good— she said after tasting it. —What kind of warrior are you, Susanoo?— she asked mockingly.

—In these lands, the spicier the sauce, the stronger you are— Tul explained and showed them how she drank the sauce as if it were water. Everyone was surprised to see the rabbit goddess's resistance to such a spicy beverage.

—Don't worry; it's quite mild— Tul said, laughing. —The problem is that Yuum Susanoo is not a real warrior—

The gods laughed and enjoyed a pleasant moment while eating. After the meal, Rodrigo got up from the table.

—My friends— he said, —the time has come to say goodbye for now—

Rodrigo was wearing Otomí clothing, a white tunic with a red cape. The tunic had red geometric patterns at the bottom and was held by a belt at his waist.

—Are you leaving already, Rodrigo?— Epona asked with a melancholic tone.

—Yes, Ehécatl doesn't have much time left, and I must hurry to meet this Quetzalcóatl— Rodrigo commented. The young man hugged and kissed Epona on the lips, then gently stroked her temple.

—Take care, Rui— Ana said, hugging Rodrigo tightly. —If anything goes wrong, teleport back here— she suggested.

—Don't worry, Ana— Rodrigo replied. —In fact, according to what Ehécatl told me, Tollan may retaliate for the death of their monsters—

—We'll be on guard the whole time— Ana assured him.

—Good luck, Chan Rodrigo— Tul said, very enthusiastic. —Meeting the Feathered Serpent is a great honor in these lands. Be respectful— she advised and hugged him.

—Thank you, Tul— Rodrigo said.

—I don't know what dangers await you, Rodrigo, but return safe and sound, and even stronger— Tania said as Tul released her hold on the young man.

—I will break through the barrier completely this time— Rodrigo assured her.

—Rodrigo-san, I won't wish you good luck because I know you will be victorious as my rival— Susanoo said, making a gesture of farewell. Rodrigo nodded in response.

—Take care, Rodrigo— Menrva said and hugged him as well.

—Mr. Rodrigo, we place all our good wishes on your journey, and may you discover the secret of your past— Anpiel said to the young man.

—We haven't spent much time together, Rodrigo, but you are a very strong and brave man— Freyja commented as she hugged him. —I'm sure that if Thor had met you, he would have considered you a great ally—

She let go of Rodrigo and said, —'The tougher the test is, the more triumphant will be our victory.' Those were Thor's words. No matter how difficult your test is, when you overcome it, you will be even stronger than before—. The goddess then gave him a thumbs-up and smiled at Rodrigo.

—Well, good luck, kisses, and blah blah blah— Loki said, making an indifferent gesture.

—Thank you, everyone— Rodrigo said. —Take care—

—Don't worry, Rodrigo— Epona replied. —We'll see each other again soon—

Everyone else nodded, and Rodrigo jumped out of the window of the room and flew eastward.

After the farewell, soldiers arrived at the room where the gods were staying and informed Tul that Otontecutli was waiting for them in his royal hall. The gods nodded and followed the guards.

In a sumptuous room filled with nobles and soldiers, Otontecutli sat on a small throne, elevated higher than the rest of the structures in the hall and with a kind of roof over his seat. Next to him, a vessel emitted perfumes that filled the entire room with its spring-like aromas.

—I'm glad you came— Otontecutli said as he stood up and made a bow. The other men in the room did the same.

The gods of Orniskem wore Otomí noble attire, very similar to Rodrigo's clothing. Long tunics with short sleeves. The women also wore a black skirt and had circular patterns on their tunics. The goddesses had styled their hair in the regional fashion, with two lateral buns.

—Well, we're grateful for your hospitality and generosity, Your Excellency— Menrva said with a smile.

—Weren't there more people with you yesterday?— the Otomí god asked.

—I apologize for Rodrigo, but he had to leave for a land called Cholollan— Etruscan goddess explained. —It seems he has to meet a god named Quetzal or something like that—

—Quetzalcóatl? Isn't he dead?— the Otomí king asked.

—Yes, we heard about that, but he is being guided by one of his ancient servants— the Etruscan goddess continued. —You don't have to worry about him; he was also very pleased with Your Excellency's hospitality—

—Well, I'm glad— Otontecutli said, but at that moment, he seemed to slump in his chair.

—Is something wrong, Your Excellency?— Menrva asked.

—Yes, the truth is, we are in one of the worst possible situations— the Otomí god said and straightened up in his chair.

—Moon Rabbit— Otontecutli said, addressing Tul.

—Yes, what is it, sir?— Tul asked, puzzled.

—I want to give you the bad news that your master, Lady Ixchel, is currently imprisoned in Tollan— Otontecutli said without hesitation.

Tul turned pale at the news. —My kaansaj?— she wondered anxiously.

—It all started with a coup in the Toltec empire— Otontecutli began to explain. —Ixchel, I, and a group of neighboring deities from that empire went to see the new Tezcatlipoca because people from our embassies were killed by the new regime... to be precise, they were sacrificed—

—How terrible— Tania commented anxiously upon hearing those words.

—But the new tlacatecutli of the Toltec empire, Itzpapálotl, set a trap for us to hold us prisoner in Tollan. Only I managed to escape— the Otomí god explained.

—So, are those creatures that attacked doing so to punish you for escaping?— Menrva asked.

—Indeed, they are currently attacking my kingdom with similar monsters freshly released from Mictlán— the Otomí god said depressively. —Unfortunately, I'm not that strong, and my subjects are doing their best to keep those beasts at bay, but we know that Tollan will attack again— he said pessimistically.

—In reality— Tania interrupted. —We've come to ask for your assistance in gaining access to the Toltec empire, and if possible, to train in your realm—

—Perhaps by fighting these beasts, we can become stronger— Susanoo added.

But then, Tania turned to look at Tul. The goddess was pale and trembling. —Tul, are you okay?— the Punic goddess asked.

—Ch'uupal, I want to become stronger too, to save my kaansaj— the rabbit goddess said, tears in her eyes.

Tania hugged her. —Don't worry, we'll rescue her— she said. This reassurance made Tul stop trembling and feel more relieved.

—What guarantees are there that the prisoners are still alive?— Menrva asked.

—Tollan wants us, the neighboring gods, to bow to their power, so they must have released more monsters in the important cities of the other kingdoms to subdue them— Otontecutli explained.

—It's a very egotistical plan— Menrva commented, finding little logic in the plan.

—It's because it's a Chichimeca plan, in other words, barbaric— Otontecutli said.

—Don't worry, we'll save your kingdom from these monsters so that we can enter Tollan and rescue all the prisoners— Menrva said with a determined look on her face.