The gods demanded sacrifice, and the Aztecs could not dare to disappoint them.
Mecatyl prodded his captive up the temple steps. He pushed the blunt end of his bladed club against the man’s back, tripping him on the stone as they approached the apex. The high priest awaited at the top with an obsidian dagger in hand. The verdant green feathers of his headdress shook as winds gusted by.
Torches crackled in their posts, the warm light glowing in the eyes of the people who watched the ceremony from below. Mecatyl laid the wounded captive on the bloodstained table, then moved to hold down their arms—an honor reserved for the greatest of warriors.
The high priest chanted, his dagger rising into the air. He recited a chant to Huitzilopochtli, the sun god, who fought in an eternal war against the darkness. His voice echoed in the night. Without the sacrifices, the sun would no longer rise, leaving darkness to shroud the world. Crops would wither and die. Sickness would plague every living being. Life as they knew it would end.
The obsidian dagger tore through the wind in one quick strike. It punctured skin and dug into the captive’s stomach. The high priest then sawed through bone, gutting the insides and spilling blood—the god’s bounty. Mecatyl held down the struggling outsider, whose hand flexed into a fist over and over. Muffled cries sounded from beneath his gag.
Mecatyl grinned. He brought in this captive. The god’s favor would be his.
The dagger placed aside, the high priest gouged his arm into the outsider’s chest. He found the still-beating heart and ripped it from the body, a lash of blood following in its wake. The high priest held the pulsing heart above his head and let the blood drip upon his feathered headdress. He crushed it in his palm.
The people of Tenochtitlan cheered. Clouds of sparks surged from roaring torches, and the rivers flowed as if the skies stormed. Moonlight washed over the high priest in a silver glow. Mecatyl stood aside and brought his fist to his chest, his knuckles pressing into the jaguar pelt he wore. He watched his people as the captive’s body tumbled down the steps.
The sun will shine another day, they shouted.
- - -
Mecatyl’s boots stepped into patches of moss. He led his team of elite jaguars through the jungle, following the path a group of scouts had taken a day before. Word came that boats as grand as cities landed at the coastlines, bearing a white flag with a red cross. A scout team had approached with diplomatic intentions, and the foreigners took one scout as a prisoner.
Mecatyl’s team set out to free the scout. They passed through a clearing; the ground coated in oval-shaped leaves. A waterfall crashed onto rocks in the distance, and a tapir scattered off towards it as the Aztecs approached. An emerald green snake coiled around a branch, its body tightening around the wood. Its slitted tongue slithered out and hissed at the jaguars. Shreds of sunlight broke through the verdant trees above.
The clink of metal sounded further off, along with the patter of what could only be a four-legged animal. Unnatural noises Mecatyl didn’t recognize. He raised his fist and ordered the men to camouflage. They tied their spiked clubs to their backs to climb trees. Others dug themselves into the mud, their eyes gazing out from beneath their jaguar pelt. Mecatyl hid within a shrub. A horned beetle crawled over his pelt and he paid it no attention. He focused on the source of the metallic noise, his hands gripped around a throwing spear with a serrated head.
He listened to unfamiliar accents speaking a strange language, laughing as they passed into the clearing. Men armed in shells of polished steel sat atop four-legged beasts. Others without the armor trailed behind on foot, carrying sticks entwined with metal.
All camouflaged eyes turned to Mecatyl as they awaited his order. He raised one hand to a fist and threw the spear with the other, impaling one of the unarmored men’s legs. While he could have ended the man’s life, he would not risk killing a potential sacrifice.
The man let out a cry of pain, pointed the metal stick in Mecatyl’s direction, and pulled back. The weapon boomed, a cloud of smoke erupting from its end. Bark shot off from a tree near Mecatyl’s head. The weapon’s noise echoed throughout the jungle.
Do they control the thunder?
His brethren broke from their camouflage and pounced at the confused foreigners. The spiked ends of their clubs thrashed against steel armor. They dug into the metal yet struggled to find skin. Mecatyl called out a war cry, dodging the arc of a foreigner’s weapon—a mix between an axe and a spear, and swung his club. The bladed end broke into the plates above the man’s shoulder, and Mecatyl sawed back and forth, cutting through chain mail, then skin and bone with ease. The man in his steel shell cried out as he fell backward.
Another thunder-like boom sent one jaguar backward, blood streaming out from their neck. The warrior stumbled to his feet and collapsed, no longer able to stand. From atop their four-legged beasts, the foreigners swung their weapons, clashing with the Aztec’s feathered shields. The animals they rode cried out and kicked their hind legs.
A short sword of gleaming steel slashed at Mecatyl’s chest, cutting through the jaguar pelt and spilling blood. For every man the Aztecs wounded, two of their own collapsed. Their inability to kill—they could not spite the gods by murdering their sacrifices—left them at a disadvantage. He watched his brethren fall in a battle they struggled to win. The shells of steel and the thunder sticks proved too great a threat for a team as small as their own.
Mecatyl dropped his weapon, stepped back, and ran his hand along his wounded chest. His fingers dripping blood, he raised his arm to the sky. They needed a weapon that could compete.
Mecatyl called upon the gods.
Through the patches of sky overhead, a golden ray of sunlight beamed down. It bathed Mecatyl in warmth. Its tangible glow mended the wound across his chest, patching his skin, leaving him invigorated. The sunlight rid his body of pain. The surrounding moss sizzled and blackened at his feet.
The gods had answered his call.
Burn my enemies, Mecatyl commanded.
The sun god obeyed. Beams of sunlight ruptured down from the skies and encased the stunned foreigners. Their steel armor radiated a bronze glow, the metal then brightening to a flaring red. Their bodies within burnt to blackened corpses.
Replenish my allies, blessed sun.
Sunlight washed over the remaining jaguars. It rejuvenated their spirits, restoring life to their wounded bodies. Broken bones and fatal wounds all healed in the divine light of the sun. The few remaining foreigners ran for the trees, but could not escape. The sunlight followed, and the sunlight torched.
The jaguars marched back to Tenochtitlan after burying their fallen on the battlefield. The beams of sunlight followed them and displayed their newfound abilities. After years of worship, the gods had finally answered their calls, ushering in a golden age for the Aztec people.
When a sickness arrived, a plague causing fevers and fluid-filled bumps on their skin, they prayed to Ixtlilton, the god of healing. The disease passed without a single causality. The civilization flourished as they brought presents to Tlāloc, the god of agriculture. Their floating gardens produced enough food in a week to last entire seasons.
Gods of music, art, and flowers animated their culture to new heights. Colorful flowers bloomed in desolate fields. Music rung through empty temples. Artists came up with new ideas seconds after offering their prayers.
Tlacotzontli, the god of roads, forged paths between the Aztecs and the surrounding states. Yacatecuhtli, the god of commerce, brought riches as they traded their abundance of resources. Xolotl, the god of death, terrorized their enemies into giving themselves up for sacrifice. The blood offered during the executions empowered them further.
It knew no bounds.
Piltzintecuhtli, the Aztec god of visions, spoke to the people in vibrant dreams. The god spoke of Spanish boats as big as mountains sailing across the seas, outfitted with cannons and swarming with soldiers. The Aztecs called upon the god of the sea to drown them, but the emperor intervened.
Let them come, Montezuma said. An eternal beam of either sun or moonlight immersed the emperor. The gods praised him as the people did. We shall offer each of their bodies as a sacrifice, he continued, let the fools come and face our abilities.
A week passed, and galleons arrived with thousands of Spanish soldiers. A conquest to claim land, glory, and riches. To destroy homes and bring a plague to the people. Mecatyl led a force of jaguar warriors to the coastline to engage them—he followed the path laid out by Mixcoatl, the god of the hunt. Panthers stalked behind the warriors, as well as anacondas and eagles.
Soon enough, the Spanish forces met the Aztecs head-on at the beach. They stopped unloading their siege weapons and guiding their horses off of their boats. The thousands of armored men watched the hundred Aztecs approach from the jungle with their weapons raised, and the Spaniards laughed.
“Tēomeh kā ika tehuantin!” the Aztec army roared. Gods be with us!
Before the conquistadors could ready themselves, wide beams of opaque sunlight shot down from above. The impact of each golden beam decimated the conquistadors and exhausted the sun god. Scorched plates of armor landed in the sand and formed craters.
Next came the god of storms and earthquakes. The Spanish looked to retreat, but the ground they walked betrayed them. They fell to their knees as thunder bellowed overhead, bolts of lightning striking the soldiers one at a time.
A peaceful rain followed the storm.
The goddess of the sea dragged their galleons down to the depths. Splintering wood and the groaning of the sinking ships echoed across the continent. The ships, broken apart by crashing waves, sunk to the abyss deep below.
The helpless Spaniards surrendered, while the ones who fought met the Aztec god of war, who rendered their weapons to be as heavy as cinder blocks. The jaguar soldiers led the captives back to Tenochtitlan for a mass sacrifice. They would honor the gods who came to them in their time of need.
An entire world unaware of their powers awaited.
Mecatyl watched as the high priest tore out another beating heart.