Teotihuacan, Mexico, Circa 650 AD. Flames climbed the black pillars of smoke that rose up into the night. Flickering shadows played across the stone stairs of the Mayan pyramid, making it hard for Ahì to see her footing as she raced to the top. The city was burning. The people were fleeing. The gods had come.
The gods had come and they were taking their sacrifices at will, not waiting for the times the priests and peasants had come to expect. Blood stained the ground through the city. The Road of the Gods leading to the pyramid temple was paved with bodies. Ahì doubted she would ever be able to think of it as anything but the street of the dead now.
Her heart pounded with fear as she climbed the temple. She knew the penalty would be death, but perhaps after all these years of service, being slave to the priests, they would hear her plea for the lives of the people before killing her.
A shadow flew overhead and Ahì threw herself flat against the steep steps. One of the wayob went past, bat-like in the night.
Ahì had gotten too good of a look at one earlier and knew the shiny black creatures resembled a bat only in flight. On the ground, they walked like a man with broken legs that bent the wrong way, had the head of a naked coyote, a rat’s bulging eyes, and they stank of Xibalba, the underworld they had come from.
With each killing, the creatures grew larger, stronger, and more powerful. When Ahì had first seen one, when the screaming had started, it had been hardly larger than a dog. The one that had just flown over her head was now easily twice the size of a man.
Why the gods had sent these creatures up from the depths of Xibalba and into the holy city of the people, Ahì could not guess, but they had to be stopped. They were killing indiscriminately and without reservation. Soon, she feared, there would be no one left.
Ahì reached the top of the pyramid to plead with the priests for the lives of the people, but what she found there caused her to stumble and fall.
The disembodied heads of the priests were upon the altar, placed ritually, mockingly. The rest of their bodies had been flung about, shredded like the jungle before the farmer’s axe. In her hurry, she hadn’t noticed before, but now she saw the bodies littering the sides of the pyramid like dirty rags lost to the wind. The priests were dead. All of them.
She had risked her soul to intrude upon this place to beg for mercy only to find there was no one left to help. Looking around she saw the body of every priest she could think of.
She dropped her head to the floor, struck by the realization that the end was upon them all. The gods had sent the wayob to destroy them all.
Of all the people in the city, she, a lowly slave, now possessed the most knowledge of the gods, and that knowledge was stolen. Accumulated over thirty years of overheard conversations while carrying food, water, and chamber pots in and out of ceremonies she should not have witnessed.
Her knowledge was untested, unproven. She had only acquired it at the whim of the head priest who had broken tradition and allowed a slave near the sacred proceedings so that the priests no longer had to haul away their own refuse.
She slowly stood, slipping on the blood, and turned to look out over the burning temples and homes. The smoke billowed into the sky, lit orange by the flames and blotting out the stars. There was less screaming now, perhaps there were not so many people left.
Two dark shapes spun in the sky, dancing among the flames, their wings flapping mightily as they searched for more victims. The firelight shone reflectively on the slick black bodies as they found another victim and tore him in half, fighting over the body. Ahì wondered if they were covered in blood to shine so in the light.
Suddenly, another of the way dove in and attacked the other two from behind. Ripping a wing off one and sending it spiraling down to the earth, the attacker jumped on the back of the second, gleefully clawing and tearing away at the glistening hide.
Ahì’s hope soared! Surely, the gods must have set the wayob upon each other to end the night’s terror!
As she watched the way destroying its brethren, it occurred to her the gods must be thanked for stopping them, lest they become angry and begin the purge anew. And she was the only one left who knew the ceremonies.
She took one of the few lamps that remained lit and used it to relight the others, trying not to slip on the blood or trip over the bodies of her former masters.
Perhaps this night was the beginning of a new time, she thought, as she prepared the ceremony. A time of freedom. A time when the servants were to stand up on their own, without masters.
She stood up, silhouetted in the lamplight at the top of the pyramid, and stretched her arms wide to sing praise and thanks as she had seen the priests do so many times.
As she chanted over the heads on the altar, the way took her head from behind.