Prolog: Desolation of Xi'
Prolog: Desolation of Xi’
12,872 BPE, Western Caribbean near modern day Honduras
Sacred verse of the Mayan Polpul Vuh tradition of creation:
Here is the story of the beginning, when there was not one bird, not one fish, not one mountain. Here is the sky, all alone. Here is the sea, all alone. There is nothing more. No sound, no movement. Only the sky and the sea. Only Heart-of-Sky, alone. And these are his names: Maker and Modeler, Kukulcan and Hurricane. But no one speaks his names. There is no one to praise his glory. There is no one to nurture his greatness.
Then the creator said, “Let it be done,” and it was done. The earth emerged from the sea. Plants put forth shoots. Wild animals came to be.
During the first creation of the world man was made of mud. Man could hold no form and so he was forgotten. In the second creation of the world man was made of wood. But man had no soul and could not praise the gods. So, it was decided to destroy these wooden people.
Starting as a young apprentice, Hun Hanahpu spent years creating his own personal copy of the sacred scripts and ancient prophecies. Now he could be the last of the ancient bloodline, the last prophetic shaman. The catastrophe that began months ago with his discovery of a new light in the morning sky has finally ended, leaving only the horrific, unimaginable aftermath.
If only he had recognized the omen of Bolon-Yokte sooner, maybe he could have convinced the ruling council to act, although in retrospect, no action could have held back the devastating judgement. When the high priest stubbornly insisted that sacrifice alone would appease the coming portent, it took an act of willful rebellion to lead his followers to hide within the mountain caverns of Altun Ha. Without adequate food or preparation, fear spread rapidly until the mountain shook violently for hours, day turned to night, and the scorching hurricane forced them even deeper.
Days passed before he could finally emerge to the mouth of the cave only to find a thick blanket of blackened, charred rubble spread across the entire landscape as far as the horizon. Flames had incinerated the foothill forests of mahogany and cedar into cinder and ash. Black smoke filled the sky until there was no sun, and his lungs burned to breathe. Cold torrential rains had followed the flames to saturate the charred hillsides, dissolving the barren mountains into giant, deadly lahars of noxious mud, reshaping the land around the mountain.
For the survivors within Altun Ha the natural spring has become their sole source of fresh water. While many have already died, others suffer from skin pustules, coughing blood, or severe burns left to fester. Few if any of them will prevail through the coming months.
“Stroke,” Ghana’s deep voice yells for the oarsman, “stroke.”
Pulled from his pensive reflections back into the present moment, he listens to the grunting of the oarsman straining against the choppy seas. When the two large trading canoes washed up, he saw them as ancestral guidance to stage a rescue of the holy city. Now perched at the bow of the larger canoe, he stares ahead in disbelief and utter horror. Except for the ridge crest of the divine mountains of Tulan, he can see nothing above the tepid waters. Where there once was a vast wetland of villages, seaports, croplands and trading roads, he sees nothing but filthy ocean. The vibrant sights, sounds and exotic aromas of trading ships, busy markets, and playful children replaced by the heart shattering slosh of waves, and the stench of death. A whole nation erased from the earth, scorched or swallowed. Even the sacred mountain has transformed into a desolate, barren island. With mouth open in dismay, his heart implodes with an overwhelming sorrow as tears track over the thick grime on his tattooed face. Trembling hands clutch his jaguar cloak to fight the cold as agonizing grief stifles his willingness even to breathe.
“There’s nothing left,” declares Ghana.
“Why are we here?” shouts a large oarsman, his thick arms fold to appear intimidating, if only to mask the fear in his eyes.
“Tell us the truth,” another shouts.
“We came to search for survivors,” declares Hun Hanahpu, trying to show a brave resolve, yet even as he speaks, he knows the hopelessness of finding anyone alive. These men deserve to know the whole truth.
“We are also out of food at the survivor camp,” he confirms what they must be suspecting. “The crops have burned, and the jungles are charred to the ground, barren of life.” He points to fish floating on the water. “The rivers and oceans that once fed us with plenty now offer only death.”
Gesturing toward the second canoe traveling close alongside them, he adds, “I have asked my brother Xibalque to lead a team to find the temple maze stored in the caves above the ridge.”
The sailor unfolds his arms, the chances of finding maze worth the risk of death. Hun Hanahpu hesitates, unsure he wants to admit his personal motives for braving death.
“For myself alone, I vow to search for the Bac’tun Tae (star calendar) and salvage what I can of the sacred scripts,” he chokes down the shame of his confession. The Bac’tun Tae had predicted the destruction, but he had failed to interpret the signs in time, an unforgivable shame.
Excited whispers spread. “You risked our lives for that cursed talisman,” shouts the oarsman, once again defiant and crossing his arms.
Others also cast derision, claiming the ancient religion had failed them, the hubris of the chief priests had failed them, and that he had failed them. Unable to teach any spiritual truth to erase the truth of their misery, Hun Hanahpu holds his tongue. His elongated skull, once a symbol of pride and status, no longer holds any meaning. Empathetic to the consuming anguish of men who have lost everything and everyone who once gave their life meaning, and saturated with his own aching emptiness, he endures the accusations. Only survival matters now.
Raising up his right palm, he waits for each man to return the gesture as the large, double-hulled canoes drift together.
“The savage judgment of Bolon-Yokte has torn open the sky, and ripped out our very hearts while they still beat within us,” he cries with a genuine lament, gritty tears staining his cloak.
“Our epoch has ended,” his voice catches. “Our entire world has ended.” The words strike his heart with an unrelenting, searing ache. “And we are the cursed souls to bear witness to such horrors.”
Facing the survivors of the unimaginable he watches some men stare into the void with silent, bitter tears while other men wail, and pound their chests as if they could scream away the inner acid of torment. Only one truth still binds them together.
“As long as two of us survive they will call us brothers, and as long as we are brothers they will call us the Xi’ of Matwiil,” he shouts above the lamenting cries.
“We are Xi’,” they respond with a battered sense of identity, the only thing they still share.
Slowly, one by one, each man committed to his purpose, the men pick up their oar to row inside a small bay, once a busy seaport. Canoes creep toward a shredded, singed tree sticking out of the shallow water near the shore. Bile builds in the back of his throat from the smell of sulfur and decay that hangs in the damp acidic air. Approaching the shore and blackened limb a mournful vibration resonates within his chest, and rings between his ears.
Ghana grips the tree then lurches backward, falling into others. “It’s alive.”
Reaching out to grab the branch, he senses a mild tingling emanate from its roots causing the mournful lament to resonate louder. A hundred thousand voices cry in unison, pulsating within his chest, tingling his fingers and toes, echoing harshly between his ears, growing louder and deeper like a massive, swarming hive of human torment.
Letting go of the branch, he tosses the bowline around the limb to tie the canoe. Even without touching, he can still sense the mournful, chanting chorus echoing between his ears.
“What is it?” asks an oarsman, his eyes wide with fright.
For a long moment, no one answers. “Souls wailing in the anguish of ba (tormented death),” whispers Ghana.
Hundreds of thousands of souls had vanished beneath the crusty rock and rancid sea. It’s an unworldly, dreadful, fearful place, a place of Xiba, the catacombs of the Xi’. Overcome with waves of clammy chills, Hun Hanahpu’s stomach tightens into a knot, and then tightens again. Pale and dizzy, a cold sweat beads down his face until he lurches over the rail of the canoe, and vomits into the murky, rank water. When the spasms calm, he recalls the final passage of the ancient prophecy.
‘The earth will blacken before a terrible flood. Hurricane will make a great rain.’
Faced with the fulfillment of prophecy more horrendous than any man could have imagined, he prays to his ancestors for courage. After a moment, he spits out the bitter residue, and wipes the putrid drool on his bare arm.
“Let’s get going, while we still have light.”