FAST RECAP IV
The morning found the CL.U.Ber's waiting outside the large whitewashed building that served as the settlements church and the group was already grumbling about idolatry, the heat and the constant clouds of biting insects which seemed to be attracted to them. The sun rose slowly casting it unforgiving light across the smoky settlement and the roughly cleared land around the town leaving only the jungles in darkness. The gates of the church suddenly bang open startling the CL.U.Ber's. Father Goodchild strode out waving back at someone but as he turned and saw the CL.U.Ber's standing there in various forms of undress he paused briefly before smiling and continuing forwards into the muddy street to greet them. Most of the CL.U.Ber's were slowly learning to adapt to their new conditions and were now wearing partial armour, an open buff coat here a pushed back helmet there and as Goodchild greeted them in turn he noticed that there was something lost in each of them a sin that weighed heavily on them especially the odd man out the one who introduced himself as the Doctor who was still wearing full Harquebusier armour and as such was already slightly swaying and sweat was already pouring down the mans skeletal features he also refused to remove his gloves to shake Goodchild's hand which he regarded as if it was some sort of poisonous snake.
The introductions made again and with the Fathers escort and overladen wagon rumbling into the main street, the Father began to talk the CL.U.Ber' s through the journey ahead. he told them it would take just under two days to reach the Block and Mission so at least one night under the stars he also told them that the first leg was going to be fairly easy as it would be taking place over ground near the river though he did warn everyone to stay away from suspicious logs. He said that after the first day they would be turning away from the river and heading North West into the deep jungle and then the going would get progressively worse and yes that meant the CL.U.Ber's would have to help push the wagon.
The journey was an eye opener for the CL.U.Ber's the settlement mix of peoples from all over the world seemingly they heard everything from gruff Scottish to something similar to what they had heard in Senegambia and everything in between. Even at this early hour, the town was bustling with people stalls were being set up, fishing boats already heading out and the constant sound of axe on wood was already becoming just background noise. The small convoy passed through the towns landward gate and the CL.U.Ber's were relieved to see militiamen patrolling the walls and streets they were even more relieved to see a brace of cannon in a formidable looking bastion just outside the town which was placed to keep watch on the road and from the strong smell of match cord they were ready, no Spanish raiding party would be getting past them without paying the full price. The Father had brought a small escort with him consisting of natives and slaves or so the CL.U.Ber's first thought but as the humidity wore on people talked and they found out that all were freemen even though two of them admitted to being runaways all of them had been looking for a safe place and in the Mission and Father Goodchild they had found both that and a purpose as well. The area around Belize town was given over to small farms and further out the logging camps more than once the convoy has to pull over to the side of the road to let past wagons heavy with logwood and mahogany some of the waggoners waved and smiled whilst a few just scowled at the Father one even made a sign to ward off the evil eye. The river was a sewer close by the settlement muddy and stinking with the overspill from the farms and camps but by midday, the convoy had traveled far enough up that the water seemed clearer though still muddy with silt and Father Goodchild was able to point out the strange log creatures or as the CL.U.Ber's who had been to school called them, Crocodiles. A few of them were sunning themselves on a nearby mudflat they were fairly modest in size but still had more than enough of an air of menace about them to keep the CL.U.Ber's away from them. The journey along the roads alongside the river was easy enough and the groups slowly mingled and got to chatting and tales were exchanged, there were also a couple of lively debates about which was the correct way to worship. Father Goodchild turned out to be a very amiable and even the Doctors barbs simply washed off him.
The Party camped up as the sun started to set and soon there was a cheery fire blazing away with some strange animal cooking away over it. The natives had left the convoy and disappeared into the light jungle an hour before camp and had returned with some game and a variety of berries and plants, the Doctor became very interested and even Cuthbert shuffled over from where he was lurking to chat to the natives about the local flora. Wilhelm chatted to Goodchild and seemed very interested in something called a water vine and it seemed that Goodchild was telling him how to correctly cut this plant. The night passed comfortably the CL.U.Ber's somewhat battered bedrolls still providing excellent service even after all this time.
The morning arrived and even in the shadowed jungle the heat hammered down, the camp was struck and the final leg to the Mission got underway. And it was as Goodchild had told them the trail was barely that and they traveled at a snail's pace. The wagon needed to be pushed and pulled several times the worst incident was when they were crossing a small river, the combination of river mud and rocky ford took time and strength to get through and there was a lot of swearing and arguing over the best way to get the wagon across, but after nearly three hours they had dragged, pushed and kicked the wagon across to the mocking hooting of the numerous monkeys which had soon gathered to watch the farcical actions of these strange pasty creatures. Their howls really seemed to annoy Guilio who as soon as the wagon was across began throwing stones up at the trees causing the monkeys to howl even louder and in a couple of cases throw things including evil-smelling feces which drove the Italian into an even greater rage. After calming down the Italian who kept muttering something about "Bloody Imps" whilst rubbing at one of his older scars the small convoy got underway again Father Goodchild casting a few worried glances Guilios way walked over and told the CL.U.Ber's that they should reach the Mission within the next few hours and certainly, before dark he also warns them not to go near any bright yellow vines which they find hanging down from the trees as they would more than likely be Vipers which would doom a man to a painful death if bitten. The CL.U.Ber's stayed close to the wagon now that they were in the deeper jungle it had been several hours since they had seen the last logging camp and four hours since the last lumberjack.
After a couple more episodes of pushing the wagon through muddy creeks and clearing away the occasional fallen tree, they finally stumble out into some cleared land the sudden increase in light was causing them to squint as their eyes watered in the sudden light. The mission was a fairly large building a house/chapel surrounded by a rough stone wall which formed a courtyard. It once must have been fairly impressive once but now it was showing signs of disrepair. The walls were no longer whitewashed though patches of faded white could still be seen here and there also as they got closer and their eyes adjusted the CL.U.Ber's could see rough patch repairs in both the outer wall and on the building it surrounded. The area outside the compound was cleared and the small fields were being worked upon by a couple of natives who when hearing the sound of the wagon and Goodchild's cry dropped their tools and rushed out laughing and calling back to the Party. The small convoy was soon surrounded by people all laughing and joking a few of the more impatient ones already searching the wagon before Goodchild shooed them away and in a whirlwind of movement, smiling faces and gentle prodding the CL.U.Ber's found themselves alone in a tidy but basic room with jugs of cool fresh water, and cups of something called Cacao. Father Goodchild bustled in smiling and full of energy whereas the CL.U.Ber's were beat the Doctor swaying dangerously still wearing his armor his one good eye gleaming dangerously. Father Goodchild told them that he had sent a runner to Chief Ticocha the man who led the Koyoh tribe, he smile grew even larger "See my friends your quest to find your lost friend is nearly at an end Ticocha will know all there is to know about this, and I've just invited him to a feast celebrating new friends from across the seas." Thomas de Fronsac stalked over his hand resting on his rapier "Father" he hissed "we are grateful for all your help but you seem somehow unseemly happy to have us here and somewhat hasty in organising this feast" Goodchild stepped back raising his hands palm outwards at the Frenchmans approach "Ah I'm sorry but please do not think I mean to do you harm I just saw the hand of God at work us meeting like we did and you looking for your friend and the Kayo tribe.....you see they are one of the larger tribes in these parts though they are known by many other names and it's been my life's work to convert these benighted heathens to the one true god" the CL.U.ber's looked at each other in surprise the Father continued "You see with you coming here I can finally get the Chief to come here into this house of God at last and surely he will listen to the good word" seeing the CL.U.Ber's relax and that Thomas had moved his hand away from his sword he smiled "Now hurry up and get ready we have souls to save!"
After the CL.U.Ber' had smartened themselves up and they had managed to get the Doctor awake and focused (This took a lot of water and a cold compress) they were escorted by one of the Missions Christian natives who took them through the semi-ruined building to the house/Chapel at the back. The doors were open and the CL.U.Ber's could see wild natives standing around talking and drinking a few of them stare at the passing group a couple even nod and smile the Party step across the threshold and into the building proper. The centre of the room is filled with a blazing fire from which a variety of soot-darkened pots hang over bubbling away and producing strange and mouthwatering smells. Along the sides of the room low tables have been arrayed and behind them a variety of pillows had been placed most of them currently occupied by natives and free Africans, the top table has an elderly yet still powerful looking man whose elaborate clothing and general regal bearing marked him out as this Ticocha fellow he was currently engaged in deep conversation with Goodchild stood behind them was a young powerfully built man whose intelligent eyes swept the room constantly his hands resting upon a large wooden club-like weapon which glittered darkly with some glass like objects which had been set along both edges of the club. One of the natives who had walked back with the wagon was chatting away with a wild native and one of the Africans effortlessly switching between the languages. Seeing the CL.U.Ber's Goodchild stands and waves them over "Ahh welcome, welcome he gestures to the man who was still sitting "This is Chief Ticocha leader of the Kayo tribe in these parts and soon to be baptized......hopefully" the old man just smiles slightly as if this is a conversation he has heard many times before.
The CL.U.Ber's settle down and spend an entertaining night in the company of the Kayo tribe the Chief did see how the winds were blowing and was almost ready to take the plunge but just couldn't give up on his old gods quite yet and this is where the CL.U.Ber's and their quest came in as it seemed that the Chief was very unhappy and worried when he found out that we were hunting another white man. The hunting part was fine it was that we believed that he was headed for Bendal Dolum. It took some persuading and the fire was mere embers but finally, he began to tell the CL.U.Ber's through Goodchild and the native translator why this was such a problem.
There was once a mighty city-state by the name of Bendal Dolum which was wisely ruled by the Ahau and his caste of priests the Maya there were of the Itzel and they and it had grown wealthy and prosperous on trade the city controlling access to the nearby mountain passes. The people grew fat and happy but the Ahau were no fools and still kept the warrior lodges full of lean warriors who lived to fight, to capture powerful victims for sacrifice so that the gods would notice them so none of the other nearby states dare challenge them. Then the years of sickness came, the fields died and the rains stopped falling, City turned upon city desperate to take by conquest what they needed to survive, desperate to gather enough victims for the priests to sacrifice to appease the gods so that they would bring back the happy times. The happy times did not return and the once mighty cities became ghost cities as the few living retreated into the jungles to survive all that is apart from Bendal Dolum. The city suffered like the others at first even more so if the rumors of civil war and cannibalism are to be believed but no one checked as all were too busy trying to survive themselves the last rumors were that there had been a purge and that the current Ahau Kinich Ajaw Janaas had been deposed by a group of the younger priests. Then the city fell silent no word comes from there no voice told of the conditions and no one returned who traveled to it. The Chief shakes his head sadly his voice like gravel "We should have sent someone, some help to Ajaw Janaas and his people we were suffering but the sea still held a bounty but we did not blinded as we were by our own problems and by the time we did it was too late, far too late."
The old man continued after a brief coughing fit the only other sound was the last of the wood popping in the fire with a shower of sparks. It seems that as the years of sickness reached its terrible peak and the people thought the gods had forsaken them people slowly came from Bendal Dolum they were pale and sickly their faces concealed behind grotesque wooden masks which were shaped as if they were in constant pain. These were the followers of the Old Gods the ones who once walked between the stars but who now slept waiting for the time to be right again but whose dreams could be sensed by these new Priests and through these dreams, they were taught how to worship properly and in return gifted true blessings. These diseased ones stalked the land trying to convert the other cities and for a time they were successful their magic worked they could provide food and full bellies and all they asked was that the new convert take a token to their city as a sign of their faith and they would be taken to the great Temples on the lake and be reborn in the faith of the Old Ones. Now was that too much to ask for all the gifts of food and safety that the Old Gods would grant? A lot of people went to Bendal Dolum taken in by the smooth whispers and promises of these Priests but not all as others felt repelled and soul-sick in the presence of these very selfsame priests and refused to go on the pilgrimage of the weeping eyes. The city in the lake swallowed all those who entered but with the road to the city reopened things could now get out and the stories and rumours troubled those remaining cities but they were far too weak to do anything.
It took a while but the years of Sickness finally came to an end and those left were no longer troubled by the disease of brown water which stole their energy and finally their lives also the rains returned and again the rivers flowed strongly once more and the maize grew tall and strong.
Apart from the masked Priests and a few heavily hooded men who traded rubies for slaves and a few other items no other left the city on the lake, no diplomats arrived seeking allies or tribute no people left to meet up with old friends or to see family, Bendal Dolum had returned but was not the same city as before. The old man sighed "All continued for a year or so some cities never recovered and remained grim reminders of the gods fickleness but others started to fill up again the farmers returned to their fields and people got on with living but always Bendal Dolum squatted in that valley and then the villages nearest their valley started emptying no one knew why but nothing living remained the only thing found was a strange symbol carved into the ground and those who saw it experienced nightmares and death. The tribes and cities finally united behind a powerful Chilan who claimed he had seen the gods world plan was being changed and corrupted by those now in Bendal Dolum. An army was sent down the High road to seek answers and put these new Priests to the test. He smiled "Well you can guess what happened but let's just say it ended badly only one man returned and he was half mad with the things he had witnessed. The Old gods were real and they were hungry after their long slumber. He went on to describe the terrible war that almost finished off the Mayan people but they knew they had to cleanse the corruption before it spilled out of that dark valley. Everyone united as they had never before the Mopan, Yucatec, Kayo and even the Kekchi sent all the men they could spare and the War of the gods had begun. He told tales of desperate battles against suicidal attacks launched by the scared ones of the slow grind towards the city on the lake, of the villages put to the torch the women and children burnt alive and how these deaths became seen as a mercy killings as the people had been changed somehow. The battle of the peaks where the Maya finally forced themselves into the valley of the Itzel became the watershed as all now could see how far the Itzel had fallen under their new gods. The valley was once one of the most fertile areas in this part of the country the soil rich and irrigated by the numerous streams and rivers which flowed from the mountains and into the great lake now instead of fields of maize interspaced with fruit and nut trees nothing but barren fields remained all coated in a strange black ooze and it was through this strange landscape that the army marched through. Many became sick as the ooze burnt into them causing yellow blisters to form almost instantly whilst others started to cough up blood these men were sent back and so as the army marched it slowly became smaller. The old man coughed and asked for a drink of spicy chocolate the fire was prodded back into life which cheered up the Chief as he said "Some tales are best told in the light lest the things in the darkness become curious" Once all had returned and sat down again the Chief continued "This is what we thought was the ending but maybe "He looks at the CL.U.Ber's "We were wrong, the army marched into the precincts of the eerily quiet city no one was encountered, not even a child all was still until they reached the central temple and they learned why. The central plaza was piled high filled with the stinking bodies of a cities population fat flies buzzed lazily through the rotten charnel remains. All those people had been killed in the same way but not in the holy way their hearts remained caged behind their ribs instead their heads had been smashed open and the brains removed. The enemy who had fought so fiercely before had been killed by their Priests but for what reason? With the Itzel and their converts dead surely they had won or so they thought but then the chanting began and a green mist began to flow down from the temple. The mist flowed amongst the dead and the air became heavy with the stench of rotten meat, waste, and blood....the flies gathered together in a huge central ball buzzing loudly as their feast was interrupted and the buzzing reached almost painful levels before they poured through the shocked living, crawling over their sweat soaked bodies forcing their ways into eyes, mouths ears and noses all the time the volume of the buzzing increased until with a bang of displaced air that knocked down a few of the panicking warriors. And then the reason why Bendal Dolum is now known among my people as the city of the Necromancers becomes obvious............................. the dead moved.
It was nearing two am and the fire had long died out and now only a lantern and a few sputtering candles remained to keep the darkness at bay as the Chief continued his tale. "Hundreds of dead shuffled and wormed their way upwards to stand blocking the way to the Great Temple. Arrayed before the living the dead now stood rank after rank, this disrespect to Lord Ac Puch could not be allowed to stand but the living wavered most of the dead were unknown but here and there was a corpse that someone recognised with a start of horrified shock, a Mother or a sibling those that had been taken in by the honeyed words of the pale priests. Silence descended and the two great hosts just stood inches apart, the green fog still flowed down the Temple steps forming a thick bank that covered the plazas stone floor. The tension was almost a living thing and then a loud mellow sound rang out from the top of the Temple looking up the living could see a giant painted man he strode down the steps followed by an escort of pale priests, he was blowing into a huge painted conch horn the loud single note it produced echoing out across the silent city and as it faded the dead moved and the giant laughed.
Many heroes were born that day only to die soon afterward's dragged down by the hands of the dead and ripped asunder but the living would not give up now not after sacrificing so much just to get this far if the peoples song was over then so be it but they would avenge their loved ones and their gods. prayers were offered up to Buluc Chabtan and the living surged forwards. The battle of the mouth of Xibalba lasted two days and nights and on the third day those that remained among the living found themselves climbing up the Temple steps surrounded by a sea of gore and rot. They looked up into the rising sun and knew that Kinich Ahu was with them and even though they were soul weary, tired and near death themselves they continued to march upwards. The first tier was held by the hooded ones but they were swept away their forms now exposed to the blessings of the sun, they were pathetic things thin, broken and diseased their flesh covered in deep brands and scarification. The second tier was filled with the masked priests whose very presence disturbed those close. Here the battle was hard fought the priests though unarmed prove hard to kill and their nails were like claws and they were able to rip great chunks of flesh and muscle away with just a single swipe of their arms but again they fell to the chipped and broken daggers and axes of the living. The once vast host of Mopan, Yucatec, Kayo and yes even the Kekchi was but a shadow's shadow of what it had been only a day ago" The Chief laughed "You white men every think how you conquer us so easily? why you found so many of our cities already empty? between the years of sickness and the Itzel, we never had a chance we were broken before you even sailed across the great ocean"
He coughs and asks for another blanket "Well those that still clung to life now crawled up to the last tier their shields broken their once splendid outfits of feathers tattered and bent or ripped away completely only those who wore the salted cotton could still stagger upright and even these few mighty warriors leaned heavily on their spears but still they all climbed upwards to face the painted giant.
The Chief paused again "I warn you this is not like your fairy tales life I find rarely is" with that strange warning he began the end of the tale."The last few hundred warriors climbed to the top of the Temple and surrounded the altar which the giant stood before watching their approach with complete indifference. The few remaining K'inich struggled to the front of their retinues and they looked to K'inich Jaakal of the Kayo for leadership and with a nod he straightened up and with his jade embedded macuahuitl gripped tightly in one hand whilst the legendary shield of scales hung from the other he strode towards the painted giant who had finally turned towards him a strange mocking smile across his face. K'inich Jaakal pointed his macuahuitl at the giant's chest and opened his mouth only to be cut short by the giant "You want answers? why did this happen? how did the dead escape the halls of Xibalba? why did all these people die?" he looked around at the tired and battered armies of the Maya and laughed and with a huge bellow he shouted up to the skies "Why did your gods allow this?" he then points at K'inich Popool Jaakal and the warriors beyond "How did they allow me to corrupt the people of the Hero twins, how was I allowed to make them turn their backs on all that they believed and instead perform such foul rites and cannibalistic orgies to the glory of the Old Gods and with such joy in their hearts? he reached for an obsidian dagger that was thrust through a beaded belt, K'inich Jaakal raised the shield of scales and prepared to fight. The giant just laughed again and looked down at the dagger "You are worried about this tiny thing?" he suddenly thrust the stone dagger into his chest and began to feverishly work it past his rib cage gouging out a huge red hole in the process he began to laugh again "That is almost my Masters final gift to you, the seeds are planted it just remains to gather in the harvest" with that he screams as he rips out his heart nd contemptuously throws it into K'Inich Jaakals face before slumping forwards in death. The Chief sighed and that's the story of how the once mighty Maya were reduced, the armies searched the city finding only a few Itzel left alive these were dealt with as they saw fit. The only thing of note was the shaft that pierced through the Temple to a cavern below it was searched and the priests insisted that it and the Temple be sealed never to be used again. The rest of the city gave little else up no silver, no maize no jade nothing all was barren. The little food found was all spoiled by the same black ooze that covered the plain outside the city walls. So after all that effort, we were no closer to finding out why nor did we understand how a city once so mighty had fallen so far. The priests tried to read the numerous Stele that surrounded the Temple but after three had dashed their brains out they were just toppled, maybe ignorance is bliss but still....we wonder" he shakes his head as if to clear it before continuing "Since the city had nothing to offer the priests and the K'inich decided to give the city back to the jungle so that whatever corruption it held would soon be hidden and safe. We of the Kayo tribe were given the task of guarding the city and its lake which have done so until your kind arrived mad with the lust of gold and conquest. If this man you seek has gone to the city of the Necromancers then" he pauses looking each of the CL.U.Ber's in the eyes as if searching for something "Then you best be stopping him before he finds out what we could not"
After Chief Ticocha had told his story he asked if we realised what we were asking for, the Kayo tribe had kept the secrets of Bendal Dolum safe until now, he also told the CL.U.Ber's that normally they would have been ambushed and killed in the old days to prevent them from even reaching this far but times were changing even the degenerate descendants of those Itzel who avoided the purges are now crawling out of their hiding places. He nodded to the powerfully built man behind him "I am old and tired and have given you what help I can so I will leave you now in my son's care, his name is Unjay you will be provided with some men and supplies one of the men will be a speaker" the old Chief staggered up helped by Prince Unjay he looked back at the CL.U.Ber's "The Old gods must not return and I fear that all those deaths in the past were just a first step towards something terrible" he gives a snort "Ha, even the painted giant was just a puppet for all the terror he caused, we will give you a chance to capture this white fool Mallebench but if the Itzel leave Bendal in numbers we will be forced to call what remains of the peoples together and finish what was started all those years ago, and this time we shall not leave a stone standing"