XXIV - Travel Diaries

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Each city-state is the same. Each visit repeats on itself until only the cultural, physical, and architectural differences of the locations inform us of where we are.

We go first to the Nahultecs, buried deep in the middle of a dense rainforest on the edge of Aundus. No roads or trails lead towards their great settlement. I play as if the goddess is leading me into the depths of the thick jungle, led by bright, flashing lights. I shoot little stars out ahead of me, they pop and spark with the short-fuse light of bottle rockets.

The Nahultecs are sanguinary people that rely on blood sacrifice and hedonistic rituals. They offer still-beating hearts of humble men to their grim-faced idols of the goddess. Their version of her is as different from the true-to-life sculptures in the Aundun temples as can be imagined: plump and short with round hips and heavy, sagging breasts. She wears a mantle of florid feathers spraying out around her — an aura of teal, purple, navy, and emerald. 

Stepped pyramids made of grey stone and decorated with vivid murals painted in bold strokes of primary colors dot the landscape. Their temples are carved from damp, dark mountains, the outer walls polished and glistening in sultry sunlight. Bubble-like hieroglyphs of serpents, jaguars, and monkeys scurry in cartoonish relief across the walls, depicting their history.

Upon our arrival, the Chief slaughters a pig, goat, cow, and monkey in our honor. I stop them before they can kill a man that sits placidly chained to an altar, watching with quiet expectation and acceptance as the steps of the pyramids run crimson. The fresh blood, glistening and sticky, clings to the porous stone; the air buzzes with the metallic burn of copper, pricking our tongues. Flies swarm and drone near our ears.

I speak to the kingdom's elders in fluent Nahulatezch, and while they are receptive to our message, Adras and I have to earn their trust by more violent and showy means. To prove our devotion to the goddess, Adras and I accept the challenge of a ritual bath.

We step into shallow, empty pools and are told to sacrifice an ox each. We're instructed to bathe in its blood and consecrate ourselves to the goddess with a writhing, hypnotic dance. I nearly blow my cover when a priest pushes a heavy, ornate golden knife into my hand. The ox blinks drowsily, I see myself reflected in her dark, pathetic eyes. I never asked for or demanded blood sacrifice — any sacrifice — but one look at the hard-set jaws on the elders makes me gulp. There is no way around this. No way they will trust Adras and me without it. The entire experience makes me woozy. After, Adras and I scrub ourselves for hours in a nearby river, both of us nauseated by the ordeal. We pause our bathing several times to scurry to the bank and vomit into lush, waxy palms. It takes days to remember what cleanliness feels like.

By the light of mellow campfires, I slip into the fearsome countenance of their goddess and forbid the further practice of blood sacrifices, human or animal.

***

Next, we visit the Chiap people. Experts in the production of grain and the growers of most of the food for the larger, Eastern city-states. They set culture and tradition on a high pedestal, creating and observing intricate rituals for everyday experiences, preferring non-verbal communication to brash, harsh speaking. 

We bake in saunas and boil in hot pools before embarking upon hours-long ceremonies of serving tea and eating bright, botanical dishes. Entering and exiting another's home takes two hours, minimum. Our eyes flit with choreographed dance steps that communicate our intentions and desires without too many words spoken — lest the silence and peace be disturbed by the brute force of slippery whispers.

The Ciap do not worship the goddess, and like Adras' people, are without religion. While we visit, he is a more valuable ambassador for our cause than I. When we do speak with the counselors and ancient rulers of the cities, Adras' voice is the one that tinkles in Chiapesque with bright awe about the miracles I have wrought and how the promise of my religion doesn't sabotage free thought.

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