In the Mayan city of Waka', a great Queen's tomb was recently unearthed. At the heart of the pyramid she was found buried on an altar with implements of bloodletting, her skull mysteriously missing. The Maya are known for their rituals, but it has been said that this Queen's ritual blood sacrifice was performed with such honesty as to wake a deep fondness in the god Kisin as had never been seen before. Kisin: god of Xibalba, the sacbe realm that stands between life and the spirit's final resting place. When she bled for Kisin the earth would rumble. If she asked him to help her people, the earth would open and swallow her enemies.
In a time of great hardship and strife throughout her lands, the Queen sought help from Kisin as had been done before, but the balance of power had been upset, he had given her too much in return for her sacrifices past, the god had become weak and was unable to do what she asked until the balance above and below was restored. So the Queen made the truest most honored sacrifice for the love and power of her god. She went down into the earth, to the cenote that lay above Xibalba, a great pool darkened with the blood of sacrifice. She threw herself in, swimming down, then drifting unconscious into the depths through the corridors and underground waterways until she reached Kisin himself. Kisin, emaciated god of the underworld who lay frail as bones in his diluted blood pool soaking up sacrifice through his skin for he could not drink the water itself, lay there, eternal, unable to move his own body though he could move the very earth with his mind. Crawling up from the underground river to the small pool where Kisin lay, the Queen sliced open her tongue with ceremonial stingray spine and poured her blood into his hallowed lips. He drank; and as he drank the life slowly crept back into his body. Slowly he sat up, still pallid and frail, but alive as the Queen herself remained. She knelt, arms outstretched, wrists turned up in offering, but he refused. He would not take her life, but this was what she had come to give. To take your own life is the ultimate sacrifice, to be honored side by side with the death of of great warriors and priests. To be refused the sacrifice was a great insult to the Queen, though Kisin did it as a favor of love, she thought of her honor and the lives of her people. It was imperative that he honor her wishes; in one irrevocable act she took the stingray spine and cut deep into the carotis within her neck. Kisin, caught her as she fell, and putting his mouth to her neck he drank deeply as not to waste her life.
When he had finished consuming the Queen's life blood Kisin layed her down between the stalagmites and columns of his cavernous dominion and wept blood. Then in a rage, he grabbed tightly her neck, yelling, "YOU WILL LIVE" as he strangled her blood stained corpse. With fire in his eyes he took the stingray spine and cut his own wrist emptying it into her slackened mouth, staying his other hand on the neck to stop the blood from draining.
In seconds she awoke, eyes blazing, strange life force burning in her veins and a deep penetrating hunger. "How could you do this to me, to spurn my most humble offering?" she'd roared. "Who do you think you are to command me, and refuse my gifts of love" was his reply. The hunger welled up in her and she wailed and shrieked a sound so powerful that the cavern shook and the blood washed lake rose up and carried her and her rage away. Kisin sat, almost human again, he stared off into the depths of his realm.
Some time, maybe days, hours, months, nights later the Queen awoke in the blood current, washed back into the cenote sacrificial pool. Torches lit for the honorary bloodletting of a herd of peasant children. In a bestial state she drank their blood to the death, then, overwhelmed with shame, she told the priests to prepare the ritual to call upon the goddess Ixtab. Afraid of their Queen, who now looked as a dark god, they were diligent in their preparations. Ixtab was called, but a thing the likes of which they had never seen, Ixtab in person came to them; through the smoke of their ceremony fires she floated in to stand before their monstrous god Queen.
The Queen, in hopes of finding the proper way to reverse this bloodlust, asked Ixtab what ritual could she now do to sacrifice this damned existence and save her people. Ixtab told her that there is no reversal, no death. She was a blood drinker as all the gods were; they were now sisters. This shocked the Queen and saddened her. To be a god meant there were no gods to appeal to, to help her when she could not help herself. But she was determined to end this murderousness thirst to save her people and to spite Kisin, for she was still angry at what he had done. She wanted her honor back, so she pressed Ixtab for an answer. Ixtab said that although they cannot die, if the head was removed entirely and the skull enshrined separately from the burial tomb, the Queen could sleep, unconscious, until the end of the earth.
So the Queen did as Ixtab had said, preparing her burial altar in her royal family's pyramid tomb and arranging for her head to be removed with proper ceremony and placed in a jar of clay, hidden where no one could find it. But Ixtab had not fully understood the sleep of the gods, as she had only heard tales of it herself, and although she was the goddess of self sacrifice, her experience was with mortal men and women, the limits of the blood gods had never truly been tested. Or maybe it was Kisin's curse, "you will live" that left the Queen awake beside her body after her head was taken and the tomb closed.
Kisin in his anger had never helped the Queen's people. The city of Waka', once a bustling heart, was conquered and abandoned in time, falling to decay and disrepair. The incorporeal consciousness of the Queen could feel her city's troubles but was unable to do anything but wait amidst her now skeletal remains for the end of time. But soon after the destruction of all that she held sacred she realized that her consciousness could be directed to move. That she was no longer bound to her body, with the decay of her flesh had come the freedom to change and move her perception. She could see and understand the growth and movement of small and transient things and ideas, and she could travel through the world as an observer, able to see the existence of all things around her, and not just see them from one angle, as with eyes, but experience their very existence as they truly happened and were.
The Queen traveled her country lands learning of all the things that had come to pass and trying to understand why and how the world was what it was, as everything from a new clarity could be understood. She hoped to find a way to touch the world again and return to her people, wise and able to serve the lands in a new way. But over time she realized that this could never be. That she would be locked in a lonely existence until the end of the earth and it did not matter if she was in her tomb or floating about, the end was the same, without power to affect the world there was no point to knowing or feeling anything at all. But she continued on.
The Queen found she could travel across the ocean, and did, eventually coming to another blood drinker, whom she studied intently. Not a god this woman, a noble perhaps... the lady of an empty castle, which struck the Queen not as a home, more like a strange desolate city of Maya. She would lure debutantes from all over to attend dinners and dances at her palace and feed tenderly upon beautiful ladies in secret quarters. Other times, the woman would prowl nights, taking gypsies and nomads. The woman proved increasingly less interesting and as time passed, but it was her gypsy victims that changed everything. An old gypsy shrew would make a fuss whenever the Queen came around, rattling and banging things, spitting curses and burning foul smelling powders, which of course did not bother the Queen, only the shrew herself and other humans. The Queen quickly realized the old shrew knew when the she was there.
The old shrew's daughter Надежда (Nadyezhda) could also tell, but unlike the old shrew, Nadyezhda welcomed the Queen, burned candles as sacrament and talked to her. Nadyezhda would talk to the Queen for hours about anything, and the Queen would listen, no matter how trivial, as these were the only words spoken to her since her body and perception parted ways. One day the Queen tried to talk to Nadyezhda. The Queen imagined her home, and her life before the change, and then the agony of being alone, insignificant and eternal. Like a blinding shock, the girl Nadyezhda collapsed on the ground, blood running from her nose, eyes rolled back in her head. Months went by, the girl unable or unwilling to speak, lying on a blanket in the back of a carriage as the gypsies fled. But the Queen followed. She must know what had happened and why it had gone so wrong, and yet... so right. But as she followed the gypsies continued to run; a bad curse they thought she must be. A malevolent haunting.
After a year or more of running, the gypsies gave up and excepted the curse as their own, deciding it was spiritual justice for something they or their ancestors had done, and stopped trying to scare the Queen away. To a great valley city they went, to sell the things they'd found, traded for, and stolen in the highlands.
Nadyezhda was in good health now, but still she did not speak. She wandered around the market gesturing to see and sell, making small trades and keeping busy while her family worked out important trades for a new carriage wheel and other such things that were expensive to buy in the hills where life was poor but easier. People of the cities were shrewd and harder to get the advantage of than townsfolk.
Wandering to the far side of the market, Nadyezhda was drawn to a small shopfront of sticks and hides. A long curtain covered the door, not welcoming to customers but all the more intriguing. As she passed through the curtain she saw that this was the same as all the mystic swindlers' hutches, full of nick knacks and erie crafts. Like many she'd run herself in years past, it was clear that if the man sitting in front of her had any special intuition, he wasn't using it to answer his customers' questions. He appeared to ignore Nadyezhda as he watched her from the corner of his eye and wove black feathers into some mystic looking contraption. The man was in his forties but looked more like his fifties the way life had worn him. This was common of traveller types. As she stared, he turned to her, looking her in the eye, "I could see your shadow from across the way, thank you for heeding my call" he said. She stared back at him, she wasn't going to buy his game that quickly. "You've come a long way for this, I hope it helps you", he continued, putting his hand on a lump of book wrapped in brown paper. Nadyezhda was unfazed. "Show me what you have to trade", he demanded. She looked down at the silver medallion she'd got for her aunt, and the hand full wolf teeth she had left to trade, tentatively stepping forward so he could see. He took the medallion from her hand, and held out his hand for her to pour the teeth into. She wasn't sure why she was doing this, but she gave him the teeth and picked up the brown paper lump and left the shop. As she walked back to her caravan she hid the paper lump under her outer garment.
That night in the back of the caravan riding out of town, Nadyezhda unwrapped the book, anticipating what secrets might be kept inside. A roughed brown color, the book, with a golden symbol on the cover. Nothing she recognized, but then, she only knew a few gypsy tricks and was learned only in the gypsy traditions. She opened the book and turned a page, then another. Empty! Not a word to be found.
Over the next few months she tried all the tricks she could think of, a drop of blood, wax, frog oil and incense, even a few silly spells her grandmother had taught her, but that was all hocus pocus. Her family had always been able to know and sense more than outsiders could, but past that the tricks she knew were to keep people mystified while she took their money. Finally, on one particularly cold night in the mountains, as her family slept by a dying fire, Nadyezhda had had enough. She'd been swindled pure and simple, and now she was cold and unable to sleep. She contemplated burning the book for a little warmth, but it had cost her so much. To be rid of it though, she thought, would be nice. So she threw it in among the burning coals and leaned in to warm her hands. A sudden fear welled up in her, a fear of future regret. The feeling overcame her, strangling her. The pages began to catch fire as she struggled to breath, gasping and grasping at the fire in a blind panic. She burnt her hands on coals and choked on smoke until finally she'd found the book and pulled it to her as if a wandering child, brushing the flames from the pages and wrapping it securely back in it's paper binding. Shaken but relieved, she fell asleep.
The next day as her caravan rolled on through the sun's warmth, Nadyezhda sat in her place in the baggage cart, towed behind the buggy where her mother and second uncle drove the horses. In the past she'd always taken the front, helping steer and such, but since she'd fallen mute they thought it best to let her rest when she could, and though she was now strong and able as ever, her mother still made her rest as they journeyed through the hills, saying that the spirit that followed Nadyezhda might spook the horses, although it never had. So Nadyezhda sat alone in the cart among baggage and implements, back against the front, watching the hayish grasses and melting crystals of last night's frost, and the road fall away behind. A bit of a boring luxury it gave her time to mull over the book again, which she now knew she could not let go.
Finally Nadyezhda decided that if she could not bare to destroy the thing, she would make it serve her somehow. She began to keep something of a journal and chronicle of her history and daily musings. Only the most important of thoughts could go in such a fine book, but being young, she thought deeply and imagined a great many things that interested her. Strange things really, she'd been full of ideas of late, about the world and about what had happened to her. She remembered each day so many things that had been pushed into her head the day she was hurt. She saw them in fine detail, more and more, as if it was coming back to her ten fold on what she'd remembered originally. And then she realized, she wasn't remembering, she was hearing it right now! Or maybe seeing and feeling would better describe it, whatever the case she experienced it now, and thanks be that she'd learned from her grandmother to write the gypsy hand. All she had to do was listen and she would feel it come into her. The thing was thinking all the time, it was like talking out loud now that she knew what to listen for. And as she wrote she would ask it questions, and it could answer, in it's way. It had been a Queen and a terrible thing had befallen it, and now it found itself wandering the earth in search of some way to be heard, or to die.
The Queen told Nadyezhda of the Maya and their world, and of the blood drinker who had killed many of Nadyezhda's people. Some of it made Nadyezhda scared, but more than that, she couldn't get enough. Knowledge like this had never been so plentiful and once she'd had a taste, Nadyezhda could think of nothing else. Each day, when her family called her to tend the fire or set up their wares, she would close the book and the voice could no longer be heard. Nadyezhda would spend her days dreaming of the things she'd learned and thinking up new questions for the Queen.
As Nadyezhda grew older she longed to see more of the world. The Queen was always with her so they eventually left Nadyezhda's family and traveled alone or with others like her but never for long enough to be tied down. Nadyezhda sometimes wondered if she was making the whole thing up herself, if she was just crazy, but the Queen helped her learn things she could not have learned herself. Helped her gain means to go on alone, could see and find what Nadyezhda could not, telling Nadyezhda when and where to stow away and not be found, or how to enter a home and steal food without drawing attention. The Queen's incorporeal state and way of seeing the world was like a hot knife cutting through the complexities of survival. Not that there was never trouble, but there had always been trouble, and, Nadyezhda suspected, always would be.
The pages of what Nadyezhda called the "spirit book" were what allowed Nadyezhda to hear the Queen. The most fascinating and important ideas Nadyezhda would write down as they came to her, but there was just too much to write it all. Most nights she would just stare for hours at the blank pages, listening and thinking until sleep came. Sometimes she would stare too long without writing and the ideas and visions would seem more distant and confusing, until she could no longer hear the Queen at all. And so Nadyezhda was forced to write regularly, little ideas here and there, with smaller and smaller letters on into the margins and over to the backs of the pages, until one day the book was full. She thought there was a sentence or two she could squeeze in between lines that were already double filled one way then upside down, but she would need that space to keep it going while she figured out what to do. The Queen and her discussed all decisions now, though mostly Nadyezhda would do what the Queen wished since the Queen did not have a body of her own, and the answer they decided, was to return to the market in the low lands and try to find that man who sold Nadyezhda the book in the first place.
They were several months journey from that land now, even longer taking passage with others. By the time Nadyezhda arrived at the market it was as if the Queen had been a dream, though Nadyezhda could still feel her presence. Going had been hard without the Queen's insights, Nadyezhda had come to rely on the fact that the Queen always knew how to get what they needed. Without that, Nadyezhda had tresorted to a trade for passage with a strange nomadic group who's language she couldn't understand. Regretfully, she was now with child, but had at least she had arrived.
The man she sought was not where he had been, but that was no surprise. After asking around she discovered that he rarely came to market, and when he did he had few customers, but the spot was his and his alone, so he must return eventually. Nadyezhda prepared to wait, finding work with a shank roast stand, she earned meals and a place in their tent during these winter nights. It was as much as a woman with no family could hope for, so she was happy enough in her waiting.
As the winter neared it's end the man again to sit in his tent of animal flesh. He did not keep a fire and the hutch was as cold inside as it was out. No wonder he was so pale and still, Nadyezhda wondered if he might be dead sitting there. But he turned to her and smiled, "I was expecting you, what have you brought me this time?" his eyes shimmering onyx, but somehow welcoming nonetheless. She had nothing to give and by that smile he must know it, but she told him and he did not flinch. "But you do have that...", a long boney finger extended in a gesture toward her shawl. Her shawl which she kept the book hidden away in for safe keeping. She stepped back and looked at a drinking gourd that dangled by a cord, stained black with wine. A sparse tent he kept, not a lot to trade it seemed. "It seems only fair, a book for a book, no?". She hoped that no ill would come if this, but she needed a new book, if she wanted the first back she could figure that out once she had spoken with the Queen. They traded books, hers full of the life of the Queen and so many insights from their time together, his the key to her future. He smiled a wide cheshire grin and tucked the book away. 'Somehow he had the power to make these books but must not be able to use them' Nadyezhda thought as she thanked him and walked back out into the brisk night air.
The Queen coaxed Nadyezhda with ideas of travel to the Queen's home but that place was like none in the known world and there was no way by which to reach it. There was also the matter of new books and how they would be procured if they strayed too far from these lands. Nadyezhda found the best way to savor the book was to transcribe images themselves instead of words, to keep connected but spare the pages of the book as long as possible. Nadyezhda bore a daughter and that daughter learned to speak to the Queen as well. Nadyezhda grew old and when she died she left the book to her daughter as she had nothing else, save her own carriage and horses, of which her daughter was already in charge. The Queen and daughter paired as spirit and host, like one mind between them and when it came time, the daughter sought a man, of strong body and weak in conscience, who would give her a child and be gone. And thus the tradition was passed on, daughter and spirit, until Nadyezhda's descendent daughter was able to stow away on a boat headed across the ocean to the continent of the Queen's home. The descendent daughter and the Queen did not make it as far as the Queen's lands, the descendent daughter grew ill and without child sought another to carry the book. She found a Shaman of the indigenous people who felt and could hear the book. His understanding of the Queen's words were muddled, but he knew what must be done and did her bidding with pride, as the honored bearer of a sacred spirit. She spoke not but to command him, and thus a new tradition was born.
The Queen and her servant traveled to Waka' and searched for her skull. She knew that she must rise in the flesh again, but it seemed too much to ask. No mystic bond of body and spirit saved her in her search, and when her servant grew old and could not find another to replace him, she made him lift the secret entrance to her tomb and go down a hole from which he could never return. She forced her thoughts into his brain, like she had that first time with Nadyezhda, cutting through the haze of the medium he saw her thoughts in pure for for the first time. He drew the inscriptions into the book, the last one made, and then died beside her where she wait with the book and her bones, to be found.