Fantasy Monsters sword & sorcery

The White Wyrm

By C. L. Werner
Aug 14, 2020 · 11,513 words · 42 minutes

Ball Python

Photo by Fidias Cervantes via Unsplash.

From the author: German knight Wolf von Klinge, captured by Vikings, is swept into the jungles of Central America where he finds the last bastion of the Toltecs and becomes embroiled in a struggle between rival priesthoods and the fearsome monster they worship as the White Wyrm.


The White Wyrm

by

C. L. Werner

I – Thrall of the Vikings

"The men say it is the Christian's God Who sends these winds. He means to blow us into the mouth of the Midgard Serpent itself!" the blonde giant said, pointing his muscled arm at the weather vane. South it pointed, still south after two weeks, sending Ragnar's vessel into waters never beheld by Viking eyes. The Vikings could not know that they had tarried too long raping the English coastline before setting out for the green shores of Vineland. They could not know of the tremendous southerly winds arising from Hudson Bay and sweeping all before them down the Atlantic coast into the Gulf, nor that this year the winds were especially fierce. They only knew that their chieftain had openly mocked the German's God and that now their dragon-ship was caught in winds seemingly sent solely to bear them to the shores of Niflheim.

The words were spoken to the hulking brute who was captain and war chief of the longship. The Viking was called Ragnar the Blue for his long beard of purest, deepest black. The reaver was a renegade, an outcast from the kingdom of Harald Bluetooth's united Danemark and Norway. The king presumed to impose the Christian God upon his savage, roving subjects, to cast down the mammoth hammers of Thor which littered the landscape of Norway and send soft-hearted priests to minister men who were the terror of all Europe. Ragnar wanted no part of the king’s shepherd god, and spit upon the king’s peace. He had gathered a crew of like-minded warriors and fallen upon the coasts of England with a savagery never seen before.

"Dog!" shouted Ragnar, giving the sea wolf a kick which sent the Norseman crashing against one of his fellows. "I fear no Christian's God! Put your backs to the beitass! The shores of Vineland are away to the west and we shall yet harness this devil's wind to bring us to our long houses!"

Even as the long pole was brought forward and fastened into the leading edge of the sail, the Vikings grumbled in their beards. Ordinarily the other end of the beitass would be fitted into a groove in a block of wood against the opposite side of the ship. But the tremendous winds had splintered the wooden block and very nearly snapped the beitass itself. The Vikings meant to keep the sail straight, to move along the wind rather than with it. But, as the Vikings strained to keep the sail straight against the gale, the cracking of wood rose above the sounds of the tempest.

"It is no use, Ragnar! By Odin's axe, cast the Christian overboard!" one of the giants struggling with the beitass snarled.

Ragnar spun about, glaring at the prisoner lashed to the mainmast. The man was a German knight, Wolf von Klinge, an outcast from his own barony in the heart of the Empire. Wolf smiled fiercely at the black-bearded Norseman who loomed above him like some prehistoric ogre. The man bound to the pine-wood mast of the fifty-oar long ship was, like every man of the Norse crew, excepting Ragnar himself, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. There the similarity ended. While the Vikings were hulking, troll-like figures of savage, undisciplined strength, their prisoner was tigerish in build, his body hardened by rigorous training and self discipline, his smaller build suggesting an agility lacking in the giants who sat upon their sea chests and rowed the dragon-boat across the waters of the Atlantic. The knight still wore the suit of chainmail he had worn when he had fought the reavers as the Vikings had fallen upon a small town on the English coast, but his sword now rested beneath the studded girdle that circled Ragnar’s waist.

Wolf glared back at the huge Viking, refusing to submit to Ragnar’s wrathful stare. He had been employed as a mercenary by England’s weak king Æthelred II, charged with destroying the Viking marauders prowling the shores of his realm. The German had been well suited to his work, becoming a scourge to the Norsemen. Until the night his path at last crossed that of the elusive Ragnar the Blue.

"Such a swift death will not be his!" returned the jarl. "Thorfiel was my brother, and this German pig killed him! For that he will die, but slowly and if any man steps toward him to pitch him over, by Ymir, I'll split his skull!" Ragnar pulled his long-handled axe from out of his belt and held it threateningly in both his hands.

The Vikings continued to struggle against the storm, until, at last, the beitass snapped entirely, throwing the Norsemen across the deck and casting five of their number into the white foaming sea. One of these pulled himself up and over the side of the ship, frozen to the bone by the icy waters. The other four were lost beneath the waves.

"Surtur's curse be yours, Ragnar! Your madness has killed us!" screamed a red-faced sea wolf as he picked himself from the deck. Ragnar's axe answered the Viking's defiance, hewing through the Norseman's throat and neck, bathing those nearest the victim of Ragnar's fury in a fountain of gore. The slain Viking's head hung between his shoulder blades, supported by the fleshy half-neck left by Ragnar's cut as the corpse sank to the deck.

"Sigurd!" roared the Viking jarl, pointing his dripping axe at a towering beast wearing a leather jerkin and bronze helm. "Cut away this sail! Better a hundred days at the oars than one more spent in the thrall of these demon winds!"

Sigurd advanced to the mast as the tempest unleashed its fury in earnest. His long dirk clenched between his teeth in preparation for his climb, the Viking looked in horror as a gigantic wave closed in upon the long-ship, towering above it like the watery fist of Ægir.
Wolf's face was an icy mask of hate. He had long ago given up all hope of escape. No longer did he pray for life but only the deaths of his red-handed pagan enemies. As he gazed upon the titanic wave, as he watched the mark of fear crawl across Sigurd's face like a maggot in an unburied corpse, the German knight's frozen features twisted into a ghastly leer of unhallowed satisfaction. His prayers had been answered, his foes would perish with him. Wolf would ask no more of a generous God.

The wave broke upon the dragon-boat, obliterating Wolf's vision in a wall of gray-blue destruction. When the wave had passed and vision had returned to him, the Viking Sigurd no longer towered above Wolf's trussed body. The German began to scan the deck of the long-ship to see what remained of her crew when a gleam at his side caught his eye. The Viking had been swept overboard by the freak wave, but, by some miracle, some perverse gesture of the Fates, the dirk which had been clenched within his Norse jaws ere they had opened to utter his death cry had remained and fallen in such a way that the German's tied hands closed upon the gilded hilt.

"Bail, you dogs! Bail for your miserable, worthless lives!" Ragnar helped the remnants of his crew to war against the waters which had swamped the dragon-boat's deck. The blonde giants pushed the water overboard with their bronze shields and emptied sea chests. Two feebly attempted to secure the remainder of the ship's provisions as they floated across the deck.

"Ragnar!" The voice was filled with venom, seeming to drip into the howling wind to be borne upon it to the hinterlands of the world. The blue-bearded jarl rose from his desperate labor and pulled his long-hefted axe. His fierce blue eyes met the gaze of his foe and returned the hate of the man who had been his prisoner. Ragnar bellowed a roar of red rage and charged at the armor-clad figure who glared at him from across the half-submerged deck.

There, their knees lost beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic, the primitive pagan barbarian met the refined Christian knight, black savagery against the disciplined steel of civilization. The German crouched, his dirk held before him. The Viking roared forward like a blood-mad bull, his heavy battleaxe grasped in a grip of iron. The Viking's axe cut downward like a lightning bolt of death, the German barely dodging to the side in time to avoid the fatal blow which would have cleft him from skull to breastbone. Ragnar snarled in even greater rage, bringing his axe-arm back and releasing it again in a sweeping blow aimed at the side of his enemy's head. Wolf ducked the jarl's berserk assault and, with the speed of a coiled viper, struck. Ragnar's axe fell into the water upon the dragon-boat's deck with a loud splash as the Viking's hands closed about the dagger in his throat. A sneer of bittersweet triumph upon his face, Wolf tore his steel sword from the mortally wounded reaver's girdle. A moment later, Ragnar's gurgling death rattle was silenced as the jarl joined his axe upon the submerged deck of the long ship.

Wolf shouted his fury as he turned from Ragnar's corpse to sink his steel into the remnants of the slain jarl's Vikings. Several blonde giants turned from their futile labor to answer the Christian's challenge, axes and swords at the ready, their Norse faces twisted into the semblance of snarling wolves. Even as the foremost of their number began to close with the German, a second, mightier wave crashed down upon the long-ship, shattering the swamped vessel and casting its occupants to the mercies of an unquiet sea.

II - A Strange Shore

Wolf thought at first that his reason had left him. The long days beneath the blazing sun had affected his mind and left him mad. The Vikings had taken him to the very edge of the world and been blown into waters unknown even to sea wolves such as they. And Wolf had been carried even further by the demonic current that had brought doom to Ragnar the Blue. After the Viking ship had been destroyed and Wolf thrown into the sea to fight a desperate battle against the weight of his mail, his flailing hand had found sanctuary, the serpentine figurehead of the Vikings' ship, floating upon the waves like the decapitated head of a dragon. Long days had Wolf clung to the intricately carved dragon-head, clutching it to him like a babe to its mother's breast. Now, after nearly a week without food, water to drink, or rest, it had brought him to land. That is, unless the strange shore that seemed to Wolf's eyes to now lie upon the horizon were not merely a phantom of an affected mind.

Wolf von Klinge had his suspicions dispelled that evening when the reptilian figurehead to which he clung was hurled upon the sandy shore and his steel-shod feet stood upon solid ground for the first time in over a month. They did not remain upon the firmament long, however, for Wolf's fatigued frame sank into the sand, falling first to his knees, then upon his face. In the eerie silence of a moon-bathed beach, the German slept with the soundness of the dead. While he slept, a figure drifted from out of the shadows of the dense jungle of palm trees and squat bushes which surrounded the beach and stood for many minutes studying the sleeping man and the dragon's head which had borne him across the sea. The red-skinned man's thin, cruel lips were set in a grimace of defiance; his black eyes gleaming with a preternatural hate from beneath his headpiece of dark red parrot feathers. The man's hand closed upon the golden medallion that depended upon his breast from a silver chain.

Then, a decision reached, the silent figure retreated back into the jungle, pausing at its edge to cast one final hateful glare at the sleeping knight.

When Wolf awoke, the sun was high overhead, the intense heat of the tropics already baking the ground and invigorating the lizards that were sunning themselves upon the beach, one large yellow and black monitor perched atop Wolf's leg. As the knight stirred, the lizard leaped to the sand and, keeping its belly above the hot ground, scurried off to the security of the jungle.

Wolf rose to his feet, looking over his surroundings with steely eyes. This land was unlike any that he had heard of, though it bore a slight resemblance to the descriptions he had heard of Egypt and the less arid holdings of the Saracens. But, whether the shore of the Holy Land or Hell itself, Wolf knew that he would find no other. Pulling his sword from his belt, the knight began to take long strides toward the dark jungle. Unless this strange forest was utterly unlike those of Europe, here, the German knew, would be found food and fresh water. And food and water, his dry and famished frame told him, he must have.

Abruptly, from the jungle there came a loud, shrill whistle, a piercing cry the likes of which would not again be heard by a white man for five hundred years. Wolf held his steps, wondering what manner of bird should make such a cry and uneasy due to the nearness of the sound. Then he heard the sound of many bodies charging through the jungle, savage war cries replacing the eerie whistle. Wolf braced himself for the coming battle, both his armored hands grasping the hilt of his Rhineland blade.

They leaped from the edge of the jungle like pouncing panthers, their squat, savage bodies naked save for crudely fashioned loin clouts of cured tree bark. The red-skinned goblins were much shorter than any man Wolf had ever seen before, save the dwarf who was AEthelred's fool. Their noses were long and sharp like a bird's beak, their mouths large with teeth filed into fangs. The savages' brows were massive, their foreheads as slight as that of a dog. They were a savage and degenerate people, a race too terrible for Nature to permit to survive. Even now there were few tribes of these Neolithic survivals. When the booted heel of the Spaniard set foot upon the soil of this land, these dwarfish savages should have been long exterminated by Aztec and Maya.

Though they had never seen a white man, a coat of mail, or a sword of steel, the primitive warriors did not halt their ferocious charge. Theirs was a crude intellect which could not people their world with imaginary devils or pause to question something which was new beyond whether it would make good eating when slain. They had been told where to find this man, had been told to wait the signal before killing him. The signal had been given, now was the time for the thrust of the spear and the blow of the cudgel, not for marveling at a strange sight.

The first of the savages, a shriek of joy and bloodlust splitting his face into the semblance of a grinning gargoyle, sought to dart to Wolf's left and brain the knight with a club of bone. The German twisted his body around, catching the short warrior in the chest with his Rhineland steel, sending the savage toppling into the sand, a deep and mortal gash running along both breasts.

The others checked their reckless charge as their dying comrade writhed in the sand. It was not fear that checked their assault. A diabolic glee stole across each naked warrior's face. Pure savages, the red-skinned goblins respected strength, revering the jaguar's ability to kill with a single blow and knowing that, like the jungle cat's strength, the armored knight's power to kill would pass on to them when they pulled his pale flesh from the cooking pot. Slowly, the cannibals formed a circle around the guarding knight.

Wolf was weighing his possible actions in his dire situation. Fatigued, he could not hope to outrun his savage enemies, even if the German knew in which direction to flee. No, his only hope was to make the savages pay too high a price for the head of a German and cause them to forsake the battle. And, as Wolf gazed into the black eyes that gleamed at him hungrily from red faces, the knight knew how slim a hope that was.

With a terrific yell, the savages were upon him once more. Wolf spun on his heel, splitting the skull of a club-wielding dwarf with a downward thrust of his sword, dropping the creature immediately in a puddle of brains and blood. A second savage thrust a spear into Wolf's side as the knight opened the belly of a third that had attacked him from the front. The wooden point splintered against the steel mail and, now alerted to the assassin's presence, the knight turned to face the back-stabber, Rhineland steel severing spear-shaft and arm-bone alike, the maimed, shrieking savage staggering away from the battle mad with pain.

Still they came, their dead piling about Wolf's feet like cordwood. Ever the knight's blade rose and fell severing heads and limbs, bathing the white sands in a wash of gore. Wolf was blood-mad himself, now, ignoring the cries of agony from his fatigued muscles, employing his deadly swordcraft with the emotionlessness of an automaton, trusting his steel mail to protect him from the bone and wood weapons of his primitive foes.

Then, as even Wolf's blood-madness could not keep his sword from sagging towards the ground like a weary viper and the red-skinned dwarfs readied for a final assault, a high, commanding voice held the red horde. Wolf turned his haggard eyes and found a tall red-skinned man striding across the beach in his direction.

The man was of the same color as the cannibals, but this was the only similarity. He was only slightly shorter than Wolf, his frame thin and stately, his face hawkish and noble. The man's eyes were intelligent, his skull utterly unlike the apish cranium of the dwarfs. The man wore a long loincloth of some fine white fabric that covered his legs to well below his knees. About his neck the man wore a massive necklace of gold to which was fixed a square breastplate of the same metal. A headdress of white feathers was upon the man's head while a cloak of white cloth hung from his shoulders. In his thin, delicate hand, he held a golden staff fashioned in the shape of a winged serpent. In the face of his approach, the dwarfish savages gathered up their dead and skulked away into the shadows of the nearby jungle. The hunt had brought full cooking pots nonetheless for the cannibals.

The man continued to advance toward Wolf, bowing as he did so. Though aware that the stranger had saved him from the dwarfs, Wolf could not escape a sense of uneasiness as the red man drew nearer. At last, Wolf raised his blade in a gesture of menace that he felt could not help but be interpreted as 'come no further'.

The man held his ground, a look of bewilderment coming upon his sharp features. He spoke in a strange language, his bewilderment increasing when Wolf failed to understand his words. The stranger spoke again, pointing beyond Wolf at the Viking long-ship's dragon-head which still lie upon the beach. Wolf studied the man's face, trying to glean some understanding of his words from his expression.

Finally, the stranger pointed to himself and then to the jungle behind him. When he had finished the gesture, the man slowly, and to Wolf's eyes reluctantly, pointed to the German and then, more emphatically, to the ground at Wolf's feet. Looking at Wolf for a moment to see if the knight had understood him, the Indian turned around and ran swiftly in the direction from which he had come.

Wolf sat down upon the bloody sand and quietly cleaned his gory blade with a swordcloth. Whether it would bring him good or ill, he would await the stranger's return.

III - The Parrot

It was over an hour before the white-clad stranger returned, bringing with him a large number of people of the same race as himself. Wolf was upon his feet in a breath, his sword at the ready. The procession came to a halt at this sign from the German knight, two-dozen headdress wearing warriors bringing their short spears parallel with their heads, ready for the command to cast them at the threatening stranger.

The white-robed man noted the soldiers' action and, greatly agitated, appealed to a tall, pantherish man at his side. This man was young, his features sharp, handsome, and vain. He wore a long, flowing robe of jaguar pelts and a river of gold and silver chains hung from about his neck supporting an endless number of jeweled pendants and charms. Upon his dark-haired head was a massive band of gold topped by eagle feathers. The man's arms, legs, and chest were encased in primitive armor of hide and wood, the only man in the whole company to be so protected. It was with a contemptuous air that the king, for so Wolf decided he must be, motioned for his warriors to lower their spears.

Besides the white-robed man, the king, and the dozens of soldiers, Wolf noted two other figures in the company he now faced. The first stood quite near to the king and more than once glared with hatred at the white-clad man, looking at Wolf with even greater malevolence. This malcontent wore robes of red and a headdress of red feathers and bore in his hands a bladed staff, a gore-drenched thing which had never been cleansed and was dark with the spilled blood of the past. From the rogue's neck hung a single silver chain from which depended a golden medallion in the shape of a leering, grotesque demon's face.

The other stood apart from the rest of the company save the two warriors who held her arms fast. She was of a race akin to but separate from the sharp-featured warriors. She was less thin of feature and body than those about her. Her cheeks were full, her nose small and her lips thick. To Wolf's amazement, blue eyes stared at him from the red face. Her limbs were not gangly and stick-like as were those of the others. Clad only in a white loincloth, Wolf was struck for a moment by her generous charms even as he noted the awe and fear in the young woman's face. It was several moments before the knight looked away and repented within himself for the thoughts he had momentarily entertained.

The king turned to the soldiers who held the girl and snapped a command at them. The soldiers released their hold upon the girl and she slowly, fearfully, walked toward Wolf. Embarrassed at her nakedness, the knight turned his eyes to the sand as she drew closer, then, realizing the foolishness of such an action should the men be planning him mischief, Wolf looked up and resolutely focused his eyes upon those of the advancing maiden. She was beautiful, the German concluded, and if the others should prove to be her captors, they would have her back only by challenging his steel, he vowed with a passion which surprised him.

They stood for several long, awkward moments, gazing into each other's eyes, she still with awe and fear, he with… with thoughts which he would repent during his prayers. Then, with many pauses and a halting timidity, the strange maiden addressed the German knight in his own tongue!

"Oh great Quetzalcoatl, forgive this unworthy and wretched creature! Forgive her the sacrilege of speaking to a god! Spare her, oh merciful serpent!"

Wolf stared in wonder, unable to believe his ears. The woman's lips had moved and he had been spoken to in his own language and yet, how could this be? How could this girl speak the language of a people who had never set foot upon her land? And why had it seemed to the German that her lips had not formed German words, though such had he heard?

"Nay, girl, I am no god," Wolf returned, lowering his sword. "If one of us be a god, it is thee. How come you to speak in the manner of one of the Empire's people?"

The girl looked puzzled and stared more intently into Wolf's eyes, as though trying to see through them into the knight's very soul. Then a look of understanding came upon the girl's face and when next she spoke it was in a whisper.

"No, you are not a god. I can see that now, in your eyes, in your soul. That is why it seems to you that I speak to you in your own language, it is because I do not speak to your body, but to your soul," the girl spoke. "Ever since I was born it has been my gift to speak with men's souls. That is why they came and took me away from my people to serve Tilian, King of the Toltecs, to lurk in his court and find the deceit within the nobles and ambassadors who pay him tribute. When Cuauhtemoc said that the White Wyrm had come to us as a man, Tlascala insisted that Tilian bring me along to learn whether you were a god or a trick of Cuauhtemoc's." The woman looked down at the sand in shame. "I was afraid to read the soul of a god," she admitted.

"The man wearing the golden crown, that is Tilian?" inquired Wolf. The girl nodded. "Who is the man in white, the one who saved me from the savages? And who is the evil-looking rogue with the bloody staff?"

"The man who found you is Cuauhtemoc, high priest of Quetzalcoatl. The other is Tlascala, the high priest of Huitzilopotchli. They both vie for control of Tilian and all the Toltecs, the priesthoods of Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopotchli, the worshipers of the White Wyrm and the God of War. Last night, Tilian tired of their scheming and bade each of the priests go out into the jungle and return with a sign from their god that theirs was the mightier. Tlascala is desperate to prove that you are not Cuauhtemoc's god to save his own position of power."

Wolf looked hard into the gaunt, cruel face which continued to glare at him from across the sands. The knight was not certain of much in this strange land but he knew the red-clad priest to be an evil and dangerous man, one who would see him slain given the chance. He looked again into the maiden's eyes.

"I cannot pretend to be a god for many reasons. For one, Tlascala is a crafty man, this I can see in his face. He would demand of me miracles which I cannot produce and I would be discovered. For another, I think it would be an affront before my own God." Wolf paused, letting his words sink in and pondering those he would next speak. The girl spoke first.

"I shall say that you are Quetzalcoatl's messenger, then. That shall put you under Cuauhtemoc's protection and save you from Tlascala's craft. If you cannot agree to play this role… I cannot help you." There was sadness in her voice as she finished. Wolf read from her tone that if he did not have the protection of Cuauhtemoc, he would be killed.

"A half-sin is better than a sin and some good may come of my deceit. Lead me and I shall follow."

The girl bowed low and turned to address her king and the assembled Toltecs. But first she looked over her shoulder and with a half-embarrassed look said:

"My name is Malinche."

IV - Culuacan

Wolf soon found himself in the city of Tilian's rule, Culuacan, last metropolis of the fading Toltec Empire. It was small compared to the cities which the Toltecs had once reared and which, in turn, would be dwarfed by the Aztec cities that would greet the Spaniards five-hundred years later. Yet its construction, its tiered pyramids and elevated palaces, was utterly alien to any buildings Wolf had seen in either painting or fact. The city of the Toltecs was as different from the ruins of Rome as it was from the rat-infested streets of Æthelred's London. The German knight was impressed by what he saw, though he was careful to keep this reaction from his hosts. A messenger of the gods, he decided, should not marvel at the work of human hands.

Through Malinche, Wolf declared that he had come to observe the people of Culuacan, to live among them and see if their ways followed the laws of… of the gods, for the deception, necessary though it was, weighed heavily upon the German's soul. Wolf was given a position of honor in the court of Tilian and lavished with gifts of gold and jewels by the Toltec king and the Toltec nobles (tribute to curry Wolf's favor, Malinche informed the knight). A palace set atop a high-tiered platform was made ready for Wolf's use by Cuauhtemoc and the priests of Quetzalcoatl. The telepathic Malinche was given to Wolf to interpret the base language of men into the divine language spoken by the White Wyrm's messenger, becoming as inseparable from him as his own shadow. Soon, the German found himself dwelling in splendor surpassed only by Tilian himself.

Wolf was content to enjoy his position of power, not quite reveling in the lavish feasts that occurred regularly in Tilian's palace, yet neither refusing to indulge himself in the exotic meats and fruits set before him. He did not, however, take full advantage of Tilian's hospitality as a lesser man might have. With polite chivalry, Wolf refused the charms of the maidens Tilian had offered the white-skinned prophet. If Wolf had eyes for any of the Toltecs, it was for the blue-eyes Malinche, an affection which he was slow to admit even to himself. At last, however, he did declare his feelings, though the 'reader of souls' had known how he felt long before Wolf himself did. The affair now in the open, Malinche confessed that she could imagine no paradise so favorable as the German's arms. There had followed a long and passionate embrace, a restless night upon a pelt-covered wooden bed. Suddenly, Culuacan was not a place Wolf ever wanted to leave.

True, it was not a perfect life. The groveling subservience of the priests of Quetzalcoatl bothered Wolf like an insect's crawl upon his back. It was a necessary evil to maintain his deception, but that fact did not make it any more pleasant to Wolf. And then there was Tlascala, the red-garbed high priest of Huitzilopotchli. Whenever the eyes of the knight met the cruel ophidian orbs of Tlascala, the priest's eyes burned with hate, an all-consuming, barely restrained loathing. Though Wolf had never spoken a word to the priest, even through Malinche, Tlascala was the most dire enemy the knight had earned in a violent life filled with usurpers and Vikings. Still, whatever evil Tlascala wished upon his nemesis, the priest did not dare lift his hand to bring it about.

Wolf's content existence in Culuacan came to an end when war came to the Toltecs. Half-civilized tribes far to the south had defied Tilian's demands that they pay a tribute of gold, food and slaves. Ranks of nearly naked plumed soldiers marched out from the streets of Culuacan, returning months later, their numbers scarcely thinner and marching a long line of broken-spirited prisoners between their columns. Tilian held court in his palace while those who had dared to defy him awaited their fate in the plaza below.

As usual, Wolf sat on Tilian's left, Cuauhtemoc sitting on his right. Far away, lost in the throng of nobles sat Tlascala, his eyes glaring at the position of honor which had been his. The priesthood of Huitzilopotchli had become an impotent, weakened thing compared to that of Quetzalcoatl, which waxed even as Tlascala's power waned. But Tlascala still held some authority.

Tilian lounged upon his throne with the laziness and boredom of a king who is sure of his rule. Before him, the commander of his army reported the brief uprising among the Toltec's vassals. Suddenly, Tlascala leaped to his feet, striking the floor with the butt of his bloody staff repeatedly, filling the chamber with the echoes of its hollow impact. The evil-faced priest pulled back thin lips and snarled at the seated monarch.

"Huitzilopotchli has given you this victory!" Tlascala declared, Malinche shuddering as she translated the words for Wolf. "Huitzilopotchli, who yet loves his children, the Toltecs. He has given you your enemies! Now, he must be given his tribute!" There was challenge in Tlascala's voice as he finished. The gauntlet had been cast at Tilian's feet, either the king must acknowledge that Tlascala yet wielded some power in Culuacan or he must openly mock Huitzilopotchli before all his nobles.

Tilian looked at Wolf, then to Cuauhtemoc. A slight smile came upon the king's face and he nodded at Tlascala. The snarl upon the priest's face twisted into a grim leer of triumph. Malinche whispered into Wolf's ear.

"Tilian does not wish to offend Tlascala. He is afraid that you and Cuauhtemoc may one day threaten his throne and he would keep allies to fight on his side if that happens."

Tlascala bowed mockingly before Wolf's seated figure, his thin face grinning from ear to ear. His lips uttered a further challenge.

"Shall heaven's messenger follow me and behold how we keep the worship of Huitzilopotchli?" Malinche translated in terror. Wolf glared back at the mocking, crafty face.

"Tell him I will go," ordered the German, ignoring the telepath's protests. Tlascala laughed as he led the way out of Tilian's hall.

Already the prisoners were being led to the towering pyramid which served as the temple of Huitzilopotchli. Tlascala led Wolf past the column of down-faced Indians and up the steep steps of the pyramid. At the top, Wolf now saw, stood a long slab of gore-encrusted marble supported on the backs of four stone gargoyles. Two priests of the Toltec's horrible war god stood beside the altar, their red parrot feather headdresses waving in the warm, humid breeze. They cast knowing looks at Tlascala as he took his place behind the altar. Malinche cringed at Wolf's side as the German stood behind the priest. Tlascala called out to the Toltec soldiers in the plaza far below and soon a naked, feebly protesting captive was being escorted up the pyramid's steps by two burly Toltecs.

Tlascala sneered in contempt at Wolf as the soldiers turned their now terrified charge over to the under priests. The priests forced the naked prisoner down upon the gore-crusted altar. Tlascala cast one last challenging glare at Wolf before removing a rust-colored dagger from his girdle. The dagger, caked in the dried blood of innumerable sacrifices to the every hungry Huitzilopotchli so that it scarcely retained the shape of a blade at all, seemed to exude a preternatural stench of death and corruption. Sensing the bloody act soon to follow, Wolf's every muscle tensed for a swift lunge at the depraved high priest. Malinche felt the tension in the body against which she huddled in fear and clasped her arms about Wolf's armored legs.

"Resist, my beloved. Do not give in to Tlascala's baiting," the telepath whispered. Wolf's eyes burned in rage, but he restrained the leap that would have put his strong hands around the priest's thin throat.

The sacrifice struggled upon the altar, his arms and legs held fast by the under priests. Tlascala, his mouth dripping obscenities in a tongue far older than the language of the Toltecs, a speech that made Malinche shudder and refuse to translate, raised the gore-crusted knife. With a swift motion, he brought it down, burying it to the hilt in the captive's left breast. With incredible violence, Tlascala rotated the buried knife in a wide circle, thrusting his free hand into the bloody flesh within the circular wound. A moment later the claw-like hand was held high over Tlascala's head, the slain man's still-beating heart grasped by the talon-like fingers.

Wolf swore in outrage, and would have moved toward the gloating high priest but for Malinche's restraining arms and her pleas for him to not fall into Tlascala's trap.

Tlascala raised the pulsating organ to his mouth, spreading the thin lips to reveal his filed fang-like teeth. The lips closed about the torn artery and sucked the remaining blood from the expiring organ. The under priests took the blood-soaked body of the sacrifice and carried it to the gaping maw of a circular well, a black opening in the very top of the pyramid. Wolf watched in a cold hate as the red-garbed priests dropped the dead man into the darkness with all the care of a glutted baron tossing table-scraps to his hounds. The German stared at the well with its border of raised stone, stone upon which were crawling characters and writhing figures, the obscene writing of the priests of Huitzilopotchli carved into the very rock of the pyramid, and he wondered into what manner of hell the hole led.

V - The Reckoning

The city of Culuacan was sour with the reek of blood for Wolf after his day atop the pyramid of Huitzilopotchli. He stood there for hours watching as Tlascala raised and lowered the sacrificial dagger, as a seemingly endless stream of victims were dropped into the open well. He watched in mute horror as Tlascala threw still throbbing hearts out into the plaza below, to be fought over by the citizens of Culuacan who had assembled to watch the ritual. This was why he had been spared, Wolf told himself. This was why God had not taken him when He had claimed the pagan souls of his Viking captors. Wolf was no longer content to indulge himself in the comforts the Toltecs offered him or luxuriate in the love of Malinche. He was a man with a purpose. He would destroy the evil cult of Huitzilopotchli, he would see Tlascala's thin features adorn the point of a spear. He would do this if it meant his own life to do so.

But the German realized that he could not hope to win such a victory at the point of a sword. Tlascala could be so dispatched but the worship of the God of War would continue after him, just as it had outlived the high priests that had preceded Tlascala. No, if he was to succeed he must make the Toltecs themselves rise up against the priesthood of Huitzilopotchli and one Toltec in particular must he bring to his point of view. Daily, Wolf spoke with Tilian, urging him to wipe out Tlascala's abominable religion. Daily, by the smallest of degrees, Tilian came more and more to see Tlascala as Wolf did.

One evening, only shortly after the setting of the tropical sun, the palace in which Wolf had been settled so many months ago received a visitor. It was with the nervousness born of awe and respect that Wolf's Toltec patron, the white-clad high priest of Quetzalcoatl conducted himself into the presence of his god's messenger. Or perhaps Cuahutemoc had other reasons for being nervous…

Malinche was seated beside Wolf as Cuauhtemoc slowly spoke to the Messenger of the White Wyrm. There was unrest in the streets of Culuacan. Not a physical unrest of rampaging mobs but a quieter more restrained discord, one which was growing daily and would destroy the fading empire of the Toltecs when at last it exploded in red violence.

"It is Tlascala," Cuauhtemoc said at last, fearing his words might be heard outside the room. "He believes that you are telling lies to Tilian, urging him to destroy the temple of Huitzilopotchli, kill his priests and upset the order of the gods. There is fear in his heart that you have turned the king against him. He spends the wealth of his temple to buy the loyalty of Tilian's nobles. He plots to kill the king and turn Toltec against Toltec in a war which will destroy Culuacan forever. I have pleaded with him to not do this thing he plans. I have told him that you are the sacred messenger of the White Wyrm, that you understand how important is the balance of the gods, that Huitzilopotchli has his place just as Quetzalcoatl does and is necessary to the survival of the Toltecs."

Wolf stared into the priest's eyes with the expressionless mask of the religious fanatic. Wolf could not be swayed by any man's words. "I have been sent here to destroy Tlascala and his filthy god," Wolf stated with grim determination. Cuauhtemoc looked at him in bewilderment.

"But the balance? Surely you, you understand. Just as the jaguar is necessary to keep order in the jungle, the crocodile to keep the law of the river, Huitzilopotchli is vital to the Toltec. If there is no war, the Toltec grows weak, the sick and old thrive and contaminate the strong. The Toltec must make war and the Toltec must have the blessing of Huitzilopotchli to be certain of victory. Just as Quetzalcoatl has his place, so does Huitzilopotchli. You know these things."

"I know that I have been sent here to end the obscene sacrifices and to break down the temple of Huitzilopotchli by my God," Wolf growled back, unmoved by the priest's plea. Cuauhtemoc scowled and rose, swiftly leaving the house of the knight. Malinche watched the white-garbed priest retreat into the night.

"You have lost his protection," she declared. "He does not believe you to be the White Wyrm's messenger any longer."

"I have Tilian's ear, I do not need the patronage of priests to remain at his court and to see Tlascala's vile priesthood destroyed," the German stated, kissing the soft neck of his lover. She turned and held his face in her hands. Leaving him for a moment, she returned with an earthen jug sealed with clay. She handed the vessel to Wolf.

"There is no one to hold Tlascala back now," she said, worry in her voice. "This was given to me by Tilian long ago to protect me against the poisons of the nobles I spied upon. It is a mixture, a potion, which will make you immune to the venom of the scorpion, the vine and the serpent. Promise me that you will drink it every morning when you rise and every evening when you sleep. I fear for you."

"I promise," and Wolf took a long draught of the bitter-tasting liquid. Malinche followed the knight to his bed.

Cuahutemoc stopped in a shadowed place in the plaza below Wolf's palace. A darker patch of shadow stepped toward him and Cuauhtemoc's nostrils filled with the stench of old blood.

"Perhaps you are right," the priest of Quetzalcoatl said. "He does not acknowledge the balance. He does not see that he will destroy the Toltecs if he continues to walk this path."

"When first I saw him, I warned you that he was a false messenger," Tlascala's voice rasped from the shadows. Cuauhtemoc caught the red-clad priest's wrist.

"I am not yet convinced of that. We cannot strike him if he is the White Wyrm's messenger. We must be certain." Tlascala held aloft a long sinuous body that showed white in the shadows. Cuauhtemoc gasped as Tlascala replaced the ophidian head within the bag at his side.

"The sacred serpent! You dare!"

"Would the sacred serpent of Quetzalcoatl strike the White Wyrm's prophet?" Tlascala hissed. Cuauhtemoc nodded his agreement.

Within the palace, Wolf lie upon his bed, cradling Malinche's voluptuous form in his powerful arms. As on other nights, the woman's soft, musical voice whispered into Wolf's ear as Malinche told the German again of the legends of Culuacan. And, as on other nights, the German pulled her closer to him and smiled contentedly.

"Long ago," Malinche whispered softly, "there was a mighty king of the Toltecs in Culuacan. He defied the mountains and the wind, for his name meant courage and he was very brave. But he was too brave and could not remain in safety too long for he needed danger and the threat of death to make his life happy. One day, when he had climbed every mountain and slain all the jaguars in the jungle, the king set out to climb the mighty fire mountain Tuol.

"For two days, the king scaled the walls of the mighty volcano, his blood thrilling as he gazed upon the smoke coming from the top of the mountain. He meant to brave the very belly of Tuol and was not afraid to meet death, for his life had become most weary to him. But before he reached the top of the volcano, the king found the opening of a cave hidden behind a curtain of yellow smoke that sought to choke him as he passed through it.

"Inside he found a great cavern, warm with the heat of Tuol. Lying within the cavern, curled into a circle in its slumber, was an enormous serpent with scales as white as the snow of the mountains. The king stared in awe at the giant serpent and marveled at its great wings. He looked upon the magnificent plumage of the feathers, for they were not of any color but were all colors and as he watched they changed from the blue of the ocean at night to the red of the setting sun and the king burned with a great lust for the feathers. Carefully, lest he awaken the god, the king plucked three feathers from its wings and returned to the city.

"All was well for many years and the king no longer climbed mountains or killed jaguars but was content to gaze upon the feathers he had stolen and so he filled his days.

"Then, one day, the great serpent awakened and knew what had been taken from it. It left its cave and flew down upon Culuacan and killed the king, taking back from him its feathers. And since then, man has worshiped the great White Wyrm Quetzalcoatl lest it again be offended and come down from its cave upon the fire mountain and destroy Culuacan."

Wolf laughed, as he had laughed before. "Perhaps some day I shall climb Tuol and see your White Wyrm." Malinche gasped at his blasphemous flippancy.

"You would tempt the gods?" she gasped.

"He already has," came the deep hiss of Tlascala's voice from across the room. Wolf leaped from his bed, reaching for the sword hanging upon the wall. Two burly under priests flung themselves upon the German with the speed and savagery of pouncing lions, slamming Wolf's head against the stonework. Stunned, Wolf could do nothing to prevent the priests from binding his hands behind him. Two other red-clad priests held the struggling Malinche. As Wolf slowly opened his eyes again, Tlascala appeared before him, claw-like hands bearing a large brown sack that writhed with an inner life. Over the leering Toltec's shoulder, Wolf noted the face of Cuauhtemoc, the high priest's features both outraged and terrified.

"Let us see how holy you are, Messenger of the White Wyrm!" mocked Tlascala, though the meaning of his words were lost to the bound knight. Tlascala's hand dropped into the bag, returning with the wedge-shaped head of a white boa. The priest's free hand tapped the head violently, angering the snake he held so that it struggled against his grip and opened its mouth with a loud hiss. Tlascala drew the agitated snake closer to the German.

Wolf shuddered as the priest held the snake before the knight's face. Tlascala smiled even more as he relaxed his grip and the snake's head shot forward, its mouth closing upon Wolf's bearded cheek. The snake struggled violently to tear away the flesh its teeth had closed upon and as Tlascala drew it away, blood streamed down Wolf's face. Cuauhtemoc walked to the bound German and dipped his finger in the blood, staring at it in disbelief.

"He is a false prophet," sneered Tlascala. "Go, gather your priests and your patrons. From this night forward, there will be no kings in Culuacan, only gods!" The white-garbed priest raced away at Tlascala's command, taking with him the abused sacred serpent. The priest of Huitzilopotchli laughed in Wolf's face.

"Now you shall see my house."

VI - The House of Huitzilopotchli

Wolf was deep beneath the pyramid of the Toltecs' god of war and the air stank of blood, both freshly spilled and crusted with age, a sanguinary aroma to churn even Wolf's battle-hardened stomach in disgust. Tlascala had brought his prisoners here, to the inner reaches of the pyramid, the very pit of hell.

Wolf stood in a mammoth hall faintly illuminated by a few, seemingly randomly placed torches. In the center of the chamber was a heap of gore-splattered bodies. Wolf's eyes followed the heap upwards and saw an opening in the ceiling far above. Now he knew where the pyramid's well emptied. As his eyes returned to the sacrificial victims, he watched several short savages, of the same type as those that had attacked him upon the beach so many months ago, advance upon the bodies, frightening away a horde of plump rats. In their company was one of the red-robed Toltec priests. The priest pointed out one of the bodies and the dwarfs pulled it from the pile. The priest accompanied them to a table some distance away and joined the goblins in their cannibalistic repast. Wolf looked away in disgust and found himself gazing into the golden eyes of the temple's god.

It was crafted of gold, enough gold to buy any crown in Europe. A massive, titanic idol, a giant statue of a seated demon, a spear in one hand, a half-eaten child in the other. Its leering, fanged face seemed to be pleased with Wolf's plight.

Scattered about the steps beneath the idol was strewn a jumble of mangled body parts, both fresh and rotting, a procession of mutilation that marched in horror to the raised dais of Huitzilopotchli's image. A stench of decay hung about the effigy of war like an unholy incense. Huitzilopotchli, the God of War and, like the only beasts that could revel in bloodshed, an eater of carrion.

The dread god's high priest strode into Wolf's field of vision. Tlascala motioned for Malinche to be brought to him. He gripped the woman around her waist and commanded her to interpret his words for his enemy to hear. Her eyes wide with terror, Malinche could do nothing else but obey.

"I should thank you, dog of the sea," mocked the priest through Malinche. "It is well that my slaves did not slay you when you were spat up by the ocean. There was fear in me then, fear that you were who you appeared to be. Fear that my hour was past! But now, now I see that you were sent not as Quetzalcoatl's messenger but as the instrument of Huitzilopotchli's will. You came to test our king's faith in the God of War and he has failed. Now, now he shall die and the Toltecs will not have need of a king again for they shall all bow before Tlascala!"

Tlascala nodded and a swarm of shark-toothed dwarfs pushed the stone lid from off a great marble casket lying before the idol. One of the dwarfs fetched a freshly hewn limb from off the gore-splattered floor and held it over the side of the sarcophagus. A moment later, the limb was withdrawn, enormous gray maggots burrowing through the dead flesh. The cannibal let the infested limb fall back into the coffer.

"Living or dead, it makes little difference to these little children of Huitzilopotchli!" laughed Tlascala, drawing Malinche after him as he advanced toward the stone sarcophagus. Wolf struggled against the massive priests who held him.

"Let your lover's last words be mine. She shall die, die a death unimaginable and you shall ponder her torments as you writhe in your own slow death."

There was no more. With a shriek, Malinche was pitched into the sarcophagus, squat cannibals replacing the cover to muffle her wailing screams. A priest approached Wolf and held before him a golden cup. In it was death and Wolf did not resist as the poison was put to his lips. He remembered the potion forced upon him by Malinche before their world was destroyed and he knew that he would have his revenge.

Wolf writhed and howled in agony for half of an hour while Tlascala and his vermin looked on. At last the German grew still and Tlascala ceased to smile. His entertainment over, the high priest had not finished with his hate. Tlascala called to him a group of his priests.

"Take him and leave him in the jungle for the vultures, I shall not have the house of Huitzilopotchli profaned by his bones. Take too his devil's skin and hell-forged blade. Let no trace of Tilian's heretic be found within Culuacan!"

The priests obeyed and carried Wolf's still form out into the nighted streets of the Toltec city. Far out into the black reaches of the night jungle they carried him before depositing his body unceremoniously in a clearing. After dropping his armor and sword beside him, the Toltec priests slipped back into the night, never seeing the still form move its hand to the hilt of the abandoned sword.

VII - Vengeance of the White Wyrm

Like a weary ant, Wolf continued to climb the basalt face of Tuol. The German needed time to plot his revenge upon Tlascala and the priests of Culuacan, a place to hide where he would be safe from the notice of a wandering Toltec. The only place which Wolf knew of was the volcano. With its poisonous fog banks and treacherous slopes, it was a place to try the hardiest of physiques and the bravest of souls. And to the Toltec there was the added threat of the supernatural, for Tuol was home to Quetzalcoatl, the White Wyrm. Wolf did not believe in the Toltecs' serpent god, but he did believe in their belief and he was certain that none would disturb him while he plotted among the rocks of the volcano.

It had been days since Tlascala had captured him, had sacrificed the knight's lady to his obscene devil-god, when Wolf approached the top of the mountain. Far below he could see the green carpet of the jungle and beyond that the sprawling pyramids and palaces of Culuacan. Wolf spat into the gray ash at his feet and swore again an oath of blood and a prayer for vengeance.

A mephitic wind seemed to engulf the German at that instant, a hot, moist breeze that set the knight's skin crawling. Turning, Wolf beheld a thick mass of noxious-looking gas. Presently, and for but the briefest instant, the cloud broke apart and revealed a dark opening in the rock beyond. Wolf swore again, this time in astonishment. The very cave which the Toltecs gave as the habitude of Quetzalcoatl! It could be no other. Thoughts of revenge momentarily forgotten, Wolf determined to see how much truth there was to the Toltec fable. He would see what lie within the cave.

Wolf strode to the edge of the yellow curtain of poison, its vaguely sulfuric stench already making itself known to him. The German firmed his grip upon his sword and took a deep breath. The wall of gas was thick, if he lost his footing once as he raced through the poison there would be no need to try again. Like a pouncing tiger, Wolf leaped into the yellow fog and raced across the volcanic ash and rock.

Soon he was beyond the gas, standing beside the gaping maw of an enormous cave, a round lava tube created by the past violence of Tuol. A new odor filled Wolf's lungs, a reek which he had last smelled when the white snake had sunk its fangs into the flesh of his face. It was the musk of an enormous reptile. Wolf crossed himself as he entered the cave, sword still at the ready.

For what seemed to him like an eternity, Wolf felt his way along the course of a darkened tunnel through the volcanic wall of Tuol. As he progressed through the darkness the reptilian musk grew ever stronger, overwhelming his senses with its fetid stench of unclean life. And, as the reptilian reek grew so too, by the most gradual of increments, did a faint red glow at the tunnel's far end, a hellish light which urged the knight onward when all else told him to flee.

At last, Wolf stood bathed in the red light and the diabolic heat of Tuol's heart. Behind him lay the black tunnel, before him reposed nightmare!

The tunnel had opened into a gargantuan cavern, a cavern lit by the fires of dozens of lava pools, the molten rock bubbling and sputtering like a choir of gibbering demons. Sleeping in the midst of these wells of fire, its white scales turned red by the Mephistophelean light, Wolf beheld the White Wyrm, Quetzalcoatl!

From the tip of its snout to the narrow end of its whip-like tail, Wolf judged it to be not less than a hundred feet in length. Its shape was that of a jungle serpent endowed with the terrible nobility of the Egyptian asp. Several feet beyond the graceful roundness of its head, great-feathered wings, neatly folded against the serpent's sides, broke the sinuous outline. Even in the red light, the brilliant plumage of Quetzalcoatl was evident to Wolf's gaze and he knew the feathers to betray the colors of Joseph's robe. Surely here was the magnificence of the Serpent before it was cursed in the greenery of Eden.

Wolf steadied himself and advanced upon the sleeping god, his sword tensed to cleave the ophidian head from the scaly body. The German was certain that here was the very embodiment of the Enemy. Could a Christian encounter the Archfiend and fly from his presence, betraying the faith he espoused? For the knight there could be but one course of action.

As Wolf's blade of Rhineland steel sang through the air, the great serpent's yellow eyes rolled back into life, immediately seeing the arc of gleaming death descending upon its neck. With a loud hiss, the serpent darted backwards. In doing so, though it avoided the German's death blow, the sword bit into the side of the monster's head, cleaving its left eye in twain and passing through the serpent's scaly lips. Black blood spurted from the wyrm's wound and sizzled as it struck the hot floor of the cavern.

Wolf stood his ground, roaring his defiance at the great wyrm as it reared back and rose to the very height of the cavern, its head dozens of feet above the knight. But Wolf had been emboldened by the sight of the wyrm's blood and the knowledge that what he thought a devil was in truth a beast of flesh and bone.

Quetzalcoatl hissed loudly, its sound like that of a red-hot blade being plunged into icy water. The great serpent spread its wings in a gesture of anger, the tips of the massive pinions striking either wall of the cathedral-like cavern. Wolf shuddered at the sight, rethinking the beast's mortality. Lit by the lava pools and highlighted by the shadows, it seemed as though the serpent had reared up from the Pit itself.

Like one of Jove's thunderbolts, the serpent's head plunged downwards from its great height, the monster folding its wings against its sides once more as it hurtled at the little man who stood before it. But luck was with the knight and the serpent's fangs missed him, the reptile unable to compensate for its impaired vision. Before the wyrm could retreat from its attack, Wolf's sword bit deeply into its neck.

Blood slopped from Quetzalcoatl's neck in a gory cascade as the monster reared upwards. The hissing of the reptile had ceased and in its place there came a ghastly gurgle. Again Quetzalcoatl bared its scimitar-like fangs and dropped upon the knight. So swift was the assault that no creature could have avoided it. The fangs struck Wolf's chest, piercing his mail but sinking no deeper. The serpent found its curved fangs caught in the interlocking rings of steel, trapped fast by the unyielding metal.

The White Wyrm raised its head once more, taking with it the armored warrior hanging from its fangs. Even as the wyrm thrashed its head fiercely from side to side in a savage attempt to free itself, even as Wolf found himself bashed against wall and ceiling, the German's blade struck again and again at the monster's head, drinking deeply of the reptile's blood.

At last the vicious violence of the serpent's pain-maddened convulsions and the weight of the armored knight tore the monster's fangs from its mouth and Wolf was dashed to the floor. The German groaned in pain and clutched at the ribs which he knew had splintered under the impact, even as Quetzalcoatl's blood rained down upon him from above.

Agony piercing every fiber of his body, Wolf crawled from the cavern to escape the serpent's blind thrashings, for one of his blows had destroyed Quetzalcoatl's remaining eye. He watched from the mouth of the tunnel as the blind monster struck at the floor again and again in a desperate gambit to find its enemy. Again and again the striking serpent barely missed the bubbling pools of lava around it. At last, Quetzalcoatl did not miss and a loud, seething hiss shrieked through the cavern. Not the hiss of the White Wyrm, but that of the burning lava which consumed its head. After great undulating convulsions that set it rolling across the floor, the headless body lay still within the gore-splattered cavern. With a great effort, Wolf regained his feet and hobbled toward the titanic corpse. Despite his tremendous pain, thoughts of revenge returned to Wolf's mind.

With his sword, Wolf began to remove the rainbow feathers from the White Wyrm's wings.

Fires burned throughout Culuacan. Nobles cringed in fear within their palaces, praying to escape the purge. The common citizens reveled in mad mobs, looting and plundering the homes of men who would never return to them. Scattered bands of soldiers yet loyal to the dead king fought desperately against the forces of the priests; fighting to the last, for they knew what fate would belong to those who were captured. Days past, the king had been taken prisoner, betrayed by his own brother to Tlascala. Tilian had died in bloody spectacle on top of Huitzilopotchli's pyramid, his flesh flayed from his living body. A new age of blood and terror had come upon the last of the Toltecs.

Tlascala's warriors, vile myrmidons bought by Huitzilopotchli's gold, guarded the walls and gates of Culuacan. Tlascala had ordered that none were to leave the city, any who tried were to be arrested. More blood sacrifices for the God of War.

But those who guarded the main gate of Culuacan deserted their posts, opening the great portals and fleeing into the jungle's depths, not a one daring to meet the gaze of the specter who strode grimly through the yawning mouth of their abandoned charge. As he strode through the streets, priest and soldier alike ceased their fighting and stared at the figure in horror, laying down their weapons and fleeing. Behind the hobbling revenant the word sped and the city's denizens fled in terror, for death itself was walking the streets of Culuacan.

Wolf made straight for the pyramid of Huitzilopotchli. He leaned heavily upon a tree branch, his free hand holding his sword at his side. His body was wracked by coughing, his mouth spitting out blood and bone. But hate kept his legs moving even as his body screamed at him to lie down in the dust and accept the peace of death.

The knight was covered in the black blood of Quetzalcoatl. About his shoulders and neck he wore the prism-like feathers of the slain god; his arms, legs and waist sported strips of the White Wyrm's scaly hide. To the Toltecs it was as though Quetzalcoatl himself had come to punish them for their faithlessness.

When Wolf reached the plaza beneath the pyramid of Huitzilopotchli he could see the red-garbed form of Tlascala performing his bloody rites atop the structure, a line of naked prisoners silently mounting the pyramid steps. Wolf cast aside his staff and tightened his grip on his sword. He would reach the priest on his own two feet.

As Wolf crossed the square, he was stopped by Cuauhtemoc and several of the white-clad priests of Quetzalcoatl. All groveled in the dust before Wolf's feet, begging for his forgiveness. Wolf paused before the bowed shape of Cuauhtemoc and brought his sword down upon the priest's neck. The lesser priests screamed and scattered in every direction. Wolf continued toward the pyramid, kicking Cuauhtemoc's decapitated head from his path.

Wolf mounted the stone steps of the pyramid, soldiers, priests and sacrifices scrambling at his approach, choosing to plummet down the pyramid's steep sides rather than risk brushing against the feathered revenant. Tlascala's depraved eyes focused upon the demonic vision that slowly, yet steadily rose to meet him and they went wide with horror. Like a bird meeting the viper's gaze, the high priest stood mesmerized, transfixed by Wolf's hate-brimmed glare.

One of the under priests lunged at Wolf as the knight reached the top of the steps. The Toltec was soon rolling down the pyramid's steps, Wolf's sword lodged in his red belly. The violence broke the spell of fear that held the other under priest and, in a mad attempt to escape the avenger's approach, he leaped from the top of the pyramid to crush his skull upon the stones of the plaza hundreds of feet below.

Wolf glared into Tlascala's terrified eyes and sneered in a mixture of triumph and hate. Another wracking cough seized him and the knight spat a mouthful of blood into the fiend's face. Tlascala's eyelids fluttered, his lips began to part, his hand raising the gore-crusted dagger. The dagger fell to the ground and Wolf laughed maniacally. In either of his hands was clenched one of the scimitar-like fangs of Quetzalcoatl, torn from where they had been trapped in his own mail. Now they were embedded in either side of Tlascala's neck. The priest gurgled in torment, a hideous liquid death rattle. Wolf smiled in silence as he tore the fangs from Tlascala's neck, pulling them forward and ripping out the priest's throat. Tlascala's mangled body swayed drunkenly behind the altar before toppling backward and disappearing into the well, his body to rot in the darkness below.

Wolf turned, his vengeance complete. He gazed upon the burning city, watching the remaining Toltecs cringing in the shadows or flying toward the city gates. The German roared his rage across the dead city.

"If ever Tlascala's devil is worshipped again by men, the slaughter of Culuacan will be lost in the rivers of blood that shall flow on that day. This I swear by my God, the one and living God!"

Then, his strength at last spent, Wolf sank down upon the pyramid's steps, the face of Malinche hovering before his fading eyes. There his body remained while earthquake and jungle removed Culuacan from the knowledge of men.

Five-hundred years later, a people born of the union of Culuacan's Toltec survivors and tribes to the north, calling themselves Aztecs, would again pay homage to the war god Huitzilopotchli. True to Wolf von Klinge's oath, the slaughter which followed would drown out the destruction of Culuacan. For the Toltecs brought away with them a legend, a legend that the terrible god Quetzalcoatl would come out of the sea in the form of a white-skinned man with a hairy face. This legend would pass on to the Aztecs and it would pave the way for their destruction at the hands of Cortez.


C. L. Werner

C. L. Werner, a desert rat telling tales of fantasy and horror in worlds near and far.