Race: Worm Basilisk
Height: 5'8" (Human); 25 ft. (Worm Basilisk)
Weight: 135 lbs. (Human); 1000 lbs., approximately (Worm Basilisk)
Worm Basilisks are generally portrayed with two opposing characterizations in mythology, depending on the source -- wise creatures who usher mortals into death, or treacherous demons who prey on the living. Tzalxochitlan mythology uses either version depending on the Worm Basilisk in question, but Eyropan myths are firmly grounded in the latter category. But regardless of bias, all the stories present Worm Basilisks as intelligent and fearsome beings who are not to be crossed.
Iztayacoatl is none of these things.
Still very much a child by Worm Basilisk standards, Iztayacoatl -- or Iztaya, as he likes to go by -- is a playful and mischievous snake monster who really wants to be your friend. He's a free spirit with a strong sense of adventure, and unlike most of his race he is quite emotional and can easily empathize with others. Since he spent most of his life with only his brother for company he loves meeting new people, but until he becomes especially close with someone he is very secretive about his life. Iztaya is naturally impulsive most of the time, but when he finds himself in a serious situation he restrains himself and shows a more calculating side. When he's not out looking for a fun time, Iztaya usually acts like a lazy teenager, loafing around his current residence and sleeping most of the day away.
Although he's pretty easygoing overall, Iztaya can become a dangerous foe if sufficiently provoked. He might be a whelp compared to other Worm Basilisks, and his injuries may have crippled him, but he is still a massive snake creature. Iztaya avoids resorting to violence when he can, but he has no issue plotting against enemies or assuming his true form to terrify people. Still, even at his most brutal Iztaya avoids killing whenever possible.
Iztaya may be a slacker and an airhead, but he's not naive. Most Worm Basilisks would still be fairly sheltered at his age, but he and his brother Cualli have experienced their fair share of tragedies out in the world. Over his life Iztaya has lost many friends and loved ones, which has made him a bit overprotective of those dear to him.
Worm Basilisk Iztayacoatl is a sight to behold in his true form. He appears as a gray serpent flecked with black, and he is around twenty-five feet in length. His eyes are bright green and most of his face is badly scarred from a life-threatening fight a few years before. The same fight cost him most of the scale folds behind his head, as well as the tentacles that would normally be attached to his tail. Like all Worm Basilisks he has long curved tentacles for arms.
As a human he appears as a tan young man with green eyes and shoulder-length brown hair. Since Worm Basilisks shape the appearance of their humanoid form, it should come as no surprise Iztaya made himself attractive: he has an athletic build, and his facial features are handsome. Sometimes he experiments with facial hair and sports stubble or a little beard, but most of the time he stays clean shaven. His wardrobe is unremarkable, consisting of simple clothes he purchased years ago or found after they were thrown out.
Iztaya doesn't own much these days. He doesn't own a home due to his nomadic nature, and he usually stays out in the wilderness or rents a room in whatever city he's currently visiting. Most of his clothing is old and tattered, and he only has a few outfits to choose from.
Resolve -- When Iztaya commits himself to something he becomes extremely dedicated to seeing it through. He doesn't like leaving work unfinished, especially if it's a cause he believes strongly in. That being said, he isn't delusional: he will stand down if convinced by someone else, or if he sees that he has no chance of succeeding.
Necromancy -- Worm Basilisks are capable of raising the dead to serve as their thralls. Since Iztaya is still a child by Worm Basilisk standards, he can only raise and maintain one person at a time. He chose Cualli as this one person before leaving Mahuizoh's island.
Shapeshifting -- Iztaya can assume a human form to interact with others more easily. Although most Worm Basilisks can assume a humanoid form that has Worm Basilisk qualities as well, Iztaya has yet to develop this ability.
Raw Power -- Though Iztaya doesn't prefer to fight, he's a force to be reckoned with in his Worm Basilisk form. He has sharp fangs, tentacles, and a large body that he can use to his advantage in a fight, or to simply intimidate enemies.
Adaptibility -- Iztaya has spent most of his life traveling around Tzalxochitl and Eyropa with his brother, and as a result he's learned how to adapt to different places and situations. Throughout his life he's played various roles: he's lived as a prince on his father's island, as a nomad in Tzalxochitl's wilderness, and as a sailor in a port town. He deals with change often, so he's learned how to adjust well enough.
Extroversion -- Iztaya is a natural extrovert and has a talent for getting along with people. Though obviously he doesn't click with everyone, his friendly attitude has made him a lot of useful connections in his life, mostly for odd jobs around villages to help him support himself.
Short-Sighted -- Since he's bursting with youthful energy, it goes without saying Iztaya is a bit impulsive. He often acts without thinking and doesn't often consider the long-term effects of his actions. Even if he's aware that a decision might be a bad idea, his emotions can easily override his logic.
Prejudiced -- Iztaya likes to consider himself open-minded, but he does have some prejudices that he won't admit to. He has a low opinion of Puradynes now that he's learned the truth behind the Worm Basilisk Ichtaca myth, and although he knows some Noitu can be trusted he's suspicious of them as a rule of thumb. These prejudices aren't strong enough to push him into hatred and violence, but they do negatively affect how he deals with others. Since he now lives in Eyropa, the Puradyne prejudice is certainly problematic.
Crippled -- Iztaya was left grievously wounded after a recent battle, almost on the brink of death. He survived, but not without permanent internal damage and visible scars on his face and scale hood. These days he can't perform strenuous physical activity, and he needs to rest frequently. Iztaya can still walk well enough in his human form, but his movement in his Worm Basilisk form is much slower than it should be.
Thick-Headed -- Ever since he was small, Iztaya has always been slightly obtuse. He has street smarts, but he can't wrap his head around most complicated subjects. His common sense is also lacking, and he can easily overlook facts that would be obvious to most people.
Secretive -- Iztaya is a very emotional person, but he has difficulty expressing his personal feelings to others. When something is bothering him he tends to become reclusive and not talk to anyone, even his closest friends. He'll share his happiness with others, but when he feels sad or troubled he tends to keep it to himself, even when he knows it would probably help to open up.
Possessive -- Since he's watched friends and family die over the years, Iztaya is now very protective of those close to him. He loves being the center of attention, and he often overlooks the fact that people have lives outside of hanging around with him. Iztaya won't go so far as to become hostile with someone if he feels neglected, but he'll either become depressed or go overboard trying to spend time with them.
I. Glory of Mahuizoh
Worm Basilisk Mahuizoh had accomplished much in his centuries-long life. He reigned over a small island community southeast of Tzalxochitl, beloved and respected by his people. For generations he provided for his followers’ every want and need and protected them from any enemies. Under his guidance the civilization flourished, growing in size and developing strong relations with the Tzalxochitl mainland. As each generation passed he chose a new hierophant to act as his adviser and keep him connected with his people.
But for all his success, he had yet to produce an heir.
Reproduction is a difficult task for a Worm Basilisk, requiring a living incubator for its larvae and an extreme amount of luck. Thousands of larvae tear out from their hosts, but usually all would die after a few days. Though failure seemed certain, there was an incredibly small chance that one would survive – a fact Mahuizoh knew all too well. Over the centuries he had impregnated countless willing followers with his larvae without success, and with each failure he grew more despondent, questioning whether he should continue to sacrifice his people for a hopeless cause.
Mahuizoh refused to allow himself to doubt any longer. Most other races were plentiful, but for Worm Basilisks the threat of extinction was very real. What was once a closely-knit family had grown apart over the years, so Mahuizoh had no way of knowing if his brothers and sisters were continuing the race. He yearned to finally rest, yet he could not pass on without knowing he did his part to keep the Worm Basilisk legacy alive and well.
He would have a child, no matter how many lives it meant.
But Mahuizoh was not without compassion. His people were not merely his followers; they were his friends and family. To honor those who volunteered to host his larvae, Mahuizoh decided to serve as a patron for their families, providing for them for the rest of their lives. One woman, suffering from a terminal illness, volunteered herself on the condition that Mahuizoh would provide for her infant son. Mahuizoh agreed and planned to ask one of the island’s prominent families to adopt the boy, but he changed his mind when a larva that she had hosted survived and grew.
At long last, Worm Basilisk Mahuizoh had an heir. And to honor the woman who fulfilled his greatest desire, he decided to raise her son as well.
Mahuizoh named his child Iztayacoatl and the host’s child Cualli. Worm Basilisks normally do not name their children until years after their birth, but Mahuizoh, unlike most Worm Basilisks, was deeply attached to his child. Though Cualli was not his by blood, Mahuizoh loved him dearly and raised him alongside Iztayacoatl as a second son. He instructed his hierophant to clear out the eastern wing of his palace for Iztayacoatl’s nest, as well as a room for Cualli. Because Mahuizoh was mostly clueless about newborn humans, he left Cualli in the care of his hierophant and several servant women, instead focusing on Iztayacoatl. Despite this, Mahuizoh still made time for Cualli and made sure to spend quality time with him as well.
As Mahuizoh doted on his children, he failed to notice the consequences of his excessive breeding attempts. His attempted hosts had volunteered willingly, willing to face certain death out of devotion to Mahuizoh; but as the bodies piled up, many began to doubt if a single child warranted so much bloodshed. Even after Iztayacoatl’s birth, a good portion of Mahuizoh’s city felt betrayed by his actions, feeling that he put his own desires over their well-being. Though there was no opposition beyond murmurs of discontent, a rift began to grow between Mahuizoh and his people.
But Mahuizoh did not have time for their problems. After centuries of failure he finally had sons, so they were his primary concern. Leaving most of his governing duties to his hierophant, Mahuizoh became very involved in Iztayacoatl and Cualli’s lives, personally overseeing their daily schedules. Mahuizoh’s hierophant, however, began to notice the growing discontent among the people. The fact that Mahuizoh had largely abandoned his ruling duties for his children exacerbated their frustration. Though the hierophant tried to warn Mahuizoh, Mahuizoh underestimated the problem, believing they would calm down in time.
Iztayacoatl remained perfectly oblivious to the growing tensions on the island. Still a tiny, year-old serpent, his life consisted of clinging to Mahuizoh and playing with Cualli. But as the years passed and Iztayacoatl matured, he began to notice the toll the unrest was taking on his father. Mahuizoh, once playful and attentive, had become a withdrawn shell of his former self. Though Iztayacoatl was still too young to understand it, he could tell that something was wrong. As his father drifted away, Iztayacoatl became more attached to Cualli, his only remaining source of comfort. Because Iztayacoatl was blind like all young Worm Basilisks, he also relied on Cualli to be his eyes, further cementing their bond.
Mahuizoh had finally realized the gravity of the unrest and attempted to negotiate, but it was too late. Most of his people, feeling betrayed and neglected by their supposed patron, began a mass exodus to the mainland. Months ago, their leaders had secretly contacted villages in Tzalxochitl to work out a smooth transition. Though Mahuizoh and his hierophant had expected a coup, their former followers respected Mahuizoh enough not to oust him. Mahuizoh had grown distant, but he was still family to them. Still, it was time to move on. Several loyal families remained, but it made little difference: Mahuizoh’s grand city had fallen into ruin.
Its leader followed soon after.
With the crisis finally resolved, Mahuizoh once again tried to connect with his sons, but he was never the same. Iztayacoatl no longer relied on him as he once did. Now in his teens, the once frail little snake had grown into a great serpent, and his eyes had opened for the first time. Iztayacoatl and Cualli spent their days with their tutor and relaxing down at the shore. Though Mahuizoh sometimes accompanied them, he rarely took part in their activities, instead watching in silence. Once his hierophant died he worsened considerably, refusing to leave his home for any reason. Iztayacoatl became increasingly concerned for his father. A close family friend had told him about the city’s fall, but even with that knowledge he did not know how he could help Mahuizoh.
Little changed over the years. Iztayacoatl spent his days with Cualli and his friends from around the city, and Mahuizoh sank further into his self-loathing. Both Iztayacoatl and Cualli had attempted to pull Mahuizoh out from his depression, but they could not shake his sense of failure. Mahuizoh could not forgive himself for turning from his own people after they sacrificed their loved ones for his son. The families he had protected for centuries felt unloved and betrayed, and instead of mending their relationship he allowed it to collapse. He had failed as their patron and protector.
His sons brought him joy, but not enough to ease his mind. They no longer needed him. His island was in ruins. And he was so, so tired.
But Mahuizoh could not rest yet. There was work to be done.
II. The Trial of Serpents
Iztayacoatl often asked his father about Worm Basilisks when he was a little serpent. There was no one else like them on the island, so he was naturally curious. Mahuizoh shared with his son the history of their race, telling him stories of past Worm Basilisks and explaining their customs and traditions. Though Mahuizoh’s stories fascinated Iztayacoatl, some of the traditions, specifically having to fight one’s parent for permission to leave home, bothered him. Mahuizoh merely laughed and assured his son that would never happen, pointing out that he had barely followed any of the traditions while raising him. Mahuizoh loved his son far too much to consider harming him, tradition or not.
So when Mahuizoh called Iztayacoatl to his chambers and told him they would battle, needless to say he was caught off-guard.
There was a time when Iztayacoatl would have obeyed his father without question, but he could not tolerate his erratic behavior any longer. Despite Iztayacoatl and Cualli’s best efforts to help Mahuizoh, he had fallen deeper into his depression. Frustrated and hurt, Iztayacoatl demanded to know why his father had suddenly changed his mind. He also pointed out that Mahuizoh’s decision made no sense: young Worm Basilisks usually fought their parents as a rite of passage when they were around 150 years old, and he was only in his twenties. Mahuizoh’s answer crushed Iztayacoatl: He lost the will to live after failing his people, but he wanted to make sure his son could handle himself out in the world before passing on. Cualli had suspected Mahuizoh’s suicidal feelings for a while, but Iztayacoatl hadn’t believed him. Iztayacoatl tried as hard as he could to change his father’s mind, but Mahuizoh wouldn’t budge. No matter how much he loved his sons, Mahuizoh felt his time had come.
Frantic, Iztayacoatl rushed to Cualli and told him about their father’s plans. After Cualli calmed him down, the two talked for hours about the situation. Iztayacoatl wanted to refuse his father’s wish and continue to try returning him to his old self, but Cualli disagreed, pointing out that years of attempt to change Mahuizoh had done nothing. That night, Iztayacoatl finally accepted that the father he remembered from his early childhood was long gone. Mahuizoh had lived for centuries and had a right to choose how he left the world. As his son, honoring his final wish was the least Iztayacoatl could do.
The next day, Iztayacoatl and Cualli went to meet with Mahuizoh to determine the details of the duel. Iztayacoatl told his father that he reluctantly agreed to his request, but stressed the duel would not end with Mahuizoh’s death; he still disagreed with his father’s decision and would play no part in it. Horrified, Mahuizoh said he would never ask such a thing of Iztayacoatl and explained that he planned to pass on peacefully after the two left the island. Mahuizoh then elaborated on the duel itself: it would not be a bloody battle as per tradition, but rather a friendly sparring match; moreover, he wanted Cualli to fight alongside Iztayacoatl. Though Cualli was surprised by the news, he agreed nonetheless. Mahuizoh told them they would have a year to prepare themselves for the fight, then dismissed them from his chamber.
Iztayacoatl and Cualli spent the next year training with one another and their island acquaintances. Since Iztayacoatl would be fighting his father far younger than he normally would, the two wanted to prepare themselves as best as possible. Iztayacoatl also trained under Mahuizoh, not only to learn how to fight as a Worm Basilisk, but also to spend time with his father. Cualli, believing his talents lay outside physical fighting, began training under a magic-user who had remained faithful to Mahuizoh. Like his brother, Cualli also tried connecting with his father again. Mahuizoh bonded with both of his sons and made the most out of their remaining time together, but it was not enough to convince him to go on living.
At last, the day of the battle finally came. Mahuizoh awaited his sons in the square in front of the palace, his few remaining subjects watching eagerly from around the area. Iztayacoatl and Cualli arrived to face their father, confident in their abilities but anxious nonetheless. Unfortunately, one year of training made no difference against the fully-grown Mahuizoh’s centuries of experience, so the battle was almost comically one-sided. After the battle, Mahuizoh explained to his sons that he never expected them to win. He wanted them to learn how to operate as a team so they could survive more effectively out in the world, and their performance in the battle, however short, convinced him they were ready. But Mahuizoh also had a more important reason…
He wanted Cualli to be Iztayacoatl’s permanent hierophant.
This shocked Iztayacoatl. He had never given much though to who his hierophant would be, always assuming that he’d choose a new one every few decades like his father did. Besides, his father’s hierophants were more like advisers than family. Cualli, however, had anticipated Mahuizoh’s request ever since he was small. Why else would Mahuizoh have raised him alongside his heir? Mahuizoh considered him a second son, and he would never want Iztayacoatl to go out into the world alone, so it made sense that he would want to unite the two for the rest of their lives. But, as Iztayacoatl quickly pointed out, this meant Cualli had to be raised into undeath. He never wanted to part from his brother, but neither did he want to force such a fate on him.
Mahuizoh assured them they had no reason to fear undeath – it was not evil in itself, though many, even Worm Basilisks, often abused it. All Worm Basilisks could raise people into undeath, but Iztayacoatl, still technically a child by Worm Basilisk standards, only had the strength to maintain one. Though Iztayacoatl could raise others as he matured, he would be able to keep Cualli almost indestinquishable from a living human by focusing all his necromantic power on him. But Mahuizoh stressed that the decision was Cualli’s alone.
Cualli paused for a moment, then smiled and nodded. Overjoyed, Iztayacoatl tackled him to the ground in joy and licked his face.
Iztayacoatl converted his brother a week later, forever bonding them as Worm Basilisk and hierophant. Mahuizoh coiled around his sons in a loving embrace, then arranged for a boat to take them to Tzalxochitl to start their new life. He watched from the shore as the boat vanished on the horizon.
III. Negotiating Identity
Iztayacoatl had long dreamed of the adventures he and his brother would have on the mainland. But, as he was disappointed to discover, a giant snake creature and zombie duo's options are rather limited. Their father had not visited Tzalxochitl since founding his island city, so the brothers knew almost nothing about it. Its people knew of Worm Basilisks and a handful were former followers of Mahuizoh, so Iztayacoatl believed they would be welcoming. Cualli, however, was less optimistic, reminding his brother of Mahuizoh's tale about the ancient Worm Basilisk who had attempted to spread undeath throughout Tzalxochitl. Since that Worm Basilisk's campaign had supposedly been the bloodiest in Tzalxochitl's history, it wasn't likely villagers would look kindly on a visit from a Worm Basilisk and his undead brother. Though Mahuizoh had also told them many in Tzalxochitl still favored Worm Basilisks, the brothers wanted to remain inconspicuous – even if they lived openly in a friendly town, word of their existence could still easily reach potential enemies.
The brothers spent the next ten years living in solitude near the coastline, not too far from where the boat from Mahuizoh's city had dropped them off. Their days consisted mostly of hunting and sightseeing, which, while enjoyable at first, became monotonous as the years passed. They had little interaction with the outside world: Cualli could pass for an average human in concealing clothes, so he would sometimes visit villages to barter for goods; Iztayacoatl, unable to assume human form, remained at home in the tiny house he and Cualli had built together. Though Iztayacoatl enjoyed spending time with his brother, his life had become mind-numbingly boring. Surely they hadn't left their father's island just to hunt and live in a cave! One night, Iztayacoatl shared his frustrations with Cualli, who agreed that they needed change. They spent the whole night considering their possibilities. Iztayacoatl desperately wanted to visit other continents, but Cualli pointed out that transporting a Worm Basilisk would be difficult now that they no longer had Mahuizoh's followers to rely on. Every idea the brothers pitched fell apart because of Iztayacoatl's inability to take human form.
Left without any better alternatives, Iztayacoatl and Cualli decided to slowly reach out to other people. Their plan was simple: Cualli would spend more time in the villages and befriend people. Once getting to know someone, he would bring up Worm Basilisks and assess the person's reaction. If the person showed no prejudice and proved trustworthy, Cualli would invite him or her to meet Iztayacoatl. It was risky, but the brothers ended up making several close friends this way. In a stroke of luck, one girl Cualli had approached ended up being related to a family they had known on Mahuizoh's island, resulting in a happy reunion. Iztayacoatl enjoyed his new network of friends, but sadly the good times couldn't last forever; they were not bound to him like Cualli, so before he knew it they were drifting away and passing on. And since villagers were starting to notice Cualli's lack of aging, they would have to move far away in order to meet more people. After decades of progress, the brothers were back where they were when they first left their father's island.
But not for long.
Iztayacoatl had been trying to assume a mortal form for years, but no matter how hard he concentrated his body's shape remained the same. His father had told him that most Worm Basilisks' magic became strong enough to perform the transformation when they were around one century old, and his hundreth birthday was only a few years way. Each day he devoted two hours to focusing on the race he wished to claim as his own, trying desperately to reshape his body. Shortly after he and Cualli relocated to barter with new villages, he began seeing some progress - with enough concentration he could turn his scales' color to a normal skin tone. From that point on he devoted more and more time to perfecting his transformation, and eventually he finally developed his mortal form. He decided on a young native Tzalxochitlan form to match his brother's. After a lifetime of quiet solitude, Iztayacoatl could finally leave home and freely interact with the world.
The brothers soon settled in a small fishing village on Tzalxochitl's northwestern coastline. Reveling in his newfound freedom, Iztayacoatl adopted the nickname Iztaya and began socializing with anyone he could. Iztaya ended up making some good friends, but he was a bit too overeager and came off as annoying to a lot of his neighbors. Cualli recognized that Iztaya had very limited interaction with others throughout his life, so he decided to let him have fun for a while before getting a job. After working on a fishing boat for about a year, Cualli convinced his boss to hire Iztaya on as some extra help. Iztaya wasn't thrilled about a job cutting into his social life, and he didn't really care for fishing either, but anything was better than being locked up at home. Eventually Iztaya warmed up to the job - he made friends with his co-workers on the boat, and being out in the ocean reminded him of when Mahuizoh used to take him out to the beach when he was little. He still wanted to get out and see the world, but there was no rush - he could enjoy working at sea with Cualli for a while longer.
IV. The Voyage
Iztaya settled into life in the village as the years passed – he and Cualli bought a larger house with their earnings, and they became well-known in the community. His fellow fishermen became like family, and they would all get together for a night on the town at the end of the week. Iztaya even started dating, but his true nature made it difficult to maintain romantic relationships. Heading off into the world with Cualli still interested him, but the village had grown on him more than he expected. After talking it over one night, the brothers decided to spend another decade or so saving up their earnings and spending time with friends before moving on.
One day, the ship's captain announced that the crew would be sailing to a nearby village to drop off an order for a wealthy client. Iztaya enjoyed these trips because it meant little actual work and plenty of time to hang around with Cualli and the others. Last time they spent most of the night gambling and drinking, so Iztaya was really looking forward to it. Cualli was less enthusiastic than his brother since he liked having some alone time, but since it meant a significant bonus he had no objections. Iztaya would goof off while Cualli relaxed in their room with a book or two.
After losing a chunk of his wages in a card game, Iztaya grumbled his way back to his room and collapsed on his bed, not even bothering to get under the blankets. Cualli could pester him for drinking too much in the morning. Sleep time...
...or not. Hearing a noise, Iztaya opened his eyes and saw Cualli kneeling with his ear against the door. He sat up and started to scold his brother for waking him, but went silent when Cualli turned to him and raised a hand. Cualli's face - he had never seen his brother so nervous. Getting up as quietly as he could, Iztaya walked over to Cualli, knelt down beside him and asked what was wrong. Cualli explained that he heard a scream come from the hallway about ten minutes before, and when he went to investigate he saw blood and claw marks near the captain's door. Iztaya stared at his brother and considered asking if he had a nightmare, but he knew Cualli couldn't be this frightened by a dream. Claw marks... If something really was on the ship, it definitely wasn't human.
They needed weapons. He couldn't turn into his true form on a ship, so they were at a disadvantage. Iztaya went to the desk and got their skinning knives from a drawer, then returned to Cualli and handed him one. Self-defense - there was no way they could fight off hijackers, especially if they had a monster with them. Cualli's magic could hold them off if things went south. All they needed to do was reach a life boat and -
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts, followed by a woman's voice: “Sorry to keep you boys waiting. We'll see you in the deck in a few moments.”
Well, that plan was out.
Iztaya and Cualli grabbed their coats and hid their knives inside, then reluctantly stepped out into the hallway. Cualli was right - there were claw marks near the captain's door, but there was only a little blood, not enough for a serious struggle. They went up to the deck, and their worst fears were confirmed: their crewmates lay in a heap near the door, their necks twisted and faces mutilated. Several fish creatures, tall and vaguely human, stood guard over the corpses, not even acknowledging Cualli and Iztaya as they came up. His eyes narrowing at the sight, Iztaya turned his attention to the presumed leader - a tall, gray-skinned woman dressed in a ceremonial navy robe, her face and arms covered in black shell fragments. Standing behind her was a monster that defied description - a startlingly tall, featureless being made of a solid white substance. Its claws were tinged with one of the crewmen's blood.
Iztaya glared at the woman. “Why leave us alive?”
“No pleasantries?” the woman smirked. “My, my. I expected much better from the son of Worm Basilisk Mahuizoh.”
Iztaya and Cualli exchanged glances.
“Oh, don't worry - your secret is safe with me,” she said, glancing back at the creature. “My associate is familiar with the Worm Basilisk scent. We knew you were wandering arbout the mainland, but we never expected to run into you on one of our hunting trips. It's almost if we were destined to cross paths eventually.”
“Hunting trips?! You're killing - “
The woman laughed. “Innocents, friends - yes, I've heard it before. They're nothing but raw materials to us, don't bother with the lecture” As she spoke, her associates began wrapping the corpses in webbing and dragging them into the water. “But they aren't important now. Child of Piltzintlicoatl, I have a proposition for you and your hierophant.”
“We're not interested in dealing with murderers,” Cualli said, glaring.
She ignored him. “I am Councillor Varanhi, representative of the Noitu - a civilization of undead located in the ocean's deepest recesses. Our Grand Prophet is interested in meeting the world's remaining Worm Basilisks; he would certainly be honored if you agreed to pay him a visit and answer a few questions. You will be generously rewarded for your time, rest assured.”
“As my brother said, we aren't interested in dealing with murderers,” Iztaya said firmly. “You killed our friends. What makes you think we'd want to cooperate with you?”
“I'm disappointed to hear that,” Varanhi said as she walked forward and placed a tentacle on his shoulder, “but it's your decision. If you change your mind, Worm Basilisk Iztayacoatl, we'll be in touch.”
She waved at him, then jumped backwards and vanished beneath the ocean Her fellow creatures followed soon after, dragging the corpes of the crewmen behind them. Iztaya walked to the railing and stared down at the water, flinching when blood began to pool at the surface. Sighing, he turned back to his brother. “We should head back,” he said, voice barely above a whisper.
The brothers boarded a lifeboat and headed out to sea, sitting in silence the entire time.
V. Secrets of the Depths
After spending a couple days at sea, the brothers finally washed ashore, but as they soon discovered they were nowhere near their village. The terrain was far different from Tzalxochitl -- abundant forests, rolling green plains, towering mountains. Iztaya had no idea where they were, but Cualli suspected it was Eyropa from descriptions he had read during his studies. But that made no sense: their ship was supposed to travel near Tzalxochitl's coastline, and there was no way they could have drifted all the way to another continent on the lifeboat. Cualli had suspicions something was amiss when they didn't hit land sooner, but ending up so far away never crossed his mind.
Iztaya stood with his feet in the water, staring out at the ocean. Those creatures hadn't just massacred the crew -- they hijacked the ship. But what would they have to gain from that? And how could they clear so much distance in such little time? It didn't add up.
He wanted answers. And more importantly, justice.
Iztaya and Cualli returned to their nomadic lifestyle for a few months before settiling in a "town" in southeastern Eyropa. It was a big change from their fishing village -- a shady, run-down place populated mostly by criminals and the especially impoverished. Finding a place to stay wasn't difficult since there were plenty of abandoned shacks to choose from. Everyone kept to themselves and didn't ask many questions, but the brothers didn't mind: they weren't in the mood for making friends this time around.
They became as self-sufficient as possible, hunting for their own food and learning to mend their clothes. Occasionally they did odd jobs for people to move out of the overgrown slums, but they spent most of their time trying to find out about those monsters responsible for their predicament. If there was anything positive to say about their new home, it was a good place to get information --you could learn just about anything if you knew where to go and had some money.
But Iztaya and Cualli were in a rush, so they decided to try an easier way.
It took several weeks of asking around, but someone finally referred them to a person who might know about the Noitu. He was a cruel, incredibly self-centered crime boss, one of the most notable criminals in the town. Iztaya considered arranging a meeting with him, but he would definitely bring his flunkies along; the plan would be much better if they got him alone. Cualli learned that he often walked home from the bar by himself on weekends, so they brothers decided to corner him then.
Iztaya had expected complications, but it went off without a hitch. They ganged up on him and pulled him into an alley when he was far enough from the bar. Before the man knew what was going on Iztaya was in his Worm Basilisk form, staring him down. Cualli told him that he would be fine as long as he answered a few questions. They never would've actually hurt him, but fortunately for them he had no way of knowing that. Apparently there was a group called the Snowmane Foundation in Orkarov, and it was dedicated to researching Worm Basilsks. The man swore he never heard of the Noitu, but said they sounded like creatures the Snowmane Foundation had started looking into over the past decade. They finally had a lead.
The journey to Orkarov was a long one, and it gave the brothers a lot of time to think. Iztaya was ecstatic at the possibility of learning more about Worm Basilisks, but Cualli wasn't sure the Snowmane Foundation was trustworthy. What if they tried to capture Iztaya and use him as a specimen? No doubt they wouldn't pass up the chance to have an actual Worm Basilisk to study. Cualli knew Iztaya was set on meeting with them, and he too wanted to know more about the Noitu, so he kept his mouth shut. Still, he was half-expecting a fight when they arrived.
Finding the Snowmane Foundation was easy enough when they arrived in Orkarov -- they had a fairly impressive headquarters in one of the major cities. When they went inside and explained themselves the receptionist thought they were playing a joke, but all Iztaya had to do was show his true Worm Basilisk tongue for her to start calling for the foundation's director. Guards and scientists alike poured into the room, which put Cualli on the defensive. But then a middle-aged dwarf emerged from the crowd, ushered the guards back and started thanking them gratuitously for coming. Iztaya had never seen a grown man so excited. He begged them to chat with him in his study, then asssured them they would be perfectly safe.
Once the brothers were alone with the dwarf, he introduced himself as Druhan Snowmane, grandson of the late Gorian Snowmane, Pal Tahrenor's greatest Worm Basilisk researcher. Before they could open their mouths he started in with question after question, wanting to take full advantage of having an audience with one of the few remaining Worm Basilisks. Iztaya and Cualli patiently answered his questions at first, but as time went on Iztaya interrupted Druhan with his own question:
"Dr. Snowmane, what are the Noitu?"
Druhan's face lost its color in an instant. After they explained what happened to him, he poured them all some coffee and took a few moments to compose himself. He explained that the Noitu were the spawn of a malevolent Worm Basilisk from Tzalxochitl, one who vanished into the ocean long ago. He knew the Worm Basilisk had a following of aquatic undead, but he never imagined they had a society of their own. And if their Worm Basilisk was seeking out its brethren, its intentions definitely weren't pure.
Cualli and Iztaya exchanged glances, memories of their father's stories returning to them. The Worm Basilisk whose atrocities hung over Tzalxochitl to this day, the one whose campaign of undeath forced them to conceal their very nature for decades, had now killed uprooted them from their home and slaughtered their friends. Running wasn't an option -- wherever they went, the Noitu would track them down and kill even more people to get to them.
It was time to go on the offensive.
VI. Sorrow of Ichtaca
And here he was, stuck on a carriage with nothing to do. At least it wasn't a boat.
Iztaya yawned and folded his arms behind his head. He was resting in the back of the carriage while his brother talked with Druhan up front. Several more carriages trailed behind them, filled with guards and researchers. At least Druhan knew enough to come prepared. If they succeeded in luring the Noitu out, there would definitely be a fight. Druhan had made a public announcement that the Snowmane Institute had received reports of a live Worm Basilisk lurking around the ruins of Worm Basilisk Ichtaca's lair, and that they intended to investigate. Yes, it was a trap for the Noitu, but there was some truth in it: Iztaya hoped to learn more about Eyropa's sole Worm Basilisk, even if she was a monstrous tyrant.
As usual, Cualli was less optimistic. The Noitu would surely take the bait, but it was an obvious ploy -- they were surely watching them since they ended up in Eyropa. He feared their plan would result in even more death.
Their plan was to utilize the terrain against their enemies The Noitu would be away from their precious water, so they would be at a disadvantage. Druhan's guards would hide themselves around Ichtaca's temple, then ambush the Noitu once they arrived, trapping them in the central chamber. The goal was to take them prisoner and get answers; the less fighting, the better. And until then, Druhan would lead Iztaya through the ruins and share his knowledge of Worm Basilisk culture.
When they arrived at the ruins, the soldiers prepared the main chamber while Iztaya and Druhan went off with two guards to examine the temple. Cualli assisted with the preparations: he ensured they removed any water sources from the vicinity, and that they seal off any other entrances the Noitu could use for a surprise attack. He trusted the soldiers knew what they were doing, but he didn't want to take any chances. These creatures were merciless and brutal, so one misstep could mean disaster.
Meanwhile, Iztaya wandered the temple with Druhan, listening intently as he spoke of Worm Basilisk Ichtaca. Much like the Noitu's Worm Basilisk she had been a genocidal tyrant, and her actions resulted in a stigma against Worm Basilisks throughout most of Eyropa. Iztaya expressed disappointment at another wicked Worm Basilisk, but Druhan assured him that Ichtaca and their current enemy were the exceptions, not the rule.
Druhan explained how Worm Basilisk Ichtaca had been slain by a knight name Madalin, and how the Puradyne religion considered him a martyr for sacrificing himself to destroy her. Iztaya began to ask a question, but suddenly another voice interrupted him:
"Dr. Snowmane, I'm disappointed in you. Surely you don't really believe in that frivolous tale."
They spun around, and Iztaya's eyes narrowed as he stared at the newcomer. "...How?"
Councillor Varanhi chuckled. "Right to the point, I see. Let's just say your men weren't as thorough as they thought." She looked over at a mural of Ichtaca, her expression softening. "It's a lie, you know."
"What are you talking about?"
"Worm Basilisk Ichtaca is innocent of the crimes the Puradynes claim she committed," Varanhi said, running a tentacle along the mural. "After God's death, she fled to Eyropa in a frenzy and secluded herself beneath this temple. She lost all hope without Piltzintlicoatl and fell into a depression. We reached out to her and offered our support, but our words couldn't ease her pain."
Snowmane shook his head. "But that doesn't explain her conquest across -- "
"Mortals," Varanhi snapped as she turned to face them. "Your grandfather's Worm Basilisk wasn't the only one with a mortal hierophant, Druhan. He posed as her friend, used her image to raise an army without her knowledge. Would you believe me if I told you she sacrificed herself to stop him, not that little knight of yours? But having the frightening serpent as the villain is easier for the masses to swallow."
Before Iztaya could consider her story, he heard fighting in the chamber above. He pushed past Varanhi and ran back to the others, Druhan close behind him.
"They will betray you!" Varanhi called after him as he vanished up the stairs.
When they reached the main chamber, they did not find an army of Noitu as they expected, but rather a solo, horrifying creature. Iztaya's eyes widened at the sight of the same monstrosity that had been on the boat that night. The researchers and guards were stewn about the floor, alive but injured. Cualli stood near the entryway, glaring the creature down.
The creature was in front of Cualli.
Varanhi was beside them, staring at the monster with horrified eyes.
It placed its hands on Cualli's head. Varanhi screamed. Iztaya collapsed.