"You must stay here until our fate is decided. I have learned much in the last few minutes, and I will explain it to you."
The king sits on the steps of the building atop of which he stood not long ago, presiding over the ball game, and motions for the others to sit near him. Then he begins the story.
Many years ago lived a man named Hun Hunahpú, who loved to play the ball game with his brother. The noise of their play disturbed the gods of Xibalbá, who are evil and crafty. They sent a message inviting them to play the ball game in their court. After safely crossing the river of spikes, the river of blood and the river of pus, they arrived at the throne room of the Lords of Death and greeted them by name, as was expected of them. However, Xibalban gods love to embarrass and confuse people with trials and tricks, and the men did not know that they were speaking to mannequins that had been set up among them.
When the gods finally revealed themselves, they invited the men to sit on a bench, but they were burned because it was actually a cooking stone. Having amused themselves ad the expense of Hun Hunahpúand his brother, they were now invited to play the ball game, but the ball concealed blades which decapitated them. Their bodies were buried under the ball court in Xibalba, but the heads were sent to the surface as a warning not to disturb the gods. Hun Hunahpú's head was placed in the fork of a tree.
Years later, the woman Xquic was startled when the decapitated head of Hun Hunahpú spoke to her. The skull spat upon her hand, and the hero twins Hunahpú (named for his father) and Xbalanqúe were conceived. They were raised by her mother and their grandmother, the mother of Hun Hunahpú. They grew large and strong, and it began to be clear that they possessed supernatural powers.
The twins also loved to play the ball game, and was with their father, their play disturbed the gods, and so they were summoned to play on the Xibalban court. Their grandmother attempted to prevent the boys from going, but they wished to avenge their father, and were not to be swayed. When they arrived at the throne room there were mannequins set up among the gods, but the boys were not fooled. One of them plucked a hair from his leg, which turned into a mosquito. The mosquito bit the first Xibalban, but it did not react because it was a mannequin. It then bit the next one, who cried out in pain. In this way, the boys identified the real Lords of Xibalbá, and told them that they would not talk to wooden dummies. "Be seated, then," they responded. "Not on that cooking stone," said the boys.
The gods of Xibalbá were frustrated, and decided to make the boys prove their worthiness by enduring a series of ordeals. First, they were made to sit in the House of Darkness and given a torch. They would only pass the trial if they returned the torch in the morning unconsumed by the fire. But the boys transferred the flame to a tail feathers of a macaw, and emerged in the morning with their torch unused.
Now they were sent to the House of Blades. Surely they would be cut to pieces, thought the gods. But the boys spoke to the blades, and convinced them to cut up animals instead. Next was the House of Jaguars, but the twins smuggled in bones and fed them to the jaguars. They were cast into the House of Cold, and they locked the cold out so that it could not freeze them. The House of Fire merely toasted them nicely instead of burning them.
When the Lords of Xibalbá sent them to the House of Bats, the boys hid from the bats inside a blowgun. But Hunahpú peeked outside, and his head was cut off by a bat and rolled into the ball court. But his brother Xbalanqúe knew what to do. He called to the animals, and had them bring him a squash, and made this a new head for Hunahpú.
Thinking they had finally shamed the boys with one of their trials, the gods started the ball game, using Hunahpú's head for the ball. But Xbalanqúe kicked it towards a place where he had hidden a rabbit, and it ran off, tricking the gods into thinking that it was the head bouncing away. While they chased it, Xbalanqúe put Hunahpú's head back on and put the squash in the game as the ball. When the gods came back, he gave the ball a mighty kick, splitting it open and spilling out the seeds, showing the gods that they had been tricked.
The Lords of Xibalbá were angry with the boys, and decided they would give them a new challenge which would surely kill them. "See this large oven?" they said. "Surely you cannot jump over it four times." "'You are wrong," responded the boys, and they jumped, but landed in the flames and were burned up. The gods, happy to have finally been rid of the boys, ground up their bones and cast them into the river, as was their custom when they cooked victims from above.
But the boys knew that the gods would do this, and their plan depended on it. They had supernatural powers, remember, and they knew that if their remains were cast into the river, they would resurrect with even greater powers. They returned to the surface, disguised as beggars, and began to entertain the people with their new powers. They would burn down a house, and then restore it in the blink of an eye. They would cut each other apart and then spring up to life again. Word of the amazing performances reached the Gods of Death, and they were called to Xibalbá to perform.
They sacrificed a dog and brought it back to life. Then they killed a human and resurrected him. When Xbalanqué dismembered Hunahpú, who then stood up again on command, the gods were ecstatic. "Us now!" they cried. "Do it to us!" So they took two of the greatest of the Lords of Death and cut them up, but of course they did not restore them. The other Lords then realized who the beggars were and knew they had been defeated and shamed by the Hero Twins. The boys took their father's body and brought it back with them to the surface, reuniting it with his head and restoring him to life. Then they rose to the sky, becoming the sun and the moon, and Xibalbá fell from its former prestige.
Hunac Ceel pauses. "That is the story that most of you know, passed down from mother to child. To this day the Lords of Xibalbá are no longer feared, and the sacrifices to appease them, which used to be every day, are now only held on special occasions. There are some who no longer believe the old stories. I was one of them." This causes some murmurs among the people, but the king continues without seeming to note them. "I cannot say that I am so quick to dismiss them now."
"The last part of the story is not told among us these days, but it is not completely forgotten. I have read it. The Xibalban Lords never forgot the shame brought upon them by the Hero Twins. The greatest of those that remained, Yum Kimil, swore that one day, when the era of their disgrace had passed, they would avenge themselves upon the people on the surface."
"That time is now. They have sent pixan b'alamix, were-jaguars, who visited our city silently by night and have slain so many. Now they surround the city in the jungle so that we cannot flee. But in all this time the Lords of Xibalbá have not changed their ways. They still have love to submit humans to trials, and they have spared some of us to be part of one."
"Someone among us is a were-jaguar in disguise. Each day, we must choose one of our number, and offer them to the Lords of Xibalbá in the Sacred Cenote. If it is the were-jaguar, it will be made known to us, and those who live will be freed from the trial, allowed to live out our lives. If not, the trial continues. At night, we must each retire to separate houses. Then the were-jaguar will choose one of us to kill during the night. The trial continues until the were-jaguar is found, or we are all dead."
"On the back of your neck, you may find a symbol. Look for it now."
Citali, Huracán, Eric, Tohil and Itzel pull up their hair in the back and look at each other's necks. They are shocked to discover a small glyph there, glowing with a faint blue light.
"The symbol means 'grabbed' or 'taken.' It means you are chosen for the trial. Eek' Maaskab, do I bear the symbol?" The king turns and raises his hair. "No, my liege," he replies. "As I thought. Like the captain of the team that lost the ball game, I am held in reserve for a special punishment, should we fail the trial. Now you turn and let me see." The king examines the neck of his commander. "You are not chosen either. I am not sure why you were spared. Maybe it was so that you may continue to serve as you have for so long."