She presented as an Omega on the day of One Death. So that was to be her adult name.
This was an unlucky name for though she was given to Lord Eleven Storm during her next heat, no children came of it, nor during the next.
Lord Eleven Storm set her aside and took more fruitful Omegas. At first, she was merely looked down upon by Lady One Wind and Lady Two Night. Lord Eleven Storm still enjoyed One Death's heats for she was full of passion. He gave her a turquoise necklace after each.
She became a slave to the household doing all the heavy tasks and she grew strong.
But one year, on the day of One Death, both Lady One Wind and Lady Two Night both lost the infants in their bellies. One Death was clearly to blame. After that, she was stripped of her name and called Zero. They pierced her right shoulder with thorns and beat her. She survived that day.
Lord Eleven Storm still enjoyed her heats for she was full of passion. He gave her a turquoise necklace after each.
But when the calendar rolled around, on the day of One Death Lady Four Serpent lost her child.
Zero was to blame, even nameless. It was determined that One Jaguar, an Alpha Owl Knight, would take her into the jungle and kill her. He would cut out her heart and it would be ground up and put into corn mash and all the Omegas of Lord Eleven Storm would eat it.
Zero did not like this plan. She did not like this plan at all. As she walked ahead of One Jaguar, she made her hips sway. She said, "Let me live and I will have sex with you. You can make a heart out of red sap and take that back."
One Jaguar agreed and they had sex by the trail. Afterwards, he said, "You've been very foolish. For now I'll kill you anyway."
Zero said, "But now I have your obsidian sword." She killed One Jaguar with a single stroke. She left the path.
This was dangerous to do, but she had no choice. Worse, she had no place to go.
Anywhere she went, she'd be expected to share her heat and bear children. Barren, anything that went wrong, it would be her fault. If she already had a child, then none of it could be her fault. In the sullen heat of the day, she longed for a child.
This was her thought as she walked under a calabash tree and decided to look for a gourd to carry water in. A voice from above her said, "You were set aside, because you have had no children. Your Lord still favors you. But something… ah, no the Omegas of your village lost their children and you were taken into the jungle to die, but you killed the Owl Knight with you instead."
Zero whirled around looking for the source of the voice, but saw no one.
The voice sighed, "You see, but you do not observe. I am directly in front of you on the third branch."
Zero looked at the third branch and there was gourd, which on closer inspection was a gleaming white skull intricately painted in designs with glowing silver eyes. "Finally," said the skull. "I didn't think you'd ever notice me. However, I was just observing that you want children."
"How do you know that?" asked Zero, putting the obsidian sword back in her belt. "How did you know any of that?"
"You are an Omega without children, who has nearly sacrificed for that lack. You want children." The skull watched her steadily with burning silver eyes. "As to the rest, I paid attention. Your clothing is rough, but you wear turquoise necklaces. You've been beaten, and a thorn has injured your right shoulder. You carry the obsidian blade of an Owl Knight, though you clearly aren't one."
"Amazing!" said Zero. She shook her head. "That was… I mean it sounds simple when you put it like that, but that you noticed all that. Fantastic!"
The skull preened if a skull may be said to do so. The silver fire in its eyes flashed. "You think so. Well…" here the skull's voice grew lower and deeper, and it was already a very deep voice, "I can help you."
"I do not think you can make me pregnant." Zero put her hands on her hips.
"I am a talking skull, I know quite a lot of magic," said the skull on his waving branch.
"Fair point," said Zero. "What do I need to do for it?" Because there was always a price.
The skull grinned even wider. "You must help me get my body back and that of my brother. For even though he is the one who got us into this mess, he is my brother."
"And you will make me pregnant. I'm not sure I believe you," said Zero, because she wanted to sure that she would get what she was bargaining for.
"Yes, of course I can. Reach out your hand," said the skull. Zero reached out her hand and the skull spat into it. The spit hissed and sizzled against her skin. She felt her belly clench and she fell to her knees at the pleasure of it. She was panting on all fours when the skull said, "There, you are pregnant."
When she regained her breath and her feet, she said, the words feeling strange in her mouth, "You have been very foolish. You have paid me before getting what you wanted. I could just walk away."
If a skull could be said to have a look of consternation, that skull did. Then a look of relief passed over it. "You would not do that. It's not in the way your sandals have worn down."
Zero sighed, because it wasn't. She took the skull down from the tree. "Fine, where do we need to go?"
"We need to go the Xibalba, the underworld." The skull sighed. "That is where my body is and that of my brother, the fat lazy idiot who got us into this mess."
"What happened?" asked Zero, as she rigged up half a gourd and a long vine so she could carry the skull comfortably beneath her breasts.
The skull sneered. "Lord Skull came to our home and my brother thought he could get secrets out of him, while I knew I could beat Lord Skull in a game of wits." Zero set off down the trail. "But my brother traded secrets with Lord Skull, even giving him our names, which gave him power over us. Lord Skull beat me at the game, he took our names, and commanded our skulls to fly off our bodies. I at least was lucky enough to whisper a spell as I died and the East Wind plucked my head off the floor and carried me into this tree." The skull was pressed against her right breast, but this not unpleasant for his voice was very deep and vibrated quite pleasingly. "Now I am nameless and without a body."
Zero stroked the eye ridge of the skull and it hummed quite pleasingly.
Zero was an Omega of passions. Still clearly, anything more was clearly not its area.
Now after some days, they came to a river of scorpions. A giant sat braiding his hair on one side of the river. The skull said, "Offer to do that which made you pregnant so he will carry us across the river."
Zero looked at the skull in consternation. "I am not having sex with a giant. Look at him. He'd split me in half."
"Idiot," said the skull. "I dislike repeating myself, but because you are very dense, I will. I said do what made you pregnant."
"Oh," said Zero. She looked down at the skull. "Oh, that is very clever. You are very clever."
If a skull could be said to preen, that skull did. It said, "You know you say that aloud."
"Oh," said Zero, who didn't want to offend the skull with paltry praise from a slave. Some Lords were like that, "I can stop."
The skull shot a silver gaze right and then left. "No, no, you can keep doing that."
Zero walked up to the giant. "If you carry me across the river, once we are on the other side we will do what got me pregnant."
The giant sniffed at her hair, blowing it this way and that. It licked its wide lips. "You smell good little Omega. Ripe with babies. I will do it." The giant carried them across the river.
When they were on the far side, and the giant swayed with the scorpions' stings, Zero said, "Hold out your hand." She spat in it. "There, I've done to you what was done to me." Then because she suspected that a giant might not like to be paid like that, she set off at a run through the dense thicket of the jungle, where the giant could not easily follow. Zero was quite small.
She regained the path after a time. Although, it occurred to her to ask, "The giant said I smelled like babies."
"Oh, yes," said the skull in a tone that said she was an idiot for not knowing this basic fact. "We'll have twins. Skull spit always results in twins."
Zero put her hand on the slight curve of her belly. "Twins." She grinned and then paused. "But wait, we?"
"They are my children as well after all," said the skull, its breath warm against her breast.
Since her children would always have had some sort of Father, she accepted this.
As she walked, the skull was very talkative. It told her about the birds and plants that they passed and their properties. But after some time, it fell into a silence as she went down the path and did not talk for days.
Finally, as she was retching up her breakfast of fruit, the skull said in a low depressed tone. "I did that to you. I am as much to blame for what happened as my brother."
Zero washed her mouth out with water from her gourd. "Your brother did not get me pregnant and for all my feet are swelling and I feel terrible, I am very happy. My scent will change now. I will always have been a mother." She set to burnishing the skull's beautiful designs with a bit of cloth. "If I have only one friend in the world, the father of my children, I am glad it's you."
If a skull could be said to look surprised that skull was surprised. "Friend? I don't have friends."
When Zero still had more than her life to lose, she might have been insulted, but she'd lost that privilege along with rank. She said, "No, you just have one friend." She brushed her lips along the curve of a cheek. She continued burnishing the father of her children. The skull hummed against her hand.
After a time, the skull said, "This is not my area, but I would like to do something for you."
Zero held her palm against the sharp cheek of the skull. "You don't have to pay for my friendship."
But the skull grinned. "No, I want to. Place me close to your belly." She did. "Lower." She placed the skull close to a very interesting part of her body and the skull hummed. She fell back on the earth at the sensation. She felt the hum deep within her. She felt it flutter inside of her. She spread her legs wider and pressed the skull closer. It was then that she felt the skull's tongue in a very interesting place. Now, she knew it had one, but she hadn't given it much thought.
She gave it a great deal of thought that morning, as she cried out that what the skull's tongue was doing was very good. "It is very good!"
The skull was very smug for the rest of the day, brushing against her breast and occasionally pleasing her there as well.
They did not make a great deal of progress on that day.
Nor on the next.
Eventually, they came to a river of blood. There was a giant sitting by the river. Zero said, "No need to repeat yourself." She walked up and made the same offer and was carried across. She spat and ran as soon as they reached the other side, but there was no dense thicket. She was also by now a good deal less swift and nimble. Her belly showing the burden that she was carrying.
"Look out!" yelled the skull. She pulled the sword and cut the giant's right tendon. As he fell, she took his head. She breathed heavily. "You…" said the skull, "You… that was very good, what you just did. I knew you were capable of lifting great weights, but I…"
Zero breathed out. "I used to enjoy watching the Owl Knights when they practiced." She sighed. "Later, one agreed to trade sex for teaching me a thing or two. There is some benefit to being thought nothing at times."
"You are not nothing," said the skull indignantly. "You are my only friend and I am very clever."
Zero laughed. She stripped the giant's body of what was useful and set off down the path.
The skull said, "You should put a candle inside me. Then if anyone sees that you have a skull, they will think I am just a lamp." That made sense. She put a candle inside the skull, which when she turned it over, seemed just like a skull. She could see the warm yellow glow of the candle and the skull winked the light of one silver eye at her.
Finally, with her belly quite round with child and her feet quite swollen, they came to the entrance to Xibalba, which was a narrow river rushing cool in the hot still air into a vine draped cave entrance.
She lashed together a small raft and lowered herself heavily onto the raft. She considered then that perhaps she was the foolish one for attempting such a thing while heavy with child. For taking this payment before committing the act, but she pushed off from the shore and thought no more on it.
She floated in the dark. The only light coming from the skull's eyes. She passed wondrously sparkling formations of stone that draped like fabric and she passed green glowing columns of light and jungle where the trees above had broken on through into the dark. But mostly, she saw the dark. Finally, she came to the sandy shore of Xibalba. She pulled herself onto the sand heavily.
She was about to bow to the darkened figures that she saw standing there, when the skull hissed, "No, they are only wooden figures. Lord Skull is trying to humiliate you."
Zero shrugged and walked by the rows of figures with her skin crawling.
"Interesting," said a slithering voice from the dark. A dark figure loomed and his scent was full of the musk of an Alpha Lord. "Most people fall for that. Well, Lady, here, take a rest upon my seat." The figure gestured at a low stone bench carved into the wall.
"Don't," whispered the skull, "there is a fire under it, and you will be burned."
Zero bowed as well as she could under the circumstances. "I could not possibly sit while a Lord greater than myself stands. Please, have the seat of honor."
The figure laughed and snapped his fingers like the cracking of seed pods. Torches flared to light around the cave, illuminating a slight figure resplendent in gold plate and black jaguar pelts. The Alpha wore a great cape of black plumed birds. "A pregnant Lady, this will be fun." He bent and peered at the skull. "My, what an interesting lamp you have."
"I found it in the woods," she said holding up the skull, "it seemed a good place for a candle when going into the place of the dead." She cleared her throat. "My Lord, I've come to win a favor from you. If I win, I can have what I ask for, and if you win…"
"I'll have your head," grinned Lord Skull, "but, my dear, what is your name and we can get started?"
"I am Zero," said Zero, her stomach dropping immediately for there was more than just her life on the line.
"Idiot," hissed the skull, "I told you, if he has your name he has power over you."
Zero already felt she was failing, but she had felt a failure for some time now, so it did not show on her face. Instead she did her best to look small and pathetic, which was not hard, as she was quite wet from the river.
Lord Skull laughed. He handed her a great cigar and said, "Now don't smoke this, my dear Zero, whatever you do," and left her to her rest in a dark room.
As soon as the door was closed, the skull said, "Don't smoke that, whatever you do."
Zero rolled her eyes, which she knew full well the skull could see given his own eyes were made of light. "I am not an Alpha. I am an Omega. If I were to take up the habit of sticking something like that in my mouth, I would find myself on my back with nothing to trade for it."
"Ah," said the skull. It sighed. "I don't suppose you could putit in front of me. When I was alive, I enjoyed cigars. I don't remember my own name, but I remember that."
She said, "I don't think that is a good idea. You do have a candle inside you." She put the cigar aside. "Tell me a story." She ran one finger along the eye ridges of the skull. "After all, we have all night to wait here."
"Oh," said the skull. "Oh," said the skull, when she ran her finger down the place where the bones knit together. She gathered the skull to her breasts, which were growing heavy and were quite sensitive, as the skull well knew, and listened to a story while she stroked it.
Now in the morning, Lord Skull was quite disappointed to see the cigar unlit, but was philosophical that he'd have other opportunities to kill her.
Now during the night, the skull had advised her. "Pick Deer and Jaguars. One wink from my right eye will mean forward and one wink from my left eye will mean back. Two winks from the right mean right. Two winks from the left will mean go left. In this way, I will advise on how to play." Zero was not certain though. It seemed to her that Lord Skull would notice that level of advice from her lantern. Also, it was a bit complicated.
Lord Skull took her to a room full of games and said, "What game shall we play, Zero?"
She looked at the game of Deer and Jaguars. She said, "I would like to play which of us can grind maize into flour faster."
Lord Skull looked at her in consternation. "I…" he looked around the room with its games made of jade and gold, "I do not have that game."
Zero put her hands on her hips. "I'm fairly certain that you do. Where is your kitchen?" They went to his kitchen where slaves labored at making flour. Two stone mortars were made available. Zero was done while Lord Skull was still staring at the stone pestle in his hands.
"Fine," he said, "My dear Zero, you must take your rest, before we play another game."
She followed him heavily down the carved stairway. The skull whispered, "That was… good," which coming from the skull was quite a compliment.
As soon as Lord Skull closed the door on the room, she saw that it was full of living blades that slid and carved their way about the room. They turned as one towards her. She raised her own obsidian sword, not certain of what to do.
The skull sang in a language she did not know. The blades tilted. The skull said, "Quick, while I am singing, touch each blade with the sword that you have killed with," and resumed singing.
She went about the room touching each blade with her sword. When she was done, the skull stopped singing. It said, "Now the blades belong to you. I doubt Lord Skull has visited this room since he took over Xibalba."
She sat down, because her feet were very tired and examined the blades. She told the long thin one, "You would be very good at slicing open fish and I would use you after I went fishing. To another, she said, "How broad you are. You would be good for chopping apart the body of a pig." To another, she said, "And look at you, serrated along the edge. You would be perfect for cutting fruit." This went on. She told each one what they were good for.
The skull's eyes were bright silver just then. "That was… all you needed to do was touch them with your sword."
Zero smiled. "A good cook knows her implements." She leaned back with her breasts pushed forward in a manner that she knew the skull enjoyed seeing. "Now what shall we do to while away the time?"
However, Lord Skull came just then and was disappointed to see her alive. She was disappointed to see him too.
The skull whispered, "Ask to play Puluc, the strategy of which is like war. I will guide you how to roll the dice and move your stones." Then there were some very complicated instructions. The skull was not good with instructions. Lord Skull took her to the game room and said, "What would you like to play and nothing from the kitchen is allowed." Zero looked at the board and shrugged. "I would like to play sorting nuts from stones." "I…" Lord Skull looked around his room of games, his pieces of gold and jade, "I do not have that game."
"I'm fairly certain that you do," said Zero. "Where is your store room?"
They went to the store room and found urns full of nuts. Zero said, "The merchant will always put river rocks in with the nuts."
Lord Skull drew himself up to his full height. His Alpha scent was tainted with anger. The Betas warriors and slaves bowed to him. He yelled, "No one would try to cheat Death!"
Zero shrugged. "Have your slaves push two urns over and we'll see."
There were stones in with the nuts. Lord Skull was still berating his Master of Stores by the time Zero had finished sorting her urn.
Lord Skull pulled a vicious smile onto his face. "My dear Zero, you must rest before our next game."
He shoved her through a door, and a scream started in her throat, for the room was full of flames, but the skull shouted three words and the flames stopped. It said, "Throw the nuts that you stole into the fire."
She did not ask how it knew that she had stolen nuts, but it told her anyway. She laughed at the way it had perceived her actions as she threw nuts into the fire. The skull said, "I doubt Lord Skull has come in here to feed the flames since he took over Xibalba." Then the skull spoke a few words and the flames unfroze. They crackled at the nuts merrily, and they did not come closer to burn Zero.
To a merry flame, she said, "You would make fast work of a fish. The skin of the fish would sear black, but inside it would cook in its own juices." The flame crackled. She said to one bed of embers, "You would be perfect for slow roasting a pig and your smoke would become a part of the meat while I threw you fat to eat." The embers hissed. To a steady low fire, she said, "You would be perfect for my stew. And you," she pointed to another pile of coals, "I would put under the stones of my bed in the rainy season."
The skull said, "You… all you had to do was feed them. But," it grinned, "A good cook knows her implements."
She winked at him. "Now, how shall we while away the time?"
Just then, Lord Skull opened the door. If he was disappointed to still see her alive, she was very disappointed to see him.
She made him rest several times on the way. "I am sorry, but your home has a great many stairs."
Lord Skull laughed and led her into a sandy ball court. He picked up a heavy rubber ball and bounced it against a wall. "No more of your tricks."
The skull whispered excitedly, "Get him to get me my body," but did not say how exactly she should do that.
Zero said, "We will need teams. If you give me a skeleton that could go with my skull, and more skeletons beside, then I will have a team, and," she waved at Lord Skull's warriors and slaves, "You have plenty to pick from for your team."
Lord Skull sneered, "I do not need a team."
"Fine," sighed Zero, whose feet were swollen and she was feeling a little ill from the heat. "I call Omega rules then."
"What? I'm an Alpha. I don't play by Omega rules. No one plays by Omega rules," yelled Lord Skull. His sweat was sharp with his Alpha scent.
"Omegas do," said Zero. There was a chuckle from the crowded stands, but Zero was careful not to look at them. Instead, she held out her hand for a playing stick. A Beta slave with lowered eyes and a friendly scent handed it to her. "As you've decided on a ball game, the decision on type is mine. Those are the rules." She tapped the ball with her stick and flipped it into the air. She handily struck it through the hoop.
Lord Skull took a step towards the ball. She said, "That's one foul." Lord Skull glared at her. "Omega rules, we can't take a step until we've scored at least one goal, and even then we only get one."
Lord Skull lost. He was a very bad loser.
He said through very grit teeth. "My dear Zero, you must take your rest."
"More stairs," grumbled Zero. The skull at her breast was laughing. She coughed to cover up the sound.
Lord Skull shoved her through a door and slammed it behind her. The room was freezing with cold. A cold wind gusted about the room.
The skull called out a phrase that sounded like bird song and the wind stopped whirling around the stone glistening with ice.
The skull laughed. "It is the East Wind."
"Oh," said Zero. "Thank you for saving my skull. Uh,… this skull." She held up the skull.
The skull said, "Now sing to it."
"What, but I have no talent for singing," said Zero, but the skull glared at her, so she sang a song that she sang while cooking. When the song was done, she always knew that it was time to pull the bread from the oven.
When she was done, the wind had settled to a very still breeze. It was still fairly cold, but she held the skull close and it warmed her.
She looked about the room. "This place would be ideal for storing my food to keep it fresh and good."
The breeze chuckled.
"Now," said Zero looking at the skull, "How shall we while away the time?"
This time, Lord Skull took his time coming back for which she was grateful. She was glowing and smiling when he opened the door.
The Alpha glared at her, puffing up his chest. He had done something to increase his Alpha musk. He loomed over her and she put her hand protectively on her belly, praying to whatever god would hear that she was not one of the ones so unlucky as lose a child when an Alpha came too close. Then it occurred to her that the Father of her child was even now gently nibbling at her breast. She smiled up at Lord Skull.
Lord Skull took her back to the ball court. On one side were six glistening Alpha warriors. On the other were five skeletons. One was missing a head. "As you selected the rules for the first ball game, I select the type now, and I pick Alpha rules."
Zero put the skull on the headless body, and it snapped its fingers. The skull said, "That is much better." It said a few words and the other skeletons snapped to life."
"What magic is this!" roared Lord Skull, who was looking very put out.
Zero shrugged. "I don't know. I said I found the skull in the jungle."
The game began. The warriors of Lord Skull glistened. Their mighty muscles were sleek and other circumstances, Zero might have enjoyed watching them.
As it was, she greatly enjoyed seeing her tireless team run and snatch the ball with nibble fingers that could be detached from arms. Her team made goal after goal. Once, one of them even tricked Lord Skull's team into scoring with a skull instead of an actual ball. It laughed as it bounced to the sand and was picked up by its body.
Skull – although she supposed it was One Skeleton now, said, "I am still angry with you, brother."
"Now brother dear. I was not the one who invited Lord Skull's attention in the first place," said Two Skeleton.
For all of their bickering, Zero's team won the game.
She said, "Lord Skull, I have won the game. Now I demand my prize."
Lord Skull puffed up with a hiss of a smile, "Not so quickly, my dear Zero. For you lost the game before it even started." He pointed his finger at her. "By the power of your own name, Zero, I command your skull to leap from your body."
Zero felt her heart stop, but no, that was merely excitement. She looked down. She looked at her hands. She looked at her belly. She was still alive.
One Skeleton clapped. "Oh, idiot clever Omega." She looked at One Skeleton as Lord Skull shouted over and over that she should die to no effect. One Skeleton bowed as a warrior would to very high lord, "Zero is not your true name. What is your name, Zero?"
Zero turned with wide eyes and grinned. She held out her hand and Two Skeleton put her obsidian sword in her hand. She approached the shouting Lord Skull and she separated his head from his body.
She looked at crowded stands. "Zero is not my name." She pointed at the room with her blade. "But you may call me, Lady Death."
As she said it, she felt Xibalba turn around her. She felt the sweating stones and the slick earth click into place around her skin. She cupped her hands and opened the doors on the East wind and the fire and the blades. She pointed at the skeletons. "I give you your life back," and they stood before her Alphas naked of pride, but covered in flesh. She pointed at One Skeleton, but it held up a hand.
"No, my dear Omega. Do not. I find," it approached her with long nimble legs, "I prefer myself this way. Especially," it moved its long fingers along her cheek, "now that I have hands."
She laced her fingers with its. Then walking carefully, because her lower back was quite sore, she went to the throne of Lord Skull and sat down with her feet up.
One Skeleton put its hand over the swell of her belly. "They are kicking." She put her hand over its and smiled.
The Former Two Skeleton clear his throat. "Would my Lady be agreeable to my having a look around?"
One Skeleton rolled glowing eyes. "You may as well. He'll not give us a moment peace otherwise." She waved off the Former Two Skeleton and wriggled her toes at One Skeleton. He sat down on the step below her, setting to work massaging her swollen feet and thus proved his genius as he pulled happy groans out of her.
So now you know the way in which the Lord of Xibabla became Lady Death, a mere Omega. Or as you may know her, La Muerte.
Now if on the day of One Death, you want to pay your respects to La Muerte, leave out a candle and a plate of good food, whatever you like best. If you want to honor One Skeleton, leave out an unlit cigar. If you want to honor them both, leave out a puzzle that it takes two to solve.