They only had two days left, but Mahaway had no intention of finishing the stela. To her, creating a monument honoring the killing of her friends and family would mean accepting a fate of enslavement and fear. She would rather risk her life and fight for her freedom—she just didn’t know how to go about it yet.
Mahaway watched as Yochi chipped away at their rock. His brow furrowed as he worked, though whether it was from stress or concentration Mahaway did not know. After years of being best friends with Yochi, Mahaway knew he was the type who would rather appease than fend for himself. The simplest choices made him happy, and oftentimes that meant he enjoyed his assigned tasks.
Shaking her head, Mahaway tapped Yochi on the shoulder.
He looked up. “Huh? What is it Mahaway?”
“Remember that room we accidentally found yesterday? I want to find it again.”
“But we have work to—”
“Yochi! When will we get this chance again? Once this stela is finished, they’ll probably lock us up. I’ve heard rumors that King Jasaw is rounding up all the scribes and astronomers—for what reason I do not know. This could be our last chance.” Mahaway started pacing. “Please. I need to know what’s in that room.”
Yochi sighed, looking wistfully at the rock. “Fine. Lead the way.”
Mahaway jumped up and down in excitement. “Thank you, thank you Yochi!” She took his hand and walked the path she had followed the day before, using the same trick Yochi had used to get past the guards. This time they pretended they saw a jaguar. Soon she found the hidden tunnel, tucked away between two rocks. It was barely noticeable, except for an area of flattened moss next to it, where Mahaway had slipped and fallen.
“This is it,” she said, a gleam in her eye. “But be careful, it’s steep.”
Yochi nodded, looking uncomfortable. “Only for you.”
They went through the tunnel slowly, one careful step at a time. After what felt like hours to Mahaway, they made it to the bottom.
Yochi stared at the hieroglyphs in awe. “Amazing,” he muttered, walking closer to inspect them. “These look like some sort of notes—on cycles of some sort.” He pointed to a group of symbols on the wall. “But they don’t quite make sense.”
Mahaway wasn’t paying attention. The room looked different, somehow. She had remembered seeing a chair, but now it was missing. “Yochi? Did you hear that?” Mahaway moved closer to him.
Yochi was too engrossed by the writing on the wall. “Now if I read that correctly, and assumed that was right, then it could be…”
“What?” Yochi looked irritated.
“I heard a noise. I think someone else might be here.”
“You’re crazy Mahaway. You even said so yourself yesterday: this is a secret room. It looks like it hasn’t been used in years. Now let me get back to these calculations…”
Mahaway saw something move out of the corner of her eye. A flash of a leg going up the tunnel. She ran over and grabbed it. “Aha! What’s this?”
Down tumbled a young man, only 16 or 17 years old by the look of him. He rolled over and took a fighting stance, growling.
Yochi ran in front of Mahaway, holding his arms out. “Get back Mahaway. He might be dangerous.”
“Yochi, stop.” Mahaway pushed her way in front of him. She stared at the young man, trying to read his eyes. They looked young and frightened. “It’s ok,” she said, lowering her voice. “We don’t want to hurt you.”
Yochi relaxed a little, until he noticed the young man’s uniform. “He’s a soldier! Get back!”
The young man flexed his muscles and tried to stand straighter. But he was too skinny to look threatening. Mahaway moved closer to him, and he backed away.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He stared at her a moment, before answering. “Ichik. And your friend is right. I am one of King Jasaw’s soldiers, so if you want to live, you’d better forget about all this.”
“Yes, yes, anything you say,” Yochi said.
“Wait,” Mahaway said. “This doesn’t make sense. Why would you be here unless you’re…” She gasped. “A deserter?”
Yochi got back in front of Mahaway. “We have to turn you in,” he said, eyes wide with fear. He tried to grab Ichik, but Ichik was too quick. Before Yochi had any time to react, he was on the ground, his breath knocked out of him.
“Stop! Stop!” Mahaway said. “We won’t turn you in. Promise.”
Ichik took a step closer to her, searching her eyes for the truth. After a few seconds, he seemed convinced. “You know what this means if you’re caught, right?”
Yochi gasped and choked on the ground, shaking his head violently.
Mahaway nodded solemnly. “Death.”