“Come on, come on!” Mahaway hurried along down the path towards the secret room. She had woken up at sunrise, impatient to check on Ichik and study the writing on the walls of the secret room.
“Slow down, we don’t want anyone to get suspicious.” Yochi trailed along behind her, looking over his shoulder every few steps to make sure they weren’t being followed.
They made it to the tunnel, and Mahaway called down to Ichik so as not to startle him. “We’re here. We have food!”
Ichik emerged from a corner of the room, rubbing his sleepy eyes. “I thought we were meeting later?”
“Something happened.” Mahaway tossed a chunk of bread to Ichik, not waiting to see if he caught it. She lit the candle from the day before, and carried it to the side of the room with writing on the wall.
“What’s going on?” Ichik said.
“Shh,” Mahaway said. “I just need a minute…”
Yochi shrugged apologetically. “We found what we think is a clue, last night. Some writing on the stela we were working on hinted about the calendar you spoke of last night. It mentioned writing on the walls in a hidden cavern that could point to it.”
Ichik inhaled sharply. “If that’s correct, then we could actually find the calendar ourselves, and we may be able to stop Jasaw. Today.”
Yochi went silent and pale.
“What’s wrong?” Ichik asked, after a few moments.
“Just…I didn’t think it would happen so soon…”
“Gah! Can’t you two be quiet for a minute? I’m trying to concentrate.” Mahaway stood in front of the writing, frowning. The candle flickered dangerously as she sighed in frustration.
Yochi joined her. “Let me try.” He took the candle and studied the writing for a minute. “I see something about tunnels…”
“That sounds promising,” Ichik said.
“Whoever wrote this was in a hurry though.” Yochi pointed to one of the last words. “See this? It’s not finished.”
Mahaway took the candle away from Yochi and walked slowly along the wall, trying to see anything they might have missed.
“Mahaway,” Yochi said with a groan. “Can’t you ever focus on one thing at a time?”
“Oh Yochi, it’s fine,” Mahaway said. “Besides, I might find something that can help us figure out the rest of the writing. Ichik, what do you think?”
Ichik rubbed his chin, thinking. “Actually, I remember my father telling me about some sort of cycle. But he said it just in passing once, so I don’t remember what he said exactly.” He frowned. “What was it…?”
“Let’s just take a minute and recall what we know for sure,” Yochi said. “Here, let me.” He took the candle away from Mahaway, and placed it in the center of the room. Then he grabbed a stick to scratch notes on the dirt floor.
“All right. We know there are secret rooms connected by tunnels underneath all the buildings. We also know there is a powerful calendar hidden in one of those rooms. Correct?”
Mahaway and Ichik nodded.
“Good. Now, the writings on the stela point to this room, and the writing in this room references a tunnel. I think this means we can find the calendar via the tunnel.”
“Makes sense,” Mahaway said.
“There is also some cycle going on, but we can get to that later.” Yochi continued drawing in the dirt. “Now, we need to figure out where the calendar is. Which means we need to figure out first where the tunnel is. Ichik, what did your father say about the tunnels again?”
Ichik nodded. “Every room has a door that blends in with the ground. We can probably feel our way around for it. But be careful, because it’s likely a far drop from the door to the bottom of the tunnel.”
“Well what are we waiting for? Let’s start searching.” Mahaway got on her hands and knees and started crawling around the room, feeling for holes.
“Mahaway, stop.” Yochi blocked her way. “We have to finish that stela by the end of today. Nacon will be coming to look at it, and I don’t want to take any chances.”
Mahaway rolled her eyes. “Fine. Ichik, can you start looking? We’ll be back tonight to help.”
“Of course,” Ichik said. He started munching on his bread. “Right after breakfast.”
Mahaway and Yochi rushed to finish the stela. They had agreed to meet Ichik a couple hours before sunset, so they’d have time to explore the tunnel and get back home before the soldiers checked. After a few hours, they were almost done.
“Finally,” Mahaway said, wiping her forehead. “Nearly finished.”
“You call this finished?” Nacon walked up to them. He slowly circled the stela, inspecting it. “It’s terrible.”
“What do you mean, terrible?” Mahaway flushed, angry. “It’s exactly what you ordered, and done on time.”
“Mahaway,” Yochi said, warning her.
“It’s sloppy.” He pointed to the image of the king’s face. “Parts are chipped, including the king’s face. King Jasaw will not be pleased.” He smirked. “And we wouldn’t want that, would we?”
“I suppose not,” Mahaway said, through clenched teeth. She crossed her arms and tapped her foot, wishing she were back in the secret room.
“Well then,” Nacon said, stepping in front of Mahaway and flashing her a smile. “You’d better keep working.”
“And how are we supposed to finish by tonight? This job will take at least another day!” As soon as she spoke, Mahaway regretted it. Nacon towered over her, and she suddenly felt helpless, as if he could snap her in half and she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Then she saw the lust in his eyes and she shivered. There were some things worse than death.
Yochi stepped in between them. “Give us one more day. We promise the king will be pleased.”
Nacon whipped his head around and sneered at Yochi. “Fine. One day. And it better be perfect—or else.”
Yochi met Nacon’s eyes, not looking away until Nacon started heading back towards the palace. Mahaway stared at the stela until Nacon was out of earshot.
“Are you all right?” Yochi put his arm around her.
“Yeah, fine. I’m fine. Let’s just get to work. We only have a little time left before we’re supposed to meet Ichik.”
They worked in silence until it was time to leave, Yochi glancing over at Mahaway in concern every few minutes. Mahaway didn’t speak or look up. She focused all her energy into fixing the stela.
An hour before sunset, Mahaway waved a limp hand at Yochi. “Time to go.”
They were greeted by an energetic Ichik. “I found it!” he said, not noticing Mahaway’s downcast demeanor. “It took me all day, but I found it.”