“I found the tunnel right away, so I decided to start exploring while I waited for you two.” Ichik, in his excitement, talked loudly as he led Mahaway and Yochi through the underground maze.
Mahaway said nothing as she followed. Yochi spoke for both of them. “That’s great Ichik. But maybe we should be more quiet? We don’t know who else may be down here.”
Ichik snorted. “I was just here and there was nobody. We’ll be fine. Besides,” he said, holding out his stone hammer head, “worst case scenario, we use this.”
The three of them walked down a windy path. It was dark, but their eyes slowly adjusted. Mahaway was in a daze, going through the motions of following her friends. Ichik, excited, chattered on about everything he had found that day. Feeling the need to be cautious, Yochi strained his eyes to see any movements ahead of them, tuning out Ichik as much as possible to listen for strange sounds.
After a while Yochi realized Ichik was no longer talking. They were walking up a steep path, and all three of them were breathing heavily. The tunnel had narrowed so they had to walk single file, taking small steps so as not to trip over any stray rocks or ruts.
“This is it.” Ichik stopped in front of a large, flat wall.
“I don’t see anything.” Yochi knocked on the wall, but only heard solid thuds.
“It’s actually above us.” Ichik pushed on the ceiling of the tunnel, moving a small square of rock. Bits of dust and dirt fluttered down, causing him to cough. “All of the secret doors are hidden in the floor—probably so you can drop down and start running, if you need to.”
“What’s up there?” Yochi said. He didn’t want to walk into any traps.
“No idea,” Ichik said. “I wanted to wait until you two showed up to actually enter any rooms.”
Yochi watched as Ichik pulled himself up into the room. The ceiling wasn’t high, only slightly higher than their heads. Two footholds were carved just below the door. Yochi followed Ichik, and then helped pull Mahaway into the room.
“This doesn’t feel right,” Mahaway said. The room was bright, and it made her eyes water. She blinked a few times, trying to adjust her eyesight while Ichik covered up the entrance to their tunnel.
“So we can keep it secret,” Ichik said, with a grin.
The three friends cautiously examined their surroundings. They were in a small, unfurnished room full of maize and other food supplies.
“What is this?” Mahaway said, frowning. “There are people in the city fighting for food, yet there is plenty here.”
“It’s probably the king’s reserves for his army,” Ichik said. He pointed to the only doorway out of the room. “Come on, let’s keep moving.”
Hesitant, Mahaway led the way through the door, to a larger room that was almost as sparse, save for a chair carved from stone in the middle and some murals portraying the stories of the gods on the wall. Leaning against one of the walls was a large round stone, painted in red and blue.
Yochi inhaled sharply. “We are in the throne room of the palace. We need to get out of here. Now.”
Mahaway nodded in agreement, grabbing Yochi and Ichik’s hands as she started to head back to the smaller adjoining room.
“Wait.” Ichik broke away and ran to the stone. “It’s the Calendar, I know it. My father said the most important works were painted in red and blue. Jasaw must have found it. We have to destroy it.”
He raised his hammer over his head and hacked at the stone. It broke into several large chunks. “Help me.” Ichik kept hitting the rock, while Yochi and Mahaway picked up the pieces and hurled them to the floor, breaking them into smaller, unreadable lumps.
“What the hell are you doing?” King Jasaw had entered the throne room.
Mahaway froze, trying to think of a way they could all escape. The tunnel was shut, and she didn’t want the King to find out about it anyway. She dropped a piece of the Calendar and walked over to Yochi and Ichik, holding them tightly.
Ichik broke away, stood up straight, and saluted. “King Jasaw.”
Three armed men came in and joined the king. Mahaway recognized Kish, Jasaw’s advisor, and Nacon. Jasaw snarled. “Do you know what you have done? You have just destroyed a powerful, important artifact that belongs to me. One I had been searching for, for a long time and had just recovered today. That is treason.”
Yochi threw himself on the ground and begged. “Please, King Jasaw, have mercy.”
Jasaw took note of Yochi’s astronomer robes and Mahaway’s netted hat, indicating she was a scribe. He grinned wickedly. “I will grant you mercy—this time. But you must replace what you have destroyed.”
He snapped his fingers, and his guards came forward to seize Mahaway, Yochi, and Ichik.
Nacon winked at Mahaway. “You’re mine,” he said. He grabbed her roughly by the arm and dragged her out of the throne room, up more steps to the top of the palace. The roof there was flat, and from it Mahaway could see the whole city—even the hill where she and Yochi had stood the day they heard the war horns. Nacon shoved her to the ground, and Yochi and Ichik fell down next to her.
“Are you all right?” Mahaway whispered. Both Yochi and Ichik nodded. They waited for what felt like hours on top of the roof, shivering and trying not to notice the menacing looks the guards who were watching them gave.
“Let me explain what I want.” King Jasaw said, when he finally arrived. He towered over them, his hands behind his back. “I need you three to build me a new Long Count Calendar, one that explains the stars and the seasons. I want you to tell me the next time Venus will appear in the sky, so I will know when the gods will bless me with success in battle. Understood?”
Neither Mahaway, Yochi, nor Ichik said anything.
“Good. You have one week. From what my advisor could divine from the pieces of my broken Calendar, Venus will not appear for at least another week.” Jasaw turned around to head back to the throne room. “I’ll be inspecting your progress daily. Do not fail me.”