It wasn’t until the sun was beating heavy overhead did they stop. Amono and Calem had fallen so far behind that when they finally reached Tanaya, she had a nice fire ready for them.
“You both are moving to slow,” she scolded. “Here,” she flexed her hands for Calem to hand her the bird.
“Oh, now you’re hungry?” Calem cawed. He swung the bird off his pack and handed it to her.
She snatched the bird from him, shoving it onto her walking stick. Carefully, she rested both ends of the stick over two mounds of rocks she had gathered around the fire. From her jacket, she removed a long machete type blade and began removing the birds’ feathers.
“No time earlier. I wanted to get an early start,” she explained.
Calem swung his pack off his aching shoulders, not giving her demands any more thought. If she wanted them to rest, far be it from him to deny her the request.
Amono set his gear next to Calem’s then scanned the area. There was nobody for miles. He sat, using his pack as a pillow and closed his eyes to sleep, leaving Calem alone with Tanaya.
Calem sat next to the fire. Even though it was the desert, it was fairly cold and warming himself by the fire felt like a good idea. He glanced over to Amono, noticing he was fast asleep. “Looks like he hasn’t slept in a while,” he pointed out. Tanaya shrugged. “If you were sent to find me, why is he out here?” he asked.
“Father pairs brothers and sisters together. Brothers are supposed to protect sisters. I don’t need any man’s protection though. I can take care of myself,” she explained.
Calem unwound the fabric from around his right hand, revealing a tattoo that covered the complete top of his hand. Tanaya noticed his tattoo, grabbing his hand to see it closer.
“What’s this?” she asked with urgency.
Calem pulled his hand away from her grasp. “It was my grandfather’s idea of a cruel joke. He was an evil man. My entire body is covered with these marks,” he mentioned as he rewound the fabric.
She raked her thin finger across his hand, stopping to tap it. “Bet that is why father wants you,” she thought out loud.
“Sadistic artwork?” Calem questioned as if she were crazy.
She shook her head. “No. Look!” She unwound the fabric again, pointing to his tattoo. She pointed to the image of four arrows within a circle on his hand. “It’s a map compass.” She forced his sleeve up to his elbow, pointing out a road, mountains and a small body of water. “Lake.”
Calem forced his sleeve down, chuckling nervously over her audacity. “Water? You’re joking. That’s a birthmark,” he said.
Tanaya jabbed her finger into his chest. “You’re a map,” she said. “Take off your clothes. I want to see.”
Calem shook his head, horrified by her demands. “Uh, no, not unless you buy me a drink first,” he tittered nervously. She stared at him, waiting for him to disrobe. “Out here?” He swung his arms out, motioning to the entire desert. As he did, he accidentally bumped Amono’s boot with his hand. The large man shifted uneasily, but quickly fell back to sleep. “Look what you made me do,” he whispered harshly.
She rolled her eyes. “Amono will sleep until we wake him. What is the map to?”
Calem shook his head, his eyes unable to hide his confusion. “I really have no idea what you’re talking about,” he admitted.
She inhaled deeply, releasing her breath slowly. “We know soon anyway,” she said as she returned to cooking the Sun Devil.
He stared at her for a long while through the cracking firelight. Finally, he had to ask. “Why do you talk so funny?”
“Father gave me a book of your language. I had three days to prepare. You… learn a language in three days,” she snipped. She offered him a piece of the bird. “Good?”
Calem held up the piece of meat then took a bite. Surprisingly, it was rather tasty. “Yes, good.”
For two hours they relaxed and ate until the sun had dropped in the sky enough to see the desert clearly again. With a sun directly overhead, it often played tricks on the eyes and could have led them into a dangerous situation. And in this case, it was a good thing they stopped. Only a mile ahead, their journey took them passed a quicksand pit. Had they not seen it due to the sun’s angle, they would have all been devoured by the sands.
All three stared wide-eyed down in the quicksand pit, each knowing if it hadn’t been for the Sun Devils attacking them they would be dead. Tanaya waved her walking stick for the two men to continue. There was little sense dwelling over what could have happened.
They continued on until the sun sunk solidly into the sands. Only then did Tanaya force them to stop. “We rest here,” she called, pointing to a petrified tree in the distance. The tree was nearly a meter thick and still held large branches sturdy enough to hold their packs.
“We’re sleeping in the sand tonight since we don’t have a tent anymore,” she growled, her eyes beating down on Amono who ignored her. She stomped away in search of branches to make a fire.
“She can be rather bitchy, can’t she?” Calem mentioned to Amono, growing rather tired of her constant orders.
Out of nowhere, Amono stood, pushing Calem to the ground. “What the hell?” Calem called back, surprised to find himself butt first on the ground. He stood, readying his fists. “Okay, I see how it is. It’s just you and me now? That’s how you want to play it? Come on. Come on! Mano Amono.”
Amono started to charge him only to be held back by Tanaya. “No! Sit!” she demanded, pointing to the tree. She shoved her brother to the tree, then turned back to Calem. “You sit there,” she warned, pointing to where she had gathered stones for a fire pit.
“He started it,” Calem whined. She glared at him as if she didn’t believe him. “Let him prove otherwise.”
“He can’t speak,” she argued.
“That’s not my fault. If he wasn’t a liar!” Calem cawed.
Amono started to stand, enraged by Calem’s comment. In the back of Calem’s mind, he hoped the man would beat him. The more he thought about meeting their father the more dread entered his stomach. There was no reason a man like Derome would want to talk to him unless… he glanced down at his hand again, realizing Tanaya was correct.
She ignored him, hurrying back to her brother to yell at him in a language he didn’t understand. The way she laid into him made Calem feel bad for the ogre of a man. Perhaps he shouldn’t have said she was acting bitchy. In his eyes, she was. But in her brother’s eyes, he needed to defend her honor.
As she yelled, he turned away, lifting up his shirt. Tattooed on his stomach there was a large mountain range with another small body of water. He traced a small vein up to his left side, noticing a tree over his left breast. He glanced behind him at the tree they had camped next to. The two trees were identical. His jaw gaped, the dark skin of his face paling.
“I am a map,” he gasped. He quickly lowered his shirt and stood. Reluctantly, he walked over to the siblings. “Excuse me,” he asked politely, but when Tanaya wouldn’t acknowledge him, he repeated his words more forcefully.
“What?” she barked.
He held out his hand to Amono. “I misspoke,” he apologized. The much larger man nodded, smirking. He took Calem’s hand to shake.
Tanaya rolled her eyes, huffing back to the fire pit. She stared down at the pit for a moment, then continued walking towards a grouping of dead trees. Calem was about to call to her, to tell her it was dangerous, but something within him told him to keep his mouth shut. He took a seat again next to the empty fire pit and waited.
For close to an hour he waited anxiously for her return. After some time, Amono stood, walking over to him. He motioned in the direction where his sister went. Calem shrugged. “I was wondering too. Should we go look for her?” he asked, but Amono was already heading in that direction. “Hold up,” Calem called, grabbing his pack from the tree.
Darkness swelled within the dead tree forest, making it incredibly difficult to see where they were going. Three times Calem bumped into Amono, but neither of them said a word.
“Tanaya!” Calem called out.
He felt a hand wrap around his mouth from behind. Panic-stricken, he spun around, ready to defend himself only to find Tanaya. She held her finger to her lips, then pointed to a large open area where several slave-traders were gathered. They were all drinking and partying. She motioned for Calem to follow her, and as she did, she wrapped her hand around her brother’s arm to help guide them back.
All three paused to look around. Not one of them realized what direction they had walked from. Tanaya pointed up to the moon, hoping that would give them some kind of direction.
She waved them to follow her. “I know,” she said with determination.
Calem could feel Amono’s breath beating down on the back of his neck as they stumbled through the dense forest. “Are we certain she knows where she’s going?” he asked low. Amano responded with an uncertain grumble. “Thought soooooo,” he cried out.
The land gave way under the groups feet. Each of them went flying down a long, winding tunnel. Calem attempted to look forward to Tanaya then back to Amono, but he couldn’t see either of them beyond the darkness.
Calem hit the ground head first with a jerk and a slam. His head plopped back against the hard rock flooring, momentarily causing his eyes to blacken. Slowly, after some time had past, he opened his eyes to a glowing circle above him. He blinked several times, staring up at the glowing worms. “Glow worms?” he thought. He hadn’t seen them since he was a small boy. He knew they had another name, but he couldn’t think of it.
“Tanaya, Amono, you two alright?” Calem called out to his two comrades.
Amono lifted his arm up from near the tunnel’s opening, signaling he was okay.
From several feet away, Tanaya groaned in pain. “Yes.” She tediously rose, cupping her left side.
Calem scurried over to her, dodging thick spider webs and mounds of dirt. He dropped to his knees beside her, helping her rise. “Hell of an entrance,” he mentioned, helping her to her feet.
She felt to her head where a massive bump was forming. “You’re telling me,” she griped. “Amono?” she called out.
Amono slowly sat up, cradling his left arm. In a panic, she hurried to his side, limping as she ran. She skidded down next to him, holding onto his shoulder. “Let see,” she demanded. He shook his head madly, seething as he shook. She insisted, revealing a rather nasty break to his forearm.