Flame and Shadow

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Chapter 45

The next morning, Milo and Sera came down from the tower together. I was waiting for them.

“So, who kept watch last night?” I asked.

They glared at each other for a second, then turned back to me, looking at the ground.

“Nobody. We both ended up falling asleep.” Sera admitted.

I rolled my eyes.

“Ya know, one of the parts of the prophecy said: ‘Only when Flame and Shadow become one can peace be achieved’.”

Both of the twins made a disgusted face with their tongues out.

“EW! Does that mean we have to…get married or something? That’s so nasty!!” Sera protested.

“NO!” I shook my head rapidly. “It means you have to work together. Stop fighting all the time! We’ll never get anywhere if we can’t get along!”

The girl made a pouty face. It was obvious they were struggling to tolerate each other. There was a long moment of silence as I tried to think of something to say to help them like each other more. Before I could, though, Milo spoke again.

“I have a couple more questions for you. First, how old are you? You seem really young to have the responsibility to carry such an important prophecy.”

“Um, I’m sixteen.” I answered, averting my eyes. “And, as I told you, the prophecy is passed to the oldest daughter of the chief. That’s me.”

“Fine. I have another question.” He pointed to the back of my hand. “I noticed the symbol on your hand. What does it mean?”

When I held it out to examine it again, Sera’s eyes widened.

“Whoa! It’s…a combination of Nahalore’s and Tsalderek’s!”

It was true. The marking on the back of my hand had the interlocking hooked lines of Tsalderek, laid on top of the scooping wings of Nahalore.

“I don’t know.” I replied. “I didn’t put them there. They just appeared when the previous owner…my mother… died. The markings have been the same for thousands of years.”

Milo did not appear satisfied with the answer, but there was no way he could learn anything else about them. Moving on, the young man got down to business.

“Alright. You said you had a map that would take us to the book. Where is it?”

“Um…” I gestured to myself. “It’s me.”

Sera threw her hands up in the air.

“First you’re a walking prophecy. Now you’re a walking map, too? What’s next? Do you have a menu for a Mexican restaurant tattooed on you somewhere?”

“No. I…I don’t. I didn’t want… Uh, never mind.” I looked down, a bit self-conscious. “Um, the map is made up of markings on my back. Actually, I’ve never even seen it. It’s hard to look back there.”

“So, what you’re saying is…”

“Uh…I need you to read the map for me.”

Sera looked distressed.

“Hey, don’t look at me! I’m horrible with maps.”

“Alright. I’ll do it.” Milo agreed. “Are you gonna, um, lift up your shirt?”

Blood rushed to my head as though a dam had burst. I blushed and felt excessively hot, like I were deeply sunburned. I looked down at the ground bashfully.

“Yeah, uh…I guess…”

It had never occurred to me how incredibly awkward and embarrassing attempting to bring the prophecy to completion could be. I had spent a large part of my life covering every inch of my body. This instilled a bit of a self-conscious nature in me. I was hesitant to let anyone see my markings, and had a large degree of modesty in regards to skin exposure. Well, I guess I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do.

I turned away from them, and pulled up the back of my long-sleeved black shirt to my neck, as well as moved my long, loosely tied black hair aside. I immediately felt the chill of the morning air within the building against my skin. I could also feel the gaze of their eyes. I was certain that they would be disturbed by the large amount of markings all over my body. In my past, they were a source of shame. However, I had since come to the understanding that they were a part of me now. My destiny.

“Um, Hal?” Milo quietly prompted. “Would you please…”

I turned an even darker shade of red. This seemed so simple and innocent in my mind, but it was phenomenally awkward in real life.

“Oh, uh, yeah. Sorry.”

I clumsily unlatched the strap of my brazier in the back. My shirt fell down over the map, but I held it up with one hand, and held my undergarment in place in the front with my other. It was substantially on the smallish side, but there was nothing I could do about that.

Milo hesitantly reached out his hand and touched my skin. I recoiled at first, but then attempted to relax. The boy ran his fingertips slowly along my back. Although his hands were strong enough to break bone, his touch was soft and gentle. A shiver went up my spine with every sensation. This was not what I was expecting.

I stared straight ahead, and tried not to think about what was happening. Ahhhhh, multiplication tables, 4x3 is 12, 4x4 is 16, 4x5 is…also 16. Um... prophecy. Working on fulfilling the prophecy. That’s what this was. Yep. Just reading the map, so we could complete the prophecy. What words can you spell with the letters in “prophecy”? Um… pop. And, uh, hop. And… um…hype…

While I was struggling to keep my mind occupied, Milo and Sera were examining the map.

“Wow, look at this, Sera.” Milo pointed out. “These borders, and intersecting circles…I know this.”

“Well, do enlighten me Magellan.” Sera quipped. “What are we looking at. I’m lost.”

“This is pretty incredible. I’ve seen this outline up here before, on a map. It’s a forest, near where Nahalore’s headquarters are. And these circles…they’re dividing out sections. No, wait. There’s a slight piece missing out of the line of each circle. It’s like a maze. I can trace my finger through the map, wherever there’s a break in the border of the circle.”

I shivered slightly as Milo tenderly slid is finger in a pattern up my back. My ears picked up his mumbling:

“Left, right, right, left, left, and…” his finger stopped. “There’s no break in this one. This must be where it is.”

“Alright! Let’s do this!” Sera exclaimed.

Milo’s voice came gently. “Alright, we’re done. Thank you Hal.”

I hastily pulled my shirt back down, and attempted to redo my little clasp under the fabric. Without turning around or lifting my head, I asked:

“So, you could read it? You know where we’re going?”

Milo nodded. “I’ve got a pretty good idea. It’s about forty miles from here, so we’d better get going.”

“Right. Are you guys ready?”

“Forty miles?!” Sera cried. “We haven’t even had breakfast! I can’t go forty miles on an empty stomach!”

“You’re such a whiner. Sometimes you’ve just gotta push through.” Milo reprimanded his sister.

Sera pursed her lips, but nodded. She resolved herself to do what needed to be done. There might be an alternative, though.

“Um, there might be some communion wafers in the supply room, if you wanted to eat those.” I offered.

“Better than nothing!” Sera proclaimed, and hustled out of the sanctuary.

Milo and I followed behind as the girl searched for some form of sustenance. Before we reached her, we heard her call out.

“Hey, guys! I found something a lot better than communion wafers!”

The two of us homed in on the sound of her voice, and found her in what appeared to be some kind of hospitality kitchen. She held open two pantry doors, and stared happily at the contents. There were numerous boxes of cereal all lined up in a row.

“Perfect! Now I just need to find some milk!”

“Are you just going to steal stuff from this church?” Milo convicted.

Sera pointed at a cardboard sign.

“It’s not stealing. They’re giving it to anyone who needs it.”

The sign read:

“All are welcome to eat! For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.”

She hopped over to a refrigerator nearby, and swung open the door.

“Ah! Here we go!”

The young woman grabbed a gallon of milk, and headed back over to the counter where she had placed a bowl and spoon. Before the refrigerator door closed, Milo caught it, and reopened it to get something from inside. He had spotted a carton of eggs. Without a word, he obtained a tall glass, cracked several eggs into it, and began to drink them. Sera choked on her cereal.

“What the heck!? Why would you do that?!”

“Do what?” He asked, wiping his mouth.

“Whaddaya mean ‘what’? Suck those raw! I’m trying to eat here!”

“What’s the difference? People do it all the time.”

“Well that doesn’t make it any less disgusting, Rocky!”

There they go again. I wasn’t sure what I could do about them. The fate of the world lay with them, and they couldn’t stop squabbling over silly stuff. Without my noticing, Milo had approached me.

“Would you like some?” He asked, holding out the carton of eggs.

I lowered my eyes.

“Um, no thank you.”

“Is there anything I could get for you?”

I spotted a bag of fuji apples on the counter. “I think I’ll just have an apple.”

I grabbed one, and hurriedly left the kitchen. Why did I feel so awkward around this guy? I mean, there was really no reason to. He was nice (except to his sister), but he didn’t seem to specifically like me or anything. Or did he? I couldn’t tell, and it just made me feel weird.

I munched on the apple while they finished eating in the kitchen. After breakfast we began to make a plan.

“OK. Sera, how did you get here from Tsalderek?” Milo asked.

“I borrowed a motorcycle. Man, their security on their vehicles is not very impressive.”

“So, we have two bikes here.” Milo chuckled. “That’s good. I took one from Nahalore.”

“That should make getting to the book easier.” Sera concurred.

As we walked out the door of the church, the orange-red-haired girl froze.

“Heyyyyy, wait a second! If those tattoo thingies have been passed down through your family for thousands of years, how is the map on your back a map of a spot in Canada?! Canada hadn’t even been discovered yet!”

I shrugged nervously.

“I…I have no idea. These markings are the actual words of the prophecy. Maybe they form prophetic maps, too.”

Milo crossed his arms.

“You’re right, Sera. I’m still not so sure about this. I’m not even sure I believe in this prophecy stuff, much less following some tattoos like it’s a map. Plus, this is dangerously close to Nahalore, which probably wants to see us dead. How do we know it’s right?”

I didn’t really know what to say, but Sera had an idea.

“How about we check it out. If the book’s not there, then this is a big steaming pile of baloney. But if it is there, we’ve got ourselves a lead!”

Milo nodded.

“Sounds like a plan. Where did you park your bike?”

“Over near the park.” Sera answered.

“OK, me too, but I hid mine behind some bushes so it wouldn’t get stolen or vandalized.”

“Pffft!” Sera scoffed. “What are the odds someone would do something like that? This’s a nice little city!”

It took several minutes for us to walk down toward the park. The town was still mostly quiet, but the early morning chill was beginning to wear off, and people were beginning to go about their business. I hesitated to allow people to see me. They wouldn’t understand my markings, and would almost certainly take them the wrong way. That’s why I wore black leggings beneath my wine-colored skirt, a long-sleeved shirt with holes for the thumbs, and a wine-colored scarf. I wanted to cover as much of my body as possible and still remain functional. Still, even walking along the north border of the town made me very uncomfortable.

Eventually, we arrived at a parting lot nearby the park. Sera immediately made a beeline over to where she had parked her motorcycle. She gave a shout of exuberation.

“Ha! Perfectly untouched! I told you no one would try to mess with it!”

Milo ignored her, and walked over to a patch of trees and bushes. Was there a bike hidden in there? If so, he did a really good job, because it was completely invisible. The young man pushed his way into the brush, and disappeared. Suddenly he released a livid scream of fury. Sera and I immediately rushed to his aid. What had happened?

When the two of us reached him by entering the thicket, we saw a very strange sight. Milo was standing, knees bent, arms bent at the elbow, his hands forming angry claws in front of him. His face displayed an expression of unspeakable rage, with his right eye twitching randomly. Before him was his motorcycle. It had been spray-painted pink and white. Additionally, the bike was dotted with a number of small rainbows, unicorns, Hello Kitty stickers, and peace signs.

There was a long minute where no one spoke. Sera and I both feared that the slightest jest or condolence could push him over the edge. Eventually, Milo squeaked:

“B-but, yours was…how could…I don’t…”

“Milo…” Sera ventured.

The young man regained his serious down-to-business nature.

“Let’s go. Every second we spend here increases the chances that Teklos will find us.”

Us two girls nodded in unison. If he was willing to drop this, we certainly didn’t want to dwell on it. He climbed onto his vandalized bike, and drove it out of the foliage. Sera and I mounted the other one, and she started it up. Milo pulled out of the parking lot, and we followed behind. He led the way east, heading toward the forest that he recognized from the map. Soon, happenings will prove the map, or even the prophecy, true or false. However, I knew it was real. All of it.

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