Me From Another World
They tumbled, a cloud of dirt making Arlo cough and squeeze his eyes shut but that didn’t stop him from thrashing and kicking at the body tangled in his.
Wings flapped and more dirt flew at him. Then the birdman pressed too hard on his aching shoulders and Arlo opened his mouth in a silent cry and stilled.
“Senna? Senna, where did you send us?”
Large hands sat him up and rough thumbs wiped at his eyes to clear them. When he was finally able to keep his eyes open Arlo stared into the long face of a birdman. Tiny feathers sprouted from the sides of his face, with longer ones hanging down like black hair. And his eyes, sharp and piercing, searched for answers in Arlo’s. Arlo cowered beneath them knowing that those eyes could contort into disdain like everyone else’s.
“Senna?” The birdman’s angry brow softened and rose with concern. He removed his hands that held Arlo’s head in place. The moment he did so, Arlo scrambled back.
The bird man frowned but didn’t move from his spot. “I am not going to hurt you, Senna. How could I?” He brought his hand up, his long nails scratching at his head. “I wanted to, when I saw Ghalia’s body. But I don’t think I can.”
Arlo’s heart thundered in his chest trying to make sense of the information. Senna. Ghalia. Body. Bloody knife.
Arlo swallowed and shook his head. He mouthed that he wasn’t Senna to show he couldn’t talk.
The birdman’s brow furrowed, then his eyes widened as he asked, “Are you Senna?”
Again, Arlo shook his head in desperation. This was the question he needed all night.
“Then who…” The birdman found the rest of the question meaningless and changed it. “Do you know who Senna is?”
Arlo shook his head.
The birdman rubbed his eyes, then suddenly gave a dry laugh. “So he did get away. He had this all planned.” His laugh ended in a heavy sigh. Then he looked over Arlo with a new gaze. “You look just like him. Your body, face, each strand of hair, but…” he settled down, his bird legs under him, “your eyes are nothing like his.”
Arlo listened, his heart slowing to its regular beat. This is what he wanted, someone who understood. Yet Arlo couldn’t approach him. He was too scared to.
Sensing this, the birdman beckoned him. “I will untie it for you.” When Arlo did nothing, he added, “I imagine it must hurt a great deal.”
It did, so Arlo slowly approached on his knees and offered his hands. It took a moment and some rough handling but the rope fell and Arlo was free.
“I was told you didn’t talk,” the birdman said. “Was that Senna’s doing?”
Another sigh and the birdman continued. “There are so many questions. If we must go through them one at a time, then we will.” He stood and dusted himself. Like the other bird people, this one was tall. But his head was far from the roof.
For the first time Arlo inspected their surroundings as he rubbed at his raw wrists. They were in a rounded tunnel with one direction leading towards pitch black and the other towards a dim, blue glow. The tunnel was too even to be natural. And now that he was calmed, Arlo shivered from the cold.
When he stood up and glanced up at the birdman, his body tensed. The birdman stared into the darkness with a blank face and not a single movement. His feathers, however, rose. Arlo too started at nothing, expecting something to pop out.
Then the birdman turned his back and headed towards the light. “Do you know where you sent us?”
Arlo jogged to walk at his side and shook his head.
“I thought not. But I will guess you wanted to be somewhere no one else could find you.”
The birdman made it sound like he knew where they were, like he knew they were someplace dangerous.
They followed the curving tunnel until it opened up. Arlo stopped beside the birdman before a grand cavern. It was at least a few stories high with other tunnels extending from it. At the highest point in the center hung the source of the light. It was hard to tell what it was, but to Arlo it looked like smaller blue orbs crawling and shifting over each other. At their feet, the solid ground became sand and slanted downwards to the large pool of water at the center.
“No one will ever find us here,” the birdman said. “Not even our bones.”
In other words, Arlo condemned them to death. But he needed to get home. They were away from the castle and with some quiet time to think. This place had yet to prove how dangerous it was.
The birdman sat down with his feet extended in front of him. “Who knew it would be so simple to find this place. That transrock was a powerful one. Ghalia was right to save it. Though it only meant you would find it and bring us here.”
So it was Arlo’s fault. Not that Arlo could argue. Not that it mattered now. Arlo moved around to inspect the closest tunnel without actually stepping in. It was impossible to tell if it was the one they came out of. They all looked the same. Then he went to the pond, stopped a few feet before the edge and saw nothing past the black surface. The light above him didn’t shine through.
Light. That would help navigate through the tunnels to find a way out.
Arlo jogged back to the birdman and pointed up at the dancing orbs. The birdman looked between the lights and Arlo with a frown. “Even if we had light, it wouldn’t lead us out of this forsaken maze.”
Arlo continued to point at it but the birdman lost all interest. With no retort Arlo dropped his hand and sat down in the sand. The birdman didn’t want to try, which meant that whatever maze they were stuck in the birdman was certain it was impossible to navigate.
They sat in silence, until the birdman decided to start his questioning as promised. “Did Senna place magic over you?”
Arlo paused playing with the soft, fine sand through his fingers and nodded.
“Did he change your appearance to look like him?”
Arlo shook his head and the birdman leaned in to inspect every detail on his face. The more he looked, the more his frown deepened. “Do you have a home? A family?” After Arlo nodded the birdman hastily added, “Where?” As soon as he asked he huffed in annoyance and bent down to start drawing in the sand with his sharpened fingernail. “I hope you can read maps.”
Slightly insulted, Arlo nodded as he watched the birdman work. But the more he drew, the more confused Arlo became. It looked nothing like the maps of the world. Even looking at it from different angles none of the lands resembled the continents of his world. “This is a good start,” The birdman said as he leaned back on his hand to inspect his work with satisfaction.
Arlo, on the other hand, mouthed “it’s wrong” then proceeded to shake his head as he started his own map. It was a rather crude drawing but the vague shapes were distinguishable. Even more confused, the birdman stood and stared Arlo’s map. “And what is this supposed to be?”
Earth. But if he doesn’t recognize it then…
Different worlds or another planet, any one of those could be the answer. Or alternate realities since he had a double in this world. With that in mind, Arlo held out his hands, motioning at the birdman’s map with his left and his own with his right hand, and brought them together horizontally.
The birdman did the same motions but then tapped his fingers as he struggled to decipher the meaning. He did it again but speaking out loud. “This is my map, and this is your map, and my map is on top of your map…They are together...in the same place but separate…!” He rounded on Arlo with wide eyes. “We’re from different worlds!”
Arlo flinched back at the sudden movement, expecting some form of attack.
This birdman was quick to pull back. “I apologize. I did not mean to frighten you. But this is...Senna talked about it...but he didn’t talk about it like it was possible. Yet he did it! This was his perfect escape, leaving himself from another world to take his punishment. No magic would detect anything amiss because you are Senna.”
The praise made Arlo’s chest tighten. Senna left Arlo here to die while he took Arlo’s place to live free. If this was Senna’s plan then the two of them were nothing alike. Arlo was no murderer and that was enough to set them apart as entirely different people.
The birdman cleared his throat. “But since you are not Senna of this world, you are cleared of all accusations. What is your name, not-Senna?”
Although Arlo was not expecting it to work, he wrote his name on the sand. As predicted the birdman frowned at the foreign symbols. Next, Arlo pointed at his own lips and mouthed the first syllable.
“Ahhh,” the bird man said.
With a nod, Arlo did the second syllable, exaggerating the pop of his lips. “Toh?”
No matter how many times he repeated the motion, he couldn’t get the correct sound from the birdman. In the end, the birdman grew frustrated and gave up with a shrug. “Ahto’s good enough. Or just Not-Senna. My name is Ghamoak. But Gham is fine. Not that you can say it anyway.”
Arlo gave him a narrow look for that then bent down in the sand. He tapped on it, thinking, getting all of this straight in his head. Getting that little moment of stillness made him remember his body. It hurt. His muscles ached and his throat was sore, raw. He raised a hand to his neck, feeling the memory of the worm wiggling deeper. A shiver ran down his spine and he pulled his hand away. Better not to think about it.
No, what he needed to think about was how to get out of here. He looked around him, at the various tunnels. If they were in a maze, like Gham said, then they only needed a way to keep track of where they have already gone. He pointed at a tunnel and then demonstrated his plan in the sand, drawing an X and a trail and another X. When Gham was quiet, Arlo then pointed at the two of them, the X, and the tunnel.
“Oh,” Gham said with brightening eyes. “You mean to mark the areas we have passed through.” Arlo was given just enough time to nod in confirmation when Gham shot it down. “Won’t work. The sand giants that make them constantly rearrange their tunnels. And when they reuse one, they scrape away at the surface. And even if that worked, the maze is extensive. We'll starve wandering around without proper direction.”
Arlo looked towards the darkness of the tunnels. Gham had a point there. Neither of them had any food. Arlo clutched at his stomach, unable to determine when was the last time he ate. Suddenly, a dizzy waze overcame him and he had to close his eyes momentarily. This wasn’t good. With the rush of adrenaline subsiding his body was now feeling the fatigue. With tight lips Arlo drew a glass of water and a crude image of a fish and then pointed at the pool of water.
With a defeated sigh Gham said, “I can take a look.”
Finally he was going to help with something. From the ground, Arlo watched Gham take flight to pluck an orb of light with his talons. Then he flew low over the lake, sometimes dipping his foot holding the orb under the water. After a few minutes Gham suddenly tossed the orb at Arlo’s direction, swerved, and then dove feet first into the water. When he came up again it was with a thrashing animal caught in its talons. Arlo sighed. Something was actually going right.