Tomorrow Is Another Day
Noah was pacing back and forth throughout the rooms in the cavern. "When will I be able to go?" she said, more to herself than her master.
He heard her, however. "The water should be gone soon."
"The size of the lake hasn't decreased in almost a year. That's two years that I haven't seen my parents. What if this lake is a permanent thing?" she complained.
"Then we will find other methods to get you to Casba. Be patient, my child."
Noah was about to answer him when there was a knock at the door. "Who in Algol could that be?" she wondered in amazement. In all the years she had been in this cave, no one had ever visited Master Tajima. She knew that it was a dangerous journey through the tunnels to the surface, but it was not impossible.
Master Tajima looked as confused as his pupil did. He crossed the room and opened the main door of the caverns. A young man fell into the room, clearly exhausted. Master Tajima and Noah helped him into a chair and gave him some water.
He happily gulped it down. "Thanks!" he sighed, as he finished the cup.
"Who are you?" Master Tajima asked him.
"I am a messenger from the governor's palace in Paseo," he answered.
"The governor?" Noah's eyes were wide.
"Yes, the governor." He pulled an envelope out of his pocket. "I'm supposed to give this letter to his niece, Noah."
Noah took the letter from the messenger's hands, opened it, and quickly read it. She looked up at her teacher and smiled. "He wants me to come see him as soon as possible!" she said excitedly.
Master Tajima smiled back. "We'll start preparing you for the journey immediately, you can leave in the morning." He turned to the messenger. "You may stay here and rest for as long as you need."
The messenger smiled gratefully. "I should be fully recovered within a few days, I don't want to be a bother."
"It will be perfectly fine. Come, Noah, let's start our preparations."
He found a small satchel and started filling it with supplies. "It shouldn't take you more than a week to get to Paseo, will ten burgers be enough?"
"And I'll give you a supply of cola as well." Master Tajima paused. "How many flashlights do you think you'll need?"
Noah smiled. "I don't want to deplete the stock too much. I'll just take two."
Master Tajima went into the closet and returned with the two flashlights. "I'll finish up here," he told his student. "You should go to bed immediately, you'll have a long day ahead of you tomorrow."
Noah nodded and headed for her room. Master Tajima turned back to the messenger. "Have you any idea what this is about?" he inquired.
"None whatsoever, sir. He only told me that it was of utmost importance."
"Utmost importance, eh?" The old man stroked his beard. "Well, I'm sure we'll find out all in good time."
* * * * *
Noah sat down in the corner of the cave and pulled a burger out of her pack. After bidding Master Tajima a final farewell, she had set off for Paseo. As she ate her lunch, she tried to estimate where she was in the labyrinth of tunnels. It had been quite a while since she had last made the trip out of the cave, but she guessed that she was almost three-fourths of the way there. After she exited the tunnels, she would make camp in the mountains for the night, she thought.
Her burger finished, Noah picked up her bag and continued on her way. In a few hours, she found herself squinting in the bright Motavian sunlight. The years spent underground had caused her to forget the arid desert on the surface. She pulled her own timepiece, a much simpler version of her teacher's, out of her cloak and established that she should set up camp and get to sleep fairly soon.
The rest of the journey was uneventful. Noah was tempted to go by Casba to see if the water level had decreased any, but it wasn't on the way and she knew that her uncle would be expecting her. The guards at Paseo's gates nodded at her as she entered the busy city. What a boring job they must have, Noah thought to herself as she walked past them. Standing there day after day, my uncle should just stick a pair of robots there in their place. She shook her head and headed for the center of the city, where the palace was. The guards let her into the small tunnel connecting the palace island to the rest of the city and she entered the throne room of the governor.
"Noah, you're here!" he greeted her as she embraced him. Having no children of his own, the governor had always been especially fond of his niece and almost regarded her as his own daughter. "It's been quite a long time, hasn't it?"
"Too long," she answered, smiling at him. "I had forgotten the heat, the light, the sands...I haven't been out of that cave in at least a few years. But why did you call me here?"
The governor looked down and sighed. "I wish that our meeting could have been under happier circumstances..."
Noah's smile quickly turned into a frown. "Why, what's wrong?"
He sighed again. "About four months ago, your parents were reported missing from the town of Casba. Apparently, they had been trying to find a way to the outside world through the surrounding mountains."
"Missing?" Noah didn't know whether she should be sorrowful or furious. "Why was I not informed of this?"
"The other citizens of Casba and I didn't want to alarm you. We assumed that everything would be all right. We even hoped that they had indeed found a way through the rocks and had come to see you."
Now it was Noah's turn to sigh. "They were never there. I had assumed that there was no way to get out of Casba because of the flooding." She paused. "So no one knows what ever became of them..."
The governor shifted his glance away from his niece's inquisitive blue eyes. "Well, not exactly."
Noah's expression brightened a bit. "They were found? What happened? How are they?"
Her uncle didn't answer. "Well?" she asked.
He rubbed his eyes. "Another group of explorers decided to see if they could find a way through the mountains. A mile or so in, they found the bodies of your parents."
Noah dropped to a sitting position on the red carpet. "Their bodies?" she asked, staring up at him in disbelief.
He blew his nose in a handkerchief he had pulled out of his pocket. "It was terrible. They had practically been torn to shreds."
The young student moaned. "How could this happen? What did this?"
He grimaced. "No one has any idea how they died. When Casba was founded, no one ever explored those mountains. They had no clue as to what dangers may lie there. But one thing is for certain, this was not an accident. Someone or something did this."
Noah was silent for a moment. "How did you find out about this?" she finally asked.
"The people that found your parents did find a way through the mountains. It is a difficult journey, but it is possible. They came to me immediately with the news of your parents' death. I asked them to let me inform you personally."
Noah stood up. "I suppose I'll return to Casba, then."
Her uncle didn't seem pleased. "I'd prefer it if you didn't go running about in those mountains, especially because of what happened to your parents. But you know that you are always welcome here, and you can stay here at any time."
She looked down. "I will stay here for a few nights. Then I shall return to Master Tajima, at least for a little while. He'll be expecting me."
This also didn't seem to satisfy him. "I really wish that you'd stay here a while longer. However, it is your decision and my invitation to you will always be extended."
Noah nodded. "I will rest for a day or two, but then I really must be getting back to the cave."
The governor showed her to one of the empty bedrooms in the palace and left her alone to grieve. As he shut the door, he tried to decide what to do next. He knew that he should send for Master Tajima, but something told him to wait until Noah saw him first.
Noah dropped her bag on the floor and curled up on the bed in the corner. She had never felt so...alone in her entire life. She knew that she still had her uncle and Master Tajima, but they could never replace her parents.
The sunlight streaming in through the windows made her squint. She stood up and closed the curtains, causing the room to become dark. Noah pulled her nightgown out of her bag and climbed under the covers of the large bed. She figured that if she got a lot of rest now, she could leave Paseo tomorrow morning. She would first go back to Master Tajima, but after that...Noah yawned and decided that planning her future could wait for tomorrow. After all, as Master Tajima constantly told her, tomorrow was another day, and the morning would bring the commencement of her new life...her life on her own.
* * * * *
The shopkeeper usually didn't pay much attention to most of his customers, but this one caught his eye. She was unusually tall and was dressed in travelers' robes. The common people in the capital of Motavia usually wore simple cotton shirts, pants, and skirts, but the young woman's long white garments implied that she wasn't from Paseo. "Good morning, miss," he greeted her as she stepped up to the counter.
She nodded. "I would like to by some burgers and cola."
"Very well." The shopkeeper started to prepare the requested food. "So what's a desert girl like you doing in the busy city of Paseo?" he asked as he cooked the burgers.
She glared at him. "I had some business with the governor," she tersely replied.
"Did you? Well, I hope everything went well." He wrapped the burgers in paper and brought out the cola. "Where are you headed now?" he inquired.
She paused, but only for a moment. "A cave. It's in the mountains far south of here." She paused again. "It's my home."
"A mountain cave, eh? Once, on my way to Casba, I camped in a cavern deep in the mountains."
Noah's ears perked up. "Casba?"
"Mmm, Paseo used to trade with Casba all the time before the last flood. Now no one can get there. But this cave, it was incredible, it was a whole maze of underground tunnels. I was afraid I'd get lost in there, so I stayed close to the surface."
"It sounds like...my home," she told him.
"I don't think it could be, this cave was to the north of this city. The old-timers around here call it 'Maharu'. They claimed that it isn't a natural cave, that it was actually built long ago, around the time that the first Palman settlers landed here on Motavia. But I guess there's no actual way of knowing, is there?"
"I suppose not." Noah searched through her bag for the little pouch of mesetas that Master Tajima had given her and paid for her food. "Good day," she told the shopkeeper and headed for the door.
"May you have a safe journey!" he wished her and went back to his other customers.
* * * * *
"Noah, I didn't expect to see you back so soon," said Master Tajima as his student walked in the door. "How was Paseo?"
Noah put her bag on the table and stared straight at him. "My parents are dead."
Master Tajima winced. "That's terrible! What happened?"
"They were trying to find a way through the mountains of Casba and they were somehow killed." Her teacher nodded as she sat down. "Oh, what am I going to do now?" she sighed.
He crossed the room and sat down across from her. "You know that I'd be more than happy to let you stay here, but I believe this is a sign. You need to learn to be on your own, to guide yourself, to make your own choices."
The clear blue eyes stared into his own with disbelief. "But what about my studies?" she asked.
"I will give you a number of books that you may take with you. I doubt that I'll be needing them anytime soon."
"But where will I go?"
He smiled. "That's the beauty of it all, my child. Wherever you wind up, it's because your own choices and decisions brought you there. You should have known that your parents wouldn't be around forever. I won't live forever, either." He reached across the table and took her small hands in his own. "You're the best student I ever taught," he said. "You're more than capable of living without me, or anyone else. You'll probably be better off."
Noah still didn't look convinced. "You say that the deaths of my parents was a sign. That's why you're sending me out on my own. But what if you're wrong?"
Master Tajima smiled again. "Have I ever been wrong before?"
She managed a small smile. "Never." She stood up and took her bag off the table. "I suppose I'll start packing my things," she told him.
"You'll rest here for a few nights before heading out again. Meanwhile, I'll start picking out which books you are to take with you."
Over the course of the next three days, Noah and Master Tajima looked through book after book, seeing which ones would benefit Noah the most. After everything was packed, it was time for farewells.
"Make sure you continue your studies," he reminded her. "The art of magic has already started its decline. We all need you to keep the traditions."
"Don't worry so much, you know how much I love learning about it." Noah took one last look around her. "I guess I should be leaving now." She leaned over and hugged the old man. "Thank you for everything, I have no idea where I'd be without you."
"Oh, you would have been just fine. Now, if for some strange reason, you do need me again, I'll always be right here, and you are always welcome. But remember the signs, from now on, you are supposed to be on your own. Always look for such signs around you, but take control of your own destiny. Farewell, Noah, and don't forget to sleep!"
She laughed. "I know, I know. Because tomorrow is another day, right?" He smiled. "I'll try to put down the books to get some rest." Noah bid him a final farewell and left the cavern.
Once again, she stopped to rest about three-fourths of the way to the surface. As she ate one of her burgers, she contemplated where to go. She thought about going to Casba, but decided against it. The memories there would be too strong, and she didn't know if she could handle seeing her former home just yet. And, of course, there was always the problem of getting to the town; she was afraid that she would get lost in the mountains.
Noah sighed and took another bite out of her burger. She would probably wind up going back to Paseo and staying at the governor's palace. The idea made her frown, but she couldn't think of a better one. "A desert girl like me stuck in a busy city like Paseo," she said to herself. Who had said that to her? Ah, yes, the shopkeeper in the fast food store back in the capital. A genial man, maybe a bit too nosy.
He had said something else that day, too. What had it been? Noah tried to remember her conversation with him. All of a sudden, it came to her. "Maharu!" she exclaimed. Of course! She would explore the cave of Maharu and see if she would be able to live there. If not, she would return to Paseo. But the thought of living in the mountains excited her. It was, after all, what she was used to. Filled with new anticipation, Noah packed up her things and continued the trip to the surface.
Five days later, she saw Paseo in the distance. She debated whether or not she should visit her uncle again. Finally, she wrote a note explaining where she was going and asking him not to send anyone after her. Noah gave the note to one of the palace guards and headed for the mountains to the north.
She found the cave much quicker than she had expected. A small tool shop in Paseo had provided her with a few extra flashlights. She turned one on and started to explore the cave.
"This definitely was man-made," Noah said to herself as she turned a perfect corner. However, she was not concerned with who had made it, or why. She just wanted to see if she could live in it.
In an hour, she had found a set of stone steps that led down to a lower level of the cave. She turned another corner and jumped back in surprise. "What in the...!" she exclaimed.
A large, red, insect-like creature that seemed almost as surprised as her hissed a warning. Noah backed away slowly, but the creature advanced. She suddenly remembered the wooden walking stick she always carried and wondered if it would be enough. Stepping forward, she delivered a solid blow to the creature's head. It collapsed almost immediately.
Noah dug in her bag for one of the books Master Tajima had given her. She flipped through the pages until she found a picture of the thing that had attacked her. "Scorpion," she read out loud. She looked at the scorpion that lay dead before her and was confused. It was much larger than the measurements given in the book. "Oh well," she thought as she continued to read. "Once the poisonous tail is removed, the cooked scorpion provides protein and some vitamins when consumed." She smiled down at the dead scorpion. If there was one, there had to be others. Already she had a constant food source.
Further exploration resulted in another floor and several caverns much like the ones back in Master Tajima's cave. Noah set her bag on the floor of one of them and looked around. Not bad, she thought to herself. With a little work, she could definitely live here. She could make simple furniture with the palm trees and cactuses near the entrance to the caves. Any time she desperately needed supplies, she could make the short trip to Paseo. Noah smiled again. She would rest a little, and then she would work on making this cave a home.
* * * * *
"Show him in," the governor told the guard who had informed him of the guest. The guard returned in a few minutes. "Master Tajima! I certainly wasn't expecting you."
The old man entered, pulled a chair over, and sat down. "I came to find out what happened to Noah's parents," he told his friend.
The governor sighed and scratched his head. "No one really knows for sure. It's clear that they were definitely attacked, but by what..." He sighed again. "Quite a terrible situation."
Master Tajima looked morose. "Does Lassic know of this?" he inquired.
The governor snorted. "Lassic, what would he do? In the past, maybe, but now, I believe our 'beloved' king has other things to worry about."
"What is Algol coming to?" Master Tajima contemplated. "The poor girl, she'll never know what happened."
The governor suddenly remembered. "Noah! I completely forgot to ask you about Noah!"
Master Tajima looked confused. "What about her? Is she here?"
"One of the palace guards brought me a note the other day. She said that she was going up to Maharu."
"That's what I thought." The governor looked worried. "I thought that she would have come here. What could she have been thinking, going up to that old deserted cave?"
"She really went to Maharu..." The old magician chuckled to himself. "How could I have expected less from my best student..."