Nisa blinked her eyes at the blinding white light shining throughout the entire room. This was not the type of jail she had been expecting. Her body floated in a cylinder of energy that neither touched the floor nor the ceiling. It was both made from zero gravity at the same time that it held her in place and kept her paralyzed, although she could still breathe and blink.
Across the room, one of the circular translation devices sat on a table. Nisa shifted her gaze to where Aleyr stayed frozen in an energy cylinder cage identical to hers.
“Why did you have to steal it? Couldn’t you just resist?” Nisa muttered.
Aleyr’s lips pulled up into a smirk. “Nah. If I had pulled it off, it would have sold for tons of ikrii.”
“Now, what’s going to happen to us? Was stealing it worth this?” Nisa glared at him before turning her gaze back toward the translation device. The next time a guard came in here, she could try to convince him of her innocence. She had no idea if any of them would believe her or not, but she had to try. Aleyr deserved to be here, but she didn’t.
Time passed slowly, or at least, it felt that way. She took the time to carefully gaze around every inch of the room that she could see, but there were no obvious entrances or exists except for the main door in the right corner of the room. On the other side of it, along the right wall, stood the desk with the translation device, which did repeat her and Aleyr’s words enough so they could talk. In front of her, across from where she magically hung in mid-air, was a tapestry that hung on the stone walls. In the left corner of the room was another cylinder cage made of energy that had a man with white hair and green streaks.
Aleyr shot the man a look. “What’re you in for?”
The man grumbled. “Stole a thoa.”
Nisa’s eyes slid to his hands, both of which were gone. “Wait, what happened to your hands?” Dread oozed through her bones like ice.
The man grunted. “Cut ‘em off. Magic sealed ‘em so they didn’t bleed, but that’s the punishment for stealing ‘round here.”
“Yeah, they take it very seriously in Lifa,” Aleyr agreed.
Tears burned in Nisa’s eyes as horror made her heart race furiously in her chest. Everything she had gone through, everything she had survived, just to end up here, stuck in jail, potentially with the risk of getting her hands cut off.
No. They had to listen to her. The guards had to believe that she was innocent.
Nisa swallowed deeply, trying to force back the lump that filled her throat. If she ever made it back home to Earth, if they ever got out of here, how would she work? How would she do anything without her hands? It was one of those things where she had never properly thought about their value or how much she appreciated her hands, how much they meant to her, until there was a risk of losing them.
Suddenly, the door opened up and in walked one of the guards. He wore silver armor that had crimson lines and markings on it and something about his appearance and the way he held himself told Nisa that he was the leader.
“Sir,” she politely addressed. “I think there has been some sort of mistake. I didn’t steal the jewel. This pirate next to me did. I had nothing to do with it!” Nisa fought to control her breathing.
The man narrowed his eyes at her and she couldn’t help but stare at his bushy, white eyebrows. “I’m the captain of the guard and the warden. I’m not about to take a criminal at her word.”
Tears filled her eyes and her voice. “But, sir you have to believe me! This pirate stole the jewel right in front of me, but I don’t condone his actions and I didn’t steal it myself! You have to believe me!” Desperation seized hold of her, making Nisa’s chest ache and tighten.
The warden grunted and pointed to the man in the corner. “Tell her how well I listen to pitiful excuses. You were, what…? Trying to steal a thoa after being coerced by one of the noblemen?”
The man lowered his eyes to the ground below them. “Yes. He was going to kill my family if I didn’t.”
Nisa’s eyes widened. “What?”
Aleyr gritted his teeth. “Funny. I don’t see the noblemen anywhere here. Let me guess… Everyone in this city pays you to look the other way, unless it comes to some of the rare, lucky poor folks who find themselves in the city.”
The warden threw his head back, sat at his desk and laughed. “There are no poor folks in this city. The poorest here are the ones who work for us.”
“Apparently, more work than you let on,” Aleyr muttered.
Nisa wanted to smack him. Even if the city was corrupt, letting the guard in on the fact that they were well aware of it, as well as edging him on, would only get them in more trouble. That was the last thing Nisa wanted. “Please,” Nisa begged. “My companions and I will be leaving the city tomorrow. We can even leave tonight if you want. We’ll cause you no more trouble. Just—please, let—let me go.”
The warden’s lips turned up into a smile that made Nisa shiver, but it was the man in the corner who spoke. “Begging does no good. He’ll take what he wants, leaving you nothing left. Your fate has already been decided and he’ll make a show of it for the people.”
The man’s eerie words made Nisa finally lose the last bit of control she had over herself. She sobbed and the tears finally spilled over her eyes, burning them. But she could not even move to wipe them away.
Hopelessness and despair settled over her like a massive, dark cloud, one that heavily weighed down her body and shoulders, crushing her beneath it.
What were they going to do now?
Aleyr growled and his face reddened. It looked like he was trying to struggle against the magical cylinder, but the energy had them both completely paralyzed. “You entertain the people by punishing criminals for them? Then, what? We spend the rest of our lives in here, like him?” Aleyr’s eyes shifted to the poor man in the corner and Nisa tried to stare at him through her tears.
It was the first time she took to really look at the man. His hands were gone, but the cylinder held his body firmly in place. The man’s skin looked pale and she swallowed at how scrawny he was. “D—do you feed the prisoners here?” Nisa asked, voice trembling.
The warden shook his head with another laugh—a laugh that chilled Nisa to the bone. “Of course not! He couldn’t eat without hands and the cylinder keeps your bodies in a stasis. He probably wouldn’t last long outside of it, anyway.”
Nisa’s muscles tensed and anger gripped her furiously with firm hands. This poor man had not only been blackmailed into stealing a thoa, but punished for it when he had only been trying to protect his family. “Wh—what happened to your family?” she whispered, not caring that the warden heard.
Tears filled the man’s eyes and they spilled over his pale cheeks. “Dead.”
Aleyr growled with a profane curse at the warden and Nisa could have sworn she saw one of his hands twitch. “So, you imprison this man for stealing and yet look the other way when the noblemen commit murders? This place is worse than I thought. You know, I did steel that jewel! I wanted it because I’m a pirate and stealing is what I do—what I love to do. This woman here is a foreigner and doesn’t know enough about this city to survive, much less trying to steal anything. But now, I’m happy I did it. At least I deserve to be here! Nisa doesn’t and neither does this poor man!” Aleyr shouted.
The warden slowly stood from his desk, gripping a staff firmly in his hands. Nisa swallowed deeply, staring at the staff with eyes widened in shock. He pointed it at Aleyr and the instant it touched the energy cylinder, electric pulses coursed across his body, flying across his skin at high speeds. Aleyr screamed but his body was unable to thrash or escape.
When the warden finally pulled the staff away, Aleyr’s skin was blackened and charred in several spots and it made Nisa gag and turn away. The warden shifted his attention to her and she sobbed, tears falling down her eyes. “P—please… please don’t hurt me,” she begged.
The warden smiled and leaned the staff against the desk. “Oh, don’t worry. I won’t hurt you. But I can possibly do you a favor and… look the other way, for a price.”
Hope fluttered in Nisa’s chest as she met the warden’s stern, gray eyes. “Wh—what would you want?”
The warden’s lips slid up into a sly grin. “You. Give yourself to me and you can keep your hands. I’ll keep you around the jail to be my personal maid. What do you say?”
Disgust filled Nisa and her skin crawled. God, she mentally prayed. Find a way to protect Aleyr and me. And this other prisoner. Anything she might have said got stuck behind a lump in her throat. Was it worth it? Accepting his offer in exchange for her hands? But then, she would be his servant, a slave to him, basically.
Would serving this sadistic, cruel man be better than living inside this cylinder for the rest of her life? Oliver. His name danced through her thoughts, daring her to hope, to dream that maybe he and the others could find a way to rescue them.
The man met her gaze with green eyes that matched his hair. “Do it. You don’t want to end up like me,” he whispered. The sadness in his voice shattered Nisa’s heart.
But her heart belonged to Oliver and… it belonged to God first. She couldn’t; she had been saving herself for marriage in her twenty-six years of life and that wasn’t about to stop now. Not even for this. If she stayed true to God, then she had no doubts that He would find a way to get them all through this.
“No,” she said and her voice sounded far stronger than she thought. Her eyes glared at the warden. “No, I won’t accept your offer. Men like you will get what’s coming to you.”
The warden frowned, eyes narrowed on her with such hatred, it made her want to squirm. She was thankful that she couldn’t. “Guards,” he said.
The door opened and four guards walked into the room. “Yes, sir?” one of them started.
The warden slammed his hand against a lever on the wall and turned it to the opposite side. He tossed the translation device in his pocket.
The energy from around her and Aleyr’s bodies disappeared and both of them collapsed onto the floor with two loud thuds. For a moment, air whooshed from Nisa’s lungs and it took her a long second to fully catch her breath.
“Take them to the square.” The warden’s voice sent chills skirting up Nisa’s spine, filling her with horror as the guards grabbed her arms and Aleyr’s.
“It’s time to punish them for their crime.”