Nisa was surprised at how smoothly things went for them after that. They found most of the thoas roaming the forest nearby and, fortunately, they were able to take the ones that belonged to the bandits. It took three thoas to pull each wagon, so they just sat at the front of the wagons as the thoas pulled them.
Nisa sat in between Oliver and Vanmor, who controlled the reigns of their thoa. In their wagon’s cart, the bandits had started jeering and shouting at them, but she tuned them out. Behind them, Chris and Susie sat with Kor’ok who drove the second wagon, and last was Ena with Aelyr—in an odd way, Nisa thought the two made a great pair.
The forest was relatively quiet as they followed the road to the village. Nisa was thankful to be back on track with their journey; any distractions would only tear their attention away from finding a way back home to Earth. Deep inside, though, Nisa couldn’t figure out if she saw that as a good or bad thing. Part of her—a deep part of her that she wanted to deny even existed—was thankful for the distractions because it gave her more time to spend with this world, learning about it. Not that she was thankful about the bandits, of course. That had been terrible, but the extra trips, getting to gaze at the beauty of Glacea…
“You okay?” Oliver murmured.
Nisa nodded, running her hand along Oliver’s arm. “Yeah, just thinking.”
“What about?” Ollie leaned back against the seat of the wagon with a contented sigh.
“Just… how sometimes I wish we could stay and study this world… learn more about it. But I know getting home is more important.” Nisa shot him a reassuring smile.
Oliver rolled his eyes. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed. I mean, Bea spends every waking moment taking notes and studying plants if there aren’t any creatures around. Susie and Chris would be taking notes of their own if they weren’t caught up in their own drama.”
Nisa pursed her lips and met his green gaze. “Does it bother you?”
Oliver shook his head and slung his arm around her shoulders. “No. I love you and you’ve been my best friend for years, so I know how you are. You have more historical facts about Earth in your head than you do about people around you, Ni.”
Nisa lightly smacked his side. “Hey! I’ve actually been doing better at that since being here.”
Oliver clicked his tongue. “I don’t believe you. Why don’t we put it to a test, then?”
Nisa crossed her arms with a smug smile. “Fine. Shoot.”
Oliver pointed a thumb at Vanmor. The man’s straight, pure white hair gleamed in the morning sunlight as it peaked over the horizon.
“Vanmor,” Nisa said, grinning.
Oliver nodded. “Alright, but I’m not impressed yet. What about the guy with Chris and Susie?”
“Kor’ok. And for the record, the last two are Ena and Aelyr.”
Oliver’s eyes widened. “Okay, so maybe you have gotten better.”
Nisa lightly nudged him with her shoulder.
Vanmor glanced sideways at them. “Can I ask you about your world?”
Nisa shot him a huge grin. “If I can ask you about yours. We can go back and forth.”
Vanmor nodded and his lips turned up into a smile. His violet eyes seemed to light up and Nisa could practically feel his joy radiating off him. The same eagerness to learn bubbled up inside her too.
Oliver, in the meantime, yawned and shifted positions so that he was a bit more comfortable.
“You still seem new to magic. So, it is rare in your world?” Vanmor glanced at her before clicking his tongue at the thoas.
Nisa shook her head. “No. There’s no magic on Earth at all. In fact, the idea of magic is… ridiculous. You’d be called insane if you believed it to be real. I mean, it’s all just stories and entertainment.”
“A world without magic,” Vanmor whispered. “That’s pure insanity.”
Nisa chuckled. “I guess you could say that. Speaking of, can you tell me how magic works?”
Vanmor chuckled. “I can try. It may sound complicated for someone who knows nothing about it.”
“Magic is about learning. Or at least, it used to be. Lately, it’s all about tradition. The Sages were one of the only ones to learn magic. They could take on many apprentices, but only one would become the next Sage in whatever city or village they were in. It got so that the Sages would just teach the spells they already knew—traditional magic. The same type of spells. Decades ago, a man wanted to learn more, but his Sage didn’t know more and forbid him from doing it. He… didn’t exactly listen so he was kicked out of the town and forbidden from becoming a Sage. So, he took on a group of students who wanted to learn new types of magic. Legally, there was nothing the Royals of Glacea could do, so the man and his apprentices started a college. But it became more of a place of learning. The outside world sees it as magical experiments.”
Nisa nodded. “Oh, that’s where they got the name—Experimentalists.”
Vanmor cringed. “Yeah, I hate that word. We want to learn new magic. I guarantee you that none of the Sages could have absorbed the bonds. Not that I’m bragging. But I’m just saying… if you never learn any new magic, then it’ll just become something that wastes away until it’s a lost art. We consider ourselves true users of magic. In a hundred years or less, magic will be as good as gone.”
They were silent for several minutes as that fully sank in. The wagon bumped along the road and to the right, feathered creatures with six legs about the size of small dogs fluttered through the air, whistling a strange but beautiful song as they went. Nisa grinned and could almost feel Bea’s utter excitement from here. No doubt she would have leapt from the wagon if she could have.
“Maybe that’s what happened to your Earth.” Vanmor leaned toward Nisa before straightening himself again.
Nisa laughed. “Wouldn’t that be something. There’s so much about history we don’t know. So much that could have happened. I mean, magic obviously played some part on Earth since the man who was first Cursed was there during the time of Ancient Egypt. That, and we did accidentally get sent here, too.”
Vanmor shot her a confused expression. “So, if there’s no magic, then what do you spend your life learning?”
“History. Earth has a very long history and many countries—many races. I mean, so far, I’ve seen about three here. But there are hundreds of different human ethnicities and each have their own history and culture. We didn’t have a great way to keep records until the last… oh hundred, two hundred years ago. So, a lot of Ancient History is a mystery and we seek to learn everything we can about it. Our focus is about technology.”
When Vanmor shot her a blank look, Nisa gestured to Oliver’s gun. “It isn’t magic. It’s a machine. Like this wagon, but made of metal and far more advanced. There are mechanisms inside it that work together technologically to fire a bullet—also, something made out of metal, not magic energy. We have cars instead of wagons—wagons made out of metal that run on a different type of energy than magic. I mean, planes that fly in the air…” Nisa’s voice trailed off.
Vanmor stared at her blankly which made her laugh. “No offense but you aren’t as good as I am at explaining things.”
Nisa waved him off. “I guess not. I learn, I don’t teach.”
Oliver chuckled. “You got that right. She tried it for a while—teaching on site to newbies, but that didn’t work out for her. She got fired in about two days.”
“Three,” Nisa corrected, shooting him a glare.
Vanmor nodded his head up the road. The village was far, far tinier than Sorpa had been. It had no walls or a gate—just a small group of men at the front. The road led straight through the town and Nisa could see it probably had five hundred people or less. The forest surrounded it, so maybe the village had natural protection. A river stretched out to their right and Nisa had a random, strange desire to go swimming in it. It was odd to see a river in the middle of a forest that was so pristine—the water was teal, as bright as waters surrounding some of the most beautiful islands on Earth. Except it was a river.
Vanmor pulled the wagon to a halt as the men approached. “We were attacked and kidnapped by bandits. Managed to escape and capture them.”
One of the men’s eyes widened in shock. “Uh…our—our jail isn’t big enough to hold them, but we can transport them to Hunyr. It’s just a few miles to the north.”
Vanmor nodded. “You can have these wagons if you give us rooms to sleep, food, and more supplies.”
The man who had spoken before held out his hand. “Agreed. I’m captain here and basically the one in charge of this place. You three,” he said, turning to three of the guards. “Get some thoas and take these prisoners to Hunyr.” He turned back to Vanmor, eyes gazing over the group as they hopped down from the wagons and unhooked the thoas. “Welcome to the village of Mys.”
Nisa knew she would never remember the name of the village or the guards and people here—she was already remembering too many names as it was—so she took the liberty of walking down the main street and gazing at the houses. Here, the buildings were all one or two stories high, made from some sort of strange, green material in various shades—from dark and deep, to light.
The leader, whose name Nisa had already forgotten, led them through the main street giving them a small tour—small because the village was small. There was a communal fire—which he informed them was where all the food was cooked where everyone ate, instead of private fires inside each home. There was the stables for thoas and another creature they rode, but Nisa had trouble remembering what those creatures were called. The other half of the village consisted of a farm where the farmer and a group of hunters kept the village supplied with food. The man told them that there was no formal trading post here but that everyone traded with everyone based on their skills and what items they had. It didn’t seem to be an efficient system, but they didn’t have another choice.
The stable master, as the leader called her, took their thoas for food, water, and rest at the river. Apparently, she walked the thoas from the stables every day and used a magical device to keep them all linked together to her magically. Chris and Bea both disappeared to speak to her—Chris probably to learn about the device and Bea, of course, to take notes on the creatures.
Aleyr expressed disappointment by the lack of a tavern, but there was a place with rooms for guests, though it wasn’t big since they never got many guests. Kor’ok, Aleyr, and Oliver met up with the leader’s brother, who made and sold weapons from materials found in the area.
Meanwhile, while dinner was cooking and the people gathered supplies to give them for their journey, Nisa sat with Vanmor by the fire. “What is the material their houses are made of?” she asked him. “Do you know?”
“Oh, some of the trees in this area are made from coasi leaves. The leaves are large and they harden in the sun—so they cut them down, tan them, and then use them to build the houses. All it takes is a bit of the sand by the river to bind them together and you have a quick house—sturdy ones too.”
“Sand?” Nisa lifted her eyebrows.
Vanmor nodded. “Yeah. Sand doesn’t stick where you’re from?”
Nisa shook her head. “No. Not at all. We have something called glue for that.”
To the right in the center of town, Oliver, Aleyr, and Kor’ok stood beside the leader’s brother with swords and it looked as if they were showing Oliver a few tricks.
By then, Chris and Bea returned with the stable keeper and then, to Nisa’s surprise, Chris walked over to help Susie where she had been learning from the cooks. Maybe they were working things out; at least, Nisa hoped so. Curiosity gripped her, but she figured she better not pry.
That night, Nisa lay on a bed across from Oliver’s. Somehow, the nine of them managed to all squeeze together in a room, so she and Susie had taken one bed, but Nisa’s body was half off. Susie snored beside her and had taken up most of the bed, but Nisa ignored it and tried to sleep anyway.
Oliver didn’t seem to have it any better—the bed was barely big enough for him to fit on it on his own. “Goodnight, Ni.”
“Goodnight, Ollie,” she whispered.
Tomorrow was the start of a new day as they continued their journey to find a way home.