The next four days was absolutely miserable. Between the village they had just come from, to their next stop—the city of Lifa—was a huge wasteland. From what Vanmor taught her, the wasteland was in the center of Glacea but it would take them three weeks to travel around it on either side. When he first told them about the wasteland, Nisa had been expecting something like the Sahara Desert, but she was dead wrong.
It was the coldest she had ever been in her life—likely colder than temperatures in Alaska, which she had only visited once. They had bought supplies at a village just outside the wasteland, and were covered with feathered robes that somehow kept them warmer than furs did. Plus, when the feathers got wet, they instantly dried out. Nisa overheard Vanmor and Bea talking about how the feathers came from bird-like creatures that apparently couldn’t fly. They roamed the wasteland like mammoths—at least, that was Bea’s comparison—and were the only way to keep warm.
The other thing that surprised Nisa about this harsh place was the fact that the snow was actually silver in color. That, and it almost never snowed, but the snow was a constant here. It never melted and the sun was often hidden with thick clouds, except it never snowed. The terrain was rocky and difficult for the thoas to navigate. The thoas had even been given feathered coats to keep themselves warm. Without them, Vanmor told them, the thoas would all die and their internal organs would freeze.
If they stopped, they would freeze, so he pushed them all. They had to go easy on their water, since the wasteland was just that—and had no lakes, streams, or anything of the sort, not even any frozen ones. Chris asked them if they could just boil the snow and Vanmor, Aleyr, Ena, and even Kor’ok stared at him as if he was crazy.
“You can boil snow and drink it on our world,” Nisa explained.
Vanmor’s eyes stayed widened on hers.
Four days later, they finally left the wasteland behind. The rocky terrain didn’t stop at the edge of the wasteland, so the thoas struggled to climb their way up. Vanmor said there were no paths, other than climbing up to the city of Lifa. It wasn’t the capital of Glacea, but it was the richest and the largest.
They camped for the night, finally able to sleep and snuggle close to a fire. Nisa slept in Oliver’s arms that night and after four nights with no sleep, they all took the entire next day to sleep, eat, rest, and recuperate. Her lips were so chapped it was hard to talk and she missed chap stick. She missed having a cell phone to take pictures—some of the scenery here was absolutely stunning and she would never be able to remember it all. If only batteries had lasted longer. She asked Vanmor if there were power sources that would work on their cell phones when they got to Lifa and he said it was a possibility and that he would help her look.
The next day, they set out on the road again. By mid-afternoon, Lifa was in sight and what a marvelous sight it was. Even from that distance—around a mile away, Nisa guessed—the walls of the city towered high into the sky. They were made from granite or marble—some stone similar to them—that had creamy white and yellow stones interlaid with deep violets, sharp oranges, and bright, crimson reds. It sounded terrible, but it made for a stunningly beautiful color scheme.
The metal gates were guarded by at least ten guards on the top of the walls, two in the front and two behind them.
Vanmor had to provide proof that he was an Experimentalist planning to work in the city. He told them that Chris, Susie, Bea, and Nisa were all his apprentices and that Aelyr, Ena, Kor’ok, and Oliver were his hired bodyguards. The guards asked them to remove all their weapons as they were checked over and then they looked through all the supplies on their thoas to make sure no magical devices that were dangerous were hidden. In a way, it reminded Nisa of how tight security was at airports on Earth these days, but she suspected Lifa was an important city to have such security measures. Not that she could blame them.
After about an hour, they were finally let into the city and the guards escorted them for a while.
The streets were paved with smooth cobblestones, each with a myriad of colors in the design. It was almost too beautiful to walk upon. The roads were split into two sections—coming and going, as Nisa called them. They walked on the right side, where everyone else seemed to be walking in the same direction they did. The left, however, had people walking in the opposite.
Not everyone road thoas here. They were plenty of people walking, but others rode large beasts that Nisa couldn’t even begin to describe—nothing they looked like appeared like any creatures on earth. Bea clapped her hands and squealed and both Nisa and Susie had to pry her away from people and stop her from talking several times.
Nisa found it surprising that the translation device in her pocket still didn’t need to be recharged. By then, she had started trying to learn the basics of the language from Vanmor and whenever the translation device crackled out, he cast spells to help them all understand. Not only could he buy her a new one at the marketplace—one for each of them—but he could use his magic to teach them the language if he had a couple of days to do the spells, he said.
No building here was less than three stories tall. They towered and it seemed the higher or more beautifully decorated, the more attention each building got.
One of them with a sign that Nisa knew was the sign for an inn had five stories, was made from a creamy white marble-type stone with orange streaks overlaid into it. They walked inside and the guards patiently waited as their thoas were taken to the inn’s private stables—Nisa was so shocked that the inn was rich enough to house its own stables—and a woman with white hair and brown streaks checked them in. Vanmor handed her almost a hundred ikrii and it made Nisa’s stomach clench at how much money he was spending on them.
The woman had other people show them upstairs and carry their supplies for them, which they had all gotten off their thoas. The staircase was on the far-right side of the room and it led up to a small platform, then curved backward, up to the next level. That hall was all full, so they followed the hallway to another staircase that did the same thing—up a little to a platform, then curve backward and up to the next floor. The workers took them three doors down from the staircase where a series of rooms had been chosen for them. One for the men and one for the women—apparently, the inn had a “decency” law and if broken, the “criminals” would be fined a lot of ikrii for breaking it. Nisa was so surprised to see such a public law actually enforced—something like that in the United States would have caused quite an uproar.
Nisa, Susie, Bea, and Ena went into the room where four large beds were pushed into each of the corners. It left the center of the room completely open, leading to the balcony outside that overlooked the main street. The floor was made from white cobblestone, but covered with a fur rug, the same that rested on the beds as blankets. A fire had been started in the fire place on the left, glowing bright silver. Nisa found it odd, since temperatures here were fair—that of like spring.
“This place is amazing!” Susie shouted. “I—I almost imagine this place like what Alexandria must have looked like. There’s so much beauty here.”
Ena crossed her arms. “So many people that have more than enough money while other people in smaller towns and villages have nothing,” she muttered.
Nisa shot her a sympathetic look. “Sorry, Ena.”
The woman shrugged, but glared out the balcony doors at the people strolling along on the streets beneath them. Each one wore some sort of fancy clothing—silks that shone in the sunlight, jeweled leather coats, feathered robes, and more.
Nisa frowned. “I mean, there has to be a poor part of the city, though, right?”
Ena shook her head. “Man, you really are other-worlders. Lifa is the richest city in Glacea. You don’t even get in unless you’re loaded. Like Vanmor. I guess being a magic user has its perks. There are no poor in Lifa. Unless you count all the workers, but they get paid tons of ikrii for their work.”
Susie frowned where she sat on her bed, on the left side corner, to the left of the balcony doors. “Wait, didn’t Vanmor say that the mages he’s apart of are sort of like rebels? How would he have so much money then?”
Bea snorted. “Sus, you’re worse than I am with animals. It’s like you have to have a mystery or conspiracy wherever you go.”
Nisa crossed her arms with a frown. “No, she’s got a point. We’ll be here for a couple of days to rest. Maybe we should find out more about the people we’ve been traveling with.”
Ena lifted her eyebrows. “You trust me, don’t you?”
Nisa nodded with a smile. “You were almost killed, so yeah. I trust you. Technically, I trust Vanmor too, but I just feel like there is something he isn’t telling us.”
“What about Kor’ok?” Bea asked. “I mean, he’s quiet, but he seems nice enough.”
Nisa pursed her lips. “I don’t really think he’s much of a problem. Aleyr is, but we’re all aware not to trust him, since he’s a pirate.”
“Yeah!” Susie leaned forward. “Isn’t it too much of a coincidence that we ran across his brother in the group of bandits? I mean, out of all the people in this world. Right?”
Nisa nodded. “I agree.”
The four women left the room and outside, the men had already all been waiting on them. Nisa crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “So, what are we doing now?” Her eyes met Vanmor’s.
Oliver lifted an eyebrow at her; knowing him, he could probably tell something was going on with her.
“To the marketplace to get supplies. We’re getting pretty low,” Vanmor answered.
Nisa glanced at Aleyr. “Don’t you think it’s a little bit of a coincidence that we ran into your brother with the bandits? Out of all the people in this world?”
Aleyr laughed, running his hands through his hair. “Nope. Not when there’s thirty-nine of us.”
Nisa blinked at him, completely taken aback.
“Thirty-nine of you?” Susie’s eyes widened.
Chris gaped at him. “How in the world did that happen?”
Aleyr shrugged. “My father got around. But it’s the girls you gotta watch out for. There’s about forty-two of them. I’m used to running into my siblings everywhere though. Plus, those are only the ones that have been counted.” With that, he sauntered off, bellowing.
Nisa shook her head. “W—well, that was unexpected.”
“No kidding,” Susie muttered.
“What was that all about?” Oliver asked.
Nisa shook her head. “You go on. I’ll catch up.”
Oliver shrugged and followed Chris, Susie, Bea, Ena, and Kor’ok as they took the staircase back down to the lower levels of the inn. Nisa grabbed Vanmor’s arm and stopped him. “Wait.”
Vanmor turned toward her. “You seem… odd. You alright, Nisa?”
Nisa swallowed deeply, took a deep breath, and released it before she finally spoke. “How do you have enough money to be here? I mean, you’ve been blowing ikrii right and left, and you’re still offering to buy us more stuff at the marketplace. There’s something you’re not fully telling me, isn’t there?”
Vanmor stared at her.
“If you’re a seen as a rebel magic user, even though they can’t arrest you, it wouldn’t pay you very well, would it?” Nisa placed her hand on her hips and shot him a glare.
Vanmor sighed. “Not unless the people were tired of the Sages’ politics. Everything is run by the leaders. Magic users used to travel the world and help people. Now, you have to file a complaint or go visit the Sage yourself and only if he sees fit to help, will they actually do anything. We aren’t doing anything illegal by learning and experimenting with magic. But if any of the leaders found out our organization actually helps people in exchange for being paid…”
Nisa gasped. “You’d be arrested.”
Vanmor nodded. “Worse. Executed for treason. That would be seen as doing something directly against the Sages—trying to take their job, so to speak. No one asks questions if a rich man comes here. I could be the owner of an estate or have come into an inheritance… The possibilities are endless. But no one can know about it. That’s why I didn’t say anything. I don’t think any of you would betray me, but none of you know anything about this world. There was a chance any of you could slip up, without realizing it.”
Nisa held out her hand. “Don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me, Vanmor.”
Vanmor slid his hand into hers. “Thank you, Nisa.”
“Now, let’s go see the city!” Now that it was clear that Aleyr didn’t have any obvious plans to attack them—which was something they probably should have worried about before now—and that Vanmor hadn’t been hiding anything dramatic or something that would have impaired their journey, Nisa finally allowed herself to feel excited. Yes, they were away from Earth and yes, they had no idea how they were going to get home, but while they were here, she finally resolved herself to enjoy it. They were on a whole different world with new races, cultures, and people. It was history in the making and Nisa wanted to embrace every minute of it.
“Vanmor,” Nisa called as he stepped one foot onto the staircase.
He turned to look at her over his shoulder with a smile. “Yeah?”
Nisa pursed her lips. “Couple questions.” When he waited for her to continue, she did. “First one… would it be possible for you to teach me magic? Or is that something you think only special people on Glacea can do?”
Vanmor stared up at the ceiling for a moment as he thought about his answer. “Anyone on Glacea can learn magic, although certain bloodlines have an easier time with it. I don’t know if humans from Earth are incapable of learning it or not. We’d have to try and go from there. Of course, I’d be willing to try. What’s your second question?”
“Do you really think there’s a way for us to get back to Earth?”
Vanmor shrugged. “In total honesty, I don’t know. All I know is any information I’ve tried to find on the Eighth Curses is impossible to find. So, the Sage’s way for you to get home would be far more difficult to pull off than whatever information The Tower might have for us. It has all the knowledge of magic Glacea knows. If anything can show you or teach you how to get home, then The Tower will.”
Nisa nodded with a smile and followed him down the steps. For now, she cast her worries aside. It was time to explore this grand city, and learn as much as she could while she could.