Walking through the streets of an unknown world without Oliver by her side scared Nisa more than she cared to admit. By now, it was mid-afternoon, so the streets were starting to become crowded again. Each of the humans—at least, that was what she assumed since others like Urraka’a had referred to them that way—had white hair with colorful streaks in it. Nisa supposed that was the reason why people gave them strange looks wherever they went. There were a few other dark-skinned, larger races with leather wings and red eyes like Urraka’a, but she didn’t see any more like the blue man in front of the bar—or tavern, whatever it was called here.
Nisa waved at the town crier as she passed him and then turned and jogged a bit further down the street to the back of the warehouse door. It was cracked, so she slipped inside and gently knocked on the doors. That was probably just a custom from earth, but she didn’t want to impose rudely if she could keep from it.
“Ah,” Harkwei started. He waved at her from the other side of the room, where he and Bea stood by his beast. It was unconnected from his wagon, that was already halfway refilled with goods. “Your friend Bea and I have been speaking about Naroom and about your journey a bit. You wish to travel with me, do you?”
Nisa jogged over to them with a smile on her face. “If possible, but I was actually wondering if you’d be willing to make a trade of sorts. Like we did before.”
Harkwei crossed his arms, golden eyes changing to a light green. Without a pupil, it still freaked Nisa out, but she forced her expression to stay perfectly impassive. “What sort of trade?”
Nisa gestured to his wagon. “You have a lot of goods. I was wondering if you had anything… magical? Like an item or something we could use to… distract a bounty hunter.”
Harkwei’s forehead wrinkled. “Now, how in the world did you get yourselves into trouble so quickly? You’re not secret criminals, are you?” His green eyes turned back to gold and he stared at her, which made Nisa’s skin crawl. “Ah. You think the Brute can help you and he’s the one whose bounty needs to be cleared.”
Nisa opened her mouth to reply but the words stuck in her throat. There was no hiding anything from him, it seemed. “So, do you have anything we can use?”
Harkwei shook his head. “I don’t but my friend Ri’ka here might. Hey, Ri’ka! You hear that?”
Ri’ka glanced down at him from the balcony above. “Yes. I might have a Potion of Complacency. But I don’t give things out for free…”
Harkwei grinned up at her. “For me?”
Ri’ka’s lips pulled into a huge smile that lit up her entire face. “Anything for you, Harkie.”
Something about her apparent infatuation made Nisa cringe. Harkwei looked at least in his sixties and from what Ri’ka looked like, she was probably in her early twenties if not a bit younger. It was likely traditions here were way different than on earth, Nisa supposed.
“You have my deepest gratitude, Ri’ka.” She leapt from the balcony, landing smoothly on her feet in front of one of the cylinder-shaped crates. After removing the lid and digging inside it for several minutes, she pulled out a jar just like the ones from the pyramid.
Nisa’s eyes widened. “These are potion bottles!” That was when it finally hit her. The jars were potion bottles and the strange chemicals not on earth must have been…
She shook her head. Sometimes all of this felt like too much.
Harkwei took the potion from her and Ri’ka smiled at him and jumped back on top of the balcony. She definitely had more flexibility than humans from earth. “Now…” Harkwei lowered his voice. “I don’t give anything out for free.”
Nisa and Bea exchange a glance. He took it from Ri’ka for free and then was going to sell it to them? If they could even afford it. It wasn’t like they had any ikrii. Nothing about his body language when Ri’ka wasn’t watching implied he cared for her. Sometimes, Ri’ka would watch him and Nisa could see the same look in her eyes that Nisa felt when she thought about Oliver. Was Harkwei just using her? She shook the thought off; whatever was going on between them wasn’t any of her business.
“You know we don’t have any ikrii,” Nisa whispered. “What do you want?”
“One of those devices. I’ve seen you replicating images of items, somehow storing them in your device. It’s a magic I’ve never seen before. I want one.”
Her phone and Bea’s both were dead. Unless he had a battery… Nisa cleared her throat. “Ours are both dead… without energy to power them. I mean, Oliver’s might still be alive. Barely.”
Harkwei nodded. “I can find something around here to power them. Shouldn’t be too hard.”
Nisa held out her hand and Harkwei hesitated, but shook it. “You’ve got a deal. I need to meet with one of my companions… his might still be working and we’re going to need ours later, but I’ll send him here… probably less than an hour.”
Harkwei nodded. “Now, this potion will allow you to command whoever drinks it once after they take a sip,” he said as he handed her the potion bottle. “You better come back with the payment.”
“Don’t worry. You have my word,” Nisa said in reassurance.
Harkwei shot her a wave and turned back to the beast of his. Nisa grabbed Bea’s arm, pulling her closer toward the warehouse doors. “Wait here and keep talking to Harkwei. He seems to know a lot and if we can convince him to give us a ride, Ollie and I might find someone who knows how to get home. Maybe Harkwei could take us back to the ruins or wherever we need to go to get home.”
Bea nodded. “Sounds good. So, you’ll send Ollie back here?”
“Maybe. Ollie will probably want to deal with the bounty hunter himself, so I might send Chris or Susie back for it.” With that, Nisa slipped back out the warehouse doors and sprinted over to the inn.
Inside, Susie and Urraka’a stood behind the counter, speaking to each other. Nisa’s eyes widened and her hand felt her pocket where the translation device was. How in the world was Susie speaking to her…?
As Nisa approached the counter, she noticed a spherical device similar to their own sitting on the counter. It was the first time she realized that since Urraka’a was another race, she might have to have the translation device sometimes. Sure enough, it beeped and repeated Susie’s words in a different language. Unlike the one the humans here spoke—from what Nisa had observed and listened to—this one was light, almost like a melody. It must be her language. It sounds so beautiful compared to how dark and dangerous her race looks. The urge to learn and find out more consumed Nisa and, for a moment, she forgot the reason she came.
After Urraka’a replied and the device repeated it—Nisa’s too—she cleared her throat. “Sorry to bother you both, but I need to borrow Susie for a moment.”
Urraka’a frowned. “One person should never own another.”
Nisa gasped. “N—no! It’s… it’s a saying where we’re from. I—she isn’t a slave. Susie’s a friend. I just need to speak to her for a moment. That’s all.”
Slowly, Urraka’a nodded, but her bright red eyes glared at Nisa.
“What is it?” Susie whispered as Nisa pulled her into a corner, away from the other customers.
“Long story short. Ollie and I found a man who might know someone, but before he tells us who or gives us a location, we have to get a bounty hunter off his back. Harkwei gave me a potion, so Ollie and I have to use it against the bounty hunter. I’m going to need you to take Ollie’s phone to Harkwei at the warehouse as payment.”
Susie nodded. “You got it.” The two women left the inn behind and as soon as they were outside, Nisa glanced at her.
“Did you find out anything from Urraka’a?”
Susie nodded. “A lot, actually. As the inn keeper, she hears all the legends, stories, and rumors. About the Sage… he’s the only one who can actually use magic himself. Like from his hands, casting spells on his own. The other humans all use devices to use it or like the candles and other objects to cast magic. Every town in Glacea has its own Sage, which are basically the go-to guys when it comes to magic.”
Nisa hung her head. “So, this man’s friend probably won’t know anything about magic to get us home.”
Susie shrugged. “Sages aren’t the only ones who study magic. Other humans do, but Sages never learn anything new. They’re… kind of by the book, I guess is how she described it. But there are other magic-users in Glacea that learn on their own, they just don’t count, I guess, because they don’t learn magic from Sages like they’re supposed to. The man’s friend is probably one of those.”
They rounded the corner near the town crier and started down the street back to the tavern, as Nisa replied. “Did she know anything about the Eight Curses?”
Susie nodded. “Apparently, there are tons of legends about them. Some say the Eight will live forever, while others say they’re all locked away on a magical prison in another realm. One thing all the legends have in common is that they’re a plague upon humanity. Anyone associated with them was hunted down centuries ago. She did also confirm another thing that all the rumors were pretty consistent on… the last curse to be cast—The Seventh Curse—was actually cast about ten years ago. It’s been the latest. Everyone’s been excited because that means, the Eighth Curse will be cast soon and then, the sooner that happens, the sooner all Eight Curses will be broken.”
Nisa frowned, rubbing her eyes. “Wait, but if the people who were cursed were dead, then what’s the point of breaking the curses? Unless their curses affect this world somehow?”
Susie shrugged. “I don’t know. I had enough trouble trying to understand everything she meant, even with the translation device. Curses and magic is not my forte. Real, actual history is.”
The man in front of the tavern shot her a widened look. “Back so soon?”
Oliver left the wall where he had been leaning and walked up to her. “You alright?”
Nisa nodded. “Harkwei gave me a Potion of Complacency to use. Said we can basically command the guy once after he drinks this. You know where he’s at?”
Oliver gestured to the man with a nod. “Yeah. At another tavern across town—on the better end. Kor’ok said it’ll be harder getting in there though.”
“Kor’ok?” Nisa asked.
The man grunted. “My name.”
Nisa nodded. “Look, I need your cell phone. Harkwei wanted it as payment. Susie said she’d take it to him. Is it still alive?”
“Barely,” Oliver muttered. “I guess buying a new cell is the least of my worries. Yours is dead, so it’s not like I can use it to communicate with you, anyway.”
“Sorry.” Nisa shot him a sheepish look. She really did feel bad that he had to lose his cell phone.
Oliver handed it to Susie with a smirk. “Can you find your way back?”
Susie shot him a glare. “I’m not that bad at getting lost! I’ll be fine!”
The man pointed a thumb over his shoulder—whatever his name was; Nisa couldn’t remember. She had enough trouble remembering Harkwei and Urraka’a’s and that was only because they had interacted with them more than she had with anyone other than Chris, Susie, Bea, and Ollie. “I’m going on break. I can walk with her if you want.”
Susie smiled. “That would be great. It’s a warehouse across from Urraka’a’s inn. You know it?”
The man nodded.
Nisa’s chest tightened. She hoped Susie didn’t plan to have an affair with this man too. The worker at the dig site was bad enough. Chris would flip his lid, and the last thing they needed was Chris attacking this man in anger and causing trouble. Not to mention they had no idea what the punishment for such things was here in this world.
“What are you worried about?” Oliver asked, as they watched them walk off.
Nisa shook her head, rubbing her eyes. “Pretty much everything. Let’s just get to this bounty hunter and get this overwith.” The entire front side of her head hurt and she figured it was a bad stress headache. She had plenty of reasons to have one, anyway. It distracted her from the sights as she and Oliver crossed the city, but she did manage to notice how much taller and more extravagant the buildings and decorations outside them got the deeper they went into the city. They passed the Sage’s Tower, and beyond it, the buildings were absolutely stunning. The people here were carried on spherical versions of litters, but instead of people carrying them, it was different magical devices. Nisa wished they could stay here and study everything, take notes and pictures, but finding a way back to earth was too important.
As the neared the tavern, Oliver gripped her arm. “They’re going to want to search us. We need to hide the potion so they can’t find it.”
Nisa lifted an eyebrow, but nodded. They hid in an alleyway away from prying eyes. “I’ve got just the thing.” She quickly pulled the potion from her pocket and stuck it inside her bra. It was small, so other than a small deformity close to her right arm-pit, nothing looked out of the ordinary.
Oliver’s eyes widened and his cheeks turned bright red, but he shook his head and led her around the corner.
Oliver had used the description of the location the man had given him along with her good memory of what the symbols on tavern signs looked like to find it. That, and this one was colored purple and gray, just like the other one. Nisa had no doubt that they were done that way to draw in customers. Maybe they thought the color purple meant fun or something similar.
In front of the tavern where Oliver led her, stood two bulky human men, each one wearing thick armor and a bow on their backs, along with quivers of arrows and swords. Did a tavern really need this much security? If that was the case, she was curious to see how much security the rich or governor—whoever led this town—had.
Oliver kept a tight grip on her hand. “We were hoping to stop in for a drink. Rumors are this has the best mead in town,” Oliver said with a pleasant smile.
The guard on the right nodded. “We’ll need to search you both.”
“No problem.” Oliver held out his hands, like he would have done for a police officer on earth, but one of the guards came up to him and held a device.
Nisa felt like smacking herself and Oliver. They had forgotten that these people might have been able to use magical searches. Her heart raced; what were they going to do now?
The guard on the left brought the device close to Oliver’s feet, while the guard on the right did the same for her. A blue energy surged around her feet and moved as the guard lifted the device. When he reached her chest, Nisa shot him a look. “That’s close enough, sir.”
The guard shrugged. “Seems clean.”
The one near Oliver nodded. “Go on in.” With that, Nisa gripped Oliver’s hand and he tugged her through the door. Circular tables lined the room, each filled with mugs full of ale and men and women drinking to their heart’s content.
“Do you see him?” Nisa whispered in his ear. The chatter in ear made a loud buzz echo through the stone walls, but she hoped he could hear her.
Oliver nodded his head to a man sitting in the corner. “White hair, green streaks, uses two maces? That has to be him.”
Nisa’s eyes swept across the room. There was one other man with green streaks, but he had no weapons on him. The one in the corner, however, did have two maces strapped to his back.
For a minute, they stood on one side of the tavern, quietly observing the situation. “How are we going to pull this off?” Nisa asked.
Oliver lightly nodded toward a woman with orange streaks. “She’s been carrying mugs of ale to the customers.”
Nisa watched the woman and sure enough, she handed off four mugs to a table just in front of them. “So, she’s a waitress, then. Your point…?”
“My point is that you can offer to take the drink to him; act like he’s an old friend. Before you get there, pour the potion in, hand it to him, then say what you need to stay. I’ll be right behind you.”
Nisa’s heart felt like it would thump out of her chest. Never in her life had she ever done something like this. So… illegal. Then again, they needed whatever information the blue man had. “I hope that man’s friend can really help us. Or this was all a huge waste of time,” she muttered.
The man in the corner’s drink finally emptied and the woman with orange streaks carried a mug of ale and started his direction. Nisa slipped over there with a huge grin. “I’ll take it to him! He’s an old friend!”
The woman grinned at her. “Thanks. I’m swamped.” With that, she disappeared back to the bar’s front counter.
Nisa turned around and stood behind a pillar in the center of the room. Oliver stood in front of her, hands on her waist. There were several other couples getting frisky in the room, including a man and woman in the opposite corner. Fortunately, everyone here still had their clothes on, which Nisa was extremely thankful for. Already, this place seemed more decent than any bar on earth—which was her reason for staying far away from them.
Forgive me, God, she mentally prayed.
Nisa slipped the potion out of her bra and poured the whole thing into the mug of ale. She slipped the empty bottle back into her bra and then gently shoved Oliver away. “Don’t get too frisky on me, sir,” she said with a grin.
Oliver winked at her.
Nisa walked up to the man in the corner and sat the ale down in front of him. “Here’s your drink, sir.”
“About time! I’ve been waiting near on five minutes!” he shouted.
“I’m so sorry. We’ve been swamped tonight.” Nisa smiled at him.
The man gestured to her. “I need some information.”
Nisa met his gaze, heart hammering in her chest as he gripped his cup and slugged back his first drink. “What information, sir?”
“I’m lookin’ for a Jol. You know they’re rare. You’d remember one if you saw one. Seen one around here?” he asked, taking another long drink. His eyes turned black and cloudy in the next couple of seconds and Nisa was impressed with how quickly the potion worked.
Nisa met his gaze and held it, unblinking. “You already killed him, actually. You’re going to return to your client and tell him the job is done. The Jol is gone. If they want proof, tell them the body was burned by accident.”
The man stared at her with a blank gaze and he slowly nodded. “The Jol… is dead. Body burned. Accident.”
Nisa held her breath, stood up, and turned to Oliver.
“Let’s get out of here,” he muttered in her ear.
She couldn’t agree more.