Bea and Nisa embraced Susie as they jogged down to the front of the cave entrance on the lower level of the mountain top. “I’m glad you’re okay! You sure you’re not hurt?” Nisa asked, looking at Susie up and down.
Tears fell from her eyes and she nodded. “Y—yeah. Chris, they beat him!”
Chris grunted where he held his ribs. “I’m alright.”
Susie blinked and more tears fell as she darted over to him. “Why did you do that?”
Chris swallowed and shot her a look. “Despite what you… did to me, I still love you, okay? You can’t just shut feelings like that off. At least we’re safe. That’s all that matters now.”
On the left side of the cave, silver fire raged through the shrubs and trees. Smoke billowed high in the air and Nisa slowly backed away with a cough. “We should probably get out of here.”
“Yeah.” Aelyr frowned at the smoke. “Anyone for miles can see that, so we should leave now.”
Kor’ok and Ena led the way to the path back down the mountain and grabbed the thoas. They were loyal creatures and none of them had moved an inch. Nisa would have suspected they would have run away or been scared from the fighting or the fire at least, but it didn’t seem that they were. Fortunately, Chris and Susie’s thoas joined a group of thoas that Nisa assumed belonged to the bandits, so they were each able to grab theirs after taking a few things from the bandits—food and canteens mostly.
Oliver hopped on their blue thoa and reached a hand down to help Nisa up. Just as Nisa swung her leg around the other side, two arrows whizzed by on either side of their heads.
Oliver used his arm to shove her down and the movement caused her foot to slip off the thoa. Nisa collapsed onto the ground, but managed to stumble and catch herself on her knees. A quick glance behind her told her that the mountain pass exit—the only way off the mountain top—was blocked by a group of more bandits.
“There’s more of them?” Bea shouted as she hid behind her thoa.
“Bandits sometimes separate in groups and camp in different spots.” Aleyr cursed and hid behind the corner, using his crossbow to fire a few bolts at the new group of bandits.
Vanmor lit up his skin with magic energy and Nisa watched in awe as he gathered it into a sphere in front of him. The purple sphere separated into three and he hurled them at the group of bandits.
Relief flooded through her; with his magic, even seeing how many bandits they had, they were sure to win.
Nisa spoke too soon.
Three of the bandits jumped in front of the other ones, each holding a giant shield. As she looked closer at it, Nisa realized it was actually a mirror.
“Wh—“ A whirring sound louder than thunder exploded as Vanmor’s spheres slammed against the mirror. Only it didn’t crack like Nisa had expected.
Instead, the spheres flew back toward them at a faster speed. Nisa blinked, Oliver lept on top of her, just as the magical spheres sailed over their heads and slammed into the cave behind them. Rock shattered and split and stones fell from the ceiling as the circle slowly started to cave in on itself.
Behind them, the fire surged across the shrubs, eating away what little was left. By now, all the trees were gone and most of the shrubs with them. Would the fire stop when it hit the stone of the mountain ground or would it continue since it was magical fire?
Oliver fired off a few shots and one of the bandits fell. He cursed. “I’m out.” Yanking his hand, Nisa tugged him behind the wall near the entrance to the path were Aleyr hid and fired off a few shots of his crossbow in between moments of taking cover.
The bandits marched forward. For bandits, they seemed way more well trained than Nisa expected, but there was no time to dwell on that. One of them had sat down a cube that opened up and magic energy made of transparent energy that shimmered, poured from the cube until it formed a huge dome around them.
Aleyr rounded the corner and fired off another crossbow bolt. The bolt slammed against the shield and fell to the ground outside of it. He cursed.
Across the path entrance, Vanmor and Kor’ok hid with Chris, Susie, and Bea behind them, against the mountain ledge that towered hundreds of feet high. Vanmor met their gazes. “It’s a magic shield. If I cast a spell to break it, they would reflect it with the mirror.”
“Is there another way off this mountain?” Oliver asked.
Vanmor shook his head.
“If you surrender now,” one of the bandits shouted. “I promise, my group and I won’t kill you for how you killed our other party. We’ll only capture you…”
Aelyr’s eyes widened. “I know that voice.”
Oliver shot him a glare. “Friend of yours? Think you can talk him into letting us go?”
Aleyr shook his head. “Definitely not.”
Oliver clenched his jaw and glanced back at the mountain. “Some of us might get taken, but maybe the rest of you can hide. They don’t know how many of us are here. I doubt they had time to seriously count.”
Nisa shook her head, heart pounding as tears fell out of her eyes. “No. I’m not just going to hide while those bandits kidnap you and sell you off somewhere! We’ll never get you guys back!”
Bea nodded as she poked her head over Vanmor’s shoulder. “Nisa’s right. We all stay together.”
Oliver cursed and gripped her shoulders. “I love you, Ni.”
“I love you.” Nisa pressed her lips against his, deepening it as much as they could, filling it with all her passion and fear and worry.
Oliver pulled away, much too soon and met gazes with Vanmor. “Should we surrender?”
Vanmor stared into space for a minute and Nisa didn’t think he would answer. “We can’t beat them with those devices. They also have three times as many men we do.”
Oliver shifted his gaze to Aelyr. “You know him, right? Will he keep his word?”
Aleyr nodded, slipping off his crossbow and the bolts with it. “All Jovar wants is a profit. Selling all of us off would certainly get him that.”
Taking a deep breath, Oliver stepped out from behind the corner, with Vanmor, Aleyr and Nisa right behind them. They held their hands in the air, and in Aelyr’s case, he started unsheathing all the swords and daggers he had hidden.
Ena came out from behind one of the thoas and Nisa was impressed with how long she’d been able to hide. She threw her sword to the ground, followed by Kor’ok and Chris, who tossed his gun away. Bea and Susie stayed on either side of him, hands shaking.
“Mage, you come forward and let us place you in restraints. Try to fight back and the rest of them die,” a man in the center said. Something about him seemed familiar, but Nisa couldn’t quite place it.
Vanmor nodded as the bandits slowly stepped forward. They each threw spheres at them and Nisa flinched, but when it hit her, energy surged around her, pinning her arms and upper body in place. It did the same to the others, and in Vanmor’s case, it made his skin stopped glowing. She gasped as she realized whatever it did, it made it so that he couldn’t use his magic.
One bandit picked up the cube and the shield lowered. Dozens of them grabbed each of them by the arm and dragged them forward while the leader gestured to the thoas. “Grab those too and you three search the camp and grab anything of value.”
About ten of the bandits slipped by them to do as the leader asked. He stepped forward, face-to-face with Aelyr. “Can’t say it’s good to see you again, brother.”
“Brother?” Nisa gasped, staring at Aelyr with widened eyes as shock rippled through her.
Aelyr smirked. “Had no idea those weaklings were part of your group, Jovar.”
Jovar slammed his fist into Aelyr’s stomach and the pirate doubled over with a wheeze. “That’s for killing half my men. Curious as to who the weakling is now.” He stepped back and two of the other men grabbed Aelyr’s hands and dragged him forward, further down the path.
The buff man that grabbed Nisa’s arm leaned down to sniff her. “Bet you taste nice…” he muttered.
Oliver struggled against the two men holding him. “Get your filthy hands off her!”
The bandits around them all laughed. The buff man with Nisa shoved her forward and she stumbled. It was difficult to catch herself without being able to move her arms but she finally managed, just before she face-planted.
The bandits led them in a line down the path until it turned. Fortunately, they took a left, which was the part that led back down the mountain to the forest they had all originally been trying to get to in the first place.
They had to find a way to escape, but with these magical restraints, it seemed impossible. Nisa desperately looked around for a lever, button, or some sort of mechanism to shut it off, but there didn’t seem to be one. When the sphere had hit her, it became pure energy that wrapped around her. Nisa guessed only someone else could take the energy and somehow turn it back into a sphere and get it off her, but they were all captured.
The other thought and worry that crossed her mind was the possibility that Aleyr and his brother had been working together. Everything that they said, and even his brother—the bandit leader—punching him could have all been a rouse. What if he had gone with them and planned the ambush?
As the path leveled out back onto solid ground at the bottom of the mountain, Nisa glanced around the forest. Many of the trees here were at least normally shaped, but their trunks were either red or golden colored whereas their leaves were either white or gray. The grass wasn’t really grass—it looked slightly different; like some variant of wheat, except that it was purple in color and rose to just above Nisa’s knees. Tiny creatures fluttered through the air and she almost could have imagined them being this world’s version of bees.
The group of bandits led them through the forest and forced their pace to increase. Nisa barely managed to keep up with the buff man leading her; his stride was twice as long as hers. Throughout the journey, he sometimes whispered in her ear, which made her shudder and that caused him to laugh. She didn’t miss Oliver’s worried gaze flying toward them when he could, but the men who dragged him along walked him even faster than hers did.
Up ahead, the leader paused in the center of a large camp by a river surrounded by thicker versions of the trees.
The leader had Aleyr thrown down in the center of the camp, while the leader himself sat on a pile of pillows that had been laid out on the ground, with material that shined like silk laid out beside it.
“This lot will make a fine price being sold to the Korii.”
Ena spit at him. “No! I’ll never work for one of those filthy Seafarers!”
The leader smirked at her while one of the men guarding Ena slammed her back up against a tree and gripped her jaw. “Now, now…” the leader said. “You’ll do whatever your new masters tell you to do. But I’m tempted to keep you. I like the feisty ones, although… you’re not as pretty as your friends here.”
The leader’s eyes glazed over Bea and landed on Susie and Nisa.
Oliver and Chris both grunted as the bandits holding them threw them both against the trunk of a tree. The energy around their chests and arms pinned them to the tree. “Get your hands off her!” Chris said with a loud curse.
Nisa’s heart raced as the buff man behind her tossed her into the leader’s lap. The leader threw his head back and laughed as his hands gently stroked Nisa’s arms. Bile formed in her throat and she jerked her head away from him.
Oliver cursed and jerked against the energy, but it zapped him. He groaned and then glared at the leader with cold fury in his gaze.
The leader slid his finger across Nisa’s stomach and the energy around her collected to his finger. It formed into a sphere, which he sat down on the ground beside him. “We don’t need this, do we?” He smiled.
Nisa fought the urge to kick him and run, but there were too many bandits here. If she ran, not only would she be caught in an instant, but she risked the bandits punishing the others for what she did. By then, Kor’ok, Ena, Vanmor, Susie, and Bea had all been pinned to tree trunks just like Oliver and Chris had been.
There were at least thirty bandits here and they were in the center of camp, completely surrounded. If they didn’t find a way to escape soon…
They would all be sold as slaves.