Nisa was grateful that Susie was always a person to make lists. Half the time, if it wasn’t for Susie, Nisa’s stuff wouldn’t be near as organized. She was more of a chaotic person; able to find anything she needed in a mess, so long it was a mess of her own creation.
Susie typically kept lists on their computers, but, as they made out a list of all the supplies they would need, bought it, and she checked it off, she was forced to use spare parchment that Urraka’a had had left over and given to them freely.
Vanmor, of course, took care of the details. He and Susie walked side-by-side as the group trailed along behind him at the different marketplaces and stores to find the items that they needed. Nisa didn’t miss how Chris’ fists kept clenching and unclenching. She hoped Susie wasn’t intending to flirt with Vanmor, especially not in front of Chris. Besides, getting home back to Earth was far more important. Deep inside, Nisa wished she could travel the world here, see and learn everything she could and do it all while being with Oliver, but it was more important to find their way home.
By the time they returned with supplies, while Vanmor, Susie, Bea, and Kor’ok loaded it all up, Oliver, Chris, and Nisa went back to Urraka’a’s inn to say goodbye, gather what little they had there, and meet the woman from the previous night, who’s named Nisa learned was Ena. It surprised her she was able to remember all their names: Vanmor, Kor’ok, and Ena. Then again, they were helping them potentially find a way back to Earth, so Nisa figured she remembered their names easier because they meant something important to her. It made her realize how she should have cared a bit more for her workers before.
If they truly did find a way back and they somehow were able to outsmart Callahan, Nisa promised herself and God to treat workers better—at least, internally. Outwardly, she had always treated them kindly, but in her heart, she knew she needed to remember their names and not see them as just workers or expendables. Their lives and what they did for her mattered.
Ena seemed excited, so together, Nisa, Oliver, Chris, and Ena left after saying thanks to Urraka’a and a goodbye that was much harder than Nisa thought it should be.
Vanmor, Kor’ok, Susie, and Bea met up with the rest of them at the front of the city, where they had first come in. The streets were filled with people bustling about; to the right, a woman and young girl sang, their voices harmonizing together perfectly. The translator in Nisa’s pocket didn’t pick up their words, but the song itself was beautiful. Nisa wanted to stop and listen, but she forced her feet forward, to the right corner near the wall where the stables were.
What she expected to find was a stable filled with horses, but that wasn’t what her eyes rested on. Instead, Nisa found herself staring at some of the strangest, oddest looking creatures—even odder than the three-legged herders or Harkwei’s beasts before.
Each of them had different colored feathers—one was orange whereas another was pink. Some was violet and another was a creamy white. They stood on two legs with long necks—like a giraffe, though not quite as long—with a hooked, curved beak. Their feet, however, didn’t have talons like a bird. It was more resembled to large paws—like a bear.
“Wh—what are those?” Nisa asked.
Ena and Kor’ok glanced at her, but it was Ena who spoke. “Wait, you’ve never seen a thoa before?” When Nisa shook her head, Ena continued as the wind blew strands of her white hair with blue streaks behind her. “They’re everywhere!”
Vanmor glanced at Nisa and then traced his gaze over Bea, Chris, Susie, and Oliver. “People here ride them.”
“Yeah, I got that much,” Chris muttered.
Bea slowly approached one, hands held outward. “They are marvelous creatures! To think, two-legged ones that can actually be ridden! How do they hold weight?” Bea glanced up at Vanmor, but it wasn’t him to answered.
“I’ve seen thoas carry a man over four hundred pounds before.” A man emerged from a door, shutting it behind him. His white hair had black and green streaks in it and it was slicked back. He stood higher than Oliver, but not quite as tall as the blue-skinned Kor’ok. Everything about him seemed the opposite of what Nisa imagined a stable keeper to be dressed as; leather pants and a shirt that looked more like some sort of strange armor, with swords and daggers on every inch of him and even a crossbow strapped to his back.
“You only have eight,” Vanmor pointed out.
The man crossed his arms with a sharp nod. “Yep. I’m trying to get rid of them. My father passed away. I sold the place, but the new owners want to turn it into a house, not a stable. So, the sooner I can sell these things, the sooner I can get back to my ship.”
Ena frowned. “You’re a pirate! There were rumors a ship was anchored at the coast. The guards were looking for the captain.”
The man shrugged. “A typical thoa costs two hundred ikrii. I’ll sell all eight of them to you for five hundred.”
Vanmor’s eyes widened and Nisa gasped. Even she did the math and realized he was basically giving the thoas away to them for free at that price.
“Why would you do that?” Oliver shot the man a glare.
The man’s lips pulled up into a wide smirk. “I told you. I just want to get rid of them.”
Ena scoffed. “Right. You probably have plenty of money that you’ve stolen from everyone else.”
Nisa wanted to point out Ena had worked for thugs for a while, but didn’t. Ena’s situation had been a difficult one. Another part of her couldn’t help but feel in awe that she was meeting a pirate, but she had to remind herself that this was a different world, not earth. Even then, pirates had often been sanctioned by kings and queens, but she still had a fascination with them—well, with anything in history, really.
“Do you want them or not?” The man met gazes with Vanmor.
Vanmor nodded and reached into a pouch. “Five hundred ikrii.”
The man tossed the metal bars in the air and smoothly caught them in his hand. “They’re all yours, along with the saddles and equipment. I don’t wanna have to try to sell anything else.”
“Thank you,” Nisa said.
As the rest of them followed Vanmor over to the creatures, Bea gently grabbed the man’s arm. “Can you tell me more about them?”
The man shrugged. “You have one now. Why don’t you just go over there, grab one, and learn about it yourself?”
Bea’s face reddened and she whirled around on him with a loud huff. Behind her back, the man chuckled.
Nisa ignored them and nervously walked up to one of the thoas, hands shaking. Hers had bright, cobalt blue feathers, silver eyes, and a smooth, beautiful black beak. The thoa squawked and gazed down at her. From what she guessed, it was probably ten to fifteen feet tall—taller if it lifted its neck to its full height.
Vanmor instructed each of them on how to put on the saddles and then together, they worked to place all their supplies on the back of the saddle. They had special hooks where all the items would be hooked together to keep them from falling off. The thoas torsos weren’t as long as a horse’s, so Nisa wasn’t sure how well they would hold everything, but after they got it all on there, none of it seemed to fall.
“Do they have names?” Nisa asked the man.
He shook his head. “If they did, I don’t know them.”
Vanmor chuckled where he sat on top of the creamy one on the end. “Nisa, yours is a female.”
“Not that I’ll remember it, but I’ll call her Sapphire. Hopefully, that’ll be enough to jog my memory,” she muttered. Carefully, she approached the thoa’s side and then hopped on, just like Vanmor, Ena, and Kor’ok had showed them.
Oliver was already on top of his orange colored one by the time Nisa figured it out. “You good, Ni?” he asked.
“Yeah.” She huffed, but gently patted her thoa’s neck. The thoa whirled her head around and nudged her with her beak. “Apparently, their necks are flexible, too.”
On the other side of Oliver, Bea’s eyes lit up with joy and excitement. “This is fantastic! They’re acting as if they’re… intelligent, almost. Probably more intelligent than dogs!”
Nisa rolled her eyes.
Oliver leaned over as he directed his thoa out of the stall using a bit in its mouth similar to reigns back on earth. “She’ll be going on and on about them the whole trip.”
“Oh, definitely,” Nisa said with a laugh.
As they passed through the gates, Vanmor shot the guards a wave. Directing her thoa took her a few minutes, but after a while, Nisa soon got the hang of it. Riding one was a bit bouncer than riding a horse—what few times she had ridden one, though not quite as bad as a camel. Working in Egypt, she had actually ridden more camels in her lifetime than she had a horse. The bird-creature’s back end wobbled as it walked, so Nisa was terrified it would fall over, but none of them ever did.
Outside the city gates, the road stretched out before them, forking in two different directions—straight ahead and to the right. To the right, the road led to a beautiful, vast sea or ocean—which, Nisa wasn’t sure. Several ships were anchored there but all of them seemed to fly colors similar to the banners she’d seen inside the city of Sorpa. If a pirate ship had been here, it was either well hidden, or gone. She brushed the thought off, and continued looking at the strange and beautiful world around her.
To the left, a sharp incline ended in a forest made entirely out of oddly shaped plants with hooks at the top, rather than leaves. The end of them wasn’t buried in ground, but dark green goop that often bubbled up like lava. The smell slammed into Nisa’s nose and she gagged, urging her thoa up to Vanmor’s. “What in the world is that?”
Vanmor chuckled. “That would be a bog. Those plants you see are called Biters. They’ll… eat anything that comes too close. Their power comes from the swamp water. Nasty stuff. Basically like acid if you fall in.”
At that, both Susie and Bea moved their thoas away from the edge of the incline.
Ena rode up on Nisa’s other side. “So, how come you guys don’t seem to know anything about this place?”
Just as Nisa opened her mouth to explain, shouting cut her off. “Wait!” a man’s voice said.
They pulled their thoas to a stop and in Vanmor’s case, he whirled his around. Nisa just shifted around from atop hers to see what was going on.
The man from the stables jogged up to them with a grin on his face. “You wouldn’t let me buy one of those back, would you?” He glanced at the water with a grimace.
Vanmor narrowed his eyes. “Why?”
The man cursed. “Turns out my ship left without me. Guess the crew mutinied. Where are you headed?”
“East,” came Vanmor’s reply.
Vanmor exchanged a look with Nisa and the others. “What do you guys think?”
“Can these things carry two of us?” Oliver asked.
Oliver gestured to Nisa. “I can ride with her on Sapphire.”
Vanmor turned back to the man and grumbled. “Guess you can take that orange one back.”
“I’m actually heading east, too. Might as well travel together.”
Ena nodded. “Now that you don’t have a crew, can you not handle yourself out here alone?” She eyed the man as he hopped up on the orange thoa. Oliver, meanwhile, had jumped off and climbed on behind Nisa.
The man smirked at her. “Sweetheart, everyone knows not to travel Glacea alone.”
Vanmor’s lips stayed in a firm, straight line. “Only a fool would do that.”