Kor’ok, Oliver, and Nisa made their way back from Vanmor’s house. Kor’ok waved goodbye, and then split off for his house, while Oliver and Nisa headed back toward Urraka’a’s inn.
“Hopefully, Susie, Chris, and Bea are back by now,” Oliver said.
Nisa nodded, pursing her lips. The night had gotten much colder, so she shivered and clung to his arm. It was so difficult to see without any light on the streets and the lack of people made everything seem all that more eerie.
They were quiet the rest of the way back to the inn. As soon as Nisa recognized the front of it and the sign, she rushed to the door.
Suddenly, a net flew over her body and completely trapped her. Someone yanked on it and it made Nisa collapse onto the ground with a gasp.
Disoriented, Nisa rolled over and tried shoving against the net and following it with her hands to find a way out. Through the holes in it, she caught glimpses of Oliver blocking a man’s attacks. Another one lunged at him from behind with a sword—an actual sword. “Ollie, behind you!” Nisa shouted.
The person holding her in the net grunted and yanked her into the middle of the street. Nisa glanced up to see someone standing over her and she was shocked to see who it was.
Ri’ka… Harkwei’s friend.
“Ri’ka… what’s going on?” Nisa asked.
Ollie ducked beneath the man’s sword and kicked the knee of the first man he’d been fighting. He slipped his gun out of its holster and fired at the man with the sword who collapsed onto the ground. The other people surrounding him—including a woman—hesitated and glanced at each other.
“What kind of magic is this?” one of them hissed.
The woman shook her head. “I’m done. I told you, I’m done with this!”
A man to her right shook his head and stabbed her with a sword. She collapsed onto the ground with a cry of pain. “Then you’re of no more use to us.”
Oliver fired at the man and Nisa stared up at Ri’ka. “Why?” Nisa asked. “What are you doing?”
Ri’ka glared down at her and gestured for two other men. They yanked the net away from her and grabbed her in their arms. “Your friend gave Harkie that device, but then, it disappeared. I know you stole it back. He may not care if people walk all over him, but I will always protect him!”
Nisa shook her head. “No. Susie gave him the cell phone. I’m sure of it. I—I don’t know why it disappeared! You have to believe us, please! That isn’t a reason to try to kill us!”
“Stop!” Ri’ka screamed.
Oliver froze where he had been about to shoot another one of the thugs.
Ri’ka held a knife to Nisa’s throat.
Nisa trembled with tears streaming down her face, breathing coming in quick, sharp pants. “Ollie…” she whispered.
Oliver met her gaze firmly. “What do you want?”
“Your lives,” Ri’ka said. “You thought you could backstab Harkie. Well… this will be the first and last time you try.”
Oliver fired once, then twice, quicker than Nisa realized he could. The man behind her collapsed onto the ground and Ri’ka did the same beside him.
Oliver glared at each of the other thugs. “I suggest you get out of here. Now! There’s no reason why more of you have to die.”
The thugs all exchanged looks, but, eventually, they all darted off. Oliver sprinted to Nisa, who collapsed into him, body trembling. She glanced back at Ri’ka and the other thugs, but Ollie had shot them in the head.
“You’re alright. You’re safe, Oliver murmured to her.
Nisa glanced at the woman who had been stabbed. Her gasps and gurgles cut into the silence of the night.
By then, Chris, Susie, Bea, Urraka’a, and several of her other customers ran out of the inn. Guards sprinted down the street with loud, clanking armor.
“What happened here?” one of them asked.
To Nisa’s surprise, it was Urraka’a who spoke up. “These thugs attacked my customers! All they were doing was trying to come inside for the night.”
The guards nodded and picked up the bodies. One of them reached toward the woman.
Nisa’s stomach twisted. The woman had wanted to leave, but the man stabbed her for it. “No,” Nisa started, placing a hand out to stop the guard. “She was just an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The guard hesitated. “Get her to a healer,” he ordered. Another came up and carefully picked the woman up. Her eyes met Nisa’s, wide in surprise.
“Are you guys alright?” Susie asked.
“What was that all about?” Chris and Bea joined Susie in a circle around Nisa and Oliver.
“Did you give Ollie’s cell to Harkwei?” Nisa asked, staring at Susie.
She nodded. “Yeah! Why?”
Nisa pursed her lips, swallowing a lump in her throat. Something about the entire situation made her stomach twist and she felt like throwing up, or screaming, or both. “I don’t know. Ri’ka was behind this. She said the cell phone disappeared and swore that we betrayed Harkwei.”
Chris shrugged. “Maybe someone else stole it from him. Or she’s insane. Either way, everything is okay now.”
Nisa sighed and glanced back at the guards as they carried the woman down the street. “Before we go to bed, I want to make sure she’s going to be okay.”
Oliver nodded and cursed. “I’m almost out of my clip. That’s going to be a bit of a problem. You sure you don’t want to rest and get some sleep?”
“Not right now.” Nisa crossed her arms over her stomach. She didn’t think she could sleep right now, even if she wanted to. Chris offered to stay with the girls and Urraka’a decided to fix them all a meal and have it waiting for Ollie and Nisa. Nisa clung to his side as the followed the guard with the woman to another building several streets down.
Inside, the room was fairly sized and well-lit with a mixture of glowing orbs and candles. The guard had laid the woman down on a table on the far side of the room and spoke to a man. When they finished, the guard inclined his head to Nisa and Oliver and left the building.
The man looked up at them, as he brought a needle and thread down to the woman’s wound. “I take it you’re the ones who saved her?”
Nisa shook her head. “We didn’t really save her. Just—convinced the guards to bring her here. That’s all.”
The man nodded and bent over her, which blocked Nisa’s view. The waiting was agonizing, and the silence nearly drove Nisa mad. Over and over, she kept replaying the entire fight in her head. It was almost as if she could still feel the cold of the knife biting against the skin on her neck, feel the men’s hands around her. Her heart pounded and she shivered as a chill skittled up her spine.
“Will she be okay?” Oliver asked the man.
The man nodded. “I believe so. If it had taken any longer for her to be brought here, she would have lost too much blood. The Creator was with her tonight. You can stay with her if you want. Give her this to drink when she wakes.” He gestured to a cup of something warm that smelled bitter.
Nisa and Oliver nodded and the man disappeared behind a cloth leading to what she assumed was the back of the building.
“Are you alright?” Oliver murmured. “Honestly?”
Nisa shook her head. “This is just all getting to be too much. Other worlds, magic… Eight Curses. Now, thugs? We almost died, Ollie.”
Oliver chuckled and sat down on the chair to her left. He slung his arm around her and pulled her into his chest. “It wouldn’t be the first time, Ni. This is just the first time we’ve almost died so up close and personal. Fights on earth, with guns… I think they’re more distant, somehow.”
Nisa nodded and her eyes closed. Sleep pulled to her, but she kept seeing the knife against her neck, the panic in Oliver’s eyes.
“When I thought…” Oliver’s voice trailed off and he grunted, which made her open her eyes and glance up at him. “When I thought they were going to kill you, I… Oh, Ni. I love you so much, you know that?”
“I love you too, Ollie.” Nisa smiled up at him and then pressed her lips against his. For once, in all the craziness of what was happening to them, it felt good to find something that was the same—Oliver. Her love for him, his love for her. Them being together, and how much being around him comforted her. That much, at least, stayed the same.
The woman groaned, so Nisa stood up, grabbed the cup, and sat down on a chair on the other side of the table the woman laid on. The woman’s eyes fluttered open and she gazed up at Nisa. “You’re the one who saved me.”
Nisa nodded with a smile. “Here,” she murmured. She placed her free hand beneath the woman’s head, gently lifted it up, and helped her drink. After several sips, the woman rested her back down with a contented sigh. She sat the cup back on the smaller table beside the one the woman laid on. “Besides, I didn’t really save you.”
The woman blinked slowly with a firm nod. “But you did. I was one of the thugs that attacked you and you knew it. You could have let the guards take me, but you didn’t. They—they would have executed me.”
Nisa crossed her arms and her gaze softened on the woman. “I could have, but you tried to leave. Why were you with them, if you don’t mind me asking?”
The woman growled under her breath. “Ri’ka’s always been crooked, her and her brother. I needed coin to pay for my ailing father’s treatment and her brother… He acted like he loved and cared for me. Loaned me money, paid for my father’s treatment. My father recovered, but then Ri’ka’s brother threatened to kill my parents, my whole family if I didn’t pay back my debt to him. I—I thought he was helping me to be kind. I had no idea that he expected me to pay it all back. So, I’ve been doing anything Ri’ka and her brother want to pay it back. But—I can’t, I can’t take it anymore. Now, my parents are probably dead.” The woman sobbed and Nisa placed her hands on the woman’s shoulder to try to comfort her.
“I killed Ri’ka. Was her brother there tonight?”
The woman’s eyes widened. “Y—you killed her? And yes, he was the one who stabbed me.”
Oliver nodded. “Then her brother is dead too. If they’re both dead, then there’s no one left to retaliate against you.”
The woman sobbed and tears fell from her eyes. “How—how can I ever repay you?”
Nisa smiled and gently patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. Now that we know you’re going to be all right, we should be getting back. We have a long journey tomorrow.”
The woman stared up at her with desperation in her eyes. “Please, let me come with you. I’d be dishonoring my family if I didn’t. We—we believe in repaying debts. You saved my life and my parents’ lives. I promise to save yours.”
Nisa shook her head. “Y—you really don’t have to. I mean, we’ll be going on a long journey and I’m sure you don’t want to leave your family. And with your injury…”
The woman narrowed her eyes. “Anything is better than what Ri’ka and her brother made me do. Please. It’s the least I can do.”
Oliver glanced at Nisa and slightly nodded. Nisa looked back at the woman. “We had planned to leave in the morning. Will you be well enough to travel by then?”
The woman nodded. “Yes. I’ll say goodbye to my family and meet you. Where at?”
“Do you know Urraka’a’s inn?” Oliver asked.
The woman nodded.
“Meet us there tomorrow as soon as you can. We’re getting supplies and then heading out.”
Here the woman had agreed to help them and she was thanking them. Nisa felt truly blessed to have the companions with them, offering to help complete strangers for basically nothing in return.
The thought warmed her heart and for once, Nisa forgot the nightmare that had happened, forgot her worries about whether they would really get home or not.
No, in that moment, all Nisa felt was gratefulness.