To prepare for the Festival of Candles, the woman—whose name was called Urraka’a—difficult for even Nisa to pronounce—had them help her cover the tables with special velvet coverings. Nisa kept calling them table cloths, but Urraka’a always corrected her. From what she told Nisa and the others, these table coverings were special, interlaid with magical energy so that when someone sat here and lighted a candle for the ceremony, the energy inside it would be increased. After that, Urraka’a did extra cooking while they went into the back storage and brought out all the candles. Each was a different color, but other than that, they seemed no different from candles on earth.
A few hours later, after they had eaten supper—mostly fruits from this world that Urraka’a cooked over a fire, which gave them a smoky, sweet flavor—customers started to pour in. They saw the sign that Chris and Oliver had hung outside the inn, which told them that a lighting ceremony would take place here. Urraka’a told them that travelers couldn’t host their own lighting ceremonies—since they had no place of their own—so they would have to find a public one to join, which often times costed quite a bit of ikrii—which was their form of currency here.
Nisa, Oliver, Bea, Susie, and Chris sat at a table in the back when the lighting ceremony began. Each of the customers sat at a table—one per room—and chose a few of the colored candles to light. The way Urraka’a explained it—she watched with them since she didn’t participate in the ceremony—was that by lighting the candle, the magic in it would cast a spell on whoever lit it and those around them. Different colors had different magic spells to them: Urraka’a didn’t know all of them, but gold was love since it was always the color used at Bonding Ceremonies—their type of wedding, Nisa learned. Black was protection, and white was for good health. She didn’t know what the other colors were, so Nisa wondered what type of magic they could do—blue, green, orange, gray, brown, and purple were the other ones some customers used.
That night, Oliver and Chris took one bed while Susie, Bea, and Nisa squeezed into the other. The next morning, Urraka’a fed them another delicious meal of fried fruits, which Nisa was starting to become addicted to, and then Urraka’a gave them a magical map to lead them to the Sage’s Tower. It was a cylinder, but energy appeared on the top it, showing where they were with a dot and gave them a 3D map of the city. The Sage’s Tower lit up bright gold, making it easier to see. Nisa held it and wondered if the translation device or the map one would ever need to be recharged. She had forgotten to ask Urraka’a before they left. If they didn’t, that was amazing; her cell phone had died hours ago. Surprisingly enough, Oliver’s was the only one with a little battery life left. Mostly because he wasn’t on it documenting everything like Nisa, Bea, Susie, and Chris did.
The city didn’t seem to wake early. Everything was quiet and there were far less people out and about than there had been yesterday. Either that or this was a less populated section of Sorpa, but it seemed unlikely, since most of the buildings here were void of signs, so Nisa took that to mean they were mostly houses.
The streets widened and split off in multiple directions. There were two straight ways and two diagonal ones with three off to the right, and the map showed them that both diagonal ways and one of the straight ways could get them to the tower. Oliver glanced at it over Nisa’s shoulder and pointed to the diagonal street further on the right. “It’ll be a bit faster, it looks like,” he said.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, the Sage’s Tower appeared into view. It was far taller than any of the other buildings in the city by at least fifty feet or more. The ceiling was a perfect dome that led to a single point and there were no windows, only a single door in the front. One of the stone men, like the ones guarding the gate, stood in front of it. As the group approached, it looked down at them. Nisa handed the map to Oliver, as she double checked to make sure the translation device was working.
“What is your business here?” the stone guard asked.
Nisa glanced up at it; the thing must have been at least thirty feet high. “We’ve come to have an audience with the Sage.”
“Go on in.”
Nisa exchanged a look with Ollie. That seemed far too easy and not very good security, at that. But she shrugged and stepped through the door, with Oliver, Bea, Susie, and Chris trailing behind her.
Inside, the moment she stepped on the floor, the door behind them slammed shut. Glowing lines appeared on her and Nisa couldn’t move. “I—I can’t move!” she shouted.
Oliver grunted. “Neither can I…”
“Searching…” a droning voice murmured. “Weapons confiscated.”
The lines of energy yanked away Oliver and Chris’ guns but they couldn’t move to stop it.
“Other devices include a map and a translation sphere. Shall I release them?”
“Yes, go ahead,” came a smooth reply.
The lines disappeared and Nisa could finally move again. Oliver frowned but darted over to her. “You okay?” he whispered.
Nisa nodded, glancing at the staircase in front of them. “Let’s just get this overwith,” she muttered. She trailed up the stairs with Oliver beside her. Bea, Susie, and Chris trailed behind. The staircase wound around and it seemed like forever before they came to the top of the tower. Inside, bookshelves lined the walls, each filled with books, other devices, and jars just like the ones she had found in the pyramid. A man sat at a chair on the left and he looked up at them when they walked into the room.
“What can I do for you?” he asked with a pleasant smile.
Nisa swallowed deeply, but forced the words out. “We—look, I don’t know how this is going to sound, but we live on a world called Earth. We were studying some… ancient ruins when I placed an artifact in the wall and we ended up in this world. In… other types of ruins.”
“The Cursed Ground, you mean?” the man asked.
Nisa slowly nodded. With how the farmer had freaked out on them, she hadn’t wanted to say that part. “Yeah, that’s what the farmer said. But it made him scared of us.”
The man, the Sage she assumed, nodded his head and closed a book he had been reading. “What are you asking of me, exactly?”
Nisa sharply exhaled. “We need to find a way to get back home to earth.”
The man threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, my dear… You are already home.”
Nisa’s eyes widened on him and she squeezed Oliver’s hand tightly in her own. “Wh—what do you mean by that?”
The Sage lifted his head to meet her gaze firmly with golden eyes that had no pupil. “Exactly what I said.”
Chris sighed and crossed his arms. “If this world has magic, can’t you just use it and open a portal for us to take us home?”
The Sage shook his head. “I have no portals, nor do I have the ability to cast one. That magic is too powerful for one to wield.”
“Then, how are we supposed to get home?” Susie’s voice squeaked.
Nisa’s stomach twisted. What if she had doomed them all to be trapped here forever?
“None of you will be able to travel back to your world until the Eight Curses are broken. And none of them can be broken until the Eighth Curse has been cast.”
Nisa frowned. “Wait, we heard about one of them… the first man who was cursed. We think he was buried in the pyramid we worked on. H—how many curses are left to go?”
The Sage stood and walked over to a book shelf. He pulled out a thick book, like an old tome and sat it on a small table in front of them. “Seven have been cast. The Eighth could not be cast on anyone of this world. It is why the magic of your pyramid brought you here. One of you will have to cast it upon yourselves and then, whoever that is will be the one Chosen to break all of the Eight Curses. You will be able to return home, the Cursed will all be freed, and this world will finally be freed from the Curses.”
Nisa’s eyes widened and she stared at Oliver in shock. “One of us…” Her voice caught behind a lump in her throat.
Chris cleared his throat. “One of us will have to be Cursed in order for us to go home.”