As soon as the strange blue vine was wrapped around Nisa’s waist, she held her breath and slowly lowered herself backward down the hill. Fortunately, there was a lot of grass here and little rocks, which made it easier not to stumble.
Sweat beaded on Oliver’s reddened face. No doubt lowering Chris and Susie had already tired him. Nisa glanced over her shoulder, down at the ground fifty feet or more below her.
Other than a light sting, her arm no longer hurt and her breathing and heart rate had finally normalized. Of course, now, she was a bit paranoid that maybe the venom just wasn’t leaving any symptoms, and without a hospital in sight… She shook the thought off, gazing at the colorful sky above. Now, it was a mixture of orange, red, and yellows, almost as if it had been lit on fire.
If she was being completely honest with herself, one of the other main reasons she found it hard to believe in another world was because of her faith in God. How did it even make sense? But regardless of whether it was real or not, God had created everything and Nisa didn’t doubt it for a second. But, either way, no part of her mind could rationalize what was happening to them.
The vine beneath her hands felt real—cool, rough, and hardened. The cool air on her face felt nice and relaxing, helping to rid herself of the sweat from all the strain she had been in. The pain of the creature’s bite—that had definitely been real.
The pyramid, the device, it had really taken them somewhere else, but it couldn’t be another world. It just couldn’t.
Her right foot slipped and she felt the vine tug tightly on her. She yelped, but caught her footing and then continued slowly walking herself down the incline. When she was just a few feet from the ground, she untied herself and then hopped to the ground.
“What happened up there?” Chris glanced up as the vine was quickly yanked back up the hill.
Nisa held up her arm. “Some snake-creature bit me. We tried to keep Oliver from freaking out. But Bea managed to shoot it.”
Chris shook his head. “Bea actually shot something? Wow, I’m impressed.”
It seemed, now that they were down the hill, Chris and Susie were back to ignoring each other.
A loud creaking drew Nisa’s attention away from where she had been watching the top of the hill where Bea just barely emerged from it. Behind them, on another stone road similar to the one on the hill above, a circular wagon passed by, being pulled by two strange beasts Nisa had never laid eyes on before. They didn’t look like the beasts that had been herding the plants before—the only similar feature was that these creatures had two front legs and one back one; the complete reversal of the others. These also had feathers rather than scales and their heads were far longer with three tails that swung heavy spikes on the end.
“Wh—“ Susie’s voice trailed off.
A man sat at the front of the circular wagon and something about it oddly reminded Nisa of Cinderella’s carriage from storybooks as a kid. Except this was made entirely out of dark green twisted wood.
The man pulled the wagon to a stop and glanced them. Both of his eyes were pure gold in color and as he gazed at them, they turned bright red. “Strangers to this land,” he muttered. “I don’t like strangers!” he shouted.
Nisa swallowed deeply, wondering how in the world he knew that. His eyes made her shiver. “We don’t mean anyone any harm,” she tried.
The man shook his head, hand fiddling with one of the wooden sections holding the beasts to the wagon.
Chris yanked out his gun just as one of the beasts charged toward them.
Nisa grabbed Susie and ducked beneath one of the mushroom trees behind them—there were boulders but she had no intention of disturbing more of those strange snake-creatures.
Chris fired two shots and twisted to the right, out of the way of the beast’s jaws right as it clamped down where he had been. From the side, Chris fired three more times.
The beast reared up on its back leg with a pained howl and then twisted, slamming its two front feet near Chris. He barely managed to roll out of the way in time.
He scrambled up part of the hill at the bottom and whirled around just as the beast lowered itself toward him, mouth wide open.
With a wild cry, Chris fired several dozen more shots.
The creature yowled and collapsed onto the ground, right in front of him. It exhaled.
The man’s eyes returned back to the bright, golden color and he shook his head. “You’re powerful sorcerers!” he hissed.
Chris held his gun up toward the man. “Look, we don’t want to hurt anyone.”
Nisa and Susie hesitantly emerged from behind the mushroom tree. “We have no idea where we are or how we got here. But we don’t want to hurt anyone. We promise.”
The man glanced down at his beast and huffed. “It’s been eons since other-worlders have made it here.”
Nisa’s eyes widened.
From on the hill, Bea squealed and jumped down. She landed near the creature and bent down to check it over. “Wh—this is amazing. Why’d you kill it, Chris?” she shouted at him.
Chris lowered his gun and stared at her, face reddening. “It was trying to eat me!”
Bea scowled and ran her fingers along the beast’s side.
Nisa looked back up at the man, licking her lips. “So, people from earth have traveled here before?”
The man lifted an eyebrow. “I’m not too sure about what ‘earth’ means, but yes. Thousands of years ago, there were some people who could cross from other worlds to ours. And some from ours to theirs.”
Nisa gasped. “Like the Cursed Man?”
The man’s entire body paled. “Don’t speak of that—that man. It’s forbidden.”
Nisa swallowed deeply and briefly glanced at the hill. The vine had disappeared and she hoped and prayed that whatever Oliver tied it to would hold his weight, since no one was up there to help him. “The farmer up there freaked out when I asked him about it. He translated this picture for me…” She reached into her pocket, grabbed her phone, and showed him a picture of the symbols at the ruins.
The man shivered. “Trust me. Just leave it at whatever he told you.”
“The man this is talking about. Do you think he traveled… to another world?” Nisa asked.
The man blinked his golden eyes and Nisa tried not to stare—it was so odd that they had no pupil. “There were rumors he had been banished there, but the Curse brought him back. N—no more.”
“Wait,” Chris started. “The farmer up there couldn’t understand us and he used some device to translate. How are you understanding us?”
The man gestured to his eyes. “I have no magic of my own, save these two eyes of mine. They let me… sense certain things about you. That you are from another world. Your language… it appeared in my mind. It happens with others in our world. Anyone with those translation devices doesn’t bother to learn the other languages here in Glacea.”
Chris nodded and Nisa glanced up at the top of the hill, watching Oliver’s every move as he lowered himself down the sharp incline. Every time he twitched or lost his footing, Nisa internally panicked, thinking for sure that the vine would break, but it never did.
Bea quietly talked to the man about the beasts and she got his permission to look at the one that was still alive. Nisa tuned them both out and sprinted to the bottom of the hill just as Oliver jumped down and finally landed on the ground. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised you got yourself into trouble again.” Ollie smirked and cast a glance at the dead beast.
Nisa wrapped her arms around him. “This wasn’t my fault. This is…” Her voice trailed off as she met the man’s gaze. “What’s your name, sir?”
“Harkwei. You killed my beasts, but I unjustly attacked you, so we can call it even. I’m heading to the town of Sorpa, just a few miles from here. You can help me unload my cargo once we get inside the town and in exchange, I’ll help you find an inn where you can stay for the night, get your bearings, and figure out where you’re going.”
Nisa exchanged looks with Susie, Chris, and last Oliver—while Bea was still obsessing over the beast, of course. “What do you think?” Nisa asked.
Oliver glanced at the man. “You’ve known him longer. What do you think?”
Nisa pursed her lips. He seemed trustworthy enough. If what he said was true, maybe he had panicked when he… sensed they were from another world and had his beast attack. They needed help. It wasn’t as if they knew anything about this world. The longer they stayed, the more Nisa slowly started to realize and even accept that this really was another world. If they were going to survive and find a way back home, then they needed help, and this man was the only one who had been willing to offer to help them so far.
She nodded but stared at Chris and Oliver. “We’ll go with him, but keep your eyes out. He could decide to betray or backstab us, so we need to be ready.”
Oliver squeezed her hand in reassurance. “I’ve never let anything happen to you so far, Ni. And I never will.” The words brought her comfort, but dread oozed through her blood.
This world was real and now… Now, they were trapped with no idea how to get home.