Perhaps Nisa had felt relieved at their escape too soon. Guards poured of the city gates, riding thoas and other beasts, some of which were faster than thoas, so it didn’t take long before the guards caught up to them. What was worse was that the Lifa city guards didn’t have to be right behind them to fire their crossbows at them.
Bolts flew through the air and Nisa ducked down.
Oliver glanced at her over his shoulder. “Can you slip around in the front?”
“Maybe.” Nisa could certainly try, but she couldn’t guarantee that she wouldn’t fall off their thoa in the meantime. “How do you have bullets left?” Nisa reached around on the left, as Oliver leaned to the right as far as he could. Carefully, she slipped her right leg off the thoa, completely relying on Oliver’s arms around her to keep her on top of it without falling.
“Magical stand in. Sort of.”
Nisa’s right leg slid back over the thoa, in front of Ollie and his arms clenched her hips as she repositioned herself in front and grabbed the reins from him.
Oliver pulled out his gun, turned around, and started firing. Now that she was the one directing the thoa, she had to pay attention to what was ahead of her.
Bea and Susie’s thoas rode just ahead of them, with Vanmor, Kor’ok, Ena, and Aleyr taking the lead. Vanmor slowed down and started shooting magic back at the guards. Chris pulled his thoa up alongside Nisa and Ollie’s and shot behind them, as he still tried to direct his thoa. Nisa was certain he was going to end up crashing.
Fortunately, they were running along a road so the path was straight and the only thing to crash into were mushroom trees on either side of them.
Suddenly, a burst of energy slammed against them, throwing Nisa off the thoa. She collapsed onto the ground with a gasp, struggling to catch her breath. Dirt flew into her eyes, which made them burn. Blinking, Nisa coughed and glanced up to see what had happened.
A man wearing golden ropes with orange borders stood in the center of the road. Massive waves of bright golden energy flew from his fingertips.
Vanmor jumped to his feet, violet energy in his own hands. With a grunt, he threw his violet energy forward but it was met with the golden energy. The two slammed against each other, forming lightning in the center of the blast. Thunder rolled between them, making the ground tremble.
Crossbow bolts zipped passed her head and one of the thoas screeched. Nisa covered her head and crawled behind the trunk of one of the mushroom trees.
Oliver took aim and fired at three guards. They collapsed onto the ground, but a dozen more sprinted behind them. One of the ones on the right side—the opposite side of the road where Nisa hid—rode on a giant beast that had two short heads but long, bulky legs and a body covered in spikes. It roared.
Chris and Oliver fired at it but their bullets didn’t seem to make a difference. Chris rolled to the left, and Nisa snatched his arm to yank him behind the tree. Oliver had rolled the opposite way and darted into the trees, where the giant beast couldn’t follow.
Hiding behind a tree a few feet away, hid Bea and Susie with the prisoner. Ena and Kor’ok held up their swords, ready to fight the oncoming hoard of guards. Aleyr stood further back, with his own crossbow out. Nisa suspected Vanmor had known to grab the pirate one.
Another explosion erupted from the two-fighting magic-users, drawing Nisa’s attention to them temporarily. A beam of violet energy sliced toward the new man, but he teleported behind Vanmor and hit him in the back with a burst of golden magic.
Vanmor groaned, but stood to his feet, forming eight tendrils of violet energy that he whipped toward the man. The man, however, formed a wall of golden energy and from it, dozens of shards hurled toward Vanmor like a hailstorm.
Chris had left Nisa to join Ollie with Ena and Kor’ok in the center. The guards were only a few hundred feet away by then, and the bullets still weren’t killing the beasts.
Nisa glanced at Bea and Susie. “Those beasts will kill them. We have to stop them!”
Susie’s eyes widened. “How are we supposed to stop the beasts?”
Nisa’s eyes glanced at the trunk of their tree. Hers was thick but theirs was thin and cracked. “Help me!” She darted over there and the prisoner moved out of her way. With a grunt, she shoved her hands against the trunk as hard as she could. Bea joined her, but Susie pulled out a dagger. “Wait!” Susie sliced the dagger against the trunk. It didn’t really cut through it, but it started weakening the bark enough that Nisa’s heart fluttered in hope—hope that she and Bea could shove it over, in front of the Ollie and the others, to block the guards.
Sweat coated Nisa’s face in a thick layer and her muscles tensed as she strained them. The guards’ thoas and other beasts were charging toward the group faster, shouting and roaring. Magic energy thundered from Vanmor and the other magic-user. Nisa shoved her entire body against the trunk of the mushroom tree, using all the strength and weight she could muster. Her fingers bled where it scraped against the bark-like material but she didn’t care. She pressed on, together with Susie by her side.
The prisoner joined them, shoving his shoulder against it as much as he could, even in his weakened state. Squeezing her eyes shut, Nisa muttered, “C’mon!”
The tree creaked.
Nisa opened her eyes and slammed her body against it once more. The prisoner and Susie did the same.
It cracked and the trunk splintered at the bottom. Cracks slithered across it. With a groan, the tree collapsed across the street. Ena, Kor’ok, Chris, and Oliver leapt backward out of the way. The mushroom tree landed in the center of the road just as the guards and their beasts reached it. Fortunately, it was thick enough that even their beasts couldn’t climb over it.
The guards on the beasts cursed, while the ones that rode thoas split up and started through the trees on either side of the road. Nisa, Susie, and the prisoner darted out to stand with Ollie and the others, who surrounded them on all sides. “At least the ones on thoas will be easier to deal with,” Ena murmured.
Aleyr held up his crossbow and fired at the first guard that emerged from the trees on the left side.
“Enough!” The man fighting Vanmor roared and a surge of golden energy erupted through the entire area. It slammed into Nisa before any of them could run for cover.
Her entire body froze; she couldn’t even blink or breathe. Terror made her heart hammer in her chest, but there was nothing she could do. Nothing any of them could do.
The man glared down at Vanmor with a disgusted look on his face as the guards that rode on thoas came out from the trees and surrounded the paralyzed group. “You are a disgrace, a traitor to all of the Sages.”
Vanmor glared at the man, breathing heavily. His body shook and it was covered in sweat.
“Out of energy already?” The man cocked his head. “Shame. We may not have as many spells as you filthy Experimentalists, but we practice in honing our skills and the amount of energy we hold in our bodies.”
Vanmor grunted and formed a spear made of violet energy that blinked and flickered.
The man, a Sage, Nisa assumed, shook his head and a whip made of golden energy slammed against the spear.
Vanmor looked as if he barely had the strength to hold it, but he knocked the Sage’s whip aside. The Sage formed a sphere of golden energy in his hands and hurled it toward Vanmor. Vanmor sliced through it with his magical spear, but the Sage had two more golden spheres ready. Vanmor was able to cut through the first, but he missed the second. It slammed against him, forcing him to the ground with a cry of pain.
“Pathetic,” the Sage muttered as he stood over them. “Arrest them all. They’ll be executed in the morning as traitors. Except this one. We’ll use him to find the other Experimentalists.”
Vanmor’s lips pulled up into a smile and it made Nisa’s stomach tighten. He threw his hands out toward them. Violet energy wrapped around them all—Nisa, Ollie, Susie, Bea, Chris, Kor’ok, the prisoner, Ena, and even Aleyr. She could breathe, blink, and move again.
“Vanmor!” Nisa cried out.
His eyes met hers. “Find your way home.” Violet energy burst from around them, wrenching gravity from beneath them. Nisa’s stomach lurched into her throat and her body trembled. By the time she blinked, the nine of them stood in the center of the road, thoas beside them, still filled with supplies. A map fluttered to the ground in front of her and Nisa collapsed to her knees, clenching it in her hands.
Kor’ok cried out, throwing his hand against the ground as he fell. “No! Vanmor!”
“Wh—what’s going to happen to him?” Susie asked.
It was the prisoner who answered. “They’ll use him to find the location of the other Experimentalists.”
Nisa shook her head, standing to her feet with the map in her hands. “No. They can’t arrest them. Nothing they’re doing is illegal.”
The prisoner glanced at the ground. “Now that Vanmor acted out like this, they have grounds to arrest them all to make sure they aren’t criminals like him. The Sage of Lifa will use this as a reason to find and arrest them all.”
Tears filled her eyes and Nisa ground her teeth together, breathing heavily. This was her fault. Vanmor had come to save her. If he hadn’t… he wouldn’t have been arrested and now the entire order of magic-users was endangered. All because of her, because of them, because they wanted to get home.
“I don’t know what to do,” Nisa sobbed. She started to collapse, but Oliver’s strong arms caught her and held her tightly.
Kor’ok swallowed deeply and stood to his feet. “Rescuing him from Lifa would be suicide. He sacrificed himself so we could escape. So… so you could all get home.”
Nisa swallowed and glanced at Kor’ok over Oliver’s shoulder. “Why? I mean, he came with us to help explore, to learn more about our world and maybe even the Eight Curses, but why sacrifice himself like that?”
Kor’ok narrowed his golden eyes, blue fists clenching tightly. “He’s always gotten himself out of situations like this. Back there, the Sage had the advantage.”
The prisoner nodded. “The Sage of Lifa is rumored to be the most powerful out of all the Sages, the one with the greatest amount of energy and most powerful spells as a result. Vanmor couldn’t beat him openly, so he had to help us escape. But there is a chance he could find a way to escape on his own.”
Nisa gripped Oliver’s shirt tightly in her hands. “What if they use something to stop his magic? How will he escape then?”
Kor’ok’s lips pulled up into a short smile. “Remember, Vanmor knows things about magic the Sages don’t. Right now, the Sage of Lifa has let down his guard. He believes Vanmor is defeated. So, all he has to do is wait for the right moment to take the Sage by surprise and Vanmor can escape.”
Nisa nodded, trying to let herself hope that the man hadn’t truly sacrificed himself for her. Not after everything he had done to help them. “In the meantime, what should we do? Just wait for him?”
Oliver glanced at the map in Nisa’s hands. “How far away from Lifa are we?”
Ena glanced at the forest around them, where the mushroom trees and shrubs had started to thin out. Now, it was more of a flat field full of grass that shot specs of different colors into the air. Ena walked over and stared at the map for herself. “Looks like we’re here. About halfway to the Tower. There is another town a few miles from here, in the middle of the Shadelands. We can go there, get new supplies, and wait for Vanmor for a few days.”
Susie gulped. “Shadelands?”
Aleyr pointed to the fields that still shot beams of colored energy into the sky. “A place of uncontrollable magic. Not the best place. This is the only road to it, so once we get to the town—Theeb, I know it well—as soon as Vanmor comes back, we’ll have to hire a caravan to take us the rest of the way. The other side of the Shadelands doesn’t have a road, so only certain people know safe routes through.”
Ena nodded. “I agree. The caravans won’t be cheap, either.”
Chris frowned. “Even if Vanmor manages to escape, my first question is how will he know to meet us at that town?”
“Because he sent us here.” Nisa surprised herself with how certain she felt.
Chris shrugged. “Fair enough, but my second question is how can he meet us there in the first place? Won’t he be a criminal?”
The prisoner nodded. “Yes, technically, but the Sages will want to deal with him personally. So, any towns with a Sage will be on the lookout for anyone using magic in the open. As long as he doesn’t, he should be fine.”
Ena walked over to hop on top of her thoa. “Yeah, regular guards won’t deal with a situation like that.” She met Aleyr’s gaze. “Does this town have a Sage?”
Aleyr shook his head. “No. The magic in the Shadelands scares them away. It only has people because the caravans are a booming business and a way to get rich.”
Nisa pursed her lips as Ollie took her hand and helped her onto their thoa. “So, all the jobs in the city revolves around the caravans then,” Nisa pointed out.
Aleyr nodded as he jumped on his thoa. “You pick up on things quick.”
Bea jumped on hers and Chris helped the prisoner onto the one with him. “What about our thoas?” Bea asked. Everyone stared at her silently for a moment before she continued. “I mean, when we hire a caravan?”
Aleyr smirked. “They’re large enough to carry them.”
At that, Nisa, Susie, Chris, Oliver, and Bea all stared at him in shock. Ena, Kor’ok, and the prisoner didn’t seem the least bit concerned.
As their thoas led them along the road toward the town of Theeb, every time one of the colors of magical energy shot up in the air, they crackled and it made Nisa jump.
Please help him escape, Nisa prayed… begged, even. She knew she shouldn’t only be asking God for help, but in a situation like this, there wasn’t much else she could do. The beauty of this world was worth thanking Him for and it was the first time Nisa had the time to really think about all this being real and what it meant. God was the Creator of the entire universe, which included Glacea and she knew that also included the energy the people used here and called magic. It was a beautiful land and if they had a way home, Nisa would love to stay and learn as much as she could.
If she had her way, she would learn forever.
As they approached the edge of the town, Nisa hoped that Vanmor really could escape Lifa.