The lumbering beast that Aleyr’s sister, Alina, sat on top of and controlled, had brown and green fur. It had six massive legs with a short stubby tail which Nisa found amusing to watch that seemed to wag with its mood. Oddly, it reminded her of a dog, though the creature’s bulky face with ears that pointed straight up were more akin to the mixture of a rabbit and a bear—bear face, rabbit ears, dog-like behavior, at least from what Nisa observed. Bea, on the other hand, had a ton more to say about the creature, which she continuously reminded Nisa was called a sapo. It laid flat on the ground, which meant that Nisa, Oliver, Chris, Bea, and Susie all had to climb on top of it. They were joined by Aleyr, Ena, Kor’ok, Vanmor, and Teho, whose new magical device-arms actually helped him beat them on top. By then, Alina and the townspeople, including the man who had first greeted them and the inn keeper, had loaded all their supplies, weapons, and thoas on top of the sapo in the back inside specially made cages that were attached to the sapo’s torso with tight straps and a form of binding glue that Aleyr told them came from plant stalks. They had all climbed onto the front where blankets and pillows had been laid out across the creature’s back so they could sit or lay back comfortably. Aleyr joined his sister at the front where they would be taking turns driving the sapo so the other could sleep. The rest of them, gathered around in a circle and Nisa snuggled up in Oliver’s arms. The sapo’s fur was extremely comfortable to sit on and even though they were way higher in the air than the ground, for some reason, they were warm.
“That’s so weird. We should be colder up here,” Nisa said.
Bea shook her head. “Not if the sapo’s natural body temperature stays high.”
“I know you’re new to this world and everything,” Ena started, “but I can’t figure out how you figure out things so quickly.” Ena cast a glance at Bea.
Chris chuckled where he sat beside Susie who leaned against his shoulder, fast asleep. “On our world we study things—for Bea, it’s animals. She learns things quickly.”
“What about the rest of you?” Ena asked.
“History and languages.” Nisa took a moment to gaze at the beautiful fields where colors shot up through the air. It surprised her to know that the sapo was actually walking through the fields, but its body protected it from the magic, so as long as they stayed on top of it, they would all be safe from the uncontrollable magic.
“Cultures and the inter-personal histories of the people.” Chris gestured to Susie. “In her case she studied historical artifacts and loves cataloging them.”
“And you?” Ena’s dark blue eyes with no pupil gazed at Oliver’s deep green ones.
Oliver smirked. “I was only here to protect them. Didn’t really learn anything.”
Nisa gently smacked him. “Don’t say that. You know everything about strategies and safety and weapons when we don’t.”
Oliver shrugged. “Good point.”
Vanmor cast a wary case to the magical colors shooting up toward the sky.
“Is this place affecting your magic?” Nisa slid her fingers along Oliver’s open palm as she glanced up at Vanmor.
“Yeah. I won’t be able to use my magic until we’re out of the Shadowlands. If I cast any spells here, it will be uncontrollable.”
“Why is it called the Shadowlands, anyway?” Bea asked, nodding her head to the sides. “I mean, bright colors? How does that make sense?”
“I was wondering the same.” Nisa pursed her lips as Oliver slammed his fingers closed around hers.
Aleyr glanced over his shoulder from the front. “Because of the chaotic magic.”
Vanmor nodded. “If a human is struck by it or a magic-user comes through here and loses control, they become shadows of their formal selves.”
Nisa’s eyes widened and she shivered. Oliver tightened his arm around her shoulder. Sleep called to her, especially now that she was safe and warm and happy, surrounded by people she was fortunate to call her friends. By the time she woke, Aleyr was driving and Alina slept further back, closer to the cages.
Night had fallen and the moon was full and bright overhead. Everyone else around Nisa slept, except Susie who lay beside Chris, blinking up at her.
“Hey,” Nisa whispered.
“Hey.” Susie smiled and sat up, running her hands through the soft fur. “Honestly, I don’t know why everyone in this world doesn’t travel like this.”
“I know, right.” Nisa’s eyes shifted to Chris for a moment. “So, how are you two doing?”
Susie pursed her lips and gazed at Chris with a smile on her face. “It was a stupid mistake. I guess we both had just let our careers get in the way and I… I don’t know. I was lonely. I’m not excusing it. But being in another world with the risk of us dying… I guess, it just made us both realize how much we mean to each other and he’s graciously agreed to forgive me.”
Nisa grabbed her friend’s hand with a gentle squeeze. “I’m happy for you both.”
Susie crossed her arms and rested them on her knees, which she pulled up to her chest. “What about you and Oliver?”
Nisa used her finger to gently slide blonde curls out of the side of his face. He slept so peacefully, so relaxed and almost, like the boy she had known in high school. “I hope we can… you know, move forward in our relationship when we get back home. Go on dates.”
Susie glanced up at the stars and the bright green and golden light streaking across the sky. “What do you miss about Earth the most? First thing you’re gonna do when we get back?”
“Mmm…” Nisa mimicked Susie’s position and shifted so she was comfortably leaning up against the pile of blankets and pillows behind her. “Get a fat, juicy cheeseburger!”
At that, both girls laughed.
Ena yawned and sat up. “What’s that?”
Nisa pursed her lips. “Well, it’s a type of meat on our world. You put it with cheese and bread and make sort of, a sandwich out of it. It’s really tender and super tasty.”
Ena lifted an eyebrow. “I only understood some of that. My mom used to make this delicious bread and cheese bake over the fire with some herbs. She would never tell me which ones, though—a family secret, she’d say. After the women in my family would marry, they would be told the secret.”
Susie glanced at Chris before meeting Ena’s gaze. “So, you aren’t married?”
Ena shook her head. “Nope.”
“Never found the right man, or…?” Susie’s voice trailed off.
Ena shrugged. “I mean, obviously there have been a few men. Some that my father really wanted me to be with and a few others in the town I was interested in. But no… I don’t know. Spark, love? Whatever you want to call it, it just wasn’t there. One day, the Creator is going to lead me to a man that is gonna sweep me off my feet!”
Nisa and Susie both giggled.
Ena smiled at them both. “You two are so lucky, you know.”
“Ugh, tell me about it,” Bea muttered from where she lay on her stomach. She glanced up at them, propping herself up with her elbows.
Nisa rolled her eyes. “No offense, Bea, but I know for a fact you’ve had guys interested in you. You’ve just been too busy studying animals to notice.”
Bea scoffed. “If you haven’t noticed, most of the men on Earth practically are animals.”
Nisa, Susie, Bea, and Ena giggled until tears formed in Nisa’s eyes as she tried to catch her breath. It was Ena who managed to compose herself and speak first. “Ha, they’re no different than men here on Glacea!”
“I heard that,” Aleyr muttered.
Ena rolled her eyes with a scoff and reached over to shove him.
“Hey! If I fall off, the sapo goes its own way, and you’ll be lost forever.”
“What’s all the noise?” Oliver muttered.
Smiling, Nisa lay back down beside him, rolling over so that her back faced everyone else, which put her face just a few inches away from Ollie’s. “Just having fun being girls. We don’t do that enough, you know.”
Ollie mumbled something Nisa couldn’t understand.
“What?” Nisa frowned and scooted closer to him.
“Workaholics,” he repeated, a bit louder this time.
“Oh,” she chuckled. “That’s pretty true, actually.”
Nisa rolled over onto her back and stared up at the beautiful nighttime sky as the others quietly conversed around her. Her hand slid into Oliver’s who loosely clutched it while he fell back asleep. “God, thank you for this beauty and this land. That we got to experience this,” she whispered in a quiet prayer.
In that moment, she truly felt in awe of everything around her.