“Well, we’re finally out of the Shadowlands.” Alina had stopped the sopa where they stood in front of a road leading higher up on an incline bordering a small ravine. “Where are you going, anyway?” Alina shot Aleyr a firm look.
Aleyr shrugged. “I’m heading to the east coast so I can get my ship back and punish those mutineers. No idea where the rest of them are going.”
Vanmor cleared his throat. “We’re trying to make it to The Tower.”
“Ah, well good luck. And Aleyr, don’t take so long before you come this way again!” Alina gently shoved his shoulder.
The sopa lay on the ground, so Oliver hopped down and stood at the bottom as Nisa slid down the side. It reminded her of the small, kiddy slides at the park when she was a kid. Ollie waited for her at the bottom and caught her in his strong arms.
By then, Kor’ok, Teho, Bea, and Susie helped unload the thoas which actually were not as difficult to help off the sopa as Nisa originally thought they would be.
Oliver grabbed the reins of he and Nisa’s thoa after it literally just jumped off the sopa’s back. Nisa climbed on in front of him—they mutually agreed he should officially ride in the back, in case he needed to shoot anything on their way.
Kor’ok and Teho pulled their thoas on either side of them as they skirted around the sopa lying on the road. Vanmor led the way and they all turned back to Alina to wave goodbyes and pass around thank-yous and other farewells.
“The good news is that The Tower is only a few weeks away—not near as far as we’ve already come,” Vanmor said.
Nisa glanced behind them as the sopa stood and rumbled as it made its way back to the Shadowlands. She trained her eyes back to the front, to help direct her thoa where to go.
“Good. I can’t wait to get back home,” Chris muttered.
“I thought you would like it here.” Susie stared at him in surprise.
“I am. I guess just the worry of whether we’ll make it back to Earth or not is outweighing my excitement at this point.” Chris shot her a sideways glance with a short shrug.
“I can’t wait to get a proper shower,” Oliver muttered in Nisa’s ear. She chuckled but the realization dawned on her on how long it really had been since any of them had showered or properly bathed. All without even really noticing… Then again, she spent so many long hours in tombs and excavations that she was ashamed to admit it had always been a part of her personality—quick baths here and there, living in the past as much as she could, despite modern technology.
Thunder rolled overhead and lighting crackled across the sky. Nisa’s eyes followed the streak of energy as it surged from the sky and literally landed hundreds of feet on the ravine to their left.
The ground beneath them rocked with the impact and the thoas screeched. Hers in particular buckled and sprinted forward as quickly as it could. “Whoa! Whoa—wait…!” Nisa started.
The others behind her shouted, but her translator device was turned off. They had been using Chris’, but now she couldn’t understand them. Their thoa froze and Nisa’s breath caught behind a lump in her throat.
With a mighty outcry, a beautiful golden creature landed on top of a mushroom tree at the edge of the ravine ahead of them. Its bird-like head and hooked beak was longer than a thoa. It’s wingspan alone was at least thirty, if not forty, feet long. What took Nisa by surprise was that its body was that of a lion with a lion-like tail.
“Is that a griffin?” Nisa asked.
Oliver gripped her tightly, hand reaching for his gun.
The griffin opened its mouth and let out a bellowing screech. Lighting poured from its wings as it flapped them and took to the skies.
By then, the others had caught up to them, but each of the thoas nervously bucked and cried out in fear.
“What is that thing?” Susie shouted.
“Storm Griffin.” Vanmor held out his hands and a shield formed around each of them.
Nisa’s thoa, however, had a mind of its own. It sprinted the other direction, back down the road away from the ravine. The griffin squawked and soared overhead.
Kor’ok’s thoa slammed into theirs, throwing Nisa and Oliver onto the side of the road just as lightning pierced the ground right in front of where they had been. Kor’ok screamed, body thrashing as energy surged through him. With a bellow, the griffin flapped his wings and more surges of lighting arced toward them.
“Kor’ok!” Nisa shouted.
Oliver gripped her arm and the two darted toward him. Oliver grabbed one side and Nisa grabbed the other and pulled him back inside Vanmor’s shield. As lightning slammed against the shield, it bounced right back off.
“Is he alive?” Chris asked, hopping off his thoa. He knelt beside Kor’ok, while Ena crouched on his other side.
Voices shouted from ahead and Nisa snapped her gaze up. Dozens of guards sprinted down the road, crossbows, spears, javelins, and even a large net and other magical devices in tow.
“Lure it down!” one of them shouted.
One of the guards threw a piece of meat out in the middle of the road.
“They’re going to get us all killed!” Aleyr said. “You can’t capture a Storm Griffin!”
“Try telling them that,” Ena snapped.
Nisa watched in horror as the griffin flew down and picked up the piece of meat. The guards threw the net around it, but the griffin screeched, flapping its wings. Lightning exploded away from its body, burning the net within an instant. Half of the guards collapsed onto the ground, bodies blackened and burned. Nisa realized the lightning had attacked them so quickly she had missed it.
Angrily, the griffin stomped on two more guards, beak picking up and crushing a third. It swept its wings across the road and lightning burst from it in two long bolts.
Vanmor grunted as the bolts slammed into his shield, which cracked. “It isn’t going to hold! Go back down the road! Now!”
Oliver and Chris picked up Kor’ok’s burned and trembling body and sat him on one of the thoas. Chris hopped on behind him as Nisa and Oliver jumped back onto theirs, which had frozen in fear.
“Come on!” she urged, but the creature stood and stared in shock.
The griffin had finally finished off the guards and turned toward them. It leapt into the air and hovered directly over them.
“It’s too late.” Aleyr cursed.
Nisa’s eyes widened as it flapped its wings. Lightning poured from its body, wrapping around the shield in a cocoon of hot energy. The cracks expanded until the shield shattered and Vanmor collapsed, held upright only because of Teho.
There was no time to run or go anywhere. Lightning attacked them from all sides, the force of the blow hurling them off the side of the ravine. Nisa’s hands slipped from the reins and her elbow slammed against a tree. She rolled down the hill in a tangle of limbs until her head slammed into a rock at the bottom.
Blackness surged through her vision and Nisa was lost to the world.