“Don’t move,” a voice hissed in Nisa’s ear. Her heart pounded furiously in her chest where she lay on the ground, afraid to even open her eyes for what she was about to wake to.
“What’s going on?” Nisa peaked her eyes open to see Oliver on her left and Vanmor on her right. Everyone else lay in the small grove of trees where they had made a temporary camp until Kor’ok’s body recovered, but none of them sat up.
Nisa’s eyes shifted to the trees surrounding them. Glowing eyes peaked in between the blue and silver leaves of the trees. “Wh—what are those?”
Aleyr cursed where his fingers twitched toward his crossbow. “Fabari. Rumored to be nomadic in this area.”
“We must be further away from the town than I thought, for us to run into them,” Vanmor muttered.
Ena shook her head, shooting a glare at Aleyr and then Chris, whose hand was on his gun. “You’ll never get there in time.”
Oliver grunted, holding his chest. “They’ve got us completely surrounded.”
Nisa glanced over her shoulder, moving only her eyes. More glowing eyes blinked through the trees and she shivered. “Are they going to attack us?” she whispered.
“Likely,” Vanmor replied.
“What about your magic?” Susie asked. Chris’ arm came over top of her where she lay on the ground.
Oliver glanced sideways at Nisa before staring at Vanmor, waiting for his answer like the rest of them did.
“No good. Their skin’s resistant to it. No one knows why.” Vanmor’s alert gaze trailed along the trees in front of them.
Nisa swallowed, squeezing Ollie’s arm.
“It’s why everyone tries to stay out of their way.” Ena’s hands rested on her sword, but she didn’t make a move to unsheathe it.
“What about your guns?” Susie whispered, staring at Chris and Oliver.
“Fabari are faster, even with their primitive weapons.” Ena shot them both a glare, but her stern gaze came to rest on Aleyr. “Don’t try it, pirate.”
“Wasn’t planning it. This isn’t my first time encountering Fabari, you know.” Aleyr rolled his eyes.
“Why are they just waiting?” Nisa’s eyes burned with unshed tears as she met Oliver’s gaze.
“I don’t know.” She wasn’t sure who answered, but it didn’t matter. Lying there, just waiting for the Fabari to either attack them or leave them be nearly drove her insane. She counted her breaths and heartbeats to try to calm herself down, but that only made her more and more anxious. “We can’t just lay here. We have to do something,” she muttered.
Susie nodded. “I agree.”
“Wait…” Nisa stared at camp, carefully scanning over everyone with them. “Where’s Bea?”
Susie’s eyes widened. “Bea?” she whispered, daring to rise her voice just a little higher.
“Bea?” Chris repeated.
“No…” Horror trailed through Nisa like a cold, winter storm.
A scream pierced the nighttime sky, making Nisa flinch.
Many things happened at once, too many for Nisa to fully keep track of. A horrible cry echoed through the trees, almost like a wolf’s howl. As soon as it sounded, Oliver jumped up beside Vanmor and several others; too many for Nisa to see. Chaos ensued as several beings—she didn’t get a full look at them, especially with the lack of light—charged toward them.
Keeping her hands over her head, Nisa stood to her feet, narrowly avoiding being stepped on. To her left, Aleyr fired his crossbow, but one of the Fabari caught it and threw the bolt back toward him with a wild snarl. Their ears were jagged on the sides, as if they had been ceremoniously cut and they barred their teeth like animals, showing rows of razor-sharp fangs. They looked human, but their noses were more scrunched than normal, and some parts of their skin had patches of fur. They did wield weapons—two of them lunged toward Ollie and Vanmor with spears. Vanmor used his sword to block and counter, while Ollie fired his gun. The Fabari caught the bullet and tossed it back, as if it was nothing but a toy nerf gun.
Oliver had no time to dodge. It landed in his shoulder and he collapsed onto the ground with a groan. Vanmor had three more men on him, so Nisa stood over Ollie as the bullet-catcher man twirled two knives and stalked toward him.
“Ni, no!” Oliver raised his gun and fired again, but the man simply knocked them aside with his knives.
“How are they doing that?” Nisa asked. She grabbed Oliver’s left arm and helped him to his feet, backing up each time the bullet-catcher took a step toward them.
From above, there was a loud cry. Nisa kept her focus trained on the man as he swung the knives toward them simultaneously. With a groan, Oliver used his left hand to block the knives, but the man was far faster than he was; if they kept this up for too long, Oliver would get stabbed.
A net fell on top of Nisa, catching her in its tight grip. The net squeezed her body, perfectly conforming to her shape. She groaned and tried breaking through it, but the material was harder than any rope or net she’d ever felt.
The man sliced both knives across Oliver’s chest. Oliver blocked one but missed the second one and it tore his shirt and cut him. He hissed but the man surged toward him, slamming the hilt of the knife against Oliver’s head. He collapsed onto the ground, but another Fabari caught him and tied both his hands and feet together.
Ena and Aleyr were caught in a net together while Chris was caught in a net below a tree. Two men had a hold of Susie, who thrashed and tried to fight them off.
Vanmor stood over Kor’ok’s body with Teho by his side. Teho’s arms allowed him to block some of the Fabari’s attacks, but since the rest of them were captured, the two men had dozens of enemies on every side of them.
One of them used the center of a spear to knock Teho’s hands aside, which exposed his side. They stabbed him and he collapsed onto the ground.
Nisa screamed, feeling tears burning her eyes. This was it. They were all going to die.
Teho coughed as Vanmor fell. One of the warriors kicked his head and his eyes closed, but it looked as if he was still breathing.
“Wh—what are they going to do with us?” she asked through her sobs.
Aleyr grunted. “No idea. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.”
That was the moment she realized the translation devices wasn’t working to translate what the strange humans said. “Is your device on?” she asked, staring at Susie.
Susie patted her pocket with a firm nod. “Yeah.”
Ena grunted, trying in vain to break out of the net binding. “Probably won’t work. Their language is one that hasn’t been translated yet.”
Nisa’s eyes glanced at Teho, who’s face twisted with pain as he tried to press a hand into his stab wound. “Will he…?” The rest of her sentence caught behind a lump in her throat.
Ena swallowed. “It isn’t in a vital point, but eventually, he’ll bleed out.”
Aleyr scoffed. “That won’t matter in a few hours. They probably captured us to drag us back and kill us in front of their camp.”
Nisa’s eyes widened and fear clawed at her. “I—I thought you said you didn’t know what they would do to us!”
Aleyr shrugged, glaring at the Fabari who lifted their hands in the air with mighty, powerful, howls and cries. The sound made Nisa cringe and she covered her ears, trying to pretend that she was anywhere but there, that she and her friends hadn’t been captured, that they weren’t hurt or about to die.
That she was back on Earth, where she was safe.
Then again, had she ever really been safe on Earth? Callahan and the dig, even whatever she had thought they had been about to discover paled in comparison to everything that had happened to them, everything that they had all been through.
Even if they did somehow manage to make it out of this situation alive, to find The Tower and discover a way home, back to Earth, how could Nisa find her way back to a normal life? How could she just return to studying Earth’s history, knowing that magic was real, that a whole other world existed out there?
She had no answers.
One of the Fabari men yanked on the net and dragged it across the ground. Nisa groaned, thrashing to try to escape it or stand up so she could walk on her own, but every time she moved, the net squeezed her tighter. Gasping, she struggled to take in air. The rough ground scraped her skin and her elbow painfully slammed against a rock. He tossed the net—and her with it—into the center of another grove of trees. Beside her, Bea sat on the ground, hands and feet tied with a bruise over her eye.
“Bea!” Nisa cried out. “Wh—what happened?”
Bea whimpered. “I went to pee and didn’t see them. I’m—I’m alright. I mean, they hit me, but haven’t done anything else.”
Ena and Susie were thrown beside them. One of the warriors tore the net open with his bare hands and Nisa’s eyes widened in surprised at their strength. She had been trying and all her effort had won her were tons of blisters.
She kicked out at his privates, but he threw her to the ground on her stomach. Air whooshed from her lungs and she wheezed, completely unable to breathe for a moment.
“Nisa!” Oliver screamed. She heard several grunts and then a thud, followed by a pained groan.
Her hands were wrenched behind her back and tied, along with her feet. The man sat her up and threw her beside Ena, Susie, and Bea, who were all tied the same way as she was.
Chris was released from his net and tied up too. But each of the men were forced to their knees in a line in front of the women, with a Fabari standing behind each of them, weapon pointed to the back of their necks.
Nisa’s entire body trembled and tears sprang from her eyes. She met Oliver’s deep green eyes, heart pounding and stomach twisting. “N—no. P—please don’t kill them.”
One of the Fabari men lifted his hands with a mighty howl, barring his teeth. Another stepped forward and growled. The two shoved each other but the first bit the second on in the shoulder. He said something in his harsh, guttural language.
“Wh—what’s going on?” Susie whispered.
“First rites, I think,” Aleyr said, meeting the women’s fearful gazes.
“First rites for what?” Nisa gulped, swallowing back bile.
Vanmor nodded his head to the warrior on the ground, groaning from the bite on his arm. It slowly started to heal right before her eyes and shock rippled through Nisa’s entire body. How was such a thing possible? “Difference is, they heal fast. We don’t.”
Chris cursed. “It’s to exert their dominance over us.”
“Great,” Oliver muttered. “I always did hate dogs.”
Nisa wondered how in the world they could be sarcastic at a time like this. Fear gripped her so hard she couldn’t breathe and her entire body trembled as sobs wracked her body.
The man bent down, face-to-face with Vanmor and growled.
Vanmor didn’t move or blink. Instead, he just held the Fabari leader’s gaze firmly with his own.
“He thinks you’re the leader,” Chris muttered.
“I know,” came Vanmor’s calm reply.
The Fabari leader opened his jaws wide and dug his fangs deep into Vanmor’s shoulder.
Vanmor gritted his teeth, but screamed as the man ripped through the skin on his shoulder. He released him and Vanmor collapsed onto the ground, shaking.
Teho coughed and blood dribbled to the ground.
“They’re not going to make it like this,” Ena murmured.
“We have to find a way out of here. Most of them are too hurt.” Nisa glanced from Ena, to Susie, and last to Bea.
“Wait, where is Kor’ok?” Bea asked.
“They left him behind.” Susie whimpered.
Dozens of the warriors grabbed the men and hauled them forward, while half that picked the women up and threw them over their shoulders.
Nisa wanted to fight and struggle, but knew nothing she did at this point would help them escape. We escaped from the bandits, she thought. We’ll find a way out of this, somehow.
But even she didn’t believe it.