The Fabari warriors carried them deep into the forest. Nisa’s head started to spin and nausea made her stomach lurch, especially since she hung upside down over one of the warrior’s shoulders. She suspected that she hadn’t completely overcome the concussion from earlier the previous day.
They led them in between two large rock formations through a path that cut through them both. On the other side, rock walls towered high in a wide circle, completely surrounding and cutting off this section of the forest.
The warrior who held her tossed Nisa to the ground, but she landed in a heap inside a wooden cage. Susie, Bea, and Ena were thrown in beside her. By the time she orientated herself and the dizziness sweeping across her vision calmed down, the top of the wooden cage had been closed and tied off. More of that tough rope the Fabari used was not only used to tie the top of it closed but to attach to the entire cage like a leash. Nisa’s eyes followed the “leash” and just barely made out one of the warriors at the top of the rock formation. As she blinked, she realized that the man was joined by dozens more who helped him pull on the leash.
“Wait… what’s…?” Bea’s voice trailed off.
Susie squealed, closing her eyes.
The cage lifted off the ground. Ever so slowly, inch by inch, the cage crawled up the side of the cliff until it finally rested more than thirty feet high.
Nisa glanced back up at the top where the men disappeared, probably to tie the rope off. “Let’s hope that thing holds.”
“If it’s the same as these binds, it will.” Ena grunted, wiggling as she slipped her hands from behind her back to in front of her. She brought her tied wrists to her mouth and used her teeth to try to pry them off. “Ahg!” She groaned, holding her arm to her mouth. “Don’t bite ‘em.”
Nisa frowned, situating herself so that she could try to slip her hands from behind her to in front of her. “How did you do that?”
“Slide them beneath your butt and then around your legs.”
Bea grunted. “My hips are too big.” She huffed and leaned against the side of the cage.
Susie still had her eyes squeezed shut and her entire body trembled, covered in sweat.
“Su, just take a few deep breaths, alright?” Nisa glanced up at Susie as she slid her arms beneath her backside and around her legs. With a final grunt, she tugged her hands to the front of her.
Far below them, the warriors dragged each of the men to the center of the camp. Most of the houses here were one story, circular huts made from stone—the same as the rocks. Since the walls closed this area off from the rest of the forest, there were plenty of rocks lying on the ground, which was where Nisa guessed they had gotten the stones to make their houses.
In the center of the village, a pile of stones had been placed in front of a carved statue. “Tell me that’s not what I think it is.” Nisa stared at it with widened eyes.
Ena paused from where she had been bashing the ties on her wrists against the rocks behind their cage, trying to cut them off. “I’m not sure.”
Susie blinked her eyes open, panting. “Statue. Sacrifice. Oh… no…” She groaned, closing her eyes again and she paled.
Nisa swallowed back a lump in her throat. “They’re bringing the men over there.”
“Wait, are they going to sacrifice them?” Bea asked.
“I think so.” Nisa felt faint and it wasn’t just because of the nausea. The warriors threw each of the men down as a man emerged from a stone hut that was larger than the rest. It sat in front of the makeshift altar.
A Fabari man with white patches of fur on his skin and bright crimson paint on his body stalked out of the large hut. He held his hands in the air with a mighty howl and women each came out of the huts. They sat on the ground, heads bowed low, as the men all gathered at the front around the altar in front of the leader.
One warrior stood behind each of the captive men—Oliver, Chris, Aleyr, Vanmor, and Teho—with a knife or spear pointed at the back of their necks. Blood oozed from Teho’s side and Vanmor’s face had paled too much. Even from this distance, Nisa could tell he had lost too much blood from his shoulder wound.
“Wait,” Bea said. “Is it just me, or do the women look different?”
Nisa peered more closely at the women coming out of the huts and she gasped. Each of the women looked human—white hair with colored streaks—completely different from the Fabari warriors who appeared mostly human with fur and acted dog-like.
“Captives,” Ena whispered. Nisa glanced on either side of them and dread oozed through her blood like ice. She couldn’t believe she had missed it before. Along the cliff that surrounded the village, more cages hung, just like theirs. Some of them were empty, others were filled with bones—human bones.
There was one other that had people in it and they were all women.
“Wh—what in the world is going on here?” Bea asked, sobbing.
Nisa swallowed, but her entire mouth had gone dry and her stomach twisted. It all made sense to Nisa now. Whatever the Fabari were, they were a race of only men. That meant that they had to capture human women from towns. “I think they put the women in cages like this one without food, maybe even without water. If the women agree to submit and obey, they’re released, but if not…” Nisa’s voice trailed off, words lost behind bile forming in the back of her throat.
“So, all those women down there were captives who agreed to submit?” Bea whimpered.
Ena grunted. “I can’t get these bindings off. We’re going to have to figure something else out… some way to get this cage off.”
Nisa wanted to respond, but her attention was completely enraptured in the scene before her. The man who had bitten Vanmor grabbed him and threw him to the ground at the Fabari king’s feet. His mouth moved, but at this distance, Nisa couldn’t hear a word he was saying, that was, until he howled. It made her cringe and cover her ears again.
The king nodded his head and grabbed Vanmor. He threw him onto the altar as the one who had bitten him tied him down.
“They’re going to sacrifice him!” Nisa shouted. She glanced up at the rope holding their cage in place in the air, and the bindings that clamped the lid shut.
She stood and hunched down, using her fingers to try to pry the top open.
“If we can’t even get our bindings off, then we’re not going to be able to get the cage open,” Ena muttered.
Nisa’s eyes trailed along the rope that held them in the air. Heart racing and hammering in her chest, she glanced at the ground. Maybe they weren’t quite thirty feet high. It was hard to tell. Holding her breath, she slowly exhaled, trying to calm her breathing and think her way through this. “The rope up there. We obviously can’t break the ropes themselves because it’s too strong of a material but what if they tied it to something weaker? I mean, if it’s on a loose trunk, if we use all our weight, we might be able to break it.”
“What if it’s on a rock or something?” Bea asked.
Nisa shook her head, but she glanced back at the scene. The Fabari warriors all lifted their hands into the air as the king opened his mouth, howling and chanting. “It looks like a ritual, but we don’t have a lot of time.”
Susie opened her eyes and paled, sweat beading from her forehead.
Nisa met her gaze. “Susie, your man is counting on you. They all are. If we don’t escape, they will all die.”
Slowly, Susie nodded. She, Bea, and Ena all stood up, hunching, since their bodies were slightly too big for the cage.
With a grunt, Nisa slammed her entire body weight against the left side of the cage, toward the camp. Susie, Bea, and Ena did the same. “Again!” Together this time, the four women threw themselves against the cage. It swung outward, away from the wall and the movement made Nisa’s stomach lurch and bile form in her throat from the nausea still rolling through her.
“God, give us strength!” Nisa prayed. She slammed her body against the cages with Susie, Bea, and Ena by her side. Pain jolted through her shoulder. Taking a deep breath, she mentally prepared herself and then switched sides.
“It’s not working.” Ena glanced up and Nisa followed the woman’s gaze. The rope hadn’t slacked at all—not even an inch.
Nisa groaned. “They must have tied it to a rock.”
Ena rested against the back of the cage as it finally stopped swinging, trying to use the rocks of the cliff behind them to cut through her binds.
Nisa glanced back at the altar where the king had danced around it and came to stand still at Vanmor’s feet. Claws emerged from his hands and he lifted his head to the sky with a mighty howl. The full moon glistened brightly overhead, eerie almost, with the way it gazed down on them. The scene reminded her of werewolf stories back on earth, but this was far worse… and far more terrifying.
Green and golden light danced across the sky and Nisa stared at the stars with tears in her eyes. “Please,” she whispered through salty tears that fell down her cheeks.
Her gaze shifted back down to where the king raked his claws against Vanmor’s chest. That was when her eyes finally saw the splintered wood on the cage where they had been hitting it. “The wood’s splintered.”
“What?” Bea asked.
Ena paused what she was doing. “What do you mean?”
Nisa nodded her head to the side of the cage that faced the camp. “If we can’t break the rope holding this cage in the air, then maybe we can break the wood itself. It’s a lot weaker than this rope stuff, anyway.”
Together, Nisa, Susie, Bea, and Ena stood back up, hunching down. They sprinted forward, throwing their bodies against the side of the cage again and again. Nisa’s shoulders ached and throbbed and she could feel the bruises forming. Gritting her teeth, she pushed through the pain.
Below her, Vanmor’s screams filled her with grief, but lit a fire of determination inside her to safe their friends. They had to. It was up to them to save them all, somehow, someway.
The wood cracked.
“Again!” Nisa cried out.
The four women groaned in pain as their abused bodies slammed once more against the side of the wooden cage.
The bars shattered and wood splintered out in all directions. As the cage swung back inward, Nisa’s eyes widened. It slammed against the cliff, jolting them all. More wooden bars burst open as the top of the cage hooked onto one of the rocks jutting out of the side of the cliff.
Nisa took a deep breath.
“H—how are we supposed to get down?” Susie asked, turning pale.
Nisa narrowed her eyes. “We climb.”