“We can’t climb with our hands tied!” Susie said.
Bea nodded. “And ours are still behind our backs.”
Nisa pursed her lips. “Ena, you and I can try to untie them. I can still move my fingers, even though my wrists are tied.”
“Okay.” As Ena walked up behind Bea, Nisa stepped up behind Susie and used her fingers to try to figure out how the rope-like material was tied. It definitely wasn’t any knot Nisa was familiar with. At last, she found the knot and then worked on untangling it. Below, crimson blood stained Vanmor, the altar, and the ground around him, but the leader had stopped viciously attacking him. Did that mean he was dead? Nisa couldn’t tell from up here. The leader resumed his pacing, chanting, and howling.
At last, Susie’s ropes came free. “Here,” she said. The two women flipped sides and Nisa watched Susie working on her ties. At the same time, Ena and Bea flipped around and Bea started trying to untie Ena’s.
The few minutes it took to untie Nisa’s wrists felt like they lasted for several hours. As soon as the ropes fell off, Nisa didn’t even stop to rub her wrists. The cage being hung up on one of the jutting rocks made it angle slightly upward on that side. Nisa walked to the edge of the open opposite side.
Susie gulped. “I—I can’t. It’s too high.”
“We don’t have time. Vanmor’s going to die, if he isn’t dead already.” Nisa had no idea where her focus and determination came from, but knowing that all the men’s lives rested in her hands pushed her forward and kept her going. It stopped her heart from panicking and letting fear take over and instead, kept her thoughts calm and focused.
Biting her lower lip, Nisa reached outside the cage and grabbed onto the still intact wooden bars on the left side and slipped out the front. Her weight pulled her down as gravity took over, but her hands had a firm grip. She pulled herself to the cage and started inching her way across the side and toward the back of it along the cliff. Ena followed her while Bea tried to calm Susie down.
Nisa’s muscles ached—she hadn’t done much rock climbing in her life, but hopefully, she had done enough to get herself down. Part of her wasn’t even thinking of what she would do when she touched the ground. It wasn’t as if she would be able to fight off all the warriors herself; especially not when they had so easily bested all of them. When she stepped from the cage to the cliff, she found two places for each of her feet and stopped there to rest. Shaking her arms out, she glanced over her shoulder.
Ena was almost at the cliff while Susie slowly crept out the front of the cage. It was thoughtful that Bea was going last to make sure Susie would be alright.
Taking a deep breath, Nisa reached out to the rock further to her right with her right hand. There wasn’t one for her left for another few feet, so she glanced down and found a foothold to lower her left side first. That put her closer, so she grabbed the left handhold and found one for her right. The only problem was that that didn’t leave for her right foot—not for another several feet.
Was she stuck?
Panic made her heart race. No, she couldn’t panic, not now. This was life or death, so she would have to think her way through this.
Glancing to her left, she found another hold for her left foot and hand. In a quick movement, she lightly jumped and landed her left foot on the lower rock jutting out and was able to shift her right to where the left one had been. If it wasn’t for her left hand gripping another rock, she probably would have fallen.
She paused, shaking out her hands with another deep exhale.
“You good?” Ena asked. She had climbed further over to the right and was starting down, where the cliff had gotten more jagged.
“Wish I would’ve thought to go your way,” Nisa muttered back.
Glancing back down, her stomach churned, but she exhaled sharply and finally found a foothold for her right foot. It looked big enough to hold both feet, so she dropped them down, but had to use the wall to brace herself.
Small pieces of rock fell down where her feet had landed and Nisa groaned. If she moved too much, there was a chance it could fall. Her eyes scanned every possible edge of the cliff beneath her, but from what she could see, it was completely smooth.
“I—I’m out of rocks to grab!” she hissed.
Ena had almost reached the same level as her, just several feet over to the right. “Can you climb over?” she asked, glancing down at her.
Nisa glanced up toward her, but shook her head. That section of the wall was far more jagged and rough, but it was smooth until then and she didn’t think she could jump that far.
Overhead, Ena glanced upward. “Hey! Bea and Susie! Climb where I did! Nisa didn’t pick a good spot.”
How was she supposed to get down now?
Nisa’s translation device in her pocket beeped. “Jump!” a strange voice said from down below.
Nisa glanced down to see a group of women with white hair and different colored streaks holding out a large blanket over the ground. “Wh—what?”
“We’ll catch you! Hurry while the Fabari are distracted!” the woman said.
Nisa held her breath, closed her eyes, and let go. Her stomach flipped and terror gripped her with furious hands until her body finally slammed into the blanket. It bounced off and surprisingly enough, it didn’t tear. Taking a deep and shaky breath, Nisa rolled off and stood still for a moment to try to orientate herself.
The woman held out her hand while the others moved the blanket beneath Ena. “I’m Kari… You’re some of the first to ever break out of the cages before.”
Nisa nodded her head in the direction of the altar. “I have to stop them from sacrificing our friends.”
“Come with me.” The woman, Kari, grabbed Nisa’s arm and yanked her into one of the stone huts. Fortunately, all of the Fabari warriors were busy surrounding the altar and watching the sacrifice.
What Nisa saw inside the hut made her breathing freeze.
It was filled with children—young boys and girls. Most of them were human. Some of the boys looked like young Fabari, but each of them looked terrified and scared. “Wha…?”
“Our children. The ones who are full-bloods will be taught to fight like the Fabari. The girls will be subjected, just like we are. And the human boys…” Kari sobbed and turned toward Nisa with tears in her eyes. “They will be sacrificed.”
Nisa’s heart clenched. “What can we do?”
“We have been waiting for the right moment to strike. We outnumber them, but they are always on alert. This—you and your friends can distract them and give us the chance to strike and we can all be saved. What do you say?”
Nisa nodded. “We’re in.”
Kari led her back outside where Ena, Bea, and Susie joined the other women on the ground. They gathered in a group.
“How are you going to fight them? I mean, they’re stronger than normal humans.” Nisa turned to Kari.
Kari nodded her head and one of the other women lifted a pouch from her hip. “We found these herbs in the forest and it made them sick. They ordered us to take it away, so we pretended to obey, but kept some for ourselves. We will put it on the fire and as it burns, it will go into the smoke.”
Susie’s eyes widened. “Oh! Then they’ll breathe it in and be weakened.”
“Do you have any weapons?” Nisa asked.
“We have been making some,” another woman said.
“Get them ready,” Kari said.
Nisa glanced at Ena, Bea, and Susie. “We need to distract them—“
Vanmor’s screams cut her off. Nisa’s stomach twisted.
“No time.” With that, Nisa sprinted off, through the village and made her way to the altar with Bea, Susie, and Ena right on her heels. It was the most reckless and stupid thing she had ever done, but they had no choice if they wanted them to live. She had to trust the women in the village.
As she neared the edge of the gathered Fabari warriors, Nisa elbowed one and shoved passed two more before they noticed. Some of them had been howling and chanting, so when they saw her, they stopped. Seconds later, silence stretched through the gathered warriors.
Nisa ducked as one of the men tried to grab her. Ena kicked another one, but he quickly recovered and grabbed her by the head—literally, his strong hands grabbed Ena’s entire head.
By then, one of them punched Nisa in the stomach too fast for her to dodge it. As she collapsed to the ground and doubled over in pain, hands grabbed her and dragged her and the other three women forward.
They threw her onto the ground.
“Nisa!” Oliver said.
Nisa gasped and the warriors behind her yanked her head up to stare into the eyes of the leader. One of them held a claw to her throat.
The leader sniffed her and snarled in her ear. His repugnant breath made her gag. With a growl deep in his throat, he hissed in pleasure and turned back to the altar.
Blood dripped from the sides of it into pools of crimson on the ground. Vanmor’s body sagged and tears filled Nisa’s eyes. From what she could see, his breath came in harsh, shallow wheezes; he was alive for now, but wouldn’t last too much longer.
The leader let out one final blood-curdling howl and then brought his claws down toward Vanmor’s throat.
“No!” Nisa screamed.
Suddenly, the leader lifted his snout into the air as smoke billowed over their heads. Behind them, some of the warriors collapsed or fell to their knees. The leader gagged, dropping to his knees with a vicious cough.
A wild outcry echoed from the back of the group as the captured women charged through the Fabari warriors. Despite their weakened state, the warriors stood to their feet and met the women’s wooden swords and spears with their claws. None of the Fabari warriors had weapons, so in the back of Nisa’s mind, she realized they must not have brought any to the sacrifice ritual.
One of the warriors grabbed a woman and threw her through the air. She landed with a sickening crunch. Her sword had fallen on the ground, but the warrior who had thrown her simply stepped over it and stalked toward the poor woman. Nisa darted over and grabbed the woman’s sword. Gritting her teeth, she jabbed the end of it into the warrior while his back was turned. With a gurgle, he collapsed onto the ground.
Two of the women had handed weapons to Ena, Susie, and Bea. Susie and Bea darted over to free the men, while Ena blocked attacks from one of the Fabari warriors slashing at her with his claws and teeth.
Nisa sprinted toward the altar and climbed on top of it. Vanmor’s eyes were closed and his chest barely moved. Blood coated his slashed-up chest and she tried to force herself not to vomit. She had to get him away from here, but without hurting him even further?
“Here!” Chris said, at her left, where Susie and the others had just freed him, Oliver, and Aleyr. Chris took off his shirt and pressed it against Vanmor’s wounds.
Vanmor groaned, but the sound was wet and it made Nisa cringe.
“Hold it!” Chris took her hands and pressed it on the shirt over Vanmor’s wounds.
He jumped up and joined Oliver, holding off several warriors who furiously snapped and charged at them.
“Stay with me,” Nisa whispered to Vanmor. “Stay with me…”
The leader stood up on the other side of the altar, growling at her. He opened his jaws wide, so Nisa kept her left hand on Vanmor’s chest and used her right to grip the sword.
The leader snapped toward her neck, but she used the sword to block it. He snapped the wood in half with his teeth and leapt toward her.
The movement threw her backward onto the ground and knocked her breath out. As she struggled to breathe, pain tore through her for a moment, but then it disappeared as soon as it came.
When her vision cleared, Oliver had the leader on the ground and pressed a sword against the leader’s throat, but he had caught Oliver’s sword in his hands.
Feet stomped on her as the Fabari continued fighting, not seeing her. Nisa tried reaching up to cover her head, but a foot slammed into her face and unconsciousness wrapped around her.