Nisa woke in Oliver’s arms with a thin, hide blanket covering them both. She sat up with a yawn, glancing outside at the empty, blood-stained altar. “Did they move Vanmor?”
Oliver rolled over to face her as he peaked his eyes open. “Yeah, about an hour ago. The healer stitched up all his wounds, so he needs rest. They’re also getting all the supplies ready to get to the town and they’ve made something to carry Vanmor on.”
Nisa nodded and lay back down as she placed her hand on his arm to use it like a pillow. “I could stay in here forever.”
Oliver’s lips pulled up into a smirk. “So, you don’t miss Earth at all?”
Nisa frowned and glanced up at the curved, stone ceiling, wondering how it was made so that the stones wouldn’t fall on their heads. “I don’t know. I feel like I isolated myself and lived in another world long before I found Glacea.”
“You mean because you studied the past so much?”
“Yeah.” Nisa closed her eyes as Oliver’s hands traced circles on the side of her arm. “Sometime before we got sent here, my sister called and we got into a pretty bad fight. I mean, she probably thinks I disappeared on another dig again.”
“Do you miss your family?”
Oliver scoffed. “Yeah, right. I left them and my heritage a long time ago, remember?”
Nisa pursed her lips but stayed silent.
Oliver, being her best friend first and foremost, glanced down at her. “What? What’s wrong?”
Nisa shrugged. “Nothing, I just… sometimes I feel like you gave up your family to follow me all around the world.”
Oliver shook his head. “No. Ni, I left because I always hated the way my father lived and I wanted to make a life of my own.”
“I know,” Nisa said with a sigh. “You used to always say that to remind me.”
Oliver’s hand gently poked her nose. “Because you always blamed yourself for tearing me away from my family when it was my choice.”
Swallowing deeply, Nisa reached up and stroked his chin and his jaw, letting the light stubble tickle her palm. “Ollie… Sometimes—“ she cut herself off, unable to finish.
“Hmm?” He closed his eyes and his body completely relaxed beneath her. “Don’t stop. That feels nice.”
Nisa smiled and kept stroking his chin and jaw with her hand, back-and-forth. She let her mind get caught up in watching the movements, in avoiding speaking the hard, harsh truth that she didn’t want to face.
“You never answered.” Oliver kept his eyes closed.
“I was hoping you forgot.”
“I’m not letting you out of it that easy.” Finally, his green eyes opened to stare down at her. “What is it, Ni?”
Nisa swallowed and finally gathered her courage. It wasn’t Oliver she was afraid to tell…
It was that she was afraid to admit it to herself.
“Ollie… part of me doesn’t even want to go home.”
There. The words were out in open air, where they made the truth real.
Nisa looked away from him, staring out the open door of the stone hut, expecting him to say she was a terrible person, that they were all stuck here because of her, that they needed to get home.
Nisa’s eyes widened and she gaped at him. “Wait, what? You do?”
Oliver nodded. “Yeah. Ni, I followed you all around the world. It was never in my nature to really settle down and part of me loves the adventure of it all—seeing new places, getting you out of trouble. This has all just been one big…” His voice trailed off as he sucked in a deep breath.
“…adventure,” she finished.
“Yeah.” Their gazes met and Nisa kissed his jaw—the only place she could reach. “I don’t know why I thought you’d be mad at me.”
Oliver shook his head. “No. This has actually been fun. Other than this bit with the Fabaris, that is.”
Nisa chuckled. “Um, Ollie, I think the plural form of that word actually is Fabari.”
“Whatever. I’m not a linguistics expert like you.”
Bea whistled. “Hey. They’ve made breakfast. How’d you guys sleep?”
Nisa sat up and tugged the blankets off her. “You can come in Bea. It’s not like we’re indecent.”
Bea shrugged and stepped through the stone door. “I didn’t know.”
Nisa shot her a look. “I told you, I’m saving myself.” She blushed as she felt Oliver’s gaze on her. She shot him a firm look. “Get a shirt on.” With that, she walked outside with Bea.
The atmosphere of the women in the camp had completely reversed overnight. They bustled about the village, carrying food and baskets to different fires that had been started in front of the stone huts throughout the entire area. Children darted through the streets, chasing each other and playing tag. Some of the women stood around the stone statue and used ropes to tear it down.
“Shame,” Susie said, walking over to them with her arms crossed. “I would have liked to study the work on that thing.”
Chris walked up on her other side, shooting her a look. “They worshipped that false god and almost killed us all because of it. And you wanted to study it?”
“Mm-mm. It was actually a beautiful work of art!” Susie said.
Nisa’s eyes caught side of the blood on the altar in front of where the statue lay crumbled in pieces of stone and cringed.
Chris shook his head. “You weren’t almost sacrificed to it.”
At that, Nisa, Bea, and Susie chuckled.
Kari walked up with a boy hugging her leg. He looked to be no older than four or five. “Plenty of food is being cooked over the fires. Choose one and eat your fill, please.”
“How is Vanmor?” Nisa asked.
Kari nodded and pointed to a hut two away from where Nisa and Oliver had stayed. “He is doing well. Mosura can tell you more.”
Oliver emerged from their hut and together, the five friends joined Aleyr, Ena, Teho, and Kor’ok sitting in front of one of the fires. Nisa grabbed a handful of fruit and ate her fill. Her stomach gnawed at her with hunger and she couldn’t remember the last meal they had all had. Probably with Aleyr’s sister on the big giant beast—which she couldn’t remember the name of.
The cool water the women had all fetched from the river for them and filled in buckets felt good on her dry mouth. After guzzling a bunch, Nisa had to let her stomach settle, before she helped herself to another serving of fruit. When at last it felt as if her stomach would burst, she stood up and walked into the hut that Kari had pointed out.
Inside, Vanmor sat on a pile of blankets upon the ground. His breathing had evened out and he didn’t look as pale as he had the other day. Mosura knelt beside him and glanced up at Nisa as she walked in.
“How is he?” Nisa sat down near the entrance.
Mosura nodded. “He’s strong—very strong. I have given him herbs to keep away infections. The cuts might take another week or so to fully heal. It’s fortunate that they were shallow and not so deep.”
“Thank you for taking care of him,” Nisa murmured.
Mosura smiled at her. “It’s what I loved to do. I healed people all the time back in the town. I—I can’t wait to see my parents again. They—they don’t even know that they have a granddaughter and a grandson.”
Nisa’s heart filled with joy, knowing that they would all finally get to see their families again. “I think they’re getting ready to leave later this afternoon. You’ll get to see them very soon.”
As she stood and left the hut behind, Nisa stared at the rock wall surrounding the place that had once been the Fabari camp, filled with such hurt and pain. As much as she and Oliver wanted to stay here on Glacea, they had to get back to Earth. They may not have had any ties to their families anymore, but Chris, Susie, and Bea did. For the first time since coming here, Nisa finally felt sorry for her friends and thought about what this might have put them through.
“You okay?” Susie asked.
Nisa nodded. All the cages around the edge of the cliff walls had been lowered to the ground. The bones had been emptied and likely buried somewhere and the other captured women had been freed, it seemed. She briefly wondered if there were any other Fabari in the area, or if the Storm Griffin had really killed them all. “Yeah. I just think it’s time for us to continue our journey and find our way home.”
“Me too.” Susie wrapped her arm around her as the two best friends joined the others and Kari.
Kari explained that all the supplies had been gathered. Moving Vanmor would be a bit of a challenge, but Oliver, Chris, Teho, and Aleyr agreed to carry him. “He’s done so much for us,” Teho said.
Together, they gently lifted Vanmor and placed him onto the carrier. It was made out of wood reinforced with the strong Fabari ropes. He groaned as they lay him there. Each log that held the makeshift bed in place stuck out at the front and back, giving the men all something to grab onto. Chris and Oliver carried him at the front and Aleyr and Teho took the back.
Several of the women armed with weapons led the front of the group, leaving Vanmor, the other wounded, and the children in the middle with more warriors making up the rear. Nisa stayed close to Bea, and Susie as they made their way back through the valley. She shivered, remembering how terrifying it had been when the Fabari had first captured them and brought them here.
Kor’ok joined the other women in the front for their own protection and Ena joined the ones in the back. It would have made Nisa feel a bit safer to have them closer, but at least she, Bea, and Susie were with Vanmor, the other wounded, and the children in the center of the group.
The valley narrowed their numbers but as soon as they walked through the entrance and back into the forest, they were able to spread back out through the trees.
As they made their way out of the forest, Nisa was sad to see the beautiful sight of the silver and blue leaves behind. But they found the open road and followed it as it straightened up at the top of the previous hill. The Storm Griffin was nowhere in sight and even though it had saved them and Ollie, she was glad it wasn’t here; the creature seemed to be too unpredictable and none of them needed an attack right now.
Casting a glance over her shoulder, Nisa could just barely make out the waterfall spilling into the valley. From here, it didn’t seem to be flooded anymore, but the group of women was actually traveling at a faster pace than she expected, so she hurried forward, trying to keep up with everyone.
The town, it turned out, was about five miles up the road. They made two stops along the way, so that the wounded could rest. For many of them, traveling like this only brought them more pain. Nisa, Susie, Bea and a few other women went a little into the forest to get water and help give the wounded drinks. Chris, Ollie, Aleyr, and Teho took the time to rest both times.
Nisa wasn’t sure how long it took them to arrive at the town gates. They were wooden and far shorter than any other city gates she had seen—half the height of the griffin. But there were still guards standing out front.
One of them saw the women and his eyes widened. “Baruka?” He dropped his spear, threw his helmet off and darted up to a woman at the front of the group, taking her in his arms, and spun her around. The sight warmed Nisa’s heart.
The other guards, in the meantime, opened the gates and let the entire group of hundreds pour into the town. Men and women of all ages poured of the houses, each one darting up to embrace one of the women they saw. Tears fell and laughter rang out through the town.
The men carried Vanmor with the other wounded with Mosura to the “healer’s house” as she called it. Her family owned it and hoped they still did. Each of the houses here were wooden, semi-circle structures with either one or two floors. One of them in the center had three stories and out of it, a man surrounded by several guards sprinted out as quickly as he could. Nisa suspected he was the leader of the town—similar to a governor. He wrapped Kari into his arms and kissed her warmly and laughed. Kari sobbed into his shoulder and then introduced him to her son.
Nisa went to check on Vanmor. Mosura’s younger brother had taken over the place and the entire family was happily reuniting when Nisa walked in. The women carried the wounded and Vanmor inside to the back where there was a huge place large enough to house them all. Mosura and her family set to work, tending to the wounded.
“Now that we have better supplies, they will all do much better,” Mosura said. She glanced at the two children and gestured for them to stand next to her. Her eyes landed on the elderly people that Nisa figured out where Mosura’s parents. “Mother, Father… This is my daughter and son. Your grandchildren.”
More laughter and joy filled the room and Nisa embraced Oliver with a huge grin. She embraced him and kissed him again.
Musicians played outside, flutes and other strange but beautiful instruments Nisa had never heard. She and Oliver joined the townspeople outside as they danced and sang. She couldn’t understand them because the translator didn’t pick up on it, but Ena told them that it was praises to the Creator.
For now, they would stay here, rest, and resupply before their journey to get home continued. At least, now, they were closer than they ever had been.