Nischa, pt. 4

Nischa sat in the dark, gripping the bars in the corner. The Large Ones had not been seen in two days. The first day they were absent she had investigated her cage. The bars were thick, nearly the size of her slender wrists, but they were not as regular as she had first thought. The metal bulged and thinned in places, and it was in the corner that she found several together that were half the thickness of the others. When the Large Ones had not returned that night, Nischa began her work on the bars. Taking one in trembling hands, she stilled her mind and thought of the snow capped peaks of the northern mountains. The bar began to frost. Crystals traveled from where her fingers rested, slowly spreading until the ice ran the full length of the pole. Nischa released it, stepped back and threw her tiny body against it. Her shoulder slammed into the bar, frost shook loose like snow, but the bar held. She tried again and again, until finally there was a satisfying snap of metal. The bar had broken clean through, but was still attached, top and bottom. She began work on a second bar. By morning on the third day, Nischa had snapped three bars. She pressed against them, shoulder, hands and feet. They gave very little, but it would have to be enough. As the gap slowly widened, Nischa pushed through. She had done it. She was outside the cage! She flew in a quick circle, stretching her wings. “Help me. Don’t leave me here.” A quiet voice from the other side of the room called to her. Nischa flew over to the cage and grabbed the bars. “Don’t worry, we’ll all be out of here soon.” She took a deep breath and frost began to form at her fingers. Nischa got no further. There was a thud from above, and the sound of slurred voices. The Large Ones had returned. Awkward steps could be heard moving closer, and the thump thump thump of a heavy form on the stairs. She looked around. She needed a place to hide. In the corner, by the door, she saw it. There was a large pack and bed roll. She shuddered at the thought of entering a bag again. Motioning for the other to remain quiet, she flew across the room as fast as her wings would take her. She reached the pack just as the door opened. The pack was closed, so Nischa dove for the bedroll, slipping in between the loosely tied folds. She heard the Large One stepping closer. Had she been seen? Her world shifted, bounced and she heard the clump clump clump as the Large One, the pack and the bedroll she hid in moved up the stairs.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

When the pack finally settled, Nischa braved to peak out. There were voices coming from the other room. She flew cautiously to the edge of the door, and listened. It sounded like a crowd. Some of the slurred voices sounded angry, others tired, and a few pleasant. Looking past the edge of the door she saw what must have been the inside of a huge wood and stone structure. There were several Large Ones. On the far side, she saw another door, and three Large Ones stood blocking it. Each wore shiny metal armor. A tall one spoke to them. “Errr… if ’tis not t’dangerous, why d’we need t’be locked in, then?” She ignored them and flitted quietly over to a flaming lamp on hung on the wall. She was cold. She saw no sign of her captor here. As she warmed her hands she vowed to herself that she would find the others and free any that still survived.

Nischa, pt. 3

Nischa waited in her cage. There had been no sign of her sisters. She did not know if they had escaped, if they were held elsewhere, or if they were dead. Her tiny body ached. They had come for her two nights ago. The Large Ones spoke in their slurred speech, always mumbling over the sounds of their words as if speaking through the mud of a swamp. The claw-like metal tongs reached between the bars. Nischa tried to back away, but the cage offered no room. She was cornered. She pushed the tongs away and they snapped at her hands. The Large One let out a grunt that could be either a growl or a chuckle and the tongs darted towards her again. They closed around her waist, pinning her against the cage wall.

“It will be easier for you if you do not struggle.” The Large One slurred at her.

Futilely Nischa beat at the metal claw around her waist. It would not budge. A second set of tongs moved in, this one slightly wider. She pushed and pulled, but she could not break free. The cold metal closed on her arms, pressing them to her side. She felt a painful pinch as it tightened on her wings. She screamed.

“See. I told you.” This time the Large One’s laugh was obvious.

She had seen others taken away before. Sometimes they returned. One had been badly burnt. The flesh on her arms was cracked and charred, her wings still smoldering stumps. Her muted cries could be heard throughout the night, but by morning she was dead. A Large One cleaned out the cage in the morning, mumbling something about a ‘lack of healing’. Others were never seen again.

Nischa feared what was ahead. The tongs pulled her out of the cage and she was lifted over the table. The Large One walked at a lazy pace, crossed the room and pushed through a door, taking Nischa into an area she had never seen before.

At the center of this room was a large tank of water. Another Large One stood over it. He wore what looked to be thick hide gloves and held a long wooden staff. Below him, at the bottom of the tank, several large, black creatures rested.

“Stir them up good.” Said her captor. “Today we learn their limits.”

The Large One stirred with the pole and the black shapes swam to avoid it. Nischa could feel her hairs prickling. Thin blue arcs of lightning began to flash across the surface of the water. The tongs swung over and she looked wide-eyed at the water below.

“We’ll start with a quick brush. If it proves resilient, we will work up to full immersion.”

The tongs lowered, Nischa’s foot touched the water and the world flashed white. Every muscle tightened, the strain threatened to snap the little bones of her body. Suddenly she could see again. Her lungs strained to pull in air. She could not even gather enough breath to scream. The water continued to swirl below her.

“Impressive. This may take longer than I thought.”

The blinding light returned and the next thing Nischa remembered was waking on the floor of her cage. It was not until the next night that her body began to respond to her will to move again.

Nischa, pt. 2

Nischa woke curled in a ball, her legs clutched tightly to her chest. The dark was oppressive, tangible; she could feel it brushing against her skin. She wanted to scream, to cry out, but she knew that would only bring more pain. So she lay there, making herself as small as she could. She sensed others around her. She heard the soft cries and whimpers of fear. They were all around her, yet she was more alone than she had ever felt before.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Nischa woke to voices, coming from somewhere above her. Their speech was thick and slurred. One sounded angry. “This one is damaged. As are these here.”

“Sir, we have brought in many specimens”

“You’ve also killed nearly half of what you had tried to collect. Your methods are crude.”

“But they are effective. No other has brought you this many… even if you count only the unspoiled ones.”

“True.” A soft jingle of coin could be heard. “You will get one quarter the rate for any damaged ones. And one tenth for any dead. I may still have use for those, but understand I would prefer them intact.”

“Of course. I will instruct the others to use more care.”

See that you do.” Steps retreated in the darkness and Nischa felt her world shift. The pressure that weighed down on her lessened and she heard a soft moan from her side. Her world shifted again and suddenly she felt motion. She let out a yelp as the darkness moved to cradle her from below like a hammock. “Oh, another one alive? No need to struggle, you’ll be in your new home soon.” The world turned upside down and the darkness shattered into light. Nischa shielded her eyes with one hand, cringing from the shadowy figure before her. There was a soft click of metal and then the figure turned away. In time, her sight became clear again. Beyond her hands, she saw the straight and rigid form of the bars. She was in a cage. The dark figure was some steps away, leaned over his work. He was sorting through bags, tossing them into one or two piles. Every so often he would get up to walk to another small cage around the room and dump out its contents. Nischa saw others such as herself, wide-eyed and frightened. None spoke, and few she recognized. Those awake crawled to the edge to cling to the bars and watch in silence as the unknown figure continued his work.

Nischa, pt. 1

She woke to a chill breeze sending shivers across her pale skin. Her sisters slept near her, huddled together. Nischa took a deep breath and listened to the forest around her. It was quiet. The forest was asleep. A smile curled the edge of her lips. Sleep. It was a welcome thing. She took a moment to smooth out some of the lumps from their bed. She curled up next to her sisters and pulled the moss blanket up for warmth. Closing her eyes, she thought of only sleep and peace.
-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

A shrill scream pierced the night air and Nischa bolted upright. Solana looked at her, eyes wide with fear. “What was that?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Nischa replied and reached for the sharpened stick she kept nearby.

Nym was peering over the edge, out into the darkness. “It sounded like it came from one of the other trees.”

“Should we hide?” Solana fretted. “Somewhere higher up?”

“We don’t even know if something is wrong.”

“Don’t we? That wasn’t a cry of joy!”

As if in response, another scream wailed, closer by.

“Someone needs help.”

“They can help themselves, we should go.”

“What if it was one of us?”

“It’s not. Let’s go… please?”

Nischa stopped and looked at Solana and Nym. “You’d just leave them like that?”

Both Solana and Nym nodded… stopped… and shook their heads.

“No.” they said in unison.

“Come on then.” Nischa handed each a sharpened stick. “But be careful.”

They headed out in the direction of the scream, silently from tree to tree, watching for any movement. Nym heard it before the others and motioned them to stop. There was a rustle in the underbrush ahead. Whatever it was sounded large. It was moving across their path, but not getting closer. Nym motioned and they began to circle around behind. They followed at a distance as the unseen rustle moved towards a large hedge. Nischa thought she could hear whispered voices, but could not make out the words. She moved closer, heard a sharp “Shhh!” and the rustle stopped. Nischa’s skin prickled as the chill she felt earlier in the night swept over her once more. She held up a hand for her sisters to stop and they waited, motionless. The hedge rustled again. Once. Twice. Nischa held her breath and gripped her stick tightly.

Another scream from the hedge and a figure burst out, eyes full of terror. She stopped short, nearly crashing into Nischa.

“Run! They’re everywhere!”

“Who is?” But Nischa would get no reply. A hand shot out from the hedge, grabbed the other, and pulled her back into the darkness, leaving only a piercing scream.

“Oh gods!” Nischa yelled, and turned to flee. “Go! GO!”

She raced past her sisters as they turned to follow. Suddenly the forest was no longer quiet. Dark shapes moved along the forest floor, some quickly, some shambling. More cries filled the night, coming from every direction.

“What are they?” Nym called as they followed behind. A hand shot towards her and she barely dodged to the side.

“Foul magiks!” she called over her shoulder. “We need to be away!”

Another figure rose in front of her, blocking her path. Nischa stopped and throwing her stick like a spear, watched in horror as it merely clattered between the ribs of the skeleton before her. Solana had already dodged to the side.

“This way!” Nym grabbed Nischa’s hand and pulled her along. “We can get out this way!”

She had no choice but to follow. Turning back, she saw a distance opening up between them. “Solana, hurry! We need to stay together!”

Solana ducked as another figure crashed above her. “I’m coming.” She dodged again, and charged in a straight line towards her sisters. A shadow rose from the fallen leaves below and Solana was gone. Her scream already fading.

“NO!” Nischa stopped, Nym pulled away.

“We’ve got to keep going!” Nym called.

That was the last Nischa saw of her sister. Darkness enveloped her, surrounded her, and the screams she heard were her own.