The tension in the mines was thick enough to cut with a knife, and Sarah began to notice things she hadn’t seen before as she was being led through the tunnels a second time. The Mythics that lived there wore grim expressions. Porter may not have been able to detect the scent, having a human nose, but to her the bitter scent of fear was almost overpowering.
Many of the mine’s inhabitants were wearing armor. Helmets, shields, and breastplates adorned their bodies, but the metal was rusted and looked like it would crumble to pieces after one good strike. One little fae boy they passed, not even thirteen years old, was being fitted with a suit of armor so heavy that he could barely move.
As they continued through the tunnels, they went through a chamber filled with furnaces and blacksmith equipment, where various Mythics were busy pounding metal into swords, spears, and axes. Their movements were slow and clumsy, and she heard Droma make a strange sound in his throat, as if he wanted to reprimand them for their shoddy craftsmanship.
At the moment, though, Sarah couldn’t bring herself to care about any of this. Arch-Mythic Rayalga had said that her parents would be ashamed of her— if they were still alive. That, more than anything else, had hammered home the fact that her parents must have been killed in the Slayers’ attack on Jellaska Kob Lertan. Her mother, who had always known exactly what to say to make her feel better as a child. Her father, who had always looked at her with undisguised pride, as if just being her father was the greatest thing he had ever accomplished. Could they really be gone? If anyone would know that they were dead, it would, without a shadow of a doubt, be the Arch-Mythic.
Sarah felt her knees grow weak, and they buckled underneath her. The guards took no notice, and proceeded to drag her the rest of the way. Her head fell, not even caring to see where they were taking her now, and she hung limply in their hands.
After a few more minutes, the guards halted. There came a loud groan as an old, rusty door opened in front of her, and suddenly she was thrown forward. She landed hard on her side and rolled a bit before coming to rest. Her friends soon followed, being piled in a heap all around her. She dimly registered that all of their bonds had been cut, leaving them free to move their hands. She looked up just in time to see the green skinned man give them one last smug look, and then slam the heavy iron door shut, leaving them in darkness.
“Hey!” Porter shouted in dismay, scrambling to his feet. “Rayalga said he was banishing us! You have to let us go!”
“Don’t bother, Porter,” Azkular said from across the cell, miserably. “The Arch-Mythic has gone mad. There’s no logic or reason to his actions now.”
“No!” Joseph protested, getting to his hooves. His eyes were wild with fright. “No, he hasn’t gone mad. There has to be a reason he threw you all in here!”
“You’re in here too, if you haven’t noticed,” Ozzie retorted, bitterly.
Joseph shook his head. “A mistake, that’s all. I’m innocent. You’re the ones who need to be in here!”
Sarah tried to ignore them as visions of her parents continued to flash in front of her eyes. Sobs tore at her throat, but she doubted the others were paying enough attention to hear them. For the first time in three days, she shifted back to her sphinx form. It wasn’t much, but the feeling of being in her real body was a small comfort.
“What do we do?” Porter asked, turning away from the door, giving up hope that the guards would come back to let them out. “We can’t just stay in here.”
“You’re right,” Faska agreed, getting up to stand with Porter. “We’ll have to break out.”
Droma joined them as well, and ran his hand over the door.
“This iron is old and weak,” he said. “It should break fairly easily.”
“It was a poor decision for Rayalga to put us in here,” Faska agreed.
“Stop it!” Joseph yelled at them, his face turning red with anger. “You can’t talk about the Arch-Mythic like that!”
“The Arch-Mythic is trying to lead our people to destruction!” Azkular shot back. “And he is going to take the lives of countless innocent humans with him!”
A stunned silence flooded the cell.
“Innocent humans?” Porter echoed.
Azkular nodded. “I was wrong, Porter. After my old mentor betrayed me, I convinced myself that all humans were evil. When I discovered what the Slayers were doing, it only reinforced this idea. That’s what fueled my fires all these years. My anger and hatred for the human race has kept me alive.”
The djinn paused, and looked at Porter. “But you’ve taught me otherwise. You’ve shown me that humans can be good. You awoke memories I’d locked away of the times I was actually happy as a human. Humanity’s not the plague I always thought it was. They are…” Unbelievably, Azkular choked on his emotion, more fire leaking out of his tear ducts. “They are just like us.”
Everyone stared at him for a few moments, none of them knowing how to react to the hard hearted djinn’s sudden revelation. After a minute, he cleared his throat, extinguishing his fiery tears, and composed himself.
“And today, Rayalga taught me something else,” he continued. “He showed me that the Mythics aren’t innocent in all of this either. If he really wants to exterminate humanity, then he’s not the leader I thought he was. He is nothing more than a Slayer in a Mythic’s body!”
He turned to Sarah, who was still crying her eyes out, unnoticed by anyone. “Sarah, is what you told Rayalga true?”
Sarah raised her head and looked at the djinn, her vision blurry from tears. Though it was a struggle to speak through her emotions, she answered. “Yes. I asked the Keeping Fire, and it told me exactly what I told Rayalga.”
Azkular nodded solemnly, and then placed his hand on the cell wall to hoist himself up.
“That’s the answer we’ve been looking for, then. The Keeping Fire at the Historians’ Tower holds all the knowledge we need to stop the war.”
Porter looked at him, surprised. “What are you talking about? The tower was destroyed!”
“Not the tower,” the djinn corrected him. “Just the historians. The Keeping Fire should still be inside, with everything the historians ever fed into it.”
“Every moment of history since the beginning of time,” the young man continued for him, the plan forming in his mind as well.
“It would know everything about the lies Mortoph has spread to build the Slayers’ numbers. If we can expose those lies, his men would lose faith in him.”
“And if the Mythics were to hear about why the Slayers were formed in the first place,” Droma spoke up, “they would understand that humans are not the plague they think they are!”
Porter clenched his fist in excitement, a fiery look in his eyes. “Then that’s what we’ll do! We’ll go back to the Historians’ Tower and get the Keeping Fire!”
“It won’t be as easy as that,” Azkular corrected him. “A Keeping Fire is difficult to move. You can’t just pick it up and carry it away. It’ll consume anything that touches it.”
Sarah saw Porter’s shoulders sag just a bit at this news, but he remained determined. “Then how will we move it?”
“There’s only one way to move a Keeping Fire,” Azkular answered. “Someone has to swallow it.”
Porter took a step back in shock. “Swallow it? You just said it would burn up anyone who touches it!”
“Not in this case,” Azkular explained. “If someone swallows a Keeping Fire, the opposite happens. They’ll absorb the fire, along with whatever knowledge it holds. Eventually, unless measures are taken to prevent it, the fire will die inside them, leaving them as they were before.”
Porter took a moment to absorb this, then asked, “How long will we have?”
“I estimate a week,” the djinn answered. “Maybe a little longer.”
“Then we’ll have to hurry,” Porter decided.
“It will have to be timed perfectly,” Faska chimed in. “We won’t have time to travel from one army to the other before the fire goes out.”
“They’ll have to be close,” Azkular agreed. “Almost…”
“Directly across from each other,” Sarah finished for him, clarity suddenly dawning on her. Every eye turned to look at her.
“It’s what Lowatai told me,” she explained, getting to her paws. “She said that I would be the Peacemaker, and that I would stand between the two armies and bring them peace!”
“The Protector and the Peacemaker,” Droma said softly, his eyes growing wide. “Of course! It is all working out just like Lowatai prophesized.”
“Then we don’t have any time to waste,” Azkular declared. “We have to leave now!”
“You’re all crazy!” Joseph protested, spreading his arms in dismay. “How can you even think like this? It goes against everything the Mythics stand for!”
“How?” Porter demanded. “By wanting peace?”
Joseph glared at him, his eyes hard. “You wouldn’t understand. You’re a human!”
Porter took a step up to the satyr. “I don’t care what I am, or what you are. All I want is for the killing to stop.”
“Ironic, coming from you,” Joseph shot back, balling his fists, “seeing how you’ve been a Slayer all your life!”
Porter’s face went red, and he took another step toward Joseph. Before things could escalate further, Droma reached out and caught the boy’s shoulder.
“Do not waste your energy,” the Soul Smith admonished him.
“He’s right,” Azkular agreed. “There’s only one way out of this mine, and that’s to fight.”
Joseph made a strange bleating sound in his throat. “You can’t be serious!”
“Joseph, if you can’t condone what we’re doing, then stay here,” Azkular commanded. “Rayalga didn’t give you a second glance when he brought us to him. You could probably blend in with the other Mythics and live here with them.”
Joseph sucked in a sharp breath, as if he wanted to continue arguing, but thought better of it. Instead, he turned to Sarah.
“Sarah,” he said desperately, coming to kneel in front of her so they were at eye level with each other. Porter growled and tried to intervene, but Droma held him back again.
“Stay here with me,” the satyr urged her, taking one of her large paws in his hands. “We can live here together. The Arch-Mythic hasn’t gone insane. He’ll forgive you for whatever you’ve done while you were with them. Then we can fight with the other Mythics and bring down the Slayers.”
Sarah stared at Joseph, stunned.
“Please, Sarah,” he begged her. His eyes were turning red. “Please. Let us be together.”
“Joseph,” she said at last, taking her paw out of his hand, “I can’t do that.”
“Yes, yes you can,” he insisted, reaching to take her paw again, but she took a step back.
“No,” she said back. “I love Porter!”
Joseph stared at her with eyes like knives, his teeth clenching so hard that she thought he’d grind them to dust.
“But he’s a human,” he said quietly.
“Yes,” Sarah agreed. “But he’s also got something you’ve never had. He can look past the bad in other people and see the good. He cares about the humans and the Mythics. You… you just want to take revenge on the Slayers.”
Joseph was silent. His eye twitched.
“I’m sorry for what happened at the Dwarf City,” the sphinx concluded. “You have every right to be mad. Stay here if you think that’s what’s right, but we’re going to try and end the fighting once and for all.”
With that, she stood up joined Porter on the other side of the room. The boy reached down and put his hand on her back, right between her wings, as if reassuring himself that she was really there. Joseph hadn’t moved a muscle since she’d left, and was now staring intently at the wall behind where she’d just been standing. It started softly, but a cry began to rise from his throat, growing louder until he was screaming. With eyes full of rage, he spun around to face Porter.
“You ruin everything!” he shouted, and lunged at him.
Before Sarah could react, Porter pushed her out of the way, sending her sprawled on the floor, and stepped forward to meet the satyr. Joseph was untrained and had never been in a real fight in his life. Porter had been raised as a Slayer, and had twelve years of combat training under his belt. Joseph’s punch bounced harmlessly off his arm, and then he threw his fist forward, slamming it as hard as he could into the satyr’s face. Joseph went down like a log, one last whimper escaping his mouth before he lost consciousness.
Porter took a deep breath and turned to Sarah, who was still lying on the floor. She got to her paws, casting a nervous glance at the defeated satyr.
“Uh, sorry,” Porter said, looking away in shame. “I lost my temper.”
“It’s fine,” she replied, coming to stand beside him again. “Let’s focus on getting out of here.”
“Give me a few minutes and I could beat the door down,” Droma offered, flexing his massive fists.
“No, Azkular ordered. “That’ll draw too much attention. We’d have the entire Sanctuary on top of us before we set foot in the hallway.”
“Then what do you suggest?” the Soul Smith asked.
Azkular was silent for a moment, and then he hopped awkwardly a few feet away from the others. He stood there, taking slow, deep breaths, as if preparing himself to do something very difficult. With one last breath, he clenched his eyes shut and began to strain. Nothing happened at first, but then a bright blue light erupted from the stump where his leg used to be.
“What are you doing?” Faska demanded, reaching out to stop him. “You’ll burn yourself out!”
Azkular ignored him. He leaned his head back and screamed as bone, muscle, and tissue began to rebuild itself before his companions’ eyes. The glow grew brighter as his new leg lengthened, forming his thigh, then his knee, then his calf. When it reached his ankle, he lost his balance and fell backwards against the wall. He almost lost his concentration, but he forced himself to focus. With one last cry of pain, his toes rebuilt themselves, and the fire extinguished itself. With a groan, he let his head fall back against the wall while he caught his breath.
“Are you okay?” Porter asked tentatively.
“I’ll… be fine,” Azkular answered between breaths. “My leg was… going to grow back anyway, but we didn’t have… months to wait for it.”
“You could have killed yourself!” Faska yelled, his face turning red. “If you had ran out of fire before—”
“I did what I had to do!” Azkular yelled back, and forced himself to his feet. His new leg threatened to give out on him, not yet accustomed to being stood on, but the djinn steadied himself and made his way to the door. “Stand back.”
“Be careful,” Droma cautioned him, moving the others back with a wave of his hand. “You have already overexerted yourself once. Do it again, and you could burn yourself out.”
“On the contrary,” Azkular growled, placing his hand on the door. “I’ve never felt more powerful.”
He closed his eyes and focused, forcing fire into the metal until it began to glow blue. The iron sizzled, but didn’t budge.
“Just… a bit… more…” Sarah heard him cursing under his breath. He was trembling, and she bit her lip anxiously. If the door didn’t give in soon, he would drain himself of his magic and die.
Then, with a strained grunt of effort, Azkular forced another surge of power into the door, blowing it to pieces with a deafening boom.
“Get down!” Porter ordered, tackling her as shrapnel rained down upon the group. When he allowed her to get back up, she saw the djinn lying face down on the floor.
“Is he okay?” she asked as Faska ran forward to check him. The elf knelt down and felt for his pulse, and then checked his breathing.
“He’s all right,” he said, almost grudgingly. “He just needs time to recover.
“Time… that we don’t have!” Azkular insisted, and tried to pick himself up off the ground. He proved too weak, though, and collapsed again.
“Here,” Faska said, taking the djinn under the arm and hoisting him off the ground so he could lean on his shoulder.
Azkular gave a gruff laugh. “I have both my legs, but I still have to lean on you, elf.”
Faska smiled. “That’s what friends are for.”
“We need to go!” Porter said, taking the lead. “There’s no way somebody didn’t hear that. They’ll be down here any second.”
“He is right,” Droma agreed, and began to usher them out of the cell.
“Sarah?” Manchi asked as she was led from the cell. Her eyes were wide with terror, and tears ran down her cheeks.
“Get on my back,” Sarah ordered, and lowered herself so that the little chimera could climb on. “Hold on tight, and don’t be afraid. Everything’s going to be fine!”
With Porter in front, the group charged down the tunnel. The cavern was still clogged with smoke, making it hard to breathe, but they soon left it behind as they climbed higher.
Ahead of them, a squad of Mythics came around the corner, armed with swords and spears.
“There they are!” the one in front shouted. “Stop them!”
Porter summoned Flicker and his armor, but Sarah wasn’t sure he would be able to fight them without killing them. The tunnels were tight, leaving very little room for proper fighting. All he would be able to do with any effectiveness was stab them, and that would almost certainly lead to death.
“Porter!” she shouted as the guards closed in on them. “You can’t fight them here!”
Porter hesitated for a moment, and then looked around. There were two other tunnels branching off from the one they were in.
“Split up!” he decided. “Try to lose them and get to the exit!”
With that, he took off down the tunnel to the left. Sarah went after him, following as close as she could without tripping him. She could hear Ozzie and Misty behind her. Faska, Droma, and Azkular must have gone the other way.
“Don’t let them get away,” she heard one of the guards call from the mouth of the tunnel. “Half of you go that way, the rest of you come with me!”
They ran for a minute, dodging around startled Mythics, until the small tunnel suddenly widened out into a larger chamber. It was one of the smithing chambers, Sarah realized when she saw the glows of the forges.
“It’s the traitors!” someone shouted as they ran inside. The reaction was immediate. The blacksmiths abandoned their work, their tools and half-finished weapons falling to the floors with a series of resounding clangs as they clambered to get out of the room.
“Stop!” Porter commanded, spinning around to face the tunnel entrance. “We can fight them here!”
Sarah skidded to a halt. Porter’s armor was reflecting the fires of the forges, making him look nightmarish in the mine’s dim light. Flicker was vibrating softly in his hand, eager to be put to use. Beside him, Ozzie pulled out his dagger and Misty crouched low to the ground, baring her teeth and snarling.
“Manchi,” Sarah said, lowering herself down, “go hide somewhere.”
The chimera girl clambered down off her back and went to hide behind one of the massive anvils. Heavy footsteps echoed out of the tunnel.
“Porter,” Sarah whispered, “don’t kill them.”
Porter gave a quick nod without taking his eyes off of the tunnel. With that, Sarah stepped forward and took her place beside him, baring her claws and bracing herself for the fight.
This time, Porter didn’t object.
The guards came charging out of the tunnel in a disorganized formation, packed tight by the size of the tunnel.
“Spread out,” Porter ordered as they drew closer. Sarah understood his reasoning. All grouped together like that, it would be difficult to break through their guard. If they spread out, they would be more exposed. The four fighters backed away from the door into opposite sides of the room. Sarah made sure to stay next to Porter. She counted five guards, and three of them broke apart to come at her and Porter. The last two made for Ozzie and Misty.
“Now!” Porter shouted, and threw himself at the nearest guard. Flicker collided with the oncoming spear, knocking it out of the way, and Porter slammed his shoulder into the guard’s chest. The guard’s chestplate absorbed most of the impact, but it still threw the guard off his feet. He hit the ground and his helmet rolled off, revealing the green skinned man that had captured him earlier.
All this happened in the space of a couple seconds, and Sarah barely had time to take it in before the other guard reached her. It slashed at her with a curved sword, and she jumped backwards out of its reach. The slash was followed up by a stab aimed at her head, but Sarah ducked underneath it. Before the guard could pull his hand back, she rose up and sank her sharp teeth into his wrist. He gave a cry of pain and jerked his arm back, tearing it out of her mouth. His good arm now hung limp by his side, blood leaking out of his wrist, but he still managed to pull a knife out of his belt with his other hand. Before he could attack her, Sarah rushed forward and raised herself onto her back legs. Claws unsheathed, she began to beat at the guard with her front paws, scratching him anywhere that wasn’t covered by his armor, and throwing him to the floor.
“P-please!” he begged, cowering. “Don’t kill me!”
He isn’t a real soldier, she realized, lowering her claws. Just an untrained civilian Rayalga drafted into his army.
Despite the situation, Sarah couldn’t raise her paw again.
“Get out of here,” she finally relented.
Nodding enthusiastically, the guard picked himself up and ran back into the tunnel he’d come from. Beside her, Sarah saw the green man spring back to his feet and come at Porter again. Porter nimbly dodged his attack, and then slapped him hard on the side of the head with the flat of Flicker’s blade, knocking him unconscious.
“Are you all right?” she asked, racing to him.
“I’m fine,” he answered. “You?”
“He didn’t get me,” she assured him, and then turned just in time to see Ozzie and Misty drive the last of their attackers away.
“There’ll be more of them in a minute,” Ozzie said, coming to join them. “We can’t fight every Mythic in this mine.”
“No,” Porter agreed, “we need to hide and then sneak out.”
“Where can we hide?” Sarah asked. These Mythics surely knew every nook and cranny of the Sanctuary.
“He said they went this way!” a voice echoed into their chamber from the tunnel. “Come on!”
“Looks like we’re out of time,” Porter said, turning to face the entrance again.
“There!” Misty shouted, speaking up for the first time since they’d entered the mountain.
Everyone turned to look, and saw that she was looking at the entrance to another chamber, the hole covered by a curtain.
“We have no idea what’s in there,” Porter warned them.
The sounds of approaching guards grew louder in the tunnel.
“We don’t have much choice,” Ozzie said, and led the way to the curtain. Porter reluctantly followed.
“Manchi!” Sarah called, and the chimera scampered out from behind the anvil to join her. “This way, hurry!”
Sarah followed the others, the curtain fluttering closed behind her just as the guards stampeded into the chamber. She peered through a small hole in the fabric and saw, with some dismay, that there were even more of them this time. If they were found, they might not be able to fend off that many. She turned to see what Porter thought of their situation, but found that his attention was elsewhere. The room was twenty feet across in every direction, and was lined with shelves filled with jars of different colored liquids.
“This is where they keep the potions,” she explained quietly, trying not to attract attention from outside.
“There’s so many of them,” Porter said, sounding more impressed than Sarah thought the situation called for.
“They’re definitely going to look in here,” Ozzie said. “Is there another way out?”
Instead of searching for a door, Porter began walking up and down the shelves, looking intently at every potion they held.
“Porter,” Sarah hissed, turning back to look through the curtain. “We don’t have time for that!”
She peered through the hole again, and saw the guards making their way through the chamber, opening supply closets and checking behind equipment. It wouldn’t take them long to figure out they weren’t in there anymore.
“Hold on,” Porter shot back, sounding as if he were in a trance. He came to the last shelf, and began running his finger across the small labels that told what each of them were.
“Yang Potion!” he exclaimed suddenly, stopping at the second to last spot on the shelf. He looked, but a disappointed frown crossed his face. “There’s none here.”
“So what?” Sarah snapped, anxiously glancing from him to the curtain.
“That’s what Vesper used to create the Other Porter,” he answered. “Azkular said he didn’t know where he could have gotten it from. This shelf says there should be some here, but it’s gone.”
“You think this is where he got it from?”
“It might have been. But if they have Yang Potion, then they must have some… Yes, there it is!” He reached out and picked up the small vial of milky white liquid at the end of the shelf. “Yin Potion!”
“That’s all well and good,” Ozzie said, rolling his knife agitatedly between his fingers, “but we’re still in trouble here!”
Suddenly, a crash rang out from the other side of the room, and everyone spun around to look. Instead of a guard, they found themselves looking at a woman. At her feet was a mess of broken glass and orange liquid where she had dropped the potion she’d been carrying.
She’s human, Sarah realized with a shock.
“As I live and breathe,” the woman said, sounding as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Porter?”
NEXT TIME: Holy shoot whistles, somebody in the mine knows Porter? Who is she? Maybe she can help them get out of the Sanctuary!