Dread weighed heavily in Glenda’s heart as she was towed behind the army of Mythics. Her hands were cuffed together, and a long chain tethered her to the troll that had been assigned to be her keeper. Her feet, though not bare, were sore and scuffed from having to trek so far.
I’m too old for this, she thought. Her bones were aching and threatening to give out on her, but she forced herself to keep moving as Rayalga’s attack force marched on. The gryphon had made it clear that his plans for her were by no means essential to his ultimate goal. If she slowed him down, or even showed signs that she might do so, he would have her killed for her earlier treason.
I have to stay alive, she told herself. Porter is out there somewhere. If Rayalga kills me, I’ll never get to see him again.
Part of her mind wanted to think that Porter, her poor, little, innocent son, would need her help. She shut this part out, though. As much as she would have loved to go back to being his foster mother just like she had been years ago, she knew that that wasn’t an option. Porter wasn’t a child anymore. She had known that the moment she’d seen him. He’d looked so mature, wearing his armor and holding his sword. He’d had the eyes of a warrior.
Just like his father…
At first, terror had rooted Glenda’s feet to the floor. She’d lost her little boy all those years ago, and she wasn’t sure she could handle seeing the Slayer he’d been turned into. His eyes, though… They hadn’t been the cold, cruel eyes of a Slayer. A warrior, perhaps, but not a Slayer. The way he’d looked at his friends, the sphinx in particular, had assured her of that. Happiness welled up in her chest, knowing that, somehow, her adopted son had resisted the Slayers’ attempts to corrupt him.
The sphinx, though. Glenda furrowed her brow in confusion. The boy, the wolf, and the chimera had all been Porter’s friends, but the way he’d looked at the sphinx had been different. There had been something else in his eyes. Something…
“On our right!” somebody ahead of her called, jolting the old woman out of her thoughts.
The Mythics spun to look, all of them scrambling to draw their weapons. Swords clanged together and shields shoved the untrained soldiers around as they attempted to line up against whatever was coming at them. Glenda halted, her breath catching in her throat from fear. There was something in the distance. Several somethings, she realized, though they were too far away for her to see clearly.
“It’s just more Mythics,” she heard someone say, relieved.
A few of the soldiers lowered their weapons, but then Rayalga flew above their heads, regal and majestic in the early afternoon sun.
“Keep your weapons ready!” he commanded, circling around to land before them, directly in the path of the oncoming Mythics. “Attack when they come in range!”
Confused exclamations ran through the ranks. Attack the Mythics? Why? Even Glenda wasn’t sure what the Arch-Mythic’s reasoning here was. He’d made it clear that he wanted to wipe out mankind, so why was he setting his army on his own subjects?
Because he’s gone mad, she thought bitterly as the other Mythics drew nearer. She could see them more clearly now that they were closer. There were about ten of them that she could count, almost all of them different species. She saw two leprechauns, a gnome, a dwarf, three elves, a red skinned fae, and a gorgon. Leading the charge was an old centaur.
“Archers and spellcasters at the ready!” Rayalga ordered when they were only fifty feet away.
His army shuffled awkwardly behind him before raising their bows and staffs. Glenda could tell that none of them wanted to harm their own kind, but they didn’t dare defy the Arch-Mythic.
The squad of Mythics was only twenty feet away, now, and they still hadn’t called out to announce themselves. Surely they could see that the army was about to attack them, Glenda reasoned. They hadn’t even slowed their pace, continuing to run full speed at Rayalga and his soldiers as if…
Stop! Glenda urged them silently. Can’t you see they’re going to—
“Fire!” Rayalga commanded.
A barrage of arrows and spells shot out of the Mythics’ ranks. Many of them were obviously shot to miss, as they came nowhere close to the approaching Mythics, but a few of them found their marks. A leprechaun, the dwarf, and two of the elves fell to the ground, arrows protruding from their bodies and their skin sizzling where the magic had struck them.
“Fire again!” the gryphon ordered, though Glenda could see it was too late.
The centaur collided with Rayalga, rearing up onto his hind legs to kick the Arch-Mythic in the face. Rayalga lashed out, slicing a fatal wound into the centaur’s chest as the rest of them charged past him, straight into the Mythic army.
“Kill them!” the gryphon’s voice rang out, loud and angry as thunder.
The army obeyed, converging on the attacking Mythics. Glenda sucked in a breath, completely bewildered. The attackers were unarmed, fighting with nothing more than their own fists against an entire army of soldiers. Why would they attack an army on its way to battle? They were outnumbered more than a hundred to one, and every one of the soldiers were armed. She could only watch as they were cut down in less than a minute. Rayalga’s army didn’t suffer a single casualty.
As the red fae died, a spear protruding from his chest, a shocked silence fell over the Mythics. Glenda was sure they were all wondering the same thing she was. Why had this happened? The old woman had been kept well away from the fighting, but the sight of so much death still made her sick to her stomach. Rayalga hadn’t moved from where he’d slain the centaur, but now he turned to face his army. Without a word, he waded through them, the soldiers parting to make way, until he came to the dead fae. Lowering his head to look into the fallen attacker’s face, he reached a claw out to carefully lift the fae’s eyelid back.
“Look!” he declared, raising his head again. “Red and black eyes, the sign of those who have betrayed us for our enemies!”
Glenda could feel the wave of fear that washed over the army at the Arch-Mythic’s words. A chorus of frightening muttering broke out, but Rayalga only held his head high and spread his wings proudly.
“Silence!” he commanded, and the army obeyed. “I do not know why, but there are Mythics who have pledged their allegiance to the Slayers. The Slayers brand these traitors with black eyes, and now they work to destroy us as if they, themselves, were human. They are just as much our enemy now as the Slayers, and we can show them no mercy. They must all die!”
Glenda stood there in shock, hardly able to believe her ears. Mythics siding with the Slayers? Such a thing could never happen, if for no other reason than because the Slayers would rather kill any Mythic that approached them with an offer like that than accept it. Still, she couldn’t deny what she had just seen.
There had to be an explanation, her common sense insisted. Perhaps this had been a rebel party trying to overthrow the current Arch-Mythic. Such a thing was rare, but still happened from time to time. But what were the chances of one happening right now, just when it would benefit Rayalga’s demands for war?
“There may be more in the area,” the gryphon declared. “We have to keep moving. March!”
With that, he took to the air, flying in the direction that he’d decided to lead the army. As the soldiers slowly began to move, Glenda found herself being led towards the red fae’s corpse. None of the Mythics stopped to move it, or even avoid stepping on it. Maybe this was because they had no room to go around it, Glenda reasoned. Or maybe they had actually taken Rayalga’s words to heart, and had denounced the attackers as allies of the Slayers. Something strange was going on, but as for the Slayers recruiting Mythics… that was doubtful.
As her troll guard led her onward, Glenda found the red fae directly in her path. As she passed by, being careful to step over it, she stole a glance downward, and what she saw sent shivers running down her spine.
Rayalga had been right about one thing, at least. The fae’s eyes were open, even in death, and they were an unnatural combination of red and black.
Porter sat cross-legged on the cold forest floor, Flicker in hand, watching his captive. Granger lay on the ground before him, his hands and feet tied, and still very much unconscious. The fight had been more than eight hours ago, and Porter had worried briefly that he’d accidentally killed the old Slayer. A quick check from Faska, however, had assured him that Granger was still alive, and would soon wake up.
His decision to bring Granger with them had been met with mixed reactions.
“Letting Ozzie come was one thing,” Azkular had argued. “He isn’t full grown, nor is he fully trained. That man,” he’d pointed at Granger’s prone form, “has been killing Mythics for longer than you’ve been alive.”
“He can change,” Porter had insisted. “I want to give him the chance.”
Faska had shaken his head, agreeing with the djinn for once. “It’s too dangerous. He’s too dangerous. The chances of him changing are practically nonexistent. He’ll put all of us in danger.”
“He doesn’t deserve the chance,” Azkular had concluded, eyeing the Slayer with undisguised hostility.
“Neither did I,” Porter shot back, his face turning red with anger. “But Sarah gave it to me anyway. Now look at me!”
“Porter,” Sarah had spoken up, hesitantly. She had stayed well clear of the fighting, but she had still clearly seen Granger’s skill with both blade and magic. If they brought him with them, and he got free, how much damage would he do before they subdued him again?
Porter had turned to her, his eyes pleading. “Sarah, tell them. If I can change, then so can he. Please, just give him the chance!”
He could tell that Sarah hadn’t wanted to agree with him, but she didn’t want to kill Granger any more than he did. They couldn’t just tie him up and leave him, either, though. His partner would undoubtedly return to rescue him. Finally, biting her lip in uncertainty, she’d nodded.
“Porter’s right,” she’d said, though he could hear in her voice that she was less than convinced. “It fits in with our plan after all, doesn’t it?”
Azkular had turned to look at her incredulously. “In what way does this fit into our plan?”
“The part where we show them the truth and give them the opportunity to change,” Sarah had answered. “That’s why we’re going to the Historians’ Tower, right? We want the Keeping Fire to show them the truth so that they’ll stop following Mortoph.”
“Yes,” Azkular agreed, “but we still have a long way to go before we reach the tower. If the Slayer were to escape his bonds before then, he would—”
“Try to kill us,” Sarah had finished for him. “But we beat him once. We can do it again if we have to.”
Porter had sensed the sphinx’s fear as she took a deep breath. He knew that she had good reason to be afraid of Granger. The old man had been one of the Slayers who had attacked her house, sending her on this wild quest in the first place. Still, when she looked at him, Porter could see the passion in her eyes. She trusted him enough to make what he wanted what she wanted as well.
“We’ll just have to make sure we’ve convinced him by the time he breaks free,” she’d finished.
And that had been that. Though nobody could say they were comfortable with the idea of bringing a veteran Slayer with them, they kept their doubts to themselves and tied Granger up. Even Porter couldn’t say for sure that he’d made the right decision. It felt like the right decision, but his mind kept showing him images of Granger staging a sneak attack on his friends while they were asleep, slaughtering them all. He shook his head, banishing those pictures from his mind, even though he knew it wouldn’t be long before they returned again.
The old man stirred on the ground before him. Porter gripped Flicker tighter and leaned forward, trying to hide his anxiety. Granger groaned, and finally opened his eyes. For a minute, he simply lay there, looking at the boy sitting in front of him. His face hardened, his eyebrows knitting together.
“Hey,” Porter greeted him, making sure Flicker was well within his captive’s view.
Granger didn’t answer, but rocked back and forth a bit on the ground.
“Droma tied those knots himself,” Porter said. “It’ll take more than a little squirming to get out of them.”
Granger stopped moving and turned his eyes on Porter again.
“Why am I still alive?” he asked, his voice icy.
“So you can change,” Porter answered.
Granger snorted. “Then you may as well kill me now.”
“Trust me, they wanted to. I convinced them to let you live.”
“So you can change me,” Granger repeated. “Show me the error of my ways and teach me to love the monsters.”
Porter scowled, his face turning red with anger, but he took a deep breath and forced himself to push it back. After all, that’s probably what he would have said before he met Sarah.
“They’re not monsters,” he said. “If they were, they wouldn’t have let me keep you alive.”
Granger rolled onto his back with an annoyed grunt, refusing to look at the young man. For several minutes he was silent, as if contemplating something.
“And what will you do if I don’t change?” he asked at last, still not looking at him. “Will you kill me?”
“Yes,” Porter answered, tightening his grip on Flicker.
Granger turned his head to look at him again. “You’re lying. You think I didn’t hear the hesitation in your voice just now? You have no plans to kill me if I don’t cooperate. I doubt you could do it even if you had to.”
Porter felt the color drain slightly from his face. He put on a stony expression, hoping it would hide how bothered he was that the old Slayer had been able to read him so easily.
“I’m still holding out hope that you’ll come back to your senses, Porter,” Granger said. “But I have to admit, you’re making it rather hard to do so.”
“That’s because I would rather die than join the Slayers again,” he shot back.
Granger sighed, and again Porter could see genuine concern in his eyes, even a little remorse. “I’m afraid that wish may be granted sooner than you think.”
Porter looked away, remembering what he’d heard Rayalga say. “I know. The Mythics are getting ready to attack humanity.”
“No,” Granger corrected him. “They already are.”
Porter turned to look at him in shock.
“That can’t be true,” he said in disbelief. “We were there not even two days ago. They weren’t ready to attack yet!”
“The army of monsters Vega and I saw marching out of a mineshaft this morning disagrees, it would seem.”
For a few seconds, Porter forgot to breathe in his terror. The Mythics were already on the move? How long would it be before they reached civilization? Would they discriminate in who they attacked? With Rayalga in his current state, Porter doubted it.
“Master Mortoph doesn’t plan to attack them right away,” Granger continued. “He’s going to allow them to create some havoc before revealing the Slayers.”
“What?” Porter exclaimed, unable to believe what he’d just heard. “Why would he do that?”
“To make sure everyone knows that the monsters are the enemy. Then, when the Slayers arrive, nobody will want to stop us.”
“But people will die!”
Granger nodded. “Yes, they will. That is a sacrifice Master Mortoph is willing to make.”
Porter sat back, his mind whirling with this new information. He’d known Mortoph was insane, but he’d always assumed that his mission to destroy the Mythics would take precedence over public relations. He killed his own men for failure, after all.
“That’s… That’s…” he said, but he couldn’t find the words to describe how horrible such a thing was.
“Abominable,” Granger finished for him.
Porter looked at him in surprise.
“I don’t agree with everything the Master commands us to do,” the old man explained, his eyes revealing more emotion than Porter had ever seen in them before. “I believe he makes some very bad choices.” He paused, and then added. “And those choices seem to be coming with more and more regularity now.”
“Then why do you keep doing what he says?” Porter asked tentatively. Such a thing didn’t make sense. If Granger truly though Mortoph was such a bad leader, why did he continue to follow him?
“Because I’ve given him my loyalty,” Granger answered. “That’s something I taught you when you were in training, though I don’t suppose you would remember it now anyway.”
Porter sat there, looking at the old man expectantly. Soon, Granger sighed and gave in.
“A man’s loyalty is only meant to be given to one side, one cause,” he explained. “It sickens me how easy it is for people to change sides these days. When the side they’ve chosen no longer suits their interests, they’ll abandon it and choose another side.”
“And what if the side they chose is the wrong side?” Porter asked. “Do you expect them to just stay there and keep doing the wrong thing?”
Granger nodded. “Yes, Porter. By pledging your allegiance to one side, you are giving your solemn word to them that you will fight for them, no matter what the circumstances are. To take back that vow would be to brand yourself a liar.”
Porter sat silently for a few moments. Behind him, he could hear the campfire crackling and his friends speaking quietly amongst themselves. Some of Granger’s reasoning made sense. If he were to, for whatever reason, discover that he was doing the wrong thing by working with Sarah and the others, it would be very difficult for him to betray them. They were his friends, and he was loyal to them. Still, he thought, Granger’s loyalty didn’t sound as if he speaking about loyalty between companions. It sounded more like slavery. By choosing a side, it was like that side owned you from then on.
Finally, he looked at the Slayer again.
“Do you think the Slayers are the wrong side?” he asked quietly.
This time, it was Granger who fell silent. Porter could practically see his mind working behind those hard eyes, trying to decide how best to answer the young man.
“I think,” he answered at last, “that if they are the wrong side, then dying with them will be a proper punishment for following them.”
Porter blinked in surprise. He wasn’t sure if Granger had meant to give so much of himself away with that answer, but now the boy couldn’t help but look at him in a new way. He wasn’t a man wholeheartedly devoted to the Slayers and what they did. He was a man who was as lost and confused as Porter, himself, was. He’d picked a side, and was now holding onto it as tightly as he could, telling himself over and over that he’d made the right choice. The reasons he had for joining, whatever they were, had grown weaker over time, and now he only remained with them because of loyalty’s sake.
Suddenly, the possibility of changing Granger didn’t sound quite so farfetched.
“What if you knew that by switching sides,” he said at last, “you would have the chance to do some real good in the world?”
Granger didn’t answer. Porter didn’t press him. As the old man lay there on the forest floor, tied and unable to move, he turned his head upwards to look at the stars. Porter tried not to get his own hopes up, but he swore that he could see a twinge of uncertainty on the Slayer’s face. With that, he sat back against a tree, smiling in satisfaction.
You’re not the only one who can plant seeds, Mortoph.
Sarah lay with her paws crossed in front of her, letting the warmth of the fire chase away the cold while Porter watched Granger on the other side of the camp.
I hope you know what you’re doing, Porter, she thought. She trusted him, but that didn’t mean she could relax with a Slayer lying twenty feet away.
She drew a shuddering breath, remembering the first time she’d ever seen him. Her parents gone, alone in her massive house with her banshee maid Mrs. Rasta, when, suddenly, an entire wing of her house had been blown up.
“Run, girl! Run as fast as you can, and don’t look back!” Mrs. Rasta had screamed as flames quickly consumed the house, but it had been too late. Two Slayers had already trapped them inside. Mrs. Rasta had sacrificed her life trying to give Sarah a chance to escape.
And then came the moment that had changed her life forever. Granger had stepped aside and allowed the other Slayer the opportunity to kill her.
Of course, Porter had been a completely different person than he was now. He hadn’t hesitated to attack her. He’d even manipulated the wind to throw her through a wall, much like he’d done earlier today with Granger. She’d been saved by luck alone when a portion of her roof had collapsed on top of him, giving her the chance to teleport away.
With a start, Sarah realized that she was smiling. She shook her head, laughing a bit. Even if it had been one of the most terrifying experiences of her life, she couldn’t deny that she wouldn’t be where she was today without it. She’d have never left her house. She’d have never gone on this amazing adventure. She’d have never met Porter…
She gave Granger another glance, and found that she wasn’t quite as afraid now. The man might be evil, but he’d done at least one good thing with his life that night. Besides, Porter said he could change. She knew Porter well enough to know that he wasn’t just bluffing when he said that, trying to save somebody’s life. He genuinely believed that he could change who Granger was. If Porter believed that, Sarah decided, then she would do whatever she could to help him. After all, giving the Slayers another chance was what they were trying to do, right?
Sarah shifted to be more comfortable, and found that she’d been so wrapped up in thinking about Granger that she hadn’t heard Misty lay down next to her. The werewolf was looking at the old Slayer much the same way she had. Fear and apprehension was etched on her face, and she sat stiffer than she normally did.
“What do you think of him?” Sarah asked at last.
Misty shook her head agitatedly. “We should have killed him.”
Sarah looked at her, raising her eyebrows in surprise.
“That doesn’t sound like something the werewolf I used to know would say.”
Misty finally turned away from the Slayer, giving the sphinx a stern look. “I was never the werewolf you thought I was, Sarah.”
Sarah nodded. There was still coldness in her old friend’s eyes, but she didn’t allow herself to look away.
“My daddy is going to be so mad at me when Mr. Granger tells him what I’ve been doing,” Misty said worriedly, putting her head down on top of her paws.
Sarah gasped. “Wha- you’re not still planning on going back to him, are you?”
“What else can I do?” Misty shot back angrily. “He adopted me. I’m his daughter now!”
Sarah shook her head. “You can’t go back. Not after everything he’s done to you. If he finds out you’ve been with us this whole time, he’ll probably kill you!”
Misty stared guiltily at the ground in front of her and didn’t say anything.
“Stay with us,” Sarah urged her. “We’ll take care of you. We’ll keep you safe.”
“You just don’t understand,” Misty said, her voice so quiet that Sarah could barely hear her.
“I don’t understand what?” the sphinx asked. “What is it that still makes you want to go back to him?”
“Because he’s my daddy!” Misty insisted. “I don’t have anyone anymore. He’s the only thing I’ve got. Even if he’s mean to me and locks me up, at least I know I’ve got a family.”
Sarah felt a pang of sympathy in her heart. She couldn’t understand why Misty would feel such loyalty to a Slayer, but she could, at least, understand the werewolf’s need for a family. It had only been a couple days since she’d found out her parents were dead, but she was already desperately lonely for them.
“What about Ozzie?” Sarah asked, turning her head to look at the young man lying on Droma’s massive leather cloak.
“Ozzie is… he’s…” Misty stammered, unable to bring herself to look at her brother. She sighed. “Sarah, I want him to be my brother so bad, but what if he isn’t? I don’t want to get hurt again.”
Sarah bit her lip, trying not to let the emotion show on her face. Misty shook her head, lying back down again.
“What about us?” Sarah asked at last.
Misty looked up at her in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Sarah looked into the fire, remembering all the fun times she and Misty had had back at her mansion.
“We used to be best friends,” she answered. “What are we now?”
Misty hung her head. “Don’t pretend, Sarah. You know why I was doing that. You know I was trying to kill you back at the Dwarf City. You don’t really want to be my friend.”
“Yes, I do,” Sarah asserted. Misty looked up at her in surprise. “Okay, yes, you made some mistakes in the past. But that doesn’t change how close we used to be. Can we try to do that again, please?”
Misty shook her head in bewilderment. “What makes you think I still want to be your friend?”
“I don’t,” Sarah answered without a moment’s hesitation. “That’s your decision. But it’s just like Porter was saying earlier: we have to believe that people can change, otherwise this whole thing is pointless.”
Misty sat still for a minute, not saying anything. Then, tentatively, she looked back up at Sarah.
“Even though I knew all along what I was going to do to you,” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper. “I still felt like I was your friend. I liked being around you. We were like…”
“Like sisters,” Sarah finished for her, feeling tears begin to well up in her eyes. Tears were running down the fur on Misty’s snout as well. “Do you want to be like that again? Like sisters?”
Wordlessly, Misty nodded.
A smile rose to Sarah’s face, and she got up and took a step forward to wrap a big paw around Misty’s back. Misty gave Sarah a big, doglike kiss on the cheek, licking her tears clean.
“Good to have you back, sis,” Sarah said.
NEXT TIME: D’aaaw, look at all the happy feels! They’d better enjoy them now, because next week they’re finally going to get to the Historians’ Tower. What will they find waiting for them? Will they be able to make it out again?