Porter awoke with the meager light of dawn, and the first thing he realized was that Sarah was already awake.
“Sarah!” he exclaimed, scrambling to his feet and running to embrace her. “You’re all right!”
“I’ve been awake all night,” she confessed, returning the hug.
Porter pulled away, running his eyes over her in concern. “How do you feel?” he asked.
“I feel fine,” she answered.
“You feel hot,” he corrected her. “I can feel the fire burning in you. Are you sure you don’t feel different?”
Sarah shook her head. Porter was about to accept her answer, but as he watched her face he noticed something different about it.
“Hold still,” he told her, and she paused. He leaned in closer, sure that his eyes must be playing tricks on him. But no, he realized, they weren’t.
“Sarah,” he said hesitantly, “your eyes are green.”
“What?” She got to her feet and, gently pushing Porter out of the way, went to one of the nearby windows. The storm was still going strong outside, but she ignored that and looked at her reflection.
“That’s impossible!” she exclaimed. “I’ve always had brown eyes!”
“It’s not surprising.” Both of them spun around to see Azkular getting up. Droma and Faska were following suit. “The Keeping Fire was green. Since it’s inside you now, it’s only natural that it would make its presence known somehow. Your eyes have turned the exact same color that the fire used to burn.”
Sarah turned and looked at her reflection again. “It’ll go away once the fire burns out, though, right?”
Azkular nodded. “Yes. Once the fire goes out, there will be nothing left of it. It’ll be like you never swallowed it at all.”
Porter thought he heard a trace of regret in his friend’s voice, but that thought was chased away when he reminded himself what was coming next.
“Well, we’ve got what we came for,” he said decisively. “It’s time to go.”
He spoke confidently, but his gut was still weighed down with dread. Whatever happened next, this marked the beginning of the end. They woke Misty, Ozzie, and Manchi up and collected their few belongings.
“Where do we need to go?” Porter asked, turning to Azkular.
“Why don’t we ask the Slayer?” Azkular suggested, shooting a venomous glare at Granger. The old man was standing a few feet away from them.
“They were heading west,” he answered without having to be asked. “The march will take them several days, but eventually it will lead them to Red Castle.”
Porter eyed him suspiciously.
“Are you telling us this just to discourage us again?” the young man asked.
Granger glanced at him, and then turned to face the entire group again.
“If you want to defeat Mortoph,” he continued, “then you should head off the Mythics at Westwillow.”
“Westwillow,” Porter echoed, and turned toward Droma. “That’s—”
“The town Sarah was captured in,” Droma finished for him, nodding.
“That’s where they’re going?”
“It’s not directly in their path,” Granger answered, “but it will be the first place of human civilization they reach, so I doubt they will pass on the opportunity to strike there.”
Porter narrowed his eyes. “Why are you telling us this? You know we’re just going to use this against you.”
“No,” the old man shook his head. “You’re going to use it against them.”
Porter took a step back in surprise. “You- you mean you’re…”
“I’ve decided,” Granger announced, standing straighter, “that I no longer want to be affiliated with the Slayers. I’ll come with you and help however I can.”
“I don’t trust him,” Azkular immediately snapped, taking a step forward. “He changed his mind too suddenly.”
“Distrust me if you wish,” Granger said, turning to the djinn. “You are all strong of heart but few in number, and you’re planning on stopping both the Slayers and the Mythic army. It seems to me that you need all the help you can get.”
Azkular glared at him dangerously, but couldn’t refute the old man’s logic.
“If we untie you,” Porter spoke up again, “how do we know you won’t just kill us?”
Granger shrugged, though Porter could see that he didn’t feel as indifferent about this as he was putting on. “Your group here was built on trust,” he said. “You overcame your prejudices and joined together for the common good. If you want to make peace with the humans and the Mythics, you’ll have to start by doing the same for me.”
Again, the old man had given irrefutable logic. Porter turned to Sarah for her opinion. He wanted to believe him— that was the whole point of bringing him with them. But was it worth it if it put his friends’ lives at risk?
“I think we should do it,” Sarah said, surprising him. “He’s right. We have to start trusting people somewhere, or else none of this will work. Why not start with him?”
Porter looked at all of his friends’ faces in turn. Though none of them were comfortable with the idea, none of them spoke out against it either.
“All right,” Porter said uneasily. He took a step towards Granger and summoned Flicker while the Slayer turned to face the wall. Pushing his doubts aside, Porter raised his sword and cut Granger’s ropes.
“Ah, much better,” Granger said, stretching his arms and rubbing his wrists where the circulation had been cut off.
Porter hurriedly took a step backwards, just in case the Slayer decided to spin around and attack him. He didn’t. Instead, Granger turned to face them, his calm eyes bright and calculating.
“I admit,” he said, “I was exaggerating when I told you how much time you had. If we move with haste, there’s still a chance we can beat the Mythics to Westwillow.”
Porter nodded his agreement, daring to feel hope again. Granger walked past him and knelt beside where Ozzie still lay. Reaching inside his long black coat, he withdrew a small vial filled with green liquid.
“Drink this, Ozzie,” he instructed. When the Asian boy refused to touch it, he added, “It’s a healing potion. It will fix your ribs.”
Ozzie didn’t need to hear anything more. Wincing in pain, he quickly uncorked the potion and downed it in one gulp. A few seconds later, he sighed with relief when his bones knitted themselves back together, and in less than a minute he was able to stand on his own again.
“How do you feel?” Porter asked.
“Better,” Ozzie said, moving his body around experimentally. “A lot better!”
Satisfied, Granger turned to Droma. “You relieved me of my sword when you captured me. I know you can summon the swords you have forged. Do you have a katana I might use?”
Droma hesitated, obviously not uncomfortable with handing a weapon to a Slayer, but at an encouraging nod from Porter he summoned a katana and handed it to the old man.
“It is a good blade,” Granger said, holding it in two hands. “You are undoubtedly a master craftsman.”
Despite who he was talking to, Porter saw Droma stand a little taller at the praise.
“We need to get going,” the boy said. “Is everyone ready to run? We’re going to have to—”
“I’m afraid there’s been a change of plans,” a cold voice called to them from the other end of the hallway.
Porter spun around in surprise to see another man in a black coat marching towards them, the pack on his back clacking every time he took a step.
“Vega!” Porter exclaimed.
Dominic Vega pulled two javelins from his pack in reply, holding one in each hand.
“Get out of our way,” Azkular demanded, coming to stand beside Porter. “You didn’t stand a chance against us when you had a partner. What do you think you’ll be able to do now that you’re alone?”
Vega turned hard eyes on Granger, who stood with his new katana poised to deflect any spears he chose to throw.
“First of all,” he said, “I intend to kill the traitor.”
“He’s one of us now,” Porter said, moving to stand between them. “You’ll have to kill all of us if you want to get to him!”
Vega smiled. “I only want to kill four of you. The rest I don’t care about.”
He pointed with his javelin at Porter. “You’re a traitor to the Slayers. You’ve sided with the monsters, and must be eliminated.” He pointed at Sarah. “You’re the monster that corrupted one of our best Slayers. Killing you will be an honor.”
Porter moved to stand in front of Sarah now, his face turning red with anger. Vega had just made a big mistake. Sarah would be the first one he protected, and he would kill the Slayer if he tried to hurt her.
Vega pointed at Misty. “You’re the reason I’m here in the first place. Master Mortoph ordered me to track you down and kill you.”
The werewolf gasped and took a step back. “Daddy… wants me dead?” she whispered in shock.
“Don’t worry,” Ozzie said, drawing his knife. “I won’t let him touch you.”
Lastly, Vega pointed at Granger. “I’ve always hated you, old man. I planned to kill you once I found you and tell the others that you were a traitor. The fact that you are a traitor only makes this even better.”
Porter’s breathing began to become heavier. This man was ranked even higher than Granger. There was no way he could kill them all, but Porter knew they wouldn’t be able to escape without casualties.
“You don’t have to do this,” the young man said. “We’re trying to bring peace. You can help us!”
“Save your breath, Porter,” Granger said. “There is no changing this one.”
From the other end of the hall, Vega chuckled. “Change me? I’d rather die.”
And that was that. Porter felt himself go eerily calm, and his hand stopped shaking as he raised Flicker. “Fine, then. We’ll do it your way.”
With a shout, Porter charged at Vega. The Slayer reacted instantly, throwing both of his javelins at him. The first one sailed towards Porter’s head, and he ducked underneath it— which put his heart directly in the second one’s path. He sprang into the air, jumping over the short spear, and hit the ground running. He reached Vega before he could throw another javelin, and swung his sword. Vega parried the attack with one spear, and thrust the other one at Porter’s chest, and Porter leaped backwards out of Vega’s reach. The Slayer followed suit, stabbing at him in midair with his spears. Vega had two weapons while Porter only had one— he was barely able to keep up. When Vega managed to scrape his arm with the sharp tip of a javelin, Porter summoned a strong wind to blow against the Slayer, forcing him backwards, and Porter used that time to retreat another few steps.
“Porter!” Azkular shouted from behind him. “He’s a long range fighter! Don’t distance—!”
Vega attacked before Azkular could finish, and Porter barely had time to register the six javelins that were hurtling at him before he reacted on instinct, summoned another gust of wind, and scattered the wooden spears.
“Porter, look out!” he heard Sarah yell, but it was too late. The last javelin, hidden behind the rest, caught him by surprise, burying itself in his thigh.
Porter screamed and fell to one knee, his hand wrapped around the wooden shaft that protruded from his leg. Behind him, he heard Sarah scream in horror. Blood poured from the wound, pooling on the ground beneath him. The pain was intense, like nothing he’d ever felt before, dulling his thoughts and making him feel like he was going to throw up. He could feel the javelin’s splintery wood inside his leg, its tip scratching his bone. He grabbed it, preparing to yank it out, but a hand alighted on his shoulder, and another wrapped around the javelin, keeping it where it was.
“Leave it,” Droma ordered him. “You will bleed to death if you pull it out.”
Still barely able to comprehend what was going on around him, Porter managed to loosen his grip on the wooden spike. He dimly registered that Azkular was fighting Vega now, his twin knives only barely keeping the Slayer’s stabs and jabs at bay. Faska stood back a few feet, his staff drawn, unable to join the fight because the hallway wasn't wide enough for them to fight side by side.
“You are going to be all right,” the giant promised him, and Porter felt Sarah press up against his side. Tears were streaming down her cheeks, and she was breathing heavily. Seeing her cry brought Porter back to lucidity. The pain only became more acute, and he was beginning to feel faint from blood loss, but he managed to give her a brave smile.
“Just a scratch,” he promised her, though he couldn’t keep the strain out of his voice.
Sarah shook her head, a fresh wave of tears rolling down her face, and reached out to hug him.
“Why do you do that?” she asked, barely holding back the sobs. “Why do you keep throwing yourself right into danger like that?”
“I did it…” he gasped, the javelin digging deeper into his leg when he moved, “to protect you!”
In front of them, Vega managed to knock Azkular’s knives aside and sink a javelin into the djinn’s shoulder. Azkular howled, but didn’t back down. While the Slayer’s arm was still extended, he jumped into the air, spun around and kicked Vega in the face. Vega stumbled back a couple steps, and Azkular used that as his chance to retreat. He yanked the spear out of his shoulder, blue fire curling out of the wound, and threw it aside. Faska stepped forward to take his place, twirling his staff.
Vega growled, rubbing his cheek where Azkular had kicked him. Reaching back, he pulled out several javelins— at least five in both hands.
There’s no way he can throw all those, Porter thought, still fighting to keep the pain from taking over his mind.
But he did. With a heave, Vega threw both handfuls of javelins at Faska. They were obviously guided by magic, since they all flew straight towards their target. The elf gasped in surprise, and then spun his staff. The first three that reached him, he knocked out of the air. The fourth grazed his side, gouging a hole in his pure white cloak. The rest would have impaled him, but Droma stood up at the last moment, yelling, “No!”
A massive metal shield appeared in front of Faska, and the spears bounced harmlessly off of it. Porter breathed a sigh of relief— until one last javelin flew past, guided magically around Droma’s shield. Faska was too slow to stop it, and Azkular was too far away. All Porter could do was watch as it hurtled past their defenses, coming straight for them.
No, not coming for them… coming for Sarah!
Sarah realized it too, and he heard her gasp in fear. Without even having to think about it, Porter reacted. Ignoring the pain in his leg, he sprang to his feet and threw himself in front of her. Time seemed to slow down…
And then the javelin hit him square in the chest, the sharpened tip drilling through skin and bone and burying itself inside his ribcage. Pain exploded in his lungs, even worse than before, and he hit the ground and collapsed.
“Porter!” Sarah screamed again, and he saw her face appear above his, her eyes wide with terror.
The pain was already fading away, replaced with cold numbness.
I’m dying, he realized dimly as the world around him began to go dark.
“Porter, no!” he heard Sarah crying above him. “Please!”
At least I got to see her one last time…
NEXT TIME: Ho… lee… crap. Um, sorry guys, no jokes today. No sarcasm. I just don’t have it in me this week. Tune in next Wednesday for the next chapter.