Once again, Porter found himself in the last place on earth he wanted to be: deep inside his own mind, in the corridor that led to the dark doorway. A cold breeze came from further down the hallway, making his skin pimple with goosebumps…
Porter looked down at himself and realized with a jolt of fright that he was back in his human body again. His wings, tail, and fur were nowhere to be found.
“I didn’t think I could stand dealing with you in such a disgusting state,” Mortoph’s taunting voice came to him from down the hallway, as cold and cruel as a winter wind. “At least like this, I can look at you without being sick.”
Fear washed over Porter like a an ocean wave, the mere force of the Master Slayer’s power pushing him backwards a couple steps, followed by a scornful laugh.
“Come and get me, hero!” Mortoph called to him.
Porter shivered, the cold familiarity of the words having the exact effect on him that Mortoph wanted. Still, he refused to back down. Steeling his nerves as best he could, he let out a battle cry and charged down the hallway to where he knew Mortoph waited. The shadows on the walls seemed to dance with glee in the meager light as he ran, eager to see him fall.
The doorway at the end of the passage came into view, and Porter forced himself into a full on sprint. He expected Mortoph to stop him just like he had last time, but if he gained enough speed perhaps he could hurt the Slayer when he ran into him. Either that, or it would be like running straight into a brick wall.
Instead, Porter found his way completely uncontested, and he barreled into the pitch black room at an almost uncontrollable speed. Gasping in confusion, he dug his heels into the floor and skidded to a stop. He spun around to face the door, and could just make out the tiny rectangle of light in the distance— much farther away than it should have been. He’d only taken a few steps, and yet the exit was more than a hundred feet away!
Mortoph’s laugh rang out again, deafeningly loud this time, and the floor shook under Porter’s feet, almost bringing him to his knees.
“I’ll admit,” the Master Slayer’s voice boomed, seeming to come from all around him, “I didn’t expect you to get this far.”
Porter cringed, suddenly feeling absolutely helpless in the black void of his mind.
“Not that it matters,” Mortoph went on. “You were never any real threat to me, only a minor inconvenience.”
“Y- you’re lying,” Porter argued, finding it hard to speak through the fear that felt as thick as wet cement. “We can beat you. I know we can!”
Another laugh. “Don’t be so naïve, boy! Even if you knew the truth, you wouldn’t be able to defeat me. You are an ant, and I am a mountain!”
There was a deep, consuming silence for a few seconds, in which Porter could feel Mortoph’s presence swirling around him like a stormy wind— formless and untouchable, but undeniably there.
And undeniably dangerous.
“Let me show you,” Mortoph said at last, his voice low and ominous, “how a mountain crushes an insect.”
Another wave of terror crashed down on top of Porter, and he lost control of himself and ran for the doorway with a scream of fright. He knew the hallway would offer no sanctuary, but the fear had made an animal out of him. Rational thought was chased from his head just as he was being chased out of the room. Terror ate at his sanity, banishing all other emotions from him until fear was all he knew— all there had ever been. Behind him came another laugh, but this one was not Mortoph’s. It was cold and icy, just like the fear that assaulted the boy’s mind, and yet loud and powerful. It sounded like cruelty, and power, and age, as if Porter truly was an ant, and the mountain was laughing at him as it prepared to crush him underneath countless tons of earth and stone.
Porter threw himself through the door, back into the hallway outside.
Only, this wasn’t the hallway…
He was in a place he had never seen before, and yet it felt inexplicably familiar. The darkness had been chased away by bright orange flames as they hurriedly ate the wooden walls on his left and right. Smoke filled the air, clouding Porter’s vision even through the blinding light, and the heat seared him without actually burning him.
A bone chilling scream startled him out of his thoughts, and he tentatively took a few steps forward to see who else was there with him. Two shadows became visible in the flames in front of him, quickly making their way in his direction.
“Get Porter out of here!” one of them shouted. A man, somewhere in his forties by the sound of his voice.
Porter froze, his blood turning to ice despite the intense heat, and he finally realized what Mortoph was showing to him.
No! he thought desperately. Not this. I don’t want to see this!
He briefly thought he felt something else brush against his consciousness, but then it was gone as the scene in front of him continued.
“I can’t see!” the second shadow screamed, a woman this time.
The shadows came into focus, and Porter couldn’t tear his eyes away from them. The man reached out and pushed the woman’s head down, helping her to duck underneath the smoke, while his own long, slick black hair came dangerously close to being set ablaze. The woman was holding something in her arms.
“He isn’t going to last much longer!” the man shouted, and gave the woman a shove. “Go! I’ll be right behind you!”
Porter could tell that the man was lying. The flames were spreading too fast. The man, his father, gave the woman one last push, and she finally obeyed, running down the hall. She didn’t look back once as the flames finally reached her husband, engulfing him like a starving animal, and he fell to the ground writhing in pain.
It was then that Porter got his first and only glimpse of his mother. She ran past without even glancing in his direction, but he caught every detail, as if she were running in slow motion. Her hair was chocolate brown, but he could see himself in her face. They had the same nose, the same chin, the same eyes full of fear for her infant child’s life. And for one split second, Porter saw himself grasped in her arms, wrapped in a blue blanket, crying as the heat attacked him. Then his mother was gone, dashing bravely through the burning house to the front door only ten feet away.
Baby Porter’s cries stung Porter’s ears as his mother fumbled to open the door with one hand. For a single heart stopping moment, he thought she was going to be too late. The flames came closer with every passing second, and smoke was pooling around the ceiling. Then, with a grunt, she turned the nob and threw her weight against the door. It flew open, and she stumbled outside, crying out with joy.
“Yes!” Porter shouted, and took off after her. He stepped through the door, but only vaguely registered that it now led into the house’s front yard.
His mother took a few steps away from the house, looking as if she were ready to collapse. Sobbing and coughing at the same time, she hugged baby Porter to her chest.
“Has anyone called 911 yet?” she asked at last, and turned around. When she saw that her husband was nowhere to be seen, her eyes went wide. “Victor!”
She fell to her knees, baby Porter still wailing in her arms.
“Mom!” Porter shouted, even though he knew she couldn’t hear him. Still, he ran to her, but when he tried to touch her, his hand passed right through her. She sat there in her front yard, crying her heart out, completely unaware that her own son was watching her.
“Mom…” he said again, tears welling up in his eyes. He’d always wanted to know his parents, but not like this!
Then, like a parade of spiders crawling down his spine, Porter became aware of someone approaching them from behind. He spun around and recoiled when he saw Drake Mortoph standing behind his mother, his long black coat blending in perfectly with the night. Though he looked virtually identical to how he looked in the present day, the firelight illuminating his face gave him a manic, demonic appearance.
His mother must have sensed his appearance as well, because she turned her head to look. Before she could ask who he was, the Master Slayer’s hand shot out and wrapped around her throat.
“No!” Porter shouted in dismay, but there was nothing he could do.
His mother gave a strangled cry as Mortoph raised her off the ground. With his other hand, he reached out for baby Porter. Though she tried to fight back, he still effortlessly plucked the child from her grasp.
Porter could hear his infantile self crying and howling. He was scared, confused, and no longer in the arms of his mother. Porter’s mom thrashed in Mortoph’s grasp to no avail. The Slayer’s grip was like iron, and Porter could see her struggles growing weaker when no oxygen was allowed to reach her lungs. And through it all, Mortoph’s face didn’t display a hint of emotion.
Finally, Porter’s mother died. Her body went limp in Mortoph’s grasp, and her head fell forward until it rested on his hand. Porter felt something break inside him, and he fell to his knees, barely hearing the scream that tore from his throat. It was his worst nightmare— the fear he had never known he’d had. He could only sit and watch as Mortoph causally carried his mother, the mother he’d never known, back to the burning house and tossed her inside as if she were nothing more than a sack of garbage. Without a backwards glance, Mortoph placed baby Porter in the crook of his elbow and made his way back up the road by which he’d come. All the while, baby Porter continued to cry in his arms.
“Useless then,” Mortoph’s voice came back to taunt him as the scene around Porter faded away, leaving him in the pitch black room where he’d started, “useless now. You can’t save anyone, child. Just accept it and submit!”
Porter heard the swish of the Slayer’s coat as he passed by, close enough for Porter to feel the air shift. He jumped to his feet and spun around, instinctively flexing his hand to summon Flicker. The sword refused to come, and Mortoph laughed again.
“Don’t try to fight,” he crooned, as if talking to a baby. “It will all be over before you know it.”
Porter heard the familiar sound of steel scraping against leather, and instinctively jumped to the side and rolled out of the way. Not a second later, he felt Mortoph’s massive sword cleave through the air where he had just been standing. It struck the ground with a spine tingling clang, and then scraped backwards across the floor. Porter scrambled to his feet, backing away. It was still pitch black. He couldn’t defend himself against an opponent he couldn’t see!
“Yes,” Mortoph hissed from somewhere in the darkness. “Feel the fear. Let it grow. Let it take over.”
Strange words, Porter thought, but barely had time to consider it before he had to dodge to the side again to avoid being cut in half.
“Your fear,” the Slayer said, his voice now coming from behind Porter. “It tastes… so… good!”
Porter spun around to face the voice, but Mortoph’s foot shot out, invisible in the shadows, and kicked him in the stomach. Porter went flying backwards and landed in a heap. Mortoph’s unnatural strength had knocked the wind out of him, and he struggled to move. Out in the shadows, Mortoph approached again, scraping his sword on the ground as he drew nearer. The sound seemed to come from a dozen places all around Porter, and it made the hair on his arms stand up.
“Can you feel it?” Mortoph asked, his voice dripping with relish. “This is the part that always tastes the best. The terror of knowing that you are about to die, followed soon by the grim acceptance that you can do nothing about it.”
He could hear Drake’s footsteps echoing across the chamber, like of the drums that would play before a criminal was shot.
“And you know,” Mortoph went on, “that everything you’ve worked for will collapse once you’re gone. All your friends will die, and you’ll never be able to save them!”
The footsteps stopped, and, out of nowhere, a pillar of blood red light appeared. Drake Mortoph was towering over him, sword in hand, his eyes wide and gleaming with wicked pleasure.
“And the best part,” he said, his lips curling back into a skeletal smile as he raised his sword, “is that you never even realized the truth about me.”
Porter closed his eyes, but found that doing so had no effect inside his mind. He watched as Mortoph swung his giant blade downward to cleave his head open—
A bright flash of light lit up the dark room, and Mortoph diverted his attack at the last moment to shield his eyes. Porter blinked in confusion. The light was bright, but he found it didn’t blind him like it had the Slayer. The voice that had shouted his name had been neither his nor Mortoph’s. It had been…
He quickly got to his feet and turned to the doorway. Just as he’d thought, Sarah was standing there, framed by the white light like an angel.
“Sarah!” he called back, and the fear and blind panic immediately vanished. His heart swelled with joy at seeing the one he loved, and he ran to her. She came to meet him, and the moment their hands touched, Porter felt himself return to his true form. His black wings spread behind him, and his tail lashed from side to side.
“So, you’re both here now,” Mortoph’s voice boomed out once again, and they turned to face him. He looked disconcerted, as if Sarah’s appearance had not been part of his plan, but he was far from beaten. He stepped out of the beam of light Sarah had cast, vanishing into the shadows again. “Perfect. Now I can deal with you both at once.”
There came a loud slam, and the light was cut off. Porter spun around and realized that Mortoph had created a door and closed it, locking all three of them inside Porter’s mind.
“Whatever he says,” the boy warned her, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder, “don’t listen to him. He’s feeding off of our fear somehow.”
A cackle came from the shadows, and he felt Sarah shiver. She wasn’t afraid, though. At least, not nearly as much as he had been. And neither was he, he realized. Sarah’s presence had rekindled his bravery.
“Don’t worry,” she said back, and she took his hand. Even though he couldn’t see her, he could feel the smile she sent him. “We can do this together.”
“Ah, yes,” Mortoph called to them, his voice making him sound as if they were being taunted by a giant. “The sphinx.”
“I’m not a sphinx anymore!” Sarah shouted into the darkness. “I’m a chimera, just like Porter!”
Porter tightened his grip on her hand, thankful that she was there.
“Disgusting,” Mortoph spat at them. “You are both abominations. Monster blood mixed with human blood is the most unholy of sins!”
“You’re one to talk,” Porter challenged him. “You’re the real monster!”
“Oh child,” came Mortoph’s reply. “You cannot fathom how right you are.”
For a full minute, there was absolute silence. Mortoph did not move or speak, and neither did Porter and Sarah. Porter grew more tense with every passing second, waiting for the Master Slayer to act. Then a booming laugh came from the darkness, echoing around the room and making the walls shake. It was not a scornful laugh— Mortoph was genuinely amused by what they had said. Porter felt Sarah’s skin grow cold, and knew that she was beginning to feel the fear now as well.
“Fools!” the Slayer said at last. “You puny, insignificant bugs!”
The ground in front of them shook, as if a giant had suddenly set his foot down in front of them. Both Porter and Sarah recoiled as another wave of terror washed over them both. Sarah began to whimper, but Porter pulled her close and hugged her. It didn’t do much, but at least it managed to keep the fear at bay a little.
“You think you’ve come so far,” Mortoph said, “but you still fail to see what’s really going on. You can’t see what I’m planning— what I have been planning for thousands of years now!”
Panic crept into Porter’s mind again, like cold fingers with claws of ice. He knew that Mortoph was looming over them, unseen in the darkness, and there was nothing he could do about it. Even in his own mind, Mortoph was more powerful than him.
“Yes,” the Master Slayer said, and Porter heard him inhale. “Your fear… feed me with it!”
In his arms, Porter felt Sarah trembling uncontrollably. Her face was buried in his shoulder, and she was crying. Her tears felt like ice as they soaked his skin.
“Think about it,” Mortoph encouraged him. “Think about all the horrible, painful ways I could kill your little girlfriend. Think about how powerless you will be to stop me.”
Porter did think about it. Images of Sarah being tortured by the sadistic Slayer danced across his vision, and every one of them made him even more afraid. But this fear wasn’t like the rest. It didn’t paralyze Porter. It didn’t make him want to curl up into a ball and die. It spurred him to action. To do whatever he could to save Sarah. To be her Protector.
“No, no,” Mortoph cried, obviously sensing the change in Porter’s mood. “Not that kind of fear!”
But it was too late. Porter gently pried himself out of Sarah’s arms and stood up. Terror flooded his heart and mind, but it was a motivating terror. It was fear born of love, and he could feel it weakening Mortoph’s hold on him.
“Leave… her… alone!” Porter yelled at the top of his lungs, the last word devolving into a scream of anger. For the second time, light flooded the room. He saw Mortoph standing in front of him, one hundred feet tall, but the Master Slayer screamed in pain and put his hands over his eyes to block out the light.
“I will never let you touch her!” Porter shouted, and took a step towards him. Mortoph cowered backwards, and shrank in size. Porter took another step. “I will never let you hurt her!”
Mortoph backed away, seeking the solace of darkness, but Porter ran at him. Mortoph shrank even more, and fell backwards. Behind him, Porter felt as Sarah’s fear eked away as well, and she stood up and came to join him.
“You’re the abomination!” she shouted. She took Porter’s hand, and the light that he cast was immediately doubled. It lit up every inch of the room, revealing marble white walls and floors that reflected their light even more.
“Y- you can’t do this!” Mortoph pleaded, rolling to his knees and trying to crawl away, now only the size of a normal man. “I am—”
“A monster,” Porter interrupted him as he approached the Master Slayer again.
Mortoph froze, and turned to glare at Porter, his eyes icy and filled with hatred.
“I know,” he said. “I’ve known that for thousands of years. I’ve never thought I was anything else!”
Porter exchanged a glance with Sarah, and then turned back to Mortoph.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
A weak chuckle rose from Mortoph’s throat, and a crazed smile crept onto his face.
“You want to know?” he asked. “You want to know what you’re up against? You want to know just how hopeless this all is? Fine, then. Let me show you!”
His weakness suddenly gone, Mortoph sprang to his feet. Porter yelped in fright, and pushed Sarah behind him. Taking the hem of his long black coat in his hand, the Slayer swung it at them. The coat turned to shadow, stretching and expanding to envelop Porter and Sarah in darkness once again.
“Now you’ll know the truth,” a monstrous, inhuman voice spoke out of the darkness. “And it will destroy you.”
NEXT TIME: You thought it was over? You thought they’d beaten him? The battle for Porter’s mind has only just begun, and Mortoph is far, far from being beaten. He said he’s going to show them the truth. The truth about what, though?