“Tick, get back here!” Porter yelled as he chased the little tailed boy through the woods. Tick was light on his feet, though, and by the time Porter caught up with him they were already back at the wagon train.
The Caravan was in chaos. Humans and Mythics alike cried out in pain and fear while fireballs and lightning bolts flashed through the air as the slave traders threw spells. In the center of it all was Gwinn. His longsword sliced through the air in graceful patterns, cutting down anyone who got too close to him. A small pile of bodies had already begun to build around his paws, but he was obviously struggling. There were too many slave traders for him to handle all at once, and it wouldn’t be long before their sheer numbers overwhelmed him. If he was going to get out of there alive, Porter was going to have to help him.
Ahead of him, Tick skidded to a stop when a slave trader spotted them. The large man snapped his fingers, conjuring a fireball in his hand, and threw it at the little boy.
“Tick!” Porter yelled. He jumped, tackling Tick while simultaneously summoning his Kalion armor. The fireball bounced harmlessly off his back, and when he scrambled back to his feet Porter shot a powerful gust of wind at the slave trader, throwing him back into another wagon.
“Stay close to me,” Porter said, pulling Tick up off the ground. This was the last place he wanted Tick to be, but he knew that trying to send him away would be a waste of time. The best he could do was keep a close eye on him until this was all over.
“Where’d you get that?” Tick asked, his eyes going wide when he saw Porter’s armor.
Twenty feet away, an arrow whizzed through the air, slicing into Gwinn’s arm. He yowled and clamped his hand over the wound, blood turning his white fur scarlet, and barely managed to swing his sword in time to fend off another slave trader. Porter’s grip tightened around Flicker, and he turned to the nearest cage. It was the one with the bee-lady inside it.
“I’m going to let you out,” Porter decided, jogging over to the door. Without waiting for a reply, he raised Flicker and brought it down on the cage’s lock. The lock shattered under the strength of his armor, and he swung the door open before moving on to the next cage. He did this two more times before he came to the cage with the green skinned man.
“Let me out!” the man demanded. “Hurry!”
“The cat over there needs our help,” Porter said. “Will you fight with him?”
“Yes,” the man agreed, clenching his fist in rage. “Those men took my daughter from me and sold her. I want revenge. Let me out!”
Porter obliged and broke the lock, freeing him. He didn’t even have time to open the door before the green skinned man had jumped out and ran towards the fray. The other captives Porter had released took this as their encouragement, and charged after him.
“Come on,” Porter told Tick. “Let’s get some more of them out.”
“Porter, look!” Tick exclaimed, and pointed just as a flash of lightning zigzagged through the crowd and struck Gwinn in the chest ,throwing him onto his back.
“No!” Porter shouted, and abandoned the cages to rush to his aid. He raised Flicker to attack, but when the slavers turned to look at him, he realized he’d made a mistake. There were too many of them, and as one they rained a barrage of fire, lightning, ice, and other spells at him. The magic couldn’t pierce his armor, but the force was enough to stop him in his tracks, and he was thrown onto his back. He rolled over to get up just in time to see another fireball zip over his head—
Straight into Tick’s exposed chest.
“Tick!” Porter screamed as the little boy cried out in pain and collapsed. Porter got to one knee, but then a lightning bolt struck him in the back, traveling up and down his metal armor and paralyzing him. He fell down again, face first in the dirt. Tick lay a few feet away from him, unmoving.
“Porter!” someone yelled, just as a shadow passed overhead to stand between him and the slave traders. He knew that voice…
“Sarah?” he exclaimed. Feeling came flooding back to his body, and he rolled over to see the sphinx crouched low to the ground, claws and teeth bared.
“Duck!” someone else called just as fireball was sent flying at her. Sarah dodged out of the way, and a second fireball, a blue one, zipped past her, exploding when it hit the crowd of slave traders and sending them flying.
The tingling in Porter’s muscles faded, and he sat up. Turning around, he saw Faska and Azkular hobbling towards the fight. Behind them was Droma, carrying a massive battle axe. Ozzie stood at the end of the wagon train, knife in one hand and Misty’s leash in the other. He spun around again and saw another wave of slave traders rushing at Sarah.
Sarah, he thought as he scrambled back to his feet, why couldn’t you just stay put? You know you can’t fight!
His heart pounded in his ears as he charged, raising his sword over his head. He swung Flicker in a circle, summoning the magic he still didn’t fully understand, and stirred the air into a tornado. The wind roared around him, struggling to break free, and it took every ounce of strength he had to keep the swirling vortex of air under control. Swinging Flicker forward, he guided the tornado toward the slave traders, and then released it. The man-sized whirlwind exploded with the force of a speeding truck, throwing everyone that was caught in it, human and Mythic, off their feet.
Everything fell still.
Porter gasped for air and staggered, putting his hand on one of the nearby wagons to steady himself. Suddenly he felt completely drained. The world danced in front of him, and his knees grew week. Breathing heavily, he allowed himself to sink to his knees. His head felt light, like he was about to pass out. He needed to rest a moment to regain his…
Forgetting his fatigue, Porter got clumsily to his feet and stumbled over to where Sarah was standing.
“Are you okay?” he asked, kneeling down and desperately searching her for injuries. His head was clearing even as he spoke to her, leaving him tired but alert.
“I’m fine,” she answered. “Nobody got me.”
“What were you thinking?” the boy demanded. “I told you to stay away from here. You could have been killed!”
Those words seemed to hurt Sarah more than any spell could have. She glared at Porter, her face turning red with anger. “And if I had, you, Tick, and Gwinn would all be dead!”
Porter froze. “Tick!”
He sprang to his feet and turned around. Tick was still lying on the ground where he’d been before. Porter rushed over and knelt down over him, his heart growing heavy.
“Come on, Tick,” he begged. “Don’t do this to me. Get up!”
He felt his neck for a pulse. There wasn’t one.
“Oh no…” Sarah whispered as she came to stand beside him. “No way, he isn’t… he can’t be!”
Porter fell back on his rear in shock. He wanted to grab Tick. To shake him. To do something. Anything. Anything that would wake the little chimera up. Because Sarah was right, he couldn’t be…
“Get out of the way!” he heard Gwinn shout, and suddenly he was knocked aside as the wampus cat raced past him to stand over Tick, his feline eyes wide with terror. Without another word, he lay down on his stomach and began to perform CPR. He pushed down on Tick’s chest several times before bending over and breathing into his mouth. Tick’s lungs rose and fell, but there was no sign of movement.
“What have I done?” Porter whispered, his skin turning white as chalk. His armor melted away, leaving him in nothing but his street clothes. The cold bit at him, but he couldn’t feel it.
“Porter,” Sarah said, sitting down next to him. He turned to look at her, and saw that she looked much the same as he did.
“I should have caught him,” he said, his voice choking on his own emotion. He wanted to cry, but all he could feel was shock. “I should have made him stay hidden.”
In front of them, Gwinn continued to perform CPR. By now, the rest of their friends were regrouping as well. Droma came to stand behind Porter and Sarah, his face expressionless. He said nothing, and Porter couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Azkular and Faska hobbled back from the other end of the train, followed by Ozzie and Misty.
And still Tick didn’t move.
“I… I don’t know what to say,” Sarah admitted. She hung her head, her eyes turning red with grief.
“It’s my fault,” Porter said, as much to himself as to anyone else there. His heart felt as if it was being squeezed, like a sponge being wrung for emotion. He didn’t realize that Sarah had shifted into her human form until she wrapped her arms around him.
“Don’t blame yourself,” she whispered into his ear. “This isn’t your fault.”
“He wanted to help the others,” Porter argued, though it was hard to speak around the lump in his throat. “I should have—”
“He did what he thought was right,” Sarah said.
Suddenly, Tick coughed. Everyone immediately drew in their breath and leaned forward to see. Porter couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Tick’s chest rising and falling steadily on his own.
“He’s alive,” he said numbly. Slowly, he got to his feet. “Tick’s alive!”
Sarah stood up with him. “Go check on him,” she said. “He’ll want to see you.”
Nodding slowly, Porter took a step forward. Tick had an ugly looking burn on his chest where the spell had struck him, and Porter winced in sympathy. He came to where Gwinn was standing over him, stopping just behind the wampus cat. He took a few seconds, looking down at the chimera boy with a mixture of relief and guilt.
“Is he okay?”
Before he had time to react, Gwinn spun around and punched him on the cheek. Porter fell to the ground, the side of his face on fire with pain, and stared up in shock as the wampus cat towered over him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Sarah try to run to him, but Droma put his arm in front of her, blocking her way.
“Why did you bring him back here?” Gwinn roared in fury, spraying Porter with saliva. “I told you to get him to safety!”
“I- I tried,” Porter stuttered. “He wanted to help the others, and he—”
“I don’t care!” Gwinn shouted. “You were supposed to rescue him, not put him in even more danger!” He pointed a clawed finger at his son. “Now look at him!”
Tick still hadn’t moved, but he was breathing on his own now.
“Is he going to be all right?” Porter asked.
Gwinn narrowed his eyes in anger. “He’ll recover, no thanks to you.”
“Hey!” Sarah protested hotly from a few feet away. “In case you forgot, Tick would have been sold into slavery months ago if it weren’t for Porter!”
Gwinn took a threatening step towards her, his eyes wide with anger. “Don’t you dare defend him in this, do you hear me? He had him. He’d actually managed to get him away from the Caravan. Then what does he do? He brings him back!” He pointed at Tick again. “That boy is my son! I’d never forgive myself if he got himself killed, and your idiot boyfriend almost let that happen!”
Porter felt his body go numb again. Gwinn, still seething with anger, kicked him with one of his back paws, sending him rolling painfully across the ground.
“Porter!” Sarah cried.
He didn’t fight back, though. How could he? Gwinn was right.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking the cat in the eye.
“You’re sorry?” Gwinn repeated. “You’re telling me you’re sorry? Tell my son that you’re sorry!”
He paused, glancing back and forth between the two of them. “On second thought, don’t. Don’t ever talk to him again, Porter.” He walked to where Tick was laying and gently picked him up, cradling the young chimera against his chest, and then turned to glare at Porter. “I’m going, and I’m taking my son. I never want you to come within a mile of him ever again, do you hear me?”
“You’re taking him away?” Porter asked, getting to his feet.
“You’ve done nothing but put him in danger ever since you found him!” Gwinn shouted. He hesitated. “You found him and rescued him once. Thank you for that. But you’ve put his life at risk more times than I can forgive. I’m taking him to where he’ll be safe. If you really care about him, then you will never come looking for him.”
Without another word, Gwinn turned and ran into the woods, taking Tick with him. Porter watched them go, feeling as if a piece of his heart had been torn free. He’d chased the little chimera for days, just for him to be snatched away again by his own father.
Sarah came running to his side, still in her human form. “Porter, are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” he answered.
Sarah turned to look into the forest. “We need to go after him.”
“No,” Porter said, shaking his head. “Let them go.”
The sphinx turned to look at him in bewilderment. “What? You can’t be serious. You actually want to let Gwinn run off with Tick like that?”
“Sarah,” Porter shot back, “think about everything we’ve done since we found him! He’s been through two Slayer attacks, seen hundreds of innocent people be murdered, an entire city reduced to ashes, and then we let him get kidnapped! Do you honestly think being with us is the safest thing for him?”
“But…” Sarah stammered, her eyes watering. “Tick is…”
“I know,” Porter responded, nodding. “I love him too. He’s like our little brother— and that’s why we have to let him go.”
Tears began to run down her cheeks, but she finally nodded. “You’re right,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. “We need to let him go.”
Porter wrapped her in a hug, and she returned it, squeezing him for every bit of comfort she could get. When she finally released him, Porter took her by the hand and turned to the others.
“There’s a girl waiting for us just a little ways off,” he said. “We need to go get her.”
“I’ll free the rest of the captives,” Droma volunteered, heading towards the rest of the cages.
Porter gave a quick glance to the slave traders who lay strewn across the ground. They were all still unconscious.
“You must have hit them pretty hard,” Azkular noted as they turned to go in the direction he’d left the chimera girl.
“I didn’t know it would be that powerful,” he admitted.
“I would advise against trying that again,” Faska chimed in. “Like we’ve told you, magic does not come naturally to humans. Pushing your magical limits can have the same effect as pushing your physical ones. Do it too much, and you can die from exhaustion.”
Porter nodded and was about to answer when suddenly he froze. The others stopped along with him, and he motioned for them to be silent.
“Stupid mangy mutt!”
“Let’s go!” Porter shouted, letting go of Sarah’s hand and summoning Flicker again. As one, they charged forward until they came to the place where Porter had left the girl.
“Don’t come any closer!” the slave trader yelled, holding a knife to the girl’s throat. Porter recognized him as the one who had been in charge. His hand shook slightly as he held the knife, and he was hyperventilating.
Tears ran down the girl’s face. She didn’t struggle or fight, which was good. If she did, the slave trader’s knife probably would have slit her throat. She hung still as a statue in his hands, looking at Porter and the others with enormous eyes.
“Let her go,” Porter said, gently but firmly, trying not to make the slave trader panic.
“I don’t think so,” the man growled. “Drop the sword!”
Porter hesitated, and the man pressed his knife against the girl’s throat. Though his instincts told him it was the wrong thing to do, Porter released Flicker and allowed it to disappear. Beside him, he saw Azkular tense up, as if he were about to conjure a fireball, but he motioned for the djinn to remain still.
“I’m going to walk away,” the slave trader said. “And I’m taking this little freak with me to make sure you don’t try anything stupid!”
“Just let her go,” Porter said. “We won’t come after you.”
“No way,” he shook his head, his eyes bugged out maniacally. “No way, you can’t trick…. URGH!”
Porter looked down and recoiled in shock when he saw a rusty metal bar protruding from the man’s chest. The slave trader released the girl and stumbled forward, clutching at the metal shard as blood stained his shirt. With one last gasp, he collapsed face first on the ground.
Behind him stood the green skinned man.
“You!” Porter exclaimed.
Coming out of her shock, the girl dashed forward and hid behind Porter and Sarah.
The fae man nodded solemnly. “It is me. Now I have my revenge on him stealing my daughter from me.”
Porter looked down at the dead slave trader, and nodded. “What are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to find my daughter,” he answered. “She’s out there somewhere, and it’s up to me to free her.”
Porter held out his hand. “Good luck, then. I hope you find her.”
The fae looked at his hand in confusion, and Porter almost pulled it back, thinking that fae people might not know what it meant.
“You’re a strange boy,” he finally said, speaking slowly. “You fought against other humans to free Mythics. That… isn’t normal.”
“It isn’t,” Porter agreed, holding his hand up again, “but it should be.”
The fae thought for a moment, and then shook his hand.
“Indeed it should. Thank you for your help. When I find my daughter, I’ll tell her it’s because of you that I was able to save her.”
Without another word, he turned and made his way into the forest.
I did a good thing today, Porter thought.
Suddenly, his shoulders didn’t feel quite so heavy.
“Are you all right?” he asked, turning to regard the chimera girl hiding behind Sarah’s legs. He didn’t think the man had hurt her, but he wanted to make sure.
“Where’s Tick?” she demanded through puffy eyes.
“Tick is…” Porter began, but his voice faltered when he couldn’t think of the proper words to say.
“Tick went with his father,” Sarah finished for him, kneeling down to be at eye level with the girl. “He’ll be safe with him.”
“He left without me?” the girl exclaimed.
“He didn’t want to,” Sarah quickly amended. “His father… didn’t give him a choice.”
The girl looked down at the ground in sorrow. Sarah reached out and put her hand on her shoulder.
“What’s your name?” she asked gently.
“Manchi,” she answered.
“That’s a nice name.”
Her face turned a little pinker. “It’s short for Manchita.”
“Well, Manchi, would you like to—”
“I’ve freed all the captives,” Droma announced, marching through the trees to join them. He paused when he saw the slave trader’s body. “What happened here?”
“Manchi was in trouble,” Porter answered. Droma looked at her, and then nodded.
“Are you really Porter?” Manchi asked, looking up at him with wide eyes.
Porter jumped a little. “Uh, yeah. How do you know my name?”
Manchi tilted her head back to look into his eyes. “Tick told me all about you. He said you were a hero!”
Some hero, he thought, unable to look her in the eye.
Knowing what was going through his head, Sarah stood up and wrapped her arms comfortingly around him. Manchi looked at her, then.
“Are you Sarah?” she asked. Sarah nodded. “I thought you were supposed to be a sphinx!”
“I am a sphinx,” she replied. “I just… want to look human right now.” Porter looked at her, and she blushed.
Manchi looked from one of them to the other hesitantly. “Tick said I could go with you guys, but if he’s gone now…”
“You can still come with us,” Porter said. “We’ll make sure you get somewhere safe.”
Manchi looked up at him again. He couldn’t read her expression, but she nodded her agreement.
“Then let’s go,” he said, turning and leading the others back into the woods.
NEXT TIME: Tick may be gone, but at least he’s safe now. What will Porter and Sarah do now, though? Well… they’ve still got a war to end, don’t they?