After two nights of sleeping on the hard, cold ground, Droma's bed felt like a cloud. Porter was asleep the minute his head touched the pillow, and he didn't wake up until long after sunrise— and only then because Droma was knocking on the door.
"Porter," he called through, "time to get up. We must go while there is still plenty of daylight."
Porter sat up, yawning and rubbing his eyes. Sunlight came through the window to his right, promising a warm day outside, and he smiled as he rolled out of bed. His shoes were sitting by the door, and he quickly put them on and tied them. Then, on a whim, he held out his hand and summoned Flicker. The sword appeared, and he wrapped his fist around the hilt before it could fall.
"That is so cool!" he whispered, giving it a couple of swings. It cut through the air with a sharp whistle, reflecting flecks of light on the walls. Then, he released it, making it vanish. Then he made it reappear, and then vanish again. All he had to do was think about it, and soon he had it blinking in and out of existence like a light bulb.
"Come on, Porter!" Sarah shouted through the door, startling him so that he almost dropped Flicker. "We need to make tracks!"
"All right," he said, letting the sword go one last time, suddenly thankful that Sarah hadn't been able to see him playing with Flicker like a child with a new toy. Opening the door, he found Sarah standing in front of one of Droma's suits of armor, using the polished metal as a mirror as she groomed herself. Droma was on the other side of the room, rifling through his pantries and cabinets to produce food, which he stuffed into a pair of large bags.
"Thanks for letting me use your bed," Porter said, coming to lend a hand.
Droma turned on him, and the look on his face made Porter step back in fear. Then it was gone, and the giant gave him a warm smile.
"You are welcome," he replied, and his voice sounded so kind that Porter wondered if he'd really seen that look on his face at all.
"Do you think you can carry one of these?" Droma asked, motioning towards the packs he was filling. They were both almost as tall as the boy, himself, was, and they were both stuffed with food. The thought of carrying them through the forest, with its hills and uneven footing, made him cringe.
"Yeah," he said, nodding. "But we don't need that much, really. You've done enough."
Droma laughed, and pulled the drawstrings to close the packs. "You do not need to lie to me, Porter. I can read the look on your face."
Porter's face turned red, and he glanced at Sarah. She had four legs, which would make it even harder for her to carry one of the packs. If they were going to take them, Porter would have to carry both.
"Really," he said, turning back him, "thank you, but that's too much. I can't carry both of those."
"You only need to carry one," Droma replied.
"But Sarah can't—"
"I will carry the other one," Droma interrupted him, thumping a fist on his chest. "I can even carry both if you need me to."
Porter paused, and then looked from the Soul Smith to Sarah.
"I told him where we were going last night," the sphinx said, finally getting her last feather in line with the others. "He says he'll help us get there."
Porter's face flushed again with realization.
"Meaning no offense," Droma said, "but it is obvious you two do not know your way around the forest. I know where Jellaska Kob Lertan is, and you will be much safer traveling with me."
Porter thought back on the previous night, and smiled to hide his embarrassment. "Right. I shouldn't have let those goblins sneak up on us like that."
"Sneaking is what goblins are best at. I suspect they would have taken you even if you had been awake."
Porter cringed. Well that makes me feel better.
"Anyway," Droma continued, effortlessly picking up a bag and swinging it over his shoulder, "we should be off. There is cheese and water on the table for a quick breakfast, Porter."
"Thanks." Porter went to the table and started to eat. The Soul Smith began silently counting on his fingers, checking off his list of supplies, and then made for the door.
"Meet me outside when you're ready," he said, closing it behind him.
Porter waited a few seconds to give Droma time to move away from the door, and then turned to Sarah.
"So, what made you decide to trust him?" he asked.
Sarah gave him an idle look. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that last night you were afraid he was going to sell us as slaves. Now you're agreeing to let him show us the way to this place we're going."
Sarah shrugged, which must have been difficult with a lion's body, and said, "I guess I'm a good judge of character. I talked with him a little after you went to sleep, and decided we could trust him."
"All right," Porter finished the small brick of cheese and took a long swig of water. "We'd better get going, then."
He hefted the second pack, which was just as heavy as he'd feared, and went to the door. The bag would slow him down, he thought, but it wasn't so heavy that it could hurt him. Droma was already doing enough to help them, and Porter didn't want to give him even more trouble by making him carry both packs.
"Jellaska Kob Lertan is that way," Droma announced, standing at the edge of the clearing. "It is several days away, but I am afraid we must make it even longer."
"Why?" Sarah asked, going to stand beside him.
"Because there is a town we must go around. That alone will probably add another day to the journey."
"Can't we just go through it?" Porter asked. "I mean, Sarah can turn into a human, right?"
Sarah snorted. "Yeah, we just need to make sure nobody notices that I still have wings and a tail."
"And I am ten feet tall," Droma added, shrugging. "That will attract some attention, I think."
Oh, the boy thought, his face turning red again, right.
It was a good thing Droma was coming with them, Porter decided, as it seemed that he was completely clueless.
"There is another stop that I need to make as well," Droma said. "It will take a day, at most, but it will be at least a week before we arrive."
"Where's that?" Sarah asked.
Droma looked down at her, his eyes sparkling mischievously. "It is a surprise, but I think you will like it."
Porter and Sarah shared a glance, but the giant didn't offer any further explanation. Instead, he made his way back to the door.
"And you're okay with that?" Porter whispered. "You're just gonna let him take us somewhere without asking where it is?"
"Stop being so suspicious of everyone!" Sarah snapped. "I trust him."
"I'm not being suspicious!" Porter shot back. "You're the one who—"
"If there is nothing else either of you need, we should leave now," Droma called to them. Porter turned and looked just in time to see the Smith close his door, making the last visible part of his house disappear.
"Aren't you worried that someone will find it while you're gone?" Porter asked. A magic house full of giant-sized shiny weapons wasn't something many people would just overlook if they stumbled across it.
"The door is locked," Droma answered, as if that was all there was to it, and then came back to them. With a massive hand, he pushed a low hanging branch out of the way, and struck out into the woods.
Porter set off after Droma, but Sarah held back a moment to think. A human town, the Soul Smith had said. Somehow, the thought excited her.
"Are you coming, Sarah?" Porter called back to her, snapping her out of her thoughts. She hurried to catch up, but didn't say anything to either of her companions.
All her life, she had been stuck in her parents' house. It was a big house, sure, but there was only so much to see and do in it. Sarah had exhausted that list the day she'd learned to walk. The only connection she'd had to the world outside was the road that ran past their mile-long driveway, which she could just barely see from the highest room in the east wing. Not that anything exciting ever drove past her house. The first time she'd seen the ice cream truck, it had blown her little mind.
But a human town— that was something she had never even glimpsed. The closest town to her manor was twenty miles away, and her parents would have sooner clipped her wings and shaved her fur before letting her go there. Now there was one right in front of them, less than a day's walking away. It made her fur tingle with excitement just thinking about it. Droma wanted to go around it, and he was probably right. Still, after sixteen straight years of solitary confinement, Sarah found the idea of seeing it almost irresistible.
In the end, she decided she wouldn't bother resisting at all...
It'd just be a quick peek, she reasoned. The area was heavily forested. She could just sneak up, hide in the trees, and take a look. It wasn't like she wanted to go in there, or anything. It was reasonably safe, far safer than most of the things she'd gotten up to with Porter thus far. The hard part would be getting rid of the boy and their gigantic babysitter.
They continued to walk for two more hours. Porter talked with Droma, asking him all kinds of questions about the Mythic world, but Sarah kept her silence. She was too deep in thought about the town to have a conversation anyway. As they plodded through the forest, Sarah began to worry that Droma wasn't going to announce when they were changing course. Had he done it without telling them? Finally, to her relief, he stopped and held up his hand.
"We must go that way now," he said, pointing to their right. "The town is directly ahead. If we continue this way, we will walk straight into it."
This was it. If she didn't make her move now, she might never have the chance to see a human town again. Before she had even thought it through, she blurted out, "I have to go to the bathroom!"
Both men turned to look at her, and Sarah felt her face go bright red. "Sorry, it's just, um... well, nature calls!"
Droma looked at her speculatively, and for a few seconds Sarah thought he had seen through her lie. Then he nodded and said, "Very well. We will wait here for you."
The Soul Smith set his pack on the ground, and Porter followed suit.
"Thank you," Sarah said, her face still burning, and turned and ran further into the woods.
As embarrassing as it was, it had been a good lie. The men would sit where they were, and wouldn't question why she was trying to break their line of sight. She wasn't sure how far it was to the town, but hopefully it was close enough that she could make it there and back before they grew suspicious.
She sucked in her breath when she heard it: the sounds of civilization. Even from so far away, she could hear car engines running, and the occasional beep of a horn. She crested the next hill, and got her very first look at a town.
It was just like the ones she saw on TV. From her vantage point atop the hill, the streets were a maze of black and gray. Square buildings of all sizes and colors ran alongside the roads, and at the far end she could make out a church steeple rising above everything else. Cars were zipping around, and people were walking the sidewalks. Real, live, human people. She couldn't make out much about them from so far away, but there were so many of them! After living in a massive house with only three other occupants, the idea of being near that many people all the time made her feel claustrophobic.
She needed to get closer, she realized. Looking at it from a distance wasn't enough. She wasn't going to waltz right down the middle of the street or anything, but there was still plenty of cover to hide in. Sarah grinned, lowered herself down to the ground, and began to slink down the hill. Leaves crunched under her paws, but she didn't worry about it. Surely nobody would be able to hear from all the way out here. New scents began to tickle her nose, and she breathed them all in deeply. Car smoke, burnt rubber on the road, a nearby restaurant. From here, she could even start to hear voices down on the sidewalk. She closed her eyes, trying to make out what they were saying.
"Can we get ice cream, Mommy?"
"No, it's almost lunchtime."
"No freaking cell phone reception here."
"It's right here, at the south end of town!"
That last voice made her freeze. It had been closer than the others. An icy chill ran down her spine. Too close.
"I'll take care of it."
Leaves rustled to her left, and Sarah spun around to see a man peering at her from behind a tree. Her breath caught in her lungs. Before she could react, the human raised something in his hand, and she heard a faint zzzzip! Something struck her shoulder, and she cried out in fright. She backed away as quickly as she could without falling down, and looked at what had hit her. A dart was embedded in her skin. Even as she looked at it, she could feel herself growing tired... dizzy... she couldn't... stand... up...
Porter and Droma sat together, waiting for Sarah to rejoin them. She was taking a long time, it seemed. Maybe she'd eaten something that didn't agree with her. Porter pulled a face at the thought.
"So, any chance you'll tell me where it is you're taking us before we go to Jellaska Kob Lertan?" he asked, trying to fill the silence.
"I do not think it would matter if I told you," Droma answered. "You wouldn't know what I was talking about anyway, would you?"
Porter gave him a startled look, and the giant laughed.
"Sarah told me last night after you had gone to bed. Lost in the woods, with no memory."
Porter was quiet for a second, and then shook his head. "No, that's not completely true. It's not like I don't know anything. I know how to walk, and how to talk. Somehow, I know how to fight. I can remember certain things, too. Like, what a house is, what a town is. I just don't remember anything about me."
Porter looked at his large friend, expecting Droma to ask more questions to jog his memory. Instead, the Soul Smith only nodded his head and remained silent. Porter was tempted to push him into asking more questions, but decided against it. Holding out his hand, he summoned Flicker to it again.
"So," he said slowly, looking at his reflection in the blade, "how exactly did you manage to bring a sword to life?"
Droma chuckled. "That is a trade secret, I am afraid. I cannot have everyone trying to copy my work."
The sword vibrated in Porter's hand, and, startled, he almost dropped it.
"What did that mean?" he asked.
"Flicker is laughing," Droma answered, a grin spreading across his face too.
"At what?" Porter asked, giving the sword a confused look. "Me? Why's it laughing at me?"
"Because you don't understand, and I won't explain it to you." Droma laughed, and slapped his knee. "It finds this very funny."
Porter snorted, and stuck the sword point first into the dirt. "Great, I've got a sword with a weird sense of humor."
Flicker vibrated again, and Porter mentally banished it. It disappeared, leaving a thin hole in the ground where Porter had left it. Droma chuckled again, and then they both fell back into silence.
Five minutes later, though, Porter began to feel fidgety, and he asked, "She's taking a long time, isn't she?"
Droma glanced worriedly in the direction Sarah had gone. "She has, indeed. I am beginning to worry." He stood up. "Come, let us go and check on her."
Porter went red in the face. "But what if she's still—"
Droma shook his head. "She went in the direction of the town. I have a bad feeling about this."
Hearing this, a pit formed in Porter's stomach as well, and he stood up. Droma led the way into the forest, somehow walking quickly without making any noise. Porter's hand itched to summon Flicker again, just in case, but he kept the sword banished. The two of them walked all the way up the hill without spotting the sphinx, and the feeling in Porter's gut only got worse. She'd be on the other side of the hill, he promised himself. She just went a little further than necessary to ensure privacy.
She's gonna be mad when we walk in on her, he thought, and managed a weak chuckle as they crested the hill.
Sarah was nowhere to be seen.
"Get down!" Droma said suddenly, dropping to his belly. Porter hurried to do the same, and then gave the giant a confused look. Silently, Droma pointed ahead of them.
They were almost in the town, Porter realized. He had been so busy looking around for Sarah that he hadn't noticed the roads and buildings at the bottom of the hill. But another jab of Droma's finger revealed that wasn't what he had been pointing at. Porter inched forward to see better, and then felt his blood run cold.
There was Sarah, lying on her side at the bottom of the hill, only a few feet away from the first building. She wasn't moving.
"What's she doing?" Porter asked frantically, his skin turning pale. "What's wrong with her?"
"Shh!" Droma said, and pointed at a tree to Sarah's left. A man stepped out from behind it. Porter couldn't make out much about him, apart from the white cowboy hat he had on his head. A rifle was hanging loosely from his hand.
"He shot her!" Porter said, hardly able to keep himself from shouting. "That guy shot Sarah!"
He tried to rise from his hiding place, but Droma's hand grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back down. Porter struggled, but he was simply no match for the giant's strength.
"Let me go!" he demanded. "I have to— mrrph!"
Droma covered his mouth with his other hand, silencing him. Porter fought at little more before realizing how futile it was, and then looked back down the hill. The man casually made his way over to where Sarah was lying, and waited. A few minutes later, a pickup truck came down the nearest road, and stopped. In a swift, practiced motion, the man scooped Sarah into his arms, and threw her into the back of the truck. Then, moving quickly, he went to the passenger side door and got in. The truck drove away with a roar of its engine.
Droma waited a few seconds, and then finally released Porter. The boy, enraged, stood up and glared at his companion.
"What did you do that for?" he yelled. "We could have saved her!"
"And alerted the rest of the town to our presence as well," Droma said calmly as he stood up. "That would have caused commotion, and we do not need that."
"So, what?" Porter demanded, waving in the direction the truck had gone. "We just let them have her?"
"Of course not!" the giant shot back. "But having an entire town full of curious citizens and law enforcement coming after us is not a good alternative either."
Porter raised his hands. "Then what do we do?"
"I cannot do anything," Droma said, and pointed at Porter. "This is up to you."
Porter fell silent as he caught Droma's meaning. He pointed at the town. "You want me to go down there by myself?"
"That part will not be dangerous. It is a human town, and you are a human. You will not look out of place at all. I cannot go, because... look at me."
Porter glanced down the hill, and then reluctantly nodded. "Okay, fine. I go down there and look for her. Then what?"
"Then you rescue her and bring her back here," Droma said matter of factly.
Porter couldn't help but laugh. "Just like that, huh? Just walk right in and take her back? I don't even know where they took her!"
"Neither do I, but we know one thing." Droma held up his finger. "They were driving a red truck."
Porter hesitated, and then nodded. "Right. But there's gotta be at least a hundred of those down there."
"Not all of them will be exactly the same. The one you are looking for has a long, white scratch all the way from the back to the driver's side door. There is also a sticker of the driver's favorite football team on the bumper."
Porter stopped. "You— you noticed all that?"
"Yes. That is the truck you need to look for."
Porter turned and looked back at the town again. He shook his head. "Why, though? Why did they take her? I thought most people didn't even believe in Mythics!"
"They don't," Droma concurred. "But there are some who do. This town, unfortunately, has many of them."
"But what are they going to do with her?"
Porter looked at the Soul Smith, and was startled by the dark look on his face. "More than likely," he said, his voice revealing a deep seated anger, "they are going to try to sell her."
You will fetch a good price on the black market.
"Slave traders," Porter whispered as a chill ran down his spine.
"Now you know why time is of the essence," Droma said. "You need to go now if you want to save her."
"Right, okay," Porter agreed. He took a moment to steel his nerves, and then ran down the hill.
Sarah, I promised I would protect you. So here I come!
Droma remained behind on top of the hill, watching Porter go. After the young man was lost to sight, he stood up and walked back into the woods.
"If you save her, young Slayer," he said to himself, "then I will forgive you for who you used to be. Good luck."
NEXT TIME: These two just can't stop getting kidnapped, can they? Get kidnapped by goblins, get kidnapped by a Tall Thing, get kidnapped by a slave trader. Well, at least Sarah's the one who got kidnapped this time, right? Porter's coming to the rescue, and you know what that meeeeeans... FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT SWORD GO CLANG VIOLENCE *someone screams in pain* AAAAAAACTION!!!
now if you'll excuse me, I feel like I need to go take something after that little episode...