Chapter Twelve

(POV: Ozzie)

 

Goblin bodies lay strewn all around what had once been their campsite. Blood soaked the earthy ground, and Ozzie could already hear crows cawing from up above, eager to investigate the enticing smell. He grinned his manic grin as he knelt down and drew his knife. A goblin gave a pitiful whine in front of him, and pulled against the ropes that kept it bound to its tree. It was the only one Ozzie had left alive.

 

"Aw, what's wrong, little guy?" he taunted it. "You see something scary?"

 

The goblin's catlike eyes darted around the camp, looking at all of its fallen brethren, and whimpered again.

 

"What you want?" it asked. "Let go!"

 

Ozzie feigned surprise, and then held his knife out for it to see. He moved the blade back and forth, making the late afternoon sunlight flash into its eyes.

 

"You want to go already? But I only wanted to show you my knife!"

 

"I not know where they go!" it pleaded. "I not see them ever!"

 

Ozzie ignored it. "It works real good, too. Check it out!"

 

With that, he reached out and dragged the tip of the blade down the monster's face, leaving a shallow cut behind. The goblin stopped whining, and started screaming as a thin trickle of purple blood ran down its face. Ozzie laughed. It felt so good to finally get out of Red Castle!

 

"Your friends loved this game too," he said, wiping the blood off the steel and raising it to make another cut. "They loved it so much they can't even stand up right now!"

 

The goblin keened, high and irritating. "Okay, okay, I tell! They here three days ago! Tall Thing buy kidboy. Took him. No see cattygirl again!"

 

Ozzie gave a mock frown. "Aw, man! We were having so much fun together! Why'd you have to go and ruin it?"

 

The goblins cried, and shook its head so hard that its ears flapped. "All I know, promise! Tall Thing come and take him! No more hurt! Please!"

 

This time, Ozzie frowned for real. "What the heck is a Tall Thing?"

 

"Tall Thing is... Tall Thing!" his prisoner tried desperately to explain. "We wanna eat kidboy, but Tall Thing say no. Say he want buy kidboy, and then sell again!"

 

Ozzie gave the goblin a close look, trying to detect any evidence that it was lying. He couldn't find any.  Then again, he didn't know all that much about goblins.

 

"So, some kind of slave trader?" Ozzie mused to himself, sitting back and scratching random doodles into the dirt with his knife. "Is that what the sphinx was planning all along?"

 

It didn't seem likely. By Mortoph's reports, the sphinx had been a young one, likely with very little knowledge of the world. The idea that it would know a slave trader, much less how to find him and deliver a captive Slayer to him, was highly unlikely. Then again, this was the only clue Ozzie had to go on, so for now he chose to believe the pathetic little vermin.

 

He beamed at the terrified goblin, and shook its hand. "Thank you so much for your time, sir! Your cooperation in this matter is highly appreciated."

 

The goblin was caught off guard, but still dared to look hopeful. "You mean... I go now?"

 

"Absolutely!" Ozzie stood up, but didn't cut its bonds. "Have a great day, and be careful on the drive home."

 

It gave him a confused look, and Ozzie laughed as he snapped his fingers, causing a fireball to appear in his hand. Pulling back his arm like a baseball pitcher, he threw it at the goblin as hard as he could. It collided with its face, and in an instant its entire body was engulfed in flames.

 

Ozzie smiled and turned away, the sound of screaming music to his ears. If the goblin was to be believed, Porter and the sphinx had passed by here only a couple of days ago. If Porter was actually being held by a slave trader, there was a good chance he was still nearby. Now that he had a general direction in mind, all Ozzie had to do was follow it until something else turned up.

 

A strong breeze blew through the forest, making the manic young man's coat billow out behind him.

 

"Don't worry, buddy. I'm coming to get ya!"

 

 

(POV: Sarah)

 

"Hey, Porter! Watch this!"

 

Everyone looked up to see Tick balancing precariously on the topmost branches of an oak tree.

 

"Be careful up there!" Porter shouted back.

 

Sarah gave her friend a horrified look. "Porter, that is not okay! Tell him to come down!"

 

Porter laughed without even looking at her. "Relax, he's fine."

 

Up above them, Tick dug a handful of small rocks out of his pockets and started to juggle. His tail whipped back and forth, helping him keep his balance, but Sarah could still feel her hackles rising at the thought of him falling all the way to the ground.

 

"Seriously," she hissed, "tell him to come down before he kills himself!"

 

"He's not going to kill himself."

 

"Before he gives me a heart attack, then," she insisted. "He won't listen to me, so you have to tell him."

 

Porter looked at her, rolled his eyes, and then said, "Tick, come on down."

 

"Okay," the little boy agreed, catching all the rocks and putting them back in his pockets. Then in a series of elaborate cartwheels and flips, he jumped from branch to branch before landing on Porter's shoulders.

 

"Tag, you're it!" he said, thumping the older boy on the head before leaping to the ground and dashing away.

 

"Stay where I can see you!" Porter hollered, but made no move to chase him. Sarah didn't blame him. The summer sun was hitting them with everything it had, making walking an arduous chore. Just the thought of running made Sarah want to puke.

 

She shook her head, sending a mosquito flying away. Then, sitting down for a moment, she brought her back leg up and scratched away some other insect that was nibbling on her shoulder.

 

"Gah, I am so sick of these bugs!" she griped, looking up at Droma.

 

"Oh, leave them be," the Soul Smith said, grinning down at her. "I am sure they have never tasted anything as exotic as a sphinx before."

 

"Well, you're a Mythic too," she grumped. "If you want them to try new foods, you're welcome to all of them."

 

Up ahead, Tick came running back, throwing himself at Porter in an effort to tackle him. The young man caught him in his arms, laughing, and put the boy in a headlock. Tick squirmed for a few seconds before finally slipping out of his grip, and ran away again. Watching them, Sarah couldn't help but smile, her grumpy façade proving insufficient. When Porter rescued Tick, almost three days ago, the little boy had immediately latched onto him like a little brother. The two of them were almost inseparable now.

 

"Hey, Droma?" Porter asked, coming to walk beside his other two friends. "You called Tick something when we brought him to camp. What was it, again?"

 

"A chimera," Droma answered, looking at the boy running figure eights around a pair of trees in the distance.

 

Porter nodded. "Uh huh, but what does that mean?"

 

Sarah looked up to make a sharp remark, but bit her tongue. She knew what a chimera was, naturally, but Porter didn't. That was one thing she was determined to accept about him- he was brighter than she originally thought, he just had to be filled in on certain things. Besides, he'd asked Droma, not her, so it was only right to let the Soul Smith answer.

 

"A chimera is a creature of mixed blood. The most common case is when two different species have a child together. Whatever Tick is, he is only half human."

 

Porter looked at Tick too, and nodded in appreciation. "Cool."

 

Not if you know anything about chimeras, Sarah thought, but didn't say anything. Luckily, Droma spoke up again.

 

"Many Mythics do not see it that way. Human blood is considered an..." he paused, trying to think of the proper word, "undesirable trait."

 

"Really?" Porter asked. "Why? I mean, we met one jerk in that town, but they can't all be bad, right?"

 

Sarah sucked in a sharp breath, and looked up at Droma. That was a dangerous question, and not one she was sure she trusted Droma to answer. The giant knew about Porter's past, but did he understand just how fragile his memory loss might be? One wrong word could spark some memory in his head, and before they knew it they'd all be lying headless on the forest floor.

 

Relax, she chastised herself. You don't even know if that would really happen.

 

Luckily, neither of them had a chance to answer his question, because at that moment Tick came running back to them, holding a rock.

 

"Porter, look what I found!" he said, holding it up for Porter to see. "It's all shiny and stuff!"

 

"Very nice," Porter said, appreciatively, though Sarah could tell he was just placating the boy. Then, without any warning, he asked, "Hey, Tick, what were your parents?"

 

Sarah stopped dead in her tracks, giving him am openmouthed stare.

 

"Nice, Porter," she snapped. "Very tactful."

 

"What?" he asked, turning to her. "I want to know!"

 

"Oh my gosh, you're hopeless!" Sarah grumbled, walking past them and smacking him with her tail. "You need to be more considerate."

 

"No, it's okay," Tick said. "I don't mind."

 

The little boy thought for a second, and then said, "My mom was human, so I guess that means my dad was a Mythic. I never met him, though, so I don't know what he was."

 

"How did you come to be caught by slave traders?" Droma asked.

 

At this, Tick's face fell. "I was... my mom gave me away."

 

Sarah gave him a horrified look. "To the slave traders?"

 

He shook his head. "No, to a circus!"

 

Sarah's eyebrows lowered into a stony glare. "Because that's so much better."

 

"She said she couldn't help me anymore," Tick argued. "She told me they could keep me safe, and I'd be happier, and... she did it for a good reason!"

 

Sarah wanted to argue some more, but made herself be quiet. Tick obviously hadn't had a happy life. Better to let him hold onto what few good memories he had.

 

"I lived with them for a long time, and they taught me how to juggle and balance," he went on. "They didn't even care about my tail! Then our dog ran off one night, and I chased after it. The next thing I knew, I was in a cage, and that guy in the cowboy hat was carrying me away."

 

Everyone was quiet after this, and Tick looked back down at his feet. When it was obvious that was the end of his story, Sarah tried to think of something to cheer him up.

 

Poor kid's had it rough, she thought. That was the kind of lives Mythic children often had to lead. Looking back now, she couldn't help but feel ashamed for how much she'd hated living in her huge, comfortable mansion.

 

Mrs. Rasta was right. I really did have it so much better than most Mythics.

 

Then Porter lashed out, slapping Tick's bare shoulder, and took off running. "You're it!"

 

"Hey, no fair!" Tick yelled, chasing after him. "You weren't even playing before!"

 

When they were a good ways off, Droma said, "Three days ago, I think you would have been far less willing to let him be so close to a little boy- and a Mythic one, at that."

 

Sarah shook her head. "You're right, I'd probably try to keep the two of them as far away from each other as possible. But not anymore. I... I trust him now."

 

"Really?" Droma asked. "Why is that?"

 

"Well, he saved my life," she answered. "And Tick's too. If he were still bad, why would he do that? He could have let the slave trader have his way with us both. And it's not just that, either. He's been nothing but nice to me ever since we met, and I've been... well, I've kinda been a jerk."

 

"And you are not still afraid that he's faking it? After all, we are bringing him someplace filled with Mythics. He could just be biding his time, waiting to find even more monsters to kill."

 

Before, that statement would have made Sarah shudder, in no small part because she had partly believed it herself. Now, however, it didn't even phase her.

 

"He's not, I can tell. There's just something about him. He's so sincere in everything he does. Even the most honest people hide things, but not him. He's just, well, I don't know. But I trust him."

 

She paused for a second, her face turning red. "And he's my friend. If I can't trust my friends, then what hope do I have?"

 

She half expected Droma to argue with her, but he only nodded his head. "I believe you are right, Sarah. Something has changed in him. He is no longer the Slayer who tried to kill you. It is like Porter is a completely different person."

 

"How do you know?" Sarah asked. "You never knew him before he lost his memory."

 

"Neither did you, really," Droma pointed out. "The attack was the first time you had ever seen him. You do not know how he behaved when he was off duty, or with his friends. The Slayer was only one part of who he was, even it was a terrible part. And yet, you believe he has changed. How can you be so certain?"

 

"The fact that he isn't trying to kill me is a big one," she said. "But I guess you're right. I just kind of sense it, you know? He's not bad anymore. He really has changed."

 

They walked in silence for a few minutes, watching the two boys chase each other all over the place. The sight made Sarah feel dizzy in the heat, and she couldn't figure out how they could keep it up like that. Finally, she sighed.

 

"What are we going to do with him?" she asked quietly. "We can't bring him into Jellaska Kob Lertan, can we?"

 

"No, we cannot," Droma agreed. "Even if they did not find out that he is a Slayer, they would not like it if a human was brought to one of their sanctuaries. The risk would be too great."

 

"Was," Sarah said.

 

Droma looked down at her. "I am sorry?"

 

"Stop saying Porter is a Slayer," she whispered, almost too embarrassed to say it out loud. "He was a Slayer, but not anymore."

 

Droma nodded sagely. "But that does not change our predicament, unfortunately. Arch-Mythic Rayalga, himself, would take notice of such an offense. I am afraid Porter's execution would be the best outcome."

 

Sarah looked up at him, a queasy feeling forming in her stomach. "What do you mean?"

 

"I mean," Droma said, giving her a grave look, "that they might even choose to execute us as well for bringing him there."

 

Sarah's face went pale when she heard this, but she shook it off. "So, what can we do? We can't just abandon him here in the woods."

 

"Of course not. We must find a safe place for him. And I believe it would be best to tell him what we are doing, as well."

 

The sick feeling only grew worse. "He won't take that well."

 

"I have a feeling he will take it far better than if we just left him. He would probably think something was wrong, and come chasing after us. This way, at least, he will know we have a good reason for parting ways."

 

Sarah watched Porter play with Tick, and suddenly felt like crying. After all these years, she finally had a friend. And what did she plan to do? Ditch him the first chance they got. That was just as ironic as trying to find her parents after itching to get away from them for so long- except this one hurt way more.

 

Well, she thought, fighting back the tears, the least I can do is make the time I have left with him worth it.

 

With that, she steeled herself against the heat, and charged at them. She threw herself to the side, slamming into Porter with all the strength she could muster, and knocked him to the ground.

 

"Tag!" she yelled. "You're it!"

 

(POV: Porter)

 

The campfire crackled invitingly in the darkness, and Porter leaned in closer to warm his hands. Sarah sat on his left, Tick on his right, while Droma stood above them all, turning a large hunk of deer meet on a spit. Porter sucked the aroma into his nose greedily, his stomach growling.

 

"You'd think he hasn't had anything to eat all day," Sarah said playfully, pretending to talk to Tick.

 

"I'm hungry too," the little boy said, his white hair like a mirror in the firelight. "I've never had deer before. What does it taste like?"

 

"It tastes like deer," Sarah said, rolling onto her back to warm her belly.

 

"Here, try it," Droma said, tearing a handful off and handing it to the boy. Tick grabbed it, not seeming to mind the heat, and took a big bite.

 

"That's good!" he said, his mouth still full. He didn't even wait until he had swallowed to take another bite.

 

"Slow down or you'll choke," Porter said, accepting his own share of the meat.

 

"What are the chances of us finding any chickens out here?" Sarah asked as the Soul Smith set some down in front of her as well.

 

Porter looked at her "Sarah, you should be more-"

 

"I'm kidding, Porter," she cut him off, and then dug into her meal.

 

Porter took a bite himself, and let Droma sit down on the other side of the fire. With his massive size, he needed all that space to himself. Interestingly, Porter noticed that the giant didn't take any more than they did, though he looked like he could eat the entire rest of the deer all by himself. He almost asked about it, but decided it probably wouldn't be polite.

 

"So, how much farther is it to the dwarf city?" he asked instead.

 

At least three days, if we do not encounter any delays." He was quiet for a moment, and then cleared his throat. "We will need to make a stop somewhere on the way, though."

 

Sarah rolled back to her paws. "Where at?"

 

Droma looked at her over the flames, and Porter caught the trace of a smile on his lips. "Actually, I think that you will find this stop quite interesting, Sarah. Have you ever heard of the Historians' Tower?"

 

Porter glanced at Sarah, and saw the look of confusion on her face. "Yeah, I've heard about it. Everyone has. So what? It's just a story."

 

Droma's smiled grew even wider, and Sarah paused.

 

"It's... not a story, is it?"

 

Droma nodded. "I will admit, they do prefer to be thought of as a myth. But no, it is very real."

 

Suddenly, Sarah was on her paws, her eyes open so wide that Porter thought they might pop out of her skull.

 

"And you're taking us there?" she demanded. "Like, for real?"

 

"Yes, I must make a stop there on the way to Jellaska Kob Lertan. We will spend the night there, and perhaps some of the next day."

 

Sarah looked stunned as she sat back down. "The Historians' Tower is real," she whispered.

 

"Um," Porter said, raising his hand and breaking into the conversation, "somebody fill me in. What's the Historians' Tower?"

 

"There are legends about a place where all of history has been recorded," Sarah answered. "All the way from the beginning of time, to this moment right now. Every little detail, down to how many hairs you have on your head."

 

Porter reached up and ran his hand through his hair, suddenly feeling very... watched. "Why would they do that?" he asked.

 

"They are historians," Droma answered. "They have made that their purpose in life."

 

Porter nodded. "Yeah, I guess I can understand that. But counting the hairs on my head? Why bother with something as small as that?"

 

Droma chuckled. "If you asked them, they would tell you that it is often the most miniscule of details that are the most important."

 

"Why are you bringing us there?"

 

"Who cares why?" Sarah asked, still looking way more excited than Porter thought was necessary. "We're going to the Historians' Tower!"

 

"I have something that I have been meaning to do," Droma answered. "Since we will pass the tower on our way, I decided to use the opportunity."

 

Porter considered it for a second, and then said, "All right." He wasn't sure what else he would have done, even if he didn't want to go to the tower. Droma was their guide, after all. They didn't have much choice but to follow him.

 

"Good," the giant said, clapping his hands decisively. "Now, you should go to sleep. We have a long ways to go tomorrow if we want to get to the tower before nightfall. I will take first watch."

 

Nodding gratefully, Porter finished eating and then lay down on his back, looking up at the stars. He could hear the others chatting idly, but he didn't pay much attention. Before long, Sarah and Tick started to bed down as well, leaving Droma to take his place watching over them.

 

Even if I can't remember who I am, he thought, letting the warmth of the fire lull him into sleepy contentment, this isn't so bad. Things could be a lot worse...

 

He closed his eyes for just a moment, but when he opened them again he wasn't in the forest anymore. The fire was gone, and he was lying on a hard, stone floor instead of soft dirt.

 

"What the-" he exclaimed, sitting up straight. His heart started to race, but he fought to keep himself calm. "Sarah? Droma?" he called into the darkness.

 

He was in a narrow hallway made of black stones, and his voice echoed through it to no reply. Cautiously, Porter stood up. There were no torches or lanterns on the walls, which should have left him in complete darkness. Still, he found that somehow he could see just enough to make out his immediate surroundings. Less than five feet in front of him, the shadows grew so thick that he may as well have been facing a wall. Anything could have been in that darkness, watching him, and he would have no idea. The thought made a chill run down his spine, and he instinctively flexed his hand to summon Flicker.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Porter looked down at his hand in confusion, and flexed it again. The sword still did not appear. Suddenly, Porter felt even more vulnerable. Where was he, how had he gotten here, and why couldn't he summon his weapon? Without it, he didn't stand a chance against whatever was there with him- and he had an unshakable feeling that he was not alone.

 

Not knowing what else to do, he called out, "Who's there?"

 

For the longest moment in Porter's life, there was no reply. Then, like a snake slithering across his brain, a voice spoke back.

 

"Come and find out."

 

The voice made him shiver again, and goosebumps rose up on his arms. It wasn't coming from any particular direction, but he could hear it all the same. He turned to face the opposite direction, and got the distinct feeling that was the way he was supposed to go.

 

How do I know that? he wondered in his head.

 

"Because I told you," the voice answered.

 

In that moment, Porter knew there was nothing he wanted to do less than follow the voice. He also knew, however, that he couldn't have refused if he'd tried. His feet moved on their own, carrying him into the shadows. The circle of unidentifiable light stayed with him with every step he took, never letting him see an inch farther than he could before.

 

"Who are you?" Porter called out again, trying to break the silence. The quiet was becoming as foreboding as the darkness itself. He could hear nothing but the taps his footsteps made on the stone floor. There wasn't even a draft.

 

"You know who I am."

 

Porter came to a stop. In front of him, the hallway came to an end. A single doorway was set into the wall, but it was blocked off by iron bars. Porter tried to take a step backwards, but his body wouldn't obey. Whatever was here with him, whatever had brought him here, was just behind those bars. And Porter really, really did not want to see what it was.

 

"You're such a coward," the voice said, sounding much closer now than it had before. It came out of the doorway this time, instead of being inside his brain. "It's embarrassing just to look at you."

 

"What are you talking about?" Porter asked.

 

"I have to watch you every minute of every day," the voice answered. "It's pathetic. Like watching a baby get thrown into a river."

 

There was something... familiar about that voice, Porter thought. But try as he might, he couldn't pinpoint what it was.

 

"I don't understand," he said, trying to sound brave. "Who are you?"

 

Something stepped out of the shadows in front of him, coming to a stop just behind the bars. Porter's blood went as cold as ice, and he gasped in shock.

 

"You're me!" he exclaimed, unable to believe his eyes.

 

And it was true. If he hadn't known better, Porter would have thought he was looking into a mirror. Every detail about him was perfect, down to the way the hair on the back of his head stuck up just the slightest bit.

 

"No, I'm not," the other Porter said. "You and I have nothing in common."

 

Porter shook his head. "I still don't get it. Who are you?"

 

"I'm who you used to be," his copy said. "I'm who you should still be. You took everything from me, and now I WANT IT BACK!"

 

The whole hallway shook as the other Porter shouted those last words, and Porter managed to take a step away.

 

"You're... you're who I was before I lost my memory," he said a few seconds later, after he'd caught his breath. "Why are you in there? What is this place?"

 

"It's where I kept you for twelve years," the other Porter said. "And it's where I'll put you once I get out again."

 

"Where you kept me?" Porter echoed. "What does that mean?"

 

The other Porter laughed, a sound that made Porter's skin crawl. "Don't you wish you knew? Let me out, and maybe I'll tell you."

 

Porter looked into his double's eyes, and saw nothing in them but coldness and hatred.

 

Is that how I look? he thought, unable to pull his gaze away. Is that how Sarah and the others see me?

 

"The answer to both questions is yes," the other Porter answered his unspoken question. He gave Porter a cruel grin.

 

Porter gulped, as if that would help him swallow his fear, and shook his head.

 

"I don't believe you," he said.

 

The boy behind the bars shrugged. "I don't care. It's not going to change anything."

 

The other Porter snaked his arm through the bars, reaching for Porter. "You can't keep me in here forever. Eventually, I'm going to get out."

 

Porter stepped back before the lookalike could grab him. The other Porter laughed at this, and pulled his hand back in.

 

"What..." Porter said, trying to keep his voice from shaking. "When you get out, what are you going to do?"

 

The boy cocked his head, like he thought he'd misheard him, and then burst out laughing.

 

"Do? What do you think I'm going to do?" He grinned, and then leaned in closer to the bars. "I'm going to kill your friends. I'll start with the kid, then I'll do the giant. I'm going to save the sphinx for last, though."

 

Porter shook his head. "Shut up."

 

"She was just starting to trust you, too," the copy said, idly trailing his finger along one of the bars. "Can you imagine what she'll think when you suddenly turn around and kill her?"

 

Porter clenched his fists, glaring at the other Porter with all the defiance he could muster.

 

"I won't let you hurt her," he said. "I'll kill you first."

 

The clone laughed again. "You can't kill yourself, you idiot! And you can't keep me in here, either. I'm going to break out, I'm going to put you back where you belong, and then I'm going to kill your friends."

 

Suddenly, he kicked the bars, making Porter jump.

 

"And I'm going to make you watch the whole thing!" he went on, his voice rising into a psychotic scream. "Listen to every scream!"

 

"Shut up!" Porter yelled again, and finally broke free of the other Porter's trance. He turned and ran back down the hallway, but couldn't escape the other Porter's voice. It echoed down the corridor, inside his head, shaking him like a scarecrow in a storm, and then-

 

He sat upright with a gasp, his heart pounding like a drum inside his chest. He was drenched in sweat, and he stared blankly at the fire in front of him for a few seconds before realizing that he was back in the forest again.

 

(POV: Sarah)

 

Sarah turned around when she heard Porter gasp. It was her turn to take watch, so she'd been staring into the woods, trying not to fall asleep.

 

"Are you all right?" she asked.

 

Porter looked her, and she could see the fear in his eyes. She could even hear his heartbeat.

 

"I- I'm fine," he answered, but he may as well have said he was a duck for all that Sarah believed him. She stood up, leaving her post, and came to sit by him.

 

"Bad dream?" she asked.

 

Porter hesitated, then nodded. "Yeah, I guess."

 

"Wanna talk about it?"

 

He immediately shook his head. "No, that's okay. Don't worry about it."

 

Sarah nodded, but still gave him a worried look. Porter was usually the high spirited one. The only time she'd ever seen him be afraid was when he'd first woken up in the forest with no idea where he was. But, if he didn't want to share it with her, she wouldn't force him to.

 

"Good night, then," she said, turning to go back to her job.

 

"Did you know me before I lost my memory?" he asked. The question stopped Sarah in her tracks, and a cold shiver ran down her spine as she was forcibly reminded of that night.

 

"No," she made herself say, pushing those horrible memories back where they couldn't reach her. "I just found you in the woods. Sorry."

 

She turned and went back to him. "Why do you ask?"

 

Porter was silent for a few seconds, but then he looked up at her with big, frightened eyes. "I'm scared, Sarah."

 

The sphinx sat down again. "Scared of what?"

 

Porter looked at the fire, which was little more than a pile of embers now, and Sarah got the impression that he was trying not to look at her.

 

"Lowatai said I had a dark past," he whispered. "She said she didn't know any of the details, but... what if I was some kind of bad guy?"

 

He turned to look at her again. "What if I hurt people?"

 

Sarah felt like those words ought to have scared her, coming from the mouth of a former Slayer, but looking into his eyes like that... she couldn't find anything to be afraid of.

 

"And when I remember," he went on, "Well, if I remember, what if who I used to be is stronger than who I am now?"

 

Sarah sighed. If she still had any lingering doubts about Porter's honesty, they were immediately chased away. There wasn't just fear in his eyes, there was innocence. The kind of innocence you could never find in a Slayer.

 

"Porter," she said gently, "it doesn't matter who you were. What matters is who you choose to be now. You're stronger than you give yourself credit for. If you ever get your memory back, I think you're strong enough to beat whoever you used to be."

 

She smiled, and leaned in a little closer to him. "I believe in you."

 

Suddenly, Porter lunged forward, and wrapped his arms around her.

 

"Sarah," he said with his face pressed against her shoulder, "thank you for everything. Without you, I'd be nothing. I don't know who I was, but if you don't think it matters, then neither do I. If you're with me, I know I'll be strong enough to beat him."

 

Sarah's face grew red with embarrassment, but she didn't pull back. Hesitantly, she raised her paw and pressed it against Porter's back. It wasn't exactly a hug, but it was the closest she could get with her body.

 

"You're welcome."

 

NEXT TIME: You know what I like about this chapter? It went from "EEEEK!" to "Aaaaw!" to "EEEEK!" to "Aaaaaw!". But the Historians' Tower- now THAT sounds interesting. Why is Droma taking them there, and what kinds of crazy adventures will they get up to?

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