How much farther is it to the Historians' Tower?" Porter asked.
The sun was beating down on the four travelers again, and this time the temperature had risen so high that even Tick was content to walk beside them, occasionally wiping the sweat from his forehead with the tip of his tail.
"We are getting very close," Droma answered. "Only a couple more miles, in fact."
Sarah stopped in her tracks, looking up into the sky like she expected something to be there.
"What's up, Sarah?" Porter asked, pausing to glance at her.
"If you're telling the truth, Droma," she said worriedly, still scanning the tops of the trees, "then I think we must be lost."
"We are not lost," Droma said, almost sounding defensive about it. "I have lived in these woods for over three hundred years. I know it better than the inside of my house."
Sarah looked back down at them, and shook her head. "But the tower is supposed to be made of solid white marble, and be over a mile tall, right? We should have been able to see something like that hours ago."
Droma grinned at her, and chuckled. "You would think so, would you not?"
Porter looked from Droma to Sarah, and back again. The Soul Smith's infectious smile crept onto his face, too. "You know something we don't, I take it?"
"The tower is under an enchantment," he confirmed. "A very complex one, too. Do you remember the cloaking spell I had covering my house?"
"That's all it is?" Sarah asked, coming to stand beside Porter, looking disappointed. "A cloaking spell?"
Droma shrugged. "Well, that is putting it simply. In truth, though, there is much more to it than that. The Historians' Tower is the stuff of legends, so merely making it blend into the background would not be adequate protection."
The giant tapped the side of his head. "The real magic comes from in here. To see the tower, first you must believe in the tower. Do you understand?"
Porter shook his head. "Nope."
"I think I do," Sarah interjected. Porter smiled in amusement as he looked at her, imagining the tiny wheels spinning inside the sphinx's head. "You can't see the tower unless you believe in it. But since everyone thinks the tower's a legend, nobody would believe in it. It's the perfect way to hide it."
Droma grinned. "Very good, Sarah! But there is also the matter of location. Since people do not know where the tower is, they would first have to find it."
"They sound like jerks," Tick said, speaking up for the first time.
Porter raised his eyebrows at the little boy. "What makes you say that?"
"It sounds cool," he said, shrugging as he wiped at his brow again. "But they don't want anybody to find it. Sounds kinda jerk-y to me."
At this, Droma leaned his head back and laughed so loudly that birds erupted out of the treetops all around them. "You are right about one thing, Tick. The historians are not overly fond of visitors, but is not because they are unfriendly. No, they will welcome any traveler who manages to find them and treat them with the utmost hospitality. But every guest that leaves through their doors means one more person who could reveal their secret. Even if the Slayers did not get wind of it, the place would undoubtedly become a tourist attraction amongst the Mythics. That, in the end, is what they are most afraid of."
Sarah asked him another question about the tower, but Porter found himself preoccupied. The Slayers... this wasn't the first time he'd heard them use that term. They had never gone into any details, but the tone of voice they used had told Porter all he needed to know about what his friends thought of them— whoever they were. He was tempted to break into the conversation and ask, but decided against it. Sarah was obviously having a good time learning about the tower.
"Why do you need to go to the tower, anyway?" he asked instead.
"They have a room that I must make use of," the giant answered, "filled with magical mirrors. I can use them to contact someone from far away."
"Who?" Sarah asked.
Droma shook his head. "I am afraid I must keep that to myself. Just know that the historians will take good care of you while I am busy."
They walked in silence for a few minutes before Porter noticed the thoughtful look on Sarah's face.
"A whole room full of magic mirrors?" she asked at last.
"Yes, hundreds of them, in fact," Droma said. "They play a very important role in what they do at the tower. I would try to explain it, but, well, it is kind of difficult to put into words. Father Lucius will do a far better job at it than me."
"Who's Father Lucius?" Porter asked.
"The leader of the historians, and master of the Historians' Tower."
"Do you think," Sarah asked, speaking tentatively, "that I could use one of those mirrors to contact my parents?"
Droma gave her a troubled look. "I am sure they would allow you to, Sarah, but do you know where they are?"
"They're in one of the Sanctuaries," she said. "They probably have magic mirrors in there, right?"
"Undoubtedly," Droma agreed. "But using a magic mirror is not that simple. You must know the exact location of the mirror you are trying to broadcast to, which also means knowing the exact location of who you are trying to contact. Without that, I am afraid there is nothing they can do for you."
Sarah's head fell, but Porter didn't think she looked too disappointed. "Well, it was worth a try."
"How long have you been looking for them?" he asked.
She sucked in a breath, like she had been startled, and gave him a wary look.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said, shaking her head. "Um, pretty much just as long as I've known you. I found you the night I got separated from them."
"How did you get separated from them?"
To this, Sarah didn't respond. She gave Porter another weird look, and seemed to be thinking about how to answer. She never got the chance, though, because at that moment Droma held his hand out to stop them.
"Look!" he declared, pointing at the tops of the trees in front of them.
All three of his companions followed his line of sight, but Porter, at least, couldn't see what he was pointing at. There was nothing there but clear blue sky, without even a single cloud to blemish it.
"It's right there, isn't it?" Sarah exclaimed. "Why can't I see it? You said we just have to believe in it!"
Droma laughed. "I was telling the truth. You just were not expecting to see it. Close your eyes, tell yourselves the tower is right in front of you, and then open them."
Porter did as he was told, and squeezed his eyes shut as hard as he could. Could there really be a tower like Sarah had described? Ivory white and over a mile tall? How could he— how could anyone miss something like that? Still, Droma had told him so, and he trusted the Soul Smith, so...
When I open my eyes, he told himself, there is going to be a gigantic tower in front of me.
He opened his eyes, and had to squint when the early afternoon sunlight blinded him. A moment later his eyes had adjusted, and he opened them again— and together, in perfect harmony, he, Sarah, and Tick gasped in amazement.
"No way!" Sarah whispered as they all looked up at the majestic white spire. Porter knew exactly how she felt. He had expected to see something impressive, but this... this was simply mindboggling. The tower was so wide that he might have thought it was a wall if he couldn't see it stretching up above him, so high that he couldn't see the top, even in the clear sky.
"Whoa," was all that made it out of Tick's mouth.
"Welcome," Droma said dramatically, "to the Historians' Tower!"
The four of them were almost at the base of the tower, Porter realized. All that separated them from their destination was a small hill.
"I'll race you there!" Porter declared, instantly forgetting the heat in his excitement. He took one step forward, though, with Tick darting forward to accept his challenge, before Droma's massive hands shot out and grabbed both of them by their shoulders.
"Do not be so hasty, friends!" he laughed. "There is something else you need to see first."
With that, he led the way up the hill. Porter followed behind him, forcing himself to be patient. It was hard, and he knew Tick and Sarah were having similar difficulties. Sarah was looking so intently at the tower that she almost tripped twice on the way up. When they finally crested the hill, Droma swept a branch out of the way, and gestured again towards the tower. He wasn't pointing at the tower itself, this time, but at the ground surrounding it.
"Whoa!" Tick exclaimed again.
A wide, open field ran around the base of the tower, and a swirling, chaotic rainbow of colors shimmered in the bright sunlight. It was so bright that it was like looking at a mirror someone was shining a light at, and Porter had to shield his eyes again.
"Are those flowers?" Sarah asked. "There's so many of them, and they're so... shiny!"
"Watch this," Droma said, reaching down and picking up a small stone. He gently tossed the rock into the field, and the flowers reacted immediately to it. They flew up into the air around where the stone had landed, like water splashing out of a pool, but instead of falling back down again they changed course and came towards the four travelers.
"Wait a minute," Porter said, leaning forward to get a better look. "Those aren't flowers, they're—"
"Fairies!" Tick finished for him just as the multicolored sprites reached them. They came as a pack, but broke apart into smaller clusters to better inspect the newcomers. Red, blue, orange, purple, yellow, green, so many colors that it made Porter's head spin trying to keep track of them all. One fairy flew up to look Porter directly in the eye. It looked like a tiny woman, solid blue from head to toe. A pair of dragonfly wings buzzed rhythmically behind her back.
"She's beautiful!" Porter breathed, and the fairy giggled in response before flying away. The others followed her lead, leaving the travelers alone.
"The historians call it the Fairies' Field," Droma explained.
"I can see why!" Sarah said, her eyes going up and down as she tried to look at the tower and the multicolored sprites at the same time.
"Why do the fairies all come here?" Porter asked
"They have always been here," Droma answered. "Or, they have been as far back as the historians can remember. They say the tower was built around them. They are not just for entertainment, though. They are the tower's final measure of protection."
"How so?" Porter asked.
Droma began his descent down the hill, and the others followed him. When they reached the edge of the field, the fairies took to the air again, forming a spinning vortex of color and leaving bare ground for them to walk on.
"Ideally, they would be a distraction," the giant went on. "The hope is that if someone were to discover the tower's location, seeing the fairies would distract him enough that he wouldn't think to look for the tower. If that did not work, the fairies would attack. They may be small, but if you get them angry they are like a swarm of hornets."
Porter imagined what that would be like. A wave of colors washing towards him, so huge that he couldn't have outrun it if he tried. Thousands upon millions of fairies all descending on him at the same time. Despite the playfulness they were showing now, the thought made him shiver.
They reached the tower's door a minute later. It was a massive wooden structure, over a hundred feet high and fifty feet wide. Compared to the rest of the tower it looked diminutive, but standing in its shadow Porter couldn't help but wonder what kinds of things could have been behind it.
Droma raised his fist and banged three times on it. A minute passed, and then a square section of the wood swung back and an old, bespectacled face peered out at the Soul Smith. Then, in a singsong voice that was cracked with age, he recited:
"You, oh traveler, have found the way,
To where all knowledge flies and flows!
But if you've come to harm, I say,
Turn around, away you go!"
"Hello, Brother Koob," Droma greeted him. "It is me. You can open the door."
"Before you enter we will see,
If you can guess the riddles three!
Be careful, though, my newest friend,
Answer wrong and meet your end!"
"Meet our end?" Sarah asked in a low voice, suddenly sounding worried. "Does he mean..."
"No," Droma answered, "it is just a game he likes to play." He turned back to the little face behind the door. "Koob, I have answered your riddles more times than I can count. Just open the door, please."
"No, no, we have to do it right!" Brother Koob insisted, giggling at his own cleverness.
Droma rolled his eyes and, before Koob could speak again, said, "A turkey pickled in olive juice, a flying cucumber plant, and a quarter the size of Kentucky."
There was a pause, and then the voice said, "Oh, well all right, then. In you come!"
The peephole closed, and a loud noise came from the other side of the doorway. Slowly, it swung inwards, allowing the kids their first sight inside the Historians' Tower.
A small man, only as tall as Tick, stood in the doorway. His nose was long and pointed, and his glasses were taped to the sides of his head since he didn't appear to have any ears. He was dressed in a simple brown habit, which trailed slightly on the floor behind him.
"Greetings, Droma, and welcome back to the Historians' Tower!" Brother Koob said, gesturing for the large man to come inside. Finally noticing that the Soul Smith was not alone, he added, "And a welcome to, and you, and you! All those who travel with Droma are our friends!"
Droma went through the door, and Sarah hurried to be the first one in after him. The hallway they found themselves in was wide enough for all of them to stand side by side— Droma included. The floor was smooth, polished gray marble, and the walls on either side of them were lined with book shelves that reached all the way to the ceiling. Sarah's breath caught in her throat looking at them all.
"Come this way, please," Brother Koob instructed them, scooting away with astonishing speed. The others followed him, trying to take in everything as they went. Lanterns hung from the walls between the bookshelves, but they weren't needed this early in the day since the sunlight shone in through numerous windows.
As she passed, Sarah tried to make out the titles written on the spines of the books. She recognized some, such as The Pilgrimage of the Orcs, and Dragon Usurpers of the Ages. Those were books her father had owned in his library at Heisen Manor. Others sounded more mysterious, like Where the Faceless Ones Fled, or The Seven Darknesses of Grimbaughen.
She glanced to her left as they passed by another door, briefly catching a glimpse of a large room full of creatures dressed similarly to Brother Koob. Some were bent over desks, scribbling on sheets of parchment with feathered quills, while others walked around the room, distributing stacks of parchment, quills, and ink to those writing.
Brother Koob led them around a corner and up a long flight of stairs. Coming to the second floor, they passed by a window, which gave her another view of the Fairies' Field down below. The stairway brought them to another hallway, which Koob used to take them to a second stairwell. This went on for over ten minutes, and by the third long, twisting hall, Sarah realized she'd never be able to find her way out of there alone. The place was a maze. Finally, the tiny man came to a halt and knocked on a door.
"Enter," a voice said from the other side.
Brother Koob opened the door and stepped inside, motioning for the others to follow him. Droma went first, having to crouch down to avoid hitting his head, and the others came in after him. Inside, they saw a man sitting behind a desk, setting his quill back into its well.
"Father Lucius," Brother Koob said, bowing in respect. "We have visitors. Droma the Soul Smith has returned, and he has brought three friends with him."
Father Lucius beamed in delight. "Droma! So good to see you again. How long has it been since your last visit? Too long, my friend, too long!"
"Four years and one hundred seventy two days," the Soul Smith returned the greeting.
Father Lucius pushed back his chair and stood up to greet his guests. He, too, was short, and Sarah briefly wondered if everyone working in the tower was like that. But while he was only a few inches taller than Brother Koob, he was several times larger. His great belly wobbled underneath his white habit with every step he took, and his snow white beard instantly made her think of a vertically challenged Santa Claus.
"Greetings, one and all!" he declared, coming to stand before Porter. "What are your names?"
"I'm Porter," the young man replied, and the smiling dwarf shook his hand vigorously. He went to Tick next, and repeated the process.
"Ah, a sphinx!" he said when he finally came to Sarah. "Such a rare sight around these parts. An honor, Miss, it truly is! What is your name?"
"Sarah Heisen," she answered, but before Lucius could respond she blurted out, "Father Lucius, I am honored to be here. I've grown up hearing stories about this place, but I never thought that it could be real. I can hardly believe I'm really standing here right now!"
Father Lucius laughed. "I assure you, Sarah, the honor is all mine. All friends of Droma's are welcome here at the Historians' Tower! As you three have surely guessed, my name is Lucius and I am the head of this order. I have led the historians for nearly seventy years, as my father did before me, and his father before him."
As he turned to speak to all four of his guests in turn, Sarah noticed a glimmer of light reflecting off his chest. A large golden key hung from a chain around his neck, she realized, and it swung with every movement he made.
"What, exactly, is it that you do here?" Porter asked.
"We are the historians," Lucius answered. "As our name would imply, we have made it our mission to record every event that has ever happened, as well as what is happening now."
"That's not history!" Tick protested. "That's, like... present-ory."
Father Lucius laughed again, and winked conspiratorially at the boy, as if letting him in on a big secret. "Ah, but it will be history someday, won't it?"
"Oh," the little chimera said, "yeah, okay."
And with that, Sarah decided those two had said enough. Before they could speak up again, she blurted out, "I have so many questions! How do you manage to record everything? Do you really write down every single detail, no matter how small? Where do you keep all the history books?
"Slow down, young lady!" Father Lucius said, holding up a hand. "I would be happy to explain everything to you. In fact, unless Droma has business he needs to attend to with me, I can take you on a tour right now."
"You don't need to talk to him, right Droma?" Sarah asked, spinning to give the giant a pleading look. "Not right now, anyway."
"It is fine," he agreed, nodding to the short, pudgy man. "I will speak with you later."
Father Lucius clapped his hands. "Very well, then. Would the young men like to come along, or would they prefer to be shown to their rooms?"
Porter and Tick exchanged a glance. "We're both kinda tired," Porter decided. "Sarah, do you mind if we go get some rest?"
Sarah shook her head. "No, go ahead. I'll be fine."
The fewer people there, the more of my questions he'll be able to answer!
"Brother Koob, please take Porter and Tick to their rooms," Father Lucius said, heading for the door. "Sarah, follow me."
The man's head hit the concrete wall with a dull thud.
"Ready to talk now?" Ozzie asked, pulling him back by the hair to look at him, his usual manic grin spread across his face.
"I've told you everything I know!" the man insisted.
"Doubt it," the boy replied, and slammed him into the wall once more. The man's face was already so covered in bruises that Ozzie wasn't sure if he could even feel what he was doing to him. That was good, he'd decided. That made it a challenge...
"I swear!" the man pleaded. "The boy just beat the living daylights out of me and left!"
"Kinda like what I'm doing now, right?"
"I don't know anything else!"
Ozzie grabbed him by the collar and threw him onto the ground. "But I've got so many more questions! Know any good restaurants around here? Who's your celebrity crush? Did you know that harboring monsters is a crime punishable by death? Don't tell me you don't know anything else."
"Punishable by..." The man repeated slowly, horror dawning in his eyes. "You're a Slayer!"
Ozzie held up his hands dramatically. "Bingo! Give the man a prize!"
He had been tracking Porter for almost a week now, and the trail had led him straight to this miserable, behind the times town in the middle of nowhere. Here, Ozzie had found this man locked in a cage underneath the city's dog pound. Hardly worth his interest, if not for the fact that the man had been trapped in the cage by a bunch of containment charms. Call it a hunch, but it didn't take a genius to figure out there was a connection between this guy and the Tall Thing the goblins had sold Porter to.
"I wasn't harboring them, I swear!" the man insisted. "I capture them, and I sell them as slaves! I'd never help one of those filthy animals!"
"Doesn't matter," Ozzie replied. "Any monster discovered is to be turned over to the Slayers for immediate execution. You, my friend, have broken that rule."
"Please," the man begged, desperation making his voice high and shrill. "Don't kill me. I'll do anything!"
"Well," Ozzie mused, tapping his chin thoughtfully, "you're in luck. I'm not here for a monster, I'm here for the boy you had in that cage. If you catch and sell monsters, why would you lock up a human? Tell me what I want to hear, and I might let you go."
The man looked up at him, and Ozzie could read the confusion in his eyes. "I never had a boy locked up. I don't sell humans. What do you think I am, a—"
Ozzie kicked the man in the ribs, silencing him.
"Don't give me that. You just told me that he broke out and beat the snot out of you." Ozzie smirked. "Looks like he did a pretty good job of it, too."
"I didn't lock him up," the man insisted, rubbing his chest. "I didn't even bring him here. He broke in!"
Ozzie crouched down next to him. "Keep going."
The man's expression betrayed a little hope at this, and he started talking as fast as he could. "There was a sphinx on the edge of town. I knocked it out with my dart gun and brought it here. Threw it in the cage with the mutt I caught a couple weeks ago."
A sphinx? Ozzie thought, but didn't interrupt. That's got to be the one Porter was trying to kill!
That made sense, he realized. After teleporting away from the mansion, the sphinx had run off. Porter had followed it somehow, which meant he'd spent the past week chasing it. But why was it taking him so long? The Porter he knew should have been able to run a sphinx down in just a few minutes, but it had been a week since anybody had heard from him. Still, if the sphinx had gotten captured by this slave trader, then Porter had obviously come down here and finish his job. Where was the sphinx's body, though? And, for that matter, why was the man still alive? Porter knew the law just like Ozzie did, and Master Mortoph did not consider slave trading an acceptable excuse. And where exactly did Porter being bought by a Tall Thing come into all this? There were just so many pieces that didn't fit.
The man was still yammering on, as if it would do him any good, "He came down here just as I was teaching those two a lesson. He got all mad, and started hitting me. I... I can't remember too good, but he got the two of them out of the cage."
"Uh huh," Ozzie said, nodding. He figured the man had already given him all the information he could use, but decided to play along a little longer just in case. "Then what happened?"
"He threw me in the cage and locked the door. Then he picked the sphinx up and carried it away."
Ozzie perked up at this. "Wait, he carried the sphinx away? He didn't kill it?"
The man nodded.
Ozzie stood up, the wheels in his head spinning. "What did he look like?" he asked.
That was the solution, it had to be. Whoever this guy was, it hadn't been Porter. Porter would never have—
"He was about sixteen, and he had black hair," the man said.
Ozzie felt a pit form in his stomach. It wasn't undeniable evidence, but as much as he wanted to he couldn't just write it off as coincidence. The boy who had broken in had to be Porter, which meant that something was going on. Something that Ozzie couldn't figure out.
"All right," he said, masking his concern with another big grin, "let's play a guessing game, then. Do you know who that boy was?"
The man shook his head. "No idea."
Ozzie drew his knife and twirled it between his fingers. "Well, let me give you a huge hint. It begins with an S, and ends with LAYER." His smile grew even bigger when the man cringed. "Question two: why would a Slayer break in here for a sphinx if he wasn't going to kill it?"
"I have no idea, I swear!"
Ozzie stood up and started pacing the other side of the room. He didn't push the man for any more confessions. He believed him, even if he didn't want to. The obvious answer to what was going on was that Porter had betrayed the Slayers and was now helping the monsters. That was insane, though. Ozzie had known him, lived with him, for twelve years. Porter hated the monsters more than anything else in the world. There was no way in Heaven or Hell that he'd just up and change sides like that. Which meant there really was something else going on.
"Well, thank you," he said, flicking his knife into a ready position. "You've been a big help."
The man's eyes bugged out, and he held up a hand. "Wait, you said you wouldn't kill me!"
Ozzie smiled even wider. "No, I said that I would think about not killing you."
The man paused for second. "That's not what you said, either!"
Ozzie thought back. "Oh, yeah. I guess you're right. Oh well." He threw the knife before the man could react, burying the blade deep inside his chest. The man's eyes rolled backwards in his head, and he slumped to the floor.
Ozzie went and retrieved his knife, and paused when he saw the big, white cowboy hat lying on the floor. It had fallen off the man's head during the interrogation. Ozzie picked it up and put it on. It was way too big for him, and it fell down so far that he couldn't even see.
"What do you think, is this a good look for me?" he asked. No reply came. "Come on, I know you're here. Would it kill you to talk to me once in a while? It gets boring, talking to myself all the time."
He removed the hat, but Shadow was still nowhere to be seen. Ozzie shrugged, and threw the hat back on the floor, where it came to rest on top of the man's face.
So, Porter was working with the monsters. At least, that's how it looked on the surface. This would be a good time to call Mortoph, he thought. The Master Slayer would undoubtedly want to hear about this. He reached into his pocket and withdrew the hand mirror that would put him in contact with Red Castle, and took a breath to say the Master's name. He held it in, though. How would Mortoph react to this news? Would he immediately assume Porter was a traitor? There was only one punishment for betraying the Slayers. It didn't seem likely that their leader would jump to conclusions like that, but that was one heck of a risk he was taking. Finally, Ozzie sighed and put the mirror back into his pocket.
"I hope you've got a good explanation for this," he grumbled, making his way back to the ladder he'd come in by. "Otherwise, they're going to have both of our butts!"
NEXT TIME: Uh oh, looks like Ozzie's getting closer! What's gonna happen when he finally catches up? Oh, who cares? Sarah's got some LEARNING to do!