Ozzie watched the sun set, sitting with his back against a tree. A few feet away from him, a small fire crackled, and the scent of a cooking squirrel wafted through the air. He glanced at the fire to make sure the meat wasn't burning, and then turned his attention back to the objects he had in his hand.
Two small pebbles sat in the palm of his right hand. There was nothing special about them, he'd just picked them up off the ground a few minutes ago, but he grinned in anticipation of what he planned to do with them. Clutching them in his fist to make sure he didn't drop them, he drew his knife with his other hand and began to saw at the fabric of his trench coat. It was still hot out, and the coat was uncomfortably warm, which was why he was sitting so far away from the fire. He glanced at it again, and then turned his attention back to his work. The threads that his coat was made of were tougher than any piece of fabric a civilian would wear, and it took several minutes of sawing at it before it started to fray. When it did, he sheathed his knife, grabbed a single strand of black cloth, and pulled on it. Soon, he had a string six inches long, and he gave it a sharp tug to break it free.
Now came the tricky part. He opened his other hand and took one of the pebbles. In the waning light, he could barely see them, so he reluctantly scooted closer to the fire. Another glance told him that the squirrel hadn't burned yet, and so he focused on the pebbles again. One of them he moved so that he was holding it between two fingers, and cautiously maneuvered the string with his other fingers so that the two were even. Then, with dexterity only a trained Slayer could have, he used the fingers that weren't holding the rock to tie a knot around it. Finally finished, he tossed it into the air and caught it by the string, letting it swing around like a tiny pendulum.
"Dang it, I'm gonna need glasses now," he moaned, rubbing his sore eyes. Even in the firelight, it had been difficult to focus on something that small for so long.
He wasn't done yet, though. He took the second pebble now and held them against each other. There was a spell he'd been taught during his tracking lessons, and as he sat there he tried to remember the words he needed to cast it. He laughed quietly to himself. Who would have thought that he'd actually regret not paying attention in class? He brought both stones up close to his mouth and whispered to them. Then, smiling, he threw the one he hadn't tied to the string into the night.
Immediately, the second pebble leaped from his fingers, trying to chase after the one he'd thrown. Only the string he'd tied around it kept it from escaping. Ozzie stood up, letting the little rock point out in front of him like dog straining at its leash, and followed it. After a few steps, it started to point downwards, so he crouched down and ran his hand over the ground in front of him. The pebble drifted back and forth, always pointing to the same place, as if saying "Warmer, warmer, colder." Finally, he reached out with his other hand and picked up the pebble he'd thrown away. The rock he'd tied up immediately followed its path upwards.
Perfect, he thought with a grin, pocketing both of them.
If Master Mortoph were to find out about this, he probably wouldn't be happy. But Ozzie was getting frustrated with his sneaky, invisible escort. Since they'd left Red Castle, Shadow had only showed himself once— and that was to prod Ozzie awake after he'd slept past sunrise. The bandaged Slayer was obviously a talented tracker, because try as he might Ozzie had never been able to find hide nor hair of him. He was always there, though. Ozzie could feel his black and red eyes drilling into him with every step he took. Well, this little trick would fix that. If he could just draw Shadow out, all Ozzie would have to do was slip the second pebble into his pocket and he'd be able to know where he was all the time, even when he was invisible. It defeated the purpose of being sent out alone, but he didn't honestly care. If Mortoph wanted him to do the job by himself, he shouldn't have sent the black-eyed babysitter to tag along. The only question, then, was how to lure Shadow out of hiding so he could...
A cold finger tapped him on the shoulder, and he had to stifle a yelp of surprise. Shadow was standing behind him, his expression unreadable behind his bandages. Ozzie paled.
Crap! He saw me casting the spell. He's gonna tell Master Mortoph, and I'm gonna—
The Slayer merely stood there, looking at Ozzie, the campfire reflected eerily in his black and red eyes. He didn't say anything, and Ozzie shivered, despite being so close to the fire.
"Um, hey," he said at last, trying to act naturally. "What's up?"
Shadow took a step backwards, and turned to look the other way. The forest was completely dark now, and Ozzie couldn't tell what his chaperone was looking at. After a few seconds, Shadow glanced back at him.
Ozzie looked out where Shadow had been staring. "Is there something out there?" he asked, reaching for his knife.
Shadow seemed to hesitate a moment, and then pointed into the darkness.
"What?" Ozzie asked, looking from the Slayer to where he was pointing? "What is it?"
It was a test, he thought. Something was out there that Shadow wanted him to see, but his silence meant that he wanted Ozzie to identify it for himself. Ozzie began to run all the things he knew might live in a forest like this though his head. If it was so close that Shadow could point to it, it couldn't be something that was afraid of fire. That ruled out dryads, since they were made of wood, but what else? It was here at night, so did that mean it couldn't survive in sunlight? If that was the case, it might have been a vampire. Of course, the time of day might be coincidental, and it just hadn't found them until now. For a full minute Ozzie racked his brain, trying to pin down exactly what it was that Shadow was trying to show him. Finally, he gave his companion an exasperated look.
"Okay, I give up. What's out there?"
Shadow looked at him, and then lowered his arm. Ozzie took a step closer to him, but the bandaged Slayer still didn't say anything.
Fine, be that way, Ozzie thought, his hand inching towards his pocket. I'll still get what I want.
He grabbed the pebble, pulling it out fast enough that the one with the string wouldn't jump out after it, and stood behind Shadow.
"Seriously, I can't see what you're pointing at," he said, discretely reaching for Shadow's pocket. "Just tell me, will you?"
He was almost there. Just a few more inches, and then—
Shadow stepped away from him. Ozzie jerked his hand backwards, afraid that he'd been caught, but the other Slayer didn't stop. He marched silently away from the campfire, and didn't stop until he was almost invisible in the darkness. Then he turned around again and pointed.
"You want me to go look for myself?" Ozzie asked, starting to comprehend the silent gestures. "Is it safe?"
Shadow pointed ahead again.
"Okay, fine," he said, glancing back at the fire one more time. The squirrel had long since burned, but he could always catch another one. He put the pebble back in his pocket and drew his knife, determined to be ready for whatever Shadow was trying to show him. There would be other opportunities to get it into his babysitter's pocket, he thought as he set out after him.
Shadow led him further into the forest, so far that when Ozzie glanced backwards he couldn't even see a glimmer of light from his campfire. He gripped his knife tighter, and fixed his eyes on Shadow's back. Mortoph had said Shadow was a veteran Slayer. He wouldn't lead him directly into danger, would he? The ground under his feet began to rise, and Ozzie realized they were climbing a hill. His feet were starting to grow heavy as the day's long, hot hike took its toll. He should be back at camp, eating and resting, not playing follow the leader with this guy!
But then they reached the top of the hill, and Ozzie stopped short in surprise. Stretched out below him was a field covered in fairies. Even in the dim moonlight, their colors were bright and distinctive. To the untrained eye, they might have looked like flowers, but Ozzie was a Slayer. He knew what fairies look like— and he knew how dangerous they could be if angered. He looked at Shadow, who pointed down towards them.
"This is what you were trying to show me?" he asked, his face turning pale. The bandaged man didn't answer, but finally lowered his hand. Ozzie looked at them again, and then dropped to the ground.
"There's an army of them out there!" he whispered. Did he really need to whisper? How good was a fairy's hearing? For the second time that night, he regretted not paying better attention to his studies. "We need to tell Master Mortoph about this."
Shadow stared at him, and then vanished. Ozzie blinked and looked around, trying to find where he would reappear, but he was nowhere to be seen.
"Did he just leave me here?" he asked himself. "Did he just freaking leave me here?"
Ozzie peeked back over the hill, and then crawled backwards into the trees. Was this part of the test? Mortoph didn't expect him to take on an army of fairies all by himself, did he? No, of course he didn't. His test was to find Porter and kill a single sphinx. It was just a coincidence that the trail had brought him here. But now that he'd seen them, he couldn't let such a discovery go to waste, could he? He had to tell someone.
Crawling on his belly, Ozzie brought himself back to the top of the hill, and fished around in his pockets until he found a small mirror. He held it up in front of his face, tapped the glass, and said, "Master Mortoph."
Instantly, the image in the glass changed. Ozzie's reflection disappeared, replaced by a view of the ceiling in Red Castle. A moment later, the image shook and then shifted to reveal Mortoph holding the mirror at the other end.
"Ozzie?" he asked. "Have you found Porter?"
"Not yet, Master," he answered, "but I think I've found something that you need to see."
Mortoph didn't look pleased by this. He'd probably expected Porter to be back at base days ago. Before he could reprimand him, Ozzie turned the mirror around and held it out so Mortoph could see the fairies. After moving it back and forth to show him the sheer scope of the situation, he slunk back into the forest and brought the mirror to face him again.
"Shadow just showed them to me a few minutes ago," he explained. "I thought it would be best if I told you about them, sir."
To his relief, Mortoph no longer looked angry. Instead, he looked intrigued. He brought his hand up to his chin, stroking his beard in thought.
"Well done, Ozzie," he said at last. "You were right to call me. This is rather troubling, though. How could that many fairies living in one place avoid detection for so long? They wouldn't all be clustered together like that for no reason. I will do some research, and see if I can find a possible explanation."
Ozzie nodded. "What about me?"
"Stay there and keep an eye on them," Mortoph ordered. "If you see anything else suspicious, or if the fairies move, contact me and once."
"Yes, sir," he agreed, but then hesitated. "But what about Porter?"
"You will continue the hunt after this is sorted out. I know you're worried about him, I am too, but situations like this must take priority." The Master Slayer paused to think. "Did Porter's trail lead you to these fairies?"
"Then this could have something to do with his disappearance after all," Mortoph concluded. "I don't know what it is, but I will try to find some answers. In the meantime, do as I've ordered. Understand?"
"Yes, Master Mortoph," Ozzie answered, his spirits sinking.
"Very good. Over and out." Mortoph's image faded away, leaving Ozzie staring at his own reflection again.
"Crap," he muttered, making himself comfortable. If Porter wasn't here somewhere, then this was all just a waste of time. He didn't care if Mortoph got to slaughter a field full of butterfly people, especially if it meant leaving his best friend to whatever fate the sphinx had planned for him. But an order was an order, especially when it came from the Master Slayer, so Ozzie fixed his eyes on the fairies below him and prepared himself for a long, sleepless night.
The fat dwarf stopped and turned to look as Sarah raced down the hallway to catch up to him. She was breathing heavily when she got there, and had to take a minute before she was able to speak.
"Yes, Sarah?" Lucius asked, perplexed. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Sarah gasped, still out of breath. "I was just... trying to find you. Went to four different rooms before I finally caught you."
"Ah," he nodded. "And what is it you need?"
Sarah took a deep breath and finally looked at her host.
"Is it all right if I read some of the books you've got on the shelves?" she asked.
Father Lucius laughed, his eyes sparkling. "What kind of a question is that? Of course you can read them! Visitors are welcome to our knowledge! What are you interested in finding?"
Sarah paused. Why was she just now thinking about that? "Um, well..."
Oh, come on! she thought. This place has everything you could ever want to read. Think of something!
"Do you have anything here about the Slayers?" she blurted out before she could stop herself.
Father Lucius gave her a surprised look, and she felt her face go red.
"Sorry, it's just that, well, there's got to be a lot about them we don't know, right? Why are they here? Why do they hunt Mythics?"
Lucius took a moment to collect himself, and then nodded. "A bit of a morbid topic, but I can understand your curiosity." He walked away and motioned for her to follow. "Come with me, and I'll see what I can find."
He led her down the hallway, up four flights of stairs, and down two more hallways before finally coming to a single, massive book sitting on low table.
"This," he told her, opening it up, "is the tower's catalogue. You simply look up the topic you wish to read about, and it will tell you exactly where the book is located."
He thumbed through the pages for several minutes, muttering to himself. Sarah stood there for a while, her tail twitching restlessly behind her, before she ran out of patience and set her front paws on the table so she could see what he was looking at.
"Salmonella, seeing stones, sink holes," he was saying. "Aha! Slayers!" Sarah craned her neck to get a better look at what the book said.
Father Lucius' finger was hovering right over the word "Slayers," printed in large, black letters on the old parchment. She watched as he traced his finger along the page, heart racing as she waited for him to tell her where her desired knowledge was hiding. Her hopes fell, though, when he came to a black smudge, like somebody had scribbled out the reference number. Instead, next to it, there was a small, crudely drawn picture of a green fire.
"Oh my," Father Lucius said, apparently just as confused as Sarah, "I wasn't aware of this. Why didn't they tell me before..." his voice trailed off.
"What does that mean?" Sarah asked, even though the picture explained itself pretty clearly.
"I'm afraid that means that the information has been forbidden," Lucius said, still looking at the little green marking. "All the books that held anything regarding the Slayers have been destroyed, which means the only way to access it is through the Keeping Fire."
"Forbidden?" Sarah echoed. "Destroyed? But why?"
Lucius shrugged. "I'm afraid I can't tell you. This sort of thing is very rare. We're here to gather information, after all, not destroy it. If the history of the Slayers has been forbidden, then I'm sure it must have been for a very good reason."
Sarah thought about this for a minute, and set her paws back on the ground. She looked back up at him and opened her mouth, but before she could ask he held up his hand.
"No, I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I can't allow you to use the Keeping Fire. Only the Father Historian can get to it, and I have too much work to do to escort you there again."
What that, he hefted the heavy leather cover of the book and slammed it shut, throwing up a cloud of dust.
"Work that I must see to now," he said, already turning to walk away. "If you need anything else, just ask one of the other historians. Good day, Sarah."
And then Sarah was alone, confused, and frustrated.
Oh well, she decided, setting off the find something else to read. It's not like I really wanted to read about the Slayers... right?
"Can I help?" Porter asked.
"For the last time, no!" the historian snapped, grabbing the marble out of Porter's hand.
"You don't know what you're doing," the other one added, looking up from his mirror. "You would just slow us down."
"More than he already is," the first one grumped. He looked like a human, except that he had the head of a bird. The sharp, hooked beak and glaring eyes made him look perpetually irritated— a trait that was mirrored by his attitude.
Porter had to look out the window to hide his smile. The historian was almost like Sarah in reverse. Bird on top, human on bottom, with the temper of a lion.
"That's enough, Horace," the second historian said. "Just do what Father Lucius said."
The two of them went back to work, and Porter shifted in his seat, sitting on his hands so that he wouldn't grab anything else. Five large baskets full of marbles were set in a line against the wall, and the two historians were systematically placing them in a pair of mirrors and scanning them for any sign of Porter. He had been sitting there with them for over two hours, standing up whenever either of them made any indication that they had found something— be it a slight hesitation in their movements, a muttered word, or even reaching up to scratch their ear. But they were going so slow! Surely there was something he could do to speed things up.
Horace glanced up at him.
"Did you find something?" Porter asked, jumping to his feet.
"No," the bird headed man said, slapping his mirror down onto the table, "I was just thinking how much easier this would be if you weren't staring at me the whole time!"
Porter held his hands up in surrender. "Sorry. Are you sure there isn't anything I can.—"
"Young man, perhaps it would be best if you went away," the second historian said. He spoke much more politely, but Porter could tell he was losing his patience as well. "We work better when there are no distractions."
Porter frowned, but stood up anyway. "All right, I can take a hint. Let me know when you find something."
"If we find something," Horace snapped as he closed the door behind himself. "It'd be easier to find a..."
The bird-man's voice was drowned out as the door clicked shut, and Porter sighed and walked away. Sunlight streamed in through the window, and he went to look through it. The Fairy's Field sparkled below him, the colors flowing lethargically as the fairies moved. From this high up, it looked like a pool of water with a rainbow trapped inside it. The way they swirled was almost hypnotic...
This was a nice place, he thought, listening to a sweet song being played from further down the hall. Good food, soft beds, fresh water, and no goblins or slave traders to carry you away in the middle of the night. What was it Droma had said when they'd come here? That he had some sort of work to do? Well, hopefully it would take him a while longer. Porter knew Sarah wanted to get to that dwarf city, Jellycob Whatsit, but... well, it wouldn't hurt to stay here for a while either, would it? Especially not when there was a chance he could find out who he was.
The colors continued to flow and spin below him, and whoever was singing the song began to sing louder. Porter leaned against the window frame as a serene numbness began to creep over his mind. Where was Sarah? Father Lucius had offered to teach her more about the historians and what they did, which meant she could be anywhere in the tower right now. He doubted that he'd be able to find her if he had to, but he didn't really want to, either. Not right now. A small voice nagged him, reminding him that he'd promised to protect her. But what was there to protect her from here? Droma had brought them. This place was safe.
Porter pushed himself off the window frame, finally losing interest in the colors, and turned in the direction the song was coming from. It was a really nice song, and it sounded like a child was singing it. Did the historians hire people to play music while they worked? It seemed like a good idea. This was hard work. Music would definitely help things go more smoothly. Especially if all the songs were as sweet as this. Maybe Horace wouldn't be so grumpy if he were to step out into the hallway and listen for a few minutes. Porter started to follow the sound, determined to find out who was singing.
As he went, a pleasant buzz came over his brain, making it difficult to think. It was like his head was filled with honey: thick, sticky, and hard to move through, but still sweet. He didn't mind, because he could still hear the song being sang somewhere in front of him. He could even make out the words now.
"When you return, my dearest son,
On that day my heart will soar,
Once again we will be one,
From then until forever more."
He rounded the corner, and found the source of the music. Tick was sitting on the windowsill, his back pressed against the glass. His eyes were closed, and he was swaying back in forth in time to his own song. As he watched, Porter found himself swaying along with him. Tick continued singing, completely unaware that he wasn't alone anymore.
"Though you have to go for now,
The dark will flee before the sun,
And that is my solemn vow,
I will miss you, dearest son."
Tick sighed, and the song ended. All at once, the haze in Porter's mind vanished, leaving him fully awake once more. He blinked, almost collapsing under the tidal wave of thought and senses, and shook his head. For a moment, he couldn't figure out where he was. Why wasn't he in the room with those two historians? How had he gotten out here, and where had Tick... letting out a deep breath, everything came back to him.
"What in the world was that?" he asked.
Tick's head shot up with a gasp, and he froze in horror when he saw Porter. The two of them stared at each other for a few seconds, and then Tick jumped to his feet and took off running.
"I'm sorry!" he shouted, his bare feet slapping against the marble floors as he ran.
"Tick!" Porter yelled, chasing after him. "Wait a second!"
The little boy was fast, but Porter was faster, and he managed to catch up in a matter of seconds. Reaching his hand out, he grabbed Tick's tail, forcing him to stop.
"Ow, leggo!" Tick complained, still trying to run as Porter held him there. His feet were sliding on the slick floors, but he wasn't going anywhere. "I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean to!"
"You didn't mean to what?" Ported asked, pulling him backwards and taking him by both shoulders. "Tick, I'm not mad at you!"
Tick stopped struggling, and then hesitantly turned to look at the older boy. "You're not?" he asked.
Porter shook his head. "Why would I be?"
Tick frowned, and looked away so Porter wouldn't see him wiping the tears from his eyes. "Most people get mad after I sing."
"Oh, come on," Porter said, smiling, "you're not that bad!"
"No," Tick shook his head, "I'm perfect. Too perfect."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"My voice is magic," he explained. "I don't know why, but when I sing people follow me. Sometimes they even do what I tell them to."
"But only when you sing?" Porter asked.
Tick nodded. "Mom always called it my Angel's Voice. She said never to use it." He paused, and took a deep, shaky breath. "Maybe if I hadn't, then..."
"What?" Ported asked, kneeling down to be at eye level with the kid.
"Nothing!" Tick shouted. Before Porter could react, he twisted around, yanking himself free of Porter's grip, and ran.
Porter let him go, watching in confusion.
NEXT TIME: So, Ozzie's found the fairies, Sarah's not allowed to learn about the Slayers, and Tick has mind control singing powers. What will come of Ozzie's discovery, will Sarah just give up, and who's gonna vote for Tick on American Idol?