The fairy army, Ozzie thought as he leaned back against a tree. A worthy challenge for the heroic Slayer, Ozzie Druid!
He was lying at the bottom of the hill, less than a hundred feet from his thousand tiny foes, and the sun was beginning to set. He yawned. Watching the fairies all day hadn't been hard work, but it was dull. Apart from shifting around, making hypnotic patterns with their colors, they hadn't done anything.
I wonder where Porter is? he thought idly as he watched the stars come out. In truth, he wasn't as happy here as he'd thought he would be. Sure, helping the Slayers find a huge number of monsters to kill was rewarding enough, but not when his best friend was out there somewhere, being held captive by an even bigger monster. Every minute he spent here at this hill carried Porter farther away from him.
"Well, what are you gonna do?" he asked himself, yawning again. Master Mortoph had commanded that he watch the fairies, and so he would watch the fairies. Everyone thought he was insane— heck, he probably was a little insane. But was he insane enough to disobey the Master Slayer? Not by a long shot.
Oh, and speaking of, Ozzie thought when three soft pings came from the mirror in his pocket. Pushing back the sleepiness that had been about to pull him under, Ozzie sat up and pulled it out. Instead of his reflection, he found himself looking at Mortoph, his expression as chilling as it always was.
"Are you well, Ozzie?" he asked.
"Yes, Master Mortoph," Ozzie answered. "I've done as you asked, and spent the entire day observing the fairies. They don't move or anything. They just stay in that one place."
"I have spoken to Alexander Himaly about it, and I believe the two of us have come to a conclusion about what this could be. Have you ever heard of the Historians' Tower?
"No, Master Mortoph," Ozzie said, shaking his head.
"It is a legend the monsters have passed down for generations," Mortoph explained. "They say there is a great white tower somewhere in the forest, where the monsters work together to write down all of history."
Ozzie tried to hold in his incredulous snort, but failed. Mortoph glowered at him, and Ozzie covered his mouth, trying to hide his smile. Monsters recording history. Right. Next, Mortoph would say that he was auditioning for the ballet.
After a moment, Mortoph went on, "What interests me the most is that they say the tower is situated in the middle of what they call the Fairies' Field."
Hearing this, Ozzie's smile fell from his face so fast he was surprised his mouth stayed attached.
"And..." he stuttered, pointing at the hill, trying to wrap his head around what Mortoph was implying. "And you think that's what I found?"
"It makes more sense than anything else I can think of," Mortoph answered, nodding.
Ozzie shook his head. "But the last time I looked, there wasn't a tower out there. Just a lot of fairies."
"That is part of the legend as well," the Master confirmed. "They say the tower is hidden by magic so powerful that it can only be found by someone who already knows where it is."
Ozzie's head was spinning now so much that he almost put a hand on it to hold it still. "Holy cheeseburgers," he whispered. "And I just happened to walk right up to it?"
Mortoph folded his hands in front of himself. "I'm not saying that that's what this is," he said sternly. "It could just be a meeting place for fairies, but I doubt it. Everything fits together too well. Do you know what this means, Ozzie?"
Ozzie shook his head, dumbfounded.
"It means," the Master Slayer said, leaning closer to his mirror with a savage gleam in his eye, "that we may have just identified a new target. An invisible tower that has been housing hundreds, if not thousands, of monsters since ancient times."
Slowly, another smile spread across Ozzie's face. "That sounds good, sir. Real good."
"Keep watching those fairies," Mortoph ordered. "I'm going to begin making preparations."
"Yes, Master Mortoph," Ozzie confirmed as his commander's image faded from the mirror.
Ozzie got to his feet, hiked back up the hill, and laid down. The colors weren't so noticeable in the moonlight, but they still shimmered like the surface of a lake. His heart pounded in his chest as he fixed his eyes on his target. Not only had he impressed Mortoph by finding a legendary monster sanctuary, but judging by the Master's reaction, there was only one possible outcome.
Thoughts of the glorious massacre flooded Ozzie's brain, and he knew there would be no sleep for him tonight.
Morning dawned bright and sunny, without a single cloud to blemish it. Porter's eyes opened when the sun shone through his window, and sat up in bed. The clock on his wall told him it was past eight.
"Hey, Tick," he said, swinging his legs out of the bed, "get up. Let's go get some breakfast, okay?"
Tick mumbled something into his pillow, and then pulled the covers up over his head. It looked like he had recovered from his encounter with Porter the previous day, though he still seemed a little nervous.
"All right," he conceded, getting dressed and heading for the door. "Want me to bring you anything?"
"Mmphn," the boy grunted.
"A muffin? Okay, see you later."
He stepped out into the hallway, and caught sight of Sarah's tail disappearing behind the corner ahead of him.
"Hey, wait up!" he called, and ran to catch up with her. "Good mor— whoa!"
Sarah stopped and turned bleary eyes on him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Um," Porter faltered, unconsciously looking at the dark spots under her eyes, her uncombed hair, and the misaligned feathers in her wings. "Were you up all night reading?"
Sarah nodded, and started walking again. "They've got so many books here! I'm learning about stuff I never even knew existed."
"They still haven't found out anything about me," Porter added, his cheery mood fading a little.
"Don't worry, they'll find something eventually," Sarah comforted him absentmindedly, and then yawned.
Porter gave her a concerned look as they came to a flight of steps, and Sarah had to pause before carefully starting down them.
"Are you going to be okay?"
"I'll be fine. I just need some coffee."
A few minutes later, they made it to the first floor and headed for the dining hall.
"Have you seen Droma?" Porter asked.
Sarah stopped to think. "No, not since dinner that first night. Weird."
"He said he came here for a reason. I wonder what he's up to?"
"I dunno," Sarah said with a shrug. "Ask me again after I've woken up."
They sat down at Father Lucius' table, where the Father Historian was already waiting for them.
"Good morning, friends!" the plump dwarf greeted them with a smile as they seated themselves. He stood up, clapped his hands, and led his people through their mantra again. When they were finished, the kitchen doors burst open and the cooks brought out breakfast.
"Hey, Father Lucius?" Porter asked as he scooped bacon, eggs, and pancakes onto his plate.
"Yes, my boy?" Lucius replied, looking up from his bowl of porridge. "If you're going to ask if they've made any progress on you, then I'm afraid they haven't."
Porter's spirits fell a little, but he said, "Actually, I was just wondering if it would be okay if I went outside a little today."
Sarah stopped lapping at a tall mug of coffee and gave him a worried look. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
Porter shrugged. "I just need to get out and stretch my legs a little, you know? I don't like being cooped up in this place so much." He glanced at Father Lucius and hastily added, "No offense."
Lucius nodded. "I don't see why not. Just tell Brother Koob what you want to do, and he should let you out. Just try not to leave the Fairies' Field. We don't need you accidentally leading anybody back here."
"Do people come out this way very often?" Porter asked.
"No, they don't. That's why my forefathers chose this place all those millennia ago. But, you still can't be too careful, can you?"
Porter shook his head. "No, I guess not."
The boy looked down and hurried to finish his breakfast. After a quick goodbye, he jumped to his feet and went to the front door where he found Brother Koob sitting at a desk, reading a thick book.
"Can you open the door?" Porter asked. "Father Lucius said I could go outside for a while."
"Outside?" Koob exclaimed, standing up to his unimpressive height. "Very good, very good! Fresh air and sunshine is good for little boys, after all."
Porter let the "little boy" comment slide as the tiny historian leaned in close to whisper something to the door. There was a loud noise as it unlocked itself, and then Brother Koob pulled the massive thing open with one hand.
"Just knock when you want back in!" he said, waving for Porter to go ahead.
"I will," Porter promised, stepping outside. "Thanks!"
Porter stopped to let the sun shine on him as the door slammed shut behind him, and took a deep breath of the fresh air. The Historians' Tower was nice and all, but it was a place of work. After two days of sitting inside with nothing but the next meal to look forward to, Porter was feeling restless. He needed to do something, even if it was just take a nice, long run.
After Porter had left, Sarah turned back to her host.
"Do you mind if I ask you a question, Father Lucius?"
"Questions are by far the easiest way to learn," the cheerful dwarf said, smiling at her.
"Remember what you said yesterday about certain knowledge being forbidden? What would make a historian do something like that?"
Father Lucius hummed in his throat, and laced his fingers together in front of himself. "That is a difficult question to answer, since I was not aware of the situation when it occurred. One reason is that a mistake could have been found in the records. We are devoted to accurately recording history, and so mistakes are not tolerated. If one is found, everything pertaining to it is destroyed and begun again."
"And you think that's what happened to the Slayers' history?"
Lucius nodded. "It could have been, but there is another option I think is more likely. Perhaps the historian that destroyed it considered it too dangerous to exist."
Sarah gave him a flat stare and shook her head. "I don't understand. What's so dangerous about having a book about them?"
"Some would say having anything to do with the Slayers is dangerous," Lucius said. "If they were to find out that we had a complete record of them since their beginning, they might consider that a weapon we could use against them." He slowly nodded his head. "In fact, I'm almost certain that they would. In that sense, it is better to be rid of it before trouble comes. It just isn't worth it."
Sarah was listening to him so intently that she had to remind herself to look away and take a bite from one of the sausages on her plate. "What about your mission, though?" she asked after she had swallowed. "To record every minute of history?"
"Sometimes, that just isn't possible, my dear," Father Lucius said, sighing. "If it jeopardizes the safety of the tower, then it isn't worth it. If the Slayers were to discover us, that would be the end of everything we do. We're trading one particular piece of history for the chance to learn everything else."
Sarah paused to think about this, and took another sip of her coffee. She had told Porter that she'd been reading for the sake of learning, but that wasn't entirely true. While she had enjoyed learning all those new things, she had actually been searching for a clue relating to the Slayers. With all the thousands of bookshelves lining the hallways, surely they couldn't have destroyed every single detail. To her dismay, though, she hadn't managed to find a single reference to them anywhere.
"But it's still in the Keeping Fire, though, right?" Sarah asked.
"That is correct," Lucius confirmed. "Once it has been placed inside the fire, it can never be taken out."
An idea began to form in Sarah's head, and she turned to Father Lucius. "About the keeping fire..."
"The answer is still no, I'm afraid," the dwarf cut her off. "While I admire you desire to learn, we cannot go breaking the rules to satisfy your curiosity."
Sarah shook her head. "That's not what I was going to ask. I just had a couple more questions about it. Does it ever mess up?"
"Mess up?" Lucius repeated.
"Like, does the magic ever weaken and need to be recast?"
Father Lucius nodded. "The Keeping Fire is self-sufficient, for the most part, but nothing is perfect. Yes, it does mess up now and then, as you put it. We keep a specialist here at the tower at all times for just those occasions."
The old dwarf turned around in his seat and pointed to a table by the wall, where a gnome sat all by himself. "That is him there. His name is Albie Koob."
Sarah gave Lucius a surprised look. "Brother Koob?"
"Oh, heavens no!" Lucius said with a chuckle, turning to face forward in his seat again. "Albie is his brother. In fact, Albie is the reason we let him stay at all."
"Isn't he a historian?" Sarah asked.
"An honorary historian, you might say," Lucius explained. "He is far to, ah, scatterbrained to be of any real use recording history, so we allow him to man the door while his brother lives here."
"And is Albie a historian, then?"
Lucius shook his head. "Not even in the same sense as his brother, I'm afraid. Albie has no interest in what we do here. He stays mainly because the tower is safe, and we allow him to stay for the work he performs." He paused. "Also, the tower's near limitless supply of ale might have something to do with it."
Sarah glanced in the gnome's direction again. "Do you think he'd answer some questions for me?"
"Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try," Lucius replied hesitantly. "But I should tell you that Albie isn't the most social creature here in the tower."
"I'll try my luck," Sarah said, scarfing down the remnants of her breakfast. "Thank you!"
She hopped down from the table before Lucius could say anything further, and padded over to where Albie was sitting. As she drew nearer, she had to remind herself not to stare. If she wanted answers about the Slayers, she would have to go to the Keeping Fire. Father Lucius was being stubborn about letting her in, which meant Albie Koob was her only option.
"Um, excuse me," she said timidly. "Mr. Koob?
The door to Mirror Room 14 squeaked as Droma pushed it open, and he stooped low so his head wouldn't hit the frame. Just as Father Lucius had promised, this particular room was empty at this time of day. Shutting the door behind himself, Droma walked further into the room until he came to a mirror set high enough in the wall that he didn't have to kneel down to look into it. He paused for a moment, looking into his reflection.
If he was right, that meant there would be trouble coming. Lots of trouble, the like of which the world hadn't seen in thousands of years. Would it be worth it?
He couldn't put it off any longer. Taking a deep breath, he reached out and placed his hand on the mirror. His reflection faded immediately, and was replaced by an image of tree branches woven together into a wall. A moment later, a figure clad in white robes stepped into the mirror's view. She looked at Droma for a moment, and then lowered her hood, letting her long golden hair fall around her shoulders.
"Droma," said Lowatai Elan, "are you well?"
"I am," the Soul Smith replied. "I would like to exchange pleasantries, but I am afraid I am calling you with a somewhat urgent matter."
A knowing look came into Lowatai's eyes, and she pressed her lips together. "You found them, didn't you?"
Droma nodded. "Yes. Porter and Sarah had been captured by goblins, and I was able to find them because of Flicker." He looked her in the eye, his expression grim. "Sarah said you were aware of what Porter is. Is this true?"
"It is," Lowatai confirmed without hesitation. "I know that Porter was a Slayer, but I know not what has truly happened to his memory."
Droma was about to respond when Lowatai perked up and turned away, as if hearing something.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Nothing," Lowatai replied a few seconds later, and turned back toward him.
Droma folded his arms. "You know about the boy's past, yet you gave Flicker to him. Why?"
Lowatai was quiet for a bit, and then a small smile showed on her face. "I could tell you it was just for Sarah's protection, but you would know that wasn't true. I have no shortage of swords to give him if that were the case."
Droma's hands tightened into fists underneath the long sleeves of his cloak. "I can think of only one reason why you would do something like this."
The smile faded from Lowatai's mouth. "Yes. You do."
A shiver ran down Droma's spine. So he was right. That meant Porter and Sarah were...
"Are you sure about this?" he asked.
Droma hesitated for a second, and then nodded back.
"Very well. I know what to do."
"Good luck, friend," Lowatai said, just before her image vanished, leaving Droma staring at his own reflection again. The Soul Smith stood there for a good five minutes, coming to terms with what he had just heard. Then, with a dramatic swirl of his cloak, he turned and walked out of the Looking Glass Room.
He had work to do.
Bright flashing lights danced across Ozzie's eyelids, and he opened them, yawning. The sun made him clamp them shut again with a curse. Was it morning already? Had he fallen asleep?
He opened his eyes, confirming that it was, indeed, late morning. He growled in irritation, and then stood up, gingerly working out the kinks that had formed from lying on his belly all night. He'd wanted to stay up all night watching the fairies, just like Mortoph had said. Then again, he thought as he glanced at the sparkling field, they never seemed to do anything anyway. They just sat there and...
And flew randomly up into the air?
Ozzie shook his head and rubbed his eyes, sure that his still-sleepy brain was playing tricks on him. But no, the fairies were leaping from the ground, swirling around for a few seconds, and then settling back down again. What's more, they seemed to be following a path, forming a kind of rainbow tornado as they spun and swirled. It almost looked like...
Ozzie dropped to his stomach again, and fished around in his pockets until he found the pair of binoculars he'd brought. Raising them to his eyes, he was almost blinded again by the closeup of the flashing fairy wings, but he was still able to see clearly enough to recognize who was disturbing them.
NEXT TIME: Ooh, looks like stuff is beginning to happen! Not only is Mortoph catching on to the existence of the tower, but Ozzie just spotted Porter! Albie Koob is Sarah's last chance to get into the archive— her last chance to get the answers she needs. And what are Droma and Lowatai up to? Very suspicious...