Ozzie saw the Slayers arrival before he saw the Slayers themselves. A thousand teleportation rings lit up the forest behind him like a second sun had ignited underneath the trees, and the young man raced down the hill to his small camp. Mortoph probably chose a spot at least a mile away from the tower to have his Slayers appear, so as not to accidentally alert the monsters to their presence, which meant Ozzie still had a few minutes before they found him. Not that the distance would matter much, he thought as he waited. If there actually was a tower in the middle of all those fairies, it seemed unlikely that whoever was inside it would have missed that gigantic flash. He decided to keep his thoughts to himself, though, as a figure made its way through the trees— a figure every Slayer-in-training was taught to recognize on sight.
"Master Vega," Ozzie said, snapping into a salute. Behind him, a small army of black coated warriors followed.
"At ease, soldier," the second in command Slayer said, looking around the area. The way he talked, and the way he cut his hair down to almost nothing, had spawned rumors that Dominic had been in the military before joining Mortoph had recruited him. Ozzie had never had the chance to ask, though. Unlike Granger, Vega tended to keep his distance from the lower ranked Slayers.
"The fairies are just over that hill, sir," Ozzie said, pointing.
Vega nodded, and motioned for the boy to follow him. He had a pack slung over his shoulder, and it clacked with every step he took.
That's where he keeps his javelins, Ozzie thought, a thrill running up his spine. Dozens of short, hand carved wooden spears that could either be thrown or used in hand-to-hand combat. They were Vega's weapon of choice, and the reason he was ranked second only to Drake Mortoph. The two of them ascended the hill, and stopped when they had a good view of the swirling field of fairies. Vega only gave them a passing glance, and then turned his gaze upwards.
"Can you see it?" he asked.
Ozzie shook his head. "The tower? No, sir."
"There's a special type of camouflaging spell over it," he explained. "You have to believe it's right in front of you for it to appear to you. That's how it's stayed hidden for so long."
"So, I just have to believe in it?" Ozzie asked, facing the field again. "Should I make a wish upon a star while I'm at it?"
"What'd I hear?" Vega asked, giving him a sharp look."Nothing, sir. Okay..." He closed his eyes. Vega had seen it, so that meant it was actually there, right? When he looked again, Vega had to catch him before he fell over. "Whoa."
"Do you have any idea what's inside?" he asked.
Ozzie shook his head. "Just Porter. The sphinx too, I guess." He paused. "Maybe something called a Tall Thing?"
Vega looked the tower over speculatively. "No way to find out, either. But we don't have enough spellcasters to fight such a well-fortified position with magic. Looks like our only option is a full frontal assault. Get in the front door, and—"
"And kill them all!" Ozzie interrupted him, his crazed grin rising onto his face, and then instinctively flinched. To his surprise, Vega smiled back.
"Every single one of them," he agreed. "Go tell the others. We begin the attack immediately."
(POV: Father Lucius)
The yellow flash in the woods did, indeed, not go unnoticed in the Historians' Tower. Father Lucius hurried to one of the Looking Glass Rooms as fast as his stubby little legs would carry him. Once there, he unapologetically pushed one of his viewers out of the way, and refocused the mirror to the place the flash had come from. Zooming in on the area, a pit formed in the old dwarf's stomach as he spotted the last few trench-coated men marching into the trees.
"Oh dear," he moaned, following the line of Slayers through the woods. The direction they were going, and the direct route they were taking to get there... it could only mean one thing.
"Oh dear," he said again, and turned and ran from the Looking Glass Room. He climbed twenty flights of stairs before coming out onto a balcony that overlooked the fairies' field. Huffing and puffing, he pulled and small telescope out of his robe. A quick glance down at the ground confirmed his worst fears. Two men stood at the edge of the field, looking directly at the tower. Both of them wore black coats. As he watched, the younger of the two turned and ran back down the hill, out of sight.
The historians seemed agitated as Sarah wove her way between them, climbing higher and higher up the tower. She almost had to force her way at times, as it seemed they were all trying to go the opposite direction she was. That didn't matter to her, though. As long as she could get into the archive and have a few minutes alone with the Keeping Fire, the historians could throw the party of the century downstairs for all she cared. Droma's words rang in her mind like a record player. A turkey pickled in olive juice, a flying cucumber plant, and a quarter the size of Kentucky. If Sarah had gotten into the tower, she already had everything she needed to get into the archive. That's what Albie had meant, she was sure of it now. If she could just—
Her train of thought was cut off when she rounded a corner and ran headlong into a historian carrying a box full to the point of overflowing with parchment. Both of them crashed to the floor, and paper went flying everywhere as the historian's box tumbled from his hands.
"Sorry!" Sarah exclaimed, scrambling back to her paws and slipping yet again on a stray sheet of paper. "I didn't see you."
"Don't stand there and apologize," the historian snapped. He looked young, and had four sleeves sewn into his brown robe, which he used to hastily pile the documents back into the box. "Help me clean this up. We don't have much time!"
"Until what?" Sarah asked, doing her best to use her paw to push a sheet towards him.
The historian looked up at her, and then paled. "Oh, miss, I beg your pardon! I didn't realize you were one of Droma's friends. Please, forgive—"
"Not much time until what?" Sarah asked again.
"Before the Slayers attack," the young brother answered, pointing out the window. His face paled even more, and he had to gulp before he could say anything else. "Father Lucius told us to put as many documents in the cellar as we can. He thinks they'll be safer there."
"The Slayers?" Sarah echoed. Suddenly, it felt like her stomach had dropped out of her body. Turning away from the historian, she ran to the nearest window, and sucked in a breath when she saw what was outside.
Men in trench coats. Hundreds of them, all lined up in formation, and staring at the tower. They were definitely looking at the tower, which meant they could see it, which meant...
"Crap," she whispered, taking a couple steps back. She hadn't expected them to get here so quick. That meant she had even less time than she'd thought.
"Miss, you should probably come with us," the historian said, putting the last scrap of paper into his box. "You'll be safer, and..."
But Sarah wasn't listening. A new urgency lit a fire under her paws as she turned and raced further down the hallway. She had to get to the Keeping Fire before the Slayers got inside. If they invaded before she got what she needed and found Porter and Tick... she forced herself not to think about it, because it would have made her sick with terror.
A few minutes later, she stood in front of the great iron door, huffing as she tried to catch her breath. A new sense of foreboding came over her now as she stepped up to it, one strong enough to make her forget the Slayers outside. Father Lucius had said the defenses would incinerate her on sight if she went in without him. She had a password to turn them off, but... what if that wasn't really the password? What if she'd missed something? What if, when she stepped through the door, the spells protecting the Keeping Fire killed her?
I have to at least try, she told herself, stopping just in front of the door. I need to know...
"A turkey pickled in olive juice," she recited, her voice shaking with uncertainty, "a flying cucumber plant, and a quarter the size of Kentucky."
Sarah held her breath, waiting for something to tell her it had worked. Did magical defenses make a sound when they turned off, like a machine powering down? She honestly didn't know. She didn't hear anything either. She sat still for a few seconds, unsure of what to do next, when...
Sarah jumped when the loud noise rang out, and quickly backpedaled when the door moved. It swung inwards, groaning on its hinges, revealing the black hallway and the speck of green light at the end.
"It worked," she thought, her heart still beating in her throat. Or had it? The words had opened the door, but that didn't mean the defenses weren't still on. Sarah crept towards the doorway again. There was only one way to find out for sure, but if she was wrong then it would end badly for her. She hesitated, drawing in a shaky breath.
Come on, she thought to herself, standing on the edge of where the white marble turned to jet black obsidian. Porter would be brave enough to try. He would do what his friends needed him to do...
As she thought that, she slowly extended one paw over the line, and set it down on the cool, smooth stone. She instantly flinched, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth, expecting the magic to blast her paw off— at the very least. After a few seconds, she forced her eyes open again.
Nothing had happened.
"Okay, okay," she whispered, trying to calm herself down. "You're in. You're fine. Now do what you came to do!"
No longer worried about the defenses, Sarah ran down the hallway, skidding to a stop in front of the green light of the Keeping Fire. Once again, she stood before all the knowledge in the world. That didn't seem like something one could ever grow accustomed to.
Shaking herself out of her awe induced trance, Sarah spoke out as loudly and clearly as she could. "Tell me about the origins of the Slayers."
Just like it had when Father Lucius spoke to it, the green fire shot upwards, and a voice spoke out of the flames.
"At the beginning of recorded history, the earth was ruled by a creature named Uthas Drall..."
Eyes wide with wonder, Sarah sat down to listen. She had a feeling this would be a long story.
Where is she? Porter thought as he fought his way through the river of historians. Where's Sarah?
The Slayers outside were getting ready to make their move, and the Historians' Tower was in a state of panic. Brown robed historians were trying to get as many books and papers down into the cellars as they could, but, looking out the window, Porter couldn't help but think it was a wasted effort. Droma, himself, had said that the tower would fall if the Slayers attacked. That's why the Soul Smith had left...
"Hurry, hurry!" a familiar voice called above the chaos. "Take everything you can. Nothing is too insignificant to be saved."
Porter spotted Father Lucius standing at the end of the hallway, directing his historians as they scrambled to load their treasures up. The old dwarf looked surprisingly calm, given the circumstances.
"Father Lucius," Porter called to him, shoving his way through the crowd. "Have you seen Sarah or Tick?"
"Not since this morning," Lucius answered. "Don't worry, I'm sure they're being taken to the safe place by whatever historians happened to be near them. You should go to the cellar too, my boy. We don't—"
"No!" the boy protested, shaking his head. "You have to get everyone out of here. If they get inside while you're all still in the tower, you'll be trapped!"
Father Lucius hesitated, and then reached up to put a hand on Porter's shoulder. He could barely reach. "Porter," he said quietly, his face grave, "what we do here, we value more than our own lives. If we must die to protect it, then we will."
Porter's mouth fell open in shock.
"You can't be serious," he argued, looking around. "They're... they're just books!"
"They are knowledge," Lucius insisted. "And knowledge is the most powerful, most important thing on earth. We are honored to have collected it, and we are honored to die for it."
For a moment, the other historians ceased their work, turned to look at Father Lucius, and nodded solemnly. Porter's breath caught in his throat looking at them, and he had to turn back to Lucius.
"I cannot ask you to make the same sacrifice as us," the dwarf said. "But I'm afraid it may be too late for you and your friends to escape. The Slayers are on our doorstep. I think the best option is to go down to the cellars and hope for the best."
Porter took a step back, and looked at all of the historians in turn. They had accepted their fate; he could see it in their eyes. They were scared, yet there was still a determination in them to do what they thought was right. He frowned, his eyes began to sting, and he looked back at his host.
"I'll think about it," he said quietly, turning to go, "but first I have to find my friends."
Father Lucius let Porter go. Porter fought the urge to turn back and look again as he ran. He knew, he just knew, that that was the last time he would see the kindly old dwarf, or any of those historians, alive.
(POV: Father Lucius)
No sooner had Porter left, than did another historian come running into the room.
"Father Lucius!" he cried, knocking over one of the packers to get to him.
"Yes, what is it?" the old dwarf asked, dropping a stack of papers to speak to him.
"The Slayers are making their way towards the tower, sir."
Despair threatened to take control of Lucius' emotions, but he forced it backwards and nodded to his underling. "Don't worry, we still have time. The fairies will slow them down."
The historian gulped, and shook his head. "That's just it, sir. They're setting the field on fire!"
"What?" Lucius exclaimed. He took off toward the nearest window. When he looked outside, the sight made him cry out again.
The Fairies' Field, which he had known since the day he could walk, was no longer a swirling rainbow of colors. Now, there were only red, orange, yellow, and thin, snakelike lines of gray drifting up towards the sky.
"Leave it," he managed to choke out. He turned from the window to look at his children. "Leave it and get to the cellar! Now!"
"Uthas Drall was a parasite that fed on the fear of his subjects," the fire explained. "Through the power he gained from this, he was able to rule uncontested for thousands of years. In this time, every creature on earth served the Fear Feeder. None were any higher or lower in his eyes, save for one race."
Sarah drew in a deep breath, completely absorbed in the story.
"The humans he considered lower than all else. They were servants to his servants, below even the livestock. It is ironic, then, that his defeat would eventually come at their hands.
"Barlock Vestiger was the first man to rebel against Uthas Drall. It was said that his passion was contagious, and soon he had a small number of human followers. They grew and worked in secret, preparing themselves until Barlock had amassed an army for himself. Though they were weak and ill equipped to take on the Fear Feeder's empire, they were without fear, which put them beyond Uthas Drall's power. The name they had given themselves was one that would be carried down through the ages: The Slayers of Darkness.
"The battle raged for days before Barlock was able to get his forces inside the Fear Feeder's castle. In there, he, himself, faced Uthas Drall in combat. Uthas Drall was powerful, but Barlock was without fear, and neither of them were able to gain the upper hand. Sensing that he could not win this battle, Uthas Drall attempted to escape through a portal to an alternate dimension. As he ran, Barlock wounded him, and forced the gate to seal itself, trapping Uthas Drall inside it with no way to escape. Finally, the world was free of the Fear Feeder's tyranny."
Porter ran to his room and kicked the door open.
"Tick?" he shouted, running inside.
"Porter!" the child yelled back, running to meet him.
Porter took a moment to hug the tailed boy, and sighed with relief. "I've been looking everywhere for you. Do you know where Sarah is?"
Tick shook his head. "What's going on outside?" he asked, giving the window a fearful glance.
"There are... people trying to get in," Porter answered, praying that he was saying the right thing. "We have to find Sarah and leave before they find us. Are you sure you don't know where she went?"
Tick shook his head again, and Porter groaned in frustration. He sat down on the bed he'd slept in the past two nights, and rapped his head with his knuckles. Think, think, think! This tower was huge. If they just ran around senselessly, they would never find Sarah. Could she have gone with the other historians to the cellars, like Father Lucius had suggested? It was the best solution Porter could think of, so he stood up and...
There was a flash outside their bedroom window as a fairy flew past and was shot down with a well-aimed fireball. Porter, caught off guard, spun around and summoned Flicker to his hand. After taking a moment to calm his nerves, he turned back to Tick.
"We need to get to the ground floor," he said. "I think that's where Sarah went."
Flicker vibrated in his grasp, and gave a sharp pull towards the door. It was so sudden that Porter almost lost his grip on the handle. He looked down at the sword in confusion. Droma had said Flicker could communicate with him, hadn't he?
"Are you... trying to tell me something?" he asked tentatively.
Flicker vibrated, and then gave another jerk towards the door.
"Okay," Porter said hesitantly, following the sword's directions. Once they were in the hallway, Flicker gave another jerk to the left.
"What are you doing?" Tick asked in confusion.
"Hold on a second, Tick," Porter said, and then spoke to Flicker again. "We're trying to get downstairs. Going left will take us further up."
Flicker vibrated twice, like it was trying to make a point, and then pulled Porter even harder in the direction it wanted to go.
Flicker interrupted him by vibrating so hard that it almost hurt Porter's hand. The young man fell silent, and, slowly, comprehension dawned on him.
"You know where Sarah is?"
"And she's somewhere upstairs?"
"Okay," Porter said, motioning for Tick to follow him, "show us the way."
(POV: Father Lucius)
"Everyone in, hurry!" Father Lucius shouted, doing his best to herd the historians into the cellar in an orderly fashion. His heart sank as he did so. The cellars were big, they had to be to house everything the Historians' Tower needed. But were they big enough to hold every single historian in the tower? No, no they were not.
"If you hear the front door being broken down," he yelled above the noise, "close the cellar door and bolt it!"
As if waiting for him to give the cue, a loud THUD came from the door, audible even from the other end of the tower. For a moment, everybody froze. When the noise came again, though, everybody went crazy. The historians began fighting to get to the cellar doors. Fists and frightened screams flew through the air in equal measure, and there was nothing Lucius could do to stop it. He took a step back, looking at his children. He had done all he could for them. Now he had to face the invasion. As the Father Historian, he would have been the last one to enter the cellars anyway. Like a captain going down with his ship, he made his slow way to the door to see the hull be breached with his own eyes.
"Visitors, Father Lucius!" a familiar, ever cheery voice greeted him as he reached the entrance hall. Lucius' eyes went wide.
"Brother Koob," he shouted, "get away from the door!"
But the absent minded gnome wasn't paying attention. "No, no, no, we have guests! I have to greet them."
He stepped onto his ladder, and Lucius could only watch in horror as he opened the small window.
"You, oh traveler, have found the way,
To where all knowledge—"
There was a loud bang, and Brother Koob went flying backwards away from the door. His tiny body struck the wall a few feet away from where Lucius stood, and he fell to the ground, never to move again. His face, which had never been void of a smile, was nothing more than smoldering ash.
"No!" the old dwarf screamed, just as the door imploded. Splinters and bits of metal flew across the room, but Lucius ignored it as the first Slayers came charging inside.
"Murderers!" he yelled. Overcome by rage and grief, he held his hands out, and a bolt of lightning shot from his fingers. It struck the first Slayer in the chest, sending him flying back out the door again.
"Monsters!" A second bolt took out the next Slayer, slamming him against the wall so hard that there was no way he could have survived. Lucius prepared to fire again as another Slayer came into view. "Animals!"
Before he could cast the spell, though, a wooden javelin came flying through the doorway. It struck Father Lucius in the stomach, burying half of its length in his body. Lucius gave a gasp of shock, and sank to the floor. He could taste blood on his tongue, and he could... good Lord, he could feel the splintery wood inside of him! He was dying. His vision was already growing dim, but he could still make out the man in the trench coat coming to stand above him.
"Do your duty!" he shouted, waving for his compatriots to charge. "Leave none alive!"
Father Lucius stared up as the Slayer stepped over him, like he wasn't even there. Everything went black, and the pain in his gut faded, leaving him feeling empty... hollow... except for one thing.
I've failed, he thought as his final breath escaped his lungs. All my forefathers' hard work... all for nothing.
Sarah thought the story was over, but the Keeping Fire was not done yet.
"All was not well in the world, though. As hated as Uthas Drall had been, the mindset he had instilled in his subjects were not easily forgotten. The other races of the earth were not willing to accept the humans as equals. Whether out of lingering faithfulness to their previous ruler, or simple prejudice, the humans were given the choice to either return to their roles as servants, or die. Barlock refused, and a second war began.
"The Slayers of Darkness were put under siege in Uthas Drall's castle. In those halls, though, was the knowledge that the Fear Feeder had never allowed them. As the siege went on, the humans learned magic, and it was with this that they were able to break free of their captors and face them in open battle. It is a testament to Barlock's leadership that the humans were able to defeat their enemies, despite the overwhelming odds. On that day, the humans declared that, as the ones who had defeated Uthas Drall, the world now belonged to them. Thus began the age on Man.
"The battles did not end there. Humans and the other races of the earth continued to fight until their numbers began to thin. The nonhuman races were forced into hiding, hunted down by the Slayers of Darkness. Over time, their name was shortened to 'the Slayers.' The other races grew scarce and, generations after their disappearance, their existence passed from history and into legend. For this reason, they came to be known as the Mythics, for they were creatures of myth.
"To this day, the Mythic races still live in hiding, and the Slayers continue to hunt them down and kill them."
With those final words, the flames died down again, and the Keeping Fire fell silent. For over a minute, Sarah could only stare at it, open mouthed. Her thoughts were spinning like a tornado in her head as she tried to process all of the information she'd just absorbed. The conclusion she came to wasn't a happy one...
It's our fault, she thought, her face turning pale. The Slayers are here because we forced them to be!
"Sarah!" Porter yelled when he saw her sitting at the end of the black hallway.
The sphinx jumped in fright, but immediately calmed down when she saw who it was. Getting to her paws, she came running to meet them.
"Sarah, we've got to go," he said before she could say anything. "The Slayers have already gotten inside."
Sarah frowned, the fear visible in her eyes. "Isn't there anything we can do for the historians?"
"They..." Porter had to pause to keep from choking on his emotion. "They're all staying here."
"But we can't just—"
"We don't have a choice, Sarah!" Porter interrupted her, kneeling down and putting his hands on her shoulders. "They're coming. We have to get out of here before they find us."
Sarah was quiet for a moment, but then nodded. "But, if they're coming in the front door, how are we going to get out?" she asked.
"We..." Porter froze. "Oh, crap."
"Too late for that, anyway," a voice cackled from behind them. Porter spun around, his arm instinctively raising to block the path to Sarah. There, standing at the end of the hallway, was the boy Porter had spoken to that morning, twirling a knife between his fingers. Behind him stood a tall, thin man with bandages around his face. His eyes were an unnatural mixture of black and red, and Porter couldn't bring himself to look at them for more than a coupe seconds. He turned his attention back to the young man... Ozzie, he'd said his name was.
Ozzie grinned, and held his knife in a fighting stance.
"You three aren't going anywhere!"
NEXT TIME: Ooh, it's going down. Slayers in front of them, and Slayers blocking the door. How are Porter, Sarah, and Tick going to get out?