"Everyone, get behind me!" Porter commanded, holding Flicker up in a threatening stance. Tick whimpered a little when he saw the men in the black coats, and went to hide behind Sarah. To Ozzie, Porter said, "Don't get in our way. Just let us go."
The Asian young man's grin fell off his face, and he looked down at Sarah. "I know what you did to him, you little freak. You erased his memory, didn't you?"
"Shut up!" Porter yelled, and Ozzie took half a step backwards. "She told me the truth. She saved my life— from you!"
Ozzie spread his arms in disbelief. "Seriously, dude? You're listening to the monster? That thing is your target!"
"If you call her an it or a thing one more time," Porter warned him, letting the light bounce noticeably off Flicker's blade, "I'm going to ram this through your chest."
Ozzie frowned at him, and held up his knife. "Don't do this, Porter. We're best friends. Master Mortoph sent me to find you after you disappeared!"
Porter's face went red with anger. "Shut up and get out of our way!"
Ozzie shook his head. "I can't do that!"
"Fine." Porter wrapped both hands around Flicker's hilt and raised it above his head. "I'll make you move!"
With that, he charged at Ozzie, and swung his sword downwards. He didn't know if he actually had it in him to kill the Slayer, but he wouldn't have a problem knocking him out. Ozzie reacted slower than Porter expected, and only just managed to block the attack with his little knife. He slid the tiny blade up Porter's longer blade, and Porter had to thrust away from him to keep Ozzie from getting within striking distance. To Ozzie's right, the man with the black eyes whipped another dagger out of his coat.
"I've got this!" Ozzie yelled, seeing him out of the corner of his eye. "Get the sphinx!"
"No!" Porter shouted, moving to stop him. Ozzie stepped in front of him, swinging his knife and making Porter pause to deflect it. While he did that, the other Slayer charged at Sarah.
"Sarah, Tick," Porter called, glancing backwards at his two friends, "run!"
"Tick, move!" Sarah snapped as the Slayer closed in on them. The hallway was narrow, and going forward would only take them closer to him. Their only option, she realized as she walked backwards into Tick, was to retreat into the archive.
The Slayer came to the edge of the black floor, paused for a moment— and then vanished.
"Where'd he go?" Tick demanded.
"Just keep moving," Sarah told him. Not that it would do them any good. The archive was even narrower than the hallway leading to it. There was no way they could get out without running straight into him.
Porter, help! she thought desperately. Her sensitive ears picked up the sound of whistling wind, and instinctively dropped to the ground. It was just in time, too, because half a second later the Slayers dagger whizzed above her head. The air in front of her shimmered, and the Slayer reappeared, glaring at her with those creepy black and red eyes. He flicked his knife into another position, and raised it to stab her. Sarah struggled to get back to her paws in time, but she was too slow. Just as the knife came down, reflecting green firelight onto the walls, a white blur flashed by above her.
"Tick!" Sarah screamed, watching as the little chimera hung on for dear life while the Slayer flailed his arm around. The Slayer's guard was down for the moment, and Sarah took advantage of that by charging forward, butting her head into the Slayer's stomach. The Slayer stumbled backward, but quickly caught his balance. While he was distracted, Tick let go of his arm and ran to hide behind Sarah again. The Slayer reached out and grabbed Sarah by her hair. She cried out when he yanked her towards him, but then lunged upwards with her teeth bared. She figured his coat would be made to protect him from things like that, so instead she went for the closest unprotected part of him: his hand. Her teeth sank into his skin, and she tasted his blood. She expected him to yell, or curse, or something, but still nothing came out of the Slayer's mouth. He calmly raised his arm, picking her up with it, and then slammed her against the wall. Sarah gasped as the wind was knocked out of her lungs, and fell to the floor in a heap when she lost her grip on his hand.
This isn't right, she thought as she laid there, gasping for breath. How is he that strong?
The Slayer raised his knife again, and aimed for her heart. Sarah tried to get back up again, but her head was spinning too much to balance. She saw the knife hovering above her, and closed her eyes...
Sarah recognized Tick's voice, but he wasn't yelling like she would have expected. Technically, he wasn't even speaking— he was singing. The next thing she knew, a warm, fuzzy cloud of contentment washed over her brain, drowning out all other thoughts. She could still see the Slayer holding his knife up in front of her... but she no longer cared.
"Stop fighting, stand still," Tick continued to sing. Neither Sarah nor the Slayer moved. Sarah heard the patter of soft footsteps as he came to stand beside her. His hand touched her side and began tugging at her, all the while singing his comforting, tuneless song. Somewhere deep in her subconscious, Sarah realized that Tick was trying to get her to stand up, and so she obeyed. He put his hand on her back to guide her, and the two of them began to walk towards the exit.
"Get out of our way," Tick sang, and the Slayer stepped aside, pressing his back against the wall, giving them just enough room to pass him without touching. Tick kept a wary eye on the Slayer, but Sarah didn't care about him. So long as Tick kept singing that wonderful song, everything would be okay.
They stepped out into the hallway, and Tick stopped singing. All at once, Sarah's mind switched back on, and she spun around to see the Slayer already chasing after them.
"A turkey pickled in olive juice, a flying cucumber plant, and a quarter the size of Kentucky!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. The effect was instantaneous. There was a bright white flash that completely blinded Sarah for a few seconds, and a BOOM that rocked the entire top floor of the tower. A gust of hot wind shot out of the doorway, and Sarah moved to stand between the archive and Tick. A few seconds later, Sarah opened her eyes, blinking away the shadows the explosion had burned into them. The Slayer was lying on the floor of the archive. His clothes and bandages had been completely burned away, but his body looked unscathed. Even from so far away, Sarah could see his chest rising and falling as he breathed.
No way, she thought in shock as she stared at him. That much magic should have disintegrated him!
Ozzie tried to dart in and cut Porter, but Porter batted his knife away and then slashed at his face. Ozzie ducked underneath the attack, and then took a step backwards.
"It's lying to you, Porter," he insisted, holding the knife up defensively. "You can't trust a word it says. It's a monster. That's why we sent you to kill it!"
"Shut up!" Porter roared, running at the Slayer. He swung Flicker up and over his head, and Ozzie only managed to avoid having it buried in his skull by spinning to the side. Porter followed up that attack by thrusting his leg out in the direction Ozzie had gone, and ended up kicking him in the stomach. With a groan, Ozzie dropped his dagger and fell to his knees, wrapping his arms around his stomach. Porter let Flicker vanish again. The fight was obviously over.
"Now," he said, grabbing Ozzie by his shirt collar. He hoisted the young man up off the ground, and looked him dead in the eye. "You are going to leave us alone, understand? I never want to see you again. If I do, I won't let you off so easily."
"Porter, please," Ozzie begged him. "You've got to remember!"
"I don't need to remember anything," Porter insisted. "You—"
Before Porter could finish his sentence, a loud BOOM shook the hallway, making the windows rattle in their frames. Porter froze, and then dropped Ozzie.
"Sarah!" While he sprinted back toward the archive, Ozzie gave him one last despairing look, and then turned and ran away.
"Sarah, Tick!" Porter shouted again, skidding to a halt just in front of them. "What happened? Are you all right?"
Sarah turned to him and nodded. Porter glanced into the black hallway, and saw the body of the other Slayer lying in there.
"You beat him?" he asked, shaking his head in disbelief. "All by yourself?"
"I helped!" Tick declared, though he didn't sound particularly proud of the fact.
"He's still alive," Sarah said, giving him a wary look. "We need to go before he wakes up. What happened to the other one?"
"Gone, I think," Porter answered. "Come on, we can't waste any more time."
With that, he turned and led them back the way they'd come.
"Do you know the way out?" Sarah asked as they ran down a staircase.
"We'll find it eventually," Porter said. "We just have to..."Suddenly, he dug his heels into the floor, and held out his arm to stop Sarah and Tick.
"What is it?" Sarah asked.
The three of them fell silent, and Porter pointed further down the hallway, where the sounds of battle were clearly audible. Steel clanged against steel, and people were crying out in pain.
"No!" Sarah gasped, taking a panicked step back. "They've cut us off!"
None of them could see what was happening, but the sounds were gradually getting closer.
"There's only one thing we can do," Porter said, summoning Flicker again. "Stay behind me. We're going to have to fight our way through."
Sarah got in front of him, flaring her wings to block his way. "Nuh uh, we'll be massacred! There's no way you can take on that many Slayers by yourself."
Porter was gripping Flicker's hilt so tightly that his hand started to sweat. He glanced down the hallway again to make sure nobody was in sight yet, and then asked, "Do you have a better idea?"
Sarah moaned, and started anxiously pacing the hallway. "Give me a minute! There's got to be something." She walked back and forth for a minute, and Porter went to stand between her and the violence again. It was getting even closer. In just a couple minutes, the Slayers would be right on top of them.
"The windows!" Sarah exclaimed, running to stand in front of one. "We can get out through here!"
Porter came to stand behind her, and looked down. The fairies field, which had once been so colorful, was now nothing but a big gray circle in the moonlight.
"Sarah, we're thousands of feet up," he argued. "I don't think the windows are going to help us."
"Think for a minute, Porter!" Sarah snapped. She fanned her wings out behind her. "My wings aren't fully developed yet, but I think I can use them to keep us from falling too fast."
Porter glanced uneasily at her wings, and then back outside.
"Are you sure that's—" before he could finish, an explosion rocked the floor beneath their feet, and a cloud of smoke billowed out from the area further down the hallway, accompanied by a cacophony of screams. "Okay!" he agreed, the decision having been made for him.
Without waiting to be asked, he raised Flicker and smashed the window. The wind howled outside, much stronger this high up than it was on the ground.
"Tick, you climb on my back!" Sarah had to yell to be heard over the wind. Tick's skin was now as pale as his hair, and his back was pressed against the wall. He stared at the window in horror, and shook his head.
"Tick, we don't have time to argue," the sphinx insisted. "Get on!"
Still, the little boy refused.
"I need you to brave, Tick," Porter prompted him, coming to take him by the shoulder. "Can you do that for me?"
Looking up at the older boy, Tick finally gulped down his fear and nodded.
"Good," Porter encouraged him, bringing him over and lifting him up onto Sarah's back. His legs straddled her like a horse, and he wrapped his arms around her neck. "Whatever you do, hold on tight, okay?"
"I don't have room for both of you," Sarah said, putting her front paws up on the windowsill. The wind was blowing so hard that her hair streamed out through the window, like a dark red banner. "Porter, after I jump, you'll have to jump out after me and grab my legs."
"You're crazy!" Porter shouted back. "That'll weigh you down too much."
"You have to, Porter," Sarah insisted. "Even you can't fight your way to the door."
"Sarah," Porter said, trying to force himself to be calm, "we only have one chance to do this. If we mess up, we'll die. If I have to stay here so that you can get out alive, I'll do it."
"I..." Sarah paused, and Porter could see the emotion in her eyes. "Porter, I'm not going to leave you here."
"There's some more!"
Porter spun around, and saw a gang of five Slayers running at them.
"We're out of time," he said, turning back to Sarah. "Go now!"
"You're coming with us," Sarah shot back, stubbornly remaining where she was, "or we're not going at all."
There was no time to argue. "Okay, fine! Now, jump!"
Hesitating only a moment, Sarah brought her back paws up onto the windowsill a moment, and then jumped. Porter stepped up as well, timing himself just right, and then leaped out after her. Instantly, the cold night wind battered him, threatening to push him off course, but he reached out and grabbed Sarah's back paws just as he was about to fall past them.
If she can't support all three of us, he thought with grim determination, I'll let go.
Sarah unfurled her wings, and the wind instantly caught them. Sarah jerked upwards so sharply that Porter almost lost his grip. But the initial parachute effect was only temporary; after a couple seconds, they started to fall again, only a little bit slower than before.
"Flap!" Porter yelled at her.
"I'm trying!" she shouted back, her voice revealing how close to panicking she was. He felt her muscles strain as she tried to push her wings down again, but the weight on her bottom end was too much— because of Porter. He was throwing her entire body out of balance!
"I'm letting go!" he shouted.
"Don't you dare!"
"You can't flap your wings with me here. I'm going to make you crash!"
"I can do this!" she insisted. He heard her yell as she flexed her muscles like she never had before, and finally forced her wings down. They jerked upwards again, just a bit, but it slowed their descent.
"I can do this!" Sarah yelled again, and flapped a second time. Porter looked down, and gasped when he saw how close the ground was. They were still coming down too fast! Sarah flapped again, screaming from the effort, but it wasn't going to be enough.
I've got to do it, Porter thought as the ashy field loomed up underneath them. But maybe... maybe there was a way to save himself, too. He waited until Sarah was only thirty feet above the ground, and then let go.
"Porter!" she screamed as he fell away, but there was nothing either of them could do about it then. Without his weight, Sarah's body instinctively righted itself. She could flap more easily now, which was just enough to ease her momentum before she landed. She flailed with her paws, trying to find footing, but ended up tripping over them and rolling onto her side. Tick stood up on her back at the last second, and jumped, performing a nimble front flip and landing on his feet.
Porter saw all this as he fell. His plan was to roll as he hit the ground, and hope it would ease the landing enough so that the impact wouldn't kill him. He would probably break some bones, but as long as Sarah was okay... well, he'd been willing to die for her a minute ago. Another broken leg was nothing.
As the ground sped up towards him, though, his logical mind was suddenly overcome by sheer panic. He was falling too fast. Rolling would never be enough to save him. He was going to die!
"I'm not going to let you kill us." A familiar, but unwelcome, voice yelled at him from inside his head. "Use it, you idiot!"
Something seemed to snap inside of Porter, and he felt a strong gust of wind blow straight up from the ground. It was so powerful that he had to close his eyes, and he wasn't able to see the ground drawing nearer, until...
He touched down on the ashy field as softly as if he'd only fallen a few feet. He gasped, his brain not fully comprehending that he wasn't dead, and rolled over onto his back. The starry night sky shined above him, but unless he was greatly mistaken, he was still very much alive.
"Sarah!" he exclaimed, still breathless with surprise. He scrambled to his feet, his body only a little sore from the landing, and looked for her. He saw her about twenty feet away, picking herself up as well, and he ran to her. "Are you all right?"
"I think so," she said, giving herself a quick look. Then she turned and gave him an angry glare. "Don't you ever do that again! Not ever, do you hear me?"
"Where's Tick?" Porter asked, looking past her.
"Over here!" the chimera answered, running to rejoin them.
Porter breathed a sigh of relief.
"We're all okay, then."
Sarah turned to face the forest. "We need to get out of here before somebody sees us."
"You're right," Porter agreed, turning to give the tower one last look. Even from all the way out here, he could see shadows running past the windows, and... was he just imagining those screams?
"Run, you little coward," the other Porter's voice said to him. "Save yourself, and leave all your friends to die."
"Porter, hurry up!" Sarah yelled, snapping him out of his horrified trance. He turned, and saw that she and Tick were already halfway across the Fairies' Field. He chased after them, refusing to look at the tower again. If he looked a second time, he knew he'd never be able to make himself leave.
Inside his head, the other Porter laughed.
(POV: Drake Mortoph)
The Master Slayer breathed in through his nose when he stepped through the doorway of the Historians' Tower, inhaling the sweet scent of blood drying in the summer heat.
"Another victory," he said to himself, smiling as he stepped over the bodies of countless monsters. One of them, a fat old dwarf, lay with a javelin through his chest. That would be Vega's work, Mortoph surmised. He made a special effort to tread upon the dwarf's face as he passed.
A few bodies were dressed in black coats, and to these Mortoph bowed his head as he passed. His comrades had given their lives to a noble cause, and he honored them for that.
That was what the ones still living wanted to think, anyway, so he allowed them to think it.
Wear a mask long enough, he thought as one of his underlings came running to report to him, and eventually it can become your real face.
"Master Mortoph," the Slayer said, throwing up a salute. "We took twenty prisoners, like you commanded. I can take you to them."
"Lead the way," he ordered.
The Slayer led him down a long, wide hallway. From somewhere else in the tower, he could hear the celebrations taking place. Paper littered the floor, so thick it almost buried the bodies in places. His men were tearing apart the books the monsters had spent thousands of years writing. The final insult, even they weren't alive to feel it.
Well, most of them.
He came into a gigantic room filled with tables, many of which had been smashed to splinters during the battle. A squad of forty Slayers surrounded a group of Mythics half that size. Their hands and feet had all been bound, but the Slayers still kept their weapons trained on them at all times. Mortoph smiled again, and went to stand in before his captives.
"I hope you can all understand the mercy that is being shown to you today," he said, looking each of them in the eye. "If we had been cruel and heartless animals like you, rest assured that you would all be dead right now."
He glanced at the Slayers now, and could see the confusion on their faces. Keeping monsters alive was strictly against the Slayers' code. Their confusion didn't matter, though. They would understand soon enough.
"My brother," one of the monsters spoke up, and Mortoph gave him a sharp look. It was a gnome, not even tall enough to reach Mortoph's kneecaps. It wilted underneath his terrifying glare, but still said, "You killed my brother. You're the monsters!"
"Silence, creature!" Mortoph roared, magically amplifying his voice so that the monsters could feel it shake their bones. "You should be honored. Instead of slaying you like we did your brother, we are giving you the chance to redeem yourself!
More footsteps came from behind him, and Mortoph turned to see Granger join them.
"If I may, sir," he said, ever respectful, "what do you mean? It is against our ways to allow these monsters to live."
A sly smile crept onto Mortoph's face, and he motioned his third-in-command to come stand with him. "Not so, my friend. Allow me to explain."
He snapped his fingers, and turned to look at Shadow as the black-eyed man materialized in the corner. He wore a new set of clothes, but he hadn't replaced his bandages yet, which left his deformed face bare for all to see.
"Take a close look at Shadow," he told Granger. "Tell me what you see."
Granger could already tell something was amiss, Mortoph could see it in his eyes. The old man took a step towards Shadow, running his eyes over every bit of him, but lingering on his face. Lines, like scars, crisscrossed his face in a regular, oval pattern— like scales. Granger spun around and gave Mortoph a look of utter shock.
"No," he whispered, "it can't be!"
"Yes," Mortoph confirmed, coming to join him. "it is. Shadow is the first of a new breed of Slayers. With him, we will wage a new type of war on the monsters!"
Their conversation was cut short when another voice called out, "Master Mortoph?"
Drake turned and saw Ozzie standing in the doorway.
"Ozzie," he greeted the young man, "I was just about to send for you. Do you have news of Porter?"
Ozzie tried to look into his Master's eyes, but couldn't meet Mortoph's cold gaze for more than a second. Mortoph could read shame and embarrassment in his posture even before he said anything, and he frowned.
"I found Porter," the young Slayer explained, "but he got away from me."
Mortoph let a tense silence build up for a few seconds, and then said, "Explain yourself, young man."
Ozzie went pale. "I tried to convince him to come with me, sir, but he attacked me." He looked down at his shoes. "Porter's always been the better fighter. I couldn't stop him."
Mortoph's eyebrows went down in a disapproving scowl. He believed Ozzie, but he saw no reason not to let the failure squirm a little. Then, as if remembering something, Ozzie looked back up at him again.
"I know where he's going, though," he said quickly. He dug around in his pocket, and brought out a small rock with a string tied around it. He held it out towards Mortoph.
"What is this?" the Master Slayer asked, taking the pebble. It was so tiny in his hand that he could have crushed it between two fingers. He released the stone, and it shot away from his hand, halted only by the string still clenched in his fingers.
"I put a tracking spell on it, sir," Ozzie explained. "It's being pulled toward the rock I linked it to. That rock is in Porter's pocket. I slipped it in there without him noticing while we were fighting."
Mortoph gave the pebble another, more appreciative, look.
"Well," he said thoughtfully, "this certainly changes things. We don't know where the sphinx is taking Porter, but we at least know which direction they went."He jerked backwards on the string, bringing the pebble into the palm of his hand, and turned to talk to Granger. "There is only one place a monster could go in one a situation like this."
Granger's eyes opened a little wider at this. "Do you think it knows the location of a Sanctuary?"
"It must," the Master Slayer concluded. "Otherwise, it's just wandering around the forest, lost."
"What should we do?"
Mortoph felt the stone twitch in his fist, and grinned. "Tell the men to return to Red Castle and prepare for another assault. We have a new target, and it will require an even larger force than the tower did."
NEXT TIME: Porter, Sarah, and Tick managed to get away safely, but how long will that safety last? Droma claims Flicker knows the way to Jellaska Kob Lertan... but maybe it'd be better if they didn't make it there at all?