Chapter Twenty Three
"You weren't expecting this, were you?"
Porter groaned and opened his eyes to find himself lying face down on a cold stone floor. His head throbbed with pain, and pinpricks of light danced in front of him when he sat up.
"Where am I?" he groaned, rubbing the side of his head.
The room was tiny, he realized. Even now, sitting upright, his feet still touched the wall at the other end of the room. The only light came from a small crack in the floor to his left, right at the base of the wall...
Wait a minute, he thought, standing up. That's a door!
"Hello?" Porter shouted, rapping his fist against it. The door was made of the same stone as the walls and floor, it seemed. "Who's there? Where am I?"
Silence was his only answer, and after a minute Porter sat down against the wall again. By the light coming in under the door, it looked like he was alone in the room. There wasn't even a bed to lie on.
"Where am I?" Porter asked for the third time. His headache spiked again in reply. With a groan, Porter covered his face with his hands. "Why is it that whenever I have a headache, I wake up somewhere weird?"
At least he hadn't lost his memory this time. Ignoring the pain, Porter thought back to the last thing he could remember. He, Sarah, and Tick had made it to Jellaska Kob Lertan, hadn't they? Yeah, he could remember that much. They'd found the city deserted, but then—
Mythics everywhere. Sarah and Tick taken away. Porter fighting. Pain...
"Oh, crap," Porter whispered as realization finally struck him.
"What went wrong?" A voice asked out of the darkness.
Porter's head shot up and he looked around. The room was dark, but it wasn't so big that somebody could have hidden from him.
"Who's there?" the young man demanded.
There was silence for a few seconds, and then a cruel laugh came out of the shadows.
"I'll tell you what went wrong."
A cold sweat broke out on Porter's brow. He didn't need to ask who it was, he already knew. A figure materialized in the corner of the room, its silhouette even darker than the shadows around it. It stepped forward, into the dim light, and Porter had to fight to keep himself from shuddering.
Other Porter grinned at him. "Your best friend Sarah, that wonderful little sphinx you promised to always protect... she betrayed you."
For a moment Porter forgot his fear, and he stood up. "You're lying," he said, his face burning with anger.
Other Porter spread his arms mockingly. "Am I? Look at where you are! How could you have ended up here if she hadn't allowed it?"
"Sarah would never do that!"
Porter scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Grow up, will you? All this time, you've been travelling to Jellaska Kob Lertan, thinking you were her little bodyguard. Truth is, she was leading you into a trap from the very beginning. And do you want to know why?"
Porter ground his teeth together and made a fist. Could he hit Other Porter? The duplicate was standing right there in front of him... or was he still just a figment of his imagination?
Other Porter smiled at Porter's reaction. He leaned in closer to him, and Porter suddenly found himself unable to back away. "She never trusted you," Other Porter whispered, his words echoing ominously in his ears. "She was never your friend. She only wanted to bring you here so you could be captured. It's because she knows who you are, and what you do. She knows..." he paused, letting the suspense thicken in the air, "that you're a Slayer!"
"Shut up!" Porter's temper finally snapped, and he took a swing at Other Porter. His fist passed straight through him like he was made of air.
"What are you doing?"
Porter froze, and then turned to see somebody standing in the open doorway of his room. The man, if he were actually a man, had dark skin and wore no clothing besides a pair of rugged sackcloth pants. Black tattoos swirled up both his arms, across his shaved head, and merged together over his muscular chest in a hurricane of ink. His eyes were such a bright blue that Porter almost thought they were producing their own light.
"I was, um," Porter glanced back to where Other Porter had just been standing. Naturally, he was gone. Not that it mattered. It wasn't like anybody else could see or hear him. He shook his head. "Nothing. Never mind."
The man paused narrowed his eyes suspiciously and then stepped further into the room. The thick stone door slammed shut behind him.
"Who are you?" Porter asked.
"My name is none of your concern, Slayer," the man answered. His voice was calm, and for some reason that was enough to scare Porter. He could sense anger underneath his words, so hot it was barely contained. Whoever, or whatever, this man was, Porter realized, he was extremely dangerous.
Porter swallowed. "I'm not a Slayer," he said.
"Save your lies," the man retorted. "We know why you're here."
A pit formed in Porter's stomach. "What are you talking about?"
The man stepped across the room so that they were standing nose-to-nose. He was a couple of inches taller than the young man, and his blue eyes were drilling into Porter's so hard that he almost believed the man could read his mind.
"How far away are they?" he asked, his voice nothing but a low, threatening whisper.
Porter couldn't stop himself from shivering. "How far away are who?"
"I suggest you cooperate, Slayer," the man warned him. "I can make this very unpleasant for you, otherwise."
"I have no idea what you're talking about!" Porter protested.
A long, tense moment of silence grew between them, so thick that Porter had trouble breathing. The man, whoever he was, was so mad now that Porter could feel the heat rising off of him in waves. Just as Porter thought he was going to hit him, the man stepped back. The door swung open behind him.
"Very well," he said, stepping out of the room. "I will give you two hours to decide to help us willingly. When I return, I suggest that you have answers for me. If not..."
He stopped and looked Porter directly in the eye.
"I'll get my answers anyway."
The door slammed shut again, leaving Porter all alone in his cell again. Because that's what it was, he realized— a cell for holding dangerous prisoners.
"They know," Other Porter whispered in his ear.
"What do you think, sir?" the Sasquatch asked as the shirtless man made his way down the corridor.
"He's a Slayer, I know," he answered without turning around. "Such heinous acts leave scars in a man's soul. I could see them in his eyes."
"What are we to do, then?"
"You keep your distance from him," he instructed. "In two hours, I will come back and begin interrogating him."
They rounded a corner and began climbing a flight of stairs.
"This isn't the first time a Slayer has found his way into a Sanctuary," he went on, his voice growing dangerously low. "Do you know what happened? More Slayers followed, and the Sanctuary was destroyed!"
He stopped in his tracks, clenching his fist so hard that his entire arm shook. A vein protruded from his forehead as he glared furiously at the wall in front of him. Small blue flames began to leak from his skin.
"Sir?" The Sasquatch asked, taking a cautious step back.
The man closed his eyes and took a deep breath. A moment later, the fire retreated back inside his body.
"I'm all right," he grunted, and then turned to face his companion. "But I will not allow that to happen here."
"But if the Slayers are already on their way," the Sasquatch said, still keeping himself at a distance, "then questioning the boy won't stop the attack."
The man shook his head. "I know it won't, but if we can figure out which direction they're coming from, it may be possible to keep them from reaching the Sanctuary at all."
The two of them faced off for a few seconds.
"But an attack on the Slayer army is suicide, sir."
The man narrowed his eyes. "Yes, I know. But if we can keep them from reaching the city, it will be worth it. Now get back to your post, soldier! I will be back in two hours."
As the man turned and stalked down the hallway, the sasquatch gave him a salute.
"Yes sir, Commander Azkular."
"Sarah? You can wake up now."
The words echoed sluggishly in Sarah's mind, gently rousing her from the deepest sleep she could remember having in months. She stirred and let out a yawn.
"Where'm I?" she asked.
"Open your eyes, honey."
The sleepiness was fading more with every second, and Sarah managed to force her eyes open. She had to blink a few times to stop the world from spinning around her, but she could recognize her parents standing in front of her. She was lying on a bed, the sheets bundled into a nest, just the way she liked it. For a minute, it was like she had gone back in time. Her mansion hadn't been burned down, Mrs. Rasta hadn't been killed, and Porter...
"Porter!" she exclaimed, and scrambled to her paws. Her head spun again, and she would have fallen down if her father hadn't put his paw out to steady her.
"Sarah, it's okay!" he said, backing away after laying her gently back down on the bed. "The sleeping spell will take a few minutes to wear off completely. Just take it easy until then."
Sarah shook her head, trying to chase away the remaining drowsiness. "Wh- where is he?"
Mr. Heisen cocked his head to the side. "Where is who?"
"Porter," she answered.
Mr. Heisen glanced at his wife.
"The little tailed boy she was with earlier," she clarified.
"The chimera!" Mr. Heisen exclaimed. "Don't worry, Porter's fine. He's being taken care of by another Mythic family."
"Tailed boy?" Sarah repeated. It took her a moment to realize what he meant. "No, that was Tick! Porter was the other boy who was with me. The human boy! What happened to him?"
Both of her parents' expressions darkened. "The human boy has been taken to a safe location in the dungeons," her father answered. "He's far away from you, and being watched by several guards at all times. He can't hurt you now."
A chill ran down Sarah's spine. "He's in the dungeons?" she asked in disbelief. "Why?"
"Because he's a Slayer, honey," Mrs. Heisen answered, matter of factly.
"Don't worry, we already know everything," her father confirmed. "He forced you to bring him here. It isn't your fault."
Sarah's mouth fell open. She was completely at a loss for words.
"It's not your fault," her mother said again, and Sarah could her eyes turning red with tears. "It's ours! If we hadn't kept you inside that old house, none of this would have happened!"
"But we're going to make it up you, we promise," her father continued, speaking frantically. He waved his paw at the room around her. "This is our house, Sarah. We're going to live here now. You'll be able to go outside whenever you want!"
Sarah paused. She could go outside whenever she wanted? She supposed that, to most people, that wouldn't have meant much. To a sphinx who had spent sixteen long years trapped inside her house— the idea was enough to make her head spin all over again.
But she had something else to worry about...
"Mom, Dad," she said, getting to her paws again and finding she was able to balance now, "you don't understand. Porter's not a Slayer. He's my friend!"
Mr. Heisen took a step towards her, so that their faces were almost touching. The look in his eyes was both serious and worried.
"Listen to me, Sarah. You're free of that monster. You don't have to pretend anymore."
"Wha- pretend?" Sarah turned to the other sphinx. "Mom, I'd be dead right now if it wasn't for Porter!"
Mrs. Heisen bit her lip, but didn't say anything.
"An elf came to us a few days ago," Mr. Heisen insisted. "He explained everything."
Suddenly, it felt like Sarah's stomach had fallen out of her body, and she turned to look at her father.
"What was his name?" she asked in a whisper.
Mr. Heisen frowned. "Um, well," he glanced at his wife. "What was it, dear? Ember?"
"Vesper, I think."
His face lit up. "That's it, Vesper!" He turned back to Sarah. "You owe him a big thank you, Sarah. If he hadn't showed up, we would still think you were dead."
Vesper... Had that pointy eared twerp really gone to all this effort just to get back at Porter? They'd both known Vesper had been mad after getting his butt kicked, but this— this was insane.
"And that Slayer would be walking around Jellaska Kob Lertan, too," Mrs. Heisen added.
"Stop saying that!" Sarah screamed, rounding on her mother again. "Porter is not a Slayer!"
Both of her parents fell silent. For half a minute, Sarah dared to hope that she had finally gotten through to them. But then...
"I think she's still in shock, David," her mother said.
Mr. Heisen nodded. "I think you're right. She's been through a lot the past few weeks. She needs time to calm down."
"Don't talk about me like I'm not here," Sarah spat. "There's been a big mistake, and I'm not going to shut up until you believe me!"
To her disbelief, her father smiled at this. "Sarah, I never would have thought I'd miss your stubbornness, of all things. I'm just so glad you're alive to argue with me!"
Sarah's anger spiked, making her fur stand on end. "Dad! Will you just—"
"We have a surprise for you," he interrupted her. Sarah stopped talking as her parents exchanged another smile. "Someone showed up just a couple days before you did. We think you'll be happy to see her."
Sarah raised her eyebrows. Who would come all the way to a hidden Sanctuary just to see her? Besides her parents and all the people she'd met on her journey, the only person in the world she knew was...
Her thoughts were cut off when she caught the sound of heavy paws racing through the house. A second later, her room door was thrown open, and a big gray and black wolf bounded into the room. It immediately jumped onto the bed and tackled Sarah in ecstatic joy.
"Sarah!" it screamed. It had the voice of a young woman. "I thought I'd never see you again!"
Sarah froze in shock as the wolf began to lick her face. No way, the logical part of her brain insisted. It couldn't be...
Time was meaningless in the darkness of Porter's cell. Without a way to glimpse the world outside, he had no idea how many minutes, hours, or even days might have passed as he sat with his back against the cold, stone wall. When his door finally unlocked again, he was almost happy to see the shirtless tattooed man rejoin him, just because it meant he wasn't going to be alone anymore.
The man crossed his arms and fixed Porter with his cold, blue eyed glare. "Your two hours are up, Slayer. What do you have to tell me?"
Porter got to his feet as well, facing his interrogator. "I already told you, I don't know what you're talking about.""
The man's eyes narrowed. "Is that really all you wish to say?"
The man stood there for almost a full minute, and Porter could feel the anger radiating from him again. Finally, he bowed his head.
"So, you've decided to do this the painful way. Fine. Just remember that I offered you another path."
"Wait," Porter said.
The shirtless man looked up at him again. "Have you decided to answer my questions?"
Porter shook his head. "No, but there are a couple of things that I need to know. Where are Sarah and Tick? Are they safe?"
The creature pointed at him. "You don't ask the questions here, boy. I do." He paused. "But yes, both of them are well— and so far away that you will never hurt them again. The next time you see them will be when they testify against you before Arch-Mythic Rayalga."
A pit formed in Porter's stomach. "Testify? You mean..."
"Enough!" the man cut him off. "If you're not going to answer me willingly, then I'll force you to answer!"
He raised his hand, and a spark of blur fire appeared on the tip of his finger. The flame grew brighter, and Porter had to look away.
"This will hurt far more than your eyes if you keep playing games with me, Slayer," the man promised him. "It won't cause any lasting damage unless I want it to, but it will still be excruciatingly painful. How long until the other Slayers arrive?"
A cold sweat broke out on Porter's skin, and he pressed his back against the wall. The cell was so small that it didn't even put six inches of distance between him and the fire-handed man.
"I'm not a Slayer," he insisted. "There's been some mistake. I promise!"
"Very well, then," the man stepped up and closed the distance between them. Slowly, he extended his hand...
NEXT TIME: Commander Azkular, everybody! Our list of characters grows. The question is, is he a good guy or a bad guy? Oh, and Misoki's here too... that's cool, right? More importantly, how is Sarah going to bust Porter out of captivity? And what would it mean for her if she did?