Chapter Twenty Five

(POV: Sarah)

 

"You've never been to a city, have you?" Misoki asked, leading the way down the driveway.

 

"Just once," Sarah answered.

 

Misoki looked back at her, the amazement plain on her canine face. "You went to the city? I thought your dad said..." she paused. "Oh wait, this was after the attack, wasn't it?"

 

Sarah nodded. "And it involved a cage and a cattle prod."

 

Misoki's tail began to wag. "Well, this is going to be better, I promise!"

 

As they walked, a centaur passed them going the other way, and nodded amiably. A naga lounged with her tail curled around a lawn chair, basking in the artificial sunlight while a dryad stretched her branches to offer her a little shade. Some sort of woman with a spider for her lower body was watering her garden. Sarah couldn't stop herself from staring. She'd been around hundreds more Mythics than this at the Historians' Tower, but there was something different about seeing them walking around outside, living normal lives without worrying about who might see them. The strangest part, though, was that Misoki was still chattering away, as if this weren't the single most amazing thing in the entire world.

 

"This place has a ton of fun things to do," she was saying. "There's a movie theater, restaurants, sports fields, and lots of stores! Everything you buy is made here, of course, but you'd never be able to tell the difference."

 

"What about the movies?" Sarah asked. "Do they make those here, too?"

 

Misoki barked out a laugh. "No, but there's this thing called the internet where you can download movies for free."

 

Sarah frowned. "But that's against the..." she stopped talking and looked around again. "You know what? Never mind."

 

Misoki laughed again, and led her down another street. Now that they were in the town proper, there were even more Mythics walking the streets. A man with a jackal's face was wheeling a hot dog cart down the road, and the smell reminded Sarah that she hadn't finished her breakfast. She was about to suggest that they get one when a shadow passed overhead with the sound of flapping leather. Further down the street, a gigantic red-scaled dragon touched down in the middle of the road, folded its wings, and continued on its way on foot. Nobody gave it so much as a second glance.

 

Sarah stared openmouthed at it, her manners completely forgotten.

 

"Hello?" Misoki called, waving a paw in front of the sphinx's face. "Earth to Sarah! Are you in there?"

 

"I think I'm experiencing culture shock," Sarah mumbled in reply.

 

Misoki giggled and turned back in the direction they were going. "Well, come on! You're not gonna get used to it hiding in your parents' house all day!"

 

"I don't want to hide in my parents' house," Sarah retorted. "The whole reason I wanted to move here was so I'd never have to do that again."

 

"It'll lose its luster after a couple days," the werewolf said, skillfully winding her way through the crowd. Sarah, unaccustomed to being around so many people, bumped into several of them with every step, mumbling apologies the entire way.

 

At one point, she stepped sideways to avoid a lumbering man-elephant-thing, and ended up knocking a red haired woman with furry, pointed ears to the ground.

 

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!" Sarah said, her face turning scarlet with embarrassment. For a second, the miffed woman looked like she was going to yell at her, but when she got up and took a look at Sarah, she froze...

 

"You—" she stuttered, pointing a clawed finger at her, "you're Sarah Heisen!"

 

Hearing this, more than a few other Mythics turned to look.

 

"Sarah..."

 

"Sarah Heisen!"

 

"The sphinx!"

 

Sarah's face paled until it matched the whites of her eyes. All those eyes on her... she could feel them.

 

"Misoki," she mumbled timidly, "do... do they know me or something?"

 

Misoki scoffed and rolled her eyes. "Do they know you? Girl, everyone in Jellaska Kob Lertan knows who you are!"

 

Sarah looked at the werewolf in astonishment. "What? Why?"

 

"Because you're a freaking hero. Duh!"

 

Looking at the crowd again, which was beginning to grow larger as more Mythics came to see her, Sarah suddenly felt her knees grow weak.

 

"Misoki," she whispered, "I think I want to go home now."

 

Misoki laughed at this. "No chance! You just said you never wanted to hide in your parents' house again." She paused, and looked around. "Then again, maybe this isn't the best way to introduce you to city life. Come on, follow me!"

 

With that, Misoki took off running. The crowd instinctively parted to let her go, and Sarah, realizing what her friend was doing, chased after her. She heard a few disappointed mutterings as she did, but she didn't care. Misoki didn't stop running until they were a couple of blocks away, on a stretch of road that wasn't as crowded. She turned to look at her friend, tongue lolling out of her mouth as she panted.

 

"Why does everybody know who I am?" Sarah demanded, trying to catch her breath.

 

"Do you really have to ask?" Misoki retorted. "I mean, you only just marched into a Sanctuary with a Slayer!"

 

A chill ran down Sarah's spine, and she frowned. "Dad said nobody blamed me for that, though."

 

"They don't. Did that look like an angry mob to you?"

 

"But then what—"

 

"Sarah, you're a hero!" Misoki yelled, excitement lighting up her eyes. "You traveled with that Slayer for weeks, and you're still alive. You even managed to lead him into a trap!"

 

Hearing this, Sarah's temper began to rise again. "Misoki, I told you, Porter isn't a Slayer!"

 

"Well, whatever," Misoki turned to make her way down the street again. "Come on, let's keep going."

 

Sarah followed, but couldn't keep from suspiciously eyeing every Mythic they passed. After her lifetime of isolation, it felt profoundly wrong to be so widely recognized.

 

"Hey," Misoki exclaimed, her ears perking up, "this means I'm best friends with a celebrity!"

 

"Don't talk like that," Sarah argued. "I'm not a celebrity."

 

But the werewolf wasn't listening. "I bet we could use that somehow. Like, maybe people will give us free stuff!"

 

Sarah's gave her friend a withering glare. "Don't you dare!"

 

Misoki took off running. "Come on, there's a restaurant over here I've always wanted to try!"

 

"Misoki!" Sarah called after her, but was ignored. Faced with the prospect of being alone in a new city full of strangers who knew her name, Sarah gave in and followed her.

 

The walk to the restaurant took about ten minutes, and Sarah stubbornly refused to talk to her friend the whole time. When they arrived, she half expected them to throw Misoki out for violating a No Dogs rule or something, but the young werewolf trotted straight inside.

 

"Table for two, please," she said, putting her front paws on the hostess's lectern.

 

"Name?" the elf girl asked without batting an eye.

 

Misoki turned and gave Sarah a sly grin. "Sarah Heisen," she answered.

 

The elf froze when she heard the name, and almost dropped her pen. She looked at Misoki in confusion, and then finally noticed Sarah standing behind her.

 

"Uh, yes ma'ams!" she said, immediately grabbing a pair of menus. "We can seat you immediately. Right this way, please."

 

Looking utterly starstruck, she led them both to an empty table, promising that their waiter would be with them shortly.

 

"Unless..." she bit her lip in uncertainty. "Unless you want me to take your order."

 

"No, we're good," Misoki said, hopping into her seat. "Thanks!"

 

After thanking them for their business, even though they hadn't bought anything yet, the elf hurried back to her post.

 

"Did you see that?" Misoki asked, giving Sarah a wide eyed stare. "She didn't' even make us wait!"

 

Sarah scowled back at her. "That was wrong, Misoki. There were, like, ten other people here before us!"

 

Before they could argue further, a satyr appeared in front of their table.

 

"Can you get you ladies anything to drink?" he asked, skillfully whipping a notebook out of his apron.

 

"Iced tea," Misoki said. "And I want a peach slice in it instead of a lemon one."

 

"Can do." the satyr jotted that down in his notebook and turned to face Sarah. "What about you?"

 

Sarah found herself looking into his dark brown eyes. A pair of small horns rose above his neat, curly hair, which was almost the same shade as his eyes. Sarah felt a sudden, inexplicable blush rise to her cheeks.

 

"I- I'll just have a water, thanks," she said before burying her face in the menu.

 

"One tea, one water," the satyr boy said and walked off, his hooves clopping on the floor. "Be right back!"

 

"Ooh," Misoki cooed once he was out of earshot. "He's a cutie!"

 

Sarah didn't look up from her menu. "Yeah, if you like guys like him, I guess."

 

Misoki leaned over the table until her nose was directly under Sarah's face. "Well, I think he likes you!"

 

"And I think all that time you spent chasing your tail's finally driven you insane."

 

Misoki withdrew, and Sarah looked up when she heard the clink of a glass being set in front of her.

 

"Do you have your orders ready?" he asked. "Or do you need a little more time?"

 

"I want the steak," Misoki answered right off the bat.

 

"I, um, haven't decided yet," Sarah said. She knew she should stop looking at the satyr, but... he was handsome. Had she ever met another Mythic she could describe as handsome? Most of the Mythics at the Historians' Tower had been crusty old guys, living in too much candlelight and not enough sunlight.

 

Sarah expected him to walk away when she'd declined to give him her order. Instead, he stayed right where he was.

 

"So," he said after a few awkward seconds. He scuffed his hoof on the floor. "You're Sarah Heisen, right?"

 

Sarah's face turned even pinker, and she nodded. His face lit up in a smile.

 

"I've heard a lot about you," he said, his tone sounding like he was talking to a movie star. "People are saying you traveled more than a hundred miles just to get here!"

 

Is that what they're saying? Sarah wondered, dumbly.

 

"She sure did," Misoki answered.

 

The satyr leaned in closer in excitement. "Is it true you were being held captive by a Slayer the whole time?"

 

"He's not a—"

 

"Yeah!" Misoki exclaimed, her tail thumping rhythmically on the back of her seat. "And get this: she was taking care of a little chimera boy the entire way, too!"

 

The satyr was leaning so close now that he was almost nose-to-nose with Sarah. "That," he said in breathless wonder, "is freaking amazing."

 

He leaned back, much to Sarah's relief, and held his hand out. "My name's Joseph. I've lived here for almost five years. If you ever need anything, just let me know!"

 

Then, realizing that Sarah didn't have hands to shake, Joseph put his arm down.

 

"Joe, you on break?" a slimy looking creature called from the kitchens. "Quit gabbing with the customers and get back to work!"

 

Joseph grimaced and shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, duty calls," he said, and turned to leave. Then he stopped and looked at Sarah again. "Hey, would you like to, I dunno, hang out later or something?"

 

This time, Sarah was so stunned that she couldn't have answered if she'd wanted to.

 

"She would love to," Misoki answered for her. "Where and when?"

 

"Misoki!" Sarah hissed. The werewolf stuck her tongue out at her.

 

"Great!" Joseph said, his face lighting up again. "How about six o'clock, at the fountain in the middle of town?"

 

"Uh," Sarah grunted. Then, taking a moment to gather her wits, she said, "Sure, okay."

 

"Joe!"

 

"Coming!" This time when Joseph left, he looked so happy that Sarah thought he was going to click his hooves together.

 

 

 

(POV: Ozzie)

 

Ozzie was pacing back and forth across his room, wringing his hands, biting his lip so hard he was practically chewing on it, and wondering if there were any other stressful clichés he might be missing. As this was a very stressful time, he wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than the complete package. Incomplete or not, though, the fact remained that he was more agitated than he had ever been before.

 

After being out on in the field for two whole weeks, Red Castle felt like a prison. His dorm, which he had been instructed not to leave, was like a cell. By pacing, wringing, and biting, he had already stretched his list of possible pastimes to its limit. He could feel his brain rotting. Porter's absence only made things worse.

 

What was going on with Porter, anyway? It had been almost a week since the attack on the Historians' Tower, but Mortoph had been infuriatingly stingy with any information regarding Ozzie's best friend. The Master Slayer had been generous enough to say he was still tracking Porter's movements via the tracking stone, but... nothing else.

 

I gave him that stupid rock, Ozzie thought. The least he could do is tell me where it says Porter is!

 

Moaning dramatically, Ozzie put his forehead against the wall. Why did this keep happening to him? First his family, now Porter. How many people were the monsters going to take from him?

 

Unwanted memories began to rise up in Ozzie's mind. No, no, he couldn't let himself think about that.  Mortoph had told him not to...

 

"Sir? Where's my sister?"

 

With an angry shout, Ozzie spun around and kicked the only thing in the room that wouldn't break his foot: his bed. The mattress flew off of the bedframe, throwing the pillows against the wall. Something small and white fluttered through the air, catching his eye.

 

"No!" he gasped, suddenly realizing what he'd done. He dashed forward and grabbed it before it could touch the floor.

 

Gripping the thin, papery object tightly between his fingers, he slowly turned it over and looked at it. It was a photograph.

 

Suddenly, Ozzie was four years old again, sitting in front of Drake Mortoph's desk for the first time.

 

"I'm afraid your sister isn't with us anymore," the Master Slayer said, folding his hands solemnly in front of himself. "After the monster killed your father, it tracked down your sister and did the same to her."

 

Little Ozzie sat staring at the enormous man, dumbfounded.

 

"W-what?" he finally managed to stutter. "Why?"

 

"Because they're monsters, young man. That is all they do. That is all they know."

 

Back in the present, Ozzie realized there was nothing he could do to stop the memories from coming, or the unwelcome emotions that accompanied them. He could see the scene as clearly as if it was actually happening. The young Asian man leaned his back against the wall and slid down until he was sitting.

 

"I know you have suffered, Ozzie," Mortoph continued. "But all hope is not lost. You can keep other people from suffering the way you are."

 

Ozzie sniffled and rubbed his nose. "How?" he asked with big eyes that were red with tears.

 

Mortoph stood up. "There is a group of brave men who have made it their job to kill these monsters. I happen to be their leader. If you accept, Ozzie, then we will take you in as one of us. We will teach you to fight, and how to see the world for what it really is. Then, when you are older, you will hunt those monsters down and kill them."

 

There was power in Mortoph's words, enough to make Ozzie shiver. The Master Slayer terrified him, but in that moment Mortoph, with his arms rippled with muscle and his black coat hanging from his shoulders like a cape, looked like nothing so much as a superhero. It was so impressive that Ozzie momentarily forgot his grief.

 

But still, he hesitated.

 

Sensing the child's indecision, Mortoph leaned in closer and said, "If you help us, you can do your part to make sure no other little boys lose their dads and sisters."

 

And that decided it. Without another thought on the matter, Ozzie looked straight into Mortoph's chilling eyes and nodded his agreement.

 

Mortoph smiled, which only made him look even more terrifying, and took Ozzie by the shoulder. Ozzie stood up and let himself be led though a door in the other side of the room. On the other side were two more people: a tall, thin man with a red beard, and another child about Ozzie's age. When Mortoph entered the room, the bearded man looked up and nodded. Mortoph nodded in return, and the man left, shutting the door behind him.

 

"Ozzie," Mortoph said, directing him to stand in front of the other child, "this is Porter Collins. He, too, has just decided to help us. Porter, this is Ozzie Druid."

 

Both of them looked each other over, and exchanged wary hellos. From the moment he looked into Porter's eyes, Ozzie could tell there was something different about him. He was too young to understand what it was, but in the future he would realize it was because Porter looked at everything like an adult. Even when he was little, Porter Collins eyed everything with the same cold intensity as a grownup. And not just any grownup. Another grownup who happened to be in the room with them at that very moment...

 

"You both have had very similar experiences," Mortoph continued. "Ozzie, your father and sister were murdered by a satyr. Porter, your family died when a sprite lit your house on fire. Because of this, you two already see the world differently than most people."

 

Ozzie glanced at Porter. He couldn't imagine that they saw anything the same way.

 

"Starting now, you two are Slayers in Training. You will be training partners. Until the day comes that one of you, or both of you are promoted, you will do everything together. Where one of you goes, the other will follow. There will be no secrets between the two of you. In doing this, you will develop a bond that can never be broken. Not a friendship, a brotherhood. Someday, you will value that bond more than your own lives. Now, shake hands."

 

Porter's attitude hadn't been the only thing that made him different from Ozzie, as it turned out. On their first day of training, while Ozzie was still admiring how shiny his sword was, Porter had jumped to his feet and lopped the head off a practice dummy. Everything Ozzie tried to do, Porter was naturally ten times better. At first, Ozzie was jealous of his skills, but their friendship kept him from resenting Porter for it.

 

As the months went by, though, Ozzie's grief refused to go away. Porter managed to push through his feelings and use them to fuel his determination during training, but Ozzie's memories still haunted him. Even when he had come to terms with the death of his family, he could never shake the feeling that it was his fault. He had been the one to ask his dad to take him on his first hunting trip. Months and months of ceaseless begging had finally convinced Mr. Druid to agree. If Ozzie had just kept his stupid little mouth shut, none of this would have happened. But as horrible as he felt about his dad, his sister was even worse. Born as twins, she hadn't been a day older than Ozzie. Even at such a young age, Ozzie felt like her death was even more tragic than their father's. At least he had been a grownup.  She hadn't even been five years old— and it was all Ozzie's fault.

 

A year later, Mortoph called him back to his office.

 

"Young man," the Master Slayer said sternly, "it's time for you to let go of the past. I know it hurts, but you will never achieve your full potential if you're letting guilt weigh you down."

 

Ozzie looked at the huge man in confusion.

 

"I want you to forget about your sister."

 

Ozzie's eyes opened wide with shock. "But, sir, I—"

 

"This isn't up for debate, Ozzie," Mortoph cut him off. "That was an order! From this day forth, you never had a sister. Do I make myself clear?"

 

Ozzie may have only been five years old, but even he knew you never, ever argued with a direct order from the Master Slayer. He dutifully nodded his head, and was dismissed.

 

The memories didn't go away, though. Deep in his heart, Ozzie still hated himself for what he'd done to his sister. But one did not ignore Mortoph's commands, so instead of forgetting her he found another way to appease the Master: he smiled. When he smiled, nobody questioned him. The bigger the smile, the happier people would think he was. Even Mortoph was satisfied, so Ozzie smiled more and more, bigger and bigger, until people began to question his sanity. One day Porter accidentally broke Ozzie's leg in a training fight, but Ozzie had never stopped smiling. Maybe he was a little crazy. It didn't matter. So long as nobody saw what he kept hidden under his pillow, they would never know that his heartache was every bit as strong today as it was the day he'd joined the Slayers...

 

Slowly, with a trembling hand, Ozzie turned the photo over. On it were two small children, both holding BB guns and smiling wide, gap-toothed grins. If they hadn't been different genders, they would have been completely identical. In between them, written in black permanent marker, was, "Happy Birthday, Ozzie and Misty! Daddy Loves You!"

 

Despite his years of practice, Ozzie couldn't make himself smile when he looked at that picture. A tear trickled down his cheek.

 

"Misty," he whispered, running his thumb over his dead sister's image, "I'm sorry."

 

A knock came from Ozzie's door, and his head jerked up.

 

"Just a second, I'm in my underwear!" he yelled, scrambling to put his bed back together. The picture, as always, went back under his pillow. "Okay, come in."

 

The door opened, revealing Granger on the other side.

 

"Master Mortoph wants me to tell you that he knows where Porter is," the third-in-command Slayer reported. "The sphinx has led him into one of the monsters' hidden Sanctuaries."

 

Ozzie's eyes opened a little wider when he heard that.

 

"He wants to know if you want to join the attack team," the old man went on.

 

Porter was alive...

 

Ozzie could still save him...

 

"When do we leave?" he asked, flashing his trademark grin. He didn't smile because he was happy. He smiled because it was the only thing that could cover up his guilt.

 

 

 

(POV: Sarah)

 

"Everyone has one! Everyone wants to find theirs! Who is yours? Find out here!"

 

Sarah stopped in her tracks when the voice reached her ears. It sounded like a carnival barker.

 

"Who's that?" she asked, turning to look in the direction the voice was coming from. Across the street, she spied what was perhaps the strangest thing in Jellaska Kob Lertan— which was really saying something.

 

"Discover who destiny has chosen for you!" the gorgon hollered, waving his arms dramatically. He was dressed in multicolored rags, making him look like a gypsy, and the snakes that grew out of his head had been pulled back into a ponytail. "Using my proven, patented methods, I will look into your heart and soul and find the one you were born to be with. All this for an astoundingly low price! Come one, come all, and see Mogul the Magical Matchmaker!"

 

"Him?" Misoki snorted, coming to stand beside Sarah. "He's just a conman trying to make money. He does this every day. Come on, let's go."

 

Mogul was standing in front of a small brick building, on which the name of his business was written on a flashing neon sign. He continued to call to the people passing by him on the street, windmilling his arms so his loose, rainbow colored sleeves created an almost hypnotic pattern. He was almost seven feet tall, and as thin as a streetlamp. His skin was green, giving him a reptilian appearance. His eyes, which were lethal to look at, were covered by a pair of expensive looking sunglasses.

 

Mogul stopped when the last potential customer walked away, and then slumped against the side of his building, sighing.

 

"What are you staring at him for?" Misoki asked irritably. "Let's go before he—"

 

"You there!" Mogul called, pointing at the two of them. "Hello!"

 

Misoki growled, her fur bristling. "Great."

 

"Please come closer, don't be shy! I can see from all the way over here that you two are in search of lovers!"

 

"Lovers?" Sarah echoed, her face turning pink. "What do you..."

 

"Sarah, he's a matchmaker!" Misoki snapped, looking thoroughly annoyed. "What did you think he did?"

 

"Ah yes," Mogul said, grinning and beckoning them forward with one finger, "I think you are. Well, don't worry, because that is what I, Mogul, specialize in!"

 

Cautiously, Sarah took a few steps closer. Despite herself, she was a little interested in what the gorgon was offering. How, exactly, would one use magic to determine somebody's romantic interests?

 

"Let's go, Sarah," Misoki said, shooting him a venomous glare. "This hack is just trying to trick us out of our money."

 

"Hack?" Mogul protested, raising a hand to his nose. "I am no hack! I'll have you know I am a magician of the highest caliber."

 

"Yeah, and I'm Rayalga's great granddaddy," Misoki retorted, turning to walk away.

 

"No, wait!" Mogul begged her, running so he was standing in her way. "Please, don't go. You two are the only business I've had in weeks! If you stay, I'll- I'll give you a sixty percent discount, okay?"

 

Misoki raised her lips, showing off her canine teeth, and growled. "Get out of our way!"

 

"No, wait!" Sarah interrupted. She looked at Mogul, and couldn't help but feel sorry for him. It didn't seem fair that he would put so much effort into this, only to be ignored. "I- I want to see what he does."

 

Mogul's face immediately lit up again, and he dashed around them to hold his door open. "Please, ladies, step inside."

 

"Sarah, it's a scam!" Misoki protested.

 

Sarah managed to give her a smile. "Oh, come on. It might be fun!"

 

Sighing in resignation, Misoki rolled her eyes and followed Sarah into Mogul's shop. Inside, the walls were completely bare, and the only light came from a sputtering lightbulb dangling from a string from the ceiling. A bed lay against the far wall, next to a stove. The only other things in the room were a small table, and a large, dusty chest.

 

"Have a seat at the table," Mogul instructed, shutting the door behind them. He practically pranced over to the chest.

 

"Not too late to back out," Misoki whispered.

 

"That would be rude!" Sarah shot back. "Besides, how bad could it be?"

 

As the two girls sat down beside the table, Mogul opened the chest, releasing a thick cloud of dust. Misoki sneezed, and bared her teeth at him again. Mogul ignored her and pulled out a deck of cards before closing the lid.

 

"Now, which of you two lovely young women are going first?"

 

"Her," Misoki pointed her nose at Sarah. "I'm not paying for this crap."

 

Mogul ignored her sharp words and turned towards Sarah. Bending over the table, he spread the cards out in front of her like a dealer at a casino.

 

"Are those tarot cards?" she asked.

 

"Absolutely not!" Mogul huffed. "As if I would use something so drab in my business. These are Mogul Cards! I invented them myself."

 

"Um, okay," Sarah said, looking at them. The paper was yellowed, and moths had eaten some of the corners. Either Mogul was lying, or he was older than he looked. "What do I do?"

 

Mogul waved his hands mystically over the cards. "Just place your hand- er, paw on them, my pretty young sphinx, and they will peer into your heart and tell you exactly what kind of man would be perfect for you."

 

"I thought you said you would look into my heart and soul."

 

Mogul stopped waving. "Please, just touch the cards."

 

Misoki chuckled a little, and Sarah put her front paws on the table so she could reach. Reaching out, she put one paw on top of the cards.

 

Immediately, the cards burst into a blinding red light. Sarah, startled, backpedaled away from the table so quickly she nearly knocked it over. The cards began to play a strange song, and they lifted off the table.

 

"Ooh," Mogul exclaimed, clapping his hands like a little boy, "how interesting. I wasn't expecting this!"

 

The cards began to whiz around the table, creating an undulating red ring while the song grew louder and louder. This went on for a full minute, until the music abruptly stopped, and the cards came to a halt in midair. Slowly, the light died from all but three of them, and they drifted back to their original places on the table. The three that remained hovered there for a moment, and then drifted into Mogul's outstretched hand.

 

"Do you know what that means?" he asked, his face alight with excitement. Sarah shook her head. "My dear, that was a special trick I enchanted those cards to do. They will only sing and dance when they are touched by somebody who is already in love!"

 

Sarah stared at the obviously insane gorgon, and then shook her head. "I'm sorry, could you run that by me again?"

 

"Ooh, you're in love, Sarah?" Misoki exclaimed, her bad mood suddenly improved.

 

"No, of course not!" Sarah shot back, her face turning hot.

 

Mogul gave her a proud smile. "Let's see what the cards have to say, hmm?" He held them up in front of his face. "According to them, young lady, your perfect match has three distinct characteristics. He is strong, he is courageous, and he is innocent."

 

As Mogul said this, Sarah felt like her blood was turning into ice. Mogul looked from the cards to her, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

 

"If you're interested," he said a few seconds later, "there's something else I can do for you."

 

He set the cards down and turned to rifle through the chest again. This time, he pulled out a large ornamental mirror, which he set on the table as well. He picked up Sarah's cards again.

 

"If I touch the mirror with these cards, it would, for lack of a better word, scan the city until it found someone who meets your requirements. Then, it would show an image of them in the glass." He grinned. "Since you're already in love, it would show us who the lucky young man is!"

 

"No thank you!" Sarah immediately said, backing away from the table.

 

"Yes!" Misoki said, suddenly very interested in what the matchmaker had to say. "I want to see Sarah's loverboy!"

 

"No, seriously," Sarah insisted, shaking her head so violently it threw her hair in her face. "Don't do it, please. I don't want to know!"

 

"Oh, come on!" Misoki whined.

 

Sarah gave her a cold glare. "Just pay the man and let's go."

 

Mogul raised a finger. "I'm rather interested in finding out too. I know it's none of my business, but... if you let me do this, I won't charge you anything for my services today."

 

Luckily, their argument was interrupted when Mogul's door was thrown open. Sarah spun around to see a snooty looking fae marching up to them.

 

"Miss Sarah Heisen?" he asked, briskly.

 

"Uh, yes," Sarah replied.

 

"I have been sent by Commander Azkular, the Commanding Guardian of Jellaska Kob Lertan, to fetch you for questioning."

 

"Questioning?" Sarah echoed. "Questioning for wha... oh, you mean about Porter."

 

"Indeed," the fae nodded. "We have no time to waste. Please, follow me."

 

He turned and walked out of the shop without giving Misoki or Mogul a passing glance. Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. He couldn't have had better timing.

 

"Sorry," she said, trying to look as apologetic as possible when she turned back to Mogul, "but it looks like I've got somewhere to be. Thanks!"

 

With that, she turned and raced out the door as well, with Misoki right behind her. As she ran, three words repeated themselves over and over in her mind, chilling her to the bone.

 

Is it true?

 

 

 

(POV: Mogul)

 

Mogul watched disdainfully as his first two customers in weeks ran away— and without paying him, too! His anger was short lived, though, and was quickly replaced with curiosity. He looked down at the cards in his hand. Strong, courageous, and innocent. She said she didn't want to know who she was in love with. What kind of creature would say something like that?

 

Mogul rubbed his chin again in thought. Maybe it wasn't that she didn't want to know. Perhaps she already knew, but didn't want anybody else to find out.

 

The mirror was still sitting on his table.

 

"Oh, I shouldn't," he crooned, but he was already placing the cards on the glass. He had always been a gossiper. Snooping came as natural as breathing to him, especially when it came to things like this. That was, after all, why he had entered the matchmaking business.

 

The glass lit up for a few seconds, and then an image formed in it. Mogul froze, and then took his glasses off, convinced they were playing tricks on his eyes. But no, the picture remained exactly the same. Slowly replacing the glasses, Mogul backed away and sat down on his bed. Then, a grin slowly spread across his face.

 

"This," he whispered to himself, "is going to be exciting!"

 

 

 

NEXT TIME: What's going on? Sarah's in love? With what, a book? A LIVING THING?! I can't believe it. She grew up so fast! But I wonder how Porter's doing, all by his lonesome in the dungeon. Can his sphinxy friend do what he couldn't and convince Azkular that he's innocent?

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!

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