Chapter Twenty Six
"That didn't take long," Misoki remarked when she caught up with Sarah.
"What didn't?" Sarah asked, trying to keep her eyes on the snooty fae as they wove their way through the city crowd.
"Falling in love!" the werewolf exclaimed, her eyes lighting up amusement. "I mean, you only just met the guy an hour ago."
Sarah arched her eyebrow. "What the heck are you..." suddenly, comprehension dawned on her. "No, no, and no. Don't even go there!"
"Well, he was pretty hot," Misoki giggled.
"Just drop it," Sarah grumped, and focused on not running into anybody again. The fae was moving so quickly that she and Misoki could barely keep up, especially in the early afternoon crowd.
"Sarah's got a boyfriend, Sarah's got a boyfriend!" Misoki began to sing, prancing stupidly alongside her friend.
That was when Sarah's patience ran out. Whirling around, she advanced on Misoki until the wolf's rear was up against a wall.
"Will you SHUT UP?" she yelled.
Misoki stared at her friend in shock for a few seconds. "Sarah, what the heck? I'm just teasing you."
"Not like that," Sarah snapped. "Not right now. Knock it off and act your age!"
Shaking her head, Sarah turned around and started following the fae again, who had watched the argument with a haughty expression on his face. Sarah knew she shouldn't have yelled at Misoki like that, but between the stress of knowing Porter was in prison and Mogul's disturbing accusation, she found herself in no mood to put up with such immature antics.
Misoki followed behind her with her tail tucked between her legs.
"Strong, courageous, and innocent," the gorgon's words echoed in Sarah's mind.
Could it be true? Did she even want it to be true?
The sphinx walked in silence for the rest of the trip. The fae led them to the eastern side of Jellaska Kob Lertan, where the biggest building in town waited for them. Over a hundred feet tall, the Judgement Hall stood like a watchful sentry over the Sanctuary. The artificial sun reflected off the polished granite walls as the fae led them under a large archway and through a pair of heavy wooden doors.
Inside, the Hall was swarming with Mythics. Many obviously worked there, as they hurriedly pushed their way through the crowd with important looking stacks of paper in their hands. Others were lined up for their chance to report crimes or file complaints. The vast majority, to Sarah's dismay, were obviously there to see her.
"There she is!" one of them shouted, spearheading the charge to get to her.
Acting with trained reflexes, the fae pulled a glass cube out of his pocket and threw it on the floor between them and the oncoming horde. The cube shattered and let out a puff of smoke. Then, four panes of glass rose out of the floor, trapping the starstruck Mythics inside.
"Guard," the fae called, beckoning a blue clad toad-man over, "please remove them from the premises."
"Yes sir," the warty guard replied. He began to push the glass box towards the exit, ignoring the indignant protests of the admirers within.
"Apologies," the fae said, and then resumed his brisk walk through the Hall. This time the crowd parted before him almost eagerly. A minute later, he stopped outside a door displaying the word "Questioning" on a gold plaque and turned to face the girls. "Commander Azkular is waiting for you inside. He is the Guardian Authority of this city, so answer whatever questions he gives you with complete honesty."
Sarah and Misoki exchanged a glance as their escort left them standing there, and then Sarah put her paw on the door and pushed it open.
"Sarah!" a familiar voice exclaimed.
Sarah barely had time to register what was going on before Tick tackled her in a bear hug. He was dressed in clean shorts, a brand new t-shirt, and a shiny pair of tennis shoes.
"You're okay!" the little chimera cried, wrapping his arms around her neck like a life preserver. "They said you were, but I said I wouldn't believe them until I saw you!"
"I'm fine, Tick," Sarah comforted him, putting one paw on his shoulder. "Where have been all this time?"
Tick released her and pointed to two large Mythics standing in the corner. They were both covered in fur as white as that on Tick's tail.
"That's Mr. and Mrs. Luen," he answered. "They're yetis. I've been staying with them."
Sarah gave them a respectful nod. "Thank you for taking care of my friend."
"It's been our pleasure," Mrs. Luen said, returning the nod. "Tick tells us he doesn't know what type of Mythic his father was. We think he might have been a yeti."
Sarah looked from them to Tick, and noticed the boy's long, catlike tail twitching anxiously behind him. As far as she could tell, the Luens didn't have tails at all.
No, he's not, she thought with a pang of worry. Please don't get the poor kid's hopes up.
Suddenly, Tick's face lit up with alarm, and he grabbed Sarah by her shoulders. "Wait," he exclaimed, "if you're here, then Porter's here too, right? Where is he?"
"Don't worry," another creature said, stepping forward. Sarah jumped a little— she'd been so busy looking at the huge, fuzzy yetis that she hadn't noticed him. "The Slayer is somewhere he can't get to you."
He turned to Sarah and gave a deep, formal bow. "Ms. Heisen, my name is Azkular. I am in charge of keeping Jellaska Kob Lertan safe."
Sarah lowered her eyebrows and glared at the djinn. "Good," she said, putting as much venom in her words as possible. "I've got a few things I want to say to you!"
"I understand," Azkular said. "As soon as your parents arrive, we can—"
As if waiting for their cue, the door swung open again, and Sarah's parents came into the room.
"Oh, good!" her father said when he saw her. "We were worried you wouldn't be able to find your way here."
"You can see the place from the other side of the city," Sarah replied, rolling her eyes.
"Let's begin," Azkular said. He waved his hands, and a jet of fire came out of them. It separated into three smaller balls, which all lined up neatly and turned into chairs.
"Now that's impressive," Mr. Heisen said, raising his eyebrows in appreciation.
"Thank you," Azkular said. The Yuens and Tick took the three chairs, while the Heisens and Misoki sat down on the floor. Azkular, too, elected to sit cross-legged on the floor. "As I'm sure you already know, I brought you here to answer some questions for me before the Slayer's trial tomorrow morning."
Instantly, both Sarah and Tick were on their feet again.
"Trial?" Sarah asked. "Like, as a criminal?"
"Why?" Tick demanded.
Azkular looked at both of them, but elected to answer Tick. "Because being a Slayer is a terrible crime, one that all too often goes unanswered for."
Tick's mouth fell open in bewilderment. "Porter's a... Sarah, tell this guy he's crazy!"
"Tick!" Mr. Yuen scolded him. "Show Mr. Azkular some respect. He's a very good Mythic!"
Sarah's face grew hot, and she had to hold back the urge to snap at the yeti. Nobody got to scold Tick but her!
"It's all right, Tick," she said, sitting back down. "Calm down."
Tick gave her an uneasy look, but reluctantly took his seat again as well. He wasn't the only one worried by what the djinn said, but a plan was already forming in Sarah's head. If her parents wouldn't listen to her about Porter, then Azkular, the Guardian Authority of Jellaska Kob Lertan, would.
"I'm not saying anything," Tick said, curling up into a ball so that nobody could see his face.
"Come on, Tick," Mrs. Yuen encouraged him. "You'd be doing a very good thing."
"Because you want to kill my friend!"
An awkward silence descended on the room.
"I'll answer your questions," Sarah said, drawing the attention back to her. It's what she had to do. If she clammed up like Tick, nobody would ever hear the truth.
"Very good," Azkular said, conjuring a pen and notebook. "Just remember, the Slayer can neither hear nor hurt you, so please don't be afraid to answer honestly."
"Don't worry," Sarah said in a low voice. "I won't."
Azkular clicked the pen. "Did the Slayers attack your family's mansion?"
Sarah nodded. "Yes, they did."
"Can you describe the attack?"
Sarah shuddered, but allowed the memories to surface anyway. "My parents were gone. It was just me and my maid, Mrs. Rasta. She was going to make me dinner when the Slayers appeared. They set the mansion on fire, and killed Mrs. Rasta."
Behind her, Sarah heard her mother moan, but she kept talking.
"I ran away, but one of the Slayers chased me. He was about to kill me, but then a part of the house collapsed on him. I cast a teleportation spell, and got out of the house."
"That's my girl," her father murmured.
"It took me to a forest, but it turned out that I had accidentally brought the Slayer with me."
Azkular paused and looked over the top of his notebook at her. "Can you identify the Slayer?"
Here it was, she realized. The moment of truth. If she told them Porter's secret now, she would have to talk fast to tell them the rest of the story. She couldn't let them all leave the meeting still thinking Porter was a cold blooded murderer. If she did that, he would be sentenced to death at the trial the next morning. She had to convince them that he had changed.
"It was Porter."
Tick, who had kept his face buried between his knees the whole time, suddenly looked up at her in horror.
"I'm sorry, Tick," she spluttered, suddenly feeling absolutely rotten. With three words, she had just destroyed everything the little boy knew. "But listen, I—"
"No!" he screamed, pounding his little fists into the chair. "You're lying! I thought we were friends!"
"We are friends!" Sarah insisted.
"Shut up, you dirty traitor!" With that, Tick jumped to his feet and ran out of the room.
"Tick, where are you going?" Mrs. Luen shouted, chasing after him. Her husband followed hot on her heels. "Come back here!"
I shouldn't have done that, Sarah thought, her heart sinking into her stomach.
Azkular was hurriedly jotting down notes. She would make it up to Tick later, she decided. For now, she still had to convince the djinn of Porter's innocence.
"After I saw him there," she began again, but Azkular stood up, cutting her off.
"Thank you, Sarah, but you've given me more than enough evidence." He bowed to her again. "You've been a big help, and you have my appreciation."
"Wait, what?" Sarah exclaimed, getting to her paws as well. "But I'm not done yet. So much more happened after that, and—"
"That's all right," the djinn said, letting the pen evaporate into smoke. The notebook, he put into his pocket. "Vesper has already given me the details of what happened in his camp, and Rayalga informed me of the fate of the Historians' Tower."
Sarah's face turned pale.
"To think, not only did the Historians' Tower exist," her father said from behind her, "my own daughter went there!"
"Besides," Azkular continued, "I know these are painful memories for you. I won't force you to relive every single one of them."
"Sarah," her mother snapped, "don't argue with Azkular! He knows what he's doing."
Sarah's throat constricted as she realized how futile arguing would be. Azkular and her parents had already made up their minds about Porter. It didn't matter what she said, she would never convince them that he was anything but an evil, murdering Slayer.
"The trial will be held tomorrow morning," Azkular said, heading for the door. "I would like you to testify against the Slayer. I would prefer that Tick do so as well, but I don't think he's in any state to tell an entire city everything the Slayer did to him— and with the Slayer right in front of him, no less."
He'd do a better job than I did, Sarah thought, miserably.
Her mistake, she realized, was telling them what they wanted to hear before what they needed to hear. She should have begun with all the good things Porter had done. Then, maybe, they would have reconsidered.
Maybe, she thought as she looked into the djinn's hard blue eyes, but probably not.
"You did well, Sarah," Mr. Heisen said once Azkular had left. "I'm proud of you. Come on, let's go home."
He led the way out of the Judgement Hall, but Sarah wasn't paying attention. She was too deep in thought to admire the impressive building now. By saying what she had, she had signed Porter's death warrant. Sarah felt wretched, like... like a traitor.
"I'm sorry, Porter," she whispered, unnoticed by her family. "I'm sorry!"
"I think you'll be disappointed to know that Sarah has confirmed what I already knew," Azkular said, standing above Porter in the tiny cell.
Porter looked up at him in shock. "What?"
The djinn folded his arms in triumph. "I just spoke with her, and she freely admitted that you were the Slayer who attacked her mansion."
Porter stared at him, and then slowly shook his head. "No, you're lying. She wouldn't say that."
But he knew, even without Azkular's insistence, that he was telling the truth. There was so much hatred in those eyes. No room left for dishonesty.
"I'll give you my offer one more time," Azkular said. "Tell me where the Slayers are coming from and when they'll arrive, and I'll appeal for you to not to receive the death sentence tomorrow."
But Porter wasn't listening anymore. With Azkular's revelation, the last remaining walls around Porter's heart had collapsed. His spirits were so low that he felt like he would sink into the prison wall and turn to stone. In fact, he would have welcomed it if that had happened.
"Just go away," he mumbled, staring unblinkingly at the floor.
Azkular glared at him, but obviously knew he wasn't going to get anything else out of him. Without another word, he turned and left, slamming the heavy stone door behind him.
"Do you want to know why you trusted her?" Other Porter asked, swaggering into Porter's view.
"I don't want to talk to you," the young man said, his eyes dropping to the floor again.
Other Porter sniggered, and then sat down across from him.
"It's because you're an idiot," he answered. "Only an idiot would listen to what a monster said and believe it."
Normally, Porter would have jumped up and demanded that Other Porter take that back, but now he couldn't even summon the energy to make eye contact with his double.
Other Porter leaned in closer, a wicked grin on his face. "But I'm not. I saw through their lies from the start. I tried to tell you, but you wouldn't listen to me." He spread his arms wide. "Well, look where that got you!"
"She's my friend," Porter said, so quietly that, if Other Porter hadn't been inside Porter's head, he wouldn't have heard it.
"And what a wonderful friend she is! You saved her life so many times, but she couldn't even return the favor by telling you the truth." He spat on the floor. "Some friend!"
"She must have had a reason!"
"Of course she did. You burned down her house! She brought you here so she could see you be killed, just like you did to her maid."
He paused, and a chill ran down Porter's spine. Whatever Other Porter was planning to say next, it was going to be important.
"There's still hope, though. You might be trapped like a rat in this box, but I wouldn't be."
Porter looked up at him, but didn't say anything. Other Porter smiled, knowing he had gotten his attention.
"Yeah, that's right. I can get us out of here. We'd be free of this cell and that stupid sphinx. All you have to do is..." he let his voice trail off, savoring the suspense.
"What?" Porter asked. He knew he shouldn't be listening to him, but... actually, he wasn't sure what he knew anymore. The whole world had just been turned upside down. Everything Sarah had ever told him was looking more and more like a load of lies. Maybe it would be best to just be rid of her...
"All you have to do is give me control," Other Porter answered. "I get my body back, and you get to be the imaginary friend again. You'll stay in the back of my head, you'll never speak to me, and you'll never try to take my life away from me again. Got it?"
To Porter's surprise, he actually found himself considering Other Porter's offer. He was tired. Sarah had betrayed him, if Commander Azkular was to be believed. What reason did he have to stick around? It would be nice to rest for a while, let somebody else do the thinking, the decision making. If Other Porter could really get them out, then...
Then that would mean he really was a Slayer. And if he was a Slayer, then would Other Porter be able to resist going after Sarah? And if he was locked inside his own head, Porter wouldn't be able to do a thing about it.
"No," he finally answered.
Other Porter frowned, obviously not having expected Porter to refuse.
"Think about it," his twin insisted. "I know things I'm sure you'd love to remember."
Porter shook his head. "If I really was a Slayer, then I don't want my memories back. You can keep those to yourself."
Other Porter cackled. "Oh no, that's not even the half of it. I remember things now that I didn't know even before the accident. Important things!"
Other Porter looked up at the ceiling, as if reminiscing.
"And boy, let me tell you, you have led one seriously screwed up life."
"What do you mean?"
Other Porter grinned. Porter was taking the bait like a starving fish. Even Porter knew that. He just didn't have it in him to care anymore.
"I'll give you a hint, just so you'll consider my offer" Other Porter said, tapping his chin in idle thought. "There was more leading up to your joining the Slayers than Mortoph ever told you, or anyone. Much, much more."
Porter slowly rose to his feet. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Sorry," Other Porter waved his hand, "that's all you get for free. If you want any more, you know what it'll take."
Again, Porter was tempted to give in and let Other Porter take over. If Sarah, his best friend, had really abandoned him, then he was only waiting here to die. Maybe he could convince Other Porter to leave Sarah alone. Other Porter could break them out of prison, and they'd escape. He'd never see Sarah again, but maybe that was exactly the way it needed to be.
There was just one thing that kept nagging him...
"If I do that," he said, slowly, "then I want you to promise me one thing."
Other Porter snorted, but shrugged. "Yeah? What's that?"
"Leave Sarah alone."
Other Porter frowned. "Why do you still care about her? Look what she's done to you!"
"It doesn't matter," Porter shot back. "I promised I would protect her. Even if she did this on purpose, I'm not going to break that promise."
Other Porter stared at him for a few seconds, and his frown slowly turned into a scowl. "Forget the promise! You made that promise to a friend, not someone who would set you up like this."
Porter shook his head. "That's my condition. Take it or leave it."
Other Porter opened his mouth like he wanted to say something, but then stopped. He put his hands in his pockets and casually walked to the cell door. It only took him one step.
"You really don't look like you're in any position to be making demands," he mused, inspecting the door.
Porter clenched his fists, fighting back the building frustration. Lashing out at his clone wouldn't do him any good. Even if he tried to hit him, Other Porter was just a figment of his imagination.
"Take it," he said again, "or leave it."
Other Porter hesitated a moment, and then shrugged again. "Fine, whatever. I promise I won't hurt your precious sphinx-y friend."
But even that didn't calm Porter's nerves. Looking into Other Porter's eyes, he could see the hatred and cruelty inside them. He thought back to the first time he'd ever seen the Other Porter...
"I'm going to break out, I'm going to put you back where you belong, and then I'm going to kill your friends."
If Porter was locked away inside his own head, the same way Other Porter was, he would have no way to intervene if Other Porter broke his promise. Maybe Other Porter was so desperate to be free that he'd leave the sphinx behind, but there was no way Porter could be absolutely sure of that. Other Porter had just encouraged him to break his promise to Sarah. How much weight did his own promise carry?
In the end, there was only one option, he realized. Stay right where he was, and keep Other Porter there with him. Do that, even if that meant going willingly to his own death. After all, he'd been willing to die for Sarah before. Why should this be any different?
With new determination rising up inside him, Porter looked his dark side straight in the eye.
NEXT TIME: Sarah's not doing too well without Porter there to help, is she? Can't fault her good intentions, but this time they might LITERALLY take Porter to hell! She's only got a few precious hours left to prove Porter's innocence... and don't look now, but the Slayers are on their way, too!