Chapter Twenty Nine
Azkular's voice seemed to echo through the courtroom. I request that Sarah Heisen be brought to the stand.
Sarah's face went pale, and she could feel every eye in the massive room turn to her. This was what they'd been waiting for. The main event in today's entertainment.
Moving with robotic stiffness, Sarah got to her paws and walked to the stand. Everything seemed to go silent in the courtroom, and she swore the Mythics in the back row could hear the click of her claws echoing on the hard floor.
"What," the Arch-Mythic asked as she took her seat facing the jury, "is your name?"
"Sarah Heisen," she answered, as if anybody in the room, or the entire city, didn't know her name.
"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"
Sarah looked at Porter, who was staring back up at her with eyes as hollow as Vesper's testimony. He hadn't quite given up yet, but it all depended on her now. Whatever she told the jury would decide his fate, and there would be no going back to fix things if she messed up. She swallowed, imagining her fear sliding into her stomach where it couldn't reach her.
Don't worry, Porter. I'll save you, just like all the times you've saved me.
"I do," she finally answered.
Azkular was back in his element now that Lowatai was gone. With his arms folded in front of his chest, he looked sternly down at her.
"Is Porter Collins a Slayer?"
This was it. Doubts and second thoughts flew through her mind in a chaotic tornado of uncertainty.
"What Porter and Lowatai told you was true," she began, hesitantly. "He woke up in the middle of the forest with his leg broken and his memories erased."
Another chorus of mutterings erupted from the gathered Mythics.
"Order!" Rayalga commanded, and they fell quiet again. "Continue, Sarah."
"I was there too. I bound his leg as best I could, and we traveled together. A day later, we found Lowatai's camp."
Sarah was choosing her words as carefully as a bomb squad would choose which wire to cut. If she said the wrong thing, the jury would declare Porter guilty and the whole thing would be over.
"The day after that, Porter was kidnapped by a tribe of goblins, but a Soul Smith named Droma freed him. Droma agreed to help us get to Jellaska Kob Lertan."
Azkular held up his hand to stop her. "Didn't Lowatai give you directions while you were at her camp?"
Sarah nodded. "Yeah, but we still didn't really know where we were going. When the goblins sidetracked us, we lost our way. Droma knew the woods better than anybody else, so he decided to help us."
Azkular narrowed his eyes. "Did Porter force Droma to help you?"
Do you think I'm going to incriminate two of my friends in one day?
"No, it was his idea in the first place," she answered, and then returned to her story. "It wasn't even a day after that that I tried to get a look at a human town, and I got caught by a Mythic slave trader."
This seemed to catch Azkular's attention. "And how did you escape?" he asked.
"Porter rescued me."
Just like she'd expected, this revelation caused an even bigger stir in the jury. The evil, murderous Slayer actually rescued a helpless Mythic girl from a slave trader? What was the catch, they were wondering? There had to be a catch!
Perfect, Sarah thought. Her plan was working. With every piece of her story, she was chiseling away a bit of the jury's expectations. Hopefully by the time she was finished, they'd be ready to change their minds.
"He rescued Tick while we were there too," she added for good measure. "A couple of days after that, Droma brought us to the Historians' Tower."
"The tower that fell because of a Slayer attack, correct?" Azkular asked, trying to bring the testimony back on his terms.
"Yes," Sarah didn't bother denying it. "A Slayer had been following us, and he told the others where the tower was. When they attacked, Porter protected me and Tick. It's because of him that we got away alive."
The djinn looked long and hard at her for a few seconds, trying to understand what she was doing. Sarah could see the confusion in his fiery blue eyes. Why was she saying so many nice things about the Slayer? Didn't she want to see him die as much as everybody else?
"From there, Flicker guided us the rest of the way to the Sanctuary," Sarah concluded her story.
"Who is Flicker?"
"The Kalion sword Lowatai gave Porter," she clarified. "It kept us on the path to the mountain, since Droma wasn't there to help us anymore."
Azkular crossed his hands behind his back again. "Is there anything else you would like to tell the jury?" She could hear the anger in his words. It made her both happy, and afraid of what he might do if she pushed him too far. But she had to do it, didn't she? Porter's life depended on it.
"No, that's it," she answered, shaking her head. "Once we got here, you all ambushed him and threw him in jail."
She looked Azkular directly in the eye when she said that, but on a whim she looked away and raked her eyes over the entire jury as well. Sure enough, she could see many of the Mythics squirming guiltily in their seats. And how could they not? Sarah had just accused them all of knocking an innocent boy unconscious and locking him in a cell. They should be ashamed!
But Azkular still had one trick up his sleeve, it turned out. Stepping so that he was blocking Sarah's view of the jury, he said, "I must admit that I'm confused, Sarah. You told us everything that happened since the attack at your mansion, but you never answered my question." He leaned forward so his shadow fell over her. "Is Porter Collins a Slayer?"
Sarah's blood turned to ice inside her veins. She couldn't dodge the question anymore. Whatever she said next would decide Porter's fate.
"Yes," she said through her constricted throat, "Porter is a Slayer."
A thump came from in front of her, and Sarah looked around Azkular to see that Porter's head had fallen, striking the table. This time, nobody made a move to pick him up again.
Azkular smiled and back away. "No more questions, your honor."
"But that's not all he is!" Sarah blurted out before she could be told to retake her seat. "Porter's also the bravest, kindest person I've ever met, Mythic or not!"
"Sarah," the Arch-Mythic said, "you have said enough."
"No, I haven't!" she shot back, glaring at the big bird straight in the eye. This, more than anything else she'd said, seemed to shock the jury. She had just defied the Arch-Mythic himself— and to defend a Slayer, no less.
"He's saved my life more times than I can count," she shouted, feeling like a dam had burst inside of her. The truth had to be released, and the only way out was through her mouth. "He fought the goblins, he fought the slave trader, he even fought another Slayer who said he was his best friend! He's not a Slayer, he's a hero, and I... I..."
"You have to tell them," Mogul's words echoed in her mind yet again. Suddenly, it all became crystal clear to her, and she knew what she had to do. She took a deep breath. If she said this, there would be no going back— ever.
"And I love him!" she shouted at the top of her lungs.
Silence fell over the courtroom again. Porter was looking up at Sarah now, the disbelief just as plain on his face as on the jury's.
"Porter," she said, speaking directly to him now, "I wasn't lying when I said you're not a Slayer. You might have been before, but you've changed, and I love the man you've changed into!"
Porter blinked twice, but couldn't have replied if he'd tried.
"Sarah," Rayalga said, finally regaining his composure, "take your seat!"
This time, she obeyed. Now that her adrenaline charged rant was over, she could no longer ignore a direct command from the Arch-Mythic. Besides, she thought as she stood up and padded back to her table, she'd said what she'd needed to.
To her satisfaction, even Rayalga seemed shaken by her speech, but he hid it well and raised his head to speak to the jury.
"Go, and make your decision."
Azkular stood beside the Arch-Mythic's podium, fuming. It was only with his utmost concentration that he was able to keep his fire from leaking out of his skin.
What was that stupid sphinx up to, he wondered? If anybody had the right to see the Slayer's head roll across the floor, it was her. But... claiming she loved him in front of the entire city?
There's something I'm not seeing here, he thought in frustration. She's trying to incriminate him further with this, but how?
Playing the Stockholm Syndrome card seemed most likely to him. Then again, maybe it wasn't a ploy at all. Thinking back, he recalled all the times she had insisted that Porter was innocent. The chimera child, Tick, had done the same. Was it possible that the Slayer had brainwashed two Mythics in the few weeks it had taken him to get to the Sanctuary? Perhaps even three, he thought with a chill when he remembered what Sarah had said about the Soul Smith.
He looked at Sarah, who was sitting, staring unblinkingly at Porter. The Slayer, for his part, looked utterly lost between his despair and his confusion. But the look in Sarah's eyes... Azkular could find no lies in them.
Is it possible, he thought, that she actually—
Before he could finish that thought, he caught sight of a lone dwarf running toward the front of the room. Azkular's first, battle forged instinct was to assume the dwarf was attacking the Arch-Mythic, but he repressed his urges and merely glared at the interloper.
"What is it?" he demanded. The dwarf, who was wearing the blue uniform of the Sanctuary's police force, snapped him a salute and bowed before the Arch-Mythic.
"Your Commander asked you a question," Rayalga growled. "I am in no mood for interruptions, so this had better be important."
"It- it is," the dwarf answered, fidgeting nervously with the end of his beard. "Captain Banhusk told me to report this straight to Commander Azkular."
Azkular's fiery heart sank into his stomach before the dwarf had even made his report. He already knew what it was going to be...
"We've found them, sir. They're only a few miles away from the mountain."
Sarah's tail thrashed back and forth across the floor behind her, and her heart was beating a mile a minute. Any minute now, the jury would make its way back into the courtroom and announce their decision.
That wasn't the only reason, though. Now that she was back on the floor, she could barely believe what she'd said up in the stand. She had just declared her love for Porter, the same Slayer this trial was being held for, in front of the entire Sanctuary's population! She felt like she was simultaneously going to explode from embarrassment and melt into a puddle in relief. The funny thing was, she didn't regret saying it. Not one little bit.
And she really did feel relieved, she realized. All this time, she'd been harboring these feelings inside of her, so deep down that even she didn't know about them. Now they were out in the open, and every Mythic in Jellaska Kob Lertan knew how she felt. She wasn't sure how this would effect the trial, but she held onto hope. No sane Mythic would fall in love with a cruel, sadistic Slayer, would they? Having confessed her love for him, they'd be forced to reconsider what they thought about him. And then maybe, just maybe, Porter would get out of this alive.
I wonder what Porter thinks about this, she thought, her eyes never leaving the young man on the other side of the room. She tried to get a bead on his feelings, but he wouldn't meet her eyes for more than a second at a time.
Did he hate her, she wondered? She wouldn't blame him, truth be told. After spending the past two days in prison, suffering whatever twisted tortures Azkular chose to put him through, it must have been a shock to suddenly be dragged outside, just for his best friend to tell the entire city that she was in love with him. No, she wouldn't blame him at all... even though the thought that he might made her want to take her claw and slit her throat right then and there.
It's true, she thought, taking a deep breath as Porter looked up at her for another couple seconds. I don't know when it happened, or where, but I really am in love with him. And it's just like Mogul said: he's strong, courageous, and innocent.
A dwarf came up to say something to Rayalga and Azkular. She couldn't hear what he was saying, but the djinn's eyes suddenly went wide. Rayalga kept his composure, but Sarah could still the stiffness in the nod he gave the Commander. Without a word, Azkular ran out of the courtroom at a dead sprint. Before Sarah could think about what that meant, though, the jury began to file back into the room and take their seats.
Sarah's blood turned to ice. This was it.
"Jury," Rayalga said once everyone was seated, "have you reached a decision?"
A single Mythic, a centaur sitting in the front row, stood up to address the Arch-Mythic. "We have, your honor," he said. "We have decided..."
Sarah's breath caught in her throat, but it didn't matter. She couldn't have breathed right then anyway. The tension was so thick that she would have choked and suffocated on it. An unearthly silence fell upon the courtroom as they waited for the centaur to either free Porter, or condemn him to die. Even Porter had turned around to look, his eyes wide with anticipation.
"That we find Porter guilty of the crime of being a Slayer," he finally concluded.
Suddenly, it felt like the floor had been pulled out from under Sarah's paws. Everything she'd done... had it really been for nothing?
"No!" she screamed jumping to her paws. She didn't' care what the jury, Azkular, or even the Arch-Mythic himself said. If they wanted to kill Porter, then they'd have to kill her to get to him!
But the centaur wasn't done yet.
"In addition," he said, giving the sphinx a sharp look, "we find Sarah Heisen guilty as well, for conspiring with the Slayers and betraying her people."
Sarah froze, staring at the centaur in confusion. Her brain fizzled in her skull, trying to wrap itself around what had just happened. Had... had he just passed judgement on her too? Was that even allowed? She looked up at Rayalga, hoping he would set the jury straight, but instead he nodded.
"As judge and Arch-Mythic," he said, his authority washing over the courtroom again, "I accept the verdict. Arrest her!"
The next thing she knew, half a dozen Mythic guards were surrounding her. They swept her legs out from underneath her, making her fall painfully on the hard floor, and shackled her paws together. It was a very neat, efficient procedure, as if they had planned it out before the sentence had even been passed.
Across the room, upside down from her perspective, Sarah saw Porter jump to his feet to help her. The sasquatch guard that had escorted him in swung its massive fist down, punching him so hard in the stomach that Sarah was sure it must have cracked his ribs. The young man's eyes bugged out of his head, and he fell to his knees.
No! Sarah thought as she was forced back to her paws. No, this isn't happening. This can't be happening!
"Take them away!" Rayalga commanded.
A guard behind her prodded her forward, and she was forced to walk. It was slow and awkward with the shackles around her legs, and she had to walk slowly to keep from tripping over the chains. That was the point— to keep dangerous criminals like her from making a run for it.
Turning toward the jury, Sarah frantically searched for her parents in the sea of Mythics. They were nowhere to be found, though, covered up behind the countless other people who had sentenced not only Porter to death, but her as well.
Sarah felt like screaming. She felt like collapsing on the courtroom floor and bawling like a baby. Instead, she kept walking, keeping her eyes on the back of Porter's head as they were led from the room.
Then the door slammed shut behind them, sealing Sarah off from her parents, her freedom, her... everything.
NEXT TIME: Holy... Freaking... Crap. Did that just happen? That just happened. Sarah just went to celebrity to criminal in, like, five seconds. What's going to happen to them now? Also, it looks like our favorite genie finally located the Slayers. That can't have helped Porter's case. Can he deal with them before they get to the mountain? What do you think?