“Weapons at the ready,” Granger ordered.
Porter raised his wooden sword, pointing it at the young man facing him from the other side of the mat. The other boy drew his own sword with a dramatic flourish, grinning at him.
“Begin!” Granger said, waving his hand and stepping backwards off the mat.
The other boy made the first move, his slanted eyes gleaming eagerly as he darted forward. Porter knocked his attack aside with a swing of his sword, and then rapped him on the shoulder.
“One strike!” Granger declared, holding up a finger on his right hand to keep score.
Porter’s opponent grinned, taking a couple steps back. Porter let him do it, and then held his sword out in a defensive position. The Asian boy rushed at him again, ducking to anticipate a head strike while thrusting his weapon up towards Porter’s chest. Porter stepped out of the way, and then smacked the other boy on the head.
“Two strikes,” Granger announced, holding up another finger.
Chuckling under his breath, Porter’s opponent retreated back to the other side of the mat and took up a ready stance.
“You want to make the first move?” Porter offered.
In answer, the Asian boy took a step out, threw himself onto the ground, and somersaulted past Porter. Porter spun around and deflected the attack as the Asian boy rolled back to his feet. The boy swung again at Porter’s chest, and their wooden blades crossed. They stayed like this for a few seconds before his opponent abandoned the contest of strength. He dropped to the floor, swinging his leg out in an arc, and knocked Porter’s feet out from under him.
Son of a… Porter thought as he fell. At the last moment, his free hand shot out, catching him. He thrust upwards, sending his entire body into the air, and flipped so that he landed on his feet. As he descended, he swung his sword again, slamming it onto the Asian boy’s head a second time.
“Three strikes!” Granger declared, holding up a third finger. “Porter wins!”
The Asian boy sat on the mat for a few seconds, stunned, before shaking his head and grinning up at Porter.
“I have a taught you well,” he said, rubbing his head.
“Yeah,” Porter said, a smile rising to his own face, “you wish you were good enough to teach me that.” He held out his hand and helped the other boy up. “Good fight, Ozzie. You’re getting better.”
“Oh, big deal,” Ozzie said dramatically, dropping his weapon on the floor. “I may as well be fighting the wind.”
“Would you like some advice, Ozzie?” Granger said, stepping forward to pick up the discarded sword.
“I think I have an idea how I could beat him,” Ozzie replied. He held his hands out dramatically. “I could catch him while he’s asleep, chain him from the ceiling by his toes, and then skin him alive.”
Granger gave Ozzie a stern look, and the boy paled a bit. “Not funny?” he asked, sheepishly.
“It may have been,” Granger said, “if I weren’t afraid you would actually do it.”
“Of course I wouldn’t!” Ozzie said defensively. “Not to Porter, anyway.” He hooked his elbow around Porter’s neck. “Me ‘n him? We’re like brothers.”
“Is that the only reason?” Porter teased him, slipping easily out of the headlock.
Ozzie shrugged. “Sure, I guess there’s the thing about you somehow breaking out and stabbing me with every pointy object in a mile radius, but… you know, details.”
“Those details will mean the difference between life and death in the field, Ozzie,” Granger said, bringing the discussion back on point. “You must be prepared for anything.”
“I’ll work on it,” Ozzie promised before grabbing Porter’s elbow and towing him towards the door.
“You need to be more respectful,” Porter snapped, jerking his arm away from him. Even if Ozzie was his best friend, he had to learn how to behave around his superiors. When he looked at the old Slayer, though, he caught a flash of a smile behind his bushy red beard.
“Care to fight someone closer to your own level, Porter?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Porter answered, eagerly making his way back to the mat. He retrieved the sword he’d used before and turned to face Granger. Granger picked out a wooden blade curved to look like a katana, his weapon of choice.
“You’re gonna get your butt kicked, dude,” Ozzie called from the sideline, sounding eager to see it happen.
“We’ll see,” he replied. “Keep score.”
“Ready, Porter?” Granger asked. Porter held out his sword and nodded.
Granger leaped into action immediately, taking a step towards Porter and swinging his sword. Porter reflexively raised his own to defend himself, but realized what the old man’s plan was when their weapons did not touch. Granger diverted his attack at the last second, fluidly redirecting himself from an overhead strike to a lower one. Porter barely had time to block that one before it struck his sword so hard that it vibrated his arms.
Granger let his blade slide smoothly off of Porter’s and began another attack. This was his signature fighting style, where every single movement transitioned perfectly into the next one. He moved as gracefully as a dancer, his sword nothing less than an extension of his arm. Porter managed to block two more attacks before the old man finally landed one on his shoulder.
“Point for Granger!” Ozzie shouted, waving his scorekeeping hand wildly above his head.
The rest of the match didn’t last long. Granger moved in patterns predictable only to himself, striking blows on Porter wherever he was open. Porter didn’t land a single hit on him. He wasn’t upset, though. Granger was, after all, the third-in-command Slayer. Even if Porter was the youngest Slayer to be promoted in generations, he was still nowhere near Granger’s level.
“Good fight, Porter,” Granger said, shaking his hand. “You’re more than a match for most people three times your age.”
“Still no match for you, sir,” Porter said respectfully.
Granger chuckled good naturedly. “Keep practicing. Skill comes with practice just as wisdom comes with age.” He paused. “Though I will say this: even I wasn’t as good as you are now when I was your age.”
Porter fought to keep his face from breaking out into a huge grin. Porter had a lot of respect for Granger— some might even say the old man was his hero. But Porter was a Slayer. He was above childish things like that.
“Let’s go,” Ozzie urged him, grabbing his friend by the shoulder and dragging him out of the room.
“I can walk by myself,” Porter said, brushing Ozzie’s hand off. “And you need to show Granger more respect.”
“I respect him,” Ozzie shot back. “I haven’t tried to shave his beard off yet, have I?”
Porter groaned and rolled his eyes. The irritation didn’t last, though. The two young men had known each other almost all their lives, and were brothers in every way except blood. Porter had heard it said more than once that it was amazing how the two of them could be so close, being as different as they were. Porter was cold and determined while Ozzie was lighthearted and immature. And, in Porter’s opinion, the rumors that Ozzie was going insane were more than just rumors. Ozzie’s earliest memory was of his father being killed by a satyr while on a hunting trip, and it had done a number on his psyche.
In truth, that was the experience that brought him and Porter together. At about the same age, Porter’s family had been killed when a mischievous fairy had set his house on fire. As horrible as it was, those ordeals had allowed the two of them to bond together, forming a friendship stronger than two people with such huge differences had any right to have. In fact, that was the one thing most of the Slayers had in common: they had all suffered somehow because of the monsters. And they all had the Master Slayer, Drake Mortoph, to thank for opening their eyes to the real workings of the world. Master Mortoph was the one who brought them to Red Castle, trained them, and gave them a place within the Slayers’ ranks. Porter was honored to serve under him.
“Are you done drooling yet?” Ozzie sniggered as he unlocked the door to their room. “I’ll admit, Granger’s pretty cool, but I think you’re taking it a little far here.”
“Shut up,” Porter said, pushing his friend through the door and shutting it behind him. “He’s one of the greatest Slayers of our time. And he actually takes the time to train us personally. How can you not look up to him?”
Porter went to his side of the room and hung the training sword on the wall. Directly above it was his real sword, gleaming in the light coming in through the window. Just to the right was his black coat, hanging on a peg and waiting to be put on. It was their uniform. No Slayer went out into the field without one.
“Because there’s one monster he’s never managed to kill,” Ozzie said.
“Oh, yeah?” Porter asked. “What’s that?”
“The flying pillow of doom!”
Porter spun around just in time to catch Ozzie’s pillow before it struck him in the face. On the other side of the room, Ozzie nearly fell over laughing.
“Seriously, man?” Porter asked dryly, dropping the pillow on the floor. “Maybe that’s why you haven’t been promoted yet. You need to grow up.”
Ozzie went to retrieve his pillow, struggling to stop giggling. Porter glanced toward his friend’s bed, and saw something lying on the mattress right where the pillow had just been.
“Is that a photograph?” he asked curiously, taking a step closer to look.
“There’s nothing there!” Ozzie shouted, and suddenly he was between Porter and the bed. “Nothing!”
“Um,” Porter said, taken aback by his friend’s mood swing. There wasn’t even a hint of a smile on his face now. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” the Asian boy insisted, turning around a putting his pillow back on his bed, covering up whatever it was Porter had seen. “Peachy. Come on, let’s go get something to eat!”
Before Porter could protest, Ozzie had grabbed him by the elbow, opened the door, and—
Ran face first into the man standing just outside it.
“Ow!” Ozzie complained, letting go of Porter to rub his nose. “Watch where you’re going, man!”
The man glared at him. “You’re the one who…” he shook his head. “Never mind. Porter, you’ve been summoned by Master Mortoph. He wants to see you in the board room right now.”
Porter didn’t need to hear another word. He took off running in the direction of the meeting room, nimbly weaving between other Slayers that were in his way. When the Master Slayer, Drake Mortoph, wanted to see to see you, you ran. A wide oak door blocked his progress, and Porter slid to a stop outside of it and knocked.
“Enter,” a strong voice called from the other side.
Porter pushed the door open and stepped through it. The room on the other side was long and narrow, with a table stretching across its entire length. Porter went to stand at the end closest to the door and bowed his head respectfully.
“You summoned me, Master Mortoph?” he asked.
“I did,” the Master Slayer answered, and Porter looked up at him. Drake Mortoph was a massive man, over seven feet tall, with limbs as thick as logs. He smiled at the young Slayer, a stark contrast to the cold look in his eyes. Porter had learned to ignore that over the years. Master Mortoph looked at everyone as if he wanted to cut their head off.
“Sit,” he said, and Porter slid the chair in front of him out and sat in it. On both sides of him was the Order, the top nine ranking Slayers. Granger sat two seats away from Mortoph, the only one between them being Dominic Vega, the second highest ranking Slayer.
“I read the report for your last hunt,” Mortoph said. He spoke softly, yet his voice filled the entire room. “I am very impressed. You anticipated where the Kitsune would go and blocked its escape. Well done.”
“Thank you, Master Mortoph.” Porter bowed his head again.
“It has been years since the Slayers saw a recruit as promising as you. I can see great things in your future.”
This was a metaphor, of course. For all his skill and power, even Drake Mortoph could not see into the future.
“But I did not summon you just to flatter you, young man,” he said, clasping his meaty hands in front of himself. “I summoned you to offer you another assignment.”
“Already?” Porter asked in surprise.
Mortoph nodded. “We have received word today of a nest of monsters living not far from here. A banshee, and at least three sphinxes. Such an infestation must be destroyed at once.”
“Yes, Master Mortoph,” Porter agreed.
Mortoph smiled again. “Then you accept?”
Porter didn’t even have to think about it. “I do, sir.”
“Lend me your ear a moment, lad,” another voice said from the other end of the table. Porter turned and saw Alexander Himaly leaning toward him. He was the oldest member of the Order, and his wisdom and advice were highly valued.
“The sphinxes will be your primary target,” he said in his creaky old voice. “The banshee may put up a fight, but it shouldn’t give you much trouble. Its scream is its most dangerous weapon. Finish it off quickly and then focus all of your attention on the sphinxes.”
“Yes sir,” Porter agreed with a bob of his head.
“Good,” Mortoph said, standing up. “You will attack tonight. Granger will be accompanying you.”
Granger? Porter’s heart skipped a beat in excitement. He was finally going on a mission with his… with the man who would be his hero if he were a child!
Granger stood up and turned to Porter. “Go and get ready. I’m sure you are up to this, but we can’t run into a monster’s nest unprepared.
“Yes, sir,” Porter said, nodding energetically. He looked to Mortoph.
“You are dismissed, Porter,” he said. “Make the Slayers proud.”
Yes, Master Mortoph,” Porter said, practically jumping out of his chair. “Thank you, sir!”
He left the conference room and rushed back to his dorm.
“What’s gotten into you?” Ozzie asked when the door flew open.
“Got another assignment,” Porter told him. “Three sphinxes and a banshee. I’m going with Granger!”
One of Ozzie’s trademark grins broke out on his face. “Ooh, Porter and Grange, sitting in a—”
Porter rounded on him. “Go ahead and finish if you feel like losing a couple teeth.”
Ozzie backed away and lay down on his bed, laughing under his breath. Porter looked over just in time to see him take something out of his pocket and put it under his pillow.
“You know,” he said slowly, not wanting him to freak out like he had before, “they do room checks every week or so. If you’ve got something you don’t want them to see, you probably shouldn’t keep it under—”
“They found out about my junk food stash months ago!” Ozzie interrupted him, jerking his hand back out from under his pillow. “I got bathroom duty for a week because of it, remember?”
“That’s not what I…” Porter shook his head and sighed. Granger was waiting to leave. He’d find out what Ozzie was hiding when he got back. Taking his black coat down from its peg, he swung it around and slipped his arms through the sleeves. His sword slid easily into the expanding pocket, just like it always did. A few other things went into the numerous pockets on the inside, just in case they were needed. Finally, he buttoned up the front and turned to Ozzie.
“Wish me luck,” he said.
“Cut off their toes and bring them back for me, okay?”
Porter shut the door behind him and hurried away to the front gate where he knew Granger would be waiting. Red Castle was protected by many different spells, which made teleporting in and out of the place impossible. They would have to stand just outside the gate to do it.
“Are you prepared, Porter?” Granger asked when he arrived. His katana was sheathed across his back.
“Yes,” Porter said.
“Then may fate smile upon us,” the old man said, somberly, “as we go out to hunt this night.”
With that, he reached out and took Porter by the shoulder. There was a bright yellow flash of light, and when it faded the two of them were gone.
NEXT TIME: And here... we… go! We’re back to Sarah’s Point of View next week, and you can probably guess what’s gonna happen. That’s all I’m gonna say about it. Follow me on Facebook for more updates, and other random things: Author Adam Bolander.