Chapter Thirty Three
"Tick?" Porter called as he walked lethargically into the living room. "You can come out now."
A door opened, and the little chimera poked his head out of the guest bathroom.
"Are you... the real one?" he asked.
Porter nodded. "I'm wearing the same clothes as when I came in, aren't I? The other me was wearing a trench coat."
Talking about the Other Porter made his stomach clench in worry and anger. Standing there, watching his twin drag Sarah away, unable to do a thing about it... he had never felt so helpless before. Not even when he'd laid on the floor in his cell, begging Commander Azkular to make the pain stop, could compare to what he'd felt watching her be taken away.
The sphinx who loved him... And he hadn't realized that he loved her back until it was too late.
It's not too late, he argued with himself. I'm going to save her, just like I promised.
Tick hesitantly stepped out of the bathroom. When Porter didn't immediately try to kill him, he scampered more confidently to stand by his side.
"Why are there two of you?" he asked.
Porter shook his head. "I don't know. I don't understand it myself."
Tick looked out the front door. "Why did he take Sarah?" he asked.
Porter clenched his fists, and followed the chimera's eyes out the door his clone had disappeared through. "Because we have to chase him to get her back."
Before the boy could ask any more questions, Porter led the way out. Things hadn't changed just because Sarah was gone. He had found Tick— or, rather, Tick had found him. Now they had to get out of the Sanctuary alive. Stepping out the front door, Porter inhaled the scent of burning buildings again, and tried to get his bearings. After a few seconds, he fixed his eyes on the mountain wall to his right. If he wasn't mistaken, that was the side of the mountain they had come in from. There might have been other exits, but he didn't have time to waste looking for one. He and Tick needed to get out now.
"Come on," he said, taking off at a run. "Stay close to me."
The djinn gave a feeble twitch as it dangled from Mortoph's hand. The Master Slayer's fingers were still buried to the knuckles in its eye sockets, his magic flowing into its brain, erasing who it thought it was, turning it into what it should be.
Even for one as powerful as Mortoph, the Repurposement process took a long time. Wiping the mind of a sentient creature of everything it knew and believed was not a simple task. He had to reach not only into its brain, but also its soul. Some things he could smooth out like a wrinkle in a blanket, but others required more force. Those, he hammered on with his superior willpower, demolishing the landscape of the creature's mind until he had, essentially, turned a mountain into a parking lot.
The djinn was resisting, but that wasn't unusual. Nothing in its right mind would willingly allow Mortoph to do this. Even if the djinn had managed to cling to itself longer than most, in the end it wouldn't matter.
In a few more minutes, Mortoph would own the djinn, just like he owned Shadow.
"Get down!" Porter exclaimed, digging his heels into the ground and sliding to a stop. With one hand, he grabbed Tick by the first handle he could find, his tail, and pulled him into an alleyway. He clamped his other hand over the chimera's mouth to keep him from yelping in pain, and glanced around the corner.
"It's another one," he whispered, letting go of him. "We need to go the other way."
Before Porter could protest, Tick darted forward and looked around the corner as well.
"Hey," he said, pointing, "that's the djinn that made Sarah say bad things about you!"
Porter pulled him back into the alley again, but couldn't resist taking a second look. Sure enough, the Slayer was holding Azkular in one hand, and... gouging his eyes out with the other?
Porter's stomach did a flip, but before he could look away he saw Azkular twitch.
"He's still alive!" he exclaimed under his breath.
Tick pulled on his arm. "Come on, let's go!"
Porter looked from Tick to the Slayer, and shook his head.
"No," he said, tugging his arm out of Tick's grip. "We can't just leave him like that."
Tick's eyes went wide. "What? Why not? He—"
"I know what he did, Tick, trust me. But it'd be wrong not to help him. Stay here. I'll be back in a minute."
Without waiting for Tick to respond, Porter grabbed the lid off a nearby trash can and ran back into the road. When he had a clear view of his target, he drew his arm back and flung the lid at him as hard as he could. It whizzed across the distance between them like a frisbee, and...
At the last second, the Slayer ripped his hand free of Azkular's face and caught it.
"Who dares?" he roared, turning to face him. The minute their eyes met, Porter could read the surprise on his face. "Porter?"
"Let him go!" Porter demanded, realizing too late that he was unarmed now. Flicker was still stubbornly refusing to answer his call, and he'd just thrown his only weapon, as pathetic as it was, at the Slayer.
Azkular, now free of the Slayer's horrific grasp, lolled his head back and moaned.
"Young man, I am growing tired of your games" the Slayer growled, "Who's side are you on?"
A chill ran down Porter's spine when he looked into the gigantic man's eyes, but he didn't back down. Balling his fists, he prepared to fight.
The Slayer's eyes narrowed. "Very well, then."
With that, he threw the lid back at him. Porter had half a second to dive to the side before the whirling metal disc flew past fast enough to blow his hair back, and then embedded itself in a concrete wall. When Porter looked again, the Slayer tossed Azkular away and drew his sword.
"I put a lot of work into you, Porter," he said, holding the weapon in both hands. "More than I'm willing to just throw away. Ask me for forgiveness, and I'll give it to you."
Porter's blood ran cold at the sight of the long, thin blade, but he stood his ground. "I don't want your forgiveness."
The Slayer scowled, but didn't reply. With a grunt, he launched himself at Porter.
Come on, come on, come on! Porter thought, begging Flicker to appear.
He was out of time. Forgetting about the sword for the moment, Porter crouched down and leaped into the air. The Slayer's sword passed less than an inch beneath his foot. Time seemed to move in slow motion, and Porter could see exactly what he needed to do. He put one foot on the Slayer's shoulder, and used it to carry him the rest of the way over him. With the other, he kicked him in the face.
The Slayer roared with anger as Porter hit the ground running. He sprinted to the other side of the street, and spun around to face his opponent. That had been a lucky shot, and he knew it. If he didn't find a weapon fast, he wasn't going to survive much longer.
"What are you doing?" someone asked from behind him.
Porter glanced backwards, and saw Azkular looking up at him. The djinn's leg had been cut off at the hip, but what caught Porter's attention were his eyes. He had clearly seen their fiery blue color more than once, but now they had changed to an unnatural combination of black and red.
"I'm saving your life," he answered. "You might try being a little grateful."
"Don't lie to me!" Azkular yelled. "I know you're a Slayer!"
Before they had a chance to argue more, the Slayer attacked again. This time, he swung his sword so that the tip sliced into the pavement of the road. The asphalt exploded, and came hurtling at them in a wave of stone and rubble. This time, Porter didn't have time to dodge, and the wave slammed into him with the force of a speeding truck. It knocked him off his feet, and into the building behind him. For a moment he thought the pressure was going to crush him, but then it ceased and the wave collapsed into a pile of rubble. With a groan, Porter fell face down on top of it.
"I don't understand," Azkular said, trying to prop himself up on his elbows. "Sarah said you were a Slayer!"
"I don't care what I used to be," Porter answered. He got back to his feet, but had to brace himself against the wall when the earth spun around him. "I'm not a Slayer."
"I'm disappointed to hear that, Porter," the Slayer said. He lowered his sword and walked towards them. "I had plans for you. I crafted you into the man you are for a reason."
"S-stay back!" Porter said, and his heart began to hammer in his chest. He couldn't beat this guy, no matter how hard he tried. He was too powerful... inhumanly powerful.
"To think that you still had it in you to betray me," he mused, shaking his head. "I can't imagine where I went wrong."
"You came to fight him without a weapon?" Azkular demanded. "Are you an idiot?"
Porter shook his head. The Slayer was almost to them, but he didn't seem to be in any hurry. "I used to be able to summon my sword by thinking about it. I can't now, but I don't know why!"
The Slayer came to a stop a few feet away from them and raised his sword. Porter tensed himself to jump out of the way again. How much longer could he last against a foe like this?
"I'll have to start all over, I suppose. It will set things back, but this time I'll figure out what I did wrong, and I won't repeat the mistake."
Suddenly, Porter felt Azkular's hand wrap around his ankle.
"I release the curse!" the djinn yelled at the top of his lungs.
Porter felt Azkular's magic surge into him, and something inside of him... broke. Something he hadn't even realized was there.
The Slayer swung his sword.
After that, Porter had no idea what happened because the entire world seemed to go insane. There was an explosion in his chest, something he had never felt before. It pushed outwards from him, making every hair on his body stand up straight. He could vaguely sense Flicker's weight in his hand, and his arm shot upwards to deflect the Slayer's blade. What felt like a storm sprang up around them, the winds strong nearly enough to pick Porter up off his feet. The Slayer paused, seemed to hesitate, and that was all the time he needed.
Porter had no idea how he did it, but he willed the winds to congregate in a single spot: right where the Slayer was standing. He felt a tightening in the gut as the wind obeyed, drawing in on itself until it formed a tornado around the Slayer. The massive man gave a shout of surprise when his feet lifted off the ground, and then...
The tornado exploded. The funnel of wind burst outwards, sending powerful streams of air in every direction. Porter and Azkular somehow weren't affected, but the Slayer was thrown backwards, where he crashed through the walls of a burning building... and another... and another. When the chaos finally died down, Porter caught a brief glimpse of the path the Slayer had taken. The force of the wind had knocked down no fewer than five buildings in a row, and now the Slayer lay buried in a pile of bricks and mortar fifty feet high.
"I... I think I did it," Porter said, and then collapsed.
"Porter!" Tick shouted, and he could hear the little chimera's feet pattering against the ruined street to get to him. "Are you okay? What happened?"
"I'm fine," he grunted, even though he felt the exact opposite of it. His entire body had gone numb, and he was so tired he didn't even think he could stand up.
"All of the magic he had building up inside of him just got released at once," Azkular said, struggling to get to his feet... well, foot. He put one hand on the wall for balance. "Come with me, Tick. I'll make sure you get out of the city safe."
Tick fell to his knees and hugged Porter's neck almost hard enough to choke him. "I'm not going anywhere without Porter!"
Azkular's mouth fell open in astonishment. "But I—"
"I said no!" Tick interrupted him.
The djinn's eyes lit up in frustration, and for a moment Porter thought he was going to drag Tick away. But then a scream rang out from further down the road, and Azkular turned to face it.
"Do what you want, then," he grunted. "I have a city to save."
He took one awkward hop, and nearly fell down again.
He's going to get himself killed, Porter thought, watching him from the ground. He's in no condition to fight.
"Tick," he said, struggling to put his hands underneath him, "help me up."
With some effort, he began to push himself up from the ground. Tick ran in front of him and grabbed his shoulders, doing his best to aid him. When Porter had managed to get to his knees, he leaned back against the wall to catch his breath. A minute later, his strength began to return.
"Come on," he said, standing up. His first few steps were wobbly, but he managed to find his balance and chased after Azkular. He slipped his arm under the djinn's, just in time to save him from falling down.
"What are you doing now?" Azkular demanded.
"Helping you walk," Porter shot back. "You're welcome."
Movement caught Porter's eye, and he looked up to see a Mythic running towards them. Behind him was a pair of Slayers. They hooted in sadistic delight as they chased him, and the Mythic was only just managing to keep out of their reach.
"Help!" he screamed when he saw the three of them.
Without waiting for Azkular to say anything, Porter abandoned the injured djinn and ran to help. The Mythic, which looked like a human boy except for his hooves, sprinted past without giving him a second glance.
"Get out of the way!" one of the Slayers yelled, recognizing Porter as another human. "You're going to let him—"
Before he could finish, Porter grabbed him by the collar, and kicked the legs out from under the other. The second Slayer's momentum made him do half a somersault in midair before landing hard on his back.
"What are—" the first Slayer exclaimed, but, again, Porter didn't allow him to finish before grabbing him with both hands and flipping him over his shoulder to land on top of the fallen Slayer. Both of them groaned, but didn't get back up.
"Are you all right?" Porter asked, turning to go back to the others, and found the hooved boy looking back at him in astonishment. "Are you hurt?"
The satyr blinked, and then raised his fist. With a wild scream, he came charging at Porter.
"Die, Slayer!" he yelled, and swung his fist at him. Porter brushed it aside casually.
"I'm not a Slayer!" he said, trying to sound as calm as possible. "I'm trying to help you."
"Shut up! This is all your fault!"
"Enough!" Azkular shouted, and both of them froze. The satyr spun around, and finally saw the one-legged djinn leaning against the wall.
"Commander Azkular!" he exclaimed, immediately forgetting about Porter and rushing to help him. "Are you okay?"
Azkular growled. "Do I look okay?"
"What happened to your leg? Did he do that to you?" He pointed back at Porter, and Porter felt his face turn red.
"No, Porter..." Azkular looked at the young man, and shook his head. "He didn't do it."
"Well, here, let me help," the satyr put his arm under Azkular's just like Porter had, and helped him stand up.
"What's your name, son?"
"Joseph Turnball," the satyr answered.
"Joseph, did you see anybody alive before finding us? Anybody at all?"
Joseph hesitated. "No, sir. I think everyone else is..."
"All right," Azkular interrupted him, keeping him from having to say it out loud. He hesitated too, and looked around the city. Porter could almost see the memories dancing behind the djinn's black and red eyes. There was pain on his face, even more than when he'd had the Slayer's fingers crammed down his eye sockets.
"Then we need to go," he decided. "We can't do anything here."
Joseph's eyes went wide. "Abandon the Sanctuary? But what about the survivors?"
"You said it yourself, it looks like everybody else is dead. If we don't get out of here before they destroy the mountain, we will be too."
The commander's words sparked a realization in Porter's mind, and he blinked in surprise.
"You've seen this before, haven't you?" he asked.
Azkular looked up, his eyes glowing with anger again. "Yes," he said curtly. "But that is a story for another time."
His eyes made chills run down Porter's spine, and he had to look away. "All right, where's the nearest exit?"
"That won't work," he replied, and began to lead them down the street. "They'll have all the tunnels heavily guarded. Going that way would be suicide."
"You can teleport us out, though, right?" Joseph suggested.
Again, Azkular shook his head. "They'll be monitoring the use of magic from outside. If they sense us trying to teleport away, they'll just redirect us right into an ambush."
"Then, what?" Porter and Joseph asked at the same time. Joseph glared at him again, looking like he was almost ready to spit poison at him.
"I know a secret passage," the djinn answered before they could start arguing again. "The Slayers will probably find it eventually, but right now I think they're too busy fighting to notice it."
"Where is it?" Porter asked.
Azkular nodded his head towards the Judgement Hall in the distance, still standing proudly over the burning city. "In the lower tunnels, close to where we were keeping you."
"Commander Azkular," Joseph spoke up again. He lowered his voice dramatically, knowing full well that Porter could still hear. "We're not bringing him with us, are we?"
"If he doesn't go, I don't go!" Tick said again, going to stand behind his friend.
Azkular thought for a few long seconds, and for a moment Porter thought he was going to decide to leave him behind. Then he nodded.
"He comes," he said.
Joseph looked at him, flabbergasted.
"But he's a—"
"He's coming!" Azkular said again, his tone of voice forbidding further argument. "Pick up the pace, people. We don't have much time!"
"Master Mortoph? Master, can you hear me?"
Mortoph opened his eyes and scowled at the pinpricks of light poking in between the bricks. Above him, he could hear the bricks sliding down the mountain of rubble. He growled, and stood up.
Even though he was buried more than halfway down the pile, when the Master Slayer stood, all the bricks on top of him rose up and fell away as if they were nothing but a thin coating of dust. The Slayer who had been trying to dig him out yelped with surprise, and went tumbling down into the street.
"Master Mortoph," he exclaimed, getting back to his feet. "Are you all right? I saw you—"
Before he had time to finish, Mortoph's sword flew across the distance between them, burying itself up to the hilt in his chest and ensuring that he would never tell anyone about the Master Slayer's embarrassing defeat.
Mortoph's head pounded with pain as he descended the hill of bricks and retrieved his weapon. In all the years he had been doing this, he had never once been beaten so badly. His failures were few and far between, but to be knocked unconscious by a mere child... hopefully that Slayer was the only one who had witnessed it. As numerous as his ranks were, he didn't want to have to thin them out.
He spotted Granger at the same time the old man saw him, and the two of them met halfway.
"Master Mortoph," the third-ranking Slayer reported, snapping a salute, "we believe that more than three quarters of the monsters have been slain, and the rest have taken up refuge inside hidden places within the mountain's walls."
Mortoph nodded. "Good. Tell the men to evacuate the city. We will destroy them and their nest at the same time."
Granger saluted again, and hustled away to fulfill his task.
"Daddy?" Misoki's voice called out to him once the other Slayer was gone.
Mortoph closed his eyes and clenched his fist. That stupid girl always had the worst timing. She could go where the Slayers couldn't and find the monsters' secret hiding places. She had her uses, but her wild nature made it extremely risky. The two years she had spent living with the sphinx family, in direct defiance of his commands, proved that. At least she was still in the mountain, he thought as he calmed his expression and turned around to look at the young wolf.
"Did I do good today, Daddy?"
Mortoph forced himself to smile. That was usually enough to give grown men nightmares, but it always seemed to comfort Misoki.
"Yes, you did very well today. Daddy's proud of you!"
The little wolf's eyes lit up with delight, and she stood up on her hind legs. A moment later, she had morphed back into her human form. Her messy black hair was matted with dust and blood, but her green eyes still held the innocence of a child. Before he could stop her, she came and gave him a hug. Mortoph was so big that she couldn't even reach all the way around him.
"Daddy," she said with her face buried in his thick black coat, "since I did so good today, do you think maybe I could..."
Mortoph pushed her away and fixed her with his icy stare. "Maybe you could what?"
Misoki hesitated, but finally gathered the courage to look him in the eye. "Maybe I can stop being a monster now? You know, like you promised?"
Mortoph's mood darkened. The promise, of course. The one he had made the day he'd... enlisted her.
"Not yet," he said. "You've done well, but not that well. Maybe in another year or two."
Misoki's lip quivered, making her look much younger than her sixteen years. Fortunately, Mortoph was immune to such things.
"You know the rules," he said, pointing towards the exit.
Misoki hung her head. "I know, I know. Go back to the dark place."
"Straight back," Mortoph added. "I expect you to get there before I do."
Misoki shifted back into her wolf form and turned to leave. "Yes, Daddy."
Satisfied that she was still under his control, Mortoph, too, turned away. Before he could go anywhere, though, his adopted daughter's voice stopped him yet again.
"What about Sarah?"
Sighing in irritation, Mortoph said, "Who is Sarah?"
"The sphinx. The one you told the Slayer boy to kill."
A spark of anger lit itself in Mortoph's chest. If there was one thing in the world he didn't want to talk about right then, it was that blasted boy, Porter. But, now that he thought of it, the fact that Porter had betrayed him after chasing the sphinx away...
"I believe she is still alive," he finally answered, and turned to look at her again. "What is it to you?"
Misoki shook her head. "Nothing, Daddy. I was... just wondering. I'll go home now!"
Without another word, she turned tail and raced into the burning city. Mortoph was almost worried that she would be apprehended by one of the Slayers still roaming the streets, but she was a smart girl... for a monster, anyway. Besides, if he were honest, it would be a relief to find that she had been killed.
Drawing his coat more tightly around him, Mortoph, too, made for the nearest exit. It was time to conclude the hunt.
Ozzie ran for the exit as fast as he could, his head spinning with confusion.
It wasn't real, his common sense insisted as he wound his way between the burning buildings. Your eyes were playing tricks on you, or maybe you've finally gone crazy, but there's no way you just saw that!
He reached the tunnel, and paused to catch his breath. No matter how many times he said it, though, he couldn't deny what he'd seen with his own two eyes.
It had been strange enough at first, seeing Mortoph talking to a werewolf. When Ozzie had spotted him from behind a nearby building, he'd made a quick wager with himself as to how many pieces the wolf would be in when the Master was finished with it. To his surprise, instead of killing it, Mortoph had begun to speak with it.
And it had called him Daddy.
That had thrown Ozzie for a loop, but it was nothing compared to what happened next. The werewolf had shifted into her human form, and given Mortoph a hug. That by itself was enough to make Ozzie wonder if he had lost his mind, but then he'd finally gotten a good look at her face.
"It can't be," he whispered to himself as cold sweat ran down his face.
But it had been. He hadn't laid eyes on her for twelve years, and she had only been a child back then, but that didn't matter. Her face engraved so deeply into his memory that it didn't matter what age she was. He could still recognize her at a passing glance.
Ozzie sank to his knees and began to tremble. "Misty... you're alive!"
But how was it possible? Master Mortoph, himself, had declared her dead the day Ozzie had joined the Slayers. The satyr that killed his father had come back to finish off the rest of his family. But... she wasn't dead, and Ozzie's entire world was crashing down around him. His reason for joining the Slayers, the decision that had defined his whole life for the past twelve years, had suddenly been taken away.
Hyperventilating now, Ozzie threw himself backwards so that his back was against the tunnel wall. He struck his head against the stone, making stars dance in front of his eyes, but he didn't care.
"What... is... going... on?" he asked, burying his face in his hands.
Not only was his long lost sister alive, but she was also a werewolf. She was calling Mortoph her daddy, on top of everything else. So much was going on that it made Ozzie's brain feel like it was going to explode. Was he dreaming? It was starting to feel like a dream. How else could his life have veered into stark, raving insanity in such a short amount of time?
Ozzie looked up, and gasped when he saw the Master Slayer himself standing over him. All the blood ran out of his face, and he didn't even try to cover up just how terrified he was. Did Mortoph know what he'd seen? Was he going to kill him now?
"You did well today," he said putting his hand on the young man's shoulder. "I'm proud of you."
That's... that's exactly what he said to Misty!
"I'm destroying the Sanctuary in just a few minutes, so you'll need to be outside by then. Can you walk?"
"I- I- I-..." Ozzie mumbled, wishing more than anything that he could just melt into the wall.
"Vega," Mortoph said, motioning his second-in-command forward, "help him outside."
"Come on, Ozzie," Vega said, bending down to hoist the young man to his feet. "It's just post-battle shock. It'll go away in a couple hours."
The Master went on ahead, and Ozzie allowed himself to be helped out of the tunnel. Mortoph was going to destroy the entire Sanctuary.
Would Misty have time to make it out?
NEXT TIME: Oh, you thought the plot twists were over, didn't you? And then I slapped you upside the head with OZZIE'S SISTER IS ALIVE like a fifty pound catfish. Also, Azkular has joined the party! I foresee much... happiness and joy coming out of this. But they're not safe yet. Porter and the others still have to make it out of the mountain before the Slayers destroy the mountain.