Chapter Thirty Five
The night was cold, a sudden change from the hot, muggy temperatures Sarah had grown used to. She lay on the forest floor, curled up against herself to ward off the chilly breeze. It was almost as if the world itself knew what had happened today, and was grieving for the innocent Mythics that had died.
A few feet away, Other Porter was sitting beside a fire, roasting a rabbit he'd skinned on a spit. Sarah sat just outside the ring of firelight, trying to keep as much distance between her and Other Porter as possible, but couldn't stop the scent of cooking meat from reaching her nostrils. It reminded her of the burning bodies she had smelled as fires consumed the city she had once thought was going to be her home, and she shuddered. At the same time, though, her stomach growled, reminding her that she hadn't eaten all day.
Hesitantly, Sarah stole a glance at Other Porter, who sat with his back toward her, turning the rabbit over the fire. He still wore his Slayer's coat, but other than that... sleeping in the open woods, alone with Porter, cooking rabbit for dinner... there was a sense of comforting familiarity to it. For a minute, her terror was chased away by the thought that things had finally gone back to normal.
And then Other Porter turned to look at her, and the feeling vanished.
Fixing her eyes back on the ground in front of her, Sarah tried to ignore him. What had happened to the real Porter? She had been nearly three miles away from the mountain when it had erupted, spewing lava into the air. It boggled her mind that one man had the power to turn a mountain into a volcano, but more than that she wondered if her friends had made it out alive. Had Porter even managed to find Tick? What about her parents? If they hadn't made it to one of the exits in time... the terrible scene flashed before her eyes again, the entire mountain filling with molten rock. If they were still in there when that happened, then—
No, she reprimanded herself, violently shaking her head. Don't think like that. Of course they made it out okay!
"You may as well come sit by the fire," Other Porter said, breaking into her gloomy thoughts. She turned to look, and saw that he was paying attention to the rabbit again.
The double's voice left an echo in her ears as cold as the wind blowing against her fur. He turned to look at her again, and she shivered, but not because of the weather that time. The two of them looked completely identical, Porter and Other Porter, but there was no way she could confuse the two of them.
"You're no good to me if you freeze to death," he said, gesturing impatiently for her to join him. "Stop being so stubborn and get over here."
Sarah narrowed her eyes and refused to move. "How do I know you're not going to kill me if I do?"
Other Porter rolled his eyes. "This again? I told you, you're just here to lure Por... the other guy where I want him."
The hesitation in his words caught Sarah's attention, and she finally stood up. Going to the other side of the fire, where she could keep an eye on her captor, she lay down. The warmth felt better than she wanted to admit, and she resisted the urge to roll over and let it warm her belly.
"His name is Porter," she said. "You may as well call him that."
Other Porter shook his head, and looked back at the meat. "I'm Porter."
The subject bothered him, and that gave Sarah some small sense of satisfaction. It was dangerous to antagonize him. She had no idea how far she could push him before he lost his temper and killed her, Porter or no Porter. Still, she wanted to let him know that even though he had taken her hostage, he wasn't as in charge of things as he liked to think.
A few minutes later, Other Porter pulled his sword out of his pocket, and Sarah flinched. He gave her a derisive glance from the corner of his eye, sniggered, and then raised it to cut a hunk of meat off the rabbit's flank.
"You think that phony can cook rabbit?" he asked, and then popped the meat into his mouth. He chewed for a few seconds, smiling with exaggerated relish, and then swallowed. "You've never tried mine."
He swung the sword, and one of the rabbit's legs fell off and rolled to a stop just in front of Sarah's paws. She looked down at it skeptically.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked.
"I just said, I need you alive. It'll be hard to keep you that way if I don't feed you."
Sarah looked down at the meat again. Just a few hours ago she had said, rather boldly, that Other Porter wouldn't kill her. Refusing to eat the food he gave her would only make her look weak, and she couldn't afford to let that happen. Ignoring her fear, she leaned forward and took a bite out of the rabbit. She barely chewed it twice before swallowing it.
"What do you think?" Other Porter asked, his eyes gleaming. The sight made Sarah want to throw it back up again.
"You burned it a little," she said, giving him a snooty look. "I like Porter's better."
Other Porter was quiet for a few seconds, and then he growled and picked up his sword again. "Stop lying!" he yelled. "Mine is way better!"
"Why do you even care?" Sarah retorted, the fur on her back bristling.
Other Porter clamped his mouth shut and glared at her, his face turning a brilliant shade of scarlet. Eventually, he went back to tending the fire. "Never mind."
Sarah let the matter drop. She couldn't be sure, but she felt she was nearing that dangerous point of pushing Other Porter too far. After taking a minute to calm herself down, she ate the rest of the rabbit.
It was good...
Other Porter chuckled, and Sarah looked up to see him smirking at her. "We've been together for less than a day, and I already have you eating out of my hands."
Sarah's stomach did a flip, and she spat the meat out on the ground, which only made Other Porter grin wider.
"The fake couldn't do that, could he?"
"Is that what this is all about?" Sarah hissed. "Just to prove that anything Porter can do, you can do better?"
Suddenly, Other Porter stood up, casting a shadow over Sarah. "Yes!" he yelled. "How many times do I have to say it? I won't stop until he admits that I'm the better Porter. And the best way to do that is to convince you of that first."
He took a step towards her, and Sarah scrambled backwards until she tripped over a root.
"It's the ultimate insult. If he sees that you've accepted that I'm better than he is, it'll crush him. And after you've broken his heart, that's when I'll run my sword through it."
Sarah stared at him, any words she might have said dying when she looked into his eyes. Other Porter waved his hand, and a gust of freezing cold wind blew through their camp, extinguishing the fire. Left in near total darkness, and unable to see the clone in his long black coat, Sarah buried her face in her paws.
Other Porter chuckled, and Sarah hoped he couldn't see her tears.
That same night, more than twenty miles away, the real Porter was also sitting by a fire. Unlike Sarah's fire, though, Porter's was blue, and didn't require any fuel to burn. It sat on the earthen floor of the forest, feeding only on itself as it lit up the night.
Azkular sat across from him, even though he claimed he didn't need to be near the fire to be warm. The flames had come from inside him, after all. The only time he could feel the cold was when he was close to death.
Tick and Joseph sat a little to his right, facing away from the fire. The satyr had one arm around Tick's shoulders, and was pointing at the sky with the other.
"That one's called Ifrit's Passion," he said, pointing to a star. "They say a great fire spirit fell in love with an elf maiden a long time ago. When she died, his grief was so great that he threw himself from the face of the earth, and still burns in the sky to this day."
Porter tried to figure out which star Joseph was talking about, but they all looked the same to him.
He probably doesn't even know which one he's talking about, he thought bitterly. Seeing Tick sit with the satyr's arm around his shoulders turned Porter's blood hot.
"I don't think that's true," Tick said, idly picking burrs out of his tail. "My mom said the stars are really far away, and really big. If it were a fire spirit, we wouldn't be able to see it from all the way down here."
"Well, it's a legend," Joseph conceded with a shrug. "Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't."
He leaned back on his arms and looked at the sky for a minute. Then, sighing, he said, "You know, it's almost been two years since the last time I got to see the stars."
"Really?" Tick asked.
"It's kinda hard to see them underground, Tick."
Trying to take his mind off his jealousy, Porter summoned Flicker and began to examine the blade in the firelight. There wasn't anything he could do for it, of course. Droma said that Kalion metal would never rust, never break, and never lose its edge. Still, it was better than sitting there wishing doom upon Joseph.
When he looked back up, Azkular was glaring at him with his spooky black eyes.
I have to tell him, he thought, looking back down at the fire again. If I wait any longer, it'll be too late to back out.
"Hey," he said, raising his head just enough to look at the djinn's chin.
"Yes?" Azkular asked. The way his mouth curved down, Porter had a feeling Azkular already knew what he was going to say.
"I can't go with you to kill Mortoph."
He saw Azkular's hands twitch, as if he were tempted to conjure his knives.
If it comes to it, you can beat him in a fight, Porter consoled himself. You've already beaten Mortoph, and Azkular's missing a leg.
"Care to tell me why?" the djinn asked in a low, dangerous voice.
Porter took a deep breath. "Because I have to go after Sarah."
Whatever conversation he and Tick were having ceased, and Joseph turned to give Porter a cold look.
Azkular's expression didn't change. "What happened to her?"
"A Slayer kidnapped her," Porter answered. There was no reason to tell the former commander about—
"There was another Porter, and he took Sarah away!" Tick blurted out.
Porter's face went white, and his grip on Flicker unconsciously tightened. Across from him, Azkular narrowed his eyes
"That's quite a story," he said. "Are you trying to tell me you have an evil twin?"
Porter grimaced, and then nodded. "Yeah, I guess that pretty much sums it up. Just after Sarah and I got out of our cell, the elf that testified against me, Vesper, caught me in an alleyway. He had a syringe full of black potion, and when he put it in me—"
"A piece of your skin fell off and turned into a lookalike of you," Azkular finished for him.
Porter blinked in surprise. "Uh, yeah, that's exactly what happened. How did you know?"
Azkular muttered a few choice curses under his breath. "It was called Yang potion. It's one of two parts of another potion called Fenge potion. When it's made, it's divided into its two base states, Yin and Yang. Yin potion is white, and Yang is black. Both do basically the same thing, but with one major difference. Yin potion ejects the goodness from somebody's body..."
"And Yang potion ejects the bad," said Porter, finishing for him this time.
"Where did Vesper get something like that? And why did he use it on me?"
The djinn shrugged. "Neither Yin nor Yang potion is difficult to come by, if you know somebody skilled enough to brew it. As for why he used it on you, I would say he was trying to bring out your evil side. You're Slayer side."
Porter raised his hands in confusion. "But why? As soon as the Other Porter came out, it murdered him."
"You saw him just as clearly as I did when he got behind the stand. He was a gloryhound trying to play off your status. When you escaped, he saw his chance to release your Slayer side, and become a hero by killing it." Azkular paused, and gave a grim smirk. "Looks like it backfired on him, though. Can't say I'm that upset."
It seemed like Azkular was taking his decision better than expected. Porter began to relax.
"So, you understand why I have to go after him, then?"
Without hesitation, Azkular shook his head. "No. You're still coming with me."
"What happened to her is unfortunate, but she is only one Mythic. What I'm doing is for the good of them all."
Porter's sat up straight with indignation.
"You're just going to leave her to die? And you call yourself a guardian?"
Azkular's eyes flashed blue, and he leaned in closer to the fire. "Yes, I do. Do you think I want to let her die? Every time a Mythic dies to a Slayer, it hurts me more than you can imagine. But if I can save all the Mythics by sacrificing one, what right do I have to hesitate?"
"And you expect me to abandon her too?"
"It would be selfish of you not to."
"But I love her!"
Azkular fell silent, and leaned back again. To the side, Joseph's face was turning red.
"Stop saying that," Azkular growled.
Porter faced him, and forced himself to look into the djinn's eyes. "Why?"
"Because you have no idea what that means."
"It means that I can't go running off with you to play hero," Porter shot back.
Azkular didn't say anything, and a long, tense silence filled the night. Even the crackling of the magic blue fire seemed to fade away.
Then, to his surprise, Azkular bowed his head in consent. "Fine. Go do what you have to do."
Porter waited a few seconds, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The djinn was stubborn. He wouldn't give up that easily.
Still, when a full minute passed and Azkular still hadn't said anything, Porter nodded as well. "Okay. Thank you."
And then, just as Porter knew he would, Azkular raised his head and looked him in the eye again.
"So, where are they?" he asked.
"Where are... what?"
"Sarah and the Other Porter," Azkular clarified. "Where did he take her?"
A pit formed in Porter's stomach when he realized what Azkular was doing.
"He, um... he said to come find him where it all began," he answered.
Azkular spread his hands. "And where is that?"
Porter frowned. "I don't know."
"Oh," the djinn said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "then you're just going to run out into the woods and find them with what? The power of love?"
"I'll think of something," Porter argued. "I have to!"
"I don't know if you've noticed, boy, but the world is a very big place. You could walk for a lifetime and never find either of them."
"And coming with you to kill the Master Slayer is going to help me?"
Azkular crossed his arms with a smug grin, and Porter realized he had, once again, fallen for his trap.
"We're going to the Slayers' headquarters," he replied. "They will have files on every Slayer that has ever lived. Based on what you've told me, it sounds like your clone wants you to come back to where you were born. Maybe your childhood home, even. If you had access to those files, they would tell you everything you needed to know."
Porter thought about this, and let Flicker fall from his hand. The sword vanished before it hit the ground. Even though he really, really, didn't want to admit it, Azkular was right. He could go looking for Sarah, but he had no idea where to find her. If the Slayers' files were as extensive as he said, then they may actually be his only hope.
"All right," Porter muttered, feeling like he was clamping a ball and chain around his leg, "I'll go with you."
NEXT TIME: Well, looks like Porter's been suckered into playing the hero yet again. But let's be honest, you guys wouldn't have it any other way, would you? Guess Sarah's just gonna have to wait...