Chapter Thirty Eight
"So, you said you know Sarah?" Misoki asked as she lay on her side, letting Droma's fire warm her belly.
The giant pulled down his hood, letting the firelight dance on his smooth, shaven head, and nodded.
"We met several weeks ago," he said. "The two of them were lost, and Porter had been captured by goblins. I volunteered to act as their guide on the way to Jellaska Kob Lertan."
The young werewolf yawned and shook her head to keep her from falling asleep. "You weren't with them when they got here."
"No, I was not. I left them at the Historians' Tower just before the Slayers attacked it. There was something I had to do."
Yeah, something like not getting killed by the Slayers, Misoki thought, her lip curling up to show her sharp teeth.
Reading her expression, Droma frowned. "I had to retrieve something. Something that I intend to give them once I find them."
"What?" Misoki asked.
Droma hesitated. "Something very important," he finally answered. "The sooner I get it to them, the better."
As he spoke, Misoki noticed how his hand subconsciously went to cover a certain part of his cloak.
Whatever it is, he's got it in a hidden pocket of his cape, Misoki thought. Droma didn't trust her enough to say what it was, which only made her want to know what it was even more.
"So, how did they find the Sanctuary if you weren't there to show them the way?"
"I did not leave them completely alone," the giant replied. "They had Flicker to guide them in my stead."
"Flicker? Was that the kid with the tail?"
Droma shook his head and added another log to the fire, making a shower of sparks fly out of it. "No, the chimera is Tick. Flicker is the living sword Porter carries."
At this, Misoki couldn't help but scoff. When Droma gave her a sharp look, she said, "Oh, come on. You're pulling my leg."
"I am not," Droma said, drawing himself up with pride. "Flicker is a sword made of living Kalion metal, one of the few in existence."
"But... it's a sword."
"And yet it is alive," Droma insisted. "Even though it does not have flesh or blood, it is just as sentient as you or I."
Misoki took a few seconds to wrap her head around it. "So, it has a soul, then?"
Droma paused, and then raised his hand to his chin. "I have never thought about it that way, to be honest. Yes, I suppose that if Flicker is alive it must have a soul. How interesting. In forging a weapon, I somehow created a soul for it as well."
He looked at the werewolf, obviously waiting for her to react to this, but Misoki suddenly didn't feel like talking anymore. Turning away from Droma, she laid her chin down on her paws and closed her eyes.
"What is wrong?" Droma asked. "Have I offended you?"
"No," Misoki answered without opening her eyes. "There's just one thing you forgot about souls."
"Oh? What is that?"
With a sigh, Misoki looked up at him again. "Only people have souls."
Droma raised his eyebrows in surprise. "What are you saying?"
"Swords aren't people," she explained, the truth clawing at her heart with every word. "Just like we're not. Flicker's a sword, and we're... we're monsters."
Droma stood up so suddenly that Misoki's fur stood on end, and she was convinced the enormous man was going to step on her like a bug. With eyes as hard as ice and as bright as fire, he pointed a finger at her.
"Young lady, I never want to hear you say that again. Do you understand?"
It took a few seconds for Misoki to realize he wasn't going to kill her, and another few seconds after that to catch her breath. When she did, irritation replaced her fright and she bared her teeth at him.
"Why not?" She growled. "It's true, isn't it?"
"It most certainly is not true!" Droma argued, almost shouting at her. "I would expect to hear something like that from a Slayer, not a fellow Mythic!"
Misoki clamped her mouth shut, afraid that if she said anything more she would give away her secret. In truth, it had been a Slayer who had told her that. The Master Slayer.
"One of the reasons monsters are so evil," he had explained a few days after she'd changed, "is because they don't have souls like people do. Without them, they can't tell right from wrong, good from bad. They think only of themselves, and how to get what they want."
And now that she was a monster, that applied to her as well. That was one of the reasons she was so desperate to be turned human again. If she died without a soul, what would happen to her afterwards? Would she just fade from existence, like a candle flame being blown out? Or would she stay there inside her body, unable to move, unable to speak, for the rest of eternity? She wasn't sure which one scared her more. All she knew was that she had to make her daddy proud enough to change her back before it happened.
After looking defiantly at the giant for a few seconds, Misoki set her chin back on her paws and closed her eyes again.
"Whatever," she muttered, and tried to go to sleep.
"No!" Sarah screamed, her eyes shooting open as she sat upright.
The ruins of Porter's house were all around her, sending shivers down her spine just by looking at them. Other Porter had wanted to sleep inside them, which meant that Sarah had to as well so he could keep an eye on her. All night long, the echoes and memories of the forgotten neighborhood had whispered to her. When she'd fallen asleep, they had invaded her dreams. Sarah wasn't usually receptive to those kinds of things, but here they were so strong that even she could feel them. Fires, diseases, horrific accidents. When the residents had tried to leave, nightmarish figures had lurked in the shadows, forcing them back into their homes. Those who managed to get to the road found it looping endlessly back into the neighborhood. Whatever dark magic had been cast over the street, it didn't go away until every last one of them was dead. Even now, Sarah sensed that if she were to venture too far into the forest, she would still come across their skeletons, sun bleached and picked clean by scavengers over the years.
The sun was rising, and that seemed to help chase away the haunting memories. Taking a deep breath, Sarah collected herself and looked around.
Other Porter was gone.
Getting to her feet, Sarah looked around but could find no trace of the clone. For a few seconds, she was scared out of her mind. Had he been dragged away by his dead neighbors during the night? But no, she thought, that couldn't be it. There wasn't anything left here that could hurt them, and even if there was, Other Porter was a Slayer. It would take more than a few evil spirits and bogeymen to finish him off.
A minute later she heard the crunch of fallen leaves, and turned to see Other Porter making his way out of the woods. He was dragging a deer carcass behind him, and held his bloody sword in the other hand. Without giving her so much as a glance, he threw the deer into the ruins, spattering blood onto the walls.
The sight of the dead animal, coupled with the lingering dread of her nightmares, made Sarah was to faint.
"W- what's that for?" she asked.
Other Porter shot her an irritated look. "Breakfast, stupid."
Sarah let out a sigh of relief. Right. Breakfast. Because they needed to eat. Of course.
As Other Porter carved the deer, he gave her another look out of the corner of his eye. "You've been wearing that body for almost a whole day now," he said.
Sarah looked down at her human body, the clothes now stained with mud from sleeping on the ground. "I don't want anybody to see how I really look."
"Do you really think there's anybody here who's going to see you?"
Sarah paused. No, there wasn't anybody to see her, was there? The echoes were just that: echoes. She and Other Porter were probably the only living things to have set foot here in years. With that slightly comforting thought, Sarah released the spell and let herself fall back onto four paws in her natural form.
She watched in silence for a few minutes as Other Porter built up a fire and began cooking the venison over it. The sun rose higher, and as it brightened the desolated the neighborhood Sarah found herself feeling a little braver.
"What's to stop me from just teleporting away?" she asked.
"Because you still don't have any idea how to control that spell," Other Porter answered without looking at her. "You'd end up just as lost as the first time you did it."
"Maybe I don't care where I go," she argued. "Maybe I just want to get away from you."
Other Porter smirked. "And risk never seeing your lover boy again?"
"I'd find him," Sarah said, looking at the ground to hide her blush.
"No you wouldn't," Other Porter insisted. "Because even if you left, your Porter wouldn't know about it. He'd still show up expecting to find us together. If you're not here, you'll never see him again."
His words made Sarah shiver, but she looked up to give the clone a hateful glare.
"That again?" she scoffed. "You're never going to beat him. He'll chop you up into worm food!"
Finally, Other Porter turned away from the fire and stood up. He advanced on Sarah, his coat fluttering behind him in the chilly breeze. Seeing the look in his eyes, Sarah couldn't help but back away.
"The two of us might be equally skilled," he said, "but there's one thing I have that he never will."
Sarah's rear end met the wall, and she couldn't go any further. Other Porter knelt down in front of her so they were face to face.
"The ability to kill," he whispered.
"Porter's not afraid to fight," Sarah shot back, even though her voice sounded high pitched and timid.
Other Porter stood up and backed away. "You're right. He'll fight anybody who threatens his friends without a second thought. But he'd never kill them. I, on the other hand, don't have that problem. I can kill anything I want without batting an eye. That's the first thing you have to learn to be a Slayer. Everything dies. We just make it happen a little sooner."
Sarah dug her claws anxiously into the dirt. She wanted to deny it, but she knew it was true. Porter was a fearsome warrior, but he would always stop before killing his opponent.
"We may be equally matched," Other Porter concluded, "but I'm the only one willing to go all the way. He'll hold back, no matter what happens. I won't. And that," he jabbed his finger at Sarah, "is why I'm going to win."
Sarah's paws felt like they were glued to the floor, and she couldn't stop the images of Other Porter carrying out his promises from flashing in front of her eyes. It wasn't difficult, she realized, because it was true. If Porter wasn't willing to kill Other Porter, then Other Porter would be the one to come out on top.
To come out alive...
Stifling a frightened gasp, Sarah squared her shoulders and bared her teeth at the wicked clone.
"If this is how you're trying to win my heart," she said, "then I think your methods need a little work."
Other Porter shrugged and went back to tending the cooking fire. Sarah went to the other side of the house, where she could hide behind one of the collapsed walls, and finally let her guard drop. Tears ran down her face, and she laid down to cover her head with her paws.
Porter, she thought, maybe it's better if you don't come at all...
Holy crap, Ozzie thought, peering through the branches of the bush he was crouched in, there she is!
Lying in the clearing, not twenty feet away from him, was his sister. Misty was asleep, but even in her wolf form Ozzie was able to recognize her. He'd burned the memory of her new face into his mind the moment he laid eyes on her. To his dismay, though, she wasn't alone. The thing that had been chasing her, the gigantic boot-wearing monster, was lying on the other side of their makeshift camp. Ozzie didn't dare get too close, but he thought that the hooded giant must be asleep as well.
Feelings were welling up inside the young man just looking at her. After all these years of thinking she was dead, he was finally looking at his sister's face again. He didn't care that she wasn't human anymore, all that mattered was that she was alive. He desperately wanted to wake her up, but he fought those urges. He couldn't do anything with the giant right there.
Ozzie toyed with the pommel of his dagger, and considered slitting the monster's throat while it slept. It would be risky. Too risky, he decided in the end. He was still a Slayer-in-Training, which meant he'd only been allowed to kill low level monsters like goblins and fairies. Anything man-sized or above could only be attacked by a full ranking Slayer. Ozzie may not have been a Slayer anymore, but he still figured that was good advice to follow.
Luckily, he didn't have to wait long. As soon as the sun rose high enough to pierce the trees, the giant stirred. Getting up to its impressive ten foot height, it said something that roused Misty as well. His sister glanced up at it, and then nodded before laying her head down again. Drawing its cloak tighter against the cold, the giant lumbered off into the woods.
Ozzie's pulse spiked. Now was his chance! Backing out of the bush as carefully as he could, he hid with his back against a tree and peeked around. Still no sign of the giant.
"Misty!" he whispered as loud as he dared. He waited a few tense seconds, but she didn't stir. "Misty!"
When she still didn't respond, Ozzie knelt down and picked up a pebble. After bouncing it in his palm a couple times, he tossed it into the campsite, where it skittered across the ground and struck Misty on the nose. Instantly, the wolf's eyes shot open, and she raised her head to look around in sleepy confusion.
"Misty, over here!" Ozzie whispered again, poking his head out from behind the tree just long enough to motion for her to join him.
Misty's brow furrowed in confusion, but she hesitantly got to her paws and came to where he was hiding.
"Who are you?" she asked. "What do you want?"
"Misty, it's me!" Ozzie said, stepping out from behind the tree. "Ozzie!"
Misty's eyes widened, and for a few seconds neither of them moved.
She can't believe her eyes, Ozzie thought. Just like I couldn't.
Then, Misty bared her teeth and backed away.
"No, you're not," she growled.
Ozzie took a step after her. "Yes, I am. I—"
"Ozzie's dead!" Misty yelled.
"I'm not dead," Ozzie insisted. "I thought you were the one who died!"
She shook her wolfish head and took another step back. "I don't know who you are or why you're here, but this isn't funny. Go away!"
"Stop calling me that! My name isn't Misty anymore."
Ozzie raised a hand, but didn't reach for her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Suddenly, Misty's expression changed, and she looked around as if she were afraid someone was watching them.
"I can't tell you," she said, taking another step back. "Daddy says I'm not allowed to talk to his Slayers."
Ozzie hesitated. The way she said "daddy" made her sound a lot younger than she actually was, as if she hadn't aged a day since the last time they'd seen each other.
"Our dad's dead," Ozzie whispered, lowering his hand. "I saw him die."
Misty shook her head again. "No, no, my new daddy!"
She had her tail tucked between her legs now.
"You mean Mortoph?" Ozzie asked, scowling at the thought of the lying Master Slayer.
Misty immediately hit the ground, whining, and hid her head under her paws.
"Oh, I'm gonna be in so much trouble! Daddy said nobody's allowed to know I'm his daughter!"
Ozzie clenched his fist. "What the heck are you talking about? He's not our dad!"
"Yes he is!"
"He's been lying to both of us. He's a piece of—"
Misty sprang back to her feet, her eyes alight with anger.
"You can't talk about him that way!" she screamed. "He's my daddy, and you... you're not my brother!"
Before Ozzie could argue further, he felt a huge hand wrap around his neck and was yanked off his feet. The giant spun around and slammed his back against a tree hard enough to make the entire thing groan. Stars danced in front of Ozzie's eyes, and he couldn't breathe with the giant squeezing his throat like that.
"How many more of you are following us?" it roared, spraying Ozzie's face with spit.
Ozzie froze in the creature's grip, petrified by terror.
"I asked how many?" the giant raised its other hand, which was bigger than Ozzie's head, and made a fist.
"Wait!" Misty shouted.
The giant didn't lower its fist, but it did turn to look at her.
"Don't hurt him," she said.
The giant looked at her, and then at Ozzie. "Do you know this Slayer?" he asked, giving her a suspicious look out of the corner of his eye.
"No," Misty said. "But please, don't kill him!"
After thinking about if for a few seconds, the giant brought Ozzie closer to its face.
"If you continue to follow us," it growled, "I will kill you. Now get out of my sight, scum!"
He dropped Ozzie, and the young man fell the entire ten feet before landing in a heap on the ground. He rubbed his throat and coughed, his head spinning too much to stand up.
"Let us go, Misoki," the giant said, turning around with a dramatic sweep of its cape. Misty followed, and Ozzie couldn't do anything but watch as his long lost sister walked away. Just as they were about to leave the clearing, though, she turned around and looked at him again.
Come back, he silently begged her as he lay on the ground, recovering. It's really me. I'm alive. You have to believe me!
But she didn't believe him. He could see it in her eyes. She still thought he was lying. All he had done was push her even farther away.
She followed the giant, and disappeared from sight.
Ozzie struggled to get to his feet, but the world shifted underneath him and he fell down again. He couldn't let it end like this. He couldn't just let her walk away and forget this ever happened. Even if the giant had threatened his life, Ozzie had to keep following them.
He had to...
NEXT TIME: Things aren't looking good. Ozzie's family issues are only building up, and Porter's chances of saving Sarah are only getting smaller. Speaking of Porter, what happened to him after Granger left him in the woods?