Everything was dark.
"W- what's going on?" Porter asked, looking around. He couldn't feel Lowatai's hand on his head anymore.
"We are in your mind," the elf's voice answered. A soft light broke the darkness to his right, and he turned to see Lowatai stepping through it, as if it were a door.
Looking around again, Porter suddenly understood what her plan was. "You want to look through my memories to find the Slayers' base. The memories from when I was a Slayer."
"Yes," she confirmed, and took him by the arm. At a wave of her hand, the darkness receded and Porter found himself in a place he'd seen many times before.
"Take me back," he said, stepping away from the long, shadowy corridor. "I don't want to go back down there. There's- there's nothing good in there."
Lowatai's grip on his arm tightened. "Is Sarah not worth it?"
Porter froze midstep, ashamed of his own cowardice. Taking a moment to brace himself, he took the lead, walking Lowatai into the depths of his mind. A minute later, they arrived at the doorway.
"Wait a minute," Porter said, stopping short. He pointed at the door. "Last time I was here, there were bars over that door."
"Your dark side has escaped," Lowatai explained, continuing toward opening. "The bars holding it in have been broken."
That didn't ease Porter's misgivings, but he made for the door anyway. The darkness was thicker in there, like a rectangle of solid black stone set into the wall, but they crossed the threshold without incident.
"What now?" Porter asked, coming to a stop a few steps into the room. It was so dark in there he couldn't even see Lowatai beside him anymore. The only light came from the doorway behind them, and none of it seemed to be able to pierce the shadows.
Lowatai finally let go of Porter's arm and went to stand a few feet away from him. "Now I am going to—"
Her words were cut off when loud flapping sound came from the shadows, followed by a gust of freezing wind. Porter stiffened for a second, trying desperately to spot what had caused the commotion, but the darkness was too thick. He hurriedly went to stand beside Lowatai again.
"What was that?" he asked.
"We are not alone," Lowatai answered, and Porter noticed the edge in her voice. She was just as afraid as he was, even if she didn't show it.
Porter flexed his hand instinctively, but Flicker didn't appear. Of course it wouldn't, he realized. He was inside his head. Flicker only answered his call in the real world.
"We still have to do what we came here for," the elf answered without hesitation. She raised her hand, and a beam of light shot out of her palm. She set off again, more slowly this time, following the light. "Your memories are here, even if you can't reach them. I just have to..."
Her voice trailed off as they came to a box sitting on the floor. It looked like some sort of treasure chest, and was as tall as Porter's waist. There were chains as thick as his arm wrapped around it, holding it shut.
"Yes," she confirmed. "That chest is what is holding your forgotten memories."
The boy knelt down and put his hand on it. Could his memories really be in there?
"That is probably one of many," Lowatai said. "We'll have to open every one we see until we find the memory we're looking for."
Porter shuddered and stood up again.
"I don't want to remember anything about what I did," he said softly. "Whatever happened when I was a Slayer, I want it to stay buried forever."
"But for Sarah, it's worth it, right?"
Porter took a deep breath and nodded. This time Lowatai knelt before the chest. Leaning in close to it, she whispered a word in her own language to it, and...
What felt like a pulse of electricity coursed through Porter's skull. He grabbed his head, groaning, and fell to his knees. In front of him, the chains fell off of the chest.
"I'm sorry," Lowatai said, helping him back up after giving him a few seconds to recover. "The magic used to seal those memories away was stronger than I expected. Forcing it open shouldn't have needed that much power."
"It hurt," Porter croaked. Even though he hated himself for it, he had to lean on Lowatai for a minute to keep from falling down. When his head cleared, he looked back down at the chest.
"Open it," Lowatai said. With a clammy feeling crawling down his spine, Porter took the lid of the chest in his hands and raised it. Instantly, a blinding white light exploded out of it, knocking Porter over backwards.
"Hello, Porter," a woman's voice echoed through the chamber. "My name's Glenda."
He got a brief, fuzzy glimpse of a woman with gray hair standing before him. The image was blurry, but he could still see the kindness in her eyes. For half a second, he felt an unfamiliar emotion stirring in his heart— and then she vanished, leaving Porter and Lowatai standing in darkness again.
"What..." Porter asked, but then amended, "who was that?"
"I don't know," Lowatai answered. "Somebody you must have known as a child. Everything you knew about her was locked away with the rest of your memories."
Porter shook his head, clearing it. "It wasn't what we needed to know, though."
"No, it wasn't," Lowatai agreed, and turned her back on the chest. "We have to keep looking."
Before she could take a step, a low, ominous chuckle came from the darkness, followed by an ear splitting screech like wood being dragged over stone. That turned out to be exactly what the noise was, because a moment later a second chest slid out of the shadows and came to rest a few feet away from them. It was identical to the other one, but as Porter looked at it the chains fell free on their own accord. He gave a wary glance at Lowatai.
"Did you do that?" he asked.
"No," she answered.
Before he could finish, the chest burst open. Instead of a white light, two featureless, flesh-colored orbs appeared in the air. Both Porter and Lowatai froze, staring at them.
A scream rang through the room, deafeningly loud, and a flash of red lightning shot out of the orbs. The screaming stopped. A moment later, a second red flash came from them, and then the entire image vanished.
Porter looked at the place where the nightmarish image had just been, and found that he was trembling. With a shaky hand, he reached out and grasped Lowatai's shoulder.
"What's going on?" he breathed.
Lowatai wasn't shaking, but he could tell she was afraid too.
"Whatever is in here," she answered, scanning the darkness with blind eyes, "is toying with us."
"What is it?"
Lowatai put her hand over Porter's and gave him a reassuring squeeze. "I don't know for sure, but I have an—"
A third chest came sliding up to them, cutting her off midsentence. Both of them regarded it warily, but didn't move to open it. Whatever the thing hiding in the shadows was, it quickly grew impatient and unchained the chest itself.
Another scene rose out of the box, this one showing a forest from a bird's eye view. It slowly panned around until a castle became visible in the distance, its red brick walls shining dully in the sunlight.
"It's called Red Castle," a voice said. The speaker wasn't visible, but Porter couldn't shake the feeling that he knew it from somewhere. "The civilians believe it to be a bunch of abandoned ruins, but the Slayers have been using it for their base since the first immigrants came to the new world."
Porter gasped as memories came flooding into his brain. Red Castle, he remembered it now. Lots of things were still lost to him, like pages torn from a book, but one thing was certain: he knew exactly where the castle was.
"I... remember," he said, still grasping Lowatai's arm. The images vanished, leaving them in darkness again. For several minutes the two of them stood motionless, waiting for the creature lurking in Porter's mind to make another move.
"It's a trap," Lowatai said at last, her voice hoarse.
Porter nodded. "I know. It showed us exactly what we wanted to see. It wants us to go to Red Castle."
"No," the voice in the darkness said. "I want you to come to Red Castle."
It was the same voice he had heard in the memory, Porter thought. And when the darkness parted to finally reveal their tormentor, he finally realized why it sounded so familiar.
"This farce has gone on for too long," said Mortoph, fixing them both with his spine-chilling stare. "Come to Red Castle so I can bring it to an end."
"Lowatai," Porter whispered, his grip tightening on her shoulder in shock, "what's going on? Why's he here?"
Mortoph's mouth rose in a wicked grin. "I can be wherever I want to be, child."
"I knew it," Lowatai said, her voice low with fury. Porter felt her muscles go taught under his hand. "This is how you've been doing it all along!"
Porter turned to look at her in bewilderment. "How he's been doing what all along?"
On the other side of the room, Mortoph frowned. "This one can stay here," he decided. "It has fulfilled its purpose."
With that, the shadows swallowed Mortoph again. Before Porter could ask what was going on, another light came from behind them. As one, they spun around to see Mortoph raising his sword.
Not knowing what else to do, Porter screamed, "Lowatai!"
Mortoph swung his sword just as Lowatai shouted a word in Elvish.
There was a bright white flash.
Other Porter was pacing anxiously around the ruins of his house, the fire casting multiple shadows of himself all over the walls.
"Where is he?" he muttered, spinning around to look at the road again. His hand strayed towards the pocket where he kept his sword. "He should have been here by now!"
"I hope he doesn't come," Sarah said, lying with her paws crossed in front of her.
Other Porter stopped and sat down facing the road. With agitated movements, he pulled his sword out of his pocket and laid it across his lap. Out of his other pocket came a whetstone, which he began furiously rubbing on the blade.
"He'll come," he said just when Sarah began to think he was ignoring her. "He cares too much about you to just leave you here. I just didn't think it'd take him this long."
They sat in silence for a few minutes while the clone scrubbed furiously at his sword. Finally, with an uncharacteristic yell, he threw the stone away and stood up again.
"You're acting pretty spastic," Sarah teased him with a smug grin. "Worried about what's going to happen if he shows up?"
"I'm tired of waiting! Where is he?" Other Porter demanded, and kicked a rock so it went flying into the forest. Then he went still. "Maybe I need to give him an extra incentive to hurry up."
Something in his words sent a chill down Sarah's spine, and she stood up. "What do you..."
He turned around to face her, and Sarah's words died in her mouth. She could tell just by looking at him what he was thinking.
"You- you can't kill me," she reasoned with him, taking a step backwards. "If you do, Porter won't have any reason to come after you!"
Other Porter advanced on her, raising his sword. "How's he going to find out? You can't contact him. He'll never know until he gets here."
Sarah backed up into one of the walls. "But I—"
Other Porter swung his sword, and Sarah barely managed to duck before it took her head off. The blade sliced straight through the old brick wall, showering the sphinx with dust.
"Just hold still," Other Porter ordered her, raising the sword again. "I'll make it as painless as I can."
"No!" Sarah screamed, and threw herself at Porter. Her sudden retaliation caught him by surprise, and her weight threw him off balance. Before he could recover, Sarah turned and raced into the forest.
It's all over, she thought as she ran, weaving in between the trees. I can't stay here and wait for Porter anymore. I have to get away and try to find him. If I can just focus long enough to—
Before she could try to cast the teleportation spell, Other Porter came hurtling out of the trees, and a blast of wind as strong as tornado lifted her off her paws. She went flying through the forest until she struck a tree. Her head buzzed from the impact, and Other Porter was there before she could get up again. He raised his sword a second time, and Sarah closed her eyes, unable to look.
Sarah stayed like that for a full minute, waiting for him to strike the fatal blow, but it never came. Finally, she opened her eyes to see him standing over her, sword still raised, with a confused look on his face. His hand trembled, and he finally lowered the weapon. Sarah lay there, hyperventilating, unable to believe she was still alive.
"This isn't fair," he said under his breath. When Sarah looked she was surprised to see that his eyes were red, as if he were holding back tears. "It's not fair!"
"W- what are you..." Sarah managed to ask in between gasps.
"Fine!" Other Porter roared, and threw his sword away. It flew a dozen feet, and then buried itself in a tree. He rounded on Sarah again, and the look in his eyes now was more terrifying than ever. "Fine, then! You get to stay alive for now. That way you'll get to watch me kill your lover boy. Now get back to the house."
Before his words could register in Sarah's brain, the clone reached down, grabbed her by her hair, and pulled her to her paws. Sarah screamed, but was shut up when Other Porter kicked her in the ribs. With him standing right behind her, she had no choice but to do as he said. Even though her entire body was numb with fear, she trudged back the way she'd come.
Porter became aware of a hand resting on his face. With a shout, his eyes shot open and he backpedaled until his foot caught on a root and he went sprawled out on his back. He lay there for a few seconds, gasping for breath, before his brain finally caught up to him. There were tree branches above him, swaying gently in a cold breeze. The dark room was gone. Mortoph was gone. He and Lowatai had escaped. Which meant that the hand he had felt on his face had been...
"Lowatai!" he exclaimed, scrambling to his feet. He immediately spotted her lying face down in the dirt and ran to help her. As gently as he could, he rolled her onto her back.
"Porter," she croaked, and drew in a raspy breath.
"What... what happened to you?" he demanded. She looked like she was on the brink of death. His eyes scanned her for injuries, but couldn't find any. "I thought that was all in my head!"
"For you... it was," the elf whispered. "But not for... me."
Porter looked into her eyes and shook his head. "But I thought—"
"He... did not injure my body. I was projecting myself into your mind. My physical body was beyond his reach. He attacked... my soul."
Porter couldn't move. What should he do? Could he do anything? As he sat there staring at her in horror, she raised a hand that was already cold and grasped Porter's.
"I don't have much time left," she said, looking him dead in the eye. "Promise me... that you'll do it. You and Sarah both."
"Do... Lowatai, I can't! We can't! You have no idea what you're asking us to do!"
"If you won't do it because it's right," she whispered, her voice growing even weaker, "then do it for my memory."
"Please, at least... try. It is the only thing that matters to me."
She gave his hand a weak squeeze, and Porter raised his other hand to wrap them both around hers.
"Okay," he finally agreed, his willpower crumbling under the weight of his friend dying before his eyes. "I'll... I'll try."
Lowatai sighed and closed her eyes, letting her head fall back to rest on the soft forest floor. Her entire body went still, and with a long, shaky breath...
"Thank you," she whispered, and passed away, her hand still clasped in Porter's.
Porter didn't know how long he knelt there, holding Lowatai's hand in the moonlit forest. His entire body shook, but it wasn't because of the cold. She looked so peaceful lying there, like she had merely fallen asleep. He was almost afraid to move for fear of waking her up.
"You shouldn't have gotten involved," he whispered to her lifeless body, and pressed her hand to his chest. "You didn't deserve this. You should have just left me laying there to die. Everything... Everybody I touch... dies."
He closed his eyes, unable to look at her anymore. She had said he was Sarah's protector, but he couldn't protect anyone. Sarah was kidnapped, Tick was lost, Azkular was dead, and now Lowatai was too. He wasn't a protector. He was poison...
Tears stung his eyes, but he refused to let them out. Everything that had happened was his fault, but he couldn't let it break him. Not yet. He had made three promises. One to Sarah, one to Tick, and now one to Lowatai. No matter how much he hurt, he had to keep those promises.
"Mortoph," he said into the darkness, "you just made this personal."
He wasn't sure if the Master Slayer could hear him, and he didn't particularly care. One way or another, Porter was coming for him. Azkular might not be with him anymore, but the djinn's mission had suddenly become his own. He would rescue Sarah, and then do his best to end the war. If Lowatai thought they were capable of something like that, then it was their responsibility to try.
Without any further hesitation, Porter scooped Lowatai into his arms and set off in the direction of the Ragga elves' camp. How would he explain this to them, he wondered? Would they think he had killed her? He drew a deep breath when he saw their lights shimmering between the trees, and ventured in.
The other elves turned as one to see their fallen leader, but to Porter's disbelief they didn't seem surprised. They didn't say a word as he carried her to the center of camp and laid her down, they only bowed their heads.
Giving Lowatai one last look, Porter stood up and found another elf standing in front of him.
"I am Faska," he said, his voice cracking with barely contained emotion.
"You're... you're the one who gave me and Sarah a tent," Porter realized.
Faska nodded. "With our leader dead, the burden of leadership passes to me."
Porter gritted his teeth and forced himself to look Faska in the eye. Here it comes. They think I killed her...
"What was the last thing she said before she died?"
Porter's mouth fell open in shock.
"We know that Mistress Lowatai brought you out there to help you find your way," Faska explained. "Your mission is... was very important to her. If there is any way we can be of assistance, it would be our honor to do so."
Porter looked all around the camp, and was further shocked to see the other elves nodding their agreement. Suddenly, his entire body felt numb. Their beloved leader was dead because of him, but they still wanted to help him?
He looked back down at her body. She was only the latest of the Slayers' victims. She'd sacrificed herself in the hopes that she would be the last, and it looked like that hope had been passed to every one of her clansmen as well. Closing his eyes again, Porter reached down inside of himself and hoped he could find a spark of that same determination as well.
He opened his eyes.
"We're going to Red Castle."
NEXT TIME: Porter knows where he's going. Is Sarah safe from the Other Porter until he gets there? Or is there something going on inside the clone's head we don't know about?