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Chapter Forty One

(POV: Porter)


Red Castle stood tall and imposing at the center of a flat, grassy plain, like a scarlet beast that blocked out the early morning sun. Porter and Faska knelt in the underbrush at the edge of the forest, with the rest of the Ragga elves hidden in the trees behind them.


"This is it," Porter announced as quietly as he could. "It's the same exact place I saw in my memories."


Faska crawled forward a few feet and squinted his eyes. "I can see Slayers on top of the walls," he said. "We're in the right place."


Porter was surprised that Faska could see that far, but didn't bring it up. They had more important things to worry about.


"So, how am I going to get inside?" he asked. "It's not like I can just knock on the front door."


"Come with me," the elf said, crawling backwards until he was covered by the trees again. Porter followed, and the two of them went back to where the rest of the tribe waited. Drawing his cloak aside, Faska withdrew a vial filled with clear liquid and held it out to Porter.


"When you drink this, it will turn you invisible for twenty minutes," he said. "You have to get inside, find where Sarah is, and get out before it wears off."


Porter took the potion and looked at it. If he hadn't known better, he would have thought it was just water. "Okay, but how am I going to get in? That place is a fortress."


Faska motioned towards the rest of his tribe. "We'll travel a mile in that direction," he pointed into the distance, "and cause a disturbance. The Slayers will come to investigate, and you will go in through the door before it closes."


Porter looked up at Faska, and nearly dropped the potion. "What? No! You can't put your tribe in danger because of me!"


When Faska replied, his voice was calm. "I told you last night, Mistress Lowatai's quest is now ours. We will do whatever it takes."


"Not like this," Porter argued. "I won't let any more of my friends die for me!"


"Then you should hurry," Faska advised him, a sly hint of a smile on his face. "The sooner you get out, the sooner we can retreat."


Porter was about to argue more, but bit his tongue. Faska had obviously made up his mind, and his tribe would do whatever he said. Arguing would just waste valuable time.


"What do I do when I get out, then?" he asked.


Again, Faska drew back his cloak and produced a cube made of yellow glass.


"This has a teleportation spell trapped inside of it. Break it on the ground, and it will transport you away."


"To where?"


"A few miles away. Far enough to be safe, but close enough that we can get to you within a few minutes."


Taking a deep breath, Porter pocketed the teleportation cube and turned to look at Red Castle.


"I guess there's no point in asking you to let me do this myself, is there?"


"None at all," Faska confirmed. "When you get to the wall, give us a signal and we'll begin the distraction."


He began to back away, and the rest of the elves followed suit, and when Porter looked again he was surprised to find that he'd already lost sight of them.


All right, he thought, uncorking the potion. Let's do this.


He swallowed the entire potion in one gulp, and shivered when a chill even stronger than the weather flowed over his entire body. When he looked down, the only thing he could see was two spots where the grass was flattened.


Twenty Minutes


Not wanting to waste any time, Porter took off running across the field. He ran in a straight line, trying to keep his footprints from being too noticeable, and was at the castle a minute later. Putting his back against the wall, he gave himself a moment to catch his breath. Faska was expecting a signal from him, but how was he supposed to communicate with the elves without giving himself away?


The rising sun peaked over the castle wall, and Porter knew what to do. Creeping forward until he was in the light, he summoned Flicker. To anyone else, it would have looked like the sword was floating in midair, but Porter moved quick, sending two flashes of light into the forest.


"Hey!" a gruff voice shouted, and Porter spun around to see a Slayer running in his direction. "What's going on here?"


Cursing under his breath, Porter let the sword vanish and stepped back into the castle's shadow. It was too late, though. The Slayer had already seen his footprints, and his eyes followed the invisible young man with every step.


Oh no, Porter thought. He hadn't even made it inside the—


Suddenly an explosion came from the forest, and a plume of fire rose up from the treetops in the distance. The Slayer froze midstep and turned to look.


"What the..." he asked. The next moment, an alarm bell began to toll from inside the castle.


"We're under attack!" the watchman shouted. "Monsters in the forest!"


The Slayer who had spotted Porter froze, and looked out to where the explosion had come from, and then back to Porter. Porter held his breath, waiting for him to alert the others that there was a monster right outside the castle. For a few seconds, it looked like he was going to do exactly that, but then the fortress' doors burst open and Slayers came flooding out into the field, ready for battle. The Slayer gave the spot where Porter was standing one last anxious look, and then turned and ran off with the others.


You'd better have hidden them well, Faska, Porter thought as he watched the river of black coats flow towards the woods. Because they're going to slaughter you if they find you.


And with that, he raced for the doorway. The tide seemed to have stemmed, but the doors still stood wide open. After poking his head around the corner, Porter raced inside.


"It's him!" a familiar voice exclaimed, and Porter froze midstep. On the other end of the hallway, the Master Slayer himself appeared from around a corner with Granger half a step behind him. Porter almost panicked at the sight of the two Slayers, but still had the presence of mind to dodge to the side of the hallway and press his back up against the wall. He was invisible, he reminded himself. There was no way Mortoph could have seen him.


"What do you mean, sir?" Granger asked, his hand already resting on the pommel of his katana.


"Porter," Mortoph growled in response. He was so close now that Porter could almost reach out and touch him. "I knew he would come here, but I didn't think it would be so..."


His voice trailed off, and he came to a stop mere feet away from Porter. The young man held his breath. Slowly, Mortoph turned in his direction. A shiver ran down his spine when he looked into the Master Slayer's eyes.


No! he thought. There's no way he can see me!


With a confused look on his face, Mortoph extended his hand, like he was going to grab Porter. Porter almost stepped away, but the sound of his shoes on the stone floor would only confirm Mortoph's suspicions. Instead, he waited until the Slayer's fingers were only an inch away from his face, and then ducked. He didn't move much, for fear of touching Mortoph, but it was still enough for the Slayer's hand to pass completely over his head. Mortoph closed his fist, but caught only air.


"What is it, sir?" Granger asked, giving his master a strange look.


"Nothing," Mortoph said after a moment's consideration. "Come on, the men need us outside."


With a swish of his coat, the Master Slayer turned and led the way out of the castle. Porter stared after him, barely able to believe he'd gotten so close without being caught.


Get on your feet, he urged himself, too afraid to speak out loud, and go!


Forcing himself to obey, Porter ignored his shaking knees and hurried further into Red Castle. From outside the door he could hear the Slayers shouting as they tried to locate the attacking monsters. Hopefully Faska could lead them well enough to keep them from being spotted. Even if he did, though, Porter was still only had about fifteen minutes left before the potion wore off.


Where are the records? he wondered. His memories had told him where Red Castle was, but nothing about what was inside it. He clenched his fist and swallowed a frustrated growl. He could easily use up his remaining invisibility just trying to find that one room!


If I had a bunch of files filled with information about a secret army, where would I keep them? he thought, and the answer came to him almost immediately. The safest place in the entire castle would be right next to the most powerful man on earth. And since Mortoph had come from that direction, that's where his office must be!


Keeping his back against the wall just in case any more Slayers came running past, Porter made his way down the hallway as quickly as he could. After rounding the corner, he stopped for a moment to scan the doors. Most of them were labeled, containing weapons rooms, training rooms, and barracks. One large set of double doors revealed a gigantic room filled with tables. It reminded him of the dining hall at the Historians' Tower, and he quickly looked away— and found exactly what he was looking for.


The door to Drake Mortoph's office was ajar, but the golden plaque with his name and rank were still plainly visible. Porter's stomach did a somersault, but he reminded himself that he'd seen the Master Slayer run outside only a minute before. If he'd come back Porter would have seen him. And yet, he couldn't shake the suspicion that Mortoph had ways of knowing when people went into his office, even if he wasn't there to see them.


Snap out of it! he thought, giving himself a mental kick. You're not going in there. You're just looking for the room that should be... yes!


Scanning the doorways, Porter was once again rewarded when he saw a door labeled archives. He'd been looking for the records, but that sounded similar enough for him to check out.


Pushing the door open, Porter found himself in a long, narrow room lined with filing cabinets. It wasn't as large as the mess hall, but it seemed to stretch even further.


"Yeah," he whispered to himself, shutting the door behind him, "I think this is the place."


The silence in the archive room was disquieting after chaos and commotion in the hallway. Porter made his way down the corridor of cabinets, trying to convince himself that the Slayers outside couldn't hear his heartbeat, no matter how loudly it pounded in his ears. His eyes scanned the labels on the cabinets as he went. He had expected to find his name easily by following the alphabet, but the Slayers' records were so vast that they had to be labeled by the first three letters of the Slayer's names. Even this far away from the door, he was still among the V names, with labels such as Vel-Vid on both sides.


Look for the C's, he thought, walking a little faster. Ignore the rest, just find your name!


Porter had to run almost all the way to the other end of the room to find the C's, and it took him another few minutes to find the cabinet containing Col names. Grabbing the handle, he pulled the drawer out as far it could go.


"Cold, Colfer, Cogwan," he muttered under his breath as he flipped through the files. "Collins, Porter!"


He grabbed the manila folder as if it were a fish about to dart away and yanked it out of the drawer. There was his name, printed in bold black letters against the pale yellow paper. His stomach turned over again looking at it, and he realized something that he hadn't even thought about before. He'd come here to find his old address, but this file could contain so much more than that. Things he wasn't sure he wanted to know.


"It's for Sarah," he said, probably louder than he should have. "Sarah's worth it."


With trembling hands, he opened the folder, pulled out the papers, and began to read.


"Collins, Porter,


Subject was retrieved on April 2nd from a family living at 332 Graybark Drive. The parents, Victor and Trisha Collins, were terminated and their house burned down. Evidence was left to incriminate Mythics. The subject will keep its given name, Porter Collins. Porter will be the first human test subject in..."


Porter flipped the page, but found that there was nothing more for him to read. The entire rest of the file had been painted over in thick black ink, leaving nothing visible to the naked eye. Printed on top of the black ink, in big red letters, was a message.


"Further information on test subject Porter Collins is restricted to those of the highest priority."


Porter's hands trembled, making the papers rustle in his grip.


The subject was taken... Parents were terminated... Evidence was left behind to... Porter will be the first...


With a gasp, Porter dropped the papers and fell backwards, nearly knocking over the filing cabinets behind him. His heart pounded painfully inside of him, and he put a hand on his chest to keep it from bursting free.


"What... what..." he asked, all feeling fading from his body. "My parents... Test subject? What does that mean?"


Shadows swam in front of his vision, and he dimly realized that he was about to faint. His training, the training he couldn't remember getting, took over again and he took a deep breath. Then he let it out and took another breath. Slowly, he began to calm down. What he had read still horrified him, but at least now he was able to focus on the task at hand.


332 Graybark Drive. He knew where Other Porter had taken Sarah. Now all he had to do was get there alive.


Going back to the door, Porter opened it a crack and poked his head out. When a pair of Slayers came walking around the corner, his heart almost stopped until he remembered they couldn't see him. Still, he stood motionless until they had walked past.


"Keep your eyes open," one of them said. "We have to make sure none of them made it inside."


"Do you think they're here for the djinn?" the other one mused.


Porter, who had been easing the door open again, froze. The djinn?


"Might be," the first one answered. "We only brought it here a day ago, right? And now monsters are showing up right outside our base?"


They went around the next corner, and Porter lost sight of them. The Slayers had brought a djinn here? There was no way it could be a coincidence. It had to be Azkular!


And, in the space of a moment, Porter had another objective.




NEXT TIME: Porter knows where Other Porter took Sarah! Too bad Mr. Goody Two-Shoes can't just leave that jerky genie behind. Well, looks like this recon mission just turned into a rescue mission!


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