Chapter Forty Two
Azkular was in Red Castle. Porter didn't even have to think about it to make up his mind. He'd abandoned the djinn once already, but he wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.
Hurrying back through the castle as quickly as he could without making any noise, he caught sight of the two Slayers again. He followed, making sure to keep at least ten feet behind them, and waited. His chance finally came when they came to another fork in the hallway.
"I'll check this way, you go that way," the first one said. The second Slayer nodded, and they split up. Porter elected to go after the one heading right.
Carefully, he cautioned himself as he sneaked up behind him. There was a door open on their left. Now!
Before the Slayer could react, Porter lunged forward grabbing him around the throat from behind. With one arm he put the older man in a headlock, and with the other he covered his mouth. The Slayer tried to yell in surprise, but it only came out as a grunt through Porter's hand. Porter turned and shoved him into a nearby room, kicking the door shut behind them.
"Where are they keeping the djinn?" he demanded in as threatening a voice as he could muster. He released the Slayer and threw him to the floor so he could answer.
"Who are—" the Slayer demanded, but the words died in his mouth when he rolled over to look.
Uh oh, Porter thought, and looked down at himself, confirming his fears. The potion was beginning to wear off, leaving his body and clothes transparent but still clearly visible, like a ghost.
"Where's the djinn?" he demanded again, and gave the Slayer a kick in the stomach to help him focus. He felt a little bad for striking an opponent on the floor, but he didn't have time to worry about fair fighting.
The Slayer recoiled from the attack, and pressed himself up against the wall. "In- in Reaper's Wait!" he said, pointing back out the door. "It's that way, down the stairs!"
Huh, Porter thought, looking down at the sniveling coward. That was easier than I thought. I guess that explains why he stayed inside when everyone else went out.
Speaking of which, he realized every minute he wasted in the castle was one more minute the Ragga elves had to stay in danger. Porter balled his fist.
"Oh no, please don't—" the Slayer begged. Porter ignored him, and punched him on the side of the head. The Slayer slumped to the floor, unconscious.
Porter didn't bother sneaking when he ran back into the hallway. Now that he was becoming visible again, his best course of action was to get in and out as quickly as possible. If anyone got in his way, they'd just end up like the Slayer he'd left behind.
The way to the prison was right where the Slayer told him it would be. After rounding the corner, Porter came to a spiral staircase set in a dark corner of the corridor. He came to the first step, ready to go charging down, but the overpowering scent of damp and mold made him pause. There was a layer of dust thick enough to leave prints in on every surface of the stairway, from the floor to the walls, as if this was one part of the castle that the Slayers liked to pretend didn't exist. Porter didn't blame them. There was something there, something besides the smell and the shadows, that seemed to moan, stay away.
"For Sarah," he whispered, gathering up his courage again. Then, without giving himself any more time to hesitate, Porter ran down the stairs. He took them three at a time, almost causing himself to slip in the dim light, but he knew that if he slowed down he might never make it to the bottom. Finally, after what seemed like hours, he came to the last stair.
There were no windows here, it was too far underground for that. Even though he hadn't kept measurement, Porter felt like he had to be at least a half mile underneath the castle now. The only light came from two torches set on opposite sides of the room, which were just bright to illuminate the door at the other end. It was big enough that Droma could have fit through it without having to duck, but the way was barred. A statue of the grim reaper, cloaked in a robe of stony linen, held its scythe out— but whether it was to keep intruders out or the prisoners in, Porter couldn't tell. The reaper's empty eye sockets seemed to stair right at him, daring him to come closer.
It's just a statue, Porter thought, taking another step. Was it, though? Thinking back on everything he knew about the Slayers, the idea that Death himself might work for Mortoph suddenly didn't seem quite so farfetched. Even so, the young man reached out and put his hand on the scythe.
"Access denied," a low, ominous voice echoed through the room, and Porter jerked his hand back. The statue didn't move, either to let him in or to ward off the intruder. After taking a minute to regain his composure, Porter reached out and touched it again.
"Access deni—" the statue said again, but was cut off midsentence. It was silent for a few seconds, and then said, "Welcome, Master Slayer."
With a sound like nails on a chalkboard the reaper moved, raising its scythe to unblock the entrance. A loud click came from the door as it unlocked itself. Porter reached for the handle, but hesitated and looked back at the statue.
Master Slayer? he wondered, and a chill ran down his spine. Suddenly, he became convinced that Mortoph hadn't gone out to fight off the elves after all, and was instead watching him from somewhere in the shadows.
"Stop it," he growled. That wasn't how Mortoph worked. If he knew that Porter had made it into the castle, he wouldn't be wasting time lurking. If that were the case, Porter would probably be dead already.
Even though that thought wasn't as comforting as he would have liked, Porter turned the ancient handle and pushed the door open with a soul shivering groan. Instantly, another wave of musty smelling air washed over him, except now it was much stronger. It didn't smell of mold anymore, but of full blown rot and decay. Caught off guard as he was, Porter gagged and almost threw up.
The next thing he noticed were the Mythics. Just like the walls in the archive had been lined with filing cabinets, so was Reaper's Wait lined with cells. The walls were bars, and behind every one of them a pathetic Mythic stared at him with dead, hopeless eyes. That, more than anything else, made Porter's blood turn cold in his veins.
A centaur lay in the first cell, his equine legs looking too frail to support his weight. He looked a little confused when he saw Porter, but didn't seem to have it in him to care anymore. He bowed his head and shame, looking down at the cold stone floor that must have served as his bed for years. The others were exactly the same, Porter found as he made his way further into the prison. He kept his eyes fixed in front of him, trying to keep from seeing more of the miserable creatures than he had to. Not because they disgusted him, but because...
Because if I look at them too long, he realized, I'll want to save every one of them.
He would have a hard enough time getting Azkular out. Trying to free all the captives would be a suicide mission.
A bony hand reached out between the bars and grabbed Porter by his pant leg. Porter gasped in surprise, and then clamped his hand over his mouth to keep from making any more noise. The Mythic that had grabbed him looked like a man with a bird's head— and he was immediately reminded of the historian who had tried to help him find his memories back at the tower.
"You're not... one of them," the Mythic said. It wheezed as it spoke, as if its lungs weren't used to drawing in more air than was needed to breathe. "Are you... here to..."
"No," Porter answered, taking a step away so the Mythic lost his grip. "No, I'm sorry."
"Oh," the Mythic replied, drawing its hand back into the cell. If it was disappointed, it didn't show it. Or, maybe it was too far gone to care one way or the other.
"I'm sorry," Porter said again, and continued on his way.
The prison, Porter soon came to realize, had been built in a giant spiral shape. It wound downward further and further, the circles growing tighter with every pass. It took Porter another ten minutes before he finally caught sight of something that wasn't in a cage.
A short, portly man wearing a Slayer's coat that was so small that he couldn't button it up was whistling a lively song that was a stark contrast to the gloomy prison. In his right hand he twirled a large ring of keys. His back was turned to Porter, and it only took the young man a second to figure out what he had to do. He walked right up to him and tapped him on the shoulder.
The guard jumped as high as if Porter had jabbed him with a live wire, and spun around to look.
"Wha- you're not Master Mortoph!" he exclaimed. "What're you doing here?"
"I'm looking for a djinn," Porter answered. "He was brought here a couple days ago. Bring me to him."
The Slayer stared at Porter in bewilderment for a few seconds before shaking his head. "How did you get in here? Only Master Mortoph has access to—"
Before he could finish, Porter balled his fist and punched the guard in his sizeable stomach.
"Let's try that again," he said, grabbing the man's coat and pulling him closer so that they were looking each other dead in the eye. "Where's the djinn?"
"I can't tell you! Master Mortoph would—"
Porter punched him again.
Porter held up his fist, and the man clamped his mouth shut. Finally, he nodded. "Okay, okay, I'll take to it!"
Porter's face grew hot with anger, and he punched the guard a third time.
"My friend," he growled, "is not an it!"
The Slayer fell to his knees, holding his stomach. "I'll take you, okay? Just stop hitting me!"
This guy's a step down from the other Slayers, Porter thought as the fat guard got to his feet and hurried further into the prison. It made sense, though. It didn't take a warrior to guard a bunch of prisoners whose spirits had already been broken.
A couple minutes later, the corridor came to a dead end. Another massive door was set into the wall, with a second Slayer standing in front of it. This was tall and so scrawny that his coat nearly slid from his shoulders. When he saw his partner leading a stranger up to the cell, he fumbled to draw his weapon.
"Who's that?" he demanded, finally getting his sword out of its scabbard only to drop it on the floor. "What's he doing here?"
"I'm here for the djinn," Porter answered, walking confidently up to the door.
The second Slayer looked at his partner in horror. "What'd you bring him here for?"
Turning around, Porter punched him in the stomach too. "That's why." Turning back to the fat Slayer, he motioned for him to hurry up and open it.
"I- I can't unlock it," the Slayer said. "No, don't look at me like that! That cell only opens for Master Mortoph!"
A pit formed in Porter's stomach as he looked back at the door. There was no way on earth he could break down something like that. If the guards couldn't open it, then all the time he'd spent getting down here had been wasted.
"It only opens for Mortoph," Porter whispered, and looked at his hand. "But so did the door into the prison."
Having nothing else to go by, Porter placed his hand on the door. Everything was still for a few seconds, as if the prison itself was decided what to do, but then the door unlocked itself.
"No way!" the skinny Slayer said, scrambling back to his feet. "That door... how did you do that?"
Instead of answering, Porter swung the door open and looked inside. What looked like a metal cocoon was suspended against the back wall, but he couldn't see Azkular. Which meant...
Walking inside, Porter touched the chains. Just as he suspected, they unraveled and dumped the djinn onto the floor.
Azkular moaned in pain and cursed. "What do you want from me now?" he demanded.
"To get you out of here," Porter answered.
Azkular looked up at him and blinked in surprise. He shook his head. "I'm hallucinating. You can't be here, of all places!"
"We don't have time for that," Porter said, and hoisted Azkular up by his shoulder. "Come on, we're leaving."
The djinn was in bad shape, even worse than the last time they saw each other. His leg was still missing, but now he was so covered in cuts and bruises that Porter wouldn't have recognized him if he didn't know better.
"Who are you?" the scrawny Slayer asked, trying to keep as much distance between them as possible.
Porter stopped. After a moment of consideration, he leaned Azkular against the wall.
"Hold on a minute," he said, and then spun around to deliver a kick to the Slayer's jaw. The willowy man's head snapped to the side, and he twirled like a ballerina before collapsing on the floor. Porter grabbed the second Slayer by his coat before he could run, and then flung them both inside the cell.
"Oh, crap!" the fat guard yelled, just as the chains came alive to wrap them up. Porter slammed the door, sealing them inside.
"That was almost impressive," Azkular grunted, struggling to keep himself from falling. "You wouldn't have attacked an unarmed enemy two days ago."
Porter paused and then shook his head. "They made me mad."
Without another word, he began to lead Azkular back up the way he'd come. It was slow going, with the injured djinn hobbling alongside him on one leg, but they didn't run into anymore guards.
"Tell me," Azkular said when they were at the halfway point. "Mortoph. Is he still alive?"
"Yeah," Porter answered.
"Then we'll kill him on our way out."
"No, we won't," Porter argued. "You're in no condition to fight, and I only came to look at the records. I- I didn't even know you were here."
Azkular's eyes flashed blue with anger. "You broke me out of there just to abandon me again?"
"I'm not abandoning you," Porter shot back. "Because I'm not leaving you here this time."
Before the djinn could argue more, they were back in the castle. Porter took two steps out of the prison, and the door swung shut again. The reaper statue moved to block the entrance again, grinning sadistically at them from under its hood.
"How did you even manage to get inside?" Azkular asked as Porter helped him up the stairs.
"The Ragga elves," Porter answered. "They're outside causing a diversion to make the Slayers open the doors."
The djinn stiffened. "Lowatai is attacking the Slayers?"
Porter froze. Azkular didn't know. Of course he didn't know...
"No," he answered. "Lowatai is—"
Azkular grabbed him by his shirt collar. "How could you bring her to a place like this? You had better get me outside right now, and if they've touched a single hair on her head I'm going to skin you alive!"
"All right," Porter agreed. "Hold on, then!"
He swung Azkular around so that the djinn was behind him, and then hoisted him up onto his back. It must have made a comical sight, a teenage boy giving a one legged djinn a piggyback ride, but he didn't stop to think about that as he raced up the stairs. Azkular wasn't heavy, and it only took him a minute to make it back out into the castle's hallway. The corridors were still deserted, which meant the Slayers were still outside hunting the elves.
"Hurry up!" Azkular yelled, elbowing him in the ribs.
Porter didn't need to be told twice. Retracing his steps, he ran back the way he'd come. The sounds of battle started to grow louder again as he neared the front door. He rounded the corner, almost slipping on the smooth stone floor, and made sprinted straight ahead as quickly as he could towards freedom.
There was a single Slayer guarding the door.
"Hey!" he shouted when he saw the two of them. "What's going—"
There was a flash of blue, and the Slayer fell over backwards with one of Azkular's knives buried in his chest. Porter wanted to rebuke the djinn for that, but there wasn't time. A split second later, they were outside.
Somehow, a battle had broken out on the plain in front of Red Castle. White clad elves were fighting black clad Slayers, and it was obvious by the number of bodies scattered all around the field which side was winning.
"There's Mortoph!" Azkular yelled, pointing into the distance where the Master Slayer was laying waste with his longsword. "Move to engage!"
"No," Porter argued, already pulling the cube out of his pocket. "We're getting out of here!"
The djinn's grip tightened painfully on Porter's shoulder. "I said to attack him!"
"And I said no!"
He raised the cube above his head, but before he could throw it a bolt of lightning flashed past him, knocking it out of his hand. It wasn't a blue fireball, which meant that...
Porter spun around and saw Granger racing toward them. His sword was drawn, and he was raising it even as he ran.
"I told you what I would have to do if I saw you again," the old Slayer said, and swung his weapon. Porter didn't have time react.
Suddenly there was a flurry of white in front of them, and Granger's sword was knocked aside.
"Faska!" Porter exclaimed.
The elf didn't reply. In the half second that Granger took to recover, Faska twirled his bowstaff in both hands and slammed it onto the ground, shattering the teleportation cube. Instantly, a ring of yellow light sprang up from the ground around them, and for once Granger looked like he was caught off guard. Faska twirled his weapon a second time and struck the Slayer in the chest, throwing him clear of the spell. It was just in time too, because the moment he cleared the yellow light, there was a flash and Porter, Azkular, and Faska were gone.
NEXT TIME: They got away from Red Castle, and Porter knows where Sarah is. Can they get there before Other Porter runs out of patience?