Chapter Forty Five
The whole world seemed to come to a halt when Mortoph appeared. The wind ceased to blow, and the crickets in the woods stopped chirping. The only sound Porter could hear was the pounding of his own heart, which grew more frantic with every passing second. The air grew even colder, and a layer of frost began to form over the grass below the Master Slayer's feet.
"Well?" Mortoph demanded, looking around impatiently, as if they were all a bunch of misbehaving children. "Answer me!"
Behind him, Porter heard Sarah whimper. He turned around to see her standing with her knees shaking and her fur standing on end. A spark of anger rose up in him, and he turned to look at Mortoph again.
"Yang potion," he answered, trying to bury the fear. He wasn't sure how Mortoph could manipulate their emotions like that, but he knew that is was as much a weapon as anything else he carried. If he could focus through it, he could render that weapon useless.
"I told him everything," Other Porter added with a mad grin.
Mortoph's eyes narrowed. "Did you now? What, exactly, was it you told him?"
"About him," Other Porter answered. "About us... and you!"
The clone started to shake, but he never let his smile fall from his face. Looking from Other Porter to Mortoph, Porter realized he wasn't smiling because he thought the situation was funny— he was smiling because that was the only thing he could do to cover up his terror.
"I told him what you did to him," he went on. "What you did to our parents. How you went into his brain and turned him into me!"
Mortoph's expression turned even darker.
"Is it true?" Porter asked once the clone stopped talking.
Mortoph scowled, but nodded. "Yes, it's true."
To Porter's surprise, this didn't bother him as much as he'd thought it would. He'd already heard it once from Other Porter, Mortoph was just confirming it.
"Then," he stammered, "what about my eyes? Shouldn't they be like Azkular's?"
Mortoph glanced up at the djinn like he was a bug that needed to be stepped on.
"They were," he said, reluctantly. "The eyes are an unavoidable side effect. But, I couldn't pass you off as a Slayer with eyes like those, so I gave you someone else's."
Even if the Repurposement couldn't shock Porter anymore, this could. Suddenly, his entire face felt alien to him, and he had to resist the urge to reach up and feel it. He still had both swords held to Other Porter's neck, and there was no telling what the clone would do if given the chance.
"Unfortunately," Mortoph said, reaching behind him to draw his longsword, "now that you know, I don't have any further use for you."
He held the sword out, the blade so long that it nearly covered the distance between him and the two Porters.
"Give me my sword," Other Porter whispered.
"What?" Porter shot him a sharp glance. "Why would I—"
"We'll stand a better chance of beating him together."
"Oh, so now you suddenly want to team up?"
"Do you want Sarah to die here?"
Porter paused and, reluctantly, turned Other Porter's sword around so the hilt was pointing towards him.
"If you try anything..." he warned him.
Other Porter grabbed the weapon and stood up. "I hate you, but I hate him even more."
The clone turned to face the Master Slayer, and Mortoph looked at them in amusement.
"Do you think taking me on two to one will make a difference?" he laughed.
"Three to one," Azkular corrected him, hopping up to stand beside Porter. His knives appeared in his hands in a flash of blue.
Mortoph snorted. "Two children and a crippled djinn."
"And me," Faska added, coming to stand beside Azkular, brandishing his staff at the Master Slayer.
"Me too, I guess," Ozzie said, joining them as well.
Mortoph scowled. "Another traitor..."
"Can it," the Asian boy snapped. "Porter's not the only one you've been lying to."
"That's five of us against one of you, Mortoph," Porter said.
"Six," Sarah said, and Porter looked to see her standing on his other side, crouched low in a pouncing position and her claws digging into the soft earth.
"Sarah, no! You'll—"
"Porter, I love you," she said without taking her eyes off Mortoph. "That's why I'm not going to let you do this yourself."
"We'll take him down together and end this tonight!" she insisted.
"You and Sarah, together, are the key to ending the war," Lowatai's voice echoed in his head. Together...
You'd better be right about this, Lowatai, he thought.
"Fine," he said out loud. "Six of us. How do you feel about those odds, Mortoph?"
Mortoph glowered at him, and then burst out laughing. "All right, then," he agreed. "Have it your way!"
He thrust his empty hand out toward them, and a wall of invisible force slammed into them. All six fighters were thrown off their feet, flying backwards in a straight line until they came crashing down onto the forest floor ten feet away.
Porter put a hand on the ground under him to push himself up, but then a shadow appeared in front of him, blocking out the moonlight. He could just make out the Master Slayer's sword as he raised it above his head, ready to cleave Porter clean in half.
"Die!" he roared, and swung.
Porter flinched, and because of that he didn't see the massive axe appear out of nowhere in front of him. Mortoph's sword collided with it, letting out a clang so loud that Porter felt it in his bones. His eyes shot open, and...
"Droma!" he exclaimed.
The Soul Smith stood over him, but wasn't able to reply. He gripped the axe, which was bigger than Porter was, with both hands, struggling with all his might to keep the Master Slayer's sword from touching him. Porter's brain finally caught up with what he was seeing, and he rolled out of the way. With one last grunt of exertion, Droma let the axe vanish and backed away, out of Mortoph's reach.
"More of you?" the Slayer demanded, rounding on the Soul Smith. "Are you all trying to—"
Mortoph froze with a look of shock on his face, and Porter spun around to see a wolf standing at the edge of the ruins, its head cocked in confusion.
Slowly, Mortoph's face contorted in fury. "What do you think you're doing here?" he demanded.
The wolf flinched, even though he hadn't even moved, and tucked its tail between its legs. "I'm sorry, daddy. I didn't know you were going to be here."
On the other side of the house, Ozzie rolled over and got to his knees. "Misty!"
That's his sister? Porter thought. So he was telling the truth!
The wolf followed Ozzie's voice, and nearly jumped out of her fur when she saw him. "You! What are you doing here?"
Ozzie scrambled to his feet. "I came looking for you. Misty—"
"That's not my name!" the wolf screamed, baring her teeth. "Stop calling me that!"
Ozzie jabbed his finger toward Mortoph, who was standing in the center of the insanity, for once in his life looking like he had no idea what was going on.
"He's not your dad, Misty," he yelled. "He's been lying to both of us this whole time!"
"What's going on?" Sarah demanded, getting to her paws. "Misoki, this guy is your—"
"No, he's not!" the wolf yelled. "Ozzie's dead!"
Misty, or Misoki, Porter wasn't sure what to call her, began to tremble. He might have felt sorry for her if he hadn't been afraid they were all going to die at any moment.
The wolf turned towards Mortoph. "Daddy, I came here to kill Sarah. I thought it would make you happy. Can I do it? Please?"
Mortoph's face turned red. "Misoki, you—"
"That's not her name, you lying worm!" Ozzie interrupted him. "Her name is Misty!"
Mortoph rounded on Ozzie, but Misoki spoke before he could.
"You can't talk to my daddy like that!" she screamed, and charged at him. She pounced at the last second, her pearly white teeth flashing in the moonlight. Ozzie reacted with a Slayer's reflexes, dodging out of her way and drawing his knife at the same time. Porter's breath caught in his throat when he saw the blade, but all Ozzie did was slam the pommel onto her head. Misoki collapsed, unconscious.
"How dare you?" Mortoph growled, taking his sword in both hands again. "That creature is my property!"
"She's my sister!" Ozzie yelled back, holding his knife out defensively. It looked absolutely pathetic compared to the Master Slayer's blade. "I don't care if she's not human, she's still my family."
Mortoph closed his eyes and shook his head. "Enough of this!" he roared. "I've wasted enough time with this idiocy. None of you are leaving this place alive!"
"Listen to me," Porter heard his clone whisper. "Get Sarah out of here."
"What?" Porter exclaimed.
"We can't beat him, even if we all attacked together. I can hold him off for a while, but that's your only chance of getting away."
Porter hesitated. "I'm not leaving you here."
"Don't get all sappy on me now," Other Porter spat back. "We're not friends. I'm only doing this because..."
His voice trailed off.
Mortoph raised his sword over his head, pointing straight up at the sky, and the blade burst into flames. The ruins lit up again in bright, vivid light, and a wave of heat washed over Porter.
"You all think you're being brave, facing off against me," he growled. "Let me show you why you need to be afraid."
Other Porter stuck his sword into the dirt and cupped both hands in front of his body, making a pushing motion towards Mortoph. A tornado sprang from his palms, stretching across the distance between him and the Master Slayer and striking him directly in the face. Mortoph lowered his weapon and took a step back to brace himself, but didn't lose his balance.
"Go!" the clone yelled. "Do it now!"
Porter looked from him to Mortoph, and nodded.
"Everybody run!" he yelled, waving for them to take off into the forest. Ozzie was the first to go, picking up his werewolf sister and sprinting into the trees. Azkular went next, protesting indignantly as Faska helped him hobble away, followed closely by Droma. That left only Porter and Sarah.
"Go!" Porter ordered, waving for her to follow the others. Instead, the sphinx ran to stand next to him.
"I leave when you leave," she said.
Porter was about to argue, but bit his tongue when he realized that would only slow them down even more. He looked up at Other Porter.
"Thank you," he said.
"Just get her out of here," the clone replied. "Keep her safe."
"I will," Porter promised, putting his hand on Sarah's back. "Let's go."
With that, the two of them took off into the forest.
(POV: Other Porter)
Other Porter watched as Sarah vanished into the night. A part of his traitorous heart hurt to see her go, and he hated himself for that. He had been fighting those feelings ever since he'd dragged the wretched sphinx out of the Sanctuary. They were poisonous, and his heart and mind felt like they were at war with each other, fighting whether to accept or reject his unnatural affections.
So, he'd sent her away. Even if she went with that Porter, it was better than keeping her around, distracting himself...
As if on cue, the moment Sarah was lost to sight, Mortoph brought his hands up and clapped them together, like he was trying to catch Other Porter's tornado.
"Enough!" he yelled, his voice even louder than the roaring winds.
And, just like that, Other Porter's tornado ceased to exist. Mortoph had canceled out the spell with the sheer force of his will. Other Porter fell to one knee, gasping for breath. Holding a spell like that, one that was powerful enough to stagger the Master Slayer, was incredibly difficult to cast— much less keep up for a full minute. He was exhausted and his limbs felt like they were encased in cement, but he couldn't rest. Not yet.
I might not be the only Porter, he thought, fumbling to pick up his sword with numb fingers. I might not even be the real Porter. But I'm still Porter, and that makes me just as much Sarah's protector as the other one.
He wrapped his hand around the sword and pulled it free of the dirt. It wasn't magical like Porter's, but that didn't matter. Other Porter had climbed the ranks of the Slayers with nothing but his own strength and skill. The only magic he needed was the kind that he cast himself. He'd fought all his battles alone, without a sphinx to jump out and take his hits for him.
He wasn't sure if he was ready to admit he was the inferior Porter, but he did know one thing...
"I'm no weakling," he growled, and forced himself back to his feet.
He and Mortoph faced each other, swords in hand. The grass under their feet turned white with frost from the Master Slayer's irritation.
"I think it's safe to say," Mortoph spoke up, "that the experiment was a failure."
And that's all there was to it. Now that he had deemed Porter useless to him, there was no reason to keep him alive— either of them. He drew his sword back and swung it, the blade making a noise like a jet engine as it cut through the air. The Master Slayer's inhuman strength sent the smaller sword flying free of Other Porter's hand, spiraling out into the woods, over the trees, to land far away where he would never be able to retrieve it.
The next attack cut a gaping wound into his side.
Other Porter screamed in pain and collapsed onto the frigid ground. He grabbed his side, where blood was spilling out to turn the earth red, and drew in a shaky breath. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to move.
"Sacrificing yourself to save a bunch of traitors and monsters," Mortoph said, resting his sword against Other Porter's neck. "You have shamed the Slayers tonight."
Even though pain seemed to fill every cell of his body, Other Porter managed to give a weak chuckle.
"Good," he replied, spitting blood onto the ground. "It's not like you care about them anyway."
Mortoph scowled, and Other Porter laughed again.
"Besides," he grunted, "what makes you think I plan on dying here?"
Before Mortoph could react, Other Porter had created another whirlwind underneath him, and it rocketed him up into the sky.
"No!" he heard Mortoph yell. The Master Slayer jumped, coming up after him.
It didn't matter, though. The air around Other Porter was already shimmering yellow. Teleportation in midair was a dangerous risk, but it had one benefit: it left no markings behind for another spellcaster to trace. Mortoph was rising up towards him, his sword drawn back for a fatal strike. Other Porter laughed a third time, coughing up a mouthful of blood, and...
Mortoph swung just as a bright yellow flash erupted around Other Porter's body.
His sword came away clean.
"No," he said again, staring at the space in front of him the boy had occupied only a second ago. His momentum died, and he began to fall back to earth. "No."
He landed in the center of where Porter's house had once stood, his weight creating a crater where he struck down, but he didn't even look at it.
"No..." he growled, with fury rising up inside of him. How did this keep happening? How could a mere child defy his will and escape from him three different times? How could the experiment he had spent sixteen long years working on go so wrong so suddenly?
"No!" he roared, leaning his head back. The word stretched long, and gradually changed into something else entirely, like a roar from a savage, and completely inhuman, creature. All around him, the abandoned neighborhood exploded. Houses were reduced to rubble, the boards prying themselves free while brick and mortar crumbled to dust. Even the trees uprooted themselves, trying to flee from the Master Slayer's rage, and ended up crashing to the ground in an avalanche of wood and leaves.
Eventually the roar faded away, and Mortoph looked around at the destruction he had caused. It made him feel a little better, but his anger was still far from sated.
"Granger," he called.
The red-bearded Slayer stepped out from the carnage behind him. He came alone.
"I'm sorry, Master," he said. "I was unable to apprehend them."
"I gave you one simple task, Granger," Mortoph said without turning around. "If any of them try to escape, kill them."
"Yes, Master. I'm sorry."
Mortoph turned to look at him, but Granger wouldn't meet his gaze. Of course he wouldn't. A dog should never look its master in the eye, especially when it expected to be whipped.
"Is it true?" the old man asked, unexpectedly.
Mortoph hesitated. "Is what true, Granger?"
"Everything, Master. What Porter said about you killing his family and then Repurposing him. And telling Ozzie his sister was dead when you really... that poor girl."
He felt sympathy for Misoki. That, alone, wasn't strange, but the fact that Granger had voiced such an opinion was. Granger, who prided himself in his unquestioning loyalty. And, not only was he questioning Mortoph's choices, he knew about those choices to begin with. Porter's past, Ozzie's sister, both were secrets that could destroy the Slayers from the inside out if they were to become common knowledge. The urge to kill the old man was almost too strong to resist, but Mortoph quelled it. Granger was his second-in-command, a Slayer whose skill was surpassed only by Dominic Vega and himself. Such men weren't commonplace, and couldn't be disposed of as casually as his lesser troops. As much as it displeased him, he needed to pacify Granger, not kill him.
"Yes, all of it is true," he answered at last.
Granger shook his head in dismay. "How could you? Does the Slayer's code mean nothing to you? Our honor?"
"Our code and honor have only succeeded in elongating the war," Mortoph shot back. "This is a war we had the means to win millenniums ago, but our code and honor have always held us back. Yes, I'm breaking the code, but I'm doing it so that the world can finally know peace!"
"But Porter and Misty..."
"Were sacrifices that needed to be made. I'm no happier about it than you are, but you don't win wars with compassion and understanding, Granger. Misty provided me with priceless intelligence about the monsters' movements, and Porter ushered in the age of the Repurposed Slayers. The things I've done are horrible, but necessary."
And they extend far beyond what you would ever guess, old friend.
Mortoph held up a finger. "But, I never intended to leave Porter defenseless. That boy has never been alone, even when he thought he was. I didn't just Repurpose him, I placed a piece of my own soul inside of him as well."
Granger's eyebrows rose in realization. "Then that's why he was able to get into Reaper's Wait."
Mortoph smiled. Granger was taking the bait, letting himself be distracted from what he really wanted to be angry about.
"And how he opened the djinn's cell," he concurred. "The doors recognized the piece of my soul inside him and let him in."
Walking over to the old Slayer, Mortoph sighed and rubbed his head, pretending to be remorseful. "I meant well for him, Granger. I really did. I can't live forever, especially in my line of work. If I were to fall before the war ended, it was my intention to appoint Porter as my successor. But now all of my preparations have gone to waste."
"Then perhaps we can still save him," Granger suggested, his eyes pleading. "He doesn't have to die, Master."
Mortoph shook his head, letting his gaze fall to their feet. "Yes, I'm afraid he does. You saw the look in his eyes, in both of their eyes. Porter has been completely and totally turned against us. Now that he's helping the monsters, he's a danger to us and to the entire world. The only way to bring him back would be to put him through the Repurposement process all over again, and," he gave Granger a meaningful look, "I don't think you want him to suffer like that again, do you?"
Granger hesitated, but then, with his lips pressed together into a thin line, he shook his head.
Mortoph patted his shoulder. "Good man. Come on, let's get back to base."
He wanted to go after Porter, he was almost desperate to do so, but he had to keep up appearances. The Slayers were a pack of rabid dogs, and they needed their master to tell them to heel. The clone had been injured, and would surely die before the sun rose. The real Porter could wait. After all, he was an annoyance, but how much real damage could he cause?
Everything was still going according to plan...
The misfit gang of Mythics and humans ran for more than an hour, panic and adrenaline putting fire into their veins as they tried to create as much distance as they could between themselves and the Master Slayer. Sarah kept pace with the rest of them, but she knew she wouldn't be able to keep it up for much longer. The stitch in her side had grown so painful that she almost thought Mortoph had managed to stab her, and her breath was coming in quick shallow gulps that did next to nothing to keep her from suffocating. She desperately wanted to stop, but even more than that she didn't want to be weak.
Fortunately, she was saved when the other boy, the one carrying Misoki, gave in first.
"I... I can't do it," he gasped, coming a stop and setting the sleeping werewolf down. "I have to stop."
The others seemed to take this as their permission to stop as well, and Sarah gratefully collapsed on the cold, hard ground. After everything she'd just been through, it felt like a bed at a five star hotel.
"I don't think he followed us," Azkular said, looking back the way they'd come. "He could have caught up within a minute if he wanted to."
"Why would he just give up?" Porter asked, putting his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. How he could manage to keep standing, Sarah had no idea.
"I don't know," Azkular admitted, sitting down with his back against a tree. "But let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, okay?"
"Is everyone well?" Droma asked, taking deep gulps of air as he leaned against another tree, making it groan under his weight. "Is anybody injured?"
One by one, they all declared themselves unharmed, but exhausted. As much as Sarah wanted to relax and rest, though, her muscles remained as taut as a spring. Their escape couldn't be that easy. Any second now, Mortoph was going to come out of those trees, cutting a path through the forest a mile wide, and she needed to be ready to run again when he did.
"Hey," Porter said, sitting down next to her, pulling her out of her thoughts. "You sure you're okay?"
Sarah turned her head to look at him, and found herself staring into his eyes. Suddenly, a flood of emotions rose up inside of her, and she couldn't have held them back if she'd wanted to. Whether it was the fear, the exhaustion, or the relief that they'd made it away alive, she suddenly burst into tears.
"Where is it?" Porter demanded, kneeling over her to search for injuries. "Where did he hurt you?"
It happened before Sarah even realized what she was doing. Springing back to her paws, she pounced on top of Porter and pressed her lips against his. It was her first kiss, and she didn't know whether she was doing it right, nor did she care. All of her passion and desire were breaking free, and the only thing that mattered was that Porter, the one she loved, was finally back with her. She wanted to be as close to him as possible, and so she kissed him even harder, pushing his head down onto the ground beneath him. It wasn't until she felt his fingers brush her cheek that she came to her senses and pulled back, gasping in surprise and embarrassment.
"I'm so sorry," she said, backing away so she wasn't on top of him anymore. Her cheeks burned, even more noticeable against the cold night air. The others were staring at them.
"It's okay," Porter whispered, getting to his knees to sit in front of her.
"I... I'm just so happy to see you!" she cried, a fresh wave of tears spilling down her cheeks. "I didn't know if you were coming or not."
Porter frowned, looking genuinely hurt. "Of course I was coming to get you. You knew that!"
Sarah hesitated, but then nodded. "Yeah, but I wasn't sure I wanted you to. It would have been safer for you to just leave me there. You... you almost died so many times tonight!"
Porter was inching closer to her again, and Sarah hated how pathetic she must look, with tears turning her eyes puffy, sniffling like a little baby.
Then she saw the tears coming out of his eyes too.
"Sarah," he said, putting his hands on his shoulders, "there is nothing in the world I care about more than you. It doesn't matter what happens to me, I'm going to keep you safe!"
Sarah looked at him, making little whimpering noises in her throat as she tried to breathe.
"I don't want to lose you," she whispered.
Porter leaned his face closer to hers.
"You won't," he whispered back. "I promise."
He brought his finger to her face and wiped away her tears, and then brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. Sarah blushed, but couldn't help but laugh.
"That is so cliché," she said.
Porter shrugged, a smirk rising to his face. "Well, we've already started it. We may as well finish it."
Sarah couldn't agree more. She leaned into him, and their lips met a second time. This time the kiss was gentler, but it was so much more meaningful since Porter was kissing her back. The first one had been an ambush, but this one was... she cut that line of thought off, lest the comparisons of kisses to battlefields cause her to giggle right into Porter's mouth.
I love him so much...
Someone cleared their throat, yanking Sarah back into the real world once again. Both she and Porter sat up straight, pulling away from each other, and looked at their companions.
"Uh, sorry," Porter said, giving his head an awkward scratch.
Droma broke out into a wide grin. "Do not be ashamed of it!" he shouted. "This is a wonderful, beautiful thing!"
As happy as the Soul Smith was about it, Ozzie and Azkular didn't seem to share his enthusiasm. Azkular rolled his eyes, while Ozzie looked up at the stars like he hadn't seen anything.
"But," Droma spoke up again, "there are other things we must discuss."
"Oh, right!" Porter exclaimed, getting to his feet. Sarah frowned, and was tempted to pounce on him again to keep him from walking away. "You left because you had something really important to do. How'd it go?"
"It went perfectly," he said, and drew his cloak aside. From within it, he produced a box that was far too big to fit into any pocket he could have had hidden in there. Sarah decided not to think about it. Droma set it on the ground in front of Porter and backed away. "Open it. It is yours now."
Tentatively, the young man knelt in front of the chest and raised the lid. Sarah craned her neck forward to see, but then had to shut her eyes when a blinding flash of light erupted out of the box. Adrenaline made her leap back to her paws, ready to run again, but then the light died away. Where Porter had been standing just a moment ago was a man wearing a suit of armor.
Wait a minute...
"Porter?" she asked.
"Yeah?" he replied, turning to look at her. The armor didn't make any noise when he moved. It barely even muffled his voice. Porter paused, and then looked down at himself— and then jumped. "Whoa!"
"That armor is made of the same Kalion metal as Flicker," Droma said, putting a hand on Porter's shoulder to calm him. "I forged them both to be used together, but eventually decided I needed to separate them."
The look on his face turned serious. "They are both incredibly powerful on their own, and doubly so when united. Flicker is a living sword, and the armor is made of unbreakable metal. If put in the wrong hands, it could be catastrophic. I hope you understand what it means that I am handing both to you."
Porter nodded, equally solemn. "I understand. Thank you."
He paused, and raised his arms to look at the armor covering them. "So does that mean the armor's alive too?"
Droma nodded. "Yes. Flicker and the armor are, in essence, one single being."
"So that means I can..." The armor vanished, leaving Porter in his jeans and t-shirt again. "Cool!"
Droma laughed. "Yes, you can summon and dismiss the armor the same way you do Flicker."
"Thank you," Porter said again. "Really, you don't know how much this means to me."
"Whatever it takes to help you and Sarah fulfill your destiny," the Soul Smith said.
Sarah cocked her head and got up to join Porter. "Our destiny? That sounds like something Lowatai would say. What's going on?"
Porter looked down at her, and something about the look on his face filled her with even more dread than the thought of Mortoph finding them.
"You may as well sit down," he said. "You're not going to believe this."
NEXT TIME: ...?