The sun began to rise, and with its light the woods became much less frightening. The trees were a healthy brown color, with rich green leaves, and Sarah could hear birds singing in them. More than once, a squirrel had run right in front of them, pausing to sniff the air before darting out of sight.
“I need to sit down,” Porter said, putting aside his crutch and resting with his back against a tree. They had been travelling in the direction Sarah had chosen for hours, but it had been slow going. Walking through the forest had proven difficult with his crutch, and he’d needed to stop and rest frequently to keep from overdoing it.
Sarah let him do what he wanted without comment. He hadn’t tried to attack her yet, but that didn’t mean she trusted him. In fact, she could barely stand to take her eyes off of him for more than a few seconds, for fear that when she looked again, he would be holding a sword instead of a crutch.
“Sarah, do you mind if I ask you a question?” he asked, suddenly.
She looked at him without saying anything, but her silence seemed to be permission enough for him.
“What exactly are you?”
“I— um,” she spluttered, caught off guard. It was a natural question, though, wasn’t it? If he truly had lost his memory, he wouldn’t have any idea what she was. “I’m a sphinx.”
Porter’s brow creased in confusion. “Like the statues in Egypt? But they’re not real.”
Sarah rounded on him. “Am I not real enough for you?”
Porter looked away, ashamed, “Honestly, I’m not entirely convinced that you aren’t a hallucination.”
Anger rose up in the young Mythic. It was irrational, and she knew it. He was hurt, scared, and confused. But so was she! After everything she had just seen, she desperately needed to lash out at something.
“You think I’m not real?” she demanded, incredulously.
“I’m not sure,” Porter admitted. “My head’s messed up. I can’t even remember who I am. How do I know you’re not just my brain playing tricks on me?”
“I dressed your wound,” Sarah spat. “I kept you company all night when I could have left you behind to die. I brought you with me, even though you’re less than useless, and you still don’t think I’m real?”
Porter’s face turned red, and he looked down at the ground between his knees. “You’re right,” he said at last. “I’m sorry. You’ve done all this for me, and I don’t even think you exist. I must be the worst friend in the world.”
This last statement made Sarah step backwards in shock. The Slayer who had just tried to kill her considered her his friend? What Mythic would want a human for a friend? They were the ones who had driven them into hiding in the first place! Just because she hadn’t had a friend since Misoki left didn’t mean she was going to stoop that low!
Misoki, she thought as she turned back in the direction they had been going, I wish I had you here right now. You would know what to do.
Porter saw Sarah’s expression when he told her he was a bad friend. Had he offended her? That comment seemed to upset her even more than saying he didn’t believe in her. Now she was walking the other way without even waiting for him to get up.
Good job, idiot, he thought, mentally kicking himself. Now she hates you!
Grabbing his crutch, he pulled himself upright and hurried after her. When he caught up, Sarah refused to look at him. Porter knew he ought to keep his mouth shut after what he’d just said, but now his curiosity was piqued and he couldn’t stop the questions from coming out.
“So, if you’re a sphinx, does that mean that there are other monsters out there too?”
“Don’t call us monsters,” Sarah snapped.
“Because a monster is a beast with no self-control. My kind and I are just as capable of rational thought as you humans, if not more so.”
Porter nodded. “What should I call you then?”
“Mythics,” she answered. “That’s what all the legendary creatures in the world go by.”
“Mythics,” Porter repeated, as if tasting the word on his tongue. “So, what other kinds of Mythics are there? Are mermaids real?”
“Merpeople,” Sarah corrected him.
“What about vampires?”
“Yes, they’re real.”
“They’re called Sasquatch.”
“The Loch Ness Monster?”
“I don’t know about that one.”
“Porter!” Sarah interrupted.
Porter stopped talking, and frowned when he saw the glare she was giving him.
“I don’t want to talk right now, all right?” she said. “Just leave me alone.”
She took a few hurried steps, putting distance between the two of them. Porter nodded, even though she couldn’t see him anymore.
“All right,” he agreed quietly. “I understand.”
As the sun began to set again, Sarah felt herself start to panic. They had walked all day, but didn’t seem any closer to civilization than they had been last night. The trees loomed all around her, like a cage of wooden bars. An infinitely bigger cage than her house had been, but also infinitely harder to escape.
She craned her neck backwards and looked at her wings. If she were just a couple of years older, she could have flown above the trees and looked into the distance. Maybe she could have even flown the rest of the way to… wherever she was trying to get to.
Something scurried through the undergrowth, making her shriek and back away. A raccoon’s eyes peered out at her from a bush a few feet away.
“Are you okay?” Porter asked, coming to stand next to her as quickly as he could.
“I’m fine,” she replied, just before her stomach let out an embarrassing growl. She grimaced. It had been almost an entire day since she’d last eaten. Without realizing it, she turned and eyed the raccoon.
Nuh uh, she thought. There is no way I’m going to eat a…
Her stomach gurgled again, chasing her reluctance away. With a growl, she pounced into the bush and grabbed the small animal in her teeth. She backed away, dragging it out into the open, and set it on the ground. It tasted better than she had expected. A little gamey, but still fresher than all the store bought meat her parents brought home. She turned to Porter, and saw him looking at her with a shocked look on his face.
“Want some?” she asked, half serious, half only wanting to disgust the boy further. Porter shook his head. “No? You’re loss.”
Sarah crouched down and took a big bite. There wasn’t very much meat on it, though, and she had the whole thing picked clean in a couple of minutes. Still, it was better than nothing.
“I needed that,” she sighed in satisfaction. There was another growl, but this time it was from Porter’s stomach. She gave him a sidelong glance. “How long has it been since the last time you ate?”
“I don’t remember,” he replied, “but it feels like a long time.”
“Do you want me to catch something for you?”
Porter looked back at the bones of the raccoon, and shook his head. “Um, no thanks.”
Rolling her eyes, Sarah turned back to the direction they were walking and set off again. She had known from stories that humans were very picky about what they ate, even going so far as to refuse food if it hadn’t been cooked for multiple hours. For the life of her, she couldn’t understand why.
Porter saw the way Sarah rolled her eyes, but couldn’t figure out why. Did sphinxes not eat cooked meat? Did they eat all their meat straight from the prey’s corpse like animals? He thought back to the way she’d looked at him the night before, when he’d first woken up, and his fear that she was going to eat him. Had that really been such a crazy thought? Maybe it would be a good idea to tread carefully around her for a while…
The sun had set, leaving the entire forest in blackness again. Porter had trouble seeing where he was going, and had to inch his way around, feeling the ground with his crutch before putting any weight on it. Twice he put it down in a hole, causing himself to fall. Each time, he had to grind his teeth together to keep from screaming when his leg pain flared. After getting back to his feet the second time, he noticed Sarah looking at him.
“Are you going to be okay?” she asked, the irritation plain in her voice.
“Yeah,” he insisted, wedging the crutch under his arm again, “sorry. Let’s keep going.”
They walked in silence for a few more minutes before a question came to him. He tried to hold it in, but his curiosity was gnawing painfully at his brain until he couldn’t help himself.
“What?” she responded without turning to look at him.
“Do you know where we’re going?”
Sarah stopped in her tracks so suddenly that Porter almost ran into her from behind. He cringed, expecting another sharp remark. Instead, when she replied, her words were softer. Afraid, even.
“No, I don’t. I don’t even know where we are.”
Porter nodded. It wasn’t good news, but it was what he had expected to hear.
“Do you know where you want to go?” he asked, then.
This question seemed to surprise Sarah, as she finally turned and made eye contact with him. “Yeah, I guess I do. I just don’t know how to get there.”
Sarah’s mouth made a thin line, and Porter realized he’d asked too much. Why, though? Where could they be going that she didn’t want him to know about?
“Well,” he said, pointing, “maybe we could stop over there where those lights are.”
“Lights?” Sarah echoed, raising an eyebrow. She turned to look where he was pointing. “What lights?”
She froze. While she had been facing him, a bright light had appeared, coming over the top of the next hill.
“Those weren’t there before,” she said,
Porter hobbled up to stand next to her. “Maybe we finally found a town.”
The sphinx shook her head. “No, it can’t be. An entire town wouldn’t have turned their lights on at the same time.”
“What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted, and took a hesitant step forward, “but we should check it out. Whoever they are, maybe they can help us.”
Porter nodded his reluctant agreement and followed her. They made slow progress up the hill, but with every step he could see Sarah grow more and more tense. That, in turn, made him even more nervous. What had they stumbled upon that could scare a sphinx so much?
As they neared the top of the hill, he began to hear voices. They were singing, but he couldn’t make out any of the words. The melody was carried to them as gently as if it were riding the wind, and the young man found himself entranced by it. They crested the hill, and the sight below them made Porter suck in his breath.
A clearing lay at the bottom of the below them, and all throughout it were lanterns. They weren’t like any type of lantern he could remember seeing, though. They were perfectly spherical and glowed with a soft blue light that didn’t hurt his eyes, but lit up the night better than any lightbulb. People were wandering around the camp, wearing long white cloaks with hoods over their heads. Every one of them moved with inhuman grace. They stepped lightly, almost like they were afraid they’d fall through the ground if they tread on it too hard.
“What are they?” he whispered.
To his right, Sarah wore an expression almost identical to his own. “They’re elves,” she whispered back, breathless in her awe.
“Do you think they’ll help us?”
Sarah hesitated, and then said, “I don’t know. But they’re the only option we have right now. We have to try.”
With that, she began to descend the hill. She moved with less uncertainty now, but Porter could sense something else in her steps. She almost looked shy, like she was afraid these elves were going to mock her or something. Her anxiety did nothing to chase away his own, but he followed her anyway.
Sarah paused at the border of the camp, and by that time they had caught the attention of every elf within view. Porter’s skin crawled as he imagined he could feel their eyes raking over them, judging them before they had even spoken. When he forced himself to look at their faces, he was surprised to see that Sarah was merely getting passing glances. All of their attention was on him— and they didn’t seem happy to see him.
“Um, hi,” Sarah said, blushing under their attention. “We— we’re lost. Can somebody help us?”
Movement came from the far side of the camp, and a single elf came marching up to them. He was wearing the same white cloak as the others, but he lowered the hood as he approached them. Long, golden hair fell down around his shoulders, parted by his long pointed ears, but Porter couldn’t look away from his eyes, and the angry glare they were giving him.
“Danzinyak toorfen!” he spat, leveling a finger at the young man.
Porter’s hands began to sweat under the piercing gaze, and he almost lost his grip on his crutch. When he didn’t respond, the elf narrowed his eyes and repeated himself.
“I don’t know what that means,” Porter said in a small voice. The other elves were beginning to look more hostile as well. Was this their leader? If he didn’t like Porter, what would the rest of them do? It had been a mistake to come down here…
“Goro, Vesper,” another voice said. It spoke much more gently than the first elf had, but somehow carried infinitely more authority. A second elf emerged from the crowd and lowered its hood.
“Whoa,” Porter couldn’t help but whisper when he saw her. She had the same golden hair and pointed ears as the male, but her features were much softer, and her eyes were larger, giving her an almost childlike appearance. “She’s beautiful!”
The male elf looked taken aback by this, but turned and pointed at Porter again. When he spoke, though, it was to the other elf.
“Goro? Jasperro frelan dirk, Lowatai,” he insisted. “Toorfen mantaliben!”
“Goro,” she said again, more forcefully this time. Finally, the male backed down, but cast one final venomous glare Porter’s way.
“Who are you?” the female asked, turning to face them now.
“Um…” Porter sputtered, his throat instantly becoming dry. Luckily, Sarah intervened.
“We’re lost out here,” she said again. “We saw the lights from your camp and were wondering if you could help us.”
The elf looked at them for a long while, and then said, “We are the Ragga elves. This is our land.”
Sarah frowned, but nodded. “We’re sorry. We didn’t mean to trespass. We’ll leave.”
To Porter’s relief, the elf smiled and waved at Sarah. “Sit, young sphinx. You and your human look tired.”
“Oh,” Sarah replied. She hesitantly sat down. “Thank you.”
“What are your names?”
“And I’m Porter,” the boy introduced himself before Sarah could do it for him. When the elves all turned to stare at him, he flushed and looked down at his feet. They were quick to accept Sarah, but he was a different story, it seemed.
The woman didn’t seem to be as suspicious as the others. She merely nodded in response to his introduction. “I am Lowatai Elan. I am the leader of the Ragga elves.”
She turned and looked in the direction the other elf had gone and said, “Vesper wishes for me to cast you out of my camp. Fear not, though. You are welcome here for the night.”
Porter sighed with relief, and Sarah thanked her again.
“Are you hungry?” Lowatai asked, and waved for another elf to bring them a bowl of fruit. Porter reached for one, but then hesitated.
“You need not fear us,” Lowatai said. “I do not think so lowly of humans as the…”
Her sentence trailed off as she looked at Porter. Her eyes went wide and vacant, as if she were going into a trance. Porter’s hand still hovered over the fruit, afraid to take one. Beside him, he saw Sarah look worriedly at him. A few seconds later, Lowatai blinked.
“Never before has the Sight come over me so powerfully,” she whispered in awe. A chorus of low muttering drifted through the camp as the elf raised a hand to her forehead, looking stunned. “But it cannot be.”
She looked at Sarah now, and immediately the same vacant expression appeared on her face.
“Both of you?” she asked.
Lowatai turned away from them both now, looking contemplative. Porter’s stomach growled, and he finally gave in and took a fruit from the bowl. It was sweet and juicy, and the most delicious thing he could ever remember eating. Then again, he thought, it was the only thing he could remember eating.
“Thank you,” he said to the elf holding the bowl. The elf, seeming to take this to mean he’d had all he wanted, retreated, taking the rest of the fruit with him. Porter was about to call him back when Lowatai finally turned to face them again.
“Both of you,” she said suddenly, “come with me.”
Sarah got back to her paws and followed her further into the camp. Porter threw the fruit core on the ground, hoping it wouldn’t offend the other elves, and hurried after them. His arms were both sore from holding up his weight all day. He wished he’d sat down like Sarah had, even if just for a couple minutes.
The buildings, he quickly realized, were not actually buildings at all. The trees all throughout the camp were bent completely in half, and their branches had been woven together to create dozens of strange, basket like structures. Lowatai led them up to a certain one, and tapped the wooden wall. The branches parted for her, forming a door, and she stepped inside.
“Before I begin,” she said, “you should know that I am not an ordinary elf. I am one gifted with the Sight, what is known as an Oracle.”
“Begin what?” Porter asked, following her inside.
Lowatai waved her hand, and the earth rose up to form a pedestal in the center of the room.
“With my powers, I am able to see peoples’ destinies.” She reached into her cloak and withdrew a small sack made of black silk. She turned the sack over and spilled a pile of onyx dice out onto the pedestal.
“You can read the future?” Sarah asked.
“I do not look into the future,” Lowatai answered. “It is shrouded with mist, and trying to pierce it can be dangerous. My talent lies only in seeing destinies.”
“What’s the difference?” Porter leaned forward to look at the dice. They had far more sides than any kind he knew of, and instead of numbers, strange glyphs had been engraved into them with gold paint.
“Your destiny is what you were put here to accomplish,” she explained. “I cannot see how you will do it, or what will happen to you, but I can tell you what you will be working toward.”
Nobody said anything for a full minute. I was Sarah that finally broke the silence.
“So, why do you want to show it to us?”
Lowatai fixed them both with an intense stare. “When I looked at you two outside, the Sight came upon me more powerfully than it ever had before. I do not know what it is you are trying to do, but the results are going to be powerful.”
Porter wasn’t sure what to think of this. “But all we’re trying to do is find our way out of this forest,” he said.
“That may be true now, but things will change. And when they do, the actions you take, the words you say, and the decisions you make will shake the earth to its very foundations.”
The stunned silence came again. Porter looked at Sarah, and saw she wore the same shocked expression that he did.
“I brought you in here to prepare for it,” Lowatai said. “Sarah, let’s begin with you.”
She took her dice in two hands and cast them upon the pedestal. She looked at them for a long time, staring at them so deeply that Porter thought she would burn a hole into the small table.
“Sarah, you are destined to be the peacemaker,” she said at last. “With your words, countless lives will be saved. You will stand between the two great armies, and bring them peace.”
“What great armies?” she asked.
“I do not know, I can only say what the runes tell me. Now for you, Porter.” Once again, she picked up the dice and cast them upon the table. After looking at them, she took a deep breath.
“You have a dark past, Porter,” she said, sounding troubled.
“What?” he exclaimed, leaning forward again to look at the dice. He couldn’t make heads or tails out of what she was reading, though.
“You will be the protector. You will fight for those that need your strength. You will sacrifice much for those you care about.”
“What do you mean I have a dark past?” he demanded. “What do you know about it?”
“Nothing more than what I said,” she answered, sweeping the dice back into their bag. “I’m sorry.”
Porter reached up and put his hand on his forehead. A dark past— the past he couldn’t remember. Maybe if he dug a little deeper… No, that didn’t work.
“It really is all gone,” he said softly. He looked back up at Lowatai. “Can you help me? I can’t remember anything.”
Beside him, Sarah’s eyes widened in fear, but he ignored it. To his dismay, though, Lowatai shook her head.
“I cannot,” she said. “That is beyond what I am able to do.”
Porter hung his head, the small spark of hope already extinguished.
“You don’t know what it’s like,” he said. “It’s like I’m a stranger to myself. I want to know who I am!”
“I know it’s hard,” Lowatai said soothingly, reaching out and putting a hand on his shoulder. “If I could help you, I would. But I do not think your memories are gone. They are in there, buried by something. In time, I believe they will come back to you.”
Porter nodded, accepting her answer, but didn’t say anything.
“Faska,” the elf called, and another male elf stepped in to join them. It wasn’t Vesper, which Porter was relieved to see. “Take them to an empty hut to spend the night.”
Faska gave a low bow and led Porter back through the camp until they came to another tree branch building. This one had animal furs to separate Porter from the hard earth.
“Mistress Lowatai wishes for you to sleep over there,” the elf said.
“Thank you.” Porter responded, lying down as carefully as he could so as not to hurt his leg. Faska withdrew, and Porter stared up at the roof of the hut. The branches were woven together so tightly that he couldn’t even see the stars through it. It was dark, just like his mind.
With that last depressing thought, Porter fell asleep.
As Porter left, Sarah held back. Lowatai looked at her, as if she already expected the question she was going to ask.
“Lowatai,” she said slowly, “you mentioned Porter’s dark past. How much do you know about it?”
Lowatai gave her a grave look. “I know what Porter was.”
A chill ran down Sarah’s spine, and she nodded. “Then, can I ask you another question? Has he really lost his memory?”
Lowatai raised an eyebrow. “Why would you think he hasn’t?”
Sarah shook her head. “It all just seems too convenient, I guess. He attacked me, killed my maid, and then just loses his memory so that he doesn’t remember anything at all? I’m sorry, but tell me that doesn’t sound fishy.”
Lowatai nodded her agreement and looked out the door Porter had just left through. “You are wise to be cautious, Sarah. But I said I know who Porter was, not who he is. He is telling the truth when he says he doesn’t remember his past. In some ways, he is a completely different person.”
“But what if he remembers?”
“I cannot say. If that happens, it will be up to Porter to decide which path to follow. In the meantime, you should nourish this new side of him, and not give him any reason to return to his old ways.”
Her words weren’t much comfort to Sarah. The easiest, and smartest, thing to do was leave him the first time they came across human civilization. All this talk of destinies and peacemaking was too much for her to worry about now.
“Thank you,” she said finally, trying to hide her fears. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, but I’ll try.”
Lowatai smiled. “That is all anyone can do, young sphinx.”
Without another word, Sarah turned and left.
NEXT TIME: Lowatai seems to think she’s just given them a big revelation. What does it mean, though? How much good will it do them if they’re still stuck out in the forest?