Morning came too soon for Porter. Sunlight flooded through the door of his hut, rousing him from sleep. He yawned, stretched, and then bit back a yelp when he moved his broken leg in a way it didn’t like. After a few tense seconds, the pain faded. Sarah was still asleep by his side, paws crossed in front of her as pillow. Looking at her, Porter felt a spark of happiness.
He had a friend. He may be lost in the middle of nowhere with a broken leg and a tribe of weird, dice reading elves, but at least he was with a friend. He smiled and eased himself up onto his good leg, propped up by his crutch, and crept away as quietly as he could to keep from waking her. Outside, he found the Ragga elves already up and working around the camp. Did they even sleep, he wondered?
He made his way towards the center of camp, where Lowatai’s hut had been. To his relief, the elves greeted him with quick nods as they passed, but did not try to speak to him. As he approached, he found the leading elf sitting in front of her hut, holding a long, thin parcel in her lap. She smiled when she saw him.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked.
“Yes, thank you.” he replied. “But what are Sarah and I going to do now? Are we coming with you?”
Lowatai shook her head. “No, the Ragga elves have our own duties to see to. You cannot come with us.”
Porter nodded, “All right. Thank you for your help. Sarah and I appreciate it.”
“The sphinx,” Lowatai mused, “she will be a good friend to you. You will have to protect her with all your strength.”
“I will,” Porter promised. Sarah was the only person he had, even if she wasn’t really a “person” at all. Lowatai didn’t need to tell him to protect her.
“Not in that state, you won’t.”
For a moment, Porter thought she was referring to his amnesia. But no, she was gesturing toward his broken leg.
“Sit down,” she told him. He did, and the elf extended a hand to hold it over his leg. A beam of light came from her palm, alighting on his leg. For a few seconds, Porter wasn’t sure what was happening. Then he realized the pain in his leg was fading. The sharp, biting pain became a dull ache, and then disappeared completely.
“Undo your binding and try standing on it,” Lowatai instructed. Porter hurried to do so, and stood up.
“It doesn’t hurt at all!” he exclaimed. “You fixed it!”
Lowatai smiled. “I have a few talents outside of reading destinies. I saw that you would need to be at your strongest for what is coming, so I decided to heal you.”
“Thank you,” Porter said for the third time, flexing his knee. It felt good to stand on both legs again. “Is there anything I can do to repay you?”
“There is,” the elf said, waving her hand over the parcel in her lap. The brown cloth fell away from it, revealing a sword. “Take this weapon, and use it fight for those who cannot do so themselves.”
Porter’s eyes went wide as he looked at it. It was beautiful. The blade was like a mirror, and a silver handguard sat atop a leather wrapped hilt. A ruby was set in the pommel, sending blood red flecks of light dancing on the trees and ground around it. Porter looked up at the elf holding it.
“It is yours,” Lowatai encouraged him. “Take it.”
“I- I can’t.” Porter stuttered, “You’ve already done so much for us. I can’t accept another gift.”
“This is not a gift, Porter,” she said, her face grave, “it is a responsibility. You will have to use this sword, and it will not be easy.”
Tentatively, Porter reached out and grasped the handle, lifting it out of Lowatai’s hands. It felt perfect— not so heavy that he couldn’t hold it, but not so light that it felt flimsy. He gave a couple of practice swings with it. The blade was so sharp he felt like he was cutting the air itself.
“It is made of elven metal,” said Lowatai. “There is no stronger substance on earth.”
“Goro!” an angry voice rang through the camp, startling Porter so that he almost dropped the sword. He turned and saw the elf from the night before storming through the camp, pointing at him again. He said something in his language, jabbing his finger angrily at the sword. Porter turned to Lowatai, who was still sitting calmly by her hut, for interpretation.
“He is angry that I have given you the sword,” she explained. “He does not believe a human can be worthy of such a weapon.”
Porter turned back to Vesper, who held out his hand.
“Give me sword,” he said. He obviously did not know much English, and his accent was thick. “Not worthy. Give to me.”
For a moment, Porter considered doing just that. Hadn’t Lowatai given him and Sarah enough already? Giving them the sword as well was going too far, especially if it had this effect on the rest of her tribe. Sarah was smart enough to keep them both safe. He would think of another way to protect her. Besides, he didn’t even know how to fight. It would be best to just hand Vesper the sword and walk away.
Instead, his grip tightened around the leather wrapped hilt. “No,” he said, returning the elf’s defiant glare.
Vesper looked taken aback at Porter’s sudden hostility, but then his eyebrows came together in anger. He pulled the strings at his neck, undoing them so the cloak fell off. Underneath, he wore a loose, white tunic. The sleeves came down to his elbows, but Porter could still see the lean, hard muscles in his arms. Vesper was obviously no stranger to a fight. He reached behind his back and unsheathed a pair of short curved knives.
Immediate disadvantage, Porter found himself thinking. Two weapons against one. No shield or armor.
He blinked in confusion. How had he known that? Before he had time to ponder it, though, Vesper shot forward, knives held out before him. Porter leapt backwards, reacting without thinking about it, and landed beyond the elf’s reach. He held his sword out in a defensive stance. It felt natural, like he’d done it a thousand times before.
For a moment, Vesper seemed caught off guard. He obviously hadn’t expected Porter’s reflexes to be so fast. With a scowl, he leaped into the air, performing a flip so that his knives would strike Porter as he fell. Reacting instinctively again, Porter swung his sword upwards, keeping the knives from hitting him. He allowed himself to fall backwards, and simultaneously kicked Vesper in the stomach. Vesper flipped again, unintentionally this time, flying over Porter’s head and landing on his back.
They both rolled over and got back to their feet, glaring at each other.
He’s open, Porter’s unknown instincts told him. Attack now!
He didn’t, though. He didn’t want to hurt Vesper. He just wanted the conceited elf to leave him alone.
Mistaking Porter’s hesitation for fear, Vesper laughed and twirled his knives in his hands. “Can’t win,” he said in his stunted English. “Pathetic. Give up?”
In answer, Porter held the sword up defensively again. Vesper’s face darkened again, and he shot to the left. Porter moved with him, but realized at the last second that it was a trick. Instead of attacking, Vesper spun the other way. He raised his knives, using his momentum for an even more powerful attack on Porter’s unprotected side.
The scene flashed in front of Porter’s eyes, and to his surprise he found he knew exactly what to do. He leaned back just as the first knife whisked by, the blade passing barely an inch away from his face, and then swung his sword with both hands. Metal crashed against metal. Vesper’s knife went spinning out of his hand and buried itself in the trunk of a nearby tree.
Knives like that can only be held in one hand, Porter thought. More versatility, more speed, but less power.
By gripping his sword with two hands, he had been able to hold onto it even when Vesper lost his grip. Now they each had one weapon. Vesper couldn’t hide the look of surprise on his face this time. The idea of being disarmed by a boy— a human boy— was mind boggling to him. He didn’t let that stop him for long, though. With an outraged cry, he spun again, his remaining knife glinting in the morning sunlight. Porter blocked that attack, and the one that followed as well. With the last attack, Porter thrust Vesper’s hand away, leaving him wide open to attack. This time, he didn’t hesitate— he thrust his foot out with every ounce of strength he could muster, slamming it into Vesper’s stomach.
The elf grunted, his cheeks puffing up as the air was knocked out of him. His knife fell to the floor, but he himself did not. He wouldn’t stay stunned for long, Porter knew, and so he drew his sword back and slammed the flat of the blade onto the side of Vesper’s head. The elf’s eyes went vacant, and he dropped like a sack of rocks.
Porter stood there for a few seconds, breathing heavily. Not as heavily as he felt like he should have been, though. He looked up and saw that the entire tribe had come to watch, and he suddenly felt very self-conscious. Sarah was there too, with a terrified look on her face.
What have I done? he thought, feeling every eye in the camp staring at him. I just beat up one of their tribesmen. They’re all going to come for me. Me and Sarah both.
“Porter,” Lowatai’s voice broke through his frightened thoughts, and he turned to look. “You have defeated Vesper in combat. His fate is now in your hands.”
“What?” he exclaimed, almost dropping the sword.
Lowatai nodded towards the elf’s prone form. “It is our custom. Whether he lives or dies is your decision.”
The sound of clashing metal rang in Sarah’s ears, starling her awake. Her eyes shot open, and had to fight down a moment of sheer panic. No, this wasn’t her room. She was in Lowatai’s camp in the middle of the woods. With Porter, she remembered, grimacing.
Another clang broke the peaceful morning silence, and her eyes followed the sound. It sounded like a sword fight. She got to her paws and stepped out of the hut, curious. What were the elves up to? To her surprise, the camp seemed deserted. No, it wasn’t deserted— all the elves were gathered at the far side of camp, watching something. She padded over to join them and peeked into a gap between two elves. She had been right, there was a swordfight going on. One of the participants looked like the elf that had tried to kick them out the night before. The other… she squinted, trying to get a better look into the center of the crowd. The other one was wearing jeans and a blue t-shirt…
Sarah’s face went pale with horror. The one fighting Vesper was Porter! What was he doing? The obvious answer was that the Slayer had regained his memory. Had he ever even lost it in the first place, she wondered with growing anger? Judging by the skill with which he used his sword, she guessed not. Her heart began to beat faster in rage as she roughly shoved her way to the center of the crowd. And to think she had helped him! She’d bound his injured leg and… suddenly, she felt sick. It was her fault Porter was doing this. She had brought him here.
Why isn’t anyone helping? she thought desperately, looking at all the other elves that were watching the fight with unsettling calm.
Porter blocked three of Vesper’s attacks, and then kicked him in the stomach, winding him. While the elf was stunned, Porter swung his sword and struck him on the head, knocking him unconscious. Sarah held her breath. She knew what was coming next. She didn’t want to watch it, but she forced herself to look. She had brought this monster here. She had to see what she had brought upon the Ragga elves. Porter didn’t move until he heard his name be called. The crowd parted, and Lowatai stepped serenely into the ring to join him.
Good, Sarah thought. She’ll kill him before he can finish Vesper off.
The Oracle, however, did no such thing. “You have defeated Vesper in combat,” she told him. “His fate is now in your hands.”
Sarah gasped, and her head reeled in bewilderment. What in the world was going on? It sounded like Lowatai had just offered Vesper’s life to the Slayer. But that couldn’t be what she’d really meant. Sarah couldn’t think of any alternative meaning, though. Her claws dug into the soft earth beneath her in agitation as she looked from Lowatai to Porter.
Porter looked down at Vesper for a moment, and then back at Lowatai and said, “No.”
He looked at the sword in his hand, as if unsure of what to do with it. “He’s a jerk, but why would I want to kill him because of that? If he’ll leave me and Sarah alone, we’ll do the same to him.”
Lowatai smiled at this, and motioned to some of her tribesmen, who hurried forward to carry Vesper away. Sarah, still unable to figure what she’d just seen, came to join them.
“What just happened?” She demanded.
“Oh, hey!” Porter said, turning around as if he were surprised she was there. He held up the sword. “I got up to talk to Lowatai. She gave me this.”
Sarah narrowed her eyes at the weapon, but didn’t say anything. If Porter expected her to be impressed by it, he would be disappointed. After the past couple days, she’d had enough of swords to last her a lifetime.
“So, why were you fighting Vesper?” she asked.
“He tried to take it from me,” Porter answered. “I didn’t let him.”
“That sword is a gift from me,” Lowatai broke in. “He will need it for what is to come. It was not for Vesper to take.”
“Are you sure?” Porter asked, holding it back out to her. “I still think it’s too much.”
For once, a trace of irritation flickered over Lowatai’s face. “Young man, this is the second time you have tried to return my gift. Do so again, and I will cause thorns to grow out of the ground where you stand.”
Porter’s eyes widened, and he looked down at the ground nervously. He didn’t say another word.
“You must both be off within the hour,” Lowatai continued, “While the Ragga elves are loyal to me, more than a few of them share Vesper’s opinions on humans. You may not be welcome here for much longer.”
Anxiety began gnawing at Sarah’s stomach at the thought of them striking out on their own again. “Where should we go?” she asked.
“That is your decision,” Lowatai answered, “though if you ask for directions, I will give them.”
Sarah nodded and thought for a moment. She knew exactly where she wanted to go, but she doubted it was anywhere nearby.
“Do you know the way to Jellaska Kob Lertan?” she asked.
Lowatai nodded and pointed to the north. “The City Within the Hill is that way. The journey will take several days, but if you stay the path you will not get lost.”
“Thank you.” Sarah said, looking in the direction Lowatai had pointed. The mountain was nowhere in sight, of course. Still, that was the best place she could go. Her parents had bought a house, so she would have a place to stay until they came to her.
Lowatai turned back to Porter. “Never let your guard down. Both Sarah’s life and your own depend on your strength and bravery.”
Porter nodded and gripped his sword tighter, his face solemn. Lowatai turned back to Sarah. “Though your safety lies in Porter’s hands, his wellbeing lies in yours. He will depend on you even more than you will him. Be there for him when he needs you.”
Sarah gave Porter an awkward glance, but then nodded reluctantly. After the show he’d just put on with Vesper, she couldn’t think of anything he would need her for. And even if he did, she wasn’t sure how she felt about being used as a crutch. When she looked again, though, suddenly she understood. There as admiration in his eyes, the way a someone looks up to a friend who had done them a great service.
This boy, Slayer though he may be, had chosen her as his friend. With his memory gone, it didn’t matter how well he could fight. Abandoning him would be the same as murdering him. He was alone and defenseless, which was why he needed her. He could protect her, and she could guide him.
Don’t forget who you’re dealing with! she chastised herself. Even if they don’t know he’s a Slayer, do you think they’ll just let him walk into a Sanctuary?
“Thank you for your kindness, Lowatai,” she said to the elf. “We would probably have died out here if it weren’t for you.”
“You are welcome,” Lowatai responded, “We will give you supplies to aid you on your journey, but I must ask that you do not seek us out again.”
“What will you do now?” Porter asked.
“My tribe will leave,” she answered, motioning toward the other elves who, Sarah realized, were busy clearing camp. “That, too, is our custom. Once our camp has been found, we will move to a different location.”
That made sense, Sarah thought. It was risky to stay in one place when the Slayers might capture someone who could reveal your location.
Lowatai nodded toward a nearby hut. “You will find packs of food, water, and tents in there. May the roads be kind to you.”
With one final thank you from both of them, they hurried to the specified hut. They found four large sacks containing the supplies, along with a black leather sheath that would fit across Porter’s back. Porter put the sword away, looking relieved, and then slung all four bags over his shoulders.
“So, what is this City Under the Hill?” he asked.
“It’s a place where Mythics like me can go to hide,” she answered. For a moment she regretted saying so much, but decided it didn’t matter. The Slayers knew about the Sanctuaries already. If Porter didn’t know where they were, he wouldn’t be able to tell them anything new.
“What’s it like?”
Sarah looked up, trying to remember exactly what Mrs. Rasta had said to her. “It’s supposed to be a city on the inside of a mountain. That’s all I know.”
“Have you ever been there?”
Sarah shook her head.
Porter turned to look at her, worried. “Do you know how to get in?”
She hesitated. “Of course I do!”
That was a lie, but Porter didn’t need to know that. The Sanctuaries were protected by strong enchantments to keep anything from wandering inside. Teleporting in and out was the customary way of travel in them, but you had to register with the officials first, otherwise it would redirect you to another place. Besides that, Sarah didn’t even know where for sure the Sanctuary was, which made teleporting there impossible in the first place.
“Lowatai was right, Sarah,” Porter spoke up again. “I don’t know where I learned to fight, but I’ll use it to protect you. You’ve been the best friend I could ever hope for, so I promise I’ll never let anything hurt you.”
The look in his eyes was fierce now. Fiercely loyal, she realized. It was like a fire had been lit behind them. She believed him. He would do anything and everything he could to defend her. She would let him stay with her for now, she decided, just like Lowatai had asked. She still wouldn’t bring him into the Sanctuary, though. She would find someplace safe, with other humans to take care of him, and then leave him there. It would be better for them both.
“Come on,” she said. “We’d better go before the elves decide to run us out.”
Porter nodded and followed her out the door. When they came out in the sunlight, though, they both stopped dead in their tracks. The camp was empty. No, the camp was gone. The Ragga Elves had vanished, and the branches that had made their huts had risen back into the trees. There was nothing left to betray that they had ever been there, not even a single footprint. There was a rustle behind her, and Sarah looked just in time to see the hut they had just been in disappear as well.
“Where’d they go?” Porter asked.
“Lowatai said they were leaving,” Sarah answered, shrugging off her momentary shock. “Elves have some of the most powerful magic on earth. There aren’t many things they can’t do.”
Without another word, she turned north and struck out towards their destination. Jellaska Kob Lertan, the only place she had left to go. She didn’t know how long it would take to get there, but she wasn’t going to let anything stop her.
NEXT TIME: And so the adventure truly begins! The Slayer with no memory, and the Sphinx with no freedom. Will Sarah find her way back to her parents? Will Porter get his memory back? What will they encounter on their way to the Sanctuary? And what is the destiny that Lowatai has foretold? You’re gonna have to keep reading to find out, so tune in next week for another chapter of The Slayer and the Sphinx!
(Wow, that was almost like a TV ending! So epic!)