Porter looked up in terror at the Tall Thing as it came into the camp. It was aptly named, because its head almost touched the branches on the trees above it. Its hood was up, and in the darkness Porter couldn't see its face— if it even had one. He began to breathe harder, trying to force down the rising panic.
"Tall Thing," the chief goblin exclaimed. "What you want?"
The cloaked creature stopped and turned to face the goblin— barely more than an insect in comparison. "Hello, Chief," it said in a deep, strong voice that sounded remarkably human. It had an accent that Porter had never heard before. "I think you have something for me tonight."
The goblin's eyes opened wider, and he shook his head. "No, no, nope! Nothing for Tall Thing!" He shot a guilty look at Porter, which of course the Tall Thing saw.
"Who is that over there?" he asked, pointing a finger the size of a banana at him. Was it a he? Porter was having trouble continuing to refer to this creature as an it.
"He ours!" the chief growled. "We catch him, he ours! We eat!"
The Tall Thing ignored him, and walked right up to Porter. As he drew nearer, the man's sheer size threatened to overwhelm Porter. He couldn't even see his neck without craning his head back as far as it would go. The Tall Thing knelt down, reducing himself to how tall Porter would be if he were standing up, and grabbed Porter's chin.
"Open your mouth, boy," he ordered.
Too frightened to do anything but obey, Porter opened his mouth as wide as he could. The man tilted Porter's head back and gazed into his mouth, examining his teeth. Like a horse, Porter realized. What was he doing?
The Tall Thing released his chin, and then proceeded to inspect the rest of his body. He ran his finger and thumb up Porter's arms, down his legs, and then squeezed his shoulders. Even those simple touches revealed the power inside the Tall Thing's muscles. If he wanted, he could pop Porter like a grape. The thought made Porter feel sick. Then, finally, the man was finished, and he stood up.
"I will take him," he announced.
"Take?" the goblin chief demanded, angrily. "You no take! I say is ours!"
"I will pay you well," the Tall Thing assured him, calmly.
Take me? Porter thought. Pay for me? Is this guy a slave trader or something?
The thought only made him feel worse.
His offer, though, seemed to finally get the chief's attention. "Pay how much?" he asked, a greedy look coming into his eyes.
"Ten knives, five shields, and three helmets," Tall Thing answered.
The chief stopped to consider it.
"You will be the most well-armed tribe in one hundred miles," the giant insisted.
"Okay," the goblin finally agreed. "When we get them?"
"I will take the boy to my house," Tall Thing answered, "and return with your payment in the morning."
The chief looked like he wanted to argue, but thought better of it and nodded his approval.
"Good," said Tall Thing. Reaching down, he hauled Porter to his feet, snapping the ropes in the process. "Young man, you will fetch a good price on the black market."
The black market. So he was a slave trader!
"No, please," he begged, finally finding his voice. "Let me go."
"Ha!" the huge man laughed, spinning him around and marching the terrified boy away from the goblin camp. "I paid too much to just let you go."
Porter felt his knees go weak with fear, but the gigantic man's hand on his shoulder kept him upright and walking forward.
"And don't even think about trying to run," his new captor said, "or I'll break both of your legs."
Still almost blind with fear, Porter looked out into the woods. At least Sarah had gotten away. She was smart, he told himself. She'd be far miles from here by now.
This is how I can protect you, Sarah. I'll let this Tall Thing take me and sell me, and you can use that time to get out of here.
Sarah watched from the shadows, twenty feet away from the camp, as the Tall Thing felt Porter and then pulled him to his feet. The night air was so still that she could hear every word they said, even from so far away. She knew she should run before the goblins or, even worse, the Tall Thing spotted her and she got captured as well. But something kept her there, watching with growing anger.
Porter might be a Slayer, she found herself thinking, but even he doesn't deserve to be sold into slavery.
The Tall Thing put his hand on Porter's shoulder and guided him out of the camp. The poor kid looked terrified, Sarah thought. And he had good reason to. Slave trading was illegal by Mythic laws, but just like any other shady business it managed to find buyers all the same.
Sarah's common sense demanded that she listen to it and run. If she followed the Tall Thing, she would definitely get caught. There wasn't much she could do without Porter to help, but her chances were still better than staging another attempted rescue. Still, her paws refused to move— going so far as to dig her own claws into the soft dirt beneath them.
Stop kidding yourself, she thought with a sigh. You can't leave him with a slave trader any more than you could leave him in the woods with a broken leg.
And so she followed them, giving the goblin camp one last look to make sure they hadn't seen her. The Tall Thing's trail was an easy one to follow. A creature as big as him wasn't exactly built for stealth, as evidenced by the huge footprints he left behind. The ground wasn't muddy, but his leather boots still mashed the earth down neatly with every step. It only took Sarah a minute to catch up to them, and she instinctively lowered herself to the ground like she was stalking prey.
As she followed them, Sarah began to work out a plan. The Tall Thing had torn Porter's ropes when he'd yanked him up, so unless he had more stashed inside that cloak of his he had nothing to tie Porter up with. If she could just keep up with them until the Tall Thing decided to stop and sleep, she could help Porter sneak away. It was a weak plan— what kind of slave trader wouldn't keep a spare rope handy? And what if they got back to where he lived before he needed to sleep? It was the only plan she could think of, though, so she stuck to it.
Then the Tall Thing stopped walking. It was so sudden that Sarah didn't realize it at first, and nearly walked right out into the open. She laid down on the ground, lowering her head and tucking in her wings to make herself less visible, and waited to see what would happen next.
Porter looked up when the Tall Thing stopped walking. In the dark, he wasn't able to see inside the giant man's hood, and that made him uncomfortable. He didn't know if it was looking at him in anger, or confusion, or...
The Tall Thing reached up and lowered his hood.
"I am sorry if I hurt you back there," he said, giving the boy a calm smile. "I had to keep up appearances. I hope you understand."
"I, uh," Porter stammered, but was unable to think of anything to say. The Tall Thing had dark skin and no hair, and apart from his size looked just like any other human. His eyes were gentle, though.
"My name is Droma," he said, holding up a hand to shake. "Who are you, and how is it that you have come to be lost in my forest?"
Porter tentatively took the hand, which completely dwarfed his own, and shook it. "I'm Porter. I was, uh, just passing through. I was alone, and..."
Droma chuckled, cutting him off. "You do not need to lie to me, Porter. I mean you no harm. In fact," he raised his head and called out into the woods, "you're sphinx companion can stop hiding now. Come and join us!"
A few seconds later, Sarah crept out of the shadows, cautiously watching the gigantic man. She gave him a wide berth, and came to stand behind Porter.
"Sarah!" Porter exclaimed. "You were following us? Why didn't you escape?"
"I wanted to rescue you," she said without taking her eyes off Droma.
"There is no need for rescuing or escaping," Droma said. "I only wanted to get your friend away from the goblins."
"Why?" Sarah asked. "What does it matter to you?"
"What does it matter?" Droma gave her an incredulous smirk. "His life was at stake. What else could matter more?"
Porter held up his hands. "Hey, I'm not complaining."
They stood there for a few seconds in awkward silence. Sarah still didn't trust Droma, he could see it on her face. Porter almost felt like he should distrust him, himself. They'd just met the man, and had no idea who he really was. The fact that he'd actually been rescued by him made that difficult, though.
"Come!" Droma said, suddenly, clapping his hands together. "It is late, and you are tired. You may rest at my house for the night."
Without another word, he turned and lumbered away, pushing entire trees out of his way like they were wispy little branches. Porter looked down at Sarah.
"We need to go with him," he said before the sphinx could object. "We're lost and have no supplies. If we go out on our own, the goblins will just catch us again."
"I don't trust him," Sarah hissed, giving the retreating giant's back a nasty look.
"I know you don't, but we've got no choice. We have to go with him."
Sarah glared at him. "He said he was going to sell you as a slave. What if this is just some way to get two slaves instead of one?"
Porter took a deep breath and glanced at Droma. The giant was getting further away, and hadn't stopped to see why the two weren't following. In a few more seconds, they'd lose sight of him completely.
"Then I'll protect you," he said. "Just like I promised."
It wasn't much of a promise, seeing as how he'd already been kidnapped once. Still, he didn't give Sarah a chance to object. He turned around and hurried after Droma. He held his breath a few seconds, hoping she wouldn't call his bluff. If she really didn't want to go with Droma, he wouldn't make her. He'd turn right back around and follow her wherever she chose to lead him.
Luckily, a few steps later, she came running to catch up to him.
"If he kills us," she growled, "I'm going to murder you."
The two of them caught up with Droma in less than a minute. Porter walked beside him, and Sarah made sure to keep him between her and the gigantic cloaked man at all times.
"I know you do not trust me," he said in his thick, unfamiliar accent. "I do not blame you."
Anyone with common sense wouldn't trust you, Sarah thought, though she kept it to herself.
"Why did you save me?" Porter asked. "Why were you even there?"
"I was there because I sensed you," Droma explained. "More accurately, I sensed something that you have touched recently."
"What does that mean?"
"I'll explain more when we get to my house. Until then, perhaps the sphinx would like to introduce herself?"
Sarah scowled at him, hoping that her hair was covering enough of her face to hide it. "I'm Sarah," was all she said.
Droma looked at her expectantly for a bit, and then nodded his head.
"So," Porter spoke up, breaking the silence, "you live out here?"
"I do," Droma said. "I am what is known as a Soul Smith. I have set up my workshop out here."
"What's a Soul Smith?"
He's way too trusting, Sarah thought, looking pointedly at the ground in front of her. That's going to get him hurt. And me, too
Still, when Droma answered, she listened.
"It is a special type of blacksmith," he explained. "I work with metals, making weapons and armor, but my magic makes them stronger and more intelligent than any normal piece of steel."
"Intelligent?" she blurted out before she could stop herself. "Like, smart?"
When both men turned to look at her, she scowled again and looked back down.
"Yes, actually," Droma answered. "It is difficult to explain, so I will show you when we get back to my house."
"And you give them to the goblins in exchange for people they catch?" Porter asked.
Droma shook his head. "Not often. People do not come through this part of the woods much. What I did for you was special."
But he's still going to give them weapons, Sarah thought defiantly, which means they'll be even more dangerous than before.
As if the giant was reading her mind, Droma continued, "But the tools I give them will not be mine. They will be relics that I have collected just for this purpose, ready to fall apart the first time they are used in battle."
"Why bother giving them anything?" Sarah demanded, drawing their attention back to her again. "It'd be better just to kill them."
Droma stopped walking, and the look he gave Sarah was enough to make her want to sink down into the ground.
"Because all life is sacred," he answered. "If it is alive, it is alive for a reason. That does not change just because we do not understand that reason."
After a couple more seconds, he turned and started walking again. Porter looked from one of them to the other, and then motioned for Sarah to follow.
"To say otherwise is to say that another creature's life is inferior to your own," Droma went on when she'd caught up. "That is a toxic way of thinking. That is how the Slayers think."
Sarah's blood ran cold at that word, and she gave Porter a frightened look. Would he recognize that word? What if it made his memories come back? The young man didn't seem to react at all to it, though. All the same, Sarah took a step further away and kept her eye on him.
"Here we are!" Droma said suddenly, waving his hand out in front of him.
Sarah stopped and looked around, trying to figure out what he meant by "here." All she could see was more forest in all directions.
"This is my home," Droma explained, stepping forward. "I had to take certain precautions when I built it."
Without further explanation, he reached out and grabbed at something in front of him. He made a fist around thin air, and then pulled backwards.
Sarah blinked in disbelief. When Droma pulled his hand back, a doorway appeared out of nowhere, growing larger the further Droma pulled. Inside the doorway, she could see an entire house. A fire roared in a great fireplace on the opposite end of the room, but on either side of the door was still nothing but empty forest.
"Whoa," Porter said, taking a step towards it. "How are you doing that?"
Droma smiled. "I have cast a camouflaging spell over my house. Nobody can see it from the outside, no matter which direction they are looking from."
"Magic!" Porter said in near-breathless awe. Then, before Sarah could say anything, he ran through the door.
"Porter!" Sarah yelled after him, but he was too busy looking around.
"It looks like a normal house from in here!" he called to her. He turned to face her. "You can see me now. How about now?"
He stepped out of view of the doorway, and vanished.
"No, I can't see you there," she told him, her claws digging anxiously into the dirt. "Come back to where I can see you."
Porter stepped back into view, but didn't seem in a hurry to come outside.
"You've got to see this," he said. "Come on!"
It's not safe, you dolt! she wanted to yell. Not with Droma standing right there, though.
"Um, Porter," she said at last, "I think maybe we should just go. Droma's done enough for us tonight. Let's not impose or anything, okay?"
"You are not imposing," Droma said, still holding the door. "You are my guests for the night. It won't be safe to travel again until morning."
Sarah glanced back at Porter, who was busy looking at something hanging on the wall, and then back to Droma.
"How do I know you're not going to hurt us?" she asked in a quiet voice. "Or try to sell us to somebody?"
Droma raised his eyebrows. "You do not. But I think you would not turn down a hot meal and a soft bed for one night, would you?"
Dang it, she thought in frustration, finally realizing just how tired she was. He got me.
"I will do nothing to harm you or your friend," Droma said, putting a fist over his heart. "You have my word as a Soul Smith."
Sarah didn't care much about this stranger's word, but Porter was already in the house, and it didn't look like he was coming out anytime soon. Even if Droma wanted to hurt them, Sarah felt more comfortable being with Porter than she would alone in the woods. The goblin infested woods.
"Okay, fine," she said at last, stepping through the door. "But just for the night."
Whoa, Porter thought. Hanging on the wall in front of him was the most amazing collection of weapons he'd ever seen. Swords, axes, spears, and so many more that he didn't recognize were spread out before him, like a museum of all the most deadly things on the planet. He stepped forward hesitantly, glancing to make sure the giant was still outside talking to Sarah, and then reached out and ran his finger along the blade of the nearest sword.
"Ah!" he gasped, pulling back. He glanced at his finger, and saw a drop of blood grow out of it. He wrapped the hem of his shirt around it, but still couldn't take his eyes off the wall.
There were more than just weapons, too. Three sets of armor stood at attention with their backs against the wall, one on either end of the room and one in the center. One was gold, one was black, and the one closest to Porter was a chrome so unblemished he could have used it as a mirror.
"Are you impressed?" Droma's asked, breaking through his amazement. Porter turned to see him closing the door. Sarah was inside now, hurrying to stand closer to him with a sour expression on her face.
"Yeah," Porter responded, giving the wall one last look. "These are amazing."
"They're just swords," Sarah grumped from beside him. "Who cares?"
"I care!" Porter shot back, giving her a reproachful look. Droma was helping them. The least she could do was be polite. "This stuff is awesome!"
"I told you," Droma said with a proud smile on his face, "I am a Soul Smith. Please, have a seat. You look tired." He waved toward three big armchairs by the fireplace.
Porter hopped into one while Sarah elected to stay on the floor and curl up by the fire. Porter had to hop, because the chairs were all Droma-sized. Everything in the house was.
"So," he said when the giant took a seat across from him, "what exactly is a Soul Smith?"
Droma laughed. It was a good hardy laugh. The kind that made people around him feel at completely at ease.
"I did promise to tell you, did I not?" he agreed, and nodded his head. "The easiest way for me to explain it is to show you."
He gestured around the house. "As you can see, I am a blacksmith. I take shapeless lumps of raw metal and turn them into something useful."
"Like an artist," Porter cut in.
"Yes," Droma agreed with a laugh, "in a way. But the difference between me and a regular blacksmith is how I work with the metal. An ordinary blacksmith just melts it down and then pounds it into the shape they want it. I do something a bit different."
He paused for a moment, looking thoughtful, before continuing. "Have either of you ever worked so hard on something that it felt like you'd put a piece of yourself into it?"
Both of them shook their heads.
Maybe I have, Porter thought. But I wouldn't know, would I?
"That's how I feel about everything I craft. Every sword, spear, and helmet that comes out of my forge holds a little bit of my soul within it."
"Cool," Porter said, leaning forward to pay better attention. "Does that, like, change it somehow?"
"Yes," said Droma, smiling cryptically, "it does."
The giant held out his hand, his fingers pointing toward Porter, and then clenched it into a fist. Suddenly, he was holding a sword. There hadn't been any flash, bang, or puff of smoke. It simply hadn't been there one moment, and the next it had. And the sword was massive, too. Taller than Porter was, and as wide as both his arms pressed together, yet Droma held it as if it were light as a feather.
On the floor, Porter saw Sarah tense up with a frightened hiss, but Droma didn't even glance at her.
"My weapons share my soul," he explained, "and so they will come when I call to them. All of them, whenever I need them. I can also feel them, so I always know where they are, no matter who has them."
He released the sword, and it vanished into thin air again. Sarah let out a long breath, and settled back down on the floor.
She needs to lighten up, Porter thought, giving her a sidelong glance. If Droma wanted to hurt us, he'd have done it already.
"And, if I am not mistaken," Droma spoke up again, looking very closely at Porter, "you, yourself, carry one of my finest works."
"Me?" Porter asked in surprise, and shook his head. "I don't think so. I don't even have a..." his voice trailed off.
"That sword Lowatai gave you," Sarah reminded him, and he nodded.
"Lowatai Elan gave the sword to you?" Droma asked. "Why would she do this?"
"I don't know, really," said Porter. "She said I was supposed to protect Sarah, and that I would need a weapon to do it. I don't have it anymore, though. It got left behind when the goblins caught me."
Droma laughed. "Do not worry about where you left it. If it was given to you, it will return to you when you call it."
"Like yours?" Porter asked.
"Yes. Try it. Hold out your hand, and summon the sword to it."
Porter nodded, and stood up. "Okay," he held his hand out.
Um... Sword, come to me. Come here.
Just as he was about to feel stupid for calling the sword like a dog, something appeared in his hand. He quickly wrapped his fingers around it before it could fall, and realized it was the sword.
"Awesome," he whispered, looking at his hand in awe. Had he just done magic?
"Let me see it," Droma said, holding out his own hand. Porter passed it to him.
The giant held it in two hands, inspecting it. It was no bigger than a knife to him, but judging by the tender way he held it, almost like a baby, Porter doubted there was a safer place for it in the world than where it was.
"Its name is Flicker," he said at last, placing it in his lap, "and it is, without a doubt, my greatest creation."
"That little thing?" Porter asked in surprise. "But all this other stuff..."
"Is nothing compared to this one blade," Droma cut him off. "Do you know what it is that makes this sword so special?"
Porter shook his head.
"It's because all my other weapons and armor are just that: weapons and armor. They may come when I call them, but in the end they are nothing more than metal shaped into a useful form. But Flicker," he paused, looking fondly at the sword in his lap, "is alive."
Everyone was silent for a few seconds. Porter exchanged glances with Sarah, and the look she gave him revealed just how skeptical she was about this.
"Alive," Porter said slowly, "as in, like a person?"
"As close to it as a sword can get," Droma said, sitting up straighter with pride. "It can think, act, and even move on its own somewhat."
"It hasn't done anything for me so far," Porter pointed out.
"Well, you have only had it for a day. You did not know it was alive, either, so you did not know what it could do."
"Right, yeah," Porter said, looking at the sword in the giant's lap. "That makes sense. If it's so valuable, you'll probably want to keep it, huh?"
Droma chuckled. "No, Flicker is yours now. It has already accepted you as its master."
"As its... What does that mean?"
"Flicker spent an entire day with you, judging your character and your heart, and has deemed you worthy to be its new wielder."
Droma held the sword out again, and Porter took it back. A light vibration ran through it, almost like it was humming.
"And if it didn't accept me," he asked, looking back at Droma, "what would it have done?"
"Flicker would have refused to let you hold it. It would have jumped out of your hand every time you tried to pick it up. And when you called to it, it would refuse to come."
"Cool," Porter said. He looked at it, uncertainly. "Um, thank you, Flicker."
The sword vibrated again, and the ruby gave a quick red flash.
"And now that that is settled," Droma said, standing up, "I'm sure you would like to get some sleep. There is a bed on the other side of that door. Please, use it for tonight."
Hearing these words, Porter was immediately reminded just how tired he was, and the arm that held Flicker sagged under its weight.
"I'll do that," he said gratefully, turning and heading for the door. "Thank you, Droma. For everything."
"You are welcome, Porter," the huge man said from his chair by the fireplace. As the young man shut the door behind himself, Droma turned his attention to the young sphinx who had fallen asleep by the fire.
"Sarah," he said, "wake up."
"Sarah, wake up."
No! she thought, struggling not to do as the voice said, and losing. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes, blinking to clear them, and looked up. Whatever that hulking brute wanted, couldn't it wait until—
Porter's chair was empty!
Sarah leaped to her paws, her fur standing on end.
"Where's Porter?" she demanded, backpedaling away from the fireplace. Droma watched her with a calm expression on his face, his hands folded peacefully in his lap.
"I sent him to the other room," he said, nodding toward the door. "He's probably already asleep."
Sarah looked at the door, and was about to go after him when the giant spoke again.
"If I had wished harm upon you, I would not have saved Porter from the goblins."
"Yeah," she shot back, giving him an icy glare, "but you can't sell dead people to the slave market, can you?"
Droma leaned forward, frowning. "I told you that I only said that to keep them from asking questions."
"But how can I trust you?" Sarah asked. She considered walking backwards to the bedroom door, but found that Droma's eyes held her in place like a trap. A chill ran down her spine when she finally stopped to consider her position. She and Porter were inside Droma's house, and she didn't think it would take much effort for him to keep them there. He could summon ten foot long swords out of thin air, for crying out loud!
Droma didn't answer at first, but finally he bowed his head. "This is your first time out in the world, isn't it?" he asked softly.
Sarah almost gasped, but choked it down. "How- how did you know that?" she asked.
"It is obvious in everything you do," the Soul Smith said, looking back up at her. "You are afraid of everything you see and hear because you have never experienced any of it before."
"That's not true," Sarah said, her face turning red. "I am not afraid of everything!"
Droma ignored the remark, and leaned toward her. "What confuses me is, of all the things you could have come across, why did you choose to put your trust in a human boy?"
There was no accusation in his voice, but Sarah felt her face burn with embarrassment anyway.
"I don't feel comfortable answering that question," she said, averting her eyes and looking at the fire instead. Its flames jumped and popped on the logs, slowly turning them into—
A pile of ashes that used to be my home a bunch of bones that used to be my maid...
Sarah went pale, and looked away from the fire. She glanced briefly at Droma, and then guiltily turned the other way to look at the things hanging up on his wall. Swords, axes, spears, all the kinds of things Porter would think was cool and—
Want to stab you with and kill you and cut off your head and leave the rest of you behind to burn...
Sarah's knees went week, and her vision swam. She sat down hard, breathing heavily. It took a minute, but the feeling finally passed. When it did, she looked back up at Droma, who looked like he was on the verge of getting up and coming to her. When he saw she was all right, he settled back down in his chair.
"Sorry," she gasped, still trying to catch her breath.
"What happened to you?" he asked, his concern evident in his eyes.
Sarah swallowed, and forced herself to meet his gaze. Suddenly, trusting him didn't seem like such a bad idea. Even after only two days with him, keeping Porter's secret was beginning to weigh on her. Having to second guess everything she said for fear of waking up the evil part of him... it would be nice to be able to speak openly with someone about it.
The story came rushing out of her mouth like a river, almost before she realized what she was saying. "It was two nights ago. My parents were gone, and it was just me and my maid. She was going to make me dinner, but then they were there. They killed her, and then set the house on fire. I tried to run, but one of them came after me. The house fell on him, but when I teleported away I accidentally brought him with me. I thought he was dead, but he's wasn't and now I'm..."
Her voice trailed off as emotion rose up inside of her. For the past two days, she had managed to keep the memories buried. Every time they came back, she had distracted herself by thinking about getting to Jellaska Kob Lertan. Now that it was all spilling out of her, though, the unwelcome feelings came so powerfully that she couldn't have held them back if she had tried. Tears were already running down her cheeks, and it was becoming hard to breathe again.
"Mrs. Rasta," she whispered, gently easing herself down to lie on the floor, "Mrs. Rasta..."
"Sarah," she heard Droma say from the other side of the room, but she ignored him.
"They don't know where I am," she moaned, her parents' faces flashing in front of her eyes. "They don't even know I'm alive!"
How frightened they must be, coming home to find their mansion burned to the ground and their daughter nowhere in sight. Did they even know yet? How long would it take for news to reach them? Would they try to find her, or just assume the worst?
Unable to take it anymore, Sarah rolled onto her side and stretched out her wings to cover her eyes, which she pressed against her face with her paws. She lay there, whimpering for a few seconds, until she felt a massive hand gently touch her head.
"You have held this in for too long," Droma whispered from above her. "Do not be embarrassed. Let it all out."
It felt like Sarah was a balloon, and that somebody had just untied the knot holding all the air in. With every quiet sob, she felt a little better until, several minutes later, she was finally able to sit up and look at Droma.
"Thanks," she whispered, her voice hoarse. "Sorry."
"You have been through a lot," Droma said, standing up and making his way back to his chair. "Do you feel like you can tell me anything else?"
Sarah nodded, and came to join him, sitting down next to the fire.
"Then am I correct in assuming that the men who attacked your house were the Slayers?"
Sarah's stomach tightened at that word, but she nodded again anyway. Across from her, Droma's hand tightened into a fist so strong that Sarah though he would crush the arm of the chair. His expression didn't change, though, and after a few seconds his hand relaxed again.
"And Porter," he said, "where does he come into all this?"
And there it was— the question she'd been dreading this entire conversation.
"Well," she said, managing a weak chuckle as she shuffled one of her paws on the soft fabric of Droma's rug, "you're never gonna believe this, but... well, Porter's the Slayer I accidentally brought with me."
Sarah wasn't entirely sure what she expected Droma to do after that revelation. Would he barge into Porter's room and kill him? Throw them both back outside for the goblins to pick off? Neither would be unwarranted, she thought as her stomach tightened anxiously again.
The news disturbed him, she could see it on his face as he folded his hands again in front of himself, but he didn't rise from his chair. When he spoke, she could feel the anger underneath the words, like a storm just beyond the horizon.
"Porter burned down your house," he said, speaking slowly, "and killed your maid, yet you travel with him?"
"I know it sounds crazy," Sarah said, "but when the ceiling collapsed on him, he got hit on the head. He doesn't remember anything!"
Droma shook his head. "Amnesia? And you believe this?"
"I didn't at first," Sarah insisted, standing up, "but now I do. He's changed."
Droma still wasn't convinced, and Sarah got the impression that she was quickly burning through Droma's remaining patience. What would he do if he ran out? She didn't even want to think about it...
"Lowatai thought so too," she added, taking an anxious step toward him. "She told him that it was his job to protect me. That's why she gave him Flicker!"
This, finally, seemed to get Droma's attention, which made her feel more hopeful.
"You talked to him yourself," she said. "I don't know how, but something happened when he got knocked out that night. He's not the same person he was."
There was a tense silence, then, as Sarah waited for Droma to respond. It stretched on for ten seconds, then thirty, and then to a full minute. Sarah resisted the urge to dig her claws anxiously into the wood floor. Finally, the giant sighed and nodded his head.
"I suppose I cannot argue with you," he said. "I have great respect for Lowatai, and I believe her to be an excellent judge of character. More than that, though, is Flicker."
He stood up and looked at the door Porter was behind. "Flicker is alive, and while it cannot see or hear like we do, it still has many ways to sense those who carry it. It can look into the heart of its wielder and judge them far more thoroughly than even an elven oracle."
Relief washed over Sarah. "So, you believe me, then?"
Droma nodded. "I do, but there is something else going on here."
He made his way to the part of his cabin that served as a kitchen, and poured himself a large cup of water. Sarah followed after him.
"What do you mean?" she asked, gratefully accepting a bowl of water when he set it on the floor for her.
"I mean," he answered, "that Flicker would never accept a Slayer as its wielder, even one that had lost its memory." He shook his head and gave Porter's door another look. "Whatever is going on, it is more than a mere case of amnesia."
Suddenly, Sarah didn't feel quite as thirsty as she had before. "What's that supposed to mean?" she asked, looking back up at him.
Droma shrugged. "I do not know, to be honest. Perhaps the answers will come later, but for now I can only suggest that we both keep a close eye on that boy."
Sarah grimaced. "You don't trust him, do you?"
"I trust Flicker," he answered, "but I also do not trust circumstances that I cannot explain. But enough about that. What will you and Porter do now?"
"We're going to Jellaska Kob Lertan," Sarah answered, and then paused. "Well, I am, at least. I can't take Porter in there with me, can I?"
"Definitely not," Droma agreed. "Amnesia or not, bringing a Slayer into a Sanctuary would be foolish."
"I know," Sarah sighed. "But my parents have a house there. They should be able to find me there."
Droma nodded. "It is a good plan. I will aid you however I can. For now, you should get some sleep. You look even more tired than Porter."
Sarah gazed wistfully at the fire. "That sounds great, actually," she said, going to it. She flopped onto her side right where the flames would warm her belly, and was asleep before she had even closed her eyes.
NEXT TIME: Ooooh, so the Tall Thing was a GOOD guy all along! Oh, these crazy plot twists I come up with sometimes. Porter and Sarah still have someplace to be, though— but after a goblin kidnapping and chasing a Tall Thing halfway across the woods, can they even still find the right way?