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Frost nodded, his enthusiasm for the idea increasing. “The legend is English, I believe. Not as well known in modern times as the Sandman. But the Dustman is Borderkind as well, and just as powerful.”

“But he doesn’t go around murdering children and ripping out their eyes?” Oliver ventured.

“No, he doesn’t.” Wayland Smith smiled. “That’s an excellent idea, Frost. If the Dustman could be convinced to help—”

“Yeah,” Oliver interrupted, “but how do I do that? How do I even find him?”

Blue Jay put his hand on Oliver’s shoulder. “You sleep, my friend.”

“It can’t be that simple.”

“According to the legend, the Dustman is a nursery spirit. Which means you’d need to be in a nursery, with a child,” Wayland Smith said.

Cheval Bayard seemed to notice Oliver for the very first time. There was something odd about her long face, almost equine.

“You might want to be in England at the time,” she suggested.

“Why not?” Oliver said. “It’s on the way. I just wish there was a quicker way to get to Collette. It’s a long trip back to the Truce Road.”

Wayland Smith leaned over the table, staring at them intently. “But of course there’s a quicker way. The Sandman’s castle doesn’t exist in only one location. It’s in many places at once, all of the time. In Euphrasia, both east and west, in Yucatazca, and beyond the Two Kingdoms as well. There is a nearer Sandcastle, to the east, and a Winding Way that will take you there even more swiftly than an ordinary road.”

Kitsune shifted in her chair, studying Smith. “Lost Ones can’t travel the Winding Way. Ordinary men—”

Wayland Smith arched an eyebrow. “You’ve seen this with your own eyes, little cousin?”

“No. But I have heard—”

“It is your best and fastest course, whether the Winding Way will take you there or not. You know how to reach it, from the Orient Road?”

Kitsune nodded, brow furrowed thoughtfully.

“Well, then,” Smith said, as though the matter was settled. And apparently it was, for Kitsune did not argue further.

Oliver sat back and glanced around, pleased to have a plan, and to know that he was not going to be traveling alone after all. He could not recall ever feeling as grateful to anyone as he did to Kitsune at that moment. Yet when he looked at Blue Jay, and then at Frost, he felt a terrible loss.

Frost had brought him into this, but purely by accident. They had relied upon one another, entrusted each other with their lives. They had become, Oliver believed, friends. It was going to be difficult to say good-bye.

“I just wanted to say—” he began.

Coyote shouted and leaped onto the table. The Borderkind were all in motion at once. Chairs crashed over as they stood, ready to defend themselves. Oliver pushed himself away from the table, chair legs scraping the floor, and he reached to his waist, only to find that he’d left the sword in his room.

At the end of the table, Chorti threw his arms up and bared his razor-blade teeth in a snarl as he flashed his claws, ready.

But it wasn’t the wild man that Coyote was after. The only one of them who had barely moved was Tlatecuhtli. The frog-thing began to chatter in his terrible, guttural tongue. The rangy Coyote dove at the frog, fur growing on the back of his neck, bristling along his arms. His jaw elongated, bones cracking as it became a snout filled with wicked teeth.

The frog-thing tensed as though it was about to leap.

Coyote struck it with his body, drove it down to the floor, and then thrust his snout into its fleshy neck. He tore Tlatecuhtli’s throat out, spilling bright green ichor onto the floor, spraying his muzzle with the swamp-stinking stuff.

“What are you doing?” Blue Jay cried.

“Take him!” Frost snapped.

Chorti was already moving. The massive beast-man grabbed Coyote by the arms in an iron grip. Coyote thrashed but could not free himself.

“You idiots! Don’t you pay attention?” Coyote howled. “The frogs. Stop them!”

Oliver moved toward Cheval, thinking to pull her away from danger. As he darted forward, he saw the slit in the frog-thing’s sickly pale belly—vertical lips that disgorged a small frog, no larger than his hand. And then another. And a third.

They were headed for the door, others for the windows. Several hopped toward the darkening corners of the room, searching for an exit that way.

“It’s a spy!” Oliver shouted. “Don’t you understand? You can’t let them get away! He heard everything!”

It was chaos. Utter, disgusting chaos.

In the end, they thought they had managed to destroy all of the traitorous Borderkind’s spawn, but they were not certain. Not certain at all. Even if the Nagas had not ordered them to leave in the morning, they would not have been able to risk remaining in Twillig’s Gorge longer.

At dawn, they had to leave.

Though he had slain Tlatecuhtli for them, and in doing might well have spared them a confrontation with the Hunters, the rest of the Borderkind shunned Coyote as the meeting drew to a close. He bid a somber farewell to Blue Jay, ignoring the others, and was the first to leave the tavern.

Chorti and Cheval agreed to meet Frost and Blue Jay in the foyer of the inn at sunup, then departed. Wayland Smith promised Kitsune and Oliver that he would return an hour before dawn to see them off, and then he also took his leave.

At the bottom of the stairs, Oliver and his companions gathered, perhaps for the last time.

“I want to thank you all,” he began.

Frost tilted his head, a smile on his sharply angled features. Outside, dusk had arrived, and it was a fading light that gleamed on his icy form now.

“I believe we’re beyond debt or gratitude now, Oliver,” Frost said, and his blue-white, frozen diamond eyes narrowed. “We are comrades now, aren’t we? After all we’ve been through. Comrades, come what may. We will be parted for a time, but wherever we may go, we are brothers in arms.”

Oliver could not speak. The winter man was not one for sentiment, and he found himself absurdly touched by Frost’s words.

Blue Jay clapped him on the shoulder. “Until dawn, Oliver. Sleep well.”

“You, too.”

“Blue Jay, a word, if you will,” Frost said.

“About our recruits, I assume,” the trickster said.

Frost nodded and the two of them drifted back toward the tavern. Others had begun to enter the inn and head in that direction. There might not be many visitors in Twillig’s Gorge, but that did not translate into a shortage of patrons for the tavern.

“Shall we?” Kitsune said, gesturing toward the stairs.

“Absolutely,” Oliver said. “I’m tired enough to just go to sleep right on the steps.”

“I think that might be frowned upon.”

They smiled at one another and started up the stairs. As they reached the landing on the third floor, Oliver reached out to take her hand.

“Kit, wait.”

One eyebrow raised, she turned to face him, jade eyes flashing with curiosity. Her cloak swayed around her, soft copper fur brushing his arm.

“I just wanted to say…I mean, you don’t know how much it means—”

Kitsune reached up to touch his face, then darted her head in and kissed him once, quickly, on the mouth. He’d never felt lips so soft, never smelled anything as wonderful as her scent.

She pulled back and watched him, one corner of her mouth lifted.

For several seconds, he only stood there stupidly. Then he shook his head. “Kit, you know…when this is all over, I’m going home. This isn’t my world. Julianna’s waiting for me. She is home, for me.”

A glimpse of sadness flashed in her eyes, but her smile never wavered.

“Go to bed, Oliver,” she said.

Kitsune walked down the hall and disappeared into her room, leaving him standing by himself in the corridor.

His skin prickled as though he was surrounded by static electricity. When she had kissed him, and stood so near, the temptation had been powerful. Oliver could not deny that Kitsune stirred desire in him. She would have had such an effect on any man. Everything about her was magical; but, in the world of the legendary, everything was magical. He reminded himself of that now.

All his life, Oliver had believed in magic, in things beyond the scope of human understanding. No matter what peril it had brought him, he reveled in the discovery that he had been right all along. And yet the more he saw of magical creatures and enchanted lands, the more he longed for the simpler magics of the mundane world.

A small smile touched his lips as his mind flooded with memories and images of Julianna: the music of her laughter; the knowing, indulgent look in her eyes; the way her fingers slid into his on sheer instinct; and how perfectly their bodies molded together as they curled together, whether on the sofa to watch a movie or in bed after making love.

Simple magic.

They both loved the ocean best in winter, and at night. They shared a hatred of bars and a passion for bad Chinese food, and they were endlessly amused by each other’s taste in music. One of the few times they had found themselves in musical agreement was a Saturday afternoon in September, their senior year in high school, when they’d driven down to Portland to see James Taylor at an outdoor music festival. Julianna rarely enjoyed older music, but had fallen under the sway of Taylor’s sweet voice and acoustic guitar.

Sitting on a blanket on the grass, she had leaned in close to him, Oliver’s arm around her, and they had just soaked it all in—four generations sprawled around the park with their picnic baskets and beach chairs, the beer and wine flowing, dancing and singing along.

Oliver had kissed her head, breathing in the scent of her.

“They’re all about you, Jules.”

She had looked up at him, confused. “What?”

“The songs. They’re all about you.”

James Taylor had launched into “Something in the Way She Moves” right then, and Julianna—eyes wide open, shivering just a little—had kissed him like he had never been kissed before.

That was magic.

Kitsune stirred something primal in Oliver; he could not deny that. But he could never have the intimacy with her that he shared with Julianna, and he would never sacrifice that simple magic.

Jules, he thought. You’d hardly recognize me now.

The night was long for Kitsune. The legend of Twillig’s Gorge established it as a safe haven, a sanctuary for anyone who wished to escape the rest of the world and live peacefully. Yet there were enemies here. Worse, though there might well be spies amongst the Lost Ones and the legendary, they had found treachery amongst the Borderkind. It was appalling enough that some, like Coyote, were too frightened and selfish to stand with their kin and fight, but the idea that there were turncoats among the Borderkind was especially difficult to bear.

Jenny Greenteeth had been her friend. But now it had become distinctly clear that Kitsune could trust only herself, Oliver, Blue Jay, and Frost. They had fought side by side and would have given their lives for one another.

How much simpler it would have been never to have left the Oldwood, to have just waited for the Hunters to come after her. Yet she pushed such thoughts away. This conspiracy against the Borderkind could not be allowed to go without reprisal.

Until then, however…she would take care, and watch her back.

That night, she slept as a fox, curled up beneath the bed in her room at the inn. Anyone who entered thinking to do her harm would find rumpled blankets but no one in bed. Yet though Kitsune had slept through storms and blizzards, in bramble patches and underground dens, and despite her exhaustion, she did not sleep well.

At night, the inn was cold, and she wound more tightly in upon herself. Voices in the corridor or from out the window, down in the gorge below, carried to her and her ears pricked. Kitsune knew she had made the right choice, going with Oliver. Frost had promised only to see him safely to Professor Koenig, but to let him go off on his own now…Well, they might as well kill him themselves. He’d proven surprisingly courageous and resilient for an ordinary man, but he was still just human. Not that she blamed Frost. The threat to the Borderkind far outweighed the potential loss of one human life.

But she had spoken truly. She did not want Oliver to die. Her pulse raced at the nearness of him. The fox in her desired him. It confused Kitsune horribly. How could she have such yearning for a fragile, mundane man?

Yet there was no denying it.

He was promised to another, and loved her. But Kitsune hungered for him, and she would see him safely on his journey or die herself.

All through the night she drifted in and out of sleep. It lasted an eternity, and each time she peeked out from beneath the bed to see that the sky beyond her window was still the rich black velvet of night, she was newly astonished. It seemed morning would never come.

When, at last, she opened her eyes to see that the darkness had taken on a golden glow, the first hint of impending sunrise, she was still exhausted, but she could not close her eyes again. Dawn approached, and they were to leave.

She stretched, tail twitching behind her. The floor was dusty and her eyes began to water. The fox sneezed, then shook her whole body before slipping out from beneath the bed. Kitsune glanced around the room, still anxious, and at last she began to stretch again. This time the motion did not stop, and her muscles lengthened, smooth as liquid, bones shifting.

In the midst of her room, she reached up and pulled back her hood. She had bathed before retiring the night before. Now she went into the bathroom, splashed water on her face, and ran her fingers through her long hair to straighten it.

Kitsune yawned and met the gaze of her reflection. She ought to go and wake Oliver, but somewhere in the inn, there was breakfast cooking. Her stomach grumbled. Greasy bacon would be wonderful. Eggs as well. Raw if she could find them. She wondered if there would be coffee. If she hurried, she could bring breakfast up to Oliver and they could be gone within an hour after sunup. That ought to be near enough to dawn to satisfy the sentries.