Page 48

Kitsune understood. Even if Oliver and Collette could earn the pardon they sought, and were able to travel back to their own world without fear of persecution from beyond the Veil, Julianna would have to remain behind. Unlike the Bascombes, she had not been carried here by a Borderkind. She had touched the Veil.

Julianna would be trapped here forever, one of the Lost Ones.

What would Oliver do now?

The irony was cruel.

Kitsune had the cunning heart of a fox and the mischievous soul of a trickster. Love had touched her for the first time in centuries and now it had curdled into bitterness. She had always hoped and believed that Oliver would come to love her, in time, but Julianna’s arrival had ruined any chance of that. Her heart felt dark and heavy now. She saw Julianna’s misery and Oliver’s pain, and she relished it.

“Let’s go, then,” the fox-woman said. “Frost and the others need our help.”

They all spared a final glance and a wave at Captain Beck and her soldiers, who had mounted their horses and gathered now by the castle doors to see them off. Then Kitsune led the way back into the howling shadows of the Sandcastle, into the darkness, shielding her eyes from the windblown grit, nursing her bitterness at the truth that she had learned.

For she understood now that Oliver could never have been hers, no matter what he may have allowed her to think.

He had hurt the woman in her, quite deeply.

But it was the fox in her that now wished very much to hurt him back.

For a moment, Blue Jay allowed himself to think that it was all going to go smoothly, that Ty’Lis was not prepared for their arrival. Lost Ones and Yucatazcan Borderkind surrounded the palace in the circle at the center of Palenque. In the flickering gas and electric lights they were a sea of curious and angry faces. When Frost gripped the sentry by the throat at the top of the stairs, they were all with him.

The other guards attempted to intervene, but Li snapped at them and sketched a line through the air. Where his hand passed, the air itself lit on fire, a streak of flame suspended above the ground. He held one hand at his side and fire spilled from his palm, forming itself into the shape of an enormous tiger. He staggered with the effort, no longer the legend he had once been. The blazing tiger-thing opened its maw and a gout of flame roared out.

The guards kept still.

Frost released the guard he’d throttled. The man reached up to touch the frozen flesh of his throat where the winter man had clutched him.

“Let them pass,” he rasped.

The three Mazikeen were arranged around Frost as though they were his honor guard and several of the sentries stared at them and whispered to one another. One in particular, an imposing soldier whose face was scarred from a lifetime’s survival in battles that had claimed others, watched the Mazikeen with cold eyes.

“You must be announced,” the scarred sentry said, and it was clear from his tone that he would not be so easily intimidated.

Cheval Bayard threw back her silver hair. “Then announce us.”

The grim, scarred man nodded, took one last long look at Frost and the Mazikeen, and then turned to hurry into the palace. The two massive doors had been built large enough for gods and giants to enter the palace, but given the rarity of such occasions—and that the king was a god in name only—there was a pair of smaller doors set into the larger. The scarred sentry disappeared through one of those and it slammed shut behind him.

Cheval seemed pleased with herself, but she had a reckless air about her, as though she no longer cared what fate held for them all. Perhaps, with Chorti dead, that was the truth.

Beside her, and several steps below Frost, Grin smiled. Soon, his expression seemed to say, they would have their answers. They weren’t alone now. Instead they were surrounded by others demanding the same answers, demanding justice.

Blue Jay remained several steps below the others, watching the crowd, watching the skies, watching the palace itself.

This did not feel right.

Only a fool would have allowed himself to think it would be this simple. He cursed his own momentary lapse.

“Frost,” Blue Jay said, moving up the steps past Cheval and Grin, pushing between two of the Mazikeen. The eyes of the sentries watched him carefully. “This isn’t going to be—”

The winter man looked at him with a weary, knowing gaze. Too easy.

People began to shout at the foot of the stairs. A woman screamed. Blue Jay spun. A sentry reached for him and with a single, solid kick he sent the man tumbling off of the stairs, turning end over end until he struck the cobblestoned street far below.

Soldiers flooded into the plaza around the palace, streaming out of buildings on the main thoroughfare and from every alley. Doors in the base of the palace banged open and hundreds of armed men erupted from the bowels of the massive structure.

“Bloody Hell!” Grin shouted.

The boggart grabbed hold of the nearest sentry, twisted, and hurled the man down the stairs, even as some of their allies raced up after them.

A light, damp snow whistled and eddied around those who had gathered at the top of the palace steps. The winter man ran at the huge doors, sliding through the air, driven by an arctic breeze. A guard grabbed at him and Frost chopped the edge of his hand down—honed to a razor blade—and sheared the man’s arm off at the biceps.

Screams and jets of blood gouted as the sentry staggered back. Cheval grabbed the nearest sentry and drew him to her, mouth tight over his. He struggled and kicked as she lifted him off the ground. When she dropped him, his head tilted to one side and water spilled from his gaping lips. She had drowned him with a kiss.

Two sentries came for Blue Jay. He chanted a few short, guttural syllables deep in his throat, moved his feet in time with a rhythm only he could hear, and as he did he spun, raising his arms. The night blurred with an indigo shimmer beneath his arms, and the magical wings he’d summoned knocked the two men back, cutting them both, nearly slicing the nearest of the two sentries in two.

With an earth-shuddering shriek of metal and wood, the god-doors swung inward, yawning wide, creating an entrance almost forty feet across.

Blue Jay spun and stared past Frost and the Mazikeen at the two towering figures that stood in the open doorway, backlit by torchlight in the palace’s entry chamber.

“Oh, shit,” he whispered.

The giants were the most hideous things he’d ever seen, their greenish-white flesh marking them instantly as Atlantean. Blue Jay had never heard of Atlantean giants, but that did not seem to matter now. Particularly as the giants were not alone. Dozens of Yucatazcan soldiers charged from the entry chamber onto the stairs, and there were dozens more behind them.

The three Mazikeen surged forward, moving so swiftly they passed Frost, and joined hands. The night blurred around them and a ripple of golden light speared forth, creating a wedge that drove through the midst of the guards, between the two giants, and thrust them all aside. The magic of the Mazikeen had opened an alley amongst their enemies.

Frost glanced back at Blue Jay.

The trickster waved him on. They both knew there was only one way to end all of this, and that was with the death of Ty’Lis or King Mahacuhta, if indeed the Atlantean sorcerer had acted on the king’s orders. In the midst of battle, it would be impossible for them all to reach the royal chambers.

But one…perhaps.

The winter man raced through the alley of shimmering golden light. Sentries tried to attack him, but the magic of the Mazikeen kept them back. In moments, Frost had disappeared within the palace’s vast entry chamber. The last glimpse Blue Jay had of the winter man was of him swirling into a storm of wind and sleet.

The heat had drained Frost. In his weakened state, Blue Jay wondered how far he would get.

The winter man was lost in the crush of soldiers coming out of the palace. Down in the plaza there were shouts and cries as the Lost Ones and the Borderkind of Palenque were attacked by the king’s guard. A single glance told Blue Jay that his worst fears were being realized. Far too many of those who had followed along in support were being driven out of the plaza, back into the maze of the city’s streets, back to their homes.

Even some of the southern Borderkind were fleeing.

Fools. We can win this, he thought. Whoever had sent the Myth Hunters had to be destroyed, but even without that final victory, they could still win. The king’s guard were human. The Atlantean giants were the only legendary creatures amongst their enemies. If all of the Borderkind would stand and fight—

“Filthy myth,” a voice said.

Blue Jay spun and saw a sword slicing the air toward his neck. He ducked the blade with the quickness and luck of a trickster, grabbed his attacker’s wrist, and twisted it, snapping the bone. The soldier screamed and Blue Jay hauled him close.

“Thanks for the warning, friend,” he said.

Then he blinked in surprise.

The sentry had greenish-white skin, like the giants. With his colorful leather armor and helmet he had been lost amongst the others—amongst the ordinary human soldiers—but this man was no Lost One. He was Atlantean.

Grimacing in pain, the Atlantean sentry jerked in Blue Jay’s grasp. A sliver of pain shot through the trickster’s abdomen and raced all through his right side. He glanced down and saw the Atlantean’s free hand, and the dagger with which the sentry had stabbed him.

Blue Jay snarled, reached around to grab the back of the Atlantean’s helmet, and rammed his forehead into the man’s face, crushing his nose and cracking his skull. The trickster’s long hair fell across his face. He thrust the dead soldier away, the dagger sliding out of his wound, still clutched in the Atlantean’s hand. Warm blood dripped down his hip. Blue Jay shook his hair—and the feathers tied in it—away from his face. One of the feathers was flecked with Atlantean blood.

He spun, hand over his wound, even as other sentries rushed at him.

The three Mazikeen had begun to hum loudly. Golden light pulsed around them. Once again they reached out to join hands. Arcs of light darted out from their aura, striking various guards dead on the spot. The dead men stiffened, a purple-black glow enveloped them for an instant, and then they fell over like abandoned marionettes.

Blue Jay began his dance, swinging his arms, blue light shearing the night around him.

One of the giants bellowed in fury, lifted his leg, and stomped on the nearest Mazikeen. The hum stopped, the golden aura flickered and died. For a moment, Blue Jay stared, sure that a Mazikeen could not be murdered so crudely, but all that came out from beneath the giant’s foot was a stream of dark blood that sluiced down over the white palace steps.

The other two Mazikeen were staggered, but quickly stood together and began to chant something. The darkness coalesced around them, blacker than night, and whatever magic they were up to now would be ugly. Of that, Blue Jay was sure.

Li would not wait.

Little more than fire and ash himself, the Guardian of Fire had crafted his massive tiger from flames, a blazing memorial to his fallen comrade. Now the fire-tiger sprang half a dozen steps in a single leap and landed in front of the murderous Atlantean giant.

Fire spilled from Li’s eyes. He opened his mouth in a roar like that of his tiger and flames gouted from his throat. The effort rocked him and he seemed to diminish further, his burning cinder body thinning. Before the giant could react, Li shot a stream of fire up at the monster. Its green-white Atlantean skin charred and blackened and the fire spread along its flesh hungrily. In moments, it was engulfed.

The giant beat at its burning flesh wildly, trying to put the flames out. It staggered backward, off the edge of the steps, and plummeted eighty feet to its death. The whole plaza shook with the impact.

The other giant paused and stared in shock as the Guardian of Fire turned on him and began a faltering advance, grinning, liquid fire spilling from his lips and dripping from his hands. Transformed as he was, Li looked more like a demon than a man.

The king’s guard—and he wondered how many Atlanteans were hidden amongst them—began to back up.

From the crush of soldiers that had come out of the palace, four new figures stepped forth. Each wore a robe of deep crimson, fringed with black, and had hideously thin features and a familiar greenish-white pallor.

The two surviving Mazikeen ran at them, a wave of black sorcery spilling forward, dark tendrils lashing at the newcomers. The four Atlantean sorcerers raised their hands and silver light sprang from their fingers, erecting magical shields that turned away the Mazikeen attack.

For all of his cunning, Blue Jay had been slow to see the truth in the midst of the chaos. Now he swore and twisted his body. One blurred wing deflected the blade of an attacker even as he leaped up and kicked the other in the head, sending the man tumbling down the stairs. Nearby, Leicester Grindylow and Cheval Bayard were fighting the king’s guard. Li faced the surviving giant.

Below in the plaza, at least half the crowd had already been dispersed. The bloody bodies of jaguar-men littered the bottom of the stairs where they had been slaughtered trying to come to the aid of their fellow Borderkind. Other Yucatazcan Borderkind were also dead or had fled. His instinct was to think them cowardly, but now he changed his mind.

“Cheval!” he shouted.

Blue Jay leaped into the air. He did not shift into the shape of a bird, but the spirit-wings beneath his arms let him glide down fifteen stairs to land at her side. He snapped the neck of the guard nearest her and she turned, eyes wild.

“It’s Atlantis,” he said. “Somehow, it’s Atlantis. Either the king’s in with them, or they’ve taken over, or something. We’re not prepared for this. It’s much bigger than we thought.”

Cheval’s silver hair framed a blood-spattered face. “But Frost—”

“He’s in. And he’s our only chance,” Blue Jay said. “If he kills Ty’Lis, maybe this is all over. If not, we need help. We need to get word to King Hunyadi.”

With a nod, she shouted to Grin. The boggart ran to her as she transformed, growing and stretching, bones popping, until she had taken her equine form again. Grin leaped onto Cheval’s back and she started down the steps. Before she reached the phalanx of soldiers coming up at her, a kind of rip appeared in the fabric of the Veil, and Cheval and Grin crossed the border, vanishing from the Two Kingdoms into the world of man.