“Look, it’s going to take weeks—”
“We don’t have weeks!” Frost said, spinning on her. The air around Collette dropped thirty or forty degrees. Her breath fogged and her eyelashes stuck together when she blinked.
“No. Collette, stop. You haven’t been thinking properly since we crossed the Veil. Perhaps it’s because you’re back in your world and you think, suddenly, that means that you need to follow the rules of humanity. But you can’t think that way. Authorities all across your world will be looking for you, now. You vanished, remember? After your father was murdered.”
“So, now I’m a suspect, the way Oliver was?”
The look on Frost’s face chilled her.
“Perhaps. That does not matter at all. Regardless, you will be questioned. They will want to know where you have been. All of that will take time, during which Oliver and Julianna—and many thousands of others, both of your kind and mine—may lose their lives.”
Collette shivered, then shook it off and faced him. She’d been tormented by the Sandman, kept as his captive, and escaped only to fall into the hands of Ty’Lis and end up in the dungeon at Palenque. In that time, she had learned a great deal about herself. She had found the magic of her mother’s heritage inside her and a strength that came from her own heart. Home had a powerful allure, but the time hadn’t come yet to indulge that.
Still, she studied Frost closely and did not care that he took offense at her scrutiny.
“You doubt me,” he said.
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“Our goals are the same, Collette. They always have been.”
“Including when you brought Oliver across the Veil and left me to be murdered by the Myth Hunters?”
Frost cocked his head. “They did not kill you.”
“True. The Sandman took me. There were times I would rather have died. Just because Oliver and I are both still alive doesn’t mean you did the right thing,” Collette snapped.
“This is foolishness,” Frost said. He started walking again, but something wavered in his tone and aspect that said he might not be as confident as she had always thought. Collette didn’t know whether to be heartened or frightened.
“It might not have been the right choice, but it was the only choice. It kept you both alive. Oliver and I owed our lives to each other, several times over.”
Collette caught up to him again. “And through all of that, you never trusted him enough to tell him the truth?”
Frost kept walking. “He was safer not knowing.”
“But he deserved to know. We deserved to know.”
“And now he hates me,” Frost said.
Collette paused. Frost went on several steps under the banana trees, soft rain pattering against his slick, icy form. Then he stopped, but did not turn. Collette had heard the weary sadness in his voice. Maybe all he’d said was true. Perhaps he had thought of Oliver as his friend, and the rift between them pained him.
“No,” she said, softly. “I’m the one who hates you. I’m the one you left behind. Oliver only resents you. Maybe he’ll forgive you, one of these days.”
Slowly, the winter man turned. For the first time, his face—all sharp lines and edges—looked almost human.
“And you?” Frost asked.
Collette shook her head. “You and I were never friends.”
After a moment, the winter man nodded. “Fair enough.”
He turned and strode more quickly along the path. In silence, Collette followed. A little over a minute later and they had reached a fence that ran around the perimeter of the plantation. Frost reached out and froze a section of the fence, then, with a fist, he shattered it.
On the other side they came to a dirt road. Nothing moved along that road—neither person nor vehicle—but twenty yards to the left a small gray truck sat on the shoulder. Rust had eaten away part of the front end and the sides of the truck were spattered with dried mud.
Frost started toward it.
“What the hell is this?” Collette said, hurrying to get a better look at the truck. Anxious, she glanced up and down the road, but they were completely alone. Frost moved with purpose, and that worried her.
“What’ve you done?” she asked.
At the truck, the winter man paused and glanced back at her. Mist rose from his eyes, drifting on the breeze. The rain around him turned to sleet and pelted the truck with a metallic prickling.
“I’ve become a thief,” Frost said. Perhaps he smiled as he said it. “But not a murderer, if that is your concern.”
With a gesture, he indicated the roadside. Under the trees lay a brown shape, and it took her a moment to recognize it as some kind of canvas tarp. Beneath it, she realized, lay the driver of this truck.
“He’s not dead?”
“He’ll live,” Frost replied. “Get in the truck and drive, please.”
“Where are we going?”
The winter man opened the passenger door, climbed in, and closed it, just as if there were nothing strange at all about a creature made entirely of ice and snow riding in a rusty old truck.
Collette did as he asked. The keys were in the ignition and the truck started instantly. The windows were open. Several times Frost simply evaporated out of his seat, drifting up into the sky, a twisting storm cloud rushing ahead of the truck, only to pour himself back into the seat a minute or two later with directions. They stayed north of the city, though Collette got several glimpses of it through her window; she was surprised at how modern it seemed. The truck rattled along plantation roads and then what might have passed for a main road. For a mile or so it seemed they might actually drive into Machala, and then Frost directed her to take a narrow, rutted turn to the northwest.
Moments later, they came in sight of the water. To the south, she could see the port and was stunned to find not only fishing boats but elegant pleasure craft and huge shipping vessels. They bounced through a pothole and she had to focus on the road, but she could still glimpse the port in the rearview mirror. On the left, they rolled past a massive seaside operation that a sign identified as a shrimp farm.
“You really think this is going to work?” she asked.
“What?” the winter man said.
“We’re just going to take a boat? Obviously that’s your plan, because there’s no way anyone is going to let me on a plane with no identification, even if I had the money. Which means we’re stealing a boat.”
Frost glanced at her, his hair clinking together again. “I have already stolen it. The men I stole it from had guns. The hold was full of bags of white powder I assume is cocaine.”
Trying to process this news, her mind snatched one question out of a dozen. “You know what cocaine is?”
The winter man scowled. “I have been crossing the Veil since its magic was first woven. I have seen the best and worst of humanity. One of the men is dead, shot by another and fallen into the sea. The others are incapacitated.”
“You did all of this in a couple of hours?”
Frost looked back out through the windshield. “Time is short. They were evil men.”
As though it was that simple. And, Collette realized, perhaps it was. Four or five miles up the coast, the winter man directed her into a narrow drive that led into a wooded, rocky piece of property. Whoever owned the place was wealthy by any standard. Her father had been very well off, but the house that perched on the edge of the ocean here was twice the size of the Bascombe home.
They drove up and parked right in front. Collette felt wary as they got out of the truck. The front door hung from its frame. Several windows were broken. Nothing moved except the door, which swayed loosely with the breeze. Part of her wanted to go inside and see the chaos that Frost had wrought. Instead, she hurried around the side of the house, following a path that led to a dock. Two men lay bruised and bleeding and unconscious on the beach, several feet from the dock. One of them had an arm twisted at the wrong angle, clearly broken.
Collette paused to stare at him, thinking that no matter what this man had done, they ought to call someone. If his injuries were bad enough, he could die.
“We are at war,” Frost said. His voice felt like a chilly whisper against her ear. “If our war took place here, these men would be our foes.”
She took a breath. Much as she still hated Frost for leaving her to the Sandman’s mercies—and much as she had lived her entire life by the laws and morals of her own people—she could not disagree with him.
They walked out onto the dock and boarded the boat. As a child, she had watched reruns of Miami Vice voraciously. Drug lords and cigarette boats. They called them something else, now, but she couldn’t think of the word. Didn’t matter. If those little, slick, swift craft were cigarette boats, this one was a cigar.
Less than an hour ago, she’d been lying beneath the banana trees and thinking how nice it was to be back in her world, where things felt more real. But now, nothing about this felt real. Or maybe it was just that Frost was right—they were at war—and in war, the old rules no longer applied.
“You never asked me if I could drive this thing,” she said as she investigated the instrument panel on the boat. She ought to go below and look at the food and water stores, but there wasn’t time even for that. If she needed something, Frost would provide. She might hate him, but she knew that he needed her, now.
He needs me, because Oliver stayed behind, and if Oliver dies…
She shuddered. Of course. Frost had done it to them again. Oliver had insisted he stay behind to protect Julianna, because she couldn’t pass through the Veil. So Collette couldn’t blame Frost for that. But the truth could not be denied. Once again, he had left one Bascombe behind to live or die, content with the knowledge that he had the other in his safekeeping.
Yet as perverse as it seemed, Collette found some comfort in this. She was Legend-Born. Frost couldn’t afford to let her die. Too much relied upon the Bascombes. The Lost Ones would follow them into war, or fight on their behalf. The Borderkind who feared Atlantis’s efforts to seal off the Veil forever would fight all the harder, knowing the Legend-Born lived.
“You can drive it, can’t you?” the winter man asked.
The salt wind off of the water scoured him, but he seemed to enjoy it, somehow.
“Yes. How did you know?”
Frost cocked his head, as was his habit. “Perhaps Oliver told me. Or perhaps I assumed it, given your background. Your father’s money provided many luxuries.”
Collette sighed and started up the boat. The engine purred. “Right, then. Cast off.”
Frost went to see to the moorings. Collette looked at the water, wondering what had become of the man who’d been shot and fallen in. His corpse would be floating down there, somewhere.
As the winter man breezed up beside her, she glanced at him.
“You know someone will come after us, right? If not the police, then the military. Or other scumbags like the ones back there on the beach. Even if they don’t catch up, we’ll run out of gas long before we reach the California coast—if I haven’t starved to death by then.”
“We should go,” Frost replied.
Collette stared at him. “You’re making this up as you go, aren’t you?”
The winter man said nothing, just retreated into the cabin to get out of the sunlight.
Collette checked her instruments and pushed up on the throttle, pulling away from the dock. Oliver waited for her an entire world away, and she would do whatever had to be done to get back to him.
Ixchel brought them a hose that must have been used when the horse stalls had to be cleaned out, and Oliver and Julianna transformed an empty stall into a makeshift shower, taking turns cleaning off the grime and stink of the dungeons. Their new friend—whose entire knowledge of the English language was Oliver’s last name—made several trips out into the city for them. He brought back soap, clean clothes, and food.
Oliver didn’t think he had ever been so grateful to anyone.
When Ixchel helped him bind and gag the other stable worker—whom Oliver figured might also be the saddle maker—the man’s face was heavy with regret. Julianna and Oliver tried to use the tone of their voice to thank him, and Ixchel nodded his appreciation, but when the other man regained consciousness and glared at his former friend, there could be no consolation.
Perhaps three hours after they had first been discovered, Ixchel went out again. This time, he did not come back right away. Oliver and Julianna busied themselves feeding the horses, avoiding any conversation about what to do next. Eventually, they could put it off no longer.
“He’s been gone a while,” Julianna said.
She’d tied her hair back with a strip of cloth. The shirt Ixchel had gotten for her was too small and the pants too large, but Oliver thought she looked adorable.
They met in the middle of the stable. The smell of leather and hay filled their nostrils. Oliver took her hand and leaned over to kiss her.
“He’ll be back.”
“How do you know?” Julianna asked, forehead creased with worry. She had not feared many things in her life. It troubled him to see fear in her eyes now.
“Jules, you’ve got to let it go.”
Her gaze hardened and her nostrils flared. “Let what go?”
Oliver took her face in his hands and stared into her eyes. “I’m not leaving you here. If you have to stay, then I stay. We’ll both survive it.”
A sad smile touched her lips and he knew that—though she would always remember the girl she had been—this moment they had built a wall between past and future.
“We start from right now?” she said.
Oliver nodded. “From right now. We get out of here. We go north and hook up with King Hunyadi somehow.”