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“I like him.”

“I know you do. If this is our world, now, we’ll live in it together.”

Julianna squeezed his fingers in hers, and Oliver knew that his fiancée wasn’t the only one who had gone through a door that had closed forever behind her. The man he’d been, once upon a time, no longer existed. He would not grieve, though. For better or worse, he’d become who he had always been meant to be. His mother’s son. His father’s son. Himself.

A soft knock came at the stable door. They darted together into the stall they’d used as a shower, even as one of the front doors creaked open. Ixchel entered with another man—a thin, distinguished-looking fellow with silver and black hair. They spoke rapidly and Oliver had the distinct impression the other man was demanding to know why Ixchel had dragged him here.

Ixchel pointed toward their hiding place. “Bascombe,” he said.

Oliver stepped out of the stall, holding Julianna by the hand.

The newcomer stared at them in something like terror, and then his face slowly transformed into a smile.

“You,” the man said, in thickly accented English. “You are really him? You are Oliver Bascombe?”

“I am. And you?”

The man clapped Ixchel on the arm, then rushed forward to shake Oliver’s hand. “I am Lorenzo Baleeiro. Many call me Professor, because I have worked as a scholar and teacher.”

“Professor—” Oliver began.

“Lorenzo, please.”

“All right. Lorenzo,” he agreed, taking the man’s hand before gesturing to his fiancée. “And this is Julianna Whitney. We’re both very grateful to you for coming. I admit, we were a little anxious given how long Ixchel was gone.”

Lorenzo waved this away. “You have nothing to worry about for the moment, my friends. Like many of us, Ixchel believes in the Legend-Born. It is our honor to be able to give you whatever assistance we can provide.”

Oliver glanced at Julianna. She shivered, obviously as unnerved by this statement as he was.

“Look, Professor…Lorenzo,” he said, “I appreciate it. We both do. But I’m no savior, y’know? I’ve been on this side of the Veil for a while now and I know how much stories and legends mean, here. But I’ve also learned that every legend has a core of truth. Monsters and heroes all have their own true nature that sometimes doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the stories people tell about them.”

He ran a hand through his hair, enjoying the sensation of being truly clean for the first time in months, though his mind whirled as he tried to determine their next move.

“Truth is,” Oliver said, reaching out for Julianna’s hand, “we’re just people in trouble.”

Lorenzo smiled warmly. “You may feel ordinary, Señor Bascombe, but trust me, you are not. Unless you are not truly Legend-Born?”

Oliver fought the urge to hide from the truth. Instead, he met the professor’s gaze firmly. “I’m told my mother was a French legend, a Borderkind named Melisande. My sister and I are being hunted for that heritage. I’m not sure if we’re ever going to be able to bring the Lost Ones home the way the prophecy says, but there are some things that Collette and I can do, things we’ve discovered, so we know we’re not as normal as we always thought.”

The professor chuckled contentedly, nodding. “Excellent. We really have been waiting for you for ages. Belief in the Legend-Born is one of the few things that the Lost Ones in Euphrasia and Yucatazca have in common. Which leads me to the obvious question.”

Oliver raised an eyebrow.

Julianna stepped closer to the professor. “What might that be?”

“Why, what to do now, of course. You didn’t escape from the dungeon just to spend the rest of the war stashed in the hayloft of an old stable, did you?”

A grin split Julianna’s face. “I sure as hell hope not.”

“I thought not.”

Oliver hesitated to discuss their plans with anyone, yet he felt he could trust this man. “We thought we’d wait until nightfall and slip out of the city. I want to travel north and find King Hunyadi. Someone has to tell him that Atlantis is responsible for all this.”

The professor’s eyes went grave. “That has been the rumor. Do you confirm it, now? That Atlanteans are the cause of the war?”

Oliver nodded, and Ixchel started asking questions. Lorenzo quickly translated. As the two men spoke, Julianna moved closer to Oliver.

“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”

Oliver fixed her with a glance. “Something. I’m doing something, Jules. Maybe for the first time in my life. My father—no matter how benevolent his motives—took this from me. And I’m taking it back.”

Julianna reached behind his head, fingers curling in his hair, and kissed him hard. When she broke away, both of them a bit breathless, she wore a small, suggestive grin.

“I guess you are. And y’know what? It’s kinda sexy.”

Oliver shook his head, smiling, and together they turned to face their newfound friends once more. Ixchel and the professor were talking rapidly now, hands gesturing too quickly to follow. They nodded to one another in agreement.


The professor looked up.

“We don’t want to interrupt, but we need to get out of here,” Julianna said. “And not just out of Palenque, but out of Yucatazca completely. We’d appreciate any help you could provide.”

Lorenzo looked stricken. Ixchel tapped the older man’s arm and asked a question in his native tongue. The professor ignored him, staring at Oliver.

“You cannot simply slip away in the dark, my friend. There is so much good you could do here, not only for Yucatazca, but for yourself. The Atlantean scum who have usurped our throne claim that you murdered King Mahacuhta. They deny the existence of the Legend-Born. They send us to war against Euphrasia. But already many do not believe the edicts that are issued from the palace in the name of Prince Tzajin. If you were to speak to the people—to stand and speak the truth—many in the city would believe you, and others would at least begin to doubt.”

“Wait, what about the prince? If they’re doing all this in his name, where is he?”

“In Atlantis,” Lorenzo replied. “Once, I was his teacher, but Ty’Lis convinced the king that the boy should learn at the feet of the scholars of Atlantis. Now with Mahacuhta dead, we do not even know if Tzajin still lives and, if he does, if he knows of his father’s murder.”

Julianna looked sick. “So this boy who should be king now is basically a prisoner in Atlantis?”

Ixchel watched them all impatiently. Oliver understood how frustrating it was to be surrounded by people speaking another language, but the conversation ran too fast for Lorenzo to translate.

“Yes,” the professor replied. “That is what I believe. I know Tzajin. He was my student. If he were here, this war would not be taking place. The boy would have made certain of the truth before breaking the truce and attacking Euphrasia.”

Oliver took both of Julianna’s hands in his. They shared a long moment of unspoken communication. He knew her determination and her courage, and she knew that his years of bending to his father’s will had made him unable to turn away from a fight that didn’t involve his old man.

Ixchel muttered something to Lorenzo and the professor replied quickly. The stablehand turned to them and spoke as though they could understand him. When he finished, he gave Lorenzo a pleading glance.

“What is he saying?” Julianna asked.

Lorenzo took a breath, defeated. “He says we must help you leave the city. There are still Borderkind here. Ixchel believes there are some from the north, working in secret with people and legends in Palenque. But Palenque is uneasy. As you said, soldiers were in the streets this morning looking for you. Many people shouted at them and even threw things. Several were arrested.”

Oliver narrowed his eyes, studying the man.

The professor surrendered. “As Ixchel says, you must leave. Your safety is in our hands. I believe I know a place—a bar—where many meet who could help us find the Borderkind. It will be up to them to see that you reach the north. Tonight, we will go to this bar. I will take you there myself.”

“Or we could just go right now.”

Julianna stared at him. “Oliver, no.”

“The place is a powder keg,” he said. “If we can set it off before we leave here, all the better. Whatever Collette and I are supposed to do or be, there’s an opportunity here that you and I can’t ignore. We want to help Hunyadi win this war, and make sure Atlantis doesn’t take over the Two Kingdoms. And we can’t do it from the shadows.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Oliver touched her cheek. “I’ve spent too many years in the shadows as it is.”

Julianna hesitated, then looked at Ixchel. “Saddle us some horses.”

Lorenzo translated the request. Ixchel’s eyes lit with excitement and he ran to comply.

“We’re horse thieves, now?” Oliver asked.

“No. Apparently, we’re fucking heroes.”

“Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” he teased.

But once spoken, the words could not be taken back. Julianna would never see her mother again.

The light went out of her eyes and her smile vanished. Powerless to soothe her, Oliver could only pull her close and hold her tightly. He kissed her temple but did not bother trying to summon any words of comfort. Nothing could be said.


Several minutes after he and Julianna had left the stables on horseback—with Lorenzo leading and Ixchel following—Oliver began to wonder what the hell he’d been thinking. Courage and stupidity could often be confused for one another, and he had a feeling perhaps this was one of those times.

The horses’ hooves clip-clopped on the cobblestones of the narrow, curving street, drawing attention as they passed. At first, no one seemed to make any connection between them and the two prisoners who had escaped the palace dungeon, but then they began to earn strange looks. People whispered to one another when they passed. More than one of the murdered king’s subjects darted off into shadows or back the way they’d come, perhaps hurrying to alert the soldiers that the assassins were trotting down the middle of the road.

Julianna shot Oliver a worried glance. He smiled, faking it badly.

“How far, Lorenzo?” he called.

The professor held up a hand. “Not far.”

Whatever the hell that meant.

Their exchange did not go unnoticed. As soon as Oliver spoke in English, other faces appeared. Shutters opened. An old woman came out on her balcony and stared in such horror it seemed as though the devil himself were passing by. But then two other women—younger, if no prettier—stepped from the darkened interior of a house and started to keep pace with them, hurrying as they followed alongside the horses. A man came out the door of a tavern, eyes widening when he saw them, and popped back inside, shouting. Half a dozen others emerged with him and they, too, fell into step behind the horses.

Children laughed and ran ahead. A young girl—a beautiful creature in the prettiest dress—started to knock on doors as she hurried to keep in front of them. As they entered a wider street, people stood up from the patio of a restaurant and stared. On the corner, a man with a guitar stopped singing in the middle of the song.

A man shouted something at him from the restaurant.

“What was that?” Oliver asked.

“He wants to know if you’re the one, the Legend-Born.”

Oliver gripped the horse’s reins and glanced at Julianna. “Tell him I am.”

Lorenzo beamed. He announced it at the top of his voice.

A cascade of reactions swept around them. Some people laughed. An old man began to cry. Others were not quite so pleased.

A beer glass sailed through the air from the patio. Oliver pulled the horse’s reins taut, stopping the animal just in time. The glass shattered on the cobblestones.

“Murderer!” someone shouted in English.

Other voices were raised as well, and now the crowd began to shout at one another. They spoke different languages, but Oliver understood even those whose words were not in English. Some believed he had come to deliver them home at last and others that he was a fraud and an assassin.

“Ride,” Julianna said.

Oliver spurred his horse and they began to canter down the road. Lorenzo shouted at the people as they passed, loudly announcing his identity. He recognized his name in the flow of the foreign tongue, spoken again and again. Oliver Bascombe. Ixchel joined in, shouting at the crowd, but his voice was joyous. He seemed to be exhorting them to action.

They came to a switchback in the road and took it, slowing only as much as was necessary. A huge crowd now followed, filling the street behind them. Lorenzo rode ahead, leading the way into an even wider road where vendors had set up a market. Fresh fruits and vegetables were on display. Shops with open doors sold hand-sewn leather bags and clothing and marionettes and a hundred other things. A girl with a basket of flowers watched them pass.

The word had preceded them into the market square. People spilled into the streets, gathering on either side to watch them pass.

“The bar is just there, across the square,” Lorenzo called back over the ruckus of the crowd. “Those who are whispering rebellion into the ears of the people must be nearby.”

You hope, Oliver thought. Otherwise, he was about to die.

A group of men and women barred their way. Lorenzo brought his horse to a halt. Oliver’s own mare snorted and reared back before he reined her in. More calls of “Murderer” reached him. Some in the crowd screamed for his blood. He saw the same pretty girl who’d been running ahead of them catch up, her face etched with hatred. She wanted him dead. The idea sickened him.