Page 24

Oliver sat up straight on his horse and raised both hands to quiet them.

Whether they hailed him or hated him, they complied. Only a low muttering of voices filled the square, now.

“In a few minutes, soldiers are going to try to take us back to the dungeon,” Oliver said, raising his voice so that they could all hear him. Lorenzo translated as he spoke. “I don’t plan to let them do that. The sorcerer, Ty’Lis, has promised to torture and murder the woman I love.”

All eyes shifted to Julianna. She did not shy from them.

“My name is Oliver Bascombe. My father was an ordinary man named Maximilian Bascombe, and my mother was a legend, a Borderkind named Melisande.”

The gasp of the crowd was audible. It had been one thing for them to hope for the truth, but it was another thing entirely for him to confirm it. Catcalls came from the crowd calling him liar and worse. Oliver ignored them.

“If you believe in the Legend-Born or not, that is up to you,” he told them, and Lorenzo continued to repeat his words in the language of Palenque, though many of the people seemed to understand English perfectly well. “I can’t and won’t tell you what to believe, because most of the time, I don’t know myself. So I won’t try to explain what I believe. Instead, I’ll tell you the things I know.

“The High Council of Atlantis wants to seal the Veil forever. On their orders, Ty’Lis sent Myth Hunters out across two worlds to track and murder the Borderkind, and sent the Falconer to murder my sister and me in our home because Atlantis believes that we are Legend-Born, and that we threaten their plans. With help from the Borderkind, we both survived. But the slaughter continued. You see, the High Council had a brilliant plan. If they could kill all of the Borderkind, and us, they could seal the Doors and close off the human world completely.”

He paused, glancing at Julianna again and then surveying the crowd. They were listening. But what could he say? In truth, the king had died by his hand, but it had been the sorcerer’s magic that had led to that tragic moment.

“I carried the Sword of Hunyadi with the blessing of the King of Euphrasia,” Oliver called across the square. “But Hunyadi did not send me here, and I am no assassin. The blood of your king is on Ty’Lis’s hands, not mine. Atlantis has used us all! They want to see the Two Kingdoms torn apart by war so they can come in like vultures and pick at your remains. Now, Ty’Lis has the Sword of Hunyadi hanging on a wall in the palace, and Yucatazcans are killing and dying at the whims of Atlantis!”

Shouts rose. New voices. More people had flooded the square. Something moved on a rooftop and Oliver glanced up to see the strangest creature, a thing that looked as though it were part dog and part monkey, with a grasping claw at the end of its tail. Balconies filled. In the crowd, other legends began to appear—bizarre creatures with the heads of alligators or with mouths where their chests and bellies should be. Snake things slithered over cobblestones. A massive pachyderm stood on two legs at the entrance to a side alley.

“Give us proof!” a voice cried in English.

Before Oliver could say anything, Julianna stood up in her stirrups.

“Proof? What more proof could you want than this?” she demanded, arms thrown wide. Though clean, her hair still looked wild and her exquisite beauty and the edge of her fury made her seem like Eve, freshly evicted from the Garden.

“Oliver could have left Palenque in the middle of the night!” Julianna shouted. “Instead he’s right here, in front of you. Unafraid. Could any of you say you would’ve done the same? Would you have run, or would you have given yourself over to your accusers?”

There’s the lawyer coming out, Oliver thought. And he realized that he had been doing the same thing.

A scuffle started. A monstrous thing with eyes like a spider’s all over its body tried to reach Oliver. Men and women—Lost Ones—intercepted the creature and drove it back. It began to screech, shouting at him in that foreign tongue.

“The Lost Ones want the Veil destroyed,” Lorenzo said, edging his horse closer to Oliver’s. “But most of the legends do not.”

“Is it true?” a voice cried, cutting through the noise.

Oliver glanced up and saw an aging, bearded man on a corner, keeping out of the hot sun in the shade of a bookshop. His clothes made Oliver think that this man had crossed the Veil himself, not descended from some long-ago ancestor who’d come through, and that he might not have been here many years at all.

“Can you really tear it down?” the man called, desperation in his voice and his eyes.

Quiet fell upon the square. Oliver had felt this scrutiny from juries and from theater audiences many times, but it had never mattered this much. Some of what he’d said thus far had been a performance, even a small deception. But now he could not find it in himself to give them anything but honesty.

“I don’t know,” he said, quietly at first, and then he repeated it louder. “I don’t know. I haven’t tried to touch the Veil. My sister and I…there is magic we inherited from our mother, or from whatever magic brought her and my father together. But whether it works that way, I don’t know. I’ll tell you this much, though. Even if we can bring the Veil down, there’s no way in hell we’re going to do it with this war going on. No way.”

An arrow sang through the air and took Lorenzo in the throat.

Julianna screamed.

The professor brought up a hand, eyes wide with surprise, and touched the feathers on the arrow’s shaft even as blood leaked around it. With agonizing slowness, he tumbled from the saddle and fell to the cobblestones. People backed away and he hit the street with a thump.

Oliver spun in his saddle and saw the soldiers. The King’s Guard had been alerted. To his mind, it was a miracle that he’d had the few minutes he did. Perhaps the size of the crowd had slowed them. Soldiers shouted and shoved people out of their way. No doubt they were telling everyone that he had to be arrested on the orders of the king.

Most of the crowd began to back away. But some pushed forward and attacked the soldiers.

Oliver glanced at Julianna. Her expression was grim. Ixchel still held the reins of his horse and gazed numbly down at the corpse of the professor. Not that they could have ridden away now. There were too many people crowded around, and Oliver counted fifteen or twenty soldiers coming up the street. Half a dozen more appeared from a side alley.


Julianna shot him a look. “Is that the best you can do?”

“You got anything better?”

“Hell, yeah.” Again she stood in her stirrups. Cupping her hands to her mouth, she screamed at the top of her lungs. For a moment, all of the commotion stopped as everyone turned to look at her. Even the soldiers paused.

Julianna pointed at the larger group of soldiers. “Who gave them their orders, today? They’re going to tell you that the king commands them, but where is the king? Who is your king, now? Is it Ty’Lis? Is an Atlantean the king of Yucatazca, now? Or is it Prince Tzajin? Because if Tzajin’s the king, then where is he? His father is murdered and he doesn’t even show up to bury him? He doesn’t come back to Palenque to see to his people and to be crowned king? Bullshit! Tzajin isn’t here because he’s in Atlantis, and they won’t let him come back! So who are these soldiers taking orders from? Who are you all taking orders from now? Atlantis?”

Seconds of silence followed.

Then a massive serpent rose up from the crowd, wrapped around one of the soldiers, and crushed him. Two men fell upon a second and tore off his helmet.

Beneath it were narrow features and greenish-white skin that was almost translucent. The soldier was Atlantean.

A thunderous roar went up from the crowd. Like a wave, they turned on the soldiers. In amongst them, some legends and even some humans fought against the rebellious mob.

“I’m glad I never went up against you in court,” Oliver called to her.

“You should be,” Julianna replied.

Neither of them smiled. Lorenzo had aided them, and now he was dead.

“Ixchel!” Oliver said, yelling to get the man’s attention. “Let’s go!”

He spurred his horse gently, trying to lead the way, to break through the crowd. Getting out of the city remained a priority. He had lit the fuse here in Palenque. The powder keg was exploding, but this wasn’t his battle to fight. It belonged to the subjects of King Mahacuhta. Oliver and Julianna had to get out of Yucatazca and join Hunyadi. More than anything, they had to reconnect with Collette and Frost. Oliver knew his sister would go to Hunyadi as well. If he wanted to see her again, that’s where he would find her. And that’s where the next phase of this war would take place.

As to what that next phase would be—a grim certainty had begun to form in his mind. Oliver Bascombe was no hero, but he had a plan. And for that plan to work, he would need all the help he could get.

The square erupted in chaos. People attacked one another. The soldiers were dragged down. Swords flashed in the sunlight. Oliver closed his eyes against the glare and edged his horse closer to the other side of the square, where the road would eventually lead out of Palenque. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Julianna followed right behind him, and Ixchel behind her.

Then a figure swam up out of the crowd—a creature covered with spider eyes—and grabbed Julianna by the leg. She shouted and kicked out at the monstrosity. Oliver called her name and grabbed the pommel of his saddle, prepared to dismount, knowing only that he had to protect her.

Someone slapped his leg to get his attention.

“That’s enough of that stupidity,” a curt voice said.

Oliver shot a hard look. He blinked in astonishment. For a moment, the face looked unfamiliar, but now he knew it. There were no feathers in that dark hair, but the ragged blue jeans and cowboy boots were still intact.

“Blue Jay!”

The trickster smiled, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Damn good to see you, Oliver. And I’m not alone.”

“How did you find us?”

Blue Jay laughed. “How could we not? You’re not exactly being subtle.”

A shriek went up from behind him and Oliver turned, fear stopping his heart, only to find that the scream had not come from Julianna. The spider-beast stood impaled upon a dozen tall needles of white substance that looked like spun sugar—or spiderweb. On either side of him stood a Mazikeen sorcerer, faces lost beneath their hoods, but a welcome sight just the same.

“Oliver?” Julianna asked.

“They’re friends,” he said.

The relief in her eyes made him realize just how vulnerable they had made themselves.

He turned to look down at Blue Jay. “I assume you can get us out of here?”

Again, the trickster smiled. He shouted something. A small figure dropped from the top of a building and landed on Blue Jay’s shoulder—the weird monkey-dog creature he’d seen before. Several creatures Oliver presumed to be Borderkind started to clear a path. The air in the square rippled with a tremor of magic and several of the people around the horses transformed. One became a long-armed bruiser that Oliver was sure he’d seen before. Another he recognized immediately as the kelpy, Cheval Bayard. Oliver had met Cheval only once, on a night in Twillig’s Gorge when Frost had gathered a handful of Borderkind to discuss striking back at Ty’Lis. Her silver hair gleamed in the sunshine.

Near Julianna’s horse, a glamour was lifted to reveal a short man who seemed to be on fire, his skin blackening and burning, even though he walked calmly alongside them.

There were others. Some kind of cat-men. Tall things with wings and serpentine bodies and long fangs, blood smeared on their faces from where they’d drunk the blood of those who tried to attack them.

The Mazikeen passed Oliver, stepped in front of his horse, and together the two sorcerers gestured. Pushed back by the invisible hands of their magic, the crowd parted.

“Go!” Blue Jay shouted.

Oliver spurred the horse and snapped the reins, then just held on. He heard hoofbeats behind him on the cobblestones. Julianna and Ixchel had been freed from the crowd as well.

Then they were all riding, the Borderkind running and flying and capering beside them, keeping up as they navigated the twists and turns of the labyrinth of Palenque’s streets.

Behind them, the chaos spread. The rebellion had begun.

The coffee had gone cold in Sara Halliwell’s hands. Though she did not look at him, she felt Jackson Norris beside her in the booth at Veronica’s Café. The sheriff’s presence lent her some assurance that her mind had not begun to slip. And when his voice chimed in, low and menacing and more than a little bit angry, she could have kissed him, even though he was much too old and male for her.

“You’re talking about fairy tales,” Sheriff Norris said.

Sara didn’t take her eyes off Friedle, partly because she couldn’t believe the words coming out of the man’s mouth, and partly because—as much as she kept telling herself she couldn’t possibly have seen what she thought she had—she wondered if once again the mask of his face would slip, letting her see the ugly, frightening countenance beneath.

Friedle sighed. “Not fairy tales. Not the way that you mean, Sheriff. Honestly, I’m not quite certain which came first—legends or the legendary. Did the stories create us, or did we always exist? Time fades memory, even for ephemeral creatures such as yourselves.”

Her hands clutched the sides of her coffee mug. Sara hadn’t moved in minutes. They’d come all this way, and they had ended up with some fruity nut bar? Friedle paused to scrutinize them, perhaps to see if his words were getting through. Sara glanced at Sheriff Norris, wondering what was going through the mind of her father’s old friend.

Ephemeral creatures?

He means us, she thought. He’s talking about human beings.