Which crystallized the impression he’d been giving all along, talking about them as though they were an entirely different species. They existed on the ordinary side of this thing Friedle called the Veil, and his homeland was on the other. In his version of reality, all of the creatures of myth and legend, as well as all of the civilizations and lands and peoples, had once been a part of the world as Sara knew it. At some point, maybe a thousand years ago—more or less; Friedle wasn’t sure—magic had been used to separate the ordinary from the legendary, to put a barrier up between them and give each their own lands. In the mundane world, humans didn’t remember any of it, except in stories. But sometimes people wandered through to the other side by accident, or were brought through.
He’d also talked about legends called Borderkind, who could pierce the Veil at will, and humans called Lost Ones, who were trapped on the legendary side. People in the café went about their business. The waitress refilled coffee cups and brought lunch to various tables. A couple of fortyish moms chatted at the next booth, happy to have a day without their kids, and paid no attention at all to the insanity unfolding right beside them.
Then, to Sara’s astonishment, the story had become even crazier. Friedle believed that Oliver and Collette Bascombe had been abducted by creatures from across the Veil, and that Sara’s father and Julianna Whitney had tried to follow them and gotten trapped on the other side. Lost.
She shook her head, staring at the man. “How the hell did you manage to run a household for the Bascombes with all of this stuff in your head?”
The words came out before she could stop them, but she did manage to plug in “stuff” instead of “lunacy” or “crazy shit.”
Friedle arched an eyebrow. “Please, Miss Halliwell. I understand that you’re distraught. I’m merely giving you what you came here for. You wanted to know what happened to your father, and I’m giving you the answer. When I’ve finished, if you’ve got a theory that fits the facts more than the truth I’m sharing with you, I’m quite certain you’ll ignore anything I’ve said that doesn’t fit within your worldview.”
Stung, Sara stared at him. In all her life, no one had ever accused her of having a narrow worldview. With her lifestyle, openness and acceptance usually came with the territory. So many people were cruel and intolerant to her, the last thing she wanted was to do the same. But either Friedle had a genuine mental disorder or he was fucking with them.
I don’t need this.
“Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that some or all of this is true,” Sheriff Norris began.
Sara shot him a dark look. “You can’t be serious, Jackson.”
He quieted her with a glance. She relented. He was the cop. Maybe he approached lunacy with a different attitude. Or maybe he thought there was still something they could learn from Marc Friedle.
“It is,” the man replied.
“All right,” Jackson agreed. “You still haven’t explained who you are, and what you have to do with the Bascombes, and why they were abducted and their father was murdered. Care to shed light on any of these things?”
The little man sat straighter, a glint in his eyes. Something dark flashed there and Sara winced, remembering the frightening face she’d thought she had seen when he had first turned toward them out on the sidewalk. It had been a trick of light and shadow, or of her own imagination, of course. He seemed nothing but ordinary now. That fidgety normalcy made his story even more ridiculous.
Now, though, his eyes took on a kind of ancient wisdom that belied his features, and he did not seem quite so ordinary.
“For more than two hundred years, I served in the house of Melisande. Most times, she was a creature of rare elegance and beauty, but when her mood turned dark or she yearned for the water, the lower half of her body became that of a serpent. When the Veil was raised she became Borderkind, and could travel with ease between this world and that, and sometimes I traveled with her.
“My true name is Robiquet,” he said. “And my true face is something you do not wish to see.”
When he spoke those words, he looked hard at Sara as though they were meant for her. She flinched. Had she really seen something, then?
No. It’s just grief and hope and confusion. This can’t be true. It couldn’t be, because if she believed this little part of what Friedle—or Robiquet or whoever—was telling her, then she had to believe everything. And she couldn’t do that.
Friedle smiled. His teeth were small and sharp. “I’m a goblin. What you see is a glamour, magic that Melisande gave me long ago.”
Something shattered in the kitchen—a dropped glass or plate—and Friedle clapped his hands over his ears, a sudden flash of terror and pain in his eyes. Then he took a deep breath, squeezing his eyes closed, and when he opened them he wore the most sheepish expression, so that she could not help feeling sorry for him.
“Breaking glass,” he said, and then shuddered, as though that was explanation enough. “Just can’t abide the sound.”
“So, this Melisande?” Sheriff Norris prompted, like this was any other investigation and Friedle just a typical informant.
The little man nodded. He went on at length about Melisande, but Sara found herself only half listening. Despite how unsettled she’d been out on the sidewalk, she studied his face, trying to imagine the features of the other one she’d imagined she’d seen. What had happened at that moment, when they had come up behind him?
“—introduced Melisande to Maximilian Bascombe. I’d always loved the ordinary folk and visited whenever I could. Melisande came to love you people as well, and this world, and more and more we would journey here amongst you. Many Borderkind did. Some still do. There are places we meet, taverns and inns and baseball parks and such.”
For once, the sheriff seemed taken by surprise. He held up a hand, chuckling and shaking his head.
Friedle frowned deeply and stared at him, eyes so dark that Sara thought she might be seeing the goblin underneath. “We love baseball.”
The sheriff wasn’t smiling anymore. “Right. Sorry. I may have read that somewhere, actually.”
That made Friedle’s mood lighten. “Quite possible. You love to write about us. Always have. Even before the Veil went up.”
He brushed at the air as though erasing the tangent the conversation had taken. “In any case, Wayland Smith introduced Melisande and Max.”
“Who’s this Smith?”
Friedle seemed almost surprised that they had to ask.
“Wayland Smith. The Wayfarer? Traveler, some call him. One of a kind. I suppose he’s a legend, but there’s more to it than that. Rumors abound. No one’s precisely certain who he is or where he comes from, but he walks between worlds easily enough. Melisande encountered him while in this world and he brought her to a masquerade. Max was a very serious man, even then, but he loved to dance. They fell in love that night—genuine love, though some say such a thing is impossible between the ordinary and the legendary. But how could it have been anything else? She gave up her world for him, surrendered to everything ordinary.”
“Meaning what?” Sheriff Norris asked.
“Well, she didn’t look human, did she? Not in her natural form. To remain with him, she wanted to permanently alter her appearance, to become human in all ways. Smith aided her, and there was a magician who helped. Melisande had lived centuries as a creature of beauty and mystery, and she gave all of that up for love. She could no longer travel beyond the Veil. Oh, she could still sense the nearness of the legendary world, but if she had crossed over, the magic would unravel and she would return to her mythical appearance, perhaps forever. That was just as well, because she bore her husband children, and the legendary would have killed them on sight, had they known about them.”
“What? Why?” Sara asked.
The waitress arrived. The three of them fell silent.
“Get you folks anything else?”
Sara smiled. “My coffee’s gone cold. Could I get another cup?”
The waitress held up a finger, took a few steps over to the coffee station, and returned with a clean cup and a carafe. She filled it up and Sara wrapped her hands around the mug, grateful for the warmth that flooded into her and the aroma that seemed to clear her senses.
“I think we’re set,” Sheriff Norris replied, and the woman scribbled something on their bill, left it on the table, and sailed away. She hadn’t given them so much as a glimpse of personality thus far, and Sara doubted she would reveal one.
When the waitress was gone, she and the sheriff stared at Friedle—or Robiquet, if that was his name.
“Why would the Bascombe children be killed?”
Again, Friedle gave them that look, the one that said these were all things everyone should know.
“They’re half-human and half-Borderkind. Legend-Born, we call that on the other side. The Lost Ones believe that someday a child born of human and Borderkind will tear down the Veil and they’ll be able to return to this world again.”
Sheriff Norris massaged his temple, as if he had a massive headache coming on. “Hold on. If there are people on the other side—the Lost Ones you keep talking about—there must have been other children that were half-human, or whatever.”
Friedle nodded. “Certainly. But the Lost Ones have already been touched by the magic of the Veil. For a child to be Legend-Born, the human parent has to have been born on this side, of entirely ordinary heritage. Max Bascombe had never been touched by magic before Melisande came along, I can assure you of that.”
“But Oliver and Collette can’t be the first ones,” Sara said.
“No. Sometimes they’ve been killed. Other times they’ve lived out their lives undiscovered. But as far as I know, Melisande’s children are the first ever to cross the Veil.”
“So you believe they’re supposed to fulfill some kind of prophecy?” Sara asked.
“I do. Most of the Lost Ones believe it, of course. And I suppose the legendary believe as well, or they wouldn’t be so afraid of a half-breed being born. Wayland Smith knew it, of course, when he introduced Melisande to Max Bascombe. But by the time Max learned that his children would be seen as saviors by some and a threat by others, his wife was already dead.”
Emotion strained his voice when he said this last and he had to look away a moment.
“Max hated us all, after that. The Veil. Legends. Magic. Anything of the sort, and Smith most of all. He blamed the Wayfarer for not telling him the truth before he and Melisande had children. Max feared for them. He kept me around because his wife had been fond of me and because he thought I could help him if Oliver and Collette exhibited any strange behavior or physical attributes. He grieved horribly, and at the same time, he worked to extinguish any spark of legend in his children, so that they would never wander afar, never discover what they were, never be revealed to those who would do them harm. He failed, of course. And I failed. I promised Wayland Smith I’d look out for Melisande, and then I promised her that I would look after her children if anything happened to her. I failed them all.
“I don’t know how they learned of Oliver and Collette’s existence. The only one who knew of them was Wayland Smith, and he’d practically orchestrated their parents’ meeting, so he’d have no reason to expose the truth.
“But someone knew. Someone who wanted them destroyed. The Sandman came to kill them—killed Max and took his eyes, and lots of others after him, since someone was stupid enough to free him. Now they’re both across the Veil, on the run—if they’re even still alive—and Julianna and Detective Halliwell, your father, miss, are trapped there.”
Sara found she had been holding her breath. She trembled a bit as she inhaled. “Trapped for now, you mean. If all of this is true…if any of it is true…then the Veil might not last forever.”
Friedle nodded, practically bowing his head. “As you say.”
Sheriff Norris had turned to stare at her.
A cop wouldn’t speak his mind while the object of his investigation was sitting right there in the booth with them. Sara knew that. The fact that he’d questioned her at all with Friedle present had been a lapse and now Jackson tried to wave it away. But Sara knew what that one word—her name—had been asking. She understood the question. Was she buying any of this? And if she was buying it, was that only because it gave her hope that her father hadn’t been murdered, that whoever had torn out Max Bascombe’s eyes hadn’t done the same to her dad, and left him lying in a ditch somewhere?
Sara stared at the sheriff. “You’ve got a hundred little mysteries wrapped up in this case, Jackson. You and the FBI and the police and governments in half a dozen countries. All this stuff is connected. You know it is. And you all know—every goddamn one of you knows—that you’re not going to find the answers to any of them. If you were going to, you would’ve figured it out already. You think about those mysteries, Oliver popping up in foreign countries with no record of travel, the kids all over the world killed the same way as Max Bascombe, what happened on that island in Scotland, and dozens of other little questions—and you tell me this…can you explain any of them? Even one?”
Sheriff Norris stared at her a moment, shifted his gaze to Marc Friedle, and then looked at her again. “You know I can’t.”
“But the story we just heard explains them all.”
“It’s impossible, Sara. All of it.”
She couldn’t argue the point. The sheriff was right. Impossible. But the story they’d heard was also the only thing so far that seemed to make any sense.