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The Wayfarer took them through the latest of these chambers and to a curving back stair that would bring them to the floor above. They could not be far from the spiral dome of the library, now.

A scream rose in the library, clear and resonant as a bell, echoing along corridors, rising to a terrible pitch before ceasing abruptly. Oliver exchanged worried glances with Blue Jay and Kitsune, and then shouts followed the scream.

“Bollocks,” Grin muttered.

Wayland Smith had paused halfway up the curving stairs to the next level. Voices drifted down to them from the arch at the top. Oliver gripped his sword with both hands.

“Go,” he whispered.

But Smith was already moving. The Wayfarer clutched his cane—which he almost never seemed to use to support himself—and took the stairs two at a time. They rushed the stairs, then, hurrying after Smith. Two Nagas positioned themselves at the bottom, bows at the ready, but the library was an enormous warren of chambers and corridors and as long as they were quiet, it would take time for the guards to find them.

As Oliver went through the arch at the top of the stairs, a new shout rang out.

“Who are you? Get out of here!” a man’s voice thundered from the chamber they entered.

Scrolls and books filled the room, just as in the others they had entered. Shelves lined the walls and glass cases displayed ancient manuscripts. Pillows were piled in the corners and several spots around the huge chamber. Upon some of them were sprawled old men who had been interrupted in the midst of study. At the center of the room, a boy who could only have been Prince Tzajin sat at a marble table, around which several teachers were gathered. His olive skin marked him as Yucatazcan, particularly amongst the narrow, green-hued faces of the Atlantean scholars.

The teacher who had shouted stood just a few feet from the Wayfarer, but Wayland Smith only stepped back, leaning on his cane, and watched expectantly as events unfolded.

Blue Jay went for the prince.

The scholars produced daggers from their robes, ceremonial things with stone handles. They moved like fighters, not academics, and they shouted as they attacked the intruders.

A young, furious scholar tried to grab hold of the trickster, but Blue Jay spun in a quick circle, mystical wings blurring beneath his arms. The scholar lost his hands to their razor edge. Blood spurted and he screamed.

“So much for keeping silent,” Cheval Bayard said as she rushed at the nearest Atlantean.

“Smith already screwed us on that,” Oliver snapped.

The shouts from the chamber would echo through the library. They had seconds.

Grimly, Li stepped forward and took hold of the scholar who had challenged them upon arrival. The man tried to stab him, but the dagger only stuck in the embers of Li’s flesh. Fire raced up the blade to him and the teacher began to burn, shrieking, and staggered away, crashing into a glass shelf and setting ancient scrolls on fire. Two of the other scholars ran toward him, but they had no concern for their burning, dying colleague. They snatched up the scrolls, trying to save them from the fire.

The Nagas slithered into the room. The archers moved swiftly, releasing their silent arrows once more. Of the scholars that had surrounded Prince Tzajin, only the two trying to rescue the burning scrolls—weaponless—were left alive.

Frost moved toward the prince. He knelt by the boy, whose eyes were wide with terror, and spoke to him. Oliver only heard phrases and words as the winter man tried to soothe Tzajin, told him they had come to take him back to Palenque, that all hell had broken loose and his people needed their prince. Tzajin said nothing. He could only shake his head, mouth open, as the corpses of his teachers bled and burned around him.

Cheval strode across the chamber and slapped Wayland Smith across the face. The Wayfarer’s face darkened with fury.

“You may’ve killed us all,” she said, rage making her more beautiful than ever.

“And you have no idea what you’re talking about,” Smith snarled. “I am not meant to interfere, to participate in any of this. I brought you here, and that is already more than I ought to have done. I could be made to suffer—”

The words were cut off by shouts from one end of the room. There were two entrances—the arch where they had come in, and double doors that led out toward the atrium and the winding stairs.

Atlantean soldiers appeared in the doorway. Kitsune growled and spun toward them. Oliver shouted to the Nagas. Arrows flew. Several found their mark, but others were stopped by Atlantean armor or knocked aside by the soldiers’ swords. These were no scholars. They would not die as easily. Still, against Li and Frost and the rest, they had no hope of survival.

The winter man raised both hands and a storm erupted in the room, the air whipping snow and ice around, blowing scrolls off of tables and shattering glass display cases. The two surviving scholars finally drew their weapons, but Kitsune leaped at them, and Leicester Grindylow followed. They did not slay the teachers, disarming them instead. Grin tossed one into a bookshelf. Kitsune drove the other to the ground with pummeling fists and a hard kick to the head.

The first two guards through the door froze solid in the winter man’s storm. One of the doors blew closed. The other guards retreated, but from the shouts out in the atrium, there were others on the way.

Oliver went to the boy, Prince Tzajin.

In the chaos, none of the others seemed to have noticed, but he still had the same slack expression of terror on his face, as though he had suddenly gone catatonic.

“Your Majesty?” Oliver said.

The boy’s gaze shifted slightly.

Oliver turned just in time to see the sorcerers coming through the arch at the back of the chamber, where he and his comrades had first entered. He shouted, raised his sword, and rushed at them. The first sorcerer—a bald, scarred Atlantean man with sallow skin—sneered at him and raised a hand. A Naga arrow took him in the throat from the side.

Then Oliver was there. He bypassed the wounded, jaundiced sorcerer and drove his sword through the chest of the second to enter the chamber. The tall, spindly Atlantean fell to his knees, shock on his features. The others were still out in the corridor. Oliver reached out, grabbed the archway, and with his mind he reached into it and called up the entropy that gnawed at the ties of the world.

Kitsune grabbed hold of him from behind, hauling him backward as the entire archway collapsed, blocking the path of the sorcerers still out on the back stairs.

Li appeared beside them. On the ground, amidst the rubble, the bald, scarred sorcerer clutched at the arrow in his neck. The Guardian of Fire bent and placed both hands on the Atlantean, and his skin began to smoke, and then he caught fire.

“Get away from there!” Wayland Smith shouted.

The Wayfarer gripped Oliver’s arm and hauled him back. A gust of blizzard wind snatched at Kitsune, shoving her aside.

The rubble of the collapsed archway blew inward, pieces of it colliding with Li. The Guardian of Fire crashed to the floor amidst the debris. Some of it began to burn, the flames out of his control. The fire began to spread.

Three sorcerers hurtled into the room at once.

At the doors to the atrium, the guards charged. Oliver didn’t bother turning to see how many there were. The sounds of their pounding footfalls were enough to tell him what he needed to know.

The killing, the dying, had sickened him from the first blood shed. But there would be so much more.

Smith stepped into the breach between the sorcerers and Oliver and the Borderkind. What the hell’s he doing? Oliver thought. He said he’s not supposed to interfere.

The three sorcerers all turned toward Wayland Smith. Tendrils of magic reached out from one—just as they had from Ty’Lis in the dungeon of Palenque—and grabbed hold of him. The Wayfarer’s feet went out from beneath him. The sorcerer reeled him in. One of the others opened his jaws and they stretched wider than ought to have been possible. Unhinged, showing rows of terrible teeth like the Manticore, things moving in the darkness of his gullet, the sorcerer bent to tear out Smith’s throat. The third, a female, touched him with hands that dripped burning, steaming venom like acid.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Oliver screamed at Smith. “Fight!”

Smith managed to turn his head. “I see, boy. I see the weave of the world, and I cannot alter it by killing them. But I may be able to…erase them. I’ll be back.”

All three of the sorcerers had contact with Smith in that moment. They faded to ghosts and then vanished entirely, the Wayfarer with them. Wayland Smith had taken them into the Gray Corridors.

Oliver swore again, turned and grabbed the hand of the drooling Prince Tzajin. He slapped the kid in the face, but Tzajin did not respond.

“We’ve got to go, pal,” he commanded. He tried to haul Tzajin out of his chair, but the prince did not budge.

Oliver used both hands and pulled on him, but could not move Prince Tzajin an inch from his seat. They’d come for Prince Tzajin, and Oliver wouldn’t leave without him. But Smith had gone off somewhere, and as he glanced around, panicked, two more sorcerers entered the room, their eyes black as storm clouds.

Damia Beck screamed as she spurred her horse toward the giant. The ugly thing with its sickly pallor raised its war hammer and brought it down upon one of Damia’s cavalry. Horse and rider—a woman named Tessa—were crushed into a stain on the battlefield.

If she could have taken a breath, Damia would have cried.

Her mind screamed, damning the giant. But only unintelligible roars came from her lips. So many of her people—cavalry and infantry—had been slaughtered. Her battalion fought on valiantly. Atlanteans by the dozens, perhaps hundreds, had fallen to their swords. But this would not be ended until nearly all were dead. The war, she had quickly learned, would be decided by attrition.

That meant the giant had to die.

A Mazikeen floated overhead, locked in magical combat with an Atlantean sorcerer. Their blood and magic fell like rain, spattering Damia’s hair and her horse.

A skirmish crossed her path. Yucatazcan soldiers surrounded two of her infantry. They were so covered in blood and sweat and dirt—this man and woman—she could not see their faces as the Yucatazcan warriors slew them, hacking them apart as they fell to the ground. Bloodlust ruled the day. The screams of the dying were music to their murderers.

Even to Damia.

She rode down one of the Yucatazcans, but three others came at her. Yet she had not become commander based only on her leadership. Damia slashed down with her sword, taking off the forearm of one warrior. She plunged her blade into the face of the other, the point punching out the back of his head with a spray of blood.

Even as she did, the third dealt her a blow across the thigh. Dark blood spattered the ground—Damia’s own—and she clenched her thighs against the pain and guided the horse with her body, leaving her left hand free to draw one of her pistols. Damia shot the Yucatazcan warrior through the head.

The horse whinnied and reared.

A shadow fell across her.

Trying to stay alive, she’d forgotten how close she’d gotten to the giant. The monster lifted its hammer, staring down at her. Blood and strips of flesh and clothing hung from its teeth; it had been eating some of its kills. Flesh stuck to the bottom of the hammer. Fascinated and horrified, Damia froze a moment.

The hammer came down.

She tried to force the horse back with just her legs, but its reaction was too slow. The giant missed her, but the hammer crushed the horse’s head. As the proud beast fell, she leaped clear. When she landed, the wound in her leg widened and she cried out in pain. Blood ran down the leg of her pants, filling her boot.

The giant reached for her. It meant to eat her.

Damia raised the gun and fired five times in quick succession, all five bullets tearing into the giant’s face. The giant reared back, screaming and clawing at the ruined cavities where its eyes had been. Blinded, it reached out a hand, trying to scrabble for her, to destroy her in payment for its pain.

Staggering to her feet, ignoring the pain in her leg, Damia dropped the gun and took up her sword in both hands. She dodged the giant’s searching hand, moved between its legs, and drove her sword up into its groin, thrusting so hard that the blade sank to the hilt up inside the monster’s pelvis, in its soft innards. She twisted and carved and then backed away as a shower of shit and viscera gouted from the wound.

She fell, but managed to keep clear of the giant when it also collapsed, dead, on the battlefield. Beyond it she could see the war spread out across the Isthmus of the Conquistadors. The terrain had become little more than blood and corpses, but the armies still fought, climbing over mountains of the dead. The war had become a hideous, ugly, twisted thing.

Damia took off her black cloak. She tore long strips from it and bound her wounded leg.

Carefully, she climbed to her feet. The binding had stopped the bleeding, for the most part. She would live, but if she didn’t get it sewn up, she wouldn’t live for very long.

The nearest battle was a few hundred yards away but moving closer. One of the gods Kitsune had brought from Perinthia had been surrounded by legends of Yucatazca. They harried the tall, black-helmeted old god. No matter how powerful, the god was outnumbered.

Damia started in that direction, but then she saw one of the Atlantean octopuses drifting toward her as though on the wind. Its tentacles brushed the ground, caressing the dead, finishing off the dying.

She took out her remaining gun and raised her sword.

“Need a bit of help, love?” a familiar voice asked.

Red-cheeked Old Roger stood beside her. Once a Harvest god, the apple-man held a war-axe in each hand. Hatchets. The sort of thing that might have been used against his trees in the days before the Harvest had abandoned him.

But another figure appeared from her left, running toward the octopus—a huge figure with red skin and the head of an ox. Gaka, the oni who had been part of her Borderkind platoon with Old Roger, attacked the octopus with his bare hands. Tentacles wrapped around him, but the massive demon yanked the octopus from the air and swung it at the ground again and again until it was dead.