What Halliwell had to do with the Sandman, he didn’t know. But whatever face it wore, it was a monster, and it had his mother’s blood on its hands.
Moisture ran down his cheeks again, but it wasn’t sweat this time. Ovid let a few tears fall before regaining his composure. He opened his eyes and let the sun sear them a moment as though it might burn his grief away as it dried the tears. Once again he let his head loll to the side…
And the Sandman passed by. Wearing Halliwell’s face, it weaved amongst the wounded where they had been stretched out on the open ground and strode toward the enormous tent upon which flew the flag of Euphrasia and the colors of King Hunyadi.
He blinked, certain that somehow his subconscious had summoned only a mirage of his mother’s murderer. The heat, the loss of blood. But no matter how many times or how firmly he squeezed his eyes closed, when he opened them, the Sandman remained. Halliwell, the monster, remained.
Its presence created a fresher wound than even those he had sustained on the field of battle.
Ovid gritted his teeth. Slowly, warily, he rolled onto his side and then onto his chest. Breathing evenly, preparing himself, he pushed up onto his knees. Black dots swam at the edges of his vision, but he kept breathing and they faded. Teeth still gritted against pain—which inexplicably spread to his shoulders and legs—he staggered to his feet. Something tugged in his wound, perhaps a single stitch breaking free, and a single track of blood spilled like a teardrop down his belly and thigh.
He began to limp after the Sandman. When he passed a wounded soldier—a woman who’d once been beautiful—he bent carefully and borrowed her dagger, nearly passing out in the process. But he remained conscious. The woman seemed near death. Fluid rattled in her throat when she breathed. She would not miss the dagger.
Ovid had come here to fight a war for the king, for his country, for himself, and for his mother. For all of the Lost Ones, and the things that they believed in.
Fate seemed to have other ideas.
Atop a small mountain peak fashioned entirely of ice, Oliver Bascombe stood with his sword raised—cradling the wounded, shuddering, unconscious fox in his left arm—and waited for the air shark to make its move. Octopuses had tried, but Frost had destroyed them utterly. Now, though, the winter man was otherwise occupied.
The craggy ice structure upon which they stood, back-to-back, had become an island in the great plaza at the center of Atlantis. The ground still shook, aftershocks of Oliver’s power. He had unraveled the very foundations upon which Atlantis stood. To the south, on the far side of the island, red and black lava spewed from a volcanic fissure underwater.
From what Oliver could see, much of the island was underwater now. Buildings still jutted from the rushing flood that poured in from all sides. Hills and trees emerged from the water. In the distance, another island loomed but seemed untouched.
Only Atlantis had been affected.
Atlantis was sinking, crumbling into the ocean. Undone. Unmade. But Oliver and the winter man were sinking with it. They had quickly discovered that the sorcerers here—the ones who had not gone off to war—cared less about murdering them than about saving their city. Magic spread out across the island, bands of energy that seemed to be trying to raise it up, to somehow keep matters from getting worse.
Another building fell, entire stories cascading down upon one another and crashing into the water.
Oliver had a feeling that soon the sorcerers would realize that their efforts were useless, and then their minds would turn to vengeance.
The air shark turned lazily in the air, as though it hadn’t a care in the world. Everything else alive in Atlantis seemed frantic, but the shark moved almost languidly. All that mattered was its prey.
Out where the harbor had once been, massive sea-serpent coils undulated in the water. Ocean waves rolled in through the city. The Kraken—if that truly was the Kraken out there—would soon find the water deep enough to come into the plaza. The ice mountain that Frost had created eroded by the moment as the warm seawater washed over it, and would not survive an attack from the sea monster.
Oliver set Kitsune down at his feet and risked a quick glance over his shoulder.
Frost had thinned to slivers. Mist rose from his jagged body and much of the blue had gone from his eyes, leaving only white—and not even white, but a clear ice. At his feet, Leicester Grindylow sat bleeding, wincing from broken bones, and cradled the corpse of Cheval Bayard close to him. Boggart and kelpy would remain with them, no matter what, as would the dead little blue bird who had once been the most loyal friend to them all.
“Where the hell is he?” Oliver screamed, giving in at last to the frenzy of panic that churned inside of him, spilling over. “Where’s Smith?”
The winter man pointed.
Oliver turned just as the air shark made its move. He raised the Sword of Hunyadi. The shark darted at him, its dead black eyes more terrifying than the fury of any demon. There would be no dodging it, now. Swift as legend, Oliver raised the sword up in both hands and brought it down with all his strength. The blade slit the shark’s head, punched through into the lower jaw and out through the bottom. He forced it down and the thing began to whip its huge, powerful body in the air. In seconds, it would knock Oliver into the water, where other things waited.
Putting all his weight on the hilt of Hunyadi’s blade—its tip now lodged in ice—he drew the other sword, which he’d carried to Atlantis, twisted it and plunged it through the shark’s right eye.
It thrashed again. Oliver lost his footing and slid, beginning to fall, nearly knocking the fox off of the ice mountain with him. He tugged Hunyadi’s sword out of the shark’s snout and the beast fell, twitching and slipping down the ice mountain and into the rushing water, the other sword still stuck through its eye socket.
Heart pounding, muscles torn and aching, Oliver clawed his way back to the top of the ice mountain and stood, wearily holding the Sword of Hunyadi out before him again. The fox looked up at him and he thought, perhaps, she smiled a bit.
“Well done,” Frost said, and his voice had become little more than a chilly whisper on the wind. “I wonder, though…if Prince Tzajin was left here for us, a trap, then where is Ty’Lis? Why is he not here to see our deaths? And if he’s not here killing us, then who is he killing while we fight for our lives?”
Oliver slammed the heel of his hand against his head. He looked down at the rising water, felt the ground tremble underneath the ice. He had wanted to punish them, yes, and to stay alive. But he had never wanted to destroy the whole city. King Hunyadi would cheer—his whole army, and the rest of Euphrasia would want to give Oliver a medal—but how many had he killed?
And where was Ty’Lis?
“Where else would he be?” Oliver snarled at him, lips pulled back, almost feral. “He’s in Euphrasia.”
Oliver felt the truth of it. There were no choices left for them, no way to prevent whatever it was Ty’Lis really had planned. Only one way out of this situation presented itself.
He shook his head, threw up his hands, shaking the Sword of Hunyadi. “Shit! Shit, shit, shit! We’ve got to cross the Veil, right now, no matter where we end up in my world. Smith’s not coming. We’ll worry about getting back to the front lines when we’re out of this mess!”
He sheathed the Sword of Hunyadi and bent to heft Kitsune into the cradle of his arms again.
“Oliver,” Frost said, that voice barely a suggestion, now. “You’ll have to help me. Help me open the way.”
Grin had risen painfully to his feet. The boggart had to be in agony and he swayed there, atop the ice mountain Frost had made, but he picked the corpse of Cheval Bayard up in his arms.
“Do it, Ollie,” Grin said. “Open the soddin’ path for us. We’ve got to find the sorcerer yet, the bloke what started it all. I’ll have his guts for garters.”
Frost held the dead blue bird in one hand—Blue Jay’s dead, oh, shit, how do I tell Damia?—and looked expectantly at him. Oliver nodded his head. The winter man raised a hand. Oliver shifted the fox’s weight onto his left arm and followed suit.
The air rippled. Oliver felt it. For the first time, he touched the fabric of the Veil. Frost had given him something to grasp—he wasn’t sure if he could have done it himself—but now it felt to him like some great curtain in the sky, and he knew it would part just that easily. Reality would not tear, it would simply open.
Before they could move, a figure stepped through the Veil from the other side. He hovered in the air above the flood waters and the drowning city of Atlantis.
“No need for that,” the Wayfarer said.
Oliver stared at Smith. The Traveler had lost his hat and cane somewhere along the way. He seemed thinner, almost skeletal, and a long scar ran across his forehead and slashed down over one eye, leaving a gaping hole. Somehow, the wound was old, yet Wayland Smith wore no patch.
A dozen questions occurred to Oliver, but only one made it to his lips.
“Where the hell have you been?” he demanded.
Smith flinched, eyes narrowing. He shot Oliver a dangerous look. “You’re mistaken, sir.”
Before Oliver could ask him to elaborate, other figures began to appear in the air around the melting ice mountain, one rotund and blind, another ancient and bent, one dark-eyed and wreathed in shadow, another scarred and cruel, and still another bearded and glorious like some ancient storm-god. Among them was one female, thin and lovely, though gray streaked her red hair and wisdom crinkled the corners of her eyes. Of them all, only one did not hover in the air, and this last was a giant, thirty feet tall if an inch.
They had not come through the Veil. Nor were they sorcerers of Atlantis. They had, all of them, simply stepped in from the Gray Corridor where only the Wayfarer could walk.
For they were him, each and every one.
They were all Wayland Smith.
King Hunyadi could no longer feel his arms, save for the dull weight of them and a throbbing in his hands where they were closed tightly around the grip of his sword. He bled from a dozen nicks and cuts and several more grievous wounds. But his heart pounded in his chest and in the back of his throat he felt a new battle cry rising. He opened his mouth and set it free, raising his sword, urging his army to press on. Their ranks had been thinned, but they fought on—soldiers and volunteers, legends and gods alike. They fought on.
His royal guard stood with him, now, and they cut through Atlantean soldiers with ease. Armor cracked like the carapace of some crustacean and dark green blood flowed. It had been some long minutes since he had seen a Yucatazcan warrior, and he wondered if they were all dead or had fled. To the far western battle lines he saw two giants, but no sign of any others. Monsters still darted across the sky above his head, but many had been pulled out of the air or caught in the crossfire of magic as the Atlantean sorcerers and the Mazikeen tore at one another’s souls. Dark light streaked above, whirlwinds of power ripped at green-feathered Perytons.
But the war had begun to wind down. Too much blood had been spilled. Soon, the deciding moment would come, but Hunyadi could not yet guess the outcome.
He stepped over the cadaver of a fallen horse, sword at the ready. His personal guard shouted to one another as they fought on, sword and axe and spear clashing with the weapons of their enemies. The stink of blood mixed with the acrid odor of smoke and burning flesh. Fires flickered here and there on the battlefield.
A figure in ragged, bloody clothing appeared beside him. His face was streaked with gore and one of his eyes had been torn out. The king’s guard moved to attack, but Hunyadi saw that the man did not carry a weapon and raised a hand to wave them back, though he did not lower his own sword.
“Hell of a day, Your Majesty,” said the one-eyed man, and his grin revealed sharp, blood-stained teeth.
Only then did Hunyadi recognize Coyote. The king knew the scruffy trickster’s reputation well enough and was surprised to see him on the field of battle.
“Hell is the word for it,” Hunyadi said, “but we have the advantage now.”
“Then let’s finish the fuckers.”
The king knew he ought to make Coyote swear an oath of fealty, but the blood on his teeth and the wounds he’d already sustained were proof enough of his loyalty in this war.
“Well met, trickster,” Hunyadi said. “We’ll make an end of it together.”
A fresh phalanx of Atlantean soldiers filled the breach Hunyadi’s men and women had just made. Haughty and unmarred by combat, they marched over their fallen brethren.
Raging with adrenaline, half-mad with war, the king laughed and lifted his sword. “Come on, then, traitorous bastards. We shall make the ending swift!”
An Atlantean officer shouted for them to attack.
Coyote transformed from man to beast, dropping to all fours and racing toward the Atlanteans, teeth gnashing.
Hunyadi’s guard did not need an order. They roared and hurled themselves into battle, weapons swinging. Blood flew, spattered Hunyadi’s face and eyes. He wiped it away, ducked the sword thrust of an enemy, and then moved in close to the Atlantean. He grabbed the soldier’s wrist, snapped it, then hacked down at the back of the man’s legs, slashing tendons and muscles.
He left the soldier alive, but crippled. Finishing him would be merciful, but he had no time for mercy.
An arrow took Hunyadi in the shoulder from behind, spinning him around. He had barely begun to stagger toward the archer when two of his royal guard fell upon the man, hacking at him like slaughterhouse butchers.
A voice cried his name. King Hunyadi turned to see one of his royal guard picked up off his feet in the single, massive hand of a Battle Swine. The huge, boarlike creatures moved in—a dozen of them at least. Bones shattered. The royal guard began to fall.
Then the Stonecoats were there as well. One of the Battle Swine charged, head down, at a Jokao. Massive, gore-encrusted tusks shattered on the Stonecoat’s chest, then the Jokao plunged a hand into the Swine’s chest and tore out its black, cold heart. Another Swine roared in fear and pain and went down, Coyote on top of him, jaws ripping at his throat.