He wept in frustration and helplessness.
Julianna looked up at Halliwell. He started toward her. His lips formed words of concern. Her head lolled to one side, and she looked up at Collette and smiled.
A single voice cut through the cloud of shock that had enveloped her.
“If you’d stayed in the dungeon, you’d have saved us all a great deal of trouble.”
The shadows cleared from her vision for just a moment and she shifted her gaze to see the pale face of Ty’Lis only a few feet away, hateful features framed by that yellow hair. His robes moved as though in some breeze that Julianna could not feel. The sorcerer had come for them. For Collette. For the Legend-Born.
Oliver, Julianna thought, wishing for him, as though upon a star.
Then she slipped away, into the darkness.
With the warmth of Kitsune’s body in his arms and her blood soaking into his shirt, Oliver stared at the figures floating in the air around the ice mountain Frost had made. Atlantis trembled, the water surged upward, now only ten or eleven feet below him. The winter man stood on a higher peak, the dead blue bird in his hands, and Leicester Grindylow beside him carrying the body of Cheval Bayard.
“They’re all Smith,” Oliver said.
He stared around at them—the giant and the female, the fearsome warrior, the scarred monstrosity, the thin wizard—and knew it had to be true. Each one of those figures, somehow, was the Wayfarer.
“Do you know what’s going on?” he asked Frost.
The winter man had become a jagged skeleton of ice. He shook his head, mystified.
Oliver turned his focus to the aged, withered Smith whose left eye socket was a scarred pit. At first, he’d thought this the Wayland Smith he knew, but then the others had come.
“What the hell is this?”
Another building crumbled. The ground shook and Oliver nearly fell, then. He clutched the bleeding fox against his chest. If it came to that, he would fall into the churning floodwaters before he would let her go to her death alone.
A strange calm settled upon him. The soldiers of Atlantis had been washed away, save for those who had sought higher ground on roofs and domes and could only wait to die. Some leaped off, diving into the water, taking their chances with the ocean, perhaps in hopes that they might find a boat or something to float on. Or perhaps they could breathe in the water. The people of Atlantis were not human, at least not by Oliver’s reckoning.
The sorcerers were gone as well. He imagined they were not drowned, but instead had fled the destruction of their kingdom.
Some of the creatures—the monstrous sea-beasts that the sorcerers had commanded—still darted through the air above the sinking island, but they paid no more attention to Oliver and the Borderkind, or to these new intruders. Whatever malign intelligence had commanded the octopuses and air sharks, or whatever training they’d received, the chaos had them confused and panicked.
Oliver stared at the one-eyed Smith and waited for an answer.
“Damn you, where is he?” Frost said, his voice a kind of hiss. “Where is the Wayfarer?”
The question seemed foolish. The look on the one-eyed Smith’s face told Oliver precisely how foolish it was. The female actually laughed, softly. The giant Smith cursed and spat.
“The Wayland you knew has…” the one-eyed Smith began, then faltered. He shook his head, as though deciding not to share whatever he had been about to say. “He has done something that we Wayfarers have all agreed never to do. We are Travelers, Oliver Bascombe. Walkers between worlds. We are not meant to interfere with those worlds we visit, for they are not our own. Yet our brother—your Wayland—has shown us that there are times when it is not possible to stand aside, when we must become involved.
“Every world has a Wayfarer. This dimension’s Wayland was weakened by the creation of the Veil—”
The others began to shout him down. Chagrined, the one-eyed Smith held up a hand and nodded, and his siblings fell silent.
“We need him back,” Oliver said. Nothing else mattered, now. Confusion threatened to distract him, but he had to keep his focus. “He brought us here through the Gray Corridor, and we have to return to the battlefield. Ty’Lis—the murderous, twisted son of a bitch responsible for all of this—he’s there, and I think he means to kill my sister, and King Hunyadi.”
But the one-eyed Smith only shook his head. “He cannot return. His power has failed at last. The Veil holds him back, trapped in the Gray.”
The winter man seemed somehow stronger. Some of the ice in the mountain blew up into snow and accumulated around him.
“Then you must take us!” Frost demanded. “If his interference stranded us here, you must balance the scales.”
The one-eyed Smith glanced around at the others. They all began to nod, slowly, and as the old, withered Wayfarer turned to look at Oliver again, one by one they began to fade to gray, to wisps of nothing.
Oliver’s heart sank and he buried his face in Kitsune’s copper fur.
Only then did he notice that all had gone silent.
He raised his eyes and saw Frost and Grin there in the mists of the Gray Corridor beside him, bearing their dead. Oliver felt the fox’s weak heartbeat pulsing against him as he looked around.
Then he saw the figure, there in the mist, ahead of them on the path. A figure with a broad-brimmed hat and a cane with a brass head. The figure said nothing, but started along the path.
In the mists on either side, other figures moved.
It seemed the wind was at his back, and the mist rushed past as though they were flying, hurtling along the Gray Corridor.
The Wayfarers vanished.
Oliver paused, looking around, panic seizing him. Frost and Grin began to call for Smith.
The gray mist faded.
“This way,” Oliver said.
“How do you know?” Grin asked.
“I just…I feel it.”
In three steps, they emerged from the Gray Corridor and found themselves on the hill above the battlefield, within sight of the wounded being doctored and the dead where they lay stacked like cordwood, and the tents of the King and his officers.
And Oliver heard his sister scream.
Ty’Lis opened his cloak.
Collette stared a moment and then a hand flew to her mouth as she retched. She wished she could look away, but knew it might cost her life. Beneath the cloak, the sorcerer wore nothing save a wrap that covered his genitals. Even so, only small strips of his greenish-white flesh were revealed. The rest of his bony body pulsed with living things, bulbous, translucent creatures with masses of long tendrils. They might have been jellyfish, but Collette had never seen jellyfish like this before. They were suctioned to the sorcerer’s flesh, and she felt sure the traces of green that seemed to swirl inside of their bodies were the blood of Ty’Lis.
In her arms, Julianna had fallen unconscious. A coldness came over Collette’s heart, and she felt as though some hard shell covered her.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Ty’Lis asked, and from his thin smile, she knew he meant those words.
Ovid Tsing remained on his knees, clutching his wound with one hand and his dagger in the other. Collette snapped at him, said his name, and the man looked up with eyes so lost she doubted he would ever find his way again. Right then, she didn’t care. She needed him.
“Watch over her,” Collette said, pointing to Julianna. “You owe her that.”
Ovid began to crawl toward Julianna.
Collette glanced at the Dustman—at the legend Ted Halliwell had become—and saw that his eyes glowed with a golden light. She wondered if that was a good thing, or if the monster had emerged from within him again.
The Dustman said her name, raising a finger and pointing past her.
The jellyfish had begun to detach themselves from Ty’Lis’s body. One by one they pulled away with an obscene sucking noise, leaving behind small, throbbing holes in the sorcerer’s flesh.
They darted through the air, trailing tendrils. Ty’Lis wore a cadaverous grin and he flicked his fingers outward as though orchestrating their every move.
Weaponless, and with only the power in her hands, she knew she had to get in close. Collette lunged at him. One of the jellyfish lashed at her arm with its tendrils, a dozen searing lines upon her flesh. It attached to her skin and she felt something puncture her arm, felt something wriggling into the hole it had made.
She screamed in revulsion and panic, but she reached for the sorcerer just the same.
Powerful hands gripped her shoulders from behind, and then her feet lifted off the ground. The Dustman hurled her away to tumble across the rough hillside, coming to rest only inches from the dead assassin.
Collette scrabbled to her feet, chest heaving. Her arm burned where the jellyfish was wrapped around her. Retching again, she forced herself to get control and tried to scrape the thing off against the dirt and grass. Its tendrils tore free, leaving stinging red welts behind, but whatever proboscis it had thrust into her arm could not be so easily dislodged. She grabbed it with her free hand and pulled it loose, screaming again as it tore skin and tugged on muscle. Then it was out, and she was bleeding. She tested her arm and hand. Everything still worked.
Enraged, she rose and saw the Dustman moving toward Ty’Lis in a cloud. Sand and grit swirled in the air, dragging jellyfish down and smearing them on the ground. Others flew right at the Dustman, trying to latch onto his sifting, shifting form, only to be scoured away. Petite as she was, still it unsettled her to have been cast off like some discarded toy. But Collette figured the Dustman had earned her forgiveness.
Then Ovid cried out, and she saw that the Sandman had not gotten them all. Jellyfish had descended upon him and Julianna. Tendrils rose and fell in the air, whipping their exposed flesh. One of the things had attached itself to the back of Ovid’s neck. The young warrior did nothing to try to remove it. Instead, he spread himself out over Julianna, trying to save the life of the woman he’d stabbed only moments before. Most of the creatures were attacking him.
“I freed you!” Ty’Lis screamed. “How dare you interfere?”
The Dustman had gone away. Ted Halliwell had gone away. The thing that attacked Ty’Lis now appeared to be the Sandman, through and through. The gray hooded thing with those finger knives seemed almost to glide along the ground, reaching for the sorcerer.
Not the Sandman, Collette thought. It’s Ted, still, somehow. In there, it’s Halliwell, or he wouldn’t be helping.
Adrenaline surged through her, but she thought something else moved through her veins as well. Her body trembled with the urge to act, with the power to do something. But Halliwell would destroy the sorcerer, certainly.
Even as the thought entered her mind, Ty’Lis raised his hands. From the holes where the jellyfish had been feeding upon his blood, streams of liquid shadow erupted, blackness that seemed to eclipse the sunlight around them. Like the tendrils of the jellyfish, they whipped through the air and wrapped around the Sandman, but these were not physical things like the jellyfish. They were forged of the dark magic of Ty’Lis.
The Sandman staggered, struggled. His form changed, shifted, sifting to the Dustman and then to Halliwell. The sand began to slip through those tendrils of darkness, flowing toward the sorcerer, scouring Ty’Lis’s face, tearing the flesh.
The air seemed to compress between them and then it burst in a brilliant scarlet light, an eruption of magic that blew Halliwell off of his feet. The sand creature struck the ground and shattered, sand and dust and grit spraying all over the hill.
Ty’Lis did not so much as look away.
The Sandman began to draw himself together. The sorcerer had expected it. Those black tendrils tore at the remains of the monster, of Halliwell, pulling him apart as he tried to repair himself. Ty’Lis threw back his head, jaws opening impossibly wide, unhinging, and something began to push itself up from within, wet and spiny, a gleaming carapace, a creature from the depths of the sea.
It stripped off the flesh of Ty’Lis as easily as removing a coat.
Collette could not breathe. Altanteans could not all be these creatures. So what the hell was it? A parasite? Or was this simply what the sorcerers of Atlantis became, within?
As Halliwell fought against the magic of that ocean sorcerer, the creature turned to look at her, and those piss-yellow eyes were the same. This was no parasite. She stared into the true face of Ty’Lis.
And he stared back at her.
Collette’s hands flexed emptily.
Turning, stumbling on her injured leg and with the pain in her arm screaming in her brain, she stagger-ran to the top of the ridge, practically threw herself between a pair of trees, and went sprawling on her hands and knees, headfirst down the other side.
When she picked up her head, she saw the war-hammer Julianna had hit the assassin with. She scrambled over to it and picked it up in both hands. Collette had never been especially strong. All her life she’d been teased—sometimes lightheartedly and sometimes cruelly—for her size. When she met children, sometimes as young as twelve, who were taller than she was, invariably she would blush, feeling awkward.
The war-hammer seemed no heavier than a baseball bat in her hands.
Collette started back over the ridge.
Oliver and the winter man ran side by side. The temperature here was perhaps fifteen degrees cooler than on Atlantis, but the air hung thick with humidity, and Frost had almost instantly accumulated that moisture to repair himself. His icy figure remained sharp and thin, but no longer the skeletal shape he had become.
They weaved through the wounded, Oliver leaping a man who howled for the doctor, raising the stump of a ruined arm. Frost disintegrated into the air, becoming the churning blizzard Oliver had first encountered a lifetime ago in his mother’s parlor on that stormy December night.
Grin had been left to look after Kitsune—still in her fox shape—and the cooling corpses of Cheval and Blue Jay. Oliver and Frost were the only ones left to fight Ty’Lis, and somehow, despite the mistrust and resentment that had come between them, that seemed right.