Page 51

They reached the tents of King Hunyadi and his entourage. Oliver kept his focus on the flag flying the king’s banner. He dodged around a tent and then emerged at the rear of the camp, a stone’s throw from the top of the ridge. The Sword of Hunyadi felt right and comfortable in his hand.

When he saw the monsters fighting, his first thought was that two of the legends involved in the war had somehow carried their conflict far from the field of battle. The thing still on its feet had a hard ridged shell like some kind of crustacean, black and wetly gleaming. Ribbons of oily shadow extruded from small holes all over its body, and Oliver had seen dark tendrils like that before. Atlantean sorcery.

But there was no sign of Collette, and that was a good sign.

The ocean creature attacked something else that struggled to rise from the ground, those oily ribbons whipping and tearing, but as Oliver ran—the blizzard of the winter man rushing along beside him—he realized what he saw was the Sandman. The monster’s substance thrashed against those black ribbons, which somehow had power over the shifting sand.

“Magic,” he grunted, breath coming raggedly as he ran. “Ty’Lis can’t be far.”

“That is Ty’Lis,” whispered a cold breeze at his ear. “Dark sorcery, Oliver. He’s transformed himself into a Curlesh, a legend from ancient Atlantis.”

“Why the hell would he—”

“Harder to kill,” the icy breeze replied.

But Oliver had stopped listening. As they neared the stretch of rough ground where Ty’Lis and the Sandman fought, he saw two human figures on the grass, covered in the same sickening jellyfish they had barely escaped in Atlantis. A man lay atop a woman, and the disgusting things covered nearly all of the man’s body and lashed at the exposed flesh of the woman he shielded.

Oliver would have known her in a darkened room, or across a crowd of thousands. He knew her now. Julianna’s hair. Her hands. The slope of her jaw, where only a tiny bit of her face was visible. He knew her better than he did himself.

“What have you done?” he screamed.

The Curlesh turned at his voice. The Sandman partially slipped his bonds and a long arm sculpted of sand lashed up, driving finger knives at the eyes of the sorcerer Ty’Lis. The Curlesh dodged its head and its shadow tendrils tore the Sandman’s arm apart, but by then, Oliver and Frost were nearly upon them. He didn’t know where his sister was, but as long as Collette was elsewhere, she would be safe.

Those piss-yellow eyes turned toward Oliver again. Ty’Lis raised his monstrous hand.

“You should be dead!” the sorcerer shouted.

A rush of turquoise light burst from his fingers and shot toward Oliver, who had no defense against magic. In that very instant, the winter man took form in front of him, ice and snow carved into the body of Frost. Ty’Lis’s spell struck him and Frost melted on contact, turning to a cascade of water that splashed to the rough grass with the stink of the ocean at low tide.

“Son of a bitch!” Oliver roared, raising the sword and charging right across the puddle that Frost had become. “I should be dead? You should be dead!”

He brought Hunyadi’s blade around in an arc with a speed and a strength he knew were inhuman. The sword struck the Curlesh’s carapace at the neck with a metallic clang and glanced off, sending up sparks. Ty’Lis reached for him with a huge hand. Oliver spun inside his reach and knocked the arm away with another blow from his sword.

“Kill him, Bascombe!” shouted a voice.

Oliver caught a single glimpse past Ty’Lis at the Sandman. As the creature struggled against those ribbons of darkness, its murderous features changed and Oliver saw the face of Ted Halliwell. Kitsune had told them the Sandman had survived, but now he knew it was far more than that. Somehow, Halliwell had survived as well, as a monster.

In that heartbeat of distraction, Ty’Lis struck him across the face, the hard shell of the Curlesh gashing his flesh. Oliver staggered back and fell. His fingers managed to hold onto the sword, but as he began to rise, several of those ribbons of darkness—stinking of ocean magic—darted toward him and trapped his arms to his sides even as they bound his legs.

The Sandman, Halliwell, whatever it was, rose up behind Ty’Lis, but the sorcerer’s putrid tentacles ripped him apart again.

“It ends now, Bascombe,” the sorcerer said, his voice low and distant, as though coming up from inside the cavernous chest of the Curlesh.

“What’re you, a complete idiot? You blind as well as stupid?” Oliver raged at him, struggling against the black ribbons. “There’s revolution in Yucatazca, and I only got a quick look at the battlefield, dumbass, but that was enough for me to figure out you’re losing this war!”

The face of the Curlesh had no expression, but its eyes twitched and the hinged mouth opened in what might have been a mocking smile. “It matters little. Every Door leading to the ordinary world is gone. I’ve had them sealed. Only a handful of Borderkind still live, and those will be eradicated. All that remains is for me to kill you and your sister, and the Two Kingdoms will be mine. Atlantis will rule. There are more soldiers to be had, other armies to manipulate. This battle will not decide the war.”

The confirmation that Collette was alive filled Oliver with strength.

He sneered. “I hate to break it to you, asshole, but Atlantis isn’t sending any more troops. All you’ve got left is whoever’s on the ships floating off the coast. Atlantis is gone.”

Those black ribbons continued to tear at the Sandman, off to the sorcerer’s left. But Oliver had his attention now.

“You lie.”

Oliver grinned.

Oily tentacles slammed him to the ground.

An icy breeze ruffled Oliver’s hair. Tiny bits of sleet stung his right cheek. He heard the voice of the winter man in his ear. “Tell him.”

At the very same moment, Oliver saw motion on the ridge behind Ty’Lis. Astonished, he watched Collette slip between two large trees and start swiftly, quietly, down the slope toward the monstrous sorcerer, carrying an enormous war-hammer in both hands.

“Now,” the winter man’s voice urged.

So many had died in Atlantis. Oliver felt sickened by what he had caused there. He could not have known the extent of destruction his touch would bring, but he would regret it for the rest of his life.

After today.

“No lie. I’m Legend-Born, remember?” Oliver said hurriedly, not daring another glance at Collette for fear of giving her away as she crept toward Ty’Lis. “You saw what I did to the side of the palace in Palenque. I unmade it. You thought we were only symbols, but the power inside of us is terrifying, even to me. You put your twisted magic inside that little boy, the prince, and left him as a trap for us. You left me no choice. I put all of my power down into the island, into Atlantis. I unmade it, you bastard. It’s gone. Swallowed by the ocean. Lost under the waves, just like the old stories.”

Ty’Lis shook. The Curlesh opened its mouth and bellowed. “You lie!”

But the sorcerer knew the truth. Oliver could see it in those horrid eyes as Ty’Lis spread the fingers of his right hand and began to speak the words of an incantation in the arcane tongue of ancient Atlantis. Streaks of mist swam like tiny eels around his fingers, a cloud of vague forms that began to lengthen as they slithered away from the sorcerer’s hand, moving toward Oliver.

The storm blew past Oliver.

Ice and snow churned around him, blotting out the sun for several seconds. He heard the bellow of the Curlesh again, furious at the winter man’s attack. The transformed sorcerer raised both hands as though to defend himself. Nearly all those oil-black ribbons of shadow struck out at Frost, but the winter man had no form. He was only storm, now, and far too swift for Ty’Lis.

The carapace of the Curlesh froze solid, rimed with ice. The tendrils of shadow faltered, some dissipating into black smoke. Even with his body frozen, fresh tentacles began to extrude from those same holes in the sorcerer’s hard shell.

But for the moment, Oliver was free.

He leaped to his feet and raced at Ty’Lis. He held the point of his sword straight in front of him, hoping to crack the carapace.

Ty’Lis began to move. The moisture on the black shell of the Curlesh had frozen, but now the ice showered down, cracking and shedding.

A tall figure sculpted itself out of sand just to the sorcerer’s left. Not the Sandman, however. Detective Ted Halliwell wore the high-collared greatcoat of the Dustman, but otherwise was himself. Then he exploded in a storm of sand, a scouring flurry of dirt and grit and dust. The sand blew around the ancient monster Ty’Lis had become and began plugging the holes that the jellyfish had left behind. The ground erupted around the legs of the Curlesh and hardened around them, trapping it in that position.

The ribbons of black smoke were cut off, the holes filled with sand.

Frost took form at last, just a few feet from where Julianna lay—too still, too damned still—beneath the twitching man, the jellyfish savaging him. The winter man froze the creatures with a flick of his wrists and a gust of wind that turned them to ice.

“Collette!” Oliver shouted. “Now!”

His sister had made it within a few feet of Ty’Lis. Had she not been slightly uphill, the pixyish Collette wouldn’t have had the height for it, but she swung the war-hammer with inhuman strength—legendary strength—and it struck the sorcerer in the side of the head. The carapace of the Curlesh cracked.

“Monsters! Destroyers!” Ty’Lis roared. “I’ll kill you all.”

Oliver might have laughed at the irony. Instead, he felt sick, and determined to finish the job.

“It’s not enough!” he called to his sister. “Use your hands!”

Collette didn’t have to ask what he meant. She dropped the war-hammer and grabbed hold of the Curlesh’s torso from behind. Ty’Lis tried to wrest himself free, but the ground held his legs tightly. Magic began to swirl around his hands again, the air shimmering like heat haze. Grotesque, guttural sounds came from his throat in a terrible incantation.

Sand blew down his throat, gagging him.

And Collette’s touch began to do its work. The black carapace of the Curlesh faded to a brittle gray.

Oliver drove the Sword of Hunyadi through the center of the sorcerer’s chest. The shell cracked easily, giving way, and the blade plunged through meat and bone and punched out through the Curlesh’s back.

Collette called out in protest. He’d nearly skewered her as well.

When he pulled the sword free, Ty’Lis fell to the grass, twitched once and then was still. A small dust storm blew up and then sifted itself into the body of Ted Halliwell, wearing that long coat with its high collar. Ted Halliwell, the new Dustman.

Collette picked up the war-hammer and brought it down on the skull of the Curlesh over and over, pounding the shell and bone and flesh of Ty’Lis’s head to pulp and powder.

Oliver spun and ran to where Frost stood over Julianna and the bald man whose flesh had been ravaged by the jellyfish. He knelt and pulled the man off of her. Frozen jellyfish shattered to shards of ice as he rolled the man over and felt for a pulse.

Whoever he’d been, he was dead.

Julianna’s eyelids fluttered, but did not open. Her breathing was labored and blood soaked through a bunch of ragged strips of her shirt that had been pressed over some kind of wound in her belly, but she was still alive.

A sound came from Oliver’s throat. Perhaps a prayer of thanks, perhaps a profession of love. He took her hand, letting his pulse and his breathing slow down.

“Ovid Tsing,” the winter man said.

“You knew him?”

“From Twillig’s Gorge. He was a good man.”

Oliver nodded. “He tried to protect her.”

Collette’s shadow fell over Julianna. Oliver looked up at his sister’s sorrowful eyes.

“He’s the one who stabbed her,” Collette said. “By accident. He wanted to kill Halliwell. Julianna got in the way.”

A sad smile touched Oliver’s lips.

The Dustman came to stand beside Frost. “Bascombe…Oliver…she’ll die without real medical attention. She needs a real surgeon. A hospital.”

Ted Halliwell had been a cop for decades. From what Julianna had said, he’d been in the military as well. He’d seen his share of wounds. He knew what he was talking about.

Oliver slid his arms under Julianna and lifted her off the ground, rising to his feet.

“Then I’ll take her there.”

Halliwell shook his head. The sun glinted off of bits of quartz mixed with the sand and dust that comprised his face. “She’s one of the Lost Ones. Julianna can’t go back.”

Oliver glanced at his sister. Collette nodded.

“Yeah,” Oliver said. “We’ll see about that.”

Collette stood next to him. Without exchanging a word, they reached out together, searching for the Veil. They were Legend-Born. They were made for this. Wayland Smith had introduced their parents just to bring about the birth of children who were half-human and half-Borderkind. What that truly meant, Oliver didn’t know, but it had to count for something. They had magic on their side. Power and prophecy.

“I..I can’t,” Collette said.

“This isn’t right.” Oliver could feel the Veil. He could sense its presence there, just beyond the reach of his mind and the power inside of him. He knew the Borderkind must find it that way, but they could open a passage, they could travel through.

“I felt it in Atlantis,” he said, turning to Frost, Julianna heavy in his arms. Her breathing seemed more ragged. “I helped you open it.”

The winter man nodded. “You helped widen it, but I opened the way.”

“Then open it now!” Collette said.

Frost hesitated. Oliver could see it in his eyes. He hated all that Ty’Lis had done, but he had stood against Atlantis at the beginning because they had sent the Myth Hunters out after the Borderkind. He had saved Oliver’s life not because he wished the prophecy of the Legend-Born to come true, but because it meant defying the Myth Hunters and their master.