“Lycaon’s Kitchen,” she said. Once, in ancient Greece, the owner had been a king. Then he had been made a monster.
“Is it true?” Coyote asked. “His legend?”
“That he was a cannibal, or that he tried to feed human flesh to Zeus?”
Kitsune smiled in spite of herself and ran her tongue over her small, sharp teeth. “Aren’t the legends all true? In any case, does it matter? Whether Zeus was responsible or not, Lycaon is the original werewolf. He’s eaten his share of human meat, but it’s not on the menu here.”
Coyote grunted, low in his chest. “What makes you think he’ll have any interest in this war?”
The fox woman laughed softly. “He doesn’t. But neither did you.”
At the door, she did not hesitate. If there had ever been time for such pretensions, it had passed. Kitsune pulled the door open and stepped inside, eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness of the restaurant. Gray daylight spilled through the opening in the roof, but barely permeated the shadows of the corners. Coyote followed, moving off to one side so that they could not be attacked by the same foe.
Two withered, bent crones sat at a table in a far corner with a slim young man who stank of perfume. Kitsune knew them right away as madams from the adjoining whorehouse, which meant the slender man was one of their prostitutes. He was weeping quietly.
A quartet of gruff-looking men—warriors or even legendary heroes from the look of them—had gathered around a table off to the left. A thin tree-creature shuffled toward them with a tray bearing platters of meat. There were others already on the table, festooned with bones and fat that had been sliced away. Even seated, it was impossible not to notice that one of the men was taller than the others; some sort of demigod, Kitsune presumed. He studied Coyote a moment before giving her an appreciative appraisal. Then a shadow passed over his features and he merely nodded in greeting.
She nodded back, but only to be courteous. Her attention was otherwise occupied by the man sitting alone at a table in the patio at the center of the restaurant. His back was to them, but though she had only seen him once she would never have mistaken him for anyone else. He had wild, unruly hair and massive hands that seemed capable of crushing the skulls of his enemies effortlessly. He sipped at a large tumbler filled with ice and amber liquid that could only have been Norse mead. It was a rare import. Whatever remained of the Nordic legends endured beyond the shores of the Two Kingdoms. It was rare to find them, or their worshippers, here.
Kitsune and Coyote strode up behind him, stopping just outside of the range of his arms.
“Lycaon,” she said.
He made a noise that might have been a scowl or a laugh. “I wondered how long before one of you returned to recruit me.”
Coyote sniffed derisively. “Yeah. You seem to be in high demand, but we’re not here to recruit you.”
The man stiffened. Kitsune saw the hackles rise on the back of his hairy neck. Lycaon drained the rest of his mead, ice tinkling in the glass, and stood.
For just a moment, those bestial eyes pinned Coyote and then Lycaon dismissed him, staring instead at Kitsune.
“Have you come for a fight, then? You want to try to kill me?”
“We’re not here for trouble,” Kitsune said. She drew back her hood and shook out her raven-black hair, letting Lycaon’s eyes linger on her a moment before she fixed him with a stare as dark and brutal as his own. “But your business does seem to have dropped off, Lycaon.”
He let out a long breath, relenting to the inevitability of their conversation. “Many legendary have gone to help King Hunyadi, along with the few Borderkind who had been hiding away in the ruins.” He nodded toward the table of heroes. “Those warriors are leaving tonight, joining their swords to Hunyadi’s cause. The Lost Ones have begun to move out of the Quarter. Some want to be in the center of the city, among more of their own kind. Others have retreated further to the north and east, away from the war. But many have joined the king’s army.”
“Not you, though,” Coyote said.
Lycaon growled a low warning, but did not turn to look at him.
“You said ‘Hunyadi’s cause,’” Kitsune observed, studying the werewolf’s face. “Isn’t it also your cause?”
Lycaon knitted his thick brows. “Why should it be?”
“I know you haven’t been through the Veil in a great many years, but you are still Borderkind. The conspirators in Atlantis do not care if you want to cross the Veil. All that concerns them is that you can. One day, they will come after you.”
Lycaon rattled the ice in his glass, staring down into it. “Hunyadi has legions. What help can one old beast be?”
“King Mahacuhta is dead. Murdered. The Yucatazcans have been manipulated into war by Atlantis,” Coyote said with a passion that surprised Kitsune. “With both kingdoms allied against him, Hunyadi will need all the help he can find.”
Kitsune took a chance, reaching out to touch his arm. Lycaon sneered but did not pull away. She met his gaze.
“Others are dying to protect you. Not only legends and the Lost, but your kin. Soon you will be sitting alone in this place. The fires will be dark, and the mead will be gone. What then?”
Lycaon seemed to hesitate. “I thought you weren’t here to recruit me.”
Kitsune released him. “We’re not. If you would rather die alone and hunted than on a field of battle, there’s little I can do to convince you.”
The beast seemed diminished by her words. He spoke quietly. “I know about wars, kings, and murder. I promised myself, when I opened the doors of this place, that those things were all behind me.”
Coyote stepped nearer to him. All the mockery had gone from his face. “You put them behind you, Lycaon. But they’ve caught up.”
The werewolf flinched, but kept quiet, lost in reverie.
“When we go, you’re welcome to come along. That will be for you to decide. But no matter your choice, there is something we need from you.”
Lycaon frowned and glanced up at Kitsune.
Coyote cleared his throat. “The old gods.”
The beast looked askance at him. “They’re dead. You know that.”
“No one has ever believed they were all gone, Lycaon, no matter how they wished their legends would end.”
“And if I refuse, then what? For millennia, people have called me a monster. The word is not inaccurate. Do you think you can force me to help you?”
“We are not enemies, Lycaon,” Kitsune said. “If we succeed—if those rallying behind Hunyadi succeed—you will benefit. If they do not, you will die. All three of us here will die. So understand me well when I say that if you do not cooperate with us, then at least one of us will not have to wait for the Atlanteans to end our lives. You will have to kill us both, or we will be eating your black heart for our dinner, cooked upon your own stove.”
“I’ve never responded well to threats,” the beast-man said darkly.
Kitsune shrugged. “As you like. But I wager your response to death would be even less favorable. We’d rather have you as an ally than a corpse. No matter how hungry Coyote might be.”
Coyote took a final drag from his cigarette, then dropped it to the floor and crushed it under his boot.
For long moments, Lycaon said nothing.
Then, at last, he nodded. “I’ll take you to the old gods. But do not be so deluded as to think we are now allies, or that the old ones will trouble themselves with the likes of you.”
Kitsune nodded. “Lead on, then,” she said, as she raised her fur hood, hiding her face once more.
When Wayland Smith led them through the Veil into the human world, Blue Jay felt strangely at home. He had traveled all through the Two Kingdoms and to other lands in the legendary world, but he’d never felt quite so at ease as he did in the badlands of America. The people who’d believed in him and who still told his stories…this was their land, no matter who supposedly owned it now.
When they stepped into the world, they found themselves in an arroyo that hadn’t seen rain in months. The sky had been the deep indigo that only came in the small hours, long after midnight. The moon hung low and cast its light across a hardscrabble land of tangled brush and cactus. Far off, a mesa thrust up from the flat earth, its striated layers lit up by the moonglow.
Blue Jay would have given anything to stop here, just for a while. He could have been at peace.
But Smith wouldn’t hear of it.
They started off immediately. Blue Jay danced into the sky, transforming into a small bird not usually seen at night. Cheval had likewise changed, shifting her form from exotic woman to silver-maned, green-tinted horse. Jay had never met another kelpy, but he wondered if they were all so tragically beautiful. Grin rode astride Cheval’s back. Li spread his arms wide and fire erupted from his hands. From it he forged a flaming tiger, which he mounted and rode as he had with the tiger who’d been his flesh-and-blood companion.
That had left only Smith, who meandered along with his cane. Blue Jay watched the old wanderer, who seemed to move far more slowly than the other Borderkind. Yet every time he glanced down, Smith was no further behind than he had been. The trickster had to remind himself that Smith was a magician of sorts, and the Wayfarer’s power had a great deal to do with his journeys.
All through the night they walked, traveling for hours across the rough country of the southwestern United States and making more progress than an ordinary man on horseback could have ridden in several days. They journeyed through small, sparse towns and over high passes, and Smith gave them not a moment’s rest.
Blue Jay felt many times during those long hours that he had traveled these lands before, but only when he saw the lights of a city to the east did he become certain they were in Arizona. The city was Tucson. The Mexican border was not far away.
Perhaps an hour before dawn, they came over a rise to find a barbed wire fence before them. The ground here was rough and tufted with spikes of prickly grass. Blue Jay circled above their heads and watched as Wayland Smith gestured to Li.
The burning tiger reared back and the Guardian of Fire raised a fist of glowing embers. When he opened his hand, fire rushed from his palm and blew the fence apart, charring wooden posts and scorching the ground.
Smith led the way across the Mexican border. Blue Jay flew in wide arcs, watching for the border patrol, but no one came. He felt a profound relief at that, because he knew that they would not have allowed themselves to be stopped by humans with guns. Innocents might have died.
They walked south into Mexican territory, but less than ten minutes into their journey, a buzz filled the air. Blue Jay sailed down from the sky, spun into a blur of blue light, and alighted upon the ground as a man once more. His cotton shirt and blue jeans felt soft and comfortable after so long on the wing.
“What’s that, then? That odd drumming?” Grin asked, still astride Cheval. The kelpy glanced up with wide, eloquent eyes.
Li stood there on that rough earth, burning, and stared at the sky.
But Blue Jay stared at Smith. “A helicopter. Maybe more than one. Border Patrol, I assume.”
Smith nodded. “Our friend Li is not the most inconspicuous. We’ll cross back over now. No one owns this land, except perhaps the Mexican government. We can breach the Veil from here.”
“Seems a shame,” Grin said. “Got nearly an hour till daybreak. No telling how much further south we could get in that time.”
“No, he’s right,” Blue Jay said. He caught sight of the lights of the helicopter in the distance. “When we cross over, we’ll be in Yucatazca. The war will be north of us.”
He didn’t mention that they’d have to avoid reinforcements that Ty’Lis would no doubt be sending along the Isthmus of the Conquistadors to aid the invasion of Euphrasia. Yet, when the quintet of Borderkind had slipped once more through the Veil into the sunlit world of the legendary, Blue Jay was surprised to find they met no resistance at all.
At first he thought this might be extraordinary luck, but as the hours passed, he began to suspect it had more to do with the fact that Wayland Smith was leading them. It seemed that his path took him only where he wished it to. Somehow he found the most remote areas of Yucatazca for them to journey through. Once, flying above a rain forest mountain with his comrades trekking below, Blue Jay saw an army detachment at least two thousand strong marching northward toward the Isthmus, but they were miles away.
When they camped that night, he asked Smith about it.
The Wayfarer just smiled. “I choose my steps carefully.”
The next morning they resumed their journey at speeds far greater than Blue Jay had ever managed while he, Frost, and Kitsune had been traveling with Oliver Bascombe. Many of the legendary had magic within them that granted them a certain swiftness, and others were simply faster by nature than human beings. On foot, and over short distances, neither Li nor Grin would have outpaced a reasonably fit human. But on a journey that spanned the borders between worlds and kingdoms, and with Grin astride Cheval and Li upon his burning tiger, they covered ground in a fraction of the time.
Cheval had suggested that they find a branch of the Winding Way, but Smith insisted that the detour would actually slow them down.
As the day wore on, Blue Jay found himself glad that he was not walking with the others. They were in thick jungle now, with hills and ravines and clouds of insects that seemed to be waiting for unsuspecting travelers. There were creatures in the tangled jungle, of course—some of them ordinary beasts and birds, but others figures of legend. Smith stopped at the edge of a stream to talk to something the blue bird couldn’t quite make out from the sky. Most of the legendary they passed were wild things, however, that would not want anything to do with war or politics or the city of Palenque.
In the middle of the afternoon, Blue Jay saw a glint of gold against the horizon. As he scouted ahead, flying nearer, he saw the terraced buildings and gleaming rooftops of Palenque. Exotic and elegant, it seemed like a city of gods. And perhaps it once had been. The city itself had been designed as a kind of maze, the streets turning in upon themselves over and over. As one walked deeper into the city, trying to reach the palace at the center, the streets became so narrow that it was almost necessary to walk single file. For centuries, the kings of Yucatazca had used their own capital city—and its people—as their major defenses. An army could never take Palenque that way.