The Borderkind Page 2

Halliwell did not even hesitate. He went to the door, tensed as though he might jump aside if an attack was forthcoming, and flung it open. The hinges creaked loudly. Inside there was nothing but dust and shadows.

“What the hell?” Halliwell muttered, and stepped inside, glancing around to be sure there was nowhere for the wounded creature to hide.

Julianna watched him for a moment and then followed. As she stepped into the little building, she peered into each corner and then up at the ceiling. There was a third window at the back, opposite the door, and Halliwell went over to it and examined the frame and the lock.

“Whatever came in here, it didn’t get out this way,” the detective said.

“But it didn’t go out the door,” Julianna said. “So where is it?”

Halliwell looked at her, frowning. Then he inclined his head and pointed past her, to the deep shadows hidden behind the open door. Julianna held her breath. If something was back there, she had been only inches from it a moment ago.

The detective came up beside her. The two of them stood a moment and just listened. If something was in here with them, wounded and enraged, surely they would hear it breathing. But there was no sound at all.

Halliwell swung the door closed. The latch clicked shut. If the storm had turned the afternoon dark and gray, inside that little stone house, behind those grime-smeared windows, it was like midnight. It was a mistake on Halliwell’s part. If something had been there in the corner, it could have killed them both in the seconds it took their eyes to adjust.

But the corner was empty.

Julianna breathed a sigh of relief. “Let’s get out of here.”


She went to the door. It seemed to stick a moment, and then the latch gave and Julianna hauled it open, hinges creaking again.

Outside the door, the world had changed.

The storm was gone, and so was Canna Island. A blast of warm air rushed in to greet them. A light summer rain fell from a sky striped with low clouds, speckled with clear spaces where the blue sky showed through.

Julianna could not breathe.

Shaking, she stepped out of the little stone hut. It stood now at the top of a long, sloping hill of rock, striated with colors like thousands of years of volcanic eruption. At the base of the hill, far below, a river rolled gently past. Some small brush and greenery grew on the banks of the river, but on the other side, once again, there was nothing but rock. She turned in a complete circle. Around her there were only mountains, though far to what ought to have been the south she saw the tops of trees in the river valley.

A short way along the rocky slope was the still, lifeless form of the tiger-man, who had escaped the carnage of Canna Island only to die here, alone on the craggy hillside.

“This…can’t be,” Halliwell rasped.

Julianna studied his face. Tentatively, she reached out a hand to touch him. The moment her fingers confirmed that he was real and solid, she felt foolish. Of course he was real. But in that moment, she had been uncertain of everything.

“Go back,” she said. “Go back through.”

Halliwell looked stricken, but he nodded and quickly reentered the stone hut. She followed him in. Even the warmth of the day and the gentle rain made her skin crawl, simply because it was wrong. Unnatural.

They exchanged a silent look. Trembling, Julianna reached out and closed the door, casting them once more in the grim gray darkness within those stone walls, behind those filthy windows. She expected to feel cold almost immediately, but the warmth remained.

A terrible weight settled upon her and Julianna bit her lip as she opened the door. But beyond it, nothing had changed. There was the barren hillside and the river below, the summer rain pattering the rocks. Whatever sort of door they had just traveled through, it only swung in one direction.

After a moment’s hesitation, she stepped back out into the impossible world. Her heavy jacket was too warm and she unzipped it, then slid it off and dropped it on the ground beside the open door.

She wouldn’t be needing it here.

Julianna turned and glanced at Halliwell. She was surprised to find not fear or confusion, but determination etched upon his face.

He stepped out after her, treading heavily upon the rocky terrain.

“All right, then,” Halliwell said. “Let’s go.”

“Go?” She knew they had no choice, but had no idea how to begin, which direction to take. “Where are we going?”

“The job hasn’t changed. We’re going to find Oliver. And we’re going to find some goddamned answers.”

Grim silence embraced Oliver and his companions as they made their way along the bank of the Sorrowful River. When they had crossed through the Veil from Canna Island, they had emerged on a rocky slope not far from the water. Blue Jay had transformed himself into a bird and taken to the air to survey their surroundings. He had returned with the news that not only did the river valley become fertile and wooded to the south, but that he knew the area and believed they were not far from a place called Twillig’s Gorge.

Kitsune had balked at this. She believed Twillig’s Gorge was only a story, a legend amongst legends, but Blue Jay insisted it was real. So they had set out, following the river as it ran through the valley and then into a forest of whispering leaves and cool shade.

The longer Oliver spent in the forest, the more troubled he became. It was peaceful here, even pleasant, but it simply felt wrong to him. It was jarringly discordant, moving from the carnage of the battle they’d fought in his world to the gentle respite provided here, beyond the Veil. He knew that it could not last, that there would be fear and blood to spare in the days to come. But to experience the calm beauty of this wood and the rushing river was unsettling.

They all felt it. He knew that they did. But none of them would speak of it. Blue Jay led the way, the wind making the feathers tied in his hair dance, and he rarely looked back to see that they were following. Oliver and Kitsune were side by side—though as close as she was, still she seemed far away from him. Frost trailed them all, sometimes falling back so far that he was nearly out of sight. The winter man’s face was a frozen mask. Icy mist trailed from his eyes, but he said nothing.

Amongst the four of them, fewer than a hundred words had been spoken since they had arrived here. Oliver understood. Jenny Greenteeth had betrayed them, and Kitsune had been forced to kill her friend. Gong Gong, the Black Dragon of Storms, was dead. Professor Koenig, the man they had gone to Canna Island to meet, had been murdered by the traitorous Jenny. Oliver blamed himself for the professor’s death. If he had never tracked him down, the old man would still be alive.

But what choice did he have? He was under a death warrant, an Intruder on this side of the Veil. If he could not do as Koenig had done, and persuade the monarchs of the Two Kingdoms to spare his life, he would soon be dead.

Yet Oliver felt certain that the future weighed even more heavily upon his friends than the past. There was a conspiracy afoot in the Two Kingdoms, a clandestine effort by forces unknown to eradicate all Borderkind from the world. The Myth Hunters had been pursuing any creature that could still freely move back and forth through the Veil—from the world of legend to the human realm—and many had already lost their lives. Others had gone into hiding. The Borderkind could not count on aid from the legitimate authorities of either kingdom, neither could they know who was trustworthy.

An underground resistance had begun to form, but those with whom Frost, Oliver, and Kitsune had contact had already been captured or killed. All save Blue Jay. The time had come for the surviving Borderkind to take action. Frost had fulfilled his obligations to Oliver. He would be determined now to discover who was responsible for the slaughter of his fellow Borderkind, to stop the killings and take vengeance. Oliver had to assume that Kitsune and Blue Jay would accompany Frost.

And he would be alone.

In his own world, back home in Kitteridge, Maine, Oliver’s father had been murdered by the Sandman, who had then abducted his sister, Collette. But why had he not simply killed her? What the Sandman wanted with her and what had driven the monster to kill their father in the first place, he had no idea. But Oliver had no choice except to find Collette. And that did not even begin to address the question of how he would get near enough to the monarchs of Euphrasia and Yucatazca to prove he was worthy of their trust. Finding Collette had to come first.

Oliver had not yet inquired about the origin of the name of the Sorrowful River, but he found it apt. As beautiful and calming as their surroundings were, he was not soothed. There was room for little else but sorrow in his heart, though he managed to find space for dread.

Soon enough, they would reach Twillig’s Gorge and they would rest. And after that their paths would diverge, and Oliver would be forced to make his way alone.

The Sword of Hunyadi hung heavily at his side. Though he had acquitted himself well with it back on Canna Island, he felt foolish carrying the thing. He was no warrior. No hero. He was just a smartass New England lawyer who wished he was an actor.

He wanted to scream, just to break the silence of his companions…the friends who would soon abandon him. But how could he blame them? They were in just as much danger as he was; they and all their kind.

There was nothing for Oliver to do but keep walking and enjoy their company until their paths diverged.

Oliver had tied his jacket around his waist. Even with the cool breeze and the shade of the trees, he felt warm, but he would not leave the jacket behind. Experience had taught him that the world beyond the Veil was impossible to predict. He ran a hand over the stubble on his cheeks and rubbed at the corners of his eyes. It had been long enough that he could no longer recall what it felt like to get a decent night’s sleep. He would have given almost anything to be able to lie down there on the riverbank, use his coat as a pillow, and sleep with the gentle shushing of the wind in the branches as his lullaby. But there was to be no respite for him. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.

His boots pressed into the damp soil on the bank of the river. He dropped his gaze and watched the water while he walked, wondering again at its name. The river washed over rocks, the current picking up as it ran almost imperceptibly downward, with only the occasional small drop-off or waterfall.

When Kitsune touched his hand, he flinched away.

The sting of his reaction showed in her eyes.

“Sorry, you startled me.”

Kitsune gave him a melancholy smile. “You were very far away.”

“I’ve been far away for a long time. Feels like I’ll be far away forever.”

She nodded. Her red fur cloak swayed around her as she walked. The hood lay against her back, draped in her silken black hair. Her green eyes were like smooth jade. Kitsune reached out to take his hand again, and this time Oliver did not flinch away. They continued like that along the riverbank for several minutes. Oliver took some comfort in the contact, but did not fool himself into thinking that all would be well. Kitsune had other allegiances, and he understood that.

But after a while he began to enjoy her touch and remembered the way she sometimes looked at him, recalled the sight of her at the inn in Perinthia, when he had seen her coming out of the shower, and broke the contact again.

Kitsune did not look up, only kept walking close beside him. She was perhaps the most desirable woman he had ever met—though woman was not entirely accurate—but he was engaged to be married, and instead of shaking his love for Julianna, the wildness and terror of recent days had only crystallized those feelings.

He wanted to say something to Kitsune, to express those thoughts, no matter how foolish she might think him. But even as he opened his mouth, he saw that Blue Jay had paused on the riverbank just ahead.

The Native American shapeshifter turned toward them with a satisfied grin. The mischief had disappeared briefly from his eyes, but it was back now.

“Twillig’s Gorge,” he said.

Oliver and Kitsune caught up to him and the three of them stood, awaiting Frost. The river turned slightly eastward ahead, and the quiet forest ended in the shadow of a sheer mountain cliff hundreds of feet high.

The river flowed right into the cliff face. Somehow it had carved a cave into the rock, or else the river went underground.

“I don’t get it,” Oliver said.

“The gorge is further along. Gods and legends, Borderkind and Lost Ones—all sorts of people live there. Creatures who want to hide away from the rest of the world, who don’t want to have anything to do with the Two Kingdoms,” Blue Jay explained. “There are a few places I can think of that would be safer havens for us right now, but nothing else within easy distance. It’s as good a place as any.”

Oliver stared at the cave where the river entered the mountainside. Frost could have gotten over the top easily enough, and Blue Jay could fly, but he would never be able to climb that sheer cliff. There seemed only one way to get to Twillig’s Gorge for an ordinary man.

As he contemplated this, Frost joined them. Oliver glanced at the winter man, at the blue-white ice of his eyes, but Frost was not looking at him at all. With a toss of his head that made the jagged ice strands of his hair jangle together, he turned to Kitsune.

“You’re aware that we’re being followed?”

Kitsune nodded gravely. “A Jaculus. It has paced us since the moment we made the border crossing.”

Oliver began to glance around, looking first across the river and then up toward the branches above them. “What the hell’s a—”

But Frost ignored him, focusing only on Kitsune.

“Kill it,” said the winter man.

Coiled around the branch of a massive oak tree, Lucan could not hear the whispered words of the Borderkind below. But he saw the Intruder—the Bascombe—go rigid and begin to look around, and he knew that his quarry were aware of his presence.

His instinct was to attack. His eyes were excellent and he could see the way the veins pulsed in the throat of the Bascombe. He could smell the femaleness of the fox, Kitsune. What Lucan desired more than anything was to launch himself from the tree and plunge straight down on one of them, fangs bared. They would underestimate him because of his diminutive size, and that would be his advantage. He felt certain that he could use his venom to paralyze them, and then twist his serpentine body around their throats, cracking neck bones even as he drew their life out of their veins. He would have dearly loved to put his confidence—and his speed—to the test.

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