The Borderkind Page 3

But Lucan had his orders.

The moment the fox raced toward the tree in which he was hiding, he loosed his grip upon the branch. As she leaped for the lower branches, he spread his wings and sprang upward, bursting up through rustling leaves of the oak and taking to the sky.

There were shouts from below, threats hurled skyward, but the Jaculus did not slow down. If the trickster shifted into bird-shape and followed, Lucan could kill him easily. And the winter man was weakened now, and too slow. In moments, the winged serpent was over the top of the mountain and soaring toward the southern horizon.

The Strigae were excellent spies, but Ty’Lis and Hinque had asked Lucan to come himself to be sure that there were no mistakes, that someone was there to report the outcome of the Myth Hunters’ attack. Now they and the others would be waiting for word. The Bascombe was supposed to be dead many days ago, and the Borderkind who had allied themselves with him as well. These were simple measures, precautions to be taken before the rest of the plan could be put into action.

But it was too late now. The whispers had begun, the violence would follow shortly, and then there would be war. And in the midst of that, the Bascombes and the Borderkind would be little more than an afterthought.

Yet Lucan knew that, to Ty’Lis, nothing would be as important as the death of these most dangerous enemies. The rest of the Borderkind had to be exterminated, no matter how many Hunters had to die with them. And Oliver Bascombe along with the filthy myths he had befriended.

The Veil itself depended upon their deaths.

And an empire would be forged upon their graves.


In the darkness, surrounded by the whisper of the shifting sands, Collette could see nothing except the glowing sphere of white light that waxed and waned and danced in her cell in the Sandman’s castle. Sometimes it disappeared entirely, but it always came back. From time to time it would speak to her in hushed tones about her impending demise. The Vittora was a death spirit, forged of all the luck she had accumulated during her life, now preparing to abandon her because it sensed she would soon die.

It had become her only friend.

Collette needed a friend now, in the madness of this impossible world, for she lived in terror, and her dreams were screaming nightmares.

Most of the time she sat with her back against the rounded wall of the chamber of sand, wiping grit from her eyes and spitting it from her mouth. Her scalp itched like mad, but no matter how she tried she could not get all the sand from her hair. Her captor brought her barely enough water to drink, and trying to use it for personal hygiene would have been idiotic. But still, the itch was maddening. Her body had begun to itch as well and the stale smell that came from her every pore made her nostrils flare in revulsion. Collette often took more than one shower in a day. She hated being unclean.

But it was amazing to her how easily she could get used to certain things if it meant staying alive.

Pissing in the corner of the chamber, for instance. At first she had held on so long that the need had brought her to tears. Then, when she could not hold off any longer, she took off her pajama pants—for she was still in her pajamas from the night of her abduction—and simply went where she stood.

She camped elsewhere in the chamber from then on, and that spot had become the spot. For a couple of days she had tried to eat as little as possible of the fruit and cheese and bread the Sandman brought to her, knowing that it would eventually mean defecating in the same spot. But again, need overcame dignity. What unsettled her even more was that after she had relieved herself, the sand always shifted and the offending waste disappeared, disposed of somehow.

In a part of her mind that had begun to fray, she had begun to think of the spot as “the litter box.”

When she slept, curled into fetal position, the sand felt as though it crept across her bare flesh. At night, the sand was still warm, retaining some of the heat of the day. When the sun was up, however, the heat was terrible. The round chamber was wide and airy, with no doors but a dozen tall, arched windows set at intervals all around her. There was no glass, the opening to the outside world tantalizing to her, but they were twenty-five feet from the soft sand beneath her, and the walls were hard-packed sand like granite. Even in her few hopeful moments, she never imagined being able to climb up there to escape.

The days seemed to last an eternity, and the nights even longer, so that she knew her impression of how long she had been imprisoned could not possibly be accurate. Her body, though, told her the only thing that mattered…it had been too long. The muscles in her neck and back and shoulders were knotted from sleeping on the sand and the rest of her was stiff just from sitting against the wall.

Now, every few hours, she spent twenty minutes walking the perimeter of her prison, during the day moving from one shadow to another. At midday she always rested. There was no hiding from the sun when it was directly above and it was best not to exert herself then.

After dark, the walking continued.

The sand shifted beneath her feet as she marched on, sometimes stumbling as it gave way. Her arches were bands of pain, but she ignored them. The light of the Vittora accompanied her, hovering up near the windows now as though watching her, and it spurred her on. The walking kept her from withering, from just curling up and waiting to die. She would not surrender that easily. It was both a tiny bit of madness and the thing that staved off the deeper madness that awaited.

Step after step, she followed the circular wall, somehow always aware of the spot she had made her litter box. No matter that the sand drew the shit and piss down into itself, leaving no trace; she still circumvented that spot on her walks.

When she had first awoken to find herself captive, she had found comfort in her memories of her favorite films. Movies were a vital part of her life, so often she lost herself in them, and time and again now, her mind went back to those worlds, to Casablanca and Notting Hill, to L.A. Confidential and Rear Window, to The Philadelphia Story and The Godfather. But the Vittora was inside her mind and heart. It could see her thoughts and sometimes taunted her for her fantasizing about those films.

Love and tragedy: those were the things she appreciated most in the movies. Some of them had monsters, but all of the monsters were human. She’d never had an interest in the other sort…could not invest any real fear in them, because she did not believe.

But Collette believed in monsters now.

One of them had murdered her father and torn his eyes out, and kept her captive even now. From time to time she would look up and see the Sandman looking down at her from one of the windows with those filthy lemon-yellow eyes, face all sharp angles and fingers like daggers. Sometimes his fingers were covered with blood. He had spoken to her shortly after he had first captured her, but never since.

Now only the Vittora spoke.

“Put one foot in front of the other,” it said in a singsong voice that scraped off of the sound all around the chamber, “and soon you’ll be walking out the door.”

Collette shuddered, eyes moistening. It had plucked the song from her mind, some snippet from one of the Christmas specials she’d loved to watch on television as a little girl. The edge in its voice might have been irony or comfort or mockery, or some combination of all three. Clearly, the Vittora did not think she would be walking out the door, or it would not have appeared. It was the harbinger of her death, and though most of what it said was a nonsense echo of her own thoughts, there was a morbid amusement in its tone that made her want to scream.

But she would not scream.

The Vittora was light in the darkness and meant her no harm. It was not tragedy, but the observation of tragedy. It was the ringing phone in the middle of the night, resonating with dread, but still only the messenger.

Left foot, right foot, she moved in that dreadful circle. Soon she would sleep, but for the moment, she walked just to feel alive.

As much as possible, Collette tried not to think of home, but her thoughts were often untamable. She missed the glory that was New York City: the corner delis and the busy sidewalks, the fountains and the parks. It was winter at home, must be nearly Christmas now, or Christmas might already have passed. She had wanted to skate at Rockefeller Center on the outdoor ice rink there and smell the roasted chestnuts sold by sidewalk vendors and see her breath in front of her and all of the decorations. Christmas in New York could lift any heart.

She missed her friends. Terri Ehrlich would be grieving by now, presuming the worst. She missed her job at Billboard magazine and the people there—Lydia and Jane and Elissa and the funny guys in the mailroom. She wondered how long she would have to be gone before they would hire someone to replace her at work, and how long before the people who loved her would begin to lose hope that she might still be alive. She’d gone up to Maine for her brother’s wedding, but by now they must all know of her father’s murder, and that someone had taken her.

How long before most of them simply forgot about her?

Oliver, Collette thought. Oliver will never lose hope. If the Sandman was to be believed, her brother was still alive, and somewhere here, in this nightmare world.

That was half the reason she was here, after all, and the reason he had not killed her yet. The Sandman was using her as bait. They thought there was something different about her and Oliver, something special. Whoever they were was a mystery for another day. For now, all that mattered to Collette was that whoever had enlisted the Sandman to murder her father and kidnap her from their family home had done so in order to draw Oliver in, and that if Oliver did eventually come for her, they would likely both be executed.

God, how she wanted him to come and take her away, to save her from this! The idea of seeing him, talking to him, was almost enough to make her weep. But, of course, she could not stand the thought of anything happening to him, and so the other part of her hoped that no matter what they did to her, Oliver would stay away.

Hear that, little brother? she thought. Stay away!

The flannel pajamas were all she had to wear—not even panties beneath them—and they were far too hot during the day, though necessary to protect her from the sun. But at night, as now, they were vital. The chamber grew cold after dark, and colder still as night wore on.

Collette shivered and crossed her arms over her breasts as she continued to walk, staggering a bit as a pile of sand gave way.

“Start spreading the news,” the Vittora sang, knowing, mocking, and yet somehow sorry as well. “I’m leaving today.”

“Shut up!” she snapped, twisting in the sand and glaring up at it.

The light flickered and diminished, the sphere shrinking a bit, as it often did. It even disappeared from time to time, though she could sense its presence. When the time came that it was really gone, she was sure she would know that as well. But by then it would be too late. Her life would be slipping away like a fistful of sand.

Heart hammering with frustration, skin prickling with the cold and with grief for her own fate, she began to walk again, determined to dedicate another fifteen minutes to staying alive.

Then she heard his voice…the voice of the Sandman.

“You see. A Bascombe. Just as promised,” it rasped, voice grating and cold, words clipped and alien.

Collette halted and it took her a moment before she could glance upward in search of her captor. Her breath caught in her throat. The monster was little more than a shape framed by one of the windows high above, a deeper darkness silhouetted against the night sky beyond. Those hideous lemon-yellow eyes gleamed, reflecting back the light of the Vittora.

For the first time, the Sandman was not alone.

Beside him was a thing whose appearance made her gasp. It was crouched, like a gargoyle perched on a building’s ledge, and large, feathered wings jutted from its back. In the illumination cast by the spirit of her impending death, she thought the feathers looked green. It wore shapeless, dark garments that only partially covered its long, bony limbs. Yet what unnerved her most was that it had the head of a stag, with wickedly sharp antlers. Some ancient dread welled up within her at the sight, as though in the primitive part of her brain she knew that this thing was a predator. Beneath its gaze, she felt like a field mouse fleeing from a screech owl.

And there were others.

They shifted in the dark, moving to other windows with a rustle of feathers. There were at least three more that she could see, staring down at her as if she were an animal at the zoo.

What did it mean, A Bascombe?

And what were they, these things that the Sandman had brought to observe her?

The Vittora, shrunken now to a size no larger than a baseball, descended in a gliding, drifting pattern until it hovered nearby, and she heard it whisper. Words. Answers to the questions in her mind.

“Perytons,” it said. “Hunters.”

A shudder went through her and for a time selfishness triumphed over her love for Oliver in her mind. She knew that if he came for her, it would mean his death, but now that she knew the Sandman was not alone, that he had allies, she felt certain they would eventually find him anyway.

“Come on, Ollie. Find me,” she whispered, in a voice that was lost in the murmur of the shifting sands.

If they were both going to die, she would rather face the end with her brother. Nothing terrified her more than the thought of dying alone.

Oliver stared up through the trees as Blue Jay darted down toward them, an astonishingly small figure against the breadth of the sky. The bird opened his wings and glided between branches, not disturbing a single leaf. As he reached the ground, he beat his wings to pause in midair, but for a moment, to Oliver’s eyes, he seemed to continue descending. It was an optical illusion, however. The bird was not descending, but growing, transforming into a man. His wings suddenly spread out behind him, enormous, and then they were barely visible, just a trace of an image in the air.

And then gone.

Where the bird had been, there was now only the man. Blue Jay tossed back his hair, the feathers tied in it whipping in the breeze, and thrust his hands into the pockets of his blue jeans.

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