tempest reborn (jane true #6) Page 11

‘Um, where do I start?’ I asked.

There was a mental shrug from the creature. [Wherever you like.]

I didn’t bother to remind it that I didn’t ‘like’ any of this. Instead, I started hacking.

Needless to say, the process was gruesome. Within minutes, I was covered in blood. The White wouldn’t actually die, of course, so its blood was pumping away until I cut out its heart, giving it a few whacks for good measure and throwing it to the side so it wouldn’t repair itself and start geysering blood about again.

Meanwhile, I was scared shitless.

‘I thought he’d be in here. Like an egg,’ I said to no one in particular as I kept hacking. I was commenting on the fact that no matter how much I hacked, Anyan didn’t pop out like a stripper from a really inappropriate birthday cake. And that’s sort of exactly what I’d hoped would happen.

[The ritual isn’t complete,] the creature reminded me grimly. [The poem said the spirit would rise out of the entrails. We’re not there yet.]

With an equally grim expression, I kept hacking. The bowels were the worst part, as you can imagine, and I went ahead and leaned over and puked at the smell.

I may have been the champion, but I’d missed picking up my champion’s stomach.

‘He’s not in here,’ I whimpered when I was done with puking, and was once again hacking away, my feelings of desperation growing. Maybe Anyan was hiding in the liver? It was a big liver, after all…

But no. Anyan wasn’t anywhere. I hacked and hacked and hacked, till all that was left was a quivering mass of body parts, trying to reconnect themselves to each other. I’d discovered early on that I could heat the labrys to sort of cauterize the wounds as I made them, but it wasn’t a perfect solution and the White was desperate to fix itself.

[Easy, Jane,] the creature interrupted, physically stopping me from cutting any more. I had gone a bit bonkers, hacking away as I was.

I made mincemeat, I thought, more than a little hysterical. Later, I’d realize I’d been in a state of shock from about the time the White landed. Since I wasn’t a natural warrior, the creature had helped me repress my trauma, but it was coming out big time now. Not least because the results were not as I’d expected.

‘I killed Anyan,’ I said, sounding perfectly calm but feeling like I was about to keel over and die. ‘I just hacked up my lover with an ax … How very serial killer of me.’

[Jane, stop. The ritual isn’t complete. Call the water.]

I blinked. I’d totally forgotten that last step, no small feat since our plan had just three – make the White land, hack it up, and then drench it again.

Feeling a spark of hope that I begrudged, so convinced was I that I’d just hacked up my lover for good, I called to the water. Just a single column poured down, like a waterfall, to sluice over the bloody red ruin of the White.

‘By drinking nectar, though completely dead,’ I said aloud, suddenly remembering the line from the poem. Completely dead, it had stated, not a little bit dead, or dead but for the living guy trapped in its belly. Completely dead.

Well, I’ve definitely made the White as completely dead as it’s going to get, so here goes nothing…

The water hit the body with an audible hiss of energy. I straightened my spine, peering forward eagerly.

But nothing happened. So I called more water, drenching the remains. I remembered the poem calling water ‘liquid mercury’, and that’s what it looked like in the dim light of the moon shining through the ceiling of water above us.

Still, however, nothing happened. I kept pouring and pouring, my heart growing heavier and heavier in my breast.

And then, finally, it happened. The pile of remains began to twitch. So hopeless was I, at that point, that I figured the White was just reforming again. I contemplated letting it do so, so it could eat me and put me out of my misery, when something broke free from what had been the White.

It was a beautiful globe of silver-white light, gliding straight upward till it spun in the air like the purest of stars. It was so riveting that I almost missed seeing the pile begin heaving again.

Another blotch of color broke free from the pile of viscera, only this one was black, and more of a glob than a sphere. In fact, it was like a stain, rising eerily black against the already dark wall of water behind it.

It oozed up toward the sphere of white as if in thrall to it and then spread out beneath it, tendrils of it creeping away as if trying to escape before they were pulled back.

‘What the hell?’ I asked, even as the creature spoke in my mind.

[The stone, Jane. Now we need the stone.]

So I pulled the stone out of where I’d stashed it in my hoodie’s zipped front pocket. Unsure of what to do, I held it aloft.

Power bloomed from the grayish-brown rock, and it seemed to focus on the dark stain. It responded sluggishly, unwillingly, trying to dart right or left. But it was like the stain was trapped between the white sphere and the stone, with the stone pulling and the sphere pushing. The stain crawled toward me, causing me to shiver as I watched its slow creep.

The stone kept pulling, my arm tingling with power as I held it, until with a last burst of energy it sucked the black stain into itself.

Then, so fast that I jumped, the white sphere came whizzing toward me. I nearly dropped the stone, catching it at the last second and clutching it to my chest, so that when the white sphere hit the stone, it also hit me with the strength of a truck.

I was knocked backward, my head smacking hard against my own watery walls. I blacked out for a split second, and when I came to, I dropped the stone with a yelp. It was molten hot, and my hand was badly burned. But I was too busy blearily staring down at the stone to notice either the pain, or the cool, tingling sensation of the creature healing my wounds.

For the baseball-sized stone had gone from a normal, grayish-brown rock to a brilliant silver sphere, winking in the moonlight.

[Jane, look up,] the creature said suddenly. [The White!]

I did as the creature said, and I looked at the pile of goop that had once been a dragon. From the evidence of the stone, it should have been completely dead – its stain contained, ironically, by its own power.

But the pile was still moving, and it took my recently concussed brain a second to figure out why that might be. Then I did.

‘Anyan!’ I shrieked like a banshee, scrabbling forward on bloody hands and knees to reach the corpse of my enemy.

Chapter Sixteen

The only thing grosser than creating a giant pile of eviscerated dragon parts is digging through said pile.

If I hadn’t been covered in dragon innards, blood, and shit before, I certainly was then. But I didn’t care. The pile was moving. The pile should not be moving. Ergo, I was gonna get to the bottom of that pile no matter how many intestines I had to fondle.

My heart was still located in my throat, where it had rocketed after first seeing the pile move. That said, it was slowly starting to creep downward, weighed down by not finding anything. Throwing chunks of dragon bits behind me like a mole rat in a digging frenzy, I wasn’t seeing anything remotely barghestian.

Beginning to give up hope, I feared the quivering had been some magical death throes as the White’s power exhausted itself fully. It was only at the urging of the creature that I kept digging…

But then I saw a hand – a fully formed, definitely human, hand. And a very familiar one at that.

The hand, however, wasn’t moving.

With an undignified squawk I grabbed at the hand, a nightmare scenario of it coming away from the pile, severed neatly at the wrist, flashing through my brain. But when I grasped the fingers, they were warm, although that could have been from the hot dragon meat in which they’d been encased.

‘I’m coming!’ I shouted at the fingers. ‘Hold on!’

Even though it slowed me down considerably, I never let go of that hand, digging with only my one free arm. There was no way I was letting Anyan go. Not ever again.

So I kept digging, and pretty soon there was his arm. The creature reminded me I had magic at that point, and I nearly brained myself with the labrys. I was still human enough that, in a panic, I forgot I had mojo. But powered by my magic, I dug considerably faster.

Meanwhile, I felt the earth around me shifting. The creature was raising the mirror cove back to its original position. The water retreated above us until only the sweet shine of moonlight fell on my activities.

By that point, I had Anyan mostly dug out. I’d know that big body anywhere, but to anyone else he’d be well nigh unrecognizable, covered as he was with dragon effluvia.

But my friends never questioned as they ran forward, even little Nell crossing her own territory lines, something gnomes were absolutely loath to do, to help me dig out my lover.

If I hadn’t appreciated them all before, I certainly did then. Covered in ichor, they never looked better to me. Even fastidious Ryu helped, his white button-up quickly soaked with blood and worse.

Soon enough, with all hands on deck, we’d dug out Anyan. I tried to feel for a pulse as I held his hand, my fingers tracing up to his wrist.

Caleb knelt down beside us, and I felt that warm healing glow tingle up through my fingers as it spread through Anyan’s body into my own.