tempest reborn (jane true #6) Page 23

I wondered if I’d be made to star in said movie.

No final plans were made, but it was pretty clear something would have to give in the complete secrecy that ruled our world. The thought was both terrifying and exhilarating to halflings like me, who straddled both spheres anyway. On the one hand, it would be so nice not to hide. On the other hand, I knew full well how badly my fellow humans dealt with change, let alone with difference.

‘Leave her to me,’ I said, my voice quiet but steady. ‘Just get her where we want her and I’ll take care of her.’

My hand found the silver stone I kept in my hoodie’s zip-up pocket. I’d decided to start carrying it. On the one hand, it reminded me of what was coming. On the other, I also wanted to keep it safe in case Morrigan had her own Hirals in our court.

Nyx gave me an appraising look, but she didn’t openly sneer like I was expecting. She’d obviously changed, as well.

‘You sure you can end her?’ Nyx said, although her voice was only mildly skeptical. To be fair, claiming to an ability to end the Red was big.

‘We got the White, didn’t we?’ My words shut her up, not least at my reminder that there was no ‘I’ in this team.

‘All right. Let’s go over this one more time. Tonight is going to be tight; we don’t want anything going off the rails.’

I watched Griffin go through our plans once more by pushing little troops around on the map in front of us, but I couldn’t help letting my mind wander. My task was relatively straightforward, after all: Let everyone else do his or her job, then kill the Red.

But if I thought too much about what killing the Red really entailed, I’d go crazy.

So instead I watched the odd combination of humans, Alfar, rebel purebloods, and halflings that I’d come to depend upon. They were working well together now, something none of us commented on; but I knew we were all aware of that fact.

Watching Jack, Griffin, Trevor, my friends, and all the other soldiers in that room bent over those maps, I realized then that, no matter what, Morrigan had failed. Even if she killed all of us, the Alfar queen’s real goal had been to divide. She’d wanted a pure Alfar society ruling the world, and her purist agenda had been so powerful that it had even infected the Red. But all she’d done was bring us together. We were fighting side by side, and although I didn’t know what would happen when all this was over, I knew things couldn’t go back to the way they were before.

Ironically, by attempting to ‘out’ the supernaturals, no doubt hoping that would cause humans to attack and the Alfar to mount an offensive that would make them supreme, she’d only made the supernatural community work with the human community. And paradoxically, that engagement with both humans and the Red had meant an increased reliance by the Alfar on the halflings they’d tried so hard to ignore for so long. Halflings were part human, after all – they were a bridge between the humans and the Alfar that both sides sorely needed.

If we did kill the Red, and the world went on, it wouldn’t be as it was. I couldn’t imagine the changes that were coming, but change would be inevitable.

And if we didn’t kill the Red, we’d probably all die together. But even that was spit in Morrigan’s eye, not that I wouldn’t prefer a slightly less dramatic spitball.

Yet it comforted me, looking around that room, that Morrigan had lost even if she won.

And at that moment I needed all the comfort I could get.

Once again, we were in costume. I’m not sure why supernatural wars had to involve costuming – maybe we’d all seen too many movies. Or maybe the mad Alfar with the War of the Worlds plan had won, and we were all going to pretend it was Joaquin Phoenix inside the dragon.

I was wearing something I’d never have been caught dead in otherwise. The Alfar had spared no expense outfitting us, and Griffin had actually put a few of his most fabulous minions on the job of making us look like fire dancers.

Low on my hips rested a pair of dark burgundy belly dancing pants. They were basically stretchy yoga pants that flared out into cool, split bell-bottoms. They also had a little scarf-skirt combo built in, which could be ruched up or down with little strings dangling from my hips. For a top, I was wearing basically a furry bra, decorated with shells and coins that jingled as I walked. My stomach and arms were bare except for some fake tribal tattoos painted on by Anyan, who’d done a beautiful job.

Of course, we’d gotten incredibly distracted in the painting process, smudging Anyan’s first attempt and having to redo it all. But that was half the fun, to be honest.

Over my face I wore a great horned mask, which made me look like an owl with antlers. I’d been transformed into a wild, half-human creature from Celtic mythology.

Anyan was resplendent, meanwhile, in black leather pants that clung to him like a second skin. His chest was bare and also painted, as was his broad, muscular back. His face was shadowed by a mask of black feathers, with a raven’s beak. He was menacing and beautiful, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, despite the circumstances.

The rest of our troops were similarly attired, and we watched as similarly dressed humans eyed us while they crossed the Meadows. For we were dressed perfectly for a social event that was on the other side of town – the Beltane Fire Festival. That was on Calton Hill, but we were planning on going up Arthur’s Seat, a very different hill altogether.

It had been my idea, actually. Something I remember Anyan telling me when we first got to England and he’d been trying to explain the supernatural politics of the Great Island. While all other Alfar monarchs were called king or queen, Luke called himself the leader of the Great Island. It was a game of semantics, for there existed an ancient legend that whosoever ruled the Island ruled the race.

That idea had stuck with me, mostly because it was so ridiculous. But there had also been a frisson of romance to the whole thing, and I’d always loved a legend.

So when we were trying to come up with lures for a creature who loved nothing now that we’d killed the White, and who seemed to have figured out that the best way to avenge herself on me for his loss was to terrorize everyone around but me, I’d turned to the legend. If Morrigan was so obsessed with race, I couldn’t imagine anything worse in her mind than having the race run by a halfling.

Hiral and I had holed up in a corner, letting our imaginations run wild. We’d come up with something brilliant, and if I hadn’t already started to feel affection for the little gwyllion, his place in my heart would have been sealed then. He smelled bad and had atrocious manners, but he was brilliant – crafty, cunning, and bold.

‘Let’s give her the kind of conniption you can only give a real purist,’ he’d said, grinning evilly. ‘The thought of everything in your hands will make her shit bricks.’

To get our forces into the city, close enough to our target to mobilize quickly, we’d used the cover of the Fire Festival. It was a huge event, drawing people from all over the world. A few hundred more congregating in costumes wouldn’t alarm human authorities, so we wouldn’t have to skulk in or waste energy on glamours.

We could also parade around a bit, to drive Morrigan even battier.

Once we had the plan, we had to make her aware of what we were doing. We figured the best way to do that was to take Hiral off the case – at least on the surface. It turned out that Morrigan did have her own spies in our camp, but that Hiral knew who all of them were. He hadn’t told The Powers That Be who they were, because he had his own ways of doing things that he considered more effective. And I had to agree with him that he was right. After all, it had been easy for the gwyllion to engineer little accidents at key moments, to keep the spies from learning anything crucial. So the spy carefully placed in Luke’s ranks got terrible food poisoning at the meeting where he was supposed to be updated on our important plans regarding the submarine attack. Or the human spy whose role was to go through our things when they cleaned our barracks rooms slipped on the way down the hall, needing medical attention. Hiral’s way of doing things was totally effective. No new spies were brought in, as the current spies’ failures were seen as simple accidents. All of which meant Hiral knew his enemies and could continue to keep one step ahead of them.

So to get any information we wanted back to the Red, all Hiral had to do was stop working. When Anyan and I went to train with the labrys one morning, we left out a few interesting tidbits alluding to notes of a secret stash of power somewhere in Edinburgh. Other, similar hints that a revelation was on the horizon were left out for Morrigan’s various spies. Hiral jumped back and forth between our camp and Morrigan’s, reporting that the Red’s people were abuzz with news that we were up to something big.

All we needed to do was let the buzz grow to a roar, then have a final meeting, one in which Luke’s advisors – including Morrigan’s top Alfar spy – were included.

We’d been masterful that day, Ryu and me. Anyan had let us handle it, since Ryu was the showman. The baobhan sith had brought in a huge pile of scrolls, books, and other old-looking sources. He’d shown us all the ‘evidence’ – most of it cobbled together from existing legends with added embellishment. Then he’d let us know the crucial info: that the legend about ruling the Island wasn’t a legend. It was fact. For Arthur’s Seat wasn’t called that by accident – it was an ancient seat of power, containing a hidden force so raw and untamed, anyone who wielded it would be like a god.