tempest reborn (jane true #6) Page 7
[Oh, yes. Do not worry about me, child.]
I would worry anyway, but I had to trust it. And myself. We could do this. We had to do this, to get Anyan back.
Heaven and earth, I reminded myself, in what had become my little promise to myself. Heaven and earth.
‘I’ll be fine,’ I said, answering Gus’s question about whether I had it in me to do this task. ‘When should we start? I think now is as good a time as any.’
Gus shrugged. ‘I’ll have to call in sick for work.’ Gus was a bagger at our local grocery store when he wasn’t gossiping with rocks.
Amy smiled. ‘I can take care of that for you, Gus. I’ll call each morning you two are busy.’
With a nod, Gus acknowledged we were ready.
The first thing I did, at the creature’s behest, was put on some warm layers and go to the bathroom. I felt like I was gearing up for a family holiday, rather than taking part in some sacred ritual.
When I came out of Anyan’s bathroom, my dad was waiting for me.
‘Hey, Dad,’ I said, trying to sound normal and cheerful, neither of which was working.
‘Hey, honey.’ He was clearly worried. ‘You got enough clothes?’
‘Sure, Dad. Listen, I’m going to be fine.’
‘I know. It’s just—’
‘It’s just that this is scary stuff,’ I said gently, moving in for a hug. He enveloped me in his arms, and I rested against the softness of his belly, like I had since I was a child.
‘It is scary,’ he said eventually. ‘Do you even know what you’re doing?’
I looked up at him. ‘Nope. We never do really.’
‘Oh. How does that work out?’
‘Sometimes well. Sometimes … not so well. But we have to try this. And I’ll be fine, the creature won’t let anything happen to me.’
‘Yes, the great eyeball.’
‘It’s more than just an eyeball, and it’s very powerful. Plus I think it likes me.’
The creature stirred in my mind, letting a gentle sense of agreement wash over me.
‘Well, tell it that if you get hurt doing this thing, we’re gonna have words.’
I laughed, squeezing my father in one last bear hug. He was dealing with all of this spectacularly on so many levels.
‘Will do. And I’ll let it know you’re serious.’
‘I am serious! Ancient creature or not, you’re my baby. Now let’s get you downstairs and get your Anyan back.’
I shivered at his words, wondering if it could really be as easy as that.
‘Oh, and Jane?’ my dad said as I walked away from him toward the steps leading downstairs from Anyan’s loft.
‘I hope he’s worth all of this.’ My dad didn’t have to clarify who ‘he’ was. But in that moment I saw how much he did worry about me, and how frightened he was at how drastically his world had changed. I walked back to him, taking his hand in mine and squeezing it gently.
‘He’s more than worth it, Dad. He’s worth almost as much as you.’
My dad snorted, just like I always did, blinking back a few tears. Then he led me downstairs toward the others.
While I’d been getting ready and talking to my dad, Caleb and Iris had carted the White’s bones into Anyan’s huge backyard. Quite handily, the barghest had a nice big fire pit ready for bonfires, with felled tree trunks serving as seats lining the perimeter.
My friends made a pile of the bones, adding no other substances at Gus’s instructions.
‘This is a true bonfire, or bone-fire,’ said the stone spirit. ‘We want only the bones to absorb the magic.’
Ryu had taken a cushion off the couch and placed it on the ground in front of one of the tree trunks for me to sit on. I nervously made use of it, thanking him as I did so.
‘Are you sure you’re up to this?’ he said, sotto voce. I shrugged.
‘The creature seems to think we are.’
‘Let me know if you need anything. And don’t let that thing burn you out. I don’t trust that it knows your capacities.’
I smiled at Ryu affectionately. ‘Don’t worry, Ryu. It knows me very well indeed. And I’ve gotten a lot tougher.’
Ryu ran a hand through his chestnut hair. ‘I know you have. And I’m trying to adjust to that fact. But I still worry about you.’
‘And I appreciate it. If I need anything, you’ll know.’
With that, I peered over at Gus, who was sitting on the trunk opposite me.
The stone spirit nodded.
Ready? I asked the creature.
It gave my mind a nudge of acquiescence. I sat down on the cushion, facing the bonfire, using the tree trunk as a backrest.
‘Let’s get started then, Gus. What do I do?’
‘Just direct your strength at the bones. Set them alight with magic. Make it burn hot and strong, and don’t let it waver. I will call to the stone.’
And that’s what I did. Funneling the creature’s power, I poured it at the pile of bones in front of me. At first, nothing happened, so I adjusted the magic. I envisioned it as flame rather than power. Eventually the bones began to glow.
‘It needs more,’ said Gus.
So the creature gave me more, and with a loud snap, the bones burst into flame. Not the flickering orangy-red of real fire, though – this was the blue-tinged fire of magic.
And then I sat there, for three days straight. I’ve never done anything like it, and never want to do anything like it again. The creature helped, of course. Immediately it started to take over my bodily functions. Slowing everything down, I became more of a conduit for its power than Jane True. I suppose it was really the exact same thing the creature had done right after Blondie died and Anyan was taken, but this time I wasn’t numb with grief.
This time I knew what it was like to hang out in one’s own mind, vaguely aware that one’s body was exhausting itself – that it was hungry, and tired, and wanted the bathroom. But all of those sensations were just niggling little itches compared to the force of the power I was expending.
By the second day, everyone was starting to get worried. I knew there was activity around me – my various friends trying to make contact, to ask if I could get up, if I would eat, if I was all right. Surprisingly, I registered that it was my father who argued most vehemently to let me finish what I’d started. He knew how important it was for me to do this, and knew that I wouldn’t thank whoever interrupted this ritual before it had run its course.
As much as their care meant to me, by the third day I ignored them all, not least because I had to. At some point I’d realized that my magical channels were starting to chafe and that it was only the strength of the creature insulating me with its own power that kept me from burning out entirely. I also knew that if I kicked up a fuss, or distracted the creature, I’d go up in a conflagration similar to that burning in front of me.
So instead of fighting, I added my concentration to the creature’s. It was a horrible task, made worse by the fact those physical needs were growing stronger. My body was aching, exhausted, starving, and so very thirsty.
At the start of the third day, Caleb tried to give me an IV, but I knew that I’d become a vessel. I needed to remain sealed, or the power would spill out and cause chaos. Using my own personal energy, I created a rigid shield around myself, keeping everyone out.
That made everyone panic, of course, and they thought the creature had hijacked me. They were trying to figure out how to rescue me from its clutches for most of that day. But I managed to tune out their attempts, steadily pouring my power into my shields as the creature poured its power into the bones.
It was only when Gus spoke to me that I listened. The entire time I’d been working, so had the stone spirit. Maybe he found the task slightly easier since he was essentially a boulder, with a boulder’s patience, but I still admired him for sticking with me that whole time. But he’d been utterly silent, staring into the fire and chanting something none of us could hear under his breath.
But then, right at the close of the third day, he shouted triumphantly.
Rising to his feet, the little stone spirit raised his chant to full volume so we could all hear. It was a strangely melodic grunting language I’d never heard before, but the sound filled the glade. As he chanted, Gus walked forward, the flames dancing in his Coke-bottle-thick glasses.
Whatever he was doing was now pulling the power out of me. I wasn’t even pushing anymore, just letting Gus work his mojo. He used us as fuel, pulling so much strength that my physical shields wavered as all my strength was poured into his. Luckily, my friends were so distracted by Gus’s suddenly snapping back to life that they didn’t try to rescue me again.
The bone-fire, meanwhile, had gone almost entirely blue it was so hot. Gus kept approaching it, his hands held out in front of him in supplication. His chanting grew more excited and even louder as he neared.
When he was standing right in front of the fire pit, he raised his arms up to the stars and shouted one last series of grunts into the night air.