tempest reborn (jane true #6) Page 8
Then, to our horror, he walked into the fire.
My friends rushed forward, and the creature extinguished its power. The sudden absence of all that force left the glade eerily quiet, except for the strange crackling sound of the supernatural fire. But without the force of the creature’s magic, the enormous conflagration quickly began to die down.
And when it did finally extinguish itself, there lay Gus, huddled in a fetal position in the center of the fire.
Ryu and Caleb were first to reach him.
‘He’s untouched!’ shouted Caleb, causing me to sag in relief. I was slowly coming back to myself, the creature very carefully restoring my body’s functions to normal. Quietly, so that no one would notice and they could focus on Gus, I gasped in pain as pins and needles sprang up all over my body. It was agonizing, and I tried to keep the writhing to a minimum as I also tried to pay attention to poor Gus.
‘Gus. Gus. Can you hear me?’ Caleb was saying. I heard a small groan from the stone spirit, and my heart soared with relief even as other parts of my body started to come to life, quite loudly and angrily.
‘Gus, come back to us, c’mon,’ Ryu said, trying to shift the stone spirit, who was knotted up, clutching his stomach, like he’d turned into stone himself.
Finally, causing more gasps of relief from my friends, Gus righted himself. He hadn’t been holding his stomach, it turned out. He’d been holding a baseball-sized, grayish-brown stone. It was gray and looked totally innocuous, but I could sense its power even from here.
‘Here’s the stone,’ Gus said, totally unaware of the panic he’d caused by walking into the fire. ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’
That’s when everyone remembered me.
‘Jane!’ Iris shouted, spinning on her heel and running toward me.
She found me also clutching my stomach, my legs crossed as tightly as they would go.
‘Bathroom. Now. Please,’ I managed to choke out.
Grabbing me under the arm and hoisting me up, Iris sprinted with me to the toilet. It wasn’t the most heroic of endings to an epic sacred ritual, but I’d like to see anybody sit for three days and not have to pee when it was over.
After being awake for three days, falling asleep wasn’t difficult. It was staying awake long enough to strategize with Ryu and the rest of my friends that was the hard part. But I’d managed it, and we’d come up with a good plan. Actually, we’d come up with three plans, depending on some of the answers I got from Anyan.
All these plans, however, hinged on the hypothesis that my dream Anyan was the real Anyan, and that he actually had an idea of what was happening outside that little mental space he inhabited, prisoner in his own body. We had to make a lot of assumptions and run with them, but I guess that was what war was all about. And at least we were only risking our own lives, although that was bad enough. I thought about the generals of wars, acting on intelligence they couldn’t know was accurate, and sending hundreds, even thousands, of men into battles based on what could be lies.
I was glad I wasn’t a general.
I was also very glad to be able to sleep after what had felt like eons spent drawing little flowcharts and making lists and arguing over exactly what I should say under which circumstances. It had only really taken us a few hours, but it didn’t feel like that by the time I took a shower to relax, and then curled up in Anyan’s big bed.
Minutes later, at least to my dreaming mind, I was standing in front of Anyan’s hut.
I raced a few steps forward, all thoughts tuned to my eagerness to see the barghest, when I stopped short.
For the hut wasn’t as substantial as it had been. The first time I’d seen it, it had been so real. But now there was something gauzy about the earth piled up around the structure, and the wood looked less wood-like and more like a smooth plastic facsimile of wood. A bad facsimile.
Girding my loins, I strode forward. Something was weakening Anyan, I knew, and I knew what that something was … if only I could remember. I also knew I had to tell him something, that I was here to do something important. I tried to focus on my duties, but they swooped away like unladen swallows.
When I entered the hut, however, all thoughts besides relief were pushed out of my brain at the sight of the barghest, sitting quietly in front of the fire, watching it with sad eyes. Like the outside, the inside of the hut had lost some of its detail. The far side of the space loomed dark and empty, where once I knew there had been a back wall, full of shelves and sporting colorful paintings. The fire was still alive, though – bright and dancing, looking just like a real fire.
I came up behind the barghest and knelt, wrapping my arms around him.
‘Jane,’ he said, his voice thick with relief. I kissed the shell of his ear in response, and held him like that for a long while.
Eventually, he pulled me around and down into his lap. I cuddled up to him happily, but my nervousness increased when I saw his face. He looked tired, and wan, as if he were at the end of his rope. Trying to remember what it was that I had to ask him, I questioned him.
Stroking a hand down his face, I said, ‘You don’t look so good.’
Anyan shook his head, his dark curls flopping adorably. ‘Let’s not talk about it. Let me just look at you.’
And that’s what he did, the big softie. He studied me, as if memorizing every feature of my face. As he did so, I would have sworn the hut behind him grew a little more detailed, a little more solid.
But not as solid as it had been before.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked gently after quite a few minutes had passed.
‘Nothing,’ he said sadly. ‘But I’m glad you’re here.’
‘I’m glad, too,’ I said, squeezing around him like an overzealous chimp. We sat like that in silence for a few moments, but something kept niggling at me.
‘I’m supposed to tell you something,’ I said quietly into his ear. ‘But I can’t remember what it is.’
Anyan withdrew a bit, looking steadily into my eyes. When he spoke again, he did so carefully.
‘Is it about the White?’ he whispered. ‘I’m fighting him at every turn, but…’
Anyan was taking a risk saying his enemy’s name, but it did the trick. My memories, my charge, came back to me in sharp focus.
‘I’m dreaming,’ I whispered. ‘But you’re here. Why couldn’t I remember everything before?’
The barghest smiled, kissing my forehead gently. ‘It’s the nature of dreams, Jane. We leave ourselves behind, to recover from reality. I couldn’t remind you without risking him hearing, and I needed to see you, to be with you.’
‘You did the right thing, reminding me. Now this is important. Is he around yet?’ I whispered back, urgency lacing my voice.
Anyan closed his eyes, as if trying to sense something. ‘No,’ he said eventually. ‘But he will be here soon. I think he knows we meet now. I’ve not been able to keep your presence hidden.’
Leaning forward, I put my lips to Anyan’s sensitive ear, and spoke in the quietest voice I could.
‘Let him come,’ I said. ‘Let him come, and listen. Signal to me when he’s close. Do you understand?’
Anyan looked at me, his iron-gray eyes searching mine almost desperately.
‘You have a plan?’ he asked.
I nodded. Hope bloomed in those gray eyes then, and the hut around us throbbed with a burst of color. The fire blazed, warm and merry, and I knew what the trouble was.
Anyan had been losing faith in us. In me. He’d started to believe he’d never get out of this place.
‘Silly barghest,’ I said in his ear, pulling him toward me in a rough hug. ‘You’re mine now. I’m not letting you go.’
‘I know. I always knew. It’s just…’
‘It’s hard. Now I need to ask you a question before he comes. Is he here?’
Again Anyan sensed and then shook his head. ‘No.’
‘Why are they always dragons?’ I asked. We’d figured out battling the Red that when she was Morrigan-shaped, she was more Morrigan, and she was more Red when she was the dragon. Because both had their weaknesses, she’d fought us the last time as this scary dragon/Morrigan hybrid. Like a were-dragon. But ever since the White had been resurrected, they only ever showed up in dragon form.
And our plot hinged on the answer to that question.
‘It’s because of me,’ Anyan said, talking fast. ‘I weaken the White. Morrigan’s a willing host, so they can swap between her true form and the dragon’s. I’m a prisoner, trying to get free. It means the White can’t change. Presumably, if he went back into my shape, I might be able to turn the tables on him. As it is, I keep him distracted. Or at least I try. I’m not very effective,’ he admitted, and I thought of the times the White had tried to kill me and I nodded.
‘So your presence in the White’s mind handicaps him? Making Morrigan the more powerful one?’
Anyan nodded. ‘Yes.’
Plan B it was, then. That was the plan that depended on the White being the lame pony in this circus. We thought that was the case, but we had planned for every contingency.