Eye of the Tempest (Jane True #4) - Page 39


And so I raised the horn, channeling my power… It ripped through me, the pain agonizing. Yet even more agonizing was feeling what the horn was doing—not strengthening us, as I’d thought it would, but changing us. Its magic warped by time, it created of us what it would, focusing certain powers of each individual until they were utterly different than what they had been. Only I remain untouched… I knew instantly I would never live down what I had done. The oaths I had broken to my people, to our magic…


“Oathbreaker,” I breathed.


“Yes,” she acknowledged. “I’m the one who changed us. I used a power beyond my control because I was like Jarl—I wanted humans to die. For us to rule. And I was punished for my hubris.”


“But what does the creature have to do with this?” I wanted to ask her so many questions, but I was also aware we still had things to do, and that somewhere in the darkness, Phaedra was still waiting.


“It will explain. It wants to talk.”


“That’s what I have to do? Go… talk to it?”


“Yes. It’s already opening up to you, in your dreams. It likes you, in its way.”


“Why?” I asked, totally confused.


She shrugged. “Who knows? But it sees something in you. It’s chosen you.”


I felt my skin grow clammy with fear.


“What the hell do you mean, it’s chosen me?” I demanded.


“It’s always been aware of you, as it slept. It always thought you’d be important. When it woke, it called me to follow you—to recruit you. You would have gotten dragged in eventually, but it saw more in you than just a foot soldier.”


I frowned. “Go on.”


“It’s always wanted you. But when you were attacked—which it had nothing to do with, by the way—it communed with you even more deeply. Became even more certain it wanted you.”


“For what? What the hell would it want me for?”


“The creature has been watching us, Jane. It knows what’s going on. The reason I really followed you is because it told me to, because it wants to take a side. It wants to take our side, and it’s ready to choose a champion. That champion is you.”


I blinked at her. Then I couldn’t help it.


I laughed.


“What the hell are you talking about?” I asked, between slightly hysterical, choked giggles. “You are the champion!”


“It could never be me, babydoll,” she said, sadly. “I’m the cause of all this mess.”


Rather selfishly, I was too focused on my own panic to acknowledge her sadness.


“You do recognize that this is absurd?” I asked, my voice rising shrilly. Panic was setting in, not least because Blondie hadn’t yet cracked a smile. “I’m not a warrior! I’m a selkie! A half-selkie! I’m not a champion!”


“There are many ways to fight, Jane,” the Original intoned, her voice lower than usual, her spine straighter than she normally carried herself. For a second I glimpsed the ancient being behind my neo-punk friend, and I shivered. “And there are many weapons with

which to do so. Strength of arms is only one weapon out of many, and oftentimes the first to fall.”


“But why me?” I asked, my voice small and, admittedly, scared.


“We do not choose our destinies,” Blondie said, shrinking back down to become my friend again. Her voice was soothing and her hand gently reached out to rub up and down the top of my arm. “Sometimes they choose us. And you were chosen for great things, Jane.”


“I still don’t understand,” I repeated, trying to wrap my brains around what she was saying. “You were told to come to me? By the creature?”


“Yes.”


“So it’s aware?”


“Yes. Physically, it’s been asleep, but mentally, it’s always been aware and free.”


“And it knows me?”


“Since you were born. This is its home, and you have spent much time dreaming.”


I remembered napping in the sun with Jason, as a child. We were like lapdogs, always snoozing when we had the chance.


Or like seals, I realized, with a sad little smile.


And then there was all that time in the hospital, I remembered, spent dreaming under the influence of prescription drugs.


“But why would it choose me? Are you sure that’s what it said? You weren’t misunderstanding it?” I was practically begging, but at that point, my dignity was my last concern.


“As I said, it likes you. It sees goodness in you, as well as strength. It saw, during its dreaming, the coming storm. And it knew its power was needed. So it woke itself, and instructed me to facilitate your meeting. But that doesn’t mean this is over; you’re still going to have to prove yourself. A champion always has to run a gauntlet, Jane—this is just the beginning of your work for tonight.”


I knew what a gauntlet was—I’d seen a bloated Richard Gere huff and puff his way through one in that horrible movie he did where Sean Connery could have kicked his ass at any minute but had to play the weaker Arthur to Gere’s Lancelot.


“Am I going to have to, like, literally jump through hoops?” I asked, pointing at my nether bits in an attempt to remind Blondie of my new identity as Hips-Got-Stuck.


“What? I doubt it. But you do have to go into that tunnel and face whatever’s waiting. Are you ready?” she asked.


“No,” I replied, wondering whether I would cry. I kinda wanted to, if I were honest.


“Good. I’m gonna release the bubbles. You take out the harpies and the incubus. I’ll take care of that Alfar. Once we’re close to the tunnels, you run like a cheetah.”


I blanched at her suggestions.


Take out the harpies? And Graeme? I was confident I could take out the trash, or a checking account, but Phaedra’s minions?


And she’s on crack if she thinks I can run like a house cat, let alone a cheetah.


“Yep. C’mon,” and with that, I felt a tremendous pull of power as Blondie pulled one of those shining swords of light out of the air in front of her. That said, hers was different—I could see a solid form inside it, and I wasn’t entirely sure if it was made of steel or raw power, or a

combination of both.


Twirling the sword like a ninja warrior, she hewed the air in front of her. The blade cut through the air with a whistle, but as we got closer to Phaedra, I realized what else it cut through.


She’s cutting through their shields, I thought, as I watched Phaedra’s eyes widen in panic. Scampering a pace or two behind Blondie, I readied mage balls as we neared our enemies.


The harpies were the first to go. I don’t mean “go” as in “dead” as in “I killed them.” I mean they up and went. Kaya (or Kaori) watched us coming toward her and her wounded sister, and then she did the smartest thing I’ve ever seen either of those two birdbrains do. She gathered Kaori (or Kaya) up in her arms and winged her way through the hole in the cavern ceiling.


Phaedra watched her two minions leave with a look of such rage on her face that I hoped, for the harpies’ sake, Blondie took no mercy on the Alfar. Otherwise, there was bound to be negative-two harpy ladies flying the skies after this evening.


Despite the defection of Kaya and Kaori, I wasn’t feeling any more confident about fighting Graeme. There was something so evil about the incubus. He was a creature made of fear for me, something that haunted my nightmares to this day. Blondie telling me to take him on was like her telling me to go up against the boogeyman.


But she left me no option. We were nearly across the expanse of the cavern, her fiery sword lighting our path toward Phaedra and Graeme. Graeme took up a flanking position on Phaedra, but his eyes were on me. Again, I felt those magical probes of his tickle the edges of my shields, but carefully this time. No doubt uncertain about whether what I’d done last time was fluke or skill, he wasn’t going to forego his most powerful weapon that easily.


Swinging her sword harder as she scythed through Phaedra and Graeme’s ever-increasing shields, Blondie claimed another step toward our enemy, and then another.


Gritting my teeth, I allowed Graeme to make his own inroads. His hesitant mental probe turned into an increasingly more confident touch against my mind. My every reflex screamed at me to smack away his touch, but I held myself steady.


He has to believe he has me, I told myself. You can do this, Jane…


Again I thought of Yeats, using his words to ground me: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned…


Not gonna let this blood-dimmed tide drown my friends, I thought, bolstering my strength.


Graeme’s mental touch grew bolder yet, as it whispered to me of bodies bound—one in pain to the other’s pleasure—and I allowed myself to react the way I knew he’d like. My eyes grew large, my hands shook… I took an involuntary step back from him, which only made him push harder with that dark mind.


Meanwhile, Blondie had nearly closed with Phaedra. I could feel the Original pulling hard from the charged air around us as she expended a terrific amount of energy cutting through the Alfar’s shields. At the same time, Phaedra was doing everything in her power to keep those shields intact, but they were parting like butter before Blondie’s glowing weapon.