Tempest Reborn (Jane True #6) - Page 15

[You probably cannot go back, no,] the creature agreed, to my dismay. [But only inside of your heart. This process has changed you, but not entirely for the worse, don’t you agree?]

The creature was right, of course. I’d become so much stronger and more confident. I wouldn’t want to give that up.

But that didn’t mean I wanted to be forced into some political role.

[And you won’t be,] the creature said, reading my thoughts. [The great part about being powerful is that you can abdicate that power.]

Like Anyan, I thought, for the barghest had stolidly refused to become part of the Alfar political machine.

[And like me,] the creature added.

But you both get pulled in, I thought. You’re not really free.

[No. But we are pulled in because we care. And no matter what happens in life, you will have things you care about, that will force actions out of you. Either that, or life isn’t worth living.]

Filing away the creature’s wisdom to pick apart later, I raised my eyes to Daniel’s.

‘So what, exactly, are you offering?’

A flash of relief and triumph crossed over Daniel’s face until he schooled his expression.

‘Our material resources: manpower, firepower, etcetera. Also our archives and our specialists. I’ve gathered you have a lead on a possible way to extricate your friend from the White?’

Either the kind old monk had a loose tongue, which I doubted, or Daniel and his people were good.

‘Perhaps. We’ve scanned and e-mailed something that needs to be translated to our friend. He’s working on it now. Our plan is to kill the Red and the White, for real this time. Not just contain them.’

Daniel nodded. ‘We’re behind that plan one hundred percent.’

How nice of you, I thought cynically as I pondered Daniel’s offer.

Considering the resources we already had at our disposal, did I really need the help of this human agency?

Then I remembered the monks’ chanting, and their power, and I revised my assumptions. I’d fallen into the Alfar trap of taking humans for granted, but we were wrong to underestimate humanity. Then, on the heels of that thought, I imagined the face on Griffin, the Alfar leader’s second in command, when he heard that I’d teamed up with the United Kingdom’s human government.

‘Oh my, yes,’ I heard myself saying before I’d even really thought it through. Just the thought of how much Griffin would hate this alliance made it good enough for me.

‘So you’ll work with us?’ Daniel said eagerly.

‘I will accept your help, yes. But at the end of the day, my people and I are in charge. Not you. We do this our way, and if you’re not happy with that, we’ll have no problem extricating ourselves from this arrangement.’

Daniel nodded. ‘Agreed. We want to be a part of the world you’ll help build, Jane. Humans and supes, working together, finding harmony.’

I knew I was making a skeptical face, and I didn’t even try to hide it. Daniel tried to keep looking earnest, but eventually he cracked.

‘We want the Alfar out of power,’ he said, and this time I knew he was being honest. ‘They’re too intractable and they’ve had things their own

way for too long.’

‘Then we have a deal,’ I said, reaching out to once again shake Daniel’s hand.

Despite their problems, and the Kardashians, I’d take humanity over the Alfar any day.

Somehow Caleb managed to get his junk wedged into the camera’s view when we Skyped. I hadn’t mentally tried to clothe the satyr in a really long time, but something about the camera angle sent my mind searching for acceptable schlong coverage.

‘How far have you gotten?’ Ryu asked rather curtly. He’d been a bit out of sorts since I’d told him Daniel had offered, and I’d accepted, human help in our mission.

‘I’ve translated the whole thing. It’s pretty basic ancient Greek, so that was no problem.’

Of course not, I thought. Just another ancient language, no biggie.

‘Great. What does it say?’ Ryu said.

Caleb made pincers of his fingers, rubbing his thumb and pointer finger over his eyes, as people do when they’ve been reading far too long and far too late. ‘Well, that’s the problem.’

‘What is?’

‘It says a lot. But none of it makes a lot of sense.’

Ryu fidgeted impatiently beside me, emitting a waft of yummy cologne.

‘Just start at the beginning,’ I told Caleb. ‘What do we need to know?’

The satyr nodded agreeably. ‘Well, first of all, how much do you know about alchemy?’

‘Very little,’ I said.

Caleb frowned. ‘The subject is obviously vast, and I don’t want to get into it all here.’

‘No, please don’t,’ Ryu murmured, and I shot him a look.

‘But what you need to be aware of is the idea that, as you probably know, alchemists were interested in turning base metals into gold. But that whole process was a metaphor for the transfiguration of the human soul into something pure, by separating the soul from the body.’

‘Wow,’ I said, clearly seeing the practical applications of this process in terms of our current situation.

‘Exactly,’ the satyr said drily. ‘It’s perfect. Unfortunately, the alchemists weren’t exactly into straightforward instructions.’

‘From what we can tell from Grizzie’s glowing act, as well as a similar stunt pulled by our monk, the universe has its hand in all of this. And I know how crazy that sounds, but it’s true. So the humans involved, including whoever wrote that poem, didn’t exactly know what they were doing,’ I said.

‘That makes sense. Because, to use one of Iris’s expressions, this poem is a hot mess of nonsense.’

I couldn’t help smiling, seeing how my funny, carefree friend had rubbed off on the very serious Caleb.

‘Can you give us some hint as to what we’re supposed to be doing?’ Ryu asked, still impatient.

‘Theophrastus has one poem in here, handily bookmarked by your monk, which is all about the process that starts with turning the base metal into silver, and then from silver to gold. But, and here’s where it gets interesting for us, this transmutation process uses the metaphor of a white dragon to symbolize silver, and a red dragon to symbolize gold.’

‘’Kay, let

me make sure I’m following you,’ I said. ‘This process of base metal to silver, then to gold, is really a metaphor for separating body from soul, and that whole big metaphor is represented by another metaphor, using dragons that just happen to be red and white.’

‘Exactly,’ said Caleb. ‘And what your interactions with the, er, universe seem to be suggesting is that this synchronicity with our situation is no accident – these are our dragons, and the secret to destroying them is in this poem.’

Caleb’s craggy face had long since lit up with excitement, his tousled blond hair extra shaggy, as if he’d been unable to keep his hand out of it. The circles under his eyes told me he’d obviously been working on this problem since he’d received our e-mail, and I was again grateful to have such marvelous people behind me.

‘So we have something that tells us how to destroy the Red and the White?’ Ryu said.

‘Yes, but only sort of. The text is a puzzle, a metaphor, and it’s not easy to interpret.’

Ryu made a frustrated sound and I touched my cool fingers to his in warning to keep calm. Caleb watched my movement curiously, and I wondered what my friends were thinking about me spending so much time with Ryu. I probably would have thought it fishy, too, although the baobhan sith seemed to be perfectly content with our current arrangement, and hadn’t made any sort of a move on me.

I’d have to tell Iris that fact in a private conversation, after telling her to tell no one. That would ensure everyone knew that Ryu and I were chaste, and just friends, within an hour.

‘What do we do first, Caleb?’ I asked.

‘The first step, according to Theophrastus, seems to be that you make a stone.’

I raised an eyebrow. ‘A stone?’

‘Yes. A stone.’

My mind was sifting through everything it knew about alchemy, which wasn’t much. But I had read Harry Potter.

‘Like the philosopher’s stone?’ I remembered Googling the title of Rowling’s book when it had come out, and had gotten a bunch of hits on the real definition of a philosopher’s stone, which was a term from alchemy.

‘What’s a philosopher’s stone?’ Ryu said.

‘It’s this thing alchemists tried to create. It was sort of their holy grail. A stone that would make you immortal, right?’ I turned to Caleb for confirmation.

‘Yes. But this isn’t quite a philosopher’s stone, although there must have been some kind of connection in Theophrastus’s mind.’

‘Okay…?’ I said, totally confused at this point.

‘I actually found a journal article on this poem, from 1920,’ Caleb said, ‘that I think will help you understand. Here’s the part we need right now: “Divest lead or copper of its soul and spirit, endow the resulting body with a soul and spirit of a higher type and the result is gold. The change from the black of lead or the red of copper to the yellow of gold could not, however, be accomplished directly. The base metal must first be brought to the whiteness of silver before projection of the stone can produce gold.”’