Previous: Chapter Seven
Ethne glanced around the cavern. The floodlights threw twisted shadows over the rocks, like ghosts seeping into the cave from a hidden dimension beyond. The dry air buzzed with the murmur of voices. For a moment, she imagined they came from the stones themselves, igniting the ancient language in her mind. Then the words broke through and the spell was broken. It was just Will’s team working around her, drilling into the bedrock and running endless figures and calculations through handheld computers.
On the flight to Greenland she had been given a non-disclosure agreement and was ordered to sign. Thinking nothing of it, she had done so. But now, standing beside evidence of an advanced ancient culture, evidence that was irrefutable and would turn the history of human civilisation on its head, she couldn’t help but wonder what ReSource were planning. Would they share this with the rest of the world, or keep it for themselves?
It all depended on what the stones said. It was up to her to make them speak, to bring this long forgotten world back to life. She pulled out her phone and glanced around to be sure nobody was watching. When she was certain she was alone, she began taking photographs. Working methodically around the spiral, starting at the centre, she built a mosaic of images she could use to reconstruct the text later, if necessary. Unfortunately, there was no mobile signal in the cave. She would have to send the files to her computer later, or as soon as she could get her hands on a satellite phone without causing too much suspicion.
‘Magnificent, aren’t they?’ said a woman’s voice.
Ethne startled and almost dropped her phone. She turned, and tried to look as innocent as possible.
The owner of the voice was a small woman swamped by an enormous arctic jacket. She ran her fingers over the text carved into the stone with an attitude Ethne could only describe as reverent. She was also the only person in the cave not wearing a hat. Perhaps she couldn’t find one to fit, because she had the largest blonde afro Ethne had ever seen. She stared at it, stupefied. It resembled a halo and even seemed to glow. It was a moment before she realised the hair was caught in the beam of a floodlight.
The woman turned and smiled. Light poured from her mouth, as if she were breathing starlight and showering Ethne in a dazzling grace.
Ethne blinked and time seemed to slow. She told herself it was the glare from the lights, but there was something otherworldly about this woman and Ethne was having trouble thinking. Aware she was gawping like her brain had been removed, she tried to shake herself out of the trance, but only succeeded in stumbling over her own feet. What on earth was going on?
‘Sorry Ethne,’ said the woman, taking her arm and turning her around. ‘You’re getting blinded by the lights there.’
Out of the glare, Ethne could see the woman clearly. At a glance she seemed young, but there was a depth to her eyes that indicated she had seen everything imaginable, and then more. Under the stupendous mound of hair, the woman emitted an ethereal beauty so profound Ethne took to staring at her all over again, as if she had lost control of her will.
The woman chuckled. A beautiful, musical laugh that made Ethne want to laugh too. She had to pull herself together. How did this uncanny woman know her name? Before she could find out, the woman took her left hand and lifted it to her mouth as if she were a gallant knight declaring his intentions. But instead of kissing her hand in the usual way, she turned it and planted a delicate kiss on Ethne’s wrist.
‘I’m Lucy.’ She ran her fingers over the Akhu tattoo on Ethne’s wrist and smiled. ‘You have no idea how good it is to meet you, Ethne Godwin.’
‘How d’you know my name?’
‘Will told me,’ said Lucy, waving vaguely in the direction of the other scientists.
Will was supervising preparations to raise the obsidian block in the centre of the spiral. A rope had been secured around the stone and attached to a winch powered by a snowmobile outside the cave. Will wandered across from the entrance and steered everyone away from the stones.
‘Clear,’ he said into his walkie-talkie.
The rope tautened and the dark mass of volcanic glass slowly began to rise. Will and two other men guided the stone into its trench using hastily improvised wooden props. Ethne watched, anxiety mounting, until she realised she was holding her breath. Just as the stone was about to slide upright into the trench, Lucy gripped her arm and held on so tight Ethne was convinced she would get another bruise.
The towering obsidian stone finally locked into position in a cloud of dust. Will removed the ropes and crouched to check it was securely in place. Lucy relaxed her grip and Ethne went to get a closer look.
The stone stood eight feet high, a broad column of black glass, wider at the top and polished to an opaque sheen. It was unmistakably phallic, a great swirl of flame rising through it, as if entwined by a burning serpent. It reminded Ethne of a Hindu lingam, associated with Shiva and his endless cosmic dance of regeneration.
Transfixed, she found herself intoning an ancient Egyptian text under her breath: ‘This is the sealed thing, which is in darkness, with fire about it, which contains the efflux of Osiris, and it is put in Rostau. It has been hidden since it fell from him.’ And she knew what she had found.
It was the Fire Stone.
So much for metaphor, she thought. The stone that contained the secrets of the Shining Ones didn’t appear to be a meteorite or mythical. The legend of the Fire Stone was real.
Dust clung to its surface. She gently brushed this away to reveal rainbow swirls of colour reflected in the lights, as if a raging fire was trapped inside the stone. As her hand touched the glass she sensed this fire, just beyond her fingertips. If the stone were to be broken, the fire would burst forth and consume the world.
She snapped her hand back and gazed at the Fire Stone in awe. She could see her own reflection in silhouette, the rainbow flames licked around her form, burning away all that she was and could never be again. As if she had stepped inside the stone, the fire entered her. A warm fizzing rose through her legs, pooled at her pelvis and abdomen, and bathed her internal organs in a glowing heat. She closed her eyes and luxuriated in the sensation. It was like being hugged from the inside.
Without warning, the gentle warmth strengthened into a furnace. Lightning blasts shot down her arms and up her spine, jerking her head back with the force. Flames flickered through her body, dissolving all obstacles in their fury. A fireball exploded in her heart and made her cry out.
She couldn’t see. The world was light. She was light.
As suddenly as it began, it was over. Ethne opened her eyes. The opaque volcanic monolith stood before her, the fire dormant. It was just a bit of old rock. The reflection showed another person standing beside her.
Ethne turned to find Lucy watching her with a rapt expression, hands clasped in prayer at her chin.
‘How do you feel?’ said Lucy.
‘Fine,’ shrugged Ethne. ‘How are you?’
Lucy grinned and clapped her hands like she was five years old. ‘It works.’
Ethne turned back to the obsidian. Her head felt strange and the bruise on her forehead was aching. She removed her fur hat and ran her fingers over the cut, or what she thought was the cut. She couldn’t find it. She felt around her forehead, even checking the other side, despite knowing the cut had never been there. The swelling had gone down and the cut had vanished. That was impossible. Had the stone healed her wound?
Lucy was smiling at her with undisguised devotion. She placed both hands on Ethne’s shoulders and looked deep into her eyes.
‘Do not concern yourself, Ethne,’ she said. ‘Whatever happens, you are safe. Do you understand?’
Ethne gazed into those ancient eyes and knew the truth of Lucy’s statement. She also knew she didn’t have time to get her head around what had just happened because the cave was about to be attacked.
In a heartbeat, the floodlights died and the cavern was plunged into absolute darkness.
Next: Chapter Nine
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