Von Rumpel’s doctor says that fascinating research is being done on mustard gases. That the anti-tumor properties of any number of chemicals are being explored. The prognosis is looking up: in test subjects, lymphoid tumors have been seen to reduce in size. But the injections make von Rumpel dizzy and weak. In the days following, he can hardly manage to comb his hair or convince his fingers to button his coat. His mind plays tricks, too: he walks into a room and forgets why he’s there. He stares at a superior and forgets what the man just said. The sounds of passing cars are like the tines of forks dragged along his nerves.
Tonight he wraps himself in hotel blankets and orders soup and unwraps a bundle from Vienna. The mousy brown librarian has sent copies of the Tavernier and the Streeter and even—most remarkably— stencil duplicates of de Boodt’s 1604 Gemmarum et Lapidum Historia, written entirely in Latin. Everything she could find concerning the Sea of Flames. Nine paragraphs total.
It takes all his concentration to bring the texts into focus. A goddess of the earth who fell in love with a god of the sea. A prince who recovered from catastrophic injuries, who ruled from within a blur of light. Von Rumpel closes his eyes and sees a flame-haired goddess charge through the tunnels of the earth, drops of flame glowing in her wake. He hears a priest with no tongue say, The keeper of the stone will live forever. He hears his father say, See obstacles as opportunities, Reinhold. See obstacles as inspirations.