“So it’s like a i weird w-thing a?’” Harper asked.
“Let me check something.” Pine pulled his iPad from a briefcase he had sitting behind his desk. He pushed his glasses up on his forehead and kept glancing down at the scroll as he typed rapidly. “Here we go.”
He turned the screen out to face Harper, so she could see. He’d zoomed it out so a single word was clearly visible on the screen: a’ima, with α?μα written below it.
“A’ima?” Harper asked uncertainly, saying it like ah-ma.
“A’ima,” Pine repeated, but he pronounced it e-ma so it rhymed with edema. “It means blood. I know, I know, it sounds like I have blood on the brain. But … it reminds me of something.”
When he trailed off, he looked back down at his tablet, typing on it. “I don’t even know why I’m thinking of this. I’m not even sure what the letters are, or if that’s some kind of weird gimmel, which is sorta like gamma, then it could even be …
“Found it. Here.” He clicked on his iPad, then tilted it toward her. He’d zoomed in again, so To αíμα νερó δε γíνεται showed clearly on the screen.
Harper shook her head. “I have no idea what any of that means.”
“It’s an old Greek proverb that literally translates to ‘the blood can’t become water,’” Pine explained. “It’s similar to the phrase ‘blood is thicker than water,’ meaning family is more important than strangers.”
“And you think that’s what it says there?” She pointed down at the scroll.
“No, I don’t. Not exactly.” He set his iPad aside, then leaned forward on the desk, staring down at the scroll. “That might be ‘nero’—the Greek word for water—or it might possibly be an alternate spelling for the word ‘black.’”
Shaking his head, Pine sighed. “I wish I could say for certain, but I’m going on instinct and half-remembered ancient texts. I’d need a cryptographic key to decipher it, and since this appears to be almost a mutation of known languages, I’d probably need to create the key myself. And that could take a while.”
“But I think you’re onto something,” she persisted. “‘The blood can’t become water,’ would definitely apply to sirens.”
“What did you just say?” Pine had been staring down at his iPad, but he lifted his head and looked at her, his blue eyes wide.
Harper’s cheeks flushed when she realized she’d said too much, and she quickly lowered her eyes. “Nothing.”
“No, you said something about sirens.” He set the iPad aside and looked back down at the scroll. “You know more about this than you’re telling me, don’t you?”
“Things are very…” Harper sat back down in the chair, buying herself a moment as she tried to think of the right word. “Complicated.”
“I can’t read very much of the scroll,” Pine admitted, and he sat back in his own chair. He rested his elbows on the table and stared evenly across at her. “But now that you’ve said ‘sirens,’ I’m thinking I was on the right track.”
“I’m not saying that I believe it,” Harper said quickly, afraid he’d think her insane. “You know the ancient Greeks, they were writing about all kinds of crazy things.”
Pine studied her for a minute, chewing the tip of his pen, and he went so long without saying anything that Harper began to squirm in her chair. She was just about to pack up the scroll and dash out of there before he called the school psychologist when he spoke.
“I have a friend in town I think you should go see,” Pine said, and her heart sank. He did think she was insane, which would probably mean that he wouldn’t want to help her with this anymore.
“Is this friend an expert on ancient languages?” Harper asked hopefully.
“Not exactly, but she knows more than I do about this kind of thing,” Pine said, leaning back in his chair. “Her name is Lydia Panning. She runs a bookstore.”
A relieved smile broke out on Harper’s face. “I know Lydia. She’s helping me.”
“You already had her take a look at this?” Pine asked, sounding surprised.
Harper nodded. “Yeah.”
“Good.” He smiled in approval. “Because this is her area of expertise. I deal more in the natural history of the world. Lydia handles the paranormal.”
“So…” Harper was unsure how to proceed. Since Professor Pine had suggested Lydia, he obviously knew about the things she dabbled in. But she wasn’t sure if that meant he knew anything more than he’d already said. “You can’t help with this?”
“There’s not a lot I can help you with, no,” he admitted sadly. “But this is a language.” He tapped the scroll. “Maybe Cypriot or Minoan. I can’t decipher it. But I have friends who are experts in dead languages. I could pass this along to them if you’d like.”
She nodded excitedly. “Yes, please do.”
“Do you know what it’s going to translate into?” Pine paused. “I just want to make sure that if I have friends who translate it, and they read it aloud, they aren’t going to bring on the apocalypse or raise an army of the dead or something.”
“No,” Harper said, laughing. Then she stopped. “Well. I don’t think it will, anyway.”
“I’ll tell them to read it to themselves, just to be on the safe side.” Pine grabbed a camera off the shelf behind him. “You don’t mind if I take pictures, right?”
“No, of course not.”
He moved around, taking pictures from all different angles. He even climbed up on the desk and stood over it, so he could fit the whole thing in one shot. When he went to jump down from the desk, his foot hit the Red Bull can, spilling yellowish liquid all over the scroll.
“Oh my.” Pine gasped and immediately started dabbing it with his shirt. “I’m so…” He trailed off mid-apology, and Harper instantly saw why.
She hadn’t been freaking out like he had because Gemma had told her the scroll withstood damage of any kind without any issues. But she stood up now, watching as the lettering on the scroll began to glow bright red. Everywhere the liquid touched, the wording beneath would flare up.