A boulder or ledge in the middle of a river or near the side can obstruct the flow of the river, and can also create a "cushion"; a "drop" (over the boulder); and "hydraulics" or "holes" where the river flows back on itself—perhaps back under the drop—often with fearful results for those caught in its grasp.
"Use your knees, Clark. Careful, not so hard. Watch out!"
The warning came too late. Clark's kayak wobbled violently, tipped sideways and rolled upside down. Karyn and Lex held their breath for a moment, until Clark properly aligned himself, swept the oar around and rolled back upright. He grinned up at them. "Now I know why that was practically the first lesson."
"Exactly," replied Karyn. "If there's one thing I can guarantee about whitewater kayaking, it's that you will find yourself upside down at some point – usually when you're in the middle of a challenging run. So you have to train yourself to get back upright almost instinctively. Okay, let's try again. Lex, you go first this time."
Lex climbed into the kayak and started paddling laps around the small training pond. They'd been at the Met U rowing centre for a few hours, but their time so far had been spent in the swimming pool on safety and technical drills. This was their first chance to put theory to test, and Clark was slightly envious at how quickly Lex was catching the rhythm.
"That's it, Lex – good job! See, Clark. It's not just about raw power. Use your back and side muscles, not your arms so much. Good! Now twist the torso to keep your shoulders and hips in line. And use your knees to balance the boat. Okay?"
Clark's voice was a little dubious. "Okay." He took a few more strokes and wobbled erratically around the pond. He gave a frustrated sigh.
"Don't worry, Clark, it'll come. It won't happen overnight, but Lex told me you're all fast learners. Just give me a few weekends and you'll be amazed at what you can do." She smiled at the doubt in his eyes and continued, "Sure, you won't be up to everything the Colorado can throw at you, but we can always use the support boat to run some of the tougher rapids. The more time you put into practicing the basics now, the more we'll be able to get done on our trip. I wish the rest of the group was here though."
"Yeah, sorry about that. Chloe should be coming soon – she was working on an article, and talked Lois into helping out. I don't know about Lana and Jason. Lex?"
"They were visiting with Jason's mother last night. He said he'd let us know if anything came up."
Clark frowned. "Maybe we should call?"
"Don't worry about it for now," advised Karyn. "Let's see if you can do a few laps first."
"Keep up, Clark," shouted Lex.
Clark gritted his teeth – he was used to sports coming easily to him, but somehow the trick of kayaking eluded him. The boats were so tippy! He tried to remember Karyn's advice – she made it look effortless. He persevered and soon was making his way around the pond with growing confidence. But then he looked around, and saw Lex practicing some graceful turns, spinning the kayak in tight circles. Clark lost his concentration, took a stroke that went awry, and suddenly found himself underwater again. He cursed mentally, and then went through the drill: get into position, drive the paddle down while snapping the hips to roll back to the surface. Lex was there, ready to tease or help if needed.
Just as Clark was shaking the water out of his hair, Chloe's car pulled up by the side of the training pond. She got out and yelled down to them, "Sorry I'm so late. You wouldn't believe what the girls' volleyball team is up to!"
Lois trailed behind, pulling her hair up into a ponytail. "Even after all these months, I still can't get over all the weird and wonderful things that happen around that high school. Do you think it's something in the water?"
Clark, Lex and Chloe exchanged looks. Lex said smoothly, "I can assure you, the EPA has checked, repeatedly. Everything tests well within allowable ranges."
Chloe added, "It's just one of those things, you know. The rest of Kansas is perfectly normal, so Smallville being weird just averages things out."
Clark nodded, "Statistics."
"Yeah, whatever. Let's get on with it. Time to teach the boys how it's done!"
Karyn smiled and shook her hand. "I can see we're going to get along well. You two come with me for the beginner drills. Clark, I want you to keep practicing on your technique. Remember to feather your strokes. You're digging in too deep and that pulls you off centre. Lex, you can take a break if you like while I get everyone caught up."
"I do need to check in with the office," Lex acknowledged. He climbed out of the kayak and headed straight for his phone.
Clark continued paddling while listening to the odd combination of Lex's business talk and Karyn's kayaking lecture.
"Refer that to legal."
"Hold the paddle like this."
"I'll want to see the full feasibility study before the next board meeting."
"It comes naturally, but it's not necessarily the best way to go about it."
"Are they making any progress on the design issues?"
"You want to get rid of your arms and just think of them as connecting to the engine, which is your torso – the paddling machine."
Clark took that advice, getting into a constant swivel motion, using the long muscles of his back to drive the kayak. His speed and balance picked up considerably. He smiled in delight and continued his laps. As he gained confidence, he started to appreciate why the kayaks were designed the way they were. They bobbed high on the water to minimize the chance of hitting submerged rocks. Yes, they had an alarming tendency to roll upside down. But that very tippiness was what made the boats so maneuverable. The bottom of the boat was shaped like a rocker, so if you shifted your weight forward, you could pivot around on the bow much like a figure skater using the pick. Karyn showed them how to edge their turns, tipping the boat almost sideways to make it even more responsive. She assured them that once on whitewater, you could even do aerial maneuvers like back flips and lateral spins.
Time seemed to fly. Lex soon rejoined him and the two practiced ever more elaborate moves. Clark had more power, but Lex matched his efforts with a rhythmic grace.
Almost reluctantly, they stopped for lunch. Clark chattered excitedly with Chloe and Lois, while Lex ate quickly and stepped away to call into the office. When Karyn called the girls back for more lessons, Clark climbed back into the kayak and resumed his practice. But just as he thought he'd mastered the basics, he took a bad stroke and found himself under water once more. He quickly righted himself and looked around – only Karyn had noticed, and she gave him an approving smile before resuming the lecture. Lex was still firing out directives.
"I thought they were rolling that out next week. What's the delay?"
"We're now going to learn something called the Eskimo Roll. The three steps are the set-up, the catch, and the recovery."
"Yes, fine. Set up the teleconference for Monday. We need to close that deal. Get Jason on it." There was a pause, the Lex bellowed, "He did what?"
Clark turned the kayak towards shore in response to the tone in Lex's voice. He listened as Lex snapped off some instructions, and then hung up.
"Jason took the LuthorCorp jet. To China. With Lana." You knew Lex was angry when his words were so clipped.
Clark blinked. "But… they were supposed to be here!"
"Obviously. Jason called my assistant at midnight and said that I was sending him to China for a business deal. My assistant didn't think to double check with me – well, I can't blame him for that I suppose. But it should have raised a red flag when Lana went too." Lex shook his head in frustration. "Karyn, I'm going to have to leave now. I promise to make up for it soon."
Clark said, "Me too. I've got a bad feeling. It's not like Lana to keep secrets from me." He spotted Chloe rolling her eyes and added, "Not lately at least."
Lex said, "Keep up then. I want to get to the bottom of this."
Within hours, Clark and Lex found themselves flying over the Pacific, en route to China.
"What do you think this is about?" asked Clark.
"Could be anything," said Lex.
"Yeah, but I'm guessing you have a hunch at least."
Lex sighed. "It worries me that they were meeting with Jason's mother and then left. Lionel warned me about her."
"Look, Clark. You have your secrets and I have mine. You're here because you're worried about Lana and wouldn't take no for an answer. I can't blame you for that. But it's not fair for you to expect me to tell you everything, when you hold back the truth yourself."
Clark paused. "They're not always my secrets to tell."
"Fair enough. But if we're going to help Lana, we need to understand what's going on with her."
Clark paused again and nodded. "Where do we start?"
"In Paris, when she met Jason."
"Okay. Umm, they hit it off after he literally ran into her."
"That was no accident. Genevieve arranged it."
"Wow." Clark gave him a curious look. "Okay, she came back and seemed interested in the Kawatche caves. And Chloe told me she got a tattoo that looked like one of the Kawatche symbols."
"Interesting. Which one?"
Clark blinked and eyed Lex carefully. He drew the symbol of two looped lines.
Lex raised his eyebrows, working hard to suppress his excitement that Clark was opening up to him. "I've seen that somewhere else I think."
Clark nodded hesitantly. "It's the symbol on the stone your father found."
"When the two of you wound up switching bodies?"
"Yeah, I wonder what happened to it. I think maybe its… magic?"
"Or some sufficiently high technology indistinguishable to us from magic. I suppose that might explain what happened at Chloe's birthday party."
"Right. Lana was definitely not herself then."
"How'd you stop her?" Lex had never asked before.
"She had just got an old book – it was written in Latin I think. I burned it and she came back to normal."
Lex allowed himself to look the smallest bit impressed. "Good thinking there, but that might not help us this time. I'm worried that Genevieve is trying to use Lana to find another stone. Her family has been searching for them for centuries, going back to the days when Lana's ancestor was burned as a witch."
Clark frowned. "How'd you know that, Lex? Have you been spying on Lana too?"
"After my father's warning, I started checking into the Teagues and was surprised when I kept finding connections to Lana – connections that go back hundreds of years. I won't apologise for looking into that."
Clark was silent in response, lips tightly pursed. Some progress at least – Clark looked like he was evaluating Lex's statement, instead of rejecting it outright as he might have done last year. Lex allowed the silence to linger while Clark thought things through. They would never be able to work together if Clark couldn't understand the need to gather information about possible threats.
Lex suppressed a sigh of relief at the question. Then he too paused as he figured out how much information was safe to share. Finally, Lex broke the silence. "Remember the manuscript?"
"The one you paid too much for?"
Lex reached into his briefcase and pulled out some papers. "Turns out it was a bargain. There was a hidden layer – a map, with a Chinese temple in the centre. See?" Lex showed Clark his discovery, noting that Clark didn't seem all that surprised, though he did seem unusually tense. Lex continued, "And there just happens to be a temple fairly near Chongqing that's covered in symbols similar to the Kawatche Caves. I don't think it's a coincidence that Jason's flight landed there."
Clark looked worried. "What's wrong with you and Jason? I thought you were friends now – he works for you after all."
"Jason's a nice enough person – except when he's been talking to his mother. Genevieve can make Lionel look like a saint."
Clark's look expressed his doubt. Lex couldn't blame him – he wouldn't have believed it himself a few months ago.
Tongren[ii] was a market town that had grown up around a mysterious temple in the mountains of Guizhou Province. To get there had taken a long drive from Chongqing following an even longer series of flights, and Clark was almost bouncing from the inactivity. His nose was pressed to the window of the limousine as he tried to absorb the bustle of the city. Lex didn't share his interest – he was busy reviewing his notes. Finally, he tucked the map into a pocket and started questioning the driver.
"So how many languages do you know, Lex?" Clark was impressed – the conversation had been in rapid fire Mandarin.
Lex looked just a little smug. "I understand nine, though I'm only fluent in three. My accent needs some work."
"Wow. So what did you talk about?"
Lex repeated a local myth about dragons that had been living in a local cave, terrorizing the population. An all-powerful god had fought with them and turned them into stone. The temple had been built beside the cave in his honor, and was rumored to hold a great treasure. Clark wondered what it all meant.
They finally reached the temple but were dismayed to see the entrance was blocked. Lex fired off a series of questions, and backed away to talk with Clark.
"They say it's closed today for renovations. It may be open tomorrow. Maybe not."
"And you think that's not just a coincidence."
"I do not. And if those are real police at the gate, I'll eat my… tie. Some of them aren't even Chinese."
Clark gave a sudden gasp and put his hands to his ears, trying to block out a high pitched whining coming from the direction of the temple.
"What's wrong, Clark?"
Clark gasped, "I don't know. Lana, I think… We have to help her!" The sound was somewhat similar to the whine from the Kent's old generator, but stronger and more ominous. He tried to localize the direction, but the sound faded before he could.
Lex watched with concern until Clark recovered his breath. "You're the one with years of practice getting into my library unannounced," he said. "Any ideas?"
Clark smiled slightly at the old joke, and then surveyed the wall and the guards surrounding the temple. He pulled Lex even further back from the entrance and started to make a wide circle around the building.
"There's always a gap," Clark whispered, pointing to an area of the wall hidden from the view of the nearest guards by a stand of trees. The wall was at least 10 feet tall. Clark climbed it with ease and pulled Lex up. They carefully made their way into the temple.
The temple was odd – not just foreign odd, but freaky odd. It looked nothing like the pictures of other Chinese temples that Clark had seen. The building was formed from beams that were made of wood painted a silvery white, looking somehow like pillars of ice. The beams on the roof crossed each other at odd angles to form pyramid shapes. The building was eerily quiet – the noise from outside completely dampened. He and Lex exchanged wary looks and started exploring.
They soon came to a room covered by a series of large paintings. The first showed a black-haired man working with farmers in a field, lifting an enormous boulder. The second showed the man – or was he a god? – flying high above the mountains, looking down on a cave from which a dragon was emerging. The last showed the man/god fighting nine dragons at once – and winning. The paintings were edged with the now familiar symbols from the Kawatche caves.
Eager to find Lana, Clark first gave the paintings only a cursory glance. Then he looked deeper. He muttered, "It just doesn't make sense. I must be missing something…" He was confused and nervous. If he found all the stones like Jor-El wanted, would that make everything better? Worse? Why didn't Jor-El just tell him where to go if it was so important?
Suddenly, the noise outside picked up. Jason ran into the room, panting. His t-shirt was torn and covered with blood.
"You!" Jason first barricaded the door, and then stalked towards Lex. "I should have known you were behind this."
"I have no idea what you’re talking about," Lex protested.
"I know you're after the stones – my mother warned me. And now you're using Lana."
"Excuse me, I wasn't the one who brought her here."
"No, but you're the ones who hired these… thugs. They tried to torture us, Lex – how could you? And now they've unleashed Isobel again. She attacked us and disappeared."
"So don't you think it's time we dropped the stalemate of who knows what, and do whatever we can to protect Lana?"
Jason sneered. "If you want us to start spilling our guts, you go first."
"Okay. We both know my father had every inch of this place scoured, and he didn't find the stone. Come on, Jason. You wouldn't have come all the way here unless you knew the secret to reading that map."
Jason bridled indignantly. Clark tried to calm the situation, and Jason turned on him.
"Why are you helping him? You should be protecting the Traveller, that's your job isn't it?"
Clark gave him a confused look and turned to Lex, who seemed equally baffled.
Jason continued, "Come on, guys – we don't have time to spare playing games with each other. Lana's turned into her crazy ancestor and has started hurting a bunch of people. Who knows what she'll do if she gets her hand on that stone."
"I really don't know what you're talking about," said Lex.
"Of course you do. You Luthors have been involved with the Veritas project for as long as us Teagues. It's your job too to protect the stones for the Traveller. But no, that's not good enough for you. You want them for yourself." Jason's tone was derisive.
"I'm not the only one, Jason. Your mother wasn't born a Teague, you know. Her family has been tangling with Lana's for generations, and has always come out on top. I think your mother is using Lana now, gambling the same thing will happen again."
Jason and Lex continued to argue while Clark listened wide-eyed. He wanted to trust Lex, but Jason's allegations troubled him. He finally cut them short. "Look, guys, this isn't getting us anywhere. What are we going to do about Lana?"
Jason replied, "If you're working with Lex, then I can't trust you. Even if you are a Guardian."
Clark was baffled and Jason started to explain. The Veritas society had existed for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. They were charged with protecting the stones– an ancient treasury of knowledge – in anticipation of the return of the Traveller. But over the years, dissension within the group grew. Some members wanted to use the stones for themselves, knowing they could enhance a person's abilities much like, though safer than, the meteor rock. Other members – calling themselves the Guardians – had hidden the relics to prevent them from being abused. But with each succeeding generation, details had been lost until the location of the stones had become no more than rumor. Dr. Swann had tried to revitalize the group, but now he was dead.
The news of Dr. Swann's death drove all other thoughts from Clark's mind. "I don't understand. I just talked to him last week. When did it happen?"
"Just last night. Well, I guess it's two nights ago by now. My mother thinks you were planted in Smallville by him, to look for signs of the Traveller. He left you a sizeable bequest after all. "
Clark was devastated and looked at Lex for reassurance. But Lex's expression was a mask – no comfort there.
Jason continued, "And he," pointing at Lex, "is responsible."
Lex erupted in anger and the accusations flew. Clark's head spun. There was still so much I needed to learn from him about Krypton and Jor-El. But he put aside his sorrow to deal with the immediate problem.
"Look guys –"
Suddenly, the door to the room exploded inwards. The three men turned as Lana strode in. No, not Lana. Isobel. Her eyes glowed with a purple fire. She strode towards Jason and stroked his bloody chest, digging her nails into the wounds. Jason pulled back with a wince and Isobel smiled cruelly. "You are a resilient lad, aren't you? So earnest, and yet so tragically doomed to pay for the sins of your ancestors."
Lex pleaded, "Lana, if there's any part of you in there..."
Isobel turned to him. "And you, greedy boy, I can only imagine what mischief you would cause were you to unite the Stones of Knowledge. Too bad that neither of you could see what was right in front of you all along." Her body glowed with energy and when she touched Lex, he collapsed. Isobel triumphantly picked up the document tucked in his pocket. "It was never a map."
Clark leapt towards Isobel, trying to wrest the map away from her. Isobel smiled and hit him with a bolt of purple energy. Clark collapsed in agony.
Isobel gave him a contemptuous look and turned to leave. "You put up a better fight last time."
The world faded to black.
Jason ran off after Isobel, but Lex stayed with Clark. He knew it was pointless to take on Isobel without him and some kind of plan. He sat down by Clark's side and did what he was best at – he thought.
He looked up at the paintings – vibrantly coloured despite being over a thousand years old. The central figure looked more than a little like Clark. Lex also remembered a drawing from an old newspaper that Chloe had shown him when they'd been researching the Luthor family history. That drawing too had looked like Clark – maybe it had been of Clark's unknown biological father. Perhaps Clark was some sort of descendent of the god from the Chinese myth, with powers diluted by the intervening generations. That fit in with the Kawatche legends too.
It was never a map. Lex considered Isobel's words – she'd been gloating, thus she'd been telling the truth, at least as she knew it.
If it's not a map…
"Of course!" Lex jumped to his feet with excitement. It had been so obvious. It wasn't a map – the original version had no doubt been a painting. That crucial fact had been lost when it was copied and then hidden as a layer in the old Russian document. If he could just line up the mountains and river… He leaned down and tried to shake Clark awake.
Clark groaned and slowly opened his eyes. "I was dreaming," he said muzzily. "Dragons. They were so beautiful."
"But deadly." Lex pointed at the painting of the man/god fighting the ring of dragons and had another revelation. "That's it. The cave entrance – that's where the artist was standing." At Clark's perplexed look, Lex explained his reasoning as they exited the room.
The walk across the temple courtyard was quiet. Twice they found clumps of barely breathing guards – Isobel's work no doubt – and one of the gates in the courtyard wall had been blown open. Clark and Lex moved forward cautiously.
At last, they reached a clearing across which they could see a large cave opening. Just in front of the entrance stood an ancient tree, beyond which the land quickly dropped away to the river. On the other side of the valley, a mountain towered. Lex nodded in satisfaction at reaching their goal.
But Isobel had arrived before them. She was chanting in Latin, and as they watched, the ground beside the entrance started to glow. As much as Lex's scientific mind wanted to reject the idea, he had to conclude she was casting a spell. How did it work? What were the rules? Could anyone do it? How could you stop it?
While Lex thought through the situation, Clark took action. He broke cover and dashed towards Isobel. She reacted quickly by firing one of her purple bolts. Clark dodged it and continued running. He got within a few feet before a second bolt struck him in the chest. Clark stumbled but his momentum kept him moving forward until he crashed into Isobel. They both fell and rolled away from each other. Isobel rose to her feet first and fired one last bolt at Clark. He convulsed and lay eerily still.
Triumphant, Isobel resumed her spell. Within seconds, a hole had been cleared in the ground. Isobel reached within and pulled out a dragon figurine. It was a stunning piece of art – the potter had perfectly captured the beauty and menace of his subject. But Isobel paid it no respect. She lifted it over her head and then smashed it on the ground.
Amongst the shards, a crystal glittered.
It's beautiful, Lex wondered. Calling them 'stones' is all wrong. He flashed back to his flight home from Egypt, and the other crystal that he'd held for barely a moment. It had seemed to call to him, and then it had disappeared. He looked down at Clark, and across at Isobel. Who had it now?
Isobel pulled out a silk handkerchief and wrapped it around the crystal. She started to murmur another spell and Lex realized he was out of time – he must act now. He stole towards the cave, using every piece of cover. Isobel was too distracted to notice until he was almost within arm's reach. Lex took a deep breath and leapt.
Isobel broke off her chanting. Her hair started to bristle with energy and Lex felt his movements slow. But he pushed through the spell and reached for the crystal. Isobel shrieked with fury and reached for it as well. Their fingers touched at the same time.
Lex convulsed as a powerful shock ran through him – like and yet unlike an electric current. Isobel was quivering as well, and emitting sparks of purple energy that the crystal seemed to be absorbing. The crystal brightened until it was painful to see, yet Lex was unable to look away. Just as Lex was reaching his physical limits, the crystal seemed to pulse. It sent a wave of energy crashing into Isobel and Lex, and sent them flying in opposite directions.
Lex landed at least 30 feet away and immediately started rolling down the hillside. He bounced into first one rock and then another, gathering cuts and bruises as he tumbled. Stunned, it took him a few moments to regain control of his body. He lay panting in the grass, and then slowly stood, brushing off the grime from his face and clothes. With great effort, he climbed back up the hill and moved cautiously towards the clearing.
Not far away, Clark was stirring, and Lex stopped to help him to his feet. Clark looked just as stunned as Lex felt, and they just stood there until they heard a moan from inside the cave. They made their way inside past fantastic rock formations until they neared the source of the noise. Jason was already there, kneeling by Isobel's side.
But it wasn't Isobel, but Lana who asked, "How did we get away from the guards?"
Clark gave a sigh of relief and replied, "It was Isobel."
Lana's face changed from confused to frightened. Her eyes had a lost look that tugged at Lex's sympathies. She was trying to be brave, but he could only imagine what it would be like to have your body taken over by another. She asked, "What'd I do?"
The three men exchanged looks and tried to hide the damage Isobel had inflicted on them. Lana wasn't fooled and looked on the verge of tears.
It was only then that Lex remembered the crystal. He tried to shake the cobwebs from his head and started searching, but he already knew.
The crystal was gone.
[i] I've completely rewritten Sacred, one of my least favourite episodes of Season 4. Note that since Clark is not at home at the start of this chapter, he does not hear the news report on the death of Dr. Swann, nor does he receive the octagon/key from him until after he has returned.