Part Four

"Did you ever figure out the last symbol in the moon message?" Sydney shook herself, trying to reclaim her wits. She didn’t tell Nigel she’d dreamed again last night of the unfortunate magician’s assistant. Only in her dream, she was the victim. The near-embrace set off a whole storm of emotions. In the nightmare, she’d seen her boyfriend – or rather, a man she didn’t know, but whom she knew was her boyfriend – beaten to death on the whim or their torturer.

The near-embrace woke her senses on a whole new level. She recalled a sense of closeness, a shared intimacy outside her own experience.

Sydney was fiercely protective of her independence. Growing up without her mother, growing up in the shadow of her father, she thought she was immune to vulnerability. It was simply unacceptable for her to be anything less than strong or in perfect control. She’d honed her solitude and turned it into a formidable weapon against anyone who tried to intrude on the privacy of her heart.

And yet…

There had been a sweet peace in the other woman’s soul, a calm that flowed through her even during the horrors of her abduction and death. It was a serene assurance that she loved, and was loved in return.

It was something foreign to the female relic hunter, until now.

"Sydney, are you ill? You’re shaking."

Sydney licked her lips, forcing herself to look her colleague in the eye. His own hazel orbs radiated concern. She swallowed and shook her head, not daring to speak again. It was too much. For an instant, she was Daphne, and Nigel was the boyfriend, and Sydney stopped just short of throwing her arms around her assistant and sobbing into his wrinkled tee shirt.

"I’d better go make the pancakes," she demurred. Her ears echoed with a subtle buzz, much like the discordant tones of a television tuned to a nonexistent channel.

Why did her knees threaten to buckle during the few dozen steps on her way to the kitchen? She actually dropped into a chair, far more exhausted than just the loss of sleep would explain.

Her fingers trailed off of the table, her arms going limp at her side. She was dimly aware of Nigel’s terrified voice calling her name as the world spun around her and disappeared into a thick fog. Just for a moment, Sydney watched from overhead as her grieving friend sobbed against her own lifeless form.

And then the moment was gone, as she moved without moving, being drawn toward a bright light at the end of a long, long tunnel.

Go to Part Five.

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