Part Twenty

And suddenly, he was gone.

He didnít step away, didnít fall. There was no smoke, no sound, no flash of light. Nigel simply disappeared.

She gasped. How could they forget the first rule of relic hunting??? Nothing was ever as simple as it seemed!

"Nigel!" she called, taking a tentative step forward, her hand out in front of her as a sort of shield. "Nigel? Where are you?"

His head popped out of nothingness, and a moment later he stepped back into view. "Iím right here. Where did you think Iíd gone? And where on earth did you find a rabbit suit? Oh-!"

He stared at her as he grew enormous before her astonished eyes.

Only it wasnít that Nigel grew, she realized. Dumbfounded, she raised her hands, but in place of fingers and palms, she now had paws. A downy white coat sprouted from her skin. Her leather vest, hiking boots, and fitted breeches shrunk to fit her new form. She shrieked in distress, while a wide-eyed Nigel knelt next to her, reaching out to collect her into his arms.

He stood, scratching her ears, holding her against his chest, his mouth open but no words coming out. And as suddenly as she changed before, she changed back to the full sized, fully human Sydney Fox.

Nigelís knees, unprepared for the transformation, promptly buckled beneath him, sending them both sprawling to the unforgiving stone floor.

Sydney blinked, frozen in place. "What just happened?" she asked, drawing a sharp breath.

"I canít breatheÖ" was Nigelís strangled reply.

After rolling aside to remove her elbow from his Adamís apple, Sydney repeated, "What just happened?" She sat back on the granite floor, her back against a stone outcropping, while her wheezing assistant scooted in next to her.

"I think we must be getting close to Merlinís journal," Nigel rasped, rubbing his abused throat.

"You think?" she asked, wary eyes searching their surroundings for any signs of new and potentially dangerous surprises.

"Either that, or weíve walked in on the Mad Hatterís tea party."

Sydney shivered. "Watch out for the Red Queen. I hear sheís a killer hostess."

The entire back wall of the room was now lined with shelves, heavy hand-hewn wood dividers that werenít there before. On the shelves marched a seemingly unlimited collection of vials and bottles, boxes and jars. Most were opaque, and the few transparent examples displayed things Sydney figured were better left hidden.

"We were watching for physical traps. I never thought to watch for magical ones," she remarked, uneasy. How did one watch for magical traps, anyway? If there really was such a thing as magic, by definition it defied physical law. "They must be illusions, but the illusions might hide real traps, too."

"Theyíre magic, but I donít think theyíre illusions," Nigel replied thoughtfully, reaching out to pluck a bunch of fresh grapes from thin air. "This magic isnít sleight of hand, Sydney. Itís as real as any physics class youíve ever attended. If I were to conjure up a dragon, its fire would singe the hair on your head and burn up your clothing. Itís not a parlor trick here. Itís an art, a talent honed over a thousand lifetimes. Itís as real as the sun rising in the east, and much closer to home."

Sydney gaped at the fruit in his fingers. She could smell the juice that trickled down his arm. When he popped one of the pale gold spheres into her mouth, her taste buds registered the slightly tart, sweet nectar and her tongue rolled around the texture of the pulp and skin. She spit the firm center seed into her hand and watched it sprout before her eyes. If she was astonished before, now she was frightened.

Pushing to her feet, she backed slowly away from the young man she thought she knew. "Whereís Nigel?" she asked fearfully. "What have you done to him?"

Go to Part Twenty-One.

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