Part Twenty Two

"Whereís the journal, Nigel?"

Ever the pragmatic, Sydney brooked no patience with Merlinís reincarnation, even if he inhabited Nigelís body. Nigel watched as a dozen emotions flickered through his friendís brown eyes.

He leaned forward and brushed a soft kiss over her lips. With his arms still circling her, he felt the tremor that rippled through her, and it pleased him. If an equal measure of sweet shock rocked his own physiology, so much the better. "I suppose youíre right. Merlin will fade back into history in a few hours. While Iím here, best take care of business."

Releasing her, albeit reluctantly, he stepped back and turned toward the well-stocked apothecary. His eyes skimmed over the shelves, cursing the disorganization. Too little timeÖ With only a short span of hours, he could never hope to catalogue the contents, not even with magic. So much history, so many potions and powders that would be forgotten save a chemistís dry scientific analysis of their content.

Tears welled up at the thought. "Is it true thereís no magic in this time?" It was self-torture. He already knew and hated the answer. Sighing, he made his way to the shelves, his eyes skimming over the myriad bottles, boxes, and vials, in search of his journals.

Sydney followed him. "What are we looking for?"

He smiled. For all her denial, she still trusted Nigel. "Careful," he cautioned. "There are a hundred traps in this collection, and a thousand more poisons. Tip over the wrong vial and you will be dead within seconds. Donít touch anything; just look for a pale alabaster box, about one hundred centimeters by seventy centimeters by fifty centimeters high. A bead of was seals the lid of the box. Donít touch it! Of all the traps, that one is most dangerous. If you find it, let me know and Iíll get it."

To her credit, Sydney was wily. Her practiced gaze spied over a dozen of his traps, and she found ways to both spring and circumvent them. For one, though, he was forced to lunge after her, stopping her before she could release the mechanism. "No!" he shouted, "That one would bring the ceiling down on us. Itís the failsafe."

Sydney eyed the decorative fresco with its peeling paint. She sighed and stepped back. "Is the box out in plain view, then?" she asked.

"Not precisely," he admitted. He pulled a worn tapestry footstool close and climbed to see the upper shelf. "Aha! Here it is!"

Looking at the nearly empty shelf, he turned the slender amber vial, tilted the lapis one, and flicked his fingers for the final, magical step in the combination. A stone block rose and hovered in midair. Behind it, the carved alabaster container faded into sight, lit by the miniature solar system embedded in its lid. He carefully withdrew the heavy container and passed it to Sydney, again with a caution. "Hold it from the bottom only. Donít touch the sides with anything. Iíll have to finish the spell to unlock it."

Go to Part Twenty Three.

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