Part Twenty Three

Sydney forced herself to breathe, trying with all her might to reconcile what she saw and heard and felt with what she knew. It was no easy task.

Nigel was always something of an enigma. Frightened of nothing one moment and positively reckless the next, he was a knot of contradictions from the moment she met him. When it came to antiquities, he was a genius. When it came to any real social interaction, he was hopelessly lost.

Now thisÖ

Reincarnation was a long-held belief in many cultures. Buddhism taught that the soul was eternal, moving through stages of life, perhaps beginning as an amoeba and slowly rising through the chains of the animal kingdom, finally becoming man. Other interpretations varied little on the same theme.

Never one to discount religion, she nonetheless didnít put much stock in it. It was of clinical interest only insofar as it related to the relics she sought.

Of course, staring a reincarnated wizard in the face tended to mess with your perceptions, especially when the wizardís personality evicted your best friend. And when this new, confident creature claimed that he was still Nigel, speaking with a hint of the familiar, plaintive whine, it didnít help matters in the least.

Unable to reach any cut-and-dried resolution to the walking, talking dichotomy, she simply dismissed the personal implications and focused on what was not in dispute. She held a piece of history in her hands. Nigel said it was Merlinís journal, and she had no reason to doubt that. Her fingers itched to slip a knife into the ancient wax seal and to lift the decorated lid. The runes on the sides matched the style of those in the medallion that initiated their search.

Given her partnerís stern warning, she kept her hands beneath the stunning box, fingers splayed to support the heavy object. She settled for letting her eyes roam over the remarkable exterior.

Admittedly, the outer workmanship of the treasure was astounding, in and of itself. Twelve glittering gems actually moved beneath a smooth, transparent surface. It took her several moments to realize that the pattern was familiar, that she viewed the rotation of planets and their orbits around the central sun. Predating astronomer Gallileo Gallilei by centuries, this precious container portrayed an intimate and apparently accurate knowledge of outer space.

Then againÖ there were eleven planets. Eleven. Did Merlin count the moon as a planet? Even if so, that left a spare.

It took a moment longer for her to make the connection. There was no asteroid belt. In place of the rubble, a solitary topaz orb turned, its smoky surface ever changing with internal turmoil. The last locale was a tiny dot, a miniature diamond beyond Plutoís sphere. News reports in late 1999 postulated the existence of such a world, a distant piece of real estate invisible save its gravitational pull on equally distant comets.*

She swallowed as Nigel stepped in and reached for the ancient canister. He smiled at her as his palms closed around hers, and again a shiver ran through her. This was Nigel, dammit! He wasnít supposed to affect her like that!

*ABC News report on the tenth planet

Go to Part Twenty Four.


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