Nigel’s hands trembled. He swallowed hard, his mind unable to process the enormity of what he’d done. His fingers were numb and his body and mind sluggish as he watched blood pool around his colleague’s unmoving form.
Incapable of speech, he operated on training alone, fingers searching vainly for a pulse. He set the dagger to one side and employed every shred of first aid that he knew. It would never be enough. Sydney’s life was gone, spilled out below her in a dark puddle that stained the rocky tiles beneath her. His lips closed over hers, not in passion, but in a desperate bid to breathe oxygen into her lungs.
Blood bubbled up in her throat and he tasted its metallic tinge. All of his normal aversions flew out the window as he fought to save her. He cursed himself, cursed Merlin, cursed the prediction of her death etched so clearly in the stone that started their hunt in the first place. The only thing that kept him trying was the coda to the prophecy, a haunting promise that he would somehow save her life.
Finally, when he was himself hyperventilating and on the verge of passing out, he had to concede the truth. He rocked back on his heels, tears streaking his cheeks.
She was gone.
Here in the isolation of her unintended tomb, he whispered, giving shaky voice to the secret guarded for more lifetimes than his own.
"I love you, Sydney." He laughed at the irony, a sharp, bitter sound that bounced off the earthen walls. "Oh… God, this is impossible. Impossible! I murdered you. I betrayed you at the cost of your life. I should have stayed in the other time!"
He picked up the heavy box. With Sydney gone, he no longer cared about the relic. He flung the alabaster against the shelves, watching with no satisfaction as the priceless artifact shattered. The impact set off a chain reaction, tipping bottles, vials, and jars in a domino effect. Within seconds, the hidden vault was thick with smoke, a seething miasma of indeterminate composition.
Smoky tendrils swirled around them, wrapping around his flesh like a thousand icy serpents, biting him with chemicals not meant to interact. He sucked in the mess, no longer concerned if it were toxic. He prayed that it was. He slumped down against the hewn stone floor, rendered senseless by the gases. His lips moved in syllables formed of no language known to Nigel.
The vapors ignited when they touched the flame from the lamps, burning wildly in an all-consuming inferno.
And in the middle of the inferno, two human forms lay prone on the floor, unaffected by the flames that swallowed up everything around them. The alabaster box lay in ruins, its workmanship ground into dust.
But a neat stack of hand-inscribed scrolls lay well within the circle that protected the two humans.
And as the chemical fog began finally to dissipate, A finger moved.
Sydney’s finger moved.
Go to Part Twenty Six.