Part Thirty Three

Several pithy expressions crossed her lips. How could she defend them against Merlin when it meant possibly killing Nigel in the process?

She made her way to her teaching assistantís side, kneeling to check his pulse. Frustrated by what she found, she touched the side of his face. "Nigel! Nigel, get up!" It hardly mattered whether her order was rational or not.

He blinked, shook his head as though to clear his vision, and finally warned, "Look out, Syd!" He reached out with the last syllable of her name and pulled her head toward him, even while his other hand jumped into the air.

Heat prickled at the back of her neck. Slowly Sydney turned her head. There, no more than four inches from her face, a fiery orb hovered in midair. Something about the flames held her enthralled. Out of her peripheral vision, she saw Nigelís fingers move, and the flaming sphere seemed to follow his wordless bidding. She felt her jaw go slack. "How Ė How are you doi--g that?"

"You tell me," he replied, bewildered. His fingers closed into a fist and the flames died with a decisive snap.

This time, she knew when his hand rose that he was stopping another assault. Only he didnít waste time toying with the new missile. He closed his fist, then returned his gaze to her. His shaking fingers now stroked a line over her cheek, and with the first touch, the cold and pain and weariness fell away. Dry clothing materialized, wrapping her in the comfortable familiarity of brown breeches, dark leather vest, and the gauzy white poetís shirt she thought lost on an earlier hunt. Heavy boots protected her feet from the briars and burs. The rain fell all around her, but she didnít become wet again.

Unsure whether Nigelís newfound powers were good or bad, she bit her lip. He was struggling to keep his eyes open. "Now heal yourself and get us home!" she urged. If they were back at Trinity College or out on a normal relic hunt, everything would be fine. She would protect him, as she always did, and he could return to his endearingly nebbish ways.

Endearing? When did he become endearing?

This was too weird. "Nigel!"

Too her horror, she realized that he wasnít doing anything to correct his own failing health. His eyes were growing cloudy and death threatened to steal him away. "Donít do this!" she cried. "Donít leave me! Nigel, cut it out. Make yourself well!"

"He cannot."

The new voice wasnít Merlin. It was feminine and vaguely familiar. Before she turned, she knew what she would see, but it was still a shock.

The young woman was small and dainty, much smaller and much younger than Sydney. But she was Sydney. It was like looking into a fun-house mirror that distorted her reflection, only it was a distortion much deeper than glass. There was a glitter in the other womanís eyes that belied all outward appearances of innocence, a hunger that threatened to consume everything in her path.

Sydney angled her head for a better assessment. Power... her alter-ego craved power. It was disconcerting to realize that in that, the mirror didnít distort by much. It was a half a tic off from her own unerring desire for control.

"Then you heal him. You can, canít you?"

The doppleganger shrugged. "I can. I wonít."

Dumbfounded, Sydney challenged, "What do you mean, you wonít?" She rose, taking a step toward her twin.

"I wonít do it. He is still a man and still ruled by passions other than my own."

"I donít give a damn about your passions. Heís my assistant and my friend. So why donít you get out your little bag of fairy dust, make him well, and weíll be more than happy to fly away and let you and Merlin play your mind games here in Neverland."

"No. I wonít. If you want to save your friend -" The word dripped off the other womanís tongue like a bitter medicine. "Heal him yourself."

"I canít do that hocus-pocus. I want you to heal him. Heís not your enemy." Desperation crept into Sydneyís voice. She didnít see any sign that Nigel was breathing, nor the beat of a pulse at his throat.

Her twin dismissed the claim. "Nonsense. Youíre many generations removed, but youíre still a link in my soul. Unlike your... Nigel... you maintained your spirit through time. You have the magic, but it does require that you acknowledge the truth. Doesnít work when you delude yourself. If this little man truly is only your friend, you can raise him with a thought. If heís more, you must embrace that before you can help him."

Go to Part Thirty Four.

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