Chapter 7 -- Wellspring
"You sure he's going to be okay?" Sydney asked Bridgit, frowning. She was kneeling next to Nigel over the now-smooth pool.
Bridgit nodded. "He will, Professor Fox. Right now, he's just exhausted."
"Human, no." She shook her head and gave Sydney a smile. "I thought I saw that knowledge in you before you died."
Sydney nodded. "I remembered that conversation we had about the gods appearing in human form. I guess it just took massive blood-loss and delirium for me to reach the obvious conclusion."
Shaking her head, Sydney bent over Nigel again, touching his cheek. "Hey, Nigel!" she whispered. "Time to wake up, Nigel!"
He slowly opened his eyes and looked into hers with obvious confusion. "You shouldn't be here, Syd."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You should be alive again."
Sydney shook her head in disgust. "Go back to sleep, Nigel."
"Sleep? Was I..."
"Sleeping." Bridgit smiled at him and touched his forehead. "Wake up now."
He nodded, feeling more alert and began to sit up. He cried out in pain and stopped trying. "I guess that rules out it all being a dream?" he groaned, closing his eyes.
Sydney smiled and nodded. "At least we've got the pictures. If nothing else."
"You've gotten more than that out of this experience, Professor..." Bridgit assured her quietly.
Nigel opened his eyes again at the sound of her voice. "Bridgit? Are you sure I'm not dead? I feel bad enough to be."
"Being dead doesn't hurt, child." Bridgit smiled reassuringly at him.
"So... Sydney and I are both alive?"
Bridgit nodded. "Yes."
"Then I really don't understand. You said..."
"That you had to be willing to sacrifice yourself. I never said anything about actually doing it. I'm a god, not a barbarian."
"Did you just say 'willing to sacrifice yourself'?" Sydney asked, frowning.
"Gee, I think that's my cue to leave." Bridgit rose quickly.
"Wait just one minute!" Sydney protested. "How could you do that to poor Nigel?"
"For a purpose." Bridgit smiled enigmatically and walked away, through one of the walls.
"What the..." Sydney touched the wall that Bridgit had just vanished through, but it was solid. She shook her head. "That was strange." Shrugging, she sat down next to Nigel. "How are you?"
"Fine, Syd. How are you?"
"I feel better than I've felt in months, actually." Sydney smiled. "Do you think you can walk?"
"Um... I can try." Nigel rose shakily to his feet, but his knees buckled when he tried to walk.
Grinning, Sydney caught him. "I guess it's my turn to carry you, huh?"
Nigel shook his head. "Syd, please don't..."
"Look, we've got the pictures, Bridgit's... gone. There's no reason to stay."
"You should rest..." Nigel protested as Sydney slid her arm under his and started towards the tunnel, supporting him.
"I'll rest when we get to the surface."
"It's a long way up, Syd. Are you sure you can handle it?"
She nodded. "Yeah, Nigel, I am." They walked through the tunnel to the cliff. "Um... Nigel?"
Nigel stared at the staircase. There was no cliff anymore, just the staircase, running all the way to the ground as a staircase was supposed to. "I... I don't know, Syd." He shrugged.
Sydney sighed and shrugged. "Let's go."
They quickly ascended. "Um... Syd?" Nigel asked as they reached the upper level of the cave. "Did you notice anything odd about that climb?"
She shrugged. "Not really."
"Like the number of steps, maybe?" Nigel contributed.
Sydney stopped. "There did seem to be a lot fewer than a thousand steps there."
"Ninety-six, in total. I counted."
Nigel nodded. "I guess Bridgit wanted to make it easier for us."
"Yeah, well, if she wanted to make things easier for us, she could have given us our return plane-tickets before she melted into that wall."
"She still had the tickets?" Nigel asked, frowning.
"Yeah." Sydney made a face.
"It's okay. I'm sure if we go to the airport and tell them that we lost our tickets... they have our names in their computer."
Sydney nodded. "You're right, Nigel. Let's get out of here."
He nodded and glanced at his watch. "It definitely feels as if it's been a lot more than nine hours since we started this day."
"Nine hours? Is that all?"
They walked out of the cave.
"Um... where'd the camp go?" Sydney asked, frowning.
"Well, our things are over there." Nigel pointed.
"Yeah, but all of Bridgit's things are gone, and the fire is gone..."
"Huh... so they are." Nigel shrugged. "Well..."
"Yeah." As they retrieved their things, Sydney sighed again.
"What is it?" Nigel asked.
"She had the map, too!"
"Oh, for the love of..." Nigel sighed and sat down. "What do we do now?"
"I don't know." Sydney shook her head and sat down next to him. "I mean, I guess I'm lucky to be alive, but..." she trailed off. "Do you hear that?"
"What?" Nigel shook his head, then paused. "Helicopter?" he asked, frowning.
Sydney nodded. "Sure sounds like it." She pulled out her compass and smiled. "Hey, Nigel, look."
"It's working again!" Nigel exclaimed, smiling.
Sydney smiled quizzically. "Note to self: the presence of gods messes up compass readings." She shrugged. "Who knew?"
Nigel shook his head. "Hey, Syd, look!"
The helicopter had come into view and was setting down by the lake where the camp had been.
Sydney stared. "You don't think it's for us?"
A young man emerged from the chopper and answered her question by walking over to them, smiling at Sydney, and asking, "Are you Professor Fox?"
"Yeah, I am." Sydney nodded. "Hi."
"Hello." He grinned at her. "A woman came into our office about two hours ago, said she needed a flight out for two under the name of Professor Fox."
"Bridgit." Sydney smiled. "Pretty, lots of red hair, Irish accent?"
He nodded. "That was the one. Your secretary, I suppose?"
"Something like that."
"Can I get your bags?" he asked.
"Two hours ago?" Nigel asked Sydney, frowning.
She shrugged and shook her head. "Not a clue, Nigel."
When he had finished stowing their things in the helicopter, he reached into his pocket and handed an envelope to Sydney. "She said to give this to you as well."
"What is it?"
He shrugged. "I'm not in a habit of opening private letters, ma'am." Smiling, he helped her into the cockpit.
"Look, Nigel, it's plane tickets."
"And money..." Nigel observed. "And a note?"
She nodded. "It says 'this should cover the balance due to you, helicopter's paid for, car will be waiting to bring you to the airport, sorry for the deception, hope you understand'. Short and to the point."
Nigel nodded and started to climb in. He stopped. "Can you wait one minute?" he asked.
The pilot shrugged and Sydney nodded. Nigel jogged to the shore of the lake and reached into his pocket, pulling out a silver dollar. He closed his eyes and flung it into the lake before returning to the helicopter.
"What was that all about?" Sydney asked curiously as they took off.
"Oh, old superstition." Nigel shrugged. "It was thought that one of the ways you could pray to the goddess Bridgit was by tossing coins or precious stones into a well or lake."
"Oh." Sydney smiled and leaned her head against the headrest. "So, what'd you wish for?"
He grinned and shook his head. "I didn't. I was just saying good-bye."
"Well, I'm confused..." Doctor James informed Sydney, frowning at the test results.
"You almost sound disappointed that I'm not dying anymore."
"No, it's not that, it's just that... when a cancer goes into remission, there are still usually signs that it's there. This path report is so clean that you might never have been sick at all." He shrugged and rose.
"Did you know," Sydney asked with a grin, "that the ancient Egyptians used to believe that the gods frequently appeared on earth in human form?"
He shook his head. "I'm not sure what that has to do with anything, Professor Fox."
"No, of course you don't." Sydney shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Have a nice day, Doctor." Grinning, she rose and left the office without looking back.
"Oh, hey, Nigel." Karen grinned at him as he entered the office. "How was Ireland?"
"Um... interesting." Nigel smiled. By mutual consent, he and Sydney had agreed not to discuss the specifics of the trip with anyone at all, including Karen.
Karen rose and began getting ready to leave. "Good. You, uh, find what you were looking for?"
"You could say that."
"Uh-huh." Karen eyed him dubiously. "What's with the crutches?"
"Broke my ankle."
"Oh, bummer!" Karen smiled sympathetically. "Um, anyway, Syd wanted to talk to you as soon as you got back. I was going to leave you a note."
Nigel nodded and removed his coat. "Thanks. She in her office?"
Karen nodded. "See you tomorrow."
Nigel smiled and nodded. "Yeah, Karen. I'll see you then." When she had left, he knocked on Sydney's door.
"Come in, Karen!" she called.
He entered. "Not Karen."
She sat at her desk with her feet up, reading something. She was looking better than she had in ages, except for a nasty bruise on her left upper arm. She looked up, startled. "Oh, hey, Nigel. Feeling better?"
He nodded. "Still a bit sore, but... fine." He smiled. "How... how are you doing?"
"I'm good. Come in and close the door, please."
"Sure." Nigel nodded and entered, closing the door behind him.
"How's the ankle?"
He glanced down at it. "Still broken. Wish the Cauldron could have fixed that." He smiled at her. "So, what's up, Syd?"
"I wanted to talk to you about what happened in the cave."
He frowned uncertainly. "Syd, I'm not entirely sure that what I think happened in the cave happened in the cave... I mean... could it have?"
She rose and approached him. "I really think it did, Nigel. I, um... I told you that when we got back I would tell you what had been going on with me."
He nodded slowly. "Syd, I didn't mean to pressure you, you know. You're entitled to your privacy, so if you don't want to tell me something, it's really none of my business."
"About three weeks before we left, I was diagnosed with leukemia."
"Oh my God, Syd!" Without thinking, Nigel pulled her into a hug. "I'm so sorry..." He paused, realized what he was doing, and let her go. "Sorry..." he muttered, blushing. "But... are you... is it... treatable?"
"When I got back, it was gone, Nigel."
"Gone? You mean... gone?"
She nodded. "As in 'no sign it ever happened' gone. Gone." She shrugged.
He frowned in confusion. "How is that possible?"
"You tell me. I think that I might have been dead when it went away."
"You think the Cauldron cured you?" Nigel asked uncertainly.
She nodded. "That's what I think, but I don't think it did it by itself."
He shook his head. "Um, now I'm really confused."
"Bridgit said that you had to be willing to make a sacrifice. I want to know about that?"
"There's nothing to tell." He shrugged uneasily. "Just... that the Cauldron would only work if someone else was willing to make a sacrifice for the person they were trying to save."
"That's... interesting. See, I've been doing some reading, Nigel..."
"Reading?" he asked slowly.
"Uh-huh. About the Cauldron, and there's nothing about human sacrifice in any of the texts I've looked at."
"Well, it wasn't a human sacrifice, per se..." Nigel pointed out.
"Nothing at all about human sacrifices," Sydney repeated quietly "but quite a bit about 'acts of love', Nigel." She stared at him. "I was hoping that you might be able to shed some light on the subject."
"In what way?" he asked cautiously.
"Well, you talked to Bridgit after I died. I thought she might have said something."
He shook his head. "Not really. Something about a wellspring." He shrugged.
"Huh." Sydney frowned and shrugged. "Just a thought. I don't remember anything after I... died." She smiled at having to apply the word to herself. "What happened, Nigel?"
"Um... Bridgit revealed herself as a goddess and told me that the only way to save you was to take you into the Cauldron."
"What about the sacrifice thing?"
"Oh, that. Um... I had to be willing to make a sacrifice to bring you back."
"What kind of sacrifice, Nigel?" Sydney rested her hand on his shoulder gently. "You keep skirting around that question when I ask it. What did you have to do?"
"I... I thought that I would have to be killed."
"You thought that bringing me back would kill you and you did it anyway?" Sydney asked in a whisper. "Nigel that's... that's..." She swallowed hard, her eyes widening. "Very sweet."
He blushed and bowed his head. "I imagine you would have done the same for me. Besides, it... it would have been worth it." He shrugged.
Sydney stared at him. "Nigel, that's... that's the nicest thing a man has ever said to me."
"Well, it happens to be true." Nigel shrugged. "I should... go. I have a lot of work to catch up on." He turned to leave.
"Nigel?" Sydney called.
"You said something about a wellspring, right?"
He nodded. "Yeah, but I'm not sure what it meant."
Sydney, who had had the pictures of the inscriptions translated independently and knew perfectly well that it referred to love, smiled at him as he started to leave. She walked with him to the door. "Hey, thanks, Nigel. I mean it."
He smiled shyly back. "You're welcome, Syd."
Before he could change his mind, he quickly kissed her on the cheek before turning and hobbling out of the office as fast as his crutches would take him. His face was burning as he fled, but it would have pleased him to known that, standing at her office door stunned, Sydney's face was almost as red as his own.
The End (So, how was it? Should I bother to write more?)