Chapter 9 -- Darkest Hour
"And that would be an earthquake..." Sydney muttered as the tremor in question nearly knocked them off their feet.
Nigel nodded in agreement. "Probably one of those omens that Audra was talking about."
They redoubled their pace, finally cresting the hill.
"Jeez..." Sydney muttered, staring at the ruins that appeared beneath them. It was your standard stone circle, but it was, for lack of a better term, spooky as hell.
Nigel thought it reeked of menace. He pointed when he saw movement. "That must be Eala. Are we going to be able to surprise her?"
"Somehow, I doubt that her attention's on anything other than that book right now, Nigel..." Sydney muttered, squeezing his hand and urging him down the hill.
They descended together, hand in hand in spite of the danger that such a climb posed with earthquakes shaking the ground all around them every few seconds. The standing stones should have been leveled by the powerful tremors, but seemed immune. As they approached it, the air grew heavy around them. It bore an undeniable smell of death and, as Sydney found herself struggling to breathe, Nigel found himself struggling to keep the contents of his stomach in his stomach. Still each clasped the other's hand firmly as they approached.
Sydney pulled Nigel to a stop just outside of the stone circle, pulling him behind a pillar so Eala could not see them.
"No fear, Nigel..." she whispered
"What?" he hissed.
"Bridgit's advice. Don't take in anything that the Dark Ones will understand. She was not just talking about weapons. Fear, Nigel."
"Oh, bloody hell, Syd..." He shook his head. "You can't ask me not to be afraid... I mean, I'll go in... but..."
"Nigel..." Sydney shook her head. "Come on. You can do this. I know you can. Just have faith."
"Faith in what? A goddess who can't help us? A God I've never seen?"
"Have faith in me." Sydney smiled at him. "That I won't let anything happen to you."
Nigel nodded. How many life-and-death situations had Sydney rescued him from in three years? What was there to fear from one more. "That I can do." He smiled at her and squeezed her hand lightly. "I love you, Syd."
"I love you, too, Nigel." She smiled at him for a moment. "Let's go."
Nigel nodded and they walked into the circle together, hand in hand. Brenna stared at them, wide eyed, and shook her head rapidly. Sydney made a reassuring gesture and swept her eyes around the ruin. Eala was at the altar, bent over the Book. She touched Nigel's shoulder and nodded towards Brenna. He nodded silently and crept towards the bound woman. Sydney circled until she knew that Eala would have to turn her back to Brenna and Nigel in order to look at her.
"Hey, Eala... Glad to see you pursuing that whole scholar thing we talked about!" she called loudly.
Eala spun to face her, placing the altar between herself and Sydney. "Ah, Scholar Fox. So glad you could make it. I'm still unclear on a few passages. Care to advise me?" she asked, her voice cold.
"Sure, why not?" Sydney nodded and cautiously approached. "My first piece of advice is that a girl your age should be more interested in boys than in attaining Divinity." She smiled at Eala, hazarding a quick glance at Nigel who was still struggling with Brenna's bindings.
"You're the one who suggested I... expand my horizons." Eala smiled at her. "You know, there's nothing that says we can't share the secrets of the Book of Shadows. I'm not greedy. All I want is knowledge."
"Then why are you shooting for Godhood?" Sydney demanded, folding her arms over her chest.
Eala rolled her eyes. "You're as bad as Brenna. What about your friend? Maybe he'll be more willing. Men are easier to manipulate, anyway. All you have to do is look sweet and innocent and offer them something they can get from any woman."
"Nigel's a little tougher than that to bribe..." Sydney assured her, placing both hands on the altar.
Eala grabbed the book and hugged it to her chest. "Fine. Then I will offer you his life in exchange for your help. How does that sound?"
"Oh, it would be great if he weren't the linguist in the team." Sydney shook her head. "You actually thought we'd help you?" she asked, buying time for Nigel.
"I assumed you to be reasonable enough to know that I would offer you some prize in return. After all, isn't that all you Relic Hunters care for?"
"No. Some things are more important. We won't help you. Neither of us."
"Then your blood will purchase my Divinity." Eala placed the book back on the altar and casually spoke a few words.
Nigel did not recognize the language, but it sent chills down his spine. Or maybe it was just the bitingly cold wind that was suddenly whistling all around them. In fact, as Eala chanted, the wind became stronger and colder, and it was not the only weather phenomena unfolding around them. Dark, billowing clouds gathered in the sky, starting directly above the temple but quickly dominating the entire sky. Lightening flashed perilously close and thunder drowned out the sound of Eala's chanting.
Nigel paused in his attempts to untie Brenna as a coil of rope rose from the altar and snaked around Sydney. Brenna hissed to catch his attention before he could call out to her. He nodded and returned to the ropes, aware that Brenna was likely Sydney's last hope. She was, he suspected, everyone's last hope. The last coil gave way and Brenna shrugged the ropes off, flexing her hands to restore circulation.
She drew Nigel close. "See to your love and leave Eala to me..." she told him in a low voice.
"Audra says she can still be saved..." he whispered.
She nodded. "I know. I will do my best."
Brenna pressed two fingers to his lips. "I know..." She sighed. "I am sorry that I ever suspected the two of you."
"Eala was playing us all..." he told her as quietly as he could while still managing to make himself heard over the whistling wind. "No ill will."
She smiled and nodded. "Thank you. Go to her."
Nigel nodded and started towards Sydney, staying low to the ground and hugging the inner perimeter of the temple.
"It will take more blood than hers to buy what you seek, Eala..." Brenna announced, holding the rope that had so recently bound her behind her back.
Eala turned casually towards Brenna, raising an eyebrow but not otherwise reacting. "Ah, so the scribe is about. Splendid. I can use him."
"Use him and throw him away?" Brenna asked, taking a few slow steps forward. "As you did me?"
"I have not yet begun to use you..." Eala assured her in a low voice. "Your magic will fuel the transformation that her blood makes possible. See, I've thought about this, and killing you would just be... too quick. Better you should live to see your failure, stripped of your powers."
"My powers come from our Lady. You can not take them from me!"
"Why ever not? I've been siphoning off of you and Audra for months now..."
"We know..." Brenna told her simply.
As Eala started to react to that statement, Brenna pulled the rope from behind her back, flicking it at Eala like a whip. The rope coiled around the girl's body once, then continued to coil around her, pinning her arms to her side.
"That's why Audra taught me a Binding spell..." Brenna concluded. "I call upon the Old Ones and the Guardians of the Four Watchtowers to bear witness to these acts of mine. Eala, daughter of Gregory and Iona, I bind you! I bind you, Eala, from working harm through magic, by word or deed. I bind you, Eala, from working harm against yourself or others in this world or the other. I bind you, and in binding you, I bind myself against these same things. May my work this day bring about no evil on this world or the other. I bind you. This is my Will, and my Will may defy that of the Elements themselves!"
Trembling and staggering, drained by the spell, Brenna closed the distance between herself and Eala, bearing the girl gently to the ground.
Eala smiled at her. "You are too late. It is begun."
Brenna sobbed softly, but hurried to the altar and began flipping through the book as Nigel untied Sydney. "The Transformation has already begun!" she yelled as Nigel helped Sydney to her feet.
"Then it's too late?" Sydney asked, stunned.
Nigel covered his mouth with one hand, shaking his head. "No... It can't end like this..."
Brenna exhaled deeply before speaking. "Nor shall it. There is a way."
"You mean the spell?" Nigel asked. "To call on the good gods? That won't work. It requires a sacrifice and if you kill someone..."
"They will abandon me, I know. Still there shall be a sacrifice, but I will take no other life."
"Suicide?" Sydney asked, staring.
"Sacrifice." Brenna found the proper page and began chanting.
"No!" Nigel shouted. He ran with Sydney towards the woman and tore the book from her hands. "You can't do this! You have no guarantee..."
"Of anything. Ever in this life. That changes nothing. If the transformation is completely, millions will die, in both worlds. I will die either way, and this way, I may still say that I have not failed my people."
Nigel shook his head, tears in his eyes. "There has to be another way..."
"Have you never been willing to sacrifice your life for anything?" Brenna asked him.
"Once..." he admitted, nodding and glancing at Sydney.
"Then you understand why I must do this."
He nodded weakly and extended his hand. Brenna took it and shook it firmly, then returned her attention to the book. She started chanting in a low voice, but she quickly gained in both confidence and volume.
"I can't believe that we have to let her do this..." Nigel muttered to Sydney.
"I know..." She nodded weakly and slid her arms around her waist, needing comfort as badly as she wanted to give it. "It can't end like this..." she whispered, shaking her head.
"Oh, God, Syd..." he muttered, staring at Brenna through tear-filled eyes. "I can't believe that Bridgit would let it be like this..."
"She doesn't have a choice. She's not all-powerful." She shivered as an icy gust whipped through the temple. Her clothes were not designed for cold weather and did nothing to keep out the wind.
Seeing her shiver, Nigel slipped out of his jacket, wrapping it around her shoulders before pulling her closer. "This is wrong..." he growled, shaking his head in frustration. "What kind of sense does a universe make that allows something like this to happen?" He turned to face Brenna, who continued to chant, ignoring them completely. "Brenna..." he whispered, extending his hand to her.
Although she could not possibly have heard his whisper over the wind, she looked up at him, not pausing in her chant. Seeing his obvious distress, she gave them a gentle, reassuring smile, the kind that a mother gives to a child afraid of the monsters under the bed. She turned her face skyward, chanting on and ignoring the bolt of lightening that hit the ground less than five feet from her. Nigel and Sydney jumped backwards, startled. Brenna gave them a last smile, then raised her hands skyward, palms up. She continued chanting, her voice raising in volume until she was virtually shouting, every word clearly distinguishable over the howling wind.
She finished chanting as abruptly as if something had cut off the sound of her voice. Turning to face Sydney and Nigel, ignoring Eala who had finally managed to shake off the last of her ropes, she brought her hands together sharply over her head. The resultant sound, louder than a thunderclap, knocked everyone in the temple to the ground, including Brenna herself. Sydney was the first to try to climb to her feet, so she was the only one who saw the lightening-bolt clearly. It was not yellow or blue like most lightening-bolts, but blood-red. And it hit Brenna squarely, causing her entire body to spasm and then be still.
Abruptly, there was silence. The wind stilled, the thunder stopped rumbling. The only sound that either Sydney or Nigel could hear was the pounding of their own hearts and their ragged breathing. The silence was deafening, oppressive, and more foreboding than the previous cacophony.
"Brenna!" Eala shouted, breaking the silence. She rushed to Brenna's side.
"Get away from her!" Sydney ordered, scrambling over to them and pulling Eala away from Brenna's prone form. "Nigel!"
Nigel was at Brenna's side in a heartbeat, feeling for a pulse. His low moan was clearly audible in the starkly quiet temple as he glanced up at Sydney and slowly shook his head.
"Brenna..." Eala whispered, tears streaming down a face that once again seemed more childlike than adult.
"Was it worth this price, daughter?" a low voice asked.
All three turned to face the source of the strangely familiar voice. A woman, wearing a flowing gown of grays and blues, stood in the center of the temple, taking in the scene before her with sad eyes. Her hair was the same shade of gray as her dress, her eyes strikingly green. She was ancient. Ageless. Beautiful...
"There was a time when you called her friend and meant it, daughter..." the old woman continued in a low voice.
"Bridgit..." Nigel breathed, recognizing her eyes.
"My child." She nodded in quiet acknowledgement before returning her attention to Eala. "It is not too late for you, daughter. You can still stop this."
Eala took several steps towards Bridgit, falling on her knees before the old woman. "All I ever wanted was knowledge..." she whimpered, shaking her head.
"There are other ways to attain this. And more important things, besides. Brenna understood this." Bridgit bent and pulled the girl gently to her feet. "There is no penance that can begin to compensate for the harm you have caused here today. But you may still save your own soul."
Eala glanced at Brenna, tears forming in her eyes. "Anything. Anything at all."
"Give back what you have taken. Destroy the Book."
Eala nodded and pulled the book from Brenna's lifeless hands. She placed it on the altar, resting both hands upon it and closing her eyes. Nigel and Sydney watched, awed, as a golden glow appeared beneath her hands, first illuminating the volume, then consuming it. It grew stronger, making the book impossible to discern amid the blinding glow. As abruptly as it had begun, it faded. The book was nowhere in sight and Eala was forced to hold onto the altar for support.
"Do not seek support from anything in this evil place..." Bridgit told her. "Better to crawl on the ground."
Eala nodded and let go of the altar, falling to her knees and clutching her head between her hands, groaning.
"Nigel, my child, help her from this place. Sydney, child, help him."
"But..." Nigel began, gesturing to Brenna.
"But..." he protested.
Bridgit approached him, gently resting her hands on his shoulder. "She loved her people so much that she was willing to give her life for them. There is no greater act of love than this. It shall not go un-noted. Take Eala from this place. She is weak and requires care from Audra."
"She deserves..." Sydney began, only to be cut off by a gesture from Bridgit.
"She will suffer for her actions. It is not yours to pass judgment or sentence. Eala has brought much misery on herself. This will be sufficient punishment. Take her from this place."
It was hard to contradict Bridgit's quiet, motherly tone. Sydney and Nigel walked to Eala and pulled her to her feet. It took both of them to support the obviously weakened girl. They helped her from the temple, tears in both of their eyes. Eala was crying as well, sobbing.
Nigel turned and watched Bridgit bend over and scoop Brenna gently into her arms, her lips moving as though she were speaking to her. He turned away, unable to look further.
"Let's go, Syd..." he muttered, sighing sadly.
Audra, working desperately to sooth the frightened villagers, broke off as soon as she saw Nigel and Sydney return, supporting Eala between them. She turned to the crowd, announcing that Brenna's sacrifice had saved them all, then hurried the three into her hut.
"I can't believe it..." Nigel muttered sadly as Audra worked on Eala. The girl had lapsed into unconsciousness shortly after they had left the temple and was showing no signs of reviving.
"I know..." Sydney, who had been pacing, sat down next to him and slid an arm around his shoulder, not sure what else to do. "It just seems... wrong."
"It is not ours to question the will of the gods..." Audra whispered in response, her voice breaking. She rose from the bedside. "She will not live. She is too weak."
"Such a decisive statement..." a low voice muttered from the doorway. "And from one who should know better than to call anything certain."
They turned. Bridgit, in her old-woman aspect, had returned. Seeing Nigel, she extended her arms. The man rose and hugged her, weeping silently. She held him close for several minutes, murmuring soothingly, before gently pushing him back towards Sydney. When Nigel and Sydney had put their arms around each other again, Bridgit walked to the bed where Eala lay.
"It is beyond my power to help her..." Audra whispered. "Too much was taken from her."
Bridgit nodded. "The magic took almost every good thing from her, replacing it with evil. When she renounced that evil, there was nothing left."
"Did it have to be this way?" Sydney demanded, frustrated.
Bridgit nodded. "Endings can not always be happy, even in a land of magic and fairies. Still... this ending might not be as bitter as it could." She turned to Audra. "Bring me a silver chalice, full of water."
Audra nodded and complied. Where her magic had failed, her Lady's would not.
"What are you doing?" Sydney asked as Bridgit knelt next to the bed and lifted the girl into a sitting position.
"Saving her..." Bridgit whispered, lifting the chalice to Eala's mouth.
"After what happened to Brenna?" Sydney demanded, shaking her head.
"A dead body does not avenge any wrong..." Bridgit murmured under her breath. She looked up at Sydney. "Eala is guilty of terrible things, yes, but her death serves nothing. She may still prove a valuable member of this community."
"I can't believe you!" Sydney snapped. "You bitch."
"Syd..." Nigel muttered.
"First you put Nigel through the crap you did, and now this?" She shook her head.
Bridgit ignored her. "Drink and be healed, child..." she whispered to Eala, tilting the chalice and pouring its contents into the girl's mouth. Still unconscious, Eala choked and gagged as the water went down, but Bridgit ignored this. Returning Eala's head to the pillow, she lifted the chalice and emptied its contents onto the girl's face. "Be cleansed of the evil that has taken you, and embrace the goodness that you once called your own."
Eala coughed and sputtered as Bridgit poured the water onto her face. She opened her eyes, startled, and looked up at Bridgit, her eyes wide. "My... My Lady... Forgive me..." she whispered, tears once again forming in her eyes.
"I am not the one who has been wronged. Return to your home and rest. Speak to no one of what has passed today."
Eala nodded and meekly left the hut, dripping water behind her.
"I guess one life saved is better than none..." Sydney muttered, shaking her head.
"Walk with me, my children..." Bridgit told them, leaving the hut.
Startled, Sydney, Nigel, and Audra followed. Bridgit walked swiftly and without looking back. The others had to run to keep up. She led them to her sacred place, where Nigel had first encountered Bridgit in Avalon. Brenna's body lay in the center of the clearing, barefoot, dressed in a white gown, flowers in her hair and hands, a small smile on a pale face made beautiful by death. Audra let out a strangled sob and rushed to the body, pulling it into her arms and holding it close.
"Audra?" Brenna groaned, her eyes fluttering open.
"She was alive?" Sydney demanded of Bridgit. "You put us through that knowing she was alive?"
Bridgit shook her head. "Brenna did give her life to save her people. And she was given a choice. She chose life."
Nigel stared at Brenna, who looked... different, somehow. Audra was helping the younger woman to her feet. Brenna wore the most perfectly serene expression that Nigel had ever seen. That, he knew instinctively, was the face of a woman who had seen what was on the other side, who knew the shape of the universe, knew what was to be, and who was perfectly happy with it. It was the face of a woman who would never feel afraid or alone again. It was also the face of a woman who had given up something valuable beyond words in exchange for something perhaps more valuable.
Brenna noticed his scrutiny and smiled at him, a mysterious, knowing expression. "I am glad that I was wrong about you, Nigel Bailey. I would be honored now to call you my friend."
He nodded and extended his hand, smiling uncertainly. "You're an amazing woman, Brenna."
"You would have done the same." She smiled at him.
"Yeah, but I would have kicked up a lot more fuss about it."
"We all do things in our own way, Nigel Bailey."
"And you... you gave up--"
"Nigel, my child..." Bridgit murmured, shaking her head.
"But..." he began.
Bridgit shook her head. "This matter is between Brenna and myself. If she does not chose to share it with others, that is her right."
"What?" Sydney asked, staring from Brenna to Bridgit. Looking at Bridgit, she asked, "What did you make her chose between? What is it with you and life-and-death decisions?"
Brenna spoke, turning her smile to Sydney. "Perhaps it is simply that they are the ones which matter." She smiled at Sydney. "I was given a choice after my death." She nodded to Nigel. "He seems to know what it was, what I gave up. And what I received in exchange."
"So spill it, Nigel..." Sydney suggested.
Brenna shook her head. "No. The choice was mine to make, and is mine to speak of. And I shall..." She paused, her serene expression replaced by an almost resigned one. "Bridgit and the others gave me a choice between life and Godhood. I surprised them all."
Bridgit smiled proudly. "Not all. I knew you would chose wisely, my daughter."
"You chose mortal life over Godhood?" Sydney asked, stunned.
Brenna nodded. "I did. And it was the right decision."
"Wow..." Sydney shook her head. "You are amazing, Brenna."
Brenna smiled and bowed her head. "No. Simply attached to my people. It is my charge to watch over them, and I will follow it."
Audra smiled at her. "You make me proud, child."
"I have learned from the very best..." Brenna told her. She shook Sydney's hand and Nigel's, then looked at Audra. "You should say goodbye."
"What?" Sydney asked, frowning.
"It is time for you to return home..." Brenna told her with a shrug.
Sydney stared from Brenna to Bridgit. "I really don't understand."
Brenna smiled and nodded. "Eala called you here to help decipher the text. Now that it has been, the only thing holding you here is our Lady."
"So we can... go home now?" Nigel asked.
Bridgit nodded. "You may. Once all the goodbyes have been properly spoken."
Nigel smiled and quickly hugged Audra and Brenna. Laughing, Sydney followed suit. After many goodbyes and well-wishes, Audra and Brenna left the clearing together, leaving Sydney and Nigel alone with Bridgit.
"I can't believe that she gave up a chance to be a god..." Sydney muttered, shaking her head.
Bridgit smiled. "Nigel can explain this to you, I think."
"Me?" Nigel asked, shocked.
Bridgit nodded placidly. "You saw it in Brenna's eyes. I was greatly pleased with your insight. Rare in a mortal man."
Nigel smiled and ducked his head.
"What did he see?" Sydney asked. "Nigel?"
He shrugged. "Being a god isn't all it's cracked up to be, Syd. There are... things that the gods can't really have. That only humans can."
Nigel shrugged. "Close friends, a real family. Love, Syd."
Sydney stared from Nigel to Bridgit. "Gods are incapable of love?"
"Not at all." Bridgit smiled. "It's just that all the good mortals are taken. Read your mythology, Professor. None of us are exactly lucky in matters of love." She shrugged. "Are you ready to return, then?"
Sydney nodded. "Yeah, definitely." She shook Bridgit's hand.
Bridgit nodded. "Might I have a moment with Nigel?"
"Sure." Sydney shrugged and wandered off a few dozen yards.
"Will we see you again?" Nigel asked her.
"Probably not." Bridgit shook her head. "And if you do, you will not be allowed to recognize me. If intervention is required in the future, others shall take matters in hand."
Nigel sighed and nodded. "I'll miss you, Bridgit. You're a good friend."
"She is a lucky woman, you know..." Bridgit told him quietly.
"Syd?" Nigel glanced at her, nodding. "She's got a lot going for her."
"She has you. That makes her luckier than I shall ever be..." Bridgit gently kissed his forehead. "I don't suppose there's any point in offering..."
"None at all..." Nigel told her with an apologetic shrug. "Not that I'm not flattered, mind you, but..." He nodded towards Sydney.
Bridgit smiled and nodded, her eyes sad. "Be happy, my child."
"We will be..." he assured her, nodding.
"Good." Bridgit's smile became more cheerful. "Go to her, take her hand. Then both close your eyes." With these words, she vanished.
As Nigel walked towards Sydney, he swore he could have heard Bridgit's voice, whispering for him alone, "And remember, always, the power of what you have found with her..."
"Love..." Nigel muttered, nodding.
"What?" Sydney asked, turning towards him.
He smiled and extended his hands to her. "Take my hands, Syd."
"Okay." She smiled and slid her hands into his.
"Close your eyes..." he instructed her gently.
Sydney closed her eyes and abruptly found herself lost in his kiss. When she opened her eyes, she was standing in her office, hands still firmly clasped in Nigel's.
"What do you know? The Earth moved..." she chuckled softly.
Nigel flushed and grinned at her, but quickly changed the subject. "What day is it?" he asked, glancing at her desk calendar.
"Not sure... Tuesday? Wednesday?"
"Now, see, right there is a sign that you're both working way too hard..." a soft voice chuckled.
They turned and smiled at the middle-aged woman standing before them. Professor Eton, from the Linguistics department, smiled benignly at them.
"Oh, hi, Ro..." Nigel said with an anxious smile, quickly dropping Sydney's hands.
Rosie smiled back. "Word to the wise, Ni. Next time you decide to make out with Syd on campus, make sure the outer door is locked..." She shook her head and clicked her tongue disapprovingly.
"You don't seem that surprised..." Sydney muttered, coloring.
"Well, it has been rather obvious since you returned from Turkey." Rosie smiled at them. "Don't worry. My lips are sealed. I'm inclined to think it's a stupid rule anyway. Nigel, are you done with that book I..." She trailed off, frowning. "Where's your cast?"
"Uh..." Nigel shifted uncomfortably.
Rosie tore her eyes from his bare feet long enough to take in the rest of their appearances. Their hair looked like they had just survived a tornado. Nigel's face sported a three-day's growth of beard. Both of their eyes were swollen and blood-shot. His jacket, wrapped around Sydney's shoulders, was torn and mud-splattered. Their clothes were in a similar state, disheveled, ragged, stained with mud and sweat.
"And why are your clothes in such a state?" Rosie asked, forgetting about Nigel's foot completely.
"All-nighter..." Nigel offered, grinning nervously. It was technically true. After all, they had not slept at all the night before.
"I think not." Rosie shook her head, amazed by the state they were in. She had seen them return from Relic Hunts where civil wars had broken out around their heads looking better than they looked now. "Not that it's really any of my business, but I worry about you, Ni."
"Everything's just fine, Ro..." he assured her, smiling.
Rosie stared from Nigel to Sydney, who just grinned and shrugged. She decided that whatever had happened, it was not something she wanted to know about. Knowing that Nigel and Sydney had a relationship was one thing. Knowing that Nigel had not answered his phone for three days, that he apparently had not bathed or shaved in the same span, that he had been through an experience that had been punishing enough to put most of their previous adventures to shame, and that he had returned with a badly shattered ankle seemingly repaired completely... Better to just forget about it. That and the fact that they had not been in the office when she had let herself in... Especially that fact.
"Just fine..." Sydney agreed with Nigel, nodding.
"Better than it used to be, even..." Rosie suggested with a smile, nodding towards his foot. "Ni, my book?"
"In my desk." Nigel quickly walked into his office and handed her the book. 'A Survey of Cuneiform in Sumerian Legal Documents'. "Thank you, Ro. It was a fascinating read."
"Infinitely." He nodded, still smiling anxiously at her.
"Good. I'll just... be on my way." Bemused, Rosie turned to leave the office, only pausing at the door long enough to say, "Monday..." over her shoulder as she left.