Disclaimer: The characters from The Sentinel do not belong to me. They are the property of some other souls that have a lot more imagination than I do.

Notes: This is the third part in a five part series. You need to read the first two parts in order to follow the rest of the series. This story is AU and is set several years before Blair and Jim met in canon.

Warning: Fair amount of warning... This part ends on a cliffhanger. I really had no intention of ending any of the parts that way, but that's just the way it insisted I do it. Please keep in mind that I thought this part would be written quickly and look how long it has taken. I expect part 4 to take even longer. I blame the delay in this part on Blair. He just refused to cooperate with me... the rascal. *sigh*

Thanks: Special thanks to Paula, Cindy and Nickerbits for beta reading this one and having patience with my slowness.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Rivanna Michaels


FOOTPATHS THROUGH PERU

#3 Fighting Fate


Rivanna Michaels






"I do not know beneath what sky nor on what seas shall be thy fate, I only know it shall be high, I only know it shall be great." ...Richard Hovey

A multi-colored bird, of some type the undergrad had never seen, flushed out of the heavy tree canopy. Its wings beat frantically against its bright colored breast in an attempt to escape the interlopers invading its terrain.

The unexpected sound and the sudden motion drew Blair's attention. A slight breeze gently caressed his face, causing the long curls tied in a disheveled ponytail to tickle the outer recesses of his ears. He concentrated on feeling the next gust and then watched as the leaves in front of him danced a second later. Time. It was working against him at this point. At the pace Ellison was setting, they would reach the dig site in plenty of time to catch up with his co-workers. Then he would be like the wind, brushing into Ellison's life, touching briefly, before moving ahead to something beyond. There was no way he could allow that to happen. Whether the army ranger was willing to admit it or not, he was a sentinel. And sentinels needed someone to watch their backs, especially when someone was trying to kill them! Ellison would need to be focused and alert. An unexpected sound, a sudden flash of color and the sentinel could find himself in the bleak, sensory deprived void of a zone-out. At least he assumed a zone-out would be like a void. If that happened, it would render the sentinel the easiest target since bull's-eyes were invented.

Closing his eyes against the heat of the late morning sun, Blair took a deep breath, willing himself the courage to follow through with his plan. He only needed to stall for an hour or so. If he succeeded, he would be stranded in the mass expanse of the jungle. His group would leave without him, fearing him lost within the confines of the savage underbrush. If he failed... well, if he failed, he would possibly never see James Ellison again. Although the prospect of being alone in the jungle with a soon-to-be not too happy army captain was not high on his list of 'things to accomplish', he couldn't just turn his back on something he had only dared to dream about.

Decision made, he opened his eyes and squinted through the thick foliage. He could just catch a glimpse of tanned skin and the white swath of cloth he had recently bound around Jim's exposed bicep. The consistent changing of the bandage was getting more and more obvious as Blair's t-shirt hem kept creeping higher and higher up his midriff. Fingering the uneven edges of the t-shirt, Blair took a deep breath. Obfuscation -- nothing to it. Grabbing a nearby tree limb, he held onto it as he purposely stumbled to his knees with a loud "Damnit!"


An unexpected expletive echoed from behind him and the captain's attention was immediately drawn to a flash of blue breaking through the jungle's canopy. Instinctively, he crouched down and pulled his crossbow from his shoulder as a mass of blue winged birds flew higher and disappeared from view. Glancing around, he realized the younger man was no longer behind him. "Blair?" he whispered, never ceasing the constant roaming with his eyes of the area in front of him. The large flock of birds gone, he turned and peered down the freshly made path his body had cut. Trying to camouflage his movements had proven futile while leading the undergrad student and he had soon found himself more concerned with haste than covering their tracks. Where had the kid gotten to? Jim had been moving quickly, but he hadn't set a grueling pace that would have been too difficult for the younger man.

His head whipped back around, his eyes scanning through the plants and trees looking for any sign of the white t-shirt or the brown curly hair. Perplexed as to where the anthropologist could be, he felt a twinge of anxiety flutter through his stomach. It was possible his pursuers had made better progress than the ranger had thought. Maybe they had managed to sneak within range, quietly taking the young anthropology student.

Settling himself into his crouch, he concentrated on the essence of the jungle, looking for anything that was out of place, anything that would announce the presence of his pursuers. His hearing drifted out, straining against the thick underbrush, pushing through the copse of trees and the high grasses. He felt a fine sheen of perspiration trickle from underneath his hairline to form tiny drops that cascaded down the back of his neck. Ignoring the sensation, he pressed himself harder until he finally found what he was searching for -- the muttered voice of someone who knew way more four-letter words than most soldiers Jim had served with.

Funneling his focus, he let instinct take over as his hearing combed over the area where the younger man's curses drifted in the air. He tried to discern any sign of danger -- the snapping of twigs, the shuffling of brush, the whispers of an enemy. But the jungle assured him that Blair was alone. Hefting the crossbow up with both arms, the captain used the corded muscles in his calves to push himself to his feet. He had no idea what the kid had managed to get himself into, but there was only one was to find out. Keeping watch for any possible threats, the ranger carefully picked his way back down the path he had just forded. As he cleared a particularly rotund fern, he glared down at the student who was sitting on the forest floor, one knee drawn up to his chest. "What the hell are you doing?" he forced out between clenched teeth.

The undergrad peeked up at him through the loose tendrils of hair that had escaped the confining band at the back of his neck. "Ah, man." Blair moaned, rubbing his left shin. "I think I twisted my ankle."

Stooping down beside the younger man, Ellison reached for the appendage. "Let me have a look." Strong fingers jetted softly underneath the top of Blair's hiking boot, not really taking the time to examine the injury. "I don't feel any heat or swelling, but let's leave the shoe on for now. We've got to keep moving if we want to catch the rest of your group. If we take it off now, we might not be able to get it back on again. I'll take a closer look at it later."

Reaching his hand down, he waited for the seated man to accept his silent offer of help. As the palm slid into his own, he quickly, but gently, hoisted the anthropologist until he was standing on one foot. "For now, grab onto my shoulder. We'll stop when we reach better cover and I'll find you something to use as a crutch." Jim looked down and stared at the blue eyes that were gazing up at him expectantly. "We're going to make it. I promise, I'll get you to your friends before they leave."

Jim waited as the man beside him swallowed hard and nodded his head in acknowledgment. The simple, nervous gesture told Ellison all he needed to know -- the kid didn't think they'd make it in time. Glancing down at the slightly elevated foot of the younger man, he felt his own doubts start to rise, but he hurriedly stomped them down. They'd make it. He couldn't let whatever demons were chasing him hurt anyone else. It just wasn't an option.


Blair groaned as he started to recognize the terrain. He didn't think they would make it to the campsite before his group left, but they were still making good time and the need to ensure his anthropological dream was way too great to take any chances. Mind racing, he shifted his weight and slowed the rhythmic, limping pattern he had fallen into with Ellison's support.

"Sorry, man," he huffed out. "I've gotta have some water." As the words left his throat the anthropologist realized it wasn't just a stall tactic. He swallowed against the parched constriction. Water would definitely be a good thing at the moment.

Coming to a complete stop, Ellison eyed their surroundings. His best guess put them just under thirty minutes away from the dig site. He contemplated pushing ahead, but one look at the exhausted man next to him convinced him that pushing themselves to the point of collapse would not get them to their destination any quicker...and certainly not any healthier.

Leaning the student against a nearby tree, the ranger pulled the ka-bar knife from the sheath on his belt and jerked a water vine down from the tree limbs above. "What type of arrangements did your group have in place if one of you got lost and didn't return?"

"What?" Blair swallowed nervously. "I told you, man. The group is supposed to leave after a certain amount of time and then call in the authorities to start searching."

"Yeah, so you said, but what other arrangements were made in case you did come back after the rest of the group left?" Slicing into the thick round vine, he cut off a large section and extended one end to Sandburg. "Drink."

Blair jumped as the vine was shoved under his nose. Grasping one end absently, he turned to answer Ellison. "If one of us got lost and didn't make it back before the others moved out, we were supposed to wait at a clearing about a mile from our campsite. That's where the search party would start looking. The group should have left me some food, blankets, matches, and other supplies there."

"Well, at least that's something," Jim grunted in acknowledgment before gesturing to the plant in Blair's hands.

Studying the six-inch diameter of the vine, Blair sniffed cautiously at the juicy end as the water flowed slowly from it. Although familiar with some of the medicinal plants of the area, his knowledge was much more limited than he had let on while binding Jim's wound. Blair's eyes wandered up the vine's length as he contemplated how the liquid would taste. Refreshing? Bitter? Like monkey pee? Shuddering at the thought, he let one hand trace over the fuzzy surface, imagining hundreds of tiny ant and spider feet scurrying along its surface. A pungent odor wafted against his nostrils and he grimaced at the sensory input. He couldn't tell if the liquid had an odor of its own or if the musty scent of the vine itself was responsible for the turning of his stomach.

After watching the undergrad eye the vine for several minutes, Ellison gritted his teeth together in frustration. There was absolutely no way they were going to make their destination before Blair's group called it quits and headed out. That meant the ranger was going to be stuck with the kid in the middle of the jungle with God only knew who chasing him for God only knew what. Rubbing a hand across the bridge of his nose, he took a deep breath and steeled himself against the sudden, uncontrollable feeling that he was losing control. They still had a chance. Although slim, there was still the possibility that they could make it to the other students in time. Realization that he might lead his pursuers right to the college expedition group sent a chill up his spine. If that happened he could have even more young deaths on his conscience... and quite frankly there just wasn't any more room there.

Ellison's eyes tracked back to the young man still scrutinizing the vine. The kid was exhausted and injured. There was no way he could keep traveling with Blair and still mange to avoid those that were after him. However, at the same time, he couldn't leave the kid with the Chopec either. The bodies of the dead Chopec warriors re-emerged in his mind's eye. He wouldn't take the chance of placing his people in danger. Although the tribe had numerous skilled and brave warriors the ranger would trust his life to, the village was also occupied by a number of women and small children. He would just have to try to get Blair to his college group and then quickly vacate the area, making sure he left a trail in his wake that was sure to be found... a trail in the opposite direction of the students.

His mind made up, he firmly grasped the hand of the younger man that was holding the vine. Prying the thick greenery from the other's fingers, he tilted his head back and took a long draw from the makeshift straw. Passing it back, he firmly clasped Blair's hands around the vine. "Drink, now! We have to go."

The determined tone of voice caused Blair to simply nod in agreement. Closing his eyes and praying the fluid wouldn't taste as bad as he imagined, he leaned his head back and squeezed his hand, letting the warm liquid filter over his tongue and slide down his throat. As his taste buds registered the fruity taste, he jerked up and sputtered in exaggeration. "Gross!"

Ellison couldn't help his small smile at the screwed up look of disgust on the younger man's face. He had long since grown accustomed to the aftertaste of the liquid from the water vine. Sometimes it had no distinguishable taste at all, other times the fruity twang was a little... well, overpowering to say the least. "You get used to it."

Staring in disbelief at the simple statement, Blair licked at his lips in repulsion. "And how long does that take? A few hundred years?"

Shrugging a shoulder, the ranger reached out and clasped the anthropologist's arm, placing it around his neck for support. "Nah, it only takes about a year."

Sandburg resumed his limping gait beside the taller man and looked up at the profile above him. The need to stall was temporarily forgotten as the anthropologist's curiosity grabbed his full attention. "Is that how long you've been here? A year."

His attention back on his mission, Ellison didn't even spare a glance at the younger man as he forged ahead. "Give or take," he said simply.

"How..."

Ellison stopped suddenly and waved his hand in the air, effectively cutting Blair off. Stilling himself, the ranger cocked his head to the side and listened to the myriad of jungle sounds around them, until he finally heard the sound he had been searching for. "Someone's coming."

His eyebrows shooting up to his hairline, Blair threw a wide-eyed look of panic at his traveling companion. "Someone? Someone good or someone bad?"

Shushing the other man again, the ranger concentrated on the sound, his nostrils flaring as they picked up the scent of gun oil. "Bad!" he confirmed. Knowing the undergrad wouldn't be able to move very fast, he propelled Blair in front of him. "Go as fast as you can. I'll watch our six."

"Our six?" Sandburg asked in confusion.

"MOVE!"

Not waiting to be asked a second time, Blair took off through the underbrush in the direction Jim had pointed him. He just hoped he stayed on the right course and that the ranger wouldn't be too far behind.


Thirty minutes later, Blair ironically stumbled upon the dig site where his group had been working. That meant he was close to the camp area he had been trying to avoid all morning. It had only taken minutes for him to lose Jim after the older man had waved him ahead. Taking a shuddering breath, Sandburg took a quick glance around confirming that no one was there. He wasn't sure if that made him happy or not. He saw a definite pattern forming. One that consisted of him running, stopping, being tracked down and then running again. It was a pattern he didn't exactly care for. Maybe he had been too quick to throw caution to the wind and set himself up for a lifestyle that he was obviously not cut out for. At least that's what his mother would have told him if she had been there.

The rustling of the trees snapped the anthropologist out of his reverie and threw him back to the present danger. Diving behind the remains of an ancient statue, he waited to see if the interloper would be friend or foe.


After having waved Sandburg to keep moving, the ranger circled back, covering their trail and creating three additional trails branching off in different directions. The technique might not fool a good tracker for very long, but every minute counted. Sometimes a full out contest of speed was the best approach... not to mention the one Jim preferred. But when an injury that greatly reduced travel speed was involved, diversionary tactics could be the only answer to survival.

Diversions complete, Ellison charged ahead to meet up with the injured grad student whom he expected to find along the trail. Several minutes later, he still hadn't stumbled across the younger man. Narrowing his eyes, he studied the broken leaves and disturbed floor of the forest. It was obvious he was still going in the same direction the other man had taken. Either the kid had made remarkable time on his twisted ankle, or Jim had lost track of the time while laying out the other trails. A sudden suspicion settled in the captain's stomach as he remembered the lack of swelling and heat around Blair's ankle. His eyes darted back to the ground, surveying the scuffed boot marks. "Damnit!" he barked as he gritted his teeth in anger. Thrashing at a nearby broad leaf, he took off in a run to confront the younger man, already knowing he was not going to like what he heard.

Ten minutes later, he emerged, loudly, through the surrounding greenery into the open expanse of the dig site. His eyes immediately darted around the clearing, looking for the prey he had tracked there. "Sandburg," he practically growled. Seeing a shock of brown curls peeking over the top of a stone statue, he marched forward as the younger man slowly rose to his feet. Jim watched as the panicked eyes of the anthropologist scanned the tree line looking for the people chasing them. The look of relief that passed over the flushed face only firmed Jim's resolve more. Reaching out he grasped Blair's right arm and jerked him forward. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"

The blue eyes blinked rapidly in confusion. "You said to go," he stammered. "I didn't think you wanted me to wait on you."

The ranger glared, the sides of his eyes crinkling in anger. "Your foot, Sandburg! Are you telling me it was a miraculous recovery?"

"I...I just...the pain didn't register. I was just trying to get away." The eyes dropped, guilt making Blair's cheeks flush against the paleness of his skin. All his obfuscation skills seemed to flounder in the encompassing glare being radiated down upon him.

"Like hell. I saw your tracks. There was no indication that you were favoring your ankle at all." Jim released his grip and turned his back on the younger man. Once again his mind rolled over the possibility that he had been taken in. That the young man in front of him was not what he claimed. "Why? Were you trying to slow us down? Trying to get me killed?"

"No!" Blair's eyes shot up, landing on the back presented to him. "No," he repeated with more conviction. Swallowing hard against what he was about to say, Blair decided to come clean. "I I was trying to slow us down... I admit that. But I wasn't trying to get you killed, I was trying to help you." A sudden chill stopped him cold as the ice blue eyes pivoted to pierce his soul. "Honest, man. I wanted to stay here, to try and get you to open up to the fact that you're a sentinel." He held up his hands as Jim started to cut in. "Please. Let me finish. I've seen you use them, man. I don't even think you're aware of it. But they're there! And you need someone to watch your back. To help you control these zone-outs you've been having. Maybe even help enhance your abilities."

"I'm not listening to this again. How do I know this isn't all just a ploy to stall... to slow me down." Jim stopped, doubt making him wonder if he was over-reacting. "No... I've got other things to worry about." He shook his head. "I'm going. You can stay here, walk out on your own, meet up with the rest of your little group of mercenaries, I don't care." Turning around, Jim started toward the tree line, chewing himself out as he walked. The captain knew he wouldn't leave the kid. He didn't really think Blair was involved with the people that were after him, but the deception still stung.

Stopping just inside the dense brush, he cast a look over his shoulder, his eyes softening at the forlorn expression on the face that had been trailing his retreat. He watched as the younger man broke eye contact and licked at his lips nervously before turning away and scanning the jungle around him.

Stalking back into the clearing, Ellison reached out and spun the student around. The tense muscles under his fingers jerked in response and then started to quiver slightly after he recognized who had grabbed him. "Listen and listen good. You will do what I say, when I say it, no questions asked. You'll keep up and stay out of my way." Jim's eyes bore into the frightened orbs staring back at him and he released the captured arm. "Understood?"

Blair nodded cautiously, not knowing what else to say. The thought of being on his own in the jungle was not something he wanted to consider. And although the eyes of the man before him were set in steel, he was pretty sure he had caught a glimpse of acceptance on the sentinel's part. That glimpse was all he needed to reinforce his determination to make Ellison see who he really was.


The encroaching night caused the looming trees to cast anxious shadows. However, the small figures huddled beneath the full moon were immune to its effect. The silence of the two men was almost deafening against the myriad of jungle sounds that encircled their small encampment.

Jim stopped sliding the blade of his knife along the flint in his hand and glanced across at the student who was squinting at a rumpled piece of paper clutched tightly in his grasp. It had to be the most interesting thing ever written since the younger man had been staring at it for almost twenty minutes. Jim figured it was as good a way as any for the kid to avoid making eye contact with him, which was what Blair had been doing since they had left the dig site. Truth be told, the ranger didn't believe one word he had said earlier. He knew the kid hadn't been trying to get him caught, much less killed. But the foolish prank could have had the same deadly consequences for either or both of them.

The crumpled paper fluttered against the breeze and Ellison watched as Sandburg shook the page back into submission and continued to eye it with malice, his features looking even more youthful in the play of the moonlight. Although he was reluctant to admit it, even to himself, the kid was definitely starting to grow on him. He was headstrong and opinionated, but those were traits Ellison admired in most men, no matter how infuriating they were, and that included anthropologist undergrads.

"How old are you anyway?" The question was out of Ellison's mouth before the thought had even firmly implanted itself in his head. Although surprised he had broken the enforced silence, he kept his eyes glued to the blue ones that were staring back at him in surprise.

"What difference does it make?"

The surly tone caused Jim's eyebrows to shoot up. "No difference. Just curious."

Blair shrugged and let his eyes slide back to the travel voucher he had grasped in his hand. It was just a typical school voucher, nothing worth a second glance, never mind hours of absentminded staring. It had simply been available, wadded up in the pocket of his pants, something to divert his attention away from the man who had accused him of betrayal. "Twenty. I'm twenty years old."

Jim nodded at the information and turned back to sharpening his knife blade. He had been close. Nineteen years old had been his guess.

Blair glanced back at Jim's downed head and pursed his lips. Laying the piece of paper down by his side, he shifted into a sitting position and started to tear another strip of cloth from his t-shirt. Although Ellison was a bull-headed jackass, he knew the ranger was under a tremendous amount of pressure. Given the circumstances, he had to admit that he found himself more and more enamored with the older man. Not only was he a sentinel, he had integrity and honor. Two traits that one was hard-pressed to find in most people. Besides the fact that the silence had been driving him crazy, he found himself wanting to know more about Ellison. And although Jim's question hadn't been a great conversation starter, any morsel was enough to open the downed lines. "It's time to change your bandage." Blair gestured to the wounded arm as he moved closer to Jim's side.

Placing the knife on a rock by his feet, Ellison extended his arm toward the anthropologist. "Yeah. After you've finished, I'll find us something to eat."

Blair's stomach rumbled at the mention of food and he laughed nervously as Jim stared at the origin of the sound. "I think my stomach would appreciate that." Sandburg tossed the old cloth into the campfire and started binding the bicep with the fresh material. "Who's Incacha?"

Sighing, Ellison twitched under Blair's ministrations. "Incacha is the shaman of the local tribe I've been staying with. He's helped me get used to the jungle and the ways of his people." Jim paused. "He's taught me a lot... about survival."

"Survival? Were you alone?" Blair shifted uncomfortably as he tied the cloth off. "I mean..."

"Not at first," Jim cut him off. "The rest of my team didn't make it."

"Oh, sorry." Blair scooted back around to his side of the fire, giving the other man more space.

Jim shrugged it off. "Nothing for you to be sorry for. They were good soldiers... good men. They died doing their duty."

Blair wasn't buying the act. Even if Ellison didn't want to admit it, he could hear the guilt in the captain's voice. The guilt of being a lone survivor. Wanting to change the topic back to something more pleasant for the older man, Blair decided he would certainly like to hear more about the tribe that had taken Jim in. "So, Incacha. You said he was a shaman?"

"Yes."

Blair waited for some elaboration but it never came. Instead Ellison was staring above his head, his gaze focused on something else entirely.

"What is it?" Blair studied the other man and then tried to find what was so interesting that the other man had lost track of the conversation. "Jim?" he tried again when he received no answer. "Come on, Jim, snap out of it."

Starting to crawl back to the ranger's side, he was stopped short as Ellison suddenly shook his head, grabbed the knife by his side, and flung it toward Blair. The blade swooshed by, missing the student by mere inches before embedding itself in a trunk behind the curly head. Turning, Blair was shocked to see the wobbling handle that expertly pinned an Anaconda snake to the base of the tree it had been slithering down.

A shudder passed through Blair's frame as Ellison shifted to his feet and retrieved his blade. The ranger grasped the snake firmly and dragged its remaining length from the branches before carrying his kill back to the campfire. "Looks like supper came to us." At the horrified look on Blair's face, Jim grinned and deftly cut into the snake's underbelly. "It's a local favorite. Tastes a lot like chicken."

Rolling his eyes, Blair groaned at the expected comparison before getting up to scour the campsite perimeter for sticks to make a spit.


As Jim skewered the snake's body over the flame, Blair thought back to the look on Jim's face before he had killed the snake -- the focused, unnerving stare. He needed to know if it had been a sentinel reaction or years of intense training courtesy of the US Army. The quickest way to that information was to get Ellison to realize that he was a sentinel. "Jim?"

"Yeah," Ellison answered absently as he turned the meat over the flame, his own stomach eagerly awaiting its feast.

"I was wondering if you would do me a favor?"

"How's that, Chief?"

"Well, I know you don't believe me... and that's okay, man," Blair hurried on to say. "But if you'd just try a couple of tests? Little tests. Just to shut me up if nothing else," he finished hopefully.

His stomach temporarily forgotten, Ellison's eyebrows slowly started to descend after their rapid rise to his hairline. "Just to shut you up, huh?"

Blair nodded.

"What kind of tests are we talking about here?" Jim held up his hand to stop Sandburg from answering. "Before I agree to this, you have to promise me that after I've proven I'm not a sentigrade...senti..."

"Sentinel," Blair chirped in.

"Whatever," Jim muttered, before locking steely eyes on the younger man. "You have to drop this nonsense around me. Deal?" Jim waited all of half a second before Blair nodded.

"Fine, man." Blair moved forward and placed his hands on Jim's knees. "It's simple really. I just want you to concentrate on your sense of smell. I know there must be tons of aromas floating around here, especially the scent of our little roasted friend here." Blair looked around and spotted some papayas just visible in the distance. "Okay. See those papayas?" He waited for a nod of acknowledgment. "Cool. It should be a scent you are familiar with. I want you to focus on trying to smell them."

Jim shot him a disbelieving look. "You've got to be kidding!"

"I know, I know." Blair patted one of Jim's knees in excitement. "That's the point!"

Ellison sighed, closed his eyes, and raised his head up to take in a deep breath. Halfway through, he stopped. "I feel silly, Sandburg."

"You can do this," Blair encouraged, his knee bouncing in anticipation.

Several long seconds later, Ellison's eyes snapped open in disbelief. "I smell them!" Expecting Blair to do backflips or some other display of excitement, he was stunned by the look of concentration, mixed with fear, that was masking the student's face.

"86 that, 86 that," Blair whispered anxiously. "I think I heard something."

"Heard what?" Forgetting his triumph over being able to pick out the scent of the papayas, Jim's head shot up looking for the source of the sound Blair had heard. His stomach clenched violently. The ranger had dropped his guard in order to focus on his sense of smell. A mistake not even a rookie dared to make.

"Just concentrate on your hearing, man." Blair swallowed nervously, his hand reaching out to rest on Ellison's knee again. "You can find it."

No sooner were the words out of his mouth when a hand snaked out of the forest growth behind Blair's back and grabbed the younger man around the waist. The student gasped in surprise as he was jerked back against a solid mass of muscle. A second arm suddenly encircled his throat and Blair's hands darted up to grab frantically at the grip that was slowly cutting off his air supply. Fear flitted throughout his body, wrapping its arms around his heart in a vice-like grip. His eyes instantly sought the ranger for assistance but, instead, found a shadowed figure emerging from behind Ellison's head. His eyes locked on the towering form that was hoisting a good-sized log in both hands. "Jim," he tried, but the warning was nothing more than a strangled gasp.

After the hand that had been resting on his leg was pulled away, it had taken a second before reality had set in. To Ellison the constricted cry of his name had sounded more like a plea than a warning. Bolting from his seat on the jungle floor, Jim was intent on rescuing the younger man from the unknown attacker. The overwhelming need to protect the anthropologist was stronger than he had anticipated and he felt his gut seize in terror. However, before he was completely on his feet, a heavy weight fell against the back of his neck. Slumping to the ground, he heard the strangled protests from the young anthropologist and a pleased chuckle from somewhere behind his back. As he tried to push himself to his feet, his vision swayed. He caught only a flicker of firelight before darkness welcomed him in her embrace.

Watching Ellison crumple to the ground, Blair tried to pull free from the monstrous arms encircling him. He had to check and make sure Jim wasn't seriously hurt. However, the struggle was useless. It only managed to earn him a solid fist to his right cheek as the second man stepped over Ellison's motionless body. Dazed, but still standing, his mind started to process the situation. Whoever the assailants were they were definitely after Jim and they had already taken numerous shots at them. He felt the vice in his chest squeeze even harder. He only prayed that whoever they were they wanted the captain alive.

The end (...to be continued in 'Fate Shall Guide')


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