Disclaimer: This story is in no way affiliated with UPN or Pet Fly Productions. The characters are their property and this story is not meant to infringe upon their copyrights in any way.
Many thanks to Tonya for her assistance in proofreading (ahem!) this story and her valuable suggestions which enabled me to make it flow better and be more understandable. Oh, and thanks for posting this to your web page too.
Comments and criticisms are welcome. Please email to MoBecker@aol.com. We aim to please and can't do that if we don't know what you'all want. Now -- on with the show.
marlene a. becker
It was an unbelievably mild spring day for Cascade. Perfect for the university-sponsored Renaissance Festival being held on the back grounds. Blair Sandburg had counted himself lucky that the weather had cooperated, otherwise, he'd never had gotten his friend and partner, Jim Ellison, to attend. Ellison was just not the festival type. He looked over and up at Ellison and grinned. At least the big man didn't have to attend in period dress. Sandburg chuckled at the idea of Ellison in tights -- not that it would be easy to find any to fit his six-foot plus frame anyway.
"Here you go, Jim." Sandburg handed Ellison his pass and steered him toward the entrance.
"Is this trip really necessary?" Ellison grumbled.
"You're gonna LOVE it!! Where else can you ogle beautiful women dressed to accent their best features . . ."
"I know a few streets."
"Legally, Jim. I'm talking legally here." Sandburg handed the gatekeeper his complimentary teacher's pass and recognized one of his students dressed as a glorified imitation of Robin Hood.
"Hi, Warren. Any recommendations?"
"Oh, hi Mr. Sandburg. Yeah, sure. Start counter-clockwise for the best eats. The turkey legs are great and don't miss the baked apples for desert."
"Thanks." Sandburg noted that Ellison had perked up at the mention of food. No sooner had they entered the main vendor area, when a couple in jeans and light jackets strolled by casually munching on two of the largest turkey legs he had ever seen.
"You know, Chief," Ellison remarked behind him, "This might actually be a pretty good idea you had."
"Told you." Sandburg stopped at the opening to the main compound and stared down the row at booth after booth -- each hawking a 20th century version of medieval delicacies. "Wow, would you look at all that food!!" He sniffed and momentarily desired his friend's heightened sense of smell. "Mm-m-m-m-m. *Smell* that food." Suddenly he turned to Ellison, the gleam of knowledge in his eyes. "Say, Jim . . ."
"No." Ellison interrupted, one hand raised as if to ward off evil spirits. "You said yourself, this is a holiday. Well, leave me alone with the tests for once."
"Jim . . ." Sandburg looked up at him, his blue eyes pleading.
Ellison pulled his impressively large frame together, stood even taller and glared down at his even shorter partner. "I said, No," he stated firmly and strode toward the third vendor in the row. Thanks to his heightened senses, he had already found the seller of over-sized turkey legs -- he did not need a battery of tests to help him find food.
Resigned, Sandburg followed. Officially there were to be no tests, but that didn't stop him from mentally taking notes on Ellison's actions -- like watching him home in on a particular delicacy that he'd selectively chosen from the wealth of smells assailing his nostrils.
After eating their way halfway around the courtyard, vendors of handmade items began to appear. Beautiful paintings, sculptures, and blown glass vied for attention alongside hand-crafted harps, dulcimers, and jewelry. A small shop displaying skillfully created knives and swords was at the end of one row and Sandburg couldn't help being drawn to it.
He selected a plain-bladed knife with an intricately carved wooded handle and carefully turning it over in his hands, marveled at the workmanship. "Isn't it beautiful?"
"I've got to admit, these are the work of a master craftsman." Ellison's gaze wandered over the display of various weapons. He hadn't realized there were still people in the U.S. who could make this quality blade by using ancient hand methods. He was reaching for a scimitar when his sensitive nose suddenly touched on an odor so vile, so repugnant, it sent him reeling against the edge of the booth.
"Whoa, Jim." Recognizing the symptoms of sensory assault, Sandburg immediately replaced the knife and reached out for his friend. "What happened?"
Shaking his head as if that would rid him of the offending smell, Ellison welcomed Sandburg's support. Sandburg was his Guide; his teacher in the use of his overly heightened senses that would occasionally, like now, be more of a liability than a blessing. Just knowing his friend was there was often a comfort, although he seldom, if ever, would admit it -- to anyone. "A smell ... like death ... like ... nothing I've ever experienced before. Awful ..."
"Tune it down." Sandburg said quickly. "Isolate it, remove it." He laid a hand on Ellison's arm when the big man noticeably winced at the assault on his sense of smell. "I know, I know," the young man lowered his voice to a comforting, soothing level. "But you have to recognize it in order to remove it." Gradually, Ellison's body relaxed, a sure sign that the offending odor was under control. "Okay now?" Sandburg's expressive face could not hide his concern at his friend's discomfort.
Ellison opened his eyes and looked around as if seeing his surroundings for the first time. "Yeah. Yeah, it's gone." He brushed a big hand across his damp forehead. "Whew! I don't know what that was, but it was the worse ..."
"Just as long as you didn't smell it at the food court." Sandburg joked. "Now that would have made me worry."
Grinning, Ellison steered Sandburg away from the weapons' booth and toward a vendor offering still-warm delicate pastries, whose scent was wafting across the path. "I know exactly what to replace that smell with."
As the two men wove their way through the mixed crowd of medieval and 20th century merrymakers, they were watched by a pair of old, rummy eyes. Evil eyes, filled with hate. "So, we meet again -- at last. I should've known he would appear now. Now that the time is close."
A young voice, questioning, but hesitant, "Master?"
"Patience, Thomas. Patience. If there's one thing I have learned in my long life, it is patience. I must know where he lives. Follow. But do not let him see you." The old man waved a skeletal hand over the teenager, closed his eyes and muttered to himself in a language long dead. "Now go," he told his apprentice after he'd willed his eyelids to flutter upward. With that blessing, or curse depending on one's outlook, Thomas would have no trouble keeping himself unnoticed by his quary.
Ellison and Sandburg had polished off their latest culinary delight and were wandering, enjoying the beautiful weather and interesting scenery. Some much more than others.
"Don't you find it interesting to compare different cultures?" Sandburg asked idly, watching a buxom young lady flounce by in brocaded silk.
"Hum?" Ellison was following the sway of the same lady but with a different idea of what to compare.
"I mean, in some cultures it's perfectly acceptable for a woman to walk around half-naked just as long as she keeps her ankles covered." Sandburg continued in teacher mode. "Personally, ankles just don't get me excited ..."
"Chief," Ellison interrupted in an attempt to avoid a lecture, "Look over there, a palm reader! Why don't you give it a try?"
Sandburg's attention was momentarily diverted, much to Ellison's pleasure. "Hey, why not. Let's go."
Sandburg paused outside the tent, holding the opening flap halfway up. "Sure, man. You're coming too, aren't you?"
With a resigned shrug, Ellison forced a grin and followed Sandburg inside.
The interior was small. Designed for intimacy, it contained only two chairs and one small, round table covered with a white linen cloth. Several fat candles burned within protective glass holders. The palm reader sat at the far side of the table, facing the tent's opening. The woman was either an actress worthy of an Oscar or she really was a gypsy palm reader.
She glanced at the two men and stated the obvious. "I have one chair."
Ellison turned to leave when Sandburg spoke. "I don't have any secrets from Jim."
Sighing, Ellison offered the reader a brief smile of resignation and stood as far off to one side as he could, which was still barely an arm's length away.
Unsmiling, the reader looked at Sandburg and indicated the chair. "Sit," she commanded. When he had settled himself comfortably, she held out her left hand and indicated that's where he should place his right. Silently, Sandburg obediently laid his right hand, palm up, on top of hers. As she studied the lines and contours of his palm he cast a look toward Ellison that said he'd cast his vote for her as best actress anytime.
Ellison was ready to agree, for his sensitive hearing had picked up the subtle, but noticeable increase of the lady's heartbeat. The rapid beat of someone having made the find of the century, but outwardly, showing nothing. But why? What was so exciting about reading a palm?
"This line," she ran a, long-nailed finger alongside a crease in Sandburg's palm, "Is the line of a teacher," Sandburg grinned up at Ellison. "A mentor, a guide." Ellison stifled a cough. "It is so deep, to instruct is so ingrained in your nature -- that a thousand years ago, you might have been called wizard." Sandburg's smile spread all the way across his face. "This line," and she indicated another, longer line, "Tells me that yours is an old soul. You have been on this plane many times before." She looked Sandburg directly in the eyes. "To put it bluntly, you've been there, done that -- already."
Sandburg was ecstatic. "Wow. That's really great. Can you tell if I've always been a teacher?"
"I would say probably in 90 percent of your lives, you have taught in some form."
"Man, an old soul . . . can you tell how old?"
She shook her head slowly. "Your time line is very, very long. It is quite possible you were around for the last millennium celebration." She pushed a small reed basket into the center of the table. "Five dollars."
Laughing, Sandburg placed a bill in the container. "Thanks." He stood, turned to Ellison and indicated the chair. "Your turn."
"Oh no. Not me."
Shrugging, the reader held up a ten dollar bill. "Might as well. You're paid for."
Ellison glared at Sandburg who grinned and nodded at the closed tent flap. "Want me to leave?"
" Course not," Ellison grumbled as he parked himself and stuck out his hand.
Cradling the large hand within her much smaller one, she began to examine the creases in the palm. "Warrior," she muttered, then, surprised, she said louder, "You are an innocent."
Sandburg nearly choked and had to turn away to compose himself.
"I beg your pardon?" Ellison asked, wondering what the joke was.
"An innocent. Yours is a relativity new soul. This is probably only your second life." Her black luminous eyes stared into his face, into his intense blue eyes and Ellison found himself uncomfortable under her scrutiny. "Yes, you are new . . . but you have an old talent. Old ways. Unknown and strange to you." Slowly, her gaze traveled to Sandburg then, just as slowly, returned to Ellison. "Teacher . . . apprentice." She gently folded Ellison's fingers into his palm signaling the end of the session. "Do not deny the talent. You will learn, in time, its use, its value."
"Uh, yeah. Thanks," Ellison muttered as he slid out of the chair and through the partially opened tent flap in one fluid movement.
"Wow, man! Was that weird or what?" Sandburg had appeared, almost trotting at Ellison's side to keep up. "Suppose she really knows something? I mean has THE gift, you know?"
"The gift of observation, you mean. That IS one talented lady, all right. She would've made a great detective."
The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. Ellison finally allowed himself to relax and enjoy the displays of jousting and swordsmanship. Sandburg did not mention tests again that afternoon. He was satisfied with Ellison's control and handling of the nasty smell situation. Neither was aware of their constant shadow, watching their every move. Waiting for them to leave so he could fulfill his master's wishes.
Several hours later, when they finally left the faire grounds Thomas blended so perfectly with the exiting crowd that not even Ellison's heightened senses detected his presence. Ellison's truck was distinctive enough that Thomas had no trouble tracking it in the ensuing traffic jam. Once they were on the main road he allowed himself to relax, for it was an easy tail to Ellison's apartment. He wrote down the address and swiftly reversed directions. His job was done. The master would be pleased.
Monday morning. Most eight o'clock classes at the university were half-filled and this was an even sparser attendance than usual. Blair Sandburg took the opportunity to drop off some lesson assignments to the handful of students in his class and dismissed them for the rest of the period. On a whim, he decided to visit the library and see what he could find on wizards of a thousand years past. Not that he really believed that his soul, or chi, or life-force, or whatever one called it was in existence a millennium ago -- but it would be interesting to check out. Just to see. Just for fun.
The old librarian was extremely knowledgeable about areas of the paranormal and general unusualness and was able to show Sandburg exactly what dusty old volumes might contain the information he was seeking. After piling the dozen books on a vacant, out-of-the-way table he gave Sandburg a strange, half-smile and a curt nod. "If you need anything else," the soft, silky voice offered, "just ask."
Sandburg ran a hand through his long mass of curls and nodded in return. "Thanks," he said just above a whisper. Then, as he sat down and began to leaf through the first volume, he slowly shook his head in wonderment. "Talk about old! That guy was probably the head librarian for the archives in Rome. Ancient Rome."
Several hours and three-quarters of the books later, Sandburg found an obscure reference to a battle between two powerful wizards at the turn of the millennium. Kalabar had warred with Xasaine over control of the Earth. Xasaine was about to unleash the demons of hell and Kalabar had stopped him with his good magic. Once the door to Hell was closed, Kalabar faded into the past and no more was mentioned of him.
Sighing, Sandburg closed the book and stretched. "Stupid idea," he muttered to himself. "There's no such thing as past life experiences." He piled the books on the corner of the table for the librarian to restock and as he laid the old volume on top, his hand lingered over the embossed surface of the leather and his normally alert eyes glazed for a moment. "They never get anything right anyway," he spoke so softly, only Ellison would've been able to hear. "Cintoban was the wizard. Xasaine was the apprentice." *********************
When Sandburg walked into the stationhouse that afternoon, Jim Ellison was just pulling on his jacket.
"Hey, Chief. We've got a real bad one. If you don't want to come, I'll understand."
"No. It's all right. I'll come." Apprehension and an uncommon adrenaline surge suddenly made Sandburg a little queasy. "Straighten up Sandburg," he admonished himself, swallowing hard. "Next time have breakfast."
"You okay?" Ellison shot a glance back at his partner. Sandburg was too quiet for him. It wasn't normal.
"Haven't eaten yet." Sandburg offered as explanation as he climbed into the passenger's seat of Ellison's truck.
"Well, from what Simon said, that might be good." Ellison pulled out of the garage and expertly began to wind his way through traffic. "Simon and forensics have been there a half hour already. I was finishing up a case and just got in. Victim is a young girl, late teens, heart cut out."
"I'm guessing that was the cause of death."
"It would seem obvious, but the lab will make it official. Her parents were away for the weekend, the girl didn't want to go with them -- typical teenager -- they came home and found her. Mother's sedated, father's not much better off. She was their only daughter."
Ellison turned down a residential side street and was greeted by a sea of flashing lights. Police cars, coroner's wagon, ambulance and milling police officers clogged the asphalt. Ellison found a vacant piece of road and parked. He headed for the tidy white house nearly buried in officials; Sandburg by his side.
" Bout time you got here," Captain Simon Banks called to Ellison from inside.
"What've you got?" Ellison activated his detective manner and mentally began to register the particulars of the murder scene.
"Coroner puts the time of death at approximately midnight -- give or take. Right now the cause of death is probably the removal of the heart."
"You mean she was alive when it was removed?"
The medical examiner wandered by, removing his plastic gloves. "I'd say so. She was probably unconscious though. Judging from the bruises on her neck, she was half strangled. I'll know more after the autopsy."
Captain Banks lowered his voice so only Ellison could hear. "I don't need to tell you this is a particularly nasty one. We need to get this wrapped up as soon as possible."
"I'll do my best, captain."
Banks nodded in the direction of Sandburg, standing just outside the door. "What's with Sandburg? He's usually following you around like a puppy."
"Well, he's really not used to this much bloodshed; after all he isn't a cop, he's a professor."
"Yeah," Banks absentmindedly pulled out an unlit cigar and fingered it. "He's around so much, I forget sometimes."
Once Sandburg saw the content of the murder scene, he opted to wait by the door, out of everyone's way. Concentrating on the methodical actions of the police, enabled him to keep his stomach contents where they belonged. Now he watched his partner with interest as Ellison put his Sentinel abilities to work -- sniffing, touching, looking for signs that only he could sense.
Sandburg couldn't help feel a little proud as the detective's investigation proceeded utilizing the anthropology student's training and guidance. After a greater part of an hour, Sandburg began to get curious as to why no one was ever glancing in the direction of the bloody writing on the wall. When Ellison passed close by, he caught his partner's attention and motioned him over.
"Hey, Jim, I know it's none of my business, but . . ."
"Well, at least you're starting your sentences correctly." Ellison interrupted.
Sandburg took another breath and ignored him. ". . . but how come no one's investigating the writing on the wall over there?" He gestured in the direction of the bloody numbers.
Ellison turned toward the wall, frowned, and returned his attention to Sandburg whose expressive face now silently asked the question for him *Well?* The answer was not what Sandburg expected.
He was so surprised, Sandburg almost stuttered. "Jim! Don't you see it?" His expression abruptly changed from surprise to concern. "Hey, don't kid around, man."
"I'm not kidding." Ellison's straight-forward tone was edged with annoyance.
Sandburg was getting agitated. He looked from his partner to the wall and back again. "663, Jim. 6...6...3! It's right there!" He forced a swallow and added more softly. "Looks like it was written in blood."
"What's going on here?" Captain Banks no-nonsense tone cut through the conversation followed swiftly by his presence coming between the two unlikely partners.
Ellison cleared his throat. "Blair says there's some writing on the wall, Simon."
"It's there, captain." Sandburg almost pounced on Captain Banks in his excitement. "663! In blood! 6...6...3! Why can't anyone see it?"
Frowning, Banks turned to Ellison, "Jim . . .did you try using your . . . um . . .ability?"
Ellison shook his head. "I don't see it, sorry."
"Am I the only one who can see the writing on the wall?" Sandburg almost shouted in frustration causing several nearby officers to discreetly glance in his direction.
Captain Banks gently pulled Ellison aside. "Has Sandburg been under any stress lately? You know, any tests at school or attacking primitives?"
"Simon," Ellison's whisper was pitched just loud enough for the captain to hear. "If Blair says he sees writing, then he sees writing. I don't understand how, but I believe him."
Banks sighed. "Well, HE certainly believes it."
Ellison sensed the shifting position of his Guide and knew Sandburg was moving toward him.
"Jim," Sandburg approached eagerly. A telltale sign he'd had another Sentinel-related idea. "I know you said you couldn't SEE the writing, but maybe you can FEEL it."
Ellison raised an eyebrow in consideration. "You mean sensing the heat difference?"
"Yeah. Like infra-red."
Nodding, Ellison agreed. "That just might work. Show me where the writing starts."
Anxiously, Sandburg led Ellison to the wall and pointed to the first number. "The edge of it starts right here. Close your eyes and let your hand hover just above the surface. Concentrate only on the sensory input from your fingers."
Doing as his guide suggested, Ellison shut down as much of his other senses as he dared and zoned in on his sense of touch. As his hand hovered over the indicated area, he experienced a difference in the surface temperature. It was slight, even to his heightened sense -- but it WAS there. He followed the edge of the temperature variation around the entire number completely oblivious to the presence of his Guide and his captain.
After making a complete circumference of the first number, he gingerly lowered his hand toward the surface until he was touching the wall itself. Ellison's eyes snapped open and he almost jerked his hand away in surprise. . .dried blood! The texture was unmistakable. He looked at the wall where his hand now rested and stared intently, trying to discern any visual evidence of the writing. There was none.
An excited Sandburg was smiling broadly. "Well? It's there, isn't it? There IS writing . . .I'm not crazy."
"Well, I don't know about that, but there is definitely something on this wall. I can feel it, but I don't get any visual at all." Turning to the captain, Ellison removed his hand and wiped it on his jeans. "Simon, I suggest we get an infrared camera out here and see if it can pick up anything. It might be too late, but we can try."
Frustrated, Captain Banks looked from Ellison to Sandburg. "This is nuts!! Sandburg sees the writing and you feel it! How can Sandburg see it?" He turned to the young man and glared at him. "Don't tell me you're getting heightened senses now?" he whispered.
Shrugging, Sandburg looked at the captain in wide-eyed innocence. He truly didn't know why he was the only one to see the bloody numbers scrawled on the far wall.
Ellison tapped him on the shoulder. "Wait here," he commanded as he strode off, as determined in his pursuit as if it were the holy grail.
"Now what?" Banks frowned at Ellison's retreating back then turned his glare on Sandburg. "Where's he going?"
Sandburg shrugged again. This was all getting too confusing.
Momentarily, Ellison returned, holding aloft a broad-tipped marker that he shoved into Sandburg's right hand. "Outline every drop," he ordered. "We'll take pictures after you're through."
After saluting with the marker, Sandburg walked over to the wall, took a deep breath and began the process of outlining every number, every drop of stray blood.
"Jim," Captain Banks turned to his detective, puzzled and annoyed. "Just what the hell is going on here?"
"I've no idea." Ellison looked at the captain in total innocence. "Really!"
Banks sighed. "Keep me informed. I'm going back to the office."
Ellison watched perplexed as his partner worked. Why was Sandburg seeing the bloody numbers and he, with all his Sentinel abilities, was not? He could feel them. And if he concentrated, he could probably smell them. But why Sandburg? What was happening?
It had been a very long, and very tiring day. Sandburg had fallen asleep as soon as he went horizontal. Ellison noted the rhythmic sound of his breathing and nodded, happy that his partner, at least, was sleeping peacefully. He did a quick sensory scan of the apartment for any unwelcome intruders and satisfied, went to bed himself.
He had just laid down when he sensed a presence by his bed. Alerted, he slid his hand under the pillow for his weapon.
"It's okay, Jim. It's just me."
"Blair?" Ellison relaxed at the sound of his partner's voice, but still remained on alert.
"Yeah, well, sort of."
Ellison's senses registered the differences -- although the actual voice was Sandburg's, there was a tone, a maturity that was not his partner's. Sandburg stepped into view and Ellison frowned at the change. The eyes, the normally expressive, laughing eyes were harder, older. "Who are you?"
A hand reached up and in a familiar gesture, brushed back a wayward section of hair that had fallen across Sandburg's eyes. "Blair Sandburg . . ."
"No." Ellison interrupted.
"Let me finish. A thousand years ago I was known as Kalabar. Over the years I have gone by many names, in this reincarnation, I am Blair Sandburg."
"This isn't real." Ellison shook his head in confusion.
"This is your subconscious. Technically, you're asleep." Sandburg/Kalabar sat down on air, levitating nicely several feet above the floor, legs crossed, looking like an ancient monk. "Technically, I'm asleep -- but I had to talk to you."
"I didn't know who I'd been before. Being reincarnated is a lot like having amnesia -- you start your life all over again without any knowledge of your past life -- or lives. That palm reader kicked in a few memories; that murder today kicked in a few more."
"The murder? What has that got to do with you?"
"That's a ritual murder. I've seen it before, many, many years ago."
"Now wait a minute, you're Blair Sandburg, an anthropology student and sometime professor. How could you -- even if you are Kalabar -- know about these murders?"
You see, the girl was a sacrifice --just one of a long drawn-out sequence of events necessary to open the gates of Hell." Sandburg/Kalabar cocked his head and stared at Ellison in another familiar gesture. Ellison found this similarity unnerving. "Am I going too fast for you?"
Ellison slammed the palm of his hand against the bed, propelling himself into a sitting position. "You expect me to believe the murderer of that girl thinks her death will open the gates of Hell?!"
Sandburg/Kalabar shook his head. "I didn't say that. You see," He looked very uncomfortable, as if Ellison had just discovered his living room had been taken over by a shipment of ancient ceremonial masks. "After certain ... um ... events take place -- Hell CAN be opened! We are at the edge of the millennium, you know. Strange occurrences will be commonplace. A thousand years ago wizards and magic were common, demons or angels could be your next door neighbor. But mankind has changed and evolved. Now, technology just might be the world's downfall. No one remembers the old ways. Hollywood has made B-movie jokes of the old demons and no one will know what to do when the real thing happens."
"But you do."
"Certain countermeasures will surface in my subconscious when the time comes, I'm sure. I just wanted to let you know this is more important than the murder of one young woman. The fate of the entire world is at stake here." Suddenly, he tilted his head as if listening, the face softened and was brightened by a Sandburg grin. "Gotta go. My REM is ending."
"WAIT!" Ellison quickly reached out for him but touched only darkness. The figure had faded abruptly.
"What?" A voice asked from the black edge of sleep. "Hurry it up, I ain't got all night."
"I've so many questions . . . will I see you again?"
"You see me every day, Jim -- we're partners."
"You know what I mean -- will I see Kalabar again?"
"Will I remember you?"
"I doubt that either of us will remember this conversation after we wake up. We've been talking on a subconscious level."
"This Sentinel thing -- were you once a Sentinel, yourself?"
Sandburg's form materialized on the edge of sleep. "Nah. It's more than just genetic. It's in the spirit, the life-force. I'm a teacher, remember?"
Ellison stared at him in realization. "You were a Guide!"
The vision grinned and slowly faded into the blackness. "Interesting how I've come to be myself again. Isn't it?"
Sandburg was dividing the scrambled eggs onto plates already occupied by toast and bacon when Ellison padded downstairs already dressed.
"Morning, Jim." Sandburg looked up at his entrance.
"Morning. Um.. ."
Sandburg stared at Ellison, waiting for the rest of the sentence, as he grabbed his juice and sat down. Finally, after an undetermined amount of time, he could stand it no longer. "What, man? What is it?"
"Oh. Um." Ellison frowned, trying to remember what he wanted to ask -- trying to remember what he couldn't remember. "Nothing. I guess."
"Yeah. I had this real weird dream. I remember thinking that I wanted to talk to you . . ." He shook his head and sipped his steaming coffee. "But I sure can't remember what about."
"Was it Sentinel-related?"
"I think so, maybe . . . but . . . it's gone now."
"Well, if you don't think about it, maybe it will come back to you. Dreams are like that, you know. If they're important."
"Yeah." Ellison took a long swallow of his now perfect temperatured coffee. A temperature that would only last for a short fraction of time. When he finished, and realized the coffee was gone, he gazed into the bottom of the cup and studied the few grounds lining the edges. "Chief, what's the timeframe of the sentinels you're studying?" he asked absentmindedly.
"Timeframe?" Sandburg frowned and shut one eye, concentrating. "I'd say -- oh -- about 500 years ago, give or take a few. Why?"
"No reason. Just curious." He looked over at his partner, his mind trying to grasp a question that was hovering at the edge of a memory -- a memory that was abruptly erased when the phone rang. Scraping back his chair, he strode into the living room and snagged the phone that never seemed to be in the same place twice. "Ellison," he stated into the receiver.
"It's Banks, ... Jim ..."
"There's been another one," Ellison finished for the captain.
"Yeah." Even over the phone, Simon Banks' voice sounded weary, frustrated. "Same MO as the first. Number 664 written in blood on the wall. No one could see it but the camera."
"Thank Sandburg for me. If it hadn't been for him, we would have totally overlooked that clue. Jim, the number's gone up one."
"What's the address?"
"3366 Lamplight Road."
"Got it. Twenty minutes." As Ellison replaced the receiver on the endtable, he knew Sandburg was standing by his side, even without looking. It was a *Sentinel* thing as his Guide would say, if Ellison would've told him about it. Which he hadn't. Somehow, Ellison figured Sandburg already suspected his sensitivity to his presence anyway.
"I'm going with you." It was a statement, not a question.
"Look, Chief, it's another bad one. This seems to be shaping up into serial killings. You don't need to be there."
But Sandburg was already standing half outside the open door. "You coming?"
With a resigned shake of his head, Ellison followed him out. There was no arguing with Sandburg when he had his mind made up. Well, he could argue . . . for all the good it would do.
Sandburg settled himself behind the seatbelt and looked expectantly at his partner. "Where're we going?"
"3366 Lamplight Road," Ellison answered, firing up the truck and blending into traffic. An exclamation from his Guide momentarily diverted his attention away from the road as he turned to glance at Sandburg, "Chief? You okay?"
"Oh Jim, this is way more than just a serial killer. Don't you see the connections?"
" Fraid not." The big man returned to his driving. Sandburg would fill him in -- with details, he was certain.
Beside him Sandburg released an exasperated sigh. "3366, translates into 666 -- the sign of the devil. Lamplight, coal oil was used in old lamps -- get it? Coal fire? Hell fire? The road to Hell -- Lamplight Road?"
"Isn't that reaching a bit? This is just a flesh and blood killer committing a heinous crime. That's all. Not some demon ..."
"No, Jim. You don't understand. I'm not saying a demon killed those women, but a flesh and blood human trying to gain acceptance into Hell or trying to raise a demon from Hell could have."
"You mean this is some sort of ritual?"
Sandburg nodded excitedly, blue eyes shinning intensely as his long curls bobbed around his face. "Exactly! A rite of passage or a badge of acceptance."
"So this could be what our killer thinks Satan wants as a ... um ... token of faith." Ellison's deep blue eyes clouded over as the realization struck. "You said 666 was the number of the devil? And the first victim had 663 on the wall, now there's 664 ..."
"There's going to be two more murders," Sandburg said with a moan, leaning his head back against the seat.
Ellison's only response was a rapid clenching of his jaw muscles. This case was going to give those muscles a workout.
Captain Simon Banks was not pleased to hear the latest Sandburg theory on the serial killer; although he had to admit it did make a certain amount of sense. At least it would to a serial killer. He sighed. Nothing was ever simple. He looked at the shorter man with the expressive face and shook his head. Sometimes this unofficial consultant seemed little more than a green college kid and other times he exhibited the knowledge and insight of Yoda. It just wasn't natural. Banks removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. After replacing them, he glared at Sandburg who was still standing, gazing at him expectantly. Banks felt like giving him a pat on the head, he reminded him so much of his favorite dog he had when he was growing up. "Good work, Sandburg. That's an angle we hadn't thought of." He gestured into the murder room. "I'd appreciate it if you would take a look around and tell us if you see anything we can't."
"Sure, captain." Sandburg tugged at his partner's sleeve, "Uh, Jim? I'll need you with me."
Laying a comforting hand on his partner's shoulder, Ellison smiled reassurance. Sometimes it could be hard to enter a murder scene this bloody two days straight. "Sure thing, Chief."
Sandburg charged through the door, oblivious to the carnage within. "I need you to tell me if you can see what I see or if I'm seeing something you can't."
That statement make Banks' head swim. "I'll see you back at the station," he called out to his detective's vanishing back.
Quickly, Sandburg noted and explained in detail every bloody spot on the wall. The officer holding the infrared camera trailed along behind him, just to make sure he'd captured all the blood invisible to the human eye on film. It wasn't until they had covered every inch of the crime scene and Sandburg stepped back to view the entire room that reality hit and he turned a remarkable shade of green. "Oh god, Jim. I think I'm gonna be sick."
Ellison nodded in understanding. He was wondering when the clinical Sandburg would be finished and the all too human Sandburg would realize the horrific nature of the crime. "Bathroom's around the corner. It's been dusted."
The young officer holding the camera watched Sandburg race for the facilities and slowly locked the lens cap back in place. "Don't know how he held out that long." He bent over and placed the equipment gently into its case, while carefully keeping his back to the doorway. He straightened, shouldered the heavy carrier and looked into Ellison's penetrating blue eyes. "I couldn't hold it for a minute after I walked into that room."
A few minutes later Sandburg emerged wiping his face with a paper towel. "Sorry about that, Jim. I don't know what came over me."
"How about reality?"
"I don't know how you stand it. Seeing stuff like this day after day."
"It never gets easier, Chief. You just learn to tune it out."
*And deal with it in your nightmares.* Sandburg thought. *There are some things a Sentinel can't hide from his Guide, Jim.* "Would you drop me off at the loft so I can get my car? I want to do some research at the library."
"I can drop you off there."
"That's all right. I don't know how long I'll be."
"Okay." Ellison nodded but had a disquieting feeling that his partner was hiding something from him. Oh well, he was over 21 and didn't have to account to Jim Ellison for his whereabouts every second of the day.
Blair Sandburg pulled into the parking lot of the Renaissance Festival grounds. The fair was closed now, it was only open Thursday through Sunday, but he was hoping to find something here anyway. What, he did not know. He knew only that he'd been drawn here as surely as a starving man to a free meal.
He entered through a side door and stood quietly gazing at the rows of shuttered vendors' booths, wondering why he was there. A few vendors who lived in their RVs and traveled from festival to festival milled about, talking and laughing, none gave him a second look. He sighed. What WAS he doing there?
The gypsy palm reader suddenly appeared at his elbow and cocked her head at him in wonderment. "Wizard! I didn't expect to see you here today." She was dressed pretty much as she had been on Sunday. Either it wasn't an act or she lived the part.
Startled, Sandburg jumped back, then grinned as he recognized her. "Oh, hi. Well, to tell you the truth, I didn't expect to be here either."
"Oh?" She deftly entwined her arm in his and began walking toward her RV parked behind the medieval trappings of the main grounds. "You are troubled ... and it doesn't take a psychic to see that."
"Yeah. There's just been some complications in my life the past few days and I'm not sure how to handle it just yet."
She nodded. "A-ah. Woman. No, several women." Stopping suddenly, she turned, stared into his eyes, and started -- as if gazing upon the very scene he had just witnessed. "Your student ... he is a policeman?"
Sandburg nodded silently, not even aware she had called Ellison his student'.
"And you are training him in his ... um ... talent?"
Again, a nod.
"I can see it is sometimes difficult for you to be in two worlds -- yours, of your own choosing and his ... also of your own choosing."
Animated, Sandburg threw out his hands in a helpless gesture. "But these last two days something's happened to me that's never happened before and ... and ..." he added quietly, "...and I guess it scares me."
"Yes. The unknown *would* frighten a scholastic. But *you* have done more than just live your life out of books. You seek the unknown, the unusual."
"Yes," Sandburg agreed, once more becoming hyper. "But don't you see, *I'm* the unknown here -- to me, to my friends. *I* have become unusual."
The gypsy laid a calming hand on his shoulder. "Something tells me, darlin', you were *never* mainstream."
He had to smile at that remark, knowing how true it was. Then he sighed and pushed a lock of wayward hair back into place. "So, what do you suggest?"
She shrugged. "Hey, I'm not Ann Landers -- but I might offer a piece of advice -- this *talent* that you now possess, you do so for a reason. For now, accept it, use it to your advantage and for the betterment of others. Its reason for existing will become known in time."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"It's difficult for the teacher to think of himself as a student." She opened the door to her RV and smiled at him. "Beer?"
Momentarily taken by surprise, Sandburg only smiled and nodded. Then he took the time to notice how young she was, with long black hair tucked behind her ears and huge dark eyes to get lost in. "You have a pretty good talent yourself," he said, referring to her insight as he accepted an amber bottle.
She smiled and lowered her head, gazing at him through tilted night-black eyes. "Oh, you have no idea."
He choked and sputtered on his first swallow at that remark and looked at her with blue eyes wide in wonderment. The difference of night and day. Clearing his throat, Sandburg thanked her for the advice and walked back toward the main grounds.
"Come back when you get control of your talent," she winked at him as she disappeared into the mobile home.
*Oh, man.* Sandburg grinned as he walked back onto the world of the medieval festival. *Have I got it or what!* His spirits were considerably lifted as he continued his circumference of the grounds. He was getting ready to return to his car when he noticed the weapons' booth. The same booth where Ellison had nearly gotten sick from the vile smell attacking his heightened sense. Curious, he wandered closer. His heart began to beat rapidly, his mouth lost all moisture, and his body filled with adrenaline. *This is strange.* He thought to himself, recognizing the symptoms of flight or fight. *There's nothing here to be afraid of. Why am I acting this way?*
Jim Ellison's head snapped up from the attention he'd been giving the photos strewn about on his normally tidy desk. Staring straight ahead, he concentrated on a connection with his Guide that had suddenly been activated. Sandburg was very frightened of something ... or someone. There was trouble ...? He tried to see, tried to feel, but the link wasn't strong enough. He knew his partner wasn't in grave danger or the connection would've sent him reeling. *What the hell could've happened at the library? Unless ...* Ellison's brow creased in a dark frown as he realized that Sandburg, in all probability, didn't go to the library. *But where *is* he?*
Evil watched his every move. Small, clouded eyes, mere pinpricks of vision, stared in loathing and with all his twisted, shrunken heart wished he could spell Sandburg's death. But that ability was taken from him hundreds of years ago -- a decade of centuries ago. *But you *will* die, Kalabar. You think you can hide from me within your new young body? Hah! You've made a fatal mistake by always looking so similar to your original self. But I would know you anywhere ... in any shape. I will take pleasure in watching the ground turn crimson with your blood. Yours and your infernal apprentice.*
Sandburg could almost feel the evil permeating the structure, it was that tangible. He shuttered against the increasing coldness surrounding him and began to doubt his wisdom in not telling Ellison where he was going. The closer he got to the small booth, the more his head began to spin. His stomach was attempting to do somersaults and he dragged in gulps of fresh air in an attempt to calm it. He extended a shaky hand toward the building to steady himself, but when he touched the surface he cried out in pain and jerked it away. Intense heat had reddened the palm of his hand and he could tell there were going to be blisters. Instinctively, he quickly folded his hands together and entwined his fingers in an ancient position of protection, bowing his head and holding them in front of his forehead as he backed away.
Only a Sentinel would have heard the softly muttered curse at the end of the failed incantation as a skeletal hand carefully closed the ancient hand-written grimoire.
"Chief, there's gotta be more to it than that." Using his medic's training, Jim Ellison gently bandaged Sandburg's left hand as he listened to his explanation of his latest adventures.
"OW! I swear, Jim. That's IT! After I touched that super-hot building, I split. And I mean, double-time."
"At least you could have told me you were going back there," Ellison admonished as he tossed the tape into the medical kit and latched it.
"I know, I know. I'm sorry you were worried." He looked at his gauze-covered palm and flexed blistering fingers. "Ow!" he murmured more softly, more as a statement than an exclamation.
"That will get real sore in the next few days. You'll have to be careful so it doesn't get infected."
"Yes, sir, doctor. Okay, what now?"
"I'd like to take a look inside that weapons' booth, but without a warrant ..."
"I know, I know. I've been around you guys long enough. There's no evidence to link anyone within that booth with the serial killings."
"Exactly." Ellison rose and strode toward the bathrom, allowing himself a slight grin. *I can't believe it. Blair's starting to think like a cop!*
"Jim," Sandburg said softly from the kitchen. He hadn't moved from the table. "There's going to be another murder tonight."
Ellison's jaw clenched as he replaced the medical box in the bathroom drawer and slowly closed it. "I know."
"You mean to tell me that nowhere in Cascade's modern police laboratories could they find a clue so we can stop this guy?"
"Oh man." Sandburg ran his right hand through his long curls, forcing them back behind his ears. "This really sucks."
Ellison nodded. "Not much we can do about it. Forensics found no fingerprints anywhere, no ripped clothing, nothing left by the killer. All we know is he or she is approximately your height, judging by the position of the writing on the wall."
"Just great. That narrows the suspects down to a few thousand."
"Jim, you didn't sense anything when you were there? No visuals, no smells?"
Settling into the living room sofa, Ellison shook his head. "This time Forensics was real thorough. I couldn't find anything more than they did."
"I had it tuned way down. It was pretty bad, Chief."
"Jim, I was right there! I could've helped you isolate and tune out the individual odors."
"Too many people around. I took care of it, Sandburg."
But his partner was already on his feet. "Let's go back to the house where the girl was murdered last night."
Ellison released a long-suffering sigh. "Why?"
"Cause. I'll be right with you and there won't be any other cops around."
"You won't let this rest until we do, will you?"
Ellison grabbed his keys as they headed out the door. "That's what I was afraid of."
The white vinyl-sided house did not stand out from the rest of the cookie-cutter homes on the block save for the bright yellow crime scene tape strung across the door. Standing on the sidewalk looking up at the darkened house, Sandburg took a deep breath and told himself that the girl's body had long since been removed. All the same ...
"Okay, let's try this one step at a time." Sandburg looked up at his partner and gestured broadly. "Close your eyes and try opening your senses. Just tell me what you smell."
"Um, *oh man!*" Ellison immediately shut down and glared at Sandburg. "Garbage!"
Sandburg looked around at the dozens of cans lining the street and then up at Ellison, chagrined. "Sorry about that. I guess it's garbage day tomorrow. Try again. Filter that smell out."
"Sandburg." Ellison grumbled, annoyed. He really didn't see the point in doing this.
"Come on, do it. What've we got to lose?"
Shutting his eyes again, Ellison opened up his sense of smell, careful to tune out certain recognizable odors this time. Then, slowly, carefully, he cocked his head, homing in on a certain smell that shouldn't be there and began to walk forward. An excited Sandburg followed close behind. Careful not to allow his friend to zone out, he began to speak softly to him, "What is it, Jim? Is it inside the house? Do you recognize it?"
"Yeah, yeah I do." Ellison turned his penetrating blue eyes bright with discovery on his partner. "It's the same vile odor I smelled outside the weapons' booth Sunday." He ran a hand over his close-cropped hair. "How did I miss that?" He looked around the area in confusion. "How *could* I have missed that?!"
"Easy, Jim. Don't blame yourself." Sandburg's mind raced for a logical explanation to ease his friend's guilt. "Your subconscious probably recognized that smell and since you had such a violent reaction to it the first time, it automatically tuned it out."
"Damn! Just when I thought I had these senses figured."
"We're still learning. *I'm* still learning. There isn't a handbook on these things, you know."
Ellison sighed. "It's still not enough for a search warrant. What am I going to tell the judge? Well, your honor, there was this smell ... How exactly did I know about this smell? I have these heightened senses, you see ..."
"So what are we gonna do? We've got to investigate that booth. That smell is too unique to be a coincidence."
Staring straight ahead, clenching his jaw muscles, Ellison's mind was quickly assessing the avenues available. "What time is it?"
"Uh, almost 9:30."
Doing a rapid about face, Ellison sprinted for his truck. "Come on Chief. We're going to the fair."
The parking lot was deserted as Ellison and Sandburg pulled onto the fairgrounds. An almost full moon provided the only illumination, but on this clear and cloudless night it was all that was necessary. Indistinct voices from a handful of the professional fair vendors camped on the edge of the grounds filtered through the treeline sounding like a radio not quite locked onto the right frequency.
Ellison took note of the extraneous noise and tuned it down to fade into the background of his conscious as they hurried to the weapon's booth. The vile odor originating from within guided the Sentinel to the small building like a beacon.
"Anything?" Sandburg asked as they approached.
"No heartbeats." Ellison observed, cocking his head. "There's no one here."
"Why doesn't that give me a good feeling?" His partner muttered, walking up to the booth and looking around.
Reaching the building, Ellison stopped and shook his head, as if to clear it. "But whoever or whatever causes that stench *was* here." He raised his hand, palm forward, to within a fraction of an inch of its surface. "It's not hot now."
"Mnft," was Sandburg's only response as he found the only door and tried it. It was not locked.
"Chief," Ellison reached out as if to stop him. "I don't think that's such a good idea. I'm still a cop, you know."
"Yeah, well, I'm not. And it's not breaking and entering -- it's opening and entering." He peered at Ellison from behind the open door, eyes wide with excitement. "Join me?"
With a clenching of his jaw and a quick Sentinel-heightened scan of the area, he followed the smaller man into the medieval booth.
"It's pretty dark in here, let your heightened vision do all the work." Sandburg suggested.
"It's empty." Ellison noted the absence of all the knives and swords. "They must keep all weapons in their trailer during the week since there's no security guards."
"Jim! Over here, I found something." His partner excitedly whispered to him, then suddenly cried out in surprise, jerking his hand back.
"Chief! You okay?" Ellison asked quickly, then in the near darkness he noticed his partner quickly entwine his fingers as he softly muttered a series of ancient mantras.
"I'm fine. Just caught me by surprise." Sandburg said as he gently lifted a large leather-bound volume onto the countertop. He pulled out a penlight and warned his Sentinel that he was about to intensify the light. The small beam played over the well-worn cover and revealed hand-written pages as the young man carefully opened the book. "Oh, my god! Oh, my god!" he kept exclaiming softly as he turned brittle page after brittle page. The reflected beam of the penlight lent an eerie glow to Sandburg's countenance as his excitement grew with the revelation of each new page.
"Chief, it's just an old book," Ellison stated the obvious in a futile attempt to calm his Guide's ever increasing agitation at the book's contents.
Sandburg looked up, ignoring the long curls that half covered his face. "*No, Jim*. It's much more than that. I've *never* seen one. I don't even know how many still exist. This is a *grimoire*, and a black one from the looks of it."
Ellison shook his head in confusion and ran a hand over his close-cropped hair. It didn't look black to him -- it looked like old brown leather. "A *what*?"
"Well, this is a little out of my field, but I did take a few classes ... a grimoire is an ancient hand-written book that gives precise instructions for various rituals. This book tells what prayers and incantations to say, what to wear, what tools to use -- everything you'd ever want to know about how to conjure up a demon or a spirit."
"Oh, come on!"
"Jim, just listen to me. This book is probably five to six hundred years old. It predates the printing press. Even if *you* don't believe in it, it's a sure bet the owner does. Look at it. Not a speck of dust on it. It's been used -- and often. And here, this illustration ..." Sandburg excitedly turned the book around for Ellison to see and pointed at a crude pen and colored ink drawing of a prone woman with her chest opened and a man standing alongside holding her heart in the palm of his hand.
Wordlessly, Ellison glared at the illustration, his jaw muscles working overtime as he wondered what twisted mentality would write such a horrific how-to book. Eventually, he tore his eyes away from the page and looked at Sandburg. "Can you read any of it?"
Immediately, the young man straightened and held both hands up in surrender. His expression was of surprise and horror. "Oh no, man. I wouldn't even consider trying. I might accidentally conjure up a demon and I'd have no idea how to contain it."
"All right." Ellison respected his partner's wishes, even if they were a little extreme, and looked around the small booth, which was little more than the size of an elevator. "We've got some circumstantial evidence here, but nothing concrete. I want to nail this person so tight there's no way he can squirm loose. We'll get some plainclothes to work the fair tomorrow, keep an eye on this booth."
"Does that mean we're done? We can go home?"
Ellison nodded, "Put the book back exactly the way you found it." He noticed a flash of concern cross his partner's features. "Blair?"
Sandburg's alert blue eyes glazed over as his mind flipped into the distant past and he softly muttered, "I broke the guarding spell ... I broke it. I can't remember the planting ... how can I replace the guarding spell? He'll know I was here ... he'll know ..." Agitated now, he ran his bandaged left hand through a wayward lock of curls.
With his Sentinel's heightened hearing, Ellison understood clearly every word his partner said -- and it made absolutely no sense to him whatsoever. His friend's distress was obvious, though and that bothered him. "Chief, are you all right?"
With a jerk, Sandburg turned to his partner and blinked back to the present completely forgetting the reason for his distress. "Yeah, fine." Carefully, he replaced the book and dusted his hands on his already tattered jeans. "Let's get out of here."
The two men rode in silence back to the loft, each totally immersed in his own thoughts. Ellison's gut instincts told him that he had found the serial killer, but he needed hard evidence. Evidence that would stand up in court leaving no doubt in any jury's mind of that man's guilt.
Sandburg stared out the window for the better part of the ride home. His mind a jumble of past and present, reality and imagination. For some unknown reason, he was getting his own gut feelings -- and he didn't like them one bit.
The streets were deserted when Ellison parked the truck and trudged up the short flight to the loft. Trailing just behind Ellison, who was digging his keys out of his pocket as he approached the door, Sandburg didn't notice the warning mark until it was almost too late. Ellison's key was already in the lock and he was about to turn the doorknob when Sandburg cried out in surprise, "JIM!! STOP!!"
Immediately, Ellison's fingers spread wide over the knob and he backed away from his door. His first thought was a bomb trigger wire that he'd missed, but then he smelled *it* and turned to his partner. "*He* was here."
Nodding, the young man pointed a shaky finger at the door, "He left *that* as a warning."
Seeing nothing himself, Ellison had to assume it was more bloody writing that only his partner could see. "What is it?"
"I'm not real sure of its exact meaning, but the idea is a death threat."
"No way. Probably some spell he found in the grimoire."
Ellison sighed and reached for the knob. "I'll call Simon from inside and have him take a picture."
On instinct, Sandburg dived between the big man and the door, stopping him from opening it. Ellison's surprise was evident on his face and he was a little annoyed at his partner's insistence that mumbled words could be lethal.
"Jim, please ... just a minute." Sandburg had placed one hand on Ellison's broad chest and with the other began to fumble around in a large pocket in one of his oversized shirts he wore as a jacket.
"Chief, I'm tired ... hungry ... and out of patience." He turned the stony Ellison glare on his Guide. He could very easily lift his small friend and move him down the hall and out the door if he had to. And he was giving it more and more consideration. "Now get out of my way."
"Yeah. Another minute ..." Panicked that his partner would barge past him and into unknown danger lent more speed to his search. "Ah ha!" Smiling, he withdrew a small vial and held it up in front of Ellison's face.
"Sandburg ..." When Ellison used his last name in that tone, he was really irritated.
Quickly uncapping the tube, Sandburg tossed the clear liquid contents onto the door, roughly in the shape of a cross. The ensuing results were spectacular. White smoke billowed freely from the area of the bloody symbol that only he could see. Ellison jumped to one side, throwing his hands up in front of his face to guard it.
"What the hell did you do?" He shouted in annoyance, glaring at the smaller man through the thick, white clouds. "Was that acid?!"
Smiling broadly, Sandburg shook his head and held up the vial, blue eyes sparkling with excitement and discovery. "Holy Water. Got it a couple days ago. Figured it just might come in handy. Is this wild or what!!!"
"Water??!! Sandburg, water wouldn't ..."
"*Holy Water*." Sandburg corrected as he watched the smoke fade. The marking was now gone from the door and he looked up at Ellison in triumph. "It's safe now."
Ellison sniffed the area. Not only was there no more stench but there was no smell of smoke either. Carefully, he opened his senses. All was back to normal. He looked at his small friend in disbelief. How could Sandburg accept so blindly, so completely ... how could he be so -- right?! Drawing his gun, Ellison opened the door, all his senses on alert. He scanned the loft and could find nothing unusual, nothing out of place. He was about to tell Sandburg it was all right to enter when he sensed his Guide nearby and knew he was already safely inside. He removed the holster and tucked the weapon inside before laying it on the table. "How did you know?"
"You mean about the Holy Water?" Sandburg shrugged. He hadn't really thought about it. Certain things he just did on instinct, like he did with figuring out his friend's Sentinel abilities. "I don't know. It just felt right."
Ellison ran a hand over his close-cropped hair. Just when he thought he had a handle on his Sentinel abilities something new comes up and throws a wrench into the works -- there always seemed to be a constant reminder that he needed his Guide. Not that he needed a reminder. It would be hard for Ellison to imagine life without his small friend. Suddenly, he became aware that his stomach was rumbling just loud enough to let him know that it'd been several hours since he'd eaten. "I'm going to have a sandwich before turning in. Want anything?"
"No thanks, Jim. I'm about ready to crash. I think my adrenalin is wearing off. See you in the morning."
"Good night." Ellison strode into the kitchen and quickly made himself a ham and cheese sandwich. Grabbing a beer from the fridge, he took his midnight snack into the living room and parked himself comfortably on the couch. Uncounsciously, he listened for his friend's rhymtic breathing and, satisfied that he was sound asleep, finally relaxed.
"Hi, Jim." The familiar voice of his partner was at his elbow. Thinking that he must have woke up and changed his mind about having a snack, Ellison turned to face him and looked into a pair of older, blue orbs framed by wayward locks of curly brown hair.
"Yeah. I'm ba-a-a-ck!" Sandburg/Kalabar was perched on the arm of the couch. His feet on the cushions. " Bout time you fell asleep. We're in deep shit, my friend."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"I know the murderer and now he knows us. Or rather -- me. I broke the guarding spell he'd placed on his precious grimoire when I picked it up but then I couldn't remember how to reactivate it. Cintoban will know I've touched it. A thousand years ago he and I had it out over control of the world. Remember that battle I mentioned about opening the gates of Hell?"
"Oh great. Now we've got a reincarnated serial killer."
"Ah, well," Sandburg/Kalabar looked uncomfortable as he tugged a stray lock of hair into place. "Not exactly. After our ... ah ... skirmish, I was so mad at Cintoban I placed a curse on him."
"A curse of immortality."
"Oh, that's a real curse all right."
"Well, it is if the person ages normally."
The memory of the odor of death and decay so vile that Ellison almost passed out quickly surfaced and he was forced to surpress it least he become effected again. "The weapons' booth."
Sandburg/Kalabar nodded. "Renaissance Festivals are the perfect hiding place. Especially since I'm sure he's got himself another apprentince who can front for him." Sandburg/Kalabar shook his head sadly. "If only I'd destroyed that . . . thing . . . when I had a chance. Those girls . . ." Expressive blue eyes mirrored the anguish within. "My god, Jim, there have been over 600 deaths in the past thousand years caused by that man." Tears welled up and freely coursed down his cheeks. "Caused by me."
*Oh man,* Ellison thought, *No wonder Blair always blames himself for everything. It's instinctive. Now he's carrying a bucketload of guilt over the deaths of 664 women.* To Sandburg/Kalabar, he said, "Listen, you didn't kill anyone and you are not responsible for the actions of anyone else but yourself."
"Yeah, well, I've given myself that speech before too." He offered Ellison a lopsided grin as brown curls fell across his face. "I wasn't very convincing then, either."
"Well, in order to put him away I'm going to need more proof. Concrete proof for this century's courts. I can't expect you to put another curse on him."
"Courts won't do any good. No jail would be able to hold him for long. He still has some talents left."
"Then how . . .?"
"I left him one avenue of escape. One way to die, and in all these years he's never found it."
"What is it?"
Sandburg/Kalabar looked directly into Ellison's eyes and with a shutter, Ellison noticed the coldness of the blue, the hard set to the mouth and thought that a thousand years ago he would not have wanted to have been on the receiving end of this wizard's anger.
"Are you suggesting I deliberately ..."
Suddenly Sandburg/Kalabar straightened and smiled. "Gotta go. REM - you know how it is. I have to be with myself when I wake up."
"SANDBURG!" Ellison shouted at the fading apparation.
"You know, you really need to wake up and get off this couch. You're going to have a stiff neck if you sleep in that position all night," the disembdied voice chided him.
Blair Sandburg picked up the last egg from the carton and one-handedly cracked it into the pan. He cocked his head and listened to the water exploding from the shower head. Ellison had fallen asleep on the couch last night and woke up with an annoying stiff neck. Now he was attempting to ease the muscles back into cooperating with the hottest water at the greatest pressure he could stand.
*And, of course, he won't try any of my herbal muscle relaxers.* Sandburg thought, tossing bread into the toaster and prodding it into action.
The shower ended and out of the corner of his eye he saw his partner pad back to his room. "Breakfast'll be ready in a minute," he said into the air in a normal voice, knowing full well that Ellison's Sentinel hearing would pick it up.
A few minutes later the big man appeared and before Sandburg could open his mouth, Ellison pointed a finger at him and growled, "Don't say it. Don't say, I told you so.'"
Puzzled, Sandburg looked at him and grinned. "Jim, I wasn't even thinking that."
"Yeah, well," Ellison coaxed the warm toast out of the testy appliance and sat down. "Just in case you were." Then, pointing a butter-covered knife at his Guide, he added almost absentmindedly, "And keep your feet off the couch."
Sandburg almost laughed at the absurdity of the conversation, but instead, he divided up the rest of the breakfast and placed the steaming food on the table. As he sat down, he held both hands up in surrender. "Absolutely. No feet." Chewing on a forkful of eggs, he muttered, "Man, did you get up on the wrong side of the couch cushions this morning."
Ellison's eyes snapped into focus on Sandburg, "I heard that."
"Well, at least your ears are in working order."
A quick burst from Ellison's cell phone stopped the esclating conversation in its tracks. Glaring at his partner, he thumbed it on as he brought it into position. "Ellison," he barked at the phone,
"Banks. Jim, we've got another girl murdered. Same MO but the writing on the wall is missing. I need Sandburg ... God help me for saying that ... but I want him to take a look around and see if there's anything that our camera can't or won't pick up."
"Okay, Sir. We'll be right there - address?"
"9189 Delmont South. Oh, and if you tell Sandburg I needed him, I'll disavow all knowledge."
Captain's Banks' last statement almost enlisted a half smile from Ellison as he returned the compact phone to his pocket. "Come on, Chief. There's been another one."
"Oh man." Sandburg moaned as he grabbed his jacket and aimed for the door, breakfast dishes temporarily forgotten. "I really hate this. I really, really hate this!"
Captain Simon Banks met them at the door to the apartment. He noticed as Sandburg pulled in lungsfull of air in a valiant attempt to quell his already queasy stomach. Putting a comforting hand on the young man's shoulder, he said softly, "Sandburg, if there was any other way ... I know you're not an officer and I don't have any right to ask you to go in there ..."
Mentally calming himself with a favorite mantra, Sandburg shook his head. "It's all right, sir. At least I know what I'll find inside now. No more surprises."
Grimly, Banks looked over at Ellison. "Right. No more surprises."
But knowing what was inside and seeing what was inside were two entirely different things. Another life had been snuffed out -- somebody's daughter, somebody's sister, somebody's friend. The young woman was laying in the center of what could be construed as the living room, her chest open, her heart laying nearby. A very large pool of blood spreading outward from the body was being sponged up by the tacky, cheap carpet. Everyone could smell the death in that small room.
Sandburg gagged as all color abruptly faded from his face. His right hand flew up to cover his mouth as he turned toward the far wall, his eyes squeezed tightly shut against the vision that wouldn't go away.
Ellison felt his Guide's discomfort as acutely as if it were his own. He wished he could lessen it, but, unfortunately, all his heightened Sentinel senses allowed him to do was experience it. He walked over to stand behind Sandburg, blocking his view of the body in the living room should he turn around. "Chief ..."
"They were both covered before, man." Sandburg's soft voice feathered onto Ellison's hearing as he spoke to the wall. "I mean, I *knew* they were there, I saw the blood and all ... but ... *they were covered!!*"
"We can wait ..."
Still facing the wall, Sandburg shook his head. "No. I can do this. If there's any chance there's a lead here that I can find to help catch this maniac -- I'll do it!" Squaring his shoulders, he dragged in as deep a breath as his lungs would allow before bursting. Exhaling as he turned, he then nodded to his partner and began to concentrate on finding any numbers on the wall, studiously avoiding even a glance in the direction of the young woman's corpse.
As Sandburg searched for bloody writing on the wall, Ellison began his own investigation of the premises. Carefully, ever so carefully, he opened his sense of smell and filtered out the intense odor of spilled blood -- and there it was. The vile, odiferious scent of pure evil, the walking death he had first smelled at the weapons' booth and then later, at the scene of the murders. But he still needed more proof, concrete proof that would stand up in court. *But what good would that do? There isn't a jail built that can contain him.* Ellison suddenly frowned and ran a hand over his close-cropped hair. *Where did *that* idea come from?* His Guide's presence by his side alerted Ellison that he had nearly zoned out on sensing the smells within that close, dank room. How many minutes had passed? Five? Ten?
Only his macabre surroundings caused Sandburg to be oblivious to the fact that his large friend was border line zone out. "I can't find anything, Jim," he was forced to admit, however reluctantly. "There's no more numbers. Or maybe I just can't see them anymore."
Ellison snapped back into focus with a start at the sound of his Guide's voice. "Yeah. Well, I'm sure the captain appreciates your trying." He glanced down and studied Sandburg's troubled eyes. "You okay, Blair?"
"No. No, I'm not okay. And I won't be until this maniac is behind bars."
"Yeah. You're not the only one." Ellison laid his hand on Sandburg's back and carefully began steering him toward the door without going too close to the still uncovered body. As they passed by an end table, Sandburg suddenly stopped and stared at a photograph of the young woman and a tall, blond man in a football uniform. Arms wrapped around each other, they were smiling at the camera. "Blair, come on." Ellison urged, aware that his partner could easily become obsessed with the painful grief of others.
"Has he been notified yet?" Sandburg asked softly.
"Blair ..." Ellison rolled his eyes skyward, but could find no help from the heavens.
"He really should be, you know."
"I'm sure Captain Banks has everything well in hand." Ellison caught the captain's eye and motioned him over. "Blair was just wondering if the victim's boyfriend had been told yet, Simon."
Assessing the situation immediately, Banks cleared his throat to get Sandburg's attention "We got his phone number and address from her date book. A plainclothes officer is on her way over there now."
"Sandburg, you taking zone-out lessons from Jim?" Banks asked not unkindly.
When the young man looked up at the captain, his blue eyes shone with excitement, and his face was animated as he blurted, "Condoms!"
Ellison and Banks exchanged puzzled frowns. "What was that?" Captain Banks asked, thinking that Sandburg had finally fallen off the deep end of a shallow pool.
"In the bathroom, or the bedroom, maybe her purse ... Simon! Did you find any condoms?"
Ellison looked at his captain and could only offer a puzzled shrug.
"Yes, we did. But what's so unusual about that, Sandburg? After all, this *is* the nineties."
Excitedly, Sandburg faced both men. It made sense to him now. Why he couldn't see any numbers ... *why there weren't any numbers.* "Don't you see!? He couldn't count her! She wasn't a virgin! He couldn't use her as part of the sacrifice! She wasn't pure!"
"Damn!" Captain Banks chewed roughly on his unlit ever-present cigar. "Kathy!" he called to the coroner as she was overseeing the removal of the victim. As she looked up, he asked, "Were the first two women virgins?"
She nodded. "Yes, sir. Strange as it seems in this day and age, they were."
"Damn!" Banks muttered again, annoyed with himself that he'd overlooked such an obvious fact. But then, it was only really obvious to someone with a mind like Sandburg's. He looked at the young man and was forced to utter a complement. "Good work, Sandburg. That explains the lack of numbers."
But Sandburg was shaking his head vigorously. "There had to have been another murder last night. One no one has found yet. Since he couldn't count her, he had to have another victim, number 665. He *has* to stay on schedule."
"What schedule, Chief?" Ellison asked.
"Jim, I checked the calendar. There's a full moon tomorrow night. That *has* to be when he's going to perform ... whatever ceremony he has planned."
"So, he plans on killing number 666 tonight," Ellison considered thoughtfully.
Ellison looked Captain Banks directly in the eye. "It's time we paid another visit to the fair."
The deserted fairgrounds were quiet in the middle of the week. It was still several days until the weekend crowds would enter a 20th century conception of a medieval town for the last time that semester.
Detective Jim Ellison quickly scanned the area of the weapons' booth from the parking lot as soon as he and Sandburg arrived. There was no one there, as expected.
Sandburg pointed to the left. "There's the campgrounds. Most of the regulars have RVs and just stay there."
"Already paid a visit to the camp, have you?" If it weren't for the gravity of the situation, Ellison would've allowed himself a slight smile.
Shrugging, Sandburg muttered, "Hey man, what can I say? It's animal magnetism."
"Hum-m-m." Ellison exited his truck and motioned to Captain Banks as his squad car pulled alongside. "There's no one in the village. Let's check out the campgrounds."
"It's gonna be hard to block all the exits. The camp borders on the woods. Our suspect could bolt and hide," Banks observed.
Ellison's jaw muscles flexed as he fixed a hard, cold stare at the collection of trailers and campers. "Not from me, he couldn't," he grumbled softly.
A bony hand, with its skin as dark and shriveled as a mummy's, carefully handed the arrow to the teenager. Thomas accepted the shaft, almost gratefully, as he inserted it into the crossbow.
"You cannot miss," the raspy voice rolled out from under the black velvet hood that obscured his face. "Stay here within the area of the shielding spell and the apprentice will not hear or see you."
The young man nodded. He trusted the specter of a man he called "Master" and wanted desperately to please him.
"The apprentice must die," the voice continued. "Aim for the heart. My spelling will guide the arrow. You cannot miss. He will become too powerful if he lives and will be a danger to us all."
"What of the wizard?" Thomas ventured to ask.
"Without the power of his apprentice, my enemy will be easy to dispose of. He has forgotten the old ways -- and that will be his undoing. His and his world's." The gnarled old man hobbled away from his student muttering to himself. "I have plans for Kalabar. My own plans."
A slow, fluid movement -- so out of place in the wooded area surrounding the camp -- caught Sandburg's attention. Had living with a Sentinel for more than a year heightened his own senses? Or had just being around a cop made him more observant?
Why was he drawn to that motion? What *was* that motion?
"Jim ..." He called to his partner to direct his Sentinel abilities at the area, but to no avail. Ellison seemed oblivous to that section of the woods.
Sandburg stared; wishing he had just a little of his friend's incredible vision ... then he saw the reason for the disparate motion -- a man trying to conceal himself in the woods... no ... not just a man ... a SNIPER!! And it seemed as if he were aiming at the huddle of officers ... aiming at Jim!
Acting purely on instinct, an instinct 500 years in the making, Sandburg turned and bolted toward Ellison. "JIM!" he shouted in panic as he launched himself at his partner.
Jim Ellison looked up at his friend only seconds before the young man's body slammed hard into his in a flying tackle and they both crashed to the ground. He felt a pinprick of pain in his chest as well as the weight of his partner. He looked at Sandburg in surprise and mild annoyance that was quickly replaced by shock as his senses registered the young man's rapidly dropping temperature and fading heartbeat.
"Chief? What ...?" As his arms encircled the limp body to gently roll his partner off him, his fingers touched a thin wooden dowel protruding from Sandburg's back. "Oh god!" he muttered. Then to Captain Banks he shouted, "Officer down! Get an ambulance here stat!"
Dimly, Sandburg heard Ellison shout and fuzzily wondered who of the police officers had gotten wounded. He looked into Ellison's worried face and forced a grin in a useless attempt to alleviate his friend's fears. "Guess ... this is ... gonna ... hurt like ... hell."
"Blair, why?" Ellison was cradling his partner very carefully so nothing touched the arrow's shaft. Instantly and without conscious thought, his senses were registering his Guide's distress. The clammy blanket of shock was inching over his partner. No matter how close Ellison held him, he could not insulate Sandburg from the cold.
"Wasn't time ..." Sandburg laboriously gasped. His voice, barely a whisper, thundered in Ellison's ears. "You ... okay?"
"I'm fine." The big man heard an unfamiliar voice choke on a reply. Strange. His hypersensitive Sentinel vision was blurring. His first thought was that he'd have to tell Sandburg about that.
Sandburg's fuzzy vision from the initial shock was slowly beginning to clear. He stared into Ellison's face and could've sworn he saw those deep blue eyes begin to puddle with moisture. He was about to comment when the breath he was going to inhale to speak suddenly wasn't there. In a panic, he tried to drag in more air, but his lungs just weren't going to cooperate. He heard a rattling sound and likened it to the time he had a severe case of bronchitis -- only now it was louder and more definite. He didn't like it. It was uncomfortable. And not being able to breathe frightened him. It was a basic human reaction but it took his mind off the pain that was just now beginning to register in his brain.
His partner's panic assailed his senses and Ellison held Sandburg as close to his own body as he dared. "Easy, Blair. Easy. You've got a punctured lung. I can hear it. Shallow breaths, Chief. Shallow breaths. I know it's hard. I know you want to take a deep breath, but you can't. Trust me on this. I'm a medic, remember?" He felt Sandburg's head move against his chest once in acknowledgment. He sighed and heard the gradual slowing of the young man's heart and unsuccessfully willed his own to stop racing wildly in fear.
So in tune was he to his partner's fading vital signs, Ellison hadn't registered the firing of the Captain's gun at the sniper as soon as Sandburg was shot. He hadn't registered the half dozen officers who went charging past him into the woods after the shooter. But when someone shouted, "You got him, captain. He's dead!" Ellison suddenly wanted to scream, "NO! He's not!! HE'S NOT DEAD!"
"Where's that damn ambulance?" Ellison did allow himself to shout -- to no one in particular and everyone within earshot.
"Jim," Captain Banks' hand was on his shoulder. "It's only been a few minutes. It's on the way."
A few minutes? It was an eternity ago ... 500 years to be exact. 500 years of waiting for another Sentinel -- to guide, to protect -- TO PROTECT! Unbidden thoughts, remnants of a dream rolled through Ellison's mind. He looked down into the ashen face of his partner and forgotten words snapped into being, "The Guide's job was to guide and protect the Sentinel."
"Oh god, Blair." Ellison muttered aloud, "You knew about the sniper ... You did this on purpose..." He felt a tremor of pain course through the small, pale form cradled in his arms and his vision faded even more. "Hang in there, Chief." He swallowed past the growing lump in his throat and added softly, "Please don't leave me."
"Don't...plan...onit." was whispered as lightly as a cat's breath. Only Ellison's Sentinel hearing registered the words.
Gently coaxing a few stray curls out of Sandburg's face, Ellison's gaze fell on the bloodied, finely polished arrowhead protruding from his partner's chest. He remembered the pinprick he felt when the young man crashed into him and glanced down at the circle of blood surrounding a small tear in his sweater. It was a shallow wound, barely worthy of Ellison's attention. Hell, he'd had worse shaving cuts -- but this puncture was directly over his heart. With a shock, he realized the certainty of his death had not Sandburg intercepted the arrow. He wanted to scream, to beat his fists upon the ground in a primitive gesture of frustration and rage ... he wanted desperately to thump his partner on the back of his head and threaten him with bodily harm if he EVER did anything so reckless again ... he wanted to cry ...
A spasm suddenly rocked Sandburg's body, he gasped and grabbed a fistful of Ellison's sweater, willing himself close to draw on his large friend's strength for his own was fading fast. Ellison gathered him in his arms as tightly as he dared, creating an imaginary lifeline between them. Fearful now, that should his friend be taken away, far from his touch -- he would never again see him alive.
"Chief, I'm sorry ...so sorry ..." Ellison murmured repeatedly to his semi-conscious partner. Sandburg gave no indication he'd heard as his fingers loosened their grip on the wool and slid down Ellison's chest to dangle limply from his shoulder. His eyes, previously locked tight against the last waves of pain, suddenly relaxed -- his expressive face, now calm. Panicked, Ellison immediately opened his senses to his partner's life signs. He felt the slight vibration of shallow breathing and heard a faint, irregular heartbeat.
"Jim," Captain Banks knelt beside the two men, "The ambulance is here." He glanced at Sandburg's limp form encased within Ellison's large arms. He looked at his friend and forced a swallow down a tightened throat. Never before had he seen such a look of pain and fear etched on his detective's features. "Jim ...?" No response. Was this a zone out? How would he recognize it? How *did* Sandburg handle it?
Ellison blinked quickly and turned to the captain. "I heard you, Simon." The breaking voice was not his and he cleared it before attempting to speak again. "Better tell the medics they need a heavy-duty nipper to cut off the end of the shaft. They can't transport Blair with a foot of arrow sticking out of his back."
He didn't relax his hold even when the attendants arrived and began measuring Sandburg's vital signs. A low whistle of surprise caught Ellison's attention though and he turned to the paramedic staring at the arrow protruding out of his partner's back. "What is it?" he asked.
"I've never seen anything like *this* ... Hold him steady. I'm going to cut it as close to his body as I can."
The loud SNAP! caused Ellison to wince involuntarily. Once the shaft was removed and temporary padding and bandages were applied, the paramedics were ready to place Sandburg on the stretcher. Ellison hesitated a moment, fearful to cut the lifeline he'd connected to his partner.
"Sir?" The paramedic urged. "We're ready to move him now. You can release him. Sir?"
Ellison blinked, then looked into the ashen complexion of his Guide. Wordlessly, he shifted his precious bundle and with only marginal assistance from the two paramedics, carefully laid his partner on the stretcher. As Sandburg was being loaded into the ambulance, he felt Captain Banks approach.
"You go with him, Jim. Give me your keys and I'll drive your truck to the hospital."
With a brief nod of acknowledgment, Ellison tossed his captain the keys and climbed into the back to sit as close to his friend as possible, and if necessary, reestablish the lifeline with a touch.
"Captain?" One paramedic asked the tall, athletic black man. At Banks' affirmative nod he handed him a wooden dowel about a foot long. "Here, you just might find this useful." As Banks reached for the piece of arrow, the paramedic warned, "Be careful. This thing's thorny as an over-sized rose stem."
From the back of the ambulance, Ellison's blue eyes locked onto the protruding thorns encircling the shaft and Banks saw them darken with hate and fear. "If the shaft still inside Blair is like that..." he muttered.
"Yeah," the paramedic nodded as he closed the doors. "The surgeon will have a hell of a time getting it out without ripping -- ah -- inflicting further damage. That thing was custom designed to kill. No doubt about it."
As the ambulance pulled away, siren blasting a warning of its coming, Banks gazed at the thorn-encrusted shaft and shuttered. *Too close.* he thought. *Much too close.* He remembered the look of helplessness on Ellison's face as he cradled his young friend's unconscious body, and reconsidered. It might not be close after all. It might be dead on.
James Ellison allowed himself to be led to the waiting room. Since he was not permitted by his partner's side during the examination, he would have to be content with monitoring the activities surrounding him by using his heightened senses. Every beep of the heart monitor, every labored breath taken, Ellison registered. When a nurse breezed by on her way to the elevators, she stopped only long enough to inform him that Sandburg was on his way to OR; that he was alive; and if he knew any prayers ... say them.
Banks stopped by and sat with him for an eternity. Ellison, unresponsive, stared off in the distance ... listening, listening, ... registering a faint life-force that he held onto if only to protect his own sanity. After an hour, the captain realized the futility of the situation and considered he needed to process the paperwork of the past events. "Call me when he's out of surgery," he said in Ellison's ear. His only answer was a slight inclination of the big man's head. He wondered if Ellison should be left alone and decided that after he returned to the station, he'd assign an officer to watch over him and Sandburg.
He was alone; but only from the physical presence of a fellow officer. The link, the intangible union between Sentinel and Guide was still intact and Ellison held onto that link as his only contact with his reality.
Ellison's eyes snapped open. He must have dozed off for a moment. Disoriented, he looked up into the face of his friend and Guide ... "Blair? What ...?" Suddenly, the starchiness of the hospital waiting room registered and with a start, Ellison jumped up and stared in the direction of the operating room. Cold fear gripped his heart as, even in his sleep, his mind reached out and searched for life signs of his partner.
"Hey, easy, man. Easy," the apparition chided him as he sat down in the chair facing the couch Ellison's sleeping body was occupying. "I'm still alive. Okay? Sorry to startle you like that, but I had to see you."
"Kalabar. Damn!" Ellison's dream self resettled on the couch.
"Why don't you think of my name as Blair Kalabar Sandburg. Stop thinking of me as possessing Blair. We are one and the same person."
Ellison looked from the OR to Sandburg/Kalabar and fought the growing anxiety building in his stomach. "How is he ... are you?"
He shrugged. "I'm alive. For now that's the best I can do. I like this life, Jim. I don't want to leave it. I don't want to leave you."
"You have a crazy way of showing it. What possessed you to jump in front of that arrow like that?" As soon as he said it, Ellison knew he shouldn't have shouted at his friend. He should be thanking him for saving his life, not yelling at him for doing it. But right now Ellison would've traded places in a heartbeat with his young partner. He was helpless and he hated that feeling.
"Hey, sorry I saved your life. If it makes you feel any better, I was trying to tackle you out of the way, but ... well, hitting you was like hitting a brick wall and that arrow was moving just a tad too fast to get both of us out of the way."
Drawing in a deep breath, Ellison tried to calm himself. Tried to calm the fear, the anger, the frustration. "Thank you. But ... DAMNIT, Blair ... I .." He looked helplessly around the waiting room, trying to sense in sleep what came automatically to his awake self. "Don't die on me, Chief. Please don't die. I need you."
"I need you, too, man. We're becoming a unit, in case you haven't noticed. One heart, one mind, one thought. You think I haven't realized that you know when I'm around? That you know when I'm in trouble -- even though I'm miles away?" Sandburg/Kalabar cocked his head and allowed a strand of hair to fall over his face. "That's part and parcel of the Guide/Sentinel thing."
"Was that the way it was ... before?"
"Before ..." Sandburg/Kalabar sighed and looked off into the distant past. "We were best friends, grew up together. When the tribal elders determined that Ulan had the gift of Sentinel senses they were going to pick his Guide -- usually an older man, more experienced than the young Sentinel." He turned to Ellison and gazed deeply into his soul. "Ulan refused the choice. He said he could trust no one but me. It was a great honor, you know. At that time, the Sentinel depended on his Guide for everything. He trusted his Guide with his life every day. We were closer than any man and woman, closer than any blood relative. Over the years ... we became one. One heart, one soul, one mind." He blinked, cleared his throat, and snapped back to the present. "Of course, it probably won't be quite as tight a bond in this century. After all, you have your life and I have mine." He brushed the hair out of his eyes in a gesture so familiar, Ellison wanted to cry. "Right?"
Wanting to avoid further discussion on such a painful topic, Ellison inclined his head toward the OR. "Shouldn't you be getting back just in case you wake up?"
Sandburg/Kalabar shook his head. "I won't be waking up for awhile." That sounded way too ominous for Ellison's comfort, but before he could comment on it, the apparition of his partner continued, "I need you to NOT wait for me. You have to stop Cintoban before he opens the gates of Hell. You're the only one, Jim. Only you have the power to stop him."
"No. No way. I'm not leaving you until you're out of surgery. Until you look me in the eyes and I know you're going to make it."
"Jim," Sandburg/Kalabar pleaded, "I might not wake up for days *if ever* it's going to be a full moon tomorrow night -- the ceremony -- *please* you must stop him!"
"I don't know where he is. I don't even know what he looks like."
"You don't have to know what he looks like. You can smell him. And there's only one place where he *could* be. In the woods surrounding the fairgrounds."
"Sandburg. I am NOT leaving you."
"Listen to me, Jim. This will be the greatest use of your Sentinel abilities -- ever! To save the entire world, man!" Ellison's only response was to stare in the direction of the operating room. Sandburg/Kalabar sighed and batted a lock of hair back into place in frustration. His Sentinel was not going to leave him to pursue phantom demons. He began to realize that Jim Ellison only existed in the 20th century -- that was *his only* reality. Sandburg/Kalabar was going to have to try a different approach. "There's going to be another murder tonight," he said softly as he leaned forward.
Ellison turned to fix sunken blue eyes on his ageless partner. "I'm not leaving you," he murmured.
"How about a compromise? You stay with me until I'm out of surgery, then you take off for the woods? Okay?"
Looking heavenward, Ellison sighed. "I need you, Chief. What if I zone out on that smell when I get close to it?"
Sensing an agreement in the making, Sandburg/Kalabar smiled and quickly added, "Take Captain Banks."
"Simon doesn't ..."
"At least he knows about your abilities and he knows about zone out. I know he's not a Guide, but in a pinch he'll do." Sandburg/Kalabar grinned broadly. "And you can tell him I said that."
A corner of Ellison's mouth twitched.
Not giving his friend a chance to state a definite NO, Sandburg/Kalabar continued as if the agreement was a done deal. "Great. After I'm out of surgery, you'll need to make a quick stop at the loft. In my room you'll find a small plastic bottle with a gold cross on it. It's filled with Holy Water. Take it." He quickly held up a hand to quiet his Sentinel's objections. "Humor me, Okay? Remember the door? Take the Holy Water."
"I ... I don't know ..."
"Jim, you'll do just fine. You have the power. That's why Cintoban is afraid of you."
Ellison's attention wandered back to the operating room. "How's it going in there?"
Sandburg/Kalabar sighed and stood. "I'm still alive if that's what's worrying you. Jim, I promise you ... whatever happens, I will not leave you while you go after Cintoban."
"You can't promise that."
"I do have some small powers left. Trust me, okay? I'll be with you if you need me."
Ellison turned back toward the chair -- only to find it empty. "Blair?"
"Detective Ellison?" A weary, bent middle-aged woman in surgical scrubs gently placed her hand on his shoulder. Jumping awake, he startled the doctor into backing up a step.
Panicked, he looked from her to the OR and back again. "Blair?"
"He survived surgery. He'll be a few hours in recovery before he can be moved to a room."
"That's it? All you can say is He survived surgery'?"
"Right now ... yes. The surgical team had to create a considerable opening around the arrow in order to remove it without tearing into the surrounding tissue. His lung has been repaired and there was no other damage save to muscle, which, unfortunately created a great deal of internal bleeding. The next 24 hours are critical and if he makes it through the night, there's a good chance he'll have a fifty/fifty chance."
"Where is he? I have to see him."
Exhausted, she shook her head. "He's in recovery. Later."
Ellison towered over her and steel-cold eyes bored into hers. "I want to see him. I *have* to see him. Now."
"Look, detective ..."
She took in his torn, blood-stained sweater, his sunken eyes with the haunted look and sighed. "All right; but only for a few minutes. Follow me."
James Ellison, survivor of 18 months alone in the Peruvian jungles, hardened detective of the Cascade police force, stood by the bedside of the unconscious Anthropology student and allowed an uncommon tear to course down his chiseled features. Reaching out, he enfolded his partner's limp hand with his own and cleared the lump out of his throat before speaking.
"Hey, Chief. I just had to check on you. I know you can't hear me, but I wanted to tell you that I'm going after the killer. I have to get him before he murders another young woman."
Gently stroking the left hand that still carried a light bandage to protect the burns he received when the touched the weapons' booth -- so very long ago. He tried to see past his Guide's pale face and remember his constant vibrancy, the laughing eyes -- and told himself that they would return.
"Don't worry about me. I'm taking Simon as backup." He allowed a corner of his mouth to twitch upward. "I know he's not a Guide but in a pinch he'll do." He looked down at the small hand nearly hidden within his own. "You know, I've heard that in some cultures when a person saves the life of another, that life belongs to him." He had to clear his throat again before he could continue. "I guess that makes you my Blessed Protector now."
Ellison knew he had to leave, had to go after the killer --- but he was so afraid to break the tenuous lifeline he had just reestablished. So afraid his partner wouldn't be waiting for him when he returned.
So afraid ...
"Blair ... God, Blair ... don't die." He willed his senses past the steady beep of the monitor and the almost imperceptible swoosh of the respirator to find his friend's own faint lifesigns. He found them, and held onto them. Willing them to grow stronger. Willing a part of himself were that possible.
A dot of moisture fell onto the sheet where Sandburg's hand was covered by that of his large partner's. Suddenly, Ellison gulped in a deep breath. His body shook with the exertion and he nearly lost consciousness. In his zone out, he'd temporarily forgotten to breathe. "Oh man," he muttered to his unconscious partner. "Why is it whenever I really need you, is when I'm reminded of how much I need you, because you're not there?"
Steadying himself, Ellison removed his hand and looked into the serene face of his friend. "You'd better be here when I get back," he warned. And before he could change his mind, turned and quickly strode out of the room and out of the hospital.
"Just what do you mean, you want to go back to the woods? Do you know how late it is?" Captain Simon Banks was just about to close his office door and call it a night when Ellison appeared in the doorway.
"I know how late it is, Simon. That's why I have to go *now*. I have to be there before midnight."
"Jim, you need to go back to the loft and get some rest ..."
"No. I can't. If you won't go with me, then I'll go alone." Purposefully, Ellison turned on his heel and strode toward the elevators.
"Jim! Jim, wait up." Banks sighed and stuffed an unlit cigar into his mouth. "All right. I'm going with you. Damn, you're stubborn." He shrugged into his overcoat as he stepped into the elevator.
"I do need to make a quick stop at the loft ..." Ellison said as the doors closed them inside.
Banks eyed Ellison's sweater, still covered in Sandburg's blood and a jagged hole torn over his heart area. "To change that sweater, I hope."
The fairgrounds were as quiet as a dead phone line when Ellison pulled his truck up to the entry gates. As he stepped down from the cab, all his senses went on alert, scanning the immediate area. Banks waited what he considered an appropriate amount of time before asking, "Anything?"
Ellison nodded in the direction of the woods. "The smell is strongest that way." Then broke into a comfortable jog. Luckily for Simon Banks the moon was bright enough for him to see his way without any heightened senses for Ellison was not waiting for anyone. When he reached the edge of the underbrush, he stopped and motioned for his captain to approach cautiously. Instincts honed by years of military training and months spent surviving in the jungle immediately resurfaced. "I don't see him, but I do hear some kind of chanting off to the right."
"Okay. Single file, weapons ready. You lead." Banks own military training reappeared as if combat had been only yesterday.
Silently, Ellison moved toward the sound followed closely by his captain. Within minutes they had found a small clearing illuminated by a ghostly campfire. In the center, the body of a young woman lay motionless on the bed of grass. Her chest had been opened and by her head, her heart lay alone on a flat rock. Standing between the body and the campfire with his back to the two men, was a short figure completely enveloped by a black, hooded cloak that fell to the ground in folds. The figure held aloft in his left hand -- a rock -- and was chanting furiously.
"We're too late," Banks whispered, infuriated at the carnage before him.
"Not for the ceremony," Ellison returned.
"Ceremony, Hell!" Banks spat and jumped from his cover, gun raised and trained on the figure before him.
"Simon, NO!" Ellison hissed too late.
"Cascade Police! Turn around with your hands raised and drop your weapon!" Banks shouted at the figure.
"Damn!" For reasons Ellison could never explain, he ducked behind the surrounding bushes, making the most of whatever cover they could provide, and scurried to his right, his heightened senses on alert.
The figure slowly turned. His arms never moving. The bottom of his robe floating, changing direction. There was nothing visible within the folds of the hood. Nothing visible to Simon Banks, but Jim Ellison's Sentinel vision saw a demon from Hell. So intent on capturing the madman before him, Banks didn't hear his friend's sharp intake of breath; or notice the slight glow emanating from within the hood. The crackle of lightening caught him completely by surprise and he collapsed to the ground unconscious, his weapon still clutched tightly in his hand.
"JIM!" A familiar voice sounded in Ellison's mind. "The Holy Water, Jim. Dribble the Holy Water in a circle around you! NOW!" Quickly, he obeyed his partner's urging, not even considering how he was communicating with an unconscious Guide. "Don't move out of the circle. It will protect you."
"What about Simon?" Ellison muttered aloud.
"Simon's no threat to him. Cintoban fears *you*. It's you he wants dead, Jim. Don't give him an opening."
Slowly, Ellison stood up within the circle, weapon raised and pointed at the heart of the apparition before him. "Drop the rock," he commanded.
The hood inclined toward Ellison; the old, raspy voice was soft, almost hypnotic. "Ah ha! Apprentice! Couldn't fool you, could I? Even by moving the ceremony up a night, you're still here. And you've done some homework, too! Made yourself a guarding, have you?" Then it suddenly lost control and screamed irrationally. "Do you really think you can stop me? After a thousand years -- do you really think I will be stopped by an innocent!!??"
"I think you can be stopped by a bullet," Ellison replied coolly, his gun hand never wavering.
"I don't," the figure stated simply and raised the black, encrusted rock above its head, cupping it tenderly within its two hands. It resumed the slow, rhythmic chant.
"I said DROP YOUR WEAPON!" Ellison shouted as the wind began to increase in intensity and threatening storm clouds gathered overhead.
The chant continued.
The clouds tumbled closer to the ground, grew in size and became as black as Cintoban's soul as lighting flashed horizontally within. The surrounding air was becoming heavy and Ellison felt as if he were trying to breathe underwater. His limbs were almost too tired to hold his weapon and he was becoming exhausted from trying to tone down the assault upon his hypersensitive senses.
And still the chant droned on.
"NOW, Jim," a familiar voice urged in Ellison's mind. The Sentinel drew a deep breath, sighted -- and fired.
For one brief instant -- time, life and the surrounding universe stood still. For one instant. Then, all Hell broke loose ...
Ellison had shot the focal point of that being's existence -- the rock. When the bullet tore through that ancient piece of quartz, reducing it into a million pieces, the evil within the robe screamed in frustration, rage and pain. A scream that was dredged up from the bowels of Hell itself as fragments were embedded in the face of the thing that once called itself human.
Lightening blanketed the clearing, reducing small trees and shrubs to ashes; forcing Ellison to stay within his protective circle as the bolts struck all around him, but could not pierce the guarding spell of the circle of Holy Water. But the din was almost too much for the Sentinel to bear. Huddled on the ground, his hands clasped tightly over his ears, Ellison could only watch the fireworks through silted eyes as he wondered, briefly, if any of this errant weather was being caught on radar.
He watched with interest as the hooded figure screamed and clutched at its face, staggering blindly around the campsite; long cloak billowing around it, but still revealing nothing. Suddenly, the figure stumbled into the fire. Immediately, the flames reached for the dirty, decaying fabric and enveloped it. Different screams now emanated from within the darkness of the hood. Cries of agony. Instinctively, Ellison positioned himself to run out of his circle and help put out the fire that was quickly consuming the figure within the robe. But that familiar voice whispered in his mind, "No, Jim. The evil must die." Ellison allowed himself to sit back down, cradle his aching head between his hands and try to shut out the screams. Through all the commotion, he thought he heard an almost human voice cry, "No! I changed it!! I changed it!!"
A lighting strike nearby temporarily blinded the Sentinel and when he was finally able to blink past the white spots dancing before his eyes the weather had cleared, the campfire was extinguished, and there was no hooded figure to be found. Banks was staggering groggily to his feet and calling for him, concern evident in his voice.
"I'm okay, Simon," Ellison called out, getting to his feet. "Are you all right?"
"One hell of a headache, but other than that ..." Banks was standing, leaning against a nearby tree, as he surveyed the scorched clearing. "Damn! Looks like I missed the fireworks."
"Not really." Ellison lied. "Wasn't much to see."
Quickly standing upright, the captain shot anxious glances all around him. "Where's our serial killer, Jim?"
"His robe caught fire. He was pretty much a ball of flames when he ran into the woods. I imagine we'll find his body somewhere out there tomorrow."
Banks shuttered. "Wish I could say I felt sorry for him, dying like that ... but I don't. Not after what he'd done."
Ellison nodded and pulled out his cell phone. "I know what you mean. I'll get the coroner out here to take care of the last victim; then, I'm headed back to the hospital."
"I'll get her. You go on. I'll catch a ride back to the station." Captain Banks said as he dug out his phone and flipped it open.
Gratitude flashed across Ellison's features as he pocketed his phone and turned to go. "Thanks, Simon."
"Tell Sandburg ... well, tell him everyone at the station is pulling for him."
James Ellison dragged in a deep breath and steeled himself for whatever he might see on the other side of the hospital door. He'd already extended his sense of hearing as soon as he'd entered the building, searching for the one and only heartbeat that was instantly recognizable to him. He *had* found it ... and offered a prayer of thanks that his partner was still alive. But as he paused by the closed door to Sandburg's room, extending his hearing, enveloping his friend like a blanket, he tried to determine beforehand his physical condition. Ellison hated surprises.
He gently pushed open the door and entered.
The small form half hidden under the covers looked as pale as the sheets he was laying on to Ellison's eyes. A heart monitor beeped softly in the corner and an IV trailed down into his wrist, replacing the blood he'd lost. He was calm -- and to Ellison that was the most disturbing thing of all. He pulled up a nearby chair and sat by his friend's bed. Placing his left hand over Sandburg's still bandaged one, he needlessly brushed a few stray curls from his partner's face with the other.
"How're you doing, Chief?" Ellison asked softly. "Everyone's worried about you, you know." He cleared his throat since lately it seemed that everytime he wanted to talk to his partner, there was an obstruction in it. Not to mention his vision kept getting blurry. "Simon and I got the bad guy. I shot his rock." He allowed himself a half smile. "You really would've enjoyed the fireworks. It was almost enough to give an atheist religion."
He studied his Guide for a moment. It was not often he saw Sandburg so quiet ... so unpleasantly, so annoyingly, so frustratingly ... quiet. He sighed and made himself comfortable in the chair, still holding onto his partner's hand -- creating a reassuring lifeline.
Ellison looked up to see Sandburg/Kalabar sitting on the edge of the hospital bed. "Blair!"
"So you shot old Cintoban's rock -- MAN!! I wish I'd been there to see that!!" Sandburg/Kalabar was grinning broadly, nearly bouncing off the bed in his enthusiasm. "And fireworks?? There were fireworks?? MAN!! I bet he was PISSED!!"
"Pissed was not the word for it. I *never* want to go through that again."
"Jim ... Cintoban ... is he ...?"
"His robe caught fire, as if you didn't know. You *were* with me somehow, weren't you? You were giving me instructions, advice, the entire time."
Sandburg/Kalabar's bright blue eyes sparkled with unrestrained exuberance. "I told you I would help you, didn't I? Why don't you believe me when I say I'll be with you?"
"Pure 20th century stubbornness, I guess. That's not supposed to be able to happen."
The young/old Guide cocked his head in a familiar gesture and smiled. "Sentinels aren't supposed to happen, either."
Ellison smiled back. "Touch‚."
"Hey, man." Sandburg/Kalabar turned serious, "Thanks for everything, okay? I know I don't say it often enough, but I *do* think it. Thank you for being my friend, for being there for me ..."
"Chief, in case you forgot -- *you* saved *my* life, remember?"
"Yeah, well ... it works both ways." The figure on the bed smiled again and began to fade. "Thanks for everything, Jim. I've gotta go now."
Panic rose in Ellison's chest and he reached for his vanishing partner. "Chief?! BLAIR!! Don't leave me!! Damnit, I need you!!"
"I need you too, man." A whisper-soft voice murmured from the bed.
James Ellison woke with a start and jumped out of the chair he had dozed off in. Concern clouded the rich blue of his eyes as he smiled down at his partner. "Hey, Chief. Had me a little worried there."
Sandburg tried to focus on his large friend as he worked up the strength to speak. "Me too."
"Um ... thanks for saving my life. That sounds a little inadequate, doesn't it, considering the circumstances."
A lopsided grin was Sandburg's only response. He was so tired and speaking took so much energy.
"Look, you need to rest." The big man released his partner's hand, but Sandburg had other plans. With surprising strength, he clutched at Ellison's hand and held on. Ellison stared at his Guide's fingers locked around his own and smiled. "Okay. I won't leave. I'll be here the next time you wake up. Promise."
Sandburg nodded once and content, drifted off into a restful sleep.
Out of habit, Ellison extended his senses and allowed them to touch on his young friend's vital signs. Satisfied that they were, indeed, stronger, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax into the chair.
"Thanks, man," a strong, familiar voice said in his mind.
"You're welcome, Chief," Ellison replied as he drifted off to sleep.