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 knowledge of grammer and her questioning mind. Her valuable suggestions have enabled me to make it flow better and be more understandable. Oh, and thanks for posting this to your web page too.
This is the second in the Kalabar/Cintoban series. You don't need to have read Past Perfect, Future Tense for this to make sense, but it would help.
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
Magic works in conformance to the natural laws of the universe. Sorcery was widespread in tribal societies and was practiced extensively in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean.
Sorcery is magic by the manipulation of natural forces and powers to achieve a desired objective. In the late Middle Ages, the name, sorcerer, was also applied to men of high learning, such as alchemists and physicians.
--- Man, Myth and Magic
"So Professor Sandburg, you're saying that you don't believe in God?"
The curly-haired young teaching assistant shook his head and stepped out from behind the worn, wooden desk. "No, Janae. That's not quite what I said."
"But sir, if the bible is a work of fiction ..."
"Janae, you need to learn to listen, not reinterpret a person's statements."
"Sir." A gum-chewing student with carefully placed holes in his new jeans waggled a hand in the air for attention. "Did you mean that the people who wrote the ancient texts, like the bible, could only draw upon the experiences within their own society and make conclusions based solely on the scientific facts as they knew them?"
Blair Sandburg smiled and enthusiastically nodded. "Exactly, Chad! For example, many ancient people would see a solar eclipse and either panic, thinking the world was ending, or believe that the sun was being swallowed by a giant dragon. Few cultures realized the reason for an eclipse. Or a wise man, creating common scientific experiments by today's standards, could be considered either a wizard or a demon."
"You mean like Merlin?" Janae asked, leaning forward in her seat.
"Merlin, or someone the character of Merlin was based on, was probably nothing more than a very intelligent man, dabbling in science. If he knew the properties of certain common minerals, he would be able to create fire, create a smoke screen to stage a disappearance, or send up multi-colored fireworks."
"Oh man," a voice from the back of the room grumbled loudly, "You mean there's no such thing as a wizard?"
The young instructor's smile almost erupted into a laugh. "Afraid not. Yesterday's wizards are today's scientists."
"But Professor Sandburg," Janae insisted, "About the bible ..."
A loud, persistent buzz interrupted her and Blair Sandburg sighed in relief at the signaled end of the class period. "Remember people, chapters 15 through 19 will be discussed on Monday." He turned back to his desk and began to stuff papers and books into a well-used backpack. Feeling a pair of eyes watching him, he looked up to see Janae Wilson standing by the corner of the old desk staring at him intently.
"Janae, I'm sorry but I have an appointment in," he stole a quick glance at his watch, "Less than five minutes and I'd really like to be there on time."
She gave one slow nod of her head, causing a section of long, straight red hair to fall over her shoulder and land in a graceful heap on top of the books clutched tightly to her chest. She turned to leave, then stopped and angled her head to see her instructor from the corner of one eye. "I just think there were some people who were very different from the common man of a thousand years ago."
"Think about it, sir. A genetic predisposition to be a prophet, or a healer, or a warrior, or a wizard. Why not?"
Sandburg stopped and looked at her, his intense blue eyes wide with surprise. Quickly, he caught himself, cleared his throat and finished buckling his pack. "Perhaps you'd like to expound upon your theory of ancient people with genetic predispositions in a paper for extra credit?"
"Maybe." She shrugged and strode out the door.
Smiling, the young man shook his head in amazement as he shouldered the backpack and left the lecture hall. Blair Sandburg, student of anthropology, teaching assistant, police observer, and secretly a guide to a sentinel with all five heightened senses, was well aware of genetic predispositions.
Out in the hallway, he quickly glanced at the clock above the drinking fountain and increased his pace. He was going to be late if he didn't hurry. Nathan Gladstone, of the archeology department, had received a shipment of ancient burial urns. He had told Sandburg when he was going to unpack them and the young man was anxious to be there for the grand unveiling.
He rounded a corner, jogged down a flight of stairs and headed for the storeroom where Gladstone had had the crates delivered that morning. Cautiously, he opened the door, just in case something had been placed too near the entrance.
"Well, it's about time." A middle-aged man with a graying buzz cut peered out from behind a stack of wooden crates. "But then, that's what archeology is all about isn't it?" He smiled. "Time."
"Hi, Nathan." Blair Sandburg stepped over a wooden lid and dropped his backpack in the corner. "Looks like you started without me."
"Time waits for no archeologist, my young friend." Gladstone grunted as he attempted to lift a large, sealed pottery urn decorated with fading glyphs out of a crate. "Or anthropologist. Besides, I was getting itchy about opening these crates. Figured you'd be along as soon as I did all the heavy work."
"Oh, man. This is a beauty!" Sandburg rushed to assist the field archeologist with the heavy urn. Together they carefully placed it on a nearby table. "Geeze, it still has the plug intact."
"Yeah, they all do. And each one is painted. I figured between the two of us, we just might be able to decipher some of the glyphs before next Christmas."
"Wow!" The young man grinned as he helped pop the lid on another crate. "This IS like Christmas!"
"This is a pretty old piece. It's dated at around one thousand A.D. It's rather small though. Why don't you take care of it while I tackle another crate." With a smile, Gladstone hefted the hammer and moved off to attack more nails.
Excitedly, but at the same time, carefully, Sandburg removed the packing. As the urn was gradually revealed, he began to feel lightheaded. He shook his head to clear it, but that only succeeded in intensifying the feeling. Leaning against the crate, he closed his eyes and placed his head in his hands. Slowly, the fog began to lift and he breathed a sigh of relief as he tried to remember if he had eaten breakfast that morning. He glanced over at his friend who was busily unpacking a huge gourd. Good, he hadn't noticed. Sandburg dragged in lungsfull of air, tugged a stray lock of curly hair behind his ear and steadied himself before reaching in to grasp the squatty little urn. As his fingers made contact with the grainy surface, his expressive blue eyes widened in surprise and shock before they rolled back under their lids and he quickly and wordlessly crumbled to the floor, unconscious.
The tall, impeccably dressed captain of the Major Crimes Department, Simon Banks, approached his best detective's desk with a slim manila folder. "Here's all the information available on Russ Dawson," he spoke around an unlit cigar which he then removed to use as a pointer. "The FBI wants our help on this one real bad. Seems their profiler has Dawson pegged as a true sociopath. No feelings, no remorse. Collects bodies like some folks collect stamps."
Detective Jim Ellison flipped open the folder and scanned the first page. He was a man with the unique gift of five heightened senses, a throwback to a more primitive time when sentinels used those senses to protect the tribe. Now, assisted by his partner and Guide, Blair Sandburg, he protected the city.
"So, the Feds think Dawson is in Cascade?"
"Yeah, they followed a trail of bodies. Led them right here." Banks replaced the cigar in his mouth and shrugged into his overcoat.
"Eleven people dead so far. The last one was at a gas station just outside the city," Ellison murmured as he glared at the facts and clenched his jaw muscles.
"The man has no conscience, Jim. We need to do everything in our power to nail him." The captain glanced at his watch. "I was just on my way to lunch, want me to get you anything?"
Without warning, Detective Jim Ellison sat upright at his desk as a chill suddenly waifed through his body and left him with an urgent desire to connect with his Guide. Although he was almost getting used to his five heightened senses, there were times when it seemed a sixth sense was forming between him and Blair Sandburg.
Banks, the only other person officially aware of Ellison's special abilities, noticed the vacant, unblinking stare into the unknown that accompanied the Sentinel's occasional zone out. A condition that the Sentinel's young Guide knew best how to handle... but Sandburg wasn't there at the moment.
Quickly he glanced around the bullpen to see if any of the officers were watching him. When he saw that they were all engrossed in their own work, he leaned over the immovable detective, effectively shielding him from the eyes of any casual observer, and grasped his shoulder. "Jim. Jim!" he hissed as loudly as he dared, hoping he would be able to snap Ellison out of his trance.
The phone's loud ring abruptly cut into the quiet surrounding the detective's desk. Ellison blinked and confused blue eyes locked on his captain. The phone screamed again and, operating solely on automatic, he answered it, "Ellison."
"Yes. Who is this?" The feeling of unrest intensified.
"Nathan Gladstone. I'm an archeology professor at Ranier. Um, Blair Sandburg is a colleague of mine and I remember him mentioning your name..."
"What happened? How is he?"
"Easy, Mr. Ellison. He just passed out. He's down in the infirmary. The nurse thinks he neglected to eat breakfast."
"I'll be there in 15 minutes."
"I'm sure that won't be necessary. He'll probably be awake by then."
"Thanks for calling." Ellison was out of his chair before he'd returned the phone to its cradle.
Banks looked at his detective in concern. "Sandburg?"
"Yeah." The worried Sentinel turned and reached for his jacket. "Fainted."
"Fainted?!" The captain's brows nearly met in annoyed confusion. "That's not like him."
"No sir. It's not." With his old worn jacket lending a small measure of comfort as it settled around his broad shoulders, Ellison headed for the opening elevator.
"Mugging, kidnapping, shooting, bombs, car wreak -- that's Sandburg," Banks muttered as he chomped on the unlit cigar in his mouth.
James Ellison considered that he'd drive rather conservatively on the way to the university. He considered it. Then decided otherwise. He had a one-track mind when it came to his partner's well-being. And when Sandburg was in trouble he had to be by his side. He ruled it to be a Sentinel-Guide thing and no longer tried to analyze it.
The detective entered the infirmary just in time to see his Guide sitting down at the receptionist's desk, signing out.
Releasing a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, he approached the young man. "Hey, Chief. How're you feeling?"
Sandburg looked up at the Sentinel in surprise. "Oh, hi, Jim! I'm fine."
Ellison raised an eyebrow and looked at the nurse.
She smiled and nodded. "He's fine."
Unconsciously registering his partner's heart rate, breathing, and temperature, Ellison asked him, "So what happened?"
Sandburg shrugged. "Don'know. One minute I was helping Nathan unpack this shipment of burial urns -- and the next... I was on my way to the floor."
Ellison raised an eyebrow and looked at the nurse.
She smiled and shrugged. "There are no obvious physical concerns. We took blood and urine for testing. It could be anything... or nothing. We won't know until we get the results back on Monday."
Sandburg rose and laid a hand on the big man's shoulder. "Jim, relax. It was probably something I ate. I'm okay. Really."
"More like something you didn't eat, Mr. Sandburg. If you're like most TAs around here, you're always on the run and usually forgetting either breakfast or lunch or both. It's almost 3:30, did you eat anything lately?"
Long curly hair moved in the negative as he looked at her with plaintive, blue eyes. "I...um...."
"Go home. Eat. Get some rest. I don't want to hear that you've put foot on this campus until tomorrow."
"Com'on, Chief. I'm buying." Ellison turned a captivating smile of his own toward the duty nurse. "Thank you."
"My pleasure," she murmured to the backs of the departing men, then straightened, pulled in a deep breath and returned to the stack of paperwork on her desk.
After a stop at Tom's for a late lunch of pizza, Jim Ellison drove straight to the loft, ignoring the voiced concerns of his partner about his car being left at the university and how he was supposed to get to work in the morning.
"Don't sweat it, Chief," Ellison said, tossing his keys in the basket by the door. "Tomorrow's Saturday, in case you forgot."
"I didn't forget, Jim. I was going to help Nathan catalog those urns."
The Sentinel stopped and studied his Guide before replying. With his enhanced senses, it would be impossible for the young man to hide any physical distress. Ellison sighed as his friend passed the intense scan. "All right. I'll drive you after breakfast. But for now, stretch out, get some rest. I know you've been working too much between the university and the station. It had to catch up to you sooner or later."
"Jim, I'm fine!" Sandburg protested, hands open in a plea for reason, mirrored by sad, blue eyes.
"I've heard it before, Junior." Ellison plopped onto the couch and punched at the remote, activating a soundless, inane sitcom on the TV. He figured on calling his captain regarding the Dawson case as soon as his partner dropped off. "Won't fly. Rest." He squirmed into a comfortable position and began to channel surf, apparently ignoring his roommate, but unconsciously still in tune with his vital signs.
Sighing, Sandburg entered his room, leaving the door half open. "Okay. But just for a few minutes. I'm really too excited to sleep."
Ellison smiled to himself as he heard his partner's heartbeat gradually relax into a sleep rhythm. He had been working too hard, the Sentinel mused, and things had been so hectic at the station, he'd neglected to notice his young friend's physical decline. Well, he'd notice from now on. He rested his head against the back of the couch and allowed himself to be lulled by the comforting sound of his Guide's heartbeat...
Jim Ellison's eyes popped open as he started awake. At least he thought he was awake until he saw -- "Kalabar!"
The image of Blair Sandburg grinned at him from his perch on the arm of the couch. He bobbed his head in agreement, sending light brown curls bouncing around his face. "You remembered!"
"What do you want?" The still sleeping Ellison almost snarled at the apparition.
"Aw, Jimmy." Kalabar clutched at his heart as he slid onto the couch cushion. "You wound me."
"The last time you came around, my partner was impaled by an arrow. Blair nearly died. How am I supposed to feel?"
Kalabar shook his head looking very much like a teacher who had yet to get the day's lesson sunk into the thick skull of his student. "You still can't connect the fact that Blair and I are one and the same. I am Kalabar the first, Blair is simply me in my 10 or 12th reincarnation. I am the soul, essence, or chi, or whatever you what to call me. Blair is just the name given to my physical body." He sighed. "Oh well. What do I expect from an innocent? After all, this is only your second time around."
"What do you want?" Ellison repeated, his jaw muscles beginning to work in annoyance. His sleeping self was no more tolerant than his awake self.
"Well, since you were kind enough to send me off to get some rest, I had the opportunity to stop by. Especially since you dropped off in the middle of that awful show. I thought you might want to know why I fainted."
"Go on." Ellison leaned forward with interest.
"My physical self is fine..."
Kalabar sighed again, this time at the interruption. "I fainted, Jim. Not my physical self."
"I really don't understand."
"I was helping Nathan unpack those burial urns..." Kalabar's expressive hands began to animate as he talked, apparently being active was an integral part of Sandburg's character. "When I touched..." Kalabar stopped moving, swallowed, and stared at Ellison. "Me," he said softly.
Ellison's head was spinning as he tried to assimilate the facts. "Are you telling me, that one of those burial urns holds your ashes?"
"Oh, man." The big man leaned back against the cushions.
"So you see, Jim, I was -- to say the least -- shocked. After 900 years, my spiritual self and my physical self connected." Kalabar cocked his head in a typical Sandburg gesture. "I'm sure you would agree that would cause most anyone to faint."
Ellison was not about to argue that most anyone would not be in that position in the first place. "So what now?"
"Oh, I'm sure I'll be fine now that I know I'm there." Kalabar frowned at his own puzzling mixture of words before continuing. "It was just the shock, you see."
"I see," Ellison muttered.
"No, you don't. I'm not supposed to be in a burial urn. I was a wizard. And whether or not you believe it, I was different. I was supposed to be cremated and my ashes returned to the earth."
"What do you mean... different?"
Sitting still for so long was too much for Kalabar so, in desperation, he hopped off the couch and began to pace as his hands, once again, began to punctuate his words. "A thousand or more years ago, people were born who -- how can I say it -- were like batteries. Our bodies stored electrical energy and we were trained on how to use it for the betterment of mankind; you know, like healing the sick or zapping bad guys. Unfortunately, some 'wizards' used their force for evil purposes..."
"Like Cintoban," Ellison interjected.
"Exactly. There are a few people even today who have more electrical energy stored in their bodies than they know what to do with -- like those people who can't wear a spring watch, or shock themselves when they touch anything metal. In a far past life, they, too, were probably wizards." He stopped and turned to face Ellison. "Is any of this making any sense to you?"
"Some." The Sentinel had to admit, he was almost able to follow what Kalabar was saying.
"Well, when a wizard died, in order to prevent any evil person from using the energy that would still have been stored in the body, our ashes were always spread to the four winds or sprinkled into water so our energy would again be returned to the earth." Kalabar returned to sit on the couch. "Jim, I shouldn't be in an urn. Something happened. I know it. My apprentice would never have gone against that unwritten rule if there weren't a good reason."
"Kalabar, that happened over 900 years ago. There is a limit to any detective's abilities, even if I am a Sentinel."
"Jim, help me... Please. When our selves awaken, please take me to the university. Help me find out why I'm stuck in a pottery jar like old rice." The image of his partner pleaded with all the intensity of 900 years of practice. The Sentinel didn't have a chance.
A snuffling sound, heralding the awakening process, filtered from out of Sandburg's room. Kalabar turned toward the sound, then quickly back to his Sentinel, pleading -- if possible -- with even more passion. "Jim! Please!"
Ellison watched as Kalabar began to fade... to return to the physical body, to be there when Sandburg awoke. Subconscious and conscious together. Suddenly, he blurted out, "All right! I'll do what I can."
Jim Ellison suddenly woke up. He heard his roommate stirring in the bedroom and decided his sentinel hearing had registered the soft sounds of moving sheets. A fleeting image of his partner smiling at him in gratitude lingered momentarily before being filed in the back of his mind. He shook his head to clear it of an interesting but slightly disturbing dream.
"You know, Jim, I thought sure you were going to give me more of an argument about going back to the university to help Nathan." Blair Sandburg smiled as he enthusiastically bounded into the passenger side of the blue and white pick up. It was Saturday morning and a good night's rest had rejuvenated the young man's energy level.
Ellison turned the key in the ignition and felt the engine turn over. "Yeah, well, I'm not really sure why I didn't."
"Because there's no reason why you should. That's why." The Guide awarded his Sentinel with a broad smile that lit up his intense blue eyes. "Thanks."
Ellison's head spun around to stare at his partner in surprise.
"What?" Sandburg momentarily looked alarmed. "What is it?"
Shrugging, the Sentinel turned his attention back to the problem at hand -- pulling out into traffic. "Just a weird sense of deja vu," he muttered.
"So, you gonna stick around for awhile?" Sandburg asked, comfortably settling into the front seat. "Might be interesting."
"So's watching cement set," Ellison grumbled, inserting a Santana tape.
Sandburg laughed and turned his attention to the passing scenery as he tapped a hand against a jeans-clad leg in time to the music.
The tape didn't even have time to run over to the flip side before Ellison pulled the truck into the parking space next to Sandburg's Volvo in the university parking lot.
"Coming in?" Sandburg invited as he sprang out of his seat and solidly closed the door.
"Against my better judgment," Ellison forced a smile and wondered why he felt compelled to follow his partner to the storage area and watch him examine burial urns.
Nathan Gladstone had already been hard at work for several hours when the two men strode into the storage area. Empty wooden crates, with their packing carelessly tossed over the sides and lids thrown haphazardly on top, lined the hallway outside the room. Gladstone looked up from his careful scrutiny of the glyphs dancing around the plump sides of a particularly ugly piece of pottery.
"Blair! Good to see you! How're you doing?"
"I'm fine, Nathan. Just forgot to eat, that's all." Sandburg stood in the center of the room, hands on hips, registering the significance of each of the urns that now stood like mute solders standing at attention. His eyes fell on a rather squatty urn, smaller than the rest, more roughly created and painted in obvious haste with less than professional talent. Focusing on it, he slowly crossed the room, hardly daring to breathe. Ellison followed his movements with growing concern. A warning bell was going off in the back of his head, but he could sense no danger to his Guide from that artifact.
"Nathan, mind if I tackle the writings on this one?" Sandburg asked softly.
The field agent looked up from his drawing of the images surrounding the largest urn to glance at the one the young man was referring to. "No. Go right ahead. They all need to be done. Gotta start somewhere." He waggled a pencil in its direction. "That one was home made. Most of these were done by a professional. But you can tell the difference right away. More coarse, an uneven surface. The family were either cheapskates or in a hurry."
"Anything special in any of them?" Ellison asked, finally taking in their significance.
"Nope." Gladstone erased part of the image he'd sketched on a well-used drawing pad and carefully corrected it to his liking. "Just ashes. Old ashes. No rings or jewels or anything to be considered valuable. They've all been x-rayed just for that reason. The urns themselves are only valuable for historical significance. None of them hold the remains of royalty or a famous person of that era."
Ellison stood by the archeologist's side for a while and watched him carefully duplicate, on paper, the images on the sides of the urn. "Excuse me for interrupting, but wouldn't a photograph be more accurate?"
"Oh, we take photos. I just seem to get a better handle on the meaning of the drawings when I recreate them myself."
After a few minutes of listening to Gladstone's pencil skritch its way through history, the Sentinel moved on to examine the rest of the artifacts before he found himself snatching the annoying implement from the man's fingers and turning it into ashes. He glanced over at his Guide who was deeply engrossed in deciphering the meaning behind the drawings on his chosen urn.
On impulse, Ellison decided to conduct a few experiments of his own. Using his heightened sense of touch, he tried to determine the age of the pottery. With the reports readily available that informed him of each urn's tested age it became a simple matter of remembering the tactile sensations that accompanied each age group. Even so, it seemed like days had crawled by to Ellison before he heard an exclamation from his partner that caused him to spin around. "Chief?"
"Oh man! This is totally weird!" Sandburg was staring at the urn and waving his hands in barely controlled excitement. "Nathan, would you check my findings for me?"
Gladstone scraped his stool back from the too-high table and parked his pencil behind his ear as he walked over to his young friend. "What's up?"
"Well, I was expecting the normal, you know, history of the person or just your basic decoration... but this..."
Picking up the urn and peering closely at its painted sides, Gladstone shook his head in agreement. "You're right, Blair. This is definitely not a normal design. What did you come up with?"
Pulling in a deep breath, Sandburg pointed at each glyph as he interpreted it. "The gates of Hell have been opened and demons are unleashed upon the Earth. When this happens, someone has to unplug this urn and release the ashes. The ashes will then return to life and drive the demons back into Hell and close the gates."
Gladstone replaced the squatty urn on the table. "Yep. That pretty much covers it."
Wide blue eyes centered on the artifact as a mixture of emotions played across them. "That's spooky, you know?"
Ellison, who had moved closer to stand by his Guide, chuckled and slapped him on the shoulder. "Don't tell me you believe that those ashes can re-animate!?"
"No! Of course not, Jim. But... I don't know..." Sandburg ran both hands through his hair in a vain attempt to organize the wayward curls. "I got a real funny feeling about this."
It was obvious to the Sentinel that his Guide was troubled by the interpretation of the design. It wasn't just his vital signs that were haywire, but there was something else that Ellison couldn't pinpoint. His unpredictable sixth sense was kicking in, and he didn't like what it was telling him.
"Well," Gladstone arched his back in a grand display of stretching, "You probably got that funny feeling from staring at that poor piece of pottery for half the afternoon. Time to cut and run, my boy. It survived nine centuries, it will survive another day. Let's pick this up on Monday, shall we?"
Sandburg's head jerked up to stare at the archeologist. Unfamiliar expressions darted across his face -- a combination of anger, frustration, and annoyance caused Ellison to blink in surprise. There was something almost... sinister in that look.
His hand tightened on the young man's shoulder, "Chief? You okay?"
The muscles beneath the hand relaxed as his Guide dragged in a deep breath and turned confused blue eyes on his friend. "Uh, yeah, Jim. I... um... I guess I'm a little tired."
"Com'on. We'll pick up some Chinese on the way home."
"Sure. Sure, man. Sounds good." Carefully placing his notes on the counter next to the ancient burial urn, Sandburg forced a smile at his big friend. "I just realized I'm famished." On the way out the door, he nodded to Gladstone, who was tossing back the remains of a can of flat cola. "Nathan, thanks for giving me a chance to help out."
The archeologist waved back as he swallowed. Then burped and shouted at Sandburg's back as his young friend walked down the hall, "Anytime, kid. See you next week."
Jim Ellison kept a careful watch on his partner as they walked to the truck. His Guide seemed to be healthy, but he was not acting his normal exuberant self. After an afternoon rubbing elbows with an ancient civilization, he should have been bouncing, telling his friend every minute detail he had discovered.
But he was quiet. Almost introverted.
When Sandburg pulled out his keys and headed for his Volvo, Ellison almost reached out to stop him. The big man had the unreasonable feeling that he wanted to keep his partner close by. To not let him out of his sight.
"See you at the loft, Jim," Sandburg stated matter-of-factly as he climbed in the driver's seat.
Ellison nodded. "I'll get the take-out. Anything else we need?"
Closing the door, the young man shook his head. The engine turned over flawlessly and Ellison watched with growing apprehension as the Volvo backed up and rolled out of the parking lot.
"I don't understand any of this," he muttered to himself as he ground the truck engine to life and followed his Guide off the university campus.
Blair Sandburg slowly walked up the stairs to the loft. Absentmindedly, he fished around in his pocket for the key, then jabbed at the lock several times before successfully connecting. After pushing the door open, he stepped inside, then carelessly tossed the keys at the basket. He didn't bother to throw the lock, just elbowed the Red Heron poster and barely registered the click' of the closing door.
"Man, what a headache," he told the coat rack as he hung up his lived-in leather jacket. He was massaging his temples as he headed for the medicine cabinet, when he felt uncharacteristically lightheaded. Realizing that soon it would be either sit down or fall down, he changed direction for the living room couch. The sofa was less than a yard away when his fuzzy world went black and he collapsed soundlessly onto the floor.
He was still there when, moments later, Jim Ellison charged through the unlocked door. The Sentinel's sixth sense had alerted him of his young Guide's distress and he'd lost no time in rushing home.
"Chief!" All five senses extended out toward the inert body in the middle of the carpet, registering heart rate, respiration, temperature. Approaching with the stealth of a panther, the big man gently laid his hands on his partner. When he could not register any major physical aberrations, he sighed with relief. "Blair, we gotta find out why you keep fainting like this." Effortlessly, he picked up the young man and carried him the short distance to his bedroom. Carefully laying him on the bed, he removed his shoes and pulled the comforter over him. Snagging a nearby chair, he moved it so he could sit next to his unconscious Guide. Reaching out, he encircled a small hand with his big one and drew comfort from the vibration of his Guide's regular pulse and normal temperature.
"KALABAR!" A sleeping Jim Ellison shouted at the emptiness in his dreams. "Kalabar! I know you're here. Show yourself!"
Long curls framing a familiar, but confused, face materialized, peeking around the edge of the bedroom door. "Hi ya, Jimmy."
"What the hell is going on here?" Even in sleep, the anger of a Sentinel was not to be ignored... and James Ellison was in full protector mode... and very, very angry. "You told me you were okay with your ashes in that urn. Why did you faint again?"
The full figure of Kalabar floated through the door and sat cross-legged in mid-air. Running his right hand through brown curls, he looked more like a chagrined Blair Sandburg than a one thousand-year-old soul. "I'm scared, man."
That simple statement caught Ellison off guard. He leaned forward, intense blue eyes boring into the clouded ones of the acknowledged soul of his Guide. "Care to explain that?"
Kalabar shook his head in dismay. "I'm sorry. I.." Allowing his legs to touch the floor, he began to pace and punctuate the air with his hands, Sandburg style. "I don't know where to begin. Like I said before, I'm not supposed to be in a jar. Michael, my apprentice, he did it." A small grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. "He was never a very good artist." He turned frightened, confused eyes toward the Sentinel, who, even in sleep, was protecting the physical body of his Guide. "He must have thought there was a real danger or he wouldn't have gone to all the trouble."
"What are you scared of? The writings on the urn?"
"Remember when I said that certain people could store electricity... well, I was very, very good at it. Michael wasn't. So he made up the difference in power by using spells and incantations. Jim, I'm afraid he spelled the urn. I know he wouldn't have done it maliciously, but... I have a body now. I'm Blair Sandburg. I enjoy being Blair. I don't want anything to happen to me... to us."
"Are you saying that you think a spell could pull you out of Blair and deposit you in a pile of reanimated ashes?!"
"I don't know anymore and I can't think clearly about this. I'm too close to it."
Ellison rose and strode up to Kalabar, putting his strong hands on the small shoulders. It was the first time the souls of Guide and Sentinel had touched. For a moment, both entities stood in surprise. Two sets of blue eyes locked and recognized the soul of the other. It gave birth to a knowing, an extension of the Sentinel's sixth sense, and a realization that this was not the first time they had been together.
"Wow!" Kalabar whispered, wide-eyed.
"Chief?" Ellison murmured.
As if in response, Sandburg stirred on the bed, fighting his way to consciousness, trying to pull his spirit back to its rightful place.
"I've... I've gotta go, Jim," Kalabar stuttered, glancing at his present physical body.
"Chief, one thing. If the urn had been spelled, you would have known it. You handled it for hours today."
Kalabar paused, considering; then brightened as he realized the truth of his friend's statement. "You're right. Thanks big guy."
Ellison watched, transfixed, as the spirit laid on top the physical and gently melded back into one. The tug of his own body's struggle to wakefulness shook him out of his reverie.
"Um-m-m. Jim?" Sandburg blinked awake and turned to look at the older man whose hand was protectively wrapped around his own, registering his vitals.
"What happened, Blair?" Ellison asked, using his free hand to wipe the sleep from his face.
"Uh..." Rising up on his elbows, Sandburg attempted to sit up. Ellison immediately stuffed some more pillows behind him and helped him to get comfortable. "I had a killer headache by the time I got home. I was on my way to get some herbs when I just..." He shrugged. "...passed out."
"Twice in two days. I don't like this." Ellison frowned, his jaw clenching.
"Well, I'm not overly fond of it myself."
"First thing Monday, you're going to see a doctor." Rising, the Sentinel replaced his chair in the corner. "And no arguments." He punctuated the statement with the point of an index finger, then headed for the doorway. "You hungry?" He turned and asked as an afterthought.
"Now that you mention it...Did you bring Chinese?" Sandburg swung his legs over the side of the bed and was slowly becoming vertical. He didn't want any sudden movements to bring on a dizzy spell.
Ellison stopped. When he felt his Guide had needed him, he had rushed straight home, all thoughts of buying take out forgotten. "It'll be ready in a minute." Offering Sandburg a comforting smile, he left the bedroom and walked quickly toward the phone. "Take your time," he called out as he punched in the number of the nearby Chinese restaurant.
Unfortunately, Sandburg wandered into the kitchen just as the big man was hanging up the phone. Grinning broadly at his friend's attempted ruse, he poured water into the kettle for tea and placed it on the stove to heat. "I hope they don't forget the fortune cookies this time," he said quietly, sitting down at the table.
"They won't. I ordered extra."
Sliding out another dining room chair, Ellison sat opposite his young Guide and decided to satisfy his own curiosity. "Blair, I've been thinking... you never fainted before you started working with Nathan -- true?"
The young man nodded.
"Could there possibly be anything... anything at all connected with those artifacts that would cause you to have a blackout?"
"Not that I'm aware of. No one else has fainted who's been in contact with those urns."
"You were working on that little fat one today. Do you remember what you were doing when you fainted the first time?"
"Yeah." Sandburg ran a hand through tangled curls as he thought. "I was helping Nathan unpack. He'd already popped the lid on one crate when I entered the room and I helped him lift one of the big ones out. We popped off another lid and..." Sandburg's eyes widened to blue oceans as he remembered. "...and because it was a little one, he left me to take it out while he tackled another crate. Jim! It was the same little fat urn!"
Ellison nodded. Now he was getting somewhere. Where -- he wasn't exactly sure yet -- but with time he'd figure it out. "Where did this urn come from?"
"England. Somewhere on the moors actually. There was a small cave, could have been made just to hold the urn, cause that was about all it held. According to the report, it was found on a makeshift platform, really just some flat rocks stacked on top of one another, a crystal and a pretty thoroughly decayed wood stick, most likely a walking stick. The crystal was probably used in ceremonies to help focus the holder's energy. The mouth of the cave had been blocked off with stacked stones and over the centuries it had gotten really well hidden with moss and grasses."
A loud knock at the front door heralded the arrival of their long-awaited dinner.
"That urn is our key, Chief," Ellison said as he scraped back his chair and answered the summons at the door.
While his partner collected the food, Sandburg rose and strode to the stove to quiet a screaming kettle and make tea.
"We need to get hold of Nathan..." The detective began as he returned with the Chinese and began to methodically position the containers on the table.
Sandburg shook his head. "Tomorrow's Sunday. He's always incommunicado on Sunday. Rumor has it he goes to the graveyard and reads the paper." He shrugged and cocked his head at the look of incredulity from his big friend. "Hey, it's quiet there. And he is an archeologist."
"And I'm a detective, but that doesn't mean I read the Sunday paper in the morgue." Ellison sighed and began forking lo mien onto his plate. "Okay. On Monday, we'll get hold of Nathan and see if we can run some tests on that urn."
"What kind of tests?"
"We'll begin by looking for some kind of foreign substance that could be harmful in some way, shape or form. Something connected with that urn has caused you to black out twice. I think that calls for a few tests, don't you?"
"Yeah, guess so," Sandburg reluctantly agreed, reaching for the fried rice. After ladling half the container onto his plate, he peered into each of the remaining containers and frowned. "Jim, did you get any egg rolls?"
The ancient television set flickered a snowy image, but the man in the greasy, tattered armchair didn't notice. He wasn't paying attention to the mindless sitcom anyway; it was only noise. Noise that took the edges off the screaming voices in his mind.
But even if the room had been church-quiet, he would not have heard the entrance of the figure in the long, hooded cloak. The being had no desire to be known until he wished to be known, and so it glided soundlessly to hover to the left and just out of sight of the man.
"Mr. Dawson ...."
With a strangled cry, Russ Dawson dove over the chair's right arm and rolled to a crouching position with a .38 trained on the intruder.
"That won't be necessary." The voice was cracked and rough, barely above a whisper, but echoed thunder in Dawson's head.
"The hell it won't," the killer spat, his finger tightening on the trigger.
"How appropriate," the course sandpaper scraped again as one arm quickly raised and motioned at the weapon.
The gun misfired. Dawson squeezed off another useless round... and another... and another... With a curse, he hurled it at the figure. His other hand flew into his boot to retrieve a stiletto as the .38 crashed into the broken plaster of the wall behind the intruder.
"That won't do any good either." A shrouded arm reached up and lowered the hood.
Dawson gasped and stumbled backward, his only thought now of escaping. "What the hell are you?!"
The being laughed -- a dead, merciless sound that sprang from the catacombs of a black soul. Slowly, it replaced the covering and motioned to the killer to return to his chair. "Your new boss," it rumbled darkly.
After checking in with his captain to see if there'd been any new developments in the Dawson case, Ellison opted for taking Sunday off. It was an uncommoningly quiet day and both men enjoyed just kicking back and watching a couple of games on the TV.
The Sentinel was still in Blessed Protector mode and could not help but be concerned about the well-being of his young Guide even though he was certain the fainting spells were somehow connected with the small, squatty burial urn.
Sandburg was in a much better mood than he'd been in for the past few days. In fact, he was his usual, exuberant, sometimes annoying self. And, except for a lingering uneasy feeling, Ellison would have labeled it a relaxing day.
The soft, lilting pulse of the phone filtered into the subconscious of the Sentinel and urged him awake. With a grumble, he glanced at the alarm clock softly glowing 5 a.m. before tossing the sheets aside and padding barefoot toward the stairs. Halfway there, he heard his roommate quiet the chattering instrument and mutter a sleepy, "Hello?"
"Simon?" The voice of his Guide instantly changed to awake mode. As Ellison pounded down the stairs, he saw Sandburg turn to search the stairway for him. Upon seeing him, the young man waggled the phone in the air and pointed at it with his free hand. "It's Simon."
The name of his captain urged Jim Ellison to quicken his pace. He knew his captain would not be calling at this hour unless it was important. With a brief nod toward Sandburg, he accepted the instrument. "Ellison," he barked in his usual clipped, no-nonsense tone.
"Jim, we got a bad one. It's at the university. Bring Sandburg but be prepared to keep him away from the bodies."
"Yeah, a male freshman and his date. We're outside the freshman dorm in the parking lot."
"Uh, sir, Blair hasn't been feeling well lately, I don't think it's a good idea for him to ..."
"Damn it, Jim!"
Ellison frowned at Banks' temporary explosion; then heard a calming sigh followed by a pause to allow a stressed captain time to quiet scattered, angry thoughts.
"Jim, please," Banks continued in a controlled voice. "I hope to heaven I'm wrong on this -- but I'm afraid we'll need his help."
"We'll be right there, Simon." Ellison looked over at his confused young partner as he disconnected and wondered what could be so special about these murders that his captain would request the presence of the anthropology student.
"What's up, Jim?" Sandburg asked, aware that he had been the topic of conversation.
"Get dressed, Chief. There's been a double murder at the university." As Ellison headed for the bathroom to grab a quick shower, he tried unsuccessfully to ignore the growing knot of uneasiness twisting in his gut. He was beginning to recognize the symptoms of his sixth sense, but he still had no idea how to use it to his advantage. For now, it was still an annoyance.
The bright yellow police tape fluttered gently in the early morning breeze as it contained frenzied officious activity within its boundaries. A handful of students out for either a jog or a power walk gathered around the perimeters craning for a view of a slice of television come to life.
Detective Jim Ellison pulled his white and blue pickup alongside Captain Bank's official vehicle but hesitated before exiting. He turned to the young man sitting next to him, concern evident on his chiseled features. "Chief, wait here until I find out what's going on."
Cobalt blue eyes joined in concert with animated hands as they pleaded for understanding. "Jim, you said Simon needed me."
"Yeah." Ellison turned his Sentinel vision outward to scan the parking lot for the tall captain. "He also said this was a bad one. There are some things you don't need to experience."
"There's not much I haven't experienced by now, in case you haven't noticed." Sandburg opened the truck door and slid out. "Where's Simon?" he asked, looking toward the knot of activity in the center of the yellow plastic fence.
The big man swallowed a replied growl and forced himself not to slam the driver's side door as he jumped out of the cab. "Come on," he rumbled. As his partner fell into step by his side, Ellison could not control the finger of aggravation that pointed at the young man. "So help me, if you have one nightmare because of this -- I'll personally stuff your head in a pillowcase, without removing the pillow."
"Aw man, quit treating me like a child, will you? I'm over 21."
"Fine! The captain's over there to the left. The bodies are straight ahead. Go for it!" Unreasonable anger flared for a brief moment, then Ellison faced his partner -- and locked onto a pair of ancient, tired eyes, burdened with the wisdom of centuries. He froze, surprised and confused.
Suddenly, the morning breeze picked up speed and changed direction to blow gently at the two men. The Sentinel gasped in pain and instinctively reached out for his Guide as he collapsed to his knees.
"JIM!" Sandburg instantly knelt by the big man's side, a comforting hand on his back. One look at Ellison's tightly closed eyes and hands frantically but futility trying to block olfactory input and the Guide knew it was a major sensory overload.
"All right, Jim," Sandburg began in his soft, low monotone designed to pull his Sentinel out of zone-outs, "Visual the dial, it's turned too far up. Turn it down. Grasp the dial... and turn it down... come on, Jim, listen to my voice..."
As he spoke, the young man carefully watched his partner's face for signs that he was getting through. Gradually, the furrowed brow relaxed, the hands quieted, a slow tentative breath was dragged into strained lungs...
"Are you okay, man?" Sandburg could not hide the concern now evident in his voice and the worried, caring look that automatically crossed his expressive face.
"Yeah," Ellison glanced at his partner, then went on full Sentinel alert for the source of the offending odor. "Yeah, thanks, Chief."
"What happened?" The young man hovered near his partner as Ellison struggled to his feet.
"That's what I'd like to know."
Neither man had noticed the arrival of Captain Banks, and two heads snapped in his direction.
"I think you know, sir," Ellison said softly.
"I suspected," Banks admitted.
"Well, will one of you please tell me what's going on, then?" Sandburg looked from one to the other, receiving no answer from their stoic faces.
"Simon wanted you here to tell him if there's anything written in blood that no one else could see."
The young man shook his head as he visibly blanched at that piece of information. "Oh no. Oh God, no." Unbidden memories returned full-force. Memories of murdered young women with their hearts brutally removed... of bloodied numbers that only he could see... of an arrow, meant for his Sentinel, that he willingly took in his stead...
"I'm sorry, Sandburg, but Jim's right." Banks twirled a smoking cigar between three fingers and looked as apologetic as a captain of major crimes could muster under the circumstances.
"Their hearts?" The Guide asked the captain in a voice so low that Banks almost didn't hear.
"It's different this time. The organs are intact, but... the young lady was drained of blood."
"Then what makes you think Cintoban had anything to do with this?" Sandburg was beginning to get his color back, as well as his courage, and was standing as straight and as tall as he could, placing himself between the captain and his Sentinel.
The captain almost looked uncomfortable as he scrutinized the glowing end of his cigar. "You were never close to that creature, Sandburg. After you were... injured... and I went with Jim to arrest him... Lord... even without heightened senses I could smell the death and decay surrounding him." He stared pointedly into the intense depths of Ellison's blue eyes. "That same stink was in the murder victims' car. I can't imagine anyone else with that... odor. I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't think the stench would reach this far or I would've warned you."
Ellison nodded his acceptance of Banks' apology before he turned to his partner, "Blair? You're not a cop, you don't have to do this."
The anthropology student palmed long, brown curls away from his face, dragged in a deep breath and gazed in the direction of the bodies. "Yes I do. I'm the only one who can." After squaring his shoulders and glancing up at the big man for support, he walked purposefully toward the only unmarked car in the freshman dorm parking lot.
Thankfully, the bodies were covered, but the ground around the vehicle was splattered with dark splotches of crimson. Trying not to look too long in the victims' direction, Sandburg allowed his gaze to wander over the surrounding area. Even if Cintoban was involved in these murders, there was no guarantee he would have left a message.
There was nothing by the car -- either on the asphalt or on the vehicle itself. The young man sighed and widened his search. When he raised his line of sight, his gaze fell on a large old oak on the edge of the parking lot.
"Jim! Simon!" He called as he jogged toward the tree.
"Damn," Banks muttered as he ran after him, "I was afraid of this."
Sandburg stopped a dozen feet from the oak and stared. Ellison cautiously walked up behind him and laid a hand on his shoulder in support. The tension-knotted muscles immediately relaxed and the Guide pointed at the tree's broad base.
"There, about a foot above the ground," he whispered. "An inverted five-pointed star."
"An inverted star? What the hell does that mean?" The captain shoved the cigar into his mouth and clamped down hard. He stared a hole through the old tree but could see nothing but bark.
"The sign of the devil -- the head of the goat." Sandburg's eyes were locked so tightly on the phantom image the rest of the world had ceased to exist.
Banks snorted in disgust and half turned to wave at a uniformed member of the team to bring over the heat-sensitive camera. "I was really hoping I wouldn't have to use this," he muttered to himself.
"Come on, Chief," Ellison squeezed the small shoulder, but the young man showed no response. "Blair?" He stepped in front of his partner and gazed into pinpoint-focused blue orbs. "Is this what it's like when I zone out?" he murmured to himself. Stepping directly in front of Sandburg to block his view of the bloody drawing, he grasped both his Guide's shoulders and gently shook him as he commanded tersely, "Blair! Listen to me. Follow my voice. Come back to me. It's Jim. Listen to me."
A shudder passed through the small frame as Sandburg found his way back to the present. He gasped, blinked and looked into the intense blue flames of his Sentinel's eyes. "Jim! Oh, man. What happened?"
"Well, I'm no expert looking at it from this angle, but I'd say you had a zone out."
In confusion, Sandburg looked from his partner to Banks.
The captain nodded and removed his cigar to punctuate the air between him and the two men. "Trust me on this, Sandburg. I have seen zone outs from this angle... and you just had one." He turned at the arrival of the uniformed policeman carrying the camera and directed him to take photographs of the image on the tree. Then he looked back over his shoulder at probably one of the most unorthodox police observers he ever had occasion to meet. He smiled inwardly as he considered his own 180 degree change of opinion of the young man and marveled at his courage and maturity. He cleared his throat loudly to be sure he had Sandburg's attention. "Oh, and good job, by the way. Thanks for your help." There, he thought to himself as he turned back to join the policeman sighting through the camera, that was relatively painless.
Ellison laid a hand on his partner's back and began to steer him toward the truck. "Com'on, Chief, let's get out of here."
"But Jim, you have to... you know, your own investigation."
"I've done it. I know who killed that couple."
"But that's impossible! You said Cintoban was killed by fire."
"I said he ran off into the woods engulfed in flames. We never found his body."
"Oh man. This sucks! That guy is certifiable. He really thinks he can open the gates of hell!"
"Apparently he's going to try a different method now."
"He has to." Sandburg allowed a corner of his mouth to twitch upward as he looked at his roommate. "You shot his rock."
Ellison shrugged and reached for the driver's side door. "Fantastic fireworks, Chief. I wish you could've seen it."
A momentary flashback of his Guide, critically injured with an arrow piercing his back and extending out of his chest, gripped the Sentinel's mind like an icy vise. The arrow had been meant for him -- and would've killed him instantly if his young partner hadn't hurled himself in front of the projectile. He had relived the anguish of that moment, when he realized his best friend had sacrificed himself to protect him, for months afterwards.
Sandburg had been in ICU when Ellison had enlisted his captain's help against a zone out and went after Cintoban. I really wish you could've seen it, Ellison thought and once more vowed to reinstate himself as Blessed Protector.
A fast moving figure to his right brought the detective out of his revery. He spun in its direction and was surprised to see Nathan Gladstone running toward him.
"Ellison! Ellison, I thought you and Blair would be here when I heard that the police were investigating."
"Nathan?" Sandburg peered around the front of the truck. "What's up?"
The middle-aged archeologist stopped and panted for a moment before continuing. "Break-in. The urns..."
"The burial urns were stolen?" Panic tinged Sandburg's voice as he glanced hopefully in his partner's direction for assistance.
"No. Not all of them. Only the little one. The one you were working on the other day."
Sandburg gulped for air as all color instantly drained from his face and he gripped the door handle to keep from falling.
"This is really stupid," Russ Dawson grumbled, poking at an ancient pottery urn. "There was no good reason to take this. Unless..." Feral eyes darted at the apartment's doorway looking for a manifestation of pure evil. When none appeared, they returned to gaze longingly on the urn. "Unless there's something in here that's really, really valuable." Extending an index finger, he jabbed at the thick neck and watched as the squatty urn rocked slightly on an uneven base. "Sure would be a shame if this ugly old thing got bumped and just tottered right on off the table."
"Yes. It would be a shame," a voice, rough as a storm-tossed sea, and carrying as many undercurrents, broke the killer's reverie. "I should hate to have to find a new apprentice at this late date."
Dawson closed his eyes in resignation, sighed, then turned and focused on the hooded cloak of undetermined darkness now standing in the center of the room. "Why take it if it's not worth anything?"
"You question me?"
"Yeah... no... I mean, yeah it was fun offing those green kids but what's the deal? Taking the chick's blood instead of just spilling it? And this piece of junk?"
"You will do as I say. That is all you need to know."
Dawson shrugged. He knew he would get no clearer answers. "So what's on for tonight?"
"I must make sacrifices of power and innocence."
"All right! Finally!"
The cloak shimmered and grew darker. "Do you understand the difference between sacrifice and victim?"
Not waiting for an answer, the darkness moved closer to an uncomfortable Russ Dawson. "A sacrifice is my gift offered at ceremony, a victim is your beating heart resting in my hand. Clear?"
Dawson swallowed hard. "Crystal." He wanted to move, to run, to scream but he was unable to convince his leaden muscles to cooperate. He had no choice save to listen -- and agree.
"The stage is set. Now we must gather the remaining players in our little drama."
Detective James Ellison hurried toward his truck. The message that had been relayed to him said that Captain Banks had more information on the double murders but didn't say what it was. Ellison swallowed hard, he didn't like it when his captain dragged his partner in on a case without consulting him first. Well, Sandburg was going to stay home and rest while he went to the station to find out what was so darn important.
The big man turned in the direction of the voice, all senses on alert. Recognizing the man from the photos in the file folder on Russ Dawson, he instantly drew his gun and leveled it at the stranger's chest.
"Freeze! You're under arrest!" Ellison barked, then motioned at his truck cab. "Hands on the truck, spread them!"
Placidly, Dawson complied. "Would you believe I decided to turn myself in? I'm not carrying a gun."
Keeping his automatic trained on the killer, the detective continued to pat the suspect for weapons. "I let the lawyers handle the credibility quotient. I handle the facts."
"Good answer, Sentinel," a rough, gravely voice whispered from a distance.
Ellison only had time to register the fact that he had been called 'Sentinel' when his olfactory sense was blasted with a stench of death and decay so vile it sent him to his knees in pain. He didn't notice Dawson push himself off the truck and, with a look of disdain and contempt, pick up his gun. Struggling to turn down the dial quickly enough to keep from getting killed seemed a moot point by now as the big man caught sight of the killer leveling his own gun at his head. Then, through the slowly clearing fog in his brain, he heard the raspy voice grumble, "Victim...? Or Sacrifice?"
Dawson sighed and backed away.
"Heightened senses can be such a pain, can't they?" the dead voice asked politely.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Ellison managed to murmur as he used the side of the truck to help him to his feet.
"Oh, come now," the voice berated, "I know you're a Sentinel, just as I know Blair Sandburg is your Guide. You two wouldn't have it any other way."
Pain-laced blue eyes, now finally able to focus, locked onto the image standing before him. "Cintoban," he spat.
The cloaked form shimmered and darkened. "It always amazes me how modern man constantly denies his heritage."
Ellison continued to glare at the cloaked figure as his jaw muscles unconsciously clenched and unclenched.
"You two are soulmates you know. No matter how many lives a soul has, there's only one soulmate. Too bad. You'll never have 50 years like you did the last time."
"If you hurt him..."
A deep rumble that passed as a laugh assaulted the Sentinel's sensitive ears.
"Hurt him! Oh my, no! That's absolutely the farthest thing from my mind. I will make sure that body doesn't receive even a scratch in the transfer."
The unpredictable sixth sense picked that moment to surface, sending an icy chill up Ellison's spine. He barely had time to register the implication in Cintoban's words before his world exploded in bright lights and settled in soft blackness.
Sandburg could rest for just so long before the inactivity became more than he could tolerate. Consequently, Ellison had not been gone 30 minutes before just resting had him pacing the length of the living room. Looking for something constructive to do, other than cleaning, he decided to check out the supplies available for cooking dinner. After poking around in the refrigerator and tossing out everything that either had expired from a dated container or from turning green, he realized that they had not gone grocery shopping in at least a week.
Well, at least I can do something that will not get me into trouble, he thought as he constructed a list of necessary items.
Within minutes, the list was as complete as he could make it without his roommate's input. Grabbing his worn-comfortable leather jacket off the hook and his keys out of the basket, he headed out of the loft and bounded down the stairs.
He nodded a hello to several little old ladies he passed on his way to the parking lot as he dug the Volvo's keys out of his pocket. And I can swing by the station on the way to the grocery, he considered, smiling as he approached the car. After all, I need to know what Jim wants for dinner.
The young man didn't notice that he'd unlocked an already unlocked door. After all, he knew he always locked it when he left. After sliding in behind the wheel and snapping the seat belt securely, he leaned forward slightly to insert the ignition key. Without warning, a pair of hands snaked out from behind the driver's seat, grabbed a fistful of brown curls and snapped Sandburg's head back against the rest. Immediately, a sweet-smelling cloth was slapped over his nose and held tight against panicked efforts to claw it away. After the frantic hands quieted and fell limply to the seat, the rough hands released the curls and slowly removed the cloth.
From outside the car, a gravely voice rumbled darkly. "You will be more gentle when handling him from now on."
"Hey, sorry. It was that or knock him out with a tire iron. That little sucker can put up a fight when he wants to." Dawson was too busy pushing Sandburg onto the passenger side to be polite to any weirdo who wanted him to be an errand-boy.
Dawson felt the car bounce as the creature settled into the back seat, then suddenly, his throat was being squeezed from the inside out. His eyes widened as he gasped for air and pawed at invisible hands.
"Try harder," the rough voice whispered.
Sandburg argued his way back to consciousness, fighting his way through the suffocating gray cotton, trying to find himself... Dragging in a deep breath to clear away the last of the cotton, his reawakening mind registered fresh air.
Pulling in lungsfull of air, he managed to force his eyes open -- and saw trees topped by an ink-black sky. Continuing his gaze upward, he realized his hands were tied together and looped over a tree branch just above his head. They were not uncomfortably high and if he worked at it, he should be able to release himself without too much trouble. He was nestled in an indention in the widest part of a huge old tree that had grown at an angle. He was not suffering; however, the tree bark was rough against his bare back and the cool night air against his skin intensified the chill of fear that was beginning to embrace his body.
"Oh man, this is so not good," Sandburg murmured to himself as he took stock of his nakedness. "I gotta get out of here. No telling who took my clothes or what they had in mind." He shook his head against the encroaching uneasy thoughts. "I really don't want to know."
A soft moan to his right captured his attention and he turned his body as far as he could to identify the source. Intense blue eyes widened in surprise as he recognized the humped form of his partner. Ellison's hands were tied behind his back, but he wasn't tied to anything. He was, however, lying a bit too close for comfort to the edge of a gaping hole in the earth and he seemed to be in pain from a major zone out. The young Guide quickly glanced around for their captors before whispering Ellison's name. The only response was another moan. Instantly, Sandburg became more worried about his Sentinel's well-being than his own.
"Jim!" he hissed, "Jim! Listen to me! Snap out of it, man!"
"Oh, I'm afraid it would take more than just his Guide's voice to bring him back to reality." A dead, rough whisper grated on his left side.
Sandburg spun his head around to glare at the hooded figure that had just appeared. "What did you do to him?" he snapped. His own predicament was temporarily forgotten in his concern for his partner.
"He is betrayed by his own senses."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Don't play games. I know he's a Sentinel and you're his Guide." The darkness glided to stand directly before Sandburg. "Sentinels are so easily taken without their protectors. But then, you know that. You spent a lifetime protecting him before."
Sandburg couldn't prevent himself from glancing in his partner's direction before asking, "What do you want?"
"A new body."
"I'm afraid we can't help you there."
A rough, sinister rumble shook the darkness within the folds of the coarse material. "Kalabar, you've never lost your sense of humor, I see." A blackened, skeletal hand slid out from inside the right sleeve and slowly advanced toward the Guide's face. Wide-eyed with terror, Sandburg cringed back against the rough unyielding bark of the tree.
"I have no intention of hurting you," the darkness rasped.
Sandburg gasped as he felt the scabrous flesh grate against his cheek. The stench of decay assaulted his nostrils and he fought to keep from gagging. "Yeah, well, I've heard that before," he managed to whisper, then gritted his teeth as he felt the rough hand slide down his chest.
"I just wanted to see what shape my new body was in." The blackened hand stopped at the site of a circular scar near the center of the young man's chest and, almost gently, traced its circumference. "I suppose I can't fault you for this. You were only doing your job."
"Gee, thanks," Sandburg murmured, then released a breath he didn't know he'd been holding when he felt the disturbing hand leave.
James Ellison groaned as his world expanded to include the reality of semi-consciousness. The far away voice of his friend and Guide was dragging him out of his private universe of velvet softness and forcing him to feel the pain of overloaded senses. He tried to respond to the distress of his Guide... He tried to move to go to him...
...and succeeded only in reaching the edge of his own private hell.
He bit back the overwhelming urge to cry out in agony. The heat emanating from the ground was almost unbearable to his sensitive skin. The stench of death, of abject evil, covered him like a shroud and was just as suffocating. The constant rumbling, deep within the bowels of the earth, was enough to drive him to the brink of insanity.
No matter how hard he tried, he could not summon the strength to reach out and grasp the dial...
...grasp the dial...
"Listen to me..."
"Snap out of it, man!"
The sudden cry of a child redirected the creature's attention to the edge of the woods. "Aha! The remaining players in my drama have arrived."
Russ Dawson strode out of the trees carelessly holding a frightened, whimpering infant in the crook of one arm. Stopping in front of the cloaked figure, he held it out at arm's length, glad to be rid of the child. "Here, take the damn thing. It cried the whole time I had it."
"Can't understand why," Sandburg muttered.
Relieved of the baby, Dawson spun toward the captive. "Listen, you..."
"LEAVE!!" A thunderous roar exploded from beneath the black hood, freezing blood even in the veins of the fearless. "You DARE approach him?! You are not worthy to breath the air he exhales!"
Dawson forced a swallow past a growing knot in his throat and, against his better judgment, slowly turned to stand at his full height before the acknowledged creature of darkness. "Look, you can put the double whammy on me if you want, but thinking that your spirit, or whatever, is gonna take over this guy is just plain crazy!"
"Oh man!" Sandburg blurted. "Is that what this is about? Look, there's barely enough room in here for me -- there's sure no room for two! So you just forget about dumping your spirit in here, okay?"
"I have no intention of sharing, Kalabar. I intend to reunite your body and soul for the first time in 900 years. Isn't that wonderful?"
"Yeah, wonderful," the young man frowned, perplexed at the creature's meaning.
"Your apprentice, Michael, had turned into a very good wizard. Of course, not as good as you -- or me -- but still..." The dark figure turned and glided to stand before a nearby makeshift table, or altar. Still with its back to Sandburg, it raised an arm and pointed to a short, squatty urn perched on top a crude pedestal. "It was so kind of him to preserve your ashes for me. By morning, your soul will be residing in there..." The creature again faced his captive and quickly crossed the short distance between them to place a blackened, skeletal hand in the center of the young man's chest. Sandburg pressed himself as close to the tree as he could in a vain effort to escape the feel of death. "...and I will be residing in here."
"Excuse me..." Dawson asked with an edge of irritation. "Sir," he added hastily when the hood turned its darkness toward him. "Hadn't we better get started? We don't want to be here all night."
"Quite right." The creature removed its hand slowly and, without a backward glance, glided back to the altar.
"Dawson," it commanded, "Bring the virgin's offering."
"She didn't exactly offer it," the killer muttered softly. Walking behind the makeshift tableau, he opened a cooler and removed a crystal flask containing a deep crimson fluid. "Took it from her kicking and screaming," he added with a smirk as he allowed the lid to drop with a gentle 'thump'.
Returning to stand at the creature's left side, Dawson cradled the decanter safely in both hands and watched, amused, as the master reverently caressed the squatty burial urn. A soft rumble of unintelligible words from a language long since forgotten by humanity filled the stillness of the night. Carefully, ever so carefully, the creature pried out the ancient plug and allowed it to fall unnoticed into the dirt.
Sandburg watched the proceedings with a growing sense of terror. This was only the preliminary to a course of events that he was positive was to end with the death of himself, his partner, and the child. And it would be an unpleasant death he was sure. He stared at Ellison, willing his Sentinel to hear him through the pain-induced zone out.
"Jim," he whispered. "Jim, come back to me. It's Blair. Listen to my voice. Focus on my voice. Grab the dial, Jim. Grab the dial and turn it way down."
Ellison moaned and stirred slightly. He seemed to be fighting to come out of his zone out, but not quickly enough for Sandburg.
"Damnit, Jim!" he hissed. "I could really use some help here."
Another low moan drifted from the direction of the captive Sentinel.
"Yeah," he sighed and, looking up, followed the rope that bound his own hands as it looped over a low, sawed-off tree limb. "Guess you could use some too." He glanced over at the ceremony. With the attention of the psycho and the psychotic completely engrossed in the proceedings, now underway, Sandburg decided it was now or never. He would be able to use the relaxed slant of the tree trunk to his advantage. Leaning back against the old oak, using his feet to push himself upward and his hands to steady his body, he began to inch his way upward. The rough bark scraped against his bare back and he had to concentrate on ignoring the minor pain least he allow a gasp to escape and attract attention. He didn't have to get far, he just needed to be able to wrap his hands over the limb and work his way hand-over-hand to the end.
Several lifetimes later, he had gone far enough to allow the slack of the rope to fall easily over the edge of the limb. As quietly as he could, he dropped to the ground, free at last.
Sudden silence permeated the night air, causing Sandburg to look over at the ceremony. The creature was pouring a small amount of ashes into a hammered silver goblet. Then, it motioned for Dawson to pour some of the crimson liquid in as well. Swirling the mixture for a moment, it then turned to face the rent in the earth and held the goblet straight out, uttering an ancient and forgotten entreaty.
As soon as the creature moved, Sandburg quickly backed himself to the base of the tree and extended his hands over his head, faking the position he held just moments before. He watched in horror as the hooded figure raised the goblet in the unmistakable motion of drinking. Although the profile of the creature's face was hidden in the folds of the cloak, there was no doubt as to its intent.
Slowly, the goblet was lowered and handed to Dawson who placed it on the edge of the altar. He then picked up a large, deep silver bowl and followed the creature as it glided to stand between the Sentinel and the child at the edge of the precipice.
Sandburg's intense blue eyes narrowed in frustration as he lowered his arms. Now he needed to create a diversion in order to save his partner. The thought of running off and saving himself had not even entered his mind. He knew only that time was running out and he had no clothes and no weapons. Not a good position to be in, he considered ruefully.
Dropping into a crouch, he made a run for the edge of the woods, hoping to find, at least, a hefty tree limb to use as a club. Unfortunately, he had only gotten as far as the altar when a cry went up from Dawson.
Whether from instinct or some sixth sense of self-preservation, Sandburg knew the killer was drawing his gun and dived for the ground. The report of the weapon was accompanied by a bellow of inhuman rage that pained even Sandburg's normal ears. Huddling in front of the altar, with his hands just able to reach far enough apart to cover his ears, the young man didn't see where the bullet struck...
Didn't hear the crack of pottery as a thousand years of history exploded in an instant...
But he did feel bombarded by shards of broken clay followed by a cloud of fine... gray... ashes...
The ash enveloped him like a friendly grandmother -- covering, caressing, soothing...
Sandburg shook his head in a vain effort to remove some of it. It was in his eyes, his nose, his mouth. In a moment of panic, he felt suffocated and frantically tried to rub the ash away, only to succeed in grinding it into his body. He managed to blink enough of it out of his eyes and thought he saw Dawson suspended in midair with his neck at a very unnatural angle. Then he blinked again and his world spun crazily as his brain refused to take command of a body not entirely connected.
"Jim?" He murmured softly, calling for help from the only man he ever trusted. "Jim, I..." Fighting against a blackout, he staggered to his feet and leaned against the tableau forcing himself to breathe deeply. As his eyes began to focus again, he frowned, as if seeing for the first time the rope that still looped between his bound wrists... with a sudden roar of defiance... he stood up straight, held the rope taut between outstretched arms and, with a glare at the offending cotton, infused it with dancing sparks of blue lightening until it burst into flames and fell harmlessly to the ground.
"Hello, old friend," a raspy voice said calmly, off to his left.
"Cintoban," Kalabar/Sandburg spat and glared at the charred, living corpse that stood over the broken body of the killer, Russ Dawson. "I see you still have lousy taste in apprentices."
The thing that had once been human attempted a shrug. "I needed a strong body and a mind without conscience. Dawson worked for awhile, but he didn't take direction very well." Pause. "It seems that your Michael had a few ideas of his own as well."
"Michael was precognitive. He knew you would try this stunt and tried to ensure that I would be available to stop you."
"If Dawson hadn't released your energized ashes on your present scrawny body, I would have completed the sacrifices and your soul would have been trapped within that ugly, little urn... for eternity. Perhaps I can still take over your body. Women seem to find it desirable."
"Give it up, Cintoban." Kalabar/Sandburg shook his head. "I don't want to fight you again."
"It's been a long time since we last met."
"Not long enough."
"TOO DAMN LONG!" Cintoban roared, allowing his hood to fall back and reveal that which he had become.
Kalabar/Sandburg grimaced at the blackened, skeletal visage. "I apologize. I was young and cocky. I never should have cursed you to immortality...I should have destroyed you. It's my fault hundreds more fell victim to your depraved actions."
"You give yourself too much credit. Even if you had killed me, what makes you think that would have prevented my return?"
"I..." A confused, reanimated wizard ran a shaky hand through a stray lock of ash-encrusted curls.
"Of course I would have come back!" Already taxed, almost non-existent vocal cords prevented the scream of defiance Cintoban intended. "All you did was cause me inconvenience and pain for a thousand years!" A long, silver dagger slipped out of his right sleeve and into a black collection of bones that roughly passed as a hand. "Pain that you will feel now when I take your Sentinel!"
"NO!" Kalabar/Sandburg cried, running at Cintoban. He was too far away, he knew, but he had to try... had to protect... his friend, his Sentinel, his brother, his soulmate.
The thing that once was human raised the dagger to arm's length above its head and spun amazingly fast toward the captive detective. The weapon was quickly arcing down when a leg suddenly swept backward, striking the bottom of the cloak and knocking Cintoban off balance. James Ellison immediately rolled over and followed through with another blow from both legs sending the creature over the edge of the precipice into the bowels of the earth. A dead, inhuman roar emanated from the pit, and then there was silence.
"JIMMY!" Kalabar/Sandburg skidded to his knees beside his partner and began to untie the ropes holding his hands behind his back. "Are you all right? Man, I was so worried about that massive zone out. I didn't think I was getting through to you."
"Chief?" Ellison blinked and shook his head to try and comprehend the totally unbelievable vision of his partner. "Where are your clothes?"
"I... um....don't know."
Pushing himself to a sitting position, the Sentinel's intense blue eyes pulled into focus and he stared at the young man kneeling beside him, who looked very much like one of the primitive people he was so fond of studying. Long, wild curls were matted with ash, while the same fine, gray powder completely covered his naked body. "Blair, are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. Sure." The Guide added a quick grin just for reassurance. Suddenly, the young body stiffened and he slowly turned his head to stare down into the bottomless depths.
"Jimmy, take the baby and get out of here," Kalabar/Sandburg said softly, but with uncharacteristic authority.
"What? Not without you. What are you talking about?"
As each helped the other to stand, the eyes of the innocent locked onto the eyes of ancient wisdom.
"You need to get the baby to safety, Jimmy. You do your job. Let me do mine."
"Chief, you're not making any sense. Besides, it's black as ink tonight and, in case you haven't noticed, there's no taxis in the middle of the woods."
"Scent for the smell of gasoline. There should be a car or something not too far away. Cintoban wouldn't have walked out here from town."
"Fine. Come on."
"Jimmy. Go. Protect the child." Kalabar/Sandburg smiled to soften the blow of the uncommon direct order. "I'll be right behind you."
Sending a puzzled glance in his partner's direction, Ellison strode over to the baby and gently picked him up, cradling him in the crook of his arm. "Sandburg..."
His Guide broadened his smile and nodded. And as the gentle breeze began to strengthen in intensity, he turned to gaze into the pit.
Carefully, Ellison opened his sense of smell only for gas and located a vehicle hidden on the edge of the woods. Driven by a need to protect the child and a very unfamiliar compulsion to obey his partner, he jogged off toward the line of trees.
Kalabar/Sandburg backed away from the edge and unsuccessfully tried to keep wind-whipped curls out of his eyes. Using a nearby stick, Not my trusty old walking stick, but this will do. he drew a circle, approximately nine feet in diameter, on the ground and stepped into the center. With his arms straight at his sides, he opened his hands, palms down, instinctively pulling energy from the earth all the while chanting an ancient mantra.
The old Volvo had been driven as far into the woods as possible before it was abandoned. James Ellison recognized it immediately as belonging to Sandburg and that thought triggered a wave of guilt for leaving his partner alone. Glancing up at the gathering clouds that now released a light rain, he hunched over the child to protect it from the weather and hurried toward the car.
Quickly opening the rain-slicked door, he decided to place the baby on the floor in the back. Dragging a convenient blanket off the seat, Ellison carefully packed it around and over the child to keep him warm and dry. Satisfied that the baby would be safe for the time being, the Sentinel was free to return to his partner. Softly closing the door, he hurried to return along the same path.
His unpredictable sixth sense was teasing him again, touching his heart with a strange feeling of deja vu and an overwhelming need to join with his Guide.
The rain increased in intensity the closer he got to the site of the planned sacrifice. Lightening streaked horizontally and threatened to blind him if he used his hyper-sensitive vision. All his dials were turned so far down, he decided he wasn't even on a par with normal senses. If he allowed even one of his senses to return to Sentinel level, he knew he would be facing another zone out. His feet threatened to slip more than once as he ran a more direct line through the littered forest but an ever-tightening icy grip on his heart would not allow him to exercise caution.
Within minutes, he had returned to the edge of the clearing... and to his worst nightmare. Ellison skidded to a halt and saw his friend, his Guide, standing tall... and all alone... at the brink of hell.
As soon as his Sentinel had left for safety, Kalabar/Sandburg searched the recesses of his ancient memory for long-forgotten mantras, spells, and incantations. The 'Magic Circle' was the first thing to come to mind and after quickly scraping a circle in the dirt, he stepped into the very center. Candles would've been nice for the four corners, he thought, then dismissed the idea as ridiculous since he would never have been able to keep them lit with the increasing wind. I was never very good at fire spells, anyway.
Long dormant senses and instincts bobbed to the surface, and, with his confidence building, the ancient, young Guide extended his arms and spread his hands wide, drawing on the natural forces of the earth. I sure hope this reincarnation can hold electricity better than he holds his liquor, Kalabar/Sandburg mused as he felt the power coursing through his small frame. Here's hoping my old ashes will help store some of it. Sure could use my old crystal to help focus, too, but I guess I'll have to wing it.
The slight tremor that had been emanating deep within the bottomless pit, and had so transfixed his Sentinel soulmate, had now increased to a violent rumble. Memories of the ancient wizard now assisted the young man as this knowledge served to allay the terror of the unknown. He set his stance and glared at the apparition that slowly rose from the gateway to hell.
"THAT'S FAR ENOUGH!" Kalabar/Sandburg commanded. A wave of all-consuming evil rolled out of the pit and leached into the surrounding ground. It was nothing more than a sensation but felt as tangible as if it were a solid piece of granite. He didn't dare move, didn't dare flinch -- just stared into the demon's visage with all the authority he could muster. "Your kind isn't welcome here. Return. NOW!"
The demon, now visible from the waist up, surveyed his surroundings with the air of a king before its gaze momentarily rested on the insignificant human who stood before him in a most annoying fashion. Deciding that the small man was of no importance, it began to approach the edge of the pit to crawl onto the surface of the planet -- to attempt, once again, to gain control of the earth.
Quickly, Kalabar/Sandburg extended both arms toward the demon, fingers spread, as thin streaks of blue lightening danced from his fingertips and struck the thing squarely in the chest. It bellowed in surprise and slid back to the center. Now, it awarded the human the attention due to one of higher rank. Without energy of its own to control, it did the only thing it could -- command the weather.
Dark gray clouds edged with bursts of lightening quickly gathered. Thunderous applause accompanied a gale force wind which buffeted the small human and threatened to knock him out of the protecting circle.
Angry and determined, Kalabar/Sandburg again gathered a force of energy and directed it at the creature. This time, he continued the barrage, not giving the demon a chance to fight back. Under the continual assault, the manifestation was slowly retreating, sinking farther into the pit. So absorbed was the ancient, young man in ridding the world of this horror, he failed to notice that the slight mist of early evening had increased to a driving rain.
Within minutes, long strands of soaking wet curls moved sluggishly in the wind -- cleansed now, of the gray ash that had been matted so thoroughly in the hair just moments before. The nine-foot circle resembled a dirty gray wading pool as clean rivulets coursed down the Guide's bare skin.
Each expulsion of energy was now pulling from his own reserves. He was fast becoming more tired than he could ever remember. His arms began to shake and overtaxed lungs banged against his chest from the exertion. Blue eyes widened in shock as he watched the last barrage fizzle to a few snaps. He swayed and shook his head, confused. He was no longer able to draw upon the limitless energy forces of the earth. Belatedly, he realized he had totally expended his own energy and was nearing complete exhaustion. Glancing at the puddle surrounding his feet, he saw the ever increasing film of gray floating on the surface and immediately knew he had lost his advantage. He was standing in his only connection with his past abilities and now he was even beginning to forget what they were.
Looking up, he noticed that the demon had realized he was in trouble. The thing's face twisted in a grimace that was supposed to pass as a smile -- of triumph, Kalabar/Sandburg supposed. He staggered with the knowledge that he was about to lose this war. A random thought passed through his mind, Guess I haven't learned much in a thousand years. I still think I can save the world single-handedly.
A single gust of hurricane-force wind hit him broadside and he felt himself falling... into the arms of his Sentinel.
"Jimmy?" Kalabar/Sandburg murmured weakly, latching onto a steel-banded forearm, thankful that sentinels were traditionally so much more muscular than their guides. "Where...?"
"I don't listen very well either, Chief," Ellison said gently, helping his partner to stand on his feet, then removing his jacket to wrap around the small shoulders. "You needed me." He glared at the nightmare looming before them, then enfolded his arms around his Guide. Truthfully, he had no idea what he was doing, but since this was all a bad dream anyway, he decided to operate solely on instinct. "Use my energy," he whispered. "We can beat this thing together."
Turning to face the demon, Kalabar/Sandburg smiled wickedly, gathered as much power as he dared, and unleashed it full force to hit the creature dead center. "Go to hell!" he cried out as the demon's scream of rage melded with the thunderous cacophony of the heavens as it twisted in frustration with the knowledge that it was about to be defeated by a mere human! Another bolt was hurled at the creature, bathing it in eerie blue sparks. The creature spun again, trying to avoid the continual barrage, but soon realized its only escape lay in retreat. With a final bellow, it disappeared into the depths of the pit.
With a relieved sigh, Ellison slowly released his hold on his Guide, only to have him fall to his knees in the gray mud.
"Blair!" Shocked at his friend's weakened state, the big man automatically reached out for him, but his partner had other ideas.
Slowly, the young man shook his head. "Not yet," he gasped. Placing his hands, palms down in the puddle, he closed his eyes, dragged in a deep breath and, using his last reserve of strength, sent a waterfall of gray mud tinged with an opalescent blue light over the edge. He knelt there until the water ran clear and the light had faded. Then, and only then, would he allow himself the luxury of collapsing unconscious onto the muddy earth.
Ellison was on his knees by his side immediately. "Chief?" Gently he raised his partner and cradled him in his left arm. Carefully, he opened his senses and found that his world had returned to normal sights, sounds, and smells. Now, he used those hyper-acute senses to scan his young friend's vital signs. A feather-light touch on his Guide's bare chest conveyed all the information to place his mind at rest. Steady heartrate, regular breathing... he breathed a silent prayer of thanks when he determined that his partner was just exhausted.
He shivered against the cold night air and hugged Sandburg close to his chest. The young man was naked, drenched, and unconscious. Not a good combination. Ellison lurched to his feet, holding his precious burden tightly to him. He braced his feet as he wobbled slightly, realizing that he, too, was near exhaustion. It didn't matter, though. All that counted was getting his partner warm and dry. He looked in the direction of the car and, assuming all the military bearing he could muster, staggered toward it.
Come on, Chief. It took too much energy to vocalize, and, Ellison considered, Sandburg never listened anyway. You know, you gotta stop these late night excursions. There're gonna be the death of us yet.
Bright sunlight filtered gently through Sandburg's bedroom window, dancing with rare abandon across the room and infusing gold in a splay of brown curls surrounding a sleeping Guide's face. His Sentinel snored softly in a chair by his side, his large hand covering the smaller wrist protectively as Sentinel senses automatically registered the young man's vitals.
In his dreams, James Ellison smiled as he recognized the nearness of a very old friend.
"All right, Kalabar. You know you can't hide from me."
A mirror image of his Guide slowly materialized on the edge of Sandburg's bed, sitting cross-legged, grinning broadly.
"WE BEAT THEM, JIMMY!" he crowed enthusiastically, bouncing where he sat. "Man, that was so cool! I mean, I definitely couldn't have done it without you. Thanks for being there."
Ellison shook his head in wonder. "I am constantly amazed that you can be this enthusiastic after a thousand years of existance."
Blue eyes widened in surprise, "Why not?"
"It's just that... How can you not get detached after what's happened? After that... thing... It really was from hell, wasn't it?"
"Yup. A lesser demon," Kalabar/Sandburg announced nonchalantly. Then he cocked his head at his partner and brushed a wayward lock of hair behind his ear. "That bothers you a lot doesn't it? That there actually is a hell."
"No. Yes." Ellison sighed and intently studied his hand resting over his sleeping Guide's. "I don't know what I believe. It's not all black and white anymore. There's more than just my predictable, normal physical world out there now. I've seen the other side. And I don't know what to do about it."
"Do? Why do anything? It just is and occasionally we bump into it. That's all."
"You make it sound so simple."
"Jimmy, it is simple. Let it go. It happened. We beat them." Kalabar/Sandburg hopped off the bed, knelt in front of his partner and smiled up at him. "Together. Sentinel and Guide -- just like always."
"Why can't I remember us, but I know I'll always remember that nightmare."
"The nightmare will fade in time, just like all nightmares." Rocking back on his heels, he shrugged. "Beats me how you can accept all the trappings and baggage that comes with being a Sentinel and still stay so rooted in your physical world."
"It's all your fault, Chief. You're the only thing that's kept me sane -- I guess in any lifetime."
A gentle russling of sheets, accompanied by a soft murmuring, drew Kalabar's attention to the figure on the bed, wrapped snugly in blankets.
"Gotta go," he grinned.
Ellison smiled back and relaxed into his waking self, knowing that his predictable, physical world would return.
Sandburg woke to bright sunlight streaming through his window, in his own bed -- safe, warm, and dry.
"Jim?" he murmured muzzily. He was so tired and he couldn't think... "What happened?"
"You don't remember?" The detective had wondered how much of last night's events his partner would recall. He knew only that he wished he could forget most of it himself. Maybe, in time, he would. Some of the events were beginning to fade like a bad dream and already he was wondering what was real and what was a dream.
"I.. um... woke up tied to a tree. Geesh, naked... man, I didn't need to remember that. You were zoned big time so I managed to get myself off the tree... then I was running... this psychopath shoots at me and... the urn! Oh man, this nut must have hit the little burial urn because all of a sudden I get rained on by ash and bits of pottery." Expressive blue eyes locked onto the calmness of his partner. "Guess I got knocked out."
"Yeah, you were out of it all right."
"Sorry, man. Guess I wasn't much help last night."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that. You were there when it counted."
"I was?!" Sandburg grinned, pleased, although he didn't know about what.
Ellison nodded. "You definitely were."
"Don't ever call me Jimmy."
"Jimmy?" The young man pushed himself to a sitting position and frowned. "When did I ever call you Jimmy?" He stared at his partner as the Sentinel rose, shook his head and allowed a corner of his mouth to curl upward. "Jim?" He called to Ellison's retreating back. Receiving no answer he settled back against the pillow and grinned broadly. "Has a nice familiar ring to it though."
* * * * * END * * * * *
Back to The Loft