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The knock on his office door was so unexpected that Blair Sandburg jumped, his heart rate instantly speeding up; he took a deep, steadying breath, reminded himself once again that Alex Barnes was permanently hospitalised with an awareness rather less than that of a cabbage, and called, "Come in!" expecting it be one of his students - there was a downside to having an open-door policy since it meant he could be interrupted at any time, but having had, at sixteen, the frustrating personal experience of a lecturer who refused to answer any questions or discuss anyone's problems outside of class time (and it could sometimes be very embarrassing bringing up some problems of understanding in front of a class of one's peers, especially when the lecturer made it obvious he thought the questioner was little more than an idiot for not clearly and immediately understanding everything in his rather-too-erudite lectures) Blair was a great believer in letting his students consult him any time they thought they had a problem.
At this point in the term, though, it was unlikely to be anything serious, and he was not entirely sorry to have a legitimate reason to abandon - albeit temporarily - the essay he was struggling to read. Rolf Gunnarsen was a conscientious first year student who read avidly and frequently contributed intelligent and insightful comments in class, but somehow both intelligence and insight were totally lost in the apparently interminable journey from his brain, down his arm, through his fingers to his pen and onto paper. Blair found himself wondering how the youngster had ever managed to pass the exams needed to enter Rainier, and was seriously considering getting permission for him to tape all his essays and tests - there was immediate precedent in the two sight-impaired students currently in one of the social studies classes.
The young man who entered was a stranger, however; there was a slightly tentative quality in his attitude, and for a moment Blair wondered if this was a student who for some reason wanted to change his course. He would be unlucky if he was; a student could certainly change his subjects, but not in the middle of the academic year.
"Yes." As he approached his thirtieth birthday, he had begun to realise that a lot of the younger students felt awkward addressing one of their lecturers by his first name when he was ten or more years older than they were, and had reluctantly started to accept being called 'Mr Sandburg' or even, horror of horrors, 'sir'.
"My name is Frank Reynolds. I'm in my final year, majoring in psychology. Professor Norton suggested I have a word with you."
"Huh? Frank, my field is anthropology. What does that have to with psychology?"
"Well, he said you're working with the cops while you're getting material for your doctorate?"
"Yes - started off as a ridealong observer, but ridealongs only last three months and I've been there three years, and counting - they're calling me a consultant these days. What's your point?"
"Well... I wondered if you could give me some advice."
"When I started at Rainier, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finally qualified. Basically I went into psychology because my father expected me to - he's a psychologist, and I think he had a vision of him and me in partnership. But although I find the subject interesting, I want to do something more useful than talking rich women with no need to work and no direction in their lives through their neuroses, which is what Dad seems to do almost all the time. It's made him rich, but I doubt he gets much job satisfaction... This last few months, though, I've begun to see a direction I'd like to go.
"Mr Sandburg, would there be any sort of job available with the police for a psychologist?"
Blair looked thoughtfully at the young man. "I don't really know. I'm working with Major Crimes - that's mainly detective work. But I imagine that a degree in psychology could be a good qualification for someone working as a profiler.
"Tell you what - I'll see if I can fix up a meeting for you with Captain Banks - he can answer your questions better than I could - or maybe he can suggest someone better for you to meet. Leave it with me. I can contact you through Professor Norton?"
"Yes - and thanks." He hesitated. "Er... "
"Yes?" Assuming that he had covered Reynolds' needs and already beginning to return his attention to Gunnarsen's confused attempt at an essay, Blair raised his head again.
"One of our psychology books has a reference to a paper you wrote about eight years ago. The actual chapter was about how often people were basically lazy and didn't want to get involved in things, but how a sense of responsibility could overcome some people's natural instinct towards the 'it's nothing to do with me' syndrome.
"I sometimes find it helpful to track down some of the papers the books refer to and read them to form my own conclusions, and I tracked down yours. It was about tribal sentinels and their duties to the tribe, and you made it very clear that a sense of duty, the urge - indeed, the need - to protect the tribe, was the prime motive behind all their actions. I found it really interesting."
"Thanks. It was the first thing I ever published about sentinels. Got about half of the information out of Burton, half from the legends of various hunter-gatherer tribes, none of which would admit to actually having had a proper sentinel in living memory..." He gave an amused half snort. "We say that as if it's a long time, and in those tribes 'living memory' only goes back maybe forty years, fifty if someone's been really lucky, while tribal history, even though it's verbal rather than written, may go back several hundred years. I was still pretty naive when I wrote it. Back then, I hoped I'd be able to make modern sentinels the subject of my dissertation, but - " He shrugged. "I found quite a few natives in those tribes who had surprisingly sharp eyes, ears and noses, though not of sentinel quality; back home, I found dozens - hundreds - of people with fairly heightened senses of taste and smell, mostly working for tea, coffee, wine or perfume companies; blind people who had developed a heightened sense of touch - which they need to read Braille, of course - and sometimes hearing, but... " He shrugged again.
"The trouble of course is that modern man in the developed countries is unlikely ever to be in the sort of situation that would allow hyperactive senses to develop; it seemed to need a period of isolation before a genetic predisposition to having these let them kick in - which of course the people in many of the so-called primitive tribes often experienced. A lot of tribes used pain, suffered without a sound, as a test of manhood; but there were other tribes where the boys were sent off to survive for several days in the wild, each one on his own, as that test. That could trigger hyperactive senses. An adult male might regularly go off on his own for a couple of days, hunting small game. But Western man is seldom alone like that, in a situation where all that stands between him and death is the acuity of his senses.
"Then modern civilisation makes having heightened senses quite uncomfortable. Think about it - traffic fumes, traffic noise, artificial everything in food... No incentive to develop latent sensory ability, and every incentive to suppress it, even subconsciously."
Reynolds grinned. "I see what you mean."
"So although I'm still interested in the subject of sentinels, I eventually realised that I had to be practical about it, and I'm doing my thesis on closed societies, of which the police makes a perfect example. They're really pretty nice to me and I do count the guys at Major Crimes among my friends, but even after three years I'm still not 'one of them'; if I had a dollar for every time I've been told, 'You're not a cop', I'd be rich."
"You don't see the police as - well, having sentinel instincts even though they're not sentinels?"
"I hadn't thought of it that way, but I suppose a lot of them could have," Blair admitted. "I've been looking at it more like an over-developed parental instinct - you know, like they're the parents and the general public are their kids, and the bad guys are the people trying to hurt their kids. But if I was to word it exactly that way - man, you'd hear the screams of outrage all the way to Tacoma, because they sure don't see themselves that way. Protectors, yes - but certainly not as surrogate parents!"
After Reynolds left, Blair abandoned Gunnarsen's essay and reached for the list of internal phone numbers.
"D... G... L... N... Nichols... Norman... Norton. Right." He reached for the internal phone and dialled.
"Blair Sandburg, Professor. I understand you have a student called Reynolds? Frank Reynolds?"
"Interested in a career with the police. Yes. He's been to see you?"
"Yes. I've agreed to try to arrange a meeting for him with a senior officer at the PD. I did want to check with you first though, before I stick my neck out here - he struck me as a conscientious student?"
"Extremely so. Straight As, reads a lot of the papers referred to in his required reading - "
"Flexible in his thinking?"
"Flexible? I'm not sure I quite understand..."
"Professor, if I'm to set up a meeting between Reynolds and a police captain, I need to be able to say that he's more than an empty brain.
"I minored in psychology. There were some students in my class with straight As who couldn't think their way out of a maze with the entrance in full view two yards in front of them and no other way to go. They knew the material backwards, but they couldn't work with it - they'd memorised the responses expected and parroted them back; if they'd ever been set an actual problem to solve, using those facts, they'd have been lost."
"Ah. Yes, I see. You're right, unfortunately there are some students like that, but I don't think mine is the only subject where that happens. There will always be some students who only want the letters after their names because they think it makes them look important."
And that's a pretty fair psychological assessment, Blair thought. "Fair enough, Professor. I certainly get some in anthro who are only there for the academic credit - sports jocks who see the subject as an easy option. Wouldn't be the first time one of them got quite a shock when he discovered he couldn't get a passing grade if he didn't work.
"What I'm asking is, is Reynolds one of the ones who can think? Can he use the material? Could he meet someone with an unstated problem and be able to ask the questions that would establish the problem? Could he read the reports on half a dozen apparently unrelated incidents and spot a common thread?"
"Yes, I think so. He's a man who likes to understand what he reads - like I said, he reads a lot of the papers mentioned in his course books - claims it expands his appreciation of the point being made."
"Fine. That's what I wanted to know. Thanks for your time."
Blair rang off, took a deep breath, picked up Gunnarsen's essay... then put it down again. He turned to the other dozen or so essays he still had to grade and finished them relatively quickly, then he returned to the problem one.
Half an hour later he gave up, stuffed it in his backpack to deal with at home, and headed for his car.
Blair went to bed just after midnight, roughly an hour later than Jim Ellison. He was quite tired; at this point in the term things should have been relatively quiet, with no students suddenly realising how little they knew, how much time they had wasted by maintaining a busy social life, and trying to persuade him to give them a little more time to finish their assignments; but it had been a stressful few days - dealing with Brad Ventriss had strained his nerves almost to breaking point - and he was glad he was due to spend the following day at the PD rather than at Rainier. Although he had accepted the Dean's embarrassed apology over the Ventriss affair and returned immediately to his assigned classes, he was beginning to feel very disenchanted with the idea of a life spent teaching, and the hours he had quite literally wasted trying to make sense out of the incomprehensible essay of a student he had finally decided was totally dyslexic when it came to writing something down certainly didn't help; he had a reasonable reputation as a researcher, he had published quite a few papers on varying aspects of anthropology, and he knew that once he had got his doctorate he would prefer to devote his career as an anthropologist to fieldwork and writing. He knew he stood a good chance of being able to get the funding to do that, even although he had passed up several offered field trips in the past three years, giving as his excuse his work for his dissertation.
Of course, fieldwork would mean field trips of months at a time; and how could he desert his sentinel? But to remain with Jim meant a career in the teaching that he was realising more clearly day by day was no what he wanted to do. He enjoyed teaching when he had even an averagely attentive class; he did not enjoy trying to insert knowledge into the heads of students who weren't interested and who - as he had said to Professor Norton - were only there for what they believed would be an easy option academic credit. And a teaching career was assuming he could get tenure at Rainier - it was more likely, he knew, that he would not, and would have to move away from Cascade to get a University position... and that would also mean deserting Jim.
He was beginning to think longingly of life as it might have been in earlier centuries, when a guide was free to be a guide, when guide and sentinel were supported by the tribe without the need to earn a wage, purely on the basis of the service they provided for the tribe.
He tossed restlessly for a while before sinking into deeper slumber.
He was walking over a bleak, unfriendly-looking countryside.
"Shaman." The voice was weak, barely audible. "Help me, Shaman."
He looked round. "Where are you?"
"Help me..." If there was more it was uttered too quietly for any ears but a Sentinel's.
He jerked awake and sat up.
In the months since Incacha had passed the Way of the Shaman on to him, he had not thought really seriously about what it might entail. He was aware that he had taken a spirit walk when he drowned in the fountain, but his only actual memory of the incident was the wolf and the black jaguar jumping into each other; he was aware, too, that that had linked Jim to him with a tie they had previously lacked, but Jim had been unwilling to talk about it, and they had simply continued as sentinel and guide as if nothing had happened; Blair doubted if Jim would ever be able to 'take that walk' with him. Despite his time with the Chopec, despite his friendship with Incacha, Jim was too practical, too matter-of-fact, to accept unquestioningly the mysticism that Blair, who had seen many things in his travels, took in his stride - even though he had, as Blair knew, seen his spirit guide - and Blair's - more than once. Blair had only seen his spirit guide once, and the only time he had seen Jim's was when it jumped into his wolf.
Now it seemed that someone was calling to him in his unexplored capacity as Shaman, and he had no idea what to do about it.
He took several deep, calming breaths, and lay down again, continuing to breathe steadily - in, two, three, four, out, two, three, four, in, two, three, four, out, two, three, four, in, two, three, four, out, two, three, four... He slipped back into sleep without realising it.
He was back in the same bleak, featureless landscape. The ground was dry, stony. A few wispy plants clung doggedly to life; he realised he was walking across a desert, though it resembled no desert he had ever seen.
Movement caught his eye; a wolf was running towards him.
He recognised it instantly, although he had only seen it once, and almost instinctively he looked to see if there was a black jaguar accompanying it; but it was alone.
The wolf stopped in front of him, and metamorphosed into his mirror image.
"You have taken the spirit walk," Wolf said. "You have passed beyond death, and in the passing you learned many things; much of what you learned you have not yet realised, and there are things that your mind will recall only when you have need of them.
"Your skills are needed now."
Sandburg's long, steadying breath was instinctive and automatic. Once - and not so very long ago, either - he had had little understanding of the path along which his studies had led him. Now he knew that Destiny had led him to the study of sentinels, that he was born to be a shaman, that guiding his sentinel was only a part of what he was born to do. He knew that like Jim, his fate was to serve and protect the Tribe, indirectly as guide, directly as shaman, and he could not turn his back on that responsibility.
"What must I do?"
"There is one in danger who must live."
"There are many in danger who deserve to live." But he knew that Wolf would not be there for a triviality.
"This one is a young guide who has been trapped and imprisoned by a man who seeks to use him. So far he has been able to resist, but he is losing strength. Soon he must either surrender his will or die. Use your Gift to find him."
"Jim - "
"Your sentinel cannot help until you find the youth; indeed, he would hinder you, for much of your attention would be directed towards meeting his needs instead of the needs of the one you must rescue." Wolf metamorphosed back into his natural shape, shimmered, and was gone.
Blair remained motionless for some moments, thinking. Why couldn't Wolf have led him to the prisoner?
But he knew why. The situation was genuine and undoubtedly urgent; but this was also a test of his abilities, of his commitment to the Way of the Shaman.
First he must find the young guide...
He sank down to sit cross-legged, and emptied his mind, letting his awareness range free.
First he realised that he had returned to the loft; he was half awake, peripherally aware of the warmth of the comforter surrounding him. Then he registered a faint tug at his consciousness and rose, letting the awareness pull him forward. His body paused; he dressed quickly, picked up his keys; then he walked quietly out of the loft to his car.
Jim Ellison woke suddenly and completely from an uneasy sleep, acutely aware of a total silence in the loft.
He sat up; a quick glance at the clock told him that it was still early - just after 5 am. Sandburg had no classes that day; he was scheduled to spend the day at the PD checking through the records of several unsolved murders - he had proved to be really good at spotting things even experienced detectives missed, his active mind good at lateral thinking, his knowledge of how people reacted wider yet more subtle than anyone else's Ellison knew.
So why couldn't he detect Sandburg's heartbeat? There was no reason for the younger man to be out of bed yet, let alone gone out.
Ellison ran down the stairs to his friend's room.
It was empty.
He felt the bed; it was cold. Blair had obviously left some time previously. Frowning, Ellison checked the kitchen. Kettle and coffeemaker were both quite cold; there were no dirty plates; the sink was completely dry. Either Sandburg had got up again and left not long after they went to bed or - more likely - he had not stopped to eat or drink anything. The sounds of something being prepared - even of the kettle boiling - would in any case have wakened the Sentinel, and Blair would have known that.
He looked round carefully. The signs - or rather, the lack of signs - indicated quite clearly that Blair had dressed and left of his own accord; there was nothing to indicate an intruder, nothing to indicate that he might have left under duress. It was strange, though, that he had not left a note. He had not taken the laptop or backpack that were his normal companions.
Blair's car! Mentally kicking himself for not thinking of it sooner, Ellison moved quickly to the window and looked out.
The car was as gone as its owner.
Ellison crossed to the couch, where he sat and worried. Why - why - had Blair taken off in the middle of the night, without a word?
He lifted the phone and dialled Blair's number.
There was no reply. Blair's cellphone was switched off.
The young shaman was only half aware of driving, his mind still deep in a meditative trance. He drove by sheer instinct, stopping at red lights and giving way at junctions, although at no time was he fully conscious of what he was doing.
He drove out of Cascade and turned onto a back road; and after about half an hour realised that the road led into a forest.
The pull was getting stronger all the time, and as it strengthened, his trance-like state lightened; and when, about five miles into the forest, he saw a short drive leading to a house he could only glimpse through the trees, he knew he had reached his destination. He stopped, coming back to full awareness, and realised that he had to hide his car - or at least leave it where it couldn't be seen from the house. He drove on past the house and stopped about quarter of a mile further on, where a rough access track, gated a few yards from the road to prevent anyone unauthorised from driving up it, led into the trees. He reversed carefully onto it, glad of the light from a moon just a couple of days past full to help him see what he was doing, and turned the car to face back the way he had come. At least he knew that way led back to Cascade; where the road went on to, he had no idea. He killed his lights.
He began to walk back towards the house. Why are these places always in the middle of a forest? he thought, then realised that it probably wasn't; it was five miles from one edge; the other side might be a hundred yards past his car or a hundred miles, but the house was very unlikely to be in the middle. Holding on to the irrelevancy of the thought, he made his cautious way up the drive and paused in the shadow of a tree to study the building.
It was two storeys high, and big, and even in the moonlight it looked weathered and old; either the house of someone who had old money, whose parents, grandparents and probably great-grandparents had all in turn lived in it, or some youngish rising executive with new money who had bought it from its original owners and was still paying the mortgage.
He walked slowly round it, studying it. One second floor window in particular drew his attention, though it didn't look different from any of the others. He made a mental note of it, and moved on. A little further on, another window caught his eye, only this time he was aware of a sense of revulsion, and he nodded to himself. The first window, then, was that of the room the man he had come to rescue occupied; this one was clearly the room where the captor slept.
His first instinct, to creep in, waken the young guide and lead him to safety, he dismissed even as he thought about it. If it was as simple as that, the boy would not need a shaman to help him.
He moved back into the shadow of the trees opposite the 'friendly' window and sank down cross-legged, drifting back into a trance.
He rose and stood for a moment looking down at his body sitting there, wondering just how safe it was; decided that as long as he returned to it before dawn - still fully three hours away - there shouldn't be any problem, then noticed Wolf standing in the shadow of a nearby bush, relaxed yet alert, clearly on guard. He grinned at his spirit guide then turned towards the house.
As he studied it again he wondered what abilities his out-of-body mind had. Getting in that window would be easiest if in this state he could fly -
He had no sooner formulated the thought than he lifted easily into the air. Directing his attention towards the window, he floated up to it. Inside, he thought, and was gratified to find himself standing with his back to the window, with no clear idea of how he had passed through the glass.
Hmmm - this could be useful, he thought. If I could go into a trance like this on stakeout, see inside a building with no danger of being detected... But even as he thought it, he knew it was wishful thinking. He was only able to do it this time because he had Wolf's help; and Wolf was only helping because a young guide was in danger. It was certain that Wolf would be disinclined to give this sort of assistance simply to make Jim's job - and his, as Jim's guide - easier, when with the expenditure of a little effort, time and patience, they could achieve the same result.
He moved towards the bed.
The youth lying there looked to be about sixteen, possibly seventeen. Even in sleep his face was drawn, tense, unhappy, and Blair was sure he would waken unrefreshed. There was a shadow lying at the foot of the bed; concentrating, Blair made out the shape of a fox - young, not yet quite full-grown, with a coat that looked somewhat ragged.
The fox raised its head and looked back at him; then it metamorphosed into a young man with a scarred and bleeding face and shoulders. Some of the injuries were well-healed, and were clearly relatively old; others were fresh and looked painful.
"How may I help you?" Blair asked quietly.
Blair smiled a little ruefully. "I try to be, but I have had little training. I am a guide; the Way of the Shaman was passed to me by one much wiser than I in the minute of his death. But I do not know where to go to get the proper training... and even if I did, I cannot leave my sentinel for the length of time it would take to train properly.
"However, what help I can give you, I will. What is the problem?"
Fox looked at the young man who was now tossing restlessly. "My Human is a guide."
Blair nodded. "So I was told."
"His name is Bill Ransome. He has not yet found his sentinel. There are not sentinels for all guides - many settle for other guiding roles - but I know that there is one for him."
"He still needs to learn about sentinels, as I did?"
"No. He knows about sentinels. He was already studying what he needs to know to help his sentinel; his interests had led him to the study of criminology when he was still only twelve years old. He knows, without knowing how he knows, that his destiny is to work with, help and advise someone of greater apparent ability.
"His parents encouraged his interest, seeing in it a secure career; and then his father died. His mother remarried within the year, a man who had been his father's friend and who helped her in the weeks immediately following her bereavement. He was a good man, if lacking somewhat in wisdom. He trusted those he loved too easily.
"He did not know what his stepson was born to do, but he could see that Bill could interact easily with people, could somehow find the right argument to persuade them what it was best for them to do, and somehow he betrayed Bill's potential to his brother, a man who totally lacks any sense of morality.
"Arthur Bistow has no real talent in any field, but he has political ambition; although he has been unable to obtain any sort of political position, he sees himself as President of the United States, a figure of importance manipulating world events."
At one level Blair was aware that Fox was being surprisingly forthcoming for an animal spirit, and then he realised that animal spirits were at their most enigmatic when they were forcing their humans to examine themselves. This one was giving information to a shaman. "And he thinks Bill is the key to achieving that?"
"Yes. Several years ago, he accidentally found some old writings by the Satanist Aleister Crowley, and - considering his general level of mediocrity - has been experimenting remarkably successfully with some of the spells he found there.
"Bistow perceived that he could use one of Crowley's spells to control his brother's stepson.
"He organised a car crash that killed his brother and sister-in-law; it might have killed Bill too, for Bistow was careless - it did not occur to him that Bill might also be in the car. Bill was left unconscious; his step-uncle used this to put him into a coma, using one of the spells he had learned to manipulate. Then he claimed Bill as his nephew and said he would see to his care. He was brother to the dead driver of the car; the authorities had no reason to doubt him.
"Bistow permits Bill brief periods of awareness each day so that he can eat, when he tries to persuade Bill to help him achieve his political ambitions, then when Bill refuses to help him - and indeed, he could not even if he was willing - he is driven back into the coma."
"Does he get any medical attention?"
"Physically he is recovered from the effects of the accident. But kept unconscious as he is, he is losing strength all the time. Bistow would be happy to have him completely bedridden, using his influence from afar, not realising that for a gift such as Bill has to be effective, both partners must remain close. Not realising that Bill needs to be there to be a guide.
"I have been defending him on the spirit plane as best I can, but I am not yet full-grown... and Bistow's spirit animal is a vulture. A fox cannot fight a bird like a vulture on equal terms. It is not usually necessary, for there are not many avian spirit guides; birds do not readily attach themselves to a human.
"Shaman, you must find a man whose spirit guide is a large and honourable bird of prey, for only it may defeat the vulture. That man will be his sentinel."
Blair said, very slowly, "Fox, I want to help. I really do want to help. But... the last time I found another sentinel everything went wrong. I fear how my sentinel will react to the discovery of yet another one in his territory. I will not betray my sentinel's trust again."
"It will not be a betrayal."
Blair swung round towards the window. Wolf stood there.
"Her spirit guide was also a jaguar. This one's is a bird. There is no conflict of interest."
"Don't you know who Bill's sentinel is?" Blair asked.
"I only know - as Fox does - that his spirit guide must be a bird. The young sentinel does not realise what he is, although he knows of sentinels."
Blair sank into a chair that stood beside the bed, feeling the need of a seat even in this incorporeal form. "So I have to find a sentinel who doesn't know what he is... Is he even aware yet of having heightened senses?"
"No," Wolf said.
"Great." But a tendril of memory was beginning to unwind... a young man who had read one of his papers, who knew about sentinels and seemed quite remarkably accepting of their abilities... and who wanted a career with the police.
A plan was beginning to form, tenuous still; he looked at Fox.
"I must return to Cascade. I think I know who the young sentinel is; I must speak with him. And I want to bring my sentinel when I return," he added, looking at Wolf. "His jaguar may not be able to help on the spirit plane, but Jim will certainly be able to help on the material plane. We must get Bill away from this house." He shivered. "There is evil here; I can feel it. Yet there has been much happiness here too."
Fox nodded. "There was happiness before Bistow turned to the study of Crowley's works; there will be happiness again, but not while Bistow is alive."
Blair paid very careful attention to the route as he drove back to Cascade, knowing that when he returned, he would not be able to depend on whatever it was that had drawn him to the lonely house in the forest in the first place. The world of the spirit could be unpleasantly erratic at times.
He pulled in to his usual parking spot outside the loft in the half light of approaching dawn, and glanced up at the loft windows; they were still dark. He ran up the stair to the loft, hoping to get in before his sentinel woke. The moment he opened the door he knew how futile that hope was.
"Where the hell have you been?"
"Wolf called me," Blair replied quietly.
"Wolf? Who the hell - ?"
"Wolf. My animal spirit. I'm your guide, Jim, but Incacha passed the Way of the Shaman on to me, and that carries responsibilities too. I was needed - as a shaman."
Ellison went back to the big couch he had left when he heard Blair's footsteps on the stair, and sank into it. "Okay, I hear that. But didn't you think to waken me?"
"If I had, would you have let me go alone?"
"Taking you along was my first instinct. Wolf said your presence would be a distraction to me. That I would be thinking too much about your needs and not enough about the needs of the boy I was called to help."
Blair nodded. "He's around sixteen, maybe seventeen. The point is, he's a guide."
"So were you able to help him?"
"Not yet, but I'm hopeful. At least I know what he needs... " He hesitated. "Jim, somewhere in Cascade there's a sentinel for him."
Ellison froze. "Another sentinel... No. I'd have known."
"He's not one like Alex Barnes. For a start, his senses haven't wakened yet. Second, there's a guide for him. Third, if it's the young man I think it could be, he will follow the Way of the Sentinel, no doubt about it; he wants a career with the police."
"You mean you've met him? Why didn't you tell me?" It was obvious that Jim was making a strong effort not to over-react.
"I just met him yesterday, and until I spoke with Wolf and Fox last night - this morning, rather - I didn't know what he was. Even now I'm not sure. But he knows about sentinels.
"He's a psychology student at Rainier. Final year. He came to me yesterday to ask if I thought there could be a job with the PD for a psychology grad. Then he told me one of my papers - one about sentinels that I wrote years before I met you - was footnoted in one of his psych textbooks, and he'd tracked it down and read it. I was flattered, but didn't think more of it than that. I was meaning to have a word with Simon about him today - his adviser reckons he's really good, and doesn't just know his subject, he can work with it too.
"Now the thing is, Wolf and Fox told me that the young guide who needs help is - or rather, was until all this blew up - studying criminology, and knows his future will be working in that field with someone of apparently greater ability, who obviously has to be his sentinel. Reynolds seems to fit that description."
Jim looked uneasy. "Blair, you know how I reacted last time... "
"Yes, and I reminded Wolf of that. He said that there would be no conflict. Alex had a jaguar as a spirit guide. Direct competition with your jaguar. This one has a big bird as spirit guide, he and Fox didn't know what kind, which means there wouldn't be the same competition."
"I see... I think."
"So first of all I have to see Reynolds and try to make him understand the situation - but in such a way that if I'm wrong, if it isn't him, I don't compound the problem; and if it seems that it is him, find some way of wakening his abilities fast. Young Ransome is growing weaker and weaker... and Fox can't entirely help him against the vulture."
"Whoa, Chief - back up a bit. I gather Fox is the animal spirit of this young guide?"
"And the vulture?"
"The animal spirit of the man who's holding Ransome prisoner. But a fox can't fight a vulture on anything like equal terms."
"It needs another big bird."
"Yeah. Wolf, as the animal spirit of another guide, seems to have been giving Fox moral support, but that's about all he can do." Blair sighed. "I'm going to need you along from now on, Jim. Think you can get three or four days off?"
"I've certainly got plenty time due, and Simon was just saying it was more than time I took some of it," Jim said. "If I take a week - think that will be long enough?"
"I certainly hope so. We need to get young Ransome to safety as soon as possible, but we need to get that vulture defeated first, or it will just follow him."
"So you need to see this possible young sentinel as soon as possible?"
"OK. You go and get a shower while I do breakfast and phone Simon, then we'll go in search of him."
Showered and shaved, Blair rejoined his sentinel twenty minutes later, just as Jim was about to call to him to hurry before the eggs overcooked.
"Did you get Simon?" Blair asked as he sat and reached for his fork.
"Yes. I've got ten days unless something really big happens."
"We shouldn't need that long," Blair commented. "At least - I certainly hope we don't!"
They headed for Rainier as soon as they'd washed the breakfast dishes. There, Blair called Professor Norton.
"Hello, Professor, this is Blair Sandburg again. Sorry to bother you, but I'd like a word with young Reynolds, please - can you get him to come to my office as soon as possible, or tell me where I can find him."
"Certainly. As it happens, he's with me now; I'll send him straight over to see you."
Blair rang off. "We're in luck - he'll be straight over."
Blair looked at his sentinel sympathetically. "Relax, Jim. Remember, this one doesn't know what he is yet, but even if he did, he's on our side."
"It's hard not to feel suspicious. Watchful. Protective."
"Jim, with Alex you felt something was wrong in Cascade. Do you get that feeling now?"
Ellison thought for a moment. "No."
"I know, Chief. My head knows. My instincts are something else."
They were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come in!" Blair called.
The door opened and Reynolds entered. "Hello, Mr Sandburg. Have you been able to arrange something for me already?"
"No, not yet. This is about something else. Oh, this is my friend, Detective Ellison. Jim, Frank Reynolds."
Reynolds looked at Jim. "Hello, si - " He broke off, stiffening, staring at the older man.
Ellison, on the other hand, had relaxed the moment the young student entered the room. His aura was completely different from everything Jim had sensed from Alex; Blair had been right. This young man was indeed 'one of them'.
Reynolds turned and looked at Blair, who was watching him intently, then back to Ellison. "Who are you?" he whispered.
"Who do you think we are?" Blair asked quietly.
"You, Mr Sandburg... I'm not sure. But Detective Ellison... You're a sentinel, aren't you?"
Jim nodded. "Yes. I'm a sentinel. Blair is my guide, and a shaman." He, too, spoke very quietly.
Once again, Reynolds looked from one to the other. "When I came in, everything was normal. Now... suddenly I'm hearing things... and the light has suddenly become much brighter... "
"Yes," Blair said. "Usually it takes a period of total isolation; but in this case, sudden exposure to Jim has probably been the trigger. Frank, you're a sentinel too. I'm sorry I had to mislead you when you spoke to me yesterday; I'd no idea then what you were - and we've learned that it's best to keep Jim's sentinel abilities secret."
Reynolds was shaking his head in disbelief. "Sentinels sounded wonderful when I read about them in your paper, Mr Sandburg. It hardly seems possible... "
"There aren't many sentinels around," Blair said. "Guides are more common, and a lot of them never find a sentinel."
"And your paper said a sentinel needs a guide. Where can I find mine?"
Jim let out an enormous sigh. "Thank God. You've got all the right instincts, Frank," he said. "I have to admit I've been worried ever since Blair told me that you might be a sentinel, but I'm not worried any longer. You see, the last one we met... I saw her as a threat, right from the start, even before I knew there was another sentinel in Cascade. But she used her abilities for all the wrong things, and ended up trying to drown Blair."
Raynolds stared at Blair. "You mean... We all heard about it, but we all thought... When you were in the fountain, it wasn't an accident?"
"It wasn't an accident. I was knocked out and dropped into the fountain to drown." He shrugged. "I did drown. But there's a link between a sentinel and his guide." He was watching Reynolds closely. "Jim was able to draw me back."
The younger man was frowning slightly. "Where can I find my guide?" he repeated. There was an odd note of anxiety in his voice.
"You sound worried," Blair murmured.
"I've been aware of feeling that something was wrong, for days. Weeks, even, but I knew there wasn't anything wrong with me. It's my guide, isn't it? Even though we've never met?"
"Yes," Blair said. "Someone else is trying to use him. He's resisting, but he's getting weaker. If we can't rescue him, he'll die, because he'll never submit to the will of the man who is holding him prisoner."
"Where is he?"
"Come with us. I'll tell you everything I know, and then we can plan what best to do."
"Yes - Oh, I've got classes today... " He looked helplessly at Blair. "I'm beginning to see how hard it is to have a... a double life, like you do, Mr Sandburg. How do you manage?"
"It's not always easy; sometimes something has to go," Blair said. "You won't have the same problem. Once you graduate, you won't be trying to do two things at once. As for your classes - from what Professor Norton told me, it won't do any harm if you miss one or two." He reached for the phone again, punched in the number he had already memorised. "Hello, Professor. This is just to let you know I'm taking young Reynolds off to show him a few things today, with a view to his future career. I realise he'll miss some classes, though; he's worried about that."
"Tell him not to worry; he can catch up anything he misses easily enough. I just wish all of my students were as conscientious."
"Thanks." Blair rang off. "Professor Norton said not to worry."
"Thanks. It's like being pulled in two - I have my studies, and they're the key to my future, but now I know what I am, I'm feeling more and more worried about... I don't even know his name!"
"It's Bill. Bill Ransome. He's a few years younger than you, but from what Fox and Wolf told me, he's mature for his years."
"Fox and Wolf?"
"Ah. I'll explain later."
They took Reynolds back to the loft and Jim made coffee while Blair began to explain the situation to the student.
"Jim told you I'm a shaman as well as being his guide."
Reynolds nodded. "I'm not quite sure what that means, though."
"To tell you the truth, neither am I," Blair admitted. "It was a... gift, I suppose you'd call it, handed on to me by a dying man who was a shaman - that story isn't important right now. But it means that I have more responsibilities to the Tribe than just being Jim's guide.
"I'd a dream last night," Blair went on. "I was being called on for help. Wolf - that's my animal spirit - led me - I was sort of sleepwalking - to a house in the forest not far from Cascade. There - I was in a sort of trance - my spirit went into the house and found Bill lying unconscious. His animal spirit - Fox - told me that he was being held captive by his dead stepfather's brother - "
Blair stopped, looking at the anger on the young man's face. "You know, man, Jim's right; I'd no real doubts, from what I knew about you, but now I'm sure. You've definitely got the right attitude. You've got a sentinel's protective instincts all right; you'll try to cosset young Bill to death, especially till he's back on his feet."
"Unfortunately, guides don't take kindly to being protected, let alone cossetted," Jim said as he brought the coffee over. "You'll find your guide has a mind of his own - and when you think about it, he'll need it. The sentinel protects the Tribe, but the guide protects the sentinel, directs him, keeps him on an even keel."
Reynolds looked back at Blair. "Your paper didn't say much about the function of a guide, just that a sentinel had one - needed one." He took one of the mugs and gulped at it, as if he desperately needed the caffeine.
"At the time I wrote that paper, I didn't know much about a guide's function. When I started off as Jim's guide, I hadn't a clue, really. Thought it would be a stroll in the park. It isn't.
"Anyway, to get back to the subject. The stepfather apparently was a good man, but his brother - a man called Bistow - apparently isn't. According to Fox, he killed his brother and sister-in-law just to get his hands on Bill - "
A growl stopped him - he thought it was from Jim - and he looked from one sentinel to the other. Their faces bore identical expressions of outrage.
"Steady," he murmured. "Jim... Frank... Steady..."
First Jim, who was used to obeying him, then Reynolds, who was at least used to following a lecturer's instructions, relaxed. Blair nodded, and continued.
"Bill was hurt, and Bistow, claiming to be his uncle, took charge of him.
"Bistow apparently has studied black magic and was able to control Bill to some extent using a spell he had learned. I say 'to some extent' because basically all he's been able to do is keep Bill unconscious most of the time; when Bill is conscious, he flatly refuses to help Bistow, who wants to use his guide abilities to help him gain a position of world importance."
"But it doesn't work like that," Jim said blankly.
"You know that and I know that, and I suspect young Bill does too, but Bistow doesn't, and he isn't about to listen to anyone who tells him.
"Bill is being weakened by being kept unconscious, and in his unconscious state is being attacked by Bistow's animal spirit, which is a vulture. Fox is fighting the vulture, but he isn't full-grown yet and as he says, a fox and a vulture aren't fighting on a level playing field, here." He took a mouthful of his own coffee, glancing at Reynolds. "It needs another bird to combat a vulture."
Reynolds stared at him for a moment, then reached for a thong he was wearing round his neck. He pulled out a pendant and held it up so that Blair could see it.
It was an eagle, wings outstretched in flight, but somehow their position looked protective, too, as if it wanted to stretch forward and wrap them round whatever it was looking at, and it was obviously old. The silver was worn in places, so that the markings were half obliterated, but it had clearly had been exquisitely crafted.
Blair looked from it to Jim, then back at Reynolds, head cocked enquiringly.
"When I was eight, my family went to to visit my grandparents, my Dad's parents, who lived near Yosemite. This belonged to my grandmother. I... I don't know - it fascinated me. I loved it. Grandmother said it had originally been specially made for her grandmother, though it seems an odd design of jewelry for a woman who lived in the nineteenth century to be given; as a child she had been fascinated by it, too, and when her grandmother died, it had been left to her. She promised that one day it would belong to me because I was the only one who loved it the way she did; none of her children did, none of her grandchildren did except me.
"I never saw her again. She died two years later, and sure enough, she left it to me; I've worn it ever since, even to school, except for days we had games. I left it home those days, for safety." He was silent for a moment. "I wonder... we there only there for a month, but she always knew when any of us were in mischief; now I know what I am, I wonder if she had sentinel gifts too."
"It's possible," Blair said quietly. "Maybe not all five senses, but if she had, say, sight and hearing... and possibly her grandmother had the same gifts. If their animal spirits were eagles, if yours is too, then you would be drawn to it even though you never knew why. It might even be a family thing, your eagle was also theirs."
"I'd like to think so. Like I said, I only met her once, but somehow we connected. Until she died, I was always trying to persuade my parents to let me visit her again, but I was too young to travel alone and it wasn't always easy for Dad to get time off in those days - No, let's be honest. He was too busy building up his practice to take time off, and Mom wouldn't go without him. I think it was the old 'mother-in-law doesn't quite approve of the woman her son married' thing."
"May I?" Blair reached out and touched the eagle.
It seemed to grow, and, growing, metamorphosised into a young, but fully mature, man. Blair took a deep breath.
"Frank's guide needs your help, Eagle. Only you can combat the vulture."
Eagle nodded. "I am ready, shaman."
With an effort, Blair pulled his hand back, and found himself once again looking at a three-inch-from-wingtip-to-wingtip silver eagle pendant, and knew that only he had seen and heard Eagle.
He took several deep breaths. "Let's go," he said quietly.
They went in Jim's truck, with Blair navigating..
The younger man had been slightly worried that he would be unable to find the correct road again - he had always had trouble with right and left; but either he had been paying enough attention that he knew exactly where he was going or Wolf had imprinted the route on his mind the previous night, for he had no difficulty at all in finding the correct road into the forest.
He directed Jim to the track where he had parked the previous night, and after a quick check of the padlock on the gate, Jim did something to it - Blair didn't see what - and it opened.
"It's a simple enough trick, Chief - doesn't work on all padlocks, but this is a cheap one - mostly a bluff, depending on someone seeing a padlock and thinking you can't open it without a key. Anyone who knows what he's doing could open it." He opened the gate, then reversed the truck up the track and out of sight of the road. Then he carefully closed the gate again without replacing the padlock. Luckily it was hung in such a fashion that it leaned against the gatepost rather than simply swinging open again.
Reynolds said slowly, "Why don't we just knock on the door and confront this man?"
"Well, for one thing we're outside Cascade PD's jurisdiction here," Jim told him. "He would be perfectly entitled to slam the door in our faces. And once he did that, we'd have even more of a problem getting Bill out of there."
"Oh. So what are we going to do?"
Ellison glanced at his guide. "You're the boss here, Chief. What do we do?"
"Let's get closer to the house. Once we're fairly close to it, I'll see what I can find out."
With Blair, who knew exactly where he was going, in the lead, they moved quickly through the trees; Blair stopped where he had been the previous night, opposite Ransome's window.
Blair glanced at Reynolds, and touched Jim's arm. "Keep him from doing anything premature," he murmured, knowing that the young man's protective instincts were at full alert and that he was not yet comfortable enough with his senses to be able to concentrate on two things at once; he would not hear the softly murmured instruction. Then, louder, he continued, "I'll see if I can check on what's happening."
Blair glanced round, and moving to the exact spot he had occupied not so many hours earlier, sank down crosslegged, closed his eyes and began breathing deeply and steadily. Reynolds opened his mouth, his attention suddenly caught, and Jim shook his head.
"What's he doing?" Reynolds whispered.
"He's meditating," Jim told Reynolds softly. "We don't want to disturb him."
Reynolds looked at the motionless man. "Will... will Bill do things like that - assuming we can rescue him?"
"I don't know. Probably not, though. Remember, Bill will just be your guide. Blair is a shaman as well."
"But what does a shaman do?"
"Good question. I don't know. And to be honest, neither does Blair. He's had no training in the way of the shaman. He just seems to know instinctively what needs to be done.
"Course, it probably helped that even when he was a child he meditated to help himself understand things. It was the way he was brought up."
"Isn't he vulnerable when he's like that?" Reynolds asked.
"He could be, but we're here to protect him. When he was here last night his spirit guide watched over his body, he told me. But a spirit guide can't do that much on the material plane."
Blair raised his head and opened his eyes, stretching, then he scrambled to his feet. "Jim?"
"We've got to get in there as quickly as possible. The vulture has been attacking Bill again, and poor Fox is in a terrible state from his injuries. The thing is, because Fox is so badly injured, Bill is desperately weak now. He's conscious at the moment and trying to point out to Bistow that he can't help him the way Bistow wants, only Bistow isn't listening. He's only believing what he wants to believe.
"I checked the door. It isn't locked, so we can just walk in. I don't suppose he's worried about home invasion this far out from Cascade."
"Right." Ellison looked at the two younger men. "Stay behind me, both of you, when we get to Bill's room. This man - Bistow, you said?" Blair nodded. "Might be armed."
They ran for the door. Ellison opened it quietly; they slipped into the house, and he closed it again, as quietly.
"This way," Blair breathed, and led the way up the stair. He moved unhesitatingly to one of the doors. "In here."
Ellison drew his gun, then turned the handle very slowly and threw the door open.
The man bending in apparent concern over the youth in the bed straightened, outrage on his face. "What the hell - !"
"I have reason to believe that you are holding Mr Ransome here without his consent," Ellison said. "So just step back from the bed."
Bistow did not move; rather he seemed to freeze, almost as if his mind had suddenly emptied. Ellison grasped the opportunity to pull his arms behind his back and handcuff him.
Blair's attention was on the bed. "Frank! The vulture!"
Reynolds was already moving forward, a strangely vacant expression on his face. Blair 'saw' the eagle pendant round the young man's neck growing quickly bigger, then with a great flap of its wings it flew upwards towards the vulture that was already beginning to drop towards the bed and the bleeding fox that still stood over Ransome, baring its teeth at it.
"Fox!" Blair said. "Come - let me help you. Eagle will deal with the vulture."
The half-grown fox looked at him, then at the vulture flapping fairly clumsily to meet the eagle, and quietly walked across the bed to his side. Blair reached out and stroked the injured head and shoulders gently, somehow knowing how to project healing vibrations.
As he did, he watched Ransome out of the corner of his eye. The youth seemed hardly aware of what was happening, certainly did not register it as something that concerned him. As Fox's injuries began to heal and the animal spirit slowly relaxed from the relief of pain, however, Ransome seemed to become more aware of his surroundings.
He looked at Ellison, the only one of his rescuers who seemed to be in any way aware of him, and in an unsteady voice said, "What's happening?"
"It's a long story, Bill," Jim told him. "For the moment, it's enough for you to know that we know what's been happening to you and we're here to take you to a place of safety."
Ransome looked from Ellison to Bistow. "Nobody can keep me safe from him," he said quietly.
Ellison smiled. "I wouldn't be so sure. As of now, you have a Blessed Protector, and heaven help anyone who tries to harm you."
Ellison's grin widened. "You'll learn, Bill, you'll learn."
Ransome looked round at the two motionless men and the third who was gently and steadily stroking the air. "What's happening? What's he doing?" He nodded towards Blair.
"I'm not sure, but he knows what he's doing. He'll tell us later."
"And... who are you?"
"Jim Ellison, Cascade PD. The fella stroking the air is my colleague, Blair Sandburg, and the one standing frozen there... oh, you'll be seeing quite a lot of him. His name's Frank Reynolds, and he's got a vested interest in looking after you. And you'll look after him."
"He does? I will? But... I don't know him... do I?"
"Not yet; but according to Blair, you will. And believe me, it'll be a very rewarding relationship."
"Oh. How do you know that?"
"Because Blair and I have a very rewarding relationship."
Ransome was silent for a moment as he thought about that. "I don't understand." "I believe you studied criminology... before the car accident that landed you here. So that one day you could work in law enforcement with someone, with a specific partner?"
"How do you know that? But yes... I've known for years that there was someone, somewhere, who needed... would need... my help, that I would work with..."
"And Frank is that someone. He's still studying - psychology, as it happens - but he wants a job with the police when he qualifies. He's really going to need your help, Bill. Believe me."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I really need Blair's help." Ellison put a gentle hand on Ransome's arm. "OK, Bill, it's not fair to tease you with this. Bistow wanted you to help him, didn't he?"
"Yes, but I couldn't, even if I'd wanted to. He didn't understand that, and I couldn't make him understand. I... I do need to help someone - but Uncle Arthur wasn't the person. He wanted the wrong things."
"Yes. Well, I think you'll find that once you get the chance to talk with Frank, you'll know he's the right person. Just as Blair knew, when he met me."
Ellison noticed that his guide had stopped stroking the air. "Blair?"
Sandburg looked round; he looked bone tired, but he managed to smile. "I'm fine, Jim. Just need to rest a minute." He looked at Ransome. "How are you feeling, Bill?"
"Why... better than I have in ages."
"How's Eagle doing?" Jim asked.
"He's young - the vulture's got some nasty tricks under his wings - but I'd say he's winning."
Suddenly, Bistow gave a despairing wail, staggered and fell. Ellison moved quickly over to him; he was gasping helplessly, and even as Ellison reached him, he uttered an incoherent sound and went limp.
Ellison touched his neck pulse.
"He's dead." Although Blair was standing where he couldn't now see Bistow, he knew. Reynolds swayed, momentarily exhausted. Blair caught the young student, steadying him, and helped him into a seat.
Ellison looked up. "Yes, he is. How did you know?"
"Eagle killed the vulture. I don't think Frank really knows what happened, he just knows that he feels as if he's run a marathon; Eagle drew strength from him." There was an almost absent-minded note in his voice; he was watching Eagle steadily shrinking, being pulled back towards Reynolds, and finally resuming his place on the thong round Reynolds' neck.
Ransome climbed unsteadily out of bed, and put a hand on Reynolds' shoulder. Reynolds turned to look at him and managed a tired smile. "Hello, Bill."
Of the four, Jim Ellison was the only one who was not exhausted; although Bill Ransome was feeling stronger than he had done for weeks, the time he had spent in bed had weakened him considerably, and he knew it would take time before he could do much.
Ellison, after carefully removing the handcuffs, phoned for an ambulance to remove Bistow's body, and while they waited for it he went out and moved the truck from the track to the drive. Returning to the house, he rejoined the others.
"OK, there's a lot here that we can't tell the authorities," he told them.
Blair chuckled tiredly. "Ain't that the truth!"
"So the tale is this. Frank, you knew Bill before his accident. You were worried about him because he was taking so long to recover; you knew Blair at the University, and he offered to run you out here to visit Bill. His car isn't the most reliable, though; it chose today to break down, so he got me to drive you - I have the day off - and when I picked you up from Rainier, I picked Blair up at the same time and he came along for the ride.
"We were sitting talking to Bill when Bistow had what seemed to be a heart attack, and he was dead before we could get out of our seats. First thing I did was call an ambulance, but as an ex-army medic I could see it was hopeless."
"So what happens to Bill, without Bistow here to... 'look after' him?" Reynolds asked.
"Short term, he can come back to the loft with us," Blair said. "He can get my room, I can sleep on the couch. We'll arrange physiotherapy - it's easy enough to say Bistow was over-protective of him, having lost his brother and sister-in-law in the accident that hurt Bill. There are things I need to tell him, show him, anyway, though a lot of it will have to come from him."
"A lot of what?" Ransome asked; there was a trace of curiosity in his otherwise colourless voice; within minutes of Bistow's death he seemed to have relapsed.
"I'll explain properly when we're back in Cascade and had a sleep," Blair yawned. "Fox said you pretty well know what you are, though."
"Who's Fox?" Despite the question, Blair felt that Ransome was only just interested.
"Your animal spirit. Everyone has one, it's just that some are more obvious than others. Fox was hurt protecting you from the vulture, but I've healed him."
Ransome said slowly, as if with an effort, "I think there's a lot you need to tell me. You're right, I... I sort of know some things, though I don't know how I know, but... "
"Yes, and you'll have to suspend disbelief a lot. Anyway, Fox said you know what you want to do with your life."
"Yes - at least I think so. Something I read. People called sentinels, who needed an assistant to advise them. I... somehow I know that's my job." He looked at Ellison, suddenly, but only briefly, excited. "That's what you meant! Frank is a sentinel? I'm his adviser?"
"We call it guide," Blair said. "Yes. Just as I'm Jim's guide."
Ransome nodded. "I understand now what you were talking about," he told Ellison, a flat note returning to his voice.
"Yes. A sentinel can't allow harm to come to his guide if he can prevent it. The guide can be his lifeline. He's certainly his sanity." Ellison got to his feet. "I hear the ambulance." He went downstairs.
Frank, who had been drooping tiredly, suddenly seemed to revive. "I hear it too," he murmured, awe in his voice.
Blair smiled tiredly at him. "It's very new to you," he said, "but you'll soon learn how to manage, especially since you've found your guide so quickly. Jim's had several years to get used to it, but it was very hard for him at first - he had no control and nobody to help him. But you've got Bill, and Jim and I can advise you both, though Bill will have to find out for himself the most efficient way to help you - as far as I can make out from my studies, no two sentinels react exactly the same way."
"Nobody's going to believe it though - what Mr Ellison and I can do."
"Well, it would be easy enough to prove, but in Jim's words - he's a cop, he doesn't need the lowlifes knowing the sort of edge he's got. If you want a career with the police, you don't need the lowlifes knowing the edge you've got either. Most of the folk at the PD don't know about Jim. His Captain does - that's who I was planning to ask if he'd see you - and so does one of the Major Crimes detectives, who found out by accident. Nobody else. And it's wisest if it stays that way. Though explaining Bill... " He shrugged. "He'll need to be with you, but explaining him..."
"Could he just apply for a job as profiler too?"
Blair looked thoughtfully at him. "You know... that's a possibility. But... Bill, how old are you?"
"Oh, God, Simon isn't going to like that. When are you eighteen?"
"Ah. That's better - not too long after Frank graduates."
"Someone's coming up the stair," Reynolds said quietly.
Waving his Cascade PD ID, Ellison had taken charge; Bistow's body was taken away; then the cop turned to Bill. "Does anyone else live here? Has it just been you and and Bistow?"
Bill said dully, "There were a couple of servants, but Uncle Arthur fired them when he moved in here. He said he didn't want anyone interfering with the relationship he wanted us to have. I wasn't in any condition to object."
"It wasn't his house, then?"
"No. It was his brother's - Uncle Allan was the older brother, inherited it from his parents; and when he married Mom, he changed his will. Strictly speaking it's my house now unless Uncle Arthur managed to do something to get the will changed."
"On the other hand, even if he did, he's dead now - did he have any heirs?"
"Not that I know of." He sounded as if he didn't really care.
"Well, since he claimed you were his nephew, the house would probably revert to you anyway even if he had done something to get the will changed," Ellison said. "However, you can't stay here on your own. Like Blair said - you can stay with us for a few days till you feel strong enough to make some decisions."
"I suppose that'll be all right."
Blair snapped his fingers. "There's something I still have to do," he said. He glanced at Ellison. "I don't know how long I'll need, Jim, but you and Frank can get some stuff packed for Bill while I'm busy. I don't expect to be too long."
He made his way quickly to the room he knew had been Bistow's.
The air in it felt heavy; stale. Tired as he was, it took a decided effort for him to walk in. He wondered for a moment if Bistow had felt it, or if it was just a side effect of the man's wickedness. Probably the latter, he decided.
He looked round, concentrating.
The heaviness, the sense of revulsion, seemed to be strongest in the direction of a writing desk that stood in front of the window; he crossed to it, and within two steps found himself struggling against a force that seemed to be pushing him backwards. He paused, took a deep breath, and murmured, "Help me, Incacha. Lend me your strength."
Immediately, he found it easier to move. He went to the desk; one drawer seemed to be glowing a faint, dull but angry red, and he knew the evil emanated from there. He pulled the drawer open.
In the drawer was a book; the last thing he wanted to do was touch it, but he reached forward and picked it up.
Instantly, the revulsion changed, and he felt a sense of welcome. Open me. Look inside me. Read me. I can fulfil your fondest dreams.
Blair smiled. This grimoire wasn't even clever! But he could understand now how it had caught and trapped Bistow, a man with little moral strength. Wolf hadn't been entirely right, he realised, but he doubted that the animal spirits were aware of subtlties. For them there was only black and white. Whether Bistow had found the book or it had somehow found him, once it was in his possession he would have been totally unable to resist it, for it would have played on the ambitions he had, the ambitions he lacked the talent and the strength to do anything with. Even Blair, a shaman, felt its pull, but he had knowledge - and strength - Bistow had lacked to help him fight the insidious pull of it.
Quickly, he checked the rest of the desk, but he knew there was little point; this one book was the key to all the evil there had been in Bistow's life.
Keeping his mind carefully blank of everything save the awareness of what the book was, he walked out of the room and down the stair.
His visit to the house, in spirit form, the previous night stood him in good stead; he knew where the kitchen was. There, as he remembered, he found a solid fuel cooking stove, its fire burning redly. He opened it quickly, thrust the book on top of the red coals, and closed the door.
There was a long-drawn-out scream that he realised only his shaman hearing could detect; then silence. He waited for some minutes before lifting a poker and opening the door again; and poked mercilessly at the half-burned book. The flames licked up the remaining pages and he carefully broke up the biggest sheets of ash.
When all that was left was a little pile of ash on top of the glowing coals, he closed the fire again and put down the poker. He crossed to the sink and leaned against it for a moment, then washed his hands, drying them on a piece of paper towel pulled from a roll beside the sink, then having checked that everything was turned off or switched off, he went slowly back up the stairs. It seemed to take for ever.
He realised the moment he walked through the door that Bill was looking even more alert than before, though he was clearly still physically quite weak.
"What did you do?" Ransome asked. His voice was far brighter than it had been just a few minutes previously. "I suddenly felt so much more alert."
Blair grinned as he sank into a chair. "I found Bistow's book and destroyed it. He'd got a spell out of it that he was using to keep you unconscious a lot of the time; even after he died, the spell kept on working, but since it no longer had even the minimal control Bistow had over it, it was depressing you. That's why, after he died, you seemed to relapse, give the impression you didn't care much about anything. Now that the book's destroyed, your life is your own again."
Ransome took a long, deep breath. "Thank you," he said quietly.
Ellison was already at his guide's side, steadying him. "God, Blair, how much more are you going to take out of yourself today?"
"No more," he murmured. "We could quite safely stay here tonight, I think - "
"No way!" Reynolds exclaimed. "I want Bill out of here as soon as possible! Mr Ellison - you're not too tired to drive, are you?"
"No, I'm not too tired - and I agree with you. I want Blair out of here as soon as possible."
The two sentinels grinned at each other, united in their need to protect their guides, and any last, lingering doubts Ellison might have had about the younger sentinel disappeared for good.
With four people there, it was crowded in the cab of the truck. Blair sat between the two sentinels; Reynolds took Ransome on his knee. The younger guide was probably the least comfortable of the four, sitting crouched to avoid bumping his head on the cab roof, but he didn't care; for the first time in what seemed like a very long time he felt safe. He still had no idea just how long it had been since the accident that killed his mother and stepfather but he did have memories of waking, afraid, refusing to listen to the man who was bending over his bed and who seemed to have control of his life; he had memories of being threatened in his dreams by a big vulture. Now they were both gone, and although he was aware of missing his parents - and yes, his stepfather too - it seemed that his life from now on would be much happier; already he was conscious of a link to this young man he had met for the first time just a few hours previously and he was really looking forward to getting to know him better.
Sandburg remained silent on the drive back; Ellison was a little worried by this for he knew how much it took to silence his normally indefatiguable guide. He glanced sideways at his partner, and was rewarded by a tired smile.
"I'm all right, Jim. I just need a few hours' sleep. I'll be fine in the morning."
Unconvinced, Jim turned his attention back to the road.
Back in Cascade, the two sentinels helped their guides into the loft. Three of the four more or less collapsed into seats, Reynolds having pretty well reached the end of his strength; Ellison moved into the kitchen and started coffee.
When it was ready he took the mugs over to the others, noting that the two young men were sitting very close together; it seemed that Reynolds was breathing in Ransome's scent, and Ellison fully understood that.
About to reach for his coffee, Reynolds yawned; Ransome said softly, "Are you all right?"
"I'm feeling a bit stressed," he admitted.
"Your guide has been in danger," Ellison reminded him.
"Yes..." He hesitated. "I'm sorry, Mr Ellison, Mr Sandburg... I trust you, I do trust you, but... "
Blair grinned. "You don't really trust us with Bill's safety?"
He flushed. "I'm sorry... "
Ellison glanced at his guide; Sandburg nodded. "They're still imprinting on each other," he said, very softly.
"All right," Jim said. "We understand. It's a short-term solution, but you can both stay here for a few days till we sort out something permanent. Bill can have Blair's bed, Frank, you can sleep on the couch - it's really quite comfortable - and Blair can share my bed."
Frank flushed a slightly deeper red. "I don't want to... to... If you let me stay here, I'll be all right on the floor."
Blair said quietly, "You're not putting us out and there's no way we would let a guest sleep on the floor. We've become comfortable enough in each other's personal space that it'll be no hardship for us to share a bed - and Jim has a big bed."
The two younger men looked at each other. "Does that mean that we should feel comfortable enough with each other that we'd be happy to share a bed?" Reynolds asked. "Because I don't think we do feel that comfortable with each other just yet."
"Probably you will eventually, if circumstances indicate it, but that day will come when it comes," Blair said. "Jim and I have been together nearly four years, we've been roommates for almost that long, we're very dependent on each other, but this is the first time we've considered it - because this is the first time the situation has arisen."
"Oh." Reynolds hesitated. "You're quite sure...?"
"Yes," Ellison told him. "Now - " he reached for the phone - "are you hungry? I know I am. Chinese do you?"
They ate, and shortly after, although it was still relatively early, decided it was time for bed - it had been a very full day and three of them were close to exhaustion. Blair managed to summon up the energy to pack most of his papers into a box, leaving the room relatively clear for the younger guide, while Ellison put clean sheets on the bed and searched out bedding for Reynolds; checked the locks; then the older men went up the stair to Jim's room.
As they stripped to their underwear, Jim said, "You take this side, Chief."
Blair nodded and slipped into bed with a tired sigh. "You know, I think I'm almost too tired to sleep," he murmured.
"You did take too much out of yourself," Ellison muttered as he too climbed into bed.
"Jim, what else could I do? As a shaman, I couldn't leave Fox the way he was - I had to heal him, and you saw how much that restored Bill's strength; and the book - that had to be destroyed. All that took was the determination not to listen to it. If it hadn't been destroyed, one day it would have trapped someone else the way it trapped Bistow. He probably wasn't really bad - just weak."
"You're speaking almost as if it was alive."
"In a sense it was. It was a grimoire, Jim; it had its own strength, its own will to control the person who thought he owned it."
"Oh." Ellison was far from sure he really understood, but decided that Blair knew what he was talking about, and if he thought the thing had been dangerous, and was happy that it was no longer a danger, there was no point in his worrying about it. "How did you know what to do? I mean... you've never done anything like that before, have you?"
"Wolf told me I learned a lot when I drowned, but I'd only remember it when I needed it. When the situation arose - I knew what I had to do."
"I see." I think.
Bllair yawned and rolled onto his side. A few moments later his slowed breathing told Jim that his friend was asleep.
He, on the other hand, was not particularly sleep. He concentrated for a moment, listening.
In the small room beneath him, the other guide also slept. In the living room, the young sentinel was still wakeful, fighting sleep, and Jim knew that Reynolds' urge to protect his guide was keeping him awake. Tempted to call down and tell Reynolds that he would stand guard, Jim stopped himself, remembering his actions the first times Blair was in danger. Trying to stay awake was nothing compared to jumping off a bridge onto a moving bus or hanging underneath a helicopter...
Yes, he thought. I can understand. Back then, I couldn't have stood back and left Blair's safety to anyone else.
Now, he knew, there were times when he had to, or times when he had to leave Blair to look after himself, hard though it was. He had learned the hard way that sometimes the last thing he should do; it wasn't so very long since his actions to 'protect the guide' had resulted in a drowned guide.
He smiled wryly. Yes; he had to allow Reynolds to fight sleep and watch, knowing that that was the best way to help his inexperienced fellow sentinel.
Even as he reached his decision, he heard Reynolds' breathing change, becoming slower, and knew that sleep had overtaken the exhausted young man. It was surprisingly... yes, touching; Reynolds certainly knew he, Jim, was still awake, and by allowing himself to sleep was stating his trust in the older man, his faith that the more experienced sentinel would, in his own territory, know the moment danger threatened.
Jim settled himself more comfortably. Lulled by the sound of three sleeping bodies, he allowed his own eyes to close, and drifted gently into sleep.