New Arrivals
Author-Blixa
Titles

The Way of the Wolf
by Blixa

Summary: Alternative ending to Sentinel Too. Starting from Blair's resurrection at the fountain.

Disclaimer: Not mine. No, no. No money made, so don't sue me because you won't get much (a dog, a lazy cat, a few chickens, a goldfish and a sparrow… and no I don't own a farm.)

Okay, this is an alternative ending to Sentinel too, starting from Blair's resurrection at the fountain. I haven't seen the second part of the cliffhanger, but I've read so many wonderful stories in these months and I used some of the details I found in there to give birth to this monster. Please be patient with me, my English is still very far from being acceptable (is there anyone available for a few lessons?).

Big thanks to Rona who has been so kind to read the story and make it edible. Unfortunately part of the file she returned me has been eaten by the infamous computer critter… so a few points were missing and I had to use their unbetaed version. All parts with mistakes are clearly mine.

This goes to Sabina… follow the wolf my dear and don't mind the vipers' nests around your bed. She'll understand…

In a small hospital room, different noises blended together in an unpleasant cacophony. Monitors beeping, the light hiss of a respirator, the rustle of rain pouring outside the window, everything had his own sound. Only Jim sat in perfect silence on one of those uncomfortable plastic chairs.

He waited. He waited and hoped, staring at Blair Sandburg's still form lying on the bed, wrapped in two thick white blankets that matched the color of his face. Both Simon and the doctors had tried to make him leave at least for a couple of hours, time to eat something at the cafeteria or to go home and take a shower. But in the end, they had desisted, knowing that their attempts were useless, that the detective wasn't even listening.

Right there all that Jim wanted was that his young Guide opened his eyes so that he could humbly beg his forgiveness. He was ready to crawl on the floor if necessary, and not just metaphorically. Of course if Blair wakes up, a wicked voice buried in his conscience pointed out. The doctors were still puzzled, not knowing exactly how to react: they'd probably witnessed strange things before, but sure as Hell it doesn't happen everyday to see a dead man resurrect five minutes after all the attempts to revive him have ceased.

The first prognosis was unmerciful: risk of inflammation and pneumonia. And then the frightening possibility of irreversible brain damage due to the extended lack of oxygen.

(What did I do?) Jim silently kept thinking, unable to let go. Unable to forget that the last words he'd exchanged with the young man were full of hatred, with the clear purpose to completely exclude him from his life.

(Well Chief, in the end it seems that I'm the one who betrayed. You called me Blessed Protector so many times and look at the result…)

Sighing, he buried his face in his hands, finally letting the tears stream down his cheeks.

***

Water. Water noise. It was the first thing that struck Blair, the first conscious thought. And immediately it split in two separate, well-defined sensations. The first of sheer terror, in the conviction that he was still floating face-down in the fountain, the second of pain because his entire body ached and breathing was an agonizing exertion. He finally managed to open his eyes, just a crack, terrified to discover that he still was at Alex's mercy. But a look at the sterile walls around him was enough to let him know that he was in a hospital. It was then that he noticed the person sleeping on a chair beside his bed.

(Jim? What is he doing here? What does he still want from me?)

A couple of minutes later, the detective stirred then opened his eyes, surprised to face Blair's piercing gaze. "Sandburg! You're awake... Relax, I'm going to call the doctor!"

And before the young man could make a move, Jim had already fled the room. Then, for more than an hour, Blair's world was reduced to a whirlwind of doctors, blood samples, prodding and stupid questions. The only positive thing was that they took him off the respirator that set his throat on fire. When the door opened once again a smiling detective Ellison appeared, stepping beside his bed. "Hey Chief... there have to be easier ways if you want to meet some nurse, you know?"

Nothing.

Silence. Absolute and deafening. An entire minute slowly ticked away before Blair gathered enough strength to hiss. "Get out!"

Taken aback, Jim took a good look at his guide's cold face, "Blair...I"

"Get out of here. What do you think you're doing? If this is your way to apologize, you still have a lot to learn! Get out of this room! Now! I don't want to see you anymore!"

"Chief, no...listen."

"No. You listen! Leave me alone!" Blair spat out. "I hate you Jim Ellison! You and your damned senses! Just get out! Don't force me to call security!"

Every sentence was a torment for his mangled throat and his burning lungs, but he couldn't stop. It was as if a dam had finally broken down, and now, before bursting into tears and spoil the effect, he had to get over with it.

"Mr. Sandburg, is everything all right?" A nurse peered in to check on why Blair's heartbeat had so suddenly spiked. She threw him a questioning stare, then she turned to Jim, "Detective, you know you shouldn't tire him..."

"It's all right nurse...he was leaving," Blair croaked. Then in a lower voice he added, "Don't you dare to come back here."

***

THE DAY AFTER

Next morning, nurse McAllister opened the door of room number 103 and found an empty bed. Puzzled, the woman glanced at the charts she was holding, then shook her head. After a quick check at the admission papers, she had to call the ward sister: it seemed their young patient had took off. Marta Stevenson was an energetic old woman and promptly took the situation in her hands, calling the number listed on the forms as next of the kin.

"Ellison," a distant voice finally answered.

"Detective Ellison? Marta Stevenson of Cascade General Hospital here..."

(Oh God, something happened to Blair!)

"Detective?" the woman was desperately trying to draw his attention back.

"What happened?" How he hated the apparent calm of his clipped words. "It's about Blair, isn't it?"

"Yes. But it's not what you think," Marta hastened to reassure him. "Your friend left the hospital without signing the discharging paper and we wondered if you knew where he went."

"He what?! How can someone in his condition leave a hospital unnoticed?!"

"One of our nurses just found his room empty. Mr. Sandburg probably left a couple of hours ago... this is not a prison detective, we don't lock our patients in their rooms."

"All right! I'll be there in a few minutes." Jim cut her short, hanging up without even taking care of saying goodbye.

(Chief, where did you go?)

As he drove at full speed toward the hospital, mindless of the rain that made the asphalt slippery, he grabbed his cell phone and dialed Simon's number.

"Banks."

"Captain, it's Jim."

"Ellison, what the Hell is happening? I thought I told you to go home and rest."

"I just got a call from Cascade General… Sandburg's gone."

"Pardon? Did you say what I think I heard?"

"Yeah... that fool somehow managed to slip out of the hospital during the night."

"Dammit!" There was a moment of pause after the curse. "I'll meet you there in half an hour and Jim?! For God's sake, be careful!"

***

Blair stared at the rain from the window of the tiny hotel room. An anonymous place, the only one his scarce income had allowed him. In spite of the not enviable entourage, he was happy he hadn't had the occasion to notify his temporary address to anyone, especially to the guys at the precinct. He needed time. Time to heal and time to think about his future. Well, the only thing he needed right there was a good sleep. If only his lungs stopped aching every time he took a breath! Sleep, and dream maybe...and forget all the things that had occurred during the last weeks, from the diss episode during the chaotic night shift, to his death and resurrection at the fountain. Well, only that you cannot forget, he scowled himself, not a thing like this anyway, not the way Jim treated you! I may have my part of responsibility, I won't deny that, but this doesn't justify how he... the rest of the thought was blocked by a mighty yawn. A minute after he was soundly asleep. When he awoke, it was almost five PM... too late to go to University. He absolutely had to talk to doctor Grant about an offer the man had made to him three weeks before which he'd kindly refused: an anthropological expedition in Peru. Two years studying some native tribes, among which the Chopec would be one. Funny how his life was. He felt trapped in a circle: in the end, everything revolved around the concept of Sentinel, the only word he really wanted to forget. If Grant accepted his application, he would just have the time to pack his bag and deposit all his boxes to some friends' house. Even though he doubted he would ever be back to Cascade to collect them.

***

When Simon entered the hospital waiting room, he found a very cranky Jim Ellison walking at long strides like a caged animal, on the point to explode. A doctor in white coat was trying to explain the situation without alarmism, but what he heard was not good. Sandburg definitely belonged in a hospital. With the risk of a bacteria infection or pneumonia, he shouldn't walk around as if nothing had happened. Not in this kind of weather, anyway. But Simon felt uncomfortable. If the kid had disappeared that way, it was clear that he didn't want to have anything to do not only with Jim, but with all of them. He didn't know if he had the right to turn the entire town upside-down to look for him… honestly, he feared the young anthropologist's reaction when a cop notified him the APB.

(And what makes you think you'll find him?)

If someone smart enough like Sandburg decides you don't have to find him, then be sure you won't. Jim… well Jim didn't seem to share his idea. A quick glance at the man was enough to tell it: he looked like a bloodhound ready for a manhunt. He obviously didn't get that if they found Sandburg before the kid spontaneously decided to come back, he would destroy the last possibility he had to set things right between them.

(What can I do? I surely cannot lock him in the loft. If I did something like that, I'd lose him as a friend. But neither I can let him go around in this state. He's dangerous!)

Then an inspiration struck him: Alex! The beautiful thief had run away, bringing the deadly gas canister with her and it seemed that she was very determined to sell it to the best buyer.

(Maybe if I could divert his attention on her, promising someone else will be looking for Blair, I will avoid a tragedy.)

"Jim..." he started. When the detective finally paid him enough attention, Simon went straight to the point, "Jim... Alex is still out there. Rumors say she's in Peru and she's about to sell the gas to the best buyer."

The only mention of the other sentinel's name was enough to stop the detective's frenzied pacing. Jim was like a big growling panther ready to pounce on his prey.

"I don't give a damn, Simon! Someone else will think about her. I have to find Blair!"

"But don't you get it!?" The captain burst out before he could do anything about it. "Right now that kid doesn't want to talk to you! Hell, he doesn't even want to see you! Why don't you give him some space?"

"How can you ask me this?!"

"Oh, I can! What do you think you'll solve once you find him? Do you think you can drag him back to the loft and make things up?! Well, if you think that, Jim Ellison, you're a pathetic dreamer! Don't get me wrong here, but I seem to remember that the last words you spoke to the kid were full of rage... and what you said at the bullpen isn't something you easily forgive and forget. Do you have a clue of the mess you made?!"

"I know I've been a jerk... I know that I have no excuses! Dammit! That's why I need to find him!"

They were both yelling now, mindless of the few people around them.

Simon sighed, trying to cool down a bit. "You won't find him." He said.

"If you think so, then you don't know me very well..."

"Really? How are your senses, detective?"

Touché. Jim had suddenly paled. "They don't work anymore, do they? Without Blair you're a human being like us. No longer a sentinel."

"Simon..."

"Listen Jim, you're one of my dearest friend, but I don't have any problem to tell you what a pain in the ass you've been lately. But you have to be optimist. I'm sure that things will get back to normal in the end. Give the kid the time to think... and believe me, he cannot do it with you breathing on his neck."

"What should I do, then?"

Finally! He was almost defeated. "We'll solve the Barnes' case and I'll ask Conner to look for Sandburg. Deal?"

The detective went deadly silent for a couple of minutes, carefully pondering over the bargain, then curtly nodded his agreement.

***

The day after arrived drenched in rain. The sky was still livid and an icy wind from the ocean swept everything. Wrapped in two sweaters and a jacket, Blair left the Volvo near the university. After all, he was surprised not to find any police car waiting for him. He'd even thought to park at a couple of blocks away and simply walk to the campus in order to attract less attention.

(Oh yeah, of course!) he bitterly mused. (You're today's celebrity. It doesn't happen to everybody to get killed in a fountain and raise from the dead five minutes later… by now the gossip should have already done the round of the university.)

Sighing, he buttoned his jacket, trying to gain some heat. His expectations unfortunately proved to be correct, everyone seemed to take a perverse pleasure in stopping to look at him as if he was some kind of bug from another planet. Finally safe in doctor Grant's cozy waiting room, he relaxed on the chair.

Doctor Grant let him in ten minutes later, welcoming the grad student with a smile and a warm handshake. He didn't hint at the accident, he didn't even give him the impression that he knew about it, and Blair couldn't but be extremely grateful for that. The conversation was entirely about the anthropological expedition: Grant was very happy that the young man had changed his mind and asked him if he was ready to leave at the end of the week, along with the last group of people. Three days. Just enough time to run the last errands. Obviously his answer was positive and when he left the office, he hastened to start his preparations.

***

Cascade Airport, Sunday afternoon

Blair jumped out of the taxi, desperately recovering his baggage. He knew that he was late and that, save sudden reverses of fortune, he would never get on the plane for Lima on time. Cursing the huge traffic jam that had paralyzed half of the town, he paid the driver, who cheerfully wished him a nice flight, and ran to the terminal. It took him only a glance at the boarding table to confirm what he already knew. Hoping to find a place on the following flight he headed for the booking stand.

***

Flight 658 for Lima, Sunday afternoon

The flight was very crowded, so Jim and Simon were forced to put up with a young couple hotly arguing about their ideal holyday. The girl, not even in her twenties, with long tawny hair and green eyes, was complaining about her boyfriend's choice to play Indiana Jones. Hell, she was complaining about everything! She didn't like the jungle, mosquitoes bothered her and she was scared of snakes. He had tried to cut in, but she simply kept waving her hands not letting him speak.

(If Blair were here! How he'd love to observe this two. He would probably tell the girl a couple of stories and she would change her mind about the jungle!)

As the discussion slipped toward more frivolous topics, Jim resumed his blank staring outside the window. And Blair wasn't there.

***

The main camp was about fifty miles from Lima, in a region relatively open in the middle of the jungle called "La boca del lobo". The air was damp and almost unbearable, the job exhausting. They often had to walk for hours before reaching an isolated tribe in the forest. Sometimes, it could even take days. But Blair enjoyed the experience and the team was wonderful.

In a couple of caves not far from the tents, they had found some drawings representing big animals and a few strange inscriptions in a language totally unknown even to Doctor Grant, a real expert on this South American region. The young anthropologist had been captivated by the discovery and every time he entered those silent caverns he could clearly feel the welcoming presence of something or someone lingering in the air. As if there were a strange entity watching over him. But surprises weren't over yet. The morning after the impressive finding, when the studying group had spent more than three hours patiently copying the drawings and was heading back to the light of day, they found something more. A big gray wolf was lazily resting in front of the cave. The animal didn't look dangerous and, as the group carefully approached him, he jumped to his feet, wagging his long tail. Obviously, this simple gesture was enough to scare everybody to death and scatter them in the forest... well, everybody except for Blair who stood perfectly still, staring at the wolf. Then he squatted in front of him, slowly stretching a hand out. The animal sniffed him with caution, then let the young man slide a hand in his thick fur..

"It's rare for wolves to let people approach them so easily... they're usually very shy animals."

Little by little, the others had left their hiding-places and were starting to get closer.

"Are you sure he isn't just a big dog?" He heard Laurel ask.

"No. He's definitely a wolf," was his reply as he stroked the thick fur.

"He's very beautiful."

"Yeah, he is. Wolves are wonderful animals… unfortunately with very bad reputation."

Curious of how the wolf would react to their departure, Blair started to head back to the camp only to notice that the animal was peacefully walking by his side like a well trained puppy.

Rain broke into laughter, exclaiming, "My dear Blair, congratulations! You've just been adopted... I die to see the others at the camp!"

James Grant sat outside his tent, skimming through his notes while he absently wiped away the sweat with a hand. When he raised his head, he saw one of the strangest scenes he'd ever had the occasion to witness.

"Hey Blair, I think we should start calling Red Riding Hood from now on."

***

Alex was contemplating the wonderful sunset from the window of the lousy hotel where she was staying. She had changed the color of her hair, even cut it very short to avoid that some zealous cop could recognize her. She was perfectly aware that an international warrant for theft and murder had been issued on her. But just a few days and she would finally sell the gas and disappear. She was starting to feel a strange sensation prickling at the back of her neck. She knew that the other sentinel was close, but she felt something else in the background, something softer yet deadly dangerous.

At night, wolves howled outside her window, not letting her sleep. Those damned beasts didn't seem to bother anyone but her, probably because of her senses. These were the times she wished she hadn't killed the anthropologist, the only person who seemed able to guide her.

But as she closed her eyes, a vision invaded her mind A gray wolf was staring at her and beside him stood a man she knew very well because she'd killed him. The man too was looking at her, with a bow in his hands. Somehow the young guide was still alive and very close, far more dangerous than the sentinel could ever dream to be.

***

Commissioner Ortega's office was as hot as an oven. The small town of Rio Blanco was perfectly still and silent in the afternoon heat, only the lazy flies buzzing around the empty glasses broke the quiet of the place. The investigation lead by the Peruvian police in Lima had confirmed that Alex Barnes was somewhere in the country, but that she'd unfortunately managed to slip away two days after her arrival in town. The positive thing was that they had probably identified the buyer and it seemed that a meeting had already been arranged in an area not very far from Rio Blanco. It was the perfect place, quiet and full of unaware people who blissfully ignored what had happened thousands of miles away in the US. Jim's senses still hadn't started to behave, only his hearing, sometimes, appeared a bit stronger than the average. At night, the detective could swear he heard a lonely wolf howling in the jungle and this sound always brought him back to the terrifying vision of himself shooting an arrow toward an animal that turned to be his best friend.

And his anguish was increased by the fact that from Cascade, no news came. Conner still hadn't found Blair… it seemed no one knew where he was. He could have vanished forever. He could even be dead. No, he shook his head in the quiet of the room, his body drenched in a fine sheen of sweat. Don't even go there! Why can't things simply go back to normal?!

Then, another night, he'd dreamed of Incacha, his older shaman.

(Enquiri...what do you fear?)

"Incacha."

But the voice had pressed him, unrelenting.

(What do you fear... Tell me, what do you fear most, sentinel?)

Somehow that appellation sounded like a curse. "I fear something that had already happened. I fear I've lost him forever."

Incacha's eyes had softened to the display of grief and the old man showed the sentinel a feather with a red ribbon tied at its end.

(Look.)

The hotel room had suddenly morphed in a stretch covered in green grass that ended on a cliff overlooking the jungle. His Guide's lonesome figure sat on a rock, watching the impressive landscape. A wolf laid crouched at his feet, and as the young man absently caressed him, Blair's eyes followed a river running like a snake amidst the trees.

"Blair!" He had called him, but the anthropologist didn't seem he'd heard.

(He's close Enquiri... soon your paths will cross again and there'll be an important choice to make.)

"A choice, what choice?"

(It's not your turn to ask, and it's not my turn to answer.)

Then he had fallen in a deep sleep. The morning after, when he had opened his eyes, he didn't remember anything, only a vague dream about a river that looked like a snake. He didn't notice the feather lying on the floor, a thin red ribbon tied around it.

***

Rain was not an unusual phenomena in the jungle, but it was something annoying, especially when it didn't look like it was going to stop anytime soon and it was necessary to keep walking to reach the closest village. Since almost five hours were needed to arrive there, they'd decided to spend the night with the natives and when the first huts finally came into view, Blair was too soaked to be nothing more than grateful.

An old man welcomed them with a bright smile. He heard James ask him something and the soft dialogue went on for a couple of minutes. Then Grant turned and said, "For tonight we can sleep here, Nemata gave us the permission."

When everybody was already scurrying toward the huts, James stopped Blair and told him, "Nemata wants to talk to you... alone."

"With me? But I don't even understand what he says..."

"He just told me to ask the young shaman with the wolf to go with him."

"Oh I… all right, I suppose." Blair tentatively answered, taken aback by James' words. No one had ever called him shaman. No one except Incacha. "Let's go Lykos."

Sitting in front of the shaman, Blair mirrored the man's lotus position and closed his eyes, starting to concentrate.

(Young shaman...)

(Nemata?)

(Yes... you need to make a choice.)

(I don't understand. What are you talking about? What should I do?)

(The wolf will lead you... that's why he's been sent. Remember...)

"The wolf will appear in front of you... take him as your brother, because the wolf knows the order of the forests... he will lead you to the straight way to the truth."

(Drink)

And he offered him a cup in which small parts of what seemed to be a mushroom floated in an amber-colored liquid. The taste was bitter, but not totally unpleasant. A few moments later, the young man started to feel his conscience detach and stretch around as Lykos' spirit entered in him. Suddenly, he was engulfed in a bright white light and started to morph in an animal.

(What's happening Nemata?)

(Follow the straight way Lykos, follow the light.)

His new body allowed him to run faster, to hear even the smallest noises around him, to sniff the furthest smells and see things like he never did before. I'm a sentinel... that's what Jim feels everyday. Oh my god! That's so wonderful!

***

"All right senor Iglesias, I'll see you tomorrow... yes, I know. I'll be there, don't worry."

The dark-haired woman hung up the phone, risking a suspicious glance around. Good, no one had seemed to notice her. Not even the two cops who had stopped for a glass of wine had bestowed her more than an absent look. Yet, that strange feeling of being watched didn't lessen a bit, actually it looked like it was destined to grow. And her senses seemed to grow as well, getting sharper and harder to control. She no longer heard wolves at night, but she had noticed a jaguar stalking her. And there were something in the feline's eyes that made her feel uncomfortable.

Another vision crossed her mind: an old building made of stone, maybe a temple, almost buried by weeds, was glowing in the sunlight. Well, after I take care of the canister, she muttered, I could lose a couple of days to look for that.

(You won't find it, Alex.) a familiar voice told her (The wolf and I won't let you.)

Sandburg! In some incomprehensible way the anthropologist was still alive.

(Maybe I won't find the temple my dear Blair, but I'll find you... and I'll kill you again.)

(I'm waiting for you Alex... and I'm closer than you think.)

A howl exploded in the small village as a single puff of wind washed over her, making her skin crawl. The wolf was staring at her. He sat in the middle of the street ignoring the few people passing by.

(Come with me Alex... follow the wolf... follow the light.)

***

Simon's cell phone unexpectedly rang, startling him. The short trip that should bring them to the place where the exchange was sensed to happen was harder than it first looked, the road was almost impassable even with a cruiser. By his side, Jim stood as still as a marble statue.

"Banks!" he bellowed, trying to decipher the voice among the statics. "Sandburg?!"

Abruptly, the detective spun toward him and snatched the phone from Simon's fingers. "Blair?!"

There was a moment of silence on the other side of the line, then an icy, "Jim."

"Where are you?! Don't you know that you should still be in a hospital?"

"Cut it, Jim!"

"Where are you Blair? Please, tell me!"

"Alex is here Jim and so are you. Then we're all ready for the grand finale."

"What? You too are in..."

"In Boca del lobo? Of course, yes Jim. Where else could I be? Anyway, I know you're going to the clearing of las Almas Perdidas, I'll send a friend for you. Be ready, because I won't wait."

"And you? Where will you be?"

"Where I'm sensed to be. Where everything is destined to start and come to an end."

"Why do you speak in a such an enigmatic way?"

"Why don't you try to understand?" he retorted.

"Blair... please..."

"What? What do you want to tell me?"

"I'm sorry."

"I know."

"Did you forgive me?"

"No." And he hung up.

***

His vision had left him sleeping for almost a day. When he'd opened his eyes in the old hovel, he'd discovered it was almost noon and the sun was shining in a clear sapphire sky. It had taken him some time before he could finally stand and walk to the threshold to observe the silent village. At his feet he found a note:

"Nemata asked me to let you rest. He didn't tell me what happened, but I know enough to understand that it must have been damn rough and important. Good luck. James. "

A kid came running in his direction, carrying a bowl that seemed to contain some kind of green mush. "Na'ir, Na'ir!" And he held him the food. The young man accepted it with a smile, thanking the boy both in English and in Spanish. The he pointed a finger to his chest and said, "Blair... I'm Blair."

The kid glanced at him in silence and the anthropologist repeated, "Blair."

But the boy simply shook his head and, pointing a finger to the young man, he stubbornly repeated, "Na'ir."

"Na'ir?" Blair indicated himself. Finally, the kid burst out laughing and ran away.

(The bright one…)

When he'd felt a little steadier on his feet, he decided to head back to the camp alone, knowing he'd be there long before darkness made the path impossible to follow. Waving his hand to Nemata, he started to walk, the wolf trotting by his side. But less than a mile after, his mind started to wander, fragments of the vision he had in the hut begun to emerge in his memory. He frantically looked for the phone in his backpack, hoping that the battery was not dead and dialed Jim's cell phone number. But no one answered, so he passed to the second one in his private list: Simon. Well, it really seemed they were destined to meet again to protect the temple. Then he asked Lykos to reach the clearing where the cop was waiting for him.

(Be his guide)

As soon as he detoured from the main path and the thick undergrowth closed around him, he felt Alex's presence. With a touch of luck, they could all meet at the good time in the same place and his vision could come true.

The temple was almost totally covered in climbing plants and strange huge yellow flowers, but the door was perfectly visible in all her splendor. The carved rock, adorned with animals and strange inscriptions seemed to be waiting for someone, as seemed to be waiting the jaguar and the panther on the two stone altars guarding the entrance. This is the temple of the Light, the temple of sentinels. The wolf's duty is to lead the soul toward the light, but he can't cross the threshold. The one who he's too presumptuous to ignore when to stop will inevitably perish.

Shaking his head to disperse that first fragment, he found himself more entangled in the memory, like a fly in a web.

The door had opened, but at first he didn't want to go inside, as the writings on the walls reminded him, it was not his place, he was only a catalyst for the energy, but then the panther had taken his wrist in her mouth, delicately dragging him forward.

(Don't be afraid) she had told him (The wolf and the panther are the same entity, what you see in me it's just a reflection of you. I want you to see and decide.)

Only that it was no more Nemata's voice, but Incacha's.

(What should I decide? What does it mean that wolf and panther are the same thing? Why can't I understand?)

The wolf is the door to the light, the soul that represents and protects the tribe. So is the panther, they both protect, only with different names.

An illumination had hit him, maybe it was an absurd thing, but...

(It's a bit as if I am Guide and Sentinel at the same time.)

We all are more than one thing at the same moment Na'ir. Not only Sentinel and Guide, but also Shaman and Warrior, Light and Darkness... enemy and brother. Your soul is confused, but you'll find the straight way, don't be afraid.

He was so deep in his thought that he didn't even notice when Alex arrived behind him, a gun in her hand.

"Hello Blair."

Turning to face the evil sentinel, the young man felt a strange sensation of déjà-vu. After all, no more than two weeks could have passed since the scene at his office took place.

"Alex."

"Well, professor... I see you're still alive, congratulation, it's a real miracle!" Her voice was dripping with sarcasm "But don't worry , we'll take care of this later... now bring me to the temple!"

"What if I refused?"

"I'd shoot you..."

"Then come on... do it."

What had happened? How could a person change so much in just a few days? The light brightening Blair's eyes was alarming, right there he didn't look completely human.

"I see you followed the wolf." He casually told her.

"Did you send him?"

"No... I'm the wolf. You followed me."

"But... oh, to Hell! Quit your mystic crap! Bring me to the temple!"

"Not yet... we're waiting for another person to join us."

"Who would that be?"

"Jim Ellison."

"But I thought that..."

"What Alex? That he was with me? I guess you're wrong. Everyone is here on his own, you for the canister, him looking for you... and myself for an anthropology expedition."

"You mean you're not his guide anymore?"

"Well, maybe I am, maybe I'm not. Who knows?"

She was puzzled, that had to be expected, but Blair knew that she was not a threat at the moment. The woman simply wasn't a real sentinel. Her purpose was not to protect the tribe. She might have heightened senses, but that didn't necessarily mean that she was ready to take care of her group. In her, the darkness prevailed on the light, the enemy on the brother.

"Sit down and wait Alex... it won't take long."

A few minutes after, in fact, a noise still quite far caught their attention, but the sentinel was surprised to notice that Blair had been the first to perceive it.

"That's him, isn't it?"

The young man nodded.

"How can you hear him? You're not a sentinel…"

"You sure?"

Five minutes later, Jim stormed into the small clearing, gun in hand, facing the other sentinel. "Blair! Are you all right? She didn't hurt you, did she?"

Then he finally grasped how strange the entire situation really was. Blair was practically sitting beside Alex, as if this were the most natural thing in the world, as if that same woman hadn't tried to kill him only two weeks before.

"Let's get going! Follow me!"

Alex started to walk, following the anthropologist so Jim couldn't but go along, the wolf silently padding beside him.

"Jim? Put your gun away, please... Alex, the same goes for you."

"But..."

"How about a truce? If you plan to kill each other, you can do it later, but now I've got to show you something."

***

It took less than half an hour to arrive to the temple and Blair noticed that it was exactly the same he'd seen in his vision. Amazed, the two sentinels stood side by side, admiring the imposing building.

"What place is this?" The cop finally asked.

"It's the temple of light. Where all that starts is destined to end."

"It's wonderful." Alex breathed, but the anthropologist could see that her attention was completely drawn to the material aspect of the discovery. She probably thought that great treasures were hidden behind the door. That's why he didn't fear her, because she was already destined to succumb.

"We must go inside."

"As you wish."

As they ventured to the entrance, the two statues suddenly moved. The panther and the jaguar were back to life, roaring and snarling. Jim and Alex both took a couple of hasty steps backward, but Blair threw them an amused glance.

"They're your totemic animals, why are you so scared?" Resting his hands on the beautiful door's carved surface, he whispered, "Que la lumière soit."

And the entrance flung open.

***

The night had silently fallen, stars shone above the quiet of the forest. With a makeshift torch, Jim lightened the inside of the temple enough to enter without stumbling in some unforeseen obstacle. Much to their big surprise, they discovered what the anthropologist already knew, that there was absolutely nothing in the big room, just the pool dug in the stone.

"Hey! Are you kidding me or what?!" The woman exclaimed, her voice sharp "Where are the treasures?"

"Who ever talked about treasures? This is a temple Alex, not a king's mansion! You come here to honor the Gods with prayers, not with money!"

"Dammit! I had a rendezvous for today, I could have earned more than five million dollars, instead..."

"Instead you followed the wolf."

Jim turned to look at him.

"You both followed the wolf... you followed me. I called you here."

"Now what do we do Chief? If you summoned us here there must be a reason."

"Well, if there is one, then I don't know it."

"You're the shaman, dammit!" and Alex threw herself at him. But as her hands closed around Blair's throat, the wolf jumped up, baring his fangs. Outside the panther growled and the jaguar snarled.

"Let go of me Alex," Blair croaked, his voice raspy. "Let go or I tell him to attack you."

The sentinel knew that he was not kidding and released her hold.

"Do you want an answer? Do you both really want to understand? Then don't ask me, but ask yourselves! It's in your soul that you have to look, and I certainly cannot do that for you." He said as he headed toward the exit.

"Where are you going, Blair?"

"What I care I already know. You must learn when it's safe to stop." And he left.

***

Less than five minutes later Jim abandoned the temple, letting Alex inside, and found the young man asleep on the ground, his head resting on the big wolf's body. When the cop approached, the animal opened his eyes but didn't move.

As soon as Blair had left the temple, Jim'd felt a big void inside, as if he was unexpectedly back in time, before a certain grad student permanently entered his life, crushing the wall that protected his heart one by one. And he couldn't stand that loneliness anymore. All the answers about his senses suddenly looked trivial, he didn't want them because they simply weren't important. What he really needed, what mattered, was not inside that temple.

(You made your choice Enquiri. Knowledge it's sometimes unnecessary.)

"Blair... Blair, wake up."

"Mmm? What time is it? I don't want to go to work."

Jim chuckled. "Come on Sandburg... wake up, I need to talk to you."

"Okay... all right. What's wrong? I'm awake."

"If you'd open your eyes while you say that I'd maybe be more convinced."

Obeying, Blair lifted a sleepy stare on him, then he slowly sat up, rubbing his face with both hands. "Yeah, I'm listening...what's up?"

"I'm sorry Blair... for everything."

"I know."

"Are you planning to stay..."

"Where? Here? No, I don't think so. I think Cascade is my ideal place... nice weather, quiet town. Honestly, what more could I ask for?"

"You mean, will you be back at the loft?"

It was real hard to ignore the hope in Jim's voice. "Only if you unpack all my stuff and put them exactly where they belong…"

Words were so kind that Jim had to smile, knowing it was only a joke. "I'm sorry Chief."

"Jim..."

"No, let me finish. I'm sorry I treated you the way I did, that I kicked you out of your home, that I told you things you really didn't deserve… but Hell! I was afraid! After all, you knew it all along, you wrote about this in your dissertation... fear-based reactions. A few days before the mess with Alex, I had a vision: I was in the jungle and I could feel something approaching, so I shot an arrow and that something was a wolf. Only then, it morphed into you. And you were dead. I was convinced it was some kind of warning, that I had to get away from you before I got you killed for real."

"But you did kill me, do you get it now?"

His words held no accusation nor rebuke, Sandburg was only trying to explain him something. "If you hadn't push me away, she would never have succeeded in killing me. But, on the other hand, if it hadn't happened, we now wouldn't be here... we wouldn't have seen the temple. After all, it could almost be considered a positive thing."

"A positive thing? No Blair, believe me… what happened was not positive at all!"

"I wanted this knowledge, I needed it. It was the only way I had to understand what my role really was."

"Well, maybe, I don't know. What I know is that I need you as a guide and as a friend. Especially as a friend."

"Thanks. I'm glad to hear it, that's what I needed, the only thing I asked for at the hospital. Not some silly joke, I just...wanted to know where I stood. I feared that nothing had changed, that you were at my bedside simply because... I don't know... because you felt guilty."

"No. I mean yes, I felt guilty… but it wasn't just that! It was the only place where I could be."

"Yeah, my blessed protector always on duty. Let's head back to the village, what do you say?"

"Sure, I go and take Alex and..."

"No!"

"What?"

"No. Not now. She's no longer a sentinel and she's learning a hard lesson in the temple. I don't know how she'll get out. Hell, I don't even know if she will get out alive. Knowledge is a double-edged weapon, especially when it's not used for a noble purpose."

"What should we do then?"

"Leave her here. She's no threat. In a couple of hours, we'll ask someone to come and look for her."

"All right. Let's go."

They reached a point where the small path parted in two different branches and the wolf took the other direction, heading for the center of the jungle. Turning to say goodbye, Blair's eyes briefly fixed the animal's ones. Jim didn't notice it, but for just a second a twinkle flashed in both glances.

***

Blair was right, Alex had gone crazy, completely catatonic. Two Peruvian cops found her sitting under a tree a couple of miles far from the temple. No trial for her, only an asylum for the rest of her miserable life.

***

Blair was staring at the jungle from his motel's room and suddenly had the sensation that he wasn't alone anymore.

(Na'ir…) A whisper came from nowhere, spiraling around him.

(Nemata?)

(Yes young shaman, it's me.)

(Thank you Nemata.)

(No. It's my people who have to thank you. A curse burdened our land, but you came and brought the light with you. The spirits had announced your coming a long time ago so that we would be prepared for the fight between good and evil. Everything had ended as it had to end… the spirit of the wild wolf is now with us, where he belongs. But don't forget, young shaman, a part of him will always live in you. Follow the wolf and remember... he'll always show you your path.)

(Yes. I will. Goodbye Nemata.)

(Goodbye Na'ir.)

"You ready Chief?"

"I'm ready."

"Did you talk to Grant?"

"Yes, he told me that it's okay… on condition that I accept to come back for a couple of months this summer, just to lend a hand... actually he wants you to come along as well."

"Why not? I could use a vacation in the jungle... only if there are no bad guys to chase."

"Knowing our luck, I wouldn't be so sure it."

"Our luck?! Sandburg, YOU are the trouble magnet here!"

"Not so fast, my friend. Don't forget that you're almost always with me… so it's not scientifically proved that I'm the jinxed one."

"Oh yeah, sure, dream, Na'ir."

"How did you call me?"

"It came to my mind... it's how people of the tribe sometimes called Incacha. I don't know, it sounded right. It means..."

"The Bright. I know. Nemata used this name the first time we met. Its meaning is very close to Lykos. They both are related to light.

"I seem to remember Incacha spoke about wolves as souls companions."

"Yeah, the shaman takes the form of a wolf to protect the tribe and at the same time the wolf leads the shaman's soul toward the light, to the knowledge. Let's go, Simon is waiting for us and he doesn't sound particularly happy right now, at least judging from what is saying…"

"Then we'd better get going. You know I'm not good at this mystical stuff... Blair?! How?"

"We're all sentinels and shamans, Jim! You had a vision before my death and I can have heightened senses from time to time… even if I think that I'll stick to my role."

"Good, I wouldn't want to lose my job."

Somewhere in the quiet of the hot summer evening, a wolf howled his goodbye.

~FIN~


Okay, only a few notes.

The sentence "The wolf will appear in front of you... take him as your brother, because the wolf knows the order of the forests... he will lead you to the straight way to the truth." comes from a Rumanian's funeral chant. It was used until the beginning of last century. The last part actually isn't "the straight way to the truth" but "the straight way to Heaven". The ritual with the mushroom is real and it was used by the Central Asian shamans.

Lykos means wolf in ancient Greek, but the root Lyk- means both light and wolf. The animal that can see in the darkness is the only one that can dissipate them.

And last but not least, the word Na'ir means "the bright one." in ancient Arabian.

CIAO!!!