Disclaimer: The main characters are not mine, this is an amateur effort written purely for the fun of it, and no money has exchanged hands, and it is not intended to breach the copyright of Paramount and Pet Fly Publication.

Warning: Spoiler for the first Dark Guide Story.

With many thanks to Nancy for your beta reading and your input.

The story is a sequel to The Coming of the Sentinels.

The Coming of the Dark Guide.

The Woman came up the winding pathway towards the doors of the Temple of the Guides; her chestnut hair was covered by a long scarf that wrapped around her head and shoulders, her clothes had the vibrant colors of a devotee of the Temple of Aphrodite. Walking by her side was a boy. His long dark hair was hanging loose at his shoulders, he wore the blue, purple and red of a devotee, but not a disciple. If he had been already called, his presence at the Temple of the Guides, no matter his talent, would have been seen as blasphemy of the worst kind. As it was, he seemed strangely out of step with the solid cold granite walls of the Temple. She halted at the large door and reached up. With all her might, she brought the heavy metal ring down hard. The thud of metal and wood rang out in the silence. Then, slowly, the door opened. The Priest stood there, looking her up and down, his lips pulling back in disgust.

"What do you want, woman?"

"I am Naomi, Priestess of the Temple of Aphrodite, and this is my son, Blaer. He has come to be tested."

"A whore Priestess." The Priest snorted with disdain. "Do you think the gods would have honored your son with their special gifts?"

Blaer started forward, only to have his mother catch his arm and pull him back. Naomi tugged the parchment from her pocket and held it out to him. "This bears the mark of your High Priest, he has summoned Blaer here."

The Priest took the parchment with the tips of his fingers, as if it was contaminated. With a sniff, he finally opened the door. Already the courtyard was filled with young boys, nearly all of them older than Blaer. The priest grabbed Blaer from his mother's hand and gestured brusquely to Naomi to stand behind the wall where the uninitiated traditionally stood to witness the Temple's few public ceremonies.

The High Priest looked out from the window of his gallery. Now came the time of choosing. Not all the young men would be selected. Some, with limited abilities, would be grays, and only a blessed few would be Dark Guides.

The boys were ordered to kneel, heads down, as the High Priest walked up and down the line. His hand hovering over the top of each boy's head, he felt the vibration from each of the would-be guides. He halted in front of Blaer and, for a moment, a look of pain flashed on his face. This was a true Dark Guide, the first he had encountered in many years. He looked at the child with awe mixed with pity. The young boy would be very powerful. Only a Dark Sentinel would be his true mate, but first he would have to learn how to control his abilities through many years of disciplined training. The way would be hard, and there was no guarantee a suitable match would be found in his lifetime.

The full, true Dark Guides of this boy's power were notorious for being hard to control. They had an independent streak in them that needed to be brought to heel before they would start to learn their lessons. Only a strong teacher could do that.

Looking down at the boy's clothes, he recognized the colorful garb of the Love Temple. Its adherents believed in the freedom of love, and the will of the individual, as they brought the men and women to their so-called faith. The child would have been raised without discipline. That would make training him an even greater challenge, since this would be coupled with his Dark Guide traits.

The High Priest beckoned his assistant forward, and the man offered a gray band. The High Priest shook his head, taking the black band and laying it over Blaer's shoulder. The onlookers gasped, and the High Priest quieted them with a stern glance. For the briefest of seconds, his hand laid on the curly dark hair, and then he was gone.

From her place behind the wall, watching through the stone grating, Naomi brushed away the tears that welled up. Her son was where he should be. But, for the moment, he was lost to her. He would change, trading the easy and gentle ways of her temple for the stern discipline of the guides. Blaer would become a Dark Guide, an assassin, a Warrior Priest. There was sadness in her heart as well as pride.

The boys that had failed in the selection were taken gently to one side, as the monks tried to explain that there was no disgrace in not being chosen to join their Temple.

Naomi moved forward. This might be the last time she had the opportunity to embrace her son openly, allowing him to read her emotions. Soon his gifts would be crafted into another form. There were few bonds that rivaled that of an empath and his mother; closeness forged in the womb, a deep bonding, that only one other would surpass, and that would be the moment that he bonded with his sentinel.

Blaer would be allowed to visit his home once he had completed the first year of his training, but then he would travel covered completely in the robes of his calling. Covered from head to foot, no one would see his face. Only when he was alone with her would he be allowed to remove the face covers. The order was strict until ten years ago, a Dark Guide revealed themselves only to their chosen one, and no one else. But she knew that although it would be her son, it would not be him, some of his innocence would be gone. This would be the last time they would share this moment.

She hugged him, pulling him close, feeling her son cling to her. Naomi eased back. "Remember, Blaer, I am here for you. If you know in your heart this is not the road you should travel, there is always a home for you at the temple. There is no disgrace in..."

Blaer rested his hand across his mother's mouth to still her words. "Naomi, this is where I belong, I know that." Then he hugged her even closer before the hands of the monks drew him away.

Fighting to keep back the tears that she could feel flooding her eyes, Naomi brought her head up higher. Her son would be proud of her; she would not disgrace his new life by sobbing her heart out. She pulled her scarf around her head, and joined the others filing out of the Temple.

Weary and sorrowful, she hardly heard the horse's hooves on the stones behind her. Wilhelm the Wheelwright pulled his cart to a halt. "Can I give you a lift to town, Sister?"

"You are of the faith?" Naomi asked. To accept a ride from anyone could be a danger, those outside of the faith often mistook the priestesses for common whores.

"Each week at our local temple." He reached his hand down and helped her up, and they started back towards her home.

"Well met, Brother. I have just received a great blessing. We should give thanks together."

The wheelwright smiled and started the horses with a snap of the reins.

Two weeks later:

The priest, Merki, held the struggling youth by the back of his jacket, as he swore and spat at the older boy in front of him. When he could no longer reach him with his fist, he kicked out and heard a satisfactory yelp of pain from the other boy.

High Priest Dar knew who it was before he even came around the corner. Blaer's language, developed in the big city, was colorful to say the least. This was hardly the first time he'd been exposed to it in the fortnight since Blaer had joined the Temple.

The only time he stopped was to actually draw breath. So far he had attacked the boy's ancestors, descendants, and morals, including the view that he did something unnatural with a horse--no--goats. Blaer certainly had an active imagination, and was anatomically correct.

For the moment the High Priest was not concerned about who was right and wrong, just that discipline would have to be seen to be done.

Suddenly, Blaer stopped. The High Priest hurried his pace, in time to see the Brother with Blaer's head under the water of the horse trough. The youth's arms were flailing, growing weaker. "Brother Merki, let him up now."

"But he is a blasphemer. Beating has done nothing to still his tongue."

"He is dying. Do it now."

The Brother let the limp body fall onto the stone. One of the older boys knelt, and began to pound on Blaer's back. The water dribbled out of his mouth, and then with a hitch of breath, Blaer vomited the last of the water up, and then began to draw in air again.

His face was deathly white. The steadying hand on his shoulder drew Blaer to look up, and he saw Jaki, one of the boy in the gang that had been baiting him, but all he could see and feel now was concern. A friend had been found.

To start with, Jaki had been like the rest of the apprentice Dark Guides, encouraged to find fault with the Love Temple Bastard, as Lash had called him. The older Dark Guide had told them in explicit terms just what happened in the temple. Lash grinned. "A little freak like that would have been brought to the faith, or so they call it," he sniggered, "by the disciples of the temple, disciples that would rut like animals for a few copper coins, and not only women, men as well. He would have coupled with both like some street slut, and yet they allowed him into the Temple." He looked around at their shocked faces. "Jaki, your father's ancestral creed, you can recite it."

"Of course." He glanced around at the other apprentice Dark Guides, all of them nodded.

"Well, he can't. A bastard child sired by a man with a heavy loin and a few copper coins. If any of you pay enough you can couple with his mother, nothing more than a common whore."

Blaer had thrown himself at Lash, regardless of the older youth's size. The attack had shocked Lash, and before he knew what was happening, he was pinned to the floor being pummeled. The yells from the other boys had brought training Brother Merki and Brother Fredik running. They had, with difficulty, separated the two boys. Even as Blaer was dragged away, he had kicked out.

"What happened here, Blaer?" The High Priest asked

"This slime of a demon seed insulted my mother," Blaer spat.

Brother Merki's hand lashed out, hitting Blaer hard around the face.

"Keep a civil tongue in your head. Now, what did he say?"

"He called her a whore."

"She is, Blaer, a low living whore who would roll on her back for a lead bead." Brother Merki loomed over the twisting boy.

He did not hear what Blaer said, but the foot that caught him in the groin took him onto his knees. Slowly, in agony, he pulled himself upright, pressing the pain back as he undid his belt, folding it, as Brother Fredik pinned Blaer down over the small wall, dragging the robes up to his waist. In front of everyone he began to beat him. Biting his lip until he tasted blood, Blaer would not cry. Merki stopped when his arm ached, but still the youth had not called out. In disgust, Merki ordered him taken away.

Brother Fredik helped Blaer to his cell.

Only then, when he was alone, did he allow his tears to fall onto his pillow.

But for one of the watching youth, his opinion had changed. Blaer might not have the pedigree of the other apprentices, but he had more guts and backbone than any of them.

 

Three and half years later:

Blaer was thoughtful. He and six of the other Dark Guides were to form part of an escort for the High Priest when he was to meet with Clan Leader Warren of the Peacemaker Clan. They walked by the side of the litter carrying their High Priest. Blaer, like all the unbonded Dark Guides, wore the traditional robes of his calling. He was dressed from head to foot in a black robe, the touch of gray on his sash the only relief to the blackness. It marked him as unbonded. The hood he wore had two long pieces of cloth hanging from the side. One was used to mask the face, covering nose and mouth, the second piece wrapping around the throat and twisted around to tie with the end of the other piece behind the head, only the eyes showing. Even the hands were covered with leather gloves. Each guide carried the sword that would one day become their bonding sword. Most carried their swords at their hips, but Blaer preferred to carry his on his shoulder, the method favored by his mentor, Denis. Each guide carried at least six weapons hidden in their robes, and any guide that could not produce at least two knives was beaten for being ill prepared. Blaer was already a legend among the apprentices--more than one trainer had been technically dead when facing him. So despite his young age, he had been included in the party.

He repressed a shiver as he saw the sentinels looking at them. To him they represented nothing more than out of control animals. They had no respect for the guide calling; to them the Dark Guides were nothing more than a trophy. He would only bond when his heart told him. He would never be forced into a bond with a barbarian.

//When did I change, when did I start to judge people as worthy and unworthy?// With a shake of his head he tried to drive the thoughts away, it certainly wasn't the creed of his mother's temple. Did he really want to become like them, the arrogant apprentices that beat and bullied the apprentice grays because they were thought of as lesser beings? He had to be true to himself, or leave the temple.

When the meeting started, the High Priest's bodyguard had moved into the council room to protect him, leaving Blaer and Jaki outside.

Jaki gave Blaer a nudge, as he saw the warrior. The man was leading a black warhorse; over its flank was a large two-handed sword. He moved with the grace of a predator, the word burned through Blaer's mind, the man could be a threat. He looked straight at them and kept walking, and was soon lost among the tents. But by then they had a worse problem, a group of youths had come up, and they had been drinking.

The leader of the group had similar features to the warrior, a connection between the two of them of blood.

"Bitch guides," the young man taunted, "neither one thing nor the other. I'm surprised they let you out of the brothel temple you belong in. Seducers of the innocent, temptation demons."

Blaer could feel the shock running through Jaki, the man was an innocent. It was nothing that Blaer hadn't heard when he was at his mother's temple.

The leader of the group made a grab for Blaer. He twisted out of the way, the knife in his hand slashing the other's sleeve from elbow to wrist, but pulling back before he would have drawn blood.

"Bitch, see what you have done." The fair-haired youth was ranting. They started to pick up stones. Blaer tugged Jaki behind him as the first stones started to thump into them, trying to shield him. The only way they could defend themselves from the gang was with lethal force, and that could not happen.

A voice roared out, "Put those down now, before I hammer some sense into your head."

The stone shower stopped, but some still held them at the ready.

"Do I have to repeat myself?" The warrior strode in, aggression barely controlled.

There were soft thuds as the stones hit the ground.

The leader was caught by a strong hand and thrown back, hard enough for him to fall on his back in the dust. The warrior in black towered over him. "Stephen, you haven't the sense the gods gave a pigeon. You debase yourself with these creatures."

"Jeme, come on, didn't you see what he did?" He fingered the rent in the his sleeve.

"I also heard what you said first. You know Father's views on them, they should have been strangled at birth, before they could pollute us with their unnatural ways. Yet you bring yourself into contact with them, against his expressed orders."

Blaer glanced over to where the warrior had been heading. It was too far away from him to have heard clearly, unless...? Carefully, he lowered his barriers and tried to fix them on the barbarian warrior. It was as if lightning arched between them, Blaer was almost buffeted by the emotions it was so intense. Immediately, the man's head had snapped around, and he had found himself nailed by two brilliant blue eyes. Blaer felt himself sway at the power of the look, then the man turned back to the younger man on the ground. He reached a hand down and pulled him effortlessly to his feet. A hard whack across the bottom helped take the dust off his clothes, but at the same time acted as a warning to still his tongue, as he was about to answer the warrior in black back.

"Now, get out of here, and have Sally see to your arm. Take them with you."

Only then did the warrior give his attention fully to the Dark Guides.

The warrior opened his mouth to say something when there was a commotion behind them, and Wilhelm arrived with Trainer Denis.

"Blaer, what happened? You pulled a knife on the son of Clan Leader Wilhelm, that can't go unaddressed."

"His son attacked us, he insulted the Temple. I...." Blaer tried to explain.

"Blaer, why am I not surprised?" The contempt dripped from the mouth of Brother Merki as he arrived on the scene. "Our apologies, Clan Leader, he will be punished when we return."

"NOW, Brother. I want public redress for his actions."

Jaki cut in, "Brother, I..." But Blaer caught his arm, better that he was punished. If Jaki tried to interfere, all that would happen was that he would be punished as well, because Merki was going to administer punishment to Blaer no matter what happened.

He lifted his head. "My punishment is..."

"Father, Stephen started the attack on them. This one only reacted in self-defense of himself and his fellow guide."

"Jeme," Wilhelm's tone was a warning.

"That is the truth father, he has nothing to answer for. He acted with restraint, and for that we should be grateful."

Brother Merki was looking from the warrior to Blaer and back again. He extended his own empathy and could almost feel the vibrations that arched between them; this big imposing warrior was a sentinel, suppressed, but already powerful.

Jeme, keeping his eyes fixed on the smaller of the Dark Guides, noted the gray-edged sash, still an apprentice. //Wish I could see his face,// but all apprentices were always hidden.

"Our apologies for this incident, and no disrespect was meant to you or your Temple."

"Received and accepted, Warrior," Denis put in quickly, wanting to bring the clash to a peaceful conclusion and, knowing Blaer's volatile nature, needing to keep him calm.

Brother Merki's hand lashed out to clip Blaer around the head, when his wrist was caught and held. The warrior's voice had dropped to a low rumble. "You don't touch him."

"Jeme." Wilhelm called his oldest son back to his side.

With disgust, Jeme let the Brother's wrist go, and then followed his father back to the fires. Merki straightened his cuffs, his experiment had been successful. Although with no idea of who and what he was, the warrior Jeme had reacted protective of Blaer. The warrior's touch had been enough to tell him that this Jeme was a Dark Sentinel, the most powerful of their kind, and the perfect partner for Blaer. He would be worthy of the bond. Pity he was a barbarian, but then in the bond this was of small account. A Dark Sentinel was too rare to allow an accident of birth to get in the way. He would inform the High Priest, and he would have him enter negotiations with the father. Tonight he would thank the gods for bringing the two together.

 

Four years later:

The years of training had been hard, and Blaer's natural talent had been curbed and strengthened. He was a Dark Guide, his skill with the sword was second to none; he could identify and administer poison. He was trained to partner the sentinel that he would choose. The man would be his intellectual equal, strong of mind and body. He would be from one of the great houses. As a guide, he would document his life with his sentinel; his chronicles would be taken each spring back to the Temple to be entered into the library. It was all their commitment to expand the joint knowledge of the Temple.

 

The South Side of the Temple:

Blaer came up over the wall of the Temple garden and, testing the weight of the branch, slid over the top, climbing down into the garden below. There was the flare of a torch, and Brother Merki stood there, with him, Brother Petra. Merki strode forward, his hand lashing out in a flat-handed blow to the face that knocked Blaer back against the wall; he could taste the blood from his cut lip. Merki, one of the teachers, was beyond anger. "Fornicator, child of a whore." A blow punctuated each word. He caught Blaer by the back of his shirt and dragged him, pushing him into the punishment cell, there to await the pleasure of the High Priest tomorrow morning.

Merki looked through the window of the cell, and watched as Blaer pulled himself into a ball. Trying to keep the chill of the cell from entering his body, he pulled his robe around him tightly. He used the sleeve to dab at his face and his bleeding lip.

High Priest Dar looked up at Blaer as he came in, and for a moment sighed. "Blaer, Blaer, you are a trial to us. A student of great promise, but wayward and impulsive. These are traits that must submit to the will of the Temple. How can you direct a sentinel, if you cannot control yourself? Brother Merki, twelve lashes after morning prayer. Now, Blaer, reflect on your punishment, and may the gods give you wisdom to recognize the answer."

The High Priest called the Brother back once Blaer had gone. "Brother Merki, curb your zeal. Blaer is not the enemy here."

"Discipline is discipline, and we can make no allowances. Not only did he go to those whores, he went uncovered, and no Dark Guide is allowed out of the Temple without the robe and his face masked. Blaer must see the errors of his way now, before his very soul is corrupted."

If anyone had seen the look on Merki's face, they would have been shocked. His face softened. "Blaer has great talent, and that is the reason I have been harder on him than any of the others. He alone of this group I believe can reach the level of the Dark Spirit Animal Bond. But to do that, and lead his sentinel, he must have discipline. He is my best student, Sir, and for that reason, he must be made to see that our way is the only way. One day he will bring great honor to his calling."

"The Dark Sentinel, the one from the camp, any more news of him?"

"Only that he has joined a Clan called the Panthers, a mixed clan, and that he is developing as we thought. His time of choosing a guide will be near soon. I suggest that we place Blaer where he can find him."

"How."

"He could take a message to the clan leader. Once the Dark Sentinel has set his eyes on him again, then Blaer will be claimed, and his destiny will be on track."

"Plots and plans, Merki, why does it have to be so contrived?" He shook his head. "Have it put in motion, already we have waited too long."

Dar dismissed him with a shake of his head. The Brother was a zealot. A good teacher had middle ground, and Merki had none where Blaer was concerned. He wanted perfection from the young guide, but like all geniuses, Blaer was flawed, but a flaw that his bond with his sentinel might balance out. He had passion and intelligence; the two must fuse together to make the whole. They had hard work ahead of them, but they would achieve their aim. Blaer would be the strongest Dark Guide they had ever trained. Once bonded with a Dark Sentinel, the Clan Council would never move against the Temple, because the Dark Sentinel would become the Senior Sentinel Prime of the Council, and Blaer would never allow the Temple to be attacked.

 

Jaki entered Blaer's cell and sat down on the edge of the bed. His hand lightly touched Blaer's shoulder, careful not to touch the red welts that ran across his friend's back. The salve would ease the swelling. Jaki took a small pouch from his pocket and knocked the power into a cup, then poured the water into it, stirring it with his finger. He helped Blaer onto one side, and coaxed him to drink it. The drug was a painkiller; Merki had forbidden the use of painkillers when he punished a student, believing that the pain gave them time to think about their mistakes. He had laid into the younger, smaller guide with a will, and the cuts had been deep. The painkiller would help Blaer rest, and stop the low-grade fever that was building in him.

Jaki settled his friend down, as the drug started to take him towards a painless sleep.

 

The Panther Clan Camp:

Jeme was hovering around Alistair, all the time watching him; Alfric had been worried until his guide had taken him to one side.

"Alfric, Jeme is not going to challenge you for me. He has need for a guide, yet has no way of knowing what he needs."

"But he..."

"Jeme needs a guide of great strength; I am not that, but we need to prepare the way for his guide. We need to train him."

The Sentinel Prime looked up at his second-in-command, and paused in sharpening his dagger. "What do you want, Alfric?"

"Jeme, we are friends, and this is said in friendship. You now have need for a guide."

"No." The one word exploded from Jeme's lips. "I don't want one. I will never, NEVER take a guide."

From behind him, Alistair peered around his sentinel, needing to use him as a barrier against the emotions that Jeme was pushing out, causing him to wince.

"You have no choice," Alistair put in gently. "Already you have started to quest. Your need is great; trust us, trust me."

When Jeme didnít answer, Alistair added his voice, dropping to the guide tone.

"Jeme, you don't know how to care for a guide do you?" Kneeling, Alistair put a hand out, and with his fingertips pushed Jeme's chin up, so that he was looking straight into his eyes. "I will teach you. We will teach you." Standing, Alistair reached out his hand. Timidly, almost shyly, which seemed alien in such a powerful and proud man, Jeme's hand closed on Alistair's and let him draw him to their tent.

Now out of the eyes of prying people, Alistair took the lead. This was guide business, and Alfric was here to support him, not to take over.

"Jeme, tell me, have you ever been drawn to a guide?"

"Soon after I became a sentinel, I found one that could be my guide. He came to me, but we could not bond. When we tried to, I caused him great pain, he was unconscious for several days. When he recovered he said that I was a demon sentinel, that I could only inflict pain, that I would never know the comfort of the bond. Alistair, he said that if I did that, I would kill any guide that tried to bond with me, become an animal and tear them apart. It was then that I swore that I would live my life free of any guide."

Alistair placed a hand on his forearm. "Then, my brother, it is time for you to find your true guide."

"But..."

"Let me teach you." First, Alistair connected with Alfric, making sure that he knew their bond was strong. He lowered his head in submission to him, before easing back to kneel, resting on his haunches. Then he slowly caught Jeme's hand. He brought it up, cradling it in his hands.

"Jeme, you must learn to care for your guide. He will be an addition to your life, a precious addition, but first you must get him use to your touch. To pounce on your guide will frighten him, you must move slowly and with an open heart. Now I want you to listen to me, you must let your sense of touch increase." Then and only then did Alistair place his hand against his chest, over his heart. "Now tell me what you feel and what you hear."

"Your Bond with Alfric."

"You are no threat to our bond. You would not try to take me away from Alfric, you are waiting on your own guide."

Alfric moved to kneel behind Alistair, one hand resting on his waist, the other splayed over his stomach, enforcing the connection between them. Creating a loop between the two sentinels, Alistair juggled their emotions as slowly, in the guide voice, he coached Jeme through the courting of the guide, the gentling that would lead to the claiming.

Finally, Jeme drew back as he felt Alfric's need to bond, but Alistair caught his wrist. "Stay, Jeme, and bear witness to our bonding."

"I..." he stuttered.

Alfric cut across him, "Stay, Brother." He eased Alistair down onto the furs. Jeme felt his tunic caught, and Alistair pulled him down so that he was laying behind him. Carefully, he positioned Jeme's arm so that it acted as a pillow for him. Then Alfric lay down, and he positioned Jeme's other hand onto Alistair's hip, covering his own hand over Jeme's to reassure him. Then removing it, he began to bond with his guide, allowing Jeme to share in the emotions that passed between them. To start with, they could only feel his fear. The last time he had bonded he had hurt his guide. This was to show him the true beauty of the bond. His mind calmed, and he mellowed, realizing that this was what he could have with his guide.

Later, Alfric held his guide close. Alistair snuggled close to him, and nuzzled his throat, nipping him to get his attention. "We helped him tonight, Alfric. Thank you for understanding."

 

Later that evening:

Saemund found Jeme on his own. He didnít have time for small talk, now was the time to take charge.

"Warren has told me that the clans have laid siege to the Temple of the Guides, and soon they will attack. At that time you will claim what is yours, Jeme. You will claim your Dark Guide. Wulfstein has foreseen the dark shadow, and he will be yours."

Jeme threw up his hands. "No, Saemund, I will never take a Dark Guide as mine. They are creatures of the dark arts."

"Jeme!" Saemund cut across his friend's angry words. The sentinel had to understand, but he could see that the man had his feet dug in the ground. He could tell by the way Jeme glared at him.

Jeme had been bitten once, and was now shy of committing to a guide, any guide. He had to get over that if they were to save his life.

0-0-0-0-0

On the eve of the attack, Jeme stood overlooking the Temple, pacing up and down like a wild animal. His head tilted as he scented something only he could smell. Saemund looked to Alfric who shook his head.

Jeme's mind was a whirl of conflicting emotions. He looked out across the valley at the different fires burning through the night. Around them sentinels were gathering, all of them there for one reason--to take a guide. Anger burned in his heart; he would not let them touch his guide.

When the time came tomorrow he would be among the first ones to breech the wall, then he would claim his guide. His attention was suddenly interrupted when his name was called. He turned on his heels to see Hender and Bryn standing there.

Hender cleared his throat. "Jeme, we know that this is the time for sentinels, but tomorrow, we would be honored to fight by your side," he hesitated, trying to remember the words that Alistair had given him, "so that you can be one with the dark shadow that is destined to share your life."

For a moment Jeme just looked at them. They met his gaze levelly, knowing that he was judging them.

"I am honored by your offer."

Bryn patted his back. "We will find him, Jeme, you will lead, and we will be there. Now rest."

"No."

"Tomorrow at dawn you will need your strength and your wits, rest, please."

Jeme turned back to the Temple. "He is there."

But this time he obeyed the gentle tug and returned to his tent.

0-0-0-0-0

Blaer lay in his cot bathed in cold sweat. He had jerked awake, fighting for breath, and swung his legs off the bed and sat up. He cradled his injured arm to him, got up and walked to the small window. He looked out across the valley, the fires burning like fireflies, and he shuddered.

He poured a drink, and then sat down again, trying to think through the dream. He had been walking in the forest, next to him was his spirit guide, the Wolf. Then he had seen the cat; it was large and powerful. It had blocked his way, then it had morphed into a man. He was like a shadow, there were no features, but he was large and powerfully built. He had turned and run, knowing that he could not defeat this specter, but each time he turned around and looked back the man was there, hounding him. Finally he turned, and the specter had him. That was when he had woken up. He knew without knowing how, that the specter was flesh and blood, and outside the walls. But the Clans would never attack the Temple. The Temple, no matter what wars raged, was always neutral. This was no more than a threat, a bluff. But he still shuddered.

0-0-0-0-0

Saemund would have willed the night through faster if he could. Jeme seemed to be losing his control, his temper was on a knife-edge, it was as if he was building towards this moment. He had never seen the man so dangerous. Alfric came up with his guide Alistair plastered around him. The clan had come in strength to this place. "We will have to restrict the unbonded to our camp for the attack. Hender and Bryn will go with Jeme when the attack is launched. Once it starts, Jeme will not stop until he has claimed what is his."

"Jeme seems lost."

Alistair put in softly, "Once he has claimed his guide, Jeme will be all right." The guide put a hand out and patted Saemund's arm. The Clan leader made sure that he didn't make any moves that would frighten the young man. He smiled back at him just as he would have done his own son, and then patted the hand. "Thank you, Alistair."

//Would Jeme's guide be like this quiet, soft spoken young man, timid and skittish, plastering himself to Jeme's side for protection?// Saemund scolded himself. //No.// Jeme's guide was going to be a Dark Guide, a creature of death, an assassin. He had to avoid judging the man first, but all that he had ever heard about the Dark Guide came crashing into his mind. //This man is what Jeme needs.//

Alistair said, "The Dark Sentinel is nearing his time of bonding. Like this he hears only his heart's and body's need; he can scent his guide, and will die to possess him fully."

"If Jeme fails to get his guide..."

"Then tomorrow he will be dead. Only death can stop him now."

0-0-0-0-0

Simon saw the small note from Blair. "What we can now understand, and which the ancients were unable to, was the chemical reaction the sentinel and guide undergo. What I believe was happening was similar to the Fincham Syndrome, but in the ancient world the sentinel was not bound by the regulations of the GDP, the process was more natural. A sentinel would start to go on-line, and that would herald the need for a guide. What appears to happen is that the clan would then approach another clan, who would have a guide ready to bond. Almost like an arranged marriage, the clan leaders would sit down and talk. The sentinel's clan would then offer a bonding piece, almost like a dowry for the guide; provide him with a tent, blankets, furs, horses. Then the sentinel and guide would meet, and if they connected they would go to the next stage, which was the bonding. A mercenary sentinel with no clan leader to back him would have to provide a dowry of gold to show that he could take care of his guide. The idea of looking outside of the clan for a guide appears to be to bring new blood into the clan; otherwise the gift of the empath could be watered down. To the ancients the only symptoms of the Fincham Syndrome would have been that the sentinel would fall into zones that it would be harder and harder to bring him out of, and that he would become more violent in nature."

Simon could not suppress a smile; he could almost imagine the kid stood in front of him in full lecture mode, bouncing up and down as he explained it.

0-0-0-0-0

Outside the Temple in the hills:

Jeme's focus was on one thing and one thing only: when the gate was breeched, the need to find his guide and secure him from the threat of other sentinels. One got in the way, and Jeme savagely beat him down with the hilt of his sword. Then he was in the courtyard of the Temple, his head lifted and he scented out his guide. Ahead of him two other sentinels were disappearing down a corridor. With an inhuman roar he took off after them. Hender and Bryn kept behind him, watching his back. He hurdled the bodies of the two sentinels, his mind registering only that the two threats had been neutralized. Ahead of him was the Dark Guide, he was struggling with a door. The guide turned like quicksilver, the sword in his hands. In the light he saw the outline of the wolf pattern on the blade.

All his instincts told him to rush straight in, but sanity pulled him back, and he steadied himself. The guide would come to him. He took a quick breath. It was as if the guide was moving slower than normal; every move he made, Jeme was able to see and counter.

He knew how it would end, the guide would be his. He felt a sick feeling as the hilt smashed into the guide's head, dropping him onto the floor. He pinned the smaller man down. His instinct to bond surged forward, and he started to push against the guide's mind. He suddenly pulled back, he would not rape his guide's mind. The guide would come to him willingly. Already he could feel the change in himself. His sense of touch went off the scale, the guide's skin felt like paper, and he could feel the veins and muscles. He bent his head down and took a deep scent at the guide's neck; he felt himself steady.

Quickly he reached for the rope to bind his guide's hands. With a light touch he stroked his face, to try and calm him down, but all he could see was hate and loathing in the blue eyes.

Then the small guide was pulled to his feet. Jeme led them as they crossed the courtyard. There was a scream, and a sentinel challenged Jeme for his prize. Hender almost felt sorry for the warrior. Jeme deflected the blade, and then savagely kneed him in the groin. Turning slightly, he swung the blade down, and the man's head rolled across the courtyard. The others backed away. Jeme stood, bloody sword in hand raised to the heaven, as he roared his challenge; the Dark Sentinel warrior, primal and violent, ready to protect his soon-to-be-claimed guide. The other unbonded sentinels backed away.

For a moment, Saemund could not recognize the man in his friend's body, then the sentinel turned and reached for the guide. The younger man tried to pull back, but Hender and Bryn held him tightly. Jeme's hands cupped the guide's face, his thumbs stroking the skin, as he looked into the eyes of his guide. Just this contact with the passive guide was enough to take the edge off him, and slowly the primal sentinel was peeled back and the man remained.

When he released his hold, Blaer spat on the ground in insult. What he told Jeme to do was imaginative, if impossible. A tolerant look was on the sentinel's face, almost dreamy, as he nearly lost himself in his guide. Then he pulled himself together, the time was not yet right to bond. He needed to get his guide to his territory, and then he could gentle him down. His sense of smell told him that the arm wound had opened up again. That would have to be taken care of.

Saemund studied the young man held between Hender and Bryn, the only two feayr clansmen to which Jeme would trust his newly captured guide. He looked much too young to be guiding Jeme. His long hair was pulled back, but long strands were hanging down, he looked pale, his blue eyes were misted with pain and despair, but they had intelligence in them. He was a good looking young man, one that would turn the heads of the maidens of the Clan.

His clothing was all black, the robes of his calling; his hands were tied, but he wore no slave collar, the means of securing a prisoner of value to make sure that all the clans knew who had captured him, and who would be collecting the ransom. Hender and Bryn held him firmly, but with care for the injured arm. The soon-to-be-claimed guide looked exhausted and was swaying, his final act of defiance had drained him.

"Has Jeme claimed him?"

"Not yet, he didn't want to force him. He wants his guide to come to him willingly." Wulfstein patted Saemund's shoulder. "All is as it should be. The Dark Guide will serve him well, once he has been tamed to feed from the hand." He gave a chuckle. "It should be interesting."

The clan leader would not be happy until they had returned to the main camp. He noticed the way that Jeme caressed the guide's bonding sword, his whole being yearning for his guide.

That night, and for the first time, the sentinel claimed his guide.

0-0-0-0-0

The children were the first to see the returning loved ones, and the cry of joy was soon echoing around the camp. Caro came forward, her happiness at seeing her husband and the man that had become like a brother to her back alive showed all too plainly on her face. Then her eyes fell on the bundle of black robes that lay curled in the sentinel's arms. Jeme had found his guide.

The returning warriors were greeted by their loved ones with much back slapping and hugging. They had achieved their goal; their Sentinel Prime now had his guide. The clan's people gathered around to watch them.

Jeme handed his guide down to Saemund, his way of showing the clan that he trusted the feayr leader with his new guide. Blaerís face was covered by the hood of his robe. Jeme was not yet ready to show the clan their new Guide Prime. Caro moved forward as her husband handed the guide back. When Jeme turned to head towards his old tent, she caught his arm, meeting head on the aggressive look, which softened as he recognized her.

"Jeme, you have a new home." The new tent was twice as large, big enough for the households of two people. The design it carried was that of the sun and the moon shown in eclipse, representing the claiming of the guide by the sentinel. "The women of the Clan made this to welcome your new guide to his clan," Caro explained, but she knew that Jeme was too concerned about his guide. Now was not the time to talk. "Take him inside, Jeme. He will be safe there."

Jeme nodded and carried his precious bundle into the tent. To one side was a nest of furs, thick and lush, soft to the touch. These were prime pelts, expensive, he knew he could never afford them. As if reading his mind she said, "That is a present from Thomas, to celebrate your bonding. The blankets are a present from your family, Jeme." Caro leaned forward and pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek. "I am proud of you, Jeme. Now let me get you some food."

Caro had brought in their food. The drink was doctored heavily with honey and herbs to help the Dark Guide regain his energy. The food was the best that she had.

"May I see him." She knelt down. Jeme hesitated, and then opened the robe up, so that she got her first look at the guide. She smiled, and reached a hand out. When Jeme didn't say anything, she gently stroked the side of his face with the back of her fingers. "He is fair of face, Jeme, and strong of body, he will be the perfect addition to our family. I am so pleased for you both." She stood up and patted his shoulder. "Treat him gently, Jeme, and you will be rewarded. Remember, he is young and frightened, he has lost everything, he will need time to adjust."

"I will." Two words spoken on a whisper.

While he waited for his guide to wake up, the Dark Sentinel mused on how his guide had earlier fought him every inch of the way, until he had finally accepted his touch, his body trembling under his hands. Even now the linkage scent was coming off the small guide in heavy waves. The scent was proof that his guide wanted and was willing to bond with him. He leaned forwards and inhaled the scent of his guide, a musky ginger scent, heavily laced with the linkage scent of a guide in the heat of bonding.

Jeme laid on the blankets and furs, and ran a gentle hand over the smaller guide resting in his arms, *his guide*. He extended his senses, and smiled; he could hear the beat of his heart, the huff of breath through his lungs. Asleep, the guide made a soft little sound in response to the touch of his hand. "Sleep, Little One. You're safe." He breathed the words into the curly brown hair. He scanned the area around them, his hearing latching onto the voices of the camp.

A male voice: "A prize like that should be shared." It was the voice of the unbonded that had been ordered to remain at their camp while Jeme and the feayr had gone to get his guide. Many sentinels had flocked to the Panther Clan, seeing in them the chance to have a clan to serve, to have focus in their lives, but not all would stay. If they lacked the ability to mix with the clan they would have to leave, the clan was finely balanced. He recognized the voice as belonging to Offa, a sentinel he had refused the request to bond. The man was a pig, he had no respect for guides. He saw them only as a way of supporting his inability to use his powers.

Offa may have lacked brains, but he made up for it in cunning. Only one man would have the guide, and that was him. He would stir the others up, and then when Jeme was fighting he would claim the prize. He inhaled deeply, he could smell the sweet scent of linkage. He tried to taste it, but it was too faint. Soon the guide would be his. His thoughts were broken into as Alfric cut in.

"Views like that can get you killed. He is Jeme's guide, ordained by the gods. Forget your foolishness and get some sleep."

"I still say..."

"FORGET IT!" The two words were barked like a command, and Offa lapsed into silence.

From where he lay, Jeme's anger bubbled up. //No one would take his guide. Never. Never.// Then out loud he said one word, "Mine." //They will not take you from me, not now. They will die before they can claim you; you're mine, my heart, my soul, MINE.// He tightened his grip on the smaller man. He buried his face into the younger man's shoulder and neck, needing the scent to calm himself down. Finally, sleep claimed him.

Blaer woke, he was warm and held. Still sleepy, he snuggled down against the pillow. //It was not a pillow.// The thought brought him awake. His head jerked up, and panic swept through him. He couldn't remember where he was, or who was holding him. Then he felt the fledgling bond growing stronger. He had been claimed by a sentinel, an untrained barbarian, but a man of honor who had treated him with kindness and consideration.

He pulled back from the hold, and looked down at him, sleeping peacefully. In sleep his features lost the cold look that he had seen earlier when the other man had pawed him. The sentinel's anger had been reassuring, the barbarian would protect him. He made a silent vow to the gods that if that man, Sean, ever tried again he would kill him; no one would touch him like that again.

Blaer tried to piece together what had happened since the first night they had bonded. Much had passed in a haze of sleeping, the honeyed wine had been laced with herbs. But stronger than any drug had been the feeling of contentment of being held in strong arms, protected and shielded, of knowing that his sentinel was the one that he had been destined to find. Even now, as fledging as their bond was, he could feel the power that came off the older man. He was sure that Jeme did not know his potential, but with him guiding, Jeme would become the most powerful sentinel the Temple had ever seen. One day they would return to the Temple to complete the Test, and then the Priests would see the truth. But first he must start his new life, and that man, Saemund, must die. For a reason that he couldn't understand, Jeme was deferring to him as Leader. That would change. If Jeme could not kill him, then he would. Nothing would stand between Jeme and the leadership of the Clan. As it was ordained, so it would be.

Contented, Blaer snuggled down, pulling himself as close as he could to his sentinel, almost as if he was trying to climb into Jeme's nervous system. It was then that Blaer saw a shadow moving along the side of the tent, and from that direction the feeling of excitement, and need. Other shadows joined that one, the feeling was overpowering him. He looked around, his sentinel had a knife. He eased himself up and reached for it, sliding it out of its sheath. He had heard of the bonding frenzy, when a guide was nearly torn to pieces by a gang of sentinels in the heat of bonding. He picked the knife up, looking at the blade; he would kill himself before he would allow them to violate his bond. They were gathering around the tent.

Jeme's sound sleep ended as the rapid beat of his guide's heart woke him, he rolled onto all fours. Blaer was scared. He brought the knife up, and found himself looking at his own sentinel. Then the Sentinel Prime saw the others and roared, it was the cry of a large cat. He scooped up his sword and powered out of the tent, screaming his challenge to any that would challenge for the guide, his guide. The unbonded sentinels scattered. As Alfric and the other bonded sentinels came to his aid, he shook his head.

"My apologies, Jeme, for that. I thought they had the sense not to challenge the guide's ownership. He is Claimed and Marked."

"Claimed and Marked, Alfric, that first night after the attack."

The other sentinel patted his back. "We will keep watch for you. See to your guide, Jeme."

Saemund came up, sword in hand. "Jeme." There were a wealth of questions in that one word.

"Tell them, Alfric, that I will kill them if they as much as try to touch my guide."

Alfric patted his shoulder again. "Your Dark Guide, does he have a name?"

"Yes." Jeme turned on his heels and walked away.

Saemund watched him head back to the tent, pausing to scan the area and then disappear back in.

"Why wouldn't he tell you his name? You're his friend." Saemund was puzzled.

"*His* guide. A name gives you power, Jeme will not pass that on to anyone, until he is ready. Come, we will talk to the unbonded."

"Alfric, what the hell is going on here?"

"Until the time of isolation is over, the unbonded will want to try and take the guide. There is only a small chance of them breaking Jeme's fledgling bond. They can smell the scent of linkage. By the gods, Saemund. It rolls off him like the mist from the river on a hot morning. Once Jeme has completed the bonding in front of all the clans, then Jeme's ownership of the guide will be secure."

"Ownership... you talk as if they are slaves to be owned. They are free men, Alfric."

The blond sentinel stopped Saemund with a hand to his arm. "This is something we do not talk about to the feayr. You, Saemund, are a feayr, but a sentinel in your heart. When a sentinel and guide have bonded, the scent of the guide changes. For example, if Jeme was to scent Alistair, he would have his own scent, but there would be an edge of my scent to his, to show him who he belongs to. It isn't the ownership of a slave, but the joining of two equals. The sentinel protects the guide. Come, we have people to talk to."

The flap to the tent was pulled open and Blaer flinched, knife held at the ready, his fragile mindset starting to crumble under the battering of emotions.

Jeme focused on the knife and the fear rolling off his guide, and then froze as he fell into the void.

Blaer stared at him for a minute and then, his misery forgotten, he moved quickly to his side.

"Sentinel, Sentinel, you have to come back to me." He put a hand up and gently laid it along the side of his sentinel's face almost shyly. Blaer tried to press along the link, but the connection was too new and the sentinel's mind was still alien to him. He pushed, and got a foothold. "Listen to me, Sentinel. You have to follow my voice." He suddenly clapped his hands near Jeme's ear, nothing. He was deaf and blind, his senses had shut down.

Carefully, he manhandled his sentinel onto his back, the older man's mind locked in the zone out, only barely aware of the touch of his mind. Blaer knew that the tactile senses would still be active. Time was important. His sentinel had imprinted his body, he should, therefore, recognize him. He carefully moved over his sentinel, taking the weight on his hands and knees, allowing Jeme to feel him. Still no reaction. Blaer swore. The more time that passed, the deeper the zone would go, and he couldn't lose his sentinel now. Leaning close he breathed his scent over Jemeís face then rubbed his face against Jemeís, willing his sentinel to come back to him.

Jeme suddenly, through the blackness, felt a touch like a gentle breeze across his face, then the slide of skin against him. Scent flooded his brain, a ginger musk, mixed with an edge of fear bordering on panic. The Dark Sentinel surged forward, the need to protect the guide pushing through the darkness as he smelt blood from the injured arm, the herbs, and then the heavy baseline scent of linkage.

Jeme's arm snapped around his guide's waist, pulling him flat against his chest. The other hand caught in the long hair, pulling him up so that he could scent him. One word screamed to him, *guide*. His eyes opened with a snap, blue looked at blue; he was nose to nose with his young guide. The tension went from the smaller man; his sentinel was back, the arm anchoring him held him tightly.

"What happened?"

"You went into the void. I was scared I would lose you." He raised a shaky hand and petted the short-cropped hair. "I can't lose you." It was a heart-felt plea. "What happened?"

"I saw you with a knife, I thought..." he trailed off, frightened to put into words his fear that Blaer would have killed himself if the unbonded sentinels had gotten into the tent.

"No other sentinel will ever own me, certainly not those animals; death before they could boast of claiming me. I am yours and only yours." The guide met his gaze levelly, the vow of a Dark Guide. "I woke because I could feel them, their need."

"No one will claim you. Claimed and Marked, my guide." A strong hand ran a firm stroke down the smaller man's back from shoulder to hip, calming him and soothing the fine shaking that racked the guide, partly from fear and partly from the cold.

Jeme reached and tugged up blankets. His guide needed to be close to him, to feel safe. The sentinel reached for his sword, making sure that it was near him, ready to hand. He would kill any unbonded drawn to his guide by the linkage scent that was pouring off the young man. It was the scent that called to a sentinel. Only when the final phase of the bonding was completed did Jeme's scent become a marker on Blaer, marking him publicly as his. A sentinel could determine sentinel-guide partnership by the scent marker on the guide, and that should always be respected. His anger at the unbonded started to flare, only to be extinguished by the gently soothing influence of the guide in his mind. Blaer snuggled closer to his sentinel, and with a yawn like a pet wild cat, prepared to settle to sleep. Comfortable and warm now in the embrace of his sentinel, he felt drained. He heard Jeme say the vow, "Claimed and Marked, Guide."

"Claimed and Marked, Sentinel," Blaer breathed, and he slid into sleep.

Caro came in slowly with the food. After last night she had agreed with Saemund that they didn't want to ask Jeme to come out to collect it. She had been accepted earlier by Jeme so there shouldnít be a problem, but she was immediately pinned by ice-cold eyes. Caro could hear Jeme growling at her. //This had to stop now.// "Jeme, I am not going to hurt your guide, and I certainly do not want him. For the gods' sake man, I would not know what to do with him." Then she added with a smile, "If I was unmarried, maybe I might." She chuckled, and then added, "I have food here." She held it out to him.

Jeme's gaze softened on her. "Sorry." It was grudgingly given.

The sentinel sat up and eased his guide into his lap, the smaller man leaning against him. His eyes flickered and opened, arms immediately coming around to cling to his sentinel, trying to bury himself against the strong chest. Jeme pulled the blanket up when he felt him shiver. Caro moved closer. The guide's eyes had closed almost straight away, and he was making a soft whimpering noise. Caro had once heard the cry of a wounded wild kitten, and that was the same noise, it was like a knife across her nerves.

"Jeme, whatís wrong?"

"He's hurting, Caro, his barriers are gone." A large hand went to the curly head. "His head is on fire, he needs to rest."

"Wulfstein has a herb drink that will help him." She handed the wine to Jeme, not missing the fact that he inhaled the scent of it. Only then did he support his guide's head and feed him the drink, softly encouraging him. Once he had drunk that, he took the thin stew, managing to get some of it into his guide before the younger man turned his head against his chest and refused anything else, his eyes still closed.

Caro got up. "The clan looks forward to meeting your guide, but only when you both are ready." She patted Jemeís shoulder as she left.

Jeme eased back down again with Blaer. "Sssh, Blaer, she is gone, it's just you and me again, sentinel and guide." His hand traveled freely over his guide's body, bringing warmth to the chilled skin. Soft little moans of contentment came from Blaer, as he snuggled closer to his sentinel. Linking his mind with Jemeís he could feel how much he was cherished, and the overwhelming need to protect him. He yawned again and his hand twisted into the cloth of Jeme's tunic.

Jeme chuckled "It's all right, I'm not going anywhere, Blaer. Rest." Then he added softly, "Only when you're ready will we meet our clan."

Jeme's smile broadened as he caught his guide's words, "My clan, ours to lead in peace and war, ours." His hand petted Jeme's chest and he snuggled closer. "My sentinel." These were the words of commitment that the sentinel had longed to hear. He tugged the curled head under his chin, feeling warmth spread through him at the sense of trust being freely given to him by his guide.

The sentinel slept through the day, his guide curled around him tightly. At noon, Blaer woke and tested his barriers, they were up. The emotions of the others around him had been cut off. He gave a soft sigh, and slowly and gently eased back from his sentinel. Jeme stirred slightly, his senses wrapped around his guide. Blaer put a hand out and, at his touch, Jeme settled again.

Blaer moved to the flap of the tent and peeled it back so that he could look out across the camp, his first look at his new home. The clan members gave the tent a wide berth in deference to their Sentinel Prime and his new guide, knowing that they needed peace and quiet. A tight smile twisted Blaer's lips. He pulled back quickly as he saw the unbonded sentinels looking towards the tent, but they were moved on by one of the bonded pair that kept the watch over their Sentinel Prime.

"Come away from there." The softly commanded words came from behind him. He hurried back as Jeme held the blankets up. He slid back under them, and was immediately collected close. "Still tired?" Jeme felt the nod against his chest. "Then sleep, Blaer. We have plenty of time."

Once he was sure his territory was safe, Jeme allowed himself to sleep. His grip tightened on his guide for a moment, allowing the need to confirm he was still there to be satisfied. Later that evening he would introduce Blaer to Saemund, the Clan Leader to the new Dark Guide. His bonding would make the Clan stronger.

Outside, Saemund looked toward the tent, and although pleased that they had gotten what his friend had needed, he was still worried. Stories of Dark Guides came unbidden to his mind. He shook his head to clear them. He must accept the guide, for the good of his friend and his Clan. This dark partnership was all their futures.

 

The end.

5th August 2001

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