The Grand Gathering Part One

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.

With thanks to Rogue and Nancy for all your help.

WARNING: The story is general, but contains scenes of an implied adult situations and adult language and strong emotional intense bonding.

The Grand Gathering

Part two

 

Huon's head tilted slightly to one side, his attention no longer on the unbonded Dark Guides or the feayr Peacekeeper. They no longer mattered. What did matter was the smaller man that stood near him. He took a deep breath; the scent of the Guide was heavy still with the scent of linkage. Mixed with it was the marker of his brother. The linkage scent offered what Huon had needed for the last three days since Sarane had been taken away from him. His senses reached out to Blaer, wrapping around him. At the moment, the Guide was the centre of his universe. The hunger of the primal Sentinel in him pushed away all logical thought. All he knew was that in front of him was a Guide; one that he could use to take away the pain. It didn't matter whether it was willingly or forced. The very scent of the Guide called to him. It was then that Huon pounced, grabbing for Blaer.

With a roar of anger, his prey was pulled away from him, and he was facing down another Alpha male. His hand went to the knife at his belt, but the other moved faster.

0-0-0-0-0

For Saemund, it all happened too quickly. One moment, brother was facing brother; then Huon had gone quiet, not responding to anything that Jeme had said. He had thought that Huon had fallen into the void and Blaer had reached out to help, then Huon had lunged for the smaller man. Jeme's reflexes had been lightning fast. He swept his Guide to one side with a roar that had rivalled any big cat, and then he had been on Huon before the other man could react.

The only thing that had saved Huon's life was the fist that had thudded into the mercenary's chest. He had screamed in agony, his legs collapsing as he huddled onto the ground. As Jeme's fist had aimed for his head, Blaer had caught the arm and pulled it back. For a second, they had been frozen like that Guide and Sentinel communicating without words. Then Jeme had pulled back, hovering over the fallen man, bristling, ready to tear and destroy.

Blaer bent towards Huon, only to be caught and hauled back by the scruff of his robe and held tightly. "Saemund." The young Guide had pleaded as he gestured toward Huon. He was a healer and needed to get to Huon. He struggled, but that only resulted in him being held tighter. "Saemund," Blaer pleaded again, "you have to help him." He twisted in the grip holding him. "Jeme, I have to help him. Please let me go."

It was then that Jeme smelled the blood; it finally registered through the anger. "He's hurt." The man tried to push past the primal Sentinel; this was his brother, of his blood. He released his hold on his squirming, struggling Guide.

"Blaer, back," Jeme commanded, and then went to Saemund's side. Between them they got Huon to his feet, carrying him between them with Blaer bringing up the rear, leading the fallen Sentinel's horse.

0-0-0-0-0

Caro laid down the material that the trader was showing her. He was one of many trying to make a living at the Gathering.

"What happened, Saemund? Where is Sarane?" she asked.

"I don't know, Caro, but Huon would never have left her willingly. He, er, collapsed. We need to get-"

Blaer cut in. "I will see to him." His voice hardened. "No argument, Jeme. This is not for the feayr."

Caro would have been amused, if it were not for the seriousness of the matter, to see the big bad Sentinel Prime cowed by this young slip of a Guide. Some questioned the relationship of Guide and Sentinel, seeing it as one of submission by the Guide all the time. But with her *sons*, it was very much a meeting of equals. Blaer added, "I mean no disrespect to Wulfstein, but his illness is of the bond."

There was no hesitation as Huon was taken to their tent. Blaer handed the reins to Daryl. "Take care of it, brother."

"Blaer, is he going to be all right?"

The Guide saw the need for reassurance. "I will look after him." He patted Daryl's shoulder and followed his own Sentinel and clan leader.

Daryl caught the smile his mother gave him, and he marvelled how over the last few weeks his attitude towards Blaer had changed. He still mourned the fact that Jeme was not his own Sentinel, but he had finally accepted the fact that he could never have Guided him. The Dark Guide had scared him. After all, he was an assassin and practised the Dark Arts. Then Daryl had helped save Blaer and realised that there was a man in the dark robes, not just a creature of the Dark Arts. He had tentatively responded to Blaer, and now considered himself lucky to have him as a brother.

Blaer never seemed to be bored when Daryl asked questions and had started to teach him to read and write, just as he had done with Jeme. At first Daryl had been frightened that his father would object to his learning. But then he had realised that his father had seen it was an important part of the future of the Clan.

Now Daryl had started to teach the letters to the younger children, or to those children whose parents were too fearful of the Dark Guide to allow their treasured children to be near him.

Sophie came bouncing up. She watched her teacher disappear into the tent, then looked at the horse that her friend held. Her nose twitched as she scented the cloak that lay across the horse.

"Huon is back."

"Something happened to him. Jeme and Blaer have taken him to their tent; he looked sick." He hesitated then added, "What's wrong?"

"I needed to speak to Blaer. It will have to wait." She bit her lip, then caught Daryl's arm and gave it a tug. "We need to talk."

With a shrug, he followed her to the horse line, away from the prying ears of the Sentinel Watchmen. She tried to explain her distrust of the newcomer. Both vowed to watch him carefully.

0-0-0-0-0

Jeme let Huon go and he flopped onto the furs like a beached whale. Blaer caught his Sentinel a hard clip around the shoulder. "There is no need for that. I would not have let him claim me, so put the panther back in its cage. I have need of the man, not the animal."

Jeme had the good grace to look ashamed. But deep in his soul, the panther paced up and down. If the other great cat wanted to fight, then the panther would willingly meet it.

Blaer ducked under Jeme's arm when he tried to block him from getting to the injured man's side. His Sentinel pulled back slightly to give him room, but it did not stop him from prowling up and down, keeping his eyes fixed on his brother. With a shake of his head, Blaer began to unlace the leather tunic that Huon wore; the simple shirt underneath it was soaked with blood.

"Saemund, get my bag. It's over by the fire." Blaer's breath came in a gasp as he saw the damage. "Someone has used a flay on him." Blaer rolled the sleeve up and saw the deep cord wounds to the wrists. "He was tied down and then beaten."

Saemund watched Blaer with interest. This was the side that people did not see of the Dark Guides. They were healers; givers of life as well as takers.

"The pain has taken him into the void."

"No," Jeme snapped, knowing what Blaer wanted to do.

"If I don't, Jeme, he will die. We have no idea where Sarane is or what happened to her. If we wait too long, he will never come back. I don't have to bond with him; all I need to do is make a connection, and then call him back. Well, Jeme?" Blaer made it into a question and waited. Baby steps first; if Jeme let him connect then it would be easier, or not, to let him surface bond with the Shield to ease the emotions that even at this distance he could feel tearing the mercenary apart. But if Jeme refused this first step, then Huon would die, simple as that. He could try his potions, but a Sentinel in a deep void was lost to them.

"Go ahead." It was grudgingly said. Blaer hid a smile. Jeme would never have denied Blaer's attempt to bring Huon back from the void, but being an Alpha Sentinel, he had his pride, and Blaer was his.

As his eyes met Jeme's, Blaer could see an intense bonding in his future. The need for the Alpha Male to show Huon to whom the Guide belonged. He felt warmth spread through his body, up from the pit of his stomach, setting his body alight at the thought of it. Then he saw the tilt of the head, and a predatory smile twisted the lips of his Sentinel. Blaer flushed as he realised that Jeme had caught the change in his body as the pheromones had increased, sharpening the linkage scent that told his own Sentinel of his willingness to bond. Ever since the Darkest Bond had started, his need for the most intimate of bonding had increased. That was the nature of the Darkest Bond. The joining between Sentinel and Guide was total. Mind, body and soul. Far from shying away from it as once he had done, his Sentinel now embraced it. The hunger flared in Jeme's eyes.

"Later, Mine." Blaer breathed the words Sentinel soft.

0-0-0-0-0

Huon's mind was in a void of pain and isolation. He was lost, and there was no one to call him back. Then he felt a tug at the back of his mind and there was a presence. He tried to ignore it; this was not his Guide. But the presence would not go away. He heard the voice echoing in his head, seductively. "If you don't come back, Sentinel, you won't see what you have missed. I am here, waiting for you. Smell my scent; I can feel your need. It burns for me."

The presence started to pull away from him; he had to follow. His senses opened as the scent of the Guide washed over him. When his eyes opened, his focus was fuzzy and he could just make out a dark figure kneeling near him. The pain hit him in a wave of fire, and he nearly spiralled back down again. But the kick-ass roar of the presence, the Guide, pulled him back.

This time, he focused on Blaer. The Dark Guide was leaning over him, fingers lightly spreading cream onto the red welts that crossed his chest. His senses narrowed to the fingers. He could feel the individual swirling on their tips and the heat radiating from the Guide's... from Blaer's body. It was branding his flesh where Blaer's body leaned against him. The scent was heavy and flowed off the younger man. He had recently bonded, and the sharp edge of linkage could still be scented, along with another scent; a new need. He could taste it on the air. His tongue licked over his lips, drawing the taste in. He was almost losing himself in the Guide.

Then he heard the voice. It was barely human, almost animalistic, as Jeme vocalised his claim on the Guide, one hand pressed onto Blaer's shoulder, anchoring the smaller man.

Blaer wiped the cream from his fingers onto a rag.

"Don't even think of it, Huon." He leaned sideways and rubbed against Jeme's hand. The Sentinel purred as he added, "And back off, Panther. He's done nothing and he won't, will you, Huon? Behave, and you will get what you need." He nailed Huon with a look that showed he was the one in command here.

"Now tell me what happened to Sarane."

Huon closed his eyes for a moment and then began. "We left the Panther Clan and headed up towards the mountains. Sarane rode behind me. We were one. Then I heard riders. When she saw them, Sarane swung off the horse and rushed to them. It was her father. I tried to get to her. I put two of them down, but there were too many. Her father-" Huon spat the word. "-knocked her out and dragged her over his horse. The others decided to have their fun before they killed me." His tone went icy.

"Do they still breathe?" Jeme asked.

"No. They sleep among the dead." Huon's lips twisted into a sardonic smile.

Jeme nodded his agreement.

"I had to push the pain back, and then I followed them. When I realised they were heading to the Gathering, I cut ahead of them." He tried to sit up, and pain knifed through his chest making him catch his breath. Blaer leaned forward and pushed him firmly back as Huon's eyes rolled up and the pain made him spiral towards the void.

Jeme caught Blaer and pulled him back so that he was leaning against his legs, one hand caught in his long hair, anchoring Blaer against him. Blaer knew it was no good pulling away. Jeme had to let him help.

0-0-0-0-0

Warren was seated in the Council Chamber with his aide, Fallon.

"This is getting out of control, Fallon. I now have that rat, Kincaid of the Sun Rise Clan, demanding that Jeme and Blaer be excluded from the battle for Senior Prime, because Blaer has allegedly violated their bond."

"And of course the fact that he has a Sentinel Prime in the running has nothing to do with it?" He paused. "If he wins, Sir, he will, as one of the old kind, want to take the Guides back to the veil."

"Which would break the Sentinel Clans from the Council, since you could count on one hand the number of Clans that would obey that command. It would endanger all that I have worked for. That is not going to happen." Warren's hand came down hard on the table with a sharp bang. Then he added more quietly, "Then we have to make sure that this slur against Jeme is removed."

Fallon coughed. "Surely you mean the slur against them both? Blaer is equally, if not more so, tainted by it."

"In the first instance, we must clear them, even though the general consensus of the Clans that I have spoken to so far have universally said that Jeme is innocent of any wrong doings. Any blame has been placed squarely on the shoulders of Blaer. He is, after all, a Dark Guide. Ask anyone and they will tell you of their *ways*."

"With respect, Sir. What about the High Priest? Surely, he would not allow one of his Temple-"

"High Priest Dar is practical. I can make him see sense. The very fact that Dar is here means that he wants to talk; their days of hiding in the towers of the Temple are over. It would be in his interest to see Jeme and Blaer as Senior Primes. Personally, I don't care if Blaer fucked his Sentinel or not; the point is that the Council believes it, so we must be able to clear him. Jeme will then owe us his Guide's honour; our noose around his neck must be tight enough for Jeme to understand that we hold the reins. And that if we cleared Blaer we can condemn him just as easily. So you are to find out everything you can about him. I want to know whom he has taken to the faith, and his and her names, understand me Fallon? Because of that fool Wilhelm allowing the marriage to Daryl of the Panthers to fall through, he forfeited his chance to be at our side. Now we must do this on our own."

"What about the girl who started it?"

"She is a minor consideration, but just in case something happens to her, the life expectancy of a person who slanders a Dark Guide is short. I want her story on parchment for the ages." He smiled. "Just in case I need it. Now I want to find out who has started this up. My guess is Kincaid, but it might run deeper. Find out for me."

Wilhelm pulled back from the doorway and hurried away. He had heard enough to know he had to act. The failure of the arranged marriage through the death of Shelia, and the loss of Sarane as a viable marriage candidate, made it plain that his only path lay with the Panther Clan and the former slave Saemund. Another idea was slowly taking form, Stephen's wife, arrogant bitch that she was, had a sister, and Jeme so far had not taken a wife. He could still bind Jeme to his old clan, but he would need Saemund to do that.

0-0-0-0-0

Blaer felt the hand relax, and he leaned forward to help Huon before he was lost again. He knew that this surface skimming of the mind would not keep working. Huon needed to centre himself, and that could only be done with Huon's true Guide. His bonding would not be anywhere as deep as that with Jeme's, but because of the blood link, he should be able to go deeper. All Blaer had to do was keep himself balanced, and use the Darkest Bond link with Jeme.

0-0-0-0-0

Saemund went to block the entrance to the tent as Wilhelm pushed in.

"Wilhelm, now is not the time," Saemund tried to protest.

"This threatens the bond between Jeme and Blaer. Son, we need to talk." The appeal was directed to Jeme. For a moment the Sentinel hesitated, his senses fixed on his father. He could find nothing to tell him the man was lying.

"Blaer, I will be outside the tent. Call if you need me." His hand brushed the back of his Guide's head lightly. Then his voice went hard. "Huon, you are warned."

0-0-0-0-0

Wilhelm grabbed his son's arm and tugged him away from the tent. "Jeme, this is more important than Huon. It's Warren. He, well, he is going to threaten your bond with Blaer."

"How? And why would you tell me?"

"What is past, Jeme, is past, but I have seen the future and...." He broke off. "I went over to speak to Warren. When I heard him talking to Fallon, I should have walked away, but it was family he was talking about. His plan is to find out all about Blaer and his time in the Love Temple. He wants to prove that Blaer has taken people to the faith."

"So? There is nothing harmful there."

"Male devotees, and that he then took you to the faith. That by fucking you, as he has done it through the bond, he has controlled you. Your history, for the gods' sake! You have fathered children; you would never roll over for him unless he had control." Wilhelm gasped as an iron hand caught his throat and he was pulled up on his toes.

"If you were anyone but my father, your blood would be on the ground."

"Then he has never-"

"What we do in the bond is not your concern. Blaer has been the perfect Guide. And we have entered the Darkest Bonding together." The smile that suddenly touched Jeme's lips was pure evil. "Of course - the Darkest Bond! They have overlooked the one thing that will be their downfall."

0-0-0-0-0

Huon lay still, his eyes half closed, looking up at Blaer. He opened his senses. Yes, he could scent the growing linkage scent, the bite to it. He dialled the pain down and when Blaer reached over him, he caught the smaller man and flipped him over, pinning him down.

Blaer began to fight back. He felt Huon pull at his robes as he straddled the smaller figure, using his weight to hold him down. Huon's senses were to the point of overloading on the wriggling, struggling Guide.

0-0-0-0-0

Jeme's head turned fast to the tent, and he pushed past Saemund. The flap on the tent was almost torn off as he rushed in.

Huon twisted off his prize with a growl. Two alpha Sentinels about to fight over the Guide that lay at their feet.

Blaer took the opportunity to get a hand free, and then his fist drove up with all its power, hitting Huon under the chin, knocking his head back and the rest of him off balance. Blaer twisted, sending the Sentinel into the furs.

"Stay out of it, Panther," the primal Blaer roared. As he powered to his feet, his foot lashed out to hit Huon on the side of the head, putting him down.

"You fucking piece of scum! How dare you try to force a bond?"

Saemund and Wilhelm arrived to see Jeme prowling just inside the tent and his Guide dealing with the mercenary Sentinel.

Huon tried to get to his knees and was put down again, rolling to grab at his chest, where Blaer's foot had pushed him over. Then he froze as the point of a sword pressed against his throat. Looking up he length of the blade, past the engraved Panther and Wolf, he looked into the light blue eyes of Blaer, and saw the Assassin. It was as if he had been thrown into a pool of iced water. He saw his death. He had tried to possess his brother's Guide, a Dark Guide.

 

Blaer was breathing hard. "You will die, Huon. But not at my hand. Without your Guide, you are lost. What I would have given you freely, you tried to take. How can Sarane put up with your touch? You are nothing but a rapist of minds." He spat the words at Huon.

"Never! I would never force her to bond; she came to me willingly. Blaer, I can't do this without her." He closed his eyes and tried to push away his feelings of loss, but could not. His light blue eyes, when they opened, showed all the emotions that he had tried to hide. "If I must die for what I tried, make it quick; don't let me die in the void. And find Sarane, so that she can bond again. Don't make her pay for what I tried." Then, almost resigned, he added, "My punishment is in your hands."

Huon pulled himself into a corner of the tent, huddling, his senses running riot. His eyesight was fading into a mist. Blaer's heartbeat was sounding in his ears like a drum, and Huon felt himself drifting. A voice in his head called out to him to let go. But he refused to release his hold; his Guide needed him. Three words came from his lips: "Sarane, forgive me."

Jeme had gone to his Guide's side. He could see the tremors running through the smaller man. He moved into Blessed Protector mode when his hand touched Blaer's shoulder and he found himself looking into the face of an aroused Guide--the eyes bright, the face slightly flushed. Blaer had fought off an attack by another Alpha Sentinel to claim him, and now Huon was forgotten. All that Blaer knew was that he had to claim his own Sentinel. So now Jeme had his hands full with a Dark Guide, in heat, and wanting to bond. It was burning through him like a fever.

Blaer was all over him; it was like fighting a multi-handed demon. He had only just managed to get Blaer's cold hand from under his tunic. It had been running over his back, and he found that now Blaer was tugging at his trouser belt with a determination that would have been funny if Blaer had not been so intent on trying to get his clothes off to bond skin to skin.

Jeme slammed down his own feelings. The primal Wolf in the Dark Guide was trying to ignite the Panther, but Jeme pushed down on the Panther. Now was not the time to allow the primal Spirit Guides to be released in a dark animal bonding.

But it was hard; the Panther was fighting to get out. With his mate this aroused, Blaer's scent was setting his body alight. He felt his control begin to fade, and his foot swept out and took Blaer's feet from under him. Using his strength, he guided Blaer's fall to the soft furs.

Blaer snarled and began to shed his own clothing, his body twisting and rubbing against the sensation of the furs on his skin as it was exposed to the gaze of his own Sentinel. His scent became heavier and thicker as Blaer spiralled into the mother of all Darkest Bonds.

Jeme loomed over him; with a final effort, he pushed the Panther back. It was difficult when Blaer was so needy. With a quick grab, Blaer caught his arm and pulled Jeme down on top of him. With a triumphant growl, Blaer wrapped his body around Jeme, arching up to bite at his neck to mark him. Then, suddenly, his body shuddered and stiffened. Jeme clawed his reason back. The bite had nearly been his undoing. The Panther had been roaring in his head, but through the link that blazed between them, he knew something was very wrong. He gathered his Guide into his arms, sitting back onto his haunches. He tugged Blaer into his lap, cradling Blaer to him, one hand running over the now spasming body of his Guide. Blaer's fingers gripped his tunic, trying to pull himself into Jeme's nervous system.

His Guide had being hit by an emotional backlash, in his heightened state of the Darkest Bond. His barriers gone, latching onto Jeme's own senses, he must have heard those three words, and the emotions broadcasted with them.

"Sarane, forgive me."

Huon was clinging tightly to his sanity, holding on only with his fingertips as his senses cascaded. Through eyes that could barely focus he looked up to see Jeme standing over him, his Guide clinging to him like a child, legs and arms entwined, face buried into the crook of his neck.

For a moment, he just sat there. Then, easing down with his precious burden, he picked up Huon's hand. The connection between them flared. Only a Dark Sentinel with a member of his blood could link with another Sentinel and pull him back from the edge of the void.

Huon clung onto him as a lifeline, but the link was fragile without the empathic ability of a Guide. It was only a delaying action before Huon was dragged down again, and took his brother with him.

For a moment, the two of them balanced on the edge. Then a powerful ally came into action. It was the pure essence of a soul-mated Dark Guide that hauled them to mental safety; that banished the darkness of the void.

Huon was breathing heavily. The pain came back with a vengeance as his senses came back on-line. A pale, cold hand caught him above the wrist. Overlaying his brother's hand. There was a jolt, and Huon felt fire burn through his body and explode in his head. This time he held back from trying to take what he needed. This was not the bond he craved; it was a way of binding him to the present. Then he heard the voice he *had* to listen to as it ordered his senses to be taken down to that of a feayr. Only then did Blaer pull back.

But the one thing the three of them knew was that unless Huon did bond, the void would slowly open up again. Jeme formed the thought and immediately he felt Blaer pull back, like a skittish colt. In this emotional state he was highly unpredictable and dangerous. Now he needed to be claimed in the Darkest of Bonds. Then, and only then, he might be settled enough to bond and give Huon the support he needed to survive while they took his own Guide back. But the choice had to be Blaer's, and only his.

With great care he laid Blaer down onto his back. Immediately, Blaer tried to move away from Huon, but Jeme caught him easily and pressed him back down. He pressed a hand onto Blaer's chest, holding him down, his thumb stoking the skin tenderly as it moved down to soft circling on his stomach.

"Easy, Mine." Jeme allowed the Panther to slowly come forward, but he would have to control the Panther. He could not lose himself in his Guide.

0-0-0-0-0

Saemund caught Wilhelm's arm and dragged him from the tent.

"What by the gods was that?" the stunned father breathed.

"Well, I am no expert, but that looks like the Darkest Bonding."

"Is it always that ... you know...?" His hands flew in the air in a vague pattern.

Saemund allowed a smile, the first since Wilhelm had arrived. "Pretty much, yes. And that is the key to the downfall of Warren's plan."

Wilhelm's head snapped around at the muffled breathless scream coming from the tent.

Saemund settled himself outside the tent, and taking out a whetstone, spat on it, and began to work on the blade.

Wilhelm hesitated, and then took a seat near him. "Have you seen that new stallion of Charles'?"

0-0-0-0-0

Huon was shaking violently as his body called out to bond, especially since what he wanted was laying only an arm stretch away from him.

Blaer turned his head to look at Huon, and Jeme could smell the fear in the scent, and growled. He had to get Blaer's attention and complete their bond before he could even think of Blaer helping his brother. His young Guide had to be secure in his own bond, otherwise it was doomed to failure.

He knelt over Blaer, and then stroked his hand down, the brush of hand on flesh made Blaer's head snap around, and the fire began to burn again, but then he looked back at Huon and tried to move away, making small unhappy urgent noises deep in this throat. Jeme shook his head.

The heat of the bond was fading.

Jeme knew that he had to release the Panther, which in turn would call to the Wolf, and then together they could help Huon bond.

Lowering himself down, he brushed his body along Blaer, and got a whimper and a shake of the head. Jeme dialled up his sense of touch, and could feel how cold his Guide was. Although he could feel Blaer in his head, he could not feel the connection of the Darkest Bond. Blaer had pulled back and was no longer sharing his senses. Instinct told Jeme that Blaer would need to be joined with him, to help Huon.

Looking straight into Blaer's eyes, he pulled himself up again. As his weight lifted, Blaer tried to pull himself onto his side, and away from the emotional whirlwind that was lying near him.

"No." Jeme held him down, pinning his hips to the furs. With his elbow supporting his body, he cupped Blaer's face, slowly stroking the fine features, his thumb brushing the full lips. He could feel the heat starting to rise from the smaller body lying under him; the linkage scent of Guide beginning to thicken.

And Jeme found himself looking into the dark blue eyes of his Guide. They had softened as the bonding began to take over his mind and body.

A process as old as time to call a Sentinel to his Guide to bond.

He kept up the soft petting, and smiled as he felt Blaer move his head slightly so that he could nuzzle up to Jeme's hand.

His eyes zoomed in on beads of sweat running down Blaer's jaw line, and then the line of his throat, to puddle in the indent of his throat.

"Jeme." Blaer's voice was slightly shaky.

.

Then his Sentinel swooped down, and his tongue licked across his throat as he tasted his Guide. Blaer made a noise that was barely human. He had no control; all he had was a primal imperative to bond with his Sentinel.

Jeme bit Blaer's throat hard, drawing blood to the surface. Blaer threw his head back and screamed again as his body went taunt with the power that was running through him. Then he dropped back onto the furs as his mind melted.

Jeme was fighting the power of his own Dark Guide's body, and he had been almost lost in the sensory feast that was his Guide. The Sentinel lay blanketing his Guide.

When Jeme pulled back, Blaer made a screeching noise that was like nails down a board. It shredded the nerves.

Then he lunged up again. Jeme caught Blaer's hands, pinning them to his waist, as he ran his senses over the smaller man. The increased heartbeat and respiration, the increase in scent; he nodded in approval when he scented his own marker branded onto Blaer's. Everyone would know to whom Blaer belonged.

Blaer could feel the senses running over him, and his mind moved around Jeme's, cradling and pulling it into him, his eyes never leaving Jeme's face.

The connection between them flared, and the Sentinel moved willingly into the heat of his Guide's mind. It caressed, and the Sentinel's mind opened further. This time the Panther purred.

Blaer had control now. It was as if he had been in a storm, and was now in the eye of it. Everything was calm when he pushed against the senses and they opened to him. For the first time he was not frightened or overwhelmed by them. He could feel his Sentinel move them, increasing them. First scent, and then taste, then touch, the sweep of the fingertips across his belly nearly made him lift off the furs, but this time he kept control. And when he heard his heart beating, he could also hear the heart of his Sentinel as they beat in time with each other. Then with his eyes, through Jeme's, he saw himself, the long curly hair plastered around his face, the sweat glistening on his skin. Then the picture shifted as Jeme looked at his brother. He could see how ill Huon was. The man was dying.

Through the link, he could feel Jeme's need to help his brother of the blood.

Jeme could then hear Blaer's voice echoing in his head. "We can help him, but you have to let me do it. I am yours, but he will have to touch me, scent me and bond with me. Can you deal with that, Panther?"

"Yes, I trust that you are mine, and only mine!"

"Then we will help him." The tone was final.

Jeme lowered his face, and then rubbed against Blaer's.

"You want to bond first, my Sentinel?"

"First, I will claim you, so that no other's touch will ever mark you."

It was said with the growl of the Panther. "Lead, Blaer, and I will follow."

"First lose those," Blaer tugged at the belt. "The material is like..."

Jeme's laugh rang in his head, and it warmed him. He felt his Sentinel lightly stroke his chest, shoulder and throat.

"Determined to bond skin to skin; Blaer, you little demon."

The smaller man frowned and turned his head away; the words hurt, as he remembered what others had said. He gasped as he felt Jeme's mind cocoon him with love and the feeling of being treasured, and, yes, anger at the people that had hurt him so deeply.

"Sorry, Mine."

Blaer, with a soft sigh, let his Sentinel hold him as he achieved balance. He moved freely through his Sentinel's mind, using Jeme's senses, no longer fighting or overloading on the sensory input he was receiving.

Jeme straightened up and removed the last of his clothes before settling back again. A soft gasp as his body reacted to the sensation of skin to skin with his Guide, the heat branding his body where they touched. He increased the amount of weight he held off his Guide, and pressed Blaer into the furs.

Blaer hooked his legs around Jeme's waist, and his arms around his neck. Pulling the older man even closer, he needed to feel that there was nothing between them, that they were merging and becoming one.

The beat of the Sentinel's heart vibrated through the empath like the tolling of the great bell. The life force of one, joining the life force of the other.

0-0-0-0-0

High Priest Dar looked at the parchment on the table in front of him and picked up the quill pen, dipping it into the ink, and making a quick few marks across it, before laying it down and acknowledging Denis.

"What have you found out, Denis?"

"Very much what you thought, Sir. Guide Blaer has not violated his vows with his Sentinel. I asked at the Temple."

He saw the look the Priest gave him. "Why hunt for water, when you know where the stream is?" He saw the hint of a smile, and knew that Dar agreed with him. "I spoke with the High Priestess, Blaer's mother. She said that Jeme and Blaer had been together, but he had spoken to her before they left with their clan leader. She confirmed that he had not brought Jeme to the faith. He had not performed the ritual that would have been the herald to their joining under his mother's religion, but that they had bonded to the darkest level. He honours his mother's ways. And we know he used to slip out to the town to be brought to the faith. This is nothing that we have not known in the past. Blaer came to us unsullied. He never brought any to the faith. If he had been taking his Sentinel to the faith, he would have performed all the rituals. Blaer believes either with his whole heart, or not at all."

Dar was satisfied. "Which only leaves the matter of his Darkest Bonding. He should have come to our Temple for that. For him to have gone through it without our guidance, without our knowledge, was and is very dangerous. If he had lost control of the bonding, it could have spelt disaster. But that is a matter for the Temple. My main concern at the moment is Warren. When we met earlier, he seemed very keen for me to outlaw Blaer from the Temple. What are your views of him, Senior Trainer Denis?"

Denis was thoughtful. "Warren is also interested in finding out about Blaer's past. His mother was quite vocal about Fallon. It appears that he did not pay the due respect to her. He all but called her and her priestesses common whores. He in particular wanted to know how many Blaer had brought to the faith, and seemed disappointed when he learned that Blaer had never worked in the Temple. There is the stench of politics at work here, Sir." Denis paused.

"We have known each other for many years. Speak freely."

"Warren would like Blaer to have a past, because if what I am hearing is right, there is going to be a challenge to Jeme and Blaer at the Council Meeting. One or more of the clans are going to claim that Blaer raped his Sentinel in the bond, and therefore is unfit to be in the presence of the Council. Therefore, Jeme would not be able to compete for Senior Prime, which would open the way for some of the others. None of them are that keen to face down a Dark Sentinel and Guide pairing." Dar continued smoothly, "And if Warren steps in at that point and clears the way for Jeme and his Guide, then of course, his loyalty would be to Warren for upholding the honour of his bonding. Clever. What do you know of Jeme of the Panthers?"

"Blaer's bond to him is solid, and they are soul-mated, in the true ways of the Ancients. Blaer seems to be a little steadier since the bonding; the Sentinel had had a calming effect on him. A good match, Sir."

"Exactly, and Warren would have them be his. This harbinger who started it all, do you know who it was?"

"A girl from the Panther clan. She was forced to leave by Blaer after she accused him of sexually attacking his Sentinel. Saemund cleared Blaer of any crime, it was on the eve of the Darkest Bond."

"Then she is indeed lucky to be drawing breath. I want her brought here, we will speak. I want to know why she has suddenly decided to bring her foul stories to the ears of the Council. And more important, who would gain from it." He shook his head. "No Denis, I don't think that Warren is the man that started this. He only sees it as a way of gaining control of a Dark Pair."

"And when we find out, Sir?"

Dar smiled. "Then they shall feel the wrath of the Dark Arts, but we will allow Blaer that honour." He picked the quill up again. "And, Denis, tell Blaer that I will see him with his Sentinel later today, after the Council has finished their first sitting."

"A summons of a student to his master?"

"No, Denis. The request of a Priest to a Guide. I want to see him, to judge the strength of his bond, to make sure that everything is ready."

"Yes, Sir." Denis lowered his head, and then withdrew. Whatever Warren thought, he would not win. He could not be allowed to take control of the Sentinels.

0-0-0-0-0

Lifting his head up, Jeme looked down into the face of his Guide. His eyes were fixed on those of his Guide, seeing the colour as it changed, going darker and smoky as the bonding began to take him deeper.

His mind was open for his Guide. Their bodies were moving in a slow, gentle caress in time with the touch of Blair's mind, like waves lapping on a shoreline.

Blaer's face was pressed into the side of his neck. His breath came out in a shudder, the tremors running down his body, as he became more needy. His scent became stronger as his body and mind responded to the mental and physical message he was receiving.

Slowly they reached towards the mellow bonding, a balancing of the two souls becoming one. The bonding with Huon had still to be done, but Blaer was no longer frightened.

Jeme was growling softly against Blaer's ear, the primal Sentinel wanting to come out, but it was pushed back. Now was not the time.

In his head, Jeme could hear Blaer's voice, the words and the emotions coming together.

"Hear my heart, Sentinel, hear my blood, the breath in my body. We that are two become joined as one, Sentinel and Guide. Then we that are three become one; Sentinel, Guide and Shield." This was not an empty vow; this was said with the heart and the mind.

The growl echoed through their minds. "No. Always yours."

Blaer reached out a hand blindly and took Huon's hand, tugging him close. By now, Blaer's body was in agony because of the delayed bond. But this had to be done. The Shield - because that is what Huon had to be, had to be joined.

Through their connected minds the Wolf howled and the Panther roared.

Huon tried to pull back as his mind for the first time was pulled into the cauldron of emotions. //How could Jeme survive in that burning pit?// he wondered. Then he realised that this was the Darkest Bond. He was being allowed to witness what no other Sentinel had been able to witness and live: the Dark Bond.

The world around him went blue, and for a moment he swayed on his knees. His other hand grasped Blaer's shoulder, his fingers gripping tightly into the Dark Guide's shoulder, bruising the pale skin.

It was a forest, and he was walking with his Spirit Guide, the striped cat. Ahead of him was a path, two paths, and he halted. Then, ahead of him, he saw the Panther and Wolf, and knew without knowing how that this was Jeme and Blaer.

He hesitated as he heard the voice of caution warning him that if he took that path he would never be alone again; that he would be bound to them by more than blood, by the very bond. That he must pledge himself to protect the Guide Prime even if it meant his own death, and the death of his own Guide.

Sarane! He said her name with feeling, crying it out to the trees.

Then he saw Blaer come towards him, Jeme standing behind him.

"Shield, the choice is yours. Either embrace the Clan and your future, or see what your fate might be."

Huon grabbed for the sword at his side and swung the blade so that it rested against the throat of the Dark Guide. He saw no fear in the blue eyes, only amusement. "I am no demon, Huon. I am a Shaman and this is your spirit walk. Kill me here, and you end what could have been your salvation."

"I don't want to have to choose."

"Life is choice. Every day you make choices. Your first Guide, he made the choice of giving up his life for you, and now he lives with the ages. Sarane will soon make a choice, and you both must live with that. Only the dead have the luxury of peace, and you, Huon, are alive. Now choose to join with us and bond, or die."

Huon felt himself falling backward. The last thing he saw was his Spirit Guide lying down, with the Panther lying across it and the Wolf curled against it.

His fingers dug into Blaer's shoulder, and he found himself looking into the dark expressive eyes of his brother's Guide. He nearly lost himself in the shifting colour. Blaer placed the hand he held onto Jeme's shoulder.

0-0-0-0-0

Jeme was finding it more difficult to hold himself back. His Guide was ready to Dark Bond, and yet he was holding back. The scent of the heat of the bond was pushing him towards the void; it was so heavy it was dragging the air from his body, his grip on Blaer was tight. The trickle of sweat was like torture to him as it seeped down between their bodies. His Guide's scent was now all he could smell, the sweat all he could taste in the air.

"Sentinel, claim your Guide." Blaer breathed the words as he opened his mind fully and unleashed the full power of the Darkest Bond. The breath left his body in a howl that was barely human as the power of the Darkest Bond burned through their connection. The only thing that saved Huon's mind from the power as it vibrated through Blaer's body like a tuning fork, was that Jeme's mind acted as a buffer. Only that was strong enough to save him from being overload by the raw power of Blaer's mind.

The power of the connection had created new pathways in Huon's head; those that would make his bond with the Dark Guide Prime possible.

Huon curled around them, all the time keeping contact with the young Guide. Knowing through the link, with the knowledge of the Ancients, that if he parted now the shock of it would kill him, the three of them creating a circuit.

He ran his hand across Blaer's shoulders, then down his flanks, so they rested over Jeme's hands on the Dark Guide's hips. Then, as their eyes met over the bowed curly head, the contact made Blaer screech. Before he could catch his breath it was repeated. This time Blaer's cry was cut off as the power of his minds release below away all logical through. He heard the Sentinels cry out as the power rushed through their minds, and they followed their Guide.

Jeme moved his body weight off his Guide so as to not squash him, as Blaer was nestled between the two Sentinels.

Without opening his eyes, Blaer reached up with shaking hands and tugged Jeme's head down to rest against his throat, then repeated the action with Huon.

The pathways in their minds were open, and the Dark Bond, now mellow, moved between them. Words were not needed as between them any questions asked were answered in the blink of an eye.

The Shield had now been born.

0-0-0-0-0

Seated outside the tent, Wilhelm had started to his feet when he heard the cries coming from inside.

But Saemund caught his wrist. "This is not for our eyes. This is Sentinel business, and it is best to leave them to it." Then he added with a soft laugh, "Believe me, your life will be longer."

Wilhelm bit his lip and returned to sit by Saemund. He began to think of what he could do. The adopted members of his clan were due to arrive today with his father-in-law, and with them, Casa. The flame-headed healer was related to his wife's family. They had wealth and position, and now belonged to the Fire Storm Clan. What better way to tie Jeme to the Clan of his birth than through marriage? He was sure that the voice of reason could persuade his eldest son. With the slurs that he had been fucked by his Guide hanging over his head, Jeme would need to show the world that he was not interested in his Guide, and a marriage to Casa would do that. Then he would be able to take his place in the combat for Senior Sentinel Prime. Wilhelm understood now that Blaer would always be present, but Casa would bind Jeme to her, and through her, the Fire Storm Clan.

0-0-0-0-0

Inside the tent, the two Sentinels lay curled around the Guide like littermates. Blaer yawned and snuggled closer to Jeme's warm body, then felt an arm around his waist tighten, and he was tugged back against Huon's body. Within the bond that flowed between the three of them, Blaer felt loved and cherished. Those feelings came from Jeme.

But overlaying that, a feeling of being protected by Huon.

Blaer never opened his eyes as he felt hands drifting over him while he was coaxed into a comfortable position. Bossy Sentinels, Blaer thought, and in his mind heard the deep rumble of his own Sentinel.

My mate.

Blaer felt a shiver run through him which had nothing to do with cold or fear. It was a reaction to the tone and the words that reached down to his very soul. Those were words of possession and ownership.

Jeme was looking down at the face of his Guide; the long hair was ruffled and sweat plastered the curly tresses to Blaer's face and neck.

Bending, he scented at his Guide's throat, his hand running firmly over the smaller body, wanting Blaer to feel his touch now, know that he was his.

Sleepy blue eyes opened. Blaer's eyes were slightly misty still, but they had a look of sensuality and vulnerability that caused his breath to catch in his throat.

"Sentinel, be one with your Guide."

Jeme rolled him onto his stomach. He moaned, as the fur seemed harsh against his sensitised flesh.

The Sentinel nipped him on the shoulder, his tongue calming the skin. Jeme purred loudly in his ear as his teeth nipped the rim of an ear.

Blaer tried to arch up to him, and the primal Sentinel pushed through, growling its pleasure at his mate's responsive nature. Then Blaer froze, and through their link the primal Sentinel felt fear as his mate's body tensed. That could not - would not - do.

He began to rub his body over the smaller one, and the primal Sentinel let the 'other' come through.

"Blaer, talk to me."

Through the link, he knew everything. Blaer was insecure; the challenges to their bond had hit at his worst fears.

Jeme turned him onto his side. He was looking into the face of his Sentinel, and a hand cupped his face. "Come out of my head, Blaer. I need to hear your voice."

"Jeme?" Blaer tried to look down, but the hand held him tightly.

"You are my soul mate in the Darkest Bond, but more importantly, you are my Guide, my friend, Blaer, and no one will ever replace you. You are my heart, the breath in my body, my soul."

Blaer's eyes lit up, and his arms went around Jeme. . .

Only then did Huon moved closer, wrapping his arm around them both, his body plastered to Blaer. His hand soothed the young Guide's trembling body, reassuring his brother that he would care for them both, protect them both.

0-0-0-0-0

Warren rose to his feet to greet the High Priest of the Dark Temple, paying him the due reverence of his position. Only when Dar had settled next to Warren with Denis standing behind him, did Warren continue with his speech.

"Welcome, members of the Council. May we meet at this gathering in the spirit of friendship and peace? If any of you have a grievance, speak now in the light of day."

He saw three of the Clan Leaders in conversation, and then Kincaid stood up. The man was in his mid-forties with fair hair. He was a good leader, but Warren knew that for Kincaid there was no middle ground. He was a fanatic, and his type brought only death with them. As usual, Kincaid was polite, moving silently like a snake with his venom ready to spew out.

"With respect, Warren, the time of the Combat of the Sentinels is soon, and there is something that needs to be brought before the Council. Perhaps Saemund of the Panther Clan can confirm this for us, as it concerns his Sentinel and Guide Prime." He paused with a smirk on his face. "I have been told that a girl of good family brought to your fire the news that your own adopted son and Sentinel Prime was being raped by his Guide while in the void, and yet you did nothing. Why would that be so Saemund?"

Saemund rose to his feet. "Kincaid of the Sun Rise Clan, you have asked a question, and I will answer. The girl was young and foolish. She wished to bed my Sentinel Prime, and when he fell into the void, she did not like the fact that his Guide threw her from the tent. Young and proud is a dangerous mix. She confessed her lies to me, and she left the Clan to start a new life."

"But isn't it true that your Guide Prime fucked your Sentinel Prime, and that he had so little control that he even sought out the excuse of bringing him to the faith to satisfy his lust?"

Warren cut in, beating Saemund to answering. "Kincaid, because of the concern of the group, I had Fallon look into the matter and-"

He never got to finish it.

"So you think to dishonour my bond." The voice had an icy tone to it that was more frightening than any rage.

Standing in the doorway of the Council Hall was Jeme. He strode into the centre of the hallway with his Guide by his side, and another with him. The whispers started as they stared at the other with Jeme's face.

The High Priest nodded his approval. Blaer wore the full robes of his calling, and at his waist was the purple and black belt of the Darkest Bond.

Of the Clan Leaders, three had Sentinel Primes with Dark Guides, and they quickly leaned over, their eyes never leaving Blaer, as they whispered to their Clan Leaders. As they straightened, their eyes tracked to the sword arm of the Sentinel. Purple and Black ribbon had been sewn to the top of the sleeve and then had been bound in a latticework down Jeme's sleeve and fastened onto the sleeve at his wrist.

High Priest Dar spoke softly to Warren. "See, Blaer wears the belt marking his Darkest Bond. His Sentinel, by wearing it on his sword arm, proclaims that he will protect his Guide's honour. And the other..." the Priest breathed, "is something that I have not seen in my lifetime. We have before us a bonding of a Dark Sentinel and Guide, and that has brought forth the other: the Shield. See, he wears the ribbon on his shield arm." Then, in a louder voice so that it rang out across the Hall, "Welcome, Blaer, Guide of the Temple, and Blessing of the gods for your honoured state."

Warren was looking confused.

"Honoured state?"

"Of course." But the High Priest did not make any further explanation.

Kincaid could barely suppress his anger. His thunder had been stolen. "This show has nothing to do with what we are discussing. This Guide," he pointed at Blaer, "fucked his Sentinel, and therefore I demand his punishment, and Jeme's exclusion from the Combat for Senior Sentinel Prime."

The knife pinned his sleeve to the back of his seat. Chairs were kicked back as Clan Chiefs reached for their swords. They stopped in their tracks.

Blaer's hand held a second throwing knife at the ready.

High Priest Dar was the only one that had remained seated. The moment the man had opened his foul mouth, he knew what Blaer would do. No Dark Guide - especially one who had bonded to the Darkest Bond level - would stand for that.

The fact that both the Sentinel and the Shield had flanked Blaer, facing off anyone that would try to interfere, spoke volumes to those that knew what they were looking at.

Blaer had never looked so lethal. He tossed the knife from his right hand to his left in a glittering arc, and then pulled his sword from its shoulder harness.

"By the right of the Temple, I call you to trial by combat."

Kincaid blanched. "Warren, you must stop this creature."

It was the High Priest that answered. "You have cast doubt on the validation of their bond. For a Guide of the Darkest Bond, there can be only one answer to you: Challenge."

Kincaid looked around to his unbonded Sentinel Prime. "Fer, you will uphold the honour of our Clan."

The muttering of voices grew louder. Charles of the Horse Fire Clan snarled, "You have so little faith in your own cause that you would have another fight for you."

"I would not debase myself with that creature's blood on my blade." But Kincaid could see the look of scorn on the gathered faces.

Fer was tall; at least a head and a half taller than the smaller Guide that he was about to fight. Blaer moved Jeme back. "This, as we agreed, is my fight. You will stay out of the it, understand?" His tone brooked no argument.

Then he pushed the knife into his belt and went to face the warrior.

Huon's fingers flexed on the sword he carried, switching it from his right to left hand as the knife dropped into his palm.

He looked at his brother. "If Blaer is in danger-"

"Then we kill the bastard." Jeme's eyes raked the other Sentinels, challenging them to comment on what he had said.

The clash of sword on sword echoed through the hall. Blaer was faster, but the Sun Rise Clan Sentinel was strong. When their blades locked, he pushed back hard, and Blaer was thrown backwards.

Off balance, the Guide hit the floor, but then rolled like a cat and was on his feet again. Fer swung down, and Blaer blocked the blade with his own sword, protecting his left side. He rolled the blade around Fer's and then changed direction. The move was not expected, and the sword was torn from the bigger man's hand.

He dove under Blaer's blade as it aimed for his head.

Hitting the floor, he caught his own blade and was on his feet again.

"Very good, little man, but tricks will not save you."

Blaer circled him, making the larger man move to track him, looking for an opening. Apart from the clash of the blades as Blaer moved forward and then edged backward, the fight had slowed down. If anything, the Dark Guide appeared to be in no hurry.

Fer was beginning to get worried. The Guide simply smiled at him. It was the look of someone who knew that they could kill you at any time. He knew that could not be right. This was a Guide, be it a Dark Guide, but a guide all the same.

Blaer exploded across the distance between them. Fer swung, and Blaer leaped over his blade, forward rolled and then stabbed up. The sword entered just below the ribs and up through his heart. Blaer looked into the big man's eyes, and then thrust the sword up again, harder.

Fer's body collapsed and pulled free of the blade.

Blaer walked over to Kincaid and caught the Clan Leader by the shirtfront, then wiped the blade of his sword across his jacket. "He died a man. You are nothing." Kincaid was released with a push that put him in his chair. Only then did Blaer turn and walk back towards Jeme.

Kincaid's bodyguard pulled a knife and threw it. "Blaer!" Jeme's warning was shouted and the young Guide spun around, twisted out of the way, and then snapped back the knife he had caught in mid-air. It was thrown back at Kincaid's bodyguard with deadly accuracy. It thudded into his throat as a second knife took him in the head, and a third in his heart.

Then Blaer was flanked by his Sentinel and Shield. The others ignored, Blaer reached up and stroked the back of Jeme's face with his fingers. "Mine."

"Yours." The larger man reached down, pulling him up on his toes as he inhaled the scent of his Guide. Blaer ran a hand down his Sentinel's chest and patted him. "Good Sentinel." Jeme was purring under his touch. Blaer eased back down, and then slid around him to stand at his shoulder. He moved with a sensual grace, his body never breaking contact with his Sentinel.

There was a shocked silence in the Chamber.

Jeme now spoke for the pairing. "Is there any now who dare to challenge our bonding?"

High Priest Dar leaned across Warren. What he had seen had just confirmed what he had guessed the moment that they had walked into the Council Chamber. Blaer was not only a soul-mated Guide; he was mated in the Darkest Bond. The bond was often more intense than sexual union between a Sentinel and Guide, but only a Dark Guide could reach the highest level of the Darkest Bond.

The High Priest addressed the Council. "Honoured is the state of the Guide and Sentinel Prime of the Panther: they have reached the highest and most exalted of the bonds. A violated Sentinel could never reach this level since the trust in the bond would have been betrayed. This is proof positive that the girl's words were lies."

Kincaid spluttered. Whatever he was saying was cut off before it could be voiced.

"Silence, Kincaid. You heard the High Priest. There is nothing to answer for, or would you want us to try to govern the way that people live?" Warren snapped back. He could see that by backing Kincaid he could not win. He wanted Blaer and Jeme, and angering them would accomplish nothing.

The rest of the Council nodded in agreement with Warren. A couple of the Sentinels exchanging knowing smiles. What could be expected from a Dark Guide? This was the very reason they kept them in the Temple. Jeme was lucky to have claimed such an exciting, exotic, free-spirited Guide.

0-0-0-0-0

Tia was scared. She paced up and down in her tent, her hands fingering the amber beaded necklace her husband had given her.

Against all the odds she had found happiness with her husband, and it made her exile from the Panther clan bearable. She had been a fool. In invoking the wrath of the Dark Guide, she had brought down her own doom. She had indeed been lucky not to be killed.

Her false claim that Blaer had assaulted his Sentinel was the worst slur that could be thrown at a Guide; it tore at the very core their relationship. Blaer had let her live after issuing her a warning.

Now that idiot Kincaid had brought it all up again. She silently cursed her folly. When she had first joined the clan she had been flattered that the Clan Chief would listen to her stories of the perverted nature of the Dark Guide. But slowly, as her new life had blossomed, she had allowed the bitterness to fade, but now it had come back to bite her.

Tia stopped her pacing, and then collected her hooded shawl. It would not do for her to be seen doing what she had to do.

She never saw the figure that followed her.

0-0-0-0-0

The journey to the Grand Gathering had been exciting for the youngest Sentinels. They had been allowed to shadow their adult counterparts, and had been keen to show their teacher that they had learned their lessons well.

Sophie was the oldest of the three of them, and as such, had taken on the role of Prime. She sat patiently outside the tent of her teacher and waited. Kira had her head tilted slightly, as if trying to catch the sound of their teacher's voice.

Because they had no Guides of their own, Blaer had, as their teacher, also become their surrogate Guide. Sophie gave Kira a tap on the side of the head, not hard enough to hurt, but a reminder that they did not attempt to eavesdrop on the Primes when they were together.

Sophie, Kira and Jason sat patiently and waited. When Blaer came out, his pale face was flushed slightly, and he was trying to tie his hair back. Jeme stopped him with a hand to his shoulder, took the tie from his fingers, and then scraped the long hair back.

Sophie saw the way that the Sentinel Prime leaned forward and scented at the nape of his Guide's neck before tying the curly hair back as Blaer straightened his robes.

As the leader of the students, Sophie was the first to rise and greet their teacher. She stood still a pace from Blaer; she had learned quickly not to approach him without warning, or to grab at him, as he could react violently, his power slashing through fledgling pathways like a knife.

Sophie intoned the vow. "Honoured is the Guide, our strength is to protect the Guide unto death, and Honoured is the bond of equals. Only as one can we survive."

Jeme nodded his approval at her words.

One by one did Kira and Justin repeat the vow. As always Kira was inching towards Blaer; the lure of the Dark Guide was most seductive to her.

Then Kira pulled back with a cry as Huon came out of the tent, her hand wrapping around the small knife she carried as she sought Sophie's protection.

Blaer turned and put a hand out; Huon wrapped a larger hand around his wrist and allowed himself to be pulled close.

Huon leaned in and inhaled at Blaer's throat, his hand running up Blaer's shoulder.

Sophie's face hardened as she recognised Huon flanking Blaer.

Jeme and Huon might look alike, but their scents were different. The family strain ran though it; a low base note scent, like moss after a rainfall, but then the scent that was the man was different. She fixed her senses on Blaer, and could smell Jeme's marker on the smaller Guide. Any Sentinel could tell just from his scent that Blaer had been claimed.

Huon to her was an unknown factor, and as such was a threat to their teacher. She pushed her feelings to the back for later as she grew excited at the idea of being taken around the trader's stalls with their teacher.

Jeme was walking through the trader's stalls, keeping track of the three Sentinel children, and Daryl, that he was escorting. With a grin, he mentally added that if he included Blaer he had five children to look after, even be it that one of them was extremely lethal and highly strung.

But Blaer was bouncing along as he took in the colourful stands and their merchandise. Already Jeme had a cloth bag slung over his shoulder with ten scrolls in it, all new. He could smell the ink on them. Blaer had agonised over them, unsure which to take, and what to leave. In the end Jeme had settled the matter, scooping up all ten, and ignoring his Guide's protests, paid for them, and then shooed his charges on.

So far, Blaer had had to get the young Sentinels out of three zone outs; light ones, but caused by the rich odour of spices that spilled from the food stalls. Under his soft spoken tutorial they had learned to cope with the sensory input, and now moved around with more confidence.

Jeme glanced at the silent figure of Huon, walking the other side of them. Like Jeme, ever vigilant to the fact that there could be a threat to their Guide.

It had been almost amusing to watch the way the young Sentinels had bristled when they saw Huon. They had taken offence to the way that he had acted towards their teacher. They had had it drummed into them that to touch Blaer was wrong, yet here was Huon actually running a hand down Blaer's arm from shoulder to wrist. Jeme had growled, but allowed the contact.

Stranger and stranger, Sophie had mused.

0-0-0-0-0

Caro picked up the pot of water, then seeing her guest, she put it down. "Tia!" She embraced the younger woman. "You should not really be here, and if Blaer sees you..." It was then she saw the gold broach. "Where did you get his?" She plucked it from the other women's shawl.

Tia made a grab for it. "Morgan gave it to me, he earned it for battling a mercenary that tried to attack them when they were hunting. Why?"

"This was a bridal piece for Daryl's wife. She was murdered, and this piece was taken."

Tia's legs gave way, and Caro had to help her to the ground. She rushed to get her a mug of water. She knelt by the side of the younger woman. "Tia, you have to talk me, what do you know of this?"

"Morgan had been hunting. He is a good man, and I do love him." She had to make Caro see that she was happy. "But his fields have failed, and our Clan Leader has told him that he needed to pay for the protection that he gave all of the farmers. So Morgan went out with several of the others. They went to see what they could find."

Tia lowered her head, not able to meet the eyes of Caro. "They met up with Willard, the son of our Leader. He had been gone a long time. He wanted to prove to his father that he could be the next leader of the Clan. They had gold and goods. Willard told him some story that he had stolen the things from a treasure convoy. Morgan did not believe him, but kept his silence. Willard is a violent person. He had taken the nose off a farmer because the man went to his father after he assaulted the daughter, saying that he had lied, but his father paid all the same for her virtue. The girl was found with her wrists slit, not able to live with her shame."

"Tia!"

At the prompt she shook her head. "He killed her; he likes pain. Morgan went along with them. It was then they came across a mercenary. He was a Sentinel and Willard, like his father, hates all of their kind. Morgan made the mistake of telling him what I had told him." Her face crumbled. "When I first came to the camp I told my story about Blaer, and they listened to me. Later I told Morgan the truth, but by then he had told Willard. He took it that it was proof that the Sentinel and Guide were an unnatural union. He went crazy and attacked them. Both were killed, or so Willard said. But Morgan was supposed to dispatch them both. The Guide was dead, but he left the Sentinel. The man looked near dead, and Willard was none the wiser. Now they have taken my tale to the council and when I am called to give evidence, I will have to choose between enraging my Clan Leader, which would endanger my husband, or telling the truth."

Caro reached out and gently lifted her tear-stained face. "The truth, Tia, will set you free. The Panther Clan was once your home, and could be that again."

Seeing Tia's eyes opening suddenly wide, Caro knew who had arrived behind her. She rose gracefully, putting herself between Blaer and the target of his wrath.

She saw Jeme's hand tighten on Blaer's shoulder.

"You will listen to her, my son," adding, "and you, Shield, will listen to the end of her story. Now, Tia, begin."

0-0-0-0-0

The arrow arched across between them and hit Caro as she moved away from Tia. It caught her in the upper arm. Blaer lunged forward and pulled her to the ground, covering her with his body as a second arrow thudded into the side of the tent. Tia started to run, only to be brought down by Jeme as he trusted Huon to bring down the archer.

Caro was cradled in her adopted son's arms. Blaer knocked her hand away from the arrow and his fingers probed around the back of the wound. The barbed arrow head had gone through her arm. His hand dropped to his boot and he pulled out a knife and cut through the shaft of the arrow, and then met Caro's pain-filled eyes.

"Do it, Blaer."

She gave a cry of pain as it was pulled free. "You could have counted, Blaer." Caro managed to stammer.

"Better this way, believe me." He used her headscarf to bind the wound, and helped her to her feet. She was grey-faced and shaking, but standing upright.

She was the wife of the Clan Leader; she would be seen to be that.

Huon had the archer. The man had made the mistake of waiting for a third arrow. The fight had been brief, and the blood-stained man was thrown to the ground at the feet of Saemund, as the Clan Leader arrived.

Saemund looked from Tia to the archer to his wife, and then the growing crowd, and pulled the flap back on his tent. "In here." He would not want this to go public until he knew what he was facing.

0-0-0-0-0

The story was told again. The archer, to start with, was not going to speak, but when faced with two Sentinels and a knife and a threat to his manhood, he quickly found his tongue.

Warren, with Fallon, his adviser, had arrived shortly after. This incident was one of the perils of the Gathering. He sat stony-faced as he heard the story. He had feared that Saemund had been killed. That would have destroyed all Warren's plans, but it seemed that this incident could still do that.

When Huon tried to leave, Jeme caught his brother, and for a moment there was the threat of violence, but Huon calmed. As Jeme said, "Go now, and it is to your death. You will have your revenge brother." He squeezed Huon's shoulder. "Warren, I call down the rite of Blood Vengeance. They have killed my brother's Guide, and therefore we claim Rite of Combat."

For Warren, things were going from bad to worse. A Sentinel's Blood Vengeance was the most dangerous of all. They would not rest until they had satisfaction, and he knew that none of the Council Sentinels would deny the rite. If it had just come from Huon, a mercenary of no clan, then it would have been different; he would have had no champion. But with Jeme's statement of Vengeance and their very obvious blood tie, it was a different matter.

"You know the name of the men that did this?"

Jeme turned to Tia, who was cowering near Caro. Warren allowed himself a moment's reprieve. The witness's words were hearsay; she had not witnessed the murder. Therefore, without a witness who had seen and heard it, he could deny the Blood Vengeance.

A young man was manhandled in. He was struggling to get to Tia.

Alfric kept his hold. "He was found in our camp. He wears the same colours as that pig."

"Morgan!" Tia was on her feet, and threw herself into the arms of her husband, sobbing. "You have to tell them, about the..."

"You're alive." Morgan held his wife, but his eyes could not leave Huon's face. His gaze switched from Jeme to Huon. "I thought you would live, but I feared the worst."

Blaer blocked Huon when the man would have thrown himself at the newcomer.

"I had nothing to do with his death, Sentinel. All I tried to do was save you both, believe me, and I did not raise my hand to either of you."

Huon's anger was ripping through Blaer as the smaller man blocked him. But the Dark Guide used their link to calm the man, flooding his mind with reason, where instinct was to the fore.

"We have no Clan now."

Saemund spoke levelly. "Speak the truth, and you will have a home with the Panther Clan."

Morgan held Tia close, his voice a slight whisper as he named the men that had been with Willard.

Jeme pinned Warren with a look. "Is that enough, Warren? At dawn we will be there to face them. So be it that the challenge has been issued."

0-0-0-0-0

Huon sat in the tent that he shared with Jeme and Blaer. His senses were all over the place; he could feel the slightest breeze, or hear a snatch of conversation. Then he realised that Blaer was standing in front of him.

"Shield, you will lose tomorrow unless you find your focus."

"Your faith in me, Blaer, is warming." The sarcastic words just bounced off the smaller Guide.

"A misunderstanding, Huon, and you know that. I mean that unless you are focused, you will not win. Your senses, instead of being a boon, will be a curse. We will bond now, and you will ground your senses on me."

Huon made the point of looking past Blaer to Jeme. His brother was seated, sharpening his and Blaer's swords. His eyes flashed. He was not happy, but he could see the reason for it. But even so, the warning was given. "Hurt him, Huon, and every pain you give will be visited back to you by ten."

The ex-mercenary viewed his brother with renewed respect. Would he have allowed his brother to have bonded with Sarane? The hunger for his own Guide burned deep, but he forced it down.

"Blaer, honoured is the Guide in all forms." He could hear Jeme softly repeat the words with him.

Huon continued, "I lay my sword to serve, and my life down to protect the Guide. Honoured is the Guide."

Blaer moved closer. The hand that touched the Sentinel's face was cold, and Huon could feel the tremor running through the smaller man. Kneeling now, he wrapped an arm around Blaer's hips and pulled him close, placing his head against his stomach. The power and the might of the Shield being offered at the feet of the Guide Prime.

Huon was purring as the gift was accepted, as Blaer petted his head and shoulders. The scent of the Guide he held changed; Blaer was willing to bond. But there was an edge of fear, and he was not going into heat, because Huon was not his mate.

Easing back, Huon tugged at Blaer's hips with a firm but insistent pull. He wanted the Guide down on the furs, wanted to bond. Blaer knelt down. Huon gave a contented growl as he stroked Blaer face, using just the pads of his fingers, lingering across his eyes, jaw, and lips. He felt the tremors increase. "Honoured is the Guide, protected above all others. Honoured in the bond." He felt Blaer open his mind to allow him to join. There was no fear now. In that second, Huon lost control. He had a Guide near him offering him what he wanted, and that base need flooded Blaer.

With a snarl the Dark Guide's mind flared and burned through Huon. At the same time he was thrust off balance, landing heavily on his back with the feral Guide on top of him, straddling his body. His hair gripped in one hand, and the other pushing him down. The power was wiping through Huon's head; he could feel it go from bliss to pain. He only had time to think, //How by the gods does Jeme handle this much power?//

Jeme was on his feet, cursing all the gods. Blaer was too volatile; he could only bond with Huon if he was grounded first. Catching his Guide by the waist he pulled him off his brother, ignoring curses that put his own to shame; three dead languages and some that would make a mercenary blush. He had a wild cat by the waist as Blaer struggled, hissing and screaming at his touch. The feral Guide had gone into heat. Now the linkage scent permeated the air like a thick fog.

Huon started to get up, but the growl from his brother made him stay still, keeping low and on his stomach, showing his submission to his brother as Sentinel Prime.

Blaer's mind was like quick fire, igniting Jeme's, sending him into the primal state of the Dark Bond. Instead of struggling to escape now, Blaer was trying to rub against him as he tried to make him bond, tried to ignite the need in his Sentinel.

With a push that had Blaer face down on the furs with a humph, Jeme landed on top of him, pinning the smaller man down, trying to ignore the small body that pushed up against him, squirming and bucking against him.

Jeme slid a knee between his legs and pushed down, holding his hips down with his body weight as he held the smaller wrists above a curly head. With his free hand he tried to calm Blaer down. He tried to use his mind to quash the raging fire that tore through their link. The Sentinel acting now as an anchor to the Dark Guide.

The bond was a living force, twisting and turning, as it reflected the needs of the Sentinel and Guide. Now the Guide was in burning heat, and only his Sentinel could calm him down. It was elements of the bond that Jeme had to now draw on. The mellow calming force.

Gradually, the heaving body slowed, and Blaer began to surface. "I did not want to bond with him, I just..."

Jeme lightly nuzzled Blaer's neck from behind, feeling the smaller man relax under his touch.

"I know, Blaer." The Sentinel lifted up slightly, enough for Blaer to roll onto his back and look up into the face of the older man. Jeme had one arm under Blaer's head now, taking his weight on his side, as with his free hand he stroked his Guide. His smile was brilliant as he gently brushed the long hair from the sweat-covered face. Lowering his head down he rubbed his face against Blaer's.

With a sigh, Blaer wrapped his arms around his Sentinel, and pulled him deep into his mind. As the bond mellowed, they entered the spirit plain--a place of peace and healing.

Only then did Blaer reach out a hand. Huon hesitated, seeing the dreamy look on his brother's face. Then allowing himself to be drawn close, he laid on his side, hand tucked under his head, his other hand wrapped in Blaer's. For a moment he panicked as he felt himself being pulled into somewhere he had never been. Then, with a sigh, he found the peace that Blaer was offering him.

0-0-0-0-0

As dawn broke, it was to a misty morning. Warren and the Clan Council stood outside of the meeting house. Willard was bragging that no Sentinel would dare to challenge him. Right was on his side.

It was then he noticed the attention was fixed on the other side of the square. Out of the mist, like wraiths, Warren saw them appear. In the middle, the Dark Guide, his long hair and robes bouncing with each stride, flanked by two Sentinels. They looked grim and lethal, as they matched his stride. To Warren it was as if they walked in slow motion--he could see everything in that short space of time. He saw the smile the Dark Guide flashed to the Sentinels on either side of him as he reached over his shoulder and pulled his sword.

Dawn had broken, and brought death with it.

The end

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